EINSTEIN ONCE said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” For this reason, the imbalances prevailing in our current society cannot be corrected unless we elevate our level of collective consciousness. Fortunately, the solutions to the challenges that humanity faces today are already in existence, and hence they do not have to be reinvented. They are scattered among all the different cultures, so that for each one that is not heard, we have a series of challenges that will remain unresolved.
The loss of values, gender violence, the generation gap, religious and market fundamentalism, materialism, social aggression, the warmongering nature of the state and of the oppressed groups, the environmental crisis, climate change, natural disasters, the food crisis, the quest for unlimited growth, the usurpation of resources, war, the real and invented pandemics, health emergencies, the mirage of an unsustainable system… All these are connected in some way or another and they are the symptomatic manifestations of a dysfunctional society. They stem from an imbalance, and as a result they can only be corrected by the restoration of a state of social homeostasis.
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Social homeostasis refers to a society’s ability to restore balance after having lost it for various reasons. However, to attain this state, it is first necessary to identify what in society is out of balance. Secondly, in this imbalance we must determine which end of the scale we have been favoring. This will give us an indication of where we stand individually as well as collectively. Moreover, we will be able to pinpoint the direction in which we must proceed for harmony to be restored. Perhaps, the best way to communicate this idea is through a short story:
Siddhartha Gautama, with the aim of attaining enlightenment, took asceticism to one of its extremes. He deprived himself of all pleasure and almost died from starvation after having limited his daily intake of food to a single green leaf or a walnut. He ate so little that one day he fell unconscious while bathing in the river and almost drowned. This incident led him to reconsider the extreme path that he had undertaken.
Siddhartha Gautama’s birth in a palace allowed him to live a life surrounded by all types of luxuries. At the age of twenty-nine, he renounced it all. Thus, the future Buddha veered from one extreme to the other: an indulgent life in the palace to asceticism and absolute deprivation of pleasure. This led him to finally realize that the appropriate path to liberation was through the intermediate point of two extremes (the middle way).
It is said that his inspiration to seek the middle way to liberation came one day while he was listening to a melody. It was sung by a group of dancers who came from the temple dedicated to Indra. The song said:
Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned;
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high,
the string overstretched breaks, and the music flies;
The string over slack is dumb,
and the music dies.1
Shortly after discovering this great truth, Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment, and became Buddha.
Similarly, we must locate the intermediate point between the two extremes before balance can be restored. For Buddha, this was indulgence on the one hand and austerity on the other. In today’s society, we are faced with a similar imbalance since the minority enjoys an indulgent life while the majority is forced to live in austerity. That is, they must survive on almost nothing. However, our predicaments do not result from such disparity, but rather this disparity is just the manifestation of something deeper. The true cause lies in a system that favors the masculine end of the scale in detriment of his feminine counterpart, and favors the dynamic expression of this masculinity in detriment of its static dual.
This imbalance has given rise to a patriarchal system that promotes the male extreme and that is guided by the masculine values of competitiveness, rationality, and formality. Furthermore, it is built on the pursuit of unlimited growth, with growth being a dynamic expression of Nature.
Masculine in detriment of feminine
THE SYSTEM OF VALUES that prevails in today’s society is biased towards the masculine end of the scale. This becomes clearly evident if we consider that our society is based on competitiveness as opposed to the feminine attribute of collaboration; in formality in contrast to spontaneity; and in rationality as opposed to the feminine intuition. In fact, linguistics demonstrates that each of these masculine attributes, unlike their feminine counterparts, has an opposite that denotes negativity and that it can be easily constructed by just adding a prefix that denies it such as in- or ir-.
For instance, ‘competitiveness’ denotes the quality of being competent. Its opposite is ‘incompetent’, meaning “the inability to properly perform a specific task.” However, it is impossible to attach a prefix to negate ‘collaboration’, which is its feminine counterpart (incollaboration???).
The adjective ‘formal’ is negatively expressed by its antonym, ‘informal’ to refer to something lacking of formality2. Meanwhile, it is once again not possible to form the opposite of spontaneity―typically a feminine attribute―by just adding a prefix (inspontaneous???).
Finally, the opposite of the adjective ‘rational’ is ‘irrational’. It denotes “an individual who lacks reason,” which impels us to seek rationality as something good and desirable. In contrast, it is impossible to negate the feminine ‘intuition’ in the same manner (inintuition???). As a matter of fact, among the synonyms of intuitive are: instinctive, unconscious, and rash. Is not having intuition something good and desirable?
Thus, in our quest to seek the intermediate point between two extremes, language leads us to compare masculine values with their negative polar expression rather than with their feminine pair. As a consequence, we come to perceive these opposites as the only possible counterparts and hence the masculine attribute as the only viable option. This makes our current society biased towards an extreme built on competitiveness, formality and rationality.
In order to locate the medium point, we must compare the masculine attributes with their female pairs and not their masculine opposites. If we could only accomplish this, then we would realize that our society demands less competitiveness and more collaboration, less formality and more spontaneity, less rationality and more intuition.
Dynamic in detriment of static
SIMILARLY, THE BALANCE between the dual concepts of static and dynamic is biased towards the dynamic attribute. We speak of “steady growth” as if it such thing were possible, as if there exists anything in nature that grows forever. As we are well aware, living things grow up to a certain size, and thereafter they remain steady or simply die. In contrast, the current financial system is structured in such a way that if it yields no growth, there is an economic crisis, which in turn provokes shortages and ultimately a collapse.
In the khuyas (power stones)3, the Cauldron khuya teaches us that shortage is the result of greed, while generosity produces abundance. This explains how an economic system that thrives on greed ultimately culminates in shortages. We still believe in the words of Adam Smith, who said that through its “invisible hand” the market could transmute greed into abundance. However, this hand has been powerless in changing a law in nature that states that only generosity can lead to abundance, and never the desire to accumulate and possess.
Another current example of this unbalanced dynamic lies is the concept of “sustainable development,” in which we have combined two terms that deny each other (an oxymoron4) to create the illusion that it is possible to continue growing forever. The word develop derives from French ‘développer’, based on the Latin prefix ‘des-’ meaning ‘undo-’ and ‘veloper’ meaning ‘to wrap up’ and thought to be of Celtic origin. Development, synonym of progress, is a concept that began to be used in the real-estate sector towards the end of the XIX century. It denoted the possibility of unwrapping the potential of a land as if unrolling a scroll.
In most cases, to reveal the potential of the land implies clearing vegetation to spread cement over fertile soil. As a result, the vegetation becomes the envelope that is to be discarded and the cement becomes the potential to be unfolded. In this light, we must ask whether sustainable development is possible, bearing in mind that the vegetation or the animals which depended on it are the source of our sustenance. Aren’t we sacrificing our future source of nourishment when we surround ourselves with concrete…? Is this rational? Perhaps yes, but my intuition tells me that it is not the right thing to do.
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, in order to restore a state of balance or social homeostasis as well as natural homeostasis, we must:
By following this advise, there is a good chance to find a solution to all the troubles currently affecting our dysfunctional society. To make it possible nothing new needs to be invented. After all, it is precisely our inventions that contradicted the laws of nature, driving us to the current unbalanced situation.
2012, Marc Torra (Urus) for www.mastay.info Translated from Spanish by Darshani Singh and revised by the author.