David, not you again! After our previous chastening we never expected to see you again. Pundit David Brooks striving to distinguish reality from illusion has made progress as his essays in The New York Times have revealed. His progress, however slight, does reveal that he has a good heart and nothing is more important than that. We admire his courageous pursuit of the truth so we will briefly join his crusade lending whatever assistance we can.
David has a worldview (beliefs, attitudes and values), not atypical of his fellow intellectuals, which acts as a barrier to the profound insights necessary to understand the behavior of his fellow Americans which tend to vex him. We are also concerned with our fellow citizens who seem bent on self-destruction. However, what seems to be happening is not what’s really happening. American intellectuals (like you David) are hamstrung by embracing conventional illusions related to the American community, the identity of most of its citizens and their behavior.
For example, as a believer in “American exceptionalism” as expressed in our Constitution you begin a recent column in the Times with: “They began the Constitution with the phrase, ‘We the People.’ We are all one thing—a people, a nation, a collective.” (1) Ideally yes, but we have never in our history behaved as if we believed that. What most Americans believe in is the other.
You are beginning to intuit the reality of Oneness, i.e. that all of Creation, not just Americans, is interdependent, interconnected and interrelated such that damage to one fiber of that web damages the whole. Following this realization with an even more profound insight you could leap the chasm between illusion and reality with a paradigm shift that could lead to the universal “Gospel.” In other words, the whole of Creation is “exceptional” and in fact “perfect.”
Furthermore, when you reveal that you see the problems confronting Americans as a recently occurring narcissism, you obscure the deeper understanding of the structure of human consciousness. “Over the decades, that sense of we-ness began to turn into a sense of I-ness or you-ness. You can see it in today’s commencement clichés: Follow your passion, march to the beat of your own drummer, listen to your own heart, you do you.” (1)
Given that it is our intuition, our heartfelt guidance leads us to what Maslow labeled a “peak experience” and Jung called individuation. “Depth-psychologists” labeled it self-actualization. And finally, Joseph Campbell advised us to “follow our bliss” on the path to self-transformation to creating a more moral and compassionate society. So maybe those commencement speakers knew what they were talking about regarding what needs to happen to stop the implosion of the American community and indeed the Global Village.
At this point we recommend to all seekers of truth to give the brain a rest and turn our gaze in the direction of beauty. Truth and beauty are, after all, two sides of the same coin. David, you would do well to grab a cab to 53rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Artist and professor of philosophy Adrian Piper, whose work on race and identity in America is currently (July 2018) being shown in a retrospective that occupies the entire sixth floor of MoMA, could offer some guidance to you. (Her brilliantly insightful observations on the nature of reality are also echoed in the content of Simple Reality.)
Speaking about one of her installations in the retrospective entitled “Registry” she responded that it probably arises “from my jaded attitude toward institutional authority—to the despair induced by recognizing at a deep level, that the human institutions that are supposed to civilize and prepare us for a stable community anchored in shared interests and values are not working, and never have worked, because institutional professions of commitment to those values almost always mask a bottomless pit of need to accumulate, preserve and extend power.” (2) Or in other words, the false selves of those who administer the policies in our institutions are preoccupied with the unconscious pursuit of power.
You, David, are beginning to grasp why Piper’s observations reveal the deeper truth that artists, often living and creating in the present moment, are privy to. “There is no acknowledgment of the parts of ourselves that we don’t choose but inherit—family, race, social roles, historical legacies of oppression, our bodies, the habits that are handed down to us by our common culture.” (1) This is great! Now let’s analyze it and see why it is a brief glimpse of the wisdom inherent in all members of our species.
All people on our planet are born into an ongoing story that also determines their identity which, in turn drives their behavior. Only the most determined among us can choose a healthier narrative or even realize that such a choice exists. “Each of us has to define our own ‘concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’” (1) Wow! Good job David. Keep up the good work—you’ll get there.
Insight # 27: Even if all our scientific questions are answered, our problem is still not touched at all. –Ludwig Wittgenstein
- See What a Character in Science and Philosophy, in print and also found on this blog, by Roy Charles Henry.
- See That’s Easy for You to Say in Why Am I Here, in print and also found on this blog, by Roy Charles Henry.
- See Values in The ABC’s of Simple Reality, in print and also found on this blog, by Roy Charles Henry.
- Brooks, David. “Kennedy and Privatizing Meaning.” The New York Times. June 29, 2018, page A-25.
- Williams, Thomas Chatterton. “The Artist is Not Present.” The New York Times Magazine. July 1, 2018, page 49.