Walking into the World

On New Year’s Eve, 31-year-old Australian soldier Paul McKay walked into the wilderness of upstate New York and disappeared.

He had never been to the US before, and had no known contacts there. He flew to Newark from Australia, took a bus to the town of Saranac Lake near the Canadian border, and checked into a hotel. He left clothing and a camera there before walking – with a large backpack and winter clothing – along train tracks into the Adirondack Mountains.

The temperature during this time was reaching minus 30 degrees Celsius, but authorities remained hopeful that his military training would help keep him alive.

Captain McKay was on leave from the Australian army, and was believed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a tour of Afghanistan. (Some media reported that he was serving at Sorkh Bed Forward Operating Base in 2011 when an Afghan soldier shot and killed three Australian soldiers and an interpreter, and seriously injured seven other Australian troops.[1])

A large search by volunteers, rangers, dogs and helicopters began after his family reported that he wrote his father an email on December 30 in which he left his father all his possessions. His family did not even know he was in the US.

The search continued for two weeks, during which time authorities remained hopeful he would board his January 15 flights from either Newark or Los Angeles. He did not board either of them.

On January 17 his body was found near the top of Scarface Mountain. He was without tent or shelter. An autopsy found he died of an irregular heartbeat due to hypothermia. The coroner ruled the manner of death to be suicide.

Such an event as this gives rise to many questions, as well as – with good reason – much sadness.

One thing is relatively clear, however – that this young man, having experienced the horrors of war (and, one could say, life in general) chose not to live as a human being in the world he encountered but, rather, to walk into the wilderness, alone. The world, as his destiny had revealed it to him in experience, was such that he would rather turn away from it.

Part of the tragedy of this story is that it does not take much effort on our part to empathise with Captain McKay. Still, most of us can only imagine the horrors that war brings. For others, it is more real.

More US soldiers now take their own lives than die in combat. It is the same in Britain. That is, suicide is now the biggest killer of US and British troops.[2] The war without continues and escalates into the war within. This is the great unseen world war of our time.

And yet, it is not only military personnel who suffer such a fate – who are engaged in such a war. The reason, in part, why the story of Captain McKay is so tragic is that we can identify something of ourselves in it, even if the outer circumstances completely differ.

Globally, each year, around one million people take their own lives.[3] Add to this all those deaths which are not actually reported as suicides. And considering that only around one in 20 suicides are ‘completed,’ we can say that each year around 20 million people – or, roughly, the population of Australia – attempt to take their own lives.[4]

Many more, of course, suffer, but do not go to such extremes. There are gradations of mental health problems that lead, ultimately, to suicide.

Such problems – problems, for the most part, of the inner life – problems of whether or not we actually want to be here on earth – are not escaped by anybody. For, it seems, almost everywhere we turn in our time – not just on the battlefield of war – we find a social situation which is fundamentally antipathetic to the human being – to that part of us which decides, every day, at whatever level of consciousness, that we actually want to be here.

Almost wherever we turn, the world presents itself today as something fundamentally at odds with the human being. Just as there are gradations of challenges – or battles – faced in the inner life of man, so too do we encounter the world around us as a kind of battle – a kind of war. This, at least, to some degree or other, depending on our individual circumstance, is the reality – that the outer – and with it, inner – world presents itself to us as a  kind of battlefield – as war. This is the given situation – the default setting – of our time. No matter what field – from economic activity, to political and rights issues, to education, food and popular culture (with all the advertising and marketing that go along with it – including the lucrative educational and economic opportunities offered by military service, not to mention the general glorification of war) we are continually under attack – and we face it at the level of relationships, family, race, religion, nationality, gender, class – all the way to the global level. The global paradigm of our time is the self-fulfilment of our abstract theory of Social Darwinism – of survival of the fittest. And yet, we are all losers in such a battle as this.

This global paradigm is not the right fulfilment of the French Revolutionary ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood. It is, rather, one of cultural subjugation/slavery, political and rights inequality, and economic war of all against all. (All of these issues are present, in one form or another, in the many military conflicts and other violence we see in our time – indeed, each of them is itself a form of social violence.) And every day we suffer – to varying levels – the inner consequences of these outer realities.

That is, unless, we actively cultivate going another way.

What is this other way?

Currently, many of us walk into the battlefield of the world with little conscious awareness (or recognition) of the inner realities of the experiences we face. Those who do feel, all too fully, this inner reality, however, are continually tempted to walk away from this battlefield into the ‘wilderness.’ And with the world as it currently is, this is all too understandable.

These are the two extreme paths of our time – into the war of the world, numb to the reality of its connection to inner life; or, alternatively, at the other extreme, into the wild. By human beings choosing – consciously or otherwise – one of these two paths, the global paradigm of our time – the global war, or retreat from it – is not only upheld, but actually gets worse. If these continue to be the only chosen paths, things will continue to deteriorate, and will do so in such a way that war, including the terrible experiences Captain McKay underwent in Afghanistan (and afterwards), will become even more common.

