Escaping the Iron Cage of Hopelessness

By Edward Curtin

Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

In this frightful round of unchecked means, nobody knows any longer where they are going, purposes are forgotten, and ends are overtaken. Human beings have set off at astronomically high speeds toward nowhere.”Jacques Ellul, Presence in the Modern World

In a previous article I argued that those who think science can solve our major social problems – in particular, world destruction with nuclear weapons and the poisoning of the earth’s ecology and atmosphere – were delusional and in the grip of the myth of science and technology. These problems were created by science when it became untethered from any sense of limits in its embrace of instrumental rationality. Once it became wedded to usefulness and the efficiency of technical means, it lost its original aim: the search for truth. (Obviously this doesn’t include all scientists.) In embracing means as ends, it produced an endless loop of means justifying means that has resulted in what Weber called an “iron cage.”
Concomitantly, the ideology of pure objectivity and impartial innocence was joined to elite state power and the capitalist profit motive where it was supported and instantaneously and completely applied to technical applications, including nuclear, biological, chemical and “conventional” weapons; bio-engineering; GMO foods and people; eugenics and cloning; and chemical/oil production, etc. It is indisputable that if our planet is incinerated or slowly destroyed through toxic pollution that modern science with its Faustian “prohibition to prohibit” will stand indicted, if anyone is left to make the case.
Albert Camus warned us long ago:

And even though we do it in diverse ways, we extoll one thing and one alone: a future world in which reason will reign supreme. In our madness, we push back the eternal limits, and at once dark Furies swoop down upon us to destroy. Nemesis, goddess of moderation, not of vengeance, is watching. She chastises, ruthlessly, all those who go beyond the limit.

Ostensibly rational, the illogical logic of modern science has resulted in a mystifying double-bind that denies human freedom and leads to widespread despair and hopelessness. Many people feel trapped by this deterministic ethos, while others fail to see that the cause of our problems can’t be their solutions.
In this essay I will explore the possibility of a path out of the seeming impossibility of escaping the cul-de-sac of our spiritually disinherited and disenchanted condition.
Max Weber argued that modern rational capitalism was informed by a religious impetus of inner-directed worldly asceticism derived from Protestant Christianity. In essence, modern capitalism was a religion. Likewise, modern mainstream science, despite the discoveries of quantum physics, rests upon a materialistic presupposition that is a self-contradictory act of faith that it denies to others. Committed to determinism, this materialistic scientific world view offers no basis for its truth claim since what is determined cannot be disputed when it wasn’t freely chosen. To espouse a position that was predetermined is to choose nothing. In essence, such science is also a religion that, like capitalism, serves no end but its own regeneration.
Is it any wonder that so many people feel trapped on an endless merry-go-round that contradicts their felt experience and their hopes for a better world? They look around and see a mad world of war and lies and science run amok. The physical scientists tell them that everything started with a bang and will end with a bang or a whimper of one sort or another and that’s how it goes since when did people so puny think they were anything but specks in a vast cosmos of meaningless gas that will devour them in a few billion years, give or take a year or so. The psych folks tell them they are the products of their brain chemicals and neurotransmitters and must submit “freely” to chemical treatment if they know what’s good for them and want to be happy.
The social scientists insist that all knowledge is socially conditioned and relative and therefore everything they think and feel is also relative and so they are lost souls forever wandering in a world of relativity where true wisdom is impossible and the difference between right and wrong is a relative choice that has no basis in any “reality.” And of course the power elites and media play with their minds in endless games of mind control as they insist the only real truth comes through screens that they control. Mind and body warped, so many people stumble through their days like the living dead in search of some exit from their pain and confusion.
Or to say it differently. Science – both physical and social – has resulted in the systemization of doubt and the embrace of the relativity of thought and knowledge. The modern predicament is such that whereas in former times people felt that their knowledge was fact or truth and that it was grounded in a physically palpable reality, we have been exposed to systematic doubt and the suspicion has grown that all the various standpoints are limited and “relative.” While not consciously espoused by the majority of people, this doubting worldview permeates social life as a vague insecurity and uncertainty.
It may be left to intellectuals to circulate such relativizing ideas, but they have become part of the cultural air we breathe. For people today in a scientifically based society, faced with the relativizing of all knowledge and every eternal verity, the question of how to understand their deaths, and thus their lives, has become acutely problematic. Uncertainty has undermined people’s wills as they have forgotten they are free.
The question that modernity forces us to ask is this: once knowledge is seen to be relative; old cosmologies are transformed by science; symbol systems and religions are seen as the products of humans’ own creativity; reality is understood to be socially constructed; once these developments take place consciously and unconsciously, how then can people understand their lives and deaths and find the confidence to live in peace and harmony with the earth and all living creatures?
Tolstoy put it this way:

Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to our question, the only question important for us: ‘What shall we do and how shall we live?’ ”

In order to make our way out of this maze, we might contemplate the underlying presupposition that “everything is relative.” That, of course is an absurd position. Everything can’t be relative when the statement “everything is relative” is an absolute statement. Joined to that, one can muse on the self-contradiction of materialistic determinism and perhaps glimpse an escape from the iron cage, the prison, the closed room, the garbage pail, or the no-exit – so many terms that our best writers have used to describe the modern condition.
Rudolf Steiner did that as follows in The Philosophy of Freedom:

Materialism can never offer a satisfactory explanation of the world. For every attempt at an explanation must begin with the formation of thoughts about the phenomena of the world. Materialism, thus, begins with the thought of Matter or material processes. But, in doing so, it is ipso facto confronted by two different sets of facts, viz., the material world and the thought about it. The materialist seeks to make these latter intelligible by regarding them as purely material processes. He believe that thinking takes place in the brain, much in the same way that digestion takes place in the animal organs. Just as he ascribes mechanical , chemical, and organic processes to Nature, so he credits her in certain circumstances with the capacity to think. He overlooks that, in doing so, he is merely shifting the problem from one place to another. Instead of to himself he ascribes the power of thought to Matter. And thus he is back again at his starting-point. How does Matter come to think of its own nature?

