Tradition is immensely powerful, in great part, because countless different individuals embody particular cultural forms of it and will do anything to defend what they and their groups of reference know, believe, desire, and do to get what they want. What is more, the personal mind that identifies with the particular experience it registers and carries from the past to the future is, for that very same reason, unable to see itself perpetuating the division of the species along and actively contributing to all its chronic psychological, social, and ecological problems.
At this point in history, many people feel that the scientific and technological change that is now vertiginous (though not affecting all places and socio-economic levels in the same way or to the same degree) will eventually prove to be the salvation of humanity. However, the truth is that this particular vector of progress is fully inscribed within the same traditional mental system that, in granting exclusive identity, continuity, and a semblance of security to different groups and individuals, maintain the species as a whole divided and at odds with itself. The general subjection to the power of tradition that is expressed in every tribal and self-serving thought, sentiment, and action guarantees that the more everything changes at different levels and places, the more the human species remains the same.
Despite considerable progress in certain matters and places, our species remains driven by brutal instincts and the ambiguous and sometimes outright pernicious “benefits” of fifty thousand years of fragmented and uneven cultural progress and personal development. The human being with the ultra-sophisticated computational and communication device on the palm of her hand remains as isolated and primitive as ever. The persistent state of disorder and violence in our affairs, and the threats to survival readily traceable to our actions and omissions —massive ecological disruption and the possibility of a nuclear winter— are ample proof that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we have evolved to think and behave.
We have never found common ground, a shared mental space in which accurate perception, rational thought, and caring, and therefore intelligent, collaborative, action would be the natural expression of being human. And our rigid identification with myriad forms of recorded and projected knowledge is still preventing us from finding it. Cultural environments that are, to a great extent, closed-in on themselves cannot help but determine the life experience and future projection of the human beings they harbor and forcefully shape. This self-replicating determination explains the endurance of the perceptual insensitivity, the dogmatic provincialism, and self-centered irrationality characteristic of the species as a whole.
Those who have some sense of the historical suffering of humanity and the severity of global risks presently at hand, if not paralyzed by it, tend to invest their time and energy in progressive or regressive strategies of self-development and social reform that never seem to resolve fully even the isolated problems they address. Regardless of the presumed nobility of our motives, their expression through therapies, spiritual disciplines, and different forms of social and political activism do not come even close to addressing the root problem of enduring human distress. Namely, divisive identification with the mental representation of particular cultural and biographic experience. Disparate and contradictory efforts to make certain things somehow better, sometime in the future, serve mostly the myopic traditions and interests of the heavily conditioned and isolated psyche that is ultimately responsible for the steady atomization of the species and its alienation from life.
If most everyone's thoughts and actions in the present remain based on the limited, exclusive, and contradictory knowledge gathered in the past, and if, furthermore, they are are urged on in mental time by the fantasies this same knowledge begets, the future cannot possibly turn out to be anything other than a slightly modified reenactment of the same past and the same futile demand that something be done in order to improve it. In other words, unless the knowledge-based sense of separate cultural and personal existence is radically challenged, its most injurious consequences (conflictive division and every possible form of injustice and violence) will only continue to frustrate and disrupt the lives of multitudes.
The claim to be better than someone else is as unfounded as the assertion that there is such a thing as a better form of egotism or a more evolved form of tribalism. Particular instances of the same all-encompassing and highly dysfunctional mental system endlessly fight and succeed one another, but remain only that. Conditioning can take on countless forms, and it does, of course, change with time, but its nature and effect are always the same. It is worth repeating that a sense of separate being based on private records of previous and projected cultural and personal experience is, by its very nature, condemned to waste much of the living present laboring to realize a future that, at the very best, will be a slightly improved copy of experience it has already known as insufficient or outright intolerable. It is an unmitigated tragedy that most human beings are not yet aware that the corruption intrinsic to self-replicating tribalism and egotism make of a better future an oxymoron.
