We have seen, in recent weeks, violent protests around the world in reaction to a movie called The Innocence of Muslims.
During and following these protests we have also seen violent reactions from police and military. Intertwined within this we have seen the reaction from the media. There have then come further reactions from religious leaders, politicians, extremists and the public in general who have given voice to their thoughts through social media, talkback radio, letters to newspaper editors, blogs, as well as through conversations at kitchen tables around the world.
Anyone who has seen only the smallest snippets of the film will very quickly and readily acknowledge its ridiculous and farcical nature. The poverty of its ideas reveals itself at every turn. It lacks completely any imaginative, aesthetic or artistic sensibilities. From the story, to the script, to the acting, to the sets and even to the costumes – including the absurd, fake beards – the film’s impoverished nature is obvious. It is not only impoverished because it lacked a decent budget, it is impoverished because it lacks a decent guiding idea – a decent story, a decent meaning. No wonder, therefore, that it also lacked funding.
Usually, of course, movies of this kind wouldn’t even register a blip on the digital radar of the world (unless, of course, the lack of a decent story and script was masked by a massive budget which purchased a massive amount of special effects – another kind of ‘fake beard’ – but even films of this kind are becoming less appealing to human beings today). Because of its content – its subject matter – however, there are many who have taken notice.
And yet, when we look also to the reactions that have followed in the film’s wake – whether the reactions by some Muslims, by police, by military, government, extremist groups, media or other members of the public – do we not also see a poverty of ideas expressed? Do we not also see a lack of imaginative, aesthetic or artistic sensibility? Do we not see a corrupt expression of moral force? Do we not also see in these reactions, essentially, a ridiculous and farcical story, lacking real meaning, unfolding under poor direction? Do we not see a whole cast of characters playing out their roles around the world?
Is not the script of real life just as absurd as that of the movie at the centre of this unrest? Are not the speeches just as halting, the monologues just as predictable? And for the media – is not the filming and editing just as sensational and tired? Are not these various reactions on all sides also a kind of film? – yet one that, in truth, should not register a blip on the spiritual radar of the higher human being, if it weren’t for the content – for the subject matter – which should, of course, interest us all.
Which one, in truth, is the bad movie? Which is, in truth, the ridiculous and farcical script? Which is the poorer story? Who are, in reality, the bad actors?
Or perhaps we should say, who are the bad re-actors. For it seems that everything we have seen in reaction to this film (and even the film itself, as well as reactions to the reactions) – from many different groups, and from a large number of human beings – has not been true and inspired acting, but rather a kind of poorly scripted re-acting (which is no acting at all, but rather a kind of ‘being acted’). We are seeing the re-acting of the same old roles, by the same old characters, with everyone playing their part. It all carries on by a kind of inertia.
Yet, something in all this is inherently repulsive to a new kind of audience. It is the same audience that sees through the over-budgeted and glossy Hollywood blockbuster. It is the same audience that sees through the impoverished ideas of films like The Innocence of Muslims as well as all the reactions, on all sides, that have followed in its wake, as much as the predictable bow waves follow after a junk boat riddled with holes and rotten wood. This new audience is one that sees through the inertia and predictability of the world.
Who is this new audience? This new audience can be found in each one of us. For it is none other than that part of us that lives with imaginative, aesthetic, artistic and moral eyes open. It is, therefore, that part of us able to see through the impoverished scripts and acting of the world, and to say, This does not ring true, this carries no imaginative force, this carries no inspiration that speaks to me as a human being. This new audience is, however, not only passive. Nor will it settle for prescribed and predictable character roles according to anything outside its own self. It is not a re-actor. There is no character role handed out by religion, education, government, media, race, class, gender, nationality, family or anything else that it will accept and learn the lines for. Most definitely it will acknowledge all of these things and honestly perceive the way in which these roles have helped shape its being. It will not close its eyes to these things nor the world as a whole – it will, rather, through aesthetic eyes opened by its own efforts, recognise these influences upon itself and upon other human beings, and yet strive at all times to see through these roles in order to find truth.