But these are intellectual exercises and are therefore probably not very helpful to the average person.
Tolstoy maintained that for the modern person death had no meaning because civilization was based on progress – an ‘infinite’ progress – which according to its own internal logic should never come to an end.
On this road of progressiveness everything is provisional and indefinite and so individual death seems like a failure and meaningless because it marks an end. But what then, asked Tolstoy, is the meaning to our lives? Are they meaningless means to meaningless ends?
Materialistic science can only answer in the affirmative. A negative affirmative. But for most people this doesn’t satisfy. They sense the truth that we live by faith – scientists do, religious believers do, atheists do, agnostics do, everyone does – faith is the water we swim in; it is our element. It is what impels us to get out of bed in the morning. But getting out of bed in the morning is a choice, a judgment. It is not inevitable. We do it in faith that the day will be meaningful and worth meeting. We encounter others in good faith and hope they do the same with us. This awareness of the faith dimension of life is a daily human experience that points beyond itself and is a source of hope, even when confusion reigns. While modern science and philosophy have largely attempted to treat all things, including people, as objects to be controlled by subjects, most people encounter others in daily life not as Its, as in Buber’s I-It, but as Thous, as in I-Thou.
Where have I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are life’s basic questions that science answers with nowhere, no reason, and nowhere in that order. Such answers are attestations of of a faith in nothing, what is usually called nihilism.
The psychiatrist R.D. Laing maintained that the key to a sane world is for people to truly regain experiencing their experience and not to make-believe. He felt that most people had become estranged from the roots of their being. He put it thus:

The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years. Our behavior is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things. If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be destructive. If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves…There is everything to suggest that man experienced God. Faith was never a matter of believing. He existed, but of trusting, in the presence that was experienced and known to exist as a self-validating datum. It seems likely that far more people in our time experience neither the presence of God, nor the presence of his absence, but the absence of his presence….The fountain has not played itself out, the frame still shines, the river still flows, the spring still bubbles forth, the light has not faded. But between us and IT, there is a veil which is more like fifty feet of solid concrete. Deus absconditus. Or we have absconded.

So what can we do to break through this mystification of experience that has resulted in a double-bind that has trapped us?
I say nothing, at first. We are so busy doing and thinking our doing is the solution to our problems. We must stop the world we know by first not doing and by simply being in the presence of Being. We must develop a contemplative discipline of allowing the awareness of our egocentric thinking to reveal to us the arrogance of our confused belief that we can coerce others and the natural world to do our bidding and that every problem has a solution. The grotesqueness of nuclear weapons is the physical manifestation of that willfulness. For the magician, the applied scientist, and the technologist all wish to conquer reality with techniques from the outside rather than being open to the truths that Reality (that we are in and is us and that goes by different names – Being, the Tao, Logos – all names for the unnameable) might reveal to us. “To ‘know’ reality,” writes Alan Watts, “you cannot stand outside it and define it; you must enter into it, be it, feel it.”
So the first thing we must “do” is to do nothing so we may heal our divided minds; otherwise we are spinning in a vicious circle, “like everything else which the divided mind attempts.”
This seems self-evident to me and “doing” this should be our first “act” of dissent – our break-out (by breaking in) – from the reigning consensus that underlies the violent and sick condition of the world today. James Douglass, author of the ground-breaking book, JFK and the Unspeakable, says this perfectly in Lightning East to West: Jesus, Gandhi, and the Nuclear Age:

What we know ‘out there’ as the most resistant evil reality to be transformed, is in reality “in here” in its primary being. The precise nature of that correspondence, or identity, between inner and outer worlds is the mystery which Jung was attempting to describe with his theory of Synchronicity, whereby outer events can be increaseingly recognized as unifying correlations of a profoundly traveled inner way. Once we begin to see this profound interpenetration of inner and outer worlds in a oneness of reality, the insoluable enigma of the world of evil gives way to the edge of the unifying mystery of Oneness, or of Love, a mystery that we cannot fully understand but which we can in fact move into with our lives and participate in to the extent of experiencing an ever-more-united world in Reality.

