Asking for the Impossible, and Recognizing the Fact

IN FOCUS, 12 Oct 2020

Björn Lindgren – TRANSCEND Media Service

Part 1: To Ask for the Impossible

In the Indian struggle for independence from the British Empire, M. K. Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar and their colleagues did not only develop and practice nonviolence (satyagraha) in collective and long-term conflicts, but demanded self-rule (swaraj), which also included a self-sufficient Indian village economy. Their greatness also consisted in that they asked for the impossible.

Today, politicians, journalists, economists, and military don’t even ask for the possible. They now drive the world into the abyss.

“The global financial capital and the military-industrial-intelligence-surveillance-mercenary-parliamentary-academy-think-tank complex, together with media industry,  and supported by our own greed, aggression,  ignorance,  and lifestyle,  now destroy democracy, economy, industry,  work, welfare, public utilities, affinity, social core, language, education, culture, ecology, animal and plant species, habitats, climate, natural resources, commons, landscapes, and oceans. In thewake come inequality, inequity, unemployment, segregation, poverty, apathy, fear, distrust, xenophobia,  racism,  nationalism, fascism, cultural, structural and open violence, war, and death.”
– Björn Lindgren

The political class has thrown out politics, equality, democracy, equity, and handed over everything to the “market” – which only exists as a model or an ideal in political economy. Instead we are met by “creative destruction” of affinity, community and society. We are encountering the law of the jungle.

In the past 40 years we have been indoctrinated to be egoistical, to only think of ourselves. We abuse work, consumption, food, drink, anti-anxiety medication, and engage ourselves in a monstrous abuse of psychology while most of our problems have a common ground and can only be solved on a collective level and together with others.

The COVID19 pandemic has exposed a strange anomaly in the global economy. If it doesn’t keep growing endlessly,  it just breaks. Grow, or die.”
– Nafeez Ahmed

We have all what we need to resist and fight this disintegration, but we are not always aware of it. Most people hold good, legitimate values, norms, perspectives, and enjoy and flourish in equality, equity, cooperation, mutual aid and democracy,

It is therefore our task to become conscious of the good norms and values we hold, expect from others, and naturally practice in the family, amongst friends, neighbours and colleagues. It is high time to begin to talk to others, discover that we are not alone, join together and realize the society and the world we would like to live in. Another word for this is democracy – participatory democracy.

We don’t need more “information.” Never before in world history, have we been so well educated and well informed as now, but we are treated like subjects and idiots in a society that publicly and privately is hierarchically organized according to a military model, where those at the top have all power but have no contact with reality, and where those at the bottom have full contact with reality but have no power.

As the world system as we know it is more and more unstable and disintegrates at an accelerating rate, paradoxically, it is easier to change. But the change must come from below. Business-as-usual is a contradiction and an illusion (see Noam Chomsky, below).

Together we can create what the elite don’t have – and cannot have – a vision of equality and equity worth to realize and to live in.

A Modest Proposal

The seed of my vision was planted in the mid 1980s by Hans Alfredson, beloved Swedish comedian, and two architects: Thomas Paulson, critic of architecture and art, and Christer Wiberg, architect. In a couple programs in the Swedish public radio they envisioned the community of the future – all built this existing, intermediate technique.

We can live in villages with 200 inhabitants in the countryside and be self-sufficient in food and energy.  Work can be done at home, in the community or in the next village easy to reach with a bicycle. Such a community is adjusted to what is needed for a viable life: a static steady-state economy that does not draw on earth resources and have a dynamic field of culture, social relations, psychology and deep religion, where we can expand without destroying the foundations of a resilient society and lifestyle.*

Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912-2009) offers such a lifestyle support:

“Our needs are few, and easy to satisfy; our wishes are endless, and can never be satisfied”, and “With a minimum of effort, we should try to achieve a maximum of joy and satisfaction.”

In our society we do the opposite.

A community with 200 inhabitants also makes a developed participatory democracy possible:

“Anarchism involves mutual aid, cooperation as close you can to pure democracy, real popular control of all institutions, sometimes resistance, leaderless resistance. Anarchism covers lots of things.  If there is one leading principle which unifies them, it´s a simple one that is based on the assumption that any structure of authority and domination has to justify itself –  none of them are self-justifying – whether in individual relations or in international affairs or the work place or whatever.  They have a burden of proof to bear and if they can´t bear that burden,  which they usually can´t, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled and replaced by alternative structures that are free and participatory and not based on authoritarian systems.”
– Noam Chomsky

Must we all, then, become anarchists?

“Not at all! Most people are anarchists, but they don’t know it!”
– Noam Chomsky

So, there is no need to become what we already are . . .

