12. Conscience and Natural Justice

 

Unawareness is a well embedded historic institution. Living in modern society demands serious acquiescence in a fog of under-consciousness. Life's complexities work against sensitivity and empathy, instead demanding unawareness and ethical laxity. We each maintain these traits as a result of our conditioning, guilt and avoidance strategies - we stifle unconscious feelings and withhold our deeper truth.

Unawareness comes sharply into focus when we choose to cultivate awareness, ethical sensitivity and moral consistency. These clash with life's pressures, multiplying life's tensions. Spiritually- and ethically-conscious people take on doubled responsibilities in which conventional social obligations can conflict with their calling to pursue truth in their lives.

Life presents a choice to bury our moral concerns or to defy society's norms by prioritising them. Awareness-maggots eat away at us, leading us to an inescapable breaking-point that we all must sooner or later face.

Our collusive culture of unawareness is pervasive. We live a schizoid life, holding secret, privatised perceptions we don't share openly. Subscribing to a shared template of normality and convention, we reinforce it with convoluted explanations and reasons. A loaded catchphrase - 'the war against terrorism', 'the national interest' or 'the threat of unemployment' - can cause us to lock unthinkingly into step with conventions - even when we don't believe in them.



There is a joint-and-several totalitarianism to this: when sufficient numbers of people collude, morally questionable ideas are legitimised and normalised, even rationalised to be good and necessary. This can include supporting wars, discrimination, excess, destruction and loss of freedom.

"Just another chocolate won't make a difference" - but chocolate caused a civil war in Côte d'Ivoire! Mini-crimes add up to enormous transgressions. In future times many actions deemed acceptable today will become criminal.

Specific measures to foster public awareness can resolve many problems. By forcing exhaust pipes to stick up on the front of a car, fumes would enter the awareness of drivers. If electricity were generated on a local basis from renewable energy sources, communities would become locally more self-empowering. At gas stations, signs should say "Today's consignment comes from the Nigerian Delta, with diesel from Venezuela".

These sound simplistic, yet they build awareness into our life-process, and the wider payoffs would be large. They spread responsibility and educate the public. Awareness is the 21st Century key - the alternatives are heavy regulation and force, or deterioration and wars.

Raising prices doesn't change much since, when addiction is involved, rising prices don't necessarily reduce demand. We are addicted to things as if life would lose its meaning if we didn't have them. This is actually criminal behaviour, made permissible by a fog of unawareness.


Molehills out of mountains

 

Many of today's problems arise from a denial of the tension between seeing and behaviour. Denial involves giving implicit permission for crimes and hypocrisies to happen. We know of the AIDS epidemics in Africa, India, Cambodia and Russia, yet we feel there is little we can do except perhaps contribute money and buy condoms.

At the receiving end of such treatment, this resigned impotency appears to be a callous indifference. And it is. Most people don't think about depleted-uranium bombs unless they fall on us.

But this apparent lack of concern is not just heartless indifference: it represents a gridlocked inner conflict between concern and powerlessness. This conflict is aided by the way our society conceals the causes and effects of the world's problems: how can fully-stacked supermarket shelves in Belgium or Minnesota be connected with famine in Zambia or the felling of the rainforests?

Indifference is one of the most malignant forces of our age.

Unawareness and indifference are far-reaching.


A primary cause of the spread of AIDS is social taboos - denying there is a problem and that it is our problem. It reaches into official public health policy worldwide. Yet failing to own up to our responsibilities creates large numbers of orphans, population loss and a pervasive eating away of social support structures and local economies. What a price to pay!

Whatever the causes of AIDS, social denial must end, or AIDS will replicate. Collaborative mobilisation to deal with the obvious causes and side-effects of AIDS is vital. This will lead to greater outcomes than solely preventing AIDS: it leads to social innovation, community re-constitution, the transformation of social support structures and a potential rebirth of society.

The answer is to bring victims into the centre of communities, to remove all shame, to hear their stories and to make their tragedies ours. Countries taking this approach, such as Uganda, have quickly reduced the spread of AIDS, getting on top of other social problems in the process.