The reality, however, is that another – a third – path exists for the human being today. It is neither a blind walking into the world-war, nor a resigned walking into the wild (in truth, there is no longer anywhere we can go to escape the situation – there is no longer any ‘wild’). This third path is, rather, a walking into the battle of the world with eyes of the inner life fully open. Meaning, we can attempt to strive today, as human beings, to see through, with an awake inner life, to the inner, essential, workings of the world as it presents itself to us. No doubt, we will at first see social life for the reality that it currently is – a war waged upon the human being. But if, without turning away from this, we continue to walk – nay, stride – through this battlefield, we can also come to such experiences whereby we encounter something of how social life – in essence – seeks to be; we can experience something of the reality of social life which overcomes the current global war we encounter; we can, with eyes of the inner life open, experience something of the health-bestowing qualities of the social organism as they reveal themselves in us; and then, armed with this experience and knowledge, we can begin to rebuild the world in accordance with its inner lawfulness. More – we can see where others are also engaged in this building even as war wages all around them, because they have some sense – or sense-organ – for a better, more ‘lawful’ – and thereby, human – way of shaping the social realities of our time. In joining with others in common perceptions of healthy, lawful, social realities we can – in and through the spaces between us – begin to build a new world, and do so in such a way that disproves the one-sidedness of Social Darwinism and, instead, encompasses the whole social picture. We can find one another as human beings in conscious service of a commonly perceived ideal, and in so doing continue building a world in accordance with the realities of our age – with the true spirit of our time.

In such a striving as this can we begin to turn to a more positive end stories such as Paul McKay’s – stories which, in reality, concern us all.

 

John Stubley

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The Fire of Life: Stay and Defend

The element of fire is nothing new to Australia. Yet, for the modern lifestyle, it can engender no small amount of fear. And understandably so. Recently, more than 50 houses and properties were destroyed by a fire near Perth, Western Australia.[1]

Indeed, every summer brings with it the possibility of more destruction. And, for residents, this can mean more confusion, and more fear.

The question must be, then, What can be done?

In a recent radio interview,[2] a volunteer firefighter described his decision to ‘stay and defend’ his home. After a certain period of time, one must either leave one’s dwelling or ‘stay and actively defend’. If the decision to leave is made too late, however, one also faces great risk in departing. Indeed, there is risk at every turn, whatever the decision – it cannot be avoided.

Not only was the interviewee a volunteer firefighter of many years experience, he also ran a business specialising in fire prevention and management. The first thing he said he needed to accomplish was to stay calm – and that his training and experience had made this possible.

In addition to these inner resources, this individual also had a very large water tank with the relevant and necessary firefighting hose, and around 100 surplus fire extinguishers (from his business). No doubt he would also have considered the necessary fire breaks around the property and house, as well as sprinkler systems, filling the gutters with water, and so on.

When, then, did he make his decision to stay and actively defend? It had, he said, been made years ago, as had all other preparations, including that the rest of his family (except his son – also a volunteer firefighter) would leave the moment they were aware fire was coming. How did he know the fire was coming? By being aware of the wind direction, local topography and other conditions; and by having access to a firefighter’s radio communication.

So, with a fire threat imminent, the long-held plan fell into action – his family left, and he and his son stayed to defend their home.

At this point, he said, a neighbour asked what he should do. Our interviewee asked if he had a defence plan in place – the neighbour replied in the negative. It was advised, then, that he should leave. The neighbour did so and returned some days later to find his home had been burned to the ground, no doubt wondering if he would have suffered the same fate had he stayed.

Another neighbour decided to take a garden hose and attempt to defend his home. For our interviewee, however, this meant another individual he now had to worry about – one who had not adequately prepared for this situation.

And so our interviewee stayed with his son and defended not only his own house, but managed to save the houses of four of his neighbours as well. His own preparation also led to a positive outcome for others.

As the days went by, he stayed inside the ‘red zone’ and continued to put out spot fires as they arose. If he had left the area, authorities would not have allowed him back in. While there he said he noticed several looters – including ‘suspicious’ kids on bikes, as well as an individual with a laundry basket full of items – scouring the area.

It was not until some three days after the fire started that he finally got some sleep, just before the interview. By this time his family had also returned – on a permit – to see what had happened.

What can be made of all this?

It seems as though this individual was born for a moment such as this. He had been observing and contemplating the element of fire for years, and had been actively cultivating the inner and outer resources necessary for this very moment. He had, in a way, been defending his home not just for these three days but for years, if not decades. All of his experience and preparation – over the course of his whole life, we could say – was an activity of staying and defending. We could say that this fire ‘moment’ belonged to his whole life.

Now, not all of us are volunteer firefighters, nor is fire a threat that all of us face. Perhaps, though, we face other natural elements – snowstorms, hurricanes, cyclones, floods, earthquakes, and so on. Perhaps we face threatening social conditions such as homelessness, poverty, inequality, subjugation, racism, sexism, etc., or any number of other, substantial trials. Indeed, there seems no shortage of ‘disasters’ knocking regularly on our and our neighbours’ doors.

