Finding the Divine

Column by Glen Allport.

Exclusive to STR


Scientific consensus is emerging that people are fundamentally empathic, kind, fair-minded, and cooperative. Yet these characteristics are being undermined by widespread emotional damage and a corrupt system of coercive governance.

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Why So Much Darkness Staining the Light?
"The divine within me acknowledges the divine within you."
– One of several, similar ways to translate the greeting of Namaste
Namaste is a widely-used greeting that neither requires nor assumes any belief in the supernatural. This form of greeting – often accompanied by palms pressed together in front of the chest, fingers up, and a small nod or slight bow – can be seen as a simple, respectful acknowledgement of another's presence, but in some interpretations Namaste is also an acknowledgment of the profound wisdom and deep compassion at the core of every human being.
Science increasingly confirms this view of human nature: People are motivated largely by empathy, kindness, and a desire for non-coercive cooperation. This is true for other primates also – indeed, for mammals generally, which is why so many of us have dogs or cats as pets: These animals make loving family members and companions, despite their instincts for hunting and killing prey. Indeed, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love: Reflections on the Emotional World of Dogs, calls love "the master emotion of dogs." 
Family member Zoomer as a young adult
Primatologist Frans De Waal, author of The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, is among the best-known advocates of this view, now becoming mainstream in scientific circles, that human nature is fundamentally kind, cooperative, and empathic, with a strong sense of fairness and concern for others.
Then why all the cruelty, coercion, and violence in the world? Check today's news (link is to the classic "newspaper" scene in Roxanne with Steve Martin; 22 sec) or read up on history: you'll find an endless stream of destructive, violent, and cold-hearted behavior on display. How can this be, if our very nature is built upon the opposite tendencies? In a talk at this year's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, De Waal made a simple yet profound observation on the topic: "Human morality is unthinkable without empathy."
What might cause a lack of empathy? The source of this widespread affliction is suggested by equally widespread use of alcohol, tobacco, painkillers, and other drugs and behaviors aimed at altering how people feel. Much of humanity is clearly miserable, even when their material needs are met; celebrity alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide are only the more obvious examples. Worldwide, a great many people are miserable enough to risk serious health problems, prison, and even death for a brief chance to "feel no pain" or to otherwise feel somehow better than they do when sober. Many children feel so helpless, hurt, and desolate that later, as adults, they are driven to control others and in many cases to actively hurt others.
It is no surprise that being shut down to feeling to some degree (by our built-in capacity for repression, by drugs, or by a myriad of other pain-quelling behaviors, from overeating to the common belief in authoritarian parent-substitutes), combined with the distraction of constant inner pain, could reduce one's sense of empathy and concern for others and could make a person harsh, selfish, self-destructive, or cruel. Coercive forms of government are visible expressions of such tendencies and are powerful tools for subjugating and even killing large numbers of people – even when (especially when) the governments claim to exist for the benefit and protection of the people; The Black Book of Communism, written by a team of Marxists and left-wingers who extensively researched Soviet history and the history of every Communist nation in the 20th Century, is a must-read for anyone who does not yet understand this. The cruel and violent nature of coercive government is inherent and cannot be restrained or even disguised for long because any organization that funds itself via coercion and which imposes its rules on people coercively is psychopathic by definition and naturally draws psychopathic and sociopathic personalities to itself – creating an unhealthy feedback loop that ratchets up the coercion, corruption, and cruelty of a government over time.
This combination of tyranny and widespread emotional damage has horrifying effects. When R. J. Rummel began researching government murder, he was surprised not only to find that more people were simply murdered by their own governments than died on the battlefields of our many wars, but that governments had apparently murdered more people in the 20th Century than in all of previous human history combined. Of course, human population grew dramatically in the 20th Century, so there were more people around to be victimized, and advancing technology made wholesale murder easier to accomplish. Still, it seems clear that in some ways we remain in the Dark Ages.
These failures in the human realm are in stark contrast to the almost god-like advancement we see in other areas. We live in a dazzling high-tech world that was science-fiction only yesterday, but still haven't figured out how to make the human world functionproperly.
The con-man rhetoric of modern politics panders directly to our innate yearning for a healthier and more compassionate world, but such a world – the Earthly paradise we were born for – continues to elude. If asked, most would say that a world where violence, intentional cruelty, tyranny, and other human evil have all but vanished is impossible, despite examples of such society (families and voluntary groups, villages, towns, and, to a lesser extent, entire regions) being visible both today and throughout history. So while we know that tyranny and severe, widespread emotional damage are common, we also know they are avoidable. Like smallpox and polio in the time before vaccines, the two Great Evils of neurosis and coercive governance only seem unavoidable because we have yet to understand and overcome them.
