Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither is safe. Edmund Burke
Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, man is no more. Nikola Tesla
The Simpleton’s Solution
The British colonial strategy used to successfully divide and conquer eventually led to the partition of India and Pakistan. Similar strategies in recent history resulted in North Korea being separated from the South while Israel and Palestine were inelegantly wedged into the ancient land of Canaan. Today, between Botswana and Zimbabwe, Malaysia and Thailand, Cyprus and Turkey, Mexico and the US, Israel and the West Bank, and Morocco and Spain, dozens of walls and border fences separate people and territories across the world.
Partition is a simpleton’s convenient solution to the issue of human diversity. In every case where artificial boundaries are imposed on lands and cultures, the act of separation itself is traumatic and nowhere has it resulted in less suffering than that which already existed.
People & Machinery
Every mechanic knows how to take an engine apart and reassemble it without too much bother. It requires a methodical approach, a blueprint possibly, or aide-memoir to know how the parts fit together, especially in large or complicated machinery, like an Airbus A380, which has over 4 million parts. And skilled engineers of course. Oh, and a very big and well-equipped shed. But nothing more (nor less) than that. The life of a machine is prolonged from routine maintenance of this kind. Living systems less so.
Naturalists assure us that dissecting a mammal into a set of component parts, for example, is not the same thing as stripping an A380. It is easy enough to cut the body up. One can slice through the neck to detach the head, and amputate the limbs. That is easy enough. But putting the pieces back together again in a way that restores functionality is impossible. An A380 will be towed out of its hangar beautifully reconditioned. It will have felt no pain. Even if the creature was anesthetized it will be irreparably harmed. And although death is not certain it will most probably have suffered trauma and pain, and will be incurably disabled by the amputations.
As a general rule living systems degenerate when attempts are made to carve them up. Sometimes that damage is severe. If the spinal cord snaps in an accident it may well take successive surgical procedures and a lengthy period of recuperation to restore even a semblance of functionality. At other times the body may partially heal itself. But, generally, soft tissues like bone, muscle and cartilage, deteriorate far more rapidly than steel joists, rivets and springs.
That is not the only major difference between mechanical and living systems like sapiens of course. And I do realise that I am stating the obvious. But bear with me.
rather than just its healthy and intact physical form, the mind of a single sapien stretching across time. Hypothetically it extends back to the moment of conception – reaching out into the future towards the moment of death. I call this capacity to contain the entirety of our experience in a single moment as the expanded now. The expanded now is a phenomenon we have all felt from time to time. It might occur out of the blue – such as a near-death experience. But it is also a condition we can trigger if we want to.
When we are young we sense the expanded now as a dream-like condition where all kinds of possibilities, limited only by our imagination, are present simultaneously. As we mature into adulthood our ability to access an expanded now tends to become more difficult – unless it is part of a deliberate and rehearsed practice, in which case it sparks what others have described as an altered state of consciousness – a trance-like condition in which capabilities are amplified and the astonishing becomes routine for a short period.
Musicians, elite sports men and women, orators, and circus artistes, in fact anyone at the peak of their powers, intentionally strive to refine and foster this condition by pulling all of their rehearsed experiences, as well as their teleology of an aspirational potential, into the current moment. In effect they endeavour to keep the conjunction of past, present and possible poised, in perfect balance, on an edge between order and chaos.
In moments like this their learning metabolism is highly sensitised and more rapid than is usual. Descriptions of what these individuals actually sense in these moments, which observers witness as periods of inspired performance, range from a sense of intense awareness that direct and guide flows of energy, to a state of ecstasy in which time appears to slow down. It takes practice to sustain this altered state for more than a few minutes at a time. Besides, physical exhaustion and mental fatigue often follow extreme concentration of this nature.
that single mind also stretching across vast physical distances; touching millions of other minds as a consequence. Like a single cell in the brain of humanity, that individual sapien intelligence now becomes part of a global community of mind. There is a name for this. We call it the human family. It has its own past and teleology. Its own expanded now. Its own collective consciousness.
And reflect upon….
the collective consciousness and sense of affiliation within that human family acting as a sentient living ecosystem where separation of any kind is felt as a harrowing sensation ranging from the despair of mental anguish to extreme physical pain.
The Human Condition
At one level I am defining a condition that is inherently human – a phenomenon located both within and beyond our consciousness as a species. Quite possibly it represents the fulfilment of Andy Warhol’s prediction that in the future every person will experience 15 minutes of fame. Except that in our minds 15 minutes is vastly inadequate in comparison with those celebrities who colonise our minds with their unending extravagance. Most of us try to carry on regardless, but some of us switch off – resorting to seclusion or prozac. Others, more confident, plan on extending life indefinitely through the use of artificially intelligent upgrades. New technologies conjure up the prospect of immortality for them.
Whatever explanation is used to define the human condition, or however it is described, this is now a crisis. A crisis of human consciousness.
The central predicament, to which we have been progressively exposed, arises from an escalating schism between reductionist and systemic logics – between individual needs and the wellbeing of the broader community. Complemented by a rapid growth in human numbers over the past century, and a fanatical preoccupation with delivering economic growth as an imperative, we have let many of our most life-critical systems deteriorate to the point of collapse. Along the way we have put undue stress on nature, ramped up an intense aversion to others’ differences, and sat idly by as the world’s wealth is owned by fewer and fewer people.
