If Society is Sick, What Should We Do About It?

riot cops

There is a quote, much celebrated by activists, cynics, and political science students the world over, that I think could use a second look:

“It is no measure of good health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” ~Jiddu Krishnamurti

I like Krishnamurti, and I think he’s being misunderstood here, but I’ll get to that. Taken at face value, I disagree.

Activists, particularly those who nurture a general dislike for humankind at large, prize this snarky quote because it seems to validate the notion that only others need to change.

If our society is profoundly sick and we should refuse to adapt to it, then what is it that we’re supposed to adapt to? Or perhaps the sneaky insinuation is that some of us are already perfect, and no adjustments are necessary. Indeed, the implication of activism seems to be that it is others who need to correct their course — CEOs of petroleum companies, mindless consumers, fans of Glenn Beck, people who talk during movies or don’t use their turn signals — they are society’s sickness, and if they can be made to shape up, we’ll finally be sitting pretty.

Society does have its problems: crime, poverty, war, pollution, overpopulation and political corruption. It’s no utopia, clearly, but what is the best way to approach these problems?

Misanthropes and other “the-world-has-gone-to-shit” types would have you believe the solution is to identify the groups and individuals responsible for the “sickness” of society, and find a way to disempower them, expose them, or destroy them. With some grassroots support and some elbow grease they can get some new policies in place, install a new breed of political leaders, and usher into fashion a more progressive philosophy about how to govern, do business, and treat your fellow man… and in the mean time, sourly refuse to adapt to the human world as it is now, because that would only encourage the evil corporations and lying politicians who make it so troublesome.

But that won’t work. The “sickness” is not that some nasty people have come into power, but that human beings across the board are still working primarily from their stone-age instincts. The detractors of The Establishment are just as consumed by their own needs for personal power, righteousness, security and social dominance as the people they so proudly hate.

We are so newly removed from our original stomping ground that we are almost completely inexperienced with running civilizations smoothly. We’re much more efficiently wired to orchestrate a successful mammoth hunt than govern a nation intelligently. Civilization is barely out of the package.

Don’t underestimate the sweeping ramifications of this point. We are built for something completely different than what we’re trying to do, so we must embrace adaptation to the society we’ve created — for all its ills — or continue to struggle. Evolution has never been driven by anything but adaptation to the current environment. We can’t cross our arms and wait for the water to become the perfect temperature before we learn to swim.

Global issues are typically characterized as an acute mismanagement of resources and power. This is woefully near-sighted. We haven’t drifted into some unfortunate, short-term imbalance of political power. We’re in the middle of a long-term, species-wide readjustment to bridge the enormous gap between the kind of contentious society our stone-age minds have built us, and the kinder, safer society we’ll have when we’ve outgrown them.

Activism certainly has its place, and can effect worthwhile changes on a smaller scale. I am not arguing against activism per se. But too often it takes the form of one group of humans trying to disempower another — the same old story of human conflict. It will always fail at solving the big global issues, because it does not take into account that the broadest issues are inevitable functions of normal human nature, not simply the messes created by misbehaving individuals. They will not be overcome until human nature changes, and that means adaptation. Evolution.

Right now, conscious adjustment to this “sick society” is the best approach we have. Adaptation is not resignation, it’s a reassessment of the relationship between our behavior and our environment. I’m talking about honest, forgiving examination of ourselves and our own habits, rather than placing the onus on oil companies, incumbent political parties, or The Man himself to stop ruining the world. Blame won’t save us. We must evolve our way out of this one. The mentality that created this mess is not the one that will be able to clean it up.

And the mentality that created today’s smorgasbord of disasters is very, very human. Insecurity, desire, fear, attachment, avoidance of responsibility — all the dubious qualities that cause today’s public messes are completely normal human qualities. They aren’t isolated oversights, as the cynics might have you believe, committed only by an unscrupulous few whom we must round up and hold responsible. They are totally normal, understandable qualities that pervade all of humankind, and which you and I will both embody to some degree as long as we live.

I’m no expert on Krishnamurti, but it’s clear he understood this too, and his quote is being misapplied. He knew it came down to adaptation of individuals. From Wikipedia:

His subject matter included psychological revolution, the nature of the mind, meditation, human relationships, and bringing about positive change in society. He constantly stressed the need for a revolution in the psyche of every human being and emphasized that such revolution cannot be brought about by any external entity, be it religious, political, or social.

By “well-adjusted to a sick society” I suppose he meant “poised to take personal advantage of strife and disharmony.”

Digging one’s heels in and refusing to adjust to this “sick society” only ensures that one continues to misunderstand the cause of humanity’s problems. Nearly every worrisome global issue is the direct result of ordinary, everyday human behavior, clashing with a modern environment that we have not yet adapted to. Civilization has been around less than 10,000 years, yet human instinct has been evolving for nearly 5 million. That means virtually all all of our instinctive behaviors are geared for success in life on the savannah, not in nations and democracies.

The side-effects of this mismatch can be horrific, and conscious adjustment — better described on this scale as conscious evolution — is the only sensible way to respond. Policy changes and other low-level initiatives might buy us some short-term respite from the worst effects of human behavior, but what we are really up against is an unprecedented disparity between our species and its new environment. We need to become better adapted to this new playing field, rather than reject it outright and hold out for one we find perfectly agreeable — as if elections, think-tanks and revolutions could accomplish that anyway.

