Imagine there’s no heaven./It’s easy if you try;
No hell below us;Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people/Living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries./It isn’t hard to do;
Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too.
Imagine all the people/Living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer,/But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will be as one.
Imagine no possessions./I wonder if you can;
No need for greed or hunger;/A brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people/Sharing all the world.
You may say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us/And the world will live as one.
– John Lennon
It might be easy if we tried. However, we don’t want to try. It’s more comfortable to stick where we are: in almost perpetual warfare against real or contrived “enemies”; in almost constant fear; in disharmony between various religious groupings – even within the same basic religion; and the entire world organized into a concerted effort to make extra money for the major benefit of the wealthiest among us who have the least need of it. We are so caught up in this insanity that we cannot see outside the cocoon of luxury and self-congratulatory nonsense in which we’ve been wrapped for at least the last two millennia: in greed, both personal and systemic; in nationalism; in dogmatism; and in the unwarranted belief in violence as an instrument of justice, equality, and freedom.
The truth is there if we look for it. We, as a world society, have had some amazing breakthroughs.
Two thousand years ago, a spiritually-aware being proposed a nonviolent resistance to the juggernaut that was the Roman Empire. He suggested we should love our enemies; be humble, contrite, generous and compassionate; treat others as we wish to be treated; think primarily of the common good; and seek harmony and good will. I’m talking about Jesus of Nazareth and his spiritual doctrines.
The Twentieth Century saw some surprisingly effective examples of this spiritual philosophy in action.
Even against the religious doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, women and allied men were able to secure the start of equal rights for women, securing for women over much of the Industrialized World the right to vote in elections, the right to hold public office, the right to be heard and not just seen. After close to seventeen centuries of social, political, intellectual and religious oppression, half of our citizenry were belatedly given roughly the same status, the same rights, and the same respect as the other half. Please note that before this, we considered ourselves the paragon of political, religious, and social equality. At the same time we freed the slaves but denied the vote to half of our population, we praised our government as “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
The same man who wrote, “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights …” owned slaves and emancipated less than 1% of them who were, it turns out, his own children. The same men who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights didn’t emancipate slaves or include women in their deliberations. At the same time they were framing the most progressive political system of its day, they were creating second-class citizenship for their wives and daughters because they were blindly loyal to centuries of religious doctrine and social custom. Not until the Twentieth Century did we begin to repair this injustice.
This persistent loyalty to custom and tradition was caused by spirituality. Spirituality is instinctual and comes from our animal ancestors who lived in groups and sacrificed themselves for the health and well-being of the family. Because it isn’t cognitive, it easily short-circuits the higher human brain and allows us the illusion of logical thought without actually thinking logically. This is such a blind spot in humans that it has created pockets of irrational thought and behavior in a number of areas, some of which are scientific. Modern theories of human behavior don’t acknowledge this motivation to our actions. Even the pure science of physics may have fallen into this trap, led by blind loyalty.
Spirituality isn’t as much an idea as it is a retreat from ideas. Traditional beliefs center in the brain but persuade us through a localized logic with a truncated view of the issues. With a widened awareness, spirituality might extend empathy and inclusion to everyone and everything. Spirituality is about belonging, about whom we think “we” are and whom we think “they” are; about whom we include and whom we exclude; about who gets empathy and who gets enmity.
John Lennon is talking about imagining a world with a more inclusive spirituality when he asks us to change the world to one without greed, without dogmas, without armies, without exclusions and without violence. He envisions universal cooperation and “a brotherhood of man.”
To achieve that which Lennon imagines, we must give up traditional concepts and loyalties. Why? They haven’t been working. Yes, they made us feel special. Yes, they allowed us to take more than our fair share. And, yes, they gave us the illusion of being better than others whom we got to disrespect, demean, and steal from with impunity. However, they haven’t led to peace or cooperation. Instead, they have created fear, distrust, and enmity. These blind loyalties have kept our human family arbitrarily divided and in perpetual conflict.
It never seems to occur to us that the fairness, kindness, and freedom we enjoy within our borders might apply to others as well, or, if it does occur to us, we believe our military will secure that freedom for others even though they rarely have.
I was in the US Army during the Vietnam War. I saw the psychological damage it did to the men who managed to survive this horrendous experience. I later found out that Ho Chi Minh was born in South Vietnam. I discovered that Vietnam was first a country in 2879 BC. I discovered that as soon as the last US troops left Saigon, Vietnam fought the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Communist Chinese invading her northern border, both part of the “Red Tide.” This supposed threat which we had opposed with billions of dollars, over a million deaths, and many other lives ruined in various ways, was an ally in the Cold War and may have been all along! North Vietnam wasn’t a legitimate “enemy.”
Jane Fonda was forced to recant having called this to our attention at a time when we might have stopped this atrocity. We were terribly, ruinously wrong. Yet we can’t see it and won’t admit it.
