Monday, September 26, 2016

Responsibility And The New Age

An idea that has been made popular especially in the New Age movement is that everyone is responsible for everything that happens to them, and that nobody can either help or hurt anyone else. I find this idea to be morally wrong as well as factually wrong.

I do not “whine” about my life; my life has been an enviable one, and I know it. Instead I place credit where credit is due. I had a wonderful mother, excellent teachers, and the influence of all kinds of good people. Similarly the New Agers have also had the influence of all kinds of good people – the teachers who educated them, the police and the military that protect them, the scientists whose work is at the root of most of business sells, and both the businessmen and the laborers who have produced their prosperity. People have all sorts of effect on all sorts of other people, both for good and for ill, and denying this is not responsibility, it is blindness.

Is responsibility a virtue? Of course it is. But externalization of costs and misplacement of credit is not. When the Texas Oil poisons the oceans and the air, or when the Brazilian farmers burn down Amazonian rainforest, all sorts of people and all sorts of conscious life suffer or die. It is not the fault of those who die; it is the fault of Texas Oil and Brazilian farmers. The claim that everyone is responsible for everything that happens to them enables these people in the crimes that they commit, and the material and political success that they achieve through wrongful methods gets rewarded under the false claim that it is their responsibility.

True responsibility presupposes knowledge. Without knowledge people do things that they regard as being responsible but are not. They drive Hummers. They poison the oceans and the air. They destroy countless treasures that they cannot conceivably recreate. They beat up on the “nerds” and the “sluts.” They credit themselves for their temporary prosperity while denying the role that science, education, and government infrastructure and government protection of property rights has had in making it possible. None of these actions are remotely responsible.

A family member of mine had a sign on her fridge that said, “You are responsible for everything you are. That is not the truth; it is a place to start.” If something is not the truth, then it is definitely not the place to start. Anything that is not based on the truth is going to come crashing down. This is likewise in no way a responsible behavior. It is a behavior that creates false starts that work for a while, then turn into a turkey.

Nor is talking about social issues “whining” or “blaming” or anything of the sort. The first step toward solving a problem is articulating it. Real solutions do not come from acting like a grade-school coach; they come from real insight and real understanding of the issues involved.

In “Goodbye Lenin,” a person from West Germany was telling a person from East Germany that his mother was a whiner because she was talking about social issues. His response was that she was not whining; she was offering constructive criticisms that people could use in order to improve. I do the exact same thing, and I am continuing to do so with all sorts of places every day. That likewise is not “whining” or “blaming.” That is actual responsibility.

This, then, becomes the actual place of the intellectual. America has a long history of hating intellectuals; but it owes its nationhood to ones. Without them damn intellectuals like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, most Americans would be serfs under one or another European monarchy, and they would be taking responsibility for a life of tilling a two-acre plot of land, living till age of 30, and having their sons drafted into the military and their daughters into domestic servitude.

Instead this attitude fails to place credit where credit is legitimately due. These people owe greatly to scientists, teachers, the military, the police, business, labor and many others; and they take credit for a privileged position that is owed, not to them, but to many others besides them. Many of them had a role in getting to where they are, but they do not begin to deserve the full credit for it. Much of it is owed to many other people besides them. And in claiming that nobody can either help or hurt another, they are failing to credit all sorts of people to whom they owe what they have.

The baby boomers started out wanting to change the world. Then they were met with a greater force; at which point they went totally into themselves and created a religion of self. For this they are hated by many, especially Generation X and any number of people in my generation. Some of them did in fact become effective people, and they do deserve credit for that. But their parents were likewise effective, and they believed in no such thing; and their reputation has been far better.

Once again, I do not “whine” about my life. My life has been a privileged one. I do not credit for this my “consciousness” or anything of the sort; I credit for this the influences that I have had. I have had both successes and failures, both for all sorts of reasons of which I am well aware. At this point my concern is neither my happiness nor my freedom nor my peace of mind. At this point my concern is leaving a better world for our children than we have found it.

Which, in fact, demands a far greater amount of responsibility than does merely seeking one's freedom or peace of mind.

If all you care about is your freedom or peace of mind, then do by all means take the advice of the New Agers. But I have other concerns. I do not want my daughter to grow up in a toxic hell or to be prey of Muslim or right-wing cultures that want to treat her as a punching bag. Nor do I want to see her being maliciously attacked by Third Wave feminists for being pretty and kind and unwilling to practice their vicious party line. You may get a better degree of personal freedom and peace of mind by not putting yourself in harm's way; but sometimes it's necessary to put oneself in harm's way to protect what one loves. I am not “whining” about this; I am taking responsibility for correcting wrongs and addressing social issues.

Is Bradley Manning negative because he is in a military prison? No, he is a true hero who informed the American voter of what the military was doing with his taxpayer money. He is far, far more responsible than any yuppie; and he has done far more for the world. He did so while being fully aware of the consequences, and his courage and heroism deserve full respect. He is not where he is because of “unconscious guilt” or “victim mentality.” Any more than did the 500,000 American soldiers who died in the Second World War bring it upon themselves with such things. These are people who have done heroic things for what they rightfully believed in; and they deserve respect for having done so.

Now I see absolutely nothing wrong with people examining their beliefs or their character, and such pursuits should be encouraged. But at no point is it rightful to encourage misplacement of credit or externalization of costs. There are all sorts of people who have contributed to the world in which we live, and some of them were compensated appropriately and some were not. A teacher or a scientist may not make very much money. And yet many people – and many countries – thrive as a result of the work of both.

Now I feel personally close to any number of people who have been a part of the New Age. Many of these are artistic and intellectual types who did not like it in the academic establishment, so they decided instead to learn from life. Some of the knowledge that they got that way was very useful, and many of them used it to achieve financial and personal success. This deserves respect and acknowledgement. But ideas that are blatantly false do not.

So that while I have respect for any number of people in the New Age, I do not have respect for this idea. It may have helped them to get where they are; but there have been all sorts of people who got to good places using anything from Christianity, Islam and Sikkhism to Communism and even Nazism. They do not own responsibility, they do not own success, and they do not own freedom. We have seen people get to all of the preceding using all sorts of methodologies. For that matter there are successful “skeptics” as well; but that does not make skepticism right.

Doing things that are actually responsible therefore presupposes finding truthful explanations rather than false ones. It presupposes actual knowledge. “We don't need no education” has been a disaster, and one that has hurt mostly the very same types of people who were a part of the movement – the artistic and intellectual types. Meanwhile the country has been denied some very important perspectives. So we are seeing all sorts of conmen telling people all sorts of lies and people falling for them. This is weakening America; it is also hurting the world. We are finding ourselves in a toxic hell and in a toxic society. Once again, there is nothing responsible about this at all.

Generations are judged, not on their beliefs, but on their legacy. Right now the baby boomers are being hated by many, who say that they have left the world a worse place than they have found it. If all you care about is your freedom and peace of mind, then do by all means take that methodology; but do not expect that others will agree.

A much more viable idea has been stated to me by someone in my generation who said that she wanted “a better world for people and better people for the world.” This is a much wiser standpoint. That way, the world benefits at both the individual and the collective level, and both the world and the people improve. This I recommend as the new direction in thought and psychology. One that is fuller; that is more viable; and that is more ultimately responsible.


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