If your interest is changing the world for the better, your responsibility is to adjust to the imperfect society we find ourselves in — this one that’s happening right now, with all its faults and ugly spots. Rather than shunning “the establishment” and holding out for smarter people to be in power, your greatest possible contribution is to learn to live sanely in this insane, dysfunctional society.

To do that is to understand what makes it tick — with curiosity and love, rather than mistrust; to temper your emotional reactivity to it, to keep yourself calm, to learn to improve your own quality of life, to get over your contempt for others, to make peace with civilization exactly the way it happens to be at this stage of its development, and most of all, to be grateful that it exists at all.

R

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{ 65 Comments }

Brenda (betaphi) May 31, 2010 at 10:12 am

Trust, calm, peace, gratitude — beautiful, David.

Avi May 31, 2010 at 12:21 pm

From Roger Ebert’s twitter: Dan Schreiber tells me: “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” – Blaise Pascal

David May 31, 2010 at 5:57 pm

That notion was the basis of my very first post on Raptitude, and I am a believer.

Tim May 31, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I see this emphasis and principle taught in so many different types of religion, and they all teach the same thing: get better and stop causing yourself and others suffering.

Learn and grow to live with the world on the outside and the world on the inside. Love love. Love depression. Love the fact that love doesn’t have to be taken in the traditional sense of the term.

It’s an awfully sincere message preached to me by many, and thanks for ringing it on my ears again.
.-= Tim´s last blog ..Super Ultra Awesome New Addition Level Up! =-.

David May 31, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Didn’t mean to preach, Tim. You don’t have to read anything you don’t want to.

Tim May 31, 2010 at 11:24 pm

And I don’t think you’re preaching. I can see how my comment could be seen as negative. In no way is it.

What I meant: the message is an awesome preached by many great people in many different and valuable ways.

I may be cynical and realistic sometimes, but I’m not one for hating on anybody or making inflaming comments. Sorry if it seemed liked that.
.-= Tim´s last blog ..Super Ultra Awesome New Addition Level Up! =-.

David June 1, 2010 at 4:07 am

Sorry Tim, I misunderstood in my pre-coffee morning funk

Tom K May 31, 2010 at 1:46 pm

One man’s ‘sick’ is another man’s ‘sane’. The trick is to see *both* are right. Oh, and neither too, of course…

And Mulla Nasruddin, on being hailed by a traveller on the other side of a wide river with a shouted “How do I get across?” replied, “You’re already there!”

David May 31, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Like anything else it will always come down to opinions. Yes, both and neither are right, in one sense. But “right” is mostly an emotion. This will resonate with some people and not resonate with others. I guess I see the same insanity in corrupt institutions, and the people who despise them, and myself. The common denominator is that we are human, but there are many different ways we can respond to the problems that creates.

Tom K June 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

I understand what you mean by “problems that creates” as a result of being human. That is the ordinary, work-a-day understanding. Humans do what humans do; and when humans see problems, therefore there are problems. Is it possible to be human and see that THERE ARE NO PROBLEMS? What would be the quality of consciousness of such a see-er? It is a worthwhile thing to meditate on if one can resist what the know-it-all, ordinary mind will pontificate on and immediately dismiss. What if there are no problems?

David June 2, 2010 at 2:29 am

Good point. Reminds me of a quote that is definitely from Krishnamurti: “I don’t mind what happens.”

I have stumbled across that thought too, that a “problem” is only a way of relating to a given situation — an attachment to changing it. I haven’t yet discovered how to transcend all my attachments, so for now I guess that’s where I’m working from. To reach a state of mind where there are no problems would be an incredible achievement, and I like to think that’s the next stage in human evolution. Different people have different opinions on whether it’s just around the corner to everyday humans, or we’re a long ways off. For all my interest in it, I really have no idea.

Darryl May 31, 2010 at 3:31 pm

What I usually take from that Krishnamurti quote is that if I feel like something is off about the way people are taught to treat each other and their environment and have trouble falling in line with society’s notions of success, It’s not necessarily because something is wrong with me.

Sadly, even an attempt to evolve or change oneself for the better (without shifting blame to others) will often be treated with some hostility from those who are “well adjusted” with the way things are.

Without seeking solace in some sort of victim mentality or self righteousness, it’s normal to feel a little isolated and vulnerable at times when trying to do what we think is right. I’ve seen this happen when people go vegetarian or even try to quit drinking.

I hope this response isn’t taken as being disagreeable to the article. It’s just another way of looking at it.

cheers

David May 31, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hi Darryl. No, I totally agree. I suppose my argument is against hostility itself. In my mind, contempt for other humans is what sustains the aspects of humanity we are hostile towards. But then again you can see hints of it in the rant-style in which I wrote this piece. It’s going to be a long haul. :)

Lisis June 1, 2010 at 7:58 am

This post reminds me of E.O. Wilson’s description of socialism: “Wonderful theory, wrong species.” He felt it was better suited to ants, who have learned to work together for the common good. Perhaps it helps that they’ve been perfecting the art of cooperation longer than we have.

For those of us who are misanthropes and “the-world-has-gone-to-shit” types, I believe there is a third option besides bitching about it and embracing it: creating an alternate reality that runs parallel to the mainstream craziness. Throughout our brief history, dreamers and idealists everywhere have left the ills of society, taking the best parts with them to create a life more suited to their cooperative sensibilities… Moses, The Mayflower, adventurous pioneers, communes, hippies, Vermonters. ;)

These types believe there is some good in society, but it can always be made better, and so they create a “new and improved” version of what they had. Those who refuse to settle for the ills of society, and don’t sit around complaining about it, are the catalysts for our evolution from barbarism to civilization. We may not have achieved it yet, but we are certainly getting closer. Don’t you think?

