Speaking truth to fear – A Neolithic perspective

The hashtags keep multiplying: #Ferguson, #EricGarner, #CrimingWhileWhite, #ICantBreathe. The list has no real beginning and there’s no end in sight to media presentations of social pathology – rape, murder, war or our immanent destruction of the earth. It’s depressing and real, although imbalanced. For every step forward, must we take 4 steps back? How can we gain and maintain ground in our struggle to become more humane people?

Alicia Keyes’ new song is a powerful reminder of many who have given their lives for the advancement of love. Paul Alexander Wolf, half a world away, reminds us that civil rights has always meant rights for all people. Our political legacy holds both the best and the cruelest of our intentions. My friend Licia Berry writes about being broken open, something we experience both personally and culturally.

The proliferation of inflammatory “news programs” spewing racially charged misinformation has never been so successful, with recent November ratings for Fox News far surpassing its rivals.   Hate speech is fear mongering.  White America is losing all the ground it gained during the industrial revolution and a series of highly profitable wars, a real bummer for the lower 99%.   Judgement Day may become very unappealing for Christians who aren’t taken up in the Rapture. rapture  Post apocalyptic fantasy is big money at the box office, yet another sign of the decline of Western civilization.

How do we avoid creating a world held captive by the exquisite corpse of our unexpressed guilt and shame?  Perhaps we can start by looking at where we came from.  If we can face that truth, it might give us the platform we need to move beyond our fear of immigrants, people of color and the many other excuses we cling to for denying our shared humanity.

AncestryComposition_IllustrationPictured here is a sample map of the genomic composition of someone’s ancestry.  It’s similar to the maps my family and I have from the DNA tests we ordered from 23andMe. My own chart is largely Northern European, but my primary MtDNA (mother’s) genome is from a very early Neolithic migration from India/Anatolia into Southeastern Europe.  These were farmers, bringing agriculture and livestock to the hunter-gatherers who had survived centuries of glaciation in caves.  Interbreeding with small populations of Neanderthals, these cave dwellers also included other early Homo Sapiens populations like the now extinct Heidelbergensis and the  Denisovans.

Modern homo sapiens sapiens can be traced back to an original pair of humans we fondly call Adam and Eve, in Africa, roughly 150,000 – 100,000 years ago.   out_of_africaThe map to the right shows broad patterns of migration out of Africa, everyone’s original homeland.   Human beings are travelers, we are immigrants who have explored our world for hundreds of thousands of years.  Migration is the human condition, it was then and it is now.  Trying to stop the flow of humanity as we continue to seek shelter: #WeCantBreathe. It might be a good idea to come to some kind of peace before we seriously consider colonizing Mars, which is fast becoming more science than fiction.settlement-mug-trans As one who grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, I appreciated the diversity of life forms in those stories and hope we will meet teachers who will help us outgrow our barbaric reliance on war and violence. A girl can dream.

Time will tell whether we can love the Earth enough not to destroy her.  Aside from a common history of love and war we must acknowledge that once homo sapiens were all dark skinned.  It’s the Neanderthal influence that gave Europeans their light hair and eyes.  WilmaWe also received genes that boosted our immune systems and helped us survive the cold. Over time, as more people settled in cooler environments, our skin and hair paled as an adaptation to lower UV levels.  But our common heritage is both African and dark brown.

Before I took this trip back in time and opened the horizon of my imagination to pre-history, I felt burdened by the violence, the racism and the lack of charity we show one another.  Passing laws that prohibit the feeding of the poor, that malign migrants or other races while proclaiming Christian righteousness?  We are so afraid that the centuries of colonial domination will turn against us, so afraid to look an American Indian person in the eye and realize we have committed genocide, decimating the native population by 97% in our heedless conquest of the New World.  Afraid to stand before a black person and acknowledge the undeniable and ongoing history of violence and racism  American European immigrants have perpetuated.  CrushOurEnemiesThe more we hate ourselves, the easier it is to hate each other.  There is another choice.  We can choose love, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King states so passionately below.  How to make amends? Time to find out.

Shadow play and the Art of Loving in the 21st Century

In times of uncertainty faith is: 1) hard to come by, 2) something we cling to, 3) more necessary now than ever and 4) a way of separating believers from philistines. The current zeitgeist proliferates fear, thanks in part to our constant exposure to the negative thoughts and feelings of others via global communication systems. The resulting contagion of anxiety is corrosive to self and community. Many benefit from religion, having a place of peace and prayer to turn to, although the Abrahamic legacy reflects the harshness of its desert roots, leading many to explore religions focused on peace and compassion. Yoga, Buddhism, Taoist and Humanistic psychology have claimed adherents from the non-believer camp, substituting faith in an external God with faith in Self (defined variously depending on the system). Most agree that the Self is the center of our individual and collective identity, the hub of being.