Let me cut to the bone here. Particular deposits of tribal and self-centered knowledge not only distort perception, feed disparate hopes, and dull the mind and heart. They also ground our identity and very sense of existence, and this is the reason why we resist emptying the trace left by the past with the intensity ordinarily reserved for a physical attack. The culturally indoctrinated and experientially habituated self darkly intuits that it cannot survive a concern with the problem of human existence deep and strong enough to blow the cover off from its direct responsibility for the division, disorder, and suffering of humanity. Thus, any external stimulus that might drive home the absolute necessity of a radical transformation of consciousness, generally only manages to trigger the alarm system that is an integral part of mental programming and its self-serving aspirations and hopes. When confronted with the urgency of its dissolution, the process of personal thought and desire will do anything to preserve it consensual company and stay its familiar course. Clinging to memories left by sorrow and loss is, for this purpose, as good as desperately hanging on to those that stem from old pleasure and power.
Not even relative awareness that our dogged pursuit of psychological security erodes the organism's natural perceptual acuity and intellectual capacity is capable of blocking the conditioned self’s reckless push towards a preordained and separate future. The momentum of a million years of divisive and hurtful/pleasurable mental conditioning is relentless. Again, because the accumulation of cultural and biographical knowledge that constructs and furthers the person in time mechanically determines what is real, proper, and sane, it also forbids and punishes her for any perception, thought, or action that significantly breaks with convention.
Keen, extensive, and independent attention to things as they are (intra-psychically and in the relationship between groups and individuals) is, by its very nature, a transgression of culturally approved and jealously guarded consensual reality. Therefore, when it begins to flower it is immediately batted down, from the outside, through the objection of peers and perhaps wholesale ostracism and, from the inside, by relentless self-criticism and an agonizing dread of isolation, madness, or even physical death. Few dare withstand the high and sustained level of social rejection and the storm of uncertainty that usually accompany a freely entered identity crisis, and yet this exactly is what comes with a most necessary insight into our harrowing circumstances and their source in a false sense of separate being.
It seems only natural to intensely distrust anything that would put in jeopardy one's particular social position and wellbeing. How could incurring social censure and risking a psychological breakdown bring about mental health and thus lead to a sane society? In fact, is it not the height of insanity to suggest that the persistent disorder and grief in human existence stems from each person's identification with a particular set of groups and ideologies and an overbearing sense of ever-unfolding personal being? How could the mental and social reality persistently felt and acted-out by billions of human beings not constitute the truth of our falsely evolving presence in the cosmos?
Well, the first thing to point out is that, if this line of reasoning appears to be entirely sensible, it is only because it flows from deep within the broad and dominant stream of knowledge-based thought that hides its divisive and hostile ways under countless cloaks of tribal normalcy and personal respectability. We are conditioned to fear, and therefore to avoid or indefinitely postpone a serious and all-encompassing look at our mental, social, and ecological circumstances and the radical revolution in consciousness such view implies. However darkly, we sense that the self (the “me”) constructed from exclusive experience cannot withstand a direct, independent, and holistic perception of how all conceptual frames of personal reference splinter humanity and extend into perpetuity the same irrational antagonism and sorrow we have suffered since time immemorial.
Our dread, along all else that is preordained by separate experience, does not change the fact that the atomization of human reality can only become apparent (as it actually is, and not as any "one" thinks it is or would like it to be) to a mind that is fully alert and intelligent precisely because it is free of unnecessary and outright toxic content. In other words, the actual occurrence of this holistic perception of the human condition is one with the collapse of the (false) claim to a separate existence that every "one" person derives from mental association with exclusive and self-projecting knowledge. More about this later.
A typical characteristic of any instance of tribal identity and groupthink is the shifting of blame to other groups for whatever may seem wrong with the world. And the particular sense of distinction (self-esteem, in current parlance) that the personal mind engenders to compensate for its isolation and consequent insecurity is equally predisposed to project guilt onto other individuals and groups for its own insensitivity, faulty thinking, and uncaring behavior. Thus, when any problem arises, it is routinely blamed on somebody else’s country, ethnic background, race, age, gender, religious/political ideology, occupation, or consumer and entertainment preferences. At every instant, we consent to be an integral and active part of the sorry and endless finger pointing that all too often slides into some form of overt or covert violence. Sustained isolation in provincial and egocentric mental silos makes us incapable of critically examining everything we take for granted when the entire fate of humanity depends on the possibility that a critical number of individuals may independently do just that. All that matters is a resolute break away from the cruel and sorrowful reality that conditioned mental isolation never stops creating and re-creating.
