Monday, 18 June 2012

The Human Body in the Evolution of Conciousness

Here I want to develop some ideas about the role of the body in the first three stages of the evolution of consciousness.

In the first, the tribal stage, relationship of man with the body is quite simple. This is the most physical of all stages. The relationship with one’s own body and other people’s bodies is so close and direct as in none of the subsequent stages. Here, the body is still hardly culturally connotated. As this stage is characterized by almost intimate proximity of man and nature, bodies, too, are interpreted as part of nature and are honoured in rituals. This proximity, however, is not exactly unity: there is a difference, which is another subject in rituals.

In the second stage, the clothing – or in other words, covering – of the body, becomes more important. This is an expression of man’s increased distance to nature. Just as people build houses to provide protection from the hostile aspects of nature, so, too, bodies are shrouded for protection and to suggest that the body is no longer the property of nature. The idea of ownership, which is introduced in this stage, also leaves its marks on flesh and blood. In slavery, people, in particular their bodies, are taken possession of. For a free person, the body is property, which he, however, could lose.

With the concentration and numeric reduction of the family happening on this stage, the claims of property in gender relationships are enhanced. The Trojan War is caused by Helen’s “rape” by Paris. As historians like to report: “Helena was considered the most beautiful woman of her time. Her beauty was so great that every man who saw her wanted to own her.” Male desire of a woman is described as a desire for ownership. Women’s bodies are thus interpreted as property of men. If the claim to property is violated, there will be war (even if “the property” has acquiesced to the transition of ownership).

The only reason for masculine dominance, already deeply ingrained in Homer’s epics, is superior physical strength, which was necessary for the great deeds of emancipation. This meant an increase in the differences between the two genders. These re-evaluations and categorisations wrap around the body like the clothes that shroud them, stealing into the body and wielding a lasting influence on its expression of life.

A man’s body, which has to be fit for adventures, is realized in games and sports, while a woman’s body is subjected to claims to ownership. Therefore, the latter is shrouded to a greater extent, which may lead to complete concealment. When Greek men were participating in the Olympic Games, they were naked, while women were not even present as spectators. This revelation of the male body and its celebration in Greek art go hand in glove with the unleashing of the male emotional body, especially of anger. At the same time, a restriction is imposed, as the male body is useful only in its aggressive form, while its vulnerability is rejected. The male body has to integrate two opposing aspects, namely that of the opening up to the energy of anger and that of isolation against pain. This, in a nutshell, is the program of physical education and training of the ages to follow, as well as the origin of the macho body. 

The female body, meanwhile, experiences the opposite indoctrination – to display vulnerability and suppress aggressions. Hormonal and other dispositions of the organism may perhaps be said to speak in favour of this distinction, but in the stage of emancipatory consciousness these dispositions are polarized and fixed, so that those belonging to the areas of the middle of the spreading – less aggressive men and less vulnerable women – are forced to conform to the poles.
This process of discrimination by sex is then adapted to the different aspects of society and culture. One of the consequences is that the female body is to a great extent removed from the public sphere.

Whether the bodies themselves have changed as a consequence of these cultural classifications is a matter of speculation; findings in epigenetics suggest that this might be possible: that due to social pressure into polarization women’s bodies have become more “female” and men’s bodies more “manly”. The areas in between, which are reflected by e.g. homosexuality, became subject to massive sanctions, while the embodied poles, i.e. strong men and weak women, could make it to the top, becoming defining stereotypical images. 

The development of the drifting apart of bodies differentiated by sex as outlined above in the second stage of the evolution of consciousness is continued and institutionalised in the third, hierarchical stage, by for example the church prohibiting women to carry weapons.

In this stage, it is all about subjugating the body to the powers of bureaucracy and to fit it into the system of super- and subordination. Since the body itself cannot easily be reshaped, clothing must become important for social differentiation.

For this reason, there are many cultures that have dress codes, which regulate the public representation of the social status of an individual. “Fine feathers make fine birds”, as the phrase has it; and the body itself is influenced by its clothes: wearing certain articles of clothing reshapes the body and changes the body language. A king is not to dress or move at random but is to conform to certain envisaged standards. He is supposed to move in an impressive and majestic way, otherwise he will be exposed to ridicule and his power will be endangered.