Given this situation, and in a vain attempt to protect everything we cherish, we resort to a default position in which our personal needs override all other concerns. Experiencing an interior life increasingly divorced from that of others, focused on self-interest, numb to the suffering of others, our carefully-crafted avatars, entangled within an exterior world of fear and avaricious fervour, conspire as best they can to avoid material privation.
More worrying is the immense gap opening up between the issues leaders at a global level perceive, and try to influence or treat – including their competence to do so – and local matters that assume priority over planetary concerns for most of us. While the price of a sack of rice, along with severe drought and the erosion of the top soil in the paddy field, are ongoing worries for my Thai family, the destiny story of our species has become a ghostly wreck floundering on an ocean of irrelevant theories and drills, captained by a handful of scared, uninspired, dullards. Infatuated still by the delusion of trickle-down economics, those in charge treat the human family as if it were merely a complicated machine, comprising 7.4 billion parts – devoid of any collective consciousness, and immune from pain. This perspective conveniently allows for the family home (nature) to be plundered without any sense of remorse, the family silver (natural resources) to be auctioned to the highest bidders, and family members to be treated with as much respect as rivets on an A380.
The Trauma of Separation
Separation of all kinds occur incessantly of course. We are accustomed to it, have become conditioned to expect it, and unconsciously adjust to it as best we can. From the moments following our birth, when we inhale our first breath and the umbilical cord is cut, to those seconds just before death, as our sentient mind fades and we bid farewell to all that we have known, separation is an intrinsic part of life’s rich tapestry. It is as certain as it is unavoidable.
We experience separation as innate, by virtue of being born into a certain family, country or religion, for example. But also by design. Routine as it seems, separation is often felt as distress or anguish if it comes from being ignored, diminished, or excluded. We sense it acutely if we are unfriended by a contact on social media, have our ideas dismissed or our intelligence derided, or fail an application to get a credit card because of an inability to meet certain criteria.
Usually this kind of separation happens as a matter of course. Embedded in our familiarity with the modern world, it is relatively trivial. We tend not to dwell on it or give it too much thought. It happens to everyone after all. Or does it? Occasionally I get the distinct feeling that certain individuals are able to exempt themselves and their immediate cohorts from the negative shocks of imposed separation, at least in terms of the way such severance effects the majority, by virtue of their status or wealth. But at other times separation simply feels wrong, insulting, or archaic. In these situations, where the intent behind the separation has been brutal or iniquitous, is finally challenged, and we begin to understand it, perhaps for the first time, as outrageously anachronistic – like slavery or apartheid for example – then we end it, heal any wounds, and do what needs to be done in order to move on.
Bitterness often lingers – sometimes for too long – in the memory. Yet it does not help our state of mind, nor our emotional wellbeing, to dwell on recriminations and retribution. It corrodes the soul. Nor does it help to blame any one group as the embodiment of evil for, in truth, none of us can be totally immune from the course of events. In times of duress it is too easy to move from impartial bystander to complicit participant. And the subtle shift from collusion to quisling is but one step away when the safety and security of one’s own family is under threat.
It is wiser, though distressingly difficult, to forgive those who slaughter our loved ones than to fall into the trap of enduring victimhood, even when that suffering is a result of the most considered evil – as occurred in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalin’s Russia, Kagame’s Rwanda, and Hitler’s Germany.
Looking back on the pageant of bloody human butchery from today’s vantage point, it seems surreal that any sane individual could accept such atrocities as morally honorable or just. Yet crimes against humanity, including passive exterminations, persist today in many parts of the world. And, as in the past, they are mostly hidden in full view.
In Australia, for example, successive governments have bungled every policy concerning those seeking asylum and our own indigenous populations. As an Australian citizen I am deeply ashamed by the manner in which we choose to treat those who are attempting to escape from oppression, or simply seeking a better life in a country that is relatively open, affluent and free. There are always protests of course – some for and some against greater egalitarianism. The choice comes down to creating mayhem in the mainstream media, or giving voice to our agony on social media, but only with soft screams.
The next phase, of insisting that the conscious will of the majority of citizens be implemented, is one step too far for many of us. We have our own lives to lead and this default position locks us in. Better to look away for the time being, hope the situation will improve, or the problem will peter out as other matters achieve greater notoriety. We will elect a different mob next time, we convince ourselves.
Except the pain stays. And although we try to push it aside in order to go about our daily business, it is always there in the background, festering and eating away at our humanity.
What then should be our reaction when attempts are made to deliberately segregate the human family – for convenience, self-interest, greed or sheer savagery? Especially when it causes so much unnecessary pain and grief – and especially when we are aware that it is happening? Again it is easy to be pragmatic. Humans have practiced compartmentalised organisation and enforced separation of all kinds for most of our time on the Earth. It is considered a normal way to maintain order, particularly when dealing with massive numbers of people. But these days we analyse and divide as if it is going out of fashion. Without so much as a blink of the eye we nonchalantly self-organise into groups, tribes, clubs, castes, classes, communities, religions, kingdoms, empires and ideologies.
