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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 10/28/19

The Trouble with Modernity

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"When I was very young, I ran and played on the slopes and in the meadows, carefree and without many duties or responsibilities. On these wonderful days, when it was warm enough in our valley, I sometime ran around naked with the other children just for the joy of it."

Tashi Tsering, The Struggle for Modern Tibet -- pg. 6

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Tradition

In his autobiography, "The Struggle for Modern Tibet", Tashi Tsering describes his experiences as Tibet developed from a traditional, hierarchical society under a Buddhist theocracy to a country that was committed to becoming a modern industrialized society under the rule of Maoist and then post-Maoist China. As an advocate of universal education and the modernization of his homeland, he was not entirely unhappy with the occupation of his country by China. He felt that Tibet needed the jolt that China provided to move from a traditional, pre-literate society that was not much interested in change, to a modern industrialized nation. Despite some ugly experiences along the way, he came to see the net outcome as gain.

Is it possible that he was wrong? Perhaps there is a fatal flaw in the project that dominates all nations at this point in history: the struggle to become modern, technologically driven, industrialized powers.

Although he was a believer in education, science, technology, and the modern project, Tashi was not oblivious to the joys that were provided by the traditional society into which he was born. Here is his description of his childhood:

My family was relatively well off by local standards, and I had a carefree youth with little or no work until about the age of seven, when I started doing odd jobs around the house. My first major responsibility came when I was eight years old and my father told me I was to work as a shepherd in the summers like the older boys. I was thrilled. My job really was not hard, but I felt great pride. I had to help drive the animals (about three hundred sheep and goats) into the mountains each day, stay with them while they grazed, and bring them back in the evening. In summer the days were long, the skies were immense, and the mountain valleys were beautiful. I loved the feeling that I was doing something that mattered to my family. But I have to admit that it was mainly just fun, because I met many other young herders like myself, and there was always something to do while watching the herd graze. When the weather was hot, we shepherds played in the icy streams. And despite the dominance of Buddhism in our society, with its strong emphasis on the sanctity of life, we often hurled stones at birds and rabbits with our slingshots, and sometimes we even caught fish in the streams with our hands. When we spotted a fish hiding we reached out with cupped hands, careful that no sudden movement frightened it. Then, holding our breath, we would grab as fast as we could. Usually we missed, but occasionally we got lucky and were able to fling a fish onto the bank. We boys thought that was a great feat and would immediately set up a makeshift hearth of stones and dung, which we lit with the flint strikers we all wore. I can still recall the glorious taste of the freshly cooked fish. On quieter days we spun wool on simple handmade spindles or sewed boots for the winter. We ran, occasionally fought, and mostly played and enjoyed the delicious feeling that we were on the way to becoming men while our charges grazed on the mountain meadows! Herding was serious work since our animals represented the major portion of our family's wealth, but for us kids, it was mostly fun.

Tashi, The Struggle for Modern Tibet, pp. 8 and 9

It would be hard to improve on such a childhood.

Despite the happiness of his early years, Tashi felt a discontent, a restlessness that he identified with the desire to become literate. His father had attained some degree of literacy. Tashi was not sure what level of competence he had achieved, but he recalled watching him make letters, and was fascinated. He wanted to have this skill himself, but he wasn't sure why. In his traditional Tibetan society, literacy did not give a person any great advantage.

From as early as I can remember I wanted to learn to read and write. This desire was not common in our village or in the rest of Tibet. There were no newspapers or radios, and although most people were illiterate, that was not a problem for them or for the village as far as anybody could see. In our tradition-bound world there was no need for literacy in the modern sense. The community and the culture told you who you were and what to do. There were clear and prescribed roles for persons of every age and gender ...

Tashi, The Struggle for Modern Tibet, pg. 9

Tashi felt that the skills of reading and writing would open new horizons for him. And he was not mistaken. Language skills -- specifically reading and writing -- did serve as a doorway to new worlds for him as it has done for countless people. But this expansion of one's world does not always lead to greater happiness. Indeed, it can be argued that greater language skills open us to ideologies, and that ideologies, of all kinds, place a layer between us and reality, and that any such layer between us and reality dulls the vividness and intensity of our experience. (By ideologies I mean theories about reality, ideas about how it is all put together, and what, if anything, it means.)

Is the taste of freshly cooked fish ever as wonder-filled as when we are children? Is a sort of ideological alienation, accompanied by a dulling of our experience, the inevitable price we have to pay to gain the benefits of education and modern life?

