Vexed by the Tribe (part two) – the fabrication of complexity

Image © copyright Stephen Tanham

We’re visiting relatives. It’s friendly. We have a light meal and some cake to follow. But then someone mentions Brexit and a cold frost descends on the room…

My wife and I bite our tongues, knowing our hosts are firm believers that Britain’s post-colonial destiny lies in a renewed ‘Little England’ reborn from some poster of decades ago. Until my wife’s uncle says, “Besides, the EU isn’t democratic..”

If you know her, you can hear something snap. She leans forward to take another piece of cake and refreshes her tea from the beautiful Royal Albert tea service. “Who is your MEP (Member of European Parliament), Uncle Norman?” she asks.

“Well, I’m not sure… I don’t bother with that sort of thing,” he says, wrong-footed by the lack of the simplest fact. But the question was designed to show that the EU is as democratic as it’s possible to be… It ‘s just that Uncle Norman can’t be bothered to invest even that much effort in what it’s trying to do – what it has done, very successfully, since Europe emerged from the ashes of World War II.

But none of that matters. Nor does the fact that Vote Leave – the organisation behind Brexit, has just been fined the maximum possible for electoral over-expenditure. The mere twenty thousand pounds is a tiny expense to the billionaires who want to jerk Britain out of Europe so they can make even more money in a less regulated world.

The exchange is typical of a vicious polarity that has divided Britain down the middle (52% to 48%, plus or minus the fraud). Towns, counties and families find themselves on one side or the other of the great divide. Everyone knows something vast is happening.

Some people find it exciting… ‘It’s time for a change..’

Other people understand history… and manipulation… and don’t.

But all the above is just me expressing, as honestly as I can, one side of that polarity.

Someone on the ‘excited’ side of the equation will tell you that Britain has been ‘shackled’ by the EU (our main trading partner, and supporter of our poorest regions) for decades and that vast, new trade deals will be available to a plucky and rejuvenated England.. sorry, Britain… Donald Trump is excited about Brexit. He’s publicly stated that he has his eyes on our National Health Service…

It’s too late to change what Brexit has done to Britain. But it’s not too late to examine the fault-lines that led nation, industry and families to be ripped apart. In my opinion, this is critical, since we are being manipulated on a scale never seen before – and the Tribe is at the centre of it all.

In Part One, we looked at how an approach like that of the famous psychologist Maslow, could be used to explain ‘Tribal’ influences being preyed upon by political strategists seeking to implement radical changes in our political systems – leading to increasingly authoritarian governments within the western world.

Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs diagram’ Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is reproduced above with an explanation in Part One. The pyramid diagram below is my own attempt to create a schematic for what I see in Britain, and also what seems to be happening in the USA. See Part One for the details.

We face an ultimate choice of society: the Tribe or the Individual

Western civilisation has taken a long curve to get to where it is today. Its ideal, at least until recently, has been freedom for the individual. The freedom to live a life as we each choose, supported by a state which offers a balance between individual effort and financial return, is central to this ethic. But, when 80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the people, something’s going to break.

The old industrial regions of the north and midlands of England and the American ‘rust belt’ have a lot in common. They are both examples of peoples with strong backgrounds – and self-belief. Their identity is related to the landscape in which they live, the hard jobs they have traditionally done and the family values they inherited. Such people (and I am from the north of England, so this is not said negatively) have a strong ‘Tribal’ presence, in the way I described it in Part One.

Their anger seeks expression. They are fed up of buying into an economic system that has left them behind; fed up of political rhetoric that forgets its promises the minute the elections are done – because it never had any intention of honouring them, once it had won the vote.

Success, measured by the human heart, is hard and never quick. It takes a long, considered view and cares.. Anything less is someone else’s agenda for more power.

But people believe in instant fixes – given the right hero. So, when there comes an opportunity to give the system a kick in the teeth, they take it…

I cannot speak for the USA, but it is certainly true in Britain. The ‘will of the people’ (one of the new hypnosis words) arose and kicked out the villains… or perhaps not. What did happen is the ‘will of the people’ was cleverly manufactured by people who understood that the world had changed, but not that much; who understood that the twin powers of social media and good old-fashioned hatred of ‘them’ could be harnessed beneath a flag that promised ‘freedom’.

Tribes have flags. What could be easier in a complex world?

