Photography by Devon Butler
“The Age of Reason has turned out to be the Age of Structure; a time when, in the absence of purpose, the drive for power as a value in itself has become the principal indicator of social approval. And the winning of power has become the measure of social merit.” – John Ralston Saul, ‘Voltaire’s Bastards’
If there is one idea that being a psychology student has forcefully implanted within me, it’s the notion that we are, at the root of it all, powerless. From psychoanalysis to behaviourism, cognitive to social psychology, it has been made generally apparent (humanistic theory excluded) that we do not dictate our behaviour. We seem to be the innocent victims of unconscious thoughts, conditioning, neurotransmitter levels, sensory processes and group influences. While the truth-value of these scientific discoveries must be praised, I believe that they are overemphasized and fail to grasp our potential for personal enlightenment. Some phenomenon cannot, and will not, be empirically deducible, yet denying their presence confines us to the mercy of [limited] scientific advancement, when what we require is a unifying release. As Winston Churchill put it, “the power of man has grown in every sphere, except over himself”.
If we were to put the influences that dictate the choices we make on a spectrum, we would find the basic, physiological and evolutionary influences at one end, and the social/environmental influences at the other end. What this spectrum fails to acknowledge are the choices that evade all influence, far out of the reaches of even the most fervent social system. Those are the choices that highlight the spiritual essence which lies dormant within each of us, awaiting its awakening. Choosing to seek out meditative thought, to critically analyze our behaviour (and what influences it), to reduce ourselves to our core ego in order to see how it truly commands us—these choices are within all of our grasps.
Unfortunately, a majority finds contentment in ignorance, contentment in the acceptance of what everything is at face value. Perhaps the biggest difficulty in the ‘way of life’ I (and others) propose is that it threatens to disrupt the shields we have established to protect our fragility. By consciously breathing in life, analyzing it and striving to uncover its depths, our soul may never find contentment, but we must be willing to accept this suffering. To me, it is the most beautiful kind of suffering.
When viewed in this spiritual context, the abuse and misuse of power that is ever visible to us is reduced to its true pitiable roots. Much of the misuse is the product of a select few human beings who displace the unconscious anxiety they have with themselves, as well as their anxiety over their spiritual poverty, onto others. We could find a multiplicity of such examples, from Conrad Black, to the UC Davis pepper spray debacle, to CREW’s Most Corrupt Members of Congress report, to the many absurd bills that are being passed through congress, and even to the Occupy protests. Capitalism is greed-driven, and greed is a human vice that must be overcome, not accepted; this also ties in to the collapsing economic structures and the bureaucratic failure we see in most modern political systems. One man’s greed is enough to crumble a social fabric.
The sadly-designed, morally-corrupt actions of the few are simple products of infantilism; where, in the face of questions that they are unable to answer, unknowns of the self that plague their minds like a rabid sickness, intellectual gaps that were never filled, they cling to their flawed beliefs like a mother, and behave where irreversible behaviour cannot fulfill the place of a true answer. When knowledge is accepted as power, wisdom will obtain, and things will fall into place.
We may be powerless in changing what cognitively shapes us, but there is individual power in the awakening of the Spirit, and when the individual is strengthened, the collective will follow. While those most worthy of power rest listless in inaction, the ferociously power-hungry remain complacent in their thrones. In the words of Albert Camus, “all modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the State”. So it will continue to be. Regardless, inaction cannot be the answer. Is there an answer? It is a righteously complicated social issue best left for those with the competency to understand it.
From my perspective, we -of the younger, Westernized generations- seem to overvalue the principles of ‘living in the present’ and future-deferment, ‘good feeling’ and ethics-belittlement. This is just another petty outlet for rebellion; it is only a subtler, tamer version of anarchy. We must keep in mind what the wise, fictitious Stevo, from the film SLC Punk, once said: “there is no future in anarchy”. If this does not suffice to content the restless souls who live to struggle against the system, perhaps it would be better to remind them of another Stevo quote: “we can do a hell of a lot more damage in the system than outside of it.”
Too play on my previous metaphor of ‘gazing upon a crowd’: in my [infrequent] meditative moments, when I gaze upon said crowd, I see that we mask an ineffable sadness. It is buried deep beneath compulsions, addictions and habits, religiosity and traditionalism, objects and social interaction, substances and more objects, denial and ignorance, fear and hatred, memories of what has existed and dreams of what will exist. We must come to soften our hearts and embrace this sadness with humility. It provides us with the perspective we need to truly see the beauty in life.
In the end, you are the key and your spirit is the lock. That is the one true power that we all hold. In darkness, there is always a door that can be opened and a soul that can be illuminated.