I first learned of Charles Eisenstein this week when I read his essay The Coronation. Since then, I have been doing a deep dive into his recent work. He is a thoughtful and articulate speaker, and I was particularly taken with his comments in a Rebel Wisdom interview on April 11, 2020 titled An Epidemic of Control. I made some notes on this interview – each one is something to think about – and I share them below.
Change happens through crisis – the breakdown of normal gives us the opportunity to see what we had been unconsciously choosing before. “To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice.”
Our reactions to coronavirus are all intensifications of trends that were well under way before coronavirus, including:
– the migration of social interactions online
– online commerce
– a regime of hygiene and fear of germs
– the movement of life to indoors (especially for kids)
– restriction of political freedom and censorship of information
– destruction of small businesses
– increasing medicalization of life
Is this how we want to live? Or would now be a good time to opt out of the “regime of control” that sets to control every variable in an effort to minimize risk (and forestall death)?
Charles uses the metaphor of intervention for an addict, to illustrate how we are addicted to control (controlling our pain, emotion, other people) through eating, pill-taking, war-making, and ultimately, totalitarianism. When it doesn’t work, we do more of it, and pay a greater and greater price (half of all Americans have some serious psychological disturbance). Coronavirus is our intervention, the interruption of the whole addictive system. For just a moment, we can see clearly just how estranged we are from the lives we could be living.
Instead, we aren’t healthy, we don’t feel secure, our lifespan is declining, and we don’t trust anyone or any information. Corona virus is not going to save us, it is just going to make our choice starkly apparent.
It’s the governing stories of our civilization that prepare us to go along with the psychopaths in power – primarily the stories of separation and control. What is the story we want to tell ourselves? What are the values we want to actually live?
And importantly, are we ready for the death of the old system? Are we ready to let go of comfort and familiarity? Am I willing to do things differently? (Am I ready to let go of ordering supplements?)
This is the time for righteous anger – the authorities have redirected our anger onto false targets and false solutions over and over. We could be living in a beautiful abundant world right now. There is enough for everyone. Instead we are living in a society of intensifying artificial scarcity.
Targeting our righteous anger won’t fix the problem; scapegoating is a diversion. People who look like the perpetrators are just functionaries, playing a necessary role. Compassion and forgiveness are demanded, and they are not the opposite of anger.
“You aren’t going to outgun the military-industrial complex. You have to rely on a change of heart.”
We aren’t going to survive life. A brush with death can resurrect the meaningful questions … why am I here?
The entire article is here.
“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality,” trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
“We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
On 60 Minutes Sunday night there was a short clip of Wynton Marsalis talking about his dad Ellis who died last week from the coronavirus. In his comments, Wynton said that Ellis would have asked: “Let’s see if we are who we said we were before we had to deal with this.” In regular times it is “easy to be full of arrogance and commentary; now we have to be for real in our morality, our concepts, our integrity.”
Yuval Noah Harari wrote a very interesting article in the Financial Times recently about how the choices we are forced to make quickly today – to save lives, to expedite medical supplies – will have lasting impact on how we live post-crisis. Does our future hold totalitarian surveillance or citizen empowerment? Nationalist isolation or global solidarity?
Contrast this with the kind of thoughtful decisions we have been making, or should have been making, all along. Like the ones described by Ozzie Zehner in his book Green Illusions. Do we have the wherewithal to lower our energy demands significantly, immediately, and to live more lightly on the earth in multiple contexts? How do we set ourselves up to make our species successful?
One thing for sure. There’s no going back to “normal.” We are forever changed.
There’s a thousand “Can’t-be-done-ers”
For the one who says “It can!”
But the whole amount of deeds that count
Is done by the latter clan.
For the “Can’t-be-done-ers” grumble,
And hamper, oppose and doubt,
While the daring man who says “It can!”
Proceeds to work it out.
There isn’t a new invention
Beneath the shining sun,
That was ever wrought by the deed or thought
Of the tribe of “Can’t-be-done.”
For the “Can’t-be-done-ers” mutter
While the “Can-be’s” cool, sublime,
Make their “notions” work till the others smirk.
“Oh, we knew it all the time!”
“Oh, the “Can-be’s” clan is meager,
Its membership is small,
And it’s mighty few who see their dreams come true
Or hear fame’s trumpet call;
But it’s better to be a “Can-be,”
And labor and dream—and die,
Than one who runs with the “Can’t-be-done’s”
Who haven’t the pluck to try.
Berton Braley (1882–1966) was an American poet.
Thanks to Dr. David Purlmutter for bring this to my attention.
We are smarter, faster, and better than any virus, but only if we work together. My favorite medieval historian, Yuval Noah Harari, gives us historical context in this Time magazine article. As usual, leadership matters.
“In this moment of crisis, the crucial struggle takes place within humanity itself. If this epidemic results in greater disunity and mistrust among humans, it will be the virus’s greatest victory. When humans squabble – viruses double. In contrast, if the epidemic results in closer global cooperation, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future pathogens.”
The world shifted on its axis this weekend as the impact of coronavirus on the human race came into focus. I felt the zeitgeist slip a notch, in contrast to its usual slow turning – borders of all sorts closing, new leaders emerging as previous leaders are shown – in a flash -to be ineffective, new concerns moving front and center and old priorities – once held dear – suddenly not even relevant. March 2020. Something new has been born into this world.
The Second Coming by W. B. Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Cullen Murphy has written a fascinating article in the February 2020 issue of The Atlantic titled Before Zuckerberg, Gutenberg. It is about how successive waves of innovation were spurred by the introduction of the printing press. Some of the innovation and disruption we experience today are related to these earlier waves, even though digital technology is a new phenomenon. “… we no longer register the impact of the printing press because we have no easy way to retrieve the ambient sensation of “before,” just as we can’t retrieve, and can barely imagine, what life was like when only scattered licks of flame could pierce the darkness of night.”
It is a short read but packed with interesting details about connections between disruptions. A favorite: “More books and rising literacy created an eyeglass industry, which in turn brought advances in lens-making, which ultimately made possible the telescope and spelled the end of biblical cosmology.”
As human species continues its march to a future we really cannot know, I appreciate the cultural mapmakers like Cullen who think about these matters.