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:

[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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Unpacking the Suitcase: Journeys into Higher Education

I recently undertook an experiment. It involved enrolling in a university course – in this case an economics/business degree at the bachelor level – in order to see what it may be possible to learn.

For several hundred dollars I purchased the ‘required reading’ textbooks for four units, read the necessary chapters for the first week and eventually made my way to classes. I soon found out I was not the oldest student, though I was definitely not the youngest. Most students seemed to come straight from high school. So at 33, I was pushing close to twice their age.[1]

The first lecture I attended was ‘Introduction to Sustainability’, followed by its associated tutorial. In laying the groundwork for the unit, the supervisor – obviously a kind-hearted and compassionate man (he got teary at one point while describing conditions in the developing world; conditions he’d obviously seen first hand) – asked students to write down and share their hopes in relation to the unit. He then asked what people’s greatest fears were in connection to the unit. Almost half the class said they were afraid of failing.

The following day I attended an ‘Introduction to Economics’ lecture. There were about 200 people in the theatre. At one point the lecturer asked how many people also worked while studying; around three quarters of the students raised their hands. She commented that this was a big change from her time as a student; I would say the same. She went on to discuss what she called “three key economic ideas”.[2] The first is that people are “rational” (economists expect people to make decisions based on relevant information in order to “achieve their goals”).[3] The second is that “people respond to economic incentives”.[4] To prove this point, she asked how many people were there for the pure fun – for the pure joy – of it? Of around 200 people, not one person put up their hand. She, thereby proving her point, concluded that we were all there because of some incentive or other, predominantly that we may end up with a better job.[5]

Directly after this two-hour lecture, my timetable took me to another two-hour lecture: ‘Introduction to Accounting’. It began with a photograph of a tiger, apparently in the snows of Siberia, playing with a witless, soon-to-be-devoured, white rabbit. This photo was replaced by a kitten wearing some kind of cut-out fruit as a hat; this was, in turn, followed by a photograph of several tigers. We then swiftly launched into a lecture on accounting. During the lecture a group in the back row talked to each other incessantly while students from different corners of the theatre gradually trickled out until, of the original 100 or so people, maybe only 70 students remained. It concluded with everyone standing up and noisily filing out before she’d actually finished talking.

At my economics tutorial we flew rapidly through everything we were required to do in order to pass. The whole session was concerned with this. No-one spoke other than the tutor, and everything she said was advice of some kind or another as to how we could ensure we pass. “Only about 4% of people receive HD’s (High Distinctions),” she said. “It is a bit easier to get a Distinction. But still, aim for a HD.” In warning us of the dangers of plagiarism and the need for appropriate referencing, she had the following to say: “Very rarely will you ever have a new idea. I have none.” We should, therefore, look solely to the thoughts of others and, consequently, reference everything. “There is a thing called ‘common knowledge’, but…”

Two days later I attended a lecture on ‘Principles of Finance and Banking’. The lecture matched the required reading, urging all students to save as much money as possible now so that they have enough to live on when they retire, preferably earning as much interest – money for nothing – as possible along the way. The lecturer stressed the concepts of “financial independence and self-reliance”, and “survival” in the “corporate jungle”. (It doesn’t look as if the class will be exploring the recent/ongoing Global Financial Crisis and what kind of paradigm and thinking actually underpins it.)

It is at this point in recalling the observations of my experiment that I am reminded of a distinction made during the lecture on economics. It was concerned with the difference between positive and normative analysis. Normative analysis is more about value judgements – ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’. Economists, it was said, use positive analysis – that is, they stick to the facts, saying not that something ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be done, only ‘if you do this, then this will happen’; or so they should or ought to. Nothing was said of when they don’t, or of this concept itself being normative in essence, or the possibility of the two types of analysis overlapping.

You might wonder what drove me to such an experiment. I suppose that I wanted to see what current tertiary education has to say about the global economic situation we find ourselves in, and whether the thoughts necessary in order to renew social conditions in our time were going to emerge from institutions such as this.[6]

I do not mean for this to be a criticism of the particular institution I attended – far from it – for I believe that what I experienced is symptomatic of the majority of tertiary institutions; my experience was, generally speaking, consistent with my own experiences at other institutions, as well as with the experiences of many other students I have talked to.

In general, this kind of education can be experienced as a ‘stuffing of one’s suitcase’ with knowledge. If you don’t fill your suitcase up with content during the readings, you will fill it up during the lecture. If you are still not full, you can supplement from the lecture notes and the online lecture and/or website ‘lab’. If this doesn’t do it, there are always the tutorial, study groups, help classes and online forums, not to mention the actual assignments. Failing all this, there is the study cramming for tests and, ultimately, the exam. All during this time, the  clothing of knowledge and information is stuffed – crammed – into our suitcases until we have doubled-up on items, packed others we will never need, jammed in clothing for the wrong climate altogether, and generally packed poorly – shoving in more things wherever there is room just to get it in there; just in case. We then sit on it and try our hardest to zip it up, our clothes getting stuck in the teeth of the zip as we pull it around, until finally we are able to more or less close it – it is good enough – some clothes still hang out where the zips meet, and extra books stick out of the front pocket all bent and warped, but it’ll do – we’re ready to travel. Or so we are told.

(During this process, however, little to no questioning is made as to where it is we are actually headed, why we are headed there, if this is the place we really want to be going, or what alternatives there might be.)

These suitcases are, essentially, nothing but our own heads. Generally speaking, we are doing nothing other than stuffing our own heads. And, if we are honest, little to nothing of it sinks any lower than this; little of it reaches as far as our feeling life or our will. And so when we ultimately throw the case on the conveyor belt of life – following exams – the whole thing usually explodes, scattering its contents everywhere. We soon realise, however, that such contents are largely irrelevant and unnecessary (often, strangely, by virtue of the fact that we fail to notice their absence), and are quickly forgotten. For all we now require is the degree such activity bought us – the ‘boarding pass’ now in our hand – education distilled into a commodity.

This, we might feel, is all we need. That is, until our debt repayments kick in.[7] And if Spain and elsewhere are anything to go by, we may also find ourselves amidst the lack of possibilities for earning the money necessary to pay off that which we undertook simply in order to earn more money.[8] In such places – and as such places become more of a global space – we find ourselves in a worse position than when we started. Our ‘economic incentive’ has turned back upon us and, as the debts pile up, begins to actually devour us. We are no longer the consumer. We become, as it were, consumed by our own ‘incentives’.

So what can be done? I am aware of the argument that states we need complementary educational possibilities – that we need existing, mainstream, tertiary education, and then some. I am also aware of those who call for complete alternatives – that we must turn our back on the existing paradigm once and for all. In my experience, there is little to be gained from such hard-and-fast positions or distinctions. Today, everything seems dependent upon the individual situation, and the situation of the individual. The imagination, inspiration and intuition – that is, the free thinking, feeling and willing capacities of the individual – are those which should prevail at the cross-roads of our time. In our time, however, it is exactly these capacities which are not being developed at institutions of higher learning.[9]

I do not believe I am alone when I say that I am no longer interested in ‘passing’ or ‘failing’ in the sense outlined above. I also do not believe I am alone when I say I am interested in education for the ‘joy’ of it – for the love of learning something that I may then be able to use in service of the world; that is, not for my own gain – not for my own ‘incentive’ – but for the gain of others. I believe everything can be studied in and with such a joy as this, for everything is interesting and joyful if the interesting part of it – and the path to it – can be found. This is the path of reverence and wonder. I am convinced that I am not alone when it comes to respecting the need for new ideas if the world is not to slide completely into the abyss, as well as for the importance of developing one’s self in order that such ideas may arise – for they arise where one’s thinking attention overlaps with the ‘interesting’ and essential element in all phenomena.[10] Here – where the essential aspect of the individual overlaps with the essential aspect of phenomena – this is the place where the positive and the normative – or, more broadly, the objective and the subjective – are also able to overlap, their duality dissolved, and we can come to know the objective, essential reality of the world as a new thought on the stage of our own selves – as a self-referential truth. Who cannot but take joy in such education or research as this, and all that it makes available for the selfless service of humanity as a whole?

Here, fear of ‘failure’ has long ago been seen for what it is and cast aside, no longer hindering us from all that which seeks to reveal itself to our attentive, open consciousness – our open thinking, feeling and willing.

I am also aware that there are institutions and individuals in the world that are attempting to make such an education as this a possibility. One need only compare their numbers to the number of ‘mainstream’ tertiary-level institutions, however, (not to mention the state of the world as a whole) in order to see the dramatic need for more possibilities to appear rapidly across the globe.

