By Naresh Jotwani for the Saker Blog
Recently, in a comment on this site, Amarynth wrote, “There is no deep understanding. What there is, is not sustainable.”
Amarynth was referring to people who profess understanding of Russia’s cause in the ongoing conflict, but who do not have sound understanding of the basic issues at stake.
Use of the word “sustainable” in conjunction with “understanding” got this author thinking. Do we sense a hint of “eternal” here, perhaps?
More recently, there have been a few lively comments, initiated by Michael Hudson, about whether “Empire of Lies” or “Empire of Hate” is the appropriate description of the ruling dispensation in the west.
At this juncture, the present author cannot resist chipping in with the little he thinks he has understood of the teachings of Gautam Buddha and Jesus Christ. The teachings make very good sense. They are deep, generally applicable – and sustainable. One hopes that they can offer the right approach to understand the psychological malady which is currently on prominent global display.
Every human being seeks durable happiness – that is, a way out of what bothers or pains him. One of two things can happen to an individual: (1) the drive towards happiness finds healthy expression, in a healthy society, or (2) the drive is thwarted. The root of evil is that thwarted drive, followed by egotistic doubling down. Taken to an extreme, this thwarted drive, repeatedly doubled down, leads to limitless misery. Worse still, those who have given up on finding durable happiness truly hate those who have found it.
An “evil” person is one who knows he is down – and going down further! – but continues aggressively regardless, shamelessly ready to take multitudes of others down as well. The person is saying, in effect, “If I cannot have peace, I will see that there is no peace anywhere”; like scorching the earth.
What are the forces that thwart the drive towards happiness?
What else but fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, lack of discipline, ignorance et cetera … all of which may be grouped together as “inner maladies”. Naturally, there are precipitating stress factors in the environment, arising from the competitive nature of economic activity and from intra-tribe relations.
To a person without deep understanding, “the tribe” is the primary bestower of identity – but also a source of much anxiety and stress. The fears gripping an insecure person certainly include the fear of losing one’s connections or one’s place within the tribe. The life of a “free” individual is not easy, and therefore a “tribal blanket of (false) security” is tempting. The price of that false security is the real risk of being manipulated by cunning tribal leaders.
This is true of all human beings, and therefore it applies also to “ruling elites” and to the so-called “emperor” as well. Such persons may boast of enormous power, wealth, fame … whatever; but they are also subject to the drive to find durable happiness; otherwise why invent phrases such as “promised land” or “thousand year reign”? Today it seems that many of the so-called “ruling elites” in the west have either given up cynically on finding durable happiness, or are in denial that their actions are leading to no good.
Thwarted desire lead to crime, whether local or global. We may apply a simple litmus test: Experience of true happiness leads to an impulse to share it with others; inability to share professed happiness is proof of hollow claims.
A person may claim ownership of trillions of dollars, or command over huge armies, or control over hundreds of puppet politicians. For what all these are worth, let us say he gets A+ assessment in these categories. In the category of durable happiness, however, F could well be the right assessment.
Trading durable happiness for power, wealth and fame is like trading a sweet water lake for a mirage. Is that a great achievement – or a delusion? From that delusion follow lies, hate and violence; in their wake follows defeat.
If the above description has some merit, then the global empire in question can be dubbed “Empire of Delusion” – or even, in its present teetering state, perhaps “Empire of Lost Causes”.
It goes without saying that fickle understanding is no understanding at all. Life is full of difficulties, challenges, changing circumstances – and much more. That is to say, suffering is an existential, noble truth. It makes perfect sense that sustainable understanding would help a person cope with the countless vicissitudes of life. This is no different from saying that a ship with ballast fares better in choppy seas than an empty shell of a ship.
But then how does understanding become durable? That is the key question. Why does one person have this quality while another does not?
Understanding becomes durable only when it shaped and chiselled – usually painfully! – by the very vicissitudes of life which necessitate the development of durable understanding. Necessity is the mother of invention, in the ever-open school of hard knocks. (That mixing of idiom was irresistible!)
“Ruling elites” succeed in creating a bubble isolating them from the school of hard knocks, also known as reality. Belief that one has reached “the promised land of milk and honey” blocks the development of understanding. Inevitably, with time, anxiety and insecurity take over, precluding durable happiness.
Deep understanding is rooted in non-conflicting truths recognized within oneself. A simple example of a conflict precluding deep understanding is provided by the label “white supremacist”. Such a person would probably have many talents – such as bravery and mechanical ingenuity, for example. Due to some thwarted desire, however, the person also feels hatred towards people of other backgrounds. His assessment of people of other backgrounds is distorted by that inner hatred. Tribal loyalties reinforce the inner conflicts, which in effect become the tribal calling card.
