“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” ~Stanley Milgram
Being a responsible and compassionate human being should go beyond status quo staples and the illusion of authority. It should trump cultural platitudes and institutional mores. It should supersede societal norms and unhealthy laws. Lest we falter as a species, stagnant and devolved, it must triumph over the attempted bureaucracy of the human condition.
It is for this matter that difficult voluntarism has always been the solution to easy soft slavery. Deep empathy has forever been the cure to shallow psychopathy.
Being a responsible human being requires one to take on the difficult endeavor of empathy, compassion and tolerance despite the easier route of indifference, apathy and intolerance. Sure, it’s easier to turn a blind eye to injustice and it’s difficult to fight for justice, but it’s healthier for humanity as a whole, and more moral for the individual, to take upon the difficult yet responsible task of fighting for healthy justice.
Compassion Versus Intolerance:
“The habits you created to survive will no longer serve you when it’s time to thrive. Get out of survival mode. New habits, new life.” ~Ebonee Davis
Being compassionate toward others is the foundation of voluntarism. But it’s also the most difficult part. It takes work to be compassionate. It’s difficult to be courageously soft with others in a world that conditions you to be invulnerable and hard toward others.
It’s easier to just remain hard and intolerant, cowardly and contained, law-abiding and culturally conditioned. It’s easier to just bury your head in the sand while some so-called authority attempts to dictate to you whose sand it is. It’s easier to unquestioningly follow outdated, immoral and unjust laws that don’t work for healthy human beings than it is to question and attempt to update those laws to work in accordance with universal laws like the Golden Rule and the Non-aggression Principle.
When it comes down to it, having compassion for others is having compassion for ourselves. We are social creatures after all. We need each other. But it goes deeper than that: we need each other in order to be each other. Remember: self-as-world and world-as-self. We’re all connected.
If the immediate culture is unhealthy and based upon outdated, immoral and unjust laws then it is paramount that free, healthy and compassionate individuals seek to change those laws by shining their courageous light through civil disobedience and non-violent rebellion despite any and all so-called authorities. Change for the better despite fixed systems has always come from individuals rising-up and rebelling against outdated reasoning. For, as Tom Morello said, “the system cannot be fixed by the system.”
Consent Versus Rape:
“When freedom is outlawed only outlaws will be free.” ~ Anonymous
If compassion is the foundation of voluntarism then consent is its backbone. Without consent there is only rape. Lest we allow rape, consent is paramount. Voluntary consent is allowing free individuals to live free lives based upon the Non-aggression Principle while being unobstructed by laws that are not in accordance with Universal Laws.
It’s simple: The difference between robbery and a good trade is consent. The difference between murder and assisted death is consent. The difference between rape and a healthy sexual encounter is consent. The difference between oppression and freedom is consent. The difference between coercion and voluntarism is consent. Consent is everything.
If I don’t want to trade my dollar for your twinkie and you steal my dollar anyway, that’s robbery because I did not consent. If I don’t want to have sex with you but you have sex with me when I’m unconscious, that’s rape because I did not consent. If I feel that your arbitrary law is immoral and you force me to follow it anyway, that’s oppression because I did not consent. If I don’t want to give up my money to your arbitrary tax system but you force me to do so anyway that’s coercion because I did not give my consent.
In order to be a healthy, responsible, moral, and just human being, you must allow others to be free to give their consent. Otherwise, you are on the slippery slope into tyranny. If you believe that people should be forced into doing things against their will through threat of violence then you are not a healthy, responsible, moral and just human being. It really is that simple.
As such, statists tend to be those who believe that people should be forced into doing things against their will through threat of violence. This not only violates consent, it also violates the Non-aggression principle, the Golden Rule and the Universal Laws that govern healthy survival. Therefore, statists and the statism they prop up as the be-all-end-all to human governance, are indirectly, and perhaps inadvertently, unhealthy, irresponsible, immoral, and unjust human beings.
