Time to project my worldview on this epic mess.
There is no evil here.
Walter is clear: I made mistakes but my motives were innocent – I was just trying to take care of my family.
And he is right. That’s how I see it too: to me it’s the motives that count. Motivationally we are all innocent.
Walter White – as I see it – is not a bad man: he is a man trying to take care of his family and doing his sucky narcissistic best.
And, in my experience of this life, this is more of a rule than an exception.
The motivational good tends to break bad.
Ordinary perfection. What can I say…
Knowing how to forgive is an essential, if not the essential skill of love. On that note, in continuation of the 360 Degrees of Compassion series, I’d like to offer you an example of betrayal and forgiveness, from Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is a very complex work with multiple layers of meaning. To date, the book has been translated into 65 languages – more than any other novel. So, for those of you who aren’t familiar with this work, I will only summarize the part of the story that is relevant to the topic of betrayal and compassion.
Winston Smith, a civil servant/bureaucrat responsible for maintaining the propaganda of the Party, is a citizen of the Big-Brother totalitarian regime. He falls in love with Julia, a mechanic that repairs novel-writing machines. They develop a romantic-dissident relationship in a society that had banned both love and freedom of thought. They are set up by a party member, O’Brian, and are eventually captured by Thought Police. They are interrogated and tortured. O’Brian explains that the Party wants power for the sake of power and aims to extinguish any form of free thought and individual partiality (such as romantic attachments; love, after all, is a form of partiality and individual bias). During this psychologically and physically trying re-programming and re-education, Winston quickly breaks down – he confesses anything just to escape further turmoil. O’Brian, who is personally responsible for this re-education, however, is not convinced. He believes that Winston still loves Julia. To help Winston break through this attachment, he designs a custom-made torture for Winston.
The following re-formatted dialogue from the novel will help set up the scene further.
O’Brian: “You asked me once what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst world.” (The door opened… A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or a basket of some kind.) “The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, …
1:27am. The baby has been crying so I am awake. Downstairs, I sit to read. I see a stink bug on the floor. Correction: I see a fellow neural colony inside a stink bug body-form. (I am relating to it: the neurons inside this insect are the same as mine, just fewer. It’s a neural namaste moment). I evaluate my choices: for the last several years I have been using a Bugzooka to patiently remove these fellow minds out of my house. But it’s late in the season. I haven’t seen one of these in my house for a while. And it’s 1:30am and cold outside: I am neither willing to mess with this right now nor do I feel good about kicking out this fellow neural colony into a certain death by freezing.
I open up the browser and type in: “What do stink bugs like?” Yes, for a change, I am considering doing something nice for this fellow neural colony however stinky it might be. Google doesn’t seem to support the vector of my inquiry: it tries to refer me to the Orkin man with his shirt-and-tie hard-hatted matter-of-factness of a corporate pest control mercenary.
Professor Orkin instructs: “Most stink bugs are plant feeders. The first generation of the spring often feed on weeds or grasses. As they develop into adults, they often migrate into fields, orchards, and residential landscapes. In these environments, stink bugs feed on apples, peaches, berries, peppers, beans, and pecans. They also feed on field crops like sorghum and cotton. Around homes, stink bugs have been found feeding on ornamental plants.”
I don’t have any ornamental plants and I am out of fruit. But I do have some pecans. I look at the stink bug: when I came downstairs it sat motionless next to my red IJoy massage chair (where I now sit, typing). Right around the time I found out that it, like me, likes pecans, the stink bug began to crawl out of sight. I am sure it’s been hard at …
“There is no such thing as evil. The concept of evil is a crutch. We will not heal until we toss away the crutch. [...] To perceive something as ‘evil’ is to imagine that that object, that person, is not a part of me. He’s something else. To perceive ‘evil’ is to attempt to deny that we are all one.”
Paul Williams, Das Energi
Truer words have not been spoken: no separation, no evil.
Related: There is No Evil
“Humankind is functioning on the principle of ego – or separate identity and separative activity. Separateness and separateness – or ego-”I” – is the idea of “difference.” That idea inevitably manifests as the process of “objectification,” control, and destruction. [...] The right action of humankind is action based on the presumption of prior unity – not ego, not “tribes,” not any kind of form, idea, or cultural expression that came about or emerged in times of dis-unity.”
