Reflections on Healing the Ills of Our Culture
As I learn more about the history of slavery in my country, I reflect on how hard it was for the people who had power in the situation and had grown up invested in sustaining it to see a way out of it, or to even see the profound need to do so. The culture was infused with rationalizations, a sense of moral right, a distortion of reality to support the system, and an immense gap between the state of affairs and where it should get to. Despite the goodwill and efforts of many people, the result was that the problem grew to the point of a terrible war, with a very long tail of aftermath stretching forward to our time.
So I ponder: what are the things we believe in and participate in today that a century or two from now will be viewed as reprehensible, and yet today we rehearse their rationalizations and are acculturated to believe that they are acceptable and right, or at the least habitual and little examined? And do we have the ability to change them, starting with our own beliefs and perspectives, and with making changes in both our individual and collective behaviors and in the structural institutionalization of these ills in our civilization?
Here are some possibilities that come to mind.
- The extreme inequality we have in how we share resources and prosperity.
- Our dependence on and addiction to fossil fuels, and the opposition that arises to the investment in and invention of cleaner and more renewable sources of energy.
- The School-to-Prison Pipeline, and the funding of law enforcement by subsidies from privately-operated prisons.
- Our belief in competition, rather than cooperation, as being the best model for advancement of our endeavors.
- The reduction of our value systems to the use of the financial bottom line as the primary and essentially only credible way of evaluating human endeavor.
- The way we produce food having become corrupted by the centralized power systems that have come to exist as we have figured out how to produce food in the quantities needed to sustain the nutrition of a growing humanity.
- The way we use language to criticize, tear down, focus on the negative, backbite and otherwise negatively impact our social environment.
- The way we think of ourselves first as separate psycho-physical realities, with self-interest coming first.
- The way we devalue the education of our children, as evidenced by the fact that we fund our cars and our vehicle services better than we fund the education of young people, and by how we fail to respect and properly compensate the great profession of teaching our children.
I don’t believe that these issues are just “out there”, something that “they” are responsible for. These issues play out inside every one of us to some degree, as they are deeply woven into the conditioning we are immersed in culturally.
If that is so, then, notwithstanding taking appropriate social action around particular issues, we may expect that changing our minds, changing our beliefs, changing our hearts, changing our conception of what we really are as human beings, would be essential. Key elements for bringing about such change would be public and private discourse, time taken personally to reflect on our contribution, and the way we educate our children and empower our youth.