Self-Defense Versus Violence:
“Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are.” ~Niels Bohr
When it comes to self-defense, the majority of us have been tricked –either by political propaganda or by Kung Fu movies– into thinking that it means having an overreaching offense. It doesn’t. It’s not like it’s Opposite Day. Self-defense means self-defense. As soon as your so-called self-defense begins to overreach and hinder other people’s freedoms, it is no longer self-defense. It then becomes offensive offense.
This applies to police and militaries just as much as it applies to individuals. As soon as your so-called defense-minded policing/military forces it’s arbitrary laws onto another individual, village, county, state, or nation, it is no longer defense-minded. It then becomes offense-minded and offensive to the freedom of others.
An individual, a military, or a police force that has become offense-minded and which pushes its arbitrary laws upon others who have not given their consent is no longer peaceful and moral but violent and immoral as per the Non-aggression Principle, the Golden Rule, and the Universal Laws of healthy survival. Such an individual, military, or police force has thus become intolerant rather than compassionate and holds violence in a higher regard than individual consent. Therefore, such and individual, military, or police force is unhealthy, irresponsible immoral, and unjust.
Again, it really is that simple. And no amount of grappling and losing to your cognitive dissonance is going to get you off the hook. The hook is very real, and only you can decide to regard it as such, do the right thing and make some healthy changes; or just turn a blind eye, bury your head in the sand, and continue to be an unhealthy, intolerant, immoral, apathetic human being who disregards the consent of others by giving into a violent system that violates the Non-aggression Principle, the Golden Rule, and the Universal Laws of healthy survival. The choice is yours.
In the end, hard and difficult voluntarism versus soft and easy slavery is freedom versus tyranny. On the surface, it seems like it’s easy to choose sides. But, as you’ve no doubt found, you’ll have to recondition your cultural conditioning, un-wash the political brainwash, and untangle the knot of statist indoctrination that has you all tied-up and confused about the difference between healthy and unhealthy, tolerance and apathy, consent and violence, freedom and tyranny, and good and evil.
Only then can you be sound enough of mind to make a responsible choice regarding the future of humanity. Only then can you discover the guts and the wherewithal it will require to take a leap of courage outside of your all-too-comfortable, all-too-secure, all-too-safe, all-too-fattening statist comfort zone.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
This article (Hard Voluntarism (Empathy) vs. Soft Slavery (Psychopathy)) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Anna Hunt and WakingTimes.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this copyright statement.
New Study Finds “Healing Energy” Can Be Stored & Used To Change Cancer Cells In Vitro
- A new study has found that healing intention and energy can be stored and used to treat breast cancer cells in vitro. It’s one of many examples of mind-matter interaction, and mind-body connection.
- Reflect On:Why are these types of results so unbelievable that mainstream science continues to ignore the possibility? Today, is science really science, or has much of it become dogma?
Healing energy” is something that many health professionals still roll their eyes at. However, more and more health professionals and countless numbers of scientists are creating more awareness about it, due to the fact that the results and the science simply speak for themselves.
Not many people know this, but the “mind-body” connection and “healing-at-a-distance” actually have more statistically significant results when it comes to healing than most of the science used to approve our medications. Healing at a distance is simply someone directing their attention towards the ill, with a healing intention. This is one form of mind-matter interaction that has been documented repeatedly by science.
For example, as far back as 1999, statistics professor Jessica Utts at UC Irvine published a paper showing that parapsychological experiments have helped to prevent heart attacks more than a daily dose of aspirin . Utts also showed that these results are much better than the research behind various drugs like antiplatelets, for example.
There are numerous examples, and literally, thousands of peer-reviewed publications in the area of parapsychology and quantum physics that demonstrate without a doubt that yes, mind and matter do interact. How they interact, and the nature of these interactions is what we are studying now, which is one of many reasons why so many notable scientists have been gathering for years emphasizing that matter is not the only reality.
