Maybe It’s Just That Most People Are Really Quite Right Wing

On the left, it sometimes feels as if we spend a lot of time in a losing battle. When the general population rejects or shows little interest in our latest set of progressive proposals and votes for political candidates even more right wing than the last, it’s common to engage in a little hand wringing, accuse ourselves of having failed to devise or effectively articulate a practical vision, and go back to the drawing board wondering how we can do things better next time. Meanwhile, the general population continues along a well trodden path of embracing war, environmental destruction, extreme inequality, mass unemployment and mean-spirited attacks on the poor along with policies tinged with racist or nationalistic overtones.

There is perhaps an inclination to interpret such developments as the ill informed choices of individuals who would choose otherwise if only they were not deceived into voting against their own interests. Or, alternatively, it might seem that people, rather than being deceived, feel powerless to effect change, and so don’t attempt it in large enough numbers. Personally, I typically adopt as a working assumption one or other of those interpretations. But sometimes – just sometimes – I wonder whether each of these is largely illusory. The unpleasant thought occurs that maybe it is not a matter of the majority misunderstanding what is, and has been, going on, but rather the majority largely getting what it wants and the left having priorities and values that are almost completely at odds with the rest of society.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a questioning of the priorities and values of the left. I count myself very much as committed to those values, only some of which are considered here. This is simply an (undisciplined, perhaps) pondering of whether the wider community actually shares these values or is likely to in the foreseeable future.

Peace. Call us crazy, but on the left, we typically prefer peace. I like to imagine that most people, even if not exactly pacifist, prefer peace to war and military adventurism. The reality around us, though, often seems to suggest otherwise. Although electorates have largely stood by while austerity wreaks economic havoc, these measures have not been allowed to impinge much, if at all, on the war machine.

It’s tempting to think that the ever expanding devotion of resources to the killing of fellow human beings is not a reflection of the popular sentiment. It is tempting and reassuring, but not necessarily an easy conviction to maintain in the face of actual developments in the world. Those developments seem to suggest that war is regarded as pretty much okay by many so long as they personally are at little risk of being killed and are not personally called upon to perform the physical act of killing. Although respondents to opinion polls typically claim opposition to war during official peace time, recent history shows that it takes little to whip the public into a frenzy of support whenever the establishment finds it instrumental to engage in another war.

If this wasn’t so, if people really despised war, surely opposition to it would be massive? There would be general strikes, mass protests. The economy would come to all but a complete standstill until the outrageous behavior was brought to a halt.

But it doesn’t happen. To the contrary, in wartime it is the critics who come under fire, ostracized with ease by the mainstream media, the sentiment shared readily by the wider public. So maybe, just maybe, people don’t care about war; or worse, actually like it.

The spiritually inclined will insist that peace is to be found within. For there to be peace in the world, there needs to be peace within each person. If so, perhaps most people are not that interested in seeking peace within, at least for now.

Environment. On the left, we typically wish to repair, regenerate and preserve nature, and live sustainably and in harmony with all living creatures. This is a priority above whatever material desires we might have beyond subsistence needs. It is tempting, here also, to imagine that almost everybody feels the same way; that they actually oppose destruction of the environment and the exploitation of natural resources by giant corporations for a private material gain that is captured by a relative handful of extremely wealthy individuals. But, in reality, at least in Australia (which admittedly is an international pariah), a majority vote for the removal even of the tamest tax on the rents derived from such activity.

True, the media propaganda was relentless. The deception was great. It was to be expected.

But people can think. They’ve got brains. They can feel, and sense, and intuit.

The thought occurs that the majority can see what it’s doing and is simply not that concerned about the environment.

Inequality, Unemployment, Poverty. On the left, we would prefer a more equal distribution of income and wealth. We think anyone who wants a job should be guaranteed one, or at the very least should be provided with an income sufficient to live in dignity and participate meaningfully in the life of the global community. We think the persistence of poverty amidst plenty is inexcusable. Some of us have no interest in having more when others have less, or even see any validity in such a state of affairs.

But maybe values such as these are simply way out of step with the majority. If not, how could the majority idly stand by for decades as income and wealth distributions under capitalism returned to truly warped profiles not resembled since the Great Depression?

Again, many are deceived, perhaps, and many feel powerless. These things could explain the lack of action. Or maybe most people just don’t care about extreme inequality. Maybe, especially, they are not interested in eliminating unemployment or poverty. Perhaps it is the suffering of the most vulnerable in society that feeds the average person’s sense of self-worth and, perish the thought, gives them a twisted kind of satisfaction.

In short, the thought occurs that the majority might pretty much like things the way they are right now and have little interest in change, except to have even more of the same: permanent war, environmental destruction, wide inequalities, entrenched poverty, mass unemployment.

It seems possible, then, at least in pessimistic moments, that there is little prospect of the majority embracing anything particularly progressive in the foreseeable future. But hope, as always, springs eternal. Maybe the current turmoil is just the beginning of birth pangs? If progress comes, events may occur more rapidly than currently seems likely. Hopefully Russell Brand is on the mark:

The agricultural Revolution took thousands of years, the industrial Revolution took hundreds, the technological tens. The spiritual Revolution, the Revolution we are about to realise, will be fast because the organisms are in place; all that needs to shift is consciousness, and that moves rapidly.

