The Perils of Trading on Opinion

We are each one of us entitled to our own opinions, viewpoints and paradigms .. so we say and so we're told. The trouble is .. our opinions, viewpoints and theories significantly shape and determine the choices we make and the lifestyles we strive towards .. and none of these, though intangible at the outset, are without consequence.

"Of course you're entitled to your opinion."

It rolls off our tongues as if our viewpoints were a benign innocuous force. Are they? If we are indeed entitled to our viewpoints as we so readily assert, what right do those who view the world as inert and essentially a mass of resources for human consumption and exploitation have to determine both the present and the future of those who see the world as alive, precious and in need of protection .. a world where trees, rivers and salmon are not resources but instead relatives? To be fair I could argue the reverse and ask what right do those who see the world as alive, precious and in need of protection .. a world where trees, rivers and salmon are not resources but instead relatives have to determine both the present and the future of those who view the world as inert and essentially a mass of resources for human consumption and exploitation?

  photo by Jason Rosewell

photo by Jason Rosewell

These questions invite reflection on the dilemma of the survival of the human race. Where one positions themselves in terms of their relationship to life determines a great deal: either a person holds the care of life central OR they hold their personal needs, inclinations and interests as central. The way that a person lives and relates is an indicator of their orientation and the way that a society runs and is run is also an indicator of its core values. This is not to say that personal and human needs must be sacrificed in order to care for life. It is to say however that placing one's primary attention on human needs without concretely holding the care for life as a core and central value will more likely than not result in citizens losing both the interest and capacity to care for life. All we need do is look around us. It's already happened. 

How true is it then that we are entitled to our views and opinions and the manifest lifestyle choices that flow from those views? The lens through which decisions are made inside a corporate boardroom or widget manufacturer is markedly different from the lens through which decisions are made from inside a mud and grass dwelling built entirely from materials found in the immediate surroundings and adhering to a thousand year old way of life. We, in the modern technological world, pride ourselves on the freedom to think whatever we want without recognizing that our views and their associated actions spring largely from an unexamined lens and mindset. 

In 1896 Merrill E. Gates, member of the US Board of Indian Commissioners and advocating for educating Indians in the ways of the white man spoke the following in a speech on Indian reform:

 “We have, to begin with the absolute need of awakening in the savage Indian broader desires and ampler wants. To bring him out of savagery into citizenship we must make the Indian more intelligently selfish before we can make him unselfishly intelligent. We need to awaken in him wants. In his dull savagery he must be touched by the wings of the divine angel of discontent. The desire for property of his own may become an intense educating force. The wish for a home of his own awakens him to new efforts. Discontent with the teepee and the starving rations of the Indian camp in winter is needed to get the Indian out of the blanket and into trousers — and trousers with pockets in them, and with a pocket that aches to be filled with dollars.” 

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How are Gates' words any different from present day marketing strategies attempting to generate wants in audiences that will turn them into loyal customers? Does this one precious world that we live in, with its non-negotiable conditions as determined by nature, have room for the ever growing myriad of viewpoints being acted upon where the primary criteria is that they don’t violate human made laws? And what are the long range consequences when human laws are in large part underwritten by corporate interests and the dominant culture consumer machine that make it all too easy to override and violate the laws of nature?

   The Tower  card of the Tarot deck is commonly interpreted as meaning danger, crisis, destruction, and liberation. It is associated with sudden unforseen change.

The Tower card of the Tarot deck is commonly interpreted as meaning danger, crisis, destruction, and liberation. It is associated with sudden unforseen change.

I'm entitled to my opinion. Let me say it another way: I'm entitled to my views. I'm entitled to my prejudices. I'm entitled to my biases. I'm entitled to my attitude. I'm entitled to my truth. I'm entitled to my judgement, I'm entitled to my reaction. I'm entitled to my assumptions. I'm entitled to my beliefs. I'm entitled to my conclusions .. and I'm entitled to all manner of strategies to remain unchallenged where each of these are concerned. I can sign up for pretty much any personal development program and come away with a fortified sense of self and strengthened capacity to assert when pressed: I have a need for respect for my autonomy and my views. End of conversation .. which is what typically how it goes.

The colliding of differing opinions in most cases signals the end of engagement and the unwillingness to think and wonder beyond the horizons of what we have established as true in our own minds. Because to think beyond the safety of our own horizon is risky business. We might see things differently .. and seeing things differently messes with our capacity to remain in our lives, jobs, relationships, etc. as they are structured. It represents upheaval and chaos. And most of us don't like change unless it's change we personally invite. Opinions, attitudes, beliefs uphold and justify our choices and actions. They are the scaffolding of our day to day lives. 

But what happens when we don't regularly check and test the scaffolding that our lives are built upon?

Is it not the obligation of a responsible culture to shape the viewpoints of its citizens in accordance with natural law? .. in accordance with the way of life as it exists and must exist in order to remain vital and capable of sustaining life? Instead of shaping them to be bound to a system and status quo that is exploitative and harmful to life?