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A Note on Terminology
I use terms like "divine" and "paradise" because they are appropriate to the deep feeling this subject evokes in me, not because I see anything supernatural or religious (in the Western sense) at play here. "Widespread and consistent love and respect for the freedom of others" is all I mean by "paradise," and the divine is, to me, the deep human tendency to seek out and to foster those qualities in self and others. Evidence for the importance and universality of our need for love and freedom is everywhere in human life, including at the core of every true religion. Classical liberalism, which powered and characterized the American Revolution, was infused with support for brotherhood and liberty, and with the sense, if unspoken and only vaguely understood, that those two characteristics were bound together and part of a whole. The United States' Declaration of Independence is thrillingly blunt on the topic:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There it is: Paradise in a nutshell. The continued worldwide fascination with our Declaration is no surprise, because the Declaration speaks to our deepest and most central needs and desires.
Why has this paradise eluded us? For that matter, why has the U.S. government, explicitly founded to protect "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness", increasingly become an enemy of those goals, both to its own citizens and to others around the world?
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Without a Map On a Darkening Road
There are many theories and paradigms relevant to such questions, but – oddly, given that these are questions about us, about human beings – there is no consensus view on the genesis of our many self-inflicted problems, or on why they persist, or on how to reduce or eliminate those problems.
Having a commonly accepted paradigm is not enough: To be truly useful, a paradigm must be reasonably accurate – it must be, as physicist David Deutsch puts it, a good explanation. Among other things, it must make testable and accurate predictions and suggest ways to solve relevant problems.
A paradigm that is usefully accurate can change the world. The paradigm of science is surely the best-known example: Science largely displaced the paradigm of supernatural causes because science uses better methods for gaining new knowledge of (and thus control over) the physical world than does superstition, and that knowledge and control are very useful. Modern medicine, including antibiotics and painless dentistry; computers and electronics of all types; digital recordings of text, images, music, and film; rapid transportation and communication over vast distances – nearly everything positive we associate with "modern life" is the result of this single paradigm shift, combined with the classical liberal paradigm that helped provide the freedom for people to use their intelligence and energy effectively, without centralized control.
This combination of an effective paradigm for learning about and understanding the physical world plus a paradigm that encouraged more freedom and a more civil society produced a rapid and stunning rise in living standards and average lifespan, unlike anything seen before in history. The scientific and classical liberal paradigms compliment and reinforce each other; together, they underpinned the Enlightenment, which ultimately created the advanced, high-tech world we have today. Deutsch, mentioned above, describes how the modern world came into being in his recent The Beginning of Infinity:
"But the sea change in the values and patterns of thinking of a whole community of thinkers, which brought about a sustained and accelerating creation of knowledge, happened only once in history, with the Enlightenment and its scientific revolution. An entire political, moral, economic and intellectual culture – roughly what is now called 'the West' – grew around the values entailed by the quest for good explanations, such as tolerance of dissent, openness to change, distrust of dogmatism and authority, and the aspiration to progress both by individuals and for the culture as a whole. And the progress made by that multifaceted culture, in turn, promoted those values – though, as I shall explain in Chapter 15, they are nowhere close to being fully implemented."
~ The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World by David Deutsch, 2011, p. 23 [italics in original]
Deutsch is, I think, understating the situation when he says those values "are nowhere close to being fully implemented." In fact, "tolerance of dissent, openness to change, distrust of dogmatism and authority, and the aspiration to progress both by individuals and for the culture as a whole" are being systematically undermined by the power elite, by the many tyrannies the elite influence or control, by the corporate media they own, and by their "new world order" agenda that seeks to move the apex of centralized control to the global level.
Even without considering such direct opposition to civil society, it is clear that we have not advanced much beyond our pre-scientific ancestors in understanding of the human realm. The many political, psychological, philosophical, and sociological schools of thought make clear that no single paradigm – accurate or otherwise – is generally accepted in this area. There is wide disagreement on what "a healthy society" would even consist of and confusion on the nature of individual emotional health.
Worse, liberty has been detached from compassion in the public mind, and more than that: liberty and compassion are seen as opposing each other, as enemies. That has been the function of Marxism and State socialism generally, after all: to tie the idea of "compassion" to massive, centralized government power. Ponder for a moment that love and freedom are now seen by many as opposites! As if love and tyranny were somehow parts of a whole; as if respect for the rights of others required cruelty.
Part of my thesis – and the foundation of the paradigm I advocate – is that the combination of love and freedom is a major element in human life, a yin-yang-like duality that cannot be split apart without causing damage.
