[At once I apologize for the length of this article. I could see no way to chop it up into segments.]
At the time of the American Revolution, Reason reigned on the throne of the hearts and minds of enlightened men and women. The Declaration of Independence is, if anything, a reasonable statement of self-evident precepts. From that point until the 20th century, the western world was filled with hope that the future held unstoppable advances in education, health, prosperity and peace.
That triumph of reason was stained from the beginning, however, by the bargain made with the devil of slavery. Reason began taking more pummeling later in the nineteenth century when rapid industrialization revealed the horrors of low pay, child labor, toxic work environments and mind-numbing, heart-stifling repetitive work. The first generation of the “Captains of Industry” flaunted their immense wealth squeezed from the tight fists of their vast monopolies.
The first half of the twentieth century produced not one, but two world wars, unmasking even further reason’s dark sides showing that a self-styled master race can justify any amount of violence and evil.
It is true that the Second World War was fought to defend reason in the form of freedom yet the ugliness and violence of that war (which ended with the blinding light of the atomic age) began to blur the lines between right and wrong. Wholesale destruction of the great cities (non-military targets) of Germany and the nuclear destruction of two cities in Japan were simply the quid pro quo collateral damage of an ugly war. The Cold War which followed was largely fought in a gray mist where right and wrong vanished into the murky shadows of espionage, regime change, and cynical affirmations that “the end justifies the means.”
While the 1950’s in America saw a resurgence of optimism, dark clouds of fanaticism clustered around the political purges of Senator McCarthy and rising corporate greed fueled warnings from the likes of newscaster Edward R. Murro regarding the future loss of innocence and integrity in the news media. Ditto for the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.
The dawn of the 1960’s brought hope with a new and young president but this too was quickly marred by upheaval and turmoil in race relations and rebellious antiestablishment lifestyles. Very soon cries of despair arose over three consecutive assassinations of great leaders and anguish over the insanity and hypocrisy of the Vietnam War.
Fast forward to 2017, more or less, and what do we see? Fake news? A kind of “Battle of the Bulge” is occurring with a resurgence of prejudice, hate and suspicion of “foreigners.” On the world wide web anyone can post their craziness. Now there are more conspiracy theories than ever before. (Whatever happened to the Trilateral Commission? Out of commission?)
Whereas in former times a doctor was God and hospitals and clinics his temple, now we have to do the research and advocate for ourselves, while trying to figure out the labyrinth of insurance options and coverage. We routinely question medical and scientific studies which are too often funded by self-interest groups or tampered with by self-promoting scientists. Doctors simply give us a panoply of drugs and say, “Try this and let me know how it works!”
We cannot trust the food we eat. We are beginning to grow our own.
Albert Einstein’s failure to find the “theory of everything” combined with theories of chaos and randomness are such that researchers either chase the almighty buck or are only interested in new but marginal breakthroughs. Quantum physics has taken science to the brink of non-matter, even to the edge of consciousness: down the rabbit hole, effectively, toppling the fortress of “either - or” reason and destroying the kingdom of matter.
Liberals are “ultra” and insist that the government owes everyone everything at no cost while the conservatives want to turn the clock back so they can protect their high caste status and their portfolios from the coming avalanche of change. All that matters is “What I want.” Or, “What I believe.” And, “What’s in it for me?”
The noble concept of a pluralistic society whose elected representatives work together to reach compromises in order to achieve a more “perfect union” is now sadly beyond our very ability to imagine it.
Only a serious threat from an enemy (military, economic, political) or a catastrophe of enormous proportions (pandemic; earthquake; gigantic and irrefutable climate change) could unite this or any other nation into concerted action.
There remains however: HOPE FOR A BETTER WORLD. Idealism is on the rise; a sense of our shared interests and kinship, whether under God or on the earth or both is small but growing.
The popularity of yoga and meditation—veritable symbols of peace and harmony—continues unabated throughout the world. We now have an International Day of Yoga. It originated with a yogi who is the president of the largest democracy in the world (India). It is not, however, likely that sanity and enlightened reason will return to our nation or planet anytime soon.