Humanity has had 300 000 years of this deep experience when we lived as hunter-gatherers in groups of 20 people, without leaders or hierarchy. At the dawn of this period, we had learned to hunt big animals, which led to sharing food with others. Something that was social and pleasant. During all these years, we adjusted our culture and environment to our needs (of our genome).

In our culture, we do the opposite. We have become frustrated, low-spirited, depressed, sick and mean because of hierarchy and status struggle.

“We are nature but have come to believe that we are different from animals, plants, water, minerals, landscapes and the universe while the opposite is true: we have evolved together, and are deeply and mutually interconnected. We can go back to nature, because we never left it.”
– Paul Sheppard

It is obvious that we can’t become hunter-gatherers today, but together with viable culture, deep religion, psychology and social relations we can integrate more and more of nature in our lives. Sherpa’s traditional culture at the slopes of Himalaya is one example of a direction in which we could go.

Since we are participating in a lifestyle and civilization whose basis now is being emptied, our identity and self-perception is uncertain and challenged. This fact offers an opportunity to take a closer look at our inner possibilities and include them in a total view that is more inclusive.

A good start is to put aside thought, feelings, memories, imagination, conceptions, attachments, and turn the attention inside asking: “Who am I?”

Literature:

Robert Aitken: Taking the Path of Zen, North Point Press, New York 1982;

Gregory Bateson:  Mind and nature – a necessary unity, Dutton, New York 1979;

Arne Naess: Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989;

Alan Ritter:  Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1980 & 2010;

Robert Sapolsky:  Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Penguin Press, New York 2017;

Robert Sapolsky: Why hierarchy creates a destructive force within the human psyche:

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and  Improve Everyone’s Well-being, Allen Lane, London 2018.

References:

Robert Aitken:   Encouraging Words, Pantheon Books, San Francisco & New York 1993;

The Practice of Perfection, Pantheon Books, San Francisco & New York 1994;

The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics, North Point Press, San Francisco 1984;

Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi: Appreciate Your Life: The Essence of Zen Practice, Shambhala, Boston & London 2002;

Walpola Rahula:  What the Buddha Taught, Grove Press, New York 1997;

Kazuaki Tanahashi: The Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Master Dogen´s Shobogenzo, Shambhala, Boston & London 2010.

*************************************

Part 2: Greed, Hate and Ignorance Rise without End

Greed, hate and ignorance rise endlessly in our mind. They rise unconsciously, blindly and take us “from behind” occupying the whole mind “scene” – the whole self and the whole world.

When we notice that we are in the grip of one of these basic forms that cause suffering and separation from our true, empty self or true nature, we can turn our attention around 180 degrees, and look into the horrible face that has us in its grip.

When we courageously and repeatedly make this inner gesture, we can see that there is no face at all!

Even though greed, hate and ignorance still are there, they are now only things among other things on our mind scene. That is, they don’t have you, you have them. The difference is like between heaven and hell.

You have made that which holds you in its grip conscious. This grip slowly loosens more and more as you, again and again, continue to make this inner gesture.

However, be aware that our task is just to see – not to push away or try to manipulate. Just see!

As the grip of greed, hate, or ignorance loosens, you can notice that the knot in the stomach is getting softer and slowly dissolves; that the breathing slows down and sinks down to 4 cm below the navel, where it always should be.

On the visible tip of greed, hate, and ignorance, they all look dark and ugly, but below, they contain a lot of pure energies available that we can tap and transform into their opposite: generosity, compassion and insight.

This transformation of our unconscious dark motives reconnects us with our true empty self. “Here, “empty” means interdependent and conditioned rising (Pali: paticcasamuppada). Another word for this empty or interconnected self is “whole”.

Also anxiety can take us and hold us in its grip, and we can apply our attention to it in the same way as we did when seeing greed, hate and ignorance. Apart from making the inner gesture, we can also begin to move physically so that our breathing opens up. We breathe like we feel; we feel like we breathe. Most often, anxiety is just lack of breathing.

Equally important to know the functions of the mind is to look into how different cultures and lifestyles condition us in various ways.

Literature:

Gregory Bateson:  Mind and nature – a necessary unity, Dutton, New York 1979;

Erica Chenoweth: Participation is everything, (interview), 14 July 2012 at

https://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/07/participation-is-everything-a-conversation-with-erica-chenoweth/;

Noam Chomsky: The Responsibility of Intellectuals, New York Review of Books, 23 February 1967, (A Special Supplement: The Responsibility of Intellectuals);

Sukie Colegrave:  The Spirit of the Valley: Androgyny and Chinese Thought, Virago, London 1979;

Alan Drengson and Bill Devall: The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings of Arne Naess, Counterpoint Press, Berkeley 2008;

Richard Falk: Is this a Global Gandhian Moment?, 10 October 2011, (https://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/is-this-a-global-gandhian-moment/);

