Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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THE MORNING AFTER
Reflections On The Election Of A Lifetime
David Jon Peckinpaugh
'Tis the morning after.
It is sort of a letdown to be quite honest with you. The election was last night. THE ELECTION! That's right, the one for the President of The United States of America. The election that certainly has the ability to shape the course and destiny of not just the American people, but the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, France, Germany, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela to name but a few. If for no other reason that American foreign policy dictates that America has its hands in the affairs of other nations and their peoples. For this reason I know that a good majourity of the world was watching… watching and waiting. Waiting to see what would unfold. Hoping. Hoping that the majourity of the American public was not a clear, honest, and accurate reflection of the man who was up for re-election.
Well, the world has its answer.
Certainly the answer just given is more than just a bit disconcerting to many around the world (which is a large part of the reason why this man living in America is writing this piece in the first place). The answer that the world has just received is that America is a land that is also home to extremists and fundamentalists, with their own brand of fundamentalism, not at all unlike what the American President says we are fighting in a so-called 'War on Terror.'
The answer given has put the rest of the world on notice.
Given that the United States of America is widely considered the only remaining superpower in the world, I am sure that it would be a lot more comforting for the rest of the world to know that the kind of ideology operating in the hearts and minds of the majourity of that nation's citizens was of an evolved nature fit for the task of leading the world to a better place. I know that I would be a lot more hopeful and positive about the general direction of the global, geo-political climate if a majourity of the American voting public had chosen to elect a candidate other than the incumbent. This, as you know, did not happen—which serves as a reminder of the kind of ideology that the rest of the world is going to have to try and deal with for at least a good part of the near future.
The effects of the ideological center of gravity operating in America have wide consequences for not just American citizens, but for citizens around the globe. Allow me to mention a few of the consequences that I happen to feel are just a tad bit shy of being inevitable.
1) America will not lead on Global issues.
In fact, America is regressive on truly Global matters. I say this because my analysis of the situation is that America is currently entrenched in the throes of an anxious and panicked sort of self-preservation. Americans are constantly mentioning the 'losses' that are being suffered here and there—whether these are jobs, lives, or freedoms. And because America has been in the position of ascendancy for some time now, there will come to be this regressive counter-reaction to any sense of threat that intimates loss to America and/or Americans. And make no mistake about it people of the world, the American ideological center of gravity has no qualms about pre-emptive strikes against perceived threats to the continued ascendancy of America as a nation. America will protect what she sees as her interests abroad—which means you are either with her or against her. American will not compromise. The fundamentalist ideology at the center of American foreign policy is all about an uncompromising position.
2) The lack of American leadership on Global issues is an opportunity that other nations and their peoples ought to seize.
The failure of the American people to truly embrace a global world-view is evidenced in the leader that has just been chosen. While John Kerry spoke of alliances and working with other nations the American voting public chose a leader who spoke of his convictions and certainty, as well as his refusal to change on matters of principle and his steadfast ability to stay the course. Well, all I have to say to that is that cancer has a steadfast ability to stay the course too! Staying one's course is all well and good in an isolated world where one's actions have a limited impact upon others, but, in a Global Age, staying one's course regardless of the impact upon others can be seen as the height of arrogance and selfishness. It is certainly not an ideal to be upheld in terms of global geo-politics.
This is why my recommendation to the rest of the world—as an American—would be for the rest of the world to work multi-laterally on many of the global issues that America has shown a deficit in regards to. In other words, don't wait on America! Don't sit around and hope that American foreign policy will be more 'enlightened' that it has been, or is. Don't hope that the majourity of the American public will be transformed overnight and that some level of 'self-interest' will be sacrificed for the greater good. Because it won't! A nation in ascendancy has never, throughout the annals of History, been reported as voluntarily sacrificing its position of presumed superiourity over others.
Quite to the contrary, in fact! History tells us that a nation in the ascendant position will hold on for dear life to that position—sometimes at great cost to itself, as well as other nations and peoples. The destructive potential is horrifying.
And I happen to see it is a growing probability in light of the fact that the general American public is in denial about Global Issues. I kid you not. The people of America are asleep at the wheel! I wish it were not so. I wish I could say otherwise. I wish the American public were capable of living up to its great ideals. But I am also reasonable enough to suspect that certain 'evolutionary tendencies' will hold sway as the ascendant status of America comes under threat—not so much by outside pressure, but by the climate of Globalism that increasingly demands transnational solutions to many dilemmas created by nations running amok.
3) America will not experience a fundamental change in its ideological center of gravity short of a nation-wide crisis of some sort.
