28. Is the Game nearly Up?
Many contradictions inherent in modern daily life have become visible to increasing numbers of people. People of all social backgrounds are seeing things with more piercing eyes than before – they are no longer accepting traditional handed-down givens in the way they once did. Many people 'play the game' only in case it's true, not with certainty. Since the 1960s, 'the game' has grown emptier, crammed with more gizmos and intricacies. Emphasis now lies on precautions, regulations, insurance policies and multi-channel escape-mechanisms. Waistlines have grown and nerves have sharpened. Alternative possibilities have been suppressed and subdued – even the whole Soviet system has been packed away – having the effect of preventing ordinary people from considering alternatives and forming and acting on their own conclusions.
Nevertheless, conclusions are formed, hidden underneath the level of superficial daily attitudes, opinions and rationalisations. These are conclusions many people are hardly aware of. Yet they quickly surface and take shape when it comes to the crunch, when their exhumation is catalysed by symbolic or catastrophic events. We are being obliged by modern circumstance to scrutinise incongruities which do not make sense.
Errors are repeated in the cynical presumption that we'll get used to them, eventually to stop complaining. Incongruities are explained away, yet this creates a growing schizoid gulf between life-as-experienced and life-as-rationalised. It exacerbates an unconscious irritation deep down that slowly generates a shining pearl of knowing. Multiple falsehoods lead to eventual truths. Or, as William Blake once put it: "The path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom". Except that, today, we cannot afford to go too far too long. Blake saw the signs even then, more than 200 years ago.
This mode of sharpened public awareness has arisen in earlier times in localised ways, particularly in pre-revolutionary or pre-collapse situations. Sometimes these situations can be long and drawn out, as was the case in the last decades of both the Manchu (Ch'ing) dynasty in China and the Ottomans in Turkey around the turn of the 20th century. Such buildups of charged perception have indeed led to outbreaks of change, yet this has often also led to a raw deal – old repressive regimes are soon replaced with newly-oppressive regimes. The Bourbon monarchy had its head chopped off and Napoleon took its place. The Romanovs fell and Stalin stepped in.
Humanity has not yet engaged with the fundamental psycho-spiritual causes of its problems, and therefore we cannot fix them. Mixed outcomes from revolutions and major reforms have compounded a historical trans-generational frustration. Things do sometimes change for the better, yet in limited ways and with a rather bitter taste.
We unconsciously carry the frustrations and unfulfilments of our foreparents with us, passed down through unconscious programming inherited by successive generations of children. It can go back a long way, covered over with the generational amnesia of guilt and regret. The driver of women's lib, for example, derives not only from frustration with women's own situations and life-experience but also from the stored-up feelings of many generations of mothers and grandmothers reaching into the dim, distant past. The danger with rapidly-surfacing forcces for change such as this is that such changes are often not taken far enough – symptoms of emancipation are accepted instead of fundamental causes. Women gain increased social and economic equality, but the world does not fundamentally change into a more feminine way of being.
The aggressive-destructive orientation of modern civilisation, 'patriarchy', receives an added boost from the promotion of highly-motivated career women, who bring a new competitiveness and a new vested interest in preserving and expanding their hard-fought power. This could hamper a more wholesome transformative influence womankind can bring to civilisation as a whole. However, women are nevertheless changing things, bit by bit – though they are still constrained by having to play by someone else's rules and by basic materialist values.
Similarly, the rise to affluence of many formerly poor countries creates consumption and destruction levels far higher than in the bad old days of white imperialism. No one would set out to deny others a place in the sun, yet there's only a certain amount of room on the beach! Revolutionaries of old used to despise liberal reformists because liberals can dilute and hijack the sharp poignancy of the moment, turning a burning question into a committee or a reform law which doesn't really solve anything. Second best is accepted.
So the cycle repeats. New governments are sworn in on the promise of making things better. New products emerge, with the prospect of making life easier and more exciting. Yet the problems of existence are not fundamentally changed. The 'war to end all wars' landed up not being so. The 'book of the century' is superseded by a new one three years later. The never-ending story of secret dismay goes on – what is the world coming to?
Historic disillusion is approaching critical mass. It silently awaits a set of circumstances which bring this disillusion to the surface, germinating fundamental change. Critical circumstances in our world (population, climate, etc) escalate in direct proportion to our disillusionment and disquiet, creating a highly-charged totality, a mass of sludgy collective feelings. We are perhaps beginning to notice the mysterious direct connection between the world out there and our world in here, the reciprocal unity between events and thoughts.
Life is made up of two major spheres of experience: what is happening (events and circumstances) and how we are experiencing it (subjectively experiential value-assessments). The pain lies in the friction between the two. Vast incongruities lie in a conflict between what we are told by conventional received wisdom, and what we ourselves perceive in our own personal experience. Sharpness of perception slowly becomes compromised as we mature into adulthood – as we 'grow up' – as we accept given realities and quieten our zeal and ardour.
We do however have the option to maintain an acute youthful perceptiveness throughout life – it keeps us seeing, perching poised on our toes. The price to be paid for this sharpness of perception can sometimes be social disadvantage and a grating feeling as our conscience rubs against the demands of acceptable social behaviour. Yet this can be a price worth paying – in the longterm.