In putting up this post, the hope is that its momentary indulgence in pessimism will soon provide, in retrospect, a fun target for ridicule in much the same way as we can now laugh at the confident prognostications of capitalism’s eternal Great Moderation that were still lined up for publication, and being put into print, in leading mainstream economics journals well after the onset of crisis in 2007/8.


20 thoughts on “Maybe It’s Just That Most People Are Really Quite Right Wing

  1. Yes something is definitely wrong with people. In India people are mad fans of the newly elected PM simply because he was in charge of a pogrom in 2002. Even “highly educated” ones are like that.

    Our PM thinks that the mythological character named Ganesha who had an elephant head, has it because of a plastic surgery performed 5000 years ago. Obviously irrational but part of his story sold to the public which is described here:

  2. IMHO, Brand is correct in that Hegel was more correct than Marx in assuming that the historical dialectic is based more on consciousness rather than material influences. Hegel did not deny the relevance of material influences any more than Marx denied the relevance of consciousness. But the causal emphasis is reversed with Hegel holding that consciousness is the most significant causal factor and Marx holding that material influence, specifically economic infrastructure is most determinative.

    It would seem, however, that that Marx is asserting as historical materialism is actually a form of institutionalism, and institutions are human constructs which are dependent on the level of consciousness of those shaping institutional arrangements either implicitly through cultural ritual or explicitly through reason. In any case, the full range of cognitive-volitional-affective-perceptual apparatus is involved individually and in concert with others, subject to the now well-recognized biases that are involved.

    Following the ancient Greeks, Hegel concluded that the purpose of history is the unfolding of human potential, which at higher levels requires greater freedom and at it is highest level is freedom. Marx was trained as a philosopher, wrote his doctoral dissertation on The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. and composed his own philosophy as a counterpoint to Hegel, who was the undisputed owner of the field in Germany at that time.

    Both Hegel and Marx were apocalypticists, as it were. They agreed that history has an end, albeit different from the religious apocalypse but similar to it in that it would be a golden age in which human potential would be progressively realized. They did not view “end” as a termination but rather as a goal that is more a horizon than a destination. This end or purpose — Greek telos — is freedom. Along with the ancient Greeks, they assumed that humans are social animals and so living the good life in concert with others leads to the good society. This is the liberal society. Progressivism in this sense is the impetus toward living the good life as an individual in a good society, where greater freedom results in greater fulfillment of potential, hence greater happiness as a natural byproduct of that, as Aristotle had asserted in Nichomachean Ethics.

    Both Hegel and Marx viewed the West as approaching “the end of history” in the sense of achieving a liberal society in which full human potential could be unfolded by individuals in concert with others. This was the intellectual gift of the Enlightenment, which had been arrived at by standing on the shoulders of the ancient Greeks who seeded these ideas that they believed were not found in other cultures or at least were not manifested.

    Neither Hegel nor Marx was under any illusion about this historical process being either linear or simple. History shows it to be roundabout and messy, although the underlying rationale can be viewed as dialectical and progressive in the direction of unfolding human potential.

    History has a liberal bias. Why? Because human consciousness is expansive in the direction of greater universality. Hegelians and Marxists may argue over whether the chief causal factor is ideas or material infrastructure but they agree that history is about the unfolding of liberalism.

    But neither Hegel nor Marx was concerned with consciousness in itself. Brand is. He is a follower of the teaching of that consciousness is primary rather than matter. For a good summary of this POV see Peter Russell, From Science to God: A Physicist’s Journey into the Mystery of Consciousness (2002). By “God,” Russell means infinite consciousness.

    In this view, consciousness in itself is different from mind and can be experienced as such. The level of one’s capacity to apprehend consciousness in itself determines one’s capacity to apprehend universality, which manifests affectively as universal unconditional love. This is the spiritual revolution that Brand is taking about. And that is part of the dialectic, too.

  3. From the Parson’s Brand article:

    “In describing how “Jesus is pretty committed to sharing,” he also makes it clear that any British politician who claims to be a Christian should—like Jesus—try to help the poor and heal the sick, rather than implementing austerity policies and selling off the National Health Service. By implication, the kind of sharing Brand upholds needs to be systematised through progressive taxation and the universal provision of public services and social security.”

    Jesus is only depicted as advocating “sharing” (“with those who have none”) within the context that the economic laws of Israel were being violated so sharing “with those who had none” was necessary as a short term corrective action… the main problem remained the lawlessness born of a blindness to authority which Israel was suffering through and was leading to the economic chaos, etc..

    So this author here exhibits the same form of blindness when he asserts “the sharing needs to be systematized through taxes…” this is STILL missing the mark as it implies that the govt institution must obtain the taxes first and thus possesses no authority… which is false.

    The economic laws of Israel were not “coerced sharing”, they were authoritative laws established to make sure no one was ever without means of subsistence in the first place so no “coerced sharing” would ever be required (if the laws were being followed)…

    So this Parson’s article here is still weak and comes up short imo… if we are going to bring “Jesus” into this, its not about “coerced sharing” its about govt authority establishing laws/policies that work to prevent the injustices from developing in the first place… thru guarantees, etc…


  4. Matt, Jesus greatly extended Jewish law that was about Jews relating to Jew, for example Leviticus 19. Leviticus 19 is addressed to Israel, and verse 10 show this by making an exception for foreigners: “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”

    “Love your neighbor as yourself” was restricted to Israel in Leviticus 19:81: “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. (NIV)

    Jesus cites the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and Love your neighbor as yourself as the essence of Torah in Matthew 22:36-40, and Mark 12:30-31. The Parable of the Good Samaritan extends this mitzvah beyond Israel to all, symbolized by the Samaritans whom the Jews of the time rejected as non-Israelites and out of the Law.