Even before Britain reaches the ‘final, final’ departure date from the EU (the last day of October, 2019), Britain’s car industry is in crisis… Companies like Nissan, General Motors and Honda, who had made huge investments in Britain on the basis that it was a civilised and educated ‘gateway’ into Europe have done or are in the process of doing what any business would do. There is no longer anything ‘too big’ to fail in the world of global business.

Complexity can be manipulated to thwart maturity

Which brings us face to face with the behaviour of the Tribe. I am born into a Tribe. Our individual, ‘private self’ goal is to break through this, taking what is good from our Tribe, but claiming our freedom to follow our own path… a path that may see us diverge from that taken by the unquestioning Tribe. This is the core dichotomy of the world to come: can we mature beyond the Tribe to real and powerful individuality?

That may be the most important question of our age.

The bullies – the aggressive ones with guns or equivalent, discard the facade of democracy and proclaim the time-consuming processes of real consent as ‘weak.’ All authoritarian regimes reject the individual quest. This should be sacrificed, they say, for the collective.

This is the cross of Socialism, whose fundamental lack of fit with ‘today’s’ world is individual, not collective, intelligence, despite its admirable and caring values. But political identities are constantly evolving…

I know the world of ‘Tech’ well. It used to be called either computing or technology. I have spent most of my adult life in this sea. Tech has become a force of power in politics because in allows massive reinforcement of what the Tribal values are at any time.

The most potent power in the Tech world is the ‘Like‘ button. I don’t need to worry too much about the working out of something if I like its colour. I don’t need to worry about the truth of what someone said if it is associated with an advert for my football team. If my favourite things weren’t there, it would be a harder medium to be in. And so, those of great intelligence have placed before me what I may easily like. In so doing, I can be linked to those of like mind… and lied to. I will not question it, because my friends are there…

All of these ‘Tech’ processes were used in both Brexit and America’s presidential elections. Cambridge Analytica, a UK company, pioneered the use of ‘extracted’ social media data to achieve the results their customers wanted. The results are history…. and our present.

In sport, when someone cheats, their gold medal is taken away. In politics we shoot the drug that gave them the advantage and leave intact the sport’s result.

All of this is summarised in the diagram below. Which show how our real maturity is an aspirational force pushing up our pyramid of self, Complexity is easily manipulated to exclude the ‘common man’.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and educate the tribe, itself.

Modern complexity is being fabricated. Education could be used to illustrate the lies. The effect of complexity is a negative one and drives people back into a tribal mode of behaviour. I believe this to be happening across western societies, today, and it partly accounts for the rise of both nationalism and populism, and the seeming ignorance of the historic basis for the repeated rise of fascism in our histories.

We still have the choice as to what we belong. We can belong to the values of our Tribe and be safe: “Well, we all did that…” Or we can belong to the truth, and seek it out with all our being. It is real, it has power, but it must be embraced, loved and understood – in a way that makes modern politics its opponent. But politics is just the will of the people, and, ultimately, though it may take a long time, that will not be fooled.

In Part Three, the conclusion of this series, we will look at the dynamics of polarity, and how opinion is not so black and white as we may think.

© Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Vexed by the Tribe (part one)

I am vexed…

It’s a word you don’t hear much, now. Old English, I believe. It describes an agitated state of mind – and possibly body – when something nagging can’t be solved.

What I’m vexed about is the entrenchment of nationalistic opinion across the world, in the face of much more important issues – like the world’s climate problems and the undermining of democracy as a new type of war carried out by authoritarian regimes.

I’m vexed because I think I’ve seen beneath this to the psychological mechanics of something that has the potential to kill the world.

In Britain, with Brexit, we are marching, like lemmings, towards a clifftop that will bring chaos and self-inflicted harm to not only this generation of voters, but our children and their children. They will look back at the devastation and ask why somebody didn’t do something to avert it.

Friends in the USA describe a similar situation, there. My intention with this blog is not to discuss politics, but to examine the entrenchment of views that underlies these vast shifts in ‘normality’ This is closely linked to the use of ‘fake news’ as a defence against the truth…

The psychologist Maslow did some ground-breaking work on developmental psychology, particularly human motivation, back in the 1940s. His celebrated diagram of the “Hierarchy of Needs” is reproduced below:

Source: Wikipedia

Maslow’s idea was that the lower needs in the pyramid had to be satisfied before the higher and more creative functions would manifest. It has been modified since the 1940s but remains a popular and intelligent way to understand some of the ways individuals evolve – or devolve.

