Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Diagnosing the Disease

     All things new?
     Again, that goal seems so… idealistic… so beyond reach, so unobtainable. But it is clear at this point that the goal of making all things new, the goal of total realignment, is not just a pleasant thought, it is an essential need. If we continue on this path, we will be destroyed.
     But how do we fix it? It is really easy to point out everything we don’t prize and to be disgusted with the things that are destroying us just like it is easy for a doctor to say, “You have cancer.”
     The problem is not in identifying the symptoms, it is not even really in identifying the disease (even though most of us will be uncomfortable with the diagnosis—not unlike a patient who has just learned that she has cancer). The problem begins in identifying a cure that does not result in our death (a person who dies from radiation therapy doesn’t have cancer anymore, but we would not really consider the treatment successful). But when we talk about a cure for a disease whether it is cancer or AIDs, we are not talking about a way to remove it from an infected individual, we are talking about eradicating it altogether. In the same way, when we talk about a cure here, we are not just talking about removing the problem, we are talking about a long-term solution so that future generations do not have to suffer in the way that we have.
     All that sounds profound, but it is just talk: knowing that we need a permanent cure does not get us any closer to finding that cure.
     Here is the bad news: the problem is deeply rooted in the way that we function in Western Civilization. Let’s face it, America did not invent a system of global economic gluttony (we may have perfected it, but we did not start it). Every symptom listed in the first post is really just a modern manifestation of a problem that has been around for all of our know history: war, vast economic disparity, slavery, greed, living convinced that we are morally superior and entitled to be the oppressors, etc. All of these are constant issues that plague civilization.
     So the solution is simple: We deliberately abandon civilization. We collectively call it a failed attempt at a good social structure, and we move on to something else. It really is that simple.
     I have a friend who studying to be a veterinarian. She said something once that has stuck with me ever since. She said, “It’s simple, but not easy.” There is nothing easy about abandoning 4000 years of Civilization, but we are at point where we seriously need to ask if we can take another century of it.
     In his book, Beyond Civilization, Daniel Quinn talks about how several other cultures who experimented with Civilization and eventually walked away from it here in the Americas. Which begs the question, why were they able to leave it when it demonstrated that it was destructive? Further, why have we been so unable to leave it even after multiple world wars? The answer, he says, lies in ‘memes.’ Memes are the genes of a given culture. They carry the DNA of societies. We have a meme that says, “Civilization must succeed at all cost.”
     Here is where my line of thought breaks with Quinn: I believe that this meme was introduced by Christianity. In AD 313 (or 313 CE for those too easily offended by their own history), Constantine, the emperor of Rome, issued the Edict of Milan. This document made Christianity a legal religion and resulted in the ultimate marriage of Church and State—and damned Christianity, Rome, Civilization, countless now-extinct species, and possibly humanity to destruction. What makes Christianity so dangerous is the way that its adherents sell out to it. They believe things like, “The cause of Christ must succeed at all costs.” Although that meme would express itself in unimaginable acts of violence and torture, prior to AD 313 “at all costs” meant at the cost of their own lives. Christianity was a non-violent, tribal movement within civilization that was threatening to overthrow its host through the death of its own adherents.
     Quinn argues that the Edict of Milan did little more than permit what persecution was unable to stop. I would argue that it did far more than that. It actually paired the two cultures; modern Western Civilization is the mutant child of the two species. Take the Crusades for example. Even in their day they were view as Christian violence against Arabic Muslims. But you have to ask, where did Christianity come up with this idea? Military expansion was not a meme that was present in any of their foundational teachings. In fact all their leaders except St. John the Apostle died a non-violent martyr’s death—including Jesus, who Christians view as the full embodiment of the Devine Creator in human form. Even the God they worship chose to die Himself rather than take the lives of those around Him. So, where did the Crusades come from? And how did they get the idea that they were a logical course of action for a “Christian Civilization?”
     The answer is in the second word of that phrase—civilization. Christianity was a tribal movement. Even the King they submitted to was a metaphysical one (meaning that He was not physically present on the earth). When they talked about being citizens of a kingdom, for them it was about embracing a set of values that globally unified them as a people regardless of national, economic, or religious background. It is Civilizations who wage wars. Rather, it is a meme present within Civilization that says, “Military action is reasonable for both the protection and expansion of Civilization.” No one would be disturbed (indeed we are not disturbed) when we hear about Roman, British, French, Russian, Mongolian, Assyrian, or Egyptian military conquest—all of which are historical facts. We even expect Civilization to attempt to advance itself militarily. We are only disturbed when we find that Christianity attempted it once (or 4 or 5 times). The Europeans claimed that the conquest of the Americas (and the injustices done to its indigenous peoples) was for the cause of Christianity, but Europe was not attempting to conquer Asia even though they were “pagans”—they were trying to trade with it. Why is that? Because Civilization already existed in the East. They only treated the Native Americans the way they did because they lacked Civilization, not because they lacked Christianity—regardless of how the leaders pitched it to the commoners and justified their actions in history books.
     Again, we see how the pairing of the spreading memes of Civilization with the preservation and greater purpose memes of Christianity  that exist in Christendom (Christian Civilization) is a deadly cocktail. This is not the fault of Christianity or Civilization—it is the unfortunate bastard that was produced when Constantine married two things that never belonged together.
     So, there is the diagnosis. Civilization is not the best way for humans to function. We have not been able to abandon the sinking ship that is Western Civ since AD 313 when Western Civ and Christianity were merged. At that time, Christianity lost much of its identity to Civilization and Civilization lost much of its language to Christianity. The result is that the success of Christianity became inextricably bound to the success of Civilization in the psyche of average person. For that reason, “Christians” are unable to abandon Civilization out of the fear that they will have to abandon their faith as well. What is ironic is that the first Christians insisted that an individual “die to this world (Civilization)” in order to follow Christ. They died for a different way of life where everyone loved everyone else, every individual had a purpose, and leaders were know by their acts of service and did not benefit anymore by the success of the movement than anyone else. Often in recent history that earliest group has been accused of being a bit on the Communist side of things. They were nothing of the sort. Communism is just another economic structure inside the parameters of Civilization (that is why the USSR looked a lot like a poor, gray version of the USA by its end). They were something far more destructive for American Capitalism: They had abandoned all hope in Civilization altogether. They were a tribe.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Total Realignment?