And what of our homes – and houses – that we are called to either stay and defend, or to flee from? What is our home, in essence? Our house, as physical building, is a home for our physical bodies, and is more or less suited to our physical needs and countenance. With our thoughts, however, we can dwell outside these four walls and feel a certain amount of ‘at-home-ness’ in an area much greater than our houses. It may be that we also feel that home – our home – is as large as – encompasses also – our neighbours and their houses. Perhaps we are at home in our whole street,[3] our whole neighbourhood, state, region – even the whole earth, and beyond. With our thoughts – with our thinking activity – it is fair to say that we can feel at home in as large or small an area as our thinking can encompass – can become part of. This individual stayed and defended not only his house, but his home – which, in this case, encompassed the houses of his fellow human beings.

In this light, to stay and defend our homes can take on new meaning. With the right cultivation of inner resources and the necessary skills and experience, I can choose to stay and defend whatever I choose to unite with in my own thinking activity – my own consciousness. And this activity of staying and defending can last a lifetime – longer. I am convinced that every human being has been actively preparing – to some degree of consciousness – for their own, unique activity of staying and defending. It may look completely different to the incident we have been describing above – but, none-the-less, it belongs to the path of each one of us that we have a particular, unique, world-necessary stay-and-defend contribution we are here to make. It just depends on how awake we are to it – how much and how consciously we develop the inner and outer resources necessary for its execution when called by the ‘imminent fires’ of life, and whether we have said ‘yes’ to it in such a way that when the moment arrives this ‘yes’ lives not only in our minds and on our lips, but also in our will – in our deeds. Do we stay and defend our ‘homes’, or do we leave? – each one of us lives out the answer to this question, for it is the course of our own lives that brings such a question into existence. And with the world as it is at present – in regards both natural and social questions – we can only say that the ‘fire’ is now upon us – is upon all of us. The wind direction, topography and surrounding conditions mean the threat is imminent. We must choose – and we must grow conscious, again and again, of this decision.

Finally, to help us in this activity, it can be useful to know what ‘defending’ actually entails. To look again at our interviewee, we can see the way in which he observed, contemplated and experienced fire in such a way that he was able to remain calm – was able to hold fear in its place. It was not that he was without fear, it was that he knew what to do with it. It may well have been that at some point – earlier in his life – he actually chose his path of training and development because he observed fire to be not only a threat, but something that gave rise to fear. In experiencing fire again and again, however – in his observation and thinking activity – he was able to hold fear at bay and do that which was necessary.

We could say that to observe and think fire in such a complete way is, in a sense, to become it. In becoming it – in becoming fire – fear no longer prevails as a driving force but is, rather, externalised from us; it is there but we are left free to do what needs to be done.

We could also say that each of us contains fear such as this. That which gives rise to it, however, will be different for everybody. If one is attentive, however, it is possible to work with that which brings about fear in us – whether it be fire, sharks, money, social situations or anything else – in such a way that we can know it from the inside – that we, in a way, can become it. And in becoming that which causes fear in us, we can begin to keep fear itself in its place, and take up our rightful position as free individuals.

The only thing not consumed by fire is fire. In becoming it, we have nothing to fear.

The indigenous people of this country have been working creatively with fire for more than 40,000 years.[4]

The time has now come for all of us to choose – wherever we are, wherever ‘home’ is for us, whatever our fears, whatever our tasks. We are each asked to be responsible. The fire is upon us. Nay – we are already ablaze. Will we choose to flee? Will we choose to stay, unprepared, a burden to others? Or will we stay and actively defend, becoming fire, and putting ourselves in service of that which needs to be done in world evolution?

 

John Stubley


[1] Perth hills area, including Parkerville, Stoneville and Mount Helena. (The family property I grew up on was immediately impacted upon by this fire.)

[2] ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio 720 “Mornings with Geoff Hutchison” program, Wednesday January 15, 2014.

[3] The interviewee tried to save another house but had to abandon it when flames got into the roof.

[4] Indigenous Australians have used and continue to use fire as a form of land stewardship. Land is cleared and cleansed, making it more accessible and easier to hunt animals, while allowing certain plants to germinate and grow as others are removed. Such fire stewarding systems are intricate, and it is the task of certain individuals to be responsible for – to carry the wisdom of – fire – it is their dreaming; their totem. Like all dreamings they become it, in order to serve country as a whole.

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Blowing the Whistle

Amid the revelations by Edward Snowden on America’s surveillance operations, as well as the ongoing trial of Bradley Manning, and the effective ‘house arrest’ of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the one question that doesn’t seem to find much of the light of day is: Why? Why is there so much ‘whistle blowing’ taking place in our time?

Some of the initial, prominent acts of whistle blowing occurred in America in the 1970s – what have come to be known as the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal.[1] The concept of whistle blowing arose at this time.[2] To blow the whistle is seen as an act of alerting people to information which they otherwise would not have been aware, but which is potentially in their interest to know about. Prior to the ’70s, ‘whistle blowing’ was the realm of the sports referee – as an adjudicator in the realm of fairness, of equality, of rights. Something of this lives on into its modern meaning.

Since the 1970s (as well as before the term was coined, of course), whistle blowing has been used as a device to disclose what its practitioners see as corruption. Such corruption is generally practiced by the powers that be. In all of the cases mentioned above – and in many of the most prominent cases of whistle blowing in our time – the ‘power that is’ has been one of if not the most powerful institution in the world: the US government.