Again, the many small healthy societies in the world – here's a quick look at Summerhill School in England for one example – combined with the growing scientific consensus that human nature is fundamentally empathic, kind, and cooperative, make the case beyond doubt that the level of evil we see in the world is NOT inevitable, NOT something we must accept, but instead a plague that can and must be ended.
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High Stakes
How important is all this? You know the answer. Twenty-first century hyper-technology and the political and environmental mess we have already made of the world make it likely that without dramatic increases in love and freedom, civilization will erode if not collapse. In the United States (and in many other places) this process is visibly under way. Ultimately, we could extinguish the human species or destroy the ecosystem of the planet – and we could do that within a generation or two. Well-known scientists have expressed the same fear – no surprise, because hard evidence points strongly in that direction.
The present creates the future, and the future we are creating looks more and more like a hypertech-enabled global tyranny or a toxic, radioactive planetary ruin. Even should we avoid such extremes, on an individual level, severe neurosis (heavy emotional damage from early in life) is among the worst calamities one can suffer. Not only does neurosis greatly harm physical health and reduce expected lifespan (PDF about the stunning and respected ACE study; for more see here), but the constant need to repress painful feeling diminishes the experience (not to mention the enjoyment) of life itself. On a social and societal level, severe and widespread emotional damage provides fertile ground for demagogues, tyranny, corruption, genocide, and other evils.
Such evils are the norm: Our governments – based as they are on the crime of coercion – murder millions every year, unjustly detain and imprison millions of innocents, impoverish the masses, destroy the environment, and turn needed business regulation into a festival of corporate corruption.
Clearly, non-coercive institutions are more in tune with our basic nature and better serve our needs. Why do we persist with coercive governments in place of truly civil societies?
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Building Paradise and Fostering the Divine
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
            – (Luke 17:21) Jesus of Nazareth, as quoted by the Apostle Luke and translated into English for the King James edition of the Bible
Gandhi believed that "there is one religion – human religion – but any number of faiths." How could that be, considering the many competing deities advocated by different religions? For that matter, how could Buddhism and other faiths that neither worship nor advocate belief in any supernatural god be branches of this "one human religion?"
The answer – my answer, at any rate – is that WE are the divine, or if you prefer, each person is an instance of the divine – of the deep human tendency to express, seek, and foster the qualities of compassion and respect for others. Again, this is our core, primal nature (TedTalk video with Franz De Waals, 18 min 15 sec) – not some unattainable state that only Indian holy men can approach. If we simply stop hurting children, this healthy and fundamental human nature will become the norm, because it takes a lot of damage to crush the empathy and decency out of people.
Individually, finding the divine means only finding our way back to that healthier, core part of ourselves. Socially, it means providing compassionate and respectful treatment to pregnant mothers, newborns, infants, and children. It means creating societies that foster and protect the core values of compassion and liberty.
How to do that? How can we foster high levels of love and freedom, and minimize the evils of tyranny and emotional damage? How can we move things in the direction of paradise, of civil society, of compassion and liberty?
Education is the starting point – not coercive government schooling, but spreading the truth about the importance of early life, of love itself, and of freedom. Coercive government is the wrong tool for the job because coercion – and especially institutionalized, entrenched, systematic coercion – is a major part of the problem. Coercion is criminal behavior – "coercion" is listed by name as a crime in the criminal code of my home state and probably in yours – because it involves cruelty and repression. Coercive funding, by itself, eliminates any reasonable expectation for customer satisfaction or fair dealing and ensures that increasingly, government programs will involve actions that citizens oppose and even are harmed by. Coercive funding is how a people that opposes war is forced to pay for war, and – as with the Vietnam-era draft – are sometimes forced to participate in the war directly. Coercive funding is how wars against the people themselves get funded by the people, as with the war on drugs, the war on raw milk, the war against supplements and alternative medicine, the endless war on "terror," and many others.
The United States abolished overt, total slavery in 1865 – but retained and has vastly enlarged the covert slavery of the coercive State. Americans are nearing the point where "everything not prohibited is required" and are approaching the disaster of "ubiquitous law enforcement" that mathematician, anarchocapitalist, and SciFi author Vernor Vinge wrote of – the situation where every person is, at every moment, under the total surveillance and control of the State.
To say it again (for it cannot be said too often): The State is psychopathic by its very nature. The coercive State can only ever be a corrupt and corrupting nexus of power, of control, of cruelty, of unjust privilege for the few forcibly paid for by the great mass of people – paid for in money, tears, and blood. The idea that such an institution – one based upon coercion and funded by coercion and by the hidden theft enabled by fiat currency – is somehow necessary to society or, worse yet, a useful and proper tool for improving society, is flatly insane.
