A New Story of the People: Charles Eisenstein at TEDxWhitechapel


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Denise RQ So a few months ago, I was having
a delightful conversation with Kalle Lasn. He’s the founder of Adbusters magazine. No one can say that he’s not an activist. His magazine, in part,
inspired the ‘Occupy’ movement. And he spent his whole life devoted
to practical, hands-on culture jamming and activism. And he told me, he said, “In the last year, I haven’t really spent
that much time on the magazine, because I’ve been taking care
of my 95-year-old mother-in-law, and to be honest, that feels
a lot more important to me, and a lot more meaningful
than anything else that I’ve done, and anything else
I could be doing right now.” And I thought, could I bear
to live in a world, where that choice, that action, is less important than his activism, less important than his efforts
to stop climate change, or reform the prison system,
or any of these other things? Can I bear to live in a world
where we can’t trust the leadings of our heart
that tell us to do these little things that our minds say couldn’t possibly
make a difference? She’s going to die anyway, and no one’s
even going to know that he did it. Well, now someone is. But at the moment, he didn’t know that;
that wasn’t part of his choice. All those little things,
maybe you’ve rescued a lost puppy, or something like that, and what good is that going to do
in the face of nuclear holocaust, or climate change, or any of these big things
that seem to press on us so urgently. This kind of despair,
or this kind of cynicism, it’s very dispiriting, you know, and I think it afflicts pretty much
every activist that I’ve met. At one time or another in their lives,
they have the feeling, that, “What could I possibly do
that will be enough? I’m just one person, and even
if I make the right choices, there’s hundreds of millions
of other people who are mindlessly consuming. And my choices aren’t going
to necessarily affect them, and maybe if I have a big pulpit, maybe if I write a book
and speak to millions, maybe then I’ll have an effect, but what about the powers-that-be
who control the media?” And basically, it’s the same mindset,
that the small things that I do couldn’t possibly make a difference. Yet, we have this feeling
that Stefana said, “The more beautiful world
that our hearts know is possible.” Our hearts know it’s possible. I’m sure you’ve had that feeling
many times here today. But our minds do not know
that it’s possible. Our minds cannot see
how to get from here to there, because our understanding
of causality, even, doesn’t allow for a path
from here to there. For this more beautiful world
to actually manifest, miracles would have to happen. Which is why I’ve become
interested in miracles which are not the intercession
of an external divine agency in violation of the laws of nature. Miracles are something that are impossible
from an old understanding of reality, and possible from a new one. That is the transition
we are going through today. We’re going through a transition
in our basic understanding of what’s real, in our “story of the world”, I call it,
in our basic mythology. Rupert Sheldrake articulated
some of what this mythology is. Science is very deeply ingrained
in our understanding of the world, and provides an account
of exactly this, of what’s real. I don’t think necessarily science
is at the very bottom of our perception of the world,
and of our perception of ourselves. Every culture has
a different set of answers to these basic, basic questions, of, “Who are you?
What is it to be a human being? What’s important?
Where did we come from? Where are we going?
How does the world work?” Every culture answers this
in a different way. And science provides some answers, but all of the ten scientific dogmas
that Rupert described are part of, I call it
“the myth of separation”. And it says, basically, that what you are
is a discrete, separate individual, among other individuals, in a universe
that’s separate from you as well, that runs along mechanically, indifferent
to your interests, separate from you. And every field pretty much has agreed with this characterization
of what it is to exist. Physics – yeah, you’re a mass, subject to impersonal forces
that are deterministic. I mean obsolete physics, okay. Biology – yes, you are, basically
a flesh robot, programmed by your genes to maximize reproductive self-interest. Economics – you are a rational actor, seeking to maximize
financial self-interest. Psychology – you’re this bubble of psychology,
or this mind encased in flesh. Religion – you are a soul
encased in flesh. All of them agreed
on what it was to exist. And this story is changing today. It’s quite natural,
growing up in this society, to have this understanding
of what it is to exist and how the world works because for one thing,
our economics reflects it back at us, our experience of living in a competitive
economy, a money-based economy, where we’re always
in competition with each other, always in the experience of,
“everyone’s in it for themselves”, and “more for you is less for me”. Other cultures didn’t have
that experience of life. In a gift culture,
more for you is more for me, because if you had more than you needed, you would pass it on
to someone who needed it. And so all of these spiritual teachings
that we’re really attracted to today, that I would call, “the new story”; they were much more natural
in this context. So our defining mythology
has a scientific component, it has an economic component,
it has a religious component, and of course, all of these
things are intertwined, and each supports the other, which is why it’s not hard to see
that scientific orthodoxy has financial interests behind it. And all of these are breaking
down in various ways. Usually I talk about how
the financial system is breaking down, and how that reflects
the breakdown in our deeper stories. If we’re separate
