Disentangling the Web of Illusions That Have Led to Our Present Crises — Part 1

(This is Part 1 of a 9-part series published on Medium.com. The series disentangles, progressively, the political, economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual layers of our current global crises. Click here for Parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 and 9)

Over this last extraordinary year, many have been so mesmerized by the dramas unfolding before our eyes — pandemic, racial protests, the alarming rise of fascism, climate crises, insurrection — that they have lost the larger perspective of how we got here. How have we arrived at this point, as a nation and global society? This is the question that we urgently need to be asking — if this is not to be a breaking-point, but a point of real transformation.

Nothing comes out of nowhere, there is always a bigger historical background, of choice-points, taken and not taken…the question is what choice-points we have taken — wittingly or unwittingly — up until now, and how can we take more conscious ones, with the wisdom of hindsight, as we move forward — if we are to move forward at all, because soon there will be no choice at all: a radical evolution, or a great fall, the end of human civilization as we know it, and possible extinction.

If we are to make sense of our crises, this is what we must recognize: what we are seeing now are in fact not just aberrations, but extreme forms of trends that have been happening for a long time, leading up to this moment. It is very important that we not be diverted by the sheer horror of these extreme forms, but back up a bit and see the general direction our societies have been taking, that have made this possible. It is only with this larger perspective we can take our fate in hand, and consciously change direction.

So let us untangle, thread by thread, the web of illusions that has led us into our present morass, and open the way for a clear path forward into wisdom and renewal — lightening our load, opening our eyes and hearts, and lighting the way to another future, stripping away the baggage and blinders of false, obsolete beliefs that are blocking our onward evolution. We cannot grow, or move forward, unless we know where we are, and we cannot know where we are without knowing how we got there. So let us look at the trajectory that has taken us to this crisis point, and see how we can course-correct, consciously choosing which course we do or do not wish to take, what vision we want for our future: what kind of world we want to create for ourselves and all future generations of life on the planet — because that, and no less, is our choice-point today.

We humans have inherent wisdom within us; it is often latent, or buried, though, and we have to dig deep for it — beneath the layers of inherited conditionings, biological and social. Our evolution is the course of this discovery, the unveiling, of our wisdom — and we learn by trial and error, going down the wrong track (albeit a necessary learning curve) and then course-correcting when we hit an impasse. We have hit such a point today — few would deny this — and while many would ascribe different reasons for this (often opposite ones), it would do us well to take a step back and see the common patterns that have brought us here, and how we can move on together. In fact, we have little choice with this — it is this or our likely extinction.

Drawing on the wisdom of hindsight, we can construct a better future. So let us see, step by step, what has brought us here. First of all… where are we? In the midst of the chaos, there seems to be one thing on which almost everybody agrees, and that is that we have arrived at a point of extreme polarization. Yet if we look more closely, we can see that it’s actually what both sides have in common that has kindled the divisiveness and violence that is now erupting.

The capitalist credo — based on separation, competition, self-serving individualism, unbridled self-profit and limitless growth — has been the basis of the US ethos from the very beginning, a foundation that could not but ultimately erupt and collapse. Colonialism, the decimation of native peoples, slavery and racism bred the fault-lines that are now becoming volcanic, the genocide and ecocide that are now coming to a peak, the cascading eco-social collapses that are now coming for all of us. How could it be otherwise, with a foundation so out of synch with the natural, ecological and ethical laws essential for sustaining a society and the well-being of the planet, the whole web of life that sustains us?

So while racism seems to be the flashpoint of our crises right now, it is what is even deeper, behind it, with which it is inextricably intertwined, that is the still deeper cause — the mentality of separation, enshrined in the capitalist credo, and accelerating to a lethal crescendo with its every new iteration. If we are to get a real grip on the problem, we must understand this connection — and to uproot them together. (For more on this, see Part 3 and 4 of my earlier series, Beyond the Divides of Black and White Thinking.)

The Link between Racism and Capitalism

People are not born racist or are inherently racist — it is economic factors, greed and competition for wealth, resources and goods — that makes people create “us” and “them” groups, and nothing plays into the hands of this better than capitalism, which glorifies competition, aggression, dominance, hierarchy, and winner-takes-all self-profit. This means that until our economic system changes, racism will continue unabated, and even dramatically escalate, as competition for scarce resources becomes tighter and tighter, the climate collapses, and people of colour are scapegoated and thrown off the sinking ship (precisely by those who are sinking it!)

This diabolical injustice will not turn around until we address our economic system, that has so powerfully fueled it — and continues to do so — consolidating its power with ever more force and concentration in its late stages, as its hegemony is threatened. Crucially, these patterns have not just come from Trump and his fascist followers, but from within the logic of capitalism itself — whether red or blue. (We will look at this more closely in Part 2: Polarized, or Too Much Alike? — The Elephant in Both Rooms is Neoliberal Capitalism.)

Trump’s brand of fascism is so alarming and extreme that, by contrast, people will welcome in Biden with open arms and a great sigh of relief, uncritically embracing what seems to be a return to “normal” but is actually a “new normal” of enhanced neoliberal capitalism — more of the same that created the crises in the first place. The answer doesn’t lie in neoliberal economics, nor in advanced technology — neither to the pandemic, climate crisis, or social collapses — but in a deep change of hearts and minds, a deep re-evaluation of how we arrived here, and a deep change of direction.

Why is capitalism so linked to racism, practically to the point where the two are inseparable? Because capitalism has tried to conquer nature, and the peoples who have lived close to nature, exploiting, enslaving and destroying them, from the very beginning. These two agendas are so entwined — the very raison d’etre of capitalism, and the entire Western materialist enterprise — that they cannot be disentangled, neither by mere reforms nor the accommodation of the formerly exploited within them (when we try to do so, as we have seen, the fault-lines only grow stronger). It is only when we begin to see the lethal consequences of this entanglement — for all of us, and all of life on this planet — that we begin to disentangle it, and clear the way for a wholly new vision and values, a future that can rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.

There is a mechanism in our psychology that makes us human beings prone to a lethal short-sightedness. We judge things relative to the next closest thing (or the last thing that happened in time), not in the perspective of the bigger picture. And these days our attention spans (and historical memories) are becoming shorter and shorter, as crisis after crisis hits us. We are so busy dodging bullets, so lost in the cross-fire, we don’t have the time or space (or mental or emotional bandwidth) to step back and see what is actually behind it all, or where it is all heading. This is why Biden, and the corporate neoliberal agenda, is being welcomed as some mythical source of salvation today — relative to the hell we’ve just been through — when in fact it has little to offer but more of the same that has so misguided and confused us, led to this very impasse.

If we are to move through this impasse, we need to step back and see the bigger perspective — only then can we see new possibilities, new horizons that can open up for us on the other side of our own blinders. Only once we have opened our eyes, beyond the delusions that have mired us, can we begin to chart new paths to the other side of our crises, and through, that we cannot yet imagine — new visions can open up for us and blossom. But first the delusions have to go. We will look at this more closely in Part 2.