I think if we can see the big picture by “doing nothing,” we will have taken a major step toward a solution, or at the least an insight into how we can act to resist the evil that is occurring in the world.
“Seeing through” is to diagnose – dia, through + gignoskein, to know, perceive – which can allow us to see through to the roots of world problems. Without a deep comprehension of the causes of these problems, and how so many of our solutions have failed because they are based on false premises, we will get us nowhere. “The way one sees through the situation changes the situation,” writes Laing. Then, “as soon as we convey in any way…what we see or think we see, some change is occurring even in the most rigid situation.”
I think we can agree that we are in a “most rigid situation” as the nuclear weapons await discharge, countries and people are destroyed by U. S. war-making, the environment is poisoned, elite capitalist crooks line their pockets at the expense of everyone else, etc. Many of us convey this again and again, seemingly to no avail. Perhaps this is because we are missing the forest for the trees in our understandable haste to remedy it all. I suspect this is so and scatter these thoughts like breadcrumbs in the hope they may suggest a way home. “Conveying” my thought experiments in the hope “some” change occurs in the process. First, in me.
The word spiritual has acquired a bad name with its embrace by New-Agers et al. with its association with magic and out of the world mumbo-jumbo. So I use it reservedly. But if we look to those so many hold in such high regard for their fight against violence and injustice – e.g. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to name but two – it is apparent that their “truth-force” and “non-violent resistance” were rooted in a spiritual understanding of the human condition. We don’t need to get caught up in words, for they have a way of missing the truth.
Gandhi said God was truth and truth was God. King equated God with love. Truth, God, Love – do the words matter? Did not these men grasp the deepest dimensions of our problems? Didn’t they understand the root causes of hate and violence? Didn’t they see the Tao? Didn’t they see that the way we conceive existence through our deterministic and instrumental sciences is a reflection of our violent world? Didn’t they realize that we can’t force change on anyone from the outside without doing violence and that the only way forward is to move the world through love and truthful resistance? Didn’t they tell us that freedom is our birthright and is indivisible, and when you deny existential freedom you are lost in despair?
Despite the question marks, these are rhetorical questions. Don’t our deepest experiences confirm their truth?
Let me end with James Douglass’s words, for it seems to me they ring true, despite being far outside the reigning scientific paradigm and “common sense.”

Is there a spiritual reality, inconceivable to us today, which corresponds in history to the physical reality which Einstein discovered and which led to the atomic bomb? Einstein discovered a law of physical change: the way to convert a single particle of matter into enormous physical energy. Might there not be, as Gandhi suggested, an equally incredible and undiscovered law of spiritual change, whereby a single person or small community of persons could be converted into an enormous spiritual energy capable of transforming a society and a world? I believe that there is, that there must be, a spiritual reality corresponding to E=mc2 because, from the standpoint of creative harmony, the universe is incomplete without it, and because, from the standpoint of moral freedom, humankind is sentenced to extinction without it. I believe that the human imperative of our end-time is that we discover the spiritual equation corresponding to Einstein’s physical equation, and that we then begin to experiment seriously in its world-transforming reality while there is time.

We must experiment in truth, for time is running out.

Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/


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Brian Steere
Brian Steere
Jan 10, 2018 12:48 PM

After a recent comment to this thread moved me to revisit it’s extraordinary frame up. (there is no need to escape who you are not), this sentence caught my attention: (it referred to the Steiner quote)
“But these are intellectual exercises and are therefore probably not very helpful to the average person.”
Anti-intellect posing as a servant of the average person?
If something is recognized and accepted true, then it resonates within and as part of who you accept yourself to be. There are many ways to communicate what Steiner says in his particular milieu, and within a particular context that can be recognized observationally and thus open an intuitive recognition that you are NOT as thinking defined you. Whether that thinking is culturally inherited or your own pick and mix of some sense of choice.
Acceptance of true is different from thinking about true, and in the author’s retreat from the meaning of Steiner’s summary, is the strategy of self-evasion by which to ‘blend in’ with the masked sense of ‘average person’. No blame here, but observation of how it works.
That we can believe (be-live) and react from our own thinking instead of checking in with what Is – accounts for the ‘iron cage of hopelessness’. For it is our own thought, in terms of core belief and self-definitions, believed not only real but unchangeable, that operate both the defence against what lies beneath, AND subjection or sacrifice to its demands. Under such a tyrannous mind, the only ‘escape’ is dissociation, and in its terms (using Tolstoy’s quote above), one is compelled to do whatever survives in terms of threat – and the application of inventive mind to that end is technologism and NOT any Science of seeking truth.
When self-survival replaces Meaning, fear replaces love. In its biological sub routine, this device serves to protect the focus in the physical, by bringing all to focus in an emergent need. But as the psychic-emotional imprinting of unconscious or denied self. Another term for dissociation is ‘thinking about’. Instead of living what is truly here to embrace, engage in, embody and share, a dissociated mind ‘thinks about’. It may do so in imagery of a mythic narrative persona, or in analytical rationalisations, but its ‘mind’ is effectively a defence against living relationship, and equates its continued evasion of relationship with its actual survival. And so the mask of coded ‘relationships’ operate the social defence against intimacy – or directly knowing.
Knowing ‘about’, as an expression of ‘define, predict and control’, is predicated on a different basis than a direct quality of knowing being. RECOGNISING this difference is the basis of the only freedom we have ‘in this world’ by which to be moved and stirred to wake in a quality of being that is not ‘in this world’.
Tolstoy’s quote – from above:
“Science is meaningless because it gives no answer to our question, the only question important for us: ‘What shall we do and how shall we live?’ ”
The questions as to what to DO and HOW to live are predicated in a disconnected (dissociated) sense of one’s own existence depending on manual override or interventions to an ‘inadequate, blind or fallen nature’.
If first, we calm the mind and rest of its thinking, the quality of being moves us and knows itself within us – as the recognition of what and whether to do in any give situation. Whereas the ‘knowing about’ gives a temporary sense of security invested in a ‘model’ of self/reality’, the inner knowing gives what you need now – as a step by step unfoldment of experience – supported from a connected quality of attention or presence.
The choice to define, command and control, effectively makes a golem or robot under the ‘thinking’ that programs it. The release of this as a meaningful choice, opens the movement of being to awakening self-responsibility.
Now it might be said that the ‘average person’ seeks to evade such responsibility by any and every means possible. But this is only because it is deeply associated with blame and pain and loss, instead of true freedom in being who you are; free from what you are not. ‘Thinking about’ can be used to serve a reintegrative movement of being, by letting it be guided or aligned by the qualities of being.
Watching thoughts, opens perspective of conscious thought and action that is not available to their running as a captured or directed attention. The basis for doing so is not intellectually determined, so much as the desire to live – to embrace and know life rather than survive an unsane version of it. Desire is the magnetic quality that attracts and aligns thought and experience. True desire is perhaps beyond belief for the average person running in a sense upon substitute desires. But are you the average person? or even limited to your person?
Why are we afraid to go into the Silence, or the presence of being? Is it because every kind of restlessness arises to stop us? Curiosity aligned with a desire to know, opens to what can be accepted now, and grows in such a consciousness. Noticing, the emperor has no clothes is the release of the need for fig-leaf thinking. Until we covered our sense of shame, we had no term for ‘naked’. Release and be released is a different order of justice than vengeance seeks. For your will is done, and a conflicted mind is a will set against itself unrecognised, or hopelessly compelled to hate by iron-caged thinking.