David June 1, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Oh you are not a misanthrope, Lisis! :)

That makes sense to me. I guess there are as many approaches as there are people. I’m always going to have a bias towards what has worked for me. The misanthropic approach never worked for me, both in improving my own quality of live and improving my ability to improve it for others. Rereading the article, it’s not so clear, but what I mean is that pinning the fault on particular groups and individuals never gets us anywhere. The emotional alignment against people, rather than only their behavior, means that the causes are misidentified as the individuals and not their behaviors (which are determined by a combination of genetic instinct and learned culture, neither of which any individual has any real control over.) Does that make sense? I think the emotional resentment intrinsic to that approach saps our quality of life, and that of people around us.

Ants are fascinating, and I actually just read something revealing about their apparently co-operative behavior. Even though they appear to co-operate for the “good of the colony,” sacrificing their lives and such, their individual behaviors are still primarily concerned with the spread of their own personal genes (like all animals.) Because the same queen gives birth to almost the entire population, all the ants are siblings, and therefore share 50% of the same genes. So if a particular ant sacrifices her life to save other members of the colony (from attack or starvation), it is because it helps her spread her own genes efficiently (by letting hundreds of her sisters live) even if she never has offspring of her own. There is a lot more to it, but that is one instance of individual self-interest manifesting itself as what we might call living for the good of society.

I still think that because of the mechanism of evolution, we cannot escape self-interest (or more accurately the interest of the survival of our genes) so the good of society can’t help but take a back seat. This is a huge discussion though, I just had ants on my mind when I read your comment.

There are such interesting comments here, but I’ve got to run and catch my bus. I’ll get to the others later on. Thanks everyone.

ken June 1, 2010 at 10:28 am

Sorry to intrude, but I’ve studied Krishnamurti for decades and there is no record of his ever having uttered the passage you quote. I’ve tried to track this attribution down, and even corresponded with his Foundation in California, and there is no record of it.

You state…”your greatest possible contribution is to learn to live sanely in this insane, dysfunctional society.”

I don’t think Krishnamurti would disagree with that observation.

David June 1, 2010 at 7:50 pm

That is really interesting. The whole post was inspired my a temperamental traveler I met who cited the quote often. I won’t identify her but it appears on her web page, attributed to Krishnamurti. As is often the case, quotes can be mis-attributed so I looked for other instances of it on the net, and it is only ever attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti. Looking again now, the remark is everywhere, but there it is never sourced to a particular work.

Perhaps he never said it (or wrote it.) The article doesn’t hinge on the sentiment being his though, in fact it sort of complicates it because knowing what I know about his philosophy it seems a bit out of character if taken at face value.

Thanks for the heads-up, Ken, that is interesting.

Sebastien April 30, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I don’t know if he said this exact sentence, but I certainly remember reading things from him that had a similar meaning.

Joy June 1, 2010 at 11:04 am

David,
Wow…some comments so far….guess you tapped a nerve with some.
I think it boils down to this…I am responsible for my own space. If I keep my space clean, simple, joy filled, peace filled, it may possibly affect how my neighbor may keep his/her space, which in may affect his/her neighbor…cyclical and simple. The “problem” though is many would rather place blame elsewhere than be responsible for their own space. If we are all standing together, space to space, and if we are all sharing Energy, I want what I share to be healthy, whole, beautiful, peaceful, loving so I work on that in my own life….
As far as society, we can turn away in disgust, disillusionment, bitterness, but again, I believe I share space and Energy, so that would be turning away from myself, how sad is that???
I can sit in a room by myself and revel in that time….it’s taken some work to release and embrace….and *that* is the Energy and space we share and the hope that anything truly is possible…..
.-= Joy´s last blog ..Monday Blessing: Delight… =-.

David June 2, 2010 at 2:22 am

That’s what I try to focus on — “tend your own garden” so to speak. But I’m constantly discovering that I set standards for others that I don’t even live up to myself sometimes. You are right. Turning away from society is turning away from ourselves. Society is always us, not “them.”

jeru June 1, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Lisis’ comment if the most realistic and thoughtful of the comments and the original article, good post.

Vincent Nguyen June 2, 2010 at 1:58 am

Hi David,

So many times do I see groups protesting about child labour in other countries.
On one occasion, I walked up to one of the protesters against child labour in southeast asia and asked him;
“Do you even know what you are really protesting against?”
“Have you been to places like Vietnam and witness for yourself?”
He looked at me like a deer in headlights all dumbfounded and said “Not really”
With that answer there, it made me realize at how ignorant some of these groups can be by protesting for a cause that they do not even fully understand and comprehend the ripple effect of having a “job” is all about in a developing country.
I told him that I was in Vietnam for 2 months and my relatives told me that the working conditions are not as bad as people think.
The job, despite the low wages (according to our standards) provides vital income so that a family can have food each day and not starve to death.
Unlike our north american society where we cannot have enough food but instead over indulge and then waste lots of good food just because we do not have enough room for storage.
How sad and ironic.
Appreciation and love for others and their situations can simply start by education for starters.
.-= Vincent Nguyen´s last blog ..Amazing Fingerless Guitarists =-.

David June 2, 2010 at 2:33 am

Hi Vinny. That’s another good point, and I think it has contributed to my mistrust of activism in general. I think it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional momentum of being for or against something, and it is not always easy to keep track of exactly what it is we’re railing against. That’s what I mean when I say it is easy to mistake the people involved for the problem, when it is their behavior, whose causes are much bigger and more widespread than any individual or group.

