The more basic a question is, the more I find it of interest. Politics, economics, and so forth are far less primary than philosophy. “Who am I?” “What is true?” are about as close as questions can come to Truth, but of course ultimately fail: language cannot get there. These are questions one could ask alone, on a desert island.
Philosophy exists on this level. Politics do not. One must go through mental gymnastics to imagine a person alone on an island engaged in political or economic acts. “Who am I?/what is true?” leads to an economic chain like this (and this is just an example. Other paths or steps can be added or integrated):
- Who am I? What is true?
- I am a living being.
- Living beings seek to move away from pain and toward pleasure
- We hunt and gather to furnish ourselves with food and shelter, which decreases pain.
- We trade with others to make hunting and gathering more efficient and effective.
- Economic systems arise from rules and customs of trade.
Perfectly valid chain, leading to perfectly valid and important questions about what systems of economics best facilitate our goals, our goal being to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, especially long term. Very clear. Again, each of these steps can be torn down or expanded as well, but the chain is pretty solid.
Politics is a chain as well:
- Who am I? What is true?
- I am a living being
- I am a human being
- Humans form families for reproduction of memes and genes
- Families must have structures of communication and decision.
- Humans form groups of families by kinship or location for protection and association.
- As the groups get larger the decision making ceases to be conducted by all members (if it ever did) and begins to be conducted by representatives either chosen by the group, or self-selected by various characteristics (including strength and brutality and aggression, of course: this process isn’t angelic)
- At some point, the interactions and rules designed to influence the decision making process can be considered “political” as opposed to “personal.”
There are additional steps: governments are political structures which become more abstracted as the group grows and people cease being able to recognize each other by sight (possibly the largest practical size of a communistic community). Governments/political systems start from the bottom up: there is no such thing as a government with no consent of the governed. But the hierarchical structure collects power at the top, and at some point the “top” begins to believe they are better, or at least that they have the right/power to control the structure rather than represent it.
This tension between “top” and “bottom” seems pretty universal, existing in units as small as the family, and certainly in nation-states.
All valid thoughts. And as you need decisions made that influence larger and larger groups, the politics become more critical. They are based, however, in questions like “what is true?” (about the environment, about history, about economic systems, etc.) or “who am I?” (what are human beings, do races exist, if so do they have differential capacity, what are men and women, are some human beings have more right to command and control than others, etc.)
The further you go on the chain, the more complicated the decisions become, and there is a fascinating and infinite number of choices: probably one for every human being on the planet at each level, and our opinions about them shift over time, and shift according to our experiences and associations. It really is a merry confusion.
Spiritually (and somewhat sloppily–these are morning thoughts rather than a formal essay) in the Yogic traditions one might consider the world beyond the basic questions (who am I? What is true?) to be “Maya”, illusion, and the world of all these dualistic decisions and choices to be “halahala”, the “ocean of poisoned milk” that disturbs the consciousness. Politics definitely fits that decision. So does religion (man oh man! Try constructing/following THAT chain!). Politics at least can be held to some objective standards (does it work? According to what standard?) while most of the core questions of religions CANNOT be answered this side of the grave. Politics deals with life and death issues, and therefore generates massive fear when it seems the flow of human organization is going against us.
But religion? In combination with politics (and let’s not kid ourselves: it usually does) it deals not only with this world (survival and pleasure/pain) but the ultimate disposition of the soul. Based upon information we cannot gather. THERE’S a recipe for conflict if you can ever find one. Ultimate importance, minimal data. Wow.
So, I spend most of my time on the more basic, generative levels: “who am I?” (what is the nature of life and humanity) and “what is true?” (what is the nature of reality.) Since they underlie ALL of the later levels of question, if you get these wrong, IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW SMART YOU ARE, how educated you are, how well intended you are. You may get lots of leverage and effects in “Maya” but ultimately will fail, just as you can get a lot of effects by basing your life on a false ego-image, but when it starts to crack (and it always does) you will be lost, crippled by impostor syndrome, and consumed by fear and guilt.
Better to concentrate on those basic steps. Now, a measure of faith is necessary, because you CANNOT get all the information necessary to answer those questions. The mind simply isn’t that large.
Make your choice. My choice has been simple:
- Human beings are all part of one soul, having myriad experiences.
- The reality of the universe is love and connection. Therefore, we need never fear truth.
- Stress and fear is created by delusion creating the illusion of separation. Believing in Maya rather than the underlying reality.
- One must be both loving enough to embrace and heal those who are in fear, and strong enough to protect oneself from those who have transformed fear into anger.
- Remember that there are demons among us who wish us to sleep so that they might feed. The children are only safe if the adults are awake.
- The best approach to advance the world it so be certain in your own path, live it with all your heart, and communicate to others. Your tribe will gather.
- Be kind, and remember that you might be wrong: respect the humanity and rights of others.
- Don’t take any shit.
- Have faith.
A human mind can hold “seven plus or minus two” pieces of information in conscious awareness at a time. If you keep the basic principles hovering around there, it may be most efficient and effective. In all my writing, all speaking, every act of my life, the expression of these principles is a touchstone. Some version of this has empowered most of the men and women I admire. Violation of even one of these principles has devastated the lives of even brilliant people.
I cannot say that this is “truth”: I haven’t the ultimate knowledge to make such a statement from my conscious mind. I can say that my heart says this is true, and that when I live along this pattern, it has never, ever served me wrong.
(The Revolutionary Writing workshop will be closing registration on December 3rd, not opening again until February. Don’t miss out! www.createthenarrative.com)