Breaking out of a Broken System
“Be humble for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.” –Serbian proverb
In a world being torn apart by extremism, maybe a potential solution is for the majority of us to practice the opposite of extremism: moderation (to include taking moderation in moderation). Likewise, in a world bring torn apart by “moral” inaction, maybe a potential solution is for the majority of us to practice the opposite: amoral action. This article will discuss how the two concepts eco-morality and ego-morality are linked with the issues of extremism/moderation and moral inaction/amoral action, and what we can do as individuals to balance it out.
Here’s the thing: the world is a complicated system. The human condition is a complicated system. When you put these two complex systems together the complications are drastically compounded. What makes it even more complicated, especially in our technologically advanced postmodern societies, is the extra layer of complexity that human perception, or misconception, adds to the debacle: namely hyperrealism. This hyperreality literally changes the way we see things, and generally not for the better. And in a complicated world where our survival is constantly at risk, seeing things the way they are is devastatingly important. If our hyperrealism happens to be in line with the way things actually work, then it’s all well and good. But, as it stands, our hyperrealism is grossly out of balance with reality, especially with the biosphere. We have become homogenized and diverse to diversity.
The crux of the problem is that most of us live in the comfortable and secure “bubble” of a rampantly unhealthy and fundamentally unsustainable postmodern culture that is grossly out of balance with the way the rest of the world works. This bubble gives us the “freedom” to act out our desperate hyperrealism, despite reality outside the bubble dictating to us that such desperation is unhealthy. Like Noam Chomsky said, “The general population doesn’t even know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” This applies to people’s misconceptions of the way the world works as an interconnected and interdependent whole just as well as it applies politically.
However, the main constructs of our hyperreal perceptions are indeed political. They get tossed around in our unsustainable, hyperreal bubble: capitalism, communism, democracy, plutocracy, conservatism, liberalism, along with a plethora of other “isms” and “ocracys.” The ignorance with which these myopic ideals get thrown around is astonishing. Indeed, they each maintain their own hyperreal bubble within which biased information constantly gets pushed around, usually with prejudiced and blatantly parochial agendas. It creates a troubling bubble against bubble (us versus them) mentality, and some bubbles are worse than others. We need to burst these bubbles, lest we become surrounded by inside-the-bubble thinkers. Like Friedrich Nietzsche said, “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.” Egos run amok within these all-too-precious bubbles, creating socialized egoism and nationalized conceit. Everybody thinks their “way” is the best, damning all others. Meanwhile, everything collapses in on itself. “Like toddlers and tyrants we are quick to take our own stories for the infallible truth,” writes Kathryn Schulz, “and to dismiss as wrongheaded or wicked anyone who disagrees. These tendencies are most troubling for the way they fuel animosity and conflict. But they are also troubling because they make it extremely difficult to accept our own fallibility.”
In order to break free of a broken system, you have to change the way the game is being played. The best way to change the game is to stop playing it the way it has always been played. So far the game that’s being played is a game of greedy one-upmanship. If we can find a way to change “greedy” into “giving” and “one-upmanship” into “relationship,” then we just might be able to change the game and break free of the broken system. But this is beyond tricky. It is in fact an arduously Herculean task, because it requires taming our pride. It requires curbing the smug self-importance we’ve gained within our respective bubbles. It requires balancing ego (psychosocial) with eco (interdependence). In short, it requires us being more disciplined and healthy: individually, socially, and ecologically.
There is absolutely no reason why our ego-moral values cannot complement and enhance our eco-moral values. Ego-moral means holistically individuated and ethically motivated. Eco-moral means holistically conscious and compassionate. There is most definitely a way we can use our egos as tools of conviviality and altruism while still maintaining veneration and prestige. It doesn’t have to be a glass-is-half-empty mindset of: “Why should I earn something just to give it away to lazy-ass moochers?” It could just as easily be a glass-is-half-full mindset of: “I can have pride in what I’ve earned while also achieving greater prestige by helping those who are less capable.” Shame is a sufficient enough leveling mechanism, anyway. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, “Humility is as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement.”
