Every Star has its own Nature, which is ‘Right’ for it. We are not to be missionaries, with ideal standards of dress and morals, and such hard-ideas. We are to do what we will, and leave others to do what they will. We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance.
– Aleister Crowley
The birth of the system
The emergence of centralized worship was an important catalyst in mankind’s civilization, as it marked the birth of hierarchical institutions. Religion took its place at the center of public life – you might even say the first societies centered themselves around religion – and remained there for thousands of years. Whether its virtually unchallenged reign ended around the time of the Renaissance, or rather somewhere in the increasingly secular 20th century, there is no denying that religions have made an indelible mark on our lives, our societies and our collective consciousness. So much so, that it is impossible to imagine what the world would look like today if our ancestors had never gathered in praise of the deities of their day.
Hypothetically erasing religion from our minds would therefore have an unimaginable impact and that is what casts a shadow of doubt over our self-reliance. The very existence of the institution of religion has made the masses dependent on that institution. The religious leadership acquired a level of influence that allowed it to change spirituality from a personal affair into a measure for social standing and success, for social control and even for oppression and war. While believing in the existence of god(s) gave countless people hope and a sense of worth, the semblance of being closely connected to those gods gave the religious elite and their institution an unassailable position of power.
Generally speaking, spirituality is seen as synonymous with religion. A vast majority of people is still being raised within a specific religious reality, and there seems to be a widely accepted notion that belief in a god requires one to belong to a church or temple. These ideas are deeply embedded in our culture and civilization, and they have only recently begun to fray. Religions are not as influential and untouchable as they once were, and man’s faith in the church is shaking. Since we all have a vast world of information at our fingertips, the institution of religion is slowly starting to crumble. So what will happen when it finally collapses?
Religion is not the only institution at the basis of society as we know it – its primary counterparts are (political) government and the economy. As god’s power faded, man started seeking a new frame of reference – something to belong to, and from which to derive a sense of morality. 20th century Europe saw the gradual emergence of nanny states paired with a trend of secularization, both rapidly accelerating in the second half of the century. Strong government in lieu of religion is quite in keeping with Marxist theory, which declared religion “the opium of the people”, but the people didn’t turn away from their opium out of principle, they were simply looking to get it elsewhere. The altruism and solidarity which were previously preached by the church became the domain of government, effectively turning government into a beacon of hope for the poor, the weak and the weary. It may not have the same aura of mysticism, but the social function of government became much like that of religion.
The development of state overtaking church cannot be viewed separately from the rise of capitalism out of the industrial revolution of the mid-19th century, which prompted a rethinking of labor and society. Mass production and further globalization gave the economy the worldwide impact it has today. On one end of the spectrum, financial success became a bigger factor in determining social standing (rather than the other way around), and on the other there was a growing call for laborers’ rights. And then there was the Great Depression, which demonstrated the pitfalls of a big economy: mainly that its negative impact on our wellbeing can be as big as its positive impact.
Dependence and manipulation
Arguably, it was the system of capitalism gave the economy the societal importance it has today. While some argue that capitalism is also the root of the immense disparity in wealth the world is faced with today, others state that capitalism has not been able to function for decades due to government interference. It is these kinds of debates which shroud the actual problem and which leave the status quo untouched. According to Oxfam, the assets of the 85 richest people in the world are now equal to those of the poorest half of the world’s population (i.e. 3.5 billion people). Those with money have the means and the opportunity to continually generate more income, while it becomes increasingly difficult for others to compete with them and their companies. Some of us are saying we need more government to fix this problem, others are saying we need less. And while we keep swaying back and forth, left and right, the only winners are those 85 people and the rest of the elite.
We may have a growing sense of individuality and personal freedom, but our dependence on manmade institutions has actually not significantly decreased. Focus has merely shifted to different area’s: religious institutions have made way for political and economic institutions. The grip their elites have on our lives is no less than the power of the church once was, and thus our collective development remains stagnant. Since they are already in power, change is not in the interest of the elites. There is a reason why the church has long sabotaged and continues to sabotage scientific and social progress (from refusing to abandon Geocentrism in the 16th century all the way to today’s continued resistance to equal rights for the LGBT-community), there is a reason why the most important political decisions are made beyond the control of any democratic mechanism and shrouded in secrecy (from America’s NSA to the EU’s blatant disregard for national referendums), and there is a reason why corporations use “small print” and deceitful labels (Hollywood, Fair Trade, organic food) and why financial institutions keep us in the dark about the machinations of our economy (Rabobank manipulation and the credit crunch).
We are taught to believe that there cannot be morality without religion, that there cannot be wealth without banks, and that there cannot be peace and stability without governments. In fact, most – if not all – religions have corrupted the faith they supposedly represent. Our wealth is built on quicksand and has proven to be far from stable. And we have yet to find peace and safety. Gods are appropriated by terrorist organizations as excuses for mass murder, and the immense disparity between rich and poor has set off a domino effect leading to a wide array of social problems, most obvious of which are substance abuse and crime. The institutions of our society have all played their part in shaping the world we live in. We owe them some gratitude for that, but they have played an equal part in forming the problems we are facing these days. We are taught that without the guidance from these institutions our entire social structure would crumble, but in fact that guidance is precisely what has created man’s dependency.