Now, a new study published in SAG Journals entitled Transcriptional Changes In Cancer Cells Induced By Exposure To A Healing Method has examined the effect that healing intention can have on cancer cells in vitro. The goal of the study was to assess if stored or recorded energy has an impact on breast cancer cells by using energy-charged cotton and electromagnetic recording of healers practicing the method.
When it comes to healing, the study points out:
Virtually all recorded societies report that certain individuals appear to have the ability to heal. Oftentimes this healing has been associated with spiritual disciples of one sort or another, and the healers themselves have sometimes been accorded a special status within the culture. Healers have utilized various methods of practice, including laying on of hands, prayer and induced altered states of consciousness, to name a few. Hippocrates, referred to this healing as “the force which flows from many people’s hands.”
This type of healing has been practised in various cultures throughout human history, especially in Buddhism. Ancient texts in this area are full of stories of people with exceptional abilities, but what’s even more exciting is that we actually have real-world examples today that can’t really be debunked.
For example, when talking about modern-day research, one of the pioneers in this area was a biologist by the name of Bernard Grad of McGill University. In controlled experiments, he discovered that certain people could actually influence the germination of plant seeds, make plants grow at a faster rate as well as influence the curing of seeds that had been shocked by saline solution. Furthermore, he was able to measure the ability of healers to reduce goiter and stimulate wound healing in mice. (source) (source)(source)
What’s interesting about that particular study is that it wasn’t the only one. A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, as seen in the US National Library of Medicine, demonstrated that a woman with special abilities was about to accelerate the germination of seeds for the purposes of developing a more robust seed stock. Her name was Chulin Sun, and she entered into a deep trance-like state which sprouts dry seeds in 20 minutes, compared to the normal 3 to 4 days. You can read more about her and access that study here.
The Science Is There
The cancer study mentioned above goes on to provide more examples:
Since Grad’s initial work, there have been innumerable preclinical studies of healing, sometimes categorized by the target of the intended healing. Benor, for example, discusses healing action on enzymes, cells in the laboratory, fungi/yeasts, bacteria, plants, single-cell organisms, and animals that have been subjected to controlled study. The proliferation of healing studies has continued to rise in recent years. At present, there are several peer-reviewed journals devoted exclusively to the burgeoning field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), publishing both preclinical and controlled clinical studies of healing of a wide variety of conditions. In addition, there is an increasing number of peer-reviewed journals which are not focused exclusively on CAM but that are open to publishing controlled studies in these areas.
Scientists used energy-charged cotton to store healing intention from several self-proclaimed “healers,” and they discovered that of the cells that were exposed to an electromagnetic recording, 37 genes of the 167 tested showed a statistically significant change compared to the control, and 68 genes showed statistically significant fold changes.
Two genes, ATP citrate lyase (ACLY) and interleukin 1β (IL-1β), were consistently downregulated at 4 and 24 hours of expoure to the recording, respectively, in 3 independent experiments. Both acly and IL-1β were also downregulated in cells exposed to a hands-on delivery of the method, suggesting these 2 genes as potential markers of the healing method.
When it was all said and done, the study clearly indicated that there is at least some biological response that has been stimulated by the healer as well as the recording of the healing energy. No matter how small, the effect was there in this study and it has huge implications.
“The consequences of that genomics effect, and the careful evaluation of the several components to induce them, require further study. Multiple questions need to be addressed, such as exposure time of subjects to energy recordings, the composition of the recording itself, what equipment can best capture the healer’s input, and so on. Efforts to find the answers to these questions are underway.
The key takeaway points and conclusions that can be drawn from the study are as follows:
- Reproducible biologic changes have been induced by healing energy, whether by direct hands-on healing or using a recording of healing activity.
2. Healing intention can be captured and released, thereby potentially allowing the phenomenon to be more widely disseminated.
3. Hands-on delivery of the healing intention is stronger than the recording used in this study, suggesting the possibility that the recording did not fully capture the healing potential.
