Posts Tagged ‘Materialism’

The Greek Debt

June 17, 2015
In Hydra 1969

In Hydra in 1969 with Dougal, Janice, Nikos, and unknown.

In 1969, a few months after graduating from high school, I flew to Europe, where I spent several months exploring by thumb and by train. Of all the countries I traveled through, my favorite by far was Greece. It was a beautiful land with its own distinct culture. The old Mediterranean peasant world still had a strong presence, which made a big impression on me. The Greeks in general were extraordinarily friendly, openly curious about people from other countries, and generous. One day, at an outdoor market I asked a farmer if I could buy an orange. He seemed puzzled and asked, “One kilo?” “No, one orange,” I said. He frowned and shook his head. No, he wasn’t going to sell me just one orange. He gave it to me. One of the special aspects of Greece, especially Crete, was the sense of timelessness—by which I mean I had little awareness of being in a particular historical era. Visually, everything was distinct. As Henry Miller said of Crete in The Colossus of Maroussi, “You see everything in its uniqueness—a man sitting under a tree: a donkey climbing a path near a mountain: a ship in a harbor in a sea of turquoise: a table on a terrace beneath a cloud.” I’d already begun my lifelong loathing of modernity—the tawdry commercialism, superficial relationships, the hustle—and I loved Greece for the slow pace of life and its beauty. Living life was more important than business. (It’s pitiful that people who believe life should be beautiful are regarded now as romantics. It’s a symptom of how lost we’ve become.)

In 2007 I returned to Greece to do research for my book Street Song. I wasn’t expecting it to be the same, but the degree of change was startling. Everything that I loved about Greece was gone. It had lost that special sense of timelessness. Greece had become a resort for wealthy northern Europeans and Americans. And the Greeks themselves had become sullen. All they wanted was your money. It took me a few days to figure out exactly what had happened: globalization. Greece was now just an outpost on the international corporate circuit. One day I tried to talk to a Greek about it, and he blew me off. He was gruff and uncommunicative. I finally did talk to a Greek about it,  a man who owned a laundromat and spoke English. He agreed with me—very passionately—that something had gone very wrong in Greece. All anybody did was work and work, and they were all unhappy about it. They all believed that they had no choice. Much of their work consisted in serving the fat Germans who lounged about on the beaches and treated them like serfs.

There is a lot of anger directed at Greece in the Western World because of the new government’s threat to default on its debt. A tremendous amount of pressure is being put on them to stay the course of austerity and to open the doors wider to those who have no interest in Greece other than to rape and pillage. I, for one, hope they can resist. If it means default, then bless them. The insane, pointless workaholism of the Germans and Americans goes against the character of the Greeks—against the character of human beings, really. We are not designed to live this way and we’re heading for a nervous breakdown.

America, Germany, and England as well as some other countries have declared to the rest of the world that globalization is the only way to go, that every country must be part of it or it won’t survive. No one is given a choice. The global economy is very clearly a great evil to me. It’s tawdry and shallow. We’ve gone far beyond any level of comfort that we actually need, and yet we’re still not satisfied. Our levels of anger and frustration grow continually because materialism can never satisfy. Something is going to bring the whole thing down one day. I think of the bankers as drug dealers. They try to get you hooked and then send in their enforcers if you don’t pay up. It’s probably too much to hope that a default by Greece would begin the unraveling, but it would be most appropriate if it did. The Western World’s enshrinement of rationality and logic began in Greece, and it is rationality and logic that have led us to the horrific level of materialism that we live by today. If Greece can begin the process of the collapse of that system—which must collapse for the world to survive—it will be one of those beautifully ironic moments that history sometimes serves up.

Left Out of the Debate

February 5, 2014

A little over two years ago I posted a three-part series which I called The Three Views of Existence. (This is a link to the first part of the series. To read the other two parts keep advancing to the right with the links at the top of the post.) My point was that there are three views of existence, but that only two of them are ever acknowledged in modern Western-style societies. One is the “Creator God” point of view, another is the “There is Only the Material Plane” point of view, and finally  the “Everything is God” or Pantheistic, point of view. As I wrote then, the last one is never discussed and seldom acknowledged, as if it were beyond the pale or too silly to be taken seriously. In any case, just a note to point out that Pantheism was once again left out of the recent “celebrity” debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and the creationist, Ken Ham. This happens all the time and in many different ways. I constantly notice it. Funny thing, too, because they’re leaving out the truth.

The Only Real Hope There Is

November 26, 2013

Over the last couple of years I’ve made several references to my belief that there is hope for the world, although I’ve been reluctant to get into what I believe that hope is. To talk about it, I need to introduce an idea that is virtually unknown in our modern world of hyper-materialism. I don’t know how widely known the idea was within the older cultures of Asia, but I first learned of it from their books. It isn’t Eastern, though, nor is it merely an “idea.” It’s a universal reality. And because it is real, we do know of it, but only at a folk or intuitive level.