The same holds true for the noble class, in a less regulated way. The shaping of body language also influences verbal language, which accords to such norms as well. A good example would be England after the invasion of the Normans, who introduced their variant of French as language of the ruling class. An Englishman told me that the linguistic markers for social differentiation still exist and have not gone out of usage, so that every Englishman can “hear” what class a person is from. In other cultures, the situation is similar, even though in the course of democratisation there may be a tendency towards the levelling of such differences.

Subjects are to adopt a subject posture that signalises permanent subjugation. This had such an indelible influence that still in this day and age, our neck muscles will tighten so that we may lower our heads whenever we encounter our superiors. The cobbler is to stick to his last, and only in a fairytale will a miller’s son become king.       

It’s also about shackling the emotional body, which must not interfere with the hierarchy and therefore must be controlled. The liberation of aggressive energies of stage two is followed by the inhibition of aggression in stage three. This is to make people “suitable” for and capable of functioning within larger communities. For this it is important to know one’s own rank and that of others within a hierarchy, like in India, where in spite of the official abolition of the chaste system people very quickly work out what chaste their interlocutor belongs to.

The disposal of the human body is publicly visualized by cruel punishments of delinquents and opponents which should demonstrate for everyone that the state, the ruler can not only take life from everyone but also that he is in disposition of their bodies with which he can do whatever he wants. The spreading of torture for finding the truth in justice is another sign of the absolute grasp the state has on the body of its members. When the suspected person does not share his truth voluntarily, it gets tormented out of his own body.

The influence of Christianity on the manipulation of the body in hierarchic consciousness is equally noteworthy. Influenced by manicheism, a religious persuasion from the Near East, the hostility against the body entered early Christianity. This had consequences topical to this day, especially in the Catholic Church. The body was held to be sinful and impure.

In this stage, the woman’s body is subject to deformation to the extent of absurdity. Spanish fashion of the 16th century, for instance, undertook to tie the female body up to such an extent that it would take on a strictly geometric form: two triangles pointing downwards and a circle on top. Another example would be the disfigured feet of Chinese women, who had to pay for this “feature of beauty” with nothing less than the loss of the capability of locomotion.

Every opportunity of individual expression must be stopped, even more so in women than in men. There is no place for desires of the flesh in public, and religious moralisation in addition encourages passion in the private sphere to be checked by feelings of guilt. No wonder that up to now many people have been experiencing the body as prison of the soul and may even go as far as to glorify this degradation of vitality as a spiritual revelation.

The liberation of the body must wait. The fourth level of consciousness, where the body serves in the process of production, too, does not benefit the body and its freedom: on the contrary, the exploitation of work capacity in capitalism is primarily an exploitation of the body, to the verge of collapse. It is not before stage five of personalistic consciousness that, little by little, the body is rediscovered and regains its vitality.

(Translation: Michael Ehrmann)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Go with the flow

When life flows we resonate in attunement. Everything is as it is, and changes as it changes. The process of life and our experiences with it are directly interwoven.

When something interrupts this flow because we cannot integrate it, we call it a trauma. In this moment, it is not the flow of life which gets interrupted but our relationship we have with it. It is a disruption of communication which results in a split, a dissociation. Our awareness, our attention separates itself from the direct life experience.

Then our ego develops. It claims to be separated from the flow of life. But it only serves to protect us from unpleasant experiences of a painful reality. As soon as it has fulfilled this function it could say goodbye and disappear. Yet sophisticated as it is, it starts to talk us into constant vigilance to carefully avoid any similar experience so that the dreadful events at the moment of separation would never happen again. It makes itself indispensable by inventing new dangers and threats all the time. Finally, we take it as the genuine reality and experience ourselves as separated from the flow of life. 

When we are in the cage of separation, we suffer. We feel the tension between the beauty of the flowing life and the separated place to which our ego has banned us. We are like a prisoner who through the tiny window of his cell sees a bird fly by only once in a while and has no stronger wish than to be this bird swaying freely in the wind. Yet the exit is locked – this is how powerful the ego has taken possession of us.

