Conditioned as a child to morph into a dogmatic, authoritarian Catholic, I felt sorry for my friends who weren’t Catholic, because they were going to hell. But of course I couldn’t tell them that. This disconnect, between my religion and my friendships was crazy-making.
Not until I studied philosophy in my early 20s, did I realize that my strong, rigid “belief system” was actually one “worldview” among others, with no inherent claim to mirror or represent the actual nature of reality.
As you can imagine, becoming aware of the relativity of world-views was, for me, a game-changer, and the eye-popping nature of the kaleidoscoping creativity of the mind (my mind? your mind? our mind? the mind?) really slammed home during my first LSD trip.
So I very much appreciate this essay, which focuses on identification, integration, and transformation of competing world-views as key to our survival — and thrival! — as a species.
Conscious evolution to social maturity:
Are we up to it? We’d better be.
by Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad
We believe that to better use the faculty of thought, it’s essential to understand the nature and effects of one’s worldview — specifically, how morality and spirituality are embedded in it. Spirituality needs to be “brought down to Earth” by collapsing the separation between the spiritual and the mundane created by traditional spiritual worldviews. An age-old false and destructive split separates spirit from the world, and makes the world of lesser importance. It is one reason why we are a species at risk.
A worldview is a lens through which to view the world, and if the lens negates or trivializes the world, this clouds one’s awareness of and action within the world. It can cause havoc in people’s lives as well as within the world at large. We are social animals who have been socially retarded — in terms of treating each other “humanely” — ever since entering the power hierarchy stage that came with agriculture. This phase was conjoined with religious worldviews that reflected the imagination, magic, superstitions, beliefs, concerns, fears and power structures of those times.
Old structures, many still in place, are a significant cause of our global problems and current social systems. We believe that human viability depends upon evolving socially. This does not mean becoming essentially different from what we are. It means becoming better at being who we are—at being the caring, connecting social animals that our mammalian genetic heritage allows us to be.
All our problems are relational at their core. We can become better at care-taking, seeing the long-term implications of our actions, constructing worldviews in touch with a fast-moving globalism. We can support institutions that nurture human connectivity, rather than consumerism. The enormous challenge requires a shift, in an awareness that has generally been conditioned out of us. Worldviews are central because they affect one’s attitudes toward life and the future. They lead to life stances like optimism, pessimism, skepticism, indifference, cynicism or nihilism.
West & East: Becoming & Being
Until the recent influx of Eastern thought, the West has been involved with “becoming”. The flow of subjective and chronological time is real; progress is real; separation and boundaries are real; egos are what people come with; individuation is acknowledged and valued. In the eighteenth-century, the “Age of Enlightenment” made use of reason to overcome religious authority, dogma, and superstition. So Western “enlightenment” came to mean using intelligence, thought, intuition, and emotion to understand human nature and the world more deeply. It occurs primarily through the accumulated and shared experiences of humankind, where “truth” either withstands the tests of time or is modified with new information.
In the East “being” is identified with “timeless” states that are “outside of psychological time” and has been more valued. Thought which generates a subjective sense of time and creates the past and future is regarded as a hindrance to being in an “eternal now.” This worldview envisions the unity of existence as primary, with the boundaries of individual entities constituting a lesser or even unreal order. Enlightenment for the East implies something timeless, unchanging, beyond thought, attachments or the need for personal enhancements.
Any construction of human thought is potentially fallible
We find that both these worldviews are deeply enmeshed in either/or thinking. Worldviews are constructions of the human mind. Many are pieced together through personal experience and cultural accretions like tradition, science, social climate, intuition, and desires about the way the world should be. Many of us now eclectically combine our beliefs from the global marketplace of ideas. We contend that any construction of human thought is potentially fallible and needs to be subject to revision, through the feedback and changes that life brings. Worldviews that are fundamentally unchangeable are authoritarian and increasingly outmoded. They cannot cope with a rapidly changing and diversifying local and greater world.