We all know a story about the addict who has to hit bottom before any fundamental change is experienced in his or her person and behaviour. I mention this only for the reason that it is similar to what I suspect will have to take place to America as a whole. Like an addict we will have to 'crash and burn' before we are ready to awaken from the entrenched self-interest that has come to be America's calling card around the world.
As a human-being I am more than just a little disappointed in my brothers and sisters of this nation. The entrenched racism, the ongoing bigotry, the intolerance, the ignorance pertaining to the big-picture, the self-interest, the hubris, the anti-intellectualism, the fear, the paranoia—these have all served to make me a weary citizen of this Republic.
I stayed up late last night, watching the election returns come in, noting the pulse of a nation, secretly wishing that the majourity of Americans were not the way they so clearly are.
To the rest of the world I say this: America's reply when it comes to resources, wealth, and power—all of which have global implications—is 'From our cold, dead fingers.'
America will not let go. America will not surrender and join with other nations to work on transnational themes. There is no mandate to do so. The mandate for action is a mandate for continued national self-interest above all other concerns. I am disappointed to have to share this with you. I wish I could write otherwise. I wish I could honestly say that the American mandate was 'transnational, global, and dis-interested.' I wish I could say that America will take its ascendant status and lead. But I cannot. I can say that America will aggressively strike against all threats and challenges to its current position as lone superpower. Which means those who want a fairer share in terms of the world's resources—as well as overall global, geo-political climate—will have to combat the American resistance to change. And believe me—living in America, and knowing a wide-range of Americans as I do, across all classes and socio-economic divides—there definitely is a desperate clinging to the status quo that is indicative of the American resistance to any drastic change in the Global Situation.
The Hopeful Citizen
A friend saw fit to remind me this morning of all the people who voted for John Kerry. He didn't see a problem with a majourity having voted for George W. Bush so much as a solution in the 50 some odd million who voted for John Kerry. I am not so optimistic, though. Not only have the Conservatives won the Presidency, but they also solidified and expanded their majourity in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Given the obvious political arrogance of the Conservatives—and their tendency to interpret victory as an indication that God is invisibly moving on their behalf—I literally have chills at the thought of what might transpire over the course of the next four years.
My friend can have his hope. Perhaps he needs that hope to get through a rocky period. I, on the other hand, am not so hopeful. Not because I am a nihilist and embody some futilistic stance towards life, but because I know what those who shoulder hope for others are truly up against. I know first hand the resistance to letting go that lies at the heart of a maniacal American foreign policy. I know that people will not willingly give up their gas-guzzling SUV's in great numbers. I know that people will not voluntarily take on a degree of restraint in terms of the consumption of resources that underlies the general dictates of American foreign policy. I know that the American consumer will not say 'No, that's enough.' If only because the American consumer has cathected (emotionally attached) his or her sense of identity—as a free and autonomous citizen—to the express right to consume as much, and as often, as he or she wishes. It is due to this that any sort of change in American foreign policy that would effect a drastic alteration of the situation throughout the world (up to and including a resolution to the wide-ranging antagonisms towards America) will not… lo, cannot!… possibly change.
It is the hunger… the insatiable thirst… the panicked and anxious assault on the World's Resources that has largely driven those American foreign policy decisions that have generated such antagonisms towards America. I often hear the statement that—'We don't have a problem with Americans in general, we have a problem with American foreign policy, or the American President,' etc. and so forth. Well, I have news for you. You should have a problem with the American public! You should. Because what is the engine driving American foreign policy decisions if not the American public? Who happens to be consuming the greatest quantity of the World's Resources that the multinational corporations are now blamed for if not the American public? The corporations are just feeding the insatiable hunger of a people that have found it increasingly impossible to say… 'Enough already!'
Who has the hunger? Who has the appetite? Whom are the multinationals feeding the demands of?
I think it is fine to analyze the role that multinationals have played in the inequalities and injustices that are spread around the globe. But to do so is to presume an innocence on the part of those who support the efforts of the multinationals by buying their stocks—which fund the assaults on peoples and resources alike, by purchasing the products—which are often won at the expense of someone else's great and terrible sacrifice half-way round the world. The general American public (and I am aware of the dangers inherent in such a generalization) bears some responsibility for the belligerence of American foreign policy, as well as the effect that this belligerence has tended to have on other peoples and their cultures.
The hunger is itself evidenced in American foreign policy. Not enough power. Not enough prestige. Not enough resources. Not enough. Never enough. Can't get enough. And what I am saying is this: If this is the general tenor of American foreign policy then it stems from the collective (un)consciousness, if you will, of the American populace.