Adi Da would probably disagree with my concept of Neural Tribe. He’d probably say that this too is a form of dis-unity, that categorizing life into neural and non-neural is just another separative difference. And I’d agree with that, I’d agree with Adi Da. I realize that redefining humanity as neurality is just a smaller of the separative evils. And yet, I think, it is a step in the right direction: it is a use of separativeness towards unification. The idea here is to expand the radius of identification – from Human Tribe (HT) to Neural Tribe (NT). In so doing, I am, in essence, inviting the humanity to bypass the intra-group distinctions (the kinds of tribal distinctions within the Human Tribe that Adi Da was writing about). I am inviting Humankind to redefine itself as Neurokind so as to shift to non-tribal kindness.
The “big idea” here is to try to bypass our intra-tribal distinctions by broadening the definition of our tribe – from Human Tribe to Neural Tribe. The idea is to reverse-engineer what Adi Da called “prior unity” by first learning to relate to our neural brothers and sisters in the animal kingdom. This “big idea” is an old idea, it’s an intuitive idea, it’s a cliche idea: we know that having a relationship with a pet animal tames our own separative mind-beast. This is one of the therapeutic mechanisms behind the use of pet therapy as empathy-training, say, in prison populations.
Like Adi Da (and Gurdjieff and countless others) I see …
Diaspora is a dispersal, scattering, migration of people away from their ancestral roots, away from their origins. In modern use, we tend to equate the word “diaspora” with the notion of an ethnic, immigrant community. For example, a such-and-such diaspora in such-and-such place (say, an Armenian diaspora in US).A diaspora is a new coordinate, a kind of portable homeland, a new address. And new addresses come with new identities. We get anchored in the place, we begin to associate ourselves with our current logistical circumstance. And, inadvertently, we begin to lose sight of where we came from.
Adi Da, in his book Not-Two is Peace, talks about humanity as a diaspora that lost sight of its shared origins and, as a result, fell into tribal antagonisms. Adi Da is, thus, down on the concept of the tribe. He sees tribalism as one of the modern-day splits that threaten the human civilization. I get what he is saying and I am largely on board with his point. But I’d like to re-own the word “tribe” (as I’ve done so with the “neural tribe” meme).
A neural tribe is a broader kind of diaspora. A neural tribe is a neural diaspora. Here’s what I have proposed in my recent writings: wherever you find a neuron, there – as a species – you are. What this means is that you and I, your cat and my dog, and the flees on them, are all neural colonies of one and the same Neural Tribe that inhabits different animal body-forms. Put differently, we are the Neural Tribe in a state of extreme dispersal. We – the Neural Tribe – have set up shop all across the biological real estate. We – the Neural Tribe – are everywhere. We are anywhere you find sentience on this Earth.
Adi Da is right: going beyond race and nationality and culture may solve some global problems. But what if we tried to go beyond the body-plan, beyond the body-form, beyond …
Context: please, if you haven’t yet, read my post Neural Tribe (an Introduction to the Meme) to get a better sense of where I am coming from with all of this.
We’ve known that any given organism is composed of individual cells as far back as 1839 when Theodore Schwann proposed so. It took about 50 years (until 1888) to extend this notion to the nervous system. Santiago Ramon y Cajal was first to seriously posit that nervous system consists of discrete (stand-alone) individual cells (neurons).
“When he started conducting research, Cajal was, like most scientists of his time, a reticularist, believing that the nervous system was a continuous network of interconnected fibers (Iturbe et al., 2008). The major proponent of the reticular theory was the German anatomist Josef von Gerlach. Based on observations made with his gold chloride method, he argued that the processes of contiguous nerve cells fuse to create a meshed network (Gerlach, 1871). In 1888, Cajal started a systematic histological study of the nervous system, making several descriptions and discoveries that would lead him to challenge the widely accepted reticular theory. These important discoveries took place between 1888 and 1894 and were published in the Revista trimestral de Histología normal y patológica (López-Munoz et al., 2006).” (source: Scholarpedia)
Neural Tribe Doctrine
Cajal’s Neuron Doctrine was that nervous system (i.e. you) is made of stand-alone neurons (of neurons separated by synaptic gaps).
The Neural Tribe Doctrine is that neuron is a species, that each of us is a neural colony, and that all of us – across various body-forms – are part of the same neural tribe.
Once again, Cajal’s Neuron Doctrine is : a nervous system is made of disconnected, stand-alone neurons.