Our suffering turns us into victims or predators. Either we whine because we suffer because we get too little of this or of that etc. Or we accuse others to cause our misery and turn ourselves into offenders. We make them suffer as they have made us suffer.

A small experience: I make myself on my way in the morning and put on my shoes. The shoelace rips, and my connection to life as well. I get annoyed about myself because I have torn the shoelace too strong and why I have let it become so late that I have no time to repair the damage. I turn myself into a victim. Then I scold the people who have produced such defective shoelaces which get torn apart at the slightest strain. It is betrayal to sell such a lousy product. I become the offender. I ruin my morning (by becoming a victim) and make myself believe that it is the others who do this to me (offender). 

Yet when I simply notice instead that the shoelace is broken, think it over quickly whether I have time to knot it or to look for other shoes, I stay connected to the flow. I enjoy this moment and the next to come. 

Many people feel the tension when they are not one with the life they are living. And when they do not want to give up their ego or when they not even want to put it into question, they reduce their tension by reducing their life. When they suffer from something, there is help – anesthesia by habits or addictions, cushioning by drugs or dulling, diversion by circular thinking and meaningless talking. 

Of course, life moves on, but the own part in it becomes smaller and smaller. A feeling of unreality and senselessness arises. The ego triumphs and the suffering has disappeared in a fog of disorientation and confusion. 

What is the alternative? First we have to look back to the origin of the split, to the origin of the ego. Courageously we dare to confront the trauma. We face the terrible and painful event as we know that this is the only way to get rid of our suffering. When we capture the moment of traumatization and stay with our attention and with the awareness in our feelings as dreadfully as they might be, the door opens gradually. We reconnect to the flow of life. We become one with our experience of reality. And the part of our ego which was formed in the dissociation of the trauma disappears. Instead, we have gained a piece of inner freedom and flowing with life is easier instead of commenting it from outside.

Enventually, any comment and any action of our egos is nothing but a part of the huge process of life, but it is a part which does not add anything to the growth of the whole, it only blocks its way.  Yet we have to cultivate tolerance and benevolence towards our shortcomings and learning loops. There is always a time to get out of the victim-offender pattern and to tune into the flow of life immediately so we can swim with it to wherever it likes to carry us.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Fraudulent Capitalism - From the Point of View of Posterity

In 50, 100 or more years, 2012 may not be remembered for anything in particular except that the chance of learning from the catastrophe of the turbocapitalism of previous years was sadly missed. Even the introduction, people will say, of an E.U.-wide financial transaction tax  failed due to the egotism of nations that made the excuse of the cunningness of capital to fly to wherever it can reproduce most quickly
With regret, people will look back on a time of narrow-mindedness, of greed and recklessness in the individual as well as on the national level. How long had it taken for humanity and reason to prevail and for a global government with a global ministry of finance to be created? Confronted with its regulatory authority, capital had no chance, no opportunities to fly. There were no more protected centres of finance in London or New York, no more tax-free island states, no more pirate havens for vagabonding capital.      
Madness was checked, and frenzied greed was calmed, where before it had caused whole stratums of society to impoverish while the originators of mass exploitation were free to enrich themselves without bounds. In those days, as it was dawning on the people what they had got and how they were contributing to a system that exploited them, the concept and term fraudulent capitalism came up. This resulted in social stigmatisation of all risky financial transactions that burdened society with the risk while filling the pockets of the few. So many people had become aware that they had systematically been deceived, lied to, and fleeced.             
In the end, however, the recognition that people had subjugated themselves to a system of finance that primarily harmed them had been a material encouragement for a gradual development of all the states in the world towards general regulations. Finally the USA, too, on the verge of their own economic collapse, disappeared in the USW (United States of the World).

And soon it showed how on the basis of a globally networked sense of responsibility, the system of finance could be cleansed from individual and national lust for power and increasingly contributed to the levelling of the world’s wealth.    

(Translation Michael Ehrmann)

Peace in Peaceless Times

Where in this world can we find peace? 

If we look into a newspaper or turn on the television or the radio, we are presented with mega-conflicts that have been hot for years and decades, if not for whole centuries. We are aware that only a limited set of conflicts is thus being presented to us: that apart from the “official”, CNN-compatible global issues there are in fact many more, which do not make the headlines for lack of lobbying.

