Section topics: The two main approaches to organizing human societies (the orientation to the individual or the orientation to the collective, the benefits of Classic Liberalism).
Scattered comment: Jim Baggott on “Mass” (quantum research and conclusions); Materialism/atheism or religion (and other alternatives for the human meaning impulse); Gradualism in human progress versus the violence of “instantaneous transformation” movements; Eruptions of public hatred (tribalism, outrage and cancel culture); Defending an unconditional approach to imperfect humanity (not pacifism but restorative justice); A framework for understanding human story.
The Two Main Approaches to Organizing Human Societies
Daniel Hannan in “Inventing Freedom”
Hannan on the Western contribution to the world: Personal property rights, personal liberty, and representative government. “There are three irreducible elements… The rule of law… the government of the day doesn’t get to set the rules… they are interpreted by independent magistrates… the law is not an instrument of state control but a mechanism open to any individual seeking redress…
“Personal liberty… freedom to say what you like, to assemble in any configuration you choose with your fellow citizens, to buy and sell without hindrance, to dispose as you wish of your assets, to work for whom you please, and to hire and fire as you will…”
“Representative government… Laws should not be passed, nor taxes levied, except by elected legislators who are answerable to the rest of us…”
“… the individual should be as free as possible from state coercion… (wars for freedom in the last century were between countries that elevated the state over individuals and countries that elevated the individual over the state) …”
Left/Right (and the immense benefits of Classic Liberalism)
The comment below comes from a “fiercely Independent” viewpoint. Kinda like Goldilocks- not too far Left, not too far Right. Sort of Libertarianish or Classic Liberalism. Just floating like a butterfly, free to alight wherever, enjoy the nectar, and then move on. A self that is free in an open process and not fixed rigidly on any object (i.e. not finding identity in some fixed ideology, religion, nationality, race/ethnicity, or other objects of human identity) as per The Mutable Self of Louis Zurcher.
Point? David Boaz said regarding the US situation that Republicans needed to embrace more freedom in the social realm and Democrats needed to embrace more freedom in the economic realm. Neither side held a monopoly on good. My ‘Free Floating’ stance keeps me from the dogmatic tribalism that locks into one side only and fights the other side as some enemy to be cancelled entirely.
While the US Democratic party has previously been more centrist, many on the Liberal side of the US situation now note that US Democrats/Liberals are being pulled further toward Leftist collectivist ideologies. US Republicans continue also to be pulled toward coercive state intervention on social issues (i.e. women’s rights, choices, and freedoms).
Conversation overheard in a home: Mother, “Son, do not talk politics or religion when the guests come. OK. You know how it irks people. So behave yourself, eh”.
Son’s response: “Yes, Ma. I will be good”. (Boy, thinking to himself- “Fuck that, eh”).
The two main approaches to organizing human societies across history: A primary orientation to the collective, or a primary orientation to the individual. We never get all that we want on either side of these political divides so we are obligated out of common decency to make some compromise with, basically, the other half of our societies.
Is there some healthy balance between the free individual approach and the collectivist approach? Our societies continue the tug back and forth between these two approaches to organizing human societies (see Arthur Herman’s The Cave and The Light for the long-term history of this tug-of-war, from the Greeks on down). It appears that we will continue to embrace some mixed version of the two approaches that encompasses the concerns of both sides. We are seeing the latest version of this Collectivist versus ‘individual freedom’ struggle play out in the arena of the climate debate (note that climate alarmists advocate for coercive collectivist solutions). Below are some of the basic issues in this Left/Right dualism in our societies.
I would locate the core issue as this- What primary orientation of a society (i.e. the collective or the individual model) shows evidence of providing the most good for the most people. Based on such evidence: What is the best approach for organizing human societies?
Note: The Left/Right or Liberal/Conservative social opposition often becomes infected with the residual tribal spirit/mind that we have inherited from our animal past and that continues to erupt prominently in today’s societies to the detriment of necessary cooperation to maintain peace.
Central point/argument: Protected individual freedom and rights (property rights, and freedom to enter private contracts, self-determination and self-government, and many other related personal freedoms) such personal freedom uniquely unleashes human creativity to solve problems and to improve life in all ways, for all humanity, as well as improve nature. The established historical outcomes of the orientation to individual freedoms, protections, and rights has produced the most good for the most people. Notably, the distribution of power among competing/cooperating individuals prevents the centralization of power that inevitably leads to eruptions of the destructive totalitarian impulse.
Some defining: Collectivism emphasizes the group and group goals as having priority over the individual and individual rights. The individual is subordinate to some social collective- i.e. the state or nation. Collectivism traditionally advocates for abolishing private property. Collectivism inevitably involves the centralization of power under the direction of some controlling elite and that is its primary failing and danger.
Herman notes that German philosopher Georg Hegel gave modern collectivism its orientation to the state as the embodiment of the Collective or greater good. That would become government bureaucrats legislating for all members of a society how to live their lives (individuals subjected to state elites as in Marxist models). “Teams of bureaucrats become a virtual cadre of Philosopher Rulers who bring order and justice to a needy world… the State acting to protect us from ourselves because the State is our Better and Higher Self” (Cave and Light, p.436). The state/government then became the embodiment or representative of greater good in societies.
Examples of collectives- tribal societies, communes (e.g. Robert Owen’s commune), Communism, socialist states, and the collective element in social democracies or Democratic Socialism, and now Left-leaning Progressivism.
Let it be affirmed- Collectivist concern for greater or common good is to be honored. The issue, however, is how do we best achieve the most good for the most people. What does historical evidence tell us that works best to lift the most people out of the misery of poverty and into prosperity and well-being? In other words, which approach has worked best to actually get us to the greater or common good of all. Again- the most good for the most people?
The core feature that gets us to common or greater good must be understood, honored, and protected above all else.
One of the articles on the HumanProgress.org site notes the explosion of wealth creation and consequent improvement of the human condition that began, notably, in the early 1800s (1820 to be more exact- see also William Bernstein’s The Birth of Plenty). That outburst of progress points to the West’s great contribution to the world that is often discredited/dismissed in the anti-industrial society activism that comes predominantly from environmental alarmism today (also more generally from Left-leaning Progressivism).
Many today outright despise and belittle overall Western civilization, claiming that it has mainly been about the excesses of Colonialism, Capitalism, and the initial harmful outcomes of industrialization. And yes, early industrialization was damaging to people and to nature. But Environmental Transition or Ecological Kuznets Curve research shows, with increasing wealth, developing nations have naturally turned to cleaning up industry, improving the human condition, and improving their environments. All people are natural environmentalists when they can afford to be such. This has been the history of the developed nations of the West and elsewhere.
The essential nature of the Western tradition is its orientation to individual freedom. The Western approach to organizing society around individual human freedom, protected freedom, has unleashed human creativity as never before, in industrial society. The Western approach of orienting society to free individuals, via industrial or free market civilization, has given us all that we value today in improved living conditions and the technological advances of today.
With the immense wealth-creating potential of free individuals, industrial society has also enabled us to protect and improve our natural world as never before. This overturns the relentlessly distorting narrative of environmental alarmists that economic growth and development destroys nature. See Desrochers and Szurmak’s book ‘Population Bombed’ for detail on how human progress in industrial society benefits even nature (e.g. declining rates of per capita resource use). Their book is an update on Julian Simon’s brilliant Ultimate Resource.
England finally got individual equality and freedom right after struggling with the issue over preceding centuries. It all began with documents like Magna Carta that subjected kings/lords to the same laws, rights, and responsibilities that were given to all others. See Daniel Hannen’s The Invention of Freedom for this history. Such documents were early expressions of how societies could promote and protect the equality of all citizens.
This innovation (Magna Carta and similar earlier documents) eventually developed into institutions like a parliament that represented all citizens equally and was no longer an institution that represented only the interests of ruling elites such as Kings/lords (i.e. the “government” or governing elites of the day). English Common Law also affirmed the equality of all- i.e. equal freedom, protections, and rights.
Most central to protected individual equality and freedom was the protection of individual private property. Kings/lords could no longer arbitrarily seize the property of commoners, a practice that had long undermined the human motivation to improve one’s private property. Note, for example, how powerholder intervention in private property undermined human motivation, and the horrific outcomes, in China under Mao’s great collectivist redistribution experiments that ended in mass poverty, starvation, and death. The same violation of private property rights also resulted in mass misery under Stalin’s collectivism in Russia. We have ongoing examples of the failures of collectivism in states such as Zimbabwe (previously the “breadbasket of Africa”) and Venezuela (once one of the richest nations on Earth).
The English protection of private property unleashed human creativity and more widespread endeavor by people to improve their own lives and families, knowing they would get the rewards of personal labor investment and achievement. Protected private property is the most essential element in preventing totalitarianism because it provides the physical basis of dispersed power (Hayek in The Road to Serfdom).
The institutions oriented to individual freedoms and rights all came together with wider public influence in the early 1800s and wealth creation took off as never before. Across previous history GDP had been basically flat with about 95% of populations living in absolute poverty.
You may hate and belittle the institution of private property, and its obvious failures, but understand that it works better than anything else that humanity has discovered to unleash creativity and improve life overall for most people. Unfortunately, private property remains the primary “evil” to the collectivist mind. The main obstacle to greater good, collective good. Socialists have insistently demeaned the human impulse to improve one’s life or one’s property and the condition of one’s family as the expression of selfishness and greed. I would counter that improving one’s personal situation in life (the condition of one’s family) through private property is the most basic form of love and responsibility.
Consider the outcomes of the private property element in the ongoing spread of wealth creation that is evident in the stunning and continuing decline of poverty across the world today. Such evidence affirms the importance of private property as fundamental to protecting human freedom and improving the general well-being of all (i.e. the best means of achieving the greater or common good as a by-product of individual freedom, responsibility, and creativity).
Individual freedom, rights, protections, and equality of opportunity are the foundational elements of the successful model that the West has offered the world. But this model for organizing human society has been under relentless attack from the collectivist approach. Herman in The Cave and The Light traces the long-term history of these two models from the time of the Greeks and their outcomes on human societies across history. The Collectivist approach is traced from Plato and his Ideals/Forms that should shape the ideal society. That approach descended down through Hegel and Marx. The individually oriented model is traced from Aristotle.