Imagine the world is a crashing plane, and the oxygen masks have just been released. What do you do? You place the mask on yourself first (ego-moral) before you help anybody else (eco-moral). You must personally be healthy in order to teach others how to be healthy, and in order to bring a healthy dynamic to an otherwise unhealthy environment. In order to help “right the plane” you have to be healthy (mind, body, and soul), and then hope that others will follow your lead. Practice placing the mask on yourself and you might just earn the right to place the mask on us all. And you might even figure out what it is causing “the plane” to crash, beyond the rampant bubble-thinking of hyperrealism.
If, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suggested, “Capitalism fails to realize that life is social. Communism fails to realize that life is personal” then it stands to reason that we take the good from both, “social” and “personal,” and mash them together into a sustainable compost from which a future system of healthy human governance can flourish. If we can somehow combine the “heart” of communism with “the balls” of capitalism then we might just get a body of politics that actually works. And there is no reason why we should stop with capitalism and communism. We must be able to take the good and leave the bad from all our bubbly “isms.” Becoming more eco-moral grounds the self-expansion and grandiosity of traditional capitalism by implementing spiritual and ecological principles of interdependence while advocating for a non-selfish society through the act of reciprocity and expiation. On the other hand, becoming more ego-moral tethers the wishy-washy utopian grandiosity of communism by empowering individuals to become more productive through imaginative social expansion and creative mini-revolutions that keeps its “bottom-line” in a constant state of renovation.
Eco-moralism tames capitalism through holistic checks and balances. Ego-moralism jumpstarts communism through proactive citizenry. What we’re left with is a healthy anarchism with an egalitarian ethos which is less about capital and one-upmanship and more about respect for what is borrowed. It is less about ownership and more about relationships. It is ethical, spiritual, and diverse; as opposed to egotistical, religious, and homogenized by nationalism.
Eco-moralism helps us pierce through the smoke and mirrors of hyperreality and into the way reality actually is: interconnected and interdependent. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “We are all connected; to each other, biologically; to the earth, chemically; to the rest of the universe, atomically.” Ego-moralism helps us become more motivated by revealing that our egos are actually tools towards leveraging a healthy balance between cosmos and psyche. It also cultivates more creative individuals who are able to use their art in proactive ways that help others as well as themselves. Like Thomas Berry said, “The only viable option for the universe is for it to be in a state of creative disequilibrium, holding together sufficiently to not fall apart, but open enough to be expanding.” This is the task of the ego-moral artist.
An individual who can cultivate both an eco-moral and ego-moral ethos is an individual who has achieved the ability to go from being a victim of the world to genuinely being the world. Like Erich Fromm surmised, “If the individual realizes his self by spontaneous activity and thus relates himself to the world, he ceases to be an isolated atom; he and the world become part of one structuralized whole; he has his rightful place, and thereby his doubt concerning himself and the meaning of life disappears.” Or like Carl Jung intuited, “Individuation does not remove the individual from the social sphere but enlarges one’s connection to it.”
The individuation of the ego (ego-moralism) and the self-actualization of the soul (eco-moralism) is no walk in the park. It requires great personal sacrifice and tremendous individual courage. But it also liberates us from fear and tears down our illusions. Fear becomes a trampoline that we can use to bounce ourselves into higher forms of courage. Illusion becomes a water easily swam through because we realize that it is in the “swimming” between the “bubbles” where we discover meaning; similar to the journey being the thing. Like Alan Watts said, “For what one needs in this universe is not certainty but the courage and nerve of the gambler; not fixed conviction but adaptability; not firm ground whereupon to stand but skill in swimming.” Balancing ego-moralism with eco-moralism gives us the uncanny ability to swim between the bubbles of our hyperrealism indirectly bursts them, and we find that our comfort zones stretch more and more until all the bubbles are subsumed, intuited as illusory and parochial, and left behind so that we can better embrace the world as it truly exists.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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