from the universe, for example, then of course, we want to control these
indifferent or hostile external forces, and humanity’s destiny becomes
to become the lords and masters of nature, and to transcend nature. And it’s not working too well any more. In economics, that translates into growth,
the endless growth of the human realm. And we’re learning
that there’s a limit to that. And we’re learning that there’s not
an external universe out there, but that everything we do to this world, we’re doing on some level to ourselves. Everything we do to the Eskimo curlew
or the passenger pigeon, that is a wound that we feel all the time
and that we suffer from, that pain of existing in our culture that’s so omnipresent,
we don’t even realize it, except for when we’re bored, you know? That feeling of:
why does it hurt just to exist? People in “primitive societies”
didn’t experience boredom. It’s a relatively new phenomenon. So we’re moving into a different story,
a different story of self, a different story of the world,
a different story of the people. And we’ve been talking
about it all day here, the self of interconnected-ness,
the self of interbeing-ness. So I’d like to talk about what that actually means for us, practically speaking. One thing it means
is that these tiny actions may have a significance beyond
that we can understand according to our old view
of cause and effect in a Newtonian universe where the only effect
you have on the universe is by exerting a force on it. Well, the new sciences contradict that. Things don’t change only when
a force is exerted upon them. On the quantum level,
stuff just happens randomly. Random used to mean:
we don’t have enough information, and we don’t know why it happened
but there’s a deterministic reason. Not any more. It’s an irreducable indeterminacy. And quantum mechanics
also seems to violate this separation between self and other,
between observer and observed. Physicists have dealt with that by basically relegating it
to the micro realm and saying the world still works
deterministically, in effect, and excluding any evidence
that doesn’t fit into that paradigm, excluding things like morphic fields,
excluding things like water memory, excluding all kinds of things
that any scientist in the room would begin scoffing at, and feeling triggered by
and derisive about, which speaks to the emotional
attachment to these paradigms and the fact that our stories
have kind of an immune system that keeps them in tact
as long as possible. But they’re getting harder
and harder to maintain today as the world built on top
of our defining mythology falls apart; as our ecosystems fall apart;
as our political system, as our educational system,
health care system falls apart. Things aren’t working so well any more and it’s a lot harder
to fully believe in our stories. So they’re falling apart practically
and falling apart scientifically, and kind of birthing us
into a new understanding of what’s real, what’s possible,
and who we are. And in that new story,
that logic of the heart that says, “Yeah, I know that
this is a significant act, and I know that everything
I do is significant”, no longer contradicts
the logic of the mind, which had been the logic of separation. And what effect could you,
one tiny little being have, with the puny force available to you, when the powers-that-be
have so much more force at their disposal, and there’s billions
of other people who just don’t care? That was the old story, and now,
we’re able to believe what we know with a little help from our friends. Because there’s still
a lot of influences upon us that maintain the old habits,
the old habits of separation. And we doubt, and that cynical voice which comes
from the wound of betrayed expectations, because when we’re young,
we have this knowledge that the world is supposed
to be much more beautiful than what has been
offered to us as normal. And life is supposed to be more joyous than what has been
offered to us as normal. We understand that. But that expectation gets betrayed
again and again and again, and to protect it we develop cynicism. So to reawaken our knowledge, to reawaken and to bring it into belief, we need help to counteract
all of the forces that would suppress it, for example, economic forces. And for example, the logic that says,
“What good could it possibly do?” And so we gather together
at events like this and we surround ourselves
with other people who say, “Yeah, I understand it too;
I’ve seen a piece of it too.” And we hold each other in a new story. And with that, I’ll just say a few things
about what we can practically do for other people,
because you may have noticed that it’s not so easy
to change somebody’s beliefs. One of our habits of separation
is to try to change them by force, to overcome them with the force of logic, or to maybe make people ashamed of the way they’re living in the world, and shame is also a kind of force. Or to say, “Well, they’re just
these evil people out there who only understand force.” “I know you, you’re a corporate
CEO monster, or something like that; you’re not like me,
you’re separate from me.” Raoul was talking about the fallacy
of that perception, that, “If I were you,
I wouldn’t be doing as you’re doing.” And when we understand, and this
is another example of our interbeingness, when we understand that, yeah, that person
is essentially the same as I am, that person is a locus of attention,
in a different situation, and if I were that person,
I would be doing the same thing. Then from that understanding
of oneness or of inter-being, we no longer believe
that the only way to change that person is by exercising force. And if we do that, really,
if we just exercise force, what are we doing? We’re strengthening
the morphic field of force. And what happens if we act from love, and we act from the understanding
that that person is like me, that person has a gift