That is the large world of conflict; then there is a smaller world made up of all the different areas of human life, in which fights, envy, hate, etc., are nothing out of the ordinary. At times, when one field of human interrelations seems in perfect harmony, a fight may suddenly break out at another place; and if at one moment all seems placid and peaceful, the next may bring an explosion scattering things in all directions.

Inner life is hardly different. One time we feel good and in tune with ourselves, at another a fight will break out within and we will tense up or suffer physically or emotionally. We will quarrel with a sore part of the body, a painful thought, unimplemented plans, or unsatisfied needs.

What such experiences can show us is that all these conflicts are connected and that one may intensify the other. Inner indispositions tend to take their toll on relationships; tensed up relationships may be disturbing to larger networks of relations; and these will in turn influence mentalities and cultural patterns. Thus, there are connections between a lot of things if not everything.

How can we find peace when there is so much trouble in the world? Does that even make any sense at all? Shouldn’t we instead rage against all this cruelty and injustice? Wouldn’t it simply be hypocritical and ostrich-like to seek inner peace while the world is sinking into chaos? Is that what you call peace, sitting in your ivory tower, your castle in the sky, on your illusionary island of the blessed? How can you still write poems after Auschwitz, Theodor W. Adorno would ask.

Only when we have established peace everywhere will there be peace in individual cases, as the sceptic will have it. To quote once more Adorno: “Wrong life cannot be lived rightly”. However, if nothing is right before all that is wrong has been gotten rid of, we can hardly hope for the right life to come anytime soon. If we insist that peace is possible only after all strife has ended, we will become obsessed with an idée fixe. We will wait for absolute peace, for a perfect world to come. We will act as if it were possible, if only at a much later date, and as if nothing were possible before that time arrived.

Yet absolute peace is the offspring of human thought, and it would be wrong to perceive it as some kind of entity for us to behold one day. Instead, it should be sufficient to think of it as the “regulative idea” of Immanuel Kant: something to aim at, something that will not let us rest before we haven’t realized it.   

We must not abandon or water down the idea of eternal or absolute peace, but we should not misuse it either, by despairing of progress. We might experience it as a kind of tension that does not paralyse but strengthen us, encouraging us to move on: like a power that manifests itself in the urge of the evolution of consciousness onwards. 

We should try everything to again and again connect with this power; it is the power of life itself that wants to lead us onwards. It is down to us to create contact and cause exchange between this flow of life and a particular point within the vast network, a place that we take a very unique and personal approach to, as it is our own self. It is there we can allow peace to spring forth and grow, so that it may expand and spread, becoming tempting and infectious.      
In the midst of trouble, as can be seen on the photo, showing a cellist performing in Sarajewo’s city library, which has been wrecked by bombing. He represents what no war can destroy: the vibration and spirit of humanity in sweet harmony with eternity and the beauty of the Great Beyond. This kind of peace is gentle and soft, easily drowned out by clamour and fearful confusion yet consistent and indestructible, being seated deep down below all that which can be troubled.     

(Translation Michael Ehrmann)

A Greed-Free Economy?

The quantitative dynamics of growth in capitalism are perpetuated by the subjects of the economy. As producers and consumers, they provide an inner mechanism that goads them into working and consuming to the verge of overexertion: greed, the driving force behind wanting more, achieving more, consuming more.

How would then an economy work in which greed does not have the role of an individual driving force? For a moment. let us assume that greed is not one of the anthropological constants – i.e. not an innate or permanently influential quality – but an acquired, pathological pattern, which can be checked, mastered, and transformed. We could then make the assumption that all mankind can be almost completely free from greed if they want to be, and that if this were to occur on a grand scale it would cause a paradigm shift in economy.        

Greedless people consume only what they “really need”. What do we mean by this? Critics of the world of products and advertisements have pointed out that needs do not just exist but can also be created, or even implanted into people. No one “needed” a mobile phone before it was invented and made attractive to the masses. No one needs the thirty-fifth brand of yoghurt thrown onto the market: neither do any of us need the twelfth flavour enhancer in our mineral water or the latest fashion label conquering the boutiques. Nevertheless, we consume and fancy rioting in the land of shopping opportunity. The desires that motivate the consumption of luxury goods are not independent but culturally ingrained. The culture in question is of course that of materialism; and materialism is in turn steered, geared, and fed by capitalism. People’s needs, then, not only perpetuate capitalism but let it grow even fatter.