Pavel Kanaliev
Pavel Kanaliev
Aug 12, 2017 11:06 AM

The non-cyclic democracy is a permanent, constant election process which has its point of commencement but is infinite in terms of time perspective. It enables people to vote at any time they wish with no limitation on the number of votes.
Open vote means the right of people, in case they wish, to step out of their anonymity as voters in the continuous election process of the non-cyclic democracy.
Vote of correction means an open vote of confirmation or rejection at any, desired by people time from the continuous election process with the non-cyclic democracy.
With the non-cyclic democracy, the number of mandates is changeable. It is defined by the sum from the number of anonymous cyclic votes, combined with the number of open and correction votes at any time from the continuous election process.
Threshold of trust of an elected via voting candidate in elective office means half of the number of people who have voted for them minus one vote.
With the non-cyclic democracy, the duration of the mandate of an elected via voting candidate is discontinued with the expiry of the allotted for the mandate time or with the reaching of the threshold of trust.
The list of candidates in elective office is bulk of information of free public access with data about each candidate in elective office. There, at any time from the election process, each voter and each public organization can add candidates or withdraw their trust from the proposed by them candidates in elective office.
The open-type voters have the right of a correction vote at any time from the continuous election process of the non-cyclic democracy.

              The vote of correction is as follows:

Open vote against one’s own choice, leading the elected one closer to the threshold of trust at any time from the continuous election process.
Open vote in favour of another candidate from the list of names, leading the elected one closer to the threshold of trust at any time from the continuous election process of the non-cyclic democracy.
Open vote in favour of a chosen by other voters candidate, leading the elected one closer to the threshold of trust, distancing the newly-elected from the threshold of trust at any time from the continuous election process.
With the non-cyclic democracy, the current updated rating of a candidate in elective office for the purpose of their positioning towards the threshold of trust must be freely and publicly accessible in the list of candidates at any time from the continuous election process.

May 25, 2017 1:27 PM

“Where does the answer lie?
Living from day to day
If it’s something we can’t buy
There must be another way.”

[(We are) Spirits in a material world; Sting.]
Excellent article, Edward. I think about this sort of stuff every day, and my conclusion is that it is not ‘Science’, or any of the emergent properties of the mind (philosophy, politics, economics, etc) – but the pan-global ‘Western’ mindset itself. If you conduct science, or engage in philosophy, politics, economics… with a confused mind – the obvious and only available result is confusion? GIGO.
Truth is simplicity – from where I am sitting it is the wind in the trees, the distant view of the Downs, the soul to soul look in my partners eye – how do we commodify, package and sell such things? And what price can we put on actually being fully alive to appreciate them? Do I need an ‘Oculus Rift 10S Curve Titanium’ to view a 3D virtual flower when I can walk in my garden?
The ‘Western’ mindset is deliberately obscurantist and obfuscational in nature – otherwise we could live in peace; organise collectively and locally; and produce nearly all that we need – that is life-affirmative and has real life value – communally, in harmony with the environment: but self-sufficiency of body, mind and environment is not sufficient – there has to be more.
At its most basic; the dominant Westernised globalised mindset is the acculturation, marketing and selling of ‘more.’ More, more, more, and exponentially more – regardless of the environmental, bio-physical and spiritual cost. You have to make the Faustian Pact; sell your soul to the Corporation (your new ’embodiment’ and transmigrated ego-identity) – and submit to the ruling ethos “Jedem das Seine, aber mir das Meiste” (which loosely translates as “to each his own” {which was the sign on the gate at Buchenwald} “to me the most.”) Yes, that’s a dark reference – but when the ruling culture sacrifices children on the altar of ‘progress’ – I’m in no mood to be light.
Simplicity is key, and complexity is death. The over-complexification of mind that produces ‘Western’ culture: and the ‘Western’ culture that in turn conditions the over-complexification of mind – is a self-reinforcing bio-feedback loop. It is the Wheel of Existence that we continue to turn, without ever acknowledging that it is turning.
The ‘Western’ rational materialist view that identity and knowledge are socially generated and culturally acquired is an incomplete thesis. You have to believe, you have to have faith in, and in a psycho-spiritual way you have to become the ‘system.’ You have to choose to take onboard and honour those values as your own.
Here’s where the Dennets and the (Sam) Harris’ of the world go wrong – in denying ‘free will’ – they say that choice is determined beyond your control. You basically are the ruling value system whether you like it or not. To which I say – bollocks. Though a truly free will is an illusion, in Western terms, our brains are ‘neo-plastic’ and malleable. We can learn, make new choices and change our beliefs. We are adaptive, we can re-acculture – we are not merely self-determined automata. Though, looking at world affairs – clearly we can be.
Here’s where I think a lot of good people go wrong. In rejecting the ‘system’, they retain the mental construct of the very system they think they are rejecting. It is an ‘adversive identity formation’ – call it ‘Otherness’ – but is still identity formation. You could say it is still reliant on the prevailing ‘system’ and thus constricted by it – a mental mirror image (think SJW as a clear example.)
To my mind; we have to reject the system in total – and ‘grow’ a new system from the culture and acculturation of ‘No Mind.’ How?
(Log into my premium pay-per-view website and I’ll tell you!!!!)
Westernised approaches to the mind are at best playing catch up – at worst, continuing the obfuscation. Those who reject the dominant ‘Western’ mindset don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We don’t need a new science of mind – there is an extant 2,500 year old science of mind – that has been kept alive every day – waiting. Not strictly the teaching of the Buddha – the Abhidhamma is part of the Pali Cannon – It is the clouds on the horizon, and the smile on a childs face. I freely recommend it to everyone. As Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) has said, “the path does not lead to peace, the path is peace.” Om Shanti.