The principle is this: There is a great force that rises and falls like a tide throughout history. At times, the tide is high, and at times the tide is low. It isn’t something science can measure, for it’s not material energy. In Western philosophical terms, it’s noumenal, meaning that it cannot be perceived by the ordinary physical senses. In contrast to modern Western philosophy, which holds generally that we cannot know anything about the noumenal realm (and which has become increasingly skeptical that such a realm even exists), some ancient Eastern schools of thought maintain that it is possible to directly perceive this force if we make the right kind of effort. Depending on the culture and the system used, this energy goes by different names and its workings are described in different ways. But it doesn’t have a name. And because the deepest levels of the spiritual realm are beyond rational thought, any description is simply an image intended to lead one toward a direct experience of that which cannot be described or explained. The I Ching represents it as the alteration between the forces of yin and yang. In English, we might call it “life force” or “spirit.” It’s the vital force in history and in every individual life. When the tide is low, life seems murky and confused. When the tide is high, we have access to a clearer, brighter mind. The fundamental, pure ideals push upward and animate those of us who have not closed the door to the inner self. (This generally means “the young,” I think—although anybody can have access to it.) This differs from Western ideas of change, which, from what I can tell, assume that psychic energy is constant and that change arises from material and sociological pressures. Unlike the ocean’s tides, the spiritual tides are not regular and can’t be predicted. Each time the tide rises, its surface features are absolutely contemporary, addressing what’s relevant in the here and now, while, at the same time, connecting seamlessly with the deep, the constant, the eternal. The most recent upwelling of this tide happened during the period we call the 1960s. I was too young to know, but my sense is that it actually began its rise in the mid-to-late 1950s, although I have seen that there were people being pulled into position even earlier. The tide peaked in mid-1974, at which point it began to recede—an event to which I was a conscious witness.

It’s impossible to know when this upwelling is going to happen next or what it will be like. It’s beyond our control. It is great help—the only real help there is. When it does come—and I often feel that we’re past due, although that idea doesn’t really make sense—I expect it will be like a tsunami. We need something that strong.  There will be those who resist, who hate the tide, and many of those who hate the tide will consider themselves religious, upright individuals. But to hate that tide is to hate the Spirit—or God, whatever you want to call it. It will be vastly disruptive, and we’ll be forced to make the heavy changes we don’t feel the energy or inclination to make now. And it won’t last long. It would probably exhaust us if it went on for too long. But it will be our chance—perhaps our last chance—to steer away from the self-destructive course we’ve been on. Nobody could have predicted the 1960s from the 1950s, and it will feel that way again. (Where is all this coming from?) But it isn’t about a “return to the Sixties, man.” It’s about something timeless that happens recurrently throughout history. I, for one, long for the day.

The Three Views of Existence (Part 1)

November 20, 2011

During my recent bout with the flu, I spent a good deal of time lying in bed, thinking. At one point, my thoughts landed on the subject of the three fundamental views of existence, which are 1) the creator god view, 2) the scientific/materialist view, and 3) the pantheistic, or everything-is-god, view.

To elaborate a little, the creator god, or monotheistic, view is what most people in this culture think of when they hear the word “religion.” It’s the idea that there is a god who exists apart from his creation. There are many different schools of thought within the fundamental view, ranging from followers of intellectuals like Augustine to populist evangelicals. The scientific/materialist view maintains that there is no spiritual realm whatsoever. There is only the material plane, and consciousness arises out of the workings of chemistry and physics. These first two views are currently duking it out. They barely recognize the existence of the third view, the pantheistic view, which says that the entire universe is god. (I used to assume pantheism meant “nature religion,” that the “pan” referred to the Greek god Pan—or something. But “pan” means “all,” as in “Pan American.” So Pan-theism is “everything is god.”) We are god. The rocks are god. The trees are god. It says that the material realm arises from the spiritual, that everything is mind. It includes schools of thought and tribes that range from serious, committed Buddhists to frivolous New Agers. (While Jesus is seen as representing the creator god view, I believe he was actually teaching the pantheist view. But more on that later.)

Each of these views affect how we live and respond to events—even if we’re not very serious in them. For example, if you believe in the scientific/materialist view, which I think is currently the most popular and widespread view, then there is no such thing as “wisdom.” There is only knowledge. A people that sees knowledge as the be-all and end-all of life also sees material and scientific progress as essential to our growth as a species. We are currently entering an era where we are hitting the limits to material progress—the end of growth. I’m seeing constantly that whenever this idea is brought up in public, the materialists become angry or despairing. There will be no reason to live! But it’s not like that—not at all. We will never truly start living until we get past our present-day obsession with money, possessions, and scientific progress. We’ve committed ourselves to an enormous misunderstanding of what the material plane is. And I’ll get into that in part 2.