I have been reading Naomi Klein‘s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, and it has been an eye opening experience. It has been a long, long time since I was so upended and unsettled by a book. I agree completely with Howard Zinn’s jacket endorsement: “This is a brilliant book, one of the most important I have read in a long time.”
It is not an easy book to read. It exposes the brutality at the heart of neoconservative economic theory and practice (which passes as “free-market capitalism” but in no way deserves to be even remotely associated with the word “free”). It is not as if I am unfamiliar with that brutality. I saw it first-hand in Nicaragua in 1986, where the United States government was the terrorist, deliberately targeting civilians in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere because the Nicaraguans dared to believe that they could have a democracy that was their own, and not a servant of the U.S. corporate state. I was there. I met the victims. I saw it with my own eyes and felt it in my own heart, and was changed by what I experienced.
But the depths of the brutality and greed outlined and meticulously researched in The Shock Doctrine make me feel like I have been asleep for the past couple of decades and am just now waking up to a world I hardly recognize. Like Rip Van Winkle, I have slept through a revolution. This revolution was waged, and seems to have been won, by those forces of greed and destruction that I saw at work in Nicaragua, but naively thought had at least been slowed down by being brought to light. My only consolation (which is no consolation at all) is that I am not alone. We have all been asleep while our democracy has been sold out from under us to a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations.
Read the book. I can’t do justice to its impact here.
The personal crisis for me is that such revelations call into question the relevance of the contemplative life that I live. Shouldn’t I be out there on the front lines, defending the freedom and dignity of the majority of the people against the rapacious greed of the wealthy and powerful few who are taking control of the entire planet? They are not only taking control, they are plundering everything for their own enrichment. They are taking all the natural resources. They are raiding all the public treasuries. They are occupying all the land. They are enslaving the people. “They” are probably not even bad people. Those who plan such destruction think they are defending freedom and spreading prosperity through economic growth. The ability of humans to rationalize our own self-serving behavior in benevolent terms seems to be close to infinite.
Greed is winning the day. Greed is consuming the planet. Greed and self-deception.
So what can we do about greed and self deception?
This line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65 has been running through my mind:
How with this rage can beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
How with this greed can contemplation hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than silence?
How can silent awareness and simple compassion hope to overcome the cacophonous violence that is the warp and weave of our society? Everything is against it. Everything.
Compassion, true empathy, which means experiencing the other as self, whether the “other” is of a different political motivation, nation, class, ethnicity, gender, species, chemical composition – yes, it is possible to see oneself in a stone – requires a gap in the noise. It takes a cessation of the engine of thought, of self-defense, of self-justification, of self-aggrandizement, of self-deception. We worship the self. Our entire social and economic system serves the self. The self that is incapable of seeing the other as anything but other. Increasingly, it is a self incapable of seeing the other as anything but enemy.
I guess I am a true Krishnamurtian (J. Krishnamurti, 1895-1986) because it seems to me that the “self” is the root of the whole problem. We have devoted our life energy, our economies, our governments, our militaries, our nations, our jobs, everything, to this thing we call “me.” It’s all about “me,” or at best a very minor extension of “me” called “us.” Both me and us absolutely require a “them” to exist. Without a “them” to hate, to feel superior to, to exploit, to oppose, “us” falls apart. “Me” ceases to exist.
The “self” is a phantom. It is a mind-made fantasy. We have designed an entire way of life in devotion to a phantom. Because it is a phantom, because it does not actually exist, it takes constant feeding. Does that make sense?
If your body is hungry, you give it food and it is satisfied for a while, until it grows hungry again. But a phantom can’t be satisfied. It eats and eats and eats, and its hunger is never filled, because it is not a real hunger. It is not the hunger of a body. It is the hunger of a fantasy. It is like dream eating. The self is a dream entity. So it eats and eats and eats and is never satisfied, because it only exists in the mind. So it goes on eating. It is eating up the whole planet. This dream entity has somehow been loosed on the world. It is consuming real people and real trees and real whales and real oceans and real soil, but it itself is not real. It has taken possession of a real body, and the real body is doing its bidding, and has become utterly confused thinking that the two are the same. The body, which has real needs, thinks it is the “self” which only has unquenchable desires.
I am afraid that unless we all see this, and very very soon, then all of our other efforts at reform or change or awakening or whatever you want to call it, will not amount to anything. The very structure of the self must be seen through. It must be seen for what it is, seen directly, and seen through.
I have no recipe for this. It requires a gap. It requires a moment of silence. It requires the instantaneous cessation of the entire mechanism of self-generation, which is an ongoing process that for most of us only ceases in deep sleep. It does not require the destruction or the stripping down or the abuse of the person. It does not require a form of shock therapy. It is not something that I can do to you or do for you. It is not even something I can do to or for myself. I don’t know how to explain it. It just has to happen. You have to be caught off guard. You have to be open to it. You have to be willing to see what an awful mess we are making of this beautiful life and you have to be willing to be changed utterly.
And all that is needed for that change, that total transformation, is one moment of deep stillness. For the self-creating mental mechanism to shut up for one moment, and then for the implications of what is seen in stillness to be welcomed into the mind and expressed in the life of the person. The body-mind needs to see that it is not a “self.” It needs to stop believing in its self-generated world view. It needs to see the self-illusion, the ongoing self-deception, and then set that deception aside and enter into honest engagement with reality.
It is the simplest thing imaginable. A total non-violent revolution in a single moment of awareness of the whole movement of life. But it is so simple, so absolutely humble, that it is continuously drowned out by the noise of the mind. And more and more it is buried by the violence of the machinery of the modern corporate/consumerist economy, which is the ultimate expression of the phantom-self trying to satisfy its insatiable cravings.
On the other side of silence lies honesty, simplicity, participation in the whole movement of birth, life, natural death and regeneration, true connection to the whole of everything (not the fake connection we now pretend to have through our little screens), an end to ideology, an end to enmity, and the simple satisfaction of being a living body with basic needs but no insatiable cravings. A healthy, vibrant planet; a modest, satisfying life.
But how with this rage can silence hold a plea?