ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE...
"All of existence", an ancient sage once wrote, "depends on the tip of a wish." By which he meant that the state of the world is determined by what ultimately motivates us: if enough people basically crave personal wealth and power, then the world fills up with injustice, exploitation, concocted enemies, pointless missile systems, environmental catastrophes, and leaders like Blair, Putin, 'Shrub,' and Sharon. If enough people place the welfare of others at the tip of their wish, then the world moves in a different direction.
If you are thinking that this is not enough, you're right: caution is definitely to be advised. "The union of wisdom and compassion is very important," we are told. "Altruism by itself is +not+ very powerful."
Unfortunately, many of the movements that have been spawned by our "New Age" are quite good at altruism, but less convincing on wisdom, particularly political wisdom.
Consider the arguments of New Age guru, Ken Wilber. On his publisher's internet site, Wilber writes of how well his "integral" theories have been received by the world's movers and shakers:
"We have been involved with advisors to Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Tony Blair, and George W. Bush, among others. There is a surprisingly strong desire, around the world, to find a "Third Way" that unites the best of liberal and conservative--President Clinton's Vital Center, George W. Bush's Compassionate Conservatism, Germany's Neue Mitte, Tony Blair's Third Way, and Thabo Mbeki's African Renaissance, to name a few..."
Not having read Wilber's theories in any depth, I cannot judge their merit - for all I know they are profound and brilliant. I can however comment on the idea that advisors to Clinton, Blair, Bush, et al are possessed of "a surprisingly strong desire" to embrace the "best of liberal" ideals.
The reality is that these individuals and movements are responsible for truly vast crimes against humanity. It couldn't be clearer that Blair's "Third Way" and Bush's "Compassionate Conservatism" are ideological covers designed for public consumption, while the destruction of people and planet for short-term corporate profit proceeds apace. To select at random, Blair was willing to kill and maim thousands of Serbians on an utterly fraudulent pretext, even vigorously calling for a bloody land invasion. He supports sanctions against Iraq that have been described as "genocidal", even by senior UN diplomats. John Pilger has accurately described the truth of Blair 's Third Way:
"The Blairites have become the political wing of the City of London and the British multinational corporations."
Bush clearly stole the US election, is promoting a new nuclear arms race as a service to high-tech big business, is playing the dangerous game of demonising foreign enemies to provide justification, has abandoned plans to prosecute the tobacco industry for lying about its products for decades, and above all has rejected the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Julian Borger of the Guardian writes, "In the Bush administration, business is the only voice... This is as close as it is possible to get in a democracy to a government of business, by business and for business." Robert Reich, Clinton 's former labour secretary adds, "There's no longer any countervailing power in Washington. Business is in complete control of the machinery of government."
It is easy to forget that Kyoto proposes only a 5.2% reduction in greenhouse gases, when in the order of 70-80% cuts are required to stabilise the climate. The failure to take action for the sake of short-term profit will result in death and destruction on a biblical scale. More and more scientists are talking about the possibility of a "runaway greenhouse effect", with temperatures skyrocketing around 2050 as vast frozen deposits of methane gas are released from ocean beds into the atmosphere. The level of irresponsibility is almost beyond belief. These are the actions of a man (and a regime) who has abandoned all concern for liberal values, indeed any values, for the sake of profit. Words are cheap - recall that Bush Snr. talked of "making kinder the face of the nation", shortly before demolishing Iraq.
Naturally these regimes are keen to be seen to embrace benign-sounding philosophies of the kind Wilber is advancing, it's what cynical power has always done: Hitler called himself a 'socialist', after all, as did Stalin. Machiavelli explained the rationale with refreshing honesty:
"It is not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities which I have enumerated above, but it is most essential that he should +seem+ to have them... A Prince should therefore be very careful that nothing ever escapes his lips which is not replete with the five qualities above named, so that to see and hear him, one would think him the embodiment of mercy, good faith, integrity, humanity, and religion." (my emphasis)
This is shocking stuff, but it is how the world works. We cannot hope to challenge this kind of corruption and destructiveness unless we are willing to face these realities. By insisting on a reasonable-sounding compromise incorporating the best of both "liberal" and "conservative" ideals, New Agers risk giving equal weight to honesty and cynicism, to truth and deception, to the views of Exxon Mobil and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
An explanation as to why Wilber's work is so popular with Blair, Bush, and co, is found in this sentence by Wilber:
"From isolated tribes and bands, to small farming villages, to ancient nations, to conquering feudal empires, to international corporate states, to global village: the extraordinary growth toward an integral village that seems humanity's destiny."
