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Pushback from a reader -- and my response
I received a response over the weekend from an old friend, pushing back against a point I made in my last piece, A Creative Way Forward (Installment 2). After saying that he agreed with much of what I had to say, he nevertheless took issue with the following line:
“I wouldn't feel true to the deepest part of me if I settled for long on any one partisan perspective.”
He asked “Does this not depend upon what one is talking about?” His point was that there are some matters that call for us to take a definitive stand, rather than holding out for a tepid kind of “synthesis”.
He had a deeper concern with the following statement:
“While I find the extremes on both ends of the spectrum highly problematic in different ways, the dogma of the left is closer to me, having affected me more personally and being much more pervasive in the circles I tend to move in. I imagine that's also true for most people who read my essays. And since its brand of authoritarianism tends to be more covert, leftist dogma seems to me the less widely recognized and thus in some ways the more insidious threat to our freedom.”
My friend asked, “How does this threat compare to the threat against life itself? How does the suffering of this highly privileged "we" compare with the suffering of billions? While I agree that the more extreme expressions of the Left…..are guilty of their own form of oppression, their crimes pale beside those of the far Right, which is so closely allied with genocidal racism and ecocidal economics. Given this disparity between the extremes of Right and Left, any talk of balance or parity is highly problematic.”
I sense my friend may have spoken for a number of my readers with these objections. I am well aware that I am likely stepping on tripwires with my mostly progressive audience with these perspectives. But allow me to explain my position further.
First, I agree with my friend’s point that there are times and places that call for us to take a definitive stand. That indeed is why I decided to write this essay series in the first place. I felt I could no longer in good conscience maintain the pretense of a purely ‘neutral’ stance and that I needed to name the truth I was seeing, regardless of the consequences.
I don't think that both sides are at all times or on all issues necessarily ‘even’ or ‘equal’ in their culpability. Part of the complexity is that, although the polarities are in a reactive dialectical relationship with each other, they are problematic in different ways and at different times. Where I differ, though, is my conviction that the fundamentalism that has emerged on the left represents a threat not just to a privileged few, but to the very possibility of healing the wounds that separate us from each other and the Earth.
I also want to make clear that, just because I'm reaching for an integral solution, I’m not claiming to be above it all. I don't think anyone is, or can be, especially at this time. Part of what I think is happening is that, as we pass through this collective initiatory crisis, the wounds, traumas, and conflicts from the past are surfacing for resolution in each of us. This is requiring us to take off our masks of ‘neutrality’ or ‘transcendence’ and stand more nakedly in our personally–situated truth.
I think this process is related to the insight that the Enlightenment principles of universal rights and truths obscured certain power dynamics that favored the dominant European culture at an enormous cost to other cultures and the Earth. Until those collective wounds from the past are properly acknowledged and worked through, there can be no authentic buy-in to a universalist framework.
I see an analogy to this political situation in contemporary spirituality. It's easy to access our essential unity in the realm of pure transcendent awareness. In that space, there are no differences to separate us from each other, and we can indeed experience oneness. But it is in the lower chakras where the patterns of conflict lie. In our root chakra related to issues of survival, in our belly chakra related to issues of sexuality, and in our solar plexus chakra related to issues of power — these are the places where we tend to encounter the main obstacles to actually embodying and living our spiritual realization of oneness. It’s in these lower chakras where the collective and intergenerational traumas from the past tend to be stored. Hence the trend in much leading-edge transpersonal thought to critique tendencies toward spiritual by-pass and to propose more embodied, engaged, and Earth-centric approaches to spirituality.
But this more grounded approach doesn’t mean that the pole of transcendental awareness has suddenly become illusory or irrelevant. It just means that we are trying to develop a spirituality that is congruent with all aspects of our lives. We want our channels to be open all the way up and all the way down, so we can live in alignment with the sacred at all levels of our being.
Similarly, acknowledging the wounds and hypocrisies of our collective past does not mean that the universal principles of the Enlightenment are simply fraudulent. Or that they can be dismantled without threatening the foundations of pluralistic democracy we have all until quite recently very much taken for granted. We just want to develop a universalism that is grounded in the Earth and congruent at all levels.
Underneath all the surface conflict, I think a beautiful possibility is emerging. Consciousness is entering into the complex wounds of history as part of a profound process of re-sacralizing the Earth. This process has the potential to create a pathway for each of us to enter the coming Aquarian Age as fundamentally equal, sovereign beings who, having worked through the collective wounds from the past, can meet as world citizens infused with Gaian consciousness. It also has the potential to clarify our relationship with our past in such a way that ultimately will enable each of us to become more grounded in our roots, strengthening our connection to the unique gifts of our ancestory, cultural traditions, families, and nations.
Yet for these potentials to be realized, there needs to be a more profound form of holding that allows these historical patterns of conflict to be transformed rather than simply acted out. In the absence of such a container, opportunistic forces on both left and right are exploiting the trauma to gain power and further division. Then these higher possibilities risk becoming inverted into dystopian scenarios that none of us actually want. Rather than expanding into the utopian dream of world-centric or Gaian consciousness, we find ourselves instead being lured into what writer Paul Kingsnorth has called the “metastasizing consumer globoculture”, organized on the logic of the Machine. And rather than connecting to our roots and traditions in a healthy way, we instead see the re-emergence of various forms of ethnocentric nationalism that threaten to regress into xenophobic fascism. This is how I see the anti-evolutionary force, or shadow, working on the energetic planes through both left and right to further its own dark agenda. Part of my purpose in this essay series is to propose a different kind of methodology for healing the wounds of history that I believe can lead to a more organic transformation than the coercive approach of today’s social justice orthodoxy.
I don’t think my audience needs me to point out the shadow side of the Trump-aligned far right. That’s not news, I suspect, to anyone on my subscriber list. The truth that I feel called to emphasize is the shadow of ideological fundamentalism that has infected the new left, while suggesting a path toward an integral approach that I think more profoundly addresses the left’s central concerns. I believe that anyone who is sincerely committed to healing the wounds that have divided us needs to have the guts to name this dynamic. I’m prepared to accept the consequences of taking that stand.
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