Worldwide, we customarily seek medical, policing, judicial and technological solutions, without seeing that a systemic social dishonesty lies at their root. Devolving problems to experts, we avoid thinking about the nature of society and modern life. If such chronic dishonesty were addressed, society would change fundamentally. Correction would arise increasingly from grass-roots social activism. Today's conventions and normalities are designed to encase and replicate unawareness, so things needs changing at a deep level, addressing that unawareness.


Culpability and scruples

 

We cannot get away with the current state of affairs longterm. Many people are aware of this, yet it is difficult for them to do anything unless they are willing to make personal sacrifices.

Change depends a lot on despair. Despair is a heightened state of conscience and a deep-level conflict between awareness and presented reality. Conscience is a secret moral regulator that signals to us when we go too far, or we witness things going too far. Such ethical sensibilities operate beyond cultural conditioning or belief. They raise our insight and integrity, injecting a sense of wider context, offering us increased options. Liberty depends on conscience and moral vigilance. So does democracy.

Two contrasting notions of conscience are easily confused. One is the conditioned guilt we experience when we break social obligations and taboos - over spilling ketchup on the carpet. This is an inculcated psychological and cultural issue - it's disposable or can be changed.

The second is an inborn, self-regulatory sensibility related to beauty, naturalness, justice, simplicity and authenticity. This kind of conscience signals those occasions when we go against nature or human nature - overstretching ourselves, causing problems or collaborating with things we cannot respect ourselves for. It is independent of social values, taboos and conventions.


The golden rule of good behaviour is simply: do to others what you would prefer them to do to you.

Something either fits with nature, inherent 'rightness' and the 'will of God' or it does not, irrespective of what has been accepted or believed up to that moment. When we're in tune with conscience, we feel we're in the right time, at the right place, doing the right thing. This is a clear feeling and instinct.

Conscientious scruples can be deemed 'wrong' in conventional terms, but there comes a point where conscience overrides convention and things change.

'Rightness' is a deep-seated feeling that something is 'in order', 'meant to be' or 'central and correct', even when other people fail to see it. There is something enduring to it, that goes beyond our customary judgements of rightness or wrongness, social or ideological acceptability. Unpremeditated, it usually involves taking the best available option at that moment, because we just know it's right.

When we feel something is just not right, bells ring to say we are off-the-mark, susceptible to derailment, or that we're causing regrettable consequences. This happened for millions of people in February 2003 when they felt unhappy about the Iraq War, whether or not they knew exactly why - and circumstances since then have proved them right.

It might be socially tolerated to get drunk and use offensive language on Friday nights but it just isn't right - it creates outcomes we are likely to regret or, worse, outcomes that other people remember more than we.

The primary issue preoccupying conscience is not specific situations or 'crimes', but the unawareness that causes us to blunder through life committing such 'crimes' - markers of a deeper malaise.


Rectitude

 

Michael Herr, scriptwriter of Apocalypse Now, said in 1989: "All the wrong people remember Vietnam. All the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it."

On some issues we ought to feel more responsible than we do: in the 20th C, convention regarded rising property values as 'a good thing'. In fact, such profit is actually sucked in from other people who lose from it, and it is taken without their consent - it is legalised theft. But we don't look at it that way - our conditioning tells us that profit is good and a sign of success.

Moral rectitude is complex, with no hard and fast rules. Some on the political right or left might think otherwise. A big problem with evaluating moral issues is the influence of moral absolutes. A Westerner might think, "Anyone subscribing to a traditional religion is just backward and submissive" while a Muslim might think, "Anyone who is not a Muslim cannot be a good person" - and both are equally incorrect, because....

There is no right or wrong - there are only outcomes. Rightness and wrongness can and do change, even overnight.

It is not things like divorce, abortion or even killing that are inherently right or wrong, but the way we do them and what drives them. Every moral judgement must be made uniquely and conscientiously, with a willingness to learn if life proves us incorrect, to deal with the outcomes of our actions, and to correct historic patterns. True morality grows out of garnered experience, and rigid rules undermine and corrupt this growth.


