“From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “look at that, you son of a bitch.” – Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut
Five years ago, the eminent astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine to share what he considered to be his most astounding fact about the universe. In a moving response that would later go ‘viral’ via the magic of YouTube, Dr. Tyson elucidated a simple truth that fittingly, in a world of extremes, casts our species as both centrally important, and vitally insignificant, in the play of life. The most astounding fact, he said, is that the universe is quite literally within us, that the atoms that make up the human body can be traced to the very stars above. There is no need to feel disconnected, he summarized, because just by being alive, we are connected to everything there has ever been, and ever will be.
Perhaps it’s this knowledge that brings to light that for all of humanity’s advances, the way that we organize life on this planet is, at best, woefully inadequate and short-sighted. In a state of affairs almost as comical as it is painful, we have decided to reduce ourselves to participation in an (anything but) cosmic rat race that leaves us ultimately unfulfilled, confused, and disillusioned. Consider how much human potential has been wasted over the course of time. For every Newton or Edison, there are an incalculable many for whom greatness was impossible, simply due to the environment they were born into. Maybe they were oppressed, marginalized, even killed before their time - their names never known, and their stories never told.
For those that cling to the reactionary mantra of ‘that’s the way it’s always been’, as if this somehow constitutes a compelling reason for why change isn’t needed, it’s worth introducing some wider perspective. As the influential spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle is fond of saying, human history is, to a large extent, a history of madness. Indeed, if ‘Human History’ was a person, a clinical diagnosis would reveal a deeply disturbed individual displaying a propensity to murder and commit extreme violence as if it were normal, followed by brief periods of relative lucidity. When humans feel threatened, be these threats real or imagined, a collective insanity, or humania, tends to take over. Worryingly, this has never been more apparent and clearly visible than in the previous century.
At times, it seems that no-one in a position of political power has neither the desire nor the wisdom to do anything but reinforce a tired old paradigm. Just like they ‘frame’ important issues and control the available terminology in any discussion, the ruling class controls the imagination too. Don’t forget your place. You are middle-class. Or lower-class. The working class. How insulting it is to share the same sunlight, breathe the same air, and drink the same water as everyone else, only to be told that you are somehow less?
Recently, the crisis in Cyprus has reminded us not only of the first universal law, impermanence, but also the relative lack of control that we have over our ability to lead prosperous lives. The financial system that we live under inherently promotes dependence on government, discourages revolutionary thinking and consequently, paralyzes potential action. Following an economic downturn, employees must work harder for less, and due to a decrease in the number of alternative jobs, tend to adopt a mindset of obedience. And thus, the social class system is reinforced once again, with the so-called ‘top tier’ reasserting their dominance. One is reminded of IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde’s arrogance in telling the people of Greece, with its country on the road to revolution, that it was ‘payback time’. Indeed, her suggestion that Greeks might do well to pay their taxes and shut up was perhaps the quintessential ‘do as I say, but not as I do’ moment. You see, in the world that we live in, earning a tax-free salary of $467,940 (plus additional expenses for ‘entertainment’) apparently qualifies her to do just that.
The most wealthy in the United States, the ‘1%’, have firmly consolidated power in the wake of the worst financial crisis in a century. Now controlling a record 70% of all financial assets, the criminal class can be very proud of the sheer scope of their leeching. Record profits and bonuses have occurred, on the taxpayers’ dime of course, while the 99% does their best to stay afloat and make sense out of it all. The truth is that the entire system is beyond rigged - it is simply inhumane. Human beings, seen as expendable, are nothing more than resources in the relentless pursuit of profits. Worse yet, in an age of faceless corporations and unelected power brokers, many struggle to find a suitable outlet for their frustration.
Furthermore, what puzzles the naïve among us is just how human beings can inflict so much suffering upon each other. Yes, there have been many times in our history where obvious, pure evil has threatened us, but the critical thinker understands that we are now being led astray through much ‘softer’ tactics. Distraction of the masses, dividing-and-conquering, the bait-and-switch, we’ve seen it all before…but the dichotomy between what we are told to focus on, and what is actually happening is increasingly become more absurd. Case in point: while the country debated gay marriage, the President signed the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’, effectively barring federal courts from halting the sale of genetically modified and engineered seeds, regardless of what health issues may arise in the future.
The President is not alone is succumbing to the whims of knowingly nefarious entities in an effort to maintain power. It’s fascinating to see what happens to us, any of us, when we are given some measure of authority. This past weekend I observed a TSA agent practically overdose on the comparatively miniscule level of power he was afforded in checking the passports of travelers. One by one, each citizen was subjected to unnecessary levels of banter and casual mockery that bordered on verbal abuse, all of which would certainly not have taken place were it not for his ‘status’. “Tell me a joke,” he commanded of a clearly beleaguered middle-aged man. “I’m not letting you through here ‘til you tell me a joke…you know I can do that right?” Worse was to come for a young woman traveling alone. “Hello, hello, hello”, he began, not even casting a glance at her ID. “Sometimes the perks of this job outweigh the boredom of sitting here, you know what I mean?”
It’s fairly intuitive that a particular type of person, a narcissist, will not only be attracted to a position of authority, but will twist its responsibilities to fit their own needs for respect and control. These traits are not limited to just Washington D.C., or the TSA. These traits are found to varying degrees in all of us. By growing up in a system that we had no role in constructing, we have internalized the culture’s demands to step on each other, viewing the planet as our own playground to do as we choose.
Maybe we all need to change. Maybe we all, as Dr. Tyson put it, need to look up at the stars once in a while, and lose our ego in the process.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that.
Guy Evans- BFP Contributing Author & Producer
Guy Evans is the Founder and Co-host of the Smells Like Human Spirit Podcast, which covers a wide variety of social and political issues. Before getting into the world of independent media, he spent three years lecturing in the United Kingdom, playing international basketball, and running his own business. He has been featured in several academic publications for his student-focused lecturing and coaching approaches; notably a chapter in the internationally-distributed book ‘Athlete-Centered Coaching’ (Kidman, 2010). Mr. Evans lives with his wife (and two cats!) in Brooklyn, NY. Visit SmellsLikeHumanSpirit.com here.