Collectivist models for organizing human society have repeatedly and inevitably unleashed the destructive totalitarian impulse, with its intrusive and coercive control of people, and that has consequently harmed both the human condition and nature (e.g. central planning of resource use, nationalization of the business/economic realm, and distribution of resources and outcomes of production). Collectivist models concentrate power in governing elites (i.e. the “enlightened vanguards” of collectivism). Many in the more recent generation, not familiar with the horrific outcomes of the past century’s collectivist experiments, are once again leaning toward collectivist approaches that promise utopian-like outcomes (restoration of some lost past paradise).
A central issue
Collectivists/Socialists will not give up on their approach to organizing societies even after a long history of repeated failures of their approach. Collectivists sincerely believe that their model for organizing society is “morally superior”. Collectivists sincerely believe that they stand for the “greater or common good” while they caricaturize and misrepresent the individual freedom model as all about selfishness and greed that obstructs and neglects the greater or common good. Consequently, they believe that their approach is best for all others and that leads them to repeatedly engage projects to coerce others to follow their model. They cannot let go of the dream for Socialism’s eventual success… somehow.
Insert: Marxist professors at Simon Fraser University (late 1980s) defensively excused Socialism as a noble and good system for organizing society that just needed another chance to exhibit its goodness and purity. They argued that Communism (collapsing around that time) was a perversion of true Socialism. But their defense misses the point that all varieties of Socialism are just differing expressions of collectivism that centralizes power (see former Socialist Joshua Muravchik’s history of Communalism/socialism in ‘Heaven on Earth’).
The collectivist belief in the moral superiority of their system dismisses the evidence that the societal orientation to individual freedom (protecting individual freedom) has lifted more people out of the misery of poverty than any other model in history. Despite its abuse by some, it has done more to enhance the “greater or common good” and to improve nature than any other model. Note, for comparison, the disastrous environmental outcomes of collectivist central planning of resources in the Soviet Union during the last century.
Another: Collectivism has long had comfortable association with Christianity. This is seen in New Testament references to the early Christian movement where, for example, Luke in his Acts history states that early believers “held all things together in common”. That is viewed as an authentic expression of love, to share things in common with one another. That helps to understand the comfortable fit between Christianity and Socialism over history. But try that sharing, especially if coerced, at societal levels (e.g. Communist Russia and China) and watch populations inevitably descend into misery and horror.
The outcome could be different though, if the sharing were voluntary, that is, from a place of personal freedom and choice.
Wealth that is gained legally and fairly under commonly agreed “equal opportunity” free market rules should be subject to the personal choice of the owner as to how to distribute it. Examples here would be Steve Jobs, along with Bill Gates and others. It should be the voluntary and free choice of the owner to share legally and fairly gained wealth as they choose. Note that Gates and Buffet, and others, are giving their immense wealth away to promote greater or common good in the manner that they choose.
More on organizing human societies
Collectivist models (from Owen’s communalism, to socialism, to communism) centralize power/control and then some “enlightened” elite must be responsible to run the collective. The results have been notoriously the same, unleashing the totalitarian impulse even in well-intentioned people. Who said that the most dangerous people in society are those who believe that they are especially enlightened, more than others, and know what is right and good for others and will coerce them to submit to their vision of good for all. This is why Frederick Hayek argued that the individual model, for all its failings, better prevents totalitarianism and protects freedom because it disperses power among competing individuals and organizations (Road to Serfdom). Individually-oriented models promote self-control, self-responsibility, or self-determination. In systems oriented to protected individual rights, people are free, as much as possible, of state control.
Today we have mixed systems (democratic socialism or social democracy models) with mixed results. We all agree to some limits on personal freedom for greater or common good as common sense (i.e. state legislated taxation for the sharing of common infrastructure costs, and assisting the less fortunate members of our societies, etc.). And our societies go through a repetitive back-and-forth tugging between these two models for organizing society and that tugging is good. There are legitimate concerns of both sides that must be compromised with and balanced.
William Bernstein in The Birth of Plenty speaks to this ongoing tug between state control and free markets. He probes the issue of what scale of government permits our societies to operate at their best by generating the most good for the most people? Should the scale of Government be at 15% of GDP? Or 20%? Or 30-40%? The bigger that government gets (increased state intervention and control via taxation and regulation), the more the individual creative impulse is hindered and undermined, and then all suffer, equally. Greece in past years was an extreme example of this. Greece tried to give everyone everything until the productive business sector collapsed under the burden of overly generous programs for all. One of the best economic minds of the past century, Milton Freidman, argued that the most good for the most people would be a government (all three levels) at around 15% of GDP.
And most people (90% plus) intuitively agree with the ideal of protecting personal freedom from government intrusion, via regulation and taxation, as the test at the back of David Boaz’s book shows (Libertarianism: A Primer). We all value our personal freedom.
I would argue that the historical evidence shows the immense benefits to greater or common good (the most good to the most people) from giving primacy to personal freedom, versus the historical evidence that shows the inevitable harmful outcomes to greater or common good from the approach that gives primacy to collectivism (subjecting individuals to a collective).
Add here the Collectivist view of populations engaged in class warfare- i.e. poor against rich and that individual endeavor to improve oneself is greed and selfishness that is to be contrasted with the greater good motivations of Collectivists. But the real issue is how have all sectors of populations done over past centuries. The evidence affirms that via the model oriented to individual freedom most people have improved their lives, with poverty declining, and middle-class sectors growing across the world. Most are better off now and this trend of the improving human condition continues to flow mainly from the individually-oriented approach.
A scattering of follow-up notes:
All models for organizing human society are corrupted by excessive selfishness and greed but the more freedom-oriented models have the built-in safety check of institutions like a free press that expose such corruption. Also, organizations exist, for instance, to protect against monopoly (note the history of the breakup of Ma Bell, and more recently the challenges to Microsoft). On the other hand, Collectivist models (centralized power) have a history of suppressing individual freedom, including press freedom and the ability to criticize governing elites or powerholders, and we see the same old harmful results repeatedly. Venezuela is a recent repeat of this history of totalitarian suppression of opposition.
The individual-oriented model is most essentially about freedom and the unleashing of human creativity and endeavor to improve individual life and family. It is not most essentially about selfish greed.
Today the pull toward collectivism is re-emerging in Progressivism and the environmental alarmism movements. Modern Liberalism has abandoned the Classic Liberalism of the English tradition that has brought freedom and all its benefits to our modern world.
Bob Brinsmead in a discussion group often reminds us that if you redistribute the money from wealthier people and give it away, then yes, you would have a great party. But the outcome would be all equally poor and unemployed as a society collapsed. How would businesses find the capital that enables them to provide jobs to employ others, so they can take care of their families? Note the extreme outcomes of these redistribution schemes in Chinese collectivist experiments under Mao. (Insert: We all agree to some level of redistribution- i.e. taxation- for common good and the disagreement centers around the levels of such redistribution.)
The issue for our societies is not equality of outcomes, an impossible standard, but rather, how are all sectors of society doing? Evidence shows that life has improved immensely for all sectors of modern societies, whether in realm of health (infant mortality declines, disease control, longer life expectancy for all), calorie intake, technology improvements, etc.
Overall, there are fewer poor people, as the populations of many world societies are moving into middle class status. Comparison of poorer sectors of a population with the wealthiest people does not reveal an accurate picture that most people are doing much better today. And the examples of Jobs and Gates show that not all inequality is wrong. See William Watson’s https://nationalpost.com/opinion/william-watson-inequality-good-bad-and-benign.
The French Revolution tried to include material equality, as guaranteed by the State, in its Constitution and this differed from the American Constitution.
And yes, environmental alarmism pushes for collectivist solutions and policies in its anti-industrial society alarmism. Note the push for centralized control of world economies and lifestyles via institutions like the UN (see Michael Hart’s Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change).
“Capitalism” should be considered a dead word, too burdened by distorting baggage. A better term would focus on the core issue/ideal of freedom and how freedom unleashes human creativity to improve oneself and this is the most basic form of human love. So also, consider that Adam Smith’s term “self-interest” is no longer so useful as it instinctively incites images of individual selfishness and greed that affirm Collectivist distortions. And that misses the basic love that is at the core of the responsibility of all to engage the improvement of their own lives and their families, and how this motivation leads to cooperation with others (mutual benefit of commerce) and that fosters peace and stability in societies and between nations. See note below on “the moralizing influence of gentle commerce”.
The issue is not the individual pitted against the greater or common good as though these are mutually excluding outcomes. But which approach to organizing society has best achieved both maintaining individual freedom and improving the greater good? The historical evidence affirms clearly that protecting individual freedom and rights (preventing totalitarianism) has resulted in lifting billions out of poverty and into middle class status. The individual freedom and rights approach has achieved more greater or common good than any other approach to organizing human society (i.e. the most good for the most people).
The fallacy of “limited good” is also important to confront as this primitive myth buttresses the collectivist activism to coercively redistribute the wealth of more successful people. Collectivists believe that if some get more then others must lose out as resources are limited. Again, see Desrochers and Szurmak in Population Bombed, also Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource.
Under the “Simon Project” at HumanProgress.org there is the following statement: “Are we running out of resources? Many scholars, including Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, believed that population growth would result in the exhaustion of resources and a global catastrophe. University of Maryland economist Julian Simon rejected their ideas. In his 1981 book The Ultimate Resource, Simon argued that humans were intelligent beings, capable of innovating their way out of shortages through greater efficiency, increased supply, and the development of substitutes.”
Added: Jordan Peterson rightly notes the Marxist belief that if some people in our societies get more then that is wrongfully gained wealth that is the result of greed, selfishness, and theft. Such belief justifies action to level things, to coercively redistribute the wealth of others. It justifies redistribution activism as righteous action against evil. The motive behind such redistribution is resentment, says Peterson.
