- the Death, and the Resurrection,
of Modern Civilization -
The purpose of this book is to enable the ordinary person to understand how human societies work, how they are alive, how they grow and develop, how they die and then become something new. This is done in the hope that, with such understanding, individuals and communities may discover how to navigate creatively the general social/moral chaos of the age in which we all live - the age of the dawn of the third millennium.
To unveil for the individual the dynamic relations underlying human societies is not a simple task. Nor is it easy what the individual and communities must do and learn in order to live in these times of social and moral chaos. Nor will it be easy to restore health to human societies as this age of chaos passes. But human existence is not about ease. Rather it is about struggle, about striving, about overcoming. Without the resistance life on the Earth provides, the human spirit cannot grow and evolve. And, it is this development of the human spirit which is the point of life on the Earth. In these facts stands revealed one key to the mystery of the meaning of life.
The social world is the moral world. From the moment we awake to the moment we fall asleep, we live within a world of choices. Do I get up and go to work? What do I wear? If I had been worrying about something the night before, about school, work, family, or if I was conscience stricken over something I'd done or omitted the day before, I will wake into this state again and be faced with choices. Choices have consequences. Consequences effect others, in good ways and in bad. Thus, good and evil flow from my choices out into the social world, the world in which I live as part of society, family and community.
We live in this social/moral world almost like a fish lives in water. We are asleep to it. It is so intimate an aspect of our being, and often so central to everything we are, that we identify with it. Thus, we do not so much notice it, as we do it, we are it.
Even the prisoner in solitary confinement lives in it, whether by a choice to plot his revenge and nurture his hate for his captors; or in the rare case, choosing to occupy himself with forgiveness and remorse.
The monk, the nun, living in their solitary cell, also live in this world, struggling to devote all waking life to the adoration and contemplation of God.
It makes no difference our culture or our religion, whether we are atheist, scientist, president or pope. To struggle with living in the social/moral world is the central dilemma of human nature in this Age. Unlike the life-path of the fish however, who can rest content in his ignorance of the medium (the water) of his existence, humanity must awaken to this life in the social/moral world and master it. If we do not, then we become the slave of our untempered and undisciplined animal natures. If we sleep before this social/moral medium, in which we move and discover our being, we risk sacrificing our humanity, that quality which distinguishes us from the animals and which veils and reveals simultaneously our mysterious and divine origin and nature.
From the collected wisdom of mankind, we can find this aphorism:
Guard your thoughts, for they will become words.
Guard your words, for they will become deeds.
Guard your deeds, for they will become character.
Guard your character, for it will become destiny.
For the moment, we need only notice two special elements which are working strongly in the present conditions of civilization. One is what we have just discussed, our participation in the social/moral world. The other is the process by which we are being made to awaken to this participation via the direct and immediate context of our individual biographies: the Strange Fire of our individual and communal existence - the social/moral chaos in which contemporary humanity lives, or the death, and the resurrection, of modern civilization.
The most difficult thing to do in all the world is to be a human being. This is the universal challenge of human experience. Every human being, of whatever culture, race, language, confronts this problem, whether conscious of it or not: How do I become human?
Often, in the confusion of the time, our desire is to become something with an identity. We want to become a lawyer, a doctor, a president, a basketball star, an actor, a police man or woman, ... the list is endless. What is interesting here, is that what we most admire in others, whatever category of job, or lifestyle, is their humanity. It is the human face of the lawyer, or the doctor, or the politician, or the friend, that we look for and need.
When this human face is absent, and it all too frequently is, then we are made angry, sad, afraid. Perhaps we should learn to ask ourselves, when we see someone who is unable to express their humanity: What has driven them to this, what choices made and forgotten whose consequence is this loss, this absence of the human? Perhaps it will help us to get past our anger, sadness, or fear, to look deeper into "the other", to recognize that, we as well as they, in the struggle to find our humanity, often are lost to it.
The path to looking past the inhumanity of "the other" begins by learning to look more clearly at ourselves. We first need to see within ourselves how it is that evil flows from us into the social/moral world. This problem is further complicated by the fact that those institutions which have a point of view about evil, and about human nature, do not agree. The chaos of the social/moral world is mirrored in the chaos of views about these fundamental questions.
Is morality a code of rules, lived according to culture and religion or philosophy? Is morality an illusion of a bio-chemical mind which knows not its predetermined dispositions? Or, is morality a choice, an individual relationship between self and conscience, and therefore as much an act of freedom as any other act?
Everything, that happens in the social/moral world, happens because of this struggle, the individual inner war between the divine and the daemonic aspects of our human natures; the war whose invisible pain and suffering is the only path to our humanity. Out of this inner invisible war the social/moral world is born.
Thus, there are two wars, the inner individual war, and its outer reflection in the wars of the social/moral world, both of which exist within a context. This context is reflected in human history and could be seen as being a story, a tale as it were, or better yet a Song. The context and the social/moral world is a Song about Itself. It is this then, the discovery and understanding of this World Song, which is the lyric theme of this book. Through this process of study and discovery we will come to see and know the tale of that Strange Fire which first burns our social/moral world to ash, in order then to make is possible for us to recreate it anew.
