Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Short History of Progress

Sitting here behind a desk, doing rather ordinary work on the computer for a tool and equipment rental company, I listen to the radio. Mostly I listen to either CBC or Radio-Canada. CBC has the advantage of being broadcast in four different time zones, so I can catch programs I miss, or even listen to them a second time.

Today, I heard an interview with Ronald Wright, author of A Short History of Progress. I heard the Massey Lectures he gave a couple of years ago and was pretty impressed by his thesis. Now that the environmental drumbeat has become audible and even the most recalcitrant deniers of global climate change seem suddenly to have found out that there is truth to these rumours, his voice is one of those that is well worth paying attention to.

Wright is a historian whose first area of study was the Mayan civilizations in Central America. Although he started out by analyzing the downfall of the pre-Columbian civilizations to imperialist forces, over the course of time, he came to recognize that some of the Mayan civilizations collapsed under their own weight at the very height of their development. Just when they were building their greatest architectural marvels, they were destroying their environment--chopping down their forests, urbanizing their farmland, devoting their energy to overconsumption and useless megaprojects. This pattern, he observed, has repeated itself over the course of human civilization, at every step: the success of hunting, he says, brought about the end of hunting as a way of life. The arrival of human beings into virgin territory inevitably resulted in the extinction of many species, starting with the largest and easiest to hunt.

Of course, this self-destructive phenomenon has never before attained the proportions it has today, and it seems that almost everything about modern civilization is built around the foolish idea that the wasteful lives of consumption can not only be maintained in the rich countries, but exported to the rest of the world. Now those unwashed who have been holding the signs on the streetcorners that say, "Repent, for the end is nigh!" are suddenly looked upon as prophets. I must have heard the words religion and conversion tied in to environmentalism ten times last week.

I was not going to bother posting this, but I just happened across a couple of articles about current Christianity, at least in its evangelical manifestation. In an article about the upcoming Superbowl, The Church of Football, Robert Lipsyte quotes the infamous leader of America's "Moral Majority" Jerry Falwell saying, "Jesus was no sissy. He was tough, he was a he-man. If he played football, you'd be slow getting up after he tackled you."

Falwell hoped, apparently, that someday Notre Dame and Liberty, his evangelical college, would meet for the national championship, thus showing the nation that "the Christians are here, we're not meek and we're not going to fall down in front of you. We're here to stay." In another brilliant statement quoted by Lipsyte, Falwell says, "If ever you adopt a philosophy that winning is not important, it's how you play the game, you cop out. This is America. If you're not a winner it's your own fault."

Out of this develops Lipsyte's thesis, which is that football is the "real" religion of America, which replaces "Love your neighbour" with Lombardi's "Winning is not everything, it's the only thing." Rajo-guna religion if there ever was such a thing!

In 1955, Will Herberg wrote a significant book, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, which greatly influenced the sociology of religion in the U.S.A. His argument was this: that in the USA, certain values had so imposed themselves on the society that they were accepted by all religious denominations. This consensus more or less rendered them indistinguishable from one another, or at least nothing more than variant forms of "Americanism." Peter L. Berger picked up on this in another influential book about the sociology of American religion called The Sacred Canopy: American values themselves are sacralized and mediated through secular rituals, and all religions have to compromise their claims to be the ultimate moral arbiters and bow to the symbols of the American nation. It would be dishonest to say that this does not happen anywhere, but the strength of it in the USA is powerfully evident to most visiting foreigners, even Canadians.

To make blanket statements about the religious groupings in the United States and political leanings is fraught with danger--as are all generalizations--but it is generally assumed that evangelical Christians support the right, even to extremes, while Catholics and Jews tend to be on the left. But what is interesting is the phenomenon of religious compromise and bandwagon jumping.

In a sense, this is inevitable, and we are all guilty in some way or another. We live in the world, and religion has the function of giving meaning and value to the lives we live. If our lives are dull and meaningless, religion will find a way of rationalizing that too as God's will. But religion also seeks power and success and piggybacks on that, too. Falwell's argument looks a lot to me like an evolved reaction to the critiques of Nietzsche and Bonhoeffer, about whom I said some things in the last post. Nietzsche laughed at Christians for their weak ways--imagine thinking that love was the solution to anything! "Be supermen!" He shouted at humanity, and got Christians thinking (again) that they should hold the strings of power. And so Falwell and his ilk are characterized by some as potential reincarnations of the Nazis in their desire to make the world fit for Christ's second coming. (See for instance Christianists on the March.)

And all this is tied in with consumerism and the consumer culture--the real religion of our age. Prabhupada said it, "Work hard and enjoy sense gratification." And the kapata religion justifies that: "Christ said he came to give life and give it more abundantly!" And just as every empire of the past had both its conquistadors and its padres, the American empire has its preachers of the consumerism gospel in outposts around the world.