    The political question today is over whether Jesus intended social justice to be conveyed through the authority of the state or through individual action, that is, voluntary charity. The left subscribes to the former interpretation and the right to the latter. In fact, the right appeals to the creation of “government dependency” to argue that the preferred way and intended way of Jesus as illustrated in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is voluntary charity as one’s Christian duty.

    We can argue about the interpretation of these key verses, but the fact is that much of the social justice wing of Christianity takes the liberal interpretation to be definitive for Christian action and cites other texts to support this view. While the social justice (Peace and Justice) is active individually in an organized way, the preponderant political preference is for government to address the issues owing to their scale and relying on individual voluntary action to supplement it. In other words they see it as a public duty of government that is on the same level as providing security.

    It seems clear that this is the view that Brand is espousing and criticizing both other interpretations and those he views as backsliders. What I hear from the social justice left is that the religious right is “mean-spirited.” I think that sums up the attitude.

  5. BTW, from what I can gather, understanding that taxes are not needed to fund government doesn’t change people minds about social welfare. The left is for it even if they have to pay higher taxes, and the right is against it on principle as creating government dependency, which morally bad for those who become dependent on government. They actually believe that they are “saving people” by eliminating the safety net.

    So I think that a correct understanding the monetary economics might only result in marginal change in support for a welfare state rather than a market state. The right really really deeply believes that nature is self-organizing and self-regulating, so that humans should just follow their preferences as long as they are legal, with legal defined as national and domestic security and protection of private property.

    There is a huge political disconnect between left and right over this. Both agree that the direction of history is toward greater freedom but they have different concepts of what freedom entails. What the left sees as leading to greater freedom, the right sees as leading to greater slavery (“the road to serfdom”), and vice versa.

    There is no common ground on which to debate these issues politically. The assumptions are fixed by ideological norms. So the political debate is over degree of compromise that is possible. Not much in a divided society.

  6. Well Tom I would tell my friends on the right that you dont see Jesus going to the Romans and saying “hey, I think you should increase your poll tax so you can redistribute means of subsistence more equitably!”; nor do we then see Paul going all around Greece and Rome opening up soup kitchens….

    So we (non-Israelites) had the guarantees in place.

    In fact in the Greek Scriptues, the word “poor” is never even seen applying to anyone away from Israel.

    Human authority delegated to us from above to write the “social contract” ie provide the socio-economic guarantees, or warranties, was fully recognized by our (non-Israelite) ancestors.

    This is why Jesus went on to commission Paul (a Roman citizen) to we of the nations and severed Paul from Israel. “They will hear it…”

    So I would tell my friends on the right and left that this is the true western (Cainite) tradition. Ie one of “guarantees” (which apply equally to all, not just “the poor”) facilitated by our ability to reckon authority and administered thru the institution of civil government. .. its not “freewill charity” (right) or “coerced sharing” (left)… rsp

  7. For me, the essential question is: ‘what is a human being’?

    The notion of ‘dreaming’ is pivotal here. We are all actors on this earth, and a witness. Our acts are our dreams: – the witness learns slowly from the impacts of the dreams.

    Seen from this perspective, humanity (as the witness) has ever desired peace; humanity (as the actors) have ever practiced confusion. Consciousness is the link between the two (that are one).

    Human beings are feeling machines in essence: when the actor begins to feel the presence of the witness within, consciousness unfolds – all of the ‘inner’ senses unfold, one by one.

    When ‘sight’ unfolds the inner Self is seen and the essential question answered.

    For the actors, the questions have always been (?):
    • Who am I
    • What am I doing here
    • What am I meant to do
    • What will happen to me

    When the attention or focus moves from the dreaming to the reality of being, and the actor knocks on the door (‘with all of their heart and all of their mind – with all of their being’) then the witness ushers in the spent actor, and introduces them to themselves – and the beauty, power, intelligence, will, love and Being of the Self becomes forever apparent. Then the duality of the actor is understood.

    There is an inner world and there is an outer world. The witness lives in the first where Time and Space have no reality, and mind cannot go; the actor in the latter ruled over by desire. The work of a human being (as actor) is to build the bridge; the work of the witness is to be, and guide its ‘appearance’ (the actor) on this earth.

    When the hubbub and miasma of the world fade from our eyes, we are quite simple beings after all. To quote Tom: ”… history has a freedom bias” IDDI!

    The path to peace has been made obvious in this world.

  8. “To quote Tom: ”… history has a freedom bias””

    History has a liberal bias because the essence of human being is freedom. The question is what constitutes freedom. Answering this is a dialectical pursuit that takes place within individuals and it is also a driving force in societies. There are many aspects of freedom that unfold on this quest.

    Meher Baba — Work For The Spiritual Freedom Of Humanity

  9. Peter

    I think your questions and doubts are perfectly legitimate and I find myself at times asking similar questions. Where we differ the most is in the way you frame your general concern:

    “Maybe It’s Just That Most People Are Really Quite Right Wing”.