In Maslow’s scheme, the ultimate state of the human in a society is one of ‘Self-Actualisation’ – the top of the pyramid. This is built on ‘Esteem’, which grows in the soil of ‘Love’. Only below this level do the ‘fear-factors’ come into play.

There is an upward current which is enabling. But any downward movement in the lower levels is capable of de-stabilising the whole thing. It would be difficult to put a complex political situation like Brexit into the above pyramid, since this is based upon a society’s condition rather than that of an individual. But we can identify ‘what’ happens in such upheavals, and that may serve to illustrate the societal forces at work.

If a majority of people vote for something, then we in the West believe they have ‘spoken’ and we honour the result – unless there has been electoral fraud or other fundamental abuses. Sadly, with every new generation of abuse the perpetrators show they are cleverer than the regulators.

Western Government is still based on the principles of democracy. So the motivation behind how people vote is a vital thing to understand – and it may help us to come to terms with the often self-destructive basis of such individual decisions. This is where it could be illuminating to consider a scheme similar to Maslow’s at work at the heart of how countries evolve their governance.

A person is born into a ‘tribe’ not into a society

We are all born into a family of some sort. We know nothing of the society in which that family exists. If we are lucky, the family will be loving and caring. In honouring that we will wish to reflect the inherent but often unstated values that the family subscribes to. These are powerful things, and much more akin to how tribes used to, and still do, work. The Tribe will have a relationship to the geography in which it exists. This may be cooperative or antagonistic.

The route of the person from birth, through the values of the tribe and to real individuality may not happen at all. True individuality requires knowledge, judgement and a high degree of self-reliance. We all know Tribes in which such a rise to the ‘freedom’ of individuality would be frowned upon – to say the least.

Complexity, of the sort we experience today, is a relatively modern thing

Despite this, the wisest of individuals have, throughout history, risen to think for themselves and brought great change to the society in which they lived. Their upward journeys have been struggles of courage against both circumstance and prejudice.

I believe we now face new forces which are abusing and mis-shaping our countries. They are driven by the relatively small number of people who understand the ‘Complexity’ of our worlds. Our societies have changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years, largely driven by technology. Tech can be and is an enabler, but it is also a generator of fear for those left behind as powerful entities dominate the way in which such Tech is used…

Tech is also an ideal basis for placating the masses. Television soap operas and dating shows, for example. Thinking is hard, that is the simple truth. Thinking for yourself is very hard…

The above diagram illustrates the idea that, while maturity is an aspirational force pushing up our pyramid of self, Complexity is a negative one and drives people back into a tribal mode of behaviour. I believe this to be happening across western societies, today, and it partly accounts for the rise of nationalism and the seeming ignorance of the historic basis for the repeated rise of fascism in our histories.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and educate the tribe, itself.

So, what can we do about what is happening in Western democracies? We may be unable to do anything. There are tectonic forces at work, both economic and political, which are de-stabilising things for their own advantage. We can at least be aware that this is taking place and consider how Tribes are ‘played’ by such forces.

A Tribe will serve its society if it has expectations that its brightest individuals will ‘see farther’ and thereby educate the Tribe, itself. If this is not present, and any alternate thinking is given the ‘fake news’ treatment, then the element of ‘belonging’ will be invoked near the base of the pyramid and we will be collectively dragged back to the vexed lower land of our birth and not the potential of our individualities.

© Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Primal screen

Somewhere in the frontal cortex of our brains there’s a very special junction – a place where we learned to do something truly different with our minds… Let’s call it the Primal Screen…

Our spines can be considered the highway of our historical evolution: the inherited paths of form and energy that developed from single cells in oceans, through fish, lizards and apes. At the apex of this human ‘flower’ is the brain; in which the higher concepts, such as ‘self’ and moral values reside.

Those, like me, who felt uncomfortable with science’s cold and clinical view of life as a series of accidents aimed only at the mating chamber, can now take heart that the biological sciences, themselves, have, for the past twenty years, led the way in redefining the benign complexity of life and breaking us away from the genetic ‘evolution as everything’ model that dominated the life-sciences in the past.

The modern view of the human is a very complex thing, indeed – but wonderfully so. The innate complexity of sub-atomic matter is now matched with a new science – appropriately named ‘complexity theory’ – which studies and tries to understand how ‘dumb’ matter organises itself into increasingly complex forms, as though the whole of Life is experimenting with different ways to something mysterious.