Because, let’s face it: the god of reason has been dethroned. Frankly, it hasn’t worked very well anyway. Reason has not stemmed the tide of ignorance and prejudice. Reason has not reduced substance abuse, addiction or violence as if it were a vaccine injected by the needle of education. Reason alone, without help from religion, reveals the Golden Rule but the Golden Rule does not rule.
We of an eastern bent of mind who espouse the precept that life ebbs and flows between opposites are not in the least dismayed by these trends for we know as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus averred that Panta Rhei (all is flux). But the pendulum of opposites is never simple. If it were, then humans would see through its illusion too easily. There are also movements which we could call spirals, rising and falling which appear to make each new turn a twist and each new twist appears unique.
We are seeing a cycle that is the decline of the much vaunted and arrogantly affirmed western claim of superiority based on enlightened reason. The cycle of rational inquiry perhaps had its visible beginnings with the Renaissance, moved into the Age of Exploration and Reformation, gave birth to the Age of Enlightenment and independence, which in turn, propelled by the exponentially increasing revelations of science, birthed the industrial age and on and on.
Now, with reason cycling down into increasing disrepute, we find taking its place a rising tide of passion. Passion is crazy; intense, unpredictable; riotous; compassionate, innovative, merciful, cruel and so much more! Passion is the active manifestation of feeling. And feeling, whether mild, medium or intense, has a dark and a light side. We can call the dark side of feeling the emotions of a contractive nature and the light side the expansiveness of inclusive feeling.
By emotions I mean the contractive affirmation of selfishness or egoism as in “raw” emotions based on “fight or flight,” fear, greed, anger, prejudice, attachment (etc.) or other unexamined biases. By expansive and inclusive feeling I refer to calm certitude, unselfishness, non-attachment, and intuitive insight. Expansiveness of feeling is essentially intuitive for it sees wholeness or connection where ego-affirming emotions can see only differences. Intuition accepts (and embraces) a broader reality than only oneself, while emotions affirm the limited reality of one’s ego, opinions, desires and fears.
Expansive elation leading to connectedness with all life can found anywhere and everywhere: in nature; in being in love; in extreme sports; in tragedy or success; in space to astronauts observing our earth; in prayer and meditation; and on and on.
By contrast, negative emotions are the all too familiar emotions of polarized politics, pride and prejudice related to social status, clinging to one’s opinions, distrust and competition between nations over trade or influence, consequences of globalization, racism, abortion, gender issues, and on and on.
At the same time, we, including you, reading this article, see the gentler tsunami of rising unity, harmony, sustainability, creativity, inventiveness, kindness, humanitarian efforts, peace and harmony.
Returning to the fall of reason, we can no longer trust sources of reason. By “sources of reason” I mean facts and purveyors of facts.
Facts are supposed to be aspects of reason because objectively verifiable. But now we don’t really know what is fact and what is speculation or false. We don’t really know who to believe when the person or subject matter is unknown to us personally. Take the simple but crucial topic of climate change. Outside the scientific community of those studying the subject, we are dependent upon what we read and hear. Inside the scientific community there is no unanimity on what is a complex subject of study. Added to these reasonable difficulties are the irrational ones arising from self-interest (on both sides) and the emotions born of recalcitrant opinions (each claiming facts). The situation can be found on other issues, such as health care, welfare, gender definitions, and religion--to name just a few key topics.
The failure of religionists to practice what they preach has given rise to a growing rejection of orthodox religion in favor of being “spiritual but not religious.” Spiritual vs religious means one is oriented to one’s own personal experience (and, yes, sometimes one’s own private beliefs). The popularity of yoga and meditation are excellent examples of those seeking personal experience in preference to dogma or empty rituals.
The worldwide network of Ananda communities stands for a lifestyle that will unquestionably grow in popularity in this century because such associations give people who share their ideals or beliefs a practical way to “walk their talk” together. Communities can be residential, work-centric, issue-centric, or virtual. And yes, people with negative values can form them as well. Either way, if you can’t believe what you read and can’t trust people you don’t know, what else can you do but find others who believe as you do. I don’t say this cynically. I say this clinically! The alternative is to drown in society’s mayhem and confusion.