Also, critical to include are the histories that reveal the “moralizing influence of gentle commerce”. How commerce improves general human goodness and helps maintain peace among people. This all began with early specialization of labor and trade. People then gained mutual benefit and learned to cooperate peacefully to maintain that mutual benefit. Domestication of animals/plants, and urbanization (concentrating populations on urban areas thereby lessening pressure on natural areas), were accompanying trends that assisted mutually benefitting trade (see In The Company of Strangers for history on this).
See also https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/philip-cross-capitalism-doesnt-just-make-economies-better-off-it-creates-more-virtuous-people
Example of the moralizing influence of commerce:
The upland forest dweller with his specialized experience in making wood implements could then trade with the seaside dweller with his specialty in gathering salt and both benefitted. It worked like this (evidence based on cave drawings). A long-ago cave man once told his wife that he was offended by something that his trading partner- i.e. seaside dweller- had said and he planned to kill him when they next met to trade. The wife of the caveman cautioned him, “Honey, if you don’t come back with salt today for our supper meal, then you ain’t ‘gettin any’ tonight”.
Cave-dweller then thought to himself- “Sheesh, not ‘gettin any’? Yikes.” So he trudged down the mountainside to meet seaside guy, promising to hold his anger in check, let the offense go, and keep the trade arrangement going. And yes, he then got some that night and all was well as early civilization was able to continue. And because seaside dweller survived and had offspring, so here we are today. Its just that simple, eh.
Now you ask me- Is that a true story? Of course, yes, it is true… that is a story.
Collectivist models that centralize power in ever-growing governments (via things like government regulation and taxation) chip away at individual freedom and this is always a dangerous direction to take (again the failed Socialist states of Zimbabwe and Venezuela serve as recent historical examples). We all agree to allow some outside control over our lives (state regulation) and the redistribution of some of our income (state taxation). But great care is needed to not allow this trend to get out of control, or become carried away. Apparently, Europeans have gone further down the road to surrendering personal freedom to central states with more regulation of their lives and more taxation of their income. The English and Americans, more oriented to individual freedom, are hesitant to follow those Social Democracy or Democratic Socialism models.
Societies need to have built-in mechanisms to counter and reverse the trends toward excessive regulation such as the law enacted by the British Columbia Liberal party that urged one old regulation be removed for every new regulation introduced. Others urge that two previous regulations be removed for every new regulation introduced. Governing elites, infected with the pathological impulse to meddle in and control the lives of others, will do so via excessive regulation and taxation.
There will be no apocalypse, no end of days. Life has been on an ever-improving trajectory across the history of this planet. Overwhelming evidence soundly affirms hope in this rising trajectory. The improvement has accelerated over the past few centuries of increasing creative human input. The unleashing of human creativity is due largely to the invention of protected individual freedom and rights (see Daniel Hannan’s The Invention of Freedom).
There is no threatening Force/deity behind the nastier features of life, whether angry God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet or pissed Mother Nature, retributive Universe, or karma. This worst of all bad ideas is still embedded in our world religions and has been embraced by “secular” belief systems and ideologies. We counter this pathology with the potent alternative that there is only love at the core of reality. (Note: An imperfect world presents all sorts of “natural consequences” that have nothing to do with any intervening deity. Such consequences are the result of laws of nature or bad human choice.)
Healthy progress in life is achieved through gradualism in democratic freedom not through the violence of coercive purification and instantaneous transformation movements (see, for example, Arthur Mendel’s Vision and Violence).
There is a profound contradiction between Historical Jesus (central theme: a non-retaliatory, no-conditions God) and Paul’s Christ myth (central themes: highly conditional salvationism, a God of supreme retaliation in apocalypse and hell). The no conditions theology of Historical Jesus spells the end of conditional religion.
The meaning of life? Learn how to love, unconditionally. Like Nelson Mandela. His signature phrase: “Let us surprise them (our opponents/enemies) with our generosity”.
Transforming (i.e. humanizing) a worldview- see Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives, below. No conditions theology offers a new cohering center for meta-narratives.
Challenging distorting climate alarm narratives: No one denies that climate change is occurring. No one denies that CO2 has a warming effect or influence. No one denies that humans have contributed to CO2 levels. But the alarmist narrative on CO2 has exaggerated the extent of warming, based on faulty models, and this apocalyptic-scale exaggeration has now distorted the true state of climate. Evidence points to natural factors as having stronger correlations to the climate change that we have seen over the past few centuries.
And the actual climate change that we have seen has been a mild roughly one degree of warming over the past century and a half. This warming is a part of the natural recovery from the previous abnormal cold of the Little Ice Age of approximately 1645-1715. Earth is still too cold with sub-optimal levels of basic plant food- CO2. See “ The Two Best Things Happening Today” further below.
Point? There is no “climate crisis” and we do not need to ‘decarbonize’ our societies.
Post to a discussion group:
“I’ve just finished Jim Baggott’s book “Mass” for an update on quantum mechanics research. Some closing remarks by Baggot…
“(MIT Physics Annual publication on research)… If much of the mass of a proton and neutron comes from the energy of interactions taking place inside these particles, then this is indeed ‘mass without mass’, meaning that we get the behavior we tend to ascribe to mass without the need for mass as a property… This is the great insight of Einstein (m=E/c2, not E=mc2)… ‘the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content’…
“We’ve been convinced that it is matter that has energy. And, although matter may be reducible to micro-scopic constituents, for a long time we believed that these would still be recognized as matter- they would still possess the primary qualities of mass.
“Modern physics teaches us something rather different, and deeply counter-intuitive. As we worked our way ever inwards… we lost sight of matter completely. Matter lost its tangibility. It lost its primacy as mass became a secondary quality, the result of interactions between intangible quantum fields. What we recognize as mass is a behavior of these quantum fields; it is not a property that belongs or is necessarily intrinsic to them.
“Despite the fact that our physical world is filled with hard and heavy things, it is instead the energy of quantum fields that reigns supreme. Mass becomes simply a physical manifestation of that energy, rather than the other way around.
“This is conceptually quite shocking, but at the same time extraordinarily appealing. The great unifying feature of the universe is the energy of quantum fields, not hard, impenetrable atoms…
“Never in the entire history of science has the rug of understanding been pulled so firmly from beneath our feet… ‘in spite of all the strenuous efforts of physicists and philosophers, the notion of mass, although fundamental in physics, is… shrouded in mystery’… The theorists have had no real alternative but to speculate… (e.g. string theory)…
“… concepts such as mass, though entirely familiar, have never been properly understood…
“Modern science has revealed the extraordinarily rich structure of our empirical reality, a reality consisting of things-as-they-appear and things-as-they-are-measured. But it would be naïve to think that this extraordinary success has drawn us ever closer to comprehending a reality of things-in-themselves. If anything, the richness we have discovered would seem to have dragged us further away. To paraphrase the philosopher Bernard d’Espagnat, our understanding of the basic structure of physical reality ‘is an ideal from which we remain distant. Indeed, a comparison with conditions that ruled in the past suggests that we are a great deal more distant from it than our predecessors thought they were a century ago”.
Here is another quote from Baggott on the nature of a quantum particle: “Remember that in a quantum field theory the field is the thing, and particles are simply elementary fluctuations or disturbances of the field.. an elementary disturbance of a field distributed over space and time is associated with a mass”.
Or… “Particles- those ultimate, indivisible bits of ‘stuff’ beloved of the early Greek atomists- have been replaced by quantum fields. What we still tend to think of as particles are no more than characteristic disturbances of these fields. Matter has been reduced to ghosts and phantoms…”
And… “It seems no matter how hard we try, or how unreasonable the resulting definition of reality, we cannot avoid the collapse of the wavefunction… We have to accept that the properties we ascribe to quantum particles like electrons, such as mas, frequency, spin, position, and so on, are properties that have no real meaning except in relation to an observation or a measuring device that allows them to be ‘somehow’ projected onto our empirical reality of experience. They are in some sense ‘secondary’, nor primary properties. We can no longer assume that the properties we measure (the ‘things-as-they-appear’) necessarily reflect or represent the properties of the particles as they really are (the ‘things-in-themselves’)”.
He then goes into the mystery of elementary particles behaving as localized particles or as non-localized waves distributed through time and space and influencing other particles over vast distances… being “here and there”.
This material affirms my conclusion that there are two non-converging tracks in science. One that continues to discover more about reality and explain things long considered mysterious. But the other track- science uncovers ever more profound mystery about reality and it appears that never shall the twain tracks meet or converge.
I am not enamored with “promissory materialism” that claims materialism and materialist science will be the final truth-teller about all things (i.e. “scientism”). I would offer that common human experience (including new forms of human “spirituality” that are not religious) also offers rational and ultimate explanations of reality (i.e. the ultimate nature of reality and ultimate meaning of reality). I refer to new traditions in theology or ‘God theory’ that are shaped by the best in humanity, that is to say love at its best, the love discovered by ordinary people in their daily interactions with imperfect others, notably- no conditions love. The human discovery of such love offers a route to ultimate understanding and meaning. This love points us to the ultimate meaning of our existence and answers our most profound questions.
Materialism/atheism, or religion? How about other alternatives?
(For the many of us that have left our religious traditions that no longer make sense of reality and life, but we do not find atheism/materialism as a coherent or rational alternative.)
I appreciate, immensely, the contribution of materialists/atheists to contemporary re-evaluation of religion. People like Christopher Hitchens gave us much insightful input on the fallacies and problems of religious traditions.
But, unfortunately, the valued critiques of the materialists are peppered with too much dogmatism as well as engaging a too often ‘shallow theology’ (i.e. the straw Gods of extremist versions of religion). Extremist versions of spirituality are easy to shoot down for their irrationality. Point? There are more complex/sophisticated theological traditions emerging all over- e.g. panentheism, Process theology, theistic evolution, and so on.
Dogmatism is unseemly on any side given the profoundly mysterious cosmos and world that we exist in. Example: Richard Dawkins on a Joe Rogan podcast stating there could be no after-life existence of consciousness because “Its all just in the brain”. Really? And your final evidence for that… is? I’m waiting.
Rogan wisely responded, “I don’t know”.