What is needed is an ‘unpacking of the suitcase’. In doing so, a space can be made for what the individual human being bears within them as a world-contribution, and for all that which seeks to stream through a thinking, feeling and willing that have put themselves in service of the highest possibilities of this world – all that which stands against the complete demise of civilisation itself. For what is needed more than anything else – more than any theory or program – is that individuals – as students and as educators (for we are each both of these in our age) – be prepared to put themselves in service of the true spirit of progress in our time. This will not happen through endlessly referring to the past, but only through making a space for the future to emerge in us.

The suitcase must be left permanently unzipped. Nay, more, it must be made permanently available to the highest possibilities of other human beings and the world at large.

A ‘Higher Self Education’ is needed; meaning both an education towards the development of our highest possibilities as human beings, as well as a free-self-directed educational and, more broadly, cultural life, out of that which arises through the development of these capacities. In so doing, education – as well as all it turns its attention to – including the absolutely immediate need for the renewal of the global economy and all social life – shall become directed by the highest aspect – the higher self – of the free-thinking, joyful, and continually-educated individual human being, in service of the true spirit of our time.


John Stubley, Ph.D.

This article has also been published in Adbusters, May, 2013.

[1] I should probably disclose at this point that I have already studied at each public university in my home state, and in so doing have fulfilled the tasks necessary to attain graduate and postgraduate degrees. I mention this only because it is relevant to the experiment, and not because I feel it gave or gives me any particular advantage; quite the opposite, perhaps.

[2] See Hubbard, Garnett, Lewis, Obrien, Microeconomics (Australia: Pearson, 2011, pp. 4-5).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] When nobody raised their hand, she commented: “A bit sad, isn’t it?” before continuing.

[6] What I (re)discovered – at least in part – was the intimate link between our educational and economic institutions.

[7] The total outstanding student-loan debt in the United States is around $1US trillion. See, for example:

[8] In Spain, unemployment for 16 to 24-year-olds has reached 55%. See, for example:

[9] It is also important to note the effect this has upon the pedagogy of secondary schools and, from there, primary schools, all the way down to what are more and more being called – in this country at least – ‘Early Learning Centres’. That is, attention must be given to the way in which – although it has completely failed in economic life – the ‘trickle down’ effect can be seen to be well and truly alive in education and all things belonging to cultural affairs, albeit usually for all the wrong reasons.

[10] Needless to say I am interested, of course, in creating spaces where others also have this possibility.

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Crossing the Fiscal Cliff: From Competitive to Associative Economics

Much has been made, in recent months, of the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ that the U.S. government, at any moment it seems, threatens to plummet over and fall, flailing, into the economic abyss. The picture has become, already, somewhat cliché, though it is, perhaps, not such an inaccurate expression of the reality at hand.

For it is true that we have approached a threshold of sorts, both on the macro-economic level and on the level of the human being. It is possible to also come to the conclusion that, globally, we crossed this threshold a while ago and have been hovering, mid-air, over the abyss for some time now, kept up by ‘hot air currents’ and, in a way, the inertia provided by the determination of our headlong advance over the edge in the first place. We have, as it were, been stepping on air, pretending it was the same ground from whence we came. In reality, however, we have been too scared to look down, fearful of what we might see and what it might tell us about ourselves. In doing so we have also cut ourselves off from the possibilities that await us on the other side.

Every crisis of our time is an opportunity for us to re-examine ourselves, and to overcome all that stands in the way of our own progress and the progress of others. Because the economic reality of our age has become the reality, any crises that arise in this field challenge us to re-examine everything. It is clear that our current understandings and pictures of economics are now in doubt and, with this, so is our picture of the human being. All that has been constructed as air castles above the abyss – built with the bricks of so much hot air – threatens, at any moment, to dissolve with the wind, plummeting civilisation into the depths, and the human being along with it. The question must be, How can we navigate this situation in the healthiest way possible? How can we work consciously with that which is already unfolding?

America is not the first empire to find itself on shaky ground, or even to crumble. We need only look to Rome for some interesting observations. Of course many reasons exist for it, but a central element in the decline of this ancient civilisation, as Gerard Klockenbring and others have made clear, is that all money ultimately flowed away from Rome.[1] Soldiers – in conquering the lands of western and central Europe, northern Africa, parts of the UK, and east across Europe into Asia – had to be paid. They were paid in plundered and mined gold and gold coinage. They used this to purchase non-consumable treasures which they sent back to Rome. There these treasures sat, un-exchanged. The gold – the money – itself, however, flowed away from Rome, particularly towards the east – towards Asia (through not, directly speaking, as far as China). Eventually the empire could not sustain itself economically, and ultimately collapsed.

Racing forward through the centuries, not towards another empire but to another interesting situation, we come across the Australian gold rushes of the 1850s, particularly those in Victoria. Here we can see the miners needing to spend their money – and if they didn’t have any, their gold – on basic necessities as well as wants. Entrepreneurs who catered to meet these needs and wants became somewhat successful; many of them being of Asian decent. European or ‘white’ Australian miners believed that the entrepreneurs (as well as other miners of Asian descent) were somehow cheating them (and Australia) out of their rightful possessions. Racist riots and violence ensued. The government, rather than punishing the perpetrators, or in some way dealing with the situation progressively and creatively, instead enacted racist, anti-Asian immigration policies (the stream of which continues in a slightly different expression today; namely, through refugee policies). This only meant, however, that Chinese and other Asian miners landed further afield and walked incredible distances to the goldfields through the Australian bush, where many died.

In our time, the largest trading partner of both Australia and America – and many other countries besides – is China. The largest foreign holder of U.S. debt is China, owning $1.17 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. Iron ore is a main driver of Australia’s mining exports and, through this, its economy as a whole. Around 70% of iron ore mined in Australia is sold to China. Many more figures could of course be cited, if we so wished (for figures can be used to prove whatever we like these days).

We must be careful, however, to observe phenomena in the right light, for the world we live in today is radically different from even a century or so ago. We must be prepared to dig a little deeper in our observations, to mine the deeper gold, for the surface has been completely exhausted; and, in doing so, peer a little more consciously into the abyss beneath our feet. We must, in a way, mine the knowledge and experience of the abyss itself.

It may be tempting, for some, to raise the fist of their inner 1850s miner and direct it in racist tradition towards the Chinese of today. Needless to say, nothing could be more futile. On one level we could say that the U.S. government debt to China of $1.17 trillion represents only around 1/14th of its total $16 trillion debt. Likewise, we could also say that the mining industry represents only around 10% of Australia’s economy. Digging from a slightly different angle, we can also say that increased trade with China in recent years has come about simply through the meeting of the needs that U.S., Australian and other consumers have themselves expressed and re-expressed through purchasing of foreign goods at cheap prices (on credit or otherwise).

With the courage to dig a little deeper, however, we encounter other questions, including, With all this increase in production (China has been called ‘the world’s factory’) and trade in general, how is it possible that so many Chinese still live in abject poverty? (and how is it that so many jobs clearly violate human rights?) Likewise, we can ask, Amidst the current mining boom in Australia, how is it that the gap between rich and poor is steadily widening? (not to mention the conditions of indigenous Australians.) Indeed, we can also ask, How is it possible, within the world’s so-called ‘superpower’ of America, that so many citizens now live below the poverty line, unable to meet their needs? (We should also ask, How is it that all countries, regardless of their perceived prosperity, find themselves in so much debt?) These are questions connected to the very real human dimensions of economic crises; in America, in Australia, and throughout the rest of the world. For these questions reveal that economic decline and prosperity are no longer, in essence, directly linked to the prosperity, or otherwise, of nation states. The economy is global and, essentially, manoeuvres around the efforts of nation states to control it. It goes its own way. All that governments can do is attempt, or otherwise, to mitigate the harm the economy currently inflicts upon the majority of citizens. For if it is no longer governments that reap the economic spoils within the current global economic paradigm of elite globalisation, then it must be individuals and corporations that do so (with corporations legally considered as ‘people’ in America). In America, and elsewhere, these individuals are private citizens (though they are more citizens of the economy than of any country); in China, under communist rule, where the economy is controlled for the most part by government, the economic superpowers are individuals connected to the ruling party. The money in China is not ‘communally’ divided amongst its citizens. It would therefore be incorrect to say that communist China has ‘won’ the competition of capitalism – rather, if it is possible to say such a thing, the competition is currently being won by individuals living in both communist and capitalist countries – it is ‘won’ (though more will be said on this later) by individuals whose motto is, simply, ‘more.’