    Perhaps a more useful question would be this: “Maybe it’s just that most people are really quite CONSERVATIVE”.

    The adjective/noun conservative comes from the Latin and is related to conserve. Conservative means “averse to change”.

    It’s not irrational, from an individual perspective, to be averse to change: the more you have to lose, the more reasons you have to be cautious. This may sound absurd, but in Fight Club (both, the movie and the book) there is very good quote:

    “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

    Didn’t the Communist Manifesto end with this words?

    “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

    Perhaps people need to lose what they have, in order to wake up.

  10. Excellent point, Magpie. I think you’re right. That is definitely a better framing. Plus, I like that movie. 🙂

    Great thoughts from you too, jrbarch, as always. Thanks.

  11. George Lakoff makes the point that cognitive science shows that framing is basic. The opposing forces in a debate are based on different frames. Both side use similar words but something quite different by them. For example, he shows how the conservative framing of freedom is not only different but also in opposition to the liberal notion of freedom. These frames are based on different cognitive-volitional-affective-perceptual orientations that express themselves differential both with respect to fact and value, however, it is chiefly the moral dimension of the framing that political debate is about.

    Research is showing that there are different kinds of people based on dispositional makeup that is by nature, that is, genetic, and also by tendency acquired by nurture. So some matters will be naturally oppositional and the only solutions are either zero-sum or compromise. There is no win-win. That’s just a basic fact that democracy has to deal with.

    But there are many matters that are shaped by opening neural pathways through use. This is where the programming comes in. If people are bombarded with propaganda culturally, for example, through a biased media, then those neural pathways will be opened and continuously reinforced, while others will either not be opened or will eventually close.

    This is set forth in his political books such as The Political Mind. The basis for it is in George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and It’s Challenge to Western Thought. See also Antonio Damasio’s INET Keynote Address entitled Human Decisions for application of cognitive science to econ.

    This all began almost a century ago when Edward Bernays, son-in-law of Sigmund Freud, introduced psychology into business and politics. This became the basis for PR, advertising, and propaganda. Lakoff is saying that the right gets this and uses it skillfully through the framing of its message and delivery of its messaging. The left not so much.

    Think Lee Atwater, Frank Luntz, Roger Ailes and Fox News, as well as the well-funded thinktanks like Cato, Hoover, Heritage and AEI. They even turned “liberal” into a dirty word in the US. Actually, Bill Clinton called in Dick Morris to help him with this and the result was triangulation. Now HRC is calling in David Brock, former GOP media guru now turned liberal, to counter the propaganda machine developed by the right over many decades that has been so successful in attacking Democrats and characterizing Democratic ideas as “socialism” if not “communism.’

    Framing is a key aspect of “the battle for minds and hearts.”

    This goes for econ, too. The conservative economists have occupied the place of “orthodoxy,” defining dogma and used it to marginalize the “heterodox” heresies. I am using the religious comparison with reason. They are clever enough to understand that science is the new religion and top scientists the new high priesthood. So just as capitalists substituted themselves for the feudal lords, so to have the top economists replaced religious figures as moral arbiters in society, based on meritocracy and just deserts.

  12. I read Meher’s discourse Tom and a train of thought jumped out immediately.

    If I go to a restaurant, incredibly hungry – and the waiter reads out the menu to me – then launches off into a wonderful description of the food I order and hands me the bill, thanks me for coming (hoping for a tip); hey – wait a minute – I am STILL hungry!

    If I ask a lot of questions or entertain a lot of theories, they are only useful to me if I ARRIVE at the answer. Answers that generate more questions or theories that generate more theories don’t really get me anywhere, unless they actually lead, preferably straight, to my destination. If I am given a vehicle to journey in, it is only useful to me if I reach my city – not any of the side roads along the way. If the journey is my destination, how do I know where I am along the way?

    In this discourse about Freedom (at least) Meher gives me his description of the food, tells me what is on the menu. Tells me how the actor seeks freedom but this freedom is conditional; tells me how the witness (“…the soul in man”) is in ‘woeful bondage’. Tells me how the soul must break its shackles of wanting and duress, enslaved by its bodies. Tells me that such a freedom is a gift, and that in possession of such a gift I may live for all and yet be detached. And that I should help others attain this gift even though I am still bound myself, and that this is a God-given dharma. Tells me the way to do this is through ‘service’ up to the point of laying down my life for others.

    You know, I could be an atheist or agnostic, and serve others without any spiritual ambition at all – just by being human.

    Meher then tells me the way to help others attain ultimate freedom is to make war with the actor (“the lower-self”) and its desires; conquer the actor and help others do the same. That this is load-sharing of the noblest kind.

    Then comes The Call: Meher is confident that:

    … you, my devotees, will share this burden. Many of you, for years together, have obeyed my orders and carried out my instructions, through faith in me and love for me. [my emphasis] You have stuck to me and my spiritual cause through storm and stress and thick and thin. Now the time has come for you to offer all your services in my mission of helping humanity tread the spiritual path and realize God. The eternal truth that God alone is real has to be clearly understood and unreservedly accepted, and it has to be unequivocably expressed through words and deeds. In the full realization of the Truth, humanity shall attain spiritual freedom…
    …. In this God-willed, divinely planned, and predestined task of bringing spiritual freedom to humanity, you, my devotees, have to help me — even at the cost of your lives. In your duty of helping others to find God, you have to welcome every type of suffering and sacrifice.