Neural Tribe Doctrine re-connects the disconnected neurons into one Neural Tribe :
1. neuron + neuron + [....] = One Neural Colony/Local Neural Oneness
2. neural colony + neural colony + [...] = One Neural Tribe
Cajal found neural separateness. I am talking about neural oneness, about a platform for identification and compassion, and about the possibility (some day) of translocal neural …
Introduction of the NT Meme
A human – or any animal, for that matter – is a multicellular colossus that consists of various cellular types. One way of looking at our nervous systems is that they are not really systems but colonies of stand-alone neuron (all neurons – as close as they are to each other – are separated by synaptic gaps and, as such, stand-alone). A cellular colony is a community of certain cell types. A human, in a typical sense of the word, is an agglomeration of such various cell types as blood cells, adipose cells, muscle cells and neurons. Neurons are cells – at least, that’s how we usually think of neurons. The Neural Tribe perspective is a fundamentally different narrative: it’s an attempt to recognize that any life-form that is inhabited by neurons is part of our Neural Tribe (NT).
The Neural Tribe (NT) perspective is that we are the neurons, not the specific body-forms we inhabit, not the non-neural cellular bricks of our bodily habitats. Indeed, you can lose and/or replace (in theory) any type of cells without experiencing a change in your humanity. This is the promise of the next-paradigm prosthetics. Before too long we will be entering an era of cyborg, an era of brain-machine interfaces in which we hook into/plug into various types of assisting machinery. Before we got lost in the cyborg housing of the future, we have to, at least for once, get clear on what we are and what we aren’t. The NT perspective is that Neural Tribe is a Species that inhabits a variety of life-form habitats (we live in human form, in bird form, in fish form, in insect form but we aren’t the body-forms we inhabit).
What We Are and What We Aren’t
So, the question is: who are we? We are that which we cannot be without. We can lose limbs full of muscle cells without a sense of being lost, we can take in an infusion of someone else’s blood cells without …
There are those who produce energy and those who consume it. Plants are energy producers. They are known as autotrophs because they are nutritionally autonomous, requiring only sunlight, air, water, and minerals. Self-feeding, they don’t have to kill for living (with the rare exception of carnivorous plants, such as the Venus flytrap). And then there are the rest of us. Animals of any kind—mammals, birds, insects, fish, and us humans—consume others, we are heterotrophs (hetero meaning “other”). That’s our existential hell: to live we have to kill, and there’s no way around it (at least not yet).
This dynamic is too natural to be an issue of ethics. Nature is beyond ethics. Ultimately, I see heterotrophic eating not as a matter of ethics, but as an existential predicament: we’re trapped in a death-propagating cycle. But—and this is going to sound like science fiction—we don’t have to stay on this circuit of existential hell. We can evolve. In our dim, distant origins, we share a lineage with plant life. This opens the door to the possibility that we can, at least in theory, also learn to produce energy. We can learn (or relearn) how to photosynthesize (see related post, Metabolic Independence).
In the meantime, I leave you with a call for ahimsa—not with a call for nonharm or nonviolence (at this point, that’s only possible for plants, not for animals), but with a call for harm reduction. Kill (to eat) only as much as you need, and do it with compassion and gratitude, whether you are of the meat-eating or plant-eating persuasion.
Let me close this with the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti:
“A person is not virtuous because he doesn’t eat meat, nor is he any less virtuous because he does.” (1977, 166)
A person is virtuous because he or she is conscious of others. And wherever there is consciousness of others, there tends to dwell compassion.
Adapted from Reinventing the Meal
The West is in a constant war with reality: perpetually dissatisfied with what is, we are desperately trying to perfect it. This one and only reality seems never enough and we feel ever entitled to more: bigger houses, bigger (hybrid) cars, bigger (Anime-sized) eyes, bigger market shares, bigger tax deductions, bigger incomes, bigger bonuses, bigger breasts, bigger penises, bigger egos, and bigger wars. We have been culturally programmed to endlessly optimize and supersize, and to constantly perfect ourselves and everyone else around us.
Our appetite for more has been kindled to the level of insatiability. No wonder we feel psychologically starved and existentially empty.
We have been taught to chase the unattainable: to be more than what we are at any given point in time. We are a culture of idealistically naive strivers unable to be content with what is if only for a moment. This absurdly unrealistic goal (to be more than what we are at any given point in time) comes with the high cost of psychological dependence. Feeling chronically imperfect, we sell out for reassurance, validation and approval. Feeling chronically incomplete, we compete in consumption and stuff ourselves beyond measure.
This chronic deficit of self-acceptance becomes a matter of national deficit and undermines the socio-political independence of our society. Long-term sovereignty of a nation rests with psychological independence of its constituents. A nation of psychologically insecure denizens is at war with itself, and is, thus, divided.