I wrote this short essay for my dear friends who are on intellectual and emotional overdrive these days, and who shower me with all sorts of comments and questions on current events.
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Find me a form of government where an elite is not controlling the masses.
It is a common feature of all societies, be they primitive or advanced, human or animal, that rule is exercised by an elite. The question with elites is not whether they are good or bad: they are, and will always be. A similar discussion can be had about Nature: is Nature monstruous, or generous; is Nature insensitive, or loving and caring? Nature is -- and does not need our epithets. Since it is impossible to assign a qualification to nature, such as good or bad, or cruel or generous, my bias is to assume good and generous; for it is what pleases me most. People call me a naive optimist, and I like it that way. I tolerate pessimists, and count many as my friends. I gently warn them all the time: 'tis their own pessimism which, in the end, is poisoning their own existence. Pessimism is a right I respect, as long as it is not forced down my cockeyed optimist throat.
Back to goverment. Once in power, an elite wants to extract a rent from their hard-fought situation of dominance. That tendency is inherited from nature, and there is nothing good or bad in that. A pack of wolves, or a pride of lions exacts a rent on herbivores; but that ecosystem is remarkably balanced, reaching an equilibrium where none of the parties crosses over a seemingly invisible set of boundaries. Now enter greed -- that remarkable human invention. The basis for greed is not easy to define; and it does not plague all humans equally: some are almost immune to it, while some are living for and by it. Greed is perhaps an intrinsic by-product of human consciousness, a tendency to define myself as what I have rather than who I am. Nature is not endowed with such qualms, and is strictly concerned with being rather than having. In human affairs, and even with only a minority of people being greedy, rents always tend to increase. The situation cannot last: unlike in nature, human affairs are inevitably drawn to a loss of equilibrium. Thus the dynamics of History. Sic transit gloria mundi, as the Romans said.
Now about elections. In light of the above, voting one faction out of power does not solve much, if anything. It perpetuates our mediocre state of affairs called democracy (I agree there were worse systems). The sad truth is that greed pervades all factions. Social democrats and Conservative democrats, who have been alternatively running Europe and the US, fare very identically when it comes to greed. Ironically, each side believes that the other side is evil (a religious attitude, rather than a rational one: you easily detect those militants when any discussion degenerates into insults). Partisan politics can weaken our capacity to properly react should a real political danger show up one day. And since evil can creep up equally well from any far side of the political spectrum, as the 20th Century demonstrated, partisan division slashes our chances to swiftly and properly react. The real immune system of a democracy is made of a handful of good independent women and men.
I was totally candid as a young man. My first realization came after attending a so-called Earth Day, in a beautiful and green park, in the seventies in California. A huge crowd of fanatics wearing uniforms (blue jeans, tee-shirts) were chanting hateful slogans and behaving violently against other uniforms (the Police). After the parade, those affluent kids left the park littered with broken glass, garbage and filth, and probably prolonged the night getting drunk or high. The trash was picked up by other uniformed people -- mostly migrants working for the city. That deplorable scene vaccinated me forever against militants of any shade who do not practice what they preach. It took National Socialism a decade to self-destruct; it took International Socialism seven decades to self-destruct; how long until Universal Socialists wreck the planet?
I once read a short book by Scott Peck ("People of the Lie") where he tentatively defined evil as laziness. I understand his remark as "laziness to control one's greed", or a failure to keep greed within reasonable bounds (for totally doing away with it is utopia). Of course it can be explained in broader terms as a laziness to love -- a lofty definition with which I wholly agree, but for the present discussion, laziness to muster one's greed is amply sufficient, and more focused.
Control greed did I say? The only glimmer of hope is a grassroot transformation of the way we think. Has religion failed us in this respect? I say no; however, religion can only lead us part of the way. It has been our vehicle in centuries past; and it may have a role to play in education. Has politics failed us in this respect? No. The Enlightenments and Democracy have played some role, and modern democracy is perhaps our most viable approximation of the equilibrium Nature seems to effortlessly achieve. But religion and politics can only take us to a certain threshold, a threshold only we, as individuals, after much work on ourselves, can pass.
Religion is the realm of certitudes, so is it with ideology and partisan politics. Certitudes may lead to dogmatism, which is a dead end. Science is the realm of systematic doubt, agreed, but doubt cannot bring the motivation and vision needed to influence men and society in depth. The Republic of the Engineers is just as doomed as that of politicians, ayatollahs, and popes. In short, the foundational certitudes of Religion and Politics, the heatlthy doubt of science, those are worthy pursuits; they are necessary, but not sufficient to a personal fulfilment.
Spirituality is neither certitude, nor doubt.
It is the realm of the paradox.
Or at least it looks so to the Western mind. Western thought is imbued with dualism. Dualism is the idea that things come in pairs - and they usually do - but that they are opposites, mutually exclusive. A is A and B is B -- but A cannot be B and B cannot be A. While binary logic works wonders in maths, science and computing, it does not apply to the human phenomenon, where the essence is spiritual. Humans are not digital, and will never be. Western thought needs to rediscover that A can be B, and B can be A. Call it holism, New Age, or any other insult that certitude holders throw at it, it remains that the essential nature of life (all life forms, human, animal, vegetal, mineral) is holistic, interconnected. Spiritual.
We never understand nor explain the spiritual, for if we did, we would own it. It takes humility. To the arrogant filled with the illusion of knowing, a spiritual pursuit may even appear risky, because of the fear of un-learning, or "letting go".
We are at the same time Agnostics, Shamans, Druids, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Muslims, believing that God is both in anything and out of anything, everywhere and nowhere. In spirituality, we are atheists and believers at the same time. Who has not marvelled at a morning dawn or at a blooming flower, at the taste of a fruit. We are left and right. We are feminine and masculine. We are rich and poor. We are bohemians and bourgeois.
Spirituality is a paradox to those not yet in a spiritual pursuit. But to the journeyer, the humble pilgrim in the quest for enlightenment, spirituality is a gradual illumination. Spirituality is a lifelong journey with compassion as the compass. A compass magnetically drawn to True Love.