Of course, I would not be doing justice to Christianity if I did not recognize the great many Christians of all denominations who recognize the vapidity of rampant consumerism, who recognize that God's giving man "dominion over the earth" did not mean that he was given freedom to rape it. Wright debunks the myth of native cultures living in harmony with Nature--many of them did not. But certainly the time has come to cast off the macho religion of world domination before it destroys us all.

We were taught in Krishna consciousness to live simply; it seems that life in the West trains us up to admire opulence and to feel like sinners if we do not become rich and ostentatiously parade our pecunia. This is a deep samskara. Gaura Keshava once said that in the West, we really have no choice but to transform our religion into one that justifies the "good life." A doctrine of austerity does not win converts in Svarga.

I personally don't believe that we all need to wear sackcloth or cover ourselves with vibhuti and live naked in the Himalayas, but it seems to me that the days of consumerism are nearing their end. Whatever religion we follow, we must adopt values that are commonsensical in the current situation--even those that have been pushed through by men and women of good will in every walk of life, whether atheist or belonging to another religion.

9 comments:

anuradha said...

One more question on Plato's cave equasion/Banyan tree/my soccer analogy.

I think I do understand ( I am not really fast) what you mean roughly.

Indeed in philosophy it can be usefull to bring things to the extreme to test somethings validity.

And yes, since this world is a reflection of the spiritual world, the experiences of this world must have a certain relation with the ones in the spiritual world. Otherwise indeed it wouldn't make much sense.
If somebody would be brought up in a cage, isolated from each and everyone and each and everything, and then after his release would be confronted with our Philosophy of Personal Love, it would probably make very little sense to him. It would be something like an autist trying to flirt. (I think he would probably like to have the direct experience of this material world first, have sex, go out there, taste this world and place himself in the center of things. Being the god, the cage prevented him from being)
So to realize the value of our madhurya, vatsalya, sakhya and dasya rasas, our shadowy experiences of these in this world are, I see, of some use. The downright rejection of these as sinfull experiences (especially concerning our sexual experiences) of the past that need to be forgotten and never to be participated in again seems a bit unnatural and thus you call for a new balance, rejecting both extremes of monastic life and hedonistic liberal hippy life.
You say you are indeed conscious of a great many pitfalls in the consequence one may give to this concept. I am "putting words in your mouth", if I say that this might be the reason then that our acaryas do not teach it in this way. To protect us from these pitfalls. They have thought it out for us ,so to say, that this is not to be taught to the great masses. Better to let them supress their urges, then to let them indulge in these urges in a egotistical manner.

Mmmm.... this is where I still do not understand..... what is the practical consequence of this concept ? Philosophically it indeed makes sense. If anyone likes to call this sahajiya or JAGAT-VADA, well, I have no problem with that. You are not crazy and certainly not evil. Your insights help me, even if I do not always understand or agree.

I understand that my shadowy experiences of this world are of some value, because they are a reflection of something beautiful, that exists somewhere in a different realm. So my attitude became a bit more positive. But isn't it better to say bye bye to the shadow after thanking her for the experiences that brought you and me to the realization that God is indeed a Person with form and qualities, and then turn 180 degrees, pierce through the blinding Light and pray for the Real Thing, the Form of the Good (Plato) ?

Is this where we respectfully differ opinion or is there more light to shed on this matter ?

anuradha said...

Where Shankara has constructed a nonsensical spiritual 'equasion', because he was not familiar with the spirtual 'mathematical' basis, which is Love, shouldn't we be looking for the missing ingredient in your equasion.

I have the feeling something is missing. Personhood and Love aren't missing in the JAGAT-VADA. I think something else is missing. I do not know what it is.

Jagat said...

Thank you for writing, Anuradha. It is nice to get some feedback. I appreciate all your comments. I am having a hard time keeping up. So many things in other parts of my life are being neglected already, so please forgive me if my answers to your previous comments have been inadequate. No wonder you feel that something is missing!

Of course, "Jagat-vada," as you put it, is coming out in blips and blurbs, so it may be some time before I even make sense to myself, what to speak of someone like yourself.

I think you are getting the point. It may be that the acharyas did not think it would be easily accepted. Anyway, this is an important area that I will obviously have to return to again and again.

I notice that today, once again, Advaita has condemned me for being a declared "sahajiya." I did not expect to be able to say such a thing without a negative reaction, but I still find it odd. After all, I specifically defended the position that love between a devotee sadhaka man and a devotee sadhika woman can be the most positive element in spiritual progress. Such love includes sexuality, but that does not mean that I am promoting sexual promiscuity. I think that this would have a devastatingly negative effect on one's spirituality. The difference is subtle and yet clear.

A sadhaka bhakta loves a sadhika because of her Krishna consciousness and vice versa. It is their sharing of that state of consciousness that makes their love a generator of prema. bhaktyA saJjAtayA bhaktyA.

