Change, History, Spirituality and Intellect

The four words I use to describe this little sharing with you, are loaded. Every person that reads the four words, will have different interpretations and perspectives on these words. I will use them here, to get to my usual point and to grapple with it towards change and ethics.

Change for what? Some people just want more of the good life. There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ with ‘the good life.’ But an unexamined good life, often perpetrated on others, is oppressive. Can you think of examples of this? Does ‘the good life’ always seem in the imagination as a middle-class life: the things, the vacations, the house, the nuclear family, the car, etc.? Then I ask for re-think.

History? What and whose history? Just reading one or two history books is not itself history. Questioning only your grandparents can be limited. Who wrote the history books you read? Are they written by people who fit more of the dominant categories (i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic class, etc.)? Who educated that author? What politics inform the author we read? Just because it is considered authoritative or ‘good’ by many people, does it make it more just, compassionate, ethnical? What criteria do we use to understand ‘history?’

Who invented the word ‘spirituality?’ How is it used politically? In my own life, people who use that term and define it for others, use it to mean some kind of ‘interior’ work, some kind of work toward heaven or ‘enlightenment.’ In most indigenous cultures, where many of our modern ideas of ‘spirituality’ come from, there was no such word. In Japan, where I was born, there were many words for different forms of training and concentration and looking at thoughts or for gathering our energies toward compassion or wisdom, for instance. But ‘spirituality’ is a new concept, introduced by the westerners in Japan. And if this is the case, who has the right to tell others what ‘spirituality’ is, what it looks like, what it must do and what other people should do? What is ‘spiritual.’ I know people who are vegetarians, do yoga and other meditation practices and have lots of energy and insight. And those same people are sometimes the most ‘evil’ of people I know. What criteria am I using here to define what is happening?

Intellect is dumbed down in the United States. As I mentioned before, the US government does not rely on the foremost thinkers of ethics and cultures and difference and history, to have debates on national television during a national or international crisis. The courts do not call in experts on immigration and cultural difference when working on a case about whether a man should go to jail for something the US court or a state court deems ‘wrong.’ Hollywood stars are asked about opinions on world affairs and the youth say “wow, he or she is making a good point.” In Europe, this is not the case, nor in Japan. Top thinkers are regularly sought to work with issues. However, there is the other problem of finding ‘thinkers’ and intellectuals who tow the line of the television or radio station, or media company who has relations with certain aspects of federal or national government propaganda. But as long as people go about their own business, and don’t have the time or inclination to investigate things they hear, they may take on the information they hear and see, as ‘truth.’ It’s not even about trust, at this point.

So in a word, there are many aspects of a lack of social change in the world around us because we are not associating ourselves with social change workers. Also, change is happening all the time. But the most powerful, who govern most of the world’s resources and mind-politics of the masses, if you will, and the technologies, have inordinate amounts of resources and power to control and influence. Anti-intellectual societies are a by-product of empires on the down-swing of histories.

So let us not repeat histories as we know it. We can create new and more just and thoughtful histories in the future by doing this in the present/now. Do not be defined by the definition of the words of this title. Do not let middle-class knowledge be mistaken for re-thinking, investigating and re-introducing intellect into the work of spiritual wisdom. The normal everyday that we experience now, has been made through other peoples’ theories. Increasingly, the other people (usually rich and with tremendous powers of influence and control of the military and media and policies) control and we just react to what is here. Capitalist and communist and socialist systems are real today because of incredible amounts of thought and reflection, then putting them into play in the world. It is amazing to me that so many people detest ‘intellectuals’ and accuse people of ‘thinking too much.’

I do acknowledge how many intellectuals throughout history developed condescending attitudes and use their intellect for self gain and tenure and positions at the cost of people, students and communities.  Also, most of what I can see as far as higher education–save but a few programs here and there, are irrelevant to what is going on in the world. They are enterprises to create people who can join in the market economy, not thinkers who can benefit everyone.  They benefit the status quo, increasingly, including the so-called ‘spiritual.’  However, there are many intellectuals who serve the people and justice. But many people feel too ‘inferior’ at any show of intellect, and do not listen. If we do not look at social theories, we will not understand the coming social theories. As long as there are more than two people, there will be social theories at play. How are we making ourselves ‘losers’ by ignoring theories and intellect in favor of escape to nirvana and truth? It is easier, of course, to believe in a truth we have learned, that some other people in another time and culture has created, than to re-think, grapple with life. Theories now live in our bodies. Look around. Who is benefitting the most from how things are? In this way, the intellect becomes a flat land of imagination.

Let us resist, so that we can have ecstatic, meaningful lives, creative and full of wonder and respect, instead of what is passing for ‘happiness’ in the present world.

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