Every day the world speaks a thousand languages about how things are for those willing to listen. Clouds, winds, tides, seasons, birdsong, bees, fish, grasses, woodland .. the exchange is enormously rich. The consequence of being removed from that direct contact and the naturally occurring ways of engaging that accompany uncontaminated direct contact is disconnection .. a disconnection that sets the stage for us to think whatever we wish and call it an achievement instead of recognizing it as poverty. We call it freedom of thought and speech when in actuality it is symptomatic of disconnection from the real and living world.

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The war between man and nature is no longer obvious to us as it probably once was. We now live in a post-war era of man against nature. Or more accurately .. we live inside the trauma of having gone to war with nature and tragically prevailed, at least for now. What does the trauma look like? It's hard to recognize at first, especially given how many seek out many of its seductive self-serving benefits: It is the ability to purchase anything you like, go anywhere you want and schedule your time in any way you wish, or to perceive these things are worthwhile pursuits. It is ease, convenience and endless choice. It is technological solutions to presenting challenges. And a good number of us are either chasing the perfect lifestyle, revelling in it or looking for ways to add to it. That's the trauma .. and it doesn't much look like trauma as we typically frame it. We understand trauma as violence, suicide, depression, addiction, mental illness, etc. I'm suggesting that these more obvious ailments are symptomatic of living in a society where having or wanting beyond what is basic and sane for humans is promoted as a way of life. And that it is the promoting and striving for this way of life that IS the trauma.

As author Martín Prechtel writes in his book The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive, "The word 'irreality' is not intended to signify what is usually meant by 'unreal', 'not real', or 'ethereal'. Irreality is used to denote the strange and unfortunate collective condition whereby an utterly unhealthy, non-sane, unnatural, totally synthetic, technologically choreographed environment with no awareness or regard for the Holy in Nature becomes the cultural environment of a people who, without questionning it, live in its trance, accepting it all as perfectly normal."

The values of a capitalist society pave the way for the real estate of opinion to be as real, no actually more real, than solid ground. 
  artwork by Christian Schloevery

artwork by Christian Schloevery

Opinion isn't a display of intelligence or cleverness. Opinion is born out of the necessity to establish a ground to stand on when real connection to real ground has been severed and lost. Whether or not an individual or societal lens is solid is irrelevant because the real ground that we rely on to live is nowhere to be seen in our day to day lives as something to be respected, revered and cared for. The values of a capitalist society pave the way for the real estate of opinion to be as real, no actually more real, than solid ground. 

I remember conversations with my grandmother Alma. She lived until she was 90 and raised seven children. I was 33 when she died. In my late twenties I had enthusiastically begun to pursue psychology, spirituality and personal development. I recall how our conversations invariably focused on real things .. the weather, what family members and neighbours were doing, sewing projects, what it was like growing up in her time, how times were changing. I remember feeling sorry for her and the fact that she hadn't had the opportunity to delve into psychology and spirituality as I was doing. I was also somewhat bored with our conversations, wanting instead to delve into the endlessly stimulating terrain of abstract thought and inner worlds.

  Woman Washing Clothes In Old Fashioned Wooden Tub And Washboard in 1930s

Woman Washing Clothes In Old Fashioned Wooden Tub And Washboard in 1930s

I shake my head when I think of it now .. the sheer arrogance of feeling sorry for her .. not seeing that I was in fact no different than early settlers pejoratively describing indigenous peoples as "primitive" .. a term intended to discredit and infantilize peoples who have not abandoned their traditional ways of living and were slow to see the merits of trading in their antiquated ways for modern conveniences. My grandmother was too busy to cultivate opinions. It doesn't mean she didn't have any but raising seven children during the great depression would have bound her to life in a way that would have left little room for her to entertain anything beyond what her hands were attending to .. whether it was preparing food, grocery shopping, mending clothes, laundering by hand, disciplining children, going to church .. her life was lived on a track that provided little in the way of options. 

With the very recent and exponential rise in technological developments, we can turn almost any thought and dream into reality. There is very little that a person cannot accomplish if they have the will, resources and materials. And where resources and materials are not available due to circumstances involving injustice, social justice activists are frequently engaged in helping people have access to those resources and materials. 

I'm not saying we should banish opinion and never think independently again. I'm saying we need to think critically about our lenses, frameworks and opinions and and that we need to test them regularly in the context of what serves life if in fact we want future generations to live on a healthy planet. Are the opinions I hold dear ultimately life-serving or merely me-serving? And does my definition of  life-serving refer to human life or ALL life? In other words, when expressing an opinion, am I placing the spot light on myself and what I would like? Or am I placing it on life and what life needs?

There's no doubt that the human mind is a wondrous thing. What a gift to be able to think, imagine and create! But untethered to life, to its realities and consequences, the mind can lose its way, perceive itself to have free reign and set things into motion that produce tragic and life threatening outcomes. Is it my opinion? No I can't say that it is. I'm simply taking the time to report what I see. 

  photo by Vincent van Zalinge

photo by Vincent van Zalinge