In the pursuit of a simple life the Greek philosopher Diogenes (412-323 BC) had no peer, at least in the West. “Lying on the bare earth, shoeless, bearded, half-naked, he looked like a beggar or a lunatic. He was one but not the other. He had opened his eyes with the sun at dawn, scratched, done his business like a dog at the roadside, washed at the public fountain, begged a piece of breakfast bread and a few olives, eaten them squatting on the ground, and washed them down with a few handfuls of water scooped from the spring. (Long ago he had owned a rough wooden cup, but he threw it away when he saw a boy drinking out of his hollowed hands.) Having no work to go to and no family to provide for, he was free.”[i]
Did Diogenes understand way back then that creating a sustainable human community would require simplicity, silence and solitude? His neighbors did not understand his eccentric behavior, but he knew that they were not as free as he was. “They were not quite sure whether he was mad or not. He knew they were mad, each in a different way; they amused him.”[ii] Diogenes would recognize his fellow man today as still being in need of guidance. He had attempted to provide that guidance in ancient Greece by offering a new worldview, a system of beliefs called Cynicism, a word that means “doggishness.” Diogenes, of course, was not mad at all and promoted his doctrine, his own version of Simple Reality, by writing plays, essays and poetry.
In the Simple Reality Project, we are attempting to do somewhat the same thing that Diogenes was trying to do, namely, to change the worldview of a global village “gone mad.” Currently in the U.S. we are suffering a kind of political paralysis in Washington where the problems of the nation continue to multiply but policy-makers can’t agree on what to do about them. As we have learned, our story has everything to do with whether we can get a handle on those problems or not. Our politicians have always been paralyzed by unconsciousness and only the superficial details of their behavior will change until our narrative changes, radically changes. Let’s examine in more detail the relationship between the worldview people have and their behavior.
Recent studies have shown that American voters will not vote for a candidate that they perceive to be a flip-flopper. If you seek elected office in the U.S. don’t change your mind on an issue. “That consistency is especially appealing to political conservatives, who report a stronger preference for certainty, structure, order and closure than liberals. If you favor predictability over ambiguity and stability over change, a candidate who holds fast to his ideology has a lot of curb appeal.”[iii]
If it’s not a good campaign strategy as a candidate to rethink an issue and change your mind, how about changing the minds of the voters, is this possible? Is there any way to overcome a rigid worldview? Professors Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg say “yes” with some reservation: “It’s a simple strategy. Just not easy to implement.”[iv] (Keep in mind that we are not talking about a paradigm shift here but rather attempting to move the false self away from chaos ever so slightly.)
The “strategy” for would-be candidates mentioned above is simply framing your position in terms of the voters’ false-self identity which they might define as agreeing with their moral values. For example, a 2015 hot-button issue, same-sex marriage. If you as a candidate are trying to appeal to liberal voters, frame the issue as being about fairness and justice. On the other hand, here’s an appeal to conservative voters contained a message about the values of patriotism and group loyalty. “It argued that ‘same-sex couples are proud and patriotic Americans who contribute to the American economy and society.’”[v]
Another example is increased military spending which is “motherhood and apple pie” to most politicians. If you are appealing to conservative voters, you stress that it encourages pride and unity in America. To appeal to liberal voters, you strongly state how it offers income opportunities and therefore equality to the poor and disadvantaged.
Only when politicians can effectively reframe an argument to elicit genuine empathy from the American voter will we know the political system is up and running again. When Americans in general put themselves in the shoes of their neighbors, see both sides of an issue and respond with compassion only, then we will all experience true freedom.
We are all searching for a new, a more friendly story whether we become Cynics, Vedantists, Zen Buddhists or Simple Reality enthusiasts. We must all become more “pooch-like” or else dark days lie ahead. What are the odds that we can find our way out of the doghouse? We definitely need to become more “dogged” in our determination to wake up. (Sorry! We couldn’t resist that one.)