Vincent Nguyen June 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

I fully agree David
:-D
.-= Vincent Nguyen´s last blog ..Amazing Fingerless Guitarists =-.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) June 2, 2010 at 9:45 pm

I think this is a great topic to get one thinking about social issues and how the individual can play a part.

You refer several times to a “stone-age” mentality~ I suggest you reassess this view, as a wealth of literature points to egalitarianism, community focus, sharing of resources etc. And low incidences of mammoth hunts, more likely to be out gathering.
.-= Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor)´s last blog ..Research Methods in Developmental Psych: A Review =-.

David June 2, 2010 at 11:25 pm

I don’t think our viewpoints are necessarily at odds. I don’t mean “stone age mentality” as a pejorative, and the positive qualities you mention are a part of that mentality too. But who can deny that impulses towards unsustainable consumption, attachment to ego and the will to power are extremely powerful determinants of human behavior, and we can’t just shake them off or make others do so. What I witness in myself and others is powerful resentment towards people for behaving in ways that are very difficult for humans to overcome. I think that sort of resentment inhibits human adaptation towards more progressive cultures.

The only reason we no longer hunt mammoth is because there are none left. :)

gustavo June 2, 2010 at 10:47 pm

I like Krishnamurti too and I agree with you. I have read the man’s work a lot and I have never found such thing as “change the others”, but completely the opposite: change your mind by seen what is real (in naïf layman’s terms)

I liked your post. I’ll be back.

@Vincent,

I know what you mean. Child labour is a big issue today, down here in Ecuador. The government is preventing it, but is not compensating the lack of income this family urgently need; and they really believe they are helping them. It’s insane.

David June 2, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Hi Gustavo. I haven’t properly delved into Krishnamurti yet, but I haven’t yet read anything from him that I disagree with. Of course, it looks like that remark doesn’t actually belong to him.

Vincent Nguyen June 3, 2010 at 12:25 am

~~Gustavo~~

Hi Gustavo,

Yes unfortunately child labour is prevalent in certain parts of the world and to hear that the Ecuadorian government is preventing child labour but then is stifling their income potential by not creating more opportunities? hmmm
This is definitely a hot issue and will not go away anytime soon especially after hearing what has happened in some parts of China and what China is doing to their workers is hard to take in.
.-= Vincent Nguyen´s last blog ..Amazing Fingerless Guitarists =-.

Thomas June 6, 2010 at 1:01 am

“Nearly every worrisome global issue is the direct result of ordinary, everyday human behavior, clashing with a modern environment that we have not yet adapted to. Civilization has been around less than 10,000 years, yet human instinct has been evolving for nearly 5 million.”

This part struck me…How have these aspects of our environment (democracy for example) come into existence if we are not evolved enough to handle them? It’s not as if these things are the result of forces out of our control, human beings have created these forms of social organization.

I think a compelling answer could be that many of the institutions in our societies are simply relics that we haven’t outgrown yet rather than tools that we haven’t learned to use properly.

David June 6, 2010 at 2:33 am

Hey great question Thomas.

I would say civilization, as much as we appreciate it as a whole, creates friction with some of our more ancient motives. Even though we created it, civilization is not something we designed — it’s more of a huge aggregation of deliberate advancements, which create unpredictable changes to our environment on a very frequent basis. In the last hundred fifty twenty years, technology has completely changed the environment in which a western human lives, putting our long-honed genetic and cultural tendencies even more out of synch with their environment than they ever were. Economists and other scientists spend their entire lives trying to make sense of it all. We did create it, but not on purpose, so we can’t possibly know the best way to handle it. It’s a byproduct, or rather an infinite feedback loop of byproducts — not an invention.

Democracy is a smaller facet of civilization, born of our dislike of despotism. We know what we want to move towards, and what we want to move away from, but that doesn’t mean we’re geared for skillfully navigating the society we’ve created, because we never intended to create precisely this, it’s just where our tendencies have led us.

I think a compelling answer could be that many of the institutions in our societies are simply relics that we haven’t outgrown yet rather than tools that we haven’t learned to use properly.

I wonder if it’s both. And maybe they amount to the same thing. Our new tool, democracy, is certainly subject to the perils of our old tool (despotism) whenever so-inclined individuals can get away with it.

Thomas June 7, 2010 at 2:14 am

I think I understand your point that we all did not sit down and “invent” our current societies, they are more byproducts of smaller advances that have added up to more than we can imagine. I think I’m still a little confused about how specifically new technology creates problems. In the last twenty years a good portion of the world has been revolutionized by the internet, cell phones, etc. I don’t exactly see how this is at odds with our earlier ways of life…perhaps I’ve missed something?

Also, I completely agree with your sentiments that we should focus more on making ourselves better people rather than merely condemning the external world. I do think however, that to live sanely in an insane world does sometimes require that we honestly appraise the actions of people in the world and attempt to change things for the better. After all, you yourself are writing with, I assume, with the goal of changing the readers’ behavior.

David June 7, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Hi Thomas. I lost a huge long-winded response to your comment last night when my internet time ran out on me.

I think I’m still a little confused about how specifically new technology creates problems. In the last twenty years a good portion of the world has been revolutionized by the internet, cell phones, etc. I don’t exactly see how this is at odds with our earlier ways of life…perhaps I’ve missed something?

The main difference technology has made is that survival is now easy for nearly all of us in the developed world, so we don’t need to be nearly as territorial, or afraid of loss, or afraid of ostracism as we once did just to survive.

