Holotopia: Convenience paradox
The Renaissance liberated our ancestors from preoccupation with the afterlife, and empowered them to seek happiness here and now. Their lifestyle changed and their culture blossomed. What will the next "great cultural revival" be like?
We illustraate the breadth and the depth of possibilities by sharing a few points of reference.
The first of the five insights, the power structure, raised the question of the direction—as determined by the way in which we use our capability to create or innovate; and how to choose that direction. Should we rely on spontaneous evolution, by the survival of the fittest? Or should we use information and knowledge, and deliberately design for evolution? Here we ask the same question of the direction in another realm—our daily life and lifestyle choices; and the values we use to make those choices.
The power structure insight points to a possibility—that our ascent to wholeness can be diverted by power interests, in ways that suit those interests. The convenience paradox insight points to the possibility the value we use to make choices leads us in a direction that is opposite from wholeness.
Our senses evolved to guide us to wholeness in nature; why trust that they can still serve that purpose in our completely altered civilized condition?
Wholeness is so precarious: One may have everything else in abundance—and a single nutrient missing in his diet could make it all futile!
Is our civilization (or 'bus') taking us to wholeness?
The interesting fact is that we don't know! There is a popular myth, that we must be living better because we are living longer. Can we answer this all-important question in a more reliable or scientific way?
Imagine this experiment: A sufficiently large human population is divided into two groups. One group continues to live the civilized way, and the other in the way this population lived before it got civilized. What sort of differences would develop?
Such an experiment is of course practically impossible. But it did happen—not in a laboratory, but in real life. In early 20th century a number of world populations were just reached by civilization—which brought about the division we are talking about. Weston Price traveled around the globe visiting those populations, and recording the data. The results were published in a book titled "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration". Its message was that the change to civilized lifestyle was a step away from corporeal wholeness!
Price diagnosed that the people who lived in pre-civilized ways manifested higher degrees of wellbeing.
Werner Kollath took this line of work a step further, by doing experimental and statistical research—in for us a most interesting direction. We will introduce it here with a caveat.
In knowledge federation we consider us all as imperfect humans (made more imperfect by the power structure we are part of), who once in a while stumble upon an idea that is vital to humanity ("vital" because it is an essential element in our quest of wholeness). We have conceived knowledge federation as a praxis of empowering such ideas—by giving them visibility, and by 'connecting the dots' or creating synergies with other ideas, and letting them drive a change toward a larger new order of things that they point to together.
When we began researching his ideas and writing about him, Kollath was not translated into English, and was largely unknown in the English speaking world. Now we found that there is a rather extensive Wikipedia article about him, which focuses largely on his Nazi affiliation. Highly compromising (for Kollath) sentences from his 1937 seminal "Grundlagen, Methoden und Ziele der Hygiene (Principles, Methods and Goals of Health)", which were deleted from the post-war edition, are quoted in German, and translated into English. We found this to be an ad hominem argument against Kollath's main or "vital" idea—which was not even mentioned. Neither was Kollath's book in which this idea was published, titled "Zivilisationsbedingte Krankheiten und Todesursachen. Ein medizinisches und politisches Problem (Civilization-Conditioned Diseases and Death Causes. A Medical and Political Problem)".
The question to which Kollath offers an answer is the first one we need to ask about his native field (if we are to create a society that is guided by information and information-based principles, not by power struggle and "survival of the fittest"): Why is our healthcare conceived as curing diseases, not as caring for health. There are two power structures at play: The food and consumer industries, who have business interest in making us prefer certain kinds of goods, and hence certain lifestyle patterns; and the biomedical and healthcare industries, whose "fitness" depends on expensive remedies, and people who vitally need them. It is easy to see that those two form a synergy.
When writing the mentioned book, Kollath's aim was to establish "political hygiene as science". His goal was, in other words, closely similar to ours—but in his own field. His aim was really systemic innovation in healthcare. His point was that the contemporary medicine originated through the successes in combatting infectious diseases. That the lifestyle-related diseases are on the rise. And that they require a completely different approach to health—focused, above all, on empowering the people to make right lifestyle choices, by resorting to the methods and esteem of science.