Are we at least headed in the direction of a sustainable global village? We probably never were but it definitely appears that the U.S. has reversed direction of late. Just as conservatives and liberals can get irrationally stuck in their political narrative, many Americans are clinging to the belief that they live in the land of opportunity despite evidence to the contrary. “As of early 2014, two-thirds of Americans agreed that hard work would get most people ahead, and a full 80 percent felt that ‘everyone has it in their own power to succeed,’ according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. Yet in today’s economy , those adages have become perverse, more inclined to depress than to inspire.”[vi]
In fact, Americans believe in the myth of American exceptionalism and unbridled opportunity so completely that they blame themselves when they aren’t successful rather than doubt the P-B-driven paradigm. Economist Robert Reich has no problem looking critically at the overall picture: “The notion that you’re paid what you’re ‘worth’ is by now so deeply ingrained in the public consciousness that many who earn very little assume it’s their own fault.”[vii]
Nothing would seal the fate of a declining America more ominously than the demise of the Fourth Estate. If we lose the “watchdog” guarding the henhouse of our liberties, then the game is up for sure. What’s the story here? “More than 20,000 newsroom jobs have been lost in this country since 2001—a work force drop of about 42 percent. The mean salary of reporters in 2013 was $44,360; journalists now earn less than the national average for all United States workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”[viii]
To make matters worse the mainstream media is under attack by the pseudo-media, for example, being called the “lamestream media” by Sarah Palin. Incredibly, she is a journalism graduate from the University of Idaho. She must have gotten a lot of sleep in class to miss the critical role a “real” journalist plays in preserving the very freedoms so ostensibly close to her heart. Just as “canine consciousness” makes distinguishing between a real and a bogus story impossible, between a genuine and a false identity difficult, and between healthy and self-destructive behaviors confusing, so does it have most Americans seduced into thinking a pandering phony journalist is a true professional.
Oh well, we have other sources for our news than print media. That turns out to be the problem. Let’s consider those sources. “So, climate change is a hoax, because Limbaugh says so. Raising the minimum wage always causes job losses—as Ben Carson asserted on Tuesday [November 17, 2015]—because that’s what you hear on Fox. Both claims are demonstrably false.”[ix] The casualty of pandering in the realm of pseudo-journalism just like pandering in the realm of politics is truth. The false self thrives on lies but a healthy global village will perish on that diet.
“The Hound of Heaven” is said to refer to God’s zealous effort to track down lost souls. Do we have committed “bloodhounds” on earth who are equally fanatical in pushing their agendas? In fact, could a single soul influence the worldview and thereby the identities and behaviors of the people of an entire nation? It has happened not only in the ages past when kings, queens and emperors ruled but also in modern times—of course, not without a struggle. In Hitler’s Mein Kampf (translated: My Struggle) (1925) he warns Germans and the rest of the world that he is angry and has a plan, a new worldview for Europe. His rise to power he believed would prevent the humiliation of Germany that he witnessed as a corporal in the German army at the end of World War I from happening again.
Poor choices in worldview, identity and behavior can be catastrophic for individuals as well as nations as we have noted in American politics, economics and the media. It should be shocking to all of us how quickly Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine mesmerized the German people into accepting Hitler’s story of a new Germany. There was no legitimate Fourth Estate to defend the truth or to protect the people of Germany and many in the world at large from a twisted narrative symbolized by a twisted cross. We associate Kamikaze-like suicides with the Japanese defending their homeland, but it was Hitler’s refusal to accept reality that created an even more self-destructive last chapter in the Third Reich.
Two Japanese cities were destroyed in an atomic firestorm, “But it was Nazi Germany that actually immolated itself. While Hitler lived there, there could be no negotiation. There would be no surrender, no repeat of the November 1918 armistice. The result was the devastation not only of much of Central Europe, but also of Germany itself. In the course of the war, 5.3 million men would die fighting in Wehrmacht uniforms. Close to a million German civilians were killed in air raids and the ethnic cleansing that followed the war. Germany’s casualties far exceeded those of all of Western Europe put together.”[x]
The recent “story” of Nazi Germany shows that nations and individuals can be “hounded” into committing suicide. The dogs of cynicism, it seems, have also been unleashed upon the French with their narrative having a unique darkness. In Le Monde Christian Lacroix expressed his belief that the French have chosen liberté, égalité, morosité.”[xi]
It’s always a good idea, should the French insist on choosing to pamper the false self, to not lose sight of the humor in such self-indulgence. “Joi de vivre has given way to gaze de navel. The French were so busy wallowing in their existential estrangement—a state of mind Camus described as ‘Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?’—that they don’t even have the energy to be rude. And now that they’re smoking electronic cigarettes, their ennui doesn’t look as cool.” Perhaps you recognize the howls of the wounded hyenas produced by the pen of still-employed journalist Maureen Dowd—which she often dips in acid—while laughing the whole time, of course.