In carefully considering all the formidable obstacles that have blocked, for millennia now, the possibility of unity and collaboration among human beings, can make their advent in the present seem like a pipe dream. Why and how would love and intelligence replace the uncaring division and irrational antagonism of the psychological and cultural reality with which we are so remarkably content? The situation is indeed dire, and the monstrous Hydra-like mental system responsible for it perfectly knows how to render itself invisible, and therefore unimpeachable.
Fortunately, even an incipient awareness of the absurdity and danger of the cultural and psychological distance that separates us from others and life itself, begins to block the mechanical determination of perception, thought, feeling, and action by previous experience and its attendant proclivities, anxieties, and hostilities. If earnest enough and not mediated by symbolic abstractions, this mental pivot soon makes entirely evident that tribal/egoic identity —the actuality of your and my sense of separate being— is the fundamental cause of the confusion, insecurity, conflict, and sorrow that mars the participation in life of nearly everyone. And this insight into the falseness of separate personal existence and its painfully real consequences, deals a lethal blow to it.
Some may find it worthwhile to go over some of these points one more time.
Our traditional sense of being human depends, first, on mental identification with some greater collective being that claims and defends its own particular claim to separate existence by standing in contrast or outright opposition to other similar forms granting identity and a meaningful worldview to other individuals. To be is then to see oneself inextricably tied to some type of “us” that exists in permanent alienation from all other conceivable groups of “them.” There are countless current and potential forms of cultural separation, and they are all prone to schism. But mental isolation by private recorded experience is and remains a single phenomenon that holds all human beings in the same trap of mental time. Who “you” and “I” think we are; a particular record of the past, a biased and otherwise limited experience of the present, and an anguished or eager expectation of the future. The obsession of billions of individuals with themselves and their particular security and well-being is still blocking the natural capacity of the brain/mind to see and concern itself with those with whom it is not immediately and advantageously related, and so the devastating effects of divisive identification continue undeterred.
“We” (any manifestation of consensual identity) see ourselves as the ones who are good and right merely by virtue of who we think we are and intend to become. “We” are the ones who know what is true and what is false, what is important and what is irrelevant, what is sacred and what is profane, who is exceptional and who is not. “We” think of ourselves as either women or men (or as members of a growing number of gender/sexual-related sources of group and personal identity). “We” are black, white, brown, or yellow; old or young; urban or rural; educated this degree, or this other; lower class, middle class, or upper class; moral or immoral. “We” are practicing members of one of several different forms of Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or of any other religious traditions. “We,” may also know and express ourselves as agnostic or atheistic, and not any less fervently than our religious counterparts. “We” are dedicated members, as well, of one or a whole set of secular institutions –political parties, occupations, professions, modalities of distraction, social clubs, fashion styles, and the like. Physical appearance also tends to be, a vital component of who “we” think we are and are not, and of how much we are worth.
The instincts and proclivities that constitute the deepest layer of mental conditioning are evidently not the product of culture and thought, but rather the outcome of the co-evolutionary process that progressively gave shape to all natural manifestations of body/psyche. However, this important sign of our common ground in life, is overlaid with, and conveniently obscured by the overbearing amplification of minor differences with which all existing forms of social and cultural aggregation and dis-aggregation proclaim their particular distinction. For example, all nation states inculcate strong feelings of patriotism in their respective populations, and the barbaric actions these sentiments often elicits are then commonly regarded as highly respectable signs of shared virtuous identity, when in reality they are just an indication of the steady presence of animal territoriality.