Norman Pilon
Norman Pilon
May 25, 2017 11:49 AM

I read Edward’s piece, and I’m reminded of this quote from Marx:

Religious distress is at the same time an expression of real distress and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people…

To this, of course, Marx then adds:

To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions.

And commenting on this very short quote from Marx, a certain Humphrey McQueen writes:

A similar point can be made about Nietzsche’s “God is Dead.” The messenger is a madman who at once adds that he has arrived too soon. Anyway, the shocking aspect of his annunciation is not that God is dead, because the death and rebirth of gods are integral to religious thinking, including Christianity. The horror was the subsequent claim that “God remains dead,” leaving humanity without the promise of resurrection, see The Gay Science, New York, Vintage, 1974, p. 181. footnote 28

Life is indeed harsh. And people may consequently need their illusions if only to find reasons to carry on. I’m not judging. Each does what he or she must to go on living, to give meaning to his or her existence.
My preference is to take life as it is, with a minimum of illusion where and when I can.
In itself, in those moments when it isn’t overly harsh, I find that life is also beautiful and quite astounding in the sheer ‘fact’ of its upsurge into existence. I also like the sun. And the moon. And the thought that I exist in a universe infinite in its expanse and eternal in its existence.
Another thing that truly opens my nerve ends is the power of human imagination, that is to say, that in our precarity of being as mortal creatures, we have the ability truly to deny our nothingness, to contrive real meaning in a world that cares not a whit whether we continue to exist or not, and that ultimately will annihilate each and everyone of us.
You live and then you die. But you do live and not without purpose, but a human purpose that can and that does stand on its own legs.
This isn’t a ‘scientific’ issue. It’s existential. It’s about answering a question that science cannot answer and that, at any rate, it does not seek to answer.
What does your life, and by implication the life of all of mankind, mean to you?
You can let Edward give you an answer. You can trust your preacher or your priest to do the same. You can let money become the sole measure of everything. Or you can fashion your own answer. You can embrace life such as it is. Or you can reject it or parts of it. You can accept the reality of death or project your existence in the hereafter. All this and more, you can do, and each of us does what he or she must to get by according to one’s own lights. There is no option but having to choose, but having in some respects and at some point to leap . . .
Edward is wrestling with something. But I don’t think it’s peculiar to our time. It’s rather that we really do have to work ourselves out in a world where, as Sartre once put it, human existence really does precede essence.

May 25, 2017 11:58 AM
Reply to  Norman Pilon

It is a controversial assertion to presume that the absence of illusion is predicated on the assumption of the non-existence of a creator. An assumption from which many, for their own very good reasons, would demur.

Norman Pilon
Norman Pilon
May 25, 2017 12:00 PM

Yes, it’s controversial. You believe. I don’t. That’s a controversy.

May 25, 2017 12:21 PM
Reply to  Norman Pilon

Atheism is a faith based belief system that often masquerades as an evidence-based belief system. But anyone who opts to believe anything about something unknowable is stating a position of faith. The atheist believes in an absence the theist in a presence. They both deal intuitively with faith and conviction. They understand each other much better than they do someone who sees no value in forming a belief system of any kind about something one knows nothing about.

May 25, 2017 12:54 PM
Reply to  Catte

Your comment appears to exclude the possibility of belief based on real (if usually extreme) experience. I won’t junk your absence of such experience if you won’t junk my actual (or as you might prefer it, claimed) experience.

May 25, 2017 1:25 PM

I have absolute respect for personal experiences of faith. Things can happen to individuals that, although immeasurable, unprovable and unsharable, are immensely revelatory and significant. My point was mainly directed at the common misappropriation of atheism as a “rational” or objective POV, when it’s no more rational and no less a statement of faith than any other data-free belief system.

May 25, 2017 9:09 PM
Reply to  Norman Pilon

But Norman, you can believe whatever you want and may yet uncover belief that you do not realize to be active in your life.
Add-on beliefs may be part of the masking persona – where experience beyond belief may open the way to stepping forth in an active belief that embodies the ineffable rather than pleads or wishes it to be true.
False polarization prevents the territory being opened to light and those who seek and find controversy – need to assert the belief or lack of it as if it ‘should’ be validated.
There’s always lees difference when opening the territory of inner honesty – for however we all articulate or choose NOT to articulate our experience – the fruits are the testimony of its roots in truth.
There is no universal language by which to communicate ABOUT an intimacy of being from which all things are brought into perspective – but life is already a language of embodying what we hold or accept true – and no matter what anyone SAYS they believe – they are witnessing and receiving the fruit of what is in fact held true – even though this may be hidden or masked from surface awareness. But that doesn’t make then false – so much as in a process of uncovering truth – and you know we often go anywhere else before opening to self-honesties that are associated with pain or shame.
The rationalisms that package people to organise them are extensions of the same pattern in our ‘controlling’ our own mind – and perhaps we collectively had to try them all to then come home to ‘feeling our way’ which includes reasoning but is not subject to a divorced rationality of a coercive imposition.