To a great extent categorising in this fashion does allow society to work more efficiently. But is it any more than an administrative convenience? To what extent does it wound our sense of collective identity? Should separation be considered an act of violence if it is the source of pain for some and degrades the human ecosystem overall? Is it possible we are eroding aspects of our humanity by resorting to coercive division? Our shared teleology perhaps? Might it even impede our learning metabolism to the extent that our ability to deal with the emergencies facing us is terminally compromised?
These are questions to which I have no answers. I find them disturbing nonetheless. We live in a world, it seems to me, where progressive polarisation, and even fragmentation, of society has already become massively destructive to any shared resolve or underlying purpose. Indeed there is a strong sense that humanity is disintegrating into bits and pieces as never before. Each group seems only to listen to the sounds of its own voices echoing into a void. Each cell in humanity’s brain pursuing its own self-interests on a smart phone app but ignoring the transmissions between synapses that sustain any sense of purpose or kinship. This uncoupling between groups encourages us to deviate even further from each other in ideals and perspectives.
Any shared sense of our humanity is vanishing like snowflakes in Spring. As I have said on many occasion, we seem to be losing sight of what it actually means to be human, as well as the courage to face up to that promise. Having only vague vestiges of harmony and shared purpose as a species we are far more inclined to distance ourselves in order to tolerate the horrors we perpetrate on each other.
The most extreme example of this separation are the eyes in the sky that allow combatants to press a button and review their hideous carnage on digital displays – thousands of miles away from the sights and putrid smells of death. Detached and clinical, though often with a frisson of awkward elation, we retreat into a cocoon of self-righteous outrage when challenged, resorting to the most immoral and bland excuses to condone such behaviour. We erect walls, and police borders, to keep others out of our own bit of paradise, much as we have done for the past few centuries, but at great expense to any sense of affinity or community, which then lie fractured at our feet.
The anguish of separation felt after the death of an infant, a parent, or a friend, can be acute, as can the despair. Pain from such a loss can continue to resonate for many months if not years. If a simple legal mechanism such as a divorce, often mutually agreed, can cause distress, how much more pain might be suffered as a result of separating entire families or communities when there is no such desire to part? How much community value might we be depleting at its source by neutralising the virtue, the kindness, and the love in the human community of mind? We live with toxic policies designed to do just that every day of our lives. How can we be at peace with each other when we allow this to continue?
Truth in Communion
Common threads binding the projects being undertaken by the Centre for the Future are connection rather than separation; synthesis rather than analysis; designing for the future rather than patching up the present, and giving a voice to those who suffer from disabled systems. It might surprise some that this latter group comprises most incumbent leaders who feel trapped by circumstances not of their choosing and are burdened by the hopes of many. But it also refers to those who have been forgotten or neglected, those who feel disenfranchised, and those who suffer as a direct result of an economic paradigm whose only purpose is its own machine-like and relentless persistence.
For these reasons our emphasis is on creating platforms that provide greater access to, and improve the quality of, community decision-making; finding novel ways to liberate alternative wisdom; inviting those with wealth and political influence into a process for experiencing the power of cooperation; helping those who previously called each other enemies to turn animosity into comradeship; and redesigning a worldview that is cold and uncaring to one that restores compassion and wisdom.
Recently my team visited people in the US who had expressed interest in knowing more about MiVote – our first venture into the theatre of global governance, aimed at giving genuine decision-making power back to the people rather than through elected intermediaries. This was just weeks after the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the USA. Fear of the future was palpable in so many of those we had the good fortune to meet on that occasion. But what inspired me most was the vision of a few who see that in order for the US to retain legitimacy in leading the free world, the world must necessarily be free first.
A friend by the name of John Picard conveyed this most eloquently when he suggested that the policy of the US should be not to erect more walls, not to get caught up between the ideologies of left or right, nor to spend more on defense or surveillance, but to open its heart, to share its ample resources with a world in need, to sue for peace rather than fight for it, and to demonstrate the humanity and the generosity of spirit that helped create that nation.
This was a similar impulse that led to my own suggestion just a few weeks ago that one possible way to resolve the ongoing tensions between Israel and Palestine would be to accept the reality of the West Bank occupation, to eradicate the barriers that ostensibly separate one group from another, and for the people of the ancient land of Canaan to embrace their unity as the first multi-faith nation in the modern world.
These two examples might appear to be misplaced, or even ill-informed, rejections of reality. But pragmatism is so often the enemy of possibility. Unless we can jettison our ingrained belief that argument, conflict, and imposed separation are viable paths in achieving progress for the entire human family, the credo that has blindly led us into our current crisis of consciousness, the possibility of installing a communion of harmony and kinship will remain tantalisingly close yet destined to remain an unfulfilled dream.
We cannot allow further fracturing to embed. If a new kind of unity is a prerequisite for survival of the species then an evolution of consciousness will be required. I believe the sooner we take steps to reject separation, and to review our progress through the lens of the human family, the sooner we will understand and accept the gift of what it means to be human.