Also this Kollath's idea deserves to be mentioned: He drew an ideogram with a normal curve on it, representing our population's general condition of health or wellbeing (or woleness, as we are calling it). Some of us (on the extreme left of the curve), are thriving; others (on the extreme right, which Kollath shaded) are seriously ill. But most of us are somewhere in between. Kollath produced statistics-based evidence that the shaded area on the right has been growing, and concluded that the whole curve was shifting to the right; toward not-so-well.
Do we need to repeat that we are not considering any of this as "scientifically established facts"—but as pioneering acts of systemic innovation in knowledge work, whereby our lifestyle, our goals and values are to be claimed back from the power structure, and made "knowledge-based".
Weston Price has largely been ignored. But Werner Kollath was (according to the biography written by Elisabeth Kollath, his widow) actively eliminated—see our summary and comments.
There is also this other popular myth, that "the human nature" is acquisitive and self-serving; and that therefore the societal order of things we are living in is the natural and best possible one.
What do we really know about "the human nature"?
It may well be the case that the order of things we are living in is just the one that happened to emerge through societal "survival of the fittest"; and that the way we are is just the way we've been socialized by it.
Imagine a culture, on some faraway island, living on the same terrain for thousands of years, without contact with the outside world, without war and technology. How would "the human nature" manifest itself in that culture?
Imagine now that this island were discovered by our culture. What would that meeting of cultures be like?
There is no need to imagine: This did indeed happen.
Our relationship with the nature is to take freely whatever we find in it "to satisfy our needs". The people who colonized Australia extended that principle to include also the Aboriginal women. As the number of children conceived in this way grew, they became a political issue: Being half-white, their souls too needed to be saved. And so by a political decision, the half-white children were then taken away from their families, and made attend special boarding schools, where they were given the benefits of Christianity and Western education.
Bob Randall was one of them, who lived to tell the story. One of the first things he observed after being moved to the white side of his heritage, was that the white people preached Christianity—but that his people lived it!
Randall later returned to the place that used to be his home, but he never found his family. Now in reservations, his people were destitute. Inhaling gasoline (to combat depression? or to once again experience the "high" that the nature used to afford?) was so common, that Australia had to infuse gasoline with additives to prevent it.
Randall left us a detailed report about the original Aboriginal culture, which includes both "the human nature" and the human relationship with nature it cultivated. The keyword "kanyini", interpreted as "the principle of caring and responsibility that underpins the Aboriginal life", expresses the main point (hear Randall explain it). A young white Australian woman, Melanie Hogan, produced a documentary called "Kanyini", to federate the kanyini meme, and document this meeting of cultures as it was experienced by the other side.
We have now come to the interesting part. We gave it a name, "Happiness between One and Plus Infinity", and then another, "The Best Kept Secret of Human Culture"; and we made it a theme of one of our ten conversations.
The point is that, on the one side, we could be declining in happiness, without knowing that. We have no meter to measure happiness; all we have as reference is our own experience. So even the 'level-one happiness', what we consider "normal", could be declining, without us knowing.
But the far more interesting side is the other one—the limits to growth of happiness. There the exciting fact is that human wholeness has no limits.
Unlike machines, we humans can always be more whole!
Imagine a new kind of science—with its own methods, laboratories, terminology... which experiments with long-term human cultivation, trying a variety of lifestyle choices, cultivation practices... Imagine new insights this science could produce, which would dispel popular myths and illusions in this culturally most interesting creative frontier. Imagine this science producing surprising and life-changing insights, not only about remote and foreign practices such as qigong and yoga, but also about our familiar Christianity and Islam.
Once again there is no need to imagine. Such a 'science' did indeed exist, twenty five centuries ago in the forests of India.
Suppose we somehow managed to federate the insights that were reached in this 'laboratory'. How would they reflect upon our contemporary lifestyle? What new directions for changing it would become available?
Before we answer those questions, let us briefly revisit the "official narrative". This will allow us to illustrate the difference that knowledge federation might make in this uniquely interesting realm.
According to the tradition, a young prince took a ride from the shelter of his palace through a near-by village, and was so surprised to see the people suffer that he decided to go to the forest and seek a cure to suffering. After having tried multiple ways, and meditated for five years under the Bo Tree, in a strike of insight brought by the enlightenment he'd reached, he saw the answer. The first sermon he gave was about the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth is usually translated as "All life involves suffering". Life is suffering; the only way to avoid suffering is to not be born at all (be in the condition called "nirvana").