There come crunchy occasions when holding down our potentialities and 'playing the game' no longer work. The grating eats at our very being. Uncomfortable facts confront us at home, at work, in the neighbourhood, on the news. The irritation gives us nightmares and illnesses. It can lose us spouses and friends. Inward collapse causes individuals to enter a personal, secret inner growth process, yet this remains a minority, private development which society as a whole has obediently spurned, criticised and denigrated. The art of being spiritually awake in the modern world involves the adoption of false appearances. Or we gather into sheltered gaggles and networks of like-minded people with but limited outreach in society as a whole. Yet the individuals involved in this add together into a grass-roots movement.
Society protects itself against a growing tide of spiritual dissidents by trivialising their beliefs and efforts, or by commercialising and containing their activities into the framework of contracts, markets and copyrights. This works for a while. Yet this grating dissent generates a pearl of wisdom which gives deeper sharpness to the contradictions and insanities we witness in our world. It builds up a tide of potential energy of enormous historic proportions, which at some point must overflow its banks and dams, turning kinetic, dynamic. If enough individuals turn kinetic, it starts accelerating, going viral. It's all about losing our fear.
The process of becoming civilised, of being socialised and educated, involves the adoption of descriptions and explanations, received wisdom, given to be gospel truth. We must believe them if we wish to succeed and be accepted. It's an unspoken contract. Within these parameters we are permitted individual freedoms. Play the game and you earn a living – play it well and you get promotion and a raise. Size of income and extent of social influence tend to be directly proportional to the extent of self-suppression an individual has gone through to climb the social ladder. Yet there is an inherent flaw: if a person, taught to obey the rules, suddenly has an experience where these rules become sharply incongruous with no sense or wisdom, then a deep discrepancy is found. The itch grows.
We get stuck in compromises, arms tied. We find ourselves being a party to the problem, compromised by the very game we play to stay alive. Our children eyeball us thanklessly with increasing suspicion, indifference, pity or disdain. We're faced with a nagging threat that we'll end our lives feeling incomplete, unresolved, as if we omitted to do whatever we came here to do. So much conditioning buries our sense of innate purpose that we cannot even remember that it is there waiting to be remembered. Yet this remembering lurks quietly within the psyche of everyone, itching to get out, awaiting its moment.
Discrepancies continue to take place because we retract ourselves from questioning the continued existence of major inconsistencies. We get tangled up in confusion or impotence or in just dealing with tomorrow. Insight into life, commitment to our path and awareness of the consequences of our actions run counter to everyday busy reality. We suppress contradictions to create some sort of peace and security. It is simpler to obey social norms, however much we rue complicity, than to resist or protest. We don't want to be branded a criminal or traitor, betrayed by neighbours and associates or be cast out by our own families. It's simpler to conform. That is, until we reach that critical point of despair. Until the guilt of complicity hits us hard. At this point, the bubble pops. The unfulfilment we have accumulated becomes a cancer demanding urgent treatment.
Something goes bananas. It's difficult to handle. We face a choice, to become a broken person, or to be a hero fighting against all odds, or to be a social reject, or even to try to thoroughly drop out, heading for the wilderness or the stupour of drugs or cults. However, these options exist only while such breakdown-breakthroughs remain isolated and individual. If such contradictions are one day suddenly perceived by sufficient numbers of people simultaneously, and if circumstances pressure-cook that collective perception into something much more contagious and intense, then an awkward situation comes up in which extraordinary value-shifts, people-surges, protest movements or potential revolutions can arise.
Civilisation and its repercussions seem to be reaching a crucial crescendo. Billions of people are becoming woven into the modern global buy-sell system. It looks like an all-encompassingly successful market system with a great future. We're massaged with glossy brochures, bribed with debt-purchased cars, pacified with sugary edibles and diverted by sophisticated electronics. We're promised a perpetually-better future. But when the chips are down and reality prevails, the truth is otherwise.
It is remarkable that modern civilisation still works. In the 1960s the chances of actually reaching the Millennium looked rather slim. People have developed fundamental though largely untested secret reservations. Current history is like a loaded cannon, with the safety-catch only just in place. This fuels growing private and public anticipation about the future. It kindles a sense of future-shock, a dissemination of varying millennial warnings and a deep sense of clueless expectancy. Few people dare think big, or longterm – only occasional authors and film-makers do it, with a few crackpot environmentalists thrown in. Futurology is taken as a form of fantasy or speculation.
Big questions. Bigger questions than any we've contemplated before. So many interwoven questions that it seems too much to address them all. Where do we start? Perhaps it's better not to worry about it and just get on with our lives. Perhaps it will go away. Perhaps someone might deal with it – as long as they don't expect us to change.
The result of all this is the growth of a deep, festering and largely unaddressed global morass of underlying, semi-conscious concern. It goes round and round. Should our time not be a time of hope and emergence of new faith and purpose? Should it not entail a re-evaluation of why we are all here, doing all the things we are doing? Is there the courage amongst us to peer into the far future, to get a sense of where we're going? No, let's stay in the ballroom, dancing to the orchestra. It's up to the captain to avoid icebergs. Everything's taken care of. Isn't it?