Stress, fiction, culture and oppression

And how true CHOICE can break the cycle

Reflection on recent events has led me to a sobering perspective and awareness in me which although it was there in parts, hadn't previously coalesced into a coherent understanding. But now it has started to, I'd like to share it, and invite dialogue with anyone who cares for it. Here it is, first in outline, and then (perhaps spread over several entries) in the detail as I recognise it. This is about human nature and the human condition.

When we are stressed, so often we calm ourselves with some fiction, either from our own imagination or what is fed to us. Our exploitative, extractive economy encourages the unscrupulous to feed us wish-fulfilment. People find comfort in sharing their self-calming fictions, and they are amplified. Uncritical wish fulfilment often implies exploitation of or even violence against others. Repeated fictional narratives become embedded in our culture, and those with the power or privilege to do so might then act out the exploitation or violence. Exploitation and violence at the individual level become oppression at the cultural level. Oppression leads to stress in individuals, and feeds the cycle.

There are several possible ways out of this cycle. At the individual level, we can notice when our imagination brings up something morally objectionable, and replace that with something more constructive. We can monitor and self-censor what we say, what we write, what we do. We can speak up against oppressive narratives as well as oppressive actions. We can enact, promote and disseminate virtuous narratives and actions. Much of this is what we are already encouraged to do, as individuals, by those individuals who care. But while individual responsibility is surely a great aim, it can be very difficult in the context of a culture whose oppressive nature is invisible to most, and too often argued over by those who do think they see aspects of it.

People who see other ways of breaking out of the cycle don't yet seem so vocal, but I hear them sometimes hinting towards what we can do interpersonally and collectively. We can form friendships of virtue, and collectively sow the seeds of a more virtuous culture. Collective Presencing is one practice that is sowing such seeds. We can help each other grow in virtue, awareness and responsibility, not through blame and judgement, but through dialogue, understanding, support and encouragement. We can strive for wider cultural and political change, though this is fraught with difficulties and hazards: I see the litter of attempts at societal change which have not succeeded in changing anything of substance.

Culture, politics and economics are tightly woven together. One of the questions that comes up more and more is about the role of capitalism as an economic system. The way I see it is this. Sharing of any ‘resource’ seems to happen naturally when there is material equality, or when the resource is abundant. If resources are shared, there is no effective way for competitive businesses to make money – to provide a return on capital invested – the essential motive of capitalist businesses. As businesses get larger and relatively more powerful – some having more effective power than all but the largest nation states – it seems inevitable that they will promote inequality and scarcity, because it is in their interests. They will naturally take advantage of any natural scarcity, but also they will generate artificial scarcity wherever they can.

Two books come to mind as highlighting these issues. In 2009 The Spirit Level highlighted the social ills – and I would say cultural ills – that are readily seen as coming from inequality. While Wilkinson and Pickett don't point to the same analysis as mine above, I see their analysis as supportive and very compatible. The other book is from 2013 and perhaps remains more in the public eye: Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century, essentially pointing out the inevitability of growing inequality, given the current economic system and conditions.

The point of bringing up these books and issues is to point to two other related ways we can intervene to break the vicious cycle that I have started out describing. First, we can promote equality and sharing, and second, we can move ourselves into an abundant lifestyle. By ‘abundant’, of course I do not mean a society where we have ever more ‘stuff’, but a culture where we arrange things so that there is more than enough, of the essentials for a good life, for everyone. This chimes in with so many people from Gandhi to NVC to the Commons movement. Gandhi's famous quote is We have Sufficient for Everybody's Needs, Not For Greed. The principles of NVC include working towards finding ways to cooperatively and creatively ensure that everyone’s needs are met (at the top of page 3 in that pdf). With the Commons, in the words of the P2P Foundation, Together we know everything, together we have everything. I applaud everyone who is working in this kind of spirit, against inequality and scarcity. There are many ways of doing this, and I have my own, which I'd like to link in here.

What I call the CHOICE (though that won't be its eventual name) I see as a way of both equalising the power of choice, and also helping people towards a realistic abundance. Here I will only sketch out some themes, to be developed another day.

The individualisation and fragmentation of society has resulted in a widespread sense of loneliness, perhaps from the image that there is no one there to meet my needs. When people rebel against norms that they find oppressive, they may feel they are alone. But beyond the option of finding a ‘memetic tribe’ (see the full chart here) which can be an echo chamber for their daydreams, what about actually tackling the root of the problem and find others who really can meet their needs – mutually? CHOICE concept is built around the idea that there really are people out there, but they are hard to find.

However, maybe the people you imagined don't exist. It might be just a daydream to meet your imagined need, but you need real people to meet your real needs. Also, daydreams tend to be all about me, and that isn't going to solve anything long-term. It needs to be about you just as much. So CHOICE is conceived as an effective way to guide you to the people who are there, and who are also looking for you.

To go back to Gandhi, in your egoistic greed you might imagine servants or slaves (or similar) who are there just for you. But your need, in truth, is to be in connection, in relationship where you give as well as take; with others who you respect, and who respect you. That can be helped through a process of finding people that is designed to give equal access to all.

So, my approach to breaking the cycle is to provide the facilities for people to find abundance of connection and relationship. Though time and attention can feel very scarce, abundance can emerge through finding that connection and relationship, and letting go of other relationships that reproduce the patterns of scarcity.

To be continued, and detailed at each step.

Topics: CHOICE; Complex psychology; Current affairs

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