Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Necessity of Wandering in a Desert for 40 Days and Nights in an Age of Abundance.

America seems to be in a phase of self-hatred. It has been going on for 40 years, starting small and growing into the current crescendo. Out of the 60s came people who thought America was a bad place - all dominating and treating people badly around the world. These stories have advanced to absurd proportions and at last, we have elected a president who is an expression of what I call, the American Distortion. President Obama holds up as the ideal before the United Nations "No nation should dominate another." (Since domination appears to occur quite naturally among all life, there's nothing like trying to create an anti-life vacuum. This is soooo Obama.) He then apologizes for America's dominance. He doesn't see much of anything that has been accomplished by America as a great thing. He, as I have said before, prefers sores to pick which naturally blinds him to accomplishments. So far as I can tell, he considers everything that America has produced a product of an evil system which causes evil men. He then feels perfectly justified taking property from one and giving to another, rearranging businesses to his liking and all of the kinds of actions that despots and tyrants throughout history have taken. (Hmm. Did he include himself as a product of America?)

Given that abundance has been all about us, why suddenly have people taken to making it wrong? If you notice, President Obama has done nothing to stimulate the economy. He's said he wants to use money to do that but then he passes it out to his cronies to insure his reelection. Almost no jobs have been created so he has taken to emphasizing that some have been 'saved', although no one knows how to measure that. Clearly President Obama and his Administration have a completely different view of man and what is appropriate for a man's life than I do.

To me this left turn into the desert is uncalled for and even mean spirited, but what if there is something underneath it that needs to be recognized. What if there is a lesson to be learned here.

There are two kinds of men - the one who knows who he is and knows where he is going, and the one who is lost and doesn't know where he is going. It is a much noticed phenomenon that rich kids are often lost. They have had everything and so they never had to figure out what is important. In relation to purposeful human beings, they appear as robust weeds in an otherwise naturally ordered garden.

But now we have a different phenomenon. Man has risen to the level of material abundance such that we have a society of rich kids. Thus we are seeing all kinds of thing that we have never seen before. We see kids who lose their lives to a computer game, never knowing what it is like to live in a real world rather than a virtual one. We see ordinary people weighing 300 pounds. With food so plentiful, they cannot resist the pleasures of food. They have not figured out how to reshape their values such that they use their resources for other things that will yield new pleasures and rewards.

So, how does one figure out what is important and make something of his life? Given that by and large human kind has handled the matter of his physical existence and we depended on going after those values to keep us true to what life requires, we are realizing that if that matter is largely handled we no longer have that truing-up mechanism to keep us present to what life requires. What we took for granted before can no longer be taken for granted. We are realizing that there is something deeper that we have to take care of. We cannot merely keep ourselves alive; we have to keep ourselves vital.

Or said another way, given that we have handled the material side of life, how do we reform the spiritual side of life given that vitality is a function of one's spiritual notions?

Clearly this problem can be handled two ways. One is to not see it as a problem and every time things get too good, arbitrarily create a situation such that one strips himself back to basics so he learns those lessons and knows who he is. In the vernacular of my upbringing, "Whenever a man get too cocky, he needs to be brought down off his high horse." The other is to embrace the progress and see this as a problem which progress itself brings.

Rather than all the preachers getting up on Sunday and telling people how evil they've been to have allowed themselves to be seduced by abundance and therefore gotten soft and lazy, what if they congratulated their congregations on their great achievement and then began the process of discovering the nature of living now that they have achieved that?

(And what's even worse about someone trying to solve the problem by damning the present and taking a person back to a previous solution is that it does not advance the knowledge required to handle the problem at this level. This suggests to me that the moral principles as formulated in old-time religion are not going to work for where we are now and that we need to look at this matter newly.)

A man to be effective must know his values. Further, he must know the ranking of his values. There are many choices made that are bad choices because one acts for a lower value and gives up a resource that he should have used to gain a higher value. If a dad is writing a book to earn a living and has children, chances are both are values high on his list of values. But which is higher? Writing the book or being with the children? If he chooses to be with the children, he gives up the time he could use to write the book. Likewise, if he spends his time writing the book, he gives up time he could be with his children. If his wife urges him to be with the children and he does so to please her, that doesn't work either. Who is he anyway? These are the questions that trouble men's souls.

