by Clive Elwell, who writes: “Any academic qualifications I might have gained have long since become meaningless. I have no position, no status in this world, neither do I seek any. Any images of myself that might come to mind are continually seen for what they are – projections of the mind. I am not a member of any group, and do not identify with any organisation, any ideology, any religious belief – and certainly not any nation. I am not claiming any authority, I have no pretense of having any special knowledge. So I ask you, if you are interested, to judge the article on its own merits, to inquire into the truth or falseness of the words without forming any image of the writer.”
The World is on the brink, if not actually starting to fall into the abyss. Although one can never predict the future with absolute certainty, there is no doubt that there are a great many significant indicators all pointing in the same direction – the direction of the collapse of our present society, vast environmental destruction, the annihilation of most (and maybe all) life on Earth. I think we are dealing with facts here, not theories, and it is not worth questioning these facts. Not only is there there an overwhelming body of scientific research supporting the facts, our own observations of the world, both directly, what we see happening around us, and indirectly, through the global sources of information, paint an unrelenting picture of ever increasing deterioration in the world. I do not need to elaborate on this website.
These observations are not limited to environmental degradation. We can see the incredible violence of man against man, (including women when I use that term of course), we can see how man has divided himself into nations, into religious beliefs, ideologies, political parties, etc, and the bitter conflict engendered by those divisions. We see there is less and less security for everyone. We can see the indifference and denial in people around us, the lack of caring about the condition of others (beyond one’s immediate family), the passive acceptance of the vast inequality among people, the fierce holding on to destructive and meaningless tradition. We can see, in short, the lack of intelligence and rationality in people, which perhaps comes close to the real source of the problems. And the lack of love.
The things I describe are not of course new phenomena. They are a continuation of a trend that has been going on perhaps from the very beginning of man’s journey on this Earth. But this does not mean that these trends can continue indefinitely. One factor which has made man’s situation so precarious is his mastery of technology, giving him incredible power, including the power to destroy all life on Earth. So things very definitely cannot go on this way.
So it seems to me a number of questions naturally arise when we look at what is happening in the world. One is – and I know this is a major concern of this website – what is our own response to the chaos, the horror of it all? What are we to do? What CAN we do? And another obvious question is: What is the root cause of this insanity of mankind? It seems to me that unless we see clearly the root cause of all the problems – and there may be only ONE cause – we cannot act rationally, we cannot respond effectively. We will only be chasing phantoms, only ADDING to the confusion and chaos of the world. So the two questions are not separate.
But before we start this inquiry, I want to emphasise that it IS an inquiry. I am not being dogmatic, I have not convinced myself that I have all the answers. I sincerely wish to inquire with others, and it is hoped that the ‘comments’ following this article will not be mere commentary, or argument. Although not a very regular reader of the articles presented on NBL, I have read enough to see that often the comments degenerate into a conflict of opinion, each person holding on to his or her conviction, belief. Surely, this gets us nowhere?
I think if we could actually question together, this would, in fact, have its own significance for the world situation. To hold a genuine dialogue is exactly what is NOT happening, not at the so-called ”United Nations” assemblies, not in the institutions of government and bureaucracy, often not in the very organisations that purport to be tackling the world’s problems. Not even in our personal relationships. Dialogue implies freedom to investigate, which is impossible if people are holding on to fixed opinions, if they have already convinced themselves of what is right action, that they KNOW what is the cause of the problems. So can we put that sort of think aside, and genuinely inquire together? And certainly not descend to the level of personally insulting others, which is a peculiar form of violence.
So can we step back for a moment from the immediate challenges of our personal lives, can we put aside any conclusions we might have drawn, and ask simply: what is the root cause of our problems? Why has the world come to this incredible state, why are we destroying the very planet that is our home? Can we ask: “After all our experiences and sorrow, why are human beings still carrying on in the same pattern? What is wrong? What has happened to man’s brain and heart after these million years?”
And this is not a theoretical, philosophical exploration. We are actually investigating if change is possible. This is an enormously important question – and one, very strangely, that is hardly being asked ‘out there’. The stakes are very high. If we do not find a real answer, if we cannot bring about a transformation in mankind’s actions, there seems little doubt, as was said initially, that we are doomed.