I also think it is cheap and disingenuous of Americans to berate the politicians and the corporations for giving America a bad name around the world when one's own personal level of consumption—or even one's own financial portfolio!—has not been scrutinized and examined for connections between one's own self-interest and the interests that are expressed by American corporate and governmental institutions.
Like it or not, American foreign policy is a grass-roots affair. To my understanding, a person's own individual hunger is behind what becomes known as collective hunger. For instance, the American appetite for power and influence throughout the world stems from the appetite evidenced by American individuals. American foreign policy then is really a grass-roots affair. It is based upon the consumer-mentality of the American individual (who has become one that finds his or her identity in/through/as what he or she is able to consume).
The irony is that if there were no demand for the products of the multinationals—i.e., if there were no market for them—then those products—which means the World's Resources because of that—would never find their way into American hands. So the demand at the level of the consumer helps to drive the corporate and government institutions to secure and protect the individual interests of that consumer. It means that through power, through socio-economic extortion and blackmail, through influence and military supremacy, various corporate and governmental interests are led to commit atrocities and injustices on behalf of the American individual who never knows 'Enough!'
So when you folks in Denmark or Germany, Italy or Pakistan, India or China, Japan or Spain, come to find yourselves disgusted with the direction of American foreign policy, realize that this disgust is also with the self-interested tendencies of the average American individual… not to mention any such tendencies that might also be evidenced in your attitudes and behaviour, as well as those around you.
Each of us personally understands the benefits of authentic self-analysis. Whether we are talking about psychoanalysis or authentic spiritual transformation we are talking about the importance of a rigourous analysis of our entrenched patterns, habits, beliefs, attitudes, and emotional states. We have to be honest with ourselves. Part of this radical honesty is admitting our weaknesses and shortcomings. We have to acknowledge what is present in order to change it. Denial is not an effective strategy for transformation.
So with a little analysis we might find that we are not the 'cool and awesome person' that we maybe like to imagine we are. Sure, we may have some 'cool and awesome traits,' but we can also be quite selfish and stubbornly separatist at times. We can also, that is, be all about our beloved little 'self.'
From a national perspective we could say very much the same thing. The American rhetoric is about freedom, democracy, liberty, and justice. Of course, it is not noted that all of these cool and awesome traits go straight out the window as soon as American interests anywhere around the globe are put into question!
Just threaten American corporate and/or governmental interests and watch those beloved traits of freedom, democracy, liberty, and justice burn!
It is not unlike a person who is all loving and tender when he or she has this life of comfort and ease—i.e., when everything is going his or her way—but then all of a sudden turns vicious and cruel as soon as he or she feels threatened with any sort of loss of her comfort or status, reputation or finances, lover or life.
This is why American rhetoric tends to ring hollow in the ears of so many around the world. People have discovered that America will look out for number one before anyone else: that America is on the side of the people throughout the world clamouring for more freedom and democracy, liberty and justice—just so long as doing so doesn't infringe on what America already has in Her possession.
Slave-owners didn't want freedom and democracy, liberty and justice for slaves because the fact was that the life-style of the slave-owners would be threatened. Basic human rights for the slaves would have coincided with a drastic loss for the slave-owners. So the South rose up against the North, defending the way of life that so many had become accustomed to (regardless of its Christian merits! or lack thereof!). This historical fact bears mentioning here, if for no other reason than that the current position of America is analogous to that of the slave-owners: in that the extension of basic human rights throughout the world can be seen as potentially clashing with the way of life that Americans in general have become accustomed to.
If Mao-tse-Tung was right, and 'power grows out of the barrel of a gun,' then we cannot but expect a continuation of War and Conflict throughout the world, as certain nations—with America at the forefront—seeking to protect the interests of their people as consumers, over and against other nations and peoples seeking to ensure the spread of basic human rights to as much of humanity as possible.
Ego-transcendence (some say, death), in terms of psycho-spiritual transformation, is not always a pretty and pleasurable affair. The literature on the struggles of transcending the separatist mentality that posits a subject in here vs. a world out there is rife with indications of the kind of intensity that is inherently included in such a contest. It is hard, painstaking work to transcend one's own selfishness. In some cases it is a daily battle that takes place for years and years (evidence the writings of C.S. Lewis, for instance). One thing is for certain: little that we are told about comes across as easy and painless.
In the same manner, I don't think it is sensible for anyone to expect that the death/transcendence of the collective American ego will be any different. In fact, it may be all that much more intense and amplified, simply because the numbers of persons potentially involved at any one time happens to be that much greater.