All of these troubles fall into the category of forging oneself into a mighty purpose. To do that one has to know who he is. He has to know his values, what captures his energies such that he causes something to happen. Then he must rank them in a way that he knows supports the life he wants to live. After he has discovered this for himself and knows who he is, he is a force to be reckoned with. He becomes as a piece of steel that was once liquid but has now taken shape in a particular form.

In the Bible, Jesus went to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Why? I say, to sort himself out. He had to learn the ranking of his values and come to know who he was -- what was most important for him so he could design himself true to himself.* Thus, he made himself into a man who could be responsible for his own vitality.

In the Age of Abundance, if man is to advance, he must put in this sorting process. When living is not that hard, one isn't required to put forth much effort to obtain the values he needs to just keep himself alive. He can live well easily. But, in the doing of that, he has to watch that he doesn't give up the most important thing of life - his vitality - his life and what he could have made of himself. No one wants to die with that "On the Waterfront" line: "I could have been a contender."

Unless we tackle this problem, it grows and creates wild distortions in culture. We have parents who never sorted themselves out and are scared to death of alone time with only themselves for company. In raising their kids, they won't let them settle down into this sorting time because it threatens them, the parents. They can only see it as "something is wrong here."

But what if nothing is wrong? In fact, what if it is what the requirements of being human ordered? This is the opportunity hidden in the Age of Abundance. How does one sort through his values and craft them into a clear cut code such that he is able to use the resources he has in the best way he is able? This is the challenge of abundance and it is the challenge of political and personal freedom. This is a challenge we take up one at a time. Until we learn this, we, as a culture and society and as the leader of men to the full bounty of political freedom, are going to fall back into the old ways. Eras will be dedicated to learning this lesson until we master it and are able to go through it and beyond it.

And, we know what those old ways are. Our leaders tell everyone "There is something wrong here. We have sinned. Now it is time to exact punishment for those sins." Today how they do that is tax us within an inch of our lives and give it to their friends. Is this an uptick from how the Catholic church did it? Come in for confessions and leave your offering. You remain poor, we put our riches into the churches and institutions to take care of us. Hmmm. That's another seminar.

*When I say design himself true to himself what I'm saying is that there are two levels of things going on in man. At one level, he is determined by his nature. He possesses a life force which came with being born a living thing. That life force in a human being has a particular nature. It seeks to live and maintain itself and it has to do it a human way. Inside that, it will do it according to its particularity as an individual human being. Exactly what this nature is is part of what a man must discover about himself.

To be true to himself, he must act consistent with not only his nature as a man, but also consistent with the particular traits and aptitudes that he was born with. A successful design for one's life is mounted with full knowledge of oneself on that basic template. The truth? No one has full knowledge of himself at any point in time - ever. So what I mean is that one's mind is properly related to the facts one discovers about himself such that he is able to integrate and build on them.

People get into forcing themselves to be a particular way at the expense of their nature. The character of this is that they will not face a particular painful event that happened to themselves and integrate the facts of their lives. Consequently, there is a distortion in their personality which is shaped by this avoidance of anything which hints at that event which they have shaped themselves to avoid. (Character is not something that can be developed, I assert, until one has cleared out all of the generating factors of this distortion. Character is something one must develop by choice and it cannot be counted on until it is developed and held by choice.) Given this, they cannot discover their nature - their talents, the things they love, all the things that they cannot relax and enjoy because of the fear that has shaped their evaluations of their perceptions.

A big part of forming oneself is discovery. If one is not getting the things he wants in life, then he has to discover why that is so. He has to discover the misalignment of his values. He has to notice when he sacrifices himself (acts on a lower value and sacrifices a higher value) and why he doesn't like himself right then. This can be an involved process where at first one doesn't have many tools available to do it. But with an increase in the powers of inspection, he gains those tools. Once he understands what is going on, he is in a position to rearrange his values and cause a different outcome. And above all, he is in a position to design his own character. Once that is done, he becomes a force to be reckoned with. Until then, he's mere flotsam and jetsam, floating on the surf of humanity

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