An Unnatural Equilibrium

AutumnI’m surprised each year at how fast autumn falls, how dark the evenings get, how dim the days. To us, this consistent and progressive loss of sunlight and warmth can feel like doom. Our ancestors felt so uncertain of this time that they went to enormous superstitious lengths to attempt to bring back the sun.

And yet to the flowers, trees, animals and bushes it’s known that this time will come. The pattern is part of their being. As a one-off event it may look like death, but to nature, who knows the pattern, it is just a time to acquiesce, part of a known cycle. The sun will return.

What separates us from nature is our consciousness, the ‘me’ inside that identifies me and you as being separate from each other, separate from the bees, the table, the ground and the water. Without this internal self we would be separate only in the way a cog is separate from the machine; it is an individual part of the whole and without the whole and its part to play, it is worthless.

It’s our individuality that makes us separate from nature, that makes us think that a cog has worth on its own without the machine and that creates uncertainty and self-doubt. The story of this realisation that we’re separate from nature is documented in many ancient philosophical and religious writings, most famously perhaps in the story of Genesis and the Fall. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were evicted from was the state of being intrinsically part of nature and in constant communion with it in that personification of it, God. By gaining self-awareness, humanity gained consciousness and self-determination but lost that direct link to God. All human societies since that awakening, wherever and whenever it happened, have spawned cultural devices, called religions, to try to get back to oneness with nature and, or, our creator gods.

Religions have two purposes. One is to aim to explain the complex world and add meaning to people’s lives, attempting to answer philosophical questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘what happens when I die?’. The other is to maintain a stable community through some mode of control system. Religion is therefore just a shared model and set of beliefs that can create a mode of behaviour that can glue people together to make a society. It doesn’t require gods or God, just a set of shared beliefs in anything. This is why talk of ‘getting rid of religion’ is a pointless and impossible task as even agreeing on that task is itself a religion. This also why a ‘religion verses science’ is a pointless debate, you might as well debate which is better ‘Oranges or Tuesdays’. Science is a method of attaining knowledge through testing and measuring. Religion is a shared model for behaviour. The two naturally  compliment each other.

I believe all religions (or models for society if you prefer) want peace (although they may differ on how to get it). By peace we want not to be interfered with so we can go about our business. But we also want a piece, a piece of the action. We want what we can get. We have these two modes, of collaboration and antagonism. They’re have been referred to as hawks and doves. It’s a model that shows simplistically why we have war and peace and why one needs the other.

If you have a society of doves, that is a collection of creatures whose nature is to collaborate, have community, but never fight to either attack or defend, you have a model of a utopian peaceful society where every individual is equal.

If you have a group of hawks, a collection of individual aggressive fighting creatures, who will kill to get what they want, you’ll have a hierarchical society, a pyramid of power, with the most successful fighter at the top and everyone else in their place. Here too you will have a model of a utopian peaceful society, this time where every individual knows their level. As soon as weakness is perceived in a level above, that individual will be removed, everyone jostles for position before a stability is reached again.

But if you put just one hawk into the society of doves, you have disaster. The doves, who will never fight back are wiped out, enslaved or, are transformed into hawks just to stay alive. This is the story of conquest and invasion, from Barbarians, Vandals, Vikings and Romans to the Third Reich and beyond.

If you put one dove into a hawk society, he will most likely be destroyed. But if you continually put in a dove, eventually, some hawks will transform into doves, a dove mentality will sweep through the community. This is the story of Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and others.

In the hawks and doves model, neither of the pure societies are stable, both are easily overturned into chaos.

The answer to this paradox is found in nature where we see hawks and doves, spiders and flies, lions and gazelles, all co-existing in equilibrium. There is always just the right amount to balance societies of each other alongside the available natural resources they both need.

But we are individuals. We don’t want to be the one who has to die for the good of society. We’re far too selfish for that. But neither do we want to willingly sacrifice the most vulnerable within our society; the young, the old, the sick and the lame for the greater good. We’re selfless enough to care about the weak. What makes us human, and unique is that we are both selfish and selfless at the same time. We are both hawk and dove in one creature.

This is the paradox of the human condition which lifts us up above function and survival. We want to win, but we don’t want others to lose. We want to conquer, but we have mercy. We want freedom from dominion and judgement and yet we seek out our creator God. We plan for the future and yet we waste resources today.

Our human dilemma is that we feel comfortable in the extremes, which is unnatural and which is where danger lies. We want the ultimate society – but that requires sacrifice and the loss of individuality. We want to be individually free – but that means the breakdown of shared values.

What we need is equilibrium. Just as in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’ (you may know this entire passage as the lyrics to the 1965 hit, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds).

Now we have our consciousness, I don’t believe we should surrender it to ‘get back to nature’ to lose free will, to lose self determinism and dissolve the ego, as some systems promote.

Neither do I think we should abandon the search for oneness, meaning and the deep questions of the universe, as other systems suggest.