May 25, 2017 8:46 PM
Reply to  Norman Pilon

Why see ‘religion’ only in terms of its usurpation?
When image, symbol and concept substitute for direct and present participance a ‘fig-leaved mind overlays shame-in-hiding with narrative justifications.
If we cannot talk about something without demonizing it, invalidating it, or insinuating a superiority of judgement over it – then we are in the pretence of an escape from consequence. As if ‘they’ are invalid and wrong and I am right – over them and at their expense. The attempt to ‘outsource pain while maximizing private profit, under PR of public masking is the normal for corporates because it is the pervasive ‘culture’ of a masked fear operating in the shadows.
Often I see ‘divide and rule’ being considered as if done unto us by others – but the division of self that rules out love’s awareness is not really a ‘rule’ of creative power so much as a guilted or lacking sense of self that rules out or denies power – in seeking to corner just a little for itself.
Appeals to religious insights or beliefs easily become the masking in their FORMS by of an intent to separate from their transformative acceptance by making an identity of such outer alignment or allegiance. This applies no less to ‘medical science’ who are no less corrupted than the Medieval Vatican was and operate the same trojan ploy to work by fear – for that is what power in the world does and is. It is fear’s division by which love’s recognition is denied.
To know the truth, we have to own and release our prejudice – and that means own it as a result of seeing it in act – and not the ‘form’ of correctness in which to hide the hate that is no less active while disguised as correctness.
True happiness is indeed presently embodied and not a dream of ‘somewhere else’ – yet anyone opening to awareness notices that the mind is an expert in maintaining fragmented dissociation and defends against any abiding of true presence by means of attending its own divisive thinking. It kills even what we love in the attempt to grasp and possess it. Yet really it kills its capacity to recognise and receive by the learning and playing of the script of abandonment or rejection.
In a pigeon-holed world of assigned value judgements serving personal identity defences – communication is impossible because anything and everything is marketised and weaponised to serve the mask and defence. But in releasing that purpose – even for an instant – EVERYTHING is instantly back on line because it is NOT being used to maintain an illusory outsourcing of conflict displacement. Purpose rules the mind. To know our purpose is not to be unconscious of it as a result of thinking we know something else. The attempt to overlay our own model upon reality and see only what supports it, is part of the mistaken need to be in control over life – which is insanely destructive and absurdly self-aggrandizing both.
So regardless the terms used and the meanings associated – is there a deeper communication being masked in the terms of any apparent division? Is there another way of looking at this (whatever it seems) in which to truly see a basis for release of isolation, conflict, struggle, and loss – into a connected, practically grounded and relational recognition of self, life and world as an integral participant?
The persistence in looking at the world in attempt to change the symptoms of a deeper but hidden disease that such symptoms are made to hide, is an example of an iron cage of hopelessness – for all our pains convict and condemn us to persist in what can only entangle deeper and draw tighter the net of self-destructive blindness.
As I see it division is not healed by wishful coercion – no matter the symbols of appeal or of terror under guilt – but is healed by recognizing the use of division in one’s own ruling out, or exclusion, under self-denial or self-rejection. Others may call me names but it my own belief they hold true that hurts me – and thus I attack myself in the guise of the hate or rejection of others. But will I see that while I WANT to hide in victimhood that points my suffering to their guilt?
The recognition of any self-invalidating belief or definition is the crux of either releasing it in freedom to embody more of who we truly are, or of using it for the power that guilt calls forth as the ‘control’ or manipulation of masked mind, and its perceptions and expressions.
In a world of lies – everything is false. So where would be a true foundation from which to establish and appreciate true relation? This must begin with our self to extend to our ‘brother’ – to the being of another. A world of lies does not see or recognize the being of another – for it judges in accord with a currency of derivative ideas and impressions taken in their moment to be true and blocking true appreciation for persistent temporary gratifications as a sense of imbalance seeking balance that never can resolve.
Ultimately, this is simply a matter of whether one wants to know or to be deceived so as to not know while ascribing loss and dissonance of self to the ‘world’. Where truth is associated with fear and loss of power, penalty and pain, the mind recoils from its being in defence of an illusion of its own making – and reverses good and ill in attempt to ‘escape’ an impossible situation.
To revisit the ‘situation’ in a fresh willingness reveals a different result – a different foundational sense of self and world and a different way of living. But it is not the answer to the problem in the terms the problem set. And so cannot be ‘seen’ by the mind that is still set in the problem that cannot be escaped in the terms that set it.
Where would a ‘fresh willingness’ arise from? Where would the innocence rise to call the naked emperor out?
I see that a self-abhorrence relative to the ‘mind of deceit’ and its effect in our thinking – can and does arise from having no where else to hide or mask a deeper pain. And we then know – and I use the word know that this ‘mind cannot answer or meet the need – nor can it do other than lie to separate off in a limited and mitigated sense of self amidst the oppression of a disturbance it cannot ‘airbrush over’ or keep suppressed.
I say that any suffering is suffering – regardless the forms of its expression – and that apparently trivial irritations have their root in rage… and impotence. Finding a way to open this territory cannot occur while reacting to other’s choices as invalid. They may be mistaken – but no one learns from invalidating their path of discovery – which is in every case a unique gift that I feel to be part of a greater wholeness than anything we can imagine from a sense of private struggle under rejection and abandonment.