Philosophers, long ago, named this ‘Teleological’; meaning it had a purpose. The modern picture is even more complex – or beautiful, depending on your perspective. Genes do work with survival and species as in the Darwinian model; but that’s not all they do. The new science of Epigenetics shows how genes also ‘express’ their complex proteins within a lifetime to alter the human: they are a living rather than a dead code…

The understand of consciousness has played a part in the cultures of our species for thousands of years, but the division of consciousness into reliable ‘organs’ is a success story of the last century, in the form of psychology.

We can argue that this ignores mystical philosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, each of which have been around for hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of years… But the successes of psychology are real and provide a common basis for us to discuss the concept of ‘self’.

The breaking open of the greater life-sciences has changed everything, and there will come a time when all these journeys of the ‘self’ will be united with an advanced form of today’s biology; but possibly under a new and common language.

So, to return to our opening statement. What was this juncture in our evolution of ‘self’? The philosopher Gurdjieff made it one of the central tenets of his successful system of self-work. He called it Identification. It was the stage in our group evolution when we looked ‘out’ from our presumed separate bubble of ‘me’ and saw high-intensity things that were so interesting we decided they should be an extension of our selves.

Children do do this automatically. Their imagination is so vivid that the pile of rocks on that hill becomes a castle – and can stay so for many years until the maturing adult looks back one day and smiles at how he and his companions brought it to life as Castle Hilltop…

Imagination is not the only component of this extension of self. Identification involves emotions, too. That castle belonged to the boys and girls of the Hilltop Gang – and they defended it, fiercely… It not only belonged to them, it was them.

As we grow into adulthood, the identifications become stronger. Our job – that important place in society, is considered vital. Alternatively, we may develop a skill or craft that becomes our defining set of actions – an artist who locks herself away for weeks while a fine work is created is a positive example. The career-minded politician whose only goal is power, regardless of the cost is a more negative one. That shiny BMW in the top salesman’s drive might be considered a good example of the power that this kind of defining attraction holds.

Identification can be more complex and subtle, too. We can become identified with negative things, like our illnesses or states of depression; allowing them to define who we are. I am not trivialising the difficulty of working with these conditions, just pointing to the mechanism which has such a ‘locking’ power.

The core of what Gurdjieff said – and a big part of the Silent Eye’s first year course work – is to stand back from these ‘suits of armour’ and realise that we are not them. The ‘younger self’ beneath the defences and attachments is where we really live, but it takes a brave soul to begin that journey. Having begun, it actually gets easier, not harder. Each identified state has locked up a lot of the creative energy of our lives. Seeing them for what they are, with exercises to soothe the way, releases that energy… and gives it back to us as a gentle, creative warmth, which pools with its kin to empower a change in the whole being – in a remarkably short time.

Society and civilisation has its Primal Screens, too. We are in a period of global history where these are now threatening our future. As an older society we may see in others’ flag-waving an immature identification–but not be so good at acknowledging our own.

Beneath all of this is our true Self – and that kind, warm and sharing place has never changed, just been papered over like the interior of an old house. All mankind shares this house, and only a recognition of what we share, rather than our projected view of what we don’t, will enable us to free the collective healing energies to work with this beautiful planet.

At that wonderful stage in our collective lives, we may discover far more about ourselves than we thought possible. We might even discover an entirely new concept of purpose…

© Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Only a Horse and a Sword

We become habitual in our thinking. It’s a good idea (and fun) to play little games with our mind to help us look at things differently.

One of these is to look at things in a ‘zero-sum’ way: that is, to consider life as a vast journey of ‘bought and sold’: acquisition, usage and disposal…

Saladin, (Salah ad-Din) the legendary first Sultan of the combined lands of Egypt and Syria, and scourge of the western Crusaders, is recorded as having given away most of his belongings before his death.

At the end, his only possessions were his horse and a sword.

But that’s ‘just’ end-of-life, stuff. How about if we lived our lives such that everything we ‘took in’ to our lives had to be used, valued and then disposed of in a positive way as we went along?

What might this include? Well, our possessions of every kind would have to be acquired alongside the sentiment: ‘I want this, but I will ensure that others benefit from it, too…’. Then, when the thing ceased to be of use to us, we would look for others to whom it would be useful.