Completing the abolition of slavery, including of the stealthy, covert Statist variety, is the only workable approach to ending the State-related evils now devouring this world, from endless and aggressive war to systematic repression and torture; from mind-stunting, coercive State "schooling" to vast secret police empires dedicated to preventing people from putting what they want (including healthy food and supplements) into their own bodies; from corporatism and the resulting environmental harm, dangerous products, and high prices to the profound impoverishment of the former middle class, with the extracted wealth going to the elite in connected businesses and in government.
The yang to the yin of ending Statist slavery is to finally, at long last, take seriously Jesus' and other enlightened figures' advice on compassion and respect for the young. Gentle, compassionate, low-tech (except where necessary) birth and continued compassionate, non-coercive treatment of the young throughout infancy and childhood (including insistence on respecting the rights of others) – that is what it will take to create a generation of healthy adults who will naturally and automatically raise their own healthy offspring, who in turn will continue the chain of emotional health, thus breaking the chain of neurosis that began in harsher, ancient times and which has continued, stupidly and needlessly, right up to the present day.
Love and freedom; compassion and liberty; emotional health and civil, non-coercive, non-Statist society: THIS is how the human race will survive and prosper. We already have Science and Technology and the knowledge of how to continue them (assuming the State doesn't completely bury that knowledge under the wreckage being made of civil society). But SciTech is not enough: To say it again, what we need – the missing element – is for Love and Freedom to replace the emotional damage and tyranny that for so long have characterized the human condition.
Civilization, and perhaps mankind itself, will not survive without more Love and Freedom. Science and Technology will not be our saviors without healthy humans at the controls; we may have already killed the biosphere with nano-size DU dust (see also here; warning: includes disturbing images and this statement: "In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital, Iraq, had 170 new born babies, 24% of whom were dead within the first seven days, a staggering 75% of the dead babies were classified as deformed") and weapons-testing fallout and radioactive powerplant pollution and dangerous, nearly untested genetically modified organisms and bizarrely-disruptive or poisonous chemicals and plastic fouling the land and the oceans and weaponized diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria and cellular damage from well-meant nano-tech and, well – many, many other things that neurotic, coercive-State-directed humans have already created. What people create, what they even choose to work on, is determined by who they are inside, and sick, emotionally damaged humans create sick, damaging societies and technologies. Tyranny and neurosis feed on each other, amplify the damage from each other, and may, together, be too much for us to survive.
Free and healthy humans create very differently. A truly free market by itself, even when neurotic people are involved, generally creates astonishingly positive results; the prosperity created in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Sweden pre-1970, and the United States until recently are among the better-known examples. On an individual level, Steve Jobs' career is instructive – the man was often insensitive and even cruel to others, and had he become a "leader" in coercive government, I have no doubt that he would have been a nightmare, no matter how well-meant his actions might have been. But in the marketplace, within an industry almost untouched by the sick control of government, Steve Jobs' brilliance and neurotic energy and focus were channeled into the products that made Apple and Pixar (and many other companies, directly and otherwise) famous and successful, and which have enriched the lives of millions. Not to mention job-creation, that ability falsely claimed by every campaigning politician: Wikipedia reports that "As of September 24, 2011, [Apple] had 60,400 permanent full-time employees and 2,900 temporary full-time employees worldwide", and the number of others who have jobs or careers because of downstream market activity traceable to Steve Jobs is staggering – Apple alone claims to have "directly and indirectly created more than half a million jobs in the US through its gadget ecosystem", per a recent article in The Australian. In government, I believe Jobs would have been a well-intentioned horror, but in a series of non-government-controlled (i.e., "non-regulated") business ventures, he was a towering and genuine benefactor to humanity.
Freedom alone does not eliminate evil, but freedom does, in fact, often channel what would otherwise become evil into something positive. A free society can thus somewhat detoxify the actions of sick human beings; even Adolph Hitler was a mostly harmless little man until he gained control of coercive State power.
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To create an Earthly paradise and to find the divine within ourselves, we need only focus on what is real within ourselves, reduce and then eliminate coercion from our social structures, and eliminate intentional cruelty, coercion, and (as much as possible) other trauma to the young. The combination of more love and more freedom is the answer – the only answer – to the problem of the human condition.
- A Note on the Logo -
The logo at the top of this essay was created to promote the idea of love and freedom as connected, interdependent qualities that are fundamental to human well-being. I have placed the logo – there are several versions – in the public domain to encourage others to freely make use of it. Two versions, in three sizes, are available for download below. These are in JPEG format but other file formats are available, as are different color schemes; contact me if you'd like more information. STR's editor has generously agreed to host the six below; right click on a logo to download to your hard drive.
Also available with the words "LOVE & FREEDOM" across the center:


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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 104

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity. He maintains This is one in a series of columns on the human condition.