Related CE Podcast: #12 – The Rise of Post Material Science w/ Dr Natalie Trent
Going Deeper Into Consciousness
Studies like these are a great way to reach the mainstream, with credibility, expand minds, plant seeds, and show that yes, mind/matter interaction is actually very real, and it’s been demonstrated repeatedly. The fact that black budgets and highly classified government programs utilized parapsychology, while the mainstream ridicules it, says more than enough.
When it comes to healing, perhaps this is why more and more people are gravitating to alternative forms of medicine. An article written by Garth Cook from Scientific American even shows how this information is finally making its way into the mainstream. To instantly brush this stuff off is harming our progress, and possibly a lot of people.
A growing body of scientific research suggests that our mind can play an important role in healing our body – or in staying healthy in the first place….There are now several lines of research suggesting that our mental perception of the world constantly informs and guides our immune system in a way that makes us better able to respond to future threats. That was a short ‘aha’ moment for me – where the idea of an entwined system of mind and body suddenly made more scientific sense than an ephemeral consciousness that’s somehow separated from our physical levels.
In Vitro Study
I go into even more detail in this article I published at the beginning of last year: This is How Powerful The Mind-Body Connection Really Is
The limiting thing about an in vitro study is that it’s not an actual biological organism. That being said, the biological organism that’s accepting distant healing, or healing energy from another person, would be most successful when open to the possibility that it could actually be working. The Placebo effect is very interesting and demonstrates beyond a doubt that consciousness can play an enormous role in healing the body.
There are many examples of the Placebo effect, and it works simply because the patient is firm in their belief that something is going to work–especially when it’s beyond belief, and more like a ‘knowing’.
Consciousness is huge when it comes to healing, and the receiver of the healing plays a vital role, maybe even more than the one who is sending the healing intention, as demonstrated by numerous studies on the placebo effect. We’ve written about it multiple times in a couple of heavily sourced articles you can check out below:
What If Everything We Know About Depression Was Wrong? [Video]
- The Facts:There is a lot more to depression than currently meets the eye. If it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, then there is still something that is causing it. It’s time to dig deeper and shed some light on this issue that affects millions worldwide.
- Reflect On:Why are we more depressed now more than ever? Our current society isn’t set up for us all to have a fair chance of living the best possible life imaginable.
It is no secret, the amount of people who are suffering from mild to severe depression is astronomical, at an all-time high. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that over 300 Million people around the world have some form of depression. Not to mention many sufferers go undiagnosed. What is going on here? Science tells us that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but why are we seeing the rise illness at such alarming rates? Perhaps, it’s time to rethink what we think we know about depression.
Is it possible that it is not our brains that are causing us to be depressed, but rather our society? We do not have our basic needs met, we have to work hard to afford to live, often doing jobs in which we have no passion for. We have debt that keeps us completely enslaved to this whole never-ending cycle, and through all this, we are expected to be feel good?
Whether we are working a job with a 6-figure salary or a minimum wage job, many of us are still depressed. Money won’t make us happy, although this is what we are often led to believe. Even those pulling in large salaries find it difficult to find the time to spend with their families, or do something that they are passionate about or brings them joy.
Why are we the only species on the planet that has to pay for our food, water, and shelter? This is such a simple question that is rarely asked.
Now this isn’t to say we blame our society for how we feel, because ultimately WE have control over how we feel. It’s simply that our environment makes it no easier. True peace, is found within, yet our society is pushed to be so distracted that we find little time to go within and find that peace. Instead we’re in constant survival mode.
Opening Up The Dialogue
The video below is a brilliant explanation by author, Johann Hari. He describes an alternate view of what is really causing us to be so depressed in the first place. He has suffered from depression as well and was convinced that this issue was all in his head — the chemical imbalance we hear so much about. He felt it was a sign of weakness and was ashamed of his condition.
After being prescribed anti-depressant medication and being on the highest dose possible, Hari was still suffering. This is what led him to realize that there had to be more to this issue than a chemical imbalance. After all, what kept causing these feelings to reemerge?
Check out the video below to hear the insight he’s gained after years of studying the true causes of depression.
Where Do We Go From Here?