Of course, the potential for immorality is there. Since sexuality is the most powerful force of illusion, it is so easy for people to deceive themselves about their own motivations when it comes to sexual liaisons. But we are constantly fooling ourselves about our motivations when it comes to spirituality. We are ready to do almost anything in God's name.

I will go on saying that care needs to be exercised. However, I don't think I will change my basic position. I am not going to start any swingers' bars called "The Rasa Dance Club."

anuradha said...

Well, I guess everybody is happy you are not going to open a dance-club.
Indeed with your thinking-aloud you provoke some.
Some of those provoked have provoked a little themselves as well in the past.
I, myself, got triggered several times reading sites and blogs of different people with different backgrounds claiming to represent a similar religious tradition.

The reason you are threatening to some of our tradition is of course your strong affiliation with it. Being initiated in full by personalities most of us would like to have a chance of ever meeting, wether Lalita Prasad Thakur or AC Bhaktivedanta, and then still putting questionmarks behind some of the fundaments of our tradition is indeed threatening.
But for sure not threatening enough to be condemned to eternal hell.
Of course the big 'unspoken' in our tradition (and many other religions) is ... the approach to sex. If an anonymous survey would be held amongst 'Krishna-conscious' couples, initiated or not, with the question if they ever had 'illicit' sex with their respected devotee-partner, the answer might be shockingly revealing (the percentage probably well over 50).
Though I personally believe in the orthodox approach to sex (and respectfully differ with your engine-theory), I find your questionmark not strange and in a way more real than a lot of the hypocrisy surrounding the matter.

anuradha said...

Licit/legal sex will be something like this.......

First both partners being properly installed in marriage, must check the date of the womens' fertility. This date then has to be an auspicious date. If not, it is better to wait for the next cycle.

When all the circumstances are checked, both need to absorb themselves in deep meditation, chant a grand number of rounds, and pray for the child to be conceived on the order of guru to be a blessed child.

During the whole process both need to realize they are not the body, but spirit soul, and the only reason for doing this fleshy act is for the procreation of a God-conscious child.

This indeed is the proper way and even more difficult than practicing brahmacharya.

How many children are being procreated like this ?

To an outsider this approach to sex seems unhealthy, unnatural, archaïc, robottical and damadging to marital love. Indeed it almost seems loveless.

Indeed modern psychology suggests that sex within a marriage fullfils much more purposes then just procreation or lust. The arguments that it is healthy in a loyal and lasting marriage are strong, at least not to be waved away with a religious dogma. But also to harmonize it with our religious teaching is not so easy.

So the questionmarks you place are just, the answers are for me not yet perfect though.

Jagat said...

I was just reading some of the earliest articles on this blog. Gee, they sure convince me!

sushil yadav said...

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.


Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.


When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.



A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.



FAST VISUALS /WORDS MAKE SLOW EMOTIONS EXTINCT.

SCIENTIFIC /INDUSTRIAL /FINANCIAL THINKING DESTROYS EMOTIONAL CIRCUITS.

A FAST (LARGE) SOCIETY CANNOT FEEL PAIN / REMORSE / EMPATHY.

A FAST (LARGE) SOCIETY WILL ALWAYS BE CRUEL TO ANIMALS/ TREES/ AIR/ WATER/ LAND AND TO ITSELF.


To read the complete article please follow either of these links :

PlanetSave

EarthNewsWire

sushil_yadav

Jagat said...

Sushil,

Your post looks to me like spam. In principle, I won't have it, but since their appears to be some merit to the message, I am going to let it go this time.

Jagat

Sri said...

"Licit/legal sex will be something like this.......

First both partners being properly installed in marriage, must check the date of the womens' fertility. This date then has to be an auspicious date. If not, it is better to wait for the next cycle.

When all the circumstances are checked, both need to absorb themselves in deep meditation, chant a grand number of rounds, and pray for the child to be conceived on the order of guru to be a blessed child.

During the whole process both need to realize they are not the body, but spirit soul, and the only reason for doing this fleshy act is for the procreation of a God-conscious child.

This indeed is the proper way and even more difficult than practicing brahmacharya.

How many children are being procreated like this ?"

I can answer that for you -- ZERO.

Why? Because in such a scenario a man cannot get and sustain an erection, which requires sexual attraction and stimulation, and a woman cannot get turned on either, which is also required for dharmic (mutual) sex to happen, as opposed to non-mutual or non-dharmic sex i.e. rape. What you describe above as "dharmic" seems more like an impossible rape scenario. Impossible because while the man may intend to rape his wife in order to conceive a child, he is yet unable to because he cannot get an erection.

Without romance and sensual lovemaking, such sex is almost no better than marital rape, and I suspect in some cases it IS rape.

Who came up with all these "rules" for an otherwise beautiful expression of mutual love?