If nation states are no longer the central vessels of economic life, why do they treat themselves as economies, devoting a large part of their policies, debates, time and resources to managing themselves as if they were businesses? (Should not the role of government simply be to ensure equality of rights for all its citizens?) The economic life has flowed away from political/rights life. As we have seen, all that states can do is try to mitigate – through such measures as taxation, welfare, bail-outs, subsidies, grants and so on – the harm that the current economic system inflicts. This activity, however, directly contradicts the principle of the so-called ‘free market’ which argues for an economy untouched by government influence. In reality, the current economic system seeks to be free enough to decide when it wants to be free, and when it wants to be unfree (i.e. supported by government). This is, in truth, not a freedom balanced with responsibility, but a purely reckless abandon, propped up and re-enforced by the governments of the world in fear of what the abyss experience actually holds in store for us.

For if we dig even deeper, we can discover that our very economic foundations are unsound, not just ethically or morally, but more importantly, economically – this is of critical importance. For it is not so much a question of how things should be or aught to be, but of how the economic reality actually is. Only from this clearly understood place can we create something new. So if it is largely futile to raise a fist in revolution (civil disobedience is another matter of course, as Thoreau, Tolstoy, King and Ghandi have all shown), and if government regulation of the economy has largely failed to improve social conditions while creating, at the same time, much of the debt we are currently faced with, the only logical and economic solution is to re-examine the economy itself. The reality of our time must be rebuilt anew. Here our air castles completely dissolve and we find ourselves hovering in mid-air. If we are honest, we can observe the very real fear, doubt and cynicism (or even hatred) that such a journey engenders. These are very real figures that emerge in this social abyss, and within ourselves. But rather than scrambling to rebuild our illusory foundations, we can instead acknowledge the journey ahead; the fear it causes, the doubt that arises regarding next steps, and the cynicism and hatred that further insights about reality may create. These are very real experiences that we face.

Courage must be found in order to not only see the current phenomenon as it is, but also to observe how it seeks to be. We need to experience the essence of what we are faced with – only then will we have a sure path to follow; only then will we have something to create from. For this is the bridge that can approach us from the other side of the abyss; the place – if we are able to dig far enough – where we actually seek to be, and where, in truth, we look to find our fellow human beings.

Some of the fundamental questions that face us at this point are: What is at work in any economic transaction? What is capital? And with this, What is money? It is often what we consider to be the most simple of concepts or phenomena that actually hide within them the greatest of mysteries; while the conventional concepts we attach to them, on closer inspection, mostly reveal nothing other than our own ignorance.

First, we can observe the way in which, in any transaction, more than one person is involved. Human beings are at the centre of all economic activity. Here, it is traditionally supposed that economic activity, through the concept of supply and demand (that is, with supply existing on one side and demand existing on the other, thereby determining price), flows, essentially, in one direction. However, a closer examination of any transaction reveals how this economic activity flows in both directions simultaneously. In a purchase transaction, for example, I supply either a product and demand your money, or I supply money and demand your product, and vice versa for you. (I value your product more than my money, or I value your money more than my product, and vice versa.) There is supply and demand on both sides at once, and not just one on one side at one time, with the other on the other side. Likewise, therefore, it is not a question of either the buyer or seller losing while the other gains. Rather, if we are conscious of the reality at hand, we can observe the way in which we mutually benefit from one another in any transaction. In economics we are, in essence, dealing not with one-way competition, but two-way association (however we may actually choose to work with this reality).

In any transaction we can also ask, What is the function played by money? Money, in the moment of transaction, is attributed a value. From where does this value come? There might be a numerical figure on the currency note, coin or account we hold – but how do we value this number itself? $5 in America does not equal $5 elsewhere around the world. Nor does $5 mean as much to someone today as it did a hundred years ago. Likewise, the teenager may value it differently than would the millionaire. To a drowning man, it may have no value whatsoever, unless he could purchase with it some kind of floatation device. We can also ask the same of that which we are purchasing: From where does its value arise? A glass of water to a person dying of thirst would be valued more highly than by someone with a ready supply of water. Essentially, we can say the same of all commodities, and all money: value arises in the conscious agreements that are made between human beings in the moment of transaction; it is an expression of consciousness itself. Strictly or, rather, exactly speaking, money is consciousness. It is a function of ‘what will I give? – what will I sacrifice – for that which you are giving?’ It is an expression of conscious sacrifice. It is an expression and mechanism of absolute mutuality, interdependence and association with our fellow human beings – our economic brothers and sisters. It is a way for us to serve the needs of all peoples, all over the world.

The present situation has arisen because we have acted economically untruthfully. Rather than treating it as it economically should be treated, we have treated money itself as a commodity which can be bought and sold. Money, however, strictly speaking, cannot be produced, increased, distributed and consumed in the same way as all other commodities. It cannot be eaten, we cannot clothe ourselves with it. It cannot be used practically. Money is, to be economically correct, not a commodity. To treat it as such only makes the plunge into the abyss all the more inevitable and painful. Nor is it economically correct to say that we can store it up as interest-bearing savings in order that it can generate more of itself. Nothing is, economically speaking, produced in this way. If we wish to treat money in accordance with its reality we are instead forced to recognise that money, as a token which expresses the consciously agreed value that we give to commodities, should share in a fundamental quality of all other commodities (and if by chance we still believe that money is a commodity then we are forced to give to it this quality also), namely, that it should deteriorate over time. By assuming, as we currently do, that the value of money (as we also assume of commodities) is somehow ‘stored up’ or ‘fixed’ in the money itself, we are acting economically incorrectly. We have built our castle out of a fear of insecurity – a fear that we will never have enough. Consequently, we seek to use money to make more of it, for its own sake – to save and hoard it for ourselves and maybe for our children when we die. Money, however, in essence, as a token of the values we give to commodities in the moment of transaction – like the commodities themselves – seeks to depreciate over time. Money seeks not to stagnate but rather to circulate; to circulate through agreements in order to meet the very real needs of all human beings.

Similar economic untruths can also be seen to exist in the way in which we incorrectly treat land, labour and other, non-monetary capital as commodities. Land is given to us from nature, and does not share in the qualities of commodities as mentioned above. Likewise, if I exert the same about of labour doing exercises as I do working to produce a good, this exercise in itself has no economic value; it is not the labour itself that has value, but that which I produce, through exerting such labour, at the moment of sale. Land, labour and capital, including money, belong, in essence, not to economic life, but to the life of rights. Each of them works as part of rights activity – existing as a right or claim to use (or application), now and in the future. Money, for instance, is a claim against all potential sellers, essentially against all human beings. When I have money, I have a claim against the whole human community. It is, as Klockenbring describes, a circulating promissory note – a right.[2] As Joseph Beuys puts it, money is a “rights document.”[3]

It is clear that the current economic difficulties facing America are manifestations of the same problems facing the entire world and all human beings (regardless of whether economic growth and other indicators are, for the time being, moving up or down). We have created an economic system based on economic untruths under the paradigm of competition and selfishness (and have then used government to try to fix the resulting problems, rather than root them out at their economic source). Adam Smith’s so-called ‘invisible hand’ of the market has not magically made social our unsocial, selfish activity. Rather, it has amplified it. Social Darwinism, also based on incorrect observations (in this case, observations of the natural world[4]) has likewise manifested as an economic untruth detrimentally affecting the lives of billions of human beings.

Only economic systems based on mutuality, interdependence and association between human beings can be said to be working economically truthfully. There are many manifestations of this already at work in the world today, but there needs to be more. Such activity can exist anywhere, essentially, where human beings replace the so-called invisible hand of the market with their own hands, thereby acting in conscious accordance with the truth of economic reality (as we have only been able to touch upon here), creating, through this, true prices based on real needs.

The following exercise may serve to fructify some of the thoughts we have been considering here. We can imaginatively picture Earth from above. We can create a picture for ourselves, in a worldwide night-time setting, of the globe covered in the tiny flickering of countless lights; Earth, at night, covered with tiny, blinking lights. If we look closely, we can see the way in which these flashing lights stream at the speed of electricity from one corner of the globe to another, then, sometimes, stream back again. If we look even closer we can see the way in which they seem to be concentrated in certain places, shedding a greater amount of light. Over time, more lights from other parts of the world either dim down or work their way to these larger, glowing centres. From these centres, more lights are sent out, only to bring back even more light, until much of the rest of the world is plunged into relative darkness. We can picture to ourselves these large, glowing centres, with the rest of the world covered in the black of night. (If we wished, we could even continue the imagination to the point at which such concentration of light is no longer self-sustainable; such areas gradually begin to dim down and peter out, until the whole of the earth is plunged into a general darkness – a black globe, a hole, a lacuna floating through space.)

