Cultural Volition

  • Cultural Volition

    Posted by Peter Barus on July 18, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Seeing the Challenger disaster, my first thought was: we’re not getting off this ball of dirt, after all; we’re going to have to clean it up. I now think this was half true. “It” isn’t what we must attend to.

    Years later at sixty-two a near-total but temporary paralysis cleared up a lot of questions about reality and illusion. While recovering, reading through a lifetime’s accumulated writings, I saw that since childhood the industrial destruction of the world had always been my central concern. I began work on a book.

    The project took a wild and wandering path. My famous and expensive development editor declared the thing finished, and wished me luck. It was nowhere near finished. After ten years writing and re-writing and rearranging, it seemed pointless. There seemed to be no conclusion, no completion, it arrived where it started. A sad place of disillusionment and despair only made worse by better explanations.

    I sent the MS off to a friend who lives in Chile, and he agreed with me that the conclusion didn’t do justice to the rest of the work. Then he invited me to visit, and I jumped on a plane. That trip was a turning point in my education, which has always involved fortuitous encounters at a crossroads. Now it seemed there were a lot more pathways converging.

    Then the pandemic arrived, and the videoconferences began. Soon I was holding three a week, informal gatherings with about a dozen friends across almost as many time-zones. There was a context; each was an expert, a leader, a scholar, a teacher, a healer, an activist, a master in some critical field. As it turned out, some had already met; others I introduced. In profound awe and wonder we just tried to be with the clear trajectory of our species toward extinction.

    Something began to emerge that is not the sum of parts. I could not see it all at once; one can’t. But if we look slightly askance, as sailors know to do at night, we can see something that doesn’t appear to our direct gaze. I began to understand that it wasn’t just my mediocre intelligence that made this such a puzzle. There is no language for what was present, breathing, just out of sight. It’s just not perceptible from our way of being-in-the-world.

    If that’s so, how can we point to it, much less deal with it effectively? In 2022 a friend, Meredith Ramsay (Community, Culture, and Economic Development, Second Edition: Continuity and Change in Two Small Southern Towns, State University of New York Press) called my attention to The Matter With Things, Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. The more I read, the more light and clarity there was. I was moved to a place from which I could see something emerging from the background.

    A dozen of the most discerning minds I have ever known have spent their lives illuminating something, each bringing a context in which the others take on new dimensions and make even more sense. And now Iain McGilchrist has connected and enlarged these conversations yet again.

    This multi-dimensional stringing-together of glimpses into a world barely suspected, and yet so much richer than ever imagined, adds no new fragments of knowledge. It is instead a sharpening of focus, or I want to say immediacy, an interactive quality, a participation, an engagement, that wasn’t quite accessible before.

    It all brings me to this: humanity need not end as seems most likely, in less (far less) than half a century. We have what we need; the changes we must make, not to the world, but to our way of being-in-the-world, have begun, if we look a little askance (like sailors at night).

    And no mistake, our future really hangs in the balance. And it really is up to us. All of us. You, too. I’m reminded of the monkey-trap with an opening big enough for the monkey’s open hand, but not a monkey’s fist full of berries. Our survival will be an act of collective volition. At the same time, we are unlikely fully to understand this even while it takes place (as would be only natural for us two-minded two-leggeds).

    A worldview that includes relatedness, dignity, compassion, forgiveness, ancestral and collective trauma healing, is rising. Cultural perceptions invoke global behavioral correlates. This has been called Cultural Selection, and displaced the natural kind a few thousand years ago. An eyeblink in our two or three million-year span as homo sapiens. This may be a return to the biosphere, as to the arms of a family to which we had become estranged. Or to which we had not yet been born.

    Putting words to such an enormous and complex transformation can hardly prepare us for what’s coming any better than a home pregnancy test. The first birth-pangs are here. Grab your hat.

    Peter Barus replied 9 months, 2 weeks ago 4 Members · 5 Replies
  • 5 Replies
  • Joseph Woodhouse

    July 18, 2023 at 4:52 pm

    I hear you Peter… I agree that the countercurrent is growing and real… just not visible like the antics of Donald Trump. It lives and breathes as civilization collapses…

  • Andrei Micu

    July 18, 2023 at 7:00 pm

    I enjoyed reading about your thought journey, Peter, and I find it truly inspiring and encouraging. I think there are enough people in this world with the potential to make a change. If they do it together, the effect is amplified. This is the primary reason why now I’m on the search of “where are these persons?”.

    I haven’t answered this question yet.

    I’ve thought about collective change of approach as well, in the past. It lead me to new questions, which I will share with you in the hope that they can be good pointers to further inquiry:

    What is fundamental change for a person? — such that he or she then sees the world as a whole

    What can make a person fundamentally change?

    What is required for each person in this world to fundamentally change? (I had days in which I looked on passers-by and wonder what it would take for each to change. It’s not an easy answer).

    Let me know your thoughts or what you discover.

    • Peter Barus

      September 5, 2023 at 6:19 pm

      Thank you very much for your response. Respectfully I will try…

      What is the question, spoken as if it were a statement?

  • Mike Todd

    July 18, 2023 at 11:08 pm

    Hi Peter,

    Thankyou for reminding us of what’s at stake and of our individual and collective responsibilities. I hope this won’t seem like an attempted hijack: I found the following conversation between Dr. McGilchrist and Prof. John Vervaeke very rewarding, and I believe its theme dovetails with your own; also of relevance is Prof. Vervaeke’s newly-launched Awaken To Meaning project, or “dojo” as he calls it, which I’ll link below the video. It might not be your cup of tea – I’m not sure it’s mine; I tend to be sceptical about such things – but I believe that Prof. Vervaeke’s intentions are good, and I imagine many people will ultimately benefit from the project. Perhaps its most conspicuous shortcoming, to my mind, is its straight-faced approach. One thing which I believe we will all need going forward is a sense of humour – irony in particular. Sadly, it appears to be in short supply across many divides. It’s heartening to see in the video that Dr. McGilchrist hasn’t lost the twinkle in his eye.

  • Peter Barus

    September 5, 2023 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks for this delightful interlude…

    There are many opportunities for personal development, in myriad flavors and shapes. Whether they are one’s cup of tea is a serious question, even before evaluating something with which, as a student, one can as yet have no meaningful experience.

    As a practitioner and instructor (Japanese sword) for several decades, one approach I try to encourage is finding your practice, and then following through, as if it were a mountain whose summit you may never get to see.

    I regard a “practice” as something with no retirement age, and little or no hierarchy other than sustains a certain mindset, and protects disciples (from the word discipline in its sense of inner integrity and perseverance). For example, in my dōjō there are uniforms and ranks, rituals and codes of conduct, largely for the purpose of letting everyone know the level of intensity beyond which they can’t be expected to learn much, and might get discouraged or injured. This applies to our more contemplative practices and armed combat training alike. Accordingly, a black belt is considered entry level for more serious studies.

    Students who bounce from one discipline to another are ok, but will find it effective to do so as a way to identify the one that really works for them. That should really be a practice in itself, until that stage of commitment is reached. Otherwise it is something else, possibly wonderful, but not the kind of practice I think we’re discussing here.

    A student, asked by my late Sensei why they were training, said: “To unify my body, mind and spirit!”

    “Your body, mind and spirit are already unified,” said Sensei, “Otherwise, you’d be dead.”

Log in to reply.