In spite of the pain and the struggle involved, such transcendence is very much worth it. We don't hear of any stories where the pains of spiritual rebirth are somehow regretted. If we are pregnant with the possibilities for egoic transcendence—individually, as well as collectively—then, in spite of the struggles with our own evolutionarily enhanced egotism, we ought to know that the journey is well worth the time spent.
Yes, it hurts to change our way of life. Yes, it hurts to alter our habits of consuming a great many of the World's Resources—in fact, more than our fair share! Yes, it is painful to alter habits. Just sit in meditation for an hour—or 15 minutes!—and you will know how conditioned towards certain patterns of behaviour one can come to be, as well as how vigilant we must be in resisting the temptation to enact those tired and outworn attitudes and behaviours that places the interests of anyone nation or person above that of all others.
Hardships taken on, voluntarily, as a part of the process of one's own spiritual transformation, appear to be an inviolable aspect of the maturational journey. So whether we are talking about personal transformation or collective transformation we are talking about the same process of adopting these voluntary measures that appear to be a sacrifice on the outside while they are liberating within.
I honestly do not think that there is any real way to avoid adopting these voluntary constraints—at least not without some a loss of maturity on the part of both individuals and nations alike. The relaxing of the American ego, in my estimation, is destined to either be part of the conscious maturation of America as a nation—through the adopting of a less controlling and domineering geo-political stance throughout the world, with respect to other nations and peoples—or will come about through various transformational crises that will simply force a necessary relaxing of the American ego, with or without there being any collective consent on the part of the general American public. All of which is to say that the next step in the maturation of America will take place with general consent or without it. And this, to me, is a slight difference that could make all the difference in the world. Because it is to either accept the responsibilities that come with maturity or to deny these and play the role of rich, little spoilt brat of a nation—with all of the ongoing antagonism and animosity that that implies around the world.
Is it any wonder that America chose a rich, white kid (George W. Bush) for President—who according to all reports did everything to evade his way out of hardships in his youth—over a rich, white kid (John Kerry)—who according to all reports voluntarily took on great hardships in his youth?
Is it any wonder to quite possibly guess which general direction the American public has chosen to go in, based upon their most recent choice for President? Does American now have a President who evades responsibility for his choices, because his life-story has been about the evasion of difficult circumstances over easier ones? And if this is indeed at least partly true, then what does that say about America collectively: have we chosen a man who reflects our own collective inadequacies and short-comings?
If so, I have no doubt that other peoples and nations—and their leaders—will step up to the challenge of any gap left—or made by—fatal American weaknesses masquerading as strengths.
Going It Alone
The spoilt, rich, white brat.
What is the difference between Paris Hilton and George W. Bush? As far as I know George W. has not made any illicit sex-tapes that have been found running loose on the Internet. That matter being left aside, though, one could say that from a socio-economic perspective there is not a damn bit of difference between George W. Bush and Paris Hilton. They are both cut from the fabric of the same class. Yes, class. I said it. That political hot potato: class. The taboo of this age of diminished discourse.
Leaving George W.'s Western farm-hand trappings aside for a moment, it should be borne in mind that according to important sociological factors George W. Bush ought to express tendencies of a spoilt brat. 1) If the people of the world do not want to play his way then he will go it alone. He can do this. He can do this because he comes from wealth and prestige. So, he does not really need to know how to work well with others. He doesn't need to know how to play well with others because he can—get this, afford not to have to learn that lesson.
Take, for example an underprivileged child, one who has access to fewer resources. Such a child will generally learn how to get along well with others, if for no other reason than the fact that community and sharing can quite possibly improve the conditions with which her or she happens to live. Say that this child has no glamourous toys, but knows a friend who does. Now, this child can have access to those toys if he or she is able to play well with those who do. This is something that does not have to follow for the rich brat. The rich brat can take his or here toys and leave. The rich brat can go it alone! The rich brat will exhibit a tendency to do so!
There is a downside, however, for those who try to access increased resources through connection with the rich, white kid. This downside is a loss of integrity and the general tendency known as 'brown-nosing'—otherwise known as 'ass-kissing.' If we want what the rich, white kid has, but cannot afford it ourselves, then we may try to schmooze with the rich, white kid. We could even end up auctioning off our own soul, just so that we can have access to the toys that the rich, white kid has.