For most of our existence, those traits would have often made the difference between life and death. They still lend themselves for survival, but they get in the way of quality of life. The urge to overeat is one example. It is a helpful tendency in feast-or-famine conditions, but now it is a liability for most of us.

Another example: embarrassment is a disproportionately intense fear for us. Before civilization and agriculture, being ostracized from the group would have meant almost certain death, so naturally an intense fear of it was helpful to a person. But now, we don’t need a group to survive, yet we’re still afraid of looking bad in front of others as we ever were. There is an oft-quoted statistic that reflects this: the most commonly cited fear is public speaking, and death is second.

Our instincts (and even the non-instinctual, learned behaviors that result from them) still drive our bodies and minds as if survival is much more difficult than it is, when it’s actually quality of life that we’re looking for. Many of our instincts have us unconsciously seeking survival at the expense of quality of life. Our genes are only concerned with keeping an organism alive long enough to create more organisms with the same genes, and they don’t care what sort of experience that creates for the organism.

There is so much more to it, but that should give you an idea of what I’m getting at.

I do think however, that to live sanely in an insane world does sometimes require that we honestly appraise the actions of people in the world and attempt to change things for the better. After all, you yourself are writing with, I assume, with the goal of changing the readers’ behavior.

I never really thought of it that way. Writing is a creative outlet for me, and it helps me to clarify my own thoughts about things. Everybody likes to be agreed with, naturally, but I wouldn’t say I write what I do with the hopes of changing others’ behavior. I do think that some of what I write about resonates with other humans, and I want to connect with those people.

Thomas June 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Thanks for clarifying…it makes a lot more sense to me now.

Also, just a note, when I said that you were writing with the goal of changing readers’ actions I was referring specifically to this article. You were, I assume and perhaps I’m wrong, trying to show people that it is more important that they look at themselves rather than rage at the world. To me, this seems like trying to change the world for the better, albeit in a much different, and I think better way, than most people try to do.

Darren June 7, 2010 at 5:44 am

As someone who used to be obsessed with politics and activism, this blog has certainly struck a chord with me. I’ve had stupid fights and lost friends over political differences. I’ve angered and depressed myself at all the ugliness in the world with great futility. After studying Vedantic philosophy and other similar beliefs, I’ve been trying to move on away from the “us vs them” way of thinking. It’s hard when some of my friends are still “raging against the machine” and they remain miserable.

David June 7, 2010 at 6:51 am

I guess that’s the theme I keep alluding to, in other posts too: graduating from “us vs them”.

Rage Against The Machine, on the other hand, is an awesome band and I totally support them :)

Darren June 7, 2010 at 11:43 am

Regarding “us vs them”, when you look at the behaviour of individuals like Dubya, CEOs of major oil and car companies, fans of Glenn Beck, from their point of view, they don’t think they’re in the wrong at all. Most of them honestly believe that they are the good guys, and what they do or support is best for the world or society. Most of them aren’t evilly twirling their moustaches and cackling while rubbing their hands in diabolical glee. In the end, everyone wants to be happy – they just have different ideas on how to get there.

I had gotten away from the “Liberal vs Conservative” paradigm as that’s just an illusory puppet show designed to keep us at each others’ throats as part of a sinister conspiracy. It was a romantic idea. I then raged against the puppet master – the Illuminati, 12 industrialists in a smokey room, the Bilderbergers, etc. Even then, that’s still the same habit of blame and contempt. I had read Robert Anton Wilson (who wrote the best conspiracy literature), and he pointed out is that there are NO puppet masters.
That’s ultimately the scariest realization because there’s no one to blame at all for the world’s ills; it’s a huge chaotic mess born out of our frustrations, anxieties, impulses, desires for gratification, shortsightedness – pretty much everything you’ve written in your blogs.
This realization can ultimately be the most liberating as well, because we don’t have to watch, obsess over and hold others accountable anymore. All we can do is change our own behaviours and viewpoints, which is what all great spiritual leaders and thinkers have been promoting.

I hope you write a book someday, David. Namaste!

Thomas June 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm

“Most of them aren’t evilly twirling their moustaches and cackling while rubbing their hands in diabolical glee. In the end, everyone wants to be happy – they just have different ideas on how to get there. ”

True, but if someone is ignorant and is trying to achieve something in a way that you know is wrong, then why is it bad to correct them?

For instance, to take an extreme example, if a rapist genuinely believes that what he is doing is making the world a better place, then I for one could not sit back and say “well, he has good intentions”.

David June 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I had read Robert Anton Wilson (who wrote the best conspiracy literature), and he pointed out is that there are NO puppet masters.
That’s ultimately the scariest realization because there’s no one to blame at all for the world’s ills

I think you are totally right. Well put, Darren.