By talking about this issue, in-depth, and opening up this dialogue, perhaps we can gain new insight in regards to what we can actually do to begin to try and solve this problem. We don’t have to live a life of despair and hopelessness, there are solutions to this issue and at the very least it’s worth a shot, especially when it seems as though all else has failed.
If there is a chemical imbalance within the brain, something has caused that, and as said in the video, there are a number of different things that may be contributing to that. Lack of nature, connection, purpose, holding on to grief, shame, and trauma. As mentioned, we also spend little time turning within and truly reflecting on self. This is probably the greatest relief found in moving beyond depression.
Can we find out what is truly ailing us in order to let it go so we can move on with our lives and thrive as we were meant to?
Our New, Happy Life? The Ideology of Development
In George Orwell’s 1984, there is a moment when the Party announces an “increase” in the chocolate ration – from thirty grams to twenty. No one except for the protagonist, Winston, seems to notice that the ration has gone down not up.
‘Comrades!’ cried an eager youthful voice. ‘Attention, comrades! We have glorious news for you. We have won the battle for production! Returns now completed of the output of all classes of consumption goods show that the standard of living has risen by no less than 20 percent over the past year. All over Oceania this morning there were irrepressible spontaneous demonstrations when workers marched out of factories and offices and paraded through the streets with banners voicing their gratitude to Big Brother for the new, happy life which his wise leadership has bestowed upon us.
The newscaster goes on to announce one statistic after another proving that everything is getting better. The phrase in vogue is “our new, happy life.” Of course, as with the chocolate ration, it is obvious that the statistics are phony.
Those words, “our new, happy life,” came to me as I read two recent articles, one by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times and the other by Stephen Pinker in the Wall Street Journal, both of which asserted, with ample statistics, that the overall state of humanity is better now than at any time in history. Fewer people die in wars, car crashes, airplane crashes, even from gun violence. Poverty rates are lower than ever recorded, life expectancy is higher, and more people than ever are literate, have access to electricity and running water, and live in democracies.
Like in 1984, these articles affirm and celebrate the basic direction of society. We are headed in the right direction. With smug assurance, they tell us that thanks to reason, science, and enlightened Western political thinking, we are making strides toward a better world.
Like in 1984, there is something deceptive in these arguments that so baldly serve the established order.
Unlike in 1984, the deception is not a product of phony statistics.
Before I describe the deception and what lies on the other side of it, I want to assure the reader that this essay will not try to prove that things are getting worse and worse. In fact, I share the fundamental optimism of Kristof and Pinker that humanity is walking a positive evolutionary path. For this evolution to proceed, however, it is necessary that we acknowledge and integrate the horror, the suffering, and the loss that the triumphalist narrative of civilizational progress skips over.
What hides behind the numbers
In other words, we need to come to grips with precisely the things that Stephen Pinker’s statistics leave out. Generally speaking, metrics-based evaluations, while seemingly objective, bear the covert biases of those who decide what to measure, how to measure it, and what not to measure. They also devalue those things which we cannot measure or that are intrinsically unmeasurable. Let me offer a few examples.
Nicholas Kristof celebrates a decline in the number of people living on less than two dollars a day. What might that statistic hide? Well, every time an indigenous hunter-gatherer or traditional villager is forced off the land and goes to work on a plantation or sweatshop, his or her cash income increases from zero to several dollars a day. The numbers look good. GDP goes up. And the accompanying degradation is invisible.
For the last several decades, multitudes have fled the countryside for burgeoning cities in the global South. Most had lived largely outside the money economy. In a small village in India or Africa, most people procured food, built dwellings, made clothes, and created entertainment in a subsistence or gift economy, without much need for money. When development policies and the global economy push entire nations to generate foreign exchange to meet debt obligations, urbanization invariably results. In a slum in Lagos or Kolkata, two dollars a day is misery, where in the traditional village it might be affluence. Taking for granted the trend of development and urbanization, yes, it is a good thing when those slum dwellers rise from two dollars a day to, say, five. But the focus on that metric obscures deeper processes.
