There’s Just One Problem…

I spend what often seems like an inordinate amount of time thinking about the world’s problems. But our problems have grown so numerous and so large that it has become impossible not to think about them. They are everywhere I turn: financial trickery, global warming, pollution, resource depletion, species extinction, greed, war, racism, governmental surveillance and control, dishonest and corrupt politicians, dishonest media, and so forth. But all these problems are really just symptoms—symptoms of the only problem this world really has: the egotism of homo sapiens. Take that one away and the world runs perfectly.

Throughout my life I’ve come across people who actually believe in egotism. They think they see deeper than others because of their “strong” egos. They believe that anybody who isn’t looking out for himself first is naive about the facts of life. It’s a big delusion. They have no depth. Egotists, because they don’t see past themselves, have no depth. People talk about someone having a “healthy ego,” by which they mean, of course, a strong ego. But a strong or a big ego is not a healthy ego. A healthy ego is one that is able to see beyond its own desires. A healthy ego understands that there are other people living in this world and that they have needs equal to one’s own.

Egotism creates a vast array of delusions. One of the most common delusions we live under is that competition creates a better world. I’m constantly reading that our schools need to turn out students who can compete in the global marketplace. No one ever challenges this kind of thinking. But all that competition does is create stronger egos. It is extremely difficult to rein in the ego. One has to make a constant effort and living competitively undermines that. What we really need to learn is cooperation, to create a world where every living being has a place to fulfill the laws of its own being, and to do that without sucking the juice out of anybody else.

We’re not anywhere close to this, of course. We’re still on the path to hell, and things are going to get worse before they get better. I don’t know how bad it has to get before we begin to pursue a smarter, healthier direction. When I bring this up with others they often tell me that nothing can change it. It’s just going to keep going in this same direction. I don’t think so. I think that’s actually impossible. One of these days I’m going to have to address the hope that I believe there is. It’s one small thread of hope. But that one thread is stronger than all the others. And it is real.

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25 Responses to “There’s Just One Problem…”

  1. Thoma Lile Says:

    I look forward to reading more from you about this.

  2. Tim Mueller Says:

    I like what Christopher Lasch said: “I’m not optimistic. I’m hopeful.” Hope is all we have. Yes, that flies in the face of all that we have “done” to give the illusion that we can dominate the forces of Nature and still the beast that dwells within. Are things going to get worse before they get better? History suggests that the answer is “yes”. The momentum of stupidity cannot stop and say, “Never mind.” It will take a long time after we wake up before we can reverse the insanity that appeals to so many. The little things: giving a cup of water to a small child, for example, will have to suffice to quench OUR thirst for demonstrations of decency, proof of our ability to overcome our worst enemy, ourselves.

  3. rainnnn Says:

    I am not sure egotism, as in strong belief in one’s self, is the problem. I think it’s a lousy set of values that the wrong things make people proud of themselves. Coincidentally yesterday I posted a blog [http://raintrueax.blogspot.com/2013/11/what-we-hold-sacred.html] about some of the values the Sioux considered important in a leader. If we thought likewise, we’d be better off but unfortunately our values are, I think, totally skewed as a nation. So the egotism we see is for all the wrong reasons and it’s taking us down a deadly path.

    • markbittner Says:

      The issue here is, I think, what we mean by the “self.” In Western thinking, the self is the ego. I don’t think that’s a clear understanding of reality. The ego is your temporary point of view. It vanishes, but the self remains. There is only one self, the great self, and to believe in that is to have real strength. That’s sort of Buddhism 101, although I’m not specifically a Buddhist. As I’m fond of saying, there is only one true religion and it doesn’t have a name.

  4. rainnnn Says:

    I’ve read the books that debate that trying to separate self as good and ego as bad, not sure where right now and it always leaves me shaking my head. But the main point for me is we have to have a strong sense of values or what we are proud of– self or otherwise– will be skewed and I think our culture values the wrong things these days 😦

    • markbittner Says:

      Being defensive and greedy, egotistically, is bad. That’s always been true. I read someone say once that it’s not the ego, per se, that is the problem. Technically speaking, the ego is simply your point of view. But the ego invariably starts seeing itself as the center of the universe. You have to make an effort not to be that way.