So what would prompt individuals within this power structure to speak out against – to blow the whistle on – perceived acts of unfairness, of ‘foul play’ – of, essentially, violations of human rights? An individual against the most powerful government the world has so far seen – this is a true David and Goliath situation for our age.

Initially, of course, these same power structures wield their might, and label such revelations as hurtful to the interests and security of the country. Such individuals are usually given trial by media and pronounced, by their government, traitors guilty of treason even before the sound of their whistle has finished ringing. In time, however, as the game goes on, things become a little clearer. Wars can be eventually ended, presidents can be forced to resign. Or at least that’s what happened in the ’70s. In a period of proven corruption, individuals shone a light on the abuse of power, allowing the public to see what was happening and to make informed decisions based on facts.

In our time – due to the individuals mentioned above, as well as to many others, and also to what the phenomenon of WikiLeaks has made possible – it seems as if the whistle is constantly sounding. The whistle of our age has not stopped ringing for some time now. Of course, this also brings the danger that we may become numb, and eventually deaf to its sounding. On the other hand, it may become so loud that we cannot ignore it any longer.

In any case, it is important to come to an understanding of why we are currently confronted with an ever-crescendo-ing chorus of whistles. In one sense, it is relatively easy to say that an increase in perceived abuse of power – that an over-abundance of inequality – leads individuals to wish to speak out against such inequality and abuse. Given that they are quite possibly not ‘traitors’ but – as time may well judge of the whistleblowers of our age – the greatest of patriots, the real question is: Why do these particular individuals choose to speak up when others do not? What would motivate such human beings to risk everything they have – including their own lives – in order to simply share information? Why would they sacrifice everything they have, not for gain nor acclaim but for the prospect of prison or a life in exile, as well as public humiliation and shame?

A choice is made, and such individuals choose, essentially, to put the truth above their own interests. Even when their families urge them to change their minds, they stand firm.[3] They stand for an ideal higher than the organisations they work for, higher than their families, higher than themselves. They believe that in their actions they are doing something which – of itself – is right, is good; in contrast to the actions which they have observed or chosen to be part of in the past. At some point they could no longer do what they had been doing, or could no longer keep silent over what they had witnessed. Knowing the consequences, they chose to make their knowledge public in order that a greater, public, circle may decide what is right or wrong in a particular situation, especially when the public themselves are affected by the activity which has been witnessed. Essentially, knowledge for the very few becomes, potentially, knowledge for all. Government expands, as it were, from the few to the many – if not to all. Everyone suddenly has a relationship to the situation at hand – everyone has a right in connection to it, especially when it concerns infringements upon their rights as human beings. When the primary function of government is at stake – upholding the rights of its citizens – everyone is affected. Through acts of whistle blowing rights are returned to their ‘rightful’ place – to each and every citizen. When they are limited to a handful of individuals, the rights of the citizenry are generally abused. Whistle blowing serves to remedy this abuse. Government is not in the hands of the few, it is in the hands of all. The forms we have – representative democracy – have not kept pace with reality. Our democracy has stagnated in decadent forms. The leaks themselves reveal the consequences of this. A permanent whistle blowing is needed.

A democracy of our time is called for – one based upon the equal right of all citizens to shape the country in which they live. This means everyone has a hand in the creation of and voting upon all policy and laws. The ‘government’ is there to uphold such equally decided laws, not to create them representatively. When the equal rights and the freedom of individuals is on the line, it is only such free individuals, with equal rights, who can ultimately remedy the situation.

In the moment in which these whistle blowers had a choice to make, a greater conscience – a greater consciousness – called them to act not for themselves, but for the freedom and rights of their fellow citizens. A whistle of conscience blew so loud in them that they could not block their inner ears from it any longer – it filled their whole being – so much so that they were prepared to climb up, willingly, onto the cross of persecution in order to let others know the truth. The inner whistle that they heard was both a higher calling and their own true selves sounding forth. They were both the original whistler and the one whistled to, and were so self-assured, so self-convinced, in their motivations that they were prepared to act on it, come what may. This is the self-reliance the great voice of the spirit of America – Ralph Waldo Emerson – himself called for. The whistles of our time are nothing other than the sound of free human beings blowing together with the force of truth and, often, with the true spirit of America. The rising chorus of whistle blowing we are currently hearing is the sound of human beings singing in tune with the spirit of progress in our time. It is the music of a better world coming into being – one based on the free choices of individuals; one based on love for our fellow human beings.

It is the same as the original story of the one who climbed such a cross in the process of blowing a whistle on the true nature of the human being. It is the same whistle – the same tone – we hear today, fashioning for each of us both the ears and lips necessary to hear and blow such a whistle as that which needs to be heard in the world.

More and more people are hearing this whistle – this call – understanding it, and responding to it by adding their own unique ‘note’ – as free individuals – to the rising chorus of our time.

 

John Stubley

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Surveillance of Our Time: Protecting the Flame

The word surveillance comes from the French ‘sur’ – over – ‘veiller’ – to watch.  Surveillance is overseeing / watching over. From the outset, this word appears to have been connected to the activities of the state in relation to its citizens.[1] Its very existence is built, primarily, on a foundation of distrust. The surveillance state sees and expects only the worst from its citizens, and therefore practices what it might call ‘vigilance’ – from the Latin ‘vigilare’ – the root of ‘veiller’. The surveillance state is, therefore, watching, taking its language for this activity from the great, watchful, empire state – Rome.

