I recently wrote a piece for the Pilgrimage distribution in which I assert that our cultural response to terrorism is itself a significant factor in the continuation of terrorism (We’re Fueling Terrorism). I received a lot of very positive comments about the article. But I also received a couple responses suggesting I’m stupid, ignorant, and wrong, and lecturing me on the error of my ways from a position of moral superiority (I’ve received the same kind of comment in posts sympathetic to Islam and more recently about The “Science” in “Climate Science”). While I can certainly accept that I’m not completely right, equally I’m confident that I’m not completely wrong, and as a human being, I find it hard to listen when the lecturer is talking down to me. How must this feel for the disadvantaged and suppressed?
A therapist once asked me, “Would you rather be right or be happy?” The answer is obvious, but the point is that we get so caught up in our lives and our accomplishments, our property and possessions, our fears and our egos, that we think our happiness is tied up in perpetuation of our world system.
When we get attached to our property and possessions, we build physical systems (walls, fences, burglar alarms, gated communities, police forces….) to protect them. We build fortresses. And when we get attached to our ideas and philosophies we similarly build systems to protect them – ideological fortresses of the mind. History offers examples of massive imbalance in the distribution of wealth leading to revolution, and at such times the fortresses become prisons. Similarly at times of massive ideological change, the fortresses of the mind turn into prisons.
The ideology of the US has allowed us to become the wealthiest nation the world has ever known. We believe the system to be one of equal opportunity, equality, and egalitarianism, but when we look at outcomes, wealth and power (the hallmarks of success in this system) have accrued disproportionately to white Christian male proponents of a free market economy and democracy that they define (I should say “we” because I’m one of them!). And we are immersed in a massive system of media coverage that perpetuates very loudly that our political system (which appears to me to have been sold off to the highest bidder), our consumption-driven lifestyle, and the right to pursue accretion of massive personal estates are the path to happiness.
But this ideology is under attack.
The world is changing incredibly fast. It is happening in the rising economic and political might of China; in the growth of Islam; in the political and economic mess in the Middle East (which I see as a separate issue); and in the rapidly rising energy and water needs of humankind. It is also present domestically in the cultural transition from the dominant philosophy of old white Christian men to one of mixed race, gender, faith and culture and a much younger demographic. Change on this kind of scale will create ruptures and fractures and current US culture will find itself separated from others across these divides. Of course a natural response is to protect. The scale of change will eventually turn our protective systems – mental and physical – into prisons: have we reached that point?
When my therapist asked, “Would you rather be happy or be right?” he was pointing at the need for me to examine myself and realize that I might be wrong; that the other person might have valid points; and that there are more important things than my ideology, ego, and possessions. He was encouraging me to see that things might not be as I think. It does not take much self-examination to see the truth of this. And it is true at a larger scale, too. In the context of the massive current cultural shifts that exist in the world, it is equally important that we stop and look at what is going on with open eyes and be willing to consider both that this might not be what we think, and that we might have some personal and cultural culpability.
It is not until we can stop and look at real causes that we can think about solutions. But a couple spring to mind as obvious first steps:
- Terrorism only works if it scares people, and our media conglomerates are economically incentivized to support this monster (scaring people sells newspapers!). I have long felt that the sellout of media is a large contributor to our cultural lethargy and malaise, and believe that breaking up the media oligarchy would be a positive move;
- To counter the massive amount of negative and inaccurate propaganda about (e.g.) Islam, climate change and political systems other than our own, perhaps funding public education about topics such as faiths other than Christianity (in particular Islam); the science of climate; and global economic and political systems would be useful;
- Something more concrete and personal: the purpose of this blog is to encourage an opening of the heart in business. It is to encourage the reader to show up and be willing to engage authentically with the other. If we stay in our boxes of ignorance, then prejudice and intolerance are the inevitable consequences. If we take the lids off our boxes and start to look around, start to engage with those not like us, then ignorance breaks down, and we are better equipped to participate in the dialog we need to bring peace and harmony and love to the world.
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