  5. Chandani Diaz Says:

    Don’t know if you’ve seen the photo of Michelle Bachman that’s been making the rounds (of her shooting a lion in Africa) – with a big smile on her face – and there is that poor dead creature. She is the person I think of most when I think of the word “egotistical”. Look, that lion belongs to ALL OF US and who does she think she is to rob us of one more magnificent and rare animal? And all the elephants slaughtered in Africa to supply to the greedy ivory trade in Asia….again, just greed. And what of the people so GREEDY that they kidnap and sell innocent children to the sex trade “market”? There are so many days I feel EMBARRASSED to be a “human”.

  6. Linda Says:

    I’ve been struggling to put together a coherent thought here, I believe it goes back to religion. Each class of people in a society seem to be taught different things.
    The middle class is taught by religion that a wealthy person cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, so most of them never try to become wealthy, they strongly support the privileges of the wealthy though. A person who has wealth can steal millions and millions of dollars and not be prosecuted, but the poor man who steals your vcr or dvd player may go to jail for 5 years.
    I don’t see the justice here.
    These same middle class people give thousands of dollars to their ministers, priests, and preachers, allowing many of them to have a million dollar lifestyle and acquire millions of dollars for them selves and build themselves fine homes and wear fine clothes and eat the best food. These same christian leaders tell their congregations that wealth means nothing.
    It seems to me that everyone is being scammed by this system. Religious leaders are keeping the people quiet and telling them to be content with what they have so that the wealthy, the politicians and the clergy can continue to suck the life out of them.
    The point seems to be that the clergy, and the wealthy and the politicians all know that religion is false, as taught today and they aren’t worried in the least about heaven or hell because what we have been taught about the afterlife in most modern religions is false and simply pap to keep the poor and the middle class under control.
    Basically they are sucking the life out of us, and telling us we should like it and be grateful they are doing so, and so many of us are falling for it, because we don’t know how to think for ourselves anymore.
    That brings us to our failing education system, the dumber our kids are, the longer these leeches can go on doing it. We need to spend more time teaching our children what the schools won’t teach them. A computer is not the culmination of education, they need to learn reading, writing, math, basic science and social skills/interaction without face book or other social media as a go between.

    I am alone a lot and I think all the time about these things. This is what I see happening, its what I read about, If you all have time, go watch the movie Zeitgeist, and check out the website The story of stuff, they are a good beginning to learn from. Do it, if for no other reason than to say I am wrong.

    • markbittner Says:

      One thing I want to add to what you say: There is real religion and there is fake religion. Real religion is underground and has probably always been underground. I’m not willing to say, though, that it always will be. The great majority of the religion we see is fake. A lot of the Buddhist sanghas are every bit as unreal as the Christian churches. I think it’s important to understand that. But the real thing is always there, always available to those who seek it out. But it doesn’t advertise itself.

    • Sarah Says:

      “There is real religion and there is fake religion. Real religion is underground and has probably always been underground. … But the real thing is always there, always available to those who seek it out. But it doesn’t advertise itself.”

      How, or where, do you find real religion? Moreover, how do you define real religion?

    • markbittner Says:

      Real religion is what you find when you’re absolutely honest with youself, without any deception. You find it by clearing away all the bullshit. I’ve made efforts at doing that, but it’s very, very hard to go all the way with it. But the more crap you clear away, the brighter things become. And those holy books start making more sense, too.

    • Sarah Says:

      “Real religion is what you find when you’re absolutely honest with youself, without any deception.”

      That sounds like no religion – that is, seeing reality for what it is, without the comforting delusions (or deceptions) that religions provide. Is that what you mean?

      What are your thoughts on spirits? Do you think your departed loved ones occasionally watch you and hear what you say to them? Or do you think that notion is nothing more than narcissistic, wishful thinking and that, in reality, death totally destroys everything and it forces you to lose all contact with your beloved in perpetuity?

    • markbittner Says:

      What you’re calling “no religion” is “real religion.” What you’re calling “religion” is “fake religion.” Fake religion arises from people who haven’t taken that leap but being interested in the subject nevertheless.