Grayson June 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Almost as if the words slipped out of Adolf’s mouth itself.
This is ridiculous if you stop to think about what the author is saying for a few seconds; “Right now, conscious adjustment to this “sick society” is the best approach we have.” will surely lead us to our impending doom. For those of you who are not aware, humans have caused mass extinction of our planet’s biodiversity (http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug1999/1999-08-02-06.asp), more than 151 members of Congress have up to $195 million invested in major defense contractors that are earning profits from the US military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan (http://www.projectcensored.org/articles/story/14-congress-invested-in-defense-contracts), and the list could really go on all day. Of course you will call me a cynic, as that is your job as a passive member of society–to validate your passivity while policing others that dare to challenge the status quo.
Society is sick, and it is having profound implications on not only all other species on the planet, but our beloved human race as well. Take for example the fact that mental illnesses are society specific. That is to say that anorexia came into existence in modern America, and had existed (previous to globalization washing it to distant shores) no where else in human history. It was created by our image obsessed society, which teaches girls that there is a specific way to appear, and deviation from that (rather than conforming to our sick society as you suggest) makes one unattractive.
Since you made the brilliant analogy (seriously, no sarcasm) of an illness plaguing our society, I’ll run with that. When the body detects a virus, does it simply allow the virus to consume it? No, white blood cells and other means are used to destroy the virus and return the body to a state of harmony. I truly hope that one day you will join the growing numbers of unsatisfied individuals trying to steer human kind towards sanity and peace.
Best,
me

David June 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm

It’s possible I didn’t explain it well, or that you didn’t actually finish the post, but either way I think it’s clear you don’t understand what I meant by “adapt.” I never advocated passivity or complacency. From the insulting tone of your comment I doubt you’d be receptive to any further clarification.

I truly hope that one day you will join the growing numbers of unsatisfied individuals trying to steer human kind towards sanity and peace.

By letting my emotional reactions give me the answers? Unexamined resentment is the status quo and I don’t think it works very well.

When a comment begins with a Hitler comparison I have a hard time taking it seriously. Godwin’s Law strikes again.

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) June 21, 2010 at 5:32 pm

“Of course you will call me a cynic, as that is your job as a passive member of society–to validate your passivity while policing others that dare to challenge the status quo.”

Grayson~ Policing me (commenter) in this way is trying to allocate me to a box labeled “passive”. You have no idea if I am calling you anything, let alone what. Please indicate where I have policed others?

The beauty and harmony producing skills of David’s posts are in his ability to share an alternative point of view without telling other people who he thinks they are and what he thinks they are thinking. He shares his view, invites those interested to see the world from his perspective, and then if they want, to share their opinion and so encourage discourse.

To agree to disagree is peace and harmony~ to point the finger and tell others all other ways of thinking besides yours are wrong contributes to maintaining a status quo of dominator-model interpersonal relationships~ the opposite direction of what your comment states you are aiming to achieve.

Thomas June 22, 2010 at 3:17 pm

“To agree to disagree is peace and harmony~ to point the finger and tell others all other ways of thinking besides yours are wrong contributes to maintaining a status quo of dominator-model interpersonal relationships~ the opposite direction of what your comment states you are aiming to achieve.”

I’m a bit confused by your comment because it seems to me that you are not agreeing to disagree with the commenter above…Fundamentally, you are attempting to show him why he is wrong (I don’t think there is anything wrong with that) by telling him that he shouldn’t tell anyone else that they are wrong. (So it seems to me, perhaps I’ve misinterpreted your post.)

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) June 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Hi Thomas~ As you wish ~:-) But no, not telling him, sharing my observation. Perhaps if I had used the term “one’s own” instead of “yours” it would have communicated better.

RebeccaS June 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

Please take a look at
http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com
and
http://www.thevenusproject.com
for long term solutions to the societal problems

Cayse July 25, 2010 at 5:56 am

I believe activism is a normal reaction to current society. People feel aware enough to feel where society needs improvements, and attempt to modify culture for the benefit of everyone. Just as everyone has a different taste in art/drama/music, everyone has a different approach to improving society.

However, society can be much more dangerous than a/d/m. Society is intensely personal, therefore people are easily moved by their emotional attachment. In fact, many cultures teach people to have an emotional attachment to itself. This is also natural, since social trends can sometimes lead to a life or death situation for people.

With so many different approaches to improving society, how is society going to improve anything collectively? The approach to “un-improving society” is found in maintaining the status quo. So “not adapting” becomes a tool of improvement. You do not have to call something “profoundly sick”, you can call it “outdated thinking” or whatever you like. There are many degrees of “not adapting”, some more comfortable than others. I believe the goal is to make your own improvements and help others make theirs.

I also believe that it is important that we all express our individual opinions on improving this place, cynical as they may be. Some people like jazz, others heavy metal. Is harmony not the common goal? Will “not adapting” lead us to that goal? An improvement shared is an improvement doubled!

In my opinion any idea that doesn’t involve harming people is a good start. We have a short way to go. :)

G October 20, 2010 at 8:49 am

He meant exactly what he said: when you see a contented-looking person who has a nice job, a healthy body and an attractive spouse, you are apt to think “what a good, well-adjusted person.” When you see a person who is unhappy, unhealthy, unemployed and lonely, you are apt to think “what a bad, maladjusted person.” But it is no measure, because of the distorting effects of the corrupted social context in which people are judged.

We should be able to learn this just from the innumerable celebrity and political scandals, but we don’t generally make the inference, do we? Few so-called Christians see the significance of Christ hanging out with society’s underclass, not with the hoi-polloi who were considered the good, nice, spiritual people in their own lifetimes.

Much of what we now take for granted in this ‘kinder, safer society’ was won by activism: it is not only useful for small-scale issues – that is like saying that warfare only defeats small-scale enemies. Maybe there really is a right time for revolution, just as there are times when individual and national combat is inevitable. But Krishnamurti is right that things will always go sour Soviet-style if ‘revolution’ is driven by an us-versus-them mentality. This is true, and you are right that many people have a warped sort of bunker mentality regarding other people and ‘the powers that be’. I roll my eyes when I read people excoriating ‘the sheeple’ even though I kind of half-agree that people can be sheeplike. I just don’t think it’s helpful to have this hatred and contempt of them. If many people are dumb and pliant, well, there’s a cause for that; it wasn’t freely chosen any more than a dog chooses to be trained by its owner.