The question that must surely be asked is, however, Is this activity appropriate in our own time? We come here to the very root of the social question – namely, the relationship between the free, individual creative capacity of human beings, and the society in which they find themselves. It is a question – a riddle – whose answer can be found only within the human being. Here – in the creative capacity – in the capacity for freedom – that lies in the heart of the human individuality – here we find both the cause and answer to the social question of our time, and to the issue of surveillance – to watching over – in the widest possible sense of the word.

The issue, fundamentally, is whether or not it is appropriate for the free individuality of the human being to be overseen – to be watched over – by anything outside of itself. If this happens, it ceases to be a free individuality and instead begins to take on the values and ideas and meanings of that which watches over – in this case, the apparatus of the state. We thereby have a state built upon unfreedom, on the subjugation of its citizens; and one that perpetuates the notion that such activity is warranted. This can manifest in the form of surveillance as we usually think of it, but also in other forms of ‘overseeing’ that we tend to take more as a given but are, in fact, nothing other than human creations.

Any time the state decides what is taught in a classroom – at any level – we find ourselves, as individualities – teachers and students – in the position of unfreedom and subjugation. If the teacher is not able to educate out of his or her own creative, free capacities as an individual, responding to the needs of the individual students in their classes, we see nothing but state ‘overseeing’ taking place.[2] Whether it be setting the curriculum or dictating testing activities, or any other incursion, we find the free human being in danger – the fire of creative capacity is at risk.

The same can be said of a political system that does not allow this creative human individuality to have any influence in the creation of the policies and laws under which it itself must live – if every human being is unequal not only ‘before the law’, but where it also has an unequal say in the creation of these same laws. Representative democracy is nothing other than a once-in-every-few-years vote for the overseeing – for the surveillance – of the creative self by someone else; it is a vote for who shall oversee our own freedom in the best way. This is contrary, however, to the actual need for self-determination – for our voice to count equally with our fellow citizens. The vote that the free individual seeks to cast is not one which will determine who shall best oversee their own freedom in the creation of laws but is, rather, one where the free self is itself to have its say in determining which laws to put forth and adopt.

Surveillance also exists in any kind of economic ideology that sees the human being simply as a consumer or as labour power. The free, creative individuality is not a mere consumer but is inherently a creative, productive being. Nor is it a mere source of labour for sale – its labour is not for sale; labour is not part of the economic process. Rather, it is the products of this labour that have economic value. Labour without production is itself without economic value. To sell it is to act economically untruthfully, and is in antipathy to the productive activity of the free and creative kernel of the human being. The economy is the mechanism by which the free human being is able to meet its needs in order that it may continue to produce out of its creative capacities. This has nothing to do with such things as profit, but everything to do with meeting the needs of all human beings. When this true economic activity is overshadowed, it is an act of over-watching, over-seeing, that serves to subjugate the human being to the needs of the false economy, rather than allow the economy to perform its true function of meeting the needs of all human beings.

The social question of our time comes primarily to this: How can we build a social organism upon the foundation of the reality of the human being? The human being of today comes more and more into the experience of the truth of his or her own free individuality. It is a flame that burns in each one of us. It is something we must care for. As Beuys would have it: “Protect the flame!”[3] This is the true vigilance – the true surveillance – necessary in our time. Any other kind of surveillance, however subtle it may be, serves to blow a cold wind across this flame; or else it serves to fan it into a destructive fire that can, if unchecked by its own forces, burn out of control (whereby freedom is also lost). But it is the human being who must determine such matters. The only suitable overseer, over-watcher – the only suitable surveillance technician – of the individual in our time is the individual him or herself. Each one of us is asked – by ourselves – to become both the watcher and the watched when it comes to our own free individuality, our own free creativity. It is only each one of us who has this power authentically in relation to our own selves. To be free is to watch over one’s own self. If this power is transferred to others, it comes at the cost of our own freedom, and our own humanity. To justify such unfreedom in the name of security – protection against terrorism or anything else – in order that we may be ‘safe’ and ‘happy’, is to perform an act of terror against our own human nature. This will ultimately lead to neither safety nor happiness, but rather to further violence and discontent. To act in this way is to abdicate our own throne to an usurper even as we sit on it, and to disregard the whole procession of evolution that has led us to this point. It is a regression of the social order, a degeneration of the human spirit. We fall, as it were, back through the French Revolution, through the ‘vigilance’ of the Roman state, and further back through ancient Egypt and beyond, surrendering our own individuality as we go, though without gaining the spiritual support that earlier civilisations afforded. We become marooned, as it were, on an island of unfreedom and subjugation – our creative, spiritual individuality suppressed by the low clouds and cold winds to a meek fire we can barely warm our own hands by.