      I don’t have any knowledge on what happens after death. One has to die first to know. But like all people, I have theories. My current theory is that the limitations of our existence here on earth vanish and we expand vastly and become one with everything, including our departed loved ones who have already expanded vastly. You cease to be, but not through contraction. Through expansion. Just words…

    • Chandani Diaz Says:

      “comfort” is a great word and it is that “comfort” zone that gives us hope that we were not just born to die and perish forever. “Fear” is another good word – ask any cancer patient who is dying if he/she still remains an atheist – few (at that point) will cling to their disbeliefs…but I’ve seen the faces of those who still remain athiests and are dying….I see tremendous FEAR on their faces. I don’t know what happens when we die either….but an acquaintance of mine (an Inuit from Greenland) was only 26 years YOUNG when a rare form of leukemia killed her….she had JUST received her Master’s, spoke 6 languages fluently and was looking forward to working on her Ph.D…….it’s just so hard for me to think she died and that’s IT – end of story. If we were sure that we just go to dust (or in our case, as Hindus – to ashes)…..then why even go through the motions of studying, learning a new language, etc. There must be something else or we would all just “live for the moment” (which would make us even more egotistical).

    • Sarah Says:

      “You cease to be, but not through contraction. Through expansion.”

      I have never before heard your theory. I’m not sure I understand you. Are you saying that, like the conceptual Christian god, everyone becomes omnipresent after death?

      “I don’t have any knowledge on what happens after death. One has to die first to know. But like all people, I have theories.”

      Of course. I would guess your current theories are based upon your own rational observations rather than religious instructions that you may have received in church or elsewhere.

      You do not strike me as the kind of person who says (what I think are creepy and insincere) platitudes, such as, “I will pray for you” or “god provides”. I do not believe in prayers, god, or karma. But as Chandani wisely points out, the fear of (soon pending or otherwise) death can cause some rational people to become desperate enough to believe in anything — including prayers, god, karma, Nigerian Leprechauns, George Bush, and all points in between.

      As someone who appears to be grounded in reality, do you think there is a genuine lifeline between the living and the supposedly dead or do you think the reality of death is as final as the saying, “When you’re dead, you’re dead”? Do the supposedly dead abandon us in every way? If so, do they want to abandon us? Can we assume they have abandoned us if we don’t feel their presence?

      Do we lose all contact with those whom we love deeply and have lost or do we in fact have contact with them, but are too brainless to realize it? If the latter, how best to connect?

      If there is no lifeline between the living and the supposedly dead, how do you prevent creeping despair and desperation from taking over? (Drinking or drugging heavily is no way to stay sane and neither form of narcissistic behavior helps or honors the person who has supposedly died.)

      I know you don’t do BS that is grounded upon wishful thinking on your blog. Even so, a reality-grounded lifeline — something, anything, if there is one — would be much appreciated. I know I have just contradicted myself, but there you are. Can you please share your thoughts re the foregoing? Feel free to message me privately, if you would prefer.

    • markbittner Says:

      If you’ve seen the movie (Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) you have heard my theory. It’s the waterfall story retold with a different image. I have never been a member of any church. Many of my ideas about all this are contained in the chapter of Parrots called “Consciousness Explained.” To answer your questions, we would have to sit down in a kitchen somewhere and talk about it all for hours. And I can’t do that right now. I certainly do believe in karma, by the way. But there is the real version and the fake version. The real version is “cause and effect.” The fake version is “luck.”

  7. Tim Mueller Says:

    Another great irony of us humans: we admire the “saints”, but would never think of trying to emulate them. The spiritual path is the only path to Enlightenment and bliss, but it’s the first path that’s abandoned. Could that be because it’s both the easiest and the hardest?

  8. Jill C. Says:

    Mark, I have read your blog for a long time and enjoy the insights you share with others and the thoughtful comments. I wanted to write about competition in education. It’s sad to see schools forced to compete with each other for scarce resources in their districts (which should be given out equally) and worse to teach students to compete against their classmates.

    I have gotten some insight into schools while working at a Montessori school. I love the Montessori method which respects ALL children and adults as equals. Children are not separated from their class based on reading or math speed and the classes have students of various ages together (3-6 year olds are all in one class) so the older children can teach the younger ones.

    Cooperation is necessary for a class of first graders producing a play or a science experiment. It prepares them to be the adults working together on a laboratory experiment, research, inventions, social and political reform, movies, books and other works of art. It’s hard to “make it” in a family or in any type of work without some cooperation. I like my individuality but also need to share it with the group and learn from others.

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