Krishnamurti was explicitly political and revolutionary in his talk – he did not want people to retreat into an inward-looking life of spiritual revolution and outward conformity; he created radical schools that were intended to create radical people who would transform society. I visited one of them – seems no one really understands his vision now he is gone.

If you think that you can change the world for the better through the pseudo-participatory Democracy of the age, you are wrong. Middle-of-the-road political thinking and actions are a pressure-valve, a slight compromise, that allow the continuing rape of the world’s resources and the exploitation of the poor. It prevents mass debate from ever questioning the fundamentals, the obvious, because that would be deemed ‘extremist’. On the other hand, if you think you can change the world for the better by smashing the windows of McDonald’s you are also wrong. Krishnamurti said that the right way would emerge from attaining the right mind. He did not try to predict or define what that right way might look like, ever.

Janos November 15, 2010 at 9:00 am

…Evolution has never been driven by anything but adaptation to the current environment…

This is an over statement.
One of the things that makes us different from our animal ancestors is that we rather adapt the environment itself than adapting to *it*.
But here is the root of our problem as well. We take that our environment to be adapted includes our fellow human beings.
So the more ambitious members of the species have, throughout history, been finding ways and means of controlling and exploiting the less ambitious majority.
So what?
Well, self-improvement practices include awareness expansion. Once we become aware of this inherited evolutionary characteristics, we have a chance of switching off that gene.
Then our “conscious evolution” as a species can begin.

Damon Fiandt April 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Seems you haven’t read the book from which the quotation is lifted. It is quite clear exactly what he meant by the statement. Obviously you don’t agree, but semantically the statement is hard to argue against. To be adjusted is defined as ‘to be arranged or changed as to match, conform or function in a specified way.’ Hence, to be well adjusted would mean to match, conform or function at a good, skillful, proficient, etc. level. According to Krishnamurti, society is the relationship between people. So society could be on a global, national, local level, or in self defined small groups or even just you and me. Now imagine you and I find ourselves involved with members of the mafia. I assume you will agree the mafia is a sick society for the sake of my example. If we are well adjusted to the mentality that any heinous act is appropriate as long as it is within the norms of the mafia family, then we are clearly not in good mental health. If I am in society with a person who is a serial killing cannibal, and I am well adjusted to that society that would indicate that I am a well adjusted serial killing cannibal. Now if you agree with this, then by extension it is true no matter the extent of the society.

Peace December 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm

This is your opinion and you are entitled to express yourself but do not deceive yourself into believing that you are being objective or fair in your summary and harsh judgment of activists as “snarky and misanthropic.”

You are deceived, David, most activists are empaths and comprise 15- 20% of the popultion of more perceptive and highly sensitive human beings who have a deep love of humanity and are hurt when they see an 80% majority who lack this gift and fail to treat others gently. Krishnamurti speaks the truth clearly and beautifully. I disagree with your derision of his quote and of sensitive people trying to make a difference ou are pretty self-important and ego involved for judging activists who actually take action toward a better world. Peace.

patrick January 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm

The middle path might establish authentic self-expression as individualistic activism without the dogma and without the drama of groupspeak. I think it is easy to get tripped up in semantics. Have you ever noticed how infants seem to respond well to those who express loving compassion in their presence. Whether quoting Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world”, or Michael Jackson, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking if he’ll change his ways”, it all begins with you.

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Sebastien April 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm

I think you are wrong on that point :
“The “sickness” is not that some nasty people have come into power, but that human beings across the board are still working primarily from their stone-age instincts. The detractors of The Establishment are just as consumed by their own needs for personal power, righteousness, security and social dominance as the people they so proudly hate.”

you are right, as krishnamurti said, that we are all consumed by our own needs, and that’s it’s normal. but you are wrong in saying that we are as ill as the criminals who hold the power, and that’s exactly what’s they want you to believe, that you are as bad as them, because all they do is to just follow their desire, just like you. the difference is you don’t desire to dominate large population, or control everything, nor are you going to kill or force people into misery to get what you want.

btw, what krishnamurti meant is that our society is built on violence. he said so several times. he even literally said that by just being part of this society, you contributed to war. he also criticized what is deemed “respectable” in our society. it’s not because it’s respectable that it’s right.

Garrett April 30, 2013 at 10:38 pm

“Holding out for smarter people to be in power” isn’t the only alternative to accepting things the way they are. Revolution is circular, and power corrupts. I appreciate the distinction Chris Hedges makes between “revolution” and “rebellion.” Revolution, he says, is about “establishing a new power structure.” Rebellion is about “perpetual revolt and the permanent alienation from power.”

Something to consider is Dunbar’s Number. From Wikipedia: “Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.” The number would seem to be around 150 (close-knit ties to 10 or so, and loose connections with the rest). I doubt our species will ever evolve to the point where we “can maintain stable social relationships” among, say, 320 million (the US population). Along those lines, I’d encourage everyone to read Jeff Vail’s book “A Theory of Power,” which can be read for free online (http://www.jeffvail.net/2005/03/theory-of-power-online.html).

“The mentality that created this mess is not the one that will be able to clean it up.”

I agree, which is why I think simply “adjusting” to – in your words – ” this insane, dysfunctional society” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2Xh5eN2fXY) is a bit simplistic.