to give to the world, and will not feel happy unless
he or she is giving that gift, and I want that for you too. This is something
that’s eminently practical. And any time that we give somebody
a reason or give somebody an experience that doesn’t fit into the old story,
it weakens that old story; it disrupts it. It could be an act of generosity;
it could be an act of forgiveness. Anything that violates that understanding that we’re separate,
and everyone’s in it for themselves. My friend Poncho, – his last name’s escaping me right now – he was on a hunger strike in Berkeley
and the police came, and in front of a lot of people
started beating him up, threw him on the concrete, you know,
handcuffs behind his back, and he looked at the police
officer doing that, and in a moment he saw, and this wasn’t a dogma, he saw, “I know that you really
don’t want to be doing this.” And he asked his name. And it was a Hispanic name, and he said, “I bet you like Mexican food;
I know a great place.” And he spoke with love and no fear at all and that didn’t fit
into that person’s world. It disrupted his reality. And he responded by loosening
the handcuffs of all of the protesters, and they actually did end up
going out to dinner. (Laughter) I would certainly not be here today if it were not for the gifts
that I’ve received of people disrupting
my story of separation. That means that every act that comes from the understanding of interconnection, of interbeing, is a spiritual act,
and also a political act because the world that we see
around us is built on a story. By acting from a different story, we disrupt the psychic
substructure of our mythology, and we offer an alternative. And that’s why I’m actually
quite sympathetic to events like this where we’re in some sense
speaking to the choir. The choir makes beautiful music together, and the louder we sing it, the more
other people will be able to hear it. And maybe when their world is working, when their story
is still working really well, they’re not going to be interested. But that story isn’t working very well. And it’s not going to work;
it’s going to work less and less well unless you believe that a finite planet
can accommodate infinite growth. This story is doomed. And as it falls apart,
people, on a personal level, their story’s going to fall apart, and they’re going to be more and more
open to something new. We’re right now at a time of transition, you could say “reunion”, a reunion, as I said, of heart and mind, a reunion of matter and spirit. Learning that it’s not that the sacredness
that we feel in the world is due to some external thing
called “spirit”, but matter has all the properties
that we once ascribed to spirit. Part of that reunion is,
as Satish was saying, revaluing working with our hands, regaining the dignity of materiality. The loss of that dignity of materiality has been part of our campaign
to transcend nature; to separate ourselves from nature,
to become nature’s lords and masters. There’s a scientific version of that
which has us become robots, androids going off into space,
synthesizing food, becoming independent of nature, and then there’s the spiritual
dimension of that, which is this kind of spiritualization,
this kind of dematerialization where the holy person doesn’t have
anything to do with the flesh, doesn’t have anything
to do with the world, and seeing the world as unspiritual
has led us to treat it as such, to treat it as something not sacred. And we’re healing from that right now. We’ve been looking for sacredness
everywhere but where it is, and we can’t sustain that any longer. So why I’m here, and why
we’re all here together, is to affirm in each other
a new story of the people, to remind each other
of what we already know, to empower us to do those things
that our separation-immersed minds still doubt, still think couldn’t possibly work, because that’s the only way
that we can accomplish the impossible. And you look around the world according to the old understanding
of cause and effect based on force. These problems are impossible to solve. But as the entertainer Sun Ra said, “We’ve tried everything possible
and none of it has worked. Now we must try the impossible.” (Laughter) And one more thing, Polly said, she talked about daring to be great. And what that meant as being in service
to something larger than yourself. And I would offer that as the formula
for accomplishing the impossible, for stepping into the flow
of synchronicity. You don’t know how
to get from here to there but that thing larger than yourself does, and it arranges these synchronicities, – being at the right place
at the right time – being in flow, I think
everyone’s experienced that, and usually when you experience that
it’s when your world has fallen apart, in you’re in this state of uncertainty
and then all things start to flow, and they start to work, right? And we can enter that state when we let go
of the paradigm of control, and bow into service, to this thing
larger than ourselves. And what is this thing? What is it that unifies all of these different things
that we’re committed to? Let’s call it “the more beautiful world
our heart knows is possible”. And I’d like to offer you,
as you leave today, and as you go about your life, in fact, right now, feel that part of you that knows
that you are here in service, and ask yourself if you’re ready
to bow more deeply into that mission, into that service. If you do it, I predict that you will experience an unexpected opportunity
to act on that intention. And it will be just at the edge
of your courage, but not past it. Heroic measures are kind of part
of the old story, part of the self-conquest, which mirrors the attempt
to conquer nature, and I think we’re done with that. I’d like to thank you all
for being together with me in service to a more beautiful world. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers)

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