Another example: In a YouTube video Susan Blackmore pronounced with dogmatic finality, “Dualism is dead”. Oh, really Susan? Again, your final conclusive evidence is?
In another Rogan podcast Roger Penrose peppered his comments on consciousness research with qualifying disclaimers that “we don’t really know” … or “that is not yet finally understood”, and so on. Such caution is evidence of an honest scientific mind. As a scientist quoted by Joseph Campbell said, “The truly great scientists have all admitted that ‘We don’t really know what any thing is’”.
On the other side of the debate- John Eccles, a Nobel Laureate and neuroscientist, provides a more rational (in my estimation) and coherent view of the brain/mind mystery with his “dualistic interactionism”. He argues that the mind has a close and intense interaction with the material brain. Others refer to this as “transmission theory”- i.e. that the brain is an organism that permits the transmission of mind or consciousness. Point? Dualism is not dead.
As with many others, I have followed the mind/brain and consciousness debates and research over the years and I have yet to see the presentation of any conclusive or final evidence that the meat in our heads produces the wonder of mind, or the dreaming, feeling human self. See “They are made out of meat” for a fun poke at the materialist views on this issue: https://www.mit.edu/people/dpolicar/writing/prose/text/thinkingMeat.html
And it was refreshing to hear Hitchens admit, during a debate with Jewish theologians on the potential for an after-life, “I am open to surprises. Aren’t we all?” Such moments of uninhibited honesty, and dropping the dogmatism, are refreshing.
How can anyone be dogmatic on any side of these issues what with the profound mystery that is this cosmos and life? We don’t have a clue what 96% of reality is- i.e. dark matter/energy. We don’t even know the real nature of the 4% of reality that we can see (“The thing in itself”… See, for example, “Mass” by Jim Baggott).
Both religion and science know that we are surrounded by greater reality. There is so much more to reality than what we see. And the scientific probing of reality has produced two non-converging parallel tracks. One leads to ever-more uncovering of mystery and explanation of what was once mysterious. The other track leads to the ongoing discovery of ever more profound mystery. And it appears that never shall the twain tracks meet.
I affirm the intuitions of the vast majority of people across history (i.e. the 70-100 billion people who have lived in our line of humanity). Most of these people have believed that greater reality has to do with more than just energy, natural law, or quantum fields. Greater reality has to do with something of the nature of Mind, Consciousness, and Self. Even the early quantum theorists got this in concluding that “The universe looks more and more like a great thought rather than a great machine” (Sir James Jeans).
Science is greatly appreciated for exposing so much irrational belief from the past. We thank it for that. But many today in science do just what religious people have always done- i.e. they appeal to unknown, invisible realities to speculatively explain what exists. Scientists make “leaps of assumption” that are much like religious “leaps of faith” and “god of gaps” explanations. Scientists regularly cross the philosophy/science boundary (i.e. Sabine Hossenfelder in ‘Lost in Math’) just as religious people cross the religion/science boundary.
People cross such boundaries because science will never be the final truth-teller on all things. Contrary to materialist dogmatism, I would offer that science takes us only so far and then we are all left to make our own conclusions as to the ultimate nature and meaning of reality. And I do not accept the materialist claim (promissory materialism) that materialist science will eventually offer the more rational and truthful answer to the ultimate nature and meaning of it all. Promissory spirituality, or theology, is more coherent to many of us re ultimate meaning issues.
Where our ancestors went wrong was when they projected out base, subhuman features to define and explain greater reality. They defined greater reality in terms of gods as punitive judges, as dominating kings or rulers (the alpha thing), as tribal leaders favoring true believers over unbelievers (the small-band or tribal thing), and as ultimate destroyers (i.e. apocalypse and hell). Features that were more animal-like than human. They created gods as threatening monsters. And the harsher features of such cruel gods were then used to inspire/incite, guide, and validate the worst expressions of inhumanity toward others (the belief/behavior relationship, inhumanity committed in the name of some subhuman god).
Rather than denying what most of humanity has intuitively gotten right across the millennia (Ultimate Reality as Mind, Consciousness, Self, Spirit), I would suggest that the project should be to fully humanize our understanding of ultimate realities. We need to slay the monstrous deities that we have inherited and recreate our highest ideals and authorities as safe ideals and realities to inspire, guide, and validate our behavior and lives.
This site offers the insight that ‘no conditions love’ points to the very best of theology that humanity has discovered (see “The Great Contradiction” below for detail).
And yes, after radically humanizing our theology or spirituality, then we should let the divine go (not make it our primary focus in life) and get busy focussing on improving this world and life in some way, recognizing that we are the mouths, hands, and feet of invisible deity in this world. We are all equally the incarnations of God in this world.
With many others I take the stance of “Cease from God to scan, the proper study of mankind is man”. Which is to say, focus on here and now reality, on contributing to making life better in this world. And embrace the new approach in theology of taking the best of humanity to project out and define deity or greater reality. But whatever your theology/spirituality, focus on improving the human condition now. Embrace life and humanity fully and make your contribution to improving life in this reality.
This site probes these “spiritual” or ultimate meaning issues.
Caution: Beware the fallacy of “presentism” (James Payne in History of Force)- thinking that the ‘craziness’ of our time is the worst because we are experiencing it firsthand. Actually, this is the best of times in all history on many features of life.
Common shared values: Do we need foundational, structural change in our societies?
The worst of the inherited animal in us: Here are three fundamental things (ideas, themes, perspectives, impulses, responses) to consider at the root of today’s problems- (1) the tribal or small-band mentality and spirit that views others as outsiders, enemies, and excludes them. (2) The alpha impulse to domination and control of others, and (3) the response of punishing/destroying the differing other (punitive justice).
How do we counter these inherited animal drives? The best of our common human spirit orients us to more humane impulses: (1) Embrace the oneness of the human family, that we are all part of one intensely united reality and that means the full equal inclusion of everyone. (2) Respect and protect the freedom and rights of all others, and (3) treat all human imperfection and failure with restorative justice approaches (i.e. with forgiveness, but also with necessary restraint of violence, rehabilitation, and full restitution for victims).
Rather than foundational or structural change to our societies, we need to re-orient ourselves and re-emphasize the common values that we have already widely embraced. Re-emphasize these common shared values- i.e. the best of our common human spirit- as they already exist in our human rights codes and constitutions. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all (people) are created equal…”.
Climate alarmism is the latest phase of humanity’s most recent apocalyptic movement- the more general environmental alarmism movement. These movements have detectable features that are common to all past mythical and religious apocalyptic traditions- i.e. the myth of a better past, corrupt people ruining the original paradise, life now declining toward some disastrous collapse and ending, the threat of apocalypse as a great punishment and purging of the evil, some sacrifice to appease the upset forces/deities, the coercive purging of some threat to life, and then the restoration of the lost paradise (the element of hope for utopia).
The salvation schemes of apocalyptic prophets have been horrifically damaging to both humanity and nature. Note the outcome of Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring (see The Excellent Powder by Tren and Roberts for the history and science of DDT). Remember also the bio-fuels outcome of more rainforest cut for palm oil plantations and rising food prices for the poorest people. And there is the outcomes of anti-GM foods activism (i.e. millions of deaths of children and more rainforest cut because farmers are denied access to GM-crops that allow them to produce more crops on the same or less land). And worst of all, there is the anti-fossil fuels activism (decarbonization) that denies people the right to cheap fuel that helps them to escape poverty and achieve the wealth that enables them to properly care for their environment.
Most egregious- apocalyptic distorts entirely the evidence of overall long-term improvement in life, evidence that gives sound basis for hope that people are fundamentally good and humanity has been successful in protecting nature and improving life. We now live in the best time in history with poverty declining and more people enjoying prosperity and peace (see Humanprogress.org).
Add to these outcomes that alarmists aggressively seek to discredit, ban, silence, and cancel skeptics to their apocalyptic narratives. This is the expression of an intolerant totalitarian impulse.
“Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives” just below presents the full complex of “bad mythical ideas” that still dominate the grand narratives of most of humanity (whether in religious or ‘secular’ versions) and render people susceptible to endless eruptions of alarmism. Go to the root of the problem and deal with the cohering central theme in the mix- i.e. some punitive, destroying Force or Spirit/deity. That idea, more than any other, has made apocalyptic the “most violent and destructive idea in history” (Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence).
See “World resource updates” and “The two best things happening today” (i.e. the benefits of more CO2 and warmer temperatures), further below.
Fear and social control: Again, see Sociologist David Altheide’s “Creating Fear, News and the Construction of Crisis”
Political patterns of manipulation.
First, you alarm people with some threat and thereby arouse the survival impulse in a population. Often the threat involves the tribal demonization of the other side in extreme terms (your opponents are corrupt, evil, Nazis, Hitleresque). Threats are more effective if framed as imminent and dire with dates set for the end of days. Then offer yourself as the one providing the salvation scheme, tempting people with a utopian element.
Salvation schemes often include the element of “coercive purging” of the threat (i.e. the claimed need for state force, even violence, because the threat is imminent and dire). You have to ban, silence, get rid of the threatening “enemy”. Salvation schemes also promise “instantaneous transformation” of society into a promised paradise.
The outcomes of this pattern of political manipulation are never good. They have been horrifically destructive for many people, the most vulnerable. Alarmism is highly irresponsible.
There will be no apocalypse… in the sense of the mythical, religious myth of apocalypse as a divine intervention to punish ‘corrupt’ humanity with a world-ending destruction. Natural disasters? Yes, but they are not world-ending and we have become better at responding to such disasters and consequently have lessened the human loss of life.
What about the asteroid threat? Many of the larger asteroids have already landed as evident in the pock-marked surface of planets, and we are improving our ability to track the orbits of remaining asteroids. We have even explored responses to this threat such as exploding an incoming asteroid or landing rockets on asteroids that might redirect their paths. Also, someone noted a few years back that for about $160 million we could place an early warning satellite in stationary orbit on the far side of the sun to warn of incoming threats. Point? The threat from asteroids lessens over time. See Global Warming Policy Forum archives (CCNet).
