It is imperative that we understand the poisonous influence that the old narrative (P-B) has on human behavior. No matter where we open the pages of world history we will see it operating. Where do the ideas that influence the attitudes, beliefs and values of P-B come from and how do they create our self-destructive behaviors and what are those unsustainable behaviors? We cannot look at this reality too often because that is how we will come to realize that changing those behaviors is imperative. We must not fail to do so.
Oneness is the central Reality of all of Creation, meaning among other things that human beings are interdependent, interrelated and interconnected. All human beings are exactly alike in all fundamental characteristics. Any differences are superficial and certainly not sufficient to cause animosity and conflict—and yet there it is from the very beginning—violence and war. We began at the outset of human history to see our neighbors as the “Other” and the shattering and splitting of the global village began to define our history.
In other words, in terms of the shattering and splitting of families, tribes, ethnic groups, religions and nation states, it began at the beginning, that’s the “long of it.” We will also see that this same dynamic of human behavior has not abated today, that’s the “short of it.” How could it have gotten better when it is the very essence of the P-B story of humanity? Fear and reaction is the blood and sinew of human behavior—it is demanded by the human worldview. Let us take a look at a few details of that paradigm to better understand why it is so compelling—why it is so mesmerizing.
The human intellect supports and elaborates with its theories, constructs and rationalizations the fundamental beliefs, attitudes and values that make up the structure of P-B. All of these ideas and physical “forms” seem to have a concrete existence sufficient to warrant being accepted as “reality.” So convincing are these appearances that we find it almost impossible to see through the illusion—we are, in short, hypnotized by our senses and our mind.
The physical “appearance” of our planet is a case in point. Charles Lyell in his The Principles of Geology (1830) argued that the earth’s geological processes appeared to have been gradual and evolutionary rather than cataclysmic and revolutionary as the creation story in Genesis (when interpreted literally) would have us believe. In time, Lyell’s ideas had implications for the story of humanity as well.
For example, we can find evidence on how the idea of the Other was reinforced during the next two centuries. The following scientists and authors illustrate with their observations and theories how the story of the Other became self-perpetuating. Thomas Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) popularized the belief that the intense competition for subsistence including that for food had resulted in the survival of the strong. This thesis inspired Darwin’s belief in the “survival of the fittest.”
We have all heard of Robert Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) and some of us have read his later The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). The central idea of On the Origin of Species was that life and the evolution of species was a “struggle for existence” in which only the fittest survived. His thesis was that natural selection would enable more species to survive a particular condition.
In his second book Darwin concluded that man was also a product of natural selection. Darwinism challenged the six-day story of Creation found in Genesis. What made his work controversial was that if Genesis could not be taken literally then other parts of the Bible could be symbolic or perhaps even not true.
Secondly, if man had evolved as the other animals had was there any special relationship between man and God? Many Christians saw Darwin’s theory of evolution as incompatible with Christian teachings. A teacher in a small southern town brought the controversy to a head in 20th century America by violating a law against the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
In 1925 the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee pitted Clarence Darrow (defending the teacher’s right to teach about evolution) against William Jennings Bryan (defending the creation story in Genesis). The teaching of evolution was ultimately found to be legal; however, the split between religious fundamentalists and mainstream science persists in our own time.
Darwinism helped shatter the modern human community into many groups of “Others” and came to be used as justification for exploitation, imperialism and racism leading to Social Darwinism which had the greatest impact on the global village of all of the implications growing out of Darwin’s writings.
Herbert Spencer in his book, Synthetic Philosophy (1860-1896), coined the phrase “Social Darwinism” which held that within a society groups compete with each other and superior groups naturally dominate inferior groups. Hence Social Darwinism maintained that exploitation, nationalism, bigotry, and racism had been validated by science. Indeed, the subtitle of Darwin’s book The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life could be read to mean that evolution and hence nature (and perhaps even God) played “favorites.”
Who were the favorites? Well, for example, Social Darwinism could be said to have provided John D. Rockefeller with the sanction for laissez-faire capitalism and he himself concluded that big business was “merely the survival of the fittest…the working out of a law of nature and a law of God.” Social Darwinism gave the “Robber barons,” the industrial capitalists in America, their excuse for greed, ruthless and illegal business tactics and the exploitation of laborers.