But this fire does not seek this! It seeks to burn! It seeks to burn freely, creatively, offering its warmth and light selflessly to other human beings – to join with them – with other freely-burning fires – to light up a new world – a world – a social organism – shaped by the creativity of this same fire and all that flows through it. The society we currently live in is not a natural, given phenomenon. It has been, and is, created by human beings. To relinquish our own freedom is to relinquish our own inherent capacity to shape the world we live in according to its inner social reality. To take up our own freedom – to protect and grow our own fires, and make the space necessary for others to do the same – means we take up the possibility and the responsibility to shape the world through the free, spiritual, creative capacities that each of us carries as human beings.

 

John Stubley


[1] The term seems to have arisen in France during the so-called ‘Reign of Terror’ following the French Revolution – it was, in effect, the state that was doing the terrorising at that time. See: http://www.etymonline.com

[2] Even if the curriculum is set by people who were once teachers, they still remain outside the sphere of free creativity which takes place between teacher and student in specific, individual classroom situations.

[3] Joseph Beuys “Thanks to Wilhelm Lehmbruck” in Joseph Beuys: In Memorium of Joesph Beuys, Obituatries, Essays, Speeches (Bonn: Inter Nationes, 1986), p. 61.

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Boston Lessons and the Second America

Following the recent Boston Marathon bombings, the world turned its eyes to Massachusetts and watched with interest as a whole chain of events unfolded. The story reached a certain climax when the second suspect was apprehended by police. Soon after, media reported the reactions of some Americans at hearing news of his arrest.

There were images of people doing ‘victory’ dances, while others sang “Let’s Go Boston, Let’s Go!” and “B-P-D!” (Boston Police Department). Crowds in Boston chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!”, as did baseball fans in New York, who also sang ‘Sweet Caroline’, the traditional ballpark anthem of the Boston Red Sox. An NBC headline read, simply, “Nation Cheers Arrest of Boston Bombing Suspect.”[1]

To be sure, there were also images of other reactions: tears; flowers at the site of the bombings; long lines of people waiting patiently to pay respect to the families of those who died; a moment of silence before the start of the London Marathon.

At the same time, it is also worthwhile noting reactions from some officials. Soon after the arrest of the 19-year-old suspect, B.P.D. sent a message via Twitter that read: “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.” CNN reported that SWAT teams shouted over a loud speaker: “Thank you, thank you! It was a pleasure! USA! USA!”[2]

It did not take long to also learn that the suspect had not been read his Miranda rights upon his arrest – thus, he had no right to remain silent and no right to an attorney. This was supposedly in the interest of ‘public safety’.

In the wake of such events – and now, more than 11 years after the events of September 11, 2001 – the question that rides quickly on the back of ‘Why?’ must surely be ‘What have we learned?’ That is, ‘What have we in the West – what have we as human beings – learned about ourselves?’

Many in America are currently calling for the death penalty to be used in this case. One, a famous rock musician, has called for a public hanging in Boston Common, saying that is what would have happened “150 years ago…that would be justice.”[3]

Well, 150 years ago, also in Boston, another famous American had some things to say about justice, America and civilisation in general. In his lecture ‘Fortune of the Republic,’ Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke of the need to continue the Civil War until slavery was wiped from the face of America. He spoke of a ‘just war’ – one that aligned with leading thoughts for civilisation as a whole – namely, “universal liberty” and “a new era of equal rights.”[4]

In accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, Barak Obama also spoke of “just wars”; though it is hard to see any comparable leading thoughts guiding America’s campaigns in Afghanistan or Iraq.[5]

In this lecture, as in all his work, Emerson speaks to the highest possibilities of America – he speaks to, of and from the true Spirit of America – the America that wishes to become. In doing so, during the time of efforts to end slavery, Emerson had this to say to the once-world-leading nation of England:

“We [America] are coming…to a nationality. Put down your foot, and say to England, we know your merits. In past time, we have paid them the homage of ignoring your faults. We see them still. But it is time that you should hear the truth, – that you have failed in one of the great hours that put nations to the test. When the occasion of magnanimity arrived, you had none: you forgot your loud professions, you rubbed your hands with indecent joy, and saw only in our extreme danger the chance of humbling a rival and getting away his commerce. When it comes to divide an estate, the politest men will sometimes quarrel. Justice is above your aim. Stand aside. We have seen through you. Henceforth, you have lost the benefit of the old veneration which shut our eyes to altered facts. We shall not again give you any advantage of honour. We shall be compelled to look at the stern facts. And, we cannot count you great. Your inches are conspicuous, and we cannot count your inches against your miles, and leagues, and parallels of latitude. We are forced to analyse your greatness. We who saw you in a halo of honour which our affection made, now we must measure your means; your true dimensions; your population; we must compare the future of this country with that in a time when every prosperity of ours knocks away the stones from your foundation.”[6]

America took up such a challenge as Emerson laid down. It ended slavery on its own shores and eventually took up a role at the leading edge of civilisation itself. With this role, it carried – to a large extent – an economic task:

“England has long been the cashier of the world. The progress of trade threatens to supplant London by New York, and that England must cross to India, if she keeps it, and to China, by the Pacific Railroad; and the London merchant must lose his privilege of selling in all markets on the Exchange in London, and buy on the Exchange in New York. This hastens, and is only checked by the War…”[7]

Emerson played no small part in the end of slavery in America. Indeed, slavery, in its most heinous form, still exists in the world in our time. And yet, the far more prevalent, though subtle, form of slavery existing in the world today is that which arises through a one-sided global economic system that exploits the labour, land and capital of the many for the gains of the powerful few. America has played host to such a system, and has actively sought to promote its global expansion. This is a global economy – a global capitalism – that seeks not to work together to meet the real needs of human beings, but one that seeks to pit human beings in endless competition with one another. The chains as Emerson knew them may have disappeared from the necks of men in America and elsewhere, but now they have merely taken on another form – the chains of one-sided, neo-liberal globalisation.