May 25, 2017 11:21 AM

When ‘narrative control’ can be recognized as operating ‘fake news’, it becomes possible to see that the model is fundamentally wrong – and grievously so. Our mind-model taken ‘as if’ reality can be held to ‘as true’ only as an act of perpetual war of assertion against truth – excepting filtered distortions that support our identified and believed investment – or such ‘truths’ as suit us.
In science we say we ‘model’ reality and theoretically know the difference between them, but investments of energy and attention in identity will not yield to truth and so instead operates the identity in conflict – as if victory over truth is the power to determine it. But all forms of mind-control are variations on the idea of limitation and diminished in which a lie may be bolstered or supported by the sacrifice of life, consciousness and joy in freedom of being. False ‘meanings’ adulterate, corrupt and usurp inherent Meaning that is our nature and joy to live, give and share in – AS our living – and not as added or painted over ‘dead’ or fixed self-concept in substitution for life.
That we find ourselves ‘painted into a corner’ is the work of our own thought – which is given power by being acted from as if true and shared or accepted in mutual currency. In this way we ‘create’ our reality-experience – but almost completely unconsciously – as a result of limiting and masking off areas of consciousness associated with terror and rage, heartbreak and shame. The narratives of justifications for a gullibility of blind conformity agreements, or the cynicism of an active hatred in refusal to look, mask in seeming scepticism – but without any actual willingness to change our mind – but more to adjust and develop our persona.
Allegiance to the false is the only means by which to persist unaware of true. But while grievance and self-specialness paint the iron cage of hopeless and meaningless futility, a mind suffers as being done unto without any sense of what – at a deeper level – it seeks to ‘do’ to life in the very structuring of identity in image, in personae and in masked consciousness made out to be reality – period. That is – it is a brief period ending at a full stop. This is an accurate account of a wish held to be true and lived as such. It’s inevitable yielding to true is no consequence of sin – but recognition of error as error and true as true. In this is no co-fusion between what has no existence and what has no opposite.
Identity itself is ‘deconstructing’ in light of exposure and ‘reality’ is not what it had so solidly seemed. Where we receive identity FROM is …
See the full post here:

May 25, 2017 11:25 AM
Reply to  binra

Correction to para 2
But all forms of mind-control are variations on the idea of limitation and diminished AWARENESS in which a lie may be bolstered or supported by the sacrifice of life…

Dominic Pukallus
Dominic Pukallus
May 24, 2017 9:41 PM


Dominic Pukallus
Dominic Pukallus
Jan 10, 2018 7:47 AM
Reply to  Edward Curtin

Dominic Pukallus
Dominic Pukallus
Jan 10, 2018 7:48 AM
Reply to  Edward Curtin

Oops this was meant to be the one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jd7ntfETdRM

May 24, 2017 12:12 PM

“Human beings have set off at astronomically high speeds toward nowhere …..”
A superb article!
– So, who are the ‘heroes’ today?
– Those who are queuing for new iPhones or taking selfies with autonomous vehicles.

May 24, 2017 10:52 AM

Reblogged this on MUSO MUSINGS ON FATHERHOOD THEORY AND STUFF and commented:
And a Light shone out from the fog. Such lights save some but not all ships from being dashed upon rocks.

May 24, 2017 10:36 AM

And a Light shone out from the fog. Such lights save some but not all ships from being dashed upon rocks.

May 24, 2017 9:12 AM

Brilliant article. Thank you Edward.
It is possible to know there is a God. That which often comes to people who cry out for help while at the very bottom of the pit of despair and hopelessness is an ecstasy of presence, an absolute affirmation, an indescribable power that is the E=mc^2 of the final excerpt in this article. In this condition the Love that IS God is a given. The Truth that IS God is a given. The forgiveness that IS God is a given.
However, the work of understanding the truth about this world is not. And this truth is, as your article asserts, the truth about ourselves. This work we must do for ourselves. This is probably why we are here.
Unfortunately (or perhaps, naturally) a great many people who find themselves in this ‘possessed by God’ condition are so alone in their condition and the society around them so alienated from awareness of this possible reality and knowledge of who/what we really are that the ecstatic one becomes a “sufferer” who cannot connect the initially welcome experience to the life around them, and confused about the very notion of self, take this experience to their (for want of a better word) ego then, correctly sensing error, they fear their inflated joy and elevated selfhood is “from the devil”. Their next act of superb but tragic moral integrity is to turn against their own selves (to protect their neighbours and their own spiritual destiny), an act that precipitates a descent into the kind of spiritual emptiness that enables the entry of real demons into their vacated spiritual bodies and thence into schizophrenia.
This cycle is, in one form or another, extraordinarily common (perhaps universal) amongst sufferers of the illness.
Our problem is that we do not know FUNDAMENTALLY what we are.
We experience ourselves as sources of our own individual spirit and emanations. In reality we are the source of nothing.
We are channelers of spirit.
We are commanders of spirit.
As our soul dictates the spirits must respond.
And thus the angelic apirits of heaven and demons from hell develop those relationships with us that we tend to assume is ourselves.
This is why Christ said, “I am not good. Only God is good.” We must not defile our good with merit.
Nor should we persecute ourselves for our errors. The sin may be ours but it is not us.
This explains why we can never directly fix an emotional/spiritual wound/memory that torments us. Actively engaging with the problem is to identify it as ourselves and to empower it with negative demonic energy. People always make THEMSELVES ill by trying to fix unbearable problems. As with a flesh wound, the wound must be recognised, cleaned and LEFT ALONE. God (via the angelic realms) does all the work. The wound was not you. It was your obstacle to overcome, your opportunity for learning and for progression towards the one that is ALL.
The paradox for those that know is that in this ecstatic light, the absence of those individual blessings and injuries that we have been accustomed to imagine as being “me”, we become completely ourselves.
We have found a place we know as home.