Fear of change in nature (the fallacy of ‘stasis’ in nature- see Alston Chase’s “In A Dark Wood”).
A widely embraced environmental myth is that there should be stasis in nature at some imagined optimal state. Some have even argued that we must return to the lower CO2 levels and colder temperatures of the pre-industrial past as the optimal state for climate (e.g. Bill Nye the science guy). That would be a return to the severe cold of the Little Ice Age.
No. The levels of CO2 and world average temperatures during the past millions of years in this ice-age era are suboptimal compared to the overall averages of the past 500 million years (average world temperatures around 19.5 degrees Centigrade versus the average of 14.5 C today, and levels of CO2 in the multiple-thousands of ppm versus the 400-plus ppm of today). We are still in an abnormally cold and low CO2 world. And plant life has suffered. To the contrary, plant life flourishes with higher temperatures and much more CO2.
Nature, notably climate, is never in stasis but changes constantly and we should celebrate change that takes us toward the more optimal state of more plant food and warmer temperatures.
Qualifier re the unconditional treatment of all people: No conditions love is not weak, impractical pacifism in the face of inhumanity. Such love takes the courage of a Mandela to resist the urge for vengeance, while still holding offenders responsible (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Such love restrains evil but with a restorative/rehabilitative intention/attitude and approach. It recognizes the essential oneness of us all, that all are safe in the end, and so treat all humanely.
Restorative justice approaches do not focus on offenders and ignore victims but by rehabilitating offenders, restorative justice seeks to prevent more victims. Note the Norway approach and lowered recidivism rates. Restorative justice is victim centered (emphasizing responsibility and restitution).
Imperfect humanity held to a higher standard than deity?
We all understand the nature of unconditional love in our experience as spouses, parents, friends, and siblings. We know that love just forgives the imperfections and failures of others without demanding punishment or payment. Love does not hold grudges for some future payback. It just lets things go. As Paul said, love does not keep a record of wrongs.
Unconditional love for imperfect people has been widely embraced as the baseline standard of human decency.
Now if this love is expected as just basic decency for us humans then why do we hold deity to a lesser standard? Many believe that God keeps a record of all wrongs for future punishment and payback (ultimate vengeance as per Paul’s claim re God, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”, Romans 12). What the…? Seriously? How can ultimate Goodness and Love exhibit something lesser than common humanity?
“Is love an art?”
Kathleen O’Dwyer in her article on Erich Fromm, “Is Love an Art?” makes the following comments on unconditional love, https://philosophynow.org/issues/85/Is_Love_An_Art
“Parental love is assumed to be marked by the exercise of unconditional care, concern and devotion, and this is often the case. However, since Freud, we cannot ignore the idea that some parents are sometimes motivated by factors not conducive to the healthy growth of the child. For instance, whatever the reasons, when parental love is offered or withdrawn on conditional terms – obedience, compliance, success, popularity, pleasantness, etc. – the child senses that he/she is not loved for his/her self, but only on the condition of being deserving. Psychoanalytic theory explores the lasting impact of such experiences for the resulting adult as the desire for unconditional love remains an unsatisfied craving.”
I would argue the desire for unconditional love will never be fully met by another imperfect human being. So ground the fulfillment of that desire in a greater reality, a view of deity that embodies such love to infinite degree. It may be too much to place the pressure for fulfilment of that desire on another person that will never do such satisfactorily/perfectly. But recognize the desire to be loved unconditionally as the most basic human need. Respond to this need in some helpful manner.
Instantaneous transformation versus gradualism
In the public noise today re racial and environmental issues there are the extremist voices calling for the destruction of our civilization, for the immediate tearing down of industrial, market society so a new more utopian alternative may be built from the rubble.
Widely accepted assumptions on the essential ‘corruption’ of capitalist society (typical of Hollywood mythology) are offered to back the calls for violent revolution. And as with all alarmism movements there is focus on the failures/imperfections and exaggeration of those that distorts the true state of a thing. Too much anti-industrial society hysteria neglects the essential features of our Western tradition to focus on its aberrational failures/imperfections.
Early industrialization did involve damaging levels of pollution and was, unfortunately, associated with some of the worst features of colonialism. But that is not the essential nature of the Western tradition. The heart of what emerged mainly out of England was the discovery of freedom- i.e. individual rights and freedoms (see Daniel Hannen’s The Invention of Freedom). The movement to protect the freedom of average citizens was a potent counter to previous totalitarianisms and this grassroots freedom of individuals was embodied in institutions like a representative parliament and common law (i.e. from Magna Carta and on down).
Protecting individual freedom and rights was critical to unleashing the human creative impulse to solve problems that would benefit all. Evidence affirms that the greater good, the common good, has been achieved more effectively and widely through the individually-oriented model for organizing society, than by the collectivist models that claim to promote the common good. Evidence from the past century show that collectivist approaches have actually devastated the common good and the environment.
See also the research on the Ecological Kuznets Curve or the Environmental Transition.
The focus on the early failures of industrial societies and the association of capitalism only with colonial abuses is to distort the essential nature and good outcomes of the system.
And industrial, technological society is improved by gradualism not by the disruption and violence of coercive purification revolutions that demand instantaneous transformation to achieve some imagined utopia (see Mendel’s Vision and Violence). More detail on this issue coming soon.
An eruption of hatred– today’s retaliatory ‘eye for eye’ cycles (e.g. outrage culture, cancel culture, offense and victimhood culture)
There is an unhinged cruelty and harshness in the public atmosphere today that exhibits the ugliest side of the human spirit. People are making harsh judgments on the failures of others (e.g. not meeting politically correct standards that are defined too often by extremist factions- see Doug Murray’s The Madness of Crowds). There is a quickness to judge, condemn, and then demand severe punishment (i.e. shaming, firing, cancelling, destroying careers and lives).
The spirit behind the eruption of public harshness too often appears as intolerant hatred of the imperfect other and a strong lust for severe forms of vengeance for even any micro-failure.
Those engaged in the condemnation of failing others like to promote the narrative that they are in a righteous struggle against evil (justly fighting the differing other as the threatening ‘enemy’) and this exhibits the tribal element in the mix. There is little sense of our oneness as a human family, and the compassion, forgiveness, toleration and mercy that should accompany a sense of all being imperfect members of one family.
Today’s ‘righteous battles’ exhibit too much of the pettiness of eye for eye cycles (hate for hate, hurt for hurt, humiliation for humiliation, vilification for vilification, punishment for punishment).
What happened to that generous spirit of Classic Liberalism that argued, for example, “I may be offended by your speech but I will die to protect your right to that freedom of speech”. Instead of banning, silencing, or cancelling, Classic Liberalism opted to challenge offensive speech and offer alternatives in the free public marketplace of ideas. Classic Liberalism recognized that it had to protect the freedom of all equally or the totalitarian impulse might possess one side of some social opposition and that would undermine the freedom of all. The danger was that oppressed people might in turn become oppressors if the equality of all was not protected. The victims of today might become the victimizers of tomorrow. The oppressed in any era might become the oppressors in another time.
Add to the mix of harshness, the feature of helpless victimhood that seeks to blame all things on oppressors, real and imagined.
Keep hope alive– a mindfulness/meditation centering thought
Hold to the central idea that love is the core of reality. It is also our true core nature- the essence of our human spirit and self. Whatever we do not understand in life- natural disaster, disease, cruelty and consequent suffering- we all return safely in the end to the core love that birthed us.
Alarmism and the culture of fear: The exaggeration (often to apocalyptic scale) that distorts the true state of some problem and frightens populations into embracing the ‘salvation’ schemes of alarmists that have repeatedly caused more damage than the original purported problem. Examples? The apocalyptic millennial scholars- Richard Landes, Arthur Herman, Arthur Mendel, David Redles- have noted the horrific outcomes of apocalyptic alarmism in the mass-death movements of Marxism, Nazism, and now environmentalism.
Response to alarmism? Build a reflexive skepticism into your general outlook on life and hold that stance when alarms erupt in public. There is usually a credible problem at the core of any given alarm, but alarmists (scientists, politicians, media) have too often exaggerated the true state of problems and thereby encouraged irrational and harmful responses.
The big background picture of our era shows improvement on all the main features of life. Humanity has been successfully solving problems and life has been improving overall and across the long-term. Alarmists ignore that evidence to frighten us with their narrative that life is still worsening toward some great disastrous collapse and ending.
Alarmists have endlessly proclaimed that the end is nigh. Examples: James Hansen proclaiming in 2008, “Its all over in five years”. Stephen Hawking prophesying in his last year that it might all end in 100 years. Senator AOC claiming in 2018 that the world would end in 12 years.
Religious and secular apocalyptic narratives provide a background worldview for many people that renders them susceptible to the repeated public eruptions of alarmist hysteria. The myth of apocalyptic is still embraced/believed by many people.
The core myth in apocalyptic to note- a punitive, destroying Force or deity, whether retributive God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, or karma.
Alarmism summary- alarmist patterns/approaches
Correlations to note re alarmist eruptions: The promotion of fear of imminent disaster, then the aroused survival impulse in populations, followed by the embrace of irrational salvation schemes that involve “coercive purging” and “instantaneous transformation” of society, and then the consequence of mass-harm or even mass-death outcomes. Example: Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring, the related ban on DDT, and then the subsequent millions of deaths (many children) of those denied the protective use of DDT (See The Excellent Powder by Tren, Richard, Roberts, Donald).
This site probes the single greatest human ideal, the one thing that defines us as human more than any other feature- i.e. love. There is nothing that gives more meaning to human existence and life than love. What is love? What does it mean to really love?
Among other bad ideas, this site rejects the myths of fallen, corrupt humanity (i.e. religious myths of “original sin”, or contemporary “secular” versions of anti-humanism- i.e. humanity as a cancer or virus on Earth). This site affirms hope in the fundamental goodness of humanity and the human improvement of our world. See Humanprogress.org.