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Write for Politics of Health and work with David Werner on issues of health. Worked in the field of "Mental Health" all my life. Am now retired. Jim
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James Hunter

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Politics always play a role in what we as groups decide to believe. People have something to gain or lose. I think this is true even on the very large-scale issues such as the over-all world views that become dominant in different epochs. Being aware of this probably gives us a better chance for keeping everyone, even ourselves, honest. The struggles against the church were relevant with regard to the shape that science took in its early years.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 3:19:52 AM

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James Hunter

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Erratum: The renowned physicist/mathematician that I called Jean James, should have been James Jeans.

Submitted on Monday, Oct 28, 2019 at 12:09:26 PM

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Derryl Hermanutz

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Great article! Identifying the metaphysical roots of the problems of modernity - the scientific materialist worldview in which only "its" are real and "thous" are irrelevant 'woo' - points to the solution: rediscovery of our essential nature as conscious "spiritual" beings. "Life" is a spiritual thing. Living beings, from individual cells to humans made of quadrillions of cells, are conative beings who have subjective interests: needs, desires and purposes. To stay alive, we have to do whatever it takes to serve our material needs. To make life worth living, we have to find what it takes to satisfy our spiritual desires. Sharing love and knowing truth are among those spiritual desires. An unconscious "it" is a thing that cannot possibly "care" what happens to it. It has no subjective sense of self, no possibility of setting itself the purpose of continuing to exist. It is an accidental productive of brute forces acting in a dead, blind, uncaring universe. Materialist science is a metaphysical self-contradiction, that denies the reality of the conscious scientist who is motivated by his subjective desire to learn how to manipulate the material world to serve his purposes. The materialist believes with hard certainty in objective ontological realities. He "knows" objective reality, but he denies the epistemological necessity of the presence of a conscious person to do the "knowing". So how does he know? Who, what, is doing the knowing? He can't answer and calls the question "woo" - to express his disdain for anything that exposes his ignorance. Modernity believes it it a world of enlightened reason. About 25 - 30 years ago I was struck by the realization that I live in the Dark Ages where ignorance masquerades as objectivity and myopia is intoxicated with its moral, epistemological and ontological certainties. At times I am convinced there are dark spiritual forces leading these blind sheep astray. I often believe that it is possible for some people to see outside the dungeon walls of the false materialist worldview, but most "modern" humans will live and die inside those walls with no knowledge that any other reality exists or is even possible. It is The Matrix, in real life, and the prisoners of intellectual and spiritual darkness will fight to stay inside rather than welcome their light-bearing liberators. Is there hope for "the world"? Is there hope for only some of the humans? I don't know. Materialists own and operate the modern world as their private property, and occupy all the positions of power and authority - including the highly sophisticated (and vastly successful) brainwashing industry knows as the education system and mass media. Truth-tellers are written off as conspiracy theorists. Effective truth-tellers are hounded, imprisoned and killed to defend the authorized narratives. It "looks" hopeless for love and truth, and for any kind of justice for the masses of humanity whose needs, interests and purposes are of no consequence to the owners of the Earth. I try to be like Gramsci, a pessimism of the intellect but an optimism of the will. Just because it looks hopeless "to me" does not mean it is hopeless; because - unlike the cocksure materialists - I am not all-knowing and I do not know what the future will bring. But the darkness is intensifying. Ever more obvious absurdities are trumpeted as "the facts", and motivate the beliefs and behaviors of the brainwashed masses and their equally brainwashed opinion-makers and authoritites. Bald-faced lies are "the news". Tyrannical agendas are justified by "scientific certainties" - fearsome conjectures supported by no actual evidence at all, except the evidence of computer models that can be made to predict whatever future you program into the equations. Taxes and politicians can change the weather, we are assured by the global warming crowd who spew vast volumes of exhaust gases while jetting around the planet to attend climate conferences where they preach the evils of burning fossil fuels. In the good old days when people still had minds, they would have tarred and feathered these charlatans and run them out of town on a rail. 50 years ago when I first became aware something is going on here, it was nowhere near this bad. It is getting worse, not better. But they call it "progress", and blithely plunge to our mutual destruction chanting the mantra, You can't stop progress!"

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 at 1:40:00 AM

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James Hunter

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Nice comment. We are very much in agreement. You say, "but most "modern" humans will live and die inside those walls with no knowledge that any other reality exists or is even possible." I would modify this slightly. I see people as caught between a dead-end materialism (which is as you describe it) and spiritual fundamentalisms which are as bad in other ways. Its a rock and a hard place. We very much need people who are able to point the way to spiritual orientations that affirm both thinking and love. A lot of people just don't see a viable alternative to a depressing materialism.

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 at 1:16:55 PM

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Derryl Hermanutz

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techie issues with my comment

Submitted on Tuesday, Oct 29, 2019 at 1:54:10 AM

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