The world appears to be moving towards greater disorder, socially, politically and economically. This is observable within one’s own lifetime. It is always suspect to try to make judgments about times and places we have not ourselves inhabited. But if you leave aside your assumptions and preferences and consider your experience and that of your friends and family, it is not difficult to see the growing disorder of our lives.
I do not wish to present you with a critique of our current situation. Rather, I wish for you to consider what is required for you to navigate it.
First, consider the possibility that the reasons we come up with to explain the problems we see around us are likely to be entirely wrong. Typically, we confuse symptoms and causes. When I get up to cross the room and close the window because I am uncomfortable, did I assess my state, recognize that I am cold, notice the open window, connect that with my discomfort, decide to get up and cross the room and then close the window? Or did I find myself getting up and crossing the room and then ‘decide’ to close the window?
We need to understand the nature of sleep. In a sleep state, whether personal or on a larger scale, we invent the reasons for things, we fantasize about causation but we do not see the governing patterns. Just because I think something as it happens does not establish causation. My reactions of anger, my expressions of delight…are they not most often in progress before I recognize them and ‘intend’ them? This is what we mean by sleep.
The macro level…the behavior of crowds…surely parallels the behavior of individuals. As individuals, we charge and discharge as we go through the day. Objectively observing self uncovers the fact that much of my experience is simply the ebb and flow of unconscious reactions to my environment. Is this not even more likely at the level of the mass? This is why our social analysis and planning come to nothing.
War follows peace, poverty follows wealth, fear follows greed, confidence follows insecurity, ebullience follows remorse, as night follows day. Political movements come and go, social norms rise and fall. The process is largely mechanical, independent of what we think, like the tides.
Does this mean we should dismiss the social and political context we live in? Not at all. Should we see all developments as equally mechanical? Again, not at all. Discernment is needed. Just as my behavior is occasionally motivated by the blessings visited upon me by unseen grace, so too the behavior of others, even the mass. Can I be there to participate? Or will I be caught in my dull, practiced cynicism, assuming I am awake and above it all?
The political environment I live in, the atmosphere it creates, have immediate consequences for the success of my endeavors. If I am able to observe the surrounding atmosphere objectively, I can perhaps find the way to maintain my sanity and protect what is dear to me, avoiding unnecessary reactions and stepping between the raindrops. At the very least, I can avoid swimming against the tide when no amount of effort will suffice.
This is a path of sobriety and skill.
Emotion is extremely contagious, mediated not only by words but also by gestures and even perhaps the very air we breathe. But when an emotion has passed through its human medium, a wave with peak and trough, sobriety can have its turn.
To be sober, to be objective, does not mean to be free of opinion. It does not mean that all phenomena are the same to you. Some of the developments around me are more dangerous than others. I need to be alert to the shifting tides. To be objective is to set aside my assumptions and prejudices, look at the evidence as objectively as I can and decide where to place my attention. Attention has force. This does not mean choosing sides. The only point of view I belong to is my own.
The sure sign of a wrong turn is to lose self-awareness. When I no longer challenge the irrational and incongruent quality of my speech and actions, I know I have fallen asleep. Knowing the dangers, I can perhaps find my own path.