    I find most of this a little disquieting. I shall try to elucidate this sincerely and respectfully below, because it seems important to get straight (maybe for some):

    1) First of all and generally, I believe actors should respect other actors. It is called ‘being human’. When we look at a human being we should see a human being. We should realise what a miracle of creation is right before our eyes. The atoms that compose a human being have evolved over billions of years. They are exceptional and unique – the patterns never repeated. For one brief moment, there is but one Tom Hickey! For as long as time has existed and will exist. This is being; existence. What people do and their capabilities is something else altogether.

    Capability and creativity humanely exercised is a good thing if they produce something that is universally recognised as good. I have no time for authority in any guise. The actor should be free to live his life as he pleases, serve others if he pleases, pursue happiness as best he sees fit, contribute to his society and believe whatever he wants to believe (he will anyway); if he values his humanity he will not harm others. If he is human he will give others plenty of elbow room and not interfere or predate them. He does not have to lose everything to be human (Magpie), nor does he have to conquer the world to be human. He does not have to persuade others to follow any path and he does not have to fish for people to join any particular movement. The problem is the actor loses, through conditioning, his natural ability to be human. He is no longer proud of his humanity and enjoying of his dignity – the miracle of the fact that in a mind-blowingly expanding universe, he exists. Actors are at each other’s throats and have no respect for each other. This is illusion and it’s not something in the water supply! It is as Meher points out, the inability of the actor to connect to what is within. So, it is in the ‘what to do about it’ is where all of the concepts come out and the disquieting sets in.

    2) Anybody that does go inside and experiences what is there will agree that the witness (soul – the western word closest to it is ‘heart’) is already free, and has always been so, and does not suffer the confusion or bondage of the actor. It may come as something of a shock to some people, but the witness has little interest in the actor. It certainly has no interest in making war with the actor or placing it under some discipline or obligation. It tugs now and again (well, actually constantly) on the ‘heart-strings’ and that is enough. Actors that create mayhem in the world should sort their own sh*te out. Who else should be responsible? Everything is done through Love on the inside, which is a foreign medium to many actors. Discipline is a matter for the actor to manage its self. The witness has a more singular focus and priority. The actor desires and wants in the world and this ties him/her to the world. So be it. This does not preclude the actor from knowing what is on the inside. The witness on the other hand, has one singular goal – to know and experience, to ascend to the Self that shines like the Sun above it. The witness yearns to merge back with its source, but it is not bound. The witness does not dictate to the actor to do this or that in the world. It certainly does not dictate that the actor should lay down its life for a cause (like idiotic Govts do). Or that an actor should ‘help’ other actors find what is inside. Or make war with the actor that is I; conquer myself – and that this is a load we should all share. Why? Or that it is mandatory that ‘G.O.D.’ should be realised.

    So anyone that places themselves between the Divine and myself and starts telling me what I should and should not do I reject (in any guise remember) – why do I need somebody come between me and the Divine, a broker, self-stamped with the ‘authority of God’? Exerting this authority to control the actions of actors on the earth under the name of sevice? Ask them to lay down their lives? Manipulate their lives.

    Excuse me: my life was a gift to me – not to Meher. The attitude of the witness in my experience is ‘let people be’. People serve each other without compulsion or ideal, other than what is in their heart. Who in their right mind would want to control human beings (or own America or Oz for that matter, like some corporate noddies)???

    The actor who wants to go inside does not need theories and beautiful descriptions of the food – he just needs to know how to focus within and take the practical steps to unfold the consciousness of what is inside, practically, safely and efficiently; on his own terms, comfortably, because he wants to. Because of the enjoyment and what his experience teaches him. The actor is real, the witness is real, the Sun within is real – and the actor needs real steps to take to reach his destination – descriptions of he food and austerities are not enough. On the inside, actor and witness merge into one and freedom is their natural state of being, because that is the way it is and always was – now the actor knows it, that’s all. Freedom spills from the inside to the outside and the actor bathes in the shower, washing all the dirt out and letting his true colour shine through.

    3) The actor may need a living guide to help with this, in the same way we need a living doctor. That too is practical. When the guide is willing to teach and the student is willing to learn, then you have the perfect partnership. They do not owe each other anything. Their bond is what is inside, and each is free. Each trusts themselves and each other. A true guide gives no orders or instructions to the actor – just helps. A true guide just holds up a mirror and allows the aspirant to see what is there for him or herself. The actor need not subdue his nature or make war with himself – he just needs to know how to go inside – and with any luck what is inside will do the job of evening out his nature for him, automatically. After all, becoming human is to connect with what is within, as agreed! For the actor the world is real; for the aspirant both the inside and the outside worlds are real.

    The guide does not need little puppy dogs following him or her around. As you are you to yourself, the teacher is to himself. When the heart is ready, then the whole process seems to find its own way, like water to the ocean.

