Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A World that Works for Everyone

Yesterday, as I have before, I posted about wanting to build a world that works for everyone. I mean this to be understood as a way of being, of living as an individual and member of a society, community, nation and planet, so that I do as little harm or evil as possible and as much good as possible. Living this way is an ideal which I very much want to actualize. It gives me hope and purpose and a sense of optimism. But when it seems things are not changing and we’re not building a world that works for everyone, but are in fact going in the opposite direction and building a world that works for the few and the wealthy, I get very sad, deeply disappointed, depressed and angry.
Joseph Campbell is optimistic about the world. “It’s great just the way it is,” he says. “And you are not gong to fix it up. Nobody has ever made it any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so take it or leave it. You are not going to correct and improve it.”

Wow! So doesn’t that lead to a passive attitude in the face of evil?

“You yourself are participating in evil,” he says. “Or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil for somebody or something. This is one of the ironies of the whole creation.”

And what of the conflict between good and evil, the forces of darkness and of light?

“That is a Zorostrian idea, which has come over into Judaism and Christianity. In other traditions, good and evil are relative to the position in which you are standing. What is good for one, is evil for another. You play your part, not withdrawing from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but seeing that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder, a mystery. All life is sorrowful is the first Buddhist saying, and so it is. It wouldn’t be life if there were not temporality involved, which is sorrow – loss, loss, loss. You’ve got to say yes to life and see it as magnificent this way.”

Yet it is “joyful just as it is, too. I don’t believe there was anybody such as God who intended it, but this is the way it is. James Joyce has a memorable line: ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.’ To awake is not to be afraid, but to recognize that all of this, as it is, is a manifestation of the horrendous [neutral] power [neither good nor evil] that is all creation.”

So, you wouldn’t fight any battles or strive for any ideals? Isn’t that the logical conclusion from accepting everything as it is?

Yes, it’s logical “but not the necessary conclusion. You could say, ‘I will participate in this life, I will join the army” or the peace corps. I will do the best I can. “I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera – except that it hurts. Affirmation is difficult. We always affirm with conditions. I affirm the world on condition that it gets to be the way my ideals want it to be. But affirming it the way it is – that’s the hard thing.”

Rituals help us with that. “Rituals are group participation in the most hideous act, which is the act of life – namely, killing and eating another living thing. We do it together, and this is the way life is. The hero is the one who comes to participate in life courageously and decently, in the way of nature, not the way of personal rancor, disappointment, or revenge.”

So wanting to build a world that works for everyone is a hero’s journey, fraught with disappointment and joy.

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