You know what I reckon, there’s something we could all do that would drastically reduce human suffering in an instant. It’s one very simple change, or more specifically, a distinction we could all make which would immediately make the world a more agreeable place. It’s so straight forward but something we all forget to do. It’s the cause of man’s greatest misery, conflicts on all levels, from International crises, to petty disputes between friends over what the greatest movie of all time is (Ghostbusters in case you were wondering).
It divides families, results in death, destruction and desolation across the globe and is the fuel that powers comments pages at the foot of newspaper articles the world over (except in North Korea where people probably aren’t allowed to comment unless they’re saying how amazingly handsome Kim Jong Un is and what a great job he’s doing).
So what is at the root of almost all human problems? It’s this - somehow, over the course of consciousness evolution we seem to have lost the ability to differentiate fact from opinion.
Of course, paradoxically, I can’t declare this as fact. I can only offer it as a proposal otherwise, in a self-referential head-fuck, the whole premise collapses, but go with me.
We all do it, all the time. We make declarations, confident that we’re just reporting the facts as they are.
It can be something as harmless as who you think is the best comedian (me obvs) or band (a friend of mine declared, with the cocky certainty of a teenage activist that Coldplay were the worst band in the history of music. Presumably his findings weren’t based on ticket or record sales).
My point is not whether Coldplay are any good (they’re alright by me), it’s that we so often fail to make the distinction between “I think” and “I know”. Most of what we say seems to come under the banner of “I know” regardless of whether the evidence is quantitative or qualitative, empirical or anecdotal. How often have you heard someone prove a point using the fact that ‘the thing’ happened to them, as their sole source of proof. “Cricket is boring. I went to watch a match once and it was so dull!”
When it comes to something relatively trivial like, was Miley Cyrus VMA performance embarrassing (it was), it doesn’t matter, though the scale of the reaction was intriguing. One commentator on an American News show said, “MTV should not be allowed to get away with this”. Get away with what? I’m not entirely sure but whatever it is, she was certain it should be stopped. I like her style. Panic first, ask questions never.
Miley Cyrus’ performance is a relatively inconsequential topic but what about when lives and livelihoods are at stake and we are so wedded to our opinions that distinguishing them from facts becomes impossible and lives are ruined, perhaps lost.
All conflicts are based on this. “I know we are right and you are wrong, so much so that we are prepared to wage violence against you – after which we will write the history books backing our stand point – you’re welcome”.
But why are we so powerfully fused to our opinions in this way? Perhaps because we are still fused to the notion of being a ‘me’ separate from other beings and because of this, we value what our ‘me’ thinks above anything else, ironically, even when the me’s opinion is, ‘everyone else knows more than me’. It’s quite a slippery character, our me. Even when we align ourselves with subgroups, the notion is still this group is separate from that group, i.e. Arsenal and Chelsea, Labour and The Conservatives, America and Russia, One Direction Fans and The Wanted fans.
I’m fascinated by ontology, the study of being. I’ve found it enlightening and personally beneficial to be in constant enquiry as to who and what we are.
Suffice to say, if we as a species start to call time on our sometimes toxic romance with ourselves, perhaps something else may be possible in terms of the fate of this planet. In my humble opinion, I do believe the stakes are that high.
We are the only species able to facilitate its own evolution. Maybe, physically, we are done, but mentally, psychologically, I reckon a lot is still up for grabs.
We have, as time has marched on, become more and more individuated and whilst this has precipitated progress that we all welcome, it has created a whole new set of problems, one of which is the highly pronounced ego. One of its primary tasks is survival and given that we are still here, we can safely say it is doing its job. It is what keeps us safe and responds to danger by having us take evasive action. This was very useful when the threat was sabre-toothed tigers, but now we don’t have them and the perceived attacks are usual emotional, yet we still have the same biochemical and emotional responses. With this mechanism still in place, there is a cost. We react to personal attack as though it were life-threatening. This creates a response which is often, wildly disproportionate to the incident. I saw two young men pass each other in the street and one accidentally bumped the other. I slowed as I watched this non-event quickly escalate to what was soon an incendiary situation. None of the damage was physical, all was emotion but nonetheless both these young men were prepared to fight over it. I walked away wondering if there was any hope for us when even on this micro-scale, we behave in this manner.
I hope, the ‘me’ consciousness we are currently in has an end point. I hope its usefulness expires. We have to thank it. It got us this far, but as certain situation show us, like the existence of poverty and gross opulence side by side, corporate stranglehold on vital pharmaceuticals, food supplies and resources, mass-consumerism, depression and so much more, this consciousness will not get us to the promised land.
But if this is not the answer, what is? What can man do to transcend this status quo? Well, one of the illusions of the me consciousness is that problems are external to us.
If only that person would do that, if only I could get that job, if only I had more money, if only my football team could avoid relegation, if only I could afford that new pair of Beats headphones, and so our wanting continue.
Perhaps the wanting and avoiding or as Vipassana meditation guru Goenka called it, the “constant craving and aversion”, is just a constituent part of the ‘me’ consciousness and no amount of Beats head phones or new jobs will ever satiate it.
Perhaps it’s time to look in a new place for the solution.
Perhaps there’s a place we can stand in where we see ourselves as the one who has a me, rather than thinking we are the me. After all, you could argue that as there is no specific location or water-tight definition of ‘me’, that does it really exist at all? Perhaps it is just a series of neuronal, energetic and physical responses that create the experience of thoughts, memories and emotions that we know as ‘me’ and that it is a maelstrom occurring within something much greater than the sum of all these things. Perhaps we are containers for a me. Every now and then, it’s possible to touch into this place but it’s fleeting, with a illusionary quality itself.
Is this what’s meant by the popular meme, “you are not a human having spiritual experiences but a spirit having human experiences”?
Well, it’s just a thought…