In doing so, it will become true audience. It will see through to the true movie – the true drama of the world – and will recognise and make a space for this truth to become the actual drama that plays itself out on the stage of the world and the human being. For it is also able to perceive the true audience of other human beings, and to make a space for this true other to manifest itself more fully in its own life, in freedom. Likewise will it hold a space for the true audience of whole groups of people and of the world itself. For it is only in and through the new audience it finds outside itself does it, in truth, find its own self, not only as audience, but now also as actor.
For if, with aesthetic and imaginative eyes now firmly opened to the truth of the world – that part of the world which does not carry on through impoverished scripting, through thoughtless inertia – but that part of the world where the imagination and inspiration for a new script lies ready and waiting – if the new audience of the world presses through to this movie in becoming, then it will find and fashion there, in freedom, and in service of this new and imaginative script of the world, its own true role.
No longer will be it be an idle audience with consequently predictable re-acting. But, rather, it will be a fully awakened audience that makes and takes its own cues – that writes its own lines and script in every moment, in accordance with and in willing service of the higher, creative and imaginative script of world and human evolution. We become our own directors, our own actors, in a movie that is interesting both for its aesthetic, imaginative and artistic force, and also because the subject matter is of the greatest relevance to us. We are each one of us in the process of creating the one great film – the one great artwork of the world. And we are each one of us artists and directors in this creation. We are each one of us actors in this realm, ready at any moment to act upon – to transform to a better story – the very world and its roles that have themselves formed and transformed us.
Scattered amongst the news reports of recent weeks, one is also able to catch glimpses of individuals who have become such true actors in their own lives, and within the destiny of their communities, their religions, their genders, their countries, and perhaps even the world as a whole.
We feel somehow drawn to the acting of such individuals. Not in the same way we are drawn through a kind of terrible voyeurism to poor acting and poor scripts, but, rather, in a way that calls forth more of the true audience and true acting of our own selves. We hear and see something in the acting of these individuals that speaks of our own higher roles.
Aung Suung Su Ki is one such individual. As a flag-bearer of democracy, she, under Burmese military dictatorship, was forced to live in house arrest for around 15 years. Now that Burma has begun opening itself up to the world again, she has become a member of parliament and is finally travelling abroad in order to meet other world leaders and to receive such honours as the Nobel Prize, some 20 years after she was awarded it.
In looking at her story, one can have the feeling – in the way she seems to have calmly and defiantly waited out her time under house arrest in order for the true sentiments of human beings to come around, to catch her up, and to begin to utter their own speakings – that she has been born to this particular task, and has now entered a new scene within a greater story of truth that she has been articulating all along. To find a leader prepared to hold to such moral convictions and intuitions and to act on them so decisively – to not be swayed by the predictable roles assigned by parties or lobby groups, but to carve out a self-made role in service – this is surely something that the great thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson would have praised.
Aung Suung Su Ki is but one example. There are many others that could be given, including Emerson himself. And still there are many others performing their work underneath the news radar of the world; those who are finding like-minded friends, building community, working together through common inspiration; those writing a new and creative script – rewriting and recreating the world even as the old script falters, even as it scrambles for lines and the whole old performance crashes and dies. Ultimately there are more than six billion human beings – six billion true actors – awaiting their true roles, with many more waiting in the wings, on other side, for their cues – their entries – onto the stage, each one of them bringing new forces and new inspiration for this one great performance.
The question, is, How do we enable such new forces to find their place on the world stage in order that they may improve the integrity, the authenticity of this global drama. This is the task and role of education, and cultural life more generally. And yet, the current state of the world, including the stories it creates, reveals an educational and cultural life, on the whole, working with and grasping for ideas that are nothing other than the consequence of the inertia of the world-drama rolling on. New thoughts are needed. And so the space for new thoughts must be cultivated. Not old thoughts dressed in fake beards, not old reactions, not old paradigms repeated endlessly; not old thoughts looked at through different lenses; not old thoughts cut-and-pasted together from all corners of the world. Surely Einstein’s words have become a mantra by now: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” He does not mean the same thoughts. He means the same thinking activity. We might try to teach new thoughts today. But what we are really teaching are still thoughts that others have already had. What we are really teaching is how to think in the same way, with and through the same thinking activity. And so Einstein goes on unheeded.