The official narrative has several incongruities, one of which is that a prince would be surprised to see suffering, that he would dedicate his life to find a "cure to suffering"; and that he would come back to the world with the big news about the existence of suffering. Isn't this just an obvious fact?
When he was still a young monk in Bangkok, Ven Ajahn Buddhadasa had misgivings both about the official narrative of Buddhism, and about the conventional practice. So equipped with a strong motivation and the original scriptures, he withdrew to an abandoned forest monastery near his home village in Southern Thailand, to 'repeat the Buddha's experiment'.
What Buddhadasa found out he considered to be the essence of not only Buddhism, but of all religion.
And it was also entirely different from the way in which religion tends to be perceived. Here is a very brief illustration.
The "official narrative" of Buddhism, which we have just revisited, is completely changed when instead of "suffering" we use the original keyword, dukkha. But what is "dukkha"? Well, that's exactly what the First Noble Truth of Buddhism is about.
Seeing dukkha, or comprehending the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, is a life-changing experience.
For three reasons:
- Dukkha is a subtle psychological suffering, which is so much a part of the normal human life that we normally just take it for granted: "This is just how the human life is." Dukkha may constitute as much as 98% of our emotional lives. The Buddha's first sermon was the life-changing insight that dukkha is curable!
- An even larger and more interesting part of this story is about the dukkha–related suffering we inflict on each other. And about the societal and cultural order of things we create—both on the large, societal scale (as power structure), and on the small scale, in direct human relationships.
- The most interesting and the least known part, however, is about its the long-term effects. Here the 'watering the seed' paradigm must be subsumed as way of looking. Suppose we lived without dukkha; what result would this lead to in the long run? For interesting reasons the Buddhists don't tell us that; but the Sufis do: The result is a bounty of ecstatic love and happiness. It is a completely different inner emotional climate than what most of us can experience, or even imagine. A subtlety here is that there is no "logical reason" why this should be so (but we may of course invent one); it simply is so (it's a fact that follows by federating experience).
The interesting question then becomes—How can one eliminate dukkha? This question is answered by the Third and the Fourth Noble Truth, shared at the end of the Buddha's first sermon—and its substance of course occupies (according to Buddhadasa) all of the Buddha's gift to mankind. We will here, however, only illustrate it by zooming in on a specific detail of a specific method, called "Paticcasamuppada", and translated as "Dependent Origination". While we continue this story, we expect that you'll be amused comparing what is being told by our contemporary culture, including the emotional ecology created for us by all the advertising we are immersed in, and the way in which we "pursue happiness".
The Buddhist formula, by which a technique for reducing dukkha is pointed to, is "mindfulness at the point of contact". The word "contact" here means contact with anything that may ignite a strong emotion—including something we may like, or dislike, something we may fear or regret, and even our own self-satisfaction for being free of such emotions. The word "mindfulness" means that our mind is present and alert at that very point, ready to stop us from engaging in this emotion, and in that waay breaking the cycle of "dependent origination", where one thing leads to another, and ultimately to dukkha.
If we fail to do that, the cycle can still be broken at a later point, but this becomes increasingly difficult. An example of a later point is what is technically called "birth"—which (according to Buddhadasa) is not the physical birth, but the birth of our self-awareness or egotism. It is the where one feels "I want something". It is the the view of the world from the venture point of "our own" interests and desires.
And so the point of it all is not at all that physical birth inevitably leads to suffering. The point is that egotism inevitably leads to dukkha!
Can you imagine our world in peace?
Where "peace" means not only absence of war—but of struggle, strife and oppression of any kind.
Alfred Nobel had the right idea: Empower the creative people, and they'll find a cure to any of our society's ills. But so far the Nobel Peace Prize has largely been awarded for palliative, not curative contributions.
What would constitute a cure to war? And was there a historical person who discovered it?
The moment we ask this question, you may be guessing the answer: Gandhi! But what was Gandhi's "discovery"? What was his important gift to the world?