Kristof asserts that 2017 was the best year ever for human health. If we measure the prevalence of infectious diseases, he is certainly right. Life expectancy also continues to rise globally (though it is leveling off and in some countries, such as the United States, beginning to fall). Again though, these metrics obscure disturbing trends. A host of new diseases such as autoimmunity, allergies, Lyme, and autism, compounded with unprecedented levels of addiction, depression, and obesity, contribute to declining physical vitality throughout the developed world, and increasingly in developing countries too. Vast social resources – one-fifth of GDP in the US – go toward sick care; society as a whole is unwell.
Both authors also mention literacy. What might the statistics hide here? For one, the transition into literacy has meant, in many places, the destruction of oral traditions and even the extinction of entire non-written languages. Literacy is part of a broader social repatterning, a transition into modernity, that accompanies cultural and linguistic homogenization. Tens of millions of children go to school to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic; history, science, and Shakespeare, in places where, a generation before, they would have learned how to herd goats, grow barley, make bricks, weave cloth, conduct ceremonies, or bake bread. They would have learned the uses of a thousand plants and the songs of a hundred birds, the words of a thousand stories and the steps to a hundred dances. Acculturation to literate society is part of a much larger change. Reasonable people may differ on whether this change is good or bad, on whether we are better off relying on digital social networks than on place-based communities, better off recognizing more corporate logos than local plants and animals, better off manipulating symbols rather than handling soil. Only from a prejudiced mindset could we say, though, that this shift represents unequivocal progress.
My intention here is not to use written words to decry literacy, deliciously ironic though that would be. I am merely observing that our metrics for progress encode hidden biases and neglect what won’t fit comfortably into the worldview of those who devise them. Certainly, in a society that is already modernized, illiteracy is a terrible disadvantage, but outside that context, it is not clear that a literate society – or its extension, a digitized society – is a happy society.
The immeasurability of happiness
Biases or no, surely you can’t argue with the happiness metrics that are the lynchpin of Pinker’s argument that science, reason, and Western political ideals are working to create a better world. The more advanced the country, he says, the happier people are. Therefore the more the rest of the world develops along the path we blazed, the happier the world will be.
Unfortunately, happiness statistics encode as assumptions the very conclusions the developmentalist argument tries to prove. Generally speaking, happiness metrics comprise two approaches: objective measures of well-being, and subjective reports of happiness. Well-being metrics include such things as per-capita income, life expectancy, leisure time, educational level, access to health care, and many of the other accouterments of development. In many cultures, for example, “leisure” was not a concept; leisure in contradistinction to work assumes that work itself is as it became in the Industrial Revolution: tedious, degrading, burdensome. A culture where work is not clearly separable from life is misjudged by this happiness metric; see Helena Norberg-Hodge’s marvelous film Ancient Futures for a depiction of such a culture, in which, as the film says, “work and leisure are one.”
Encoded in objective well-being metrics is a certain vision of development; specifically, the mode of development that dominates today. To say that developed countries are therefore happier is circular logic.
As for subjective reports of individual happiness, individual self-reporting necessarily references the surrounding culture. I rate my happiness in comparison to the normative level of happiness around me. A society of rampant anxiety and depression draws a very low baseline. A woman told me once, “I used to consider myself to be a reasonably happy person until I visited a village in Afghanistan near where I’d been deployed in the military. I wanted to see what it was like from a different perspective. This is a desperately poor village,” she said. “The huts didn’t even have floors, just dirt which frequently turned to mud. They barely even had enough food. But I have never seen happier people. They were so full of joy and generosity. These people, who had nothing, were happier than almost anyone I know.”
Whatever those Afghan villagers had to make them happy, I don’t think shows up in Stephen Pinker’s statistics purporting to prove that they should follow our path. The reader may have had similar experiences visiting Mexico, Brazil, Africa, or India, in whose backwaters one finds a level of joy rare amidst the suburban boxes of my country. This, despite centuries of imperialism, war, and colonialism. Imagine the happiness that would be possible in a just and peaceful world.