The effort to gain unrestricted awareness of the dysfunctional influence of many aspects of culture soon makes evident the unquestioning manner (to put it mildly) in which parents and teachers indoctrinate the human young with the dogmas and ideologies from which they derive identity, social recognition, and a sense of separate existence. Allowing life to flower in the bodies and minds of young children as freely as it is safe, is obviously not something that any form of cultural determination or its representative authorities care greatly about.
The sedimentation of biographic experience constitutes what is simultaneously the most visible and most intimate (and intimating) layer of identity. Its intense contact with the actual unfolding of life permanently reinforces (positively and negatively) the vivid and constant sense every human organism has of “me,” “my”-self, “my” property, and “my” life. The memory of what "I" have experienced and learned expands by re-cognizing and evaluating every living moment, and by traveling, both eagerly and hesitantly, towards a future of which it already harbors pleasurable and painful ideas.
It is not helpful to say much more than this about the self-isolating and enduring power of personal memory robotically chasing after predetermined and exclusive forms of security and pleasure. This, because the provision and internalization of mere descriptions referring to the top layer of personal conditioning and the methodological procedures most likely to achieve its improvement or dissolution, generally only serve to enlarge the self's muddled and barren knowledge of itself and fuel its customary self-projection.
If earnest enough any investigation of mental and social reality arrives at the realization that self-centered thought cannot transcend its inherent irrationality or solve the personal, relational, and global problems it has created. This means, among other things, that all theory, all verbiage must, at some point, be resolutely discarded —this essay included— because ultimately nothing will do, except a direct perception of the entire process of egoic memory/thought as a dead end. Only complete disavowal of (most) predetermined content and of the external and internalized forms of authority sponsoring it may restore the natural sensitivity and intelligence of the organism, and enable action that is phenomenally creative precisely because it is not unduly informed by previous experience.
As already mentioned, the entity that fancies itself master of its own fate cannot withstand an insight that negates the presumed wisdom virtue of its specialized interests, and most ardent efforts and hopes and, worse yet, that unmasks its embodiment of all the ills afflicting humanity. To put it differently, a full, unmediated revelation of what is actually going in “one”self and the world at large dissolves in a particular brain the peculiar trace and rigid impulse left by experience, and with it the self that fed on them and forced others, especially its offspring, to do the same.
The process of self-centered thought has served for far too long the security and power needs of different groups and individuals, in great part, by creating the innumerable and contradictory representations of reality and truth with which they identify. The actual, living, truth is, however, irreducible to knowledge and, hence, inaccessible to the personal and social realities created by different and conflicting ideologies. There are no two ways about it then, the manifestation of life in its plenitude hinges on the disappearance of the cultural and egoic falseness that is permanently obstructing it. (Evidently, when talking about the wholeness of life as the truth, we are not referring to a pre-established truth existing in opposition to a given falsehood as, for example, the “truth” preached by one religious or secular ideology may stand vis-à-vis what it considers to be the untruth extolled by another. The truth as the all-encompassing reality of life is an actuality; not an idea pitted against others.)
Humanity’s ancient and sorrowful mental alienation from life is preserved at every instant by billions of human organisms still bent on living the little secular and religious stories they tell themselves about who they are and why they deserve to become even more important in this life or another. An insane situation that can only be rectified if you and I become fearlessly aware of it.
These two sentences may encapsulate our most immediate and essential truth in a fairly accurate and straightforward manner. However, the distance between this conceptual representation and the actuality towards which it merely points is practically infinite. In the realm of knowledge and thought, the notion of the “wholeness of life” is nearly meaningless, as is any action conceived as a path leading to it. However, for someone for whom the fact and consequences of divisive and sorrowful mental conditioning are already quite evident, the destructive/creative power of these three little words may be that of life itself.
A mind no longer reduced to traveling back and forth in the claustrophobic corridors of sectarian and self-centered thought cannot tell itself apart from the undivided, and therefore unthinkable movement of life. The essence of goodness, love, and intelligence lies in this keenly conscious but fundamentally unknowing, indistinct, presence: life quietly aware of itself.