Arne Næss, Norway's esteemed philosopher, undertook to find out. This resulted in a little book, published as paperback by the University of Oslo Press, titled "Gandhi and Group Conflict".
Here is how Næss answered the question we've just asked:
"Perhaps we are inclined to answer immediately that it was his conviction that the use of violence against living, sensible beings is never morally warranted, that it always infringes valid moral principles. Accordingly, Gandhi's doctrine might be summed up in one commandment: 'though shalt not use violence.' But this would be highly misleading. The essential and most important point in Gandhi's doctrine, taken as a whole, is not a principle or a commandment, but the working hypothesis that the non-violent resolution of group conflict is a practicable goal—despite our own, and our oponents' imperfections; that non-violent means are in the long run more effective and reliable than violent ones, and that they therefore should be trusted even if they seem for the moment unsatisfactory. He teaches that non-violence is a practical method which we may, indeed must, adopt immediately and without hesitation in social, political, national and international conflicts. And Gandhi is here talking to all of us, not mainly to politicians whose power is dependent on the opinions of others."
Næss rendered Gandhi's concrete method in terms of a collection of "norms" and "hypotheses", which we here illustrate by a small fragment. What distinguishes the "hypotheses" from the "norms" is that they can in principle be empirically tested. Norms follow from hypotheses and other norms. Only the first norm is an axiom that has no such derivation:
"N1: Seek complete self-realization."
Here are some of the hypotheses:
"H1: Complete self-realization requires seeking truth"
The word "truth" in Gandhi's terminology is an all-important one, which Næss often capitalizes to distinguish it from its common interpretation as "not lying". Gandhi's autobiography has the subtitle "the story of my experiments with truth". Gandhi's main keyword, "satyagraha", means unwavering adherence to Truth.
"H2: All living beings are ultimately one"
"H6: Your complete self-realization involves that of others"
From hypotheses and derived norms, Næss arrives at a single norm from which Gandhi's method of group conflict resolution is derived:
"N4: Act so as to help others in their quest for self-realization."
Its core point might be made clearer by the following observation:
Gandhi's aim was not (only) to liberate India from England; it was just as much to liberate England from (the oppressive relationship it had with) India!.
Che choice of concepts here is interesting to examine more closely. "Self-realization" implies a natural goal, toward which all humans instinctively strive. And which, when we approach it, brings a rewarding sense of fulfillment. What if we conflate the mentioned hypotheses and norms, and replace "self-realization" with wholeness?
Gandhi's main axiom, N1, will then be identical to the basic axiom or "rule of thumb" of holotopia: Seek wholeness.
The apparent paradox of Gandhi's method (and also of the Christ's and the Buddha's) could then be explained by simply observing that wholeness is an all-inclusive quality; that violence of any kind disrupts wholeness; and that only the steps toward wholeness are in the long run worth taking.
On the way to wholeness—everyone wins!
Call this insight "Truth", and you have a solution to Gandhi's puzzle. Gandhi (as quoted by Næss) explains:
"What I want to achieve, — what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years, — is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Mokhsha (liberation, or enlightenment). I live and move and have my being in pursuit of that goal. All that I do by way of speaking and writing, and all my ventures in the political field, are directed to this same end. "
But there is an obstacle; Næss called it "egotism".
"The metaphysics of Gandhi is such that he might insist, as he certainly suggests, that the process of reducing egotism to zero involves in practice (if not in theory) a process of understanding oneself, and that in completing the process one reaches complete self-realization (and thus 'sees God face to face'). Thus according to this branch or part of Gandhi's metaphysics, reducing one's own egotism to zero is a sufficient condition of complete self-realization. Degrees of self-realization and the degrees of reduction of egotism may accordingly be taken to be the same. The world as seen by the increasingly self-realized person will be the world as seen by the decreasingly egoistic person."
This conclusion is closely similar to the one that Buddhadasa reached. Buddhadasa did not use the word "Mokhsha" or "enlightenment"; instead of "self-realization", he talked about "seeing the world as it truly is".
If we federate Gandhi (as interpreted by Næss) with the Buddha (as interpreted by Buddhadasa), we then have not only a rational, but also a phenomenological interpretation of Gandhi's insight: Gandhi did not develop his system through rational analysis, as a Western philosopher would; he simply experienced the "natural law" (which the Buddhists call "dhamma"). And he found its fruits so satisfying and so compelling, that he had to yield to its demands.