These lights represent not only money and all other capital, but also the human spirit. Money is consciousness, money is spirit. That is, capital is spirit. As Beuys puts it, “Capital = Creativity; Capital = Art.” The consequence of the coagulation and concentration of capital in the accounts of a few, or in land, is the extinguishing of spiritual-cultural life. It means the extinguishing of the human spirit in all human beings who must struggle to meet the most basic of needs before they even have the opportunity to develop their own capacities through learning and education – of developing themselves spiritually – which is the field, in truth, where capital really seeks to flow. Economic capital seeks to unite itself with spiritual, human capital – with human capacity and creativity. Therefore, we should not be fearful when capital flows to the east, nor to the north, south or west, but rather, we should be concerned when it does not flow towards spiritual-cultural life – to, generally speaking, educational and cultural initiatives – to the development of human capacity. For if this course is blocked, it will result in nothing other than a spiritual darkening of the earth.

While it may seem that the wealthy few have ‘won’ this illusory game of economic competition, it is they too who lose. They are not made more rich but all the more poorer through the accumulation and burial of capital in interest-bearing accounts, in financial markets, in land. Unable to truly recognise the suffering of so many others through their own activity (consciously or otherwise) they have been unable to turn such recognition into an experience of their own humanity. They have, sadly, forgone their own spiritual development, and missed out on experiencing the spiritual and creative fruits of the development of others (including new thoughts about the further development of economic life). They are truly the world’s poor – and yet all of us, and all our global society – share in this impoverishment. Indeed, we contribute to it through our own thinking, feeling and acting with every untrue economic activity we engage in. We all lose an economic game based on the economically untrue paradigm of competition. Only the dark nothingness currently overcoming the world and our own hearts – the same nothingness from which the paradigm of selfish competition originally sprang – only this shall ‘win’ such a game as this. (And then, tragically, we shall have proven Social Darwinism correct, down to the last – the ‘fittest’ – survivor.)

So, if we so wish, let us instead picture the earth with lights glowing not so coldly, but with more warmth, radiating their own light, circulating freely all over the globe, liberating themselves from the darkness that has clouded them for a time (long enough that they may know themselves as separate), and instead radiating selflessly out into the darkness all their flowing, outpouring light. And let us picture the way in which they are able to flow towards one another, not at the speed of electricity, but at the speed of love, flowing wherever they are needed, with whatever they need flowing towards them in order that they may be better able to give their gifts way – in order that they, through their mutual co-workings and conscious connections, are able to create a web of warm, luminous light across the globe – so much so, that, in time, the whole Earth itself is able to stream forth its rays benevolently, as though a sun, into the entire cosmos.


John Stubley, Ph.D.

[1] See Gerard Klockenbring, History of Money (England: New Economy Publications, 1985).

[2] See Klockenbring, History of Money.

[3] See Joseph Beuys, What is Money? (UK: Clairview, 2010). Likewise, we cannot, economically speaking, own land, for it is not a commodity. All we have is a right to use it for a particular period of time. Similar things can be said of the application of labour.

[4] Countless examples of the interdependent, rather than competitive, workings of nature could be given. Briefly, one potent example is a caterpillar in Western Australia which requires ants to take it into their nest, as an egg, and to feed it regularly for it to grow into a caterpillar. At first it is taken out to feed on leaves, then, when the caterpillar becomes larger, leaves are brought to it. The ants benefit by eating a substance that the caterpillar secretes as it grows. (For more on this particular relationship, see the oral storytelling of scientist and Noongar elder Noel Nannup.) More generally speaking, when taken as a whole, it is easy to see the completely interdependent activity of nature – activity which is, in itself, sustainable.

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The Christmas Gift: “Everything I Have I Owe to Others”

At this time of year it is possible to feel into some of the archetypal activities of giving and receiving in relation to social life. On one hand it is possible to have the feeling that it is not what I get that is so important, but what I am able to give. On the other hand one also has needs that must be met in order to be able to continue giving.

We know the feeling of when we have received something that does not quite meet a real need that we have. On the other hand it is perhaps a little harder to observe whether we have met the real needs of others through what we have given. This activity – this meeting of one another’s needs – requires the ongoing development of a kind of sense organ in order to be successful.

If we wish for the Christmas impulse to flow out beyond the confines of the end-of-the-year period – to flow over into the rest of the year and throughout the rest of our own souls – then it is essential that we further develop this capacity.

At the same time we must also be able to clearly and objectively identify and articulate our own needs if required – or, rather, what we require in order to meet these needs; that is, what we require financially in order to meet our needs so that we are able to freely do our work, and thereby give our gifts away.

Here, already, we come to a fundamental need for the separation of income from work. The work that I do – the gifts that I have to contribute to society as a whole – are, in essence, separate from that which I require in order to meet my needs. In doing my work I meet the needs of other human beings – in them doing their work they are meeting mine.

Just because we refuse to recognise this fundamental difference between work and income and instead sell our own labour and buy the labour of others, does not negate the reality of this fundamental economic process; it merely makes the eventual correction all the more difficult.

From another side we can also say that the products I produce in my work must also be added to and perfected through the work of others; that is, other producers and distributors. I require others even in the production of goods. We can also say that it is through the consumer spending their income that I am able to receive the money that will go towards meeting my needs. Even on this level we can gain a greater feeling for the fundamental interdependence of economic life.[1]

The fundamental processes of economic life are co-operative, not competitive. It should be clear that we are not so much talking here about how things should be, but how they in fact are. Whether or not we choose to align our thinking, feeling and willing with this reality and create economic forms in accordance with this is essentially up to us. We have seen only minor corrections in the existing market economy thus far. The biggest correction of all will come when we have progressed too far from the fundamental activity of co-dependence in economic life – when we have gone too far into the illusory paradigm of competitive self-interest that will somehow magically become social through the intervention of the market’s invisible hand.[2] Only when we realise that in economic life there are no other hands than our own and each others’ – only then will the reality of associative economic activity become truly manifest.[3]

This is, partly, the economic perspective. At the same time, we also live in a world of cultural activity. Here too we are dependent upon the gifts of others in order to awaken to new ideas, meanings, values, identity and so on. We are educated by others – both officially and unofficially – throughout our lives. If we are attentive we can look upon every encounter as an opportunity to learn and grow. (And as we learn we are better able to give our gifts away.) We can also look back upon the course of our lives and see our own development and growth from the perspective of others, and observe how much they have shaped the people we have now become.

On the other side, when we are creative out of a cultural space we can also have the feeling that it is not I, myself, alone who is creative, but that something is creative in me. We are graced with a thought, an idea, an imagination, an inspiration, an intuition. The light bulb goes on; we have a lightning flash of inspiration; the penny drops. We can feel this to be a reality. We then cannot help but be creative in whatever medium we are able to work with, as required by the creative work that is seeking to manifest in the world. (If we do not do this, illnesses, including social illnesses, of varying degrees often ensue.) We put ourselves in service of this task, which may also come from encounters with the creative, artistic aspect of others. To claim such work (or its fruit) solely for ourselves feels, if we are truly honest, somewhat of an infringement on its true copyright – on true intellectual property.[4]

When we are confronted with life’s difficulties, however, we cannot see them in the same way. It is not others who have provided me with such hardships. If I am honest, I am forced to say that it is I who have created such difficulties for myself – and I have done so in order to overcome my own shortcomings so that I may develop further. Why? So that I may be better able, again, to give my gifts away – so that I may be better able to give all of myself to others; that I may be better able to put myself in service of the true, guiding forces and inspirations of the world process. (This is, of course, easier said than done, but the social fruits of such activity are open to all human beings today.)

In the life of rights – in what manifests as agreements and laws – I enter processes truly only when I am able to consider not just my own rights, but also the rights of my fellow human beings. How is this achieved? It is a cognitive feeling capacity that allows us to awaken to the reality of whether or not rights are being upheld or infringed. It is through an ennobled feeling life that we are able to judge whether or not we or others are being treated equally when it comes to both the formation and execution of agreements and laws. Injustice and inequality arise in us as feelings which can blend into justified anger and then manifest as moral deeds. The life of rights rests, fundamentally, on a feeling for the equality of all human beings. In upholding the rights of others, as they uphold mine, the life of rights is made real. As a consequence I am better able to do my work – better able to offer my gifts. We rely on one another’s agreements and votes in order to give our gifts away.