Morality isn't about guiltily living a stiff, rule-bound, puritanical life. If we try to stop doing 'bad' things, we often set up a fight inside us between guilt and desire, which can make things worse. Human rights have actually suffered as a result of the Declaration of Human Rights - the writing of moral rules has somehow allowed us to beak them more easily.

Moral rigidity causes us to starve or punish ourselves to placate our guilt, then to binge and overdo it because of doubt and weakness - and then we feel bad about that, and the battle gets even more complex. Guilt kills more people than nicotine or cholesterol - though it's also true that smoking or comfort-eating frequently cover up chronic guilt and fear.

Our modern world is a manifestation of this struggle between guilt and excess. The 20th C saw enormous excesses, with the contrasting secret growth of a moral sense of culpability. This exacerbated guilt levels and tension, leading to sophisticated kinds of guilt-avoidance, excess and mass-addiction. The world developed a growing wish for peace yet it created more war. It sought security and created insecurity.

Since this is unsustainable, the grossest ills limit themselves to 'theatres', areas of their concentration, where horrors are acted out by proxy: hence Israel, Colombia, Iraq and Cambodia have seen senseless degrees of pain, disproportionate to the local issues at stake - these countries have unconsciously taken on other people's shadows.


Making new connections

 

Many of the world's current problems are signs that things are actually beginning to get better. The ascendancy of conscience can tend at first to create greater destruction. But this is to cause us to look at what we have done.

The soul of humanity is forcing us to look squarely at our errors and see their full effects. We are protected from global war and degeneracy by the localisation of harm into 'theatres of war'. This is no excuse for dumping crises on vulnerable societies. But it does focus healing attention on certain arenas where they are concentrated, enacting 'movies' to help us work things out.

Palestinians and Israelis fight it out to exhaust themselves, to get to the bottom of something we all dare not look at. They will eventually cooperate out of sheer exhaustion - and weariness is one of the greatest bringers of peace and resolution. Yet if Israelis and Palestinians resolve their own conflict, the whole world will be helped. Also, they cannot end this conflict - the world's longest-lasting conflict - until the rest of the world gets engaged with them, since outside interference, arms and money have been major causes of the conflict.

This is perverse but very human, a consequence of the historic habit of denying human wisdom and conscience. The path of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake. True, though excess isn't the only path to wisdom. The alternative is to observe our life-patterns, acknowledge our actions, watch how their consequences unfold from there, and learn from it.

Before long, awareness lights up. We make new connections, seeing a deeper understanding of the relationship between action and consequence. We then get a handle on our unwholesome patterns. This is a seeing of truth. Perception is the key to improving our world.


In conciliation sessions where victims meet perpetrators, perpetrators are often shocked when the full chain of consequences of their actions is presented to them. They often just don't think, or they believe their actions have few effects, apart from those they sought.

Our ingrained cultural beliefs inform our moral choices. Western secularism believes we have only one lifetime, and that death means 'The End'. Thus, murder is deemed a serious crime, and medical life-saving is taken to enormous lengths. In Buddhist cultures believing in rebirth, the most serious crime is to deflect a person from their spiritual path. In their way of seeing things, this affects a soul in multiple incarnations. Murder indeed is a major crime but, to Buddhists, it is more reparable than crimes against awareness: awareness helps deal with murder, but murder doesn't usually help deal with awareness.

Repeated spiritual damage reduces our capacity for conscience and self-correction. In the West, deflecting others from their spiritual path is standard practice - advertising, education, entertainment and daily life do it. In Japan, disturbing a person's inner composure is deemed a misdeed.

One consequence is that Western culture is spiritually lost. Yet traditional Buddhist beliefs have made individuals' lives appear expendable - which Western values can teach something about.

Rightness and wrongness aren't straight, simple, unchanging and absolute.


