Charles Eisenstein, my go-to guy for understanding what’s happening in this crazy world, for making sense of it – at least the sense of seeing clearly what the causes and implications of it all are – has written another gem. Whatever he writes about, it seems that he’s able to clarify everything and bring a beautiful, open perspective to the world as he explicates the question at hand.
This one is on ‘Brexit’ – and by extension Trumpism.
He says that the conventional interpretations of the motives of the anti-elitist sentiment as expressed in both these current phenomena are flawed and patronizing to the extreme, blaming it all on the ignorant xenophobia and racist attitudes of the ‘yahoos’. He notes that there are deep and legitimate reasons behind both the anti-EU vote and Trump supporters’ anger.
We don’t agree on what to do, but more and more of us have lost faith in the system and its stewards. When right-wing populists blame our problems on dark-skinned people or immigrants, the response they arouse draws its power from real and justifiable dissatisfaction. Racism is its symptom, not its cause.
It’s the underlying assumptions and attitudes that are creating all of these problems, the ideas that drive people to fear, anger and hatred against someone – who depending on one’s social analysis.
The right-wing populists incite hatred and anger at the blacks, the immigrants, the Muslims, the gays, the transgender, the “libtards,” etc. The mainstream liberals stir up outrage against the bigots, the nationalists, the contemptible narrow-minded over-entitled “crazy” (a common adjective) climate-change-denying Bible-thumpers. Further left, the critics of neoliberal imperialism follow the same formula by invoking images of heartless corporate executives, greedy bankers, cowardly political elites, and drone-like bureaucrats and technocrats who should surely know better.
Understanding the causes of all this – and then communicating with each other about how to solve it – is the only way our world will come to find a way through all this that leads to a livable world for all.
Charles says the underlying issue is the mindset of modernity, the belief that we as humans are separate and set apart from the rest of life, and from each other.
…it is part of a mindset that is integral to modernity and has roots going back to the first mass societies. It is fundamentally the mindset of war, in which progress consists in defeating the enemy: weeds or locusts, barbarians or communists; germs or cholesterol; gun nuts or traitors. And that mindset rests on a foundation more basic still: the Story of Separation that holds us as discrete, separate individuals in a world of other, in opposition to random forces and arbitrary events of nature, and in competition with the rest of life. Well-being comes, in this story, through domination and control: glyphosate, antibiotics, GMOs, SSRIs, surveillance systems, border fences, kill lists, prisons, curfews…
–Which pretty much describes most of the nasty stuff going on around us!
It is from this story too that neoliberal capitalism sources its power. It depends on the idealization of competition, encoded in “free markets,” as a law of nature and primary driver of progress; on the sanctity of private property (which is a primal form of domination) and, most of all, on exercising control over others through the creation and enforcement of debt.
At some point, Brexit, Trump, or worse will shake us out of our trance, break our fascination with this world story, and force us to confront the beliefs that underpin it all. Maybe then humanity will embrace the interbeing that is our true home, and we can all live in this world together.
Hi, very nice column. Are you in the Asheville area? I noticed you mentioned going to Southern Dharma recently.
Since you mention Charles as your “go to guy”, I’m curious what you think of his metaphysical musings? He and Stephen Batchelor would seem to be light years away from each other (and I don’t think Charles, at least, would use Batchelor’s “out” by saying something like, “oh, words, ideas, they’re all empty). Stephen seems to hearken back to the drawing rooms of Victorian England, providing his agnostic, and very British views of materialism and doubt. Charles seems – miraculously to my mind, given his background – to have quite reasonably worked his way through all of our modern religion and found his way out.
Having lived here in the south (SC first, now NC) for 15 years, after some 30 years in New York City’s East Village (having, as far as I knew, never met a Baptist or evangelical of any kind) it has struck me quite forcefully – especially after many conversations with Bob Jones University students, that whatever the surface religious beliefs people may hold, the bottom line philosophy and theological view of virtually everyone in the 21st century (that is, everyone except people like Charles who have worked their way through it) is a kind of faith-based, empirically empty materialism.
From what you’ve written, it sounds like you feel comfortable with both views – Stephen’s and Charles.’ I find that fascinating. Anyway, thanks for some very interesting writing.
Hi! Thanks for your astute comments! I don’t get a lot of response here, so happy to engage! No, I don’t live in Asheville tho I am there once a year or so, have friends and a kid living there… I live in the wasteland known as southeastern Georgia, where there is almost no one to discuss such things with at all. I am pretty sure I don’t know anyone who has read both of these authors!
Interesting to me that you see Stephen and Charles as so different… maybe I’m just choosing what fits my own ideas from each, but I see them as supportive. The essential idea in Charles’ work is ‘inter-being’, which he more or less borrowed from Thich Nhat Hanh, whom he references once or twice in _Ascent…_. Seems to me they both have ‘worked their way through’ most of the crap that’s in religion and kept what is meaningful and helpful.
I’m still working on Stephen’s latest book, _After Buddhism_, but what I like about his writing is the interpretation of Buddhist teachings (which he shows is true to certain strains in the oldest texts) as very practical and meant to be applied to how we live in the world. As a skeptic and non-believer, I have always taken Buddhism in more or less that way, just disregarding all the supernatural aspects that are there in most traditions.
This is just my initial response to what you said… I’ll have to think about it more to see if there is an inconsistency here I haven’t recognized… so thanks, you’ve given me much food for thought!
And thanks for commenting! Perhaps we can continue a dialog about these ideas…
Ah shucks, I was all geared up for a good argument and here you are being so thoughtful and considerate!
Seriously though (mostly), we could have an interesting conversation about later-life views from different starting points.
If I got your bio correct, you were in the midst of the Baptist world as a child. I was a quite devout, dogmatic, fundamaterialist atheist throughout my childhood, so I recognize all of Stephen’s views quite well.
In any case, nice writing. I’ll stay tuned and see if I have anything to offer besides arguments:>)) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQFKtI6gn9Y