There is a concept in Christian teaching, extracted from the New Testament, about how the sins of the fathers are “visited” on ensuing generations. While contemporary culture does not spend time or energy talking specifically about “sins” and the concomitant repentance and redemption that are theologically linked to them, there is nevertheless something worth mining from the notion.
First, there is the nugget that we are all connected to both the past and the future, not only through our biology and our genetic composition, but also through our specific engagements and encounters, behaviours and attitudes. And, while it is certainly not either popular or self-enhancing to write it, we are all participants in spreading the impacts of our own woundedness on those whose paths have crossed ours.
In brief, to the degree that we have been ‘sinned upon’ or wounded, either deliberately or unconsciously by others, we will inevitably find, at least upon reflection, that we have negatively impacted the lives of others. Any attempt to deny our complicity in such a repeating and inevitable pattern only masks our own reality and that of those whose lives we have bruised, or worse. And yet, our culture prefers to isolate each incident from our biographies, prosecute each individual for the commission of a wrong and operate generally as if such a process results in fewer crimes and wrongs being committed.
And in a world driven and even compelled by extrinsic motivations, based on our observations of the ‘outside’ world (as opposed to our internal reflections) we have all been conditioned to the point where we spend a monumental amount of time and energy complaining about the misdeeds of others. Such a collective and individual obsession, however, rarely generates the kind of reformation that our angst would like to be able to claim credit for generating. History, the writings mainly of those who “won” their specific battles whether they were military, diplomatic or economic, details the strategies for further successful competitions. Even cultural history, filled as it is with religious and ethnic themes, is filled with a human motivation for power, for dominance, for what the world considers “success” whether that success is measured on a personal (leadership) scale, or on a tribal or national scale, or even on the scale of empire, the symbols, the monuments, the buildings and the jewels of success remain static for centuries.
And then, upon learning the complementary corollary, that we all learn from our mistakes, we enter upon a kind of rationalization and a justification for those mistakes that we make out of either or both innocence or malice. And yet, somewhere, someone, we hope, is currently engaged in a historic research project that begins to connect the dots between original woundedness and future attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that are different from the kind generated, for example, by composers like Beethoven who musical scores rise to the heavens, from the ashes of despair, despondency, and woundedness. The incidental shooting of a puck into one’s own team’s net, is not part of a category of incident, behaviour or even attitude that qualifies for consideration as an echo from previous woundedness.
The list of petty crimes, even up to and including the current spate of inappropriate behaviours by prominent men, also, it can be argued, most of the incidents for which mostly men are currently spending “time” behind bars, would seem, from a less than clinical perspective, to have some root in attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and cultures that were inflicted as pain, punishment, debasement, harassment, assault and defilement. Every bruise, whether emotional, physical or social, has the potential to generate another bruise often when the perpetrator is least conscious that there is a “rebound” aspect to his or her inflicting of that bruise.
As history has bent toward an extrinsic perception that “cleaning up messes” is more to our ease and comfort, (when compared with prevention, which does not generate the kind of reinforcing evidence that motivates our energies), we spend far less money, time, energy and obviously research into prevention of hurtful and harmful attitudes, beliefs, behaviours. In short, we are committed (addicted?) to pulling kids out of the bottom of the waterfall, after they have fallen in, rather than seeking to prevent their fall before it happens.
And that preference is motivated by the notion that “we have to let each kid/person/friend/neighbour/colleague make his own mistakes, because that is the only way he will learn”.
Are we really telling ourselves the truth? Or perhaps are we exonerating ourselves, and disengaging ourselves from what we consider to be “other peoples’ business”….as our way of reinforcing and justifying our worship of the individual and the rational that only strong individuals can compete and survive in our capitalist, Darwinian jungle, where only the fittest survive?