This brief example to me sums up the essence of what a lot of people in America are going through. The classic class struggles that Marx spoke of in great depth are evidenced in the infatuation with pop-culture icons like Paris Hilton… and yes, George W. Bush. People end up 'selling themselves short'---auctioning off the integrity of their own person—in order to be associated with the rich, white kid. America is a nation of Uncle Toms. Ass-kissers with their noses so far up the butt of the spoilt, rich, white kid that they cannot even see what the cost of doing so actually is.
In short, people want to be accepted. And they want to be accepted into the stratosphere of those who are seen as occupying the class of the 'elite,' if you will. This follows whether we are talking about fashion and Paris Hilton or politics and George W. Bush.
In all honesty, if I could say anything of worth and importance here in this brief post-election essay, it would be to suggest that the most esteemed attributes of the human race have emerged through a sense of the shared struggle that we face. We should not aspire to ass-kissing. That is not, in my estimation, a 'Path with Heart.' Nor should we endeavour to go it alone and sever any and all ties with those whom we are intimately connected to and with. Having enough 'political capital' to give the finger to those who might disagree with us on the surface—who don't play like we want them to—is childish and ought not be held up as some sort of psycho-spiritual end-point that we ought to seek out.
Think about it. If we are put into a position of having to share and share alike—if we are embedded in a truly equitable social division of labour—then we all need each other and we ought not be so infatuated with severing these social needs and obligations through enacting the worst-case scenario of the spoilt, rich, white kid. In this case, Paris Hilton and George W. Bush are not examples of the kind of life we ought to aspire to. In many ways, they represent the exact antithesis of what the Saints, Sages, and Mystics have said is the Embodiment of the Way. Heck, they can't yet return to the marketplace because they have yet to leave it!
The Fate Of A Spoilt Nation
The rich, white kid owns the toys. But needs someone to play with. We know it is not always fun to play alone, is it?
The rich, white kid has a problem though. Because he knows he own the toys—they are mine!—he will find it easy to deprive others of the capacity to play equally and equitably. In other words, the spoilt, rich, white kid wants to define the parameters of the games being played. And if you or anyone else disagrees then they just take their toys and go home—or they ask you to leave!
This is how the spoilt, rich, white kid controls how the games are played, who gets to play, and who doesn't.
What happens over time is that the spoilt, rich, white kid will only be playing with those who consent to his or her rules. This is not a relationship. This is domination. This is manipulation. This is a form of bondage. Make no mistake about it: the spoilt, rich, white kid will only play with those who plays according to his or her rules—which means, in terms of competition, plays in such a way that the rich, white kid always wins and his or her ass-kissing companions always lose.
The spoilt, rich, white kid needs playmates who are willing to be chronically humiliated.
Anyone with an ounce of integrity in them will find a way to tell the spoilt, rich, white kid to take his toys and stick up them up there where the Sun don't shine—right along with the noses of those who consent to the charade of relationship and fairness that are the games the rich, white kid forever weights in his favour. This means that those with integrity will somehow find it in themselves to express a heart-felt and sincere 'Fuck You!' to the spoilt, rich, white kid. If access to the toys the rich, white kid has—and the games that he or she plays with those toys—happens to be lost, then so be it. If that is the price of authenticity and integrity, then we say, with all sincerity, 'Fuck you and your spoilt, little existence! I won't degrade myself and defame my character by consenting to play the games in such a way that you set yourself up to win all the time. I won't play with your toys. I won't kiss your ass. And I sure as hell won't play any games on unequal terms. So see ya!'
So what happens to the spoilt, rich, white kid? Well, for starters, those with integrity and authenticity will find it in themselves to not be associated with the spoilt, rich, white kid any longer. They will have left that child to play with him- or herself, as well as those who have become enablers of the spoilt brat. They will walk away with their head held high.
So it really is true, you are either with the spoilt, rich, white kid or against him. Either consent to the demands and dictates of the power-mongering brat (kiss ass), or dissent and retain your integrity.
David Jon Peckinpaugh is authour of Buddha & Shakespeare: Eastern Dharma, Western Drama (2004); Naked Guide To Life And Death: Experts, Extremism, Evolution, Education (2002); and Framing The Postmodern: Language, Culture, Commerce, Consciousness (2000).
Note: I realize that I have used what some might consider 'gross generalizations' regarding the American voting public. These can be somewhat unfair. I also realize that upwards of 50+ million Americans voted for John Kerry. At the same, I feel that the generalizations regarding the precise nature of America's current ideological center of gravity still hold. That, statistically speaking, the majourity of ballots cast for the incumbent indicate that much of what I have argued here is very much the case. And not just for the newly re-elected President either, but also for those who chose the most fitting reflection of their own character, development, and persona.