We need, what is to us, an unnatural equilibrium, to embrace these paradoxes, to live within art and science, with logic and chaos, with strength and meekness; at the same time. We need to have a greater knowledge of patterns, to work with and within nature, to accept and reject power and to strive for a balance in all things.

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Is this the most offensive idea ever?


From the Moon, we don’t see opinions. The world looks to be at peace…

I know how we can achieve World Peace…

I’ve been interested in World Peace as long as I can remember. As a child I often wondered, ‘why can’t people just be nice to each other?’ and ‘why can’t people just leave me alone?’

I was 10 when I came up with, what I thought would be the only real law we needed: ‘Everyone can do anything they like as long as it doesn’t stop anyone else doing what they like.’

That seems to work, doesn’t it? It’s not far off the Golden Rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Not bad for me in 1981. But then I did pick up my philosophy from Doctor Who so you shouldn’t expect anything less.

But it doesn’t work does it? No matter what extraneous laws we put in place to control behaviour, whatever carrot or stick, whatever promise or guilt trip we use, we still don’t have peace.

So why is that? Clearly some people follow just the first half of my Golden Rule and just do what they want (that’s the definition of the code of magic set down by Aleister Crowley, ‘Do what thy wilt’ by the way). We call these people sociopaths. But they are a tiny fraction of the problem, even when they do end up running a country.

Why do we have wars? Some people cite religion as the reason. They are wrong. I may be naive and simplistic in my philiosophy, but I’ve thought it through a little bit more than that. Religion is largely irrelevant, or rather it is a subset of a larger set.

I’m suggesting there are two reasons nations or people go to war, or pick a fight of any kind. Just two reasons. Often it’s both reasons together and sometimes it’s one but they cite the other.

The first reason is resources. People will fight and kill each other to get what the other person has. It could be money, a nice coat, a wife or husband, more land, oil, water, copper, food, anything.

The two World Wars were about land and resources but they were both triggered by the other reason people fight:

Difference of opinion or different ideas.*

That’s why the answer is not religion, but the higher set of conflicting ideas. In fact that’s all religion really is, a group adherence to a particular idea on how to live life. That’s why different football fans will fight because of the difference of opinion on who should be supported. Without religion we’d still have warring tribes and culture clashes.

That’s why many peace activists have focused on pointing out that we have such few differences, that we should embrace difference and that we should remove the boundaries of tribe, religion, country and wealth that divides us.

But, on this day, I have another idea…

Let’s face it. It’s pretty obvious that we’re all different. All of us. It’s pretty obvious that we don’t all see things the same way. Even Beatle fans can’t agree on the best track on the Revolver LP. We all have different opinions and ideas and guess what, those opinions might even change.

So ‘different ideas’ are here to stay and we can’t do anything about them.

But it’s not the fact of those different ideas that are the problem. It’s not the fact that we disagree about which, if any, religious faith is right. It’s not the fact that we can’t agree of who was the best Doctor Who (it was Tom Baker by the way). It’s the fact that we get offended if someone else holds a different view. We get offended if we’re pointed out to be wrong, by someone else’s opinion.

Yes. That’s what I’m saying. We can’t have World Peace until everyone stops getting offended by other people having different ideas.

We often point the finger at idiots who incite hatred. The enlightened pour scorn on those who create division. The modern liberal politically correct model is to try really hard to not offend anyone and punish those who do. There have been numerous examples recently of comedians having to ‘apologise’ for making fun of someone (which is worryingly ludicrous as humour is formed by the realisation of differences or embarrassment over them).

There is an answer to all this. There is a brave step we need to take to get closer to World Peace. This is it:

We all must never be offended by what anyone says ever again.

Could you do it? No matter what they said about your mum? No matter how their words degraded you, your family, your work? Could you just laugh it off or ignore it? Do you have the confidence that your own opinions are strong enough to stand up to unfair trials without having to feel defeated or lash out?

If no-one was offended by what people said, if the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ was adhered to, we’d seriously reduce the instigation of violence.

So how can we stop people from being so offended by everything? Again the answer is simple. We all should be as overwhelmingly verbally offensive as possible to all those people who are quick to take offence. We need to tell the most offensive jokes about them to them until their internal offensive-defence mechanism can’t take it anymore and it just washes over them. And we must never ever apologise for it.

But guess what. I might be wrong. Your idea might be better. Let’s hear it.

All we’d have to do then is figure out a way to share out all our resources. That may not be easy, but in an open debate where no-one is getting offended by what people say, we might be able to at least have a crack at it.

* Actually it’s ‘fear of difference’ that’s the real key, which is why people with primitive minds are racist, defaulting to the ancient ‘purging of the hives’ animal mentality. The fear comes from lack of confidence in the self when faced with a difference. This is why racists have inferiority complexes and an inability to grasp logic which is a much later evolutionary trait.

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