Looking ahead, I see a decline in centralization of power. While this decline began with a change in consciousness (the affirmation of individuality and attendant rights) as all such great shifts do, its primary symbol today is the world-wide-web. Its founding ideals are those of the United States. Here in the United States we see a shift of power from the central government to states and local governments. Paralyzed as we are at a national level, cities and states are taking positions on climate change, immigration, marijuana, and many other issues which might otherwise have been, or should be, more effectively dealt with nationally. Health care may yet join those ranks. So, too, I predict welfare and other social safety nets may go the same way. Small intentional communities are its logical and ultimate manifestation.
[As a reminder: the delicate balance between states’ rights and the power of a national government began at the birth of America! But mostly through the twentieth century power shifted to the national government with turn of the century formation of the Federal Reserve, the creation of the federal income tax, and the consequences of two world wars and the Cold War. Now it is shifting back even at the very moment when the big issues of the nation and of the world call for leadership and cooperation! Sigh!]
Splintering of large groups into smaller ones began visibly with the breakup of the Soviet Union and client states. The splintering continues throughout the world as smaller groups (ethnic, tribal, racial or religious) assert their independence, their rights, and their self-identity. They often do so violently. This will continue for a very long time, even if future wars, depressions, pandemics and catastrophes will, from time to time, give renewed, but temporary, power back to national or international governments.
The movement of consciousness in the direction of individual rights and freedom will continue even though technology provides powerful control mechanisms into the hands of centralized powers (whether governmental, private or corporate). Orson Well’s novel, 1984, had the date wrong but was an accurate prediction of future possibilities. Fortunately, technology is a two-edged sword for it has also been a key to empowering the individual through communication, education, and awareness.
In short, we are moving towards increasing disruptions and chaos. There’s no turning back. Instability is steadily rising in the United States and there’s no “reason” to foresee its abatement. Local police forces are heavily equipped and highly trained, nothing less than armed militias. Prisons, we are told, are overflowing. Can you imagine the impact of disruptions in food and fuel? Or, reductions in social security, welfare, or food stamps and other forms of entitlement? The American standard of living has nowhere to go but down as that of other nations continues to rise. We simply cannot continue to consume more than our share of natural resources nor purchase the vast majority of our goods from other countries with nothing but our over-valued currency to offer in exchange.
The advice given us by Paramhansa Yogananda (one of the great spiritual teachers of our age) is to establish a life of prayer, meditation, service to God through others, and to establish communities of like-minded friends inspired by high ideals and expressed through a simple and sustainable lifestyle. Meditation is at the heart of the inner life wherein the castle of peace can be defended and from which the unassailable joy of the soul can be shared. (For the record, Yogananda foretold difficult times but said that a time would come of several hundred years of relative peace as those who survive the turmoil vow NOT to perpetuate it.)
These solutions are God’s response and gift to those with “ears to hear” and to those with compassionate and courageous hearts. How else best to weather the woes of an age of great instability where we cannot know what is true and who is false; where, in the final analysis, nothing is real but what resides within you. From the cosmic view of the soul, these “interesting times” are wonderful opportunities for spiritual growth. Perhaps many have been, are, and will be born for this purpose and for the purpose of forming a vanguard of higher consciousness to see humanity through a difficult period of history.
There is much to be positive about, notwithstanding my catalogue of apparent pessimism above. Much depends on how quickly and extensively consciousness can shift from emotion to intuition, from “me” to “us.” Yet, at present, the weight of momentum is going in a negative direction. The passions that have been aroused run deep and run violent. And, they have found their voice in a shared, but false, legitimacy. But the long term trend in consciousness is clearly in favor of tolerance and acceptance. It’s simply a matter of how soon the battles and skirmishes can turn the tide to win the war. The more of “us” that stand tall and together, willing to make sacrifices in lifestyle and resources, in prayer and meditation, the sooner the “sun will rise in the East.”
Remember: “The only way out is IN!”
Joy to you!
Reading references from books by Swami Kriyananda and published by Crystal Clarity, Publishers include: Out of the Labyrinth, God is For Everyone, Hope for a Better World, & Religion in the New Age