Anarchism without Anarchism: Searching for Progressive Politics, 26 November 2011, (https://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/anarchism-without-anarchism-searching-for-progressive-politics/);

Norman G. Finkelstein:  What Gandhi Says: About Nonviolence, Resistance, and Courage, OR Books, New York and London 2012;

Johan Galtung and Arne Naess: Gandhis politiske etikk, Pax forlag A/S, Oslo 1968;

Jay Griffiths: Kith. The Riddle of the Childscape, Penguin Books, London 2014;

Wild. An Elemental Journey, Penguin Books, London

Robin Hahnel: Of the People, By the People, SoapBox Press, Portland 2012;

Richard Heinberg: Power: Humanity’s Quest for Ability, Control, Influence, and Beauty – and How It All Went Wrong, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, B.C, 2021;

Richard Heinberg: Our Renewable Future Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy,

Part I, Museletter 272, 22 January 2015, http://richardheinberg.com/museletter-272-our-renewable-future); Our Renewable Future Or, What I’ve Learned in 12 Years Writing about Energy,

Part II,  MuseLetter #273 / February 2015, (http://richardheinberg.com/museletter-273-neither-utopia-nor-extinction);

The Fight of the Century, Museletter 237, 16 February 2012, (http://richardheinberg.com/237- the-fight-of-the-century);

Stéphane Hessel: Time for outrage!, Quartet Books, London 2011;

Dahr Jamail: The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption and the climate emergency, The New Press, New York 2019.  (Se även, Chris Hedges intervju med Dahr Jamail, On Contact, 23 februari 2019:

Robert Johnson: Sometimes Denial is Comforting, the Analysis.news, May 2020:

Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow , Freedom Press, London 1974;

On the Economy of Anarchist Communism, Dimitry Orlov, Cluborlov 16 July 2013,  (http://cluborlov.blogspot.se/2013/07/communities-that-abidepart-iii.html);

Joanna Macy:  Dharma and Development: Religion as resource in the Sarvodaya Self Help Movement, Kumarian Press, Hemdon 1991;

Jerry Mander:  In the Absence of the Sacred. The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations,Sierra Club Books, San Franscisco 1991;

What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, complete and slightly edited interview with Jerry Mander in 2005:

Herbert Marcuse: Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, Routledge, London 1998;

Arne Naess: Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989;

Helena Norberg-Hodge:  Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, Rider & Co, London 1991;

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Beacon Press, Boston 2001.

Alan Ritter:  Anarchism: A Theoretical Analysis, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1980 & 2010;

Carne Ross,  Independent Diplomat. Despatches From An Unaccountable Elite”, Hurst & Company, London  2007 & 2017;

James Robertson, The Sane Alternative: A Choice of Futures, River Basin Publishing, St. Paul 2008;

Marshall Sahlins: Stone Age Economics, Tavistock, London 1974;

Robert Sapolsky:  Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, Penguin Press, New York 2017;

Why hierarchy creates a destructive force within the human psyche: 28 okt. 2012;

E.F. Schumacher, Small is beautiful: economics as if people mattered , Blond & Briggs, New York 1973;

Gene Sharp: From Dictatorship to Democracy, The Albert Einstein Institution, Boston 1993;

Paul Sheppard:  Coming Home to the Pleistocene, Island Press, Washington D.C. 1998;

Nature and Madness, University of Georgia Press, 1998;

The Only World We Got, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco 1996;

Thinking Animals. Animals and the Development of Human intelligence, University of Georgia Press, Athens & London 1978;

Message Delivered By A Bear http://paulhoweshepard.wordpress.com/twotexts/);

Chris Smaje:  A Small Farm Future: Making the Case for a Society Built Around Local Economies, Self-Provisioning, Agricultural Diversity and a Shared Earth, Chelsea Green Publishing, London 2020;

Gary Snyder: Ecology, Place & the Awakening of Compassion, Biodiversity, Kyoto Journal 75, (https://kyotojournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/kj75_ecology.pdf);

The Real Work: Interviews and Talks, 1964-1979, New Directions, New York 1980;

The Practice of the Wild: Essays, North Point Press, San Francisco 1990;

Henry David Thoreau: The illustrated Walden with Photographs from the Geason collection, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1973;

Greta Thunberg: Seriously… Summer with Greta, 10 Jul 2020, BBC Sounds: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08kbsm0

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett: The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve

Everyone’s Well-being, Allen Lane, London 2018.

Richard Wilkinson: “The Age of Unequals” – 2 feb 2011.

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Björn Lindgren is a translator living in southern Sweden.

 

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Oct 2020.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Asking for the Impossible, and Recognizing the Fact, is included. Thank you.

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