Wednesday, December 28, 2011

after existential crisis comes occupying everywhere: a revolution of meaning, reunification, and collaboration.

As common as the idea that reality is connected to consciousness may be in theory, few of us go through life with a viable understanding of what this might mean in practice. Perhaps this is because so many facets of western culture reinforce the sensation of separateness and undermine feelings of connection in ways both subtle and overt. Competition, individualism, and selfishness in their most extreme forms are advocated as survival skills. The world comes complete with distinct borders, countries, religions, teams, traditions, and national identities that make it seem as if we humans have more differences than commonalities.

But on some level, many of us have a hunch that this isn’t quite right. Our complex biological sensory systems tell us that being included and cared for feels better than being alone and left out. We experience empathy and compassion for complete strangers who are suffering. If we’re very fortunate, we may even have been in love, in which case we have unquantifiable yet very powerful evidence that profound emotional connectedness is a very real phenomenon – we feel another person’s pain, we experience their joy in sometimes all-too-tangible ways.

As humans we arrive preinstalled with sophisticated organs of perception – and yet somehow we’ve come to trust external sources of knowledge more than our own instincts. It’s my hypothesis that our collective guts can only handle so much conflicting data before they begin to pipe up, creating a subtle but piercing kind of dissonance that is hard to ignore.

How much conflicting data does it take to produce extrasensory feedback loud enough to produce a global cacophony? A rough estimate: about 300 years’ worth. During the early Renaissance, art, science, and spirituality were practiced as interconnected parts of an overarching, holistic philosophy of nature. By the 17th century, Bacon, Newton, Galileo, Descartes, and others had introduced the idea of a universe made of separate parts connected by generic, impersonal forces. Rather than simply accept the “scientific method” as an important new way of collecting information about the workings of the world while continuing to embrace the notion that intuition and imagination serve different but equally valid functions, a battle of the paradigms ensued that still rages to this day.

Since the 1700’s, in the “western” world at least, our formerly holistic vision of the cosmos has been undermined by learned separateness. But the internal data we’re receiving tells us that the old notions of mind vs. matter, science vs. art vs. religion, observer vs. observed just aren’t holding up. Meanwhile, current breakthroughs in science are also suggesting that things may not be as they’ve seemed ­– multiple, even seemingly opposed scenarios can exist simultaneously, things that appear incompatible may be different facets of the same jewel – separateness is truly an illusion.

I believe that the OCCUPY movement, in concert with other uprisings in progress around the world, marks a new kind of Renaissance, one of collective recognition of the importance of interconnectedness – between disciplines, cultures, and communities – and of consciousness, in the sense that individuals are realizing the power of personal and collective participatory action, intention, and collaboration.

The monumental challenges that humanity faces today on a global scale are the result of 300 years’ worth of compartmentalizing and un-holistic thinking – when the earth’s “resources” such as ancient forests, oceans, rivers, oil and coal deposits, creatures, and even human beings are seized and exploited for the convenience and profit of the few without regard for environmental or moral costs, when pharmaceuticals are developed for outrageous profit without regard for the true causes of disease, when people are told that peace is not possible without war, that our planet’s biosphere is too large to be disrupted by the follies of man, that health care and education are too costly while “defense” and tax breaks for the rich are imperative, that we should fear rather than love our neighbors, that our voices and actions are too small to make a difference…

Not long ago a select few in control of the largest media outlets had the power to manipulate prevailing thought. But 2011 has been the year of radical, world-shifting information-sharing and citizen journalism. Armed only with small electronic devices connected to a common network, we developed ways to pool our resources in the form of information and ideas. Radical rejection of helplessness has been the catalyst for individual and collective action. We learned that “occupying” has both physical and mental components – we can occupy any location at any moment simply by refusing to participate in a broken system to the greatest extent possible. By taking personal responsibility for social and environmental justice in every facet of our lives, from how we acquire food to where we shop and bank to the quantity and quality of the resources we consume, each of us can help create the sustainable, healthy, and just society we envision.

It is at the precise moment when existence seems the most futile and absurd – when we have nothing left to lose – that extreme anger and frustration can suddenly morph into a radical sense of freedom that fuels empowerment and a commitment to act.

In the past year we have not only borne witness to the release of Wikileaks, the start of the MENA revolutions, the rise of the Indignados in Spain, Anonymous, and so much more – as a result of social networks many of us have been active participants in these historic events. We have offered support and held space as our friends and colleagues have been beaten, arrested, and oppressed, and as they have succeeded in toppling tyrants and putting their oppressors to shame. The chills we feel when physically participating in – or experiencing virtually – a radical act is evidence of the veracity of our connection. It is also a healthy symptom of the re-infusion of our existences with meaning.