As with capitalism versus socialism, it’s fairly easy to keep us arguing among ourselves, and that’s proving enough to keep our true problems relatively out of sight. While we’re worried about party-politics, governments (regardless of color) are usurping our privacy, our safety and large portions of the money we make. While we’re discussing the existence of god, clergymen are teaching their followers to hate, to exclude and even to kill. While we’re watching our safety nets melting away, the financial elite is quietly sitting on trillions of dollars. While we’re fighting over which pop star has the most outrageous hairdo, we are hardly (if at all) getting closer to a world of harmony, equality and fairness.
The elite is distracting us by offering us a semblance of choice. When one system fails, our automatic response is to conjure up a new one. We keep weighing one system against another, forgetting that our problems lie much deeper than the people who run those systems – they lie in the systems themselves. The elites are merely those who have taken advantage of the flaws of the system. When we defeat a system and replace it with another, we are only shifting our problems instead of solving them. What we should strive for is learning to function without these systems altogether.
There are many standards by which we may measure civilization. Aside from the formal definition of what constitutes a civilization (as described on Wikipedia: a community which combines “three basic institutions: a ceremonial centre, a system of writing, and a city.”), we tend to consider the presence of order, stable rulership and a clear set of rules as prerequisites. I would argue that the opposite is true: only when politics and law have become obsolete will we have achieved true civilization.
Laws and lawmakers are mere camouflage for the absence of a society’s intrinsic ability to only do good. One very basic problem with defining right and wrong in laws and regulations is that once you start you cannot stop until all possible variations have been covered. After all, once you decide that stealing is wrong and this becomes law, no other wrongdoings can be left unmentioned – regardless of how obvious they are. When that is done (if it ever will be), there is an unlimited number of variations and exceptions which need to be described as well. Considering the ever growing number of people on our planet and our progress and development, that results in an infinite number of possible interactions. It is truly a Sisyphean task – a work that will never be finished.
The assumption is that human beings are incapable of deciding for themselves what is right and what is wrong, and that therefore they need rules and regulations to guide them through life. The reality is that the vast majority of people would be perfectly fine without all these laws (and to those who aren’t, laws don’t seem to be much of a deterrent). And on the other end of the spectrum, under the guise of morality or religion, or simply as the result of power-hungry politics, there are many laws put into place which go far beyond the regulation of human interactions and which are meant to assert control over our actions instead of protecting our interests (censorship, laws that dictate whom we may or may not marry, forcing shops to close on Sundays, etc.).
True civilization will come when we learn to form an autonomous, self-regulating society – evolved beyond war, corruption and crime. When we learn that our individual interests are best served when mankind as a collective prospers as well. It is a continuing cycle of empowerment: by working towards your interests as an individual you will also serve the collective, and the prospering collective will repay you with more means to further your personal growth, and so on. But as long as we perpetuate our dependence on institutions and law we will never learn to live without them.
Towards freedom and independence
Maintaining the notion that man must fit into a system, and live up to its predefined set of ideas and ideals is to perpetuate our stagnation, or even deterioration. From morals to codes of dress or conduct, the goal of the elites is to steer our focus in one singular direction, leaving us blind to an endless spectrum of alternatives. We should not spend our time and energy trying to “fit in”. We should not work to become the best proponents of a religion, we should not pride ourselves on being members of the most democratic country – we should only work on being the best individual we can be.
While the elites vie for their particular institution to become the ultimate system that brings our species peace and prosperity, we have en masse forgotten our true challenge: forming a new social order that is based on peace and liberty, fairness and harmony without the need of governing institutions to enforce the necessary balance. Liberal democracy is not the definitive system of government, capitalism is not the definitive economical principle and no religion is the definitive faith. Their lowest common denominator is that each system is designed to keep systems in place by fitting us into their particular mold of thinking and operating. Each of these systems has been feeding us crumbs, and now we are feeding them back with everything we have.
We have been trained to not even consider the option of functioning without a system – without power and hierarchy – and without rules. And that is precisely the goal of these elites: their institutions keep us small, weak and dependent on their guidance, because that is how the elite maintains its power. While strong people make people strong, strong rulers make people weak. And weak people allow their rulers to stay strong. Individualism, in the sense of focusing on yourself to become the best you can be, will automatically lead to altruism and charity. When people are granted the freedom they need to fulfill their potential, they will ultimately give back to their community by employing their (optimized) skill set to the benefit of the collective. But when we condition people to fight and compete, they will continue to do so even after they’ve won.
There is an artificial, political dichotomy between individualism and collectivism that is fundamentally inaccurate. They are not mutually exclusive terms; they can act and will even thrive alongside each other. But it requires a leap in growth from all of us. We can work from individualism to achieve our full potential so that we can best serve the collective – suited to our own abilities and without coercion. Without the boundaries and guidelines imposed upon us by an elite or their system. The next milestone in our social evolution must be a state of absolute freedom for each individual, where the only limitation for each person is the freedom of others to think and do what they will. That balance of freedoms is precarious, but possible on the condition that we all have the sensibility, whether spiritually or rationally, that that amount of liberty benefits us all as individuals – and thus also us as a collective.