    Thanks for hosting these thoughts Peter – you are more courageous than most! 🙂

    My apologies for tearing this discourse of Meher’s apart Tom – but you know I am being honest. I intensely dislike authority. 🙂

  13. @jrbarch

    I cited that quote for the distinction of different aspects of freedom, which culminate in spiritual freedom since it alone affords abiding fulfillment in the perfection of one’s nature, what one actually is, which is the freedom of the infinite. Varying degrees of this can be experience on the path of pilgrimage to the infinite. The call to this pilgrimage is within in that the nature of the self is freedom. So one explores different aspects and levels of freedom as long as perfect fulfillment is yet lacking. At the different stages one thinks to have realized this, only to find that one’s satisfaction is incomplete. Some desire remains. Until desire is permanently satisfied there is no abiding rest, only stops at various oases on the way for temporary refreshment. But the pilgrimage comes to an end at the point of realization, which is point in time for everyone, the point at which one realizes fully and finally that time is an illusion. It is possible to experience this partially and temporarily, but then one is driven to continue on the way by the desire for abiding fulfillment, which is what only spiritual fulfillment affords according to perennial teaching.

    But now that you bring up the part where Meher Baba addresses his disciples, this was said to them and it does not apply to others, either those who take to the path of pilgrimage alone or those who go under the guidance of others. So that aspect of the citation can be disregarded even by those followers of Meher Baba that were not with him then. When one is closely associated with a master, then the master uses one in his work, not because the master needs assistance but because following the master gives one a push. But the master gives a push not only to his close ones but also to many others and depending on the mission may even give a push to the whole of “creation,” comprising the gross, subtle and causal worlds in which experience is characterized by the duality of subject and object.

    The natural course of evolution leads eventually to the realization of nonduality, but according to the masters of wisdom, this period can be shortened through the assistance of one who has already trod the path. I believe you have already experienced this through your own teacher Prem Rawat. But there are varying degrees of closeness with the master and that brings different requirements.

    What makes you, you. On one hand, as you say, you know from experience that you ARE the witness, and that witness is undifferentiated unbounded consciousness whose attributes are existence, knowledge and bliss. But Being a witness implies duality. All difference is due to duality in that the witness is undifferentiated. What is that which stands between the witness and realization that only one is and nothing has ever happened, is not happening, and will never happen. That is the illusion of duality. Even the saints that testify to “seeing God face to face” are still in the realm of duality until they realize that one one IS.

    According to perennial wisdom this illusion of duality is created by “smoke and mirrors.” The mirror is duality, which makes the subject and object appear separate. The “smoke” is the impressions that give rise to mind and its projections that account for difference and change wrt to phenomena. As the smoke begins to dissipate. This takes place as the impressions as seeds of desire get roasted in the fire of knowledge (and love is the highest form of knowledge in the manifest) and no longer sprout as desire that impel to action thereby deepening the impressions. Then it is possible to taste the emptiness that is not empty. But that emptiness can only be realized when limited mind is finally annihilated. This annihilation of mind is the place of pilgrimage. One is on the path until one reaches it, because it is the real freedom of abiding fulfillment that all long for.

    There are many caravans and many leaders of these caravans that wend their way toward the place of pilgrimage by various paths. The destiny of some is to make the pilgrimage alone. Others go with a guide. Actually, one may have many guides. One’s actual “master” is the one that finally takes one to the place of pilgrimage.

    There is no use in arguing over the path and goal, which only distracts from the pilgrimage. What is important is to recognize whether one is a pilgrim or a guide. There are many who delude themselves about this. If one is a pilgrim than one’s duty is to assist other pilgrims but not by pretending that one is a guide if one is not.

    You say, “I intensely dislike authority.” As anyone who has been reading what I write knows that I have little use for authority either. but I have learned to distinguish between institutional authority and natural authority. At an early age I realized that there were people that knew a lot more than I did and I sought them out as my teachers. But I also found that there is a great difference between teachers whose wisdom gives them natural authority and the natural authority of a master to whom one is willing to submit. This is actually not a matter of one’s own choosing either. It is a gift of the masters and masters only give this gift to those who are destined to be theirs.

    As one who has personal experience of this, you know what I am talking about. Others may or may not. But what I say is based either on conviction imparted to me, or else from personal experience, although I make no pretense of being a guide, let alone a master. What I have gained I gained to a great extent from the assistance of others, but this assistance is only in helping to awaken one to what one already really is. Nothing needs to be added, only veils removed. In the words of Meher Baba, “I have not come to teach but to awaken.”

  14. Ok. My apologies Tom. I reread what I had written above and it was a strong reaction to Meher’s discourse. There is a part of me that likes to hammer things to see if they are hollow! Shall follow my own advice and let things sort themselves out. You responded very evenly as usual!

    I would describe the witness only as pure consciousness at whatever level it is at. There is no duality in my heart. There is no path. There is just being and the Presence of that power that created everything. I do not know about that power in anybody or anything else – just in me. Most people will laugh and say that it does not exist: people like myself will laugh and say, have you ever looked? And I look into their nature and notice they are searching for something that they never lost. Like roving around a market, looking for who knows what, swimming like schools of fish. And in an ocean full of sharks.

    So because of that I say people need practical ways to uncover what is inside of them, to go inside if they want to and see for themselves. 10% of it perhaps is understanding; but the other 90% is experience. If a picture is a thousand words just one second of experience is a movie that can last a lifetime and never fade. The ability to go inside is a gift.

    I too of course am just one of the 7 Billion – just me. Nothing special. The scales are uneven are they not – plenty of people talking about the outside world, but only a few of the even more powerful reality that lies within every human being.

    Yawn !!!! 🙂

  15. @ jrbrach

    Yes, there are many levels.