This fire first burns within us, as the fire of the striving human spirit to realize its freedom, the free expression of its individual nature. All our relations, family, work, community, burn from this striving for freedom, which necessarily seems first to set us one against "the other".
These facts should awake within us a sense of mystery. The Song, the Fire, their Union in the death and resurrection of civilization - the knowledge of these facts should give us pause. A higher ordering principle manifests itself in these facts. Something is happening which gives the social-political world structure, form and meaning, yet which comes to these characteristics by pathways not easily observable. That there is a social/moral world, that there is a struggle to find our humanity, that there is a fire within that burns for freedom, that these matters unite in the coming and goings of civilization, all these facts should lead us to deeper questions. There is Mystery here. Mystery, not only in the meaning of the Whole, but mystery as well within ourselves. We too are mystery; individual mystery born of Universal Mystery, individual song born of Universal Song.
A long long time ago, an already ancient people first came to the land we know as America. So their rememberers tell us, so sings the song of their oral history. The name of this people is the Hopi - they are the Hopi Indian Nation of America's southwest.
This People has for years unnumbered kept dear and consecrated a remarkable prophetic picture of modern time. All that we now experience, they were told by their ancestors was coming. In the words of their song, in the words of their oral tradition, they called this time into which we now enter: "The Day of Purification". (for more about the Prophecy, read the essay: The Mystery of the True White Brother)
This too then is a picture of the Strange Fire of this time, the burning social chaos, the fiery rite of passage that marks mankind's entrance into a ritual of maturation. We are to be Purified by this passage, or rather we can be. This too is to be a matter of choice. The time of purification is upon us, but we have to choose our individual pathway through it.
Everywhere we can see this purifying burning. Only pick up a newspaper, or watch the 11:00 o'clock news, or if we are willing to be nakedly self honest, look within our own families. Nothing will be safe from this rite, no science, no religion, no race, no nation, no community, no individual.
The question then arises, quite naturally and appropriately: How do I/we find our way through? By what pathway, with what help, can we/I survive, learn, do what is needed?
There is no simple answer to this question, although there are guideposts, signs, and other aids to understanding. All that has been said so far about the social/moral world, about the death and resurrection of civilization, about the Strange Fire of the Day of Purification, all this can be expanded upon, developed in more detail, set in historic context, and in other ways enhanced so that there can arise in the consciousness of the reader a map, nay more than a map, a living picture of these momentous events and their meaning for individuals and for Peoples.
It is this enhancement which is the purpose of this book. But this enhancement is not just for individuals following alone along their individual life path. Civilization has leaders. Without those willing to be responsible for the whole people and/or willing to be responsible persons in small communities, without those willing to understand that some individual's deeds are more powerful forces than others in the developing of community - of civilization - then a great deal will be lost. This being so, then this book is also for those who would lead, those who would seek to understand the realities which create, uncreate and recreate civilizations.
From this idea we are lead quite naturally to realize that those social processes we call politics has a higher moral potential than is ordinarily conceived, and which potential, we know quite well, many modern politicians do not act upon. This is true not just from the side of the leader, but from the side of the ordinary citizen as well. On the basis of what is contained in this book the two partners, those who must govern and those who are governed, can find a way to act in concert, to creatively dance together on the spiral of life, so that the next phase of human civilization can be supportive of positive developments, both for the ongoing evolution of individuals as well as the ongoing evolution of human communities.
One question could be put this way. What would happen in our civilization, in the future, if the modern politician's weakened moral authority were replaced by the more natural authority of the story teller? Which kind of leadership is more essential to the moral life of a people? We all recognize today that "holistic thinking" is an absolute necessity for understanding the ecological aspects of nature; that is, for understanding how complex systems interact. Just think how much more complex are our social and political and economic interrelationships. Only true "holistic thinking" will lead to an understanding of what needs to be done, and how to do it, in the very intricately organized realms of human social existence.
In fact, we do not lack for ideas about what to do to have a more livable way of life, more vital communities and societies, a healthier relationship to the Earth, to Nature and the environment. To know many of these life giving ideas all one has to do is read the latest version of the Whole Earth Catalogue, or go to the latest conference of the Bioneers. The problem is that political power, or the processes by which macro-decisions are made - the decisions which determine great movements in history and in culture - this power is not used wisely, but rather for self aggrandizement and egocentric purposes. (for more about this problem see the essay Civil Society)
It is thus one of the themes of the World Song, just how this decision making arises out of the context of meaning of a particular age and culture. The great hope for this book then is that through it individuals and communities will learn how to contribute to those great decisions which will lead to the next phase of human civilization on the Earth, by taking conscious hold of those powers by which new meaning is created.
The coming into being of humanity, of the Earth and Cosmos, remains a great mystery in spite of all the speculations of modern thinkers. The processes of human civilization are part of this mystery. That individuals and communities can participate in the rites of these mysteries, that we can out of our own personal mystery contribute to the World Song, this is both an awesome challenge and a great responsibility.
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