By Wayne Saalman
[Photo by Xuan Nguyen]
EVEN WITH STANDING ON the proverbial shoulders of giants, few of us seem to be able to perceive that every social, political and religious institution on this planet is as much founded on a thread of fiction as on a myriad of facts. In other words, events occur and then we humans decide, via opinionated consensus, what those events mean.
“Meaning”, however, is always a subjective phenomenon. It is down to what people “make” of any particular tapestry of events, which having occurred are forever perceived to be the stuff of “fact”.
As a result, we humans choose a certain conceptual viewpoint because, we either know firsthand or otherwise that a particular event occurred and then we decide its relevance. Over time, concept attached to any particular event become entrenched in the thinking of a group of individuals, however large or small.
The trouble is, of course, that after great long spans of time, the interpretation which has underscored any particular event can set in so concretely that the notion arises that the gloss put on those “facts” surrounding the event seem inarguably true and essentially absolute.
Fortunately, there will always arise the odd skeptic who dares to question how true that consensus is. I say “fortunately” because without skepticism the proverbial mold never gets broken and entire cultures and societies just go around in circles instead of forward into a novel future.
Those presiding over any particular social, political or religious institutions over the years, generally, do their best to shoot down the skeptic in order to hold fast to their positions. They are hardly willing, after all, to relinquish their power and material assets by allowing someone, anyone, to shake up the “status quo”.
The question those in power then ask of their followers is this: “Are you with us or are you against us?”
Unfortunately, this is a recipe for the creation of what is known as “mob mentality”, for the follow up question, should one accede, is, “Will you fight against all others for our cause?”
The underlying premise of the “cause”, unfortunately, is not to be questioned once a social, political or religious institution has grown sufficiently entrenched within a society.
Words, concepts and labels, however, are in actuality mental constructs, which means that — like it or not — they are inherently forms of fiction. This is because we use words to create a belief system and then — mainly through habit and the desire to fit in with those around us — we essentially allow ourselves to become indoctrinated into a way of thinking because it serves our needs. And, yes, we all do have needs and, what’s more, our physical survival may even depend on our having those needs fulfilled.
Such a contention may seem extreme to those who have never looked deeply into the roots of civilization, nor studied philosophical subjects such as teleology or ontology. Few, therefore, realize that in the final analysis, we humans have made up virtually everything in this world. We have made it up as we have gone along over the centuries and millenniums and, as a result, the world is not as it had to be. It is as we have both overtly and inadvertently fashioned it.
Words not only matter, they generate mental constructs which create categorical and ideological relativities. For example, based on one’s beliefs, one might label oneself either a scientific materialist or someone of religious faith. This single choice of perspective alone alters one’s entire viewpoint as to the nature of reality and how one sees one’s life playing out in the greater scheme of things.
Judging by the state of the humanity at present, it would seem that most people do not realize how powerful words are and how mental constructs force us into ideological boxes, the result of which casts a shadow over everything we experience. When we repeat cliches such as “Only the strongest survive” or “Might makes right”, for example, we reinforce a certain social narrative in favor of authoritarian figures who wrap themselves in the mantle of pomp and ceremony and secretly (or not so secretly) attack anyone who opposes them. The most ruthless of dictators will dispatch assassins or entire armies to shore up their power, while those in democratic countries with a bent toward authoritarianism will deliberately flood the mass media with a certain viewpoint and engage in forms of denigration and character assassination against all who question their own entrenched viewpoint.
One would assume that such acts are transparent enough and, therefore, people would readily rally against such figures. As history shows, however, countless people turn a blind eye to such machinations if those machinations serve them in some way. As a result, humanity has ended up with pogroms, crusades, jihads, inquisitions, civil wars, acts of genocide and, all too often, all-out warfare between nations.
As most of us know nowadays, numerous cultural commentators and historians are calling this the “Post-Truth Era”, which can make one wonder… If “the first casualty of war is truth” and we are in a “post-truth era”, does that mean that we are presently in the midst of a global ideological war?
This is a massively disturbing question, of course, and one that is not easily answered.
Nowadays, politically and socially, we find that there is clearly a “right wing — left wing” split. Those calling themselves “conservatives” rail against those calling themselves “liberals” and in turn liberals denounce conservatives. Meanwhile, “traditionalists” decry the erosion of customs and conventions, while “progressives” seek a future which promotes programs which directly address the pressing issues of the day, such as climate change, inequality in the workplace and racism.
Quite shockingly, humanity still hasn’t made the world a place that is fair for all regardless of one’s race, religion, social standing, buying power, nor nationality, despite centuries of debate in governing bodies around the globe. In fact, humanity seems more divided than ever over these issues at present and that is worrisome, for this reality speaks volumes about the lack of wisdom of the human species. If after some 5,000 years of “civilization” we are no nearer to an enlightened level of social intercourse than we were millenniums ago when civilizations first arose, what else can that possibly say about us?
The more uncharitable commentators among us insist that we are obviously quite an ignorant species or, as the kinder ones opine, the majority of us are simply not all that intelligent and perhaps much too emotional for our own good.
In contrast, many wisdom masters, both ancient and modern, say it means this: Earth is a training ground for spiritual beings. They say that in reality we are all spiritual entities who have taken on a human existence. We are doing this for the express purpose of becoming experientially challenged.
In a sense, the masters are saying that life on this planet might well be called, “Boot Camp Earth”. Here, we go through rigorous educational indoctrinations throughout our youthful years, then set off into the world to fight our own battles and essentially join in with, or rebel against, our tribe, our nation, our race, the religious sect into which we were born in order to ultimately settle on an ideological belief system, the one with which we most resonate. We thus become the person we are known as by others, which is to say we are invariably labeled a certain way by those around us. In time, depending on how we conduct ourselves in the public arena, we get a certain “reputation”.
So it goes. So it has always gone and so it will continue to go. Tomorrow, as ever, will be what we make of it. What is at stake, of course, is the future of humanity and its very survival, which means that each of us needs to think long and hard about the ideological belief system with which we most resonate. We must consider, deeply and profoundly, how we label others and ourselves, and whether the “truth” we espouse is as real as we have always considered it to be.
Perhaps, most importantly, we should each be asking ourselves if the ideological path to which we subscribe promotes peace or conflict. After all, what we think, say and do contributes in no small way to the future which we and our children will actually one day experience.