Like cultural – which we could also call spiritual-cultural – and economic life, fundamental processes are also at work in the life of rights. Whether we choose to align ourselves inwardly as individuals with such processes in all realms of social life, and work with others to create forms in accordance with their reality, is another question. To carry on, through inertia, with the social forms currently tearing the world apart will only mean that all corrections – economic, cultural, political – will be all the more painful, and the rebuilding processes all the more difficult. But it must be seen that the existing paradigms and forms are so fundamentally out of line with the reality of the situation at hand that their continuation as they are is not in accordance with our own or others’ best interests. For it is not only the world which is being torn apart, but our own selves. The fundamental, essential activities of economic, spiritual-cultural and political life are intimately bound up, as we have seen, with our own souls – with our own feeling, thinking and willing activity. We are tearing up as the world tears up. As it corrects, we are corrected. As difficult as it may be, it can be said that we, collectively, have attracted the current difficulties of the world to ourselves right now in order to overcome our own shortcomings. The current crises of the world should be sufficient for us to learn from. Together they are collectively a crisis of, on the one side, civilisation and, on the other side, the human being. It will only be through a thorough rebuilding of the world on totally new foundations – on the essential realities to be found in spiritual-cultural, political and economic life as they relate to the human being – that civilisation and the human being will have any future worth considering.[5] And for this to happen it is essential that we come to a real experience of our complete dependence, as free individuals, on others. It is possible, when approaching the fundamental activities in all realms of social life, to be filled with the thought and the feeling that: “Everything I have is because of others – I owe everything to others.”

This is not a thought we merely should have, any more than the social forms it asks for are ones that we merely aught to create. It is, rather, a feeling that can arise in objective observation of, and in accordance with, the realities of social life. It is in this reality that we are able to uproot from our souls all traces of selfish egotism, and to feel ourselves in service of the true becoming of the world and our fellow human beings. This is a spiritual becoming – a growth of the spiritual faculties of compassion, selflessness, service and love. For it is love as cognitive capacity and living experience, manifested in the guiding impulse of this time of year, which calls us now to such a task – to make the Christmas reality a reality for all the year, for all the world, for all corners of our own souls, and for all human beings. The guiding impulse that stands over this time of year stands now over the whole of the Earth, during all seasons, and makes possible our own co-standing, if we so wish. For we live now in a world where such choices are possible. We can either harden into existing forms, get carried off as we turn away from the world into the illusory escapism of drugs, popular media and so on, or we can face the world, armed with the sword of the fundamental realities at hand experienced through love and all those creative forces that call us, freely, towards our own destinies and becoming for the betterment of the world and our fellow human beings.


John Stubley

[1] Likewise, supply and demand does not flow like a river in one direction. Rather, it flows like a river in both directions at the same time in every economic transaction. I supply you with a product and demand an income. You demand my product and supply an income. And vice versa as the case may be.

[2] The unwavering belief in such powers (as articulated by Adam Smith), even as the market paradigm falters, can truly be called, together with the one-sided materialism of Darwinism and its competitive social consequences, the real religion – the true, though generally unseen, mythology – of our time.

[3] In awakening to such realities – and to the need for the building of a new world on such foundations – then we shall also come, as free individuals, to a better understanding of the ancient cultures of the Earth. In this light we are better able to understand the social systems of, for example, indigenous Australia, where, fundamentally, in being responsible for my own totem – my own ‘dreaming’ – caterpillar, for example, this completely becomes my work. I live, however, not off my own totem – off my own dreaming, my own work – but off the dreaming – off the work – of others, as they live off mine.

[4] At the same time, we still need to meet our needs – needs which can only be met, therefore, in the cultural realm, through the free, financial, gifts of others.

[5] It should go without saying that this line of thinking leads us not into the socialism of Marx and Engels, but to the archetypal social organism at work in the world and in the human being.

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Money Dreaming: “Everyone is a Banker”

In my country – Noongar Country in Western Australia – the Whadjuk word for money is the same as the word for rock: Boya. Only with the arrival of Europeans did the word for an externalised monetary system come about (connected to rocks that contained gold).

In Indigenous Australian culture, people are assigned particular totems or dreamings – not arbitrarily, but out of keen spiritual insight and guidance. To have a dreaming is to have a responsibility for that dreaming – to care for it. One is expected to fully know it – to become it.

If one is yongka (kangaroo) dreaming, for example, one is expected to know completely the characteristics, qualities, life cycles, movement patterns, feeding and breeding activity, stories, songs, dances, art and so on of yongka. One is yongka dreaming. Usually, one is expected not to kill or gather one’s own dreaming for one’s-self. One lives, in a way, off the dreamings of others. If, however, other groups are in need of a yongka for food or ceremony and are unable to find any, then, as a last resort, those of the yongka dreaming may be approached to help locate and possibly kill the animal. Such a deed does not go un-thanked nor un-remembered by other groups. As part of this process, an ‘increase’ ceremony may also be requested – where those of yongka dreaming would hold a ceremony at a site sacred to yongka so that more yongkas may appear on the land.

I have also heard it expressed that an individual represents only one part of the physical manifestation of their dreaming – yongka tail, for example. Combined with all others of that dreaming, however, the whole physical manifestation of yongka is represented.[1]

I would now like to put forward the concept of money dreaming. I believe all human beings today are assigned this totem. And I believe they are assigned it at birth, if not earlier, though, again, not arbitrarily.

No matter what culture we live in on Earth, there now exists some form of money – and therefore some form of money dreaming. The question is whether we are awake to it or not. Have we observed the qualities and characteristics of money so well that we can say we truly know it – that we are able to be responsible for it – to care for it, and for others – to not hoard it for ourselves – to live not off our own dreaming and the fruits thereof, but off the dreaming and work of others, as they live off ours? Do we recognise that every other human being holds another part of the puzzle, without which it would be incomplete?

Everyone as money dreaming.

In recalling the words of the famous German post-war artist Joseph Beuys – “Every human being is an artist” – Triodos Bank[2] CEO Peter Blom recently said, “Every human being is a banker.”[3]

We live in a world that reveals the consequences of human beings putting their faith in the financial wizards of the banking world. But we are also living in a world where human beings are waking up to their own responsibilities when it comes to money.

As individuals we have this responsibility; as groups, organisations and institutions we have this responsibility; and because money exists as part of a global economy (even though it belongs, in essence, not to the economic life but to the life of rights[4]) we also have this responsibility on the global level. It is a global dreaming. Its songlines are everywhere.

The degree to which the monetary wizards of Wall Street and elsewhere have so far used their intellects to create financial ‘products’ in order to secure monetary gain for themselves, is the same to which all human beings are now asked to use their imagination and creativity in order to meet the real needs of other human beings, to sing a better country into being, to heal the world; naturally, culturally, politically, economically.


In the north of Western Australia a mining boom is currently taking place, the effects of which ripple through Perth and all across the money-lines of the world. Rock has become money again. Everyone is claiming boya for themselves; but only because boya is not yet fully observed, and not yet fully known. But it will become known. And when it does, it will be clear that it has its own life cycle, its own movement patterns, its own qualities and characteristics, and with this will come its songs, its stories, its dances, its art. With this will come care and responsibility for it, for the world, and for one another as human beings. With this will come a renewed dreamtime based on free and ethical individualism. With this will come a conscious, global money dreaming.

This is part of the challenge that we have now set ourselves, and we are up to it – for it is given to us, not arbitrarily, but out of wise, spiritual guidance.


John Stubley

This article has also been published in the magazines Adbusters, associate!, Das Goetheanum, Trigonal and Scope; Nov, 2012 – Mar, 2013.

[1] For more, see, for example, Robert Lawlor, Voices of the First Day: Awakening in the Aboriginal Dreamtime (Vermont, USA: Inner Traditions, 1991); David Mowaljarlai & Jutta Malnic, Yorro Yorro: Everything Standing Up Alive (Broome, WA: Magabala Books, 2001); Rudolf Steiner, The Esoteric Aspect of the Social Question (Lecture 2) (London: Rudolf Steiner Press, 2001); the oral storytelling of Noongar elder Noel Nannup.

[2] See Voted the world’s most sustainable bank.

[3] He mentioned this at a conference in New Zealand on October 5, 2012.

[4] See, for example, Joseph Beuys, What is Money? (UK: Clairview, 2010).

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Which One is the Bad Movie?: Rewriting the World Script

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[1] 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.[2] 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.

[1] ‘Mantra’ meaning literally ‘an instrument of thinking’.

[2] Or else students are taught subjects in such a way that the subjects are completely removed from reality, either as reality is or as it truly seeks to be.

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Batman and Beyond: Overcoming Evil on the Screen, in the World, in Ourselves

Rightly do we feel shocked by some of the events we are witnessing in our times – particularly, and most recently, the events in Denver, Colorado, as well as all that we recall on the anniversary of the events in Oslo, Norway.

These events are made all the more shocking because of the difficulties we encounter in attempting to understand what they might mean. The most common question that rises into the atmosphere of the world – for these are world events – following such happenings is, Why?