Not too much to ask, or too onerous?

Our home would be open to others, as long as they honoured its ‘foundations’. Those would include a certain attitude to looking after it and respecting its conventions. Our family – something not acquired in the same way, but given to us – would need to be considered, too. At the end of our days, how would our balance sheet look? Did we leave others ‘richer’ than we found them? Did our presence bring some joy, along the way. There are always struggles with family, which is often the most difficult ‘school’ of our lives, but, overall, did we try?

Our careers would be an important part of this, too. We work in increasingly ‘compressive’ environments, where we are expected to conform to behaviours that are not native to our higher natures. How do we manage this? There may be few choices – externally. But we can always project an inner air of integrity, even if what is around us is ruthless, uncaring or downright cruel.

Examining our lives across these broader timescales will bring us back to much shorter ones. One consideration will be that we will look for things that we did not earn in any way, short of being present. Our food and other means of sustenance is a vital part of our lives. The ‘Maslow’ approach to this was that we cannot hope to lead a higher personal life until our basic needs have been fulfilled; and we should examining others’ lives on this basis, too, before we judge them.

On an even smaller scale, how about breathing? We take in air whose creation and preparation has nothing to do with our own effort. At this smallest scale, we are literally given life every few seconds. There is no bill at the end of this most basic of meals.

In such situations, perhaps we can think of it as a debt. We owe…

And, maybe that sense of owing would begin to renew both our ‘selves’ and the planet, replacing the viciousness of entitlement so prevalent among those who ‘rule’ us. It seems that, as the world’s wealth comes to belong to fewer and fewer people, civilisation goes back in time to a more feudal basis. It’s a frightening thought that our ‘democracies’ have become so feeble that even the most educated feel powerless to stop the erosion of what were – not so long ago- shared values.

But we are not the first to live in troubled times. It may be that they are there to teach us to act responsibly and collectively. Unless we can do so, we are powerless to change things.

We may conclude that, as an individual, we can do nothing to change the politics of our ‘world’; in which case we live in an age where only our personal behaviour can make a difference: good examples of personal light in darkness can catch the spirit of the times and become visible flames.

Saladin was a great warrior and is said to have been a fair and just ruler. He had a vast kingdom and ended the power of the Crusading forces.

Our true kingdom is our lives, not how much we possess. Will we be able to look back on our lives from our single horse, and kiss the keen blade of thoughts and feeling that brought us through? And then will we have the grace to leave both behind, in a final act of giving, before surrendering our physical existence to the drifting sands beneath our feet…

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Have you seen it, yet?

Do you see it all, sometimes?

Turn, doing something strange with your mind

Look back with different eyes

And see the path that led to you?

A moment of vast lucidity…

But there’s one thing you don’t see

The thing that can’t be seen

Have you seen it, yet?

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

The creature on the beach beyond thought

It lay there, head in the sky, gazing at the radiance. Its tail was still in the ocean of thought, the gentle waves urging it back where it belonged…

The gaps in the waves had always been there; they were the rhythm of life. But it had never thought to use them as a way through.

To where?

To beauty, certainly. The sights and sounds and smells of newness were all around it, the warm sand beneath. But it was a different newness. It lay there, laughing at the thought that newness could be new. The sea began to analyse this, pulling it, gently, back into its waves, but it pushed out its hands and grasped the glittering sand, and breathed deep the air that could only be new… and knew it was home.

Why had it never seen that, before?

Perhaps you had to be steered; gently guided into the shallows so the edge of the glittering sand became apparent. Behind it, the ocean of thought began to clamour for its attention, perhaps desperately seeing the last chance to put it back into the sleep of thought’s conditioning.

Conditioning: it was a hard word, and yet described the whole ocean; even the parts where it had tried to reason the way out of it. Life had conditioned it to love, to fear, to survive; and yet the very spark of life had not come from that sea of thought and reaction. The sea was only the cradle for that which could not be conditioned – did not react, because the real nature had a sheer power to be with the truth of anything, just being there was its truth, and all else bowed before it…

All else was its child.

The waves called to it in a different voice, now. They sang of love; of a role performed, of the golden drops of sun-kissed water flowing from the rapidly-changing body and finding their way back into the sea, where they shone – briefly – differently.

Stronger, surer by the second, he raised eyes that were new… to the Sun.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.