     Total Realignment. That is a bit of a grand title. I mean, to call for realignment of anything is to ask for no small feat. The addition of the word “total” only serves to enlarge its already grand scale.

     But as much as its scale is epic (and presumptuous and self-indulgent), it is also vague. Realignment of what? In short, the answer is everything (that's also why it's "total").

     Few people would contend that global civilization in its current state is not Hell bent on a destructive course for everything and everyone on the planet. We have developed weapons that posses the power to completely annihilate the small rock we all share, and we have been careless in who we have allowed access to said weapons—indeed allowing any human (myself included) access to that kind of power is careless, let alone individuals are either certifiably insane or simply grown-up school-yard bullies on a global power trip.

     But there are many other problems. Problems that the eradication of violence would not solve. Problems like our general lack of concern/wisdom when it comes to irreversible long-term choices. Things like making cement. Every ounce of cement requires that we permanently suspend a small amount of H
2O. That means the foundation of your house and the concrete tilt-up building you office in are permanently tying up a percentage of the earth’s water supply. Not a problem we had with brick and mortar or quarried rocks, but who wants to go back to that slow and dangerous process when we can have cheap and fast? We are so divorced from any idea of what makes for our survival that we have become reckless in our use and application of resources. Fossil fuels and rainforests are not the only things being destroyed by our over-indulgence.

     In fact, even our best attempts at correcting our errors seem to make things worse. Take human rights for example. The United States banned child labor in our factories decades ago—we are rather proud of that fact. We also established a national minimum wage based on the idea that a person ought to be able to make enough in a 40-hour work-week to provide for herself. Also, the employee is entitled to a “safe” work environment—which usually costs quite a bit to build. Oh, and factories should not be allowed to pollute too much because no one should have to breath smog instead of clean air. We also have an economic system where prices are (for the most part) controlled by the customer. The buyer determines if he feels that the price is fair for the product and can refuse to purchase an item if he feels it is unreasonable. When enough buyers refuse to purchase a product at a given price, then the supplier is forced to cut prices. On the whole, a good system… sort of.

     The problem comes in when customers decide that the standard of living they merit requires more product than the US can produce at a lower unit cost than it can be produced in the US due to a lack of child labor and the given minimum wage. Companies must still provide the products at the market demanded price, so they outsource. The end result is that a large amount of products consumed by US citizens are produced by children and people being paid such a low amount that they are forced to work for 13+ hours per day, 7 days per week in a factory so cheaply built that it is not even remotely close to safe by anyone’s standards—especially the US Government’s. When the factory worker does get to see the world outside the factory while the sun is still up, she cannot see the sun (or the stars) because the smog is far too thick… from the pollution caused by the factory she slaves away inside day after day.

     It is easy to point the finger at the large corporations that have chosen to conduct business in this manner, but remember what started the whole thing: The average US Citizen believes that he is entitled to more money, more quality, and more quantity than what can be provided by the nation in which he lives. The only option for this economic presupposition is to consume the resources of neighboring nations—whether those resources are natural, economic, or human. 

     This is not new. It was how the Egyptians operated 4000 years ago, the Assyrians and Babylonians 3000 years ago, Greece and Rome 2000 years ago, the European nobility 1000 years ago... you know, all the societies that we style ourselves as better than. We hold our heads high and declare that we have no slaves, but that is only because we pay others to have them in our stead.

     A disturbing fact—even those who protest the most (like me) still vote this way with our spending. A more disturbing fact—the rest of the world is seemingly ok with it. Sure, there are protests in the UN, but the fact is, the nations that we outsource to are more than happy to have our business and financial investment. And a previously unemployed pauper now has a job… of sorts.

     And speaking of slaves: there are more individuals in slavery in the US today than there were at the peak of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade--most of them are sexual slaves and the majority are minors. My apologies Mr. Lincoln, but the Emancipation Proclamation does not seem to have had its intended effect.

     Clearly there is much that needs to be changed… but how? Is there any hope? Could things ever be different? Could all things really be made new?