If you sense that the enormous increase in the quantity and quality of the knowledge we have amassed in the last fifty years has not even come close to eliminating the fear, hostility, and suffering experienced by the species as a whole, you are right and not alone. Regardless of how much we have managed to learn and do, we remain primitive, fundamentally incapable of owning up to and solving our most basic problems. Information and access to information grows without bounds, yet we do not seem significantly more rational or caring than we were a hundred or a thousand years ago. The entire species remains divided, antagonistic, and violent, perennially stuck in a peculiar psychosocial reality that remains the same regardless of how much it changes. If we were as smart, moral, and efficient as many like to think we are, we would no longer be suffering and making others suffer the way we do.
Some forms of knowledge are essential to human well-being, that much is evident. Had we not developed the ability to represent things, events, and processes conceptually and, with that ability plan for the future, we would have not survived, let alone reached the relative security and standard of living now enjoyed by a significant portion of humanity. However, knowledge is also the steady source of the distance that separates us culturally and psychologically. Particular types of knowledge create isolated instances of the mind they condition; they also fuel the effort that specific groups and individuals constantly make to reach exclusive forms of security and fulfillment.The intellectual capacity that made our survival possible and that has been all-along the source of wonderful developments, imperceptibly came to be the means to the most nefarious ends that different and conflicting forms of tribalism and egotism regularly imagine, project, and realize.
The word knowledge is employed here in its most general meaning and pointing to the basic content of human consciousness and the sum total of human traditions. The identity and sense of unique existence of every individual rests, without exception on the record of both, experience and formal learning in every field of knowledge and belief. For this reason, just about every expression of cultural/personal identity involves the assertion of a difference in the presumed quality and significance of the knowledge that makes one person or group of people think they are significantly different from (and possibly better than) other persons or groups deriving their respective identities from a different source of accumulated knowledge.
Scientific knowledge is not an exception to the fact that different forms of conceptual representation and the types of understanding and projection they serve, tend to alienate groups and individuals from one another. Even thought the empiricism characteristic of progressive scientific discovery is not intrinsically divisive as the record of personal experience and all other aspects of culture are (i.e., politics, religion, philosophy, economics, law, commerce, art, etc.), its exercise and benefits are far from equally distributed throughout the entire species. Scientific knowledge and its technological applications are also, and like all other cultural forms, generally at the exclusive service of particular institutions, groups, and individuals that use them to their material and social advantage and, more often than not to the detriment, or outright exploitation and harm of others. Finally, the very empiricism claimed by science encloses it in the realm of the known and the knowable, making it ignore or treat as non-existent what is intrinsically outside the perceptual and cognitive reach of the human mind (at least in the splintered and conditioned form it has kept since times immemorial).
There is nothing wrong with the way in which specialized and relatively objective knowledge determines and serves a great variety of complementary personal and institutional roles intended to serve the common good. The problem lies in that these specialized practical roles become a source of identity and end up serving exclusive, and therefore divisive and ultimately destructive interests.
Individual human organisms seeking a common source of security have forever clumped together in particular groups granting them some (unequal) measure of physical well-being and the shared sense of meaning from which personal identity gradually emerged. The human population grew through the proliferation of distinct groups, and as these populations started to converge on one another, their territorial and ideological belligerence also grew, and has never abated. The psychological and ideological fault lines along which this general and ongoing human segmentation occurs change constantly, but the fact of division and conflict is constant. The concentration of knowledge, wealth, and different forms of political, religious, and military power in the hands of relatively small groups of people occurs not only among different cultural enclaves, but also within each one of them, which adds another dimension to the general antagonistic division of humanity.
The endurance of cultural and psychological separation is inseparable from the equally chronic failure of the species to bring about conditions of justice, peace, security, and well-being benefiting everyone. In our own era of “big data,” great technological wizardly, and fluid communication, human reality is still defined and sustained by the fact and consequences of every every individual’s tight identification with particular images and ideas (knowledge) regarding the nature of life, intellectual progress, moral evolution, and transcendence (both secular and religious).
Within this general system of psycho-cultural fragmentation based on recorded knowledge, the relative isolation of every cultural group and every self-centered human organism generates endless physical and psychological insecurity and, with it, the compulsion to create better mental and social conditions, but rarely in an orderly, inclusive, and collaborative manner. As a result, we all live in a permanently unstable and acrimonious reality that extends itself onto the future through the fundamental lack of intelligence and sensitivity of our respective ambitions, fears, and hostilities.
What we separately remember and project based on particular experience and learning determines, not just who we think we are personally and where we think we stand socially, but also the tragic condition of the species and our remarkable unwillingness to change, personally and collectively. How could there be profound mental and social transformation if each instance of cultural and psychological identity exists in its own version of the past, the present, and the future, and operates on the basis of what it “knows” to be normal, secure, and desirable?
The isolated continuity of each exclusive and self-righteous group and individual is further corroborated and strengthened by contrast, and often outright violent disassociation with other individuals and other groups, each made distinct by its own identities, preferences, associations, and projections.
To put it briefly, our species-wide identification with separate forms of memory and desire that are shared only by members of the same groups of cultural reference denies the sanity without which the integration of the species as a whole is a pipe dream.