The world has seen the reality of this, and has already begun to utter to America – in sentiment at least – words not dissimilar to those Emerson spoke to England on America’s behalf. And because America has had a global responsibility – such ‘words’ sound forth from the shores of all the Western world, and, indeed, from the world as a whole. (For there is no escaping the global nature of today’s economy.)

The ‘articulation’ of this sentiment has been varied, of course. It ranges from acts of violence and terror, to blowing the whistle on sensitive information, to street protests and occupations, to ‘culture jamming’, to works of art and literature, and so on. Some forms of criticism are more eloquent and, in themselves, ‘just’ than others. It is an interesting picture that the individual arrested in connection with the Boston bombings – the one everyone wants to hear from in order to know ‘why’ – is, because of a wound to his throat, currently unable to talk. He cannot physically articulate why he did what he did. His actions, in any case, speak much louder than anything he could eventually put into words. And they speak of misunderstanding and misdeeds. They speak of meeting the violence of the economic, political and, indeed, cultural slavery of our time, with more violence; and this cannot ultimately achieve anything. (Yet, is it not the same path that America and its allies currently walk in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world? – a kind of ‘tit for tat for tit’.)

Such wars and acts of violence hold no guiding star, no leading thought, as Emerson would have it:

“The guiding star of the arrangement and use of facts, is in your leading thought. You will have come to the perception that justice satisfies everybody, and justice alone. You will stand there for vast interests; North and South, East and West will present to your mind, and your vote will be as if they voted. And you well know that your vote secures the foundations of the state, and good will, and liberty, and security of traffic and production, and mutual increase of good will in the great interests, for no monopoly has been foisted in, no weak party or nationality has been sacrificed, no coward compromise has been conceded to a stronger partner. Every one of these is the seed of vice, or war, and national disorganization.”[8]

How often we hear similar words from governments and other leaders in our time, and yet how little do they carry the reality of the observations and thoughts Emerson expresses. From Emerson we hear a reality; from the majority of ‘leaders’ in our time we hear little other than jingoism; sloganism.

Just because Emerson says these things does not make them any more true; nor does it make them less true.[9] He articulates observations – observations about the guiding principles of humanity – observations that we ourselves are also able to make in our time; and so the final understanding and ‘articulation’ rest with us.

Some 60 years after Emerson spoke these words, another, slightly less-known, observer of progress also had some interesting things to say regarding the course of civilisation. Daniel Dunlop worked primarily towards a world economy that would meet the real needs of all people through individuals and organisations co-operating rather than competing with one another in economic life. Towards this end he founded, in 1924, while working in the British electricity industry, the World Power Conference (which later became the World Energy Council) – a non-governmental, non-commercial group of energy experts striving to “promote the sustainable supply and use of energy for the greatest benefit of all people“.[10] His efforts to expand this work into a co-operative world economy through practical initiatives was cut short by his death in 1935. In 1916 he wrote:

“Human life is a life of effort to attain understanding, to realize self-consciousness, to adjust environment to all the various needs of man’s nature. If his essential requirements are forgotten or hidden by superficial pursuits, a cataclysm of some sort is bound to occur sooner or later: this is not a moral percept, but a law of nature, a scientific fact. Cataclysms are self-adjusting processes of nature. History does not preserve the memory of any statesman, philosopher or thinker who is not really great; their fame does not survive the centuries unless they have enunciated and endeavoured to carry into practice those immortal Principles which inhere in Man and characterize the race. If they identify themselves with what is eternally true, they become part of the tradition of their country, and even of that of all countries, when their insight has been especially profound. These eternal Principles are the causes of existence, the source of all life; they are everywhere in operation; they are partially explained by mathematics and science, and are revealed to men when they begin to think impersonally and universally; they are that in which we live and move and have our being, and are secure even though continents become submerged. Principles never alter, though the understanding and interpretation of them necessarily changes as humanity evolves. The nation that interprets them most clearly leads evolution.”[11]

The question for our time must surely be, ‘Where is such a nation?’ ‘Where is the America that Emerson observed and described?’

Some of the articulations against the injustice at the heart of modern America come also from within America itself. As part of this we see individuals and organisations working together to realise something of the reality that Emerson saw 150 years ago. One of the strongest articulations for the true Spirit of America in our time comes from creative ways of working economically – community supported agriculture, community land trusts, social finance, social investing, income pooling, co-ops, crowd funding, other gifting of money to cultural life, pre-funded education, fair trade initiatives, business alliances, associative accounting, and so on – essentially, anywhere people are attempting to work associatively or collaboratively with money and, more generally, economics.[12] Here we have an articulation of the America Emerson also saw – an America that is, on the one hand, extremely eloquent and timely, and, on the other hand, stuttering into form. The really powerful articulations of this, it seems, are when co-operative economic organisations are able to begin to work with one another, including working with others across industries and, ultimately, across sectors. Here, the violence of our time is not met with more violence but with higher Principles, as Dunlop would have it.