Not having learned anything from our experience in Vietnam, the next generation of Americans invaded Iraq with a new set of false justifications. Our beliefs and attitudes led us to start a costly and senseless civil war which then spread into surrounding countries.
I studied psychology. It didn’t even begin to explain this irrational behavior. The breakthrough came when I studied spirituality, a hidden and unexplained link between all humans, living and deceased that seeks to unite us into one group. We are driven to belong by a force stronger than life itself. Belonging is a primary and essential part of our natural desires. It is stronger than our will to procreate. The intense desire to belong overwhelms even our ability to think logically. It takes us to war where we throw ourselves against real or imagined enemies without regard to anything but love and loyalty.
Our need to belong makes shunning and excommunication powerful. No army could sustain itself without this aspect of human nature. Few dogmas could survive without the threat of not belonging. Spirituality may be at the root of our squabbling, but, ironically, it may also be the solution to it.
In our adolescence, we’ve taken the win-lose paradigm. We believe we must exclude to be included. It isn’t true, but it appears true. This type of thinking has dominated Western Civilization. It has overwhelmed gentler, more humble cultures. It has taken us to the pinnacle of success. However, our short-sighted focus is on immediate gratification. We’ve lost sight of what is truly important. The spiritual costs of this myopia are considerable.
In the long run we all win or lose together, the progeny of enemy and ally, rich and poor, strong and weak forming new families and new alliances but all of us thriving or perishing as one family; one colony of organisms, Gaea if you will. We live in an interdependent world where all life is linked: the soil, the air, the plants, the animals, and us, the people, succeeding or failing as a single entity headed by the brightest, most industrious beings ever to have lived here.
What is unequivocally true when looked at with a spiritual perspective is that we are all in this together. My daily life is intimately linked with farmers in Peru, oil workers in Saudi Arabia and day laborers in China and Indonesia. The banana I ate for breakfast came from Central America. My car came from Japan. Even the words I use are the work of hundreds of generations piecing together effective communication and common understanding.
One or two thousand years from now, virtually everyone on Earth will be a direct descendant. This will include all races, all religions, all nationalities, and all sexual identities and preferences. It will include geniuses and idiots, heroes and felons, the wealthiest and the poorest, foot soldiers and their generals. We are one family. We sink or swim as one. This gives us a real and immediate stake in ending the cycles of enmity and violence.
This book is an attempt to help us move toward peace and prosperity. It relies on the work of others, but it must break with traditional beliefs and conventional thinking. I see no other way to “peace on Earth;” no alternative path to “good will to all men.”
It isn’t easy to break with the past. If it were, we would have done it already. As history shows, we made a serious attempt. We had Woodstock. We had the flower children and the anti-war generation. We had Jimmy Carter and a chance for peace in the Middle East and serious reductions to the major nuclear arsenals. Then we turned a corner. We abandoned the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. We believed a man who told us that Corporate Capitalism and a stronger military would solve our problems. We elected him President – twice! Even though none of his promises came to fruition, even though almost all of his policies were clearly ineffective, we still believe in a strong wealthy class, the right of corporations to unlimited power in our political process, and violence as a panacea. Even as our military adventures overseas create the terrorism they were sent to eradicate, we believe in violence and we thank our men and women in uniform for “keeping the world safe for democracy” while this could not be farther from the truth.
Clearly, I’m not a conservative. But conservatism isn’t the issue. The false belief in force as an effective instrument of change is the issue. Any competent historian can show that violence doesn’t actually provide real solutions to real problems. The violence usually ends eventually, but rarely does it solve the problems it pretends to solve. It isn’t the panacea we believe it is.
Nations begin and end in violence. They include and exclude arbitrarily. They garner wealth and power for the few at the expense of taxes, conscription, and other sacrifices by ordinary citizenry. Traditionally, everyone in a nation worked unceasingly to increase the wealth and power of their sovereign and his close family and friends … while fighting and dying to ostensibly wrest wealth and power from his royal relatives in nearby nations. Underneath, rulers secured their wealth and power through galvanizing their nation against a contrived threat or injustice … a game as old as history.
Today, we work to increase the wealth and power of our major stockholders. As of 2009, over 87% of the wealth was concentrated in 25% of the population. This left 13% of the wealth for the other 75% and this inequity is getting worse because 99% of the world’s capital is owned by less than 1% of the world’s population! Through their boards of directors, the wealthy create conglomerates and Special Interest Groups which generally own or control news outlets as well as the electoral, legislative, judicial, and executive processes of our government. Wholly owned by corporate stockholders and unlimited in their ability to influence the electoral process, Special Interest Groups write most of our legislation and strongly influence our elections and our attitudes towards anything having to do with profit or politics. Industries regularly change “styles” and invest in massive advertising, exhorting us to go into debt in order to satisfy an artificially-created demand.