Independent reasoning

 

Traditional religious codes tend to prescribe absolute moral values and sanctions, yet their applicability now needs thorough review. In Islam it's the argument between religious orthodoxy and ijtihad, or independent reasoning.

Many traditional moral strictures are valid. Moses' stricture 'thou shalt not kill' needs much more observance, and the Buddhist and Hindu idea of ahimsa, or non-harming, is a standard that could be applied everywhere. Yet there are instances where killing or harming sometimes have value: if someone had bumped off Saddam Hussein at the right time, they might have done the world a favour and saved many lives.

We stand on a shifting moral boundary here. Do pre-emptive military strikes against weapons of mass-destruction constitute justifiable killing? Where is the boundary between a just humanitarian war and an excuse for something else?

Different times and cultures judge things differently, and the effects of specific actions vary in individual cases and at different times. Many of the world's great crimes are committed because judgement of current situations is often based upon the values, standards and rules of the past. World events present a stream of exceptions, shocks and precedents to keep us insecure and questioning ourselves. Events force us to review and update our standards.


There are basic moral standards which can be applied globally. The Asian ahimsa, non-harming, needs little explanation and few sub-clauses - it has immense judicial and geopolitical implications. Another significant guideline is the Judaeo-Christian rule do to others as you would have them do to you. This also implies see yourself as others see you. This is a primary key to ending world terror, violence and exploitation.

The alternative to ethical principles is a stultifying regulatory and legalistic system stuffed with rules, legislators, lawyers, inspectors and verifiers. Regulation breeds a culture of mindless compliance and permission-seeking, or rule-breaking and loophole-finding, both of which eat away at good sense and sensible behaviour.

Regulation de-emphasises moral relevance and sensitivity, breeding obedientism, a seeking of loopholes and ways of 'getting away with it'. To happily observe and conform to laws and regulations we need to feel their relevance, otherwise they will be broken, bent or circumvented. A great weakness of civilisation is the gulf between its regulations and real life.

In the 21st C the re-evaluation of transcultural standards will by necessity evolve 'on the hoof'. Our traditional moral codes have worked insufficiently well to bring about the kind of world that was intended. Sixty years ago a template for global behaviour was laid down - the UN Charter of Human Rights - but transgressions have been so many and enforceability so fraught that the charter has under-performed significantly. It is noble and good, yet it is heavily evaded, manipulated and infringed. But it is the best option we have.


Raising world standards

 

We are confronted today with a torrent of precedents and threshold-crossings that shift moral goalposts and parameters really fast. This is the soul of humanity at work, setting out to loosen us up by creating vexation, paradox and exposure of double-standards.

A world moral consensus will always be coloured by cultural viewpoints. We must achieve degrees of ethical convergence while avoiding blanket standardisation and rigid moral orthodoxies. Imposing a catch-all moral framework invites a torrent of erosive events and dissension, prompted by the collective unconscious and reality. This is the influence of force majeure, the overwhelming power of events and the true 'will of God'. But what we gain depends on whether we consider force majeure to help or hinder us. We need to recognise that everything that happens has a meaning and is here to teach us. It's a matter of perspective.

Raising planetary standards rests on raising global emotional sensitivity. There is one army that can scare the hell out of the toughest of guys: women and girls, acting together. Women and their sensitivities and moral judgements are important for the future.

Collective sensitisation shifts society's emotional context and its immunity to abuse. It reduces trauma, disruption, the hardening of social responses and the seeds of violence, abuse and atrocity.

It increases mutual consideration and inclusion, starting a virtuous spiral of truth and cooperation. So raising world standards involves a rise in interpersonal emotional standards.


It is a cop-out to label terrorists, criminals or abusers as evil, though they are seriously mistaken and dangerously obsessed. Terrorists exist because they feel their voice is unheard - they represent something in the collective psyche, something to do with us. The key lies in hearing and understanding how and why they became terrorists. They are part of a general human tendency to brutalise the world.