May 24, 2017 9:02 AM

Great piece of writing that covers so much of what has interested me over the years.
I went to a public talk by Rupert Sheldrake last night. As he is someone who has spent a whole career challenging the dogma of materialism (with the spirit of a true scientist), it was heartening to hear him speak of developments in evolutionary biology that are de-thoning Neo Darwininan ‘orthodoxy’. Ditto, the exodus of philosophers from rigid materialism that seems to be occuring at the moment. Rupert said that during all his time trying to broaden the base of scientific inquiry, he had never seen so much movement toward a new paradigm.
If we consider that 95% of the universe is ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, maybe a renewal of a spiritually purposeful science could still help us address the desperate problems we face.

May 24, 2017 8:30 AM

Reblogged this on Susanna Panevin.

Eric Blair
Eric Blair
May 24, 2017 6:25 AM

A very powerful and insightful piece. Western civilization is adrift and there is no there there (where the future used to be). Prior to the 1990s “the future” was envisioned as a place where life will be easier, with robots and computers finally relieving humanity from the toil of “Adam’s burden” and ushering in an era of leisure and abundance. The year 2000, in the popular imagination, conjured up visions of exotic gadgets, flying cars all playing out in a decidedly 80s influenced scifi scape.
Nobody really expected it to be exactly like that but the mood was generally optimistic, or at least romantic. The popular press was full of stories that promised a prosperous and secure future. Seemingly overnight that vanished and was replaced by…whatever it is we have now. A corporatist society where every person carries a pocket computer with access to the sum total of human knowledge and ideas but is more ignorant and alienated than ever.
The search for truth has been replaced by a radical solipsism (see SJW culture and its mirror image on the reactionary right) and politics for many is a lifestyle accessory that signals status and virtue. Dialogue and debate are shunned in favour of aggressively and desperately pushing one’s worldview like it is a law of physics and alternating between shouting down opposing views and sticking one’s head into the sand.
Despite all the talk of identity I get the feeling we increasingly don’t know who we are. Society (a country or nation of individuals that share common goals and values) has all but been usurped and is now something that largely happens on the internet with isolated individuals pretending “talking” to their “friends” on Facebook is a social activity.
Capitalism, driven by the digital revolution and the demise of its main ideological opponent, has done away with any pretensions of fairness and the state now represents the rentier class more than the people formerly known as citizens. The nation state is being dismantled by the globalists and replaced by neoliberalism (an effort to transform all spheres of human life in ways that render them amendable to economic calculation).
Science, or Scientism, is the new religion and keeper of the Truths that shall not be questioned. It’s staggering how many intelligent people have forgotten what science actually is. As the article mentions, it is a method of inquiry NOT an ideology or divine fount of “objective” truths that will solve our many problems. The analytical philosopher, and dogmatic materialist, Daniel Dennett believes science can provide humanity with an ethics and morality. I find this very sinister, not in the least because a philosopher/scientist who ought to know better, is advancing this fantasy as not only credible but desirable.
In the midst of this (and all the other contradictions and bizarre and sinister developments taking shape) the people are not happy. So unhappy are they that refuge in willful delusion and denial are becoming noticeablely commonplace. The internet age with its avalanches of information has destroyed or distorted dialogue, truth, language and wiped out any sense of perspective people once had. Governments and the media instill fear or harangue the stunned masses with nonstop propaganda and loudly approve the ostensibly hated Trump hobnobbing with the Saudi autocrats and ISIS enablers and what is shaping up to become a cataclysmic war against the Shia. (How disgusting is it that Trump is denounced as Hitler because of un-PC language but his most vile ACTIONS that result in death and destruction are lauded as noble and just and greeted with relief?)
Well, so here we are. Just wanted to throw some stuff out there…it’s not meant to be a comprehensive catalogue of all of our society’s ills. Bleak times indeed with no solution in sight.

May 24, 2017 4:58 AM

[[ Where have I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are life’s basic questions that science answers with nowhere, no reason, and nowhere in that order. ]]
Science has answered many of these questions. The fact that you were unable to understand the answers, or never even bothered to look for them, does not mean that answers haven’t been proposed.
[[ He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. ]]
Says it all!!

Dead World Walking
Dead World Walking
May 24, 2017 5:15 AM
Reply to  Seraskier

Minds cannot supply truth Seraskier, only self justification.

Eric Blair
Eric Blair
May 24, 2017 6:49 AM
Reply to  Seraskier

Humans need myths to stay “sane” because science and Darwinian evolution are not ideologies or religions. People need something to believe in that is greater than themselves. Be it religion, an ideology…something. Even the comforting, if not entirely accurate, thought that society is fair and just and progressing is no longer believed by most people. The very society they – we – live in is being destroyed and the economy has been “reformed” and no longer provides a stable and secure living for those who aren’t obscenely wealthy or part of the emerging technocratic class that serves them.
Your boorish tone, snide denunciation of the the humanities and bristling, defensive stance against someone who dares to criticize how science has been distorted actually vindicates the author and makes YOU look like a fool who has nothing but scorn and stale ad hominem insults to offer.

May 24, 2017 11:10 PM
Reply to  Eric Blair

[[ Your boorish tone ]]
So ad hom is all you have, Eric?

Dead World Walking
Dead World Walking
May 24, 2017 2:53 AM

Perceptive, succinct and spot on Edward.
The Truth is not outside of us and it is not between our ears.
‘Truth is a path less land’ (Krishnamurti)
Try these simple exercises and see for yourself.