A recent NY Times editorial, Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics reminded me of the value of Erich Fromm’s theories of rational and irrational faith.

“Irrational faith is the unshakable belief in a person, idea, institution or symbol, which does not result from one’s own experience or thinking, but is based on one’s emotional submission to authority. Rational faith exhibits qualities of firmness and steadfastness arising from genuine intellectual and emotional activity and is not subservient to an authoritarian power based on masochistic attachment.”

Given today’s political hurly burly, the question of faith is pivotal. When Fromm published his 1942 essay on Faith as a Character Trait he asked that we consider faith as an aspect of human character, one not dependent on religious objectification and cautioned us against throwing the baby out with the bathwater .

“The man attempting to live without faith becomes sterile, and hopeless and afraid to the very core of his being. He must resign himself to clinging desperately to an inner and outer status quo, while finding that he has no defense against even the most completely irrational philosophies and doctrines. Was then the development of modern thinking away from and against faith a fatal error? Must we return to religion unless we are willing to accept the kinds of heathen doctrines, which spread their gospel with concentration camps and dive-bombers? Is „faith“ really an essentially religious phenomenon, only a matter of faith in God or religious doctrines? Is it bound up with religion and destined to share its historical fate? Is faith by its very nature something in contrast to or divorced from rational thinking. Or is there on the other hand a less specific faith, which is an essentially basic attitude within the person towards life, a character trait which pervades all his experiences?”

Erich Fromm (1973) The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness

“To have faith means to dare, to think the unthinkable, yet to act within the limits of the realistically possible; it is the paradoxical hope to expect the Messiah every day, yet not to lose heart when he has not come at the appointed hour. This hope is not passive and it is not patient; on the contrary, it is impatient and active, looking for every possibility of action within the realm of real possibilities. Least of all it is passive as far as the growth and liberation of one’s own person are concerned….

The situation of mankind is too serious to permit us to listen to the demagogues – least of all demagogues who are attracted to destruction – or even to the leaders who use only their brains and whose hearts have hardened. Critical and radical thought will only bear fruit when it is blended with the most precious quality man is endowed with – the love of life.”

In 1942, the intellectual climate of the day was severely rational, in response to what Carl Jung described as the “mass psychosis” of the Nazi movement in The Undiscovered Self. Both Jung and Fromm saw the exploration of one’s inner landscape and the ongoing integration of self and other/conscious and unconscious as necessary to bring about equilibrium and equanimity in a world torn by conflict and mistrust. Jung’s incorporation of alchemical motifs and his understanding of the psychological reconciliation of opposites are very compatible with many eastern and western spiritual traditions. Despite his formidable intellect, Jung had a mystical bent, something his professional community disdained. Jung’s father was a Methodist minister and Fromm was tutored as an Orthodox Jew, eventually calling himself an atheistic mystic, a combination of Jung and Karl Marx. Both men understood the necessity of reconciling the individual and collective aspects of human nature and society.

Jung’s theories on withdrawing projections and his call to explore the unconscious and integrate repressed elements that constellate in the shadow were driven in large part by the horrors of World War I and II. The advent of analytical psychology and Humanistic Psychology gave modern philosophers a bridge between individual and collective human identity, both conscious and unconscious. Confronting the shadow can be a nightmare, as we see reflected in our ongoing collective struggles to awaken. To recognize the emergence of the human spirit beyond the Darwinian paradigm of historical precedent is to have faith that we can evolve beyond denial and shadow projection.

A few years ago I had a dream that brought this individual/collective struggle home in a way that continues to unfold.

I dreamed I was in a club listening to music with my sister then returned home and went to bed. I woke up suddenly in a room that looked like one of my childhood bedrooms and saw a tall shadowy figure standing silhouetted black in the brightly lit doorway. It loomed tall and somewhat menacingly and I knew it intimately but not specifically. I leaped out of bed and grabbed it by the neck and shoulders, shouting “Who are you and what do you want from me?” We grappled our way down the stairs and out toward the front door where the sun was rising at dawn. The closer we got to the front door the more the walls started to dissolve. They were replaced by murals of people from around the world, scenes from every continent, people of every race and color, age and sex. The closer we got to the front door the more the shadow started to shrink and become a part of me. It started to dawn on me (don’t ignore the power of puns in dream imagery) that as the shadow lost its threatening aspects, I was able to embrace the world and all the people. I was filled with awe that this was possible and great warmth shone through me and suffused the tableau.

Dreams are vehicles for integrating the conscious and unconscious aspects of our awareness. Compliments of the Self, we are guided to fulfill our humanity, to become whole both individually and collectively. See Ocean.