Every act of violence and hard-heartedness densifies and thickens human standards and insensitivity. Jangle, bloodshed and explosions stop us noticing the finer tones of life. They increase unhappiness, blocking social trust, tenderness, sharing and creativity.

Social conscience is embodied in people who work in the charitable, voluntary and social sectors, in campaigns and popular movements, and in those who practice good-neighbourliness. It works through artists, poets, helping professionals, conservationists, philanthropists, visionaries, 'prophets', 'server souls' and altruists.

But there is a problem. Unless social values shift, cynicism and self-interest carry on and altruists' work is never done. The abolition of slavery was admirable, but other things did not change, so has slavery been abolished or just disguised?

Humanitarian aid programmes save millions from hardship, yet they change recipients' circumstances and mindset, drawing them into the global development frenzy. Some aid organisations have got wise to this. But they are hamstrung since many problems arise from politics and war. Supporting aid projects is important, yet the benefits are limited while the world continues to create the problems that aid organisations set out to relieve. Something needs to chage, so that the damaging and the repairing influences in society are brought together.


Satyagraha - truth-force

 

Our mission is not to eliminate the world's problems or avoid making mistakes. It is to create a momentum of forwardness, a culture of growing candour and integrity based on learning from our errors. Today's development threshold concerns the world's moral, human and spiritual fibre.

The Marxist vision of a century ago was altruistic and far-sighted, but it foundered on the idea that people would change in heart if their material and social circumstances were transformed. It didn't work. Catalysing a change in the human spirit has little to do with ideology, planning or material conditions. Capitalism's own premise, that prosperity and success make people happy, is also flawed. Many of the world's rich are psycho-socially poverty-stricken and isolated, and this is dangerous for humanity.

The historic lesson is that change starts from the heart of humanity, working outwards. Circumstances don't ultimately determine our happiness. Spiritual teachers told us this millennia ago.

The collective psyche and its twin sister, reality-as-it-is, operate anyway, regardless. What we intend, assert or hope for is not what happens, especially at crunch-points.


Conscience counterbalances excess, imbalance and stuckness. It mysteriously translates into real-life events and situations which then confront us, to teach us valuable lessons. It operates despite our wishes, exposing self-undoing patterns, hypocrisies and oversights. The collective unconscious has its own agendas: it is a great teacher.

The 'war against terror' was not the only option in dealing with terrorism. It was the product of a hawkish lobby who omitted many factors from their calculations. It was so counter-intuitive that it started adding to the causes of terrorism. Both al Qaeda and USA became strange bedfellows in re-militarising the world. Behind this lies a geopolitical avoidance-game: avoidance of the real 21st C agenda. USA's heavy money was on weaponry and war. Consequence: al Qaeda tipped America into the trap USA had set for USSR in Afghanistan in the 1980s - a war scenario so costly that Goliath is undermined.

Gandhi's satyagraha. Truth force: the sharp distinction between what we're told and what is actually happening. This grating generates conscience, a niggling feeling that something is just not right. If humans fail to see truth and act on it, events will reveal truth. The simple aim is to show us things as they are, to de-illusion us.

In the media age, billions witness the imagery of world events. Public calm is periodically rocked, compounding an underlying insecurity. Such events are localised, yet their significance rolls out into a wider global and historical context. The hidden significance of events lodges deep down, itching and nibbling away, building a head of steam for a future blow-out.

The world media, although they encourage unawareness, also act to aid the collective unconscious and the world's conscience.


All the world is a stage
and we are all actors upon itů

 

The Global Life Show has billions of viewers and millions of actors. The public easily gets emotionally involved in far-off crises. Hearts reach out to victims of crises, wars and disasters. Responses are unpredictable: some events evoke a groan of exasperation while others bring up deep remorse, dread or sympathy, with feelings of connection with those people who are affected. This throws people into an altered state, stirring things up.

Conscience speaks by providing potent hidden symbolic twists to the plot. To succeed, it must hit us where we are least defended and most easily upset. In 1989, we cheered crowds in the streets of Dresden, Bratislava, Soweto and Beijing when they stood up for freedom yet, in the cynical 1980s, revolution and social justice had been the last things on anyone's mind. The tsunami of 2004 suddenly made everyone aware of the power of nature and the vulnerability of mere humans - we were humbled by the scale and power of it all.