Western European nations could also use Social Darwinism to justify the neo-imperialist exploitation of much of the rest of the “non-white” world between 1870 and 1900. Each nation’s nationalism (including versions like Manifest Destiny in the U.S.) could justify militarism and war, proving on the battlefield which peoples and which nations were superior and which were relegated to subservience. Competition among European nations led to an inevitable arms race and the resultant fear-driven defensive alliances virtually guaranteed the two world wars of the twentieth century.
Continuing to elaborate on the connection between the Other and Social Darwinism we have Arthur de Gobineau and his Essay on the Inequality of the Human Race (1853-1855). Social Darwinism was tailor-made to encourage projection onto the “Other.” Gobineau proclaimed the superiority of the white races and encouraged further shattering of the human community by declaring that there were superior groups within the white races. Adolph Hitler and the Nazis of the Third Reich would make good use of Gobineau’s theories that Aryan Germanic groups were superior to the Slavs and Jews.
Fast-forward to today and we see that the “Fundamentalist” Others and the “Liberal” Others are still at each others’ throats. In the human chronicle of so much conflict we must remember, there are no good or bad people, no right or wrong factions—there are only unconscious, well-intentioned human beings doing the best they can. Unfortunately, we have yet to awaken to the absurdity of our behavior.
The writings of Ayn Rand and the economist Milton Friedman are being used today to justify the way that Wall Street, American corporations and banks operate even though it is clear that for several decades the gap between the rich, the middle class and the poor is growing. In the survival of the fittest, the fittest has shrunk to 1% and the 99% are understandably upset—or so the latest version of the story goes.
The Occupy Wall Street protestors (“liberal Others”) in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan (2011) are self-appointed representatives of the 99% of Americans who feel “left out” of the benefits of evolving capitalism. The Others they think they see are the Oligarchs, the “fittest” who are doing well in a game that they see as not fair but “rigged.” As the movement spreads around the world we can see the fracturing and splitting process that is characteristic of the old narrative.
The Tea Party (“Fundamentalist Others”), who also believe Washington insiders are playing a game that leaves them out, are determined to change the rules of the game. Projecting fast and furious, both sides of the competition (fundamentalists and liberals) energized by fear rather than compassion, by illusion rather than truth, continue to create the beliefs, attitudes and values that keep the competitive self-destructive madness alive.
In the meantime, in Washington, the insiders are playing the same game with slightly different roles. What we know about them is that they are reading lines from a script that has them playing characters seeking power and control.
Is anybody in this American melodrama the least bit satisfied with the outcome of their lives? Ever in denial all of our characters, insiders and outsiders, liberals and conservatives, crooks and victims, Montagues and Capulets stride across the stage of life caught up in a dark drama rife with foreboding. Apt is the line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—“All are punished.”
What are some of the facts that support those of us who suspect the motives of the 1% who see themselves as the “fittest” in the jungle of P-B? Tom Friedman in his column of October 30, 2011 in The New York Times Sunday Review confirms our suspicions. … Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers—securities that it knew were likely to go bust—and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities—that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.
The Wall Street Journal confirmed the outcome: As a result, about 15 hedge funds, investment managers and other firms that invested in the deal lost hundreds of millions, while Citigroup made $160 million in fees and trading profits. So, indeed the game on Wall Street is rigged as the Occupy Wall Street protestors suspected.
The Tea Party’s anger is also justified in its suspicions that there is hanky-panky going on behind closed doors between Congress and K Street lobbyists. As Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat bluntly said in a 2009 radio interview, despite having caused this crisis these same firms “are still the most powerful lobby on Capital Hill. And they, frankly, own this place.”
So, this is the updated chapter in the ages-old P-B narrative. Is there any hope for a paradigm shift? Yes, we can always end these forays into the dark-side of human behavior on a positive note. Humanity is not at the mercy of the intellectual theorists quoted above who see only the illusion of the old story. We are, in fact, immersed in wisdom both that which is within and that which has evolved over time and bequeathed to us by compassionate mystics. In other words we benefit by the evolution of human consciousness which can be added to our individual inner wisdom which is innate and indestructible.
Yet we persist in choosing to allow our fear and anger to dictate our behavior in contravention to our heart’s longing. It is time to make a different choice. Please!
_____________________________________________________________________________________References and notes are available for this article.
For a much more in-depth discussion on Simple Reality, read Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival, by Roy Charles Henry, published in 2011.