I’m sure my point here will be unpersuasive to anyone who has not had such an experience first-hand. You will think, perhaps, that maybe the locals were just putting on their best face for the visitor. Or maybe that I am seeing them through romanticizing “happy-natives” lenses. But I am not speaking here of superficial good cheer or the phony smile of a man making the best of things. People in older cultures, connected to community and place, held close in a lineage of ancestors, woven into a web of personal and cultural stories, radiate a kind of solidity and presence that I rarely find in any modern person. When I interact with one of them, I know that whatever the measurable gains of the Ascent of Humanity, we have lost something immeasurably precious. And I know that until we recognize it and turn toward its recovery, that no further progress in lifespan or GDP or educational attainment will bring us closer to any place worth going.
What other elements of deep well-being elude our measurements? Authenticity of communication? The intimacy and vitality of our relationships? Familiarity with local plants and animals? Aesthetic nourishment from the built environment? Participation in meaningful collective endeavors? Sense of community and social solidarity? What we have lost is hard to measure, even if we were to try. For the quantitative mind, the mind of money and data, it hardly exists. Yet the loss casts a shadow on the heart, a dim longing that no assurance of new, happy life can assuage.
While the fullness of this loss – and, by implication, the potential in its recovery – is beyond measure, there are nonetheless statistics, left out of Pinker’s analysis, that point to it. I am referring to the high levels of suicide, opioid addiction, meth addiction, pornography, gambling, anxiety, and depression that plague modern society and every modernizing society. These are not just random flies that have landed in the ointment of progress; they are symptoms of a profound crisis. When community disintegrates, when ties to nature and place are severed, when structures of meaning collapse, when the connections that make us whole wither, we grow hungry for addictive substitutes to numb the longing and fill the void.
The loss I speak of is inseparable from the very institutions – science, technology, industry, capitalism, and the political ideal of the rational individual – that Stephen Pinker says have delivered humanity from misery. We might be cautious, then, about attributing to these institutions certain incontestable improvements over Medieval times or the early Industrial Revolution. Could there be another explanation? Might they have come despite science, capitalism, rational individualism, etc., and not because of them?
The empathy hypothesis
One of the improvements Stephen Pinker emphasizes is a decline in violence. War casualties, homicide, and violent crime, in general, have fallen to a fraction of their levels a generation or two ago. The decline in violence is real, but should we attribute it, as Pinker does, to democracy, reason, rule of law, data-driven policing, and so forth? I don’t think so. Democracy is no insurance against war – in fact, the United States has perpetrated far more military actions than any other nation in the last half-century. And is the decline in violent crime simply because we are better able to punish and protect ourselves from each other, clamping down on our savage impulses with the technologies of deterrence?
I have another hypothesis. The decline in violence is not the result of perfecting the world of the separate, self-interested rational subject. To the contrary: it is the result of the breakdown of that story, and the rise of empathy in its stead.
In the mythology of the separate individual, the purpose of the state was to ensure a balance between individual freedom and the common good by putting limits on the pursuit of self-interest. In the emerging mythology of interconnection, ecology, and interbeing, we awaken to the understanding that the good of others, human and otherwise, is inseparable from our own well-being.
The defining question of empathy is, What is it like to be you? In contrast, the mindset of war is the othering, the dehumanization and demonization of people who become the enemy. That becomes more difficult the more accustomed we are to considering the experience of another human being. That is why war, torture, capital punishment, and violence have become less acceptable. It is not that they are “irrational.” To the contrary: establishment think tanks are quite adept at inventing highly rational justifications for all of these.
In a worldview in which competing self-interested actors is axiomatic, what is “rational” is to outcompete them, dominate them, and exploit them by any means necessary? It was not advances in science or reason that abolished the 14-hour workday, chattel slavery, or debtors’ prisons.