Cooperation and competition are interwoven in evolution
The East’s prioritizing of unity, and the West’s of duality or multiplicity both contain valuable perspectives. But each offers only part of the whole picture, an embedded tension — the build-up and break-down that characterizes the human condition. Our way of thinking and perceiving is dialectical, not in the traditional sense of moving toward a predetermined end, but in observing how seeming opposites are intrinsically embedded in each other. Each is necessary for the other to exist. They are not simply competing as exclusive realities.
For example, spiritual realization is said to come when all vestiges of egotism have left. However we see egotism and altruism as part of an embedded relationship. If doing good for others did not make you feel good about yourself, there would be far less of it. The same is true for competition and cooperation. Teams and corporations cooperate to compete better, and that’s often why people cooperate too. Cooperation and competition are interwoven in the evolutionary process, because humanity’s cooperative abilities have given us the competitive edge to reach and stay at the top of the food chain — that is until now, where our lack of concern for the future implications of our actions has put us and the world as we know it at great risk.
At the brink of self-destruction
If we bring worldview into the inquiry as a core organizing and filtering structure of thought, we enlarge the lens through which we may observe conditioning patterns. “Renunciate” practices negate the reality of the world, matter and self. They villainize thought, separation, ego, desire, attachments and boundaries. This has led to cultural confusion in much ‘New Age’ thought.
A more useful worldview would synthesize the valid parts of both Eastern and Western worldviews by valuing and protecting democracy, evolution, social justice, and so on. Spiritual activism and engaged Buddhism are steps in this direction — attempts to effect positive change in the world. It is vital that they not be limited by authoritarian worldviews, values, and processes.
Over the centuries, thinking has built the structures of society, morality, power, and privilege that have brought humanity to where it is now — the brink of self-destruction. This is because we are seemingly unwilling to utilize foresight to envision the consequences of producing more people and things indiscriminately — coupled with an overall lack of concern about how others and the resources of the planet are abused.
If we’re going to learn to live with each other in a sustainable way, we must use our intelligence and emotions to do things better. That means thinking about potential future consequences with more clarity. It includes understanding how the past is a part of what the present is now; and how the past lives in the present, as do the future’s possibilities. Our future will be largely determined by the ways our collective minds attempt to construct a viable future.
Seeing with more awareness who we are
There is much talk in spiritual circles about the necessity of a shift or revolution in human consciousness for humanity to become viable. This is generally considered to involve humans evolving from primarily individual concern to caring more about the good of the whole. In short, we should become very different from who we are — which has never worked.
We also believe a shift is essential, but think it involves seeing with more awareness who we are. That can lead us to be better at it, without negating the aspect of being individuals in relationship. The essential expansion of social awareness can only occur through deeper insight into what brought us to where we are — facing our own demise through a lack of awareness in dealing with each other and the Earth. The interwoven tension between individual freedoms and group cohesion that cannot be ignored in any solution that addresses the problems we face.
An evolution in the evolutionary process
We do not resign ourselves to a diminution of human life and possibility because the modes of human interaction that brought us to the top of the chain are now bringing us down. It’s the way evolution works — by putting up a wall that is insurmountable unless the species involved (ours) can cut the Gordian knot by springing out of millennia of conditioning and becoming a conscious ingredient in the evolutionary process. This does not involve the slow process of genetic mutation and natural selection, the age-old, relatively non-conscious process of biological evolution. Rather, it involves an evolution in the evolutionary process itself, from the biological to the social, which does involve a shift of mind that comes from a broader awareness.
Through concerted effort, humanity has gone to the moon, harnessed atomic energy and mapped our genetic structure. In art, science, sports, and technologies we have demonstrated extraordinary achievements. What we have never done is turn our collective intelligence toward making the lives of people not only liveable, but valuable and valued, which is essential for creativity to flower. If saving and elevating our species were to become the main focus of humanity, who knows what we could accomplish?
In order to do this, we are being pushed by time and necessity to evolve socially. Sustainability cannot mean going back to a lesser life, but must offer an equal or better existence, with more hope. That can only mean connecting with each other more deeply and effectively as we engage in the human drama. It includes the clarity to see that we face the necessity of consciously evolving to more social maturity.
Are we up to it? We’d better be.
Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad co-authored The Guru Papers–Masks of Authoritarian Power. The article above is a concise, edited version of the Introduction to their latest book, The Passionate Mind Revisited.