This is a difficult question, because if we wish to pursue it through to any kind of truthful answer we are forced to travel a long and difficult road, and to find upon it much that we find confronting – particularly all that we may discover about ourselves.

But is this not part of the reason – part of the tragic gift – of such events? And is not merely skimming across the surface of what has happened, without attempting to comprehend any true meaning therein, part of the reason why such events continue to happen? A great deal of courage is needed. And it is needed in order to even begin to attempt to learn the lessons contained in such shocking events as we are seeing in our times.

But attempts must be made. This article represents nothing more than a beginning of an attempt in this direction. Ultimately, however, it is up to each of us to uncover for ourselves the reality of that which confronts us from all sides (and from all screens) today.

The individual who did what he did in a Colorado cinema was, apparently, deeply interested in the subject matter of what was about to play itself out on the screen. He was, apparently, deeply connected to the Batman series, in particular to the character of the Joker. He coloured his hair in like manner as the movie character before committing his crimes. When he was arrested he reportedly told police he was the Joker.

What is going on here? We sometimes hear the phrase ‘life imitating art imitating life’, but ultimately this is nothing more than an empty phrase. We must look further than this.

The character of the Joker is a being of lies, of tricks, of remorseless destruction, of extreme intelligence, of cold and deliberate intent, of calculated planning. He is a being of distraction and illusion, of chaos and disorder. He is, in part, a continuation of Goethe’s Mephistopheles (and many other devil-type characters), but, at the same time, he seems to be more than this. Essentially, he is an imagination of much of what we would term ‘evil’ in the world today – whether it exists around us or, to a degree, if we are honest, within us.

The Joker, therefore, appears to be a kind of amalgamation of different aspects of evil. On the one hand there is the extremely cold and calculating aspect desiring in any moment to pull the human being down. On the other hand there is an illusory aspect that threatens to distract us – to take us away from the true purpose at hand. Finally, I would venture to say, that there is a third kind of evil expressed in the Joker. I would also say that this third aspect is relatively new in imaginative works. This third aspect appears to be connected to a desire to extinguish something we might call either culture or spiritual life itself. This expresses itself in the competitive decisions he forces human beings to make. In the previous Batman film one of these decisions is whether or not one group of human beings should kill another group of human beings, or be killed by them. This is an attempt to destroy that very part of us which makes us human – the part of us that places ourselves in service of our fellow human beings. It is this generally human aspect which appears to have been absent or, rather, overshadowed in the deeds of the individual in Colorado.

Rather than putting himself in service of the universally human, he has consciously put himself in service of all that is expressed in the character of the Joker. He has associated himself with the Joker; has put himself in service of the Joker. This is not to speak figuratively or symbolically. This individual has literally been overshadowed by all that lives in the Joker character. One could even say that in this case all that is expressed in the Joker is in fact ‘the actor’ (or, perhaps, the ‘director’), while this individual is merely the ‘character’ (or, perhaps more fittingly, the ‘puppet’). This is not to negate individual responsibility and freedom – choices were available.

And we each have the possibility to choose. But we must become clear about what the choices actually are. For if we are to be truly honest here, we can see that in any moment we are confronted with similar choices. Of course, the consequences will look different in every case, but none-the-less the choice remains. What is this choice? It is the choice of what we will put ourselves in service of as free individuals. The evils expressed in the Joker character live also within us. Each of us is capable of cold, calculating activity – of what we may call, in essence, untruth or lies. Each of us is also capable of what we may call hot-headed flights of fantasy – of activity which takes us away from the world into our own dreamy selves – of what we may call, essentially, self-seeking. A little more difficult to pin down, perhaps, is our capacity to destroy cultural or spiritual activity through extreme, one-sided competition. To look at this third aspect from another perspective, we could also say that we are all capable of placing our own desires – particularly our own economic prosperity – before anything else.

If the Joker were to be a truthful imaginative representation of all that lives within us as evil, therefore, he would be more than merely one character. (From the trailers for the latest Batman film, it seems the new character of Bane is a similar amalgamation figure.)

A similar evil which has been expressed in recent years has been the hitman figure in the film No Country for Old Men. This figure shares certain similarities with the Joker character. The hitman expresses more blatantly, however, the third aspect of evil we have been touching upon here. He is not so much a figure of cunning lies or of self-seeking illusion. He is, rather, a remorseless being that, once set upon its goal, stops at nothing in order to achieve it. All human elements seem to be missing. He is mechanistic. He is an expression of his own being-ness. In deciding whether to kill people of not, he makes them flip a coin. That is, he forces them to flip a coin for the own lives – for whether or not they will live or die, for whether or not he will kill them. He cares – or rather doesn’t care – just as much either way. He is a being that seeks to eradicate the human spirit, to eliminate all that is generally human because he has absolutely no connection to this. He is a being in opposition to that which is human, as is the Joker. Neither the Joker nor the hitman are redeemed in their respective films. Rather, they both serve another purpose. And that purpose is to make clear, in front of us, that which also lives within us – that is, to teach us about our own selves. Their purpose – like the individual in Colorado, as well as Norway, and elsewhere around the world – is to help us to redeem ourselves.

Though it is not just within ourselves that such evils exist. Such imaginative figures express also what is taking place in the world around us. The fact that the hitman figure forces individuals to flip a coin is not without significance. Depending upon which way the coin falls – depending upon which way economic activity falls – human beings and the cultures they have created will either live or die. An unchecked economy does exactly as the figure of the hitman does, remorselessly following its own agenda, mechanically stopping at nothing, acting without conscience in order to ferociously and competitively achieve its goal. In so doing it is capable of destroying the human spirit and all that the human spirit is capable of creating in and through spiritual or cultural life. That is, the figure of the hitman, and one aspect of the Joker, is an unbalanced and unchecked economic life destroying the culture of the world and the human being. The very nature of this evil – its very being – is the death of culture. Economic life becomes the only reality. (This is also the theme expressed in, ironically, the highest-grossing film of all time, Avatar, though far more mildly.)

Likewise we can see in the world around us that face of evil we have observed as being cold, calculating, cunning – essentially all that leans towards what we might call lies or untruth. Within us this can take the form of doubt in our thinking, of hatred in our feeling life, and of fear in our will. Around us in the world, it essentially appears as a lack of truth and reality in cultural life in general. Materialism appears as the complete story, rather than one part of it, and all education, research and so on – and all branches of learning as well as their application – follow merely as chapters in this overarching story, this overarching mythology.

The aspect of evil we have identified as being one of illusion, of distraction tending towards self-indulgent fantasy and dreaming, can be seen most of all playing itself out in political activity. No matter what the system of government in the world, it is generally overshadowed by self-seeking impulses which in turn cause political activity to overshadow cultural life and, in some cases, economic life as well. (On the macro level, however, it is generally the economic reality that prevails, for even if governments feel they are in control, such control is generally part of their own illusion; or, to put it another way, government is simply a plaything of economic imperialism.)

So we find ourselves in a situation in which the evils present within ourselves are present also in the world around us. Art – including film – is able to express something of this back to us, albeit in a somewhat jumbled way. Primarily its role is to express this imaginatively. However, film is a medium that is capable of appearing extremely life-like; extremely graphic. It leaves little room for imaginative activity within the viewer when compared to the written word, for example, though even the written word is susceptible to similar problems today. In truth, all words in our time have suffered a kind of death – it is part of the activity and consequence of the death of culture, of untruth and of self-seeking within the world and within ourselves. Words too, like us, have become cut-off from their vital essence and thereby come to lack actual meaning. There is, however, a lesson or a gift for us here also.

All living things must also die. In death, however, there exists the opportunity for something new to be born. The plant that dies also releases seeds which live on and bring new life to the world. So exists the situation for our civilisation today. One part of it stands already in its own grave, while another is as though a phoenix struggling to rise. Only in the death of words – words which can be used to mean anything at all – words that have become disconnected to the their own truths – and, more generally, in the death of culture itself and our own thinking activity – only through this can we in freedom begin to create something new.

The imaginations we see on film are generally confused pictures of reality. Films that strike a chord in society are generally films that come closer to actual reality because we identify something in them that is closely and intimately connected to who we are and the inner reality of the world we experience around us. But in order to ensure that all civilisation does not bury itself forever in its own grave, we must have the courage to clarify what we are seeing in ourselves and in the world, and to put ourselves in service of characters, of real heroes, of real beings worthy of our service. This will not happen if we continue along with business as usual. For if we do so, we unavoidably and unconsciously put ourselves in service of beings of untruth, self-seeking and competition leading to death of culture, which have created the mythologies of our time – namely, materialism, Darwinism and its social consequences, and the ‘invisible hand’ of economic market forces. Nor will this happen if we are served up only a confusing smorgasbord of imaginations through a culture which has, of itself, grown as lifeless as the words which it employs.