The worldview of ecology, interdependence, and interbeing offers different axioms on which to exercise our reason. Understanding that another person has an experience of being, and is subject to circumstances that condition their behavior, makes us less able to dehumanize them as a first step in harming them. Understanding that what happens to the world in some way happens to ourselves, reason no longer promotes war. Understanding that the health of soil, water, and ecosystems is inseparable from our own health, reason no longer urges their pillage.
In a perverse way, science & technology cheerleaders like Stephen Pinker are right: science has indeed ended the age of war. Not because we have grown so smart and so advanced over primitive impulses that we have transcended it. No, it is because science has brought us to such extremes of savagery that it has become impossible to maintain the myth of separation. The technological improvements in our capacity to murder and ruin make it increasingly clear that we cannot insulate ourselves from the harm we do to the other.
It was not primitive superstition that gave us the machine gun and the atomic bomb. Industry was not an evolutionary step beyond savagery; it applied savagery at an industrial scale. Rational administration of organizations did not elevate us beyond genocide; it enabled it to happen on an unprecedented scale and with unprecedented efficiency in the Holocaust. Science did not show us the irrationality of war; it brought us to the very extreme of irrationality, the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War. In that insanity was the seed of a truly evolutive understanding – that what we do to the other, happens to ourselves as well. That is why, aside from a retrograde cadre of American politicians, no one seriously considers using nuclear weapons today.
The horror we feel at the prospect of, say, nuking Pyongyang or Tehran is not the dread of radioactive blowback or retributive terror. It arises, I claim, from our empathic identification with the victims. As the consciousness of interbeing grows, we can no longer easily wave off their suffering as the just deserts of their wickedness or the regrettable but necessary price of freedom. It as if, on some level, it would be happening to ourselves.
To be sure, there is no shortage of human rights abuses, death squads, torture, domestic violence, military violence, and violent crime still in the world today. To observe, in the midst of it, a rising tide of compassion is not a whitewash of the ugliness, but a call for fuller participation in a movement. On the personal level, it is a movement of kindness, compassion, empathy, taking ownership of one’s judgments and projections, and – not contradictorily – of bravely speaking uncomfortable truths, exposing what was hidden, bringing violence and injustice to light, telling the stories that need to be heard. Together, these two threads of compassion and truth might weave a politics in which we call out the iniquity without judging the perpetrator, but instead seek to understand and change the circumstances of the perpetration.
From empathy, we seek not to punish criminals but to understand the circumstances that breed crime. We seek not to fight terrorism but to understand and change the conditions that generate it. We seek not to wall out immigrants, but to understand why people are so desperate in the first place to leave their homes and lands, and how we might be contributing to their desperation.
Empathy suggests the opposite of the conclusion offered by Stephen Pinker. It says, rather than more efficient legal penalties and “data-driven policing,” we might study the approach of new Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has directed prosecutors to stop seeking maximum sentences, stop prosecuting cannabis possession, steer offenders toward diversionary programs rather than penal programs, cutting inordinately long probation periods, and other reforms. Undergirding these measures is compassion: What is it like to be a criminal? An addict? A prostitute? Maybe we still want to stop you from continuing to do that, but we no longer desire to punish you. We want to offer you a realistic opportunity to live another way.
Similarly, the future of agriculture is not in more aggressive breeding, more powerful pesticides, or the further conversion of living soil into an industrial input. It is in knowing soil as a being and serving its living integrity, knowing that its health is inseparable from our own. In this way, the principle of empathy (What is it like to be you?) extends beyond criminal justice, foreign policy, and personal relationships. Agriculture, medicine, education, technology – no field is outside its bounds. Translating that principle into civilization’s institutions (rather than extending the reach of reason, control, and domination) is what will bring real progress to humanity.
This vision of progress is not contrary to technological development; neither will science, reason, or technology automatically bring it about. All human capacities can be put into service to a future embodying the understanding that the world’s wellbeing, human and otherwise, feeds our own.
About the Author
Charles Eisenstein is the author of The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible.
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