Here we are able to see the America that was always supposed to be – one that carries a global task not for its own ends, nor for the ends of a powerful few within its borders, but for the betterment of civilisation – for the betterment of mankind as a whole. This is a kind of, what I would call, ‘Second America’ – an America that stretches around the world. It uses the existing global economy in order to replace the prevailing paradigm of competition with one of co-operation, and it does so for the betterment of all. It doing so it creates an economy that is not state driven, nor market driven, but driven by human beings under the Principles of justice and brotherhood in economic affairs.

In seeing the situation in this light, it is possible to see this Second America as living just below the surface of the land within that broad country between the Pacific and the Atlantic, and, from there, spreading out on the economic web of the world to the rest of the globe. It is a Second America – the one that Emerson and others have been waiting for – one that is able to take up its global responsibilities not in a one-sided and selfish way, but in a balanced and selfless manner based upon the Principles of cultural and spiritual freedom, equality of human rights, and co-operation of economic activity. It is the America – and with it, the world – that has been waiting to be made. It has been inside the world as we know it all along, and now it is gradually rising – moment to moment, thought to thought, human being to human being, initiative to initiative – from beneath our own feet. But it will only come into full realisation if human beings make it so.

It is an America – a world – that has no need for violent reprisals, because it is not built on the backs of the weaker and the exploited. It replaces such a world. For it is not the suffering of slaves alone that is so horrific, but the suffering of those who enslave – these are the real slaves in the long view of the Principles of life. The hidden, pain-filled, task of slaves – and all those who suffer – is to teach the enslaver, the unjust, something of their own humanity – of what it actually means to be a human being. Do we, as human beings today, when looking around the world, learn from such lessons and so strive to bring a better world into being?

Either we will, through the guiding Principle of Progress in our time, draw up, through our own will activity, this Second America, and with it, a new world – and quickly – or the Principles that guide human progress will find home elsewhere. It must be drawn up through the sub strata of the earth, in form and feature as identical with the physical characteristics and quantities of the current Earth, but in completely different, shining quality – as if it were a seed growing into the living organism it was always meant to become through the light and water of human attention and selfless deeds.

Either this happens soon – before the existing world tears itself apart or crumbles before the new one is in place – or, it would appear, the responsibility for the guidance of global civilisation will shift to Asia, which would have to learn rapidly how to care for the world at large while, more than likely, shaping a global economic system that will be in a radically different position than it is today.

Asia may be up to that challenge. Though it may not. In any case, the question remains, “Is America – and with it, the West and the rest of the world as we now know it – up to its challenge?” For things simply cannot and will not continue as they are. Change is upon us, and the time to act is now. As Emerson put it, “The times are dark, but heroic.”[13]

Emerson finished his lecture with the following words – words which are both as identical and as completely different from the jingoism and sloganism of our time, as the Second America – and the second Earth – is from the current one:

“In seeing this guidance of events, in seeing this felicity without example, that has rested on the Union thus far, – I find new confidence for the future. I could heartily wish that our will and endeavour were more active parties to the work. But I see in all directions the light breaking; that trade and government will not alone be the favoured aims of mankind, but every useful, every elegant art, every exercise of imagination, the height of Reason, the noblest affection, the purest religion will find their house in our institutions, and write our laws for the benefit of men.”[14]

This America has always been present, as much as a second world has always been present in the current one, and as much as a second human being has always been present within us. It will take this better human being in us to bring about this better world. And this better human being in us can find renewed strength and courage whenever we come together with our fellow human beings under the guiding star – under the true Spirit and Principle of Progress – of our time. It is this star, working in us, that will act, as though magnetically, to call up the world waiting to be made – the world that has so far been slumbering within the depths of the old – the world now inching its way through the surface crust to the light of day, as we too fill out our own bodies, all the way through the skin to that light and warmth which lives between us as human beings.

The new day is already upon us. Either we will become aware of the situation and work to shape it towards the just and the good or, as Dunlop expressed it, ‘self-adjusting cataclysms’ will increasingly make their presence felt on Earth and within the human being.

 

John Stubley


[4] Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Fortune of the Republic’ in The Political Emerson (Boston: Beacon, 2004, p. 204).

[5] If anything, it seems it is those America and its allies fight against who feel they have ‘justice’ on their side.

[6] Emerson, pp. 194-5.

[7] Emerson, p. 202.

[8] Emerson, p. 205.

[9] Indeed, he himself would say the same thing of other observers. See Emerson, p. 188.

[11] Daniel Dunlop, British Destiny: The Principles of Progress (London: The Path, 1916, pp. 2-3).

[12] Often, these new ways of working are born through new social processes – processes such as those being pioneered by individuals like Otto Scharmer and Peter Senge, professors at M.I.T. – the same university where a policeman died during a shootout with the bombers.

[13] Emerson, p. 204.

[14] Emerson, p. 205.

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