Have we perhaps so militarized our notion of how to define and then to achieve success, and how to achieve relationships, and how to achieve even “love” that we have performed millions, if not trillions of emotional and psychological and political and intellectual lobotomies, in service to what amounts to a profound deception, distortion and self-sabotage? We have certainly militarized our “salvation” concepts into those who buy into the paint-by-number model of instant acceptance of/by a “Saviour”. And we have militarized our schools into a competition for marks, grades, references, and awards. And we have militarized our social strata, into those who have achieved wealth, prominence, social status from those who have not. And we have militarized our corporate world, both from a human relations perspective as well as from a marketing and sector dominance perspective. Our journalism is replete with militarism and the competition and the devices and techniques that attach to those who get the story first, (and get it right) and the accompanying punishment for those who deviate from that rule.
We have militarized our political discourse, and our legal system, into gathering of superficial intelligence, (governed largely by the costs of more deep and profound biographical research), its presentation by the state, whose belief is that lowering the incidents of crime justifies our methods, while other approaches might generate even less crime to pursue.
It says here that we are individually and collectively engaged, even conscripted, into a military machine-like culture where we have defined “success” and failure so narrowly and so restrictively and so reductionistically, in order to fit into our governing economic and political and historical archetypes that no longer serve us. In fact they are serving as a counter-force to our very existence.
Considering the individual as “supreme” when compared to the “collective” (a nuclear word, given the association with communism) precludes a more balanced perspective and world view, in which the similarities of our individual stories is either neglected completely, or at least significantly reduced in influence in favour of an individual, punitive, competitive “medical” model where the symptom is at the core of the intervention. And the intervention is framed as an “attack” against the “enemy”. As a consequence, we have framed a universe populated, even dominated, by enemies….in the form of diseases, maladaptive behaviours, thefts, and the litany of physical and emotional and psychological abuses. And of course, defining the “enemy” and the “attack” mode, as a basic principle of social organization and management, comportment and cultural convention is now endemic to how our western world operates.
It is not rocket science to note that the greatest enemy in our metaphysic is death, that horrible “end” to our life on this planet that is the natural outcome for each of us. If death is an enemy, then it is, and has been throughout human history very easy and glib to extend the ‘enemy’ archetype to other enemies, evils, and taboo’s. And, given a fear-based foundation of our collective world view, that list includes listing many attitudes behaviours and beliefs that emerge, in part, from the “Decalogue” in the Old Testament. However, in spite of the dedication of centuries to standards outlined in that document, and others, we are continuing to “combat” the evils that now dominate our culture.
And our obsession with our own evils, and our “depravity” and our “having sinned and come short of the glory of God” (see Saint Paul’s writing in the New Testament) presumably detailed by those leading the initiative to establish a Christian church to gain and to maintain control over their “charges” has, it would seem, not led us to a better understanding of our true condition. Naturally, such a concentration on “evil” and the need for an external deity to save us from ourselves can and would predictably generate both multiple agencies and careers as “redemptive” agents, and a faith institution that holds fast to the dogma originally expounded.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we have been misleading ourselves, out of the best of intentions, motivations and designs. Perhaps, just perhaps we have bought into the humility of hair shirts that so controlled many of the early religious orders, and thereby unconsciously and innocently and somewhat childishly succumbed to a state of being that denies our inherent dignity, including a spark of the divine. And in the process, we have effectively turned centuries of young people into obsequious and disciplined soldiers in a war against evil in all of its many forms, faces and incarnations.
I have listened to too many people in church pews tell me that the only reason they sit there Sunday by Sunday is to provide some assurance of a “heavenly afterlife”….as if they were in a bargaining and negotiating process with some kind of higher power. And of course, the notion of imperfection, as compared with a perfect, holy, all-knowing, and ubiquitous deity, originated and sustained by an organization whose existence and survival depends on their succeeding in getting millions to subscribe, and to “confess” loyalty to their hierarchical design of the universe. Has anyone asked the question about the impact of the inevitable, predictable and apparently irreversible infantilization of millions of men and women, as a consequence of this hierarchical structure?