The larger framework of human story
Joseph Campbell said that we mature as human and become heroes of our stories when we orient our lives to universal love. He also spoke of the shamanic experience as involving a disintegration of the old life/self and a re-integration around something new. I would suggest that creating a new narrative for ourselves may be a vital part of the re-integration process in our life stories. I would further add that centering our life story around the ideal of love is the single most important re-integration change to make. And where Campbell used the adjective “universal love” I would offer the broader term “unconditional love” as key to restructuring and centering our life narrative.
Comment on today’s tribalism, outrage culture, and cancel culture
We like to believe that our concerns and battles are righteous and legitimately against wrongs/injustices in life. And many qualify as that.
But our battles against wrong should never become an excuse to belittle, demean, devalue, vilify, humiliate, harm, or cancel some opponent/enemy. At that point we have abandoned love to become no better than our opponents that we may accuse of initiating some wrong or injustice.
What is promoted today in public as righteous battles against wrong has too much of the stench of rank hatred about it. For most people, it has been embarrassing to watch the eruptions of barely disguised hate on both sides of social oppositions (i.e. political, racial, other social divides). Such tit for tat behavior offends the common sense of humanity in most people.
We are watching what Joseph Campbell warned us about- that we will lose our humanity if we forget our oneness, our “brotherhood”, with even our enemy. We will lose our humanity if we forget to “love our enemy” in the midst of “our righteous struggles against evil”.
How we respond to and treat our opponents defines us as maturely human or not. Note how Nelson Mandela got this so right. His life motto was, “Let us surprise them (our opponents/enemies) with our generosity (our forgiveness, kindness, love)”.
In our battles we need to learn the careful parsing that sticks to issues, content, facts, positions on issues, and refuses to cross over into personal attack- i.e. personal insult, humiliation, retaliation in kind (vilification for vilification). Remember our oneness as a human family.
In the mix of caution, be aware of personal ideological leanings, tribalism impulses, the tendency to meddle where we should not (in the personal choices and freedoms of others), and confirmation biases (ignoring contrary evidence to our beliefs).
“Let’s get rid of all this metaphysical bullshit”, a pissed atheist on “Why deity?”
A site argument: Redefine humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity- with the most humane version of love that we have discovered- i.e. unconditional. Why? Because deity is still today the core idea in the meta-narratives of most of humanity. Note that 85% of humanity still affiliate with a world religion, and most of the 15% ‘Unaffiliated’ claim to be “spiritual but not religious”, that is holding alternative God theories such as vengeful Gaia, angry Planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, or karma. Or they hold “scientific” versions of creating entities like ‘Self-Organizing Principle’.
Deity ideas/theories influence all else in human consciousness. Atheism/materialism’s claimed rejection of deity does nothing to solve this root meaning issue for most people. Denial will never eliminate the common human intuition across history and across most of humanity that greater Reality has something to do with Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Spirit, and Personhood. Something more than just natural law, quantum forces/fields, or multi-realms/multi-verses.
Deity features (again- humanity’s highest ideal and authority), for good and bad, powerfully influence human feeling, outlook, response, and behavior (inspiring, guiding, validating).
A better option: It appears to be more useful to fully humanize our understanding of greater reality and then re-orient that to more humane outcomes. Also, reframe belief systems in terms of the discoveries of science- e.g. panentheism (God creating/sustaining through natural law), theistic evolution, etc. Note that panentheism is something different from pantheism. And also in the mix of spirituality issues, urge people to respect the religion/state boundary and maintain the healthy focus on here and now existence, on improving life in this world.
Growing numbers of people are embracing creative alternatives to traditional religious ideas. Nonetheless, much religious reform still does not engage the core idea in the religious mix- deity. Many are too afraid to touch this highest point of the ‘sacred’. Too afraid of charges of heresy, blasphemy.
The most serious thought pathologies are still deeply embedded in God theories- i.e. the themes of tribal exclusion (believers/unbelievers), domination (gods as lords, kings, rulers), and punitive, destroying justice (apocalypse, ultimate judgment, hell). Even our modern “secular” versions of deity have embraced these pathologies like punitive retaliation- i.e. vengeful Gaia, angry Planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and karma.
Be audacious. Overhaul your God. Completely. Throw out the old. Embrace the new. Embrace “the benefits of blasphemy”. Free your consciousness. Overhaul and create for yourself an entirely new worldview, starting with the core ideas. See Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives below.
Insert: I have never been comfortable with atheism as an alternative to human intuitions of spiritual reality. While I strongly affirm the atheist’s contribution to understanding the failures of religion, dogmatic atheism demands leaps of assumption too often just as irrational and absurd as the leaps of faith of religious positions. We live in profoundly mysterious reality and it is just too incoherent to affirm the conclusions of atheism. A better option- radically redefine theology, humanize it thoroughly.
Note also this contradiction- that many young materialists/atheists today walk around mouthing the core themes of environmental alarmism or Green religion- i.e. themes like a better past ruined by corrupt people (cancer, virus on Earth), life as declining toward something worse, toward an apocalyptic ending, and that we must make a sacrifice to vengeful Gaia, angry Planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, or karma. These themes are no different from the more primitive versions in the earliest human mythologies.
Defending an unconditional approach to others (a repeat qualifier)
The use of the adjective “unconditional” automatically orients many people to views of mushy pacifism and what most people view as the irresponsible dismissal of evil (e.g. “turn the other cheek”). Despite such common misperceptions regarding the nature of no conditions love, unconditional (or universal) is still a useful word to challenge the limits that we tend to put on love, out of our natural stinginess and harshness toward the imperfections and failures of others. And the ongoing embrace of punitive ‘eye for eye’ responses and justice too often renders us petty and susceptible to engage dehumanizing behaviors.
Any common sense understanding of the single greatest human ideal- love- should recognize that it is not dogmatic pacifism in the face of wrong. Unconditional is not incompatible with a robust exhibition of courage to be human in a manner that also holds all responsible for failure to be human. Think Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Note also below the practical comments of the Chinese sage Laozi on the use of force, and war.
Unconditional is a worldview changer. First, it affirms a stunning new theology never before found in any religion. It recognizes that deity is this very love to infinite degree. This is something that no religion has ever communicated to humanity- the wondrous unconditional nature of Ultimate Reality. To the contrary, all religion across history and across the world has done the very opposite, presenting deity as conditional and burying the truth of an unconditional deity under endless religious conditions. Religious Gods have always been judges that dictate the conditions of right religious behavior, the punishments for wrong, the demanded payments/sacrifices to appease/atone, and they determine who is to be accepted and who is to be rejected from their group or tribe.
Begin worldview reform by recognizing ultimate reality as no conditions. Put that right at the center of your consciousness as an ultimate ideal and authority. As a stunning new cohering center for thought, emotion, and response it will influence all else. That is a new beginning that re-orients humanity’s highest ideal and authority to something supremely humane- to the highest form of love that we have discovered.
Unconditional most potently liberates consciousness from the horrific and deforming burden of bad religious ideas such as divine punishment (see Cruel God, Kind God by psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo). Unconditional states that there is no ultimate threat behind life now (natural disaster, disease) or after life. Unconditional liberates consciousness from a long history of the deforming ideas of ‘threat theology’ that has supported an entire complex of related bad myths- i.e. angry gods punishing bad people for ruining paradise and threatening to end the world in some great retaliatory destruction (apocalypse).
Today, along with religious versions, we have many “secular” versions of the same threat theology themes- vengeful Gaia, angry Planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and karma, all wreaking the same psychic damage as the religious versions.
Unconditional deity also transforms our understanding of the basic nature of humanity. If we accept that God has incarnated in all humanity equally and is indistinguishable from the common human spirit in all people, then unconditional deity defines our human spirit and self as the same unconditional love that is God. That makes the love that is God also our most essential nature, our true self. This is the new theology that argues there is no sky God out there. God is only present and known in humanity and all human goodness.
Unconditional completely redefines our highest ideal- love. It takes love to new heights of authentic humaneness, to what makes us truly human and successful.
And unconditional pulls ethics/behavior in a better, more humane direction (the behavior/belief relationship- people basing their behavior on similar beliefs). It redefines ethics and justice. It urges the humane treatment of all (restorative forms of justice), no matter their failures to live as human. That is the safest way to go through life, avoiding the pettiness and destructiveness of a retaliatory, punitive, destructive eye for eye justice approaches. It helps us all become more like a Nelson Mandela.
Restorative justice holds all responsible for failures, imprisoning those not able or willing to restrain their worst impulses. In some cases that means throwing away the key (psychopathic). But despite such failure, with Tolstoy we recognize that we are responsible to treat all people humanely and our human rights codes acknowledge this. This differs from punitive approaches that are recognized as failing to protect the public from repeat offenders (note the Netflix documentaries and YouTube videos comparing the Norwegian penal system and the US system).
Added note: President Trump made a significant judgment error when challenged by a supporter to stop trashing opponents. He laughed (Fox Town Hall) and then went on the defensive, arguing with the supporter that he “must not show weakness” before his opponents or they would laugh him off the stage. Yes Mr. President, stand for your positions and policies (“counter-punch” in that respect), but no, do not step across the line to attack personally, to belittle your opponents.
Mature humanity urges all of us to refrain from personal attack, to not retaliate in kind with insult for insult, humiliation for humiliation. And it is not weakness to refrain from personal attack. Such self-control requires exceptional courage- the courage of a Mandela.
Learn to make the critical distinction between persons and policies. Fight for your policies but always respect the persons that you disagree with. There was no excuse to call Rex Tillerson “dumb as a rock”. Or to call Rosie O’Donnell “fat and ugly”. Absolutely none. But his opponents (news media, opposition politicians) are equally guilty of engaging these ‘vilification for vilification’ cycles.
Remember- ‘eye for eye’ is not to be our guiding ethic in life. Historical Jesus rejected that and instead urged “love your enemies”. Like Nelson Mandela did.
Responding to the primal human impulse for meaning
Love is the core of all meaning- including ultimate meaning. Campbell was right that we mature as humans, we become heroes of our stories, when we orient our lives to universal love. That is also how we finally understand the meaning of the cosmos and life, by recognizing that love makes final sense of all things.