As Howard Zinn pointed out, if greed and hatred are part of human nature, so are unselfishness and love. “Human nature” is disproportionately linked to undesirable characteristics (at least in the Western World…probably because people have an understandable inclination to justify behavior that they feel uneasy about). It’s good to remember, as well, that much of the world lives much differently (and more sanely, I’d say) than most of “Western Civilization.” It is possible to resist that which might be perceived as “normal human behavior.” Of course, it’s not easy to do so when one’s livelihood depends upon accepting (at least in part) one’s role in a particular “society” (a term that can be defined in many different ways).

I’m no purist, and I acknowledge that I do things that cause harm (purchasing oil and driving, for example)…for me, it’s all about reducing the harm I cause.

All that said, I do agree that “being the change” (consuming less and consuming with a conscience, for instance) is the healthiest, most productive way to live…with a little civil disobedience thrown in for good measure.

Garrett May 2, 2013 at 9:35 am

Hedges added, “It is only in a state of rebellion that we can hold fast to moral imperatives that prevent a descent into tyranny.”

Garrett April 30, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I’ll add to my comment that is awaiting moderation this point: “linear human progress” is a simplistic myth.

Anyway, I agree that contempt for individuals or our species as a whole is unhealthy. Contempt for certain behaviors/choices, on the other hand…

derpyQ June 29, 2013 at 12:08 am

I just wrote a huge essay in response to your article and, like an idiot, closed the window thinking it was something else. Whatever. So please forgive my lack of grammar and structure in the following text, as I’m far too annoyed to write neatly or even correctly :p.

gist: your post reads like pseudoscience and more than a little resembles religious thinking. firstly i lose focus when you invent figures like “5 million years” with regards to the evolution of our instincts. secondly, biologists wouldn’t equate evolution to adaptation as you have more or less done. maybe epigenetics instead of evolution, at a stretch. evolution isn’t conscious, and even if it were we couldn’t make ourselves evolve on the spot. if we’re driven by caveman instincts as you suggest, then it would also be impossible for us to know how to pick out mating partners who would help us produce “evolved” humans. your definition of evolution is incorrect, and moreover even if it were, it would still be irrelevant to your discussion.

discontentment is necessary so that we don’t eventually homogenize into a massive pool of braindead conflict-fearing sheep. it asserts our uniqueness as humans, and lying to ourselves that we love our half-baked societies would undermine any efforts to progress humanity. even wars, which i obviously don’t agree with, have led to a wealth of human development. it’s when we’re allowed be fully individual that our productivity and happiness increases. as long as we’re unique and able to critically think, we can never be in a “perfect” society (for long). particularly in today’s fragmented societies that are attempting to integrate and standardise culture and other things, it would be a terrible time for us to start being quiet about perceived wrongs. moreover, your post is clearly written with the arrogant assumption that you, at least, have transcended normal human instincts into some kind of enlightenment. how did you get there? not surprisingly, not everyone is in a position to agree with you, and not everyone is as comfortable as you either. your post either ignores or endorses prostitution, homelessness, dictatorships, among other things. i just can’t imagine how the idea that humans as a group should or even could be “grateful” with their artificial cages made by strangers is not disturbing and miserable. imagine if you saw the world around you as a farm, and you were cattle-prodded so that you behaved correctly. Periodically, your more useless friends are killed for meat. many people obviously do find the world around them just as intolerable as this, which is why it is impossible for them to put down their banners. for the sake of so many things including our individual rights, i find your position very much untenable.

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Arne September 15, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I would comment that a fundamental flaw fiat currency in combination with % sign,It creates false intentions/motivation, cause passion for something is put second to money.
And if only first place counts then we are allready screwed.

The question for me is how do you get rid of expansion designed ecomical system?and replace it with a stable system, while still support growth of population if wanted/needed.Without screwing over the people in the system that is out dated.

paul December 2, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Mental illness is the state of mind being dis@eased. But its not terminal and its not uncommon. Most people are not completely healthily balanced, emotionally and in turn mentally. Unchecked and isolated this will become serious. Where is the safeguard in this world….where most people are looking out for themselves. How do you suggest to someone they need help…..how do we know we need help? These days its not the exception…it is the rule. So many titles thrown around to say you have this or that, more than not this entitles one to act badly. Not get better.

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The Little Violet January 28, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Do not go to the Illuminati or anything like that and don’t listen to the person named Illuminati! Only to God who loves you and heals you. The devil doesn’t heal and if he does, he does it to deceive. The devil is a deceiver and leads people to despair. God doesn’t do anything to deceive you at all. He is good always and He leads people to life everlasting.

http://www.txstatecatholic.org/

Kim March 5, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Evolution doesn’t necessarily mean adaptation. One can “live above” humanity, feign adaptation, but not accept the energy humans create. There is a higher calling, and it’s not the people surrounding you. Create your own energy, and don’t respond to others. The real power comes from within oneself, not outside oneself.

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David June 22, 2010 at 10:52 pm

You were, I assume and perhaps I’m wrong, trying to show people that it is more important that they look at themselves rather than rage at the world. To me, this seems like trying to change the world for the better, albeit in a much different, and I think better way, than most people try to do.

Honestly, world-changing or behavior-changing is not my goal. I have improved my quality of life greatly by trying to make sense of humanity. It has been an empowering worldview for me and so far a lot of people are telling me it has been for them too. Negative feedback helps me re-examine my views, and positive feedback reassures me that I’m not crazy.

At the bottom line, I am only trying to evolve as an individual, and see who else is on the same page. Influencing others is a side-effect.

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