In fact the universe is infinitely mysterious, more full of wonders that we can possibly imagine. The universe we know about today – from the scale of nanometers to the scale of millions of light years – seems infinitely richer than what the ancients had explored and discovered.
But the ancients had certainly not missed the mystery, the wonder and the awe of the universe. Being free from the conflicts of our modern age, the ancients had probably experienced the mystery, the wonder and the awe of the universe more profoundly than we do today.
The hubris of science – and fake science! – underlies the modern mentality, which is a mentality sans a working mind. Inner conflicts are suppressed, while the hubristic march to “ever more progress” creates increasing misery.
Actions of “the western ruling elite” today seem to be caused by desperation, not by wisdom rooted in understanding. However, any such “ruler” – no matter how high and mighty – cannot deny in the heart of his heart the inner pain of conflicted understanding, of self-deception. The individual is usually too ignorant or too proud to admit to any inner malady, even as lackeys are hired to reinforce the deception. Instead of correcting course, he gambles further with debt, power, cruelty, exploitation, war – the entire playbook.
No option is off the table – but, at the same time, no option will work!
Some seem to believe it is smart to “fake it till you make it”. But this means that if you don’t make it, the fakery never ends! But in fact no person can hide his fakery from himself. Faking oneself results in madness, extreme cynicism or nihilism, the latter cases followed inevitably by senility and painful death.
What does all this indicate? Unsustainability in the extreme.
Moral choices have been faced by mankind over millennia, or perhaps longer, perhaps even in prehistoric times. Today’s situation may fundamentally be no different from those in earlier times – but with one huge difference. With the spread of knowledge and technology, people around the world get a “ring side” seat to truly understand the goings-on and learn.
Let us hope people of the world learn the right lessons – even as the school of hard knocks is working rather furiously to make us learn!
Denial of the existential, noble truth of suffering is the great lie. Durable understanding helps in coping with suffering – that is, the many challenges and vicissitudes of life. Shallow misunderstanding seems to rely only on tightly shutting one’s eyes and muttering a tribal mantra from rote memory.
Why do historians miss all this? They may record that Gautam Buddha or Jesus Christ lived and taught in a particular era, in a particular place … and so on and on with myriad details. But do historians grasp how the profound teachings of these great men enhanced human understanding of the deepest, the most vital truths? Do historians get it that the teachings of prophets and saints are based on deep understanding of human psychology?
Example: The profound observation that “Man does not live by bread alone” is brought into especially sharp relief today because a war is being fought in the world’s best wheat-growing regions! A simple-minded person may rightfully ask, “What are they fighting about? Don’t they have plenty of everything?”
Curiously, this profound observation – which is an eternal truth – has no so-called “academic merit” today. Any “academic” assessment of its merit would first get into the question of the number of refereed research publications Jesus Christ had to his credit! The academic world of economists, historians, political theorists et cetera is today totally cut off from real life, having turned itself into a modern, self-serving Tower of Babel.
Durable understanding lies deep, deep down in the human heart; the experience is profound – but extremely difficult to articulate. Understanding which is thus rooted – grounded! – is unshakable in the face of arguments, temptations and adversity. It is this deep understanding – and not wealth, power or sense pleasure – which gives value to human life.
Earlier we referred to “hate”. In any given instance, is it more accurate to say that “X hates Y”, or that “Devilish hate has gripped X by the most delicate part of his anatomy”? In other words, is X a purveyor or a victim of hate? Or both? Can X be a purveyor of hate without first being a victim of it?
We can definitely say that X is not a rational human being. A helpless victim and a purveyor of hate – or greed, or lust – while definitely being dangerous to others, is in fact also a miserable, pathetic creature.
As another famous and profound observation goes, “They know not what they do”. But certainly it is still necessary to oppose their untruth, and also to recognize that rational engagement is impossible. In India, a war with such an underlying dynamic was known as dharma yuddha – “war of truth”.
An essay by Patrick Armstrong (here), and the comments made in response, show that wisdom and truth are universal. For the wise, there are no boundaries such as Zone A and Zone B. Such boundaries exist mainly in the minds of the ruling elites, hell-bent on grabbing all that they can. On one side of the boundary, they will cruelly exploit people in one way; on the other side, they will cruelly exploit people in another way. Whatever it takes! Only the legalistic framework of exploitation changes across boundaries.
From the observation above, “They know not what they do”, the part about forgiveness was left out. Why so? Because, if one believes in the universal laws of karma, one must also accept that these laws are unforgiving. The huge eruption of power-lust, cynicism and greed which occurred about two thousand years ago, and lasted centuries, caused violence and destruction whose tragic effects continue even today.
What consequences will the present, tragic re-eruption of power-lust, cynicism and greed have? We do not know – but it seems that the consequences may again span centuries. My country escaped the huge cataclysms of violence and destruction back then. This time around, that may not be the case.