Has anyone thought through the implications of a kind of military colonization of the very people the society was created to help flower and flourish? Has anyone really penetrated the implications of the battles within families for control of the children, and even too often for control of the opposite spouse? What if, for example, the legal principle of “Habeus Corpus” (innocent until proven guilty) has a theological, ethical, moral, spiritual basis as well? And what if such a premise were to be extended beyond the legal system, beyond the court room and into the main streets of our towns and cities? What if, with the possible exception of certifiable sociopaths and psychopaths, there is no wrong-doing that does not have a legitimate root in the biography of the “offender” and that the biography is a direct (or even indirect) consequence of a social, economic and political system that renders a large proportion of human beings powerless, unable even to feed themselves, unable to seek out and find access to even minimal health care, unable to find work with dignity, simply because we have, innocently and unconsciously, or willfully and quite deliberately subscribed to a social structure that is little more than a replication of the old feudal system, in which those with land, money and political status controlled the lives of their “serfs”. What if our pursuit of the wrong-doing and the wrong-doer is in an of itself upside down, in the more far-reaching pursuit of a society that can sustain and develop its people? What if our prisons, and our schools and our corporations are little more than replicas of a long-ago outdated Greek tragedy that pitted the top 1% against the bottom 99%, as a drama that spoke loudly of the fear of the 1% of losing their status, their power and their wealth in any other structure?
What if, perhaps unbeknownst to those who govern, they are embedded in a system that places their own status (and the prospect of losing that status) as the sole justification for the kind of political and economic system we are inheriting? What if, rather than requiring that all “serfs” become lifelong agents of the generation of wealth for the very rich, we were to re-think, and to re-imagine a society in which the dignity (not the wealth, amount of land owned, size of the investment account, name on the hood of the car in the garage, not the square footage of the mansion in which they live, not the size and degree to which the wardrobe is fashionable) of the people, both as individuals and as members of a collective, was the highest good, and was the primary guiding principle of the exercise of power in our society?
What if our social, military and tax policy were not based, as they currently are on fear of the poor, fear of the uneducated, fear of the different other, but rather on the premise that we are all, literally, ethically, morally and in real terms evident by the policies, the laws, the premises and the conventional beliefs of the society, not only by the symbol of the right to vote, and the right to own property and the right to make a living, but by the starting point of a guaranteed annual income, a guaranteed right to quality health care, a guaranteed post-secondary education and a guaranteed right to work with dignity, commensurate with both ability and qualifications.
Of course, this dramatic shift would require a substantial defunding of the military, a defunding of the tax breaks and tax havens for the rich, and a shift in how corporations pay their workers, supplement their pensions. And it would also demand a dramatic shift in how decisions are made in all public and private organizations, away from a top-down, hierarchical privilege and power, to a circle of committed and participating workers, investors, suppliers and consumers.
Moving away from a suspicion and an ingrained presupposition of wrong-doing, chicanery, personal avarice and a personal subversive agenda to a starting place of full support and encouragement of the best ideas, the best practices and the best policies that will generate a fair return on investment, judged on a much more fair distribution of organizational income. Laws limiting the number of times a chief executive’s income is multiplied over that of the factory floor worker, probably to not more than 5-10 times the base income, would go a long way to levelling the playing field.
The notion that each individual can carve out an existence of fairness, justice and equality simply no longer holds, when any reasonable, sentient and morally conscious person scans the political, economic, social and ethical landscape.
And having slid into what Bunyan would call the morass, there is really no other approach than a total turn-around.
Of course, this piece will be found to be highly irresponsible, highly out of touch with reality, and probably written by someone who is smoking very strong illicit drugs.
Well, dear reader, I am very sorry to disappoint those who hold that view. I am neither under the influence of any illicit or prescription drug nor am I out of touch with reality, nor have I ever been thought to be worthy of the irresponsible label.
It is precisely the current status quo that reeks of the stench of the abuse of power, the abuse of a majority of ordinary people, especially in the western world, as well as even more heinous abuses of those in the developing world where violence, disease, poverty and hopelessness pervade. If this is our shared nadir, then we can start to look upward from this oppressive, dark and threatening cave.
Are we not both more intelligent and more insightful, more imaginative and more compassionate than the current historical evidence demonstrates? And, if so, then what are we individually and collectively prepared to do to turn this contemporary 21st century cultural, political and social ship around 180 degrees? And when are we really going to admit that the world is going in the wrong direction, a direction that promises more abuse, with even more impunity for the abusers?
If not now, then when?