This is exactly the kind of mystification of the globalisation programme that corporate power is desperate to snap up and promote - big business executives, and representatives like Clinton and Blair, have used nearly identical language. Power has always needed to persuade people that brutal and destructive policies are inevitable, even divinely ordained. Recall that the settlers in the 'New World' described their slaughter of the native 'Indian' population, "manifest destiny". Hitler talked in similar terms of the "inevitable" triumph of the Aryan race. Writing in the 1930s, anarchist writer Rudolf Rocker summed it up well:
"To plant deeper in the imagination of men this belief in an inevitable fate and to give it the mystic sanctity of a religious conviction has up to now been the chief aim of every power policy."
Long before Rocker, Plato commented on the "salutary fraud" of the idea of a "natural destiny" with which people must be imbued. This, probably, is why Wilber's ideas are so popular with what he calls the "cultural elite".
Wilber writes, "liberals tend to believe in objective causation, whereas conservatives tend to believe in subjective causation. That is, if an individual is suffering, the typical liberal tends to blame objective social institutions (if you are poor it is because you are oppressed by society), whereas the typical conservative tends to blame subjective factors (if you are poor it is because you are lazy). Thus, the liberal recommends objective social interventions: redistribute the wealth, change social institutions so that they produce fairer outcomes, evenly slice the economic pie, aim for equality among all. The typical conservative recommends that we instil family values, demand that individuals assume more responsibility for themselves, tighten up slack moral standards."
But the question of what "conservatives" actually do believe is a moot point. Do conservatives truly believe that individuals should "instil family values" and "assume more responsibility for themselves"? Does Exxon Mobil really find the science of climate change incredible? Does the tobacco industry really not believe that tobacco is an addictive cause of cancer? Does George W. Bush really believe that North Korea and Iraq are serious nuclear threats? Or are these professed beliefs merely whatever best suits the purpose of pursuing short-term profit at any cost - in the case of "family values", by justifying reduced taxation of elites to pay for welfare programmes, schools, health, and so on?
Again, Machiavelli tells it like it is:
"For the vulgar are always taken by appearances and by results, and the world is made up of the vulgar, the few only finding room when the many have no longer ground to stand on... A certain Prince of our own days, whose name it is as well not to mention, is always preaching peace and good faith, although the mortal enemy of both."
Wilber writes that "the leading edge of consciousness evolution stands today on the brink of an integral millennium - or at least the possibility of an integral millennium, where the sum total of extant human knowledge, wisdom, and technology is available to all. But there are several obstacles to that integral embrace, even in the most developed populations..."
This might be wonderful, were it true - but does this idea of an "integral embrace" bear any relation to the process of globalisation pursued by corporations driven by the truly limitless greed of short-term profit maximisation? By a corporate system that has, by now, attained a position of unprecedented power, and is not about to deny itself the right to use it?
The creation of the "global village" is actually, and rapidly, destroying all other cultures (along with their languages) and replacing them with the one, hideously shallow, Western corporate "monoculture". Travel the world and you will find children in remote villages playing with Barbie dolls, drinking Coke; you will find Third World adults dyeing their hair blonde and rejecting their traditional cultures as 'primitive' and 'old-fashioned'.
Supermarket food illustrates well the chasm between appearance and reality. Superficially, we seem to have increasing access to exotic foods from every corner of the world, but in reality the global food economy is rapidly destroying all traditional, local food production and replacing it with centralised, industrial-scale production designed to suit giant multinationals. What looks like a process of opening the world to ever-increasing diversity, actually marks the irreversible destruction of diversity. Along with local cultures, local ecosystems are being flattened beneath globalisation, with a spectacular decline in animal and plant species - the "integral embrace" is a kiss of death.
And what does Wilber mean by "the most developed populations"? My guess is he means the most +powerful+ populations, which throughout history have always taken it for granted that they are "the most developed". As for "the cultural elite" - who is it that has declared them an elite? The people who have the power to decide and make their judgement known to a wide audience, of course: the "cultural elite", themselves, in other words. The "cultural elite", it turns out, is the economic elite, the power elite - you can be sure nobody consulted the villagers of the Third World on what they thought. This, surely, is just the latest formulation of "might makes right". Of course "the cultural elite" sincerely believes it is something more than the power elite, but then it always has.
The New Age movement eschews violent conflict - rightly so, in my view - but this is no excuse for ignoring political reality. Just as, sometimes, to be silent is to lie so, sometimes, to accept opposing arguments as equally reasonable is to abandon reason. It's not pleasant to contemplate or discuss, but the reality of our world is that some people sincerely aim to tell the truth, while other people fear truth as a hated enemy. Some people are motivated to help others, while others are motivated merely to help themselves. Wishing it were otherwise will not make it so.
David Edwards is Associate Director of www.MediaLens.org