So we react to the problem of the impoverished thinking activity that created The Innocence of Muslims with the impoverished thinking activity that leads to violence, hate, division, anger, doubt and fear on all sides. And our thinking leads to these outcomes because it is these actors of fear, doubt and hatred who we allow to do the thinking for us – who we allow to take from us our rightful roles. Doubt, hatred and fear are actors who we allow to steal our own stage – to usurp us – and they go forth and breed more understudies of their own kind.
What we need are more and more opportunities through education and cultural life for us to be able to think new thoughts through being able to think in a new way. In children, a space for the whole human being must be made – for the whole actor – in order that later in life they are able to bring all their gifts – their whole role – onto the world stage. This will not happen if we go on filling up heads with existing knowledge as if it were ultimate truth – for in reality we are doing nothing but teaching the lines of the script of the world that has already fallen into decline. How do we, rather, enable the new world script to come further into reality?
Education and cultural life of a true kind have the power to recreate the world, including how we work politically and economically. At present, these huge forces – these main actors – of economy and polity overshadow the role that education and culture are destined to play. They inhibit the development of the human being, for they have taken on the role of culture itself. They are double-acting. The roles are confused and mixed up. The drama has become absurd – a parody of itself. Only a free cultural life can decide how education can unfold – that is, only teachers in the classroom. This is not the part that government is here to play. Political life needs to surrender its cultural script.
Nor is it the task of the economy to dictate, through government, what should be taught. The old script is written by the economy, handed to government and passed on to teachers and professors so that the world produces ‘educated’ adults ready to serve the needs of the economy. But human beings are not here to serve the needs of the economy. The economy is here to serve the needs of human beings. The lines are being written by the wrong players. No new thoughts are possible. The movie is a farce.
Producers working together with consumers and distributors, however, in order to meet real human needs (and not manufacture them), with surplus (i.e. profit) funding a free cultural life – such a way of organising society according to is own logic and lawfulness, has the potential to help cultural life create the true actors the world (including the economy) now needs. Government’s role is to regulate this, to make sure it all takes place, to uphold the policies and laws that human beings themselves decide upon as complete equals regardless of political, economic or any other advantage.
This is the stage and setting that the true drama of the world is asking for. This is what can be created when we move beyond asking, What is right and what is wrong? to asking, What is healthy? The stage and setting itself must be re-created by true actors – true human beings – even as they find their own true roles. The twin dramas of self-development and world-development today belong together. The whole performance – the whole drama – must be held by each individual, even as each individual role is held by the drama as a whole. In one must the other be found, not abstractly, but organically, in reality.
In so doing will we move towards creating a true performance – a true world – in which it is possible to find the true human being; for within the human being the true world shall be found.
The ongoing battle between the forces that stand behind the violence of the neo-liberal agenda of elite globalisation on the one hand, and the violence of jihadism on the other – the battle between the polarities of fundamentalism on one side and fundamentalism on the other – has become ‘old hat’. We must have the courage to find new hats, to fashion a middle path, to create our true roles. Each one of us has the potential to do this, regardless of the size of the stage we now find ourselves upon. We are each one of us our own director in this sense. The world is created anew whenever we make it anew through our own true perceiving and true acting. For what we perceive when we consciously and selflessly penetrate through to the truth – to the essence of things – are selfless, creative, and imaginative forces which stand on the side of humanity, which stand on the side of the human being. These forces – and the thoughts they make possible – are immaterial – they are spiritual forces, spiritual beings; not ones that we need to believe in, but ones that we can come to see, to know, and to work with as free individuals. This is the place – the wellspring – from which the inspirations – from which the muses – of the rewriting of our own lives and the world can proceed, for this is the realm in which our thinking and resulting actions are free. Anything less, and we are not truly actors, but re-actors. Anything less, and the films or whatever else we create are lacking. But in striving, again and again, to open our eyes, our hearts and our will in order to make a vessel there for our own true selves and the true selves of others, as well as all of the spiritual creativity that can pour into the world from this field through our deeds – then a new and better world has the chance of coming into being – then a new and better page in the long drama of the world will be written by free human beings in service of true and conscious evolution, out of love.
John Stubley, Ph.D.