The French should know that their malaise is a choice, not genetic nor environmentally caused. Most of us know the danger of being estranged from our natural state in the NOW by spending too much time in the “head.” As Philippe Manière of Footprint management consultants observed: “The French are very conceptual, very cerebral.”[xii] No kidding!
Claudia Senik, a professor at the Paris School of Economics and the Sorbonne believes that the “French are less satisfied than the average European. She calls it ‘a cultural trait’ [it’s actually a version of the P-B narrative] linked not only to circumstances but to values, beliefs and behaviors [very good Claudia!] passed from generation to generation and exacerbated by madly competitive schools that are hard on self-esteem. In other words, unhappiness has been bred into the French bone.”[xiii] Not really, but certainly infused into the French paradigm, the resulting French identity and hence, their reactive conditioning.
A bloodhound seeking the scent of the French worldview would pick up a malodorous concoction of beliefs, attitudes and values. “The French have higher rates of taking antidepressants and committing suicide than most other Europeans.”[xiv] The American narrative and suicide rates are also beginning to stink to high heaven. “In the 1950s, the suicide rate dipped with the crime rate. But since 2000, it has risen, and jumped particularly sharply among the middle-aged. The suicide rate for Americans 35 to 54 increased nearly 30 percent between 1999 and 2010; for men in their 50s, it rose nearly 50 percent. More Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents, and gun suicides are almost twice as common as gun homicides.”[xv]
Even a poorly trained pursuit pooch would begin to detect the scent of the connection between a disintegrating community and increasingly irresponsible, dysfunctional and reactive behavior in the U.S. “That’s exactly what we’ve seen happen lately  among the middle-aged male population, whose suicide rates have climbed the fastest: a retreat from family obligations, from civic and religious participation, and from full-time paying work.”[xvi]
The dominant narrative (P-B) is beginning to poison the identity of the inhabitants of the global village causing both self-hatred and violence against the imagined Other. An already shattered human community is experiencing a further disintegration and it isn’t only the middle aged that are affected. Ghaffar Hussain, the managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a British research group that seeks to tackle religious extremism, paints a dark picture. “Many young British Muslims are confused about their identity, and they buy into a narrow framework that can explain events. Jihadists hand them a simplistic narrative of good versus evil. They give them camaraderie and certainty. ISIS makes them feel part of a grand struggle.”[xvii] And indeed, so they are; and so are all of us.
So what is the answer? What is the response to this ever-growing lack of Diogenes’s canine-consciousness? As Hussain said, “If you don’t have a concerted strategy to undermine their narrative, their values, their worldview, you are not going to succeed. Everyone in society needs to take on that challenge.”[xviii]
That’s exactly what we have been saying in the books of the Simple Reality Project for several years now. Is anybody listening?
[i] Highet, Gilbert. “The Dog Has His Day.” Horizon. March 1963, page 10.
[iii] Grant, Adam. “The Virtue of Contradicting Ourselves.” The New York Times. November 15, 2015, page 5.
[iv] Willer, Robb. “The Key to Political Persuasion.” The New York Times. November 15, 2015, page 8.
[vi] Griswold, Alison. “Unequal Opportunity.” The New York Times. November 15, 2015, page 13.
[viii] Egan, Timothy. “Beat the Press.” The New York Times. November 15, 2015, page 11.
[x] Tooze, Adam. “No Lives Untouched.” The New York Times Book Review. November 15, 2015, page 16.
[xi] Dowd, Maureen. “Goodbye Old World, Bonjour Tristesse.” The New York Times. July 7, 2013, page 11.
[xv] Douthat, Ross. “All the Lonely People.” The New York Times. May 19, 2013, page 11.
[xvii] Cohen, Roger. “The Making of a Disaster.” The New York Times. August 26, 2014, page A23.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.