Nations are like chicken coops, with multiple sub-personalities engaged in a collective drama. Globalisation has made this into a mega-movie with myriad complex sub-plots. Occasionally public figures stand up, leading the drama this way or that. Nelson Mandela's integrity and principled thoughtfulness were critical in preventing civil war in South Africa - individuals can make a difference.


Occasionally a character appears out of nowhere to enrich the plot - remember that woman in Mozambique, perched up a tree above the floodwaters, with her newborn child? Who was she? What's that child like now? Do you remember the Vietnamese girl running, crying, toward the camera, naked and burned by napalm? She, Kim Phuc, now works for UNESCO as a goodwill ambassador.

In crowd scenes, people report that they just had to be there, to be part of the crowd, to play a part in history. Affluent women with top-brand clothes suddenly identify with rough-handed Afghan women in burkas. Starving children with protruding stomachs and flies in their eyes become our children. These people embody characters, forces and imagery within the collective psyche, each bringing us a message.

Who writes this screenplay? We do, together, unconsciously. The script contains everything we fail to talk through and act upon, everything we repress and ignore. This comes up in nthe form of events. Humanity unconsciously creates circumstances which force us to face bundles of connected lessons we otherwise don't want to face. Force majeure - it challenges the 'free will' and 'in control' ideology of modern humans, especially Westerners.

In 1989, everyone shouted 'Freedom and Democracy!' But did we realise that freedom means rising to our full spiritual stature and integrity, taking full charge of our lives? Did we understand that democracy means developing a world consensus which truly respects everyone? Did we understand the future was calling? Emotionally, yes. Mentally, not really. Herein lies our strange schizophrenia.


Tsunamic truths

 

Tornadoes and earthquakes, civil wars, accidents, oil spills and other tragedies bring up whole bundles of issues. Multiple messages emerge: extreme weather can expose the corruption of property developers and government regimes, or bring home a deeper message, saying "The past is gone and it's all going to be different from now on".

These crises move people into insecure spaces, quicksands of the soul. Events rub at our edges and unguarded bits. It's as if there's a coherent intelligence behind it, trying to upset us.

Symbolism prises open the collective psyche, releasing streams of associations, memories, fears, hopes, images and extra elements to add to the simmering brew. All these erode our inner defences. The truth oozes out: it doesn't have to be like this.

These blasts of truth are collective dunkings in the realm of dreams and nightmares. A public shift of feeling can happen overnight. Truth-impacts are proportioned to their intensity: a few days can sometimes be a very long and definitive time. These collective experiences shift boundaries and values, changing the substance of current history, the meaning of the past and the possibilities of the future.

The best medicine tastes bitter and is often difficult to swallow.


We all have a problem, together. The decision to tolerate and understand others takes but a change of heart, yet it often requires a heavy dose of 'truth-force' to kick it into action. Truth is a very difficult business.

Note: I'm saying 'truth', not 'the truth'. Truth is relative and it evolves - it is revelatory, and the revelations can change over time.

We know the world is in deep trouble. We can argue ad infinitem about statistics, scientific evidence and who has the best approach, yet it still remains true that the global climate is changing, the number of armed conflicts rarely goes below fifty, toxicity and pollution are still increasing, hunger and obesity are both still growing, depression is the world's biggest disease, and some sort of showdown is looming.

We know this won't go away. It awaits a critical moment of truth, a clash between belief and raw actuality - a major quake of conscience.

Whether there is to be one big showdown or a protracted series for smaller showdowns is a theoretical question: we already live in times of showdown. The times of tribulation are already here. The sign of this is the intensity of events and of public response to them. The nub of the matter is conscience, a factor with a life of its own. What will finally turn the world's conscience, so that humanity will see clearly what it is party to?

 

NEXT: That Vision Thing


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