    Some do not even hear of the ocean. Some hear of it but reject the idea as absurd. Some accept it and try to imagine what the ocean is like based on the speculation of others and the reports of some who testify to having been to the ocean. Some come to think that it is worthwhile to experience the ocean themselves, and they actually set out to see the ocean but do not know the direction to look. Some find the direction and proceed in it. Eventually they begin to experience the sea breezes at a distance. Then they begin to smell the ocean as they approach it. Finally they see the ocean and sit on the beach to admire it. Then some decide to put their feet in the ocean. Some undertake to learn to swim, and some of these learn to dive into the depths of the ocean and stay underwater longer and longer. Then some learn about the pearl.

    For the story of the pearl, see Meher Baba — The Pearl Diver

  16. I’ve never gone for fancy appellations about a ‘Master’ Tom (I have no way of knowing). For me a master is someone like a master of mathematics – it means (s)he can teach the subject; therefore their greatest attribute is to be a human being and make the lessons absolutely enjoyable and understandable, verifiable – to anyone who wants to know. Their job is to water the seed that is already within, and make it grow. So that you can wonder about the beauty of this little shoot unfolding within you, and know that it is real. So that it can grow up, protected, and provide you shade and shelter, fruit to sustain you – a safe haven. Looking within is not a trivial thing. Removing ambiguity and doubt is not a trivial thing. There is a lot of trust involved and responsibility on both sides. The teacher must back up his words with the experience of the student – all else is speculation. Any claims made about the teacher are superfluous to that process so why bother? They are not important. They are not verifiable. I always pass them by.

    I am fiercely independent: the only fountain I will stand under and hold out my cup to, is to that universal energy within me. I am a beggar and I know it. I dislike it when people take that power and box it into religion or spirituality. Then pretend they rule over it – ha ha ha! That it might take human form I completely agree – there are heaps of them living in the street where I live; other beings too. It existed long before the religions came along and all of the spiritual beliefs.

    In my experience I do not know of one single aspirant that has ever forgotten about the pearl – they just get distracted, that’s all. People do not realise what their mind does to them. Because of the duality of our nature (witness and actor) we live every day in both the ocean and on the shore. The rest of The Pearl is indecipherable to me? And not relevant to what I can experience.

    This is how I expressed back in 1975 – something I read somewhere and adapted:

    I used to go to the ocean.
    Sit there and get immobilised by its strength and its motion.
    Then back to the apartment, maybe only a block from the water. But I’d be thousands of miles away, spinning off in some fantasy world of my own creation…….
    Then days later I’d find myself back by the ocean, my mind rotating in its own dimension.
    A wave would come crashing through; my thoughts vanish like foam upon the water. I’d be sitting there with my revered friend the ocean, and he’d say, very kindly and very gently:
    “Where have you been?”
    And I’d say, “Well I was, uh ……. I don’t know exactly.”
    “I’ve been with you, but you seemed so occupied. I didn’t want to disturb you. What were you thinking about all of this time?”
    And I’d say, “Well I was thinking about this, and this, and then there was that …….” And I’d be telling him all of this stuff when I’d realise that it didn’t really matter; just castles in the sand….
    “We should begin now” he’d say patiently. “There’s so much to learn today – so much to experience and understand.”
    The seagulls calls merged with the light, the waves, the wind, and the Sun, – and my lesson would begin.
    (Manly 1975)

    Every day since early 1974 this is what I have done. And people say this Energy, this Consciousness and experience cannot exist. Ha!!! Try experiencing something that doesn’t exist for forty years!

    We probably should leave this topic now Tom because this is Peter’s blog and it is supposed to be about economics! Peter – I like your economics because your heart gets involved: that’s what gives it strength amongst all of the usual colourless speculation.

  17. I enjoy the dialogue between the two of you. It’s more interesting than economics. This was a good thread for it, considering there wasn’t much economic content in the post either. The occasional non-economics posts and comments keep me (somewhat) sane.

  18. Thanks, Peter. That’s the musician in you talking rather than the economist. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    I am of the view that there is nothing that doesn’t affect everything else in some way in the everything is interconnected at bottom. This is the weakness of the disciplinary approach to gaining knowledge. One of the universities at which I taught was founded on the view that everything needs to be viewed in the context of the whole — which is of course a systems approach.

    Based on his experience of the insularity of the economics profession and the conventional teaching of economics, Kenneth Boulding came to this view, too, and left the economics discipline to become a co-founder of general systems theory . Adolf Lowe similarly emphasized the need to seat economics is social science especially sociology. Picketty is now reminding economists not only that history a basis for doing economics but also literature. Behavioral economics is now emphasizing the relevance of psychology, as did Abraham Maslow, who also emphasized a holistic approach to motivation and in his later years, the importance of transcendence.

    I see three large gaps in the way that economics is approached. First and foremost an inadequate systems approach. Philosophy studies the whole, which is why I studied it as the only transdisciplinary subject available at that time. From the transpersonal and “spiritual” POV as I learned it, the whole is grounded in consciousness rather than matter. The sciences spun off from philosophical inquiry as a result of investigation of nature (Greek physis) and the humanities are an expression of the “moral” dimension that does not appear in the natural science. This bifurcation reflects of the duality of subjective and objective poles of consciousness.