The change that this general situation demands is, by its own character, outside the purview of a mind that being shaped and guided by particular knowledge, is necessarily predisposed to avoid or fight against any threat to the sense personal identity and social status that this same knowledge grants. Thus, any suggestion of the radical self-abnegation that alone could free us from the multiple afflictions of division, barren hyperactivity, conflict and grief, is immediately rejected as being outside the realm of habitual thoughts norms and behaviors, and therefore irrational and dangerous. Most of us would rather die than give up the fantasy of sovereign existence, even if it is the root cause of the permanent state of insecurity, insensitivity, and violence suffered by all. Thus, the great paradox remains firmly in place.
If we are tragically indifferent to suffering —the suffering of others and, in some ways, even our own, it is because of our unquestioning allegiance to particular forms of the provincialism, sectarianism, and self-centeredness that characterizes the species as whole. This myopic conformity makes us, in turn, incapable of the intelligent affection and collaborative action without which there will never be a real solution to the countless psychological and relational problems that hound us, problems that start at the level of the couple and the immediate family, and that end at the geopolitical and ecological levels.
There is no other correction to this general incapacity to see what is actually happening in our own lives and in society than the emergence of an unbiased mind, a mind free of the aberrant optics of knowledge-based identity. Further thought and action based on exclusive memory and its slavish dedication to the interests of particular nations, groups, and individuals, can only continue to exacerbate the multiple and dangerously interrelated problems that stem from our collective alienation.
The threats posed in our own day by high levels of mental and social disintegration, the proliferation of thermonuclear weapons, and the disruption of the ecology of the planet, places us (you and I) at a threshold beyond which human existence will become unbearably difficult in the short term and perhaps impossible not long after. It is, therefore, critical to see that the mental heath of the human species can only improve as the result of sanity coming to one individual at a time until a critical mass of caring intelligence transforms the psychology and culture of the species as a whole. Anything else is more of the same chronic farce that has brought us to this nearly desperate point.
Abandonment of personal and social comfort zones is our only viable option, even if everything within and around us seems to resist such move. This essay falls, of course, within the broad category of knowledge the limitations and dangers of which it means to highlight and explore. The map is never, ever, the territory. Thus, direct and full awareness of the actualities to which it merely alludes can only occur in a mind somehow already set to go beyond the central core of self-identifying knowledge and its preset determination of the reality and value of every moment, past, present and future. Someone still fully ensconced in any given set of cultural and psychological definitions and imperatives can very well read and understand the concepts and arguments utilized here, and yet remain blind to her actual participation in a corrupt mindset that makes conflict, violence, and sorrow a widely accepted part of life.
Only a mind no longer weighted down by the restrictions and obligations implicit in any form psychological identification and self-projection is fully aware, and thus capable of the lucid thinking and rational, caring action that our general situation demands. The isolation, confusion, fear, greed, frustration, and suffering of the conditioned mind is undoubtedly responsible for the chaotic state of the world and to see this is, in itself, the end of the conceit of being an existentially unique personal entity entitled to a future of its own choosing and making.
A timeless mind is what arises from the dissolution of self-serving knowledge. Timeless not in some obscure metaphysical way, but rather in the eminently practical sense of a mind no longer grounded on a remembered personal past bent on utilizing the present as a functional bridge laboriously leading to the realization of an imaginary better future. Such a free mind still inhabits the social and ecological disaster created by preprogrammed thought, but is no longer a vehicle for it. More specifically, what survives the annihilation of self-centered thought is a subtle presence free from the hyper-active dregs of painful and pleasurable personal experience, and untouched by the psychological emanations and self-serving tendencies of gender, class, race, age, sexual preference, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, politics, educational level, and profession.
Even if we are terrified by the prospect of standing alone, not knowing what to do, it is imperative that we break out of our tribal and personal encapsulation. It is, however useless to speculate about what exactly will terminate the pleasures and agonies of the memory-based self and how. Any attempt to determine beforehand the character of a culturally non-aligned and selfless mind and what particular methodology is most likely to deliver it is only a reiteration of the habitual way in which the same knowledge/desire-based self manages to project slightly modified form of itself onto the future. The most salient characteristic of a veritable mutation in consciousness is that it does not involve a process of gradual learning prescribed by tradition and authority and guided by the methods and goals they prescribe. What is necessary is the termination of sectarian egotism, not an improvement or new versions of the same thing.
All anyone can do (and must do) is look intently at him/herself and the world, not intellectually, but directly and just as they are at every instant, that is without wishing to transform them into a preexistent idea of what they should be. That very act of perception determines whether it is reasonable and good to stay the old, traditional course of tribal self-centeredness.
There may well be an unthinkably different state of being —let us advisedly refer to it as the truth of life indivisible— but the only licit approach to the realization of such state is strictly negative because there is nothing anyone can positively assert about something that is beyond knowledge and desire. This sounds esoteric, but it simply means that this truth is totally other than what anyone who is still caught in the illusion of existential separation may think it is. This negative approach to the problem of being human is, evidently, not yet another ideology seeking for adherents from among those disillusioned with their previous choice. The long disastrous history of personal being and becoming does not need any new actors and chapters —it needs to end.
Again, all that matters is the possibility of a manner of being that is largely unrelated to gender, race, appearance, ethnic background, religious belief, social class, economic standing, level of education, occupation, and any other of the multiple cultural and psychological factors that, arranged idiosyncratically give each one of us the illusory sense of unique personal existence. All that can be said about the dissolution of the isolated self in the unthinkable truth of life is that it necessarily involves the end of all that has distanced us from one another and alienated the entire species from its source. We are not who we think we are, but ephemeral expressions of of life, timeless and undivided.
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