Tuesday, January 2, 2018
4:35 a.m. Jane’s question [below] led me to re-read that entry in Chasing Smallwood, and I thought, that really is good. And, I was lying down earlier thinking I really need to write a summary of a new way of seeing the world – all this material that has come in, in the past two decades, almost – but I don’t know if I can do it. I suppose the answer is, I can’t, but I can be a channel for those who can.
[Jane Peranteau 1-1-18
[Frank–I “accidentally” came across your post for 2/17/18–“The Challenge of Our Times”–and was again just amazed by it. It’s a good one to be reading at the beginning of a New Year. For the first time, I understood Lincoln’s deepest significance for our creation of a new consciousness. Wow. I wonder if you realize how good these posts are.
[In the post, you/they say, “Remind us sometime to speak of the models that have succeeded,” as opposed to our dying model of materialism. Could you ask them about that, if the time is right?]
Well, Jane’s reminder is timely. If I knew at the time what they meant, I certainly don’t now, and these times seem darker than 2006, a dozen years ago, when I wrote that sentence. I am going to assume that the question is raised now rather than at another time because now is a time when it will be no interruption. So – can you respond to the query?
Bear in mind, although a dozen years is nothing in the span of time, any given dozen years may mark profound change. Usually not, of course – profound change is not found under every bush – but sometimes. The dozen years spanning the beginning, duration and immediate aftermath of a big war, say, may be the bridge between two worlds that can hardly understand each other even at the simplest level. America in 1858 and 1870, say, or in 1938 and 1950. The huge model would be the entire world in 1910 and 1922. You get the idea. Well, the difference between 2006 and 2018 is not of that magnitude, but it isn’t trivial, either.
And if all this is so regarding externals, think how much more it is true with respect to the closer, realer, life that is internal. (Remember, if you can, that external and internal are not separate even if we must often consider them so.) Your lives are short, your changes relatively more profound, because not averaged out [among other individuals, I think this meant]. And there is, in effect, continual interaction between external events and internal events.
Yes, we can’t step in the same river twice, not only because the river moves but also because we move. It isn’t the same person.
That’s the idea. So if we now turn to your question – which, to your eyes, we ourselves posed in 2006 – recognize that the answer itself, and those with ears to hear, are both unique to the time. These same words would not have been experienced in the same way in the past, and will not be in the future. In effect, the very unchanging words – will change. It is always so, but usually not noticed, or not considered.
And this is important to the question – how?
Take it as a reminder. You cannot expect to see much more clearly than your times allow, and extend that understanding to those who have tried to see clearly in the past. [Though, I wrote “in the future”!] That’s one point. But the other, complementary, point is that you must not assume that the mere passage of time means greater clarity is possible.
That’s the fallacy of “inevitable progress.”
It is. And although one might suppose that events would have long since obliterated that belief, in practice it is a very powerful magnet that continues to polarize the iron filings. Deep in your unconscious organization of the world, you have a meme that says, “With time, everything gets better.” The fact that in some of you it gets flipped to, “With time, everything gets worse” does not invalidate our statement. Either statement is functionally identical, only with a different emotional overlay. But this magnetizer is false, and the less you remain under its spell, the freer you will be.
In any one restricted field of inquiry, the idea of inevitable progress or inevitable regress may seem to be supported, but life does not proceed in separated compartments. If scientific inquiry, social justice (or injustice), religious thought, political warfare, popular music, fabric design, architectural trends, technological innovation, fads – if the million components of life, each with its own progression, its own effect on the whole (based on its own reaction to the whole), are considered together, how can you expect to see “progress”? Or “regress?” All such abstract concepts are just that, abstract. You will never see “progress” or “regress” – you will see change. You will see an altered reality with its own rules of existence.
All this is to try to loosen the bonds of your expectations around the subject. Other civilizations obviously occupy different times. It is useful for you to consciously realize that older is not better, nor worse. Civilizations do not continually progress, each building upon the previous. Neither do they continually decline from previous greatness. There is no such process in reality, only in mental schemes that may be devised.
That seems obvious. Toynbee studied 30-some (I think it was) civilizations, and I can’t remember him saying “This one was better than that one, naturally, because it followed (or preceded).” You’d have to be pretty simple-minded to think that way.
“Simple-minded” isn’t the problem. Consciousness is the problem. As we said, this is an unconscious assumption that can only lose its grip on your thought by being made conscious. There is no other way. Like all things, this idea, while it is unconscious for you, will rule your life, just as Carl Jung said. But once you make it conscious and really look at it, you regain control. You do – until you let it slip back into your unconscious mind.
And, by the way, one definition of the mind of a given time is just such unconsciously held beliefs. If you are English in the 1700s, only an act of conscious thought may – though probably it won’t – free you from total unconscious adherence to the “knowledge” that “Irishmen are” – and here fill in that society’s prejudices about Irishmen. You see? The time and the place always contains masses of unexpressed assumptions that rule.
The Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
That’s what it is. At least, that is one aspect of how it is.
Now, we have been going on for 50 minutes, though we have filled not quite six pages, and you haven’t gotten to the question, really.
The answer to the question is to be found by individual investigation, not by reading it here and magically getting the idea. But speak about Buddhist Economics.
I see your strategy, suddenly. Rather than point to an example, point to a way of thinking. All right. Economist E.F. Schumacher wrote a book called Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. It was published a good while ago, in the `60s or early `70s. [1973, it turns out.] Included in it is a brilliant chapter titled Buddhist Economics in which he shows, simply and unforgettably, how there can be no such thing as “an” economics, because economics depends upon metaphysical assumptions. So, to a Buddhist, work is not a necessity to be borne with (or without) resignation. It is a means of working out his salvation. (Therefore it is not work but meaningless work that would be a problem, but this is not Schumacher’s argument, but mind, thrown in.)
So if you look at medieval society in various countries in the West, or the society the Jesuits ran in Paraguay until European forces got them expelled, or Chinese society under strong kings and emperors, or feudal Japan, you can find models of organic societies that recognized mutual interaction and responsibility. That doesn’t mean they resembled each other in other respects. It says nothing about their social justice or injustice (recognizing that you have no neutral platform from which to judge that). Nothing about their attitude toward innovation. But it does say one thing – they conceived of society in a comprehensive way. In none of those societies would the accumulation of wealth by one individual or family be considered in the way that modern America, say, considers it. There was less fluidity, and less tolerance of the breaking of bounds.
Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Labels merely illustrate your own preference.
It has been more than an hour. Shall we continue the discussion later?
We shall let the times decide.
As you wish. Till next time, then.