The world is turned upside down; global warming, international relations, pandemic disease, and regional politics have all gone nuts. Appreciation of norms, the behavioral and social customs that preserve comity and decorum, is not in decline; it’s collapsed. Trump and his minions are not the cause but a symptom of psychological and social disorder.
It’s easy to call it crazy, the way things are going; but craziness may not be the new normal, it may be the old normal, in other words, just plain normal. Actually, when it comes to people, there is no normal. People simultaneously inhabit physical reality and metaphysical non-reality – imagination – and must navigate between them. No user manual has been provided. Accordingly, masters of improvisation, we make it up as we go.
Our ability to get along is poor. We’re inclined to theft, murder, and deceit, which is why every major religion in the world prohibits the same. We’re superstitious, easily misled and love to gossip. We’ve burned witches, tortured heretics, and dominated others using the force of violence. It seems inconceivable that Vladimir Putin is prepared to bomb Ukraine to rubble, but such behavior is a time-honored tradition. In the context of history, such craziness is normal.
Efforts to raise human consciousness, to instill awareness of our interdependence with each other and the earth, have only been marginally successful. The greats of the Axial Age – Christ, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed – gave it their best shot, but human behavior – theft, murder, deceit – got in the way. The religious institutions that developed turned their attention to the accumulation of power and property, merely giving lip-service to the wisdom of their teachers.
More recently, the view of our small, blue planet hanging in the darkness of space, what Bucky Fuller dubbed “spaceship earth,” provided a potential consciousness-raising opportunity, but it too was squandered under a darkening cloud of greed and confusion. Unlike lemmings blindly following each other over a cliff, we’ve been warned, but like lemmings we can’t stop our suicidal momentum.
Some would say that raising consciousness is a first-world problem, that for most of humanity it’s not raising consciousness that comes first, but filling bellies. This is largely true; for those struggling to survive day-to-day, contemplation is a luxury. This surrenders the field to those with the time and resources to develop and implement policies that might improve humanity’s chances for survival, but once again our normal craziness gets in the way. In addition to theft, murder, and deceit, people love to argue.
In The Dawn of Everything, anthropologist Peter Graeber notes that in 1680 Jesuit missionaries reported that the elders of the Native American Wendat (Huron) tribe in Canada spent their free time contemplating and discussing what constitutes a good society, in other words, raising consciousness. Thinking about how we best treat each other and our planet does not require having the sophistication of a first-world education; the security of knowing we’ll have food and be cared for by others is enough.
Greed and accumulation hobble humanity, and when institutionalized create a nearly impenetrable barrier to raised consciousness. Deprivation, both material and social, breeds contempt and discontent; theft, murder and deceit quickly follow. Despite successive cycles of pain and suffering, the lessons we learn are forgotten, and we run around in circles repeating our mistakes. Albert Einstein called this behavior insanity.