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I am not being dogmatic, and everything can be questioned, but it seems to me there is no doubt as to what is the cause of man’s problems. In fact it seems so obvious, so simple, that I feel embarrassed to write an article about it. But when one looks at the kind of solutions usually offered for the world crises, it is clear it is not generally obvious at all.
Man himself is the cause of his problems. It is the state of human consciousness that has brought about all this chaos. By “state of human consciousness” I mean thought directed by the self, the me, the I, the ego. I use all these terms synonymously. Just everyday meanings, not technical, not derived from any theory of psychiatry. We are selfish. We are greedy. We are divided. We are ambitious for ourselves and the things we identify with (which are still ourselves). We are fearful, We seek pleasure. We seek personal security. All these movements, and more, stem directly from the self. And it is these movements that have created the society we live in, that have created the global crisis.
If there are reactions to the above, I ask you to suspend them for the moment so we can examine what has been said. One is not condemning, one is not being judgemental, negative, or pessimistic. One is only looking at facts. And yes, there are other movements in the mind, movements of affection, of sympathy, of kindliness, generosity. But generally, love certainly does not “make the world go round”. Behind every human problem lies the self.
Why are we so materialistic, and so depleting the world’s resources? – because we are greedy, the self always wants more, and can never be satisfied, except momentarily. Why are we so violent? – because the self gets hurt, and reacts by being violent to others. Why have we divided ourselves into groups, with all the resulting conflicts? – because the human mind is divided in itself, and society is, and must be, a reflection of the human mind. Why do people destroy the environment? – because they are concerned with their own profit, first and foremost. Why are people so uncaring of nature and others – because it is the very nature of the self to be concerned with itself, no matter how blindly.
Behind every destructive act there is a self committing that act. Behind every corrupt politician and official there is the self’s demand for power and advancement. Behind every act of terrorism there is the sense of righteousness – the self feels right, justified, as it defends its own existence. Behind all human unhappiness and stress lies a self trying to fulfil itself at any cost – and being unable to do so.
So are there multiple crises in the world? Or is there only one – the crisis in human consciousness?
Surely, all the deterioration, the degeneration in the world is due to the deterioration and degeneration of the human mind? Surely the crisis is in thought itself, in our minds, our hearts, in our behavior?
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If we accept this as a fact, what is its significance?
If it was clearly seen that the root cause of all human problems lies in human consciousness, surely we would not uselessly chase after solutions elsewhere? Would we imagine that electing a different politician or political party will bring about change? Would we be convinced that we are in need of a new economic theory? Would we chase after some new ideology, the latest pop psychologist? . . . . If we see the problem clearly, I do not think, in the hope of change, we will join any political party, any religion, identify with any country, any belief.
And we will not blame other. We will not think if certain people are eliminated, removed, then the whole social system will change.
In short, if we see that thought is the root cause of the world falling apart, we will not follow the solutions that thought offers.
Merely to be concerned with outer phenomena has very little significance. But that is exactly what we ARE concerned with, that is where the vast majority of our energy is gong. So we have hardly any energy, any space, any time, for investigating the issue that really matters.
I should add here that I am not telling anyone what they should do, how they should behave. If someone, for example, is moved to go and work with underprivileged children in the third world, by all means do so. Such work is admirable and necessary. However, such social action, although it may alleviate some individual suffering, will in no way solve the basic human problem. Inequity, poverty, deprivation, will continue, they will manifest in other areas, if the root cause is not addressed.
So by all means help the poor, protest injustice, try to defend the environment, save the whales, inform people of what is happening, if that is what your heart prompts. But if I may suggest, do not deceive yourself that it is sufficient action, that one is responding completely to the state of the world, that one has taken full responsibility.
So what does it mean, to be responsible for the whole world?
But perhaps that question cannot be addressed until we understand our relationship to the world and the crisis it is in. Until we understand ourselves, in fact, how can we understand ANYTHING, since the self is the screen through which we perceive everything else? When the self is confused, as it is, surely any action it takes will only bring about more confusion? And that is exactly what we can observe going on, at all levels. And we see that when the self tries to solve one problem, it only creates more problems.
If there is any interest, I will continue this essay in a second part, and investigate more deeply some of the basic issues that have just been touched upon here. Meanwhile, I welcome a dialogue with you readers in the comments section, which is perhaps more important that the article itself.