The renewal of the human being and the world will only come about if we have the courage to discern and penetrate through the global ‘screen’ of impressions we receive on a daily basis to that which is real, to that which is true. Films like Batman and others need to be viewed in the right way. We must be able to see that the Joker is an amalgamation of different characters. In The Matrix, for example, the ‘character’ of cold calculation finds expression in Agent Smith, while the character of self-seeking illusion can be seen more in the Merovingian, though they both contain aspects of the other. The Machines (with their Machine city) generally express the element of the competitive death of spirit and culture, but not with the same confronting force as the hitman or the Joker.

In any case, the gift of these films – as with all imaginative works – is for us to be able to externalise and thereby observe that which usually takes place within us unconsciously. In externalising these ‘characters’ from ourselves, we can become free of their influence. This can take place not only in the moment of viewing or reading, but whenever we put our will to such an undertaking. The whole world is a film – a story – awaiting our reading, and it awaits our reading in such a way that it may become meaningful. (Our participation is required in order for meaning to emerge.) The ‘bat-cave’ is also a place we can come to in ourselves so that we can begin to make sense of all that we have observed. In order that a new civilisation can emerge from the crumbling and decay of this present one, we must build a bridge from the old to the new. We are ourselves this bridge, or it will exist not at all and everything will fall apart. We must understand that we ourselves are the renewal of civilisation as much as we are all the characters in the stories we tell one another; that is, all the characters and all that takes place is us. (Granted, this is true more so of the imaginations and mythologies of old, for with the death of culture and the death of words we must be more discerning today. Still, opportunities present themselves for a reading of the script of life and the human being in the world today.)

And lest more of these imaginations take place one-sidedly in the ‘real’ world (as we have seen in Colorado), we must treat them as imaginations of realities which are able to go beyond mere one-sidedness. For we contain more than mere lies, self-seeking and cultural decline and death. We contain also that which keeps these forces at bay and in their rightful places (and that is even able to redeem them), even if only in seed form. Yet just as the seed contains within it already the whole of the plant it will become, so too do we contain with ourselves all that we have the potential to become as human beings. So too does this world contain within it all that it can potentially become. The only difference between us and the plant is that we must now actually choose to bring this development about. Whereas the plant can rely on natural forces, we have to rely on our own creative capacities as human beings – that is, on our own spiritual forces.

The events in Colorado are yet another tragic wake-up call for all of us. If we do not heed it, more and more events of similar nature will follow. This path leads to an all-out war of all against all, and the mythology of social Darwinism will prove itself true. Yet, if we are able to recognise that, in addition to the figure of the Joker, there also exists Batman; if we are able to see that the two groups of human beings in the previous Batman film choose not to destroy one another; if we see that there are characters who refuse the hitman’s demand to flip a coin; if we see that the scientists of Avatar unite themselves inwardly with the spiritual-cultural life of the native characters, creating a spiritual-cultural life that is strong enough to overcome the economic forces that seek to mine, for their own gain, that which lives directly below the surface of their spiritual-cultural homeland, thereby relegating such economic forces to their own realm (that is, Earth, though both Pandora and Earth represent Earth; simply the spiritual-cultural sphere and the economic sphere respectively); if we are to see the way in which Neo stands between Agent Smith (as shadow of his own self) and the Merovingian (as an old, self-seeking intelligence), as well as the Machines which he must make a kind of peace with (because machines in general are also required in order to meet the needs of the human beings in Zion); if we are able to see all stories, including, perhaps more-importantly, mythologies of old with a discerning and holistic set of eyes, then we will also see that we contain within us the seeds of new humanity and new civilisation on Earth. We contain its destruction and its renewal, both. The questions is, What do we choose in each moment of our lives?

There are people in that movie cinema who covered others with their own bodies in order to save them. There are people in that cinema who died doing so. Norway could have responded to fear by creating more of the same; it chose not to. In particular, Norway has embraced multiculturalism, diversity, community. (It seems Americans [amongst other peoples] seeking to achieve similar social tolerance following September 11 have had to do so without the support of their government.)

We stand here at a fork in the road of evolution. All around us the world is producing auguries – omens – for us to read. This is the becoming text of our age. The mythologies of materialism and social Darwinism (essentially, war of all against all) have led us to this point. Such mythology now tragically plays itself out both on the screen and in the world around us. Culture is dying. Words have died. The only possibility for renewal is to be honest with ourselves about all that we are observing in the world, and from there to recognise that only through cultural renewal within ourselves and within the world will the phoenix of a new civilisation truly begin to rise from the ashes of the old. Only by regularly making spaces within ourselves for the true hero of our own lives – our own higher selves – and all that pours through it, as well as by making space for the hero of our fellow human beings, will the story begin to change. Cultural life must strive to find a footing in real and discernable spiritual reality, must attempt to build itself anew on the foundation of a real and concrete spiritual worldview, in as much as the scientists of Avatar were able to achieve imaginatively. This will move us from untruth towards truth in cultural life and, in turn, bring equality (rather than self-seeking) to political and rights life, and association (rather than furious competition) to economic life. Each one of us stands in the world as a pillar of this new civilisation. Each one of us, in choosing to serve not the lower forces that exist within us but the higher spiritual beings that make their home in that part of us which we can call truly human – in choosing this, and in making a space within ourselves for the same in our fellow human beings, then the new city – the new civilisation – of the future will truly begin to rise from the graveyard of our time; then will the new mythology of the world, written in the space between human beings, begin to tell another story of the future and of ourselves. For then a new Gotham – a new Zion – (a Pandora-Earth) will begin to be built within, between and all around us. This is the archetypal human city in which it is possible to find ourselves as human beings; it is the city ‘for old men’, for young men, for all humankind; it is, ultimately, a city – a civilisation – made up of and by free individuals who have put themselves willingly in service of the becoming of one another, and of the true spirit of progress in our time.


John Stubley, Ph.D.

This article is dedicated to Heath Ledger.


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The True Book of Our Time: Re-Stor(y)ing the World

In our time, it seems that wherever we turn our gaze, we are confronted by ‘experts’ ready in an instant to explain this or that situation to us. We have an expert for everything, and in most cases more than one. No matter what the field of knowledge or social life, there is, to be sure, always an expert on hand willing to share his or her expertise with us.

A vast amount of items on the nightly news, for example, feature a quote or brief conversation with an expert in a relevant field. Experts are now to be found everywhere, no matter what the phenomenon in question.

Many of these experts are academics, but not all of them. Yet, while not all experts are practicing academics, they do, on the whole, share a common academic methodology. This methodology underpins the whole nature of expertise itself. And so, what is this methodology?

The academic methodology of our time involves the citing and referencing of those experts who have explored a field of knowledge prior to our own exploration. These previous experts also tend to be academics. Whether or not they acknowledge it as such, their work is generally based upon scientific empiricism – that is, upon evidence as discovered through experiments. The modern academic methodology has itself become empirical. The data or evidence it studies is the expertise of previous experts, while the experiment is to see whether such evidence explains phenomena in our time.

In this way, expertise is added brick by brick onto that which has come before, sometimes adding a brick from another discipline, sometimes not, gradually building up upon the past. Its fundamental characteristic is that it works, essentially, with the past.

We can get a feeling of the prevailing academic methodology of our time as being a kind of walking backwards through a certain landscape. This landscape lies dark behind us – we walk backwards into the darkness, into the future – and shed light only upon that which we can see in the past through that which has come from even further in the past.

This approach is, of course, much needed. It gives us the capacity to understand a vast amount of the world as it has existed up until now. The scientific precision inherent within its methodology must continue. We cannot say enough in praise of such scientific precision and all it has offered the world and the human being.

At the same time, we must also ask, In what state has this methodology – on its own – left the world and the human being today? Any quick scan over the current health of the cultural, political, economic, spiritual, environmental and social landscapes of our time must surely raise some serious questions. If we have ‘outsourced’ our knowledge to the experts of the world and their methodologies, we must surely, in this time of extensive global crises, ask ourselves about the appropriateness of dealing exclusively in such expertise and methodologies.

It seems, as we walk backward through the darkened landscape of time, that we are finding ourselves more and more ‘tripped-up’ by that which we did not see coming towards us, no matter what level of expertise we have attained – no matter how big the bricks we have laid in the past. From behind us, out of the dark future, numerous trip-ups (in an economic sense, we have given them the term, not without a certain wisdom, ‘corrections’) seem to await our blind footsteps. The best we can do, using this approach, is to then study, once it lies far enough behind us, that which we have already tripped over, even as we continue walking backwards (and, indeed, continue tripping over).