Everything else—his selfless adherence to "Truth", his work on liberating India (and England's)—followed naturally, as steps along the way.
We represent the collection of keywords we have created to point to possible new developments on this uncommonly fertile creative frontier by a single one—qi. By focusing our attention in that way, we'll be able to point to several design patterns that enable the holoscope to illuminate the way to human wholeness.
Among Freud's followers and collaborators, who went on to develop their own methods and schools, Wilhelm Reich was the youngest. To Freud's psychoanalytic method, Reich contributed two key modifications.
The first was to use the body. Here Reich built on what every dog knows, and vice versa—that the emotions in men and animals are reflected in the body, as patterns of muscular tension. Reich, however, took this insight a significant step further, by showing that those patterns of tension tend to be relatively permanent, and that they determine a human's 'emotional climate'. And that they can be used to both diagnose and treat emotional dis-ease. Reich called those patterns of tension "armoring", to point to the fact that we humans develop them largely to protect ourselves from unpleasant emotions and experiences.
Reich's second contribution was to use a concept that is a core element of Oriental medical and therapeutic traditions.Reich called it "orgon", the traditions called it "prana", "ki" and "qi". We turned it into a keyword and call it qi.
Reich's basic idea, which he shared with the mentioned traditions, was "orgon" was the vital force that permeates the universe; that the flow of "orgon" in the body tends to be blocked by the "armoring", which causes a variety of problems; and that when the "armoring" is removed, "orgon" flows freely and restores (to use our keyword) wholeness.
Reich claimed that he discovered "orgon" in a scientific way—which remained controversial. Does orgon "really exist"? We resort to polyscopy to circumvent that question altogether. Here qi is simply a high-level concept—created to include into our culture and our worldview a variety of insights from Oriental and therapeutic traditions. The idea is to have a simple model, which can help us apply what the traditions can find out, to help us pursue "wholeness between one and plus infinity".
To Reich, Christ was just an armoring-free human. In Reich's view, or should we say in his therapeutic experience, the human core emanates pure love and goodness. The "armoring", however, changes its very nature or sign from plus to minus.
The definition of qi was a core element of our Movement and Qi prototype, which prototyped a way in which movement (understood most generally as doing something, as a way to improve ourselves) can be included seamlessly into the conventional-academic scheme of things; and a way in which this activity can be informed by insights from a variety of world traditions.
The key point here is that qi constitutes the 'water' in the 'watering a seed' paradigm—pointed to by the definition of culture. This may need some further explanation.
The Liberation prototype is both a book and a strategy.
As a book, it federates the core insight of Ven. Ajahn Buddhadasa—by placing it as a piece into a much larger puzzle, of a vision of a better human life and society; or in other words, of holotopia.
The book has ten chapters, each focusing on certain specific liberation. They range from "Liberation of the Body" and "Liberation of the Mind" to "Liberation of Science" and "Liberation of Religion". The first four chapters portray a fairly detailed image of "a better way to be human"; the last four chapters point to a way to improve the human society. The two middle chapters present the removal of "egotism" (and embracing the holotopia's core value) is the key to both.
The book's subtitle, "Religion beyond Belief", points to the strategy. By showing that also religion can evolve further, and indeed in a surprising new direction, where it becomes something entirely different than what we believe it "is"—the culture and "human quality" as frontier are brought into the spotlight. The holotopia's main point is publicly made.
This tiny detail will illustrate how the dots are connected across historical periods, domains of interest and cultures. About a century ago, in Australia, F.M. Alexander developed a therapeutic technique called "Alexander technique", whose goal is to educate the practitioner to not create unnecessary muscular tension while doing everyday movements such as playing a violin or sitting and walking. One of the main keywords Alexander used to teach his technique is "end gaining". His point was that the muscular tension arises when we want to achieve an end—and focus on what we want to achieve. Alexander taught his students to focus on the "means whereby" an action is performed instead. This tiny fractal may suggest why the Buddha's core technique—to abolish all egotism and striving—might be the piece that completes the "enlightenment" puzzle.