I think there's an unseen battle raging in the world today.
It's not a battle, really, over politics, society, or even the world.
It's about you:
It's a battle for control
of your soul.
I'll call them:
Now, I mean them in a subtle, difficult way.
What is "expanded" or
"reduced" is us, in the end, our better selves, our possibilities
for meaning, happiness, purpose, our truths - but let me
Today's great global
problems are all results of capitalism because capitalism is a form
of reductionism. It's a system that reduces everything in the world
that matters, more or less, to nonexistence, erases it, beginning
Our lives don't matter very much, we feel, all too often - and so we try to fill the hole in our souls by doing what we're told will make us happy, which is going out buying stuff.
But what's the point of buying stuff?
It's not the stuff. It's status.
So we buy something to relieve ourselves of the pain of meaninglessness - and maybe it works for a day or two. We feel like someone again. Until everyone else has it, and then the race starts all over again.
We call all this
"consumerism" - but I think that word fails to convey the sense of
desperation, of hopelessness that drives the process.
They are - those dirty, filthy sub-humans. Now there's not just a void - there's a darkness, which is better, at least, than a nothingness. Hate, spite, and rage fill up the absence of a live which has gone nowhere.
Now there is status, and with status comes pleasure, comes relief, comes the thrill and exhilaration of dominance and power.
Control of your soul, remember...?
Capitalism has now produced in you it's own internalized psychology - bang! It's got your soul, somehow .
You have become a true believer in the moral crusade. You prize self-interest, being on top, cruelty, possession.
But you don't quite connect the dots of your own unhappiness.
And so there you are, pretending with one face - the public one - to be happy, while dying a little inside, every day, and keeping it bottled up, hidden away, carefully apart, where no one can see.
Weakness is forbidden, after all. This is the birth of the false self, the inauthentic thing that capitalism makes of you.
It has broken you now -
your spirit, your true self, all the best things in you - only
you don't quite know it. You are being conditioned to reduce
yourself to the smallest, shallowest part of you. You are becoming a
reductionist - only you don't know it yet.
So there is the world, being wracked by inequality, climate change, extremism, and so on - and here we are, foolish human beings, squabbling over petty things.
Capitalism has left us not just economically and socially weak, but also morally and psychologically broken, too. It had deprived us of our courage, empathy, wisdom, and clarity - all the truest kinds of strength we have, and that we need.
At least enough of us that the world's problems are things not to solve - but to bicker over.
It has made enough of us foolish and weak - more interested in status, power, greed, and hate, which is to say, obsessed with death, instead of fighting for life - that the world turning into a kind of gruesome dystopia is perfectly alright with us, as long as we come out on top.
So here we are as a world.
Some of us say, we must do better, and come together to solve these great problems, in ways that transcend greed, spite, hate, all the narrow forms of self-interest.
And others of us say - led by a weird coterie of American intellectuals and pundits, mostly,
That, my friends, is the true battle of now.
It is between two kinds
of people, ways of thinking, seeing, understanding. Between
reductionists and expansionists. I've worked through the the (overly
long) example of capitalism to illustrate for you one form of
reductionism, so now let me go a little deeper.
All they see when they look at the world is what capitalism allows them to see:
They don't look at the way the sunlit rain nourishes the sea, or the way a little elephant who has lost his mother grieves, or the way a dog protects an epileptic child from fits, and see something remarkable and beautiful - something improbably transcendent.
They only see brutal conquest, shark and serpent devouring fish and fowl - because that is all capitalism has conditioned them to see.
In other words, their view of nature is trivially false - nature competes and nourishes and nurtures, not just demolishes and destroys - how else could it live? - but they cannot see even that far.
The reductionists wish to reduce human beings, their societies, their morals, their norms, their values, everything, to one thing - the principle they see in nature, of predator consuming prey.
Their moral law is that
the strong should survive, and the weak perish - hence the
inherent definition of "strong" is the one who has the sharpest
teeth, the most ruthless and abusive and cruel - so the greater
good is had.
Everything in human life is reduced, in this way, to predation, to consumption, to exploitation, which is valorized as a triumphant, noble, worthy act.
But is it...?
If "nature" isn't that
simple - are we?
They say, looking around at the world a little more carefully, just the opposite:
Now, the fact is that the reductionists are winning...
The Jordan Petersons slash Steven Pinkers of the world, the "intellectual dark web" (LOL), "effective altruism", American capitalism, and so on - what unifies all these painfully foolish ways of not-quite-thinking is the belief that people are just machines of appetite.
The reductionist view is
ascendant because in truth, is just another name for the same old
ways of exploitation, violence, and inherited domination that
underpinned feudalism, tribalism, and empire, too, and now undergird
"Nature", by which we purport to mean what is "natural" - but we are really saying something more like:
"Nature" contains all
that - and so it is a bigger question than we allow ourselves to
But I don't want to
reduce it to "Hobbes vs. Locke!", because its truth is subtler -
and less Western than that. Even in the East, this battle over the
nature of humankind has been fought, too, in just the same way,
reduced or expanded.
And I am one not just because it's obvious to see that reducing "nature", which is a reductive idea to begin with, to brutality and predation is trivially, laughably false (have you never seen a monsoon?), but also because of the consequences of making such a foolish mistake.
Are people just machines of appetite? What lies that way?
A reversion to feuds, to tribes, which produce kings, which battle over empires, which means endless war and violence. If people are just machines of appetite, if the strong should survive, the weak perish, then the only moral principle is the satiation of the hungriest predator.
Does anything but folly,
ruin, and misery really lie in that direction - no matter how
capitalism has conditioned to want to be above everyone else?
Ah, you see. It's a
subtle, difficult question. I would say the answer is as simple and
timeless as it is beautiful. Then they are free.
For a truer kind of freedom - or for a dead past, confined by all the mechanisms of reduction, from the algorithm to the corporation, to stagnation and subjugation.
The reductionists say, essentially, that only through violence do we realize ourselves. Fools throughout history have said that, haven't they? But expansionists understand, I think, a truer truth.
The grace and peace we
find beside one another are the measures of the depth of us...