What are independent needs then?

I do not want to answer this question by referring to a popular model like Maslow’s or Herzberg’s. One would first have to investigate into the respective backgrounds of such models, in order to dispose of the remnants of ideologies that some materialist ideas have stolen into. Instead, we could ask ourselves the question what it is that we really need to live a good life.

Here we could do a little experiment, where we contemplate whether we could be happy and content if the flat we lived in were smaller, if we didn’t have a car and didn’t take flights to exotic places for vacations, had no rare delicacies, no Christmas trees, etc.
In other words, we imagine that things we take for granted disappear, one by one, until we hit a certain boundary where we lose our contentment. This is the point where our truly independent needs begin. Of course, it is not a fixed boundary:
Then we will probably realize that we do not actually need many of the things we possess (except if we already live in the border area of the country of independent needs). Amongst these things will be such that we appreciate for their beauty and their symbolic or memo value; such that were once important to us but have lost their attractiveness; and such that never brought us satisfaction after we purchased them.
Next thing we could do is consider true quality in our lives: what do we have that we like, that motivates and excites us, that nourishes and fosters our inner growth: interpersonal relations, encounters with nature and art, and experiences still exceeding all that. We could ask ourselves whether we have enough or too much of these, or if we need still more. We will realize that the material requirements for true quality are relatively low.

A greedless society need not be a poor society. On the contrary: it is one that will not put up with qualitative poverty. Not only will it call for the end of the social evils of undernourishment and homelessness, but it will also insist on true contentment for its members. Greed is perpetuated by a subconscious need for security, subject to the delusion that we will be safe from imaginary dangers if we only accumulate worldly goods. Not realizing that it is really seeking to be free from fear, it is fixated on the objects of its desire, which promise security and satisfaction. If the irrational need disappears because the fears behind it have been conquered, the urge for amassing goods, whether they be items, money or relationships, disappears as well.                        

Then the worldly and quantitative values (including the immaterial patterns of capitalism) will have only a subordinate role. They serve to maintain the status quo of survival but do not contribute to the improvement of life. Through food and drink the body survives and, ideally, stays in good shape. Other worldly necessities, such as clothes, accommodation and cleanliness, belong to the same category. What will become more important and interesting to a greedless society are social and creative values: communication, beauty, art, leisure, sports, etc.: and none of these necessarily require a lot of resources.

Thus, we can cut back the circulation of worldly goods to a level of relative modesty and simplicity, which would mean treating nature and its resources with more care. The consumption of worldly goods will now always be put in a social and ecological context, where the environmental compatibility of one’s consumer habits is brought in connection with the welfare of the entire system. We will then, for example, buy groceries that have not been brought here at a stupendous cost of energy and resources from the remotest places in the world. Also, we will no longer buy clothes made by children under appalling working conditions for a pittance.
As it is no longer our own neediness that motivates us, which it used to be in the days of greed, it is now possible to see the broader picture with every single move we make as consumer. What is the effect this act will take in the world? we will ask ourselves, What ideals does it support or betray? If it benefits the whole system, it will be easy for us to refrain from satisfying a desire.

Hence, it will in fact be more conducive to one’s personal well-being to forego the purchase of a luxurious product leaving a catastrophic ecological footprint, or to opt for a means of transport that is more inconvenient but less harmful to the environment.

Relinquishment will lose the bitter aftertaste it picked up in our childhood. As children we were quite defenceless against our own wishes and desires, interpreting every act of denial from the grown-ups as insulting and disrespectful. Now, in adulthood, the more moments of successful relinquishment we accumulate, the more pleasing such moments will become for us. There is an important criterion for determining whether putting aside a certain wish is the right idea and does not result from subjugation to a feeling of guilt: do we feel more free and open if we relinquish than if we satisfy the need in question? This is part of the ancient tradition of fasting – overcoming a transient craving in order to experience greater freedom. 

(Translation: Michael Ehrmann)