    Philosophy is the study of the underlying connection between the subjective and objective, the changing and the unchanging, and the other opposites as they manifest in terms of reality (ontology), knowledge (epistemology) and its expression (logic), values and action (ethics and value theory), and affect (aesthetics), seeking the general principles and invariant patterns that underly the interconnectedness of existence actual and possible. Without examination from the POV of the whole, the result is likely to be only partial.

    Humans are organisms whose consciousness exhibits aspects that can be distinguished as existential, cognitive, volitional, affective, perceptual, and physical. These organisms interact with each other, other organisms and the environment. Without approaching this in an integrated way, the results will only be partial and perhaps misleading. Conventional economics doesn’t rest on a solid foundation owing to not only its methodological assumptions that have been criticized by heterodoxy, but also its inadequate foundation in failure to take the whole into account and to recognized the need for knowledge to be holistically based.

    Secondly, one of the reasons that economics tends to be fragmented from the whole is that it attempts to grasp the whole without employing a holistic approach, which results in fragmentation of knowledge. A consequence of this in macroeconomics is the many fallacies of composition, false cause, excluded middle, etc. It also results in conflating economics with philosophy as the arbiter of ideology — neoliberalism is actually a philosophy of life, whether it is grounded in neoclassical marginalism or Austrianism, just as Marxism is in an opposing way. The difference is that Marx was upfront about this, although so were Mises, Hayek and Rothbard — but only Hayek is considered a conventional economists. This has turned “orthodox” economics into dogmatism not unlike institutional religion or individual religious fanaticism.

    The study of philosophy has revealed that the quest for a general theory of reality, knowledge, ethics or aesthetics is a fool’s errand because the ocean cannot be contained in a bucket. Scholasticism is dead. The truth is the whole, as Hegel observed in the Phenomenology, and for him this meant that the truth is the sum of the totality of ways of observing it as concretized in action, for example, in history. One of my professors in grad school, Wilfrid Desan, developed this notion in the three volume series, The Planetary Man. The same pie can be cut may ways. Wittgenstein demonstrated the logic of this in Philosophical Investigations.

    So instead of arguing over who is correct or incorrect, right or wrong, the task is to find those insights that are most applicable based on the fundamental criteria of correspondence, coherence, economy, and practicality, and where applicable, value. Heterodox economists argue for employing many methods in economics wrt to task, but few heterodox economists venture outside of the discipline of economics. The methodological viewpoint must be broader to include all the relevant data and conditions.

    Marx got this for instance. His approach is holistic in that it includes a theory of man, for example, but that is only one insight into the subject. Since it reflects his bias it needs to be complemented by other theories, as explored by Leslie Stevenson et al. Stevenson’s first book was on 7 theories, the next, 10, and now it’s up to 12. There are many more.

    The third gap has to do with practicality. Having some knowledge of the way practical people think and act, I am struck with how theoretical most economists are in contrast. They are as ivory tower intellectual as most academic philosophers. People with a business and management background like Peter Radford of The Radford Free Press are, like, WTF? Don’t these people ever look out the window, let alone getting out and doing anything.

    Most economists make assumptions based on introspection just like most “philosophers” in the derogatory sense of being clueless about the real world and how it actually works. For example, take marginalism, which underlies most conventional economics. It’s not used in business and management because it is irrelevant. Why is it irrelevant? Because it’s assumptions are too simplistic. Companies know that perfect competition is their enemy, for example, and do their best to get a leg up through artificial scarcity. (As G. L. S. Shackle pointed out, firms seek to be monopoly power, which Peter Thiel just reiterated. Entrepreneurs and top executives know that head to head competition is for losers.) Information and power are highly asymmetrical. There are huge frictions like transaction costs. And this aspect of marginalism is just one area among many problems with conventional assumptions, as readers of this blog are quite familiar.

    So unless economics adopts a more appropriate approach to methodology, it is doomed to being an essentially irrelevant academic exercise with limited real world application that just mucks things up when relied on a “policy science.” Economists were only a minor factor in the lead up to the recent crisis and did not cause it. They just missed seeing it coming and are clueless about about to recognize the actual the actual issues, let alone address them.

    There are other gaps such as the over-reliance on formalism, but the above are the big ones in my view.

    IMV it’s not just economics that is standing in the way of real advances knowledge and its application. The first big error lies in making science the new religion. Science is a method rather than an ideology. The second big error related to the first is taking matter to be primary with consciousness an emergent property that can be reduced to material explanation.

    Without taking into account the ancient view that consciousness is primary that is again coming to the fore, using the reductionist approach alone results in knowledge being partial to the degree of being dangerous to living things and it certainly does not and cannot lead to what people actually seek in their lives as satisfaction because the theory of reality and human nature on which reductionism is based is overly limited.

    So I do not look at what I said here, or what jrbarch and I have said along these lines here and elsewhere as non-economic. Rather it is part of the foundations, which is one aspect of philosophical study, as in “philosophy of science” and “philosophy of economics.” Without taking care about the foundations, one may be building on sand.

  19. Peter,

    Off topic, buy I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

    Which Nations Conform Most?
    An account of Stanley Milgram’s experiments from 1962, in which Norwegians and Frenchmen were separately subjected to synthetic group pressure
    December 1, 2011 |By Stanley Milgram

    Note that the researchers, among other things, studied the effect of peer pressure, in the shape of group feedback on dissenting opinions produced by the experimental subjects.

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