We are left with the question, therefore, What else is needed in our time in order that we may begin to see and work with that which is approaching us from out of the future?

To the experts of our time we have granted a great deal of authority. The word ‘authority’ was originally used to mean ‘a quotation from a book’. In time it has also come to mean ‘the power of controlling’. It may well be said, as Owen Barfield mentions, that from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries the latter meaning was contained within the first.[1] Today, it is also possible to say that the first meaning is contained within the latter. To observe this, even outside of academia, we need only look at the way in which government, business and civil society rely upon the written evidence of reports (and the quotations they contain) before anything is acted upon. And, again, even if non-academics do not associate authority with book quotations (or even consider such matters), still there exists today the outsourcing of expertise and knowledge, if not to the academics of the world, at least to the prevailing academic-scientific methodology. (This outsourcing takes place both externally as well as inwardly.)

It seems there are two ways, therefore, that we can approach this situation. The first is that within academia we can begin to work with a methodology that allows us to ‘turn around’ as we walk through the landscape of modern times. Of course, there are those who already attempt to shine their own torch (out of their observation of the past) into the darkness that streams ever towards us, lighting up a thin line here or there. But they do so, however, not in a way that reveals anything truly new, but only in a way that predicts what will come out of what has already unfolded. This is the light of prediction, and it throws off a cold and feeble light at best, and many confusing shadows. Essentially, it is only a kind of mirror light shining not clearly into the future as we walk forward, but reflecting dimly into the future the light we shed upon objects of the past, even as we continue walking backwards.

What is being asked for seems to be somewhat different. Within academia, therefore, we must begin to use the academic method itself in such a way that it begins to light up the future for us in very real ways. That is, we must give authority to (quote and reference) those previous experts who have employed a different methodology from that which has left us with the crises that we find ourselves in today. In academia, we must give authority to those who build not only from the past, but who, in studying the phenomena of today, allow the future to shine through the present. In so doing we will not be giving our authority away, but rather reclaiming it for ourselves. For the methodology of the phenomenologist, particularly the methodology implicit in the work of Goethe and all those after him, reveals a way of studying the world that allows the light of the future to shine through whatever phenomena we are ourselves observing.[2]

In quoting and referencing the methodology of Goethe or others who have employed similar methodologies (including, for example, in our time, MIT’s Otto Scharmer[3]), we thereby employ a methodology inside the existing methodology that changes the paradigm from within. We use the existing paradigm to take the whole academic paradigm a step further. Or rather, we use it to begin to turn around – to see, in greater clarity, that which is coming towards us. Like a great ship turning slowly in a harbour, so too can academia itself begin to turn if academics turn within it.

In referencing such a methodology – a methodology that does not overlay bricks from the past onto the phenomena of the world, but rather lets the world speak its own expertise in us – we thereby ‘in-source’ our own expertise (which is, at the same time, the world’s). In referencing, quoting, giving authority to and employing such a methodology within academia, so can academia and academics begin to rise to the true challenges of our time, and gain the relevance that the world so desperately needs from them, and that they need to be giving to the world.

And what of those who do not work directly within academia? Again, we all live with the effects of academia, its existing methodology and the consequences of this. The authority of the book has also become the authority of the expert today. How easily we can defer to individuals with degrees, diplomas, certificates, positions – with letters after their name. Even these letters themselves represent (and are) a bookish authority. Or take the great contemporary fount of popular expertise –  the ‘open source’ Wikipedia – this too is built upon and with the bricks of citation and referencing.

What can be done here? The answer in this case is to look upon the phenomena of the world itself as a book; that all of the world around us is a book awaiting our reading and subsequent expertise. Indeed, Goethe himself spoke of nature’s ‘open secret’ – that nature is a secret revealed everywhere – that nature is a secret, a book, that is awaiting our reading. But we must include all phenomena in this reading – nature, culture, even thoughts and all that works within our own thinking, feeling and willing activity; that is, all of life. We must become proficient ‘readers’ of the book of life – the ultimate ‘open-source’ – and so regain our own authority. Of course, this path exists for the academic as much as anybody else. Importantly, it remains open to everybody, no matter what our social standing or situation.

The world – all of life – is a book awaiting our reading and understanding. This is the second way in which we can approach the situation we are exploring here. That is, if we are able to look upon the world with all of the full scientific clarity that we have gained as humanity, and then at the point at which we would usually overlay an old (or even new) hypothesis or theory onto the phenomena which we observe, we instead allow the facts of the phenomena to instead speak its own theory, its own hypothesis, in us, then we shall gain not only a true theory or hypothesis, but we shall begin to turn around, and take a necessary next step not only for ourselves, but also for the world; for science, for academia, and for all fields of knowledge and social life. We all have the opportunity to become scientists, to become academics, to become experts and authorities in such a way as this. And in so doing not only do we begin to read the book of the world, we begin to co-author (‘author-ity’) it also.[4]

And yet the authorship and authority we thereby make is not merely or solely our own – the light we shed into the future is not a cold and feeble light emanating solely from the torches within our own hands or mind, or one that reflects dimly off the objects of the past. It is, rather, a light that shines out from within the essence of phenomena – from the chapters, paragraphs, sentences and words of the book of life – itself. In such an activity as this do we move beyond the weak, though tempting, self-light of solely intellectual speculation. We, rather, after thoroughly and precisely observing the facts of the situation at hand, allow, through (as Scharmer puts it) an “open mind, open heart, and open will,”[5] the phenomena of the world to light itself in us. In reading a book we do not encounter a letter or word here and another there while perhaps speculating as to why this one is there and another here, before re-arranging them as we see fit in order to create a meaning that is of our own making. Rather, only through reading the book as it appears before us do we, through an open mind, heart and will, make a space for the meaning of the text to arise in us. And it would appear that it is meaning that is lacking most of all in the world today, as well as within human beings. We seem to have lost the overall story, and are left only with a very precise and meticulous study of individual letters and words.

Observing the world as we would read a book, however, we are able to put our study of individual letters and words to real, consequential and practical purpose. Interestingly, the word ‘observe’ shifted its meaning around the sixteenth century from ‘to obey a rule’ or ‘to inspect auguries (i.e. to inspect a sign of future events)’ to its more modern meaning.[6] This shift points to a great shift in the consciousness of the human being. In observing the story of this word itself, we can see that it reveals a meaning that speaks of the human being’s emancipation from ‘obeying rules’ and from what we might call ‘spiritual superstition’. The great fruit of this story is the gaining of both freedom from compulsion, as well as intellectual clarity and understanding of the world around us. The current state of the world as a whole is telling us now, however, that we need to turn a new chapter in this story. And this chapter, unlike any other that has come before, awaits our co-writing, because we are in a position where we can, as free individuals, choose to do so.

For in precisely and scientifically making a space in ourselves for the meaning of the true book – the true story of the world – to reveal itself in us, we take a conscious step not backwards into the dark night, but forward into a future that waits for our arrival. And it is a future that reveals itself constantly in the phenomena of the world today, if only we have the open mind, heart and will to observe these phenomena in such a way that we can now, choosing to do so with intellectual clarity and freedom, inspect them as signs of future events because they are events which contain the light of the future within them. We shall then find ourselves, freely, within a landscape and on a path that grows ever luminous with the spiritual meaning and story that shines both from out of phenomena themselves, and from out of us – and that we ourselves can now be active co-participants in the creation and shaping of the future itself. We can begin to shape the world, in true freedom, with the spiritual and creative ‘rules’ of the cosmos, which shed their creative light not only in the phenomena of the world but also within us. In so doing, can we walk clearly upon a path of true reading, true authority, true expertise and true speaking; adding to research a kind of pre-search, and putting ourselves freely in service of the completely new – of the next chapter in the long story of world and human becoming.


John Stubley, Ph.D.

[1] Owen Barfield, History in English Words (Massachusetts: Lindisfarne, 2007, pp. 135).

[2] See, for example, Rudolf Steiner, Goethean Science (New York: Mercury Press, 1988).

[3] See Otto Scharmer, Theory U (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2009).

[4] A brief glance at the etymology connected to the word ‘author’ reveals earlier meanings such as “originator, creator, instigator,” as well as “enlarger, founder, master, leader,” literally, “one who causes to grow”…to “increase”. (See

[5] Otto Scharmer, Theory U (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2009).

[6] Owen Barfield, History in English Words (Massachusetts: Lindisfarne, 2007, pp. 151).

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