March 20, 2019

Speaking of Liberation

Why can't we hold paradigms at a distance? Why does every explanatory belief system turn into a religion, a fundamentalism? "Fundament" is related to the notion of a base--that on which we stand, our security. From infancy, and the Self/Other split I discuss in Coming to Our Senses, we carry a deep worry that all is not well, that we are on shaky ground; really, that the Other is dangerous. This is why people double down, and why myth always triumphs over fact. It sheds light on the need for total explanations, and the fierce attachment to those explanations. It is why the cultivation of Buddhist "space" between our selves and our beliefs is extremely hard to achieve, and why genuine dialogue is rare. Arthur Koestler, who spent his life blindly chasing one ism after another, finally suggested, before he died, that we need to develop a pill to combat "devotion," by which he meant addictive attachment. I suppose lobotomy is the closest we've come to that.

I studied Russian in college, and a few times each week would go to the library and read the latest edition of Pravda, the major Moscow newspaper. It got old pretty quickly, because the daily headline was typically some variant of "Millions Enslaved by Capitalism." But why stop there? Millions were enslaved by the idea of communism. Millions are enslaved by the ideas of feminism, Zionism, technology, Hinduism, Islam, white supremacism--etc.

What this suggests is that until that root fear of Self vs. Other is resolved, we shall continue to live in a fog, a world of isms. This fog is also known as History, in the sense that James Joyce used the term when he wrote, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken." It is revealing that these various fogs are interchangeable, as Eric Hoffer pointed out in The True Believer. What the particular belief is, is of little consequence. The important thing is to have one. The fog provides us with pseudo-safety; and so the charade goes on.

The individual who chooses to address that root fear in him- or herself, to follow the Buddist path of freedom from fear, greed, and illusion, is going to be engaged in an epic struggle; this is for sure. But can anyone seriously believe that such a goal is possible for the entire human race, or even a single nation? To call this a long shot would be the understatement of the century. It's an inspiring vision: individual enlightenment multiplied by billions, until History in Joyce's sense comes to an end. I'm guessing we'll be waiting for a long time, for that one.

"Although there is no hope for the human race," wrote Eric Berne at the conclusion of Games People Play, "there is some hope for a few individuals in it." Cold comfort, but there you are.

(c)Morris Berman, 2019