We are “free” to make up our own minds. However, we are bombarded by a barrage of misinformation or biased, one-sided information. Additionally, our leaders have a trump card. Whenever they want us to oppose something, they merely call it “evil” and pretend it is a direct threat to our country, our families, or our freedom. They call on us to be patriotic and we flock to blindly support whatever they have decided to do. There is never any meaningful national debate over such issues. We aren’t given enough valid information to engage in such a debate and our loyalties are so strong that we wouldn’t listen if such information were available.
This particular phenomenon was exemplified when 99% of our Senators and 73% of our population supported our unwarranted and illegal invasion of Iraq.
We have let our loyalties overrule both our natural compassion for others and our ability to think rationally. This enables us to paint unrealistic, one-sided, self-serving pictures which glorify ourselves and demean others. We are resistant to change. This presents a substantial obstacle to anyone who seeks to significantly modify our thinking.
We must examine our blind loyalty to our country and its military and economic dominance in the world. If we cannot accept the mistakes our country has made and is making, if we cannot seek a perspective broader than a persistently-biased nationalism, we will, as we have been doing, continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We will continue to live in fear of “savagery” or “totalitarianism” or “communism” or “terrorism” or whatever threat our leadership conjures next.
From pre-logical early childhood, we have said religious and national rituals such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed and the Pledge of Allegiance. We have been encouraged by persistent persuasion to look at things a certain way. We are comfortable with it. As long as we believe it or say we believe it, we get to feel smug. We are addicted to this smugness, this blind loyalty, this persistent bias.
Changing our thinking will be difficult. It is, however, necessary if the human race and dependent species are to survive the modern era. We cannot continue the errors of the past much longer. Our science and technology which brought us this wealth has also brought us the means to destroy. The threats are real. Our own nuclear weapons alone have the capacity to eradicate or drastically alter all life on our planet. We are inadvertently evolving biological threats that surpass the destructive capability of the Medieval plagues that killed a majority of the populations in the major cities in Europe. We are stuck in endless cycles of provoking conventional war. And we have now created ecological threats to the entire planet due to excessive greed and unwise business practices.
A world without enmity and war isn’t a pipe dream. It’ll take dedication, but we can make it happen. But it isn’t easy and it might not be comfortable for a while. We must look at our grossly biased perspectives, at how we’ve distorted or grossly simplified reality through nationalistic, religious, racial, and sexual filters which biased how we experienced the world.
My favorite example of this is the agrarian population of a predominantly Buddhist region of Southeast Asia which we bombed repeatedly for 20 years, dropping more tonnage than in World War II and killing millions. The vast majority of these people were subsistence farmers who had recently been dispossessed of their family farms through colonialism and colonial laws and taxation. They had been under a succession of foreign and domestic powers for close to 6 millennia and, most recently separated into a nation called “South Vietnam” by a decree by a coalition of colonial powers called NATO that had just won the Second World War, but was withdrawing French troops from the region. To head this new government of this new state created by outsiders, NATO selected a wealthy Catholic dictator to support a continuation of colonial rule using unfair laws and unrealistic taxation to maintain the huge inequities within most colonial and new-colonial areas of the world. While Ho Chi Minh may have been a Communist, he was foremost and primarily an anti-colonialist and the vast majority of the people of both North and South Vietnam people wanted ALL foreign laws, troops, and government removed from their homeland.
Once we reframe the “problem” more accurately and without our biases, we can see that we aren’t the heroes of this story. Once we stop simplifying and labeling and judging to make ourselves feel superior to these simple people who were willing to stand up to our bullying, bombing, and brutality, we might be able to see a dim light at the end of this tunnel.
By us just leaving, by us relinquishing our alliances to their wealthy minority, we allowed friendship, trade and anti-Communism to flourish. Within a couple of years, our “enemy” was fighting the “Red Tide” we thought we were fighting earlier!
It isn’t confusing or surprising if you think it through. It isn’t something alien, either. We all know about subsistence farming. We all know about tax liens and foreclosures. Many of our families have been subject to the harsh laws that maintain wealth in the hands of the wealthy and influential. And very few of us would remain passive and unmoved if armed foreign troops (or even armed domestic troops) invaded our neighborhood and started arresting or killing people for just staying with their livestock and crops instead of volunteering to relocate to a prison camp.
Once we reframe our history, it isn’t difficult to understand why a unilateral invasion of Iraq, (which, incidentally, had no WMDs while we still have quite a few all over the world) had the same anti-colonialism, now called “terrorism,” and had not created, supported, or harbored 9/11 terrorists. Furthermore, Iraq was (before our invasion but not after) a fairly modern country with many women in college and diverse factions living together relatively harmoniously.
We must rediscover the commonalities we share instead of distorting history and magnifying our small differences. We must seek to understand more clearly and more humanely. And we must be VERY careful when using terms like “good” and “evil,” making sure we don’t miss the massive harm we’re doing in pretending to do “good” things.
©David N. Dodson, 2014-2015, Phoenix, AZ