How do we know that Ultimate Reality is love? We start with common, ordinary humanity and our highest ideal- love. Love most essentially defines us as human and gives the most profound meaning to our existence. And the very best version of love that we have discovered is love as “unconditional, universal”. This is the highest good that we know and most people exhibit it in daily life with imperfect children, friends, and spouses, and we desire the same in return for our imperfections.
We then extrapolate this highest form of good out to define Ultimate Goodness or deity– humanity’s highest ideal or authority. But we understand deity as something infinitely better, as transcendent Goodness or love. Divine goodness or love that is better than the best that we can imagine.
This is how we now do theology and define ultimate ideals or meaning: We reason from the best in humanity to define Ultimate Reality in the best possible way, the most humane way.
But the point of life is not to wander off in the high heavens when we have an imperfect world to improve here and now. We take our understanding of ultimate reality and bring it right back to earth. Note this Bob Brinsmead post to a discussion group: “But the inscrutable, ineffable mystery that is God is revealed “in the flesh.” That’s actually the high point of Biblical insight. This means that what goes on in the arena of human existence is a revelation. “Cease from God to scan; the proper study of mankind is man [i.e. humanity as the image of God in the world].” So Thomas Sheehan, “God has disappeared into humanity and can be found nowhere else.” So Les Miserables, “He who loves another has seen the face of God.” So Jacob: “God was in this place, and I knew it not.” So Isaiah, “The earth is full of His glory.” So Michael Morwood in debunking the notion of an “elsewhere God”, meaning that we are not dealing with a Sky God who is supposed to be somewhere else more than here.”
Our exhibiting love in daily mundane existence is how we all manifest deity in life. As Campbell said, the Center is in each of us. The Love that is God is also our inner core- the true human spirit, consciousness, and self. Love defines our essence as human beings. We are all manifestations of that ultimate Mystery that is no conditions love. And each of us is free to create some unique new human story to bless others, to make life better in some way.
Love gives the cosmos and life meaning, ultimate meaning. This imperfect world is an arena where we struggle and suffer in order to discover and exhibit love.
One more: Unconditional fundamentally and radically changes the heart of grand narratives or theories of ultimate reality that have long been dominated by retaliatory, punitive theories of deities. For example, in regard to restraint of violent offenders, that does not mean a swing to the opposite extreme. Unconditional is not an affirmation of pacifist responses to violent offenders that must be restrained and imprisoned.
So what then does it mean to view ultimate reality or deity as no conditions love? Certainly, it influences how we view and treat others/offenders. As Campbell said, in our “righteous battles against evil” we must remember our oneness with even our “enemies” (i.e. “love your enemy”) so that we do not lose our humanity. Our “enemy” is also our brother and will receive the same generous forgiveness, inclusion, and love in the end.
This perspective will affirm the trend to restorative justice approaches with offenders and all imperfect people. Violent people still have to be restrained and imprisoned where necessary to protect others. But our treatment of them ought to be with rehabilitative and not punitive justice. A worldview centered on unconditional will affirm such changes in our treatment of offenders.
See the Chinese sage’s advice, and the Norwegian prison models, below.
Losing our cohering center? (a repeat of “common shared values”)
Some have argued that with the decline of religion we have lost the common shared values that hold us together in human society. Others push for radical change to the structure of our societies. Rather than revolutionary overthrow of the old, we need to re-orient ourselves and re-emphasize the common values that we already have embraced.
Here are three fundamental things (ideas, themes, perspectives) to consider at the root of today’s diverse problems- (1) the tribal mentality and spirit that views others as outsiders or enemies and excludes them. (2) The impulse to domination and control of others that differ, and (3) punitive, destructive justice toward the imperfect and differing other.
I would counter these inherited animal drives with the following markers of mature humanity: (1) Embrace the oneness of the human family, that we are all part of one whole and that means the full inclusion of everyone as equals. (2) Respect the freedom and rights of the other, and (3) treat all human imperfection and failure with restorative justice approaches (i.e. with forgiveness, but also with necessary restraint of violence and full restitution for victims).
Re-emphasize these common shared values as they already exist in our human rights codes and constitutions.
A framework for understanding human story (some essential features of human life and experience, or “the meaning of life”)
Scattered throughout his books, Joseph Campbell presents an outline for understanding human life/human story. I have added to his basic points, revising, paraphrasing, and changing some things.
The point of human life? We are here to love. This is the fundamental reason for the cosmos, our world, and conscious human life.
Where Campbell used the term “universal love” to define human maturity and “heroic” human story, I would use the broader term “unconditional” or “no conditions” love. It includes universal and more. My point: Unconditional, as our highest human ideal (the most humane expression of love), gives meaning to everything. It answers all the great questions about “Why existence?”; “Why this cosmos and this world?”, and “Why conscious human life?” Let unconditional define all areas of life- your goals, your mission in life, how you become the hero of your unique story, and how you mature as a human being. Unconditional is how you conquer your monster, your real enemy in life, and thereby “tower in stature” as a wise person, as a mature human person.
An insert qualifier: Unconditional does not mean pacifist inaction in the face of injustice, violence, or evil. In discussion groups you sometimes get smart-ass participants who respond to the suggestion of embracing unconditional as an ideal with this extremist dismissal, “Oh, you’re saying that we should let all the psychopaths go free”. No. In advocating for an unconditional mindset, no one is suggesting anything so thoughtlessly irresponsible. Embracing an unconditional ideal does not entail the abandonment of common sense in an imperfect world.
For one, unconditional is a profound redefinition of humanity’s ultimate ideal and authority- deity. And thereby related: Unconditional fully humanizes our life goal of becoming fully humane just as our originating Source is fully humane (i.e. the belief/behavior relationship). Embracing unconditional in our highest ideal and authority- i.e. deity- will shape our responses and treatment of human imperfection and failure. It will orient us away from punitive forms of justice and toward restorative or rehabilitative justice. An unconditional mindset will still hold all responsible for their behavior, including the restraining and imprisoning of people that are not able or not willing to self-control their worst impulses. Unconditional will even engage war to stop aggression against the innocent. But it will do so with the non-aggressive and humble attitude that was advocated by the Chinese sage, Laozi, noted below.
Now, those features of human story…
First, I would affirm with Campbell that we come from a great Oneness that humanity has long called God (i.e. the Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Spirit, Self, Goodness). And there is one overwhelmingly dominant feature that describes this divine Oneness- Love. Not just love as we commonly know it here, but Love that is inexpressibly, transcendently, and infinitely unconditional. Beyond words, terms, definitions, or categories. The God as Love that is infinitely beyond our theories of God- the God and Love infinitely beyond the term God. Transcendently beyond the best that we could ever imagine. That ultimate Love gives meaning to everything. This stunning new theology of ultimate Love defines the core purpose of the cosmos, the world, and conscious life. It is all.
A related stunner: Our true self is also that same no conditions Love. This ought to radically transform and shape our sense of identity or self-image. That love is the very essence of our human spirit and our human consciousness, though our spirit and consciousness are often clouded and inhibited by the material body and brain that we have come to inhabit. Our core nature as no conditions love is often distorted and buried by the animal brain that we have inherited, with its anti-human impulses to exhibit tribalism, domination of others, and the exclusion, punishment, and destruction of others.
Further, on our origins in Oneness (i.e. that we are part of a greater Consciousness), some suggest that only part of our consciousness is expressed through our body and brain that are mechanisms to limit our consciousness in order to enable us to function in this material realm. Our greater consciousness is limited by the 5 senses of our bodies/brains and the three or four-dimensional reality of this material realm so that we can experience life here. In this view, the brain is a transmitting organism, a limiting mechanism to make a life experience possible in the here and now. (Note: This view is more in line with John Eccles’ “dualist inter-action”)
Our origin in the Oneness or Source that is Love, our inseparable and intense union with that Oneness, according to Campbell, is critical to remember as we journey through life so that we do not lose our humanity in this world where we struggle with evil. Our true home in ultimate Oneness reminds us that the others that we battle with here- i.e. the imperfect others that we view as “enemies” or opponents- they are also equally part of that same Oneness that is love. They are still intimate family despite the oppositions/dualisms that we all engage here (i.e. the dualisms of religion, politics, race, nationality, or other). They are still full equals with us. They are our brothers and sisters in the same one family. If we forget this oneness with others (“our brotherhood with even our enemies”) during our righteous struggle with evil in this world, then we will lose our humanity, says Campbell. We will forget that “love your enemy” is the key to maintaining our humanity.
Others have suggested that we are co-creators with God, that we take part in creating this material reality as a learning arena, a place to come and learn how to be human, to act out a human adventure, story, or quest. We all come as fellow actors in God’s theater, says Campbell, playing our differing roles, both good and bad.
And others yet suggest that we may even be responsible for choosing our unique life stories and the experiences in our stories, both good and bad. We may choose our bodies, our families, and our lives, in order to learn, develop, and grow as human. If this is true in any way, then we cannot blame God for our troubles. I am not affirming these speculative things … just offering them for consideration. They point to some stunningly alternative ways to view the harsher experiences of our lives. We may have chosen our life experiences as opportunities for learning and growth.
Insert: This is not some new take on religious predestination. As freedom is inseparable from love, so freedom remains paramount to our stories. We also freely choose and create our stories on the fly, in this world.
Moving along… Others have suggested that we come into life to fulfill some special mission, that we are called, or sent, to make some unique contribution to improve life, to make the world a better place. And we do this through living a unique life story. No one else can accomplish the unique mission that we came to fulfill.
Again, affirming my main point- the core purpose of human life and story is to know and learn love. To learn what authentically humane love is about. To learn how to love, how to receive and to express the love that is our true self. And the expression of love is achieved through all the diversity of human lives- e.g. whether making an economic contribution, a political or social contribution, or something personal. Perhaps as an entertainer. Is there any greater contribution than that made by comedians? Putting suffering in its place, laughing at it all, and thereby lightening the dark parts of life. And what about the valued contribution of farmers growing food for all of us? There are no “useless” human lives.
Our contribution may be small and hidden, or it may be offered in the larger public realm. Again, our contributions to life are as diverse as being human in our individual life stories. There is infinite creative potential in human lives and the freedom to be different, to explore, to create and innovate.
Once again, I would offer that unconditional love is the central point of it all. And that is intensely personal. As we contribute in some area, we should never forget that its all about how we relate to others around us in the mundane, ordinary, and private situations of daily life. Success in life is about how we treat others as fellow members of the same one family of God. They are our equals in that family despite their status in this world.
Taking another Campbell point here: We all face some monster in life. We experience some problem, some trial and suffering, something that we struggle with and try to overcome. Our monster/problem may be a physical disability, or mental/emotional problems, or some social issue, perhaps economic or political. Our monsters, and struggles/battles, are as diverse as the problems of our complex world, whether public or personal.
Others, Campbell included, have noted that dualism is a vital part of this material realm and there is a point to the dualisms of material reality and life. Whether the male/female dualism, or the good versus evil dualism. While this requires cautious treatment (i.e. not making light of evil and related suffering)… dualism serves the purpose, in this arena of life, of providing a backdrop or contrast against which we learn what good is. We would not know good without its contrasting opposite. The experience of evil or bad in life provides the opposite that we struggle against, and through that “righteous struggle with evil” we gain insights, we discover humane responses, and we find solutions to problems, solutions that will benefit others. Our struggle with the wrong, injustice, or evil of life is where we also learn empathy with suffering others.
Again, being cautious with the horrific suffering that people have endured, but some have suggested that struggle and suffering are necessary and even good for us because we would not learn, we would not develop and grow as human, aside from struggle and suffering. As Julian Simon said, our problems are good for us because they push us to find solutions and our discovered solutions then benefit others. Struggle brings forth the best of the human spirit.
Insert: Human experience of evil and suffering is never some form of divine punishment. That religious fallacy must be rejected entirely. God does not punish human imperfection. And while no explanation will ever fully satisfy all our questions, it makes more overall sense to view the creation of this imperfect world as a learning arena.
Campbell adds that we will be “wounded” in our struggle with our monster/problem.
Remember again, we may have chosen our unique problems and experiences of suffering before we came here. We may be more responsible for our lives than we realize. Let your mind toy with this suggestion (see, for example, Natalie Sudman’s The Application of Impossible Things).
I would add something further to Campbell’s good points, though in places he has intimated something similar. The greatest monster and the real enemy that we all face and must conquer, the greatest problem that we must all wrestle with and solve, is the inherited animal within each of us (“the animal passions”). The greatest of all “righteous battles against evil” is the intensely personal inner battle inside each of us. Here is where the role of unconditional comes into laser focus. And this is where we make our greatest contribution to making the world a better place. It starts within us, with conquering our own animal passions. “Why do you worry about and judge the speck in the other person’s eye (their imperfections) when you have a beam in your own eye (your own imperfections)?”
Revolution, reformation, renewal, change… should all begin as something intensely personal. Within us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The great battle-line between good and evil runs through the center of every human heart”.
We have all inherited a core animal brain. They used to frame this as the “tri-partite” brain, with the reptilian core (i.e. amygdala), the limbic system, and then the more human cortex at the surface.
The animal brain (and our past in millions of years of animal existence) bequeaths us with basic impulses to things like tribalism (small band separation and opposition to outsiders), the impulse to dominate others (Alpha male/female), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other/enemy.
But a liberating qualifier: We are not our brains (Jeffrey Schwartz). Our core human spirit, our human self or person, our consciousness, is the same Love as our great Source that we have long called God. We are not our inherited material and animal brains. We are something much better in our essential nature, personhood, or being (the “real” us). We are most essentially beings or persons that are love. Love is our most true inner nature.
(Insert: This is the most important dualism of all to understand- i.e. the human versus the animal. The human in us- i.e. our human spirit and consciousness- is taking us in an entirely new direction from our brutal animal past. It is taking us toward a more humane future. Evolutionary biology/psychology tends to devalue the human by explaining it too much in terms of the animal, by viewing and reducing the human to just another form of animal. Evolutionary biology/psychology also devalues our core love as something to be explained mostly in terms of the animal survival impulse- i.e. just a form of species altruism.)
And here is where Campbell shines when defining human story. He says that the most critically important transformation in human life is when we orient our lives to “universal love”. Then we begin to mature as humans. We become the hero of our story. Again, I would use unconditional love as a broader, more inclusive term.
Unconditional potently counters (overcomes, conquers) the animal inside us by pointing us toward the embrace of all others as equals in the same one human family (inclusive not tribal). Unconditional inspires us to treat all others as equals and to not dominate and control the free and equal other (no alpha domination). And unconditional urges us to not destroy the other but to forgive the imperfection that we encounter in others. Our core self, as unconditional love, points us toward the restorative treatment of failure in others (justice not as punishment but as rehabilitation).
Add here Campbell’s comments on the shamanic experience that involves a disintegration 0f life and the self, and then re-integration around something new, a new worldview and life story. Orienting our views and lives to no conditions, universal love provides a new cohering center for an entirely new worldview and life story. Unconditional transforms and changes everything. It liberates and transforms consciousness from the old features of human narratives that were often subhuman and it orients us to embrace features that are entirely new and humane. See Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives for details on constructing and entirely new worldview oriented to unconditional.
Emphasizing critical points:
The most important battles in life are not the great historical wars of tribe against tribe, or nation against nation. The greatest battles/wars are those that take place inside us all. And this relates to the real meaning of equality in human life. There can be no outer material equality because life is shaped by hierarchies and pyramids where only a few can reach the upper levels, whether in business, sports, politics, or entertainment. Only an elite few can achieve success in these pyramids of life. But everyone has equal opportunity to achieve the greatest success of all in the most important achievement of all- common love. Love is the most foundational thing to human existence and story. It is the defining feature of our human spirit and consciousness, and it gives the most potent meaning to our existence and stories. And love is the only lasting achievement in the cosmos. All else will be left behind and forgotten in the material world or realm. Only love lasts forever.
When we struggle and suffer in life, and then discover unconditional as the route to authentically humane life story- that is the greatest insight that we can learn, the greatest treasure that we can discover, and the greatest victory that we can achieve. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, then we can offer the greatest benefit or boon to others- to treat them unconditionally. Unconditional points us toward the greatest revolution that we can bring to life, the greatest possible transformation of life, toward the greatest liberation that we can offer to the world (i.e. liberation from the inherited animal in all of us). The unconditional treatment of all imperfect humanity (e.g. restorative justice) is one of the most potent personal ways to make the world a better place.
Another way of putting this… We will all face some struggle, some experience of suffering, something we fear, perhaps opposition from an enemy, or some abuse from an opponent. If we choose to respond to that challenge with love, we then discover our true self as a being of love, and we mature into a heroic person through that experience and choice. See, for example, The Railway Man, Nelson Mandela, the tortured prisoners in To End All Wars, or the mother in The Forgiven.
In all that we do, and should do, to make this life better- i.e. in sports, in business and work, in all public or social issues, or entertainment- we should never forget that it is how we treat others in the daily mundane interactions (the ordinary and hidden things) that make us real successes and achievers, or not. Steve Jobs understood this on his death bed when he apologized to his daughter Lisa for treating her sub-humanly at times. He wished that he could have done things better and been kinder when alive and healthy.
Added notes in conclusion: The embrace of a no-conditions ideal to guide our lives will orient us to (1) the non-tribal inclusion of all as full equals, it will orient us to (2) respect and protect the full freedom and rights of all others, and it will orient us away from punitive, destructive forms of justice and (3) toward restorative/rehabilitative forms of justice- i.e. treating all human imperfection and failure with forgiveness, mercy, generosity.
Campbell also says that a “wise man”, or mentor, will give us a sword to slay our monster and help us to achieve our purpose in life. We all know such people among family and friends, people who give us advice from their own life experience. And again, most importantly, unconditional love is that most potent sword to slay our animal monster or enemy.
From our struggle with this imperfect life and our struggle to learn love, we are transformed into a new person, into a better version of our self (or better- learning to love is the unveiling or expression of our true self). When we orient our lives to unconditional love, we then “tower in stature as mature humans”, we become the hero of our story, and we fulfill our destiny, we accomplish our mission. And that is how we help to create a better world, a new world, by first making ourselves better persons, by learning to live out the love that is our true self.
Another: An essential part of the development toward becoming a mature human person is to take responsibility for our failures in life. Personal acknowledgement and embrace of failure is the starting point to the life trajectory of personal improvement.
Recap: Unconditional love is the key to the cosmos, this world, and conscious human life. It is the defining essence of our great Source- God. As someone said, “The very atoms of God are made of love, unconditional love”. That love then defines the purpose of the cosmos and life- that all has been created as an arena where we come to learn and experience such love, to receive and express such love. The imperfection of life is the background against which such love shines all the more brightly.
While each of us has some unique thing to contribute to life in economics, politics, work life, social life, sports/entertainment, music, or whatever else that we choose to do, the one common factor in all human story is to learn unconditional love, to discover and achieve something of this highest form of love. When we orient our lives to this central ideal, then we have conquered our real monster and enemy, the inherited animal in us. Then we have become the hero of our story.
One more: The monster that we face in life is a two-part beast. I noted the basic features of animal reality that we all struggle with- i.e. the impulses to tribalism (small band separation and opposition), domination of others (the alpha thing), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other. Across history, people have also projected these same features onto deities, onto humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- the gods. They have thereby created ultimate monsters. So conquering a monster in life is more than just overcoming the monster inside us- the animal inheritance in us. Our battle in life includes the monsters in our meta-narratives- i.e. the religious God theories that inspire, guide, and validate our emotions, attitudes, motivations, and responses/behavior. Our highest ideals and authorities- too often monstrous deities- can serve to validate the monstrous impulses in us. This has to do with the belief/behavior relationship.
Again, unconditional is the sword that potently slays the monster in us and also slays the monstrous pathologies of humanity’s God theories. An unconditional God does not engage dualistic tribalism (believers versus unbelievers), or domination of people (the myth of “humanity created to serve the gods”), and does not punish and destroy “unbelievers” (i.e. apocalypse and hell myths).