Privilege inspires guilt; fortune inspires gratitude. Both can motivate action, but guilt moves us more shallowly.
money is like manure. When it is spread about it makes things grow, but when it piles up it stinks. This principle is simple. There should be a simple inheritance tax combined with a simple progressive income tax that continuously re-distributes money to sustain commerce, but it should not be so excessive as to discourage incentive. The problem is that government as a vehicle is forged in war, and is incompatible with peace and prosperity. It is forever perverted to serve the selfish interests of the rich, and crush the poor. This is the simplest explanation for the inevitable failure of all civilizations and empires throughout history.
Thank you, ant, for writing this essay. Hope you escape the computer soon and regain your freedom!
I feel it all helps ..if you are drawn to helping one person at a time, do that. If you find your calling and gifts in the bigger picture impact, do that. It’s all necessary.
Charles, this is way off the subject of this profound essay, but I just watched your interview with Aubrey Marcus and I wanted so much to tell you how what you talked about on that interview was truly the first thing I've heard or read that has given me HOPE. It was the first time I have honestly felt that another human has the humanity and wisdom to lead us out of destruction in a way that is actually possible. YOU SAVE MY SANITY. THANK YOU.
Charles, you give us two choices (personalism and political engagement) but there is a third (also compatible with the other two): designing and implementing social systems that are fundamentally different not just at the individual and relational levels, but at higher levels as well. There is a tendency both within the Christian and Capitalist traditions to focus on individuals and stories that they hold, which Confucius may have also dabbled in. I think Confucius had a one way, linear causation view: the foundation being a healthy individual human upon which the healthy family, village, clan, and state are built. But it seems to me (based on my best understanding of Emergence science) that the causation goes the other way too, so that an individual is partially emergent from their family, village, clan and state. And if these levels are missing or under attack (which seems to be what Capitalism does), the individual will be sick too. This is obvious now, with the attention economy, that fragments individuals into unintegrated parts. It's not so much that trauma has increased that makes this fragmentation possible. It's that the other intermediate levels have been or are in the process of being destroyed by global capitalism, and those levels are what helps individuals heal and be anti-fragile, or at least resilient.
So the third choice is to rebuild these other levels... It is not just personal inner work, or relational inter-work, but work at higher levels of human organization and has to involve economic redesign. In the current system, both critiques of privilege , radical political engagement and philanthropy are true. If we design and implement the restoration of these higher levels well, then neither will be relevant.
Interesting article. I think I prefer Lao Tzu over Confucius, but I Confucius was ahead of his time in many ways. This is the second article from substack that I read today about gratitude. Must be the season for it. I'll have to try it myself.
Am I privileged? Or am I fortunate? How can I tell while sitting in the center of the universe? The wonderful (awful) thing about thoughts and opinions is that they come and go like the wind. Some days I feel fortunate. Other days sadly less-than-fortunate. Some days privileged. Other days, as I walk around the neighborhood where I live, within which I will never be able to buy my own house, the thought that I and my family are sadly under-privileged is solid as stone. The confusing fact that all of these conflicting points of view are all true on some level leaves us all ripe for manipulative propaganda and political populism. There will always be some more fortunate and some less fortunate than I. Is the thought 'well at least I'm not as bad off as whoever has to live in this shack by the interstate' inspiring or edifying? I don't think so. And yet it can inspire some twisted form of gratitude, or, at the very least, a scary superstition that bellyaching about my relatively poor circumstance will only invite worse scenarios. It's weird being a being with thoughts and comparative analysis. There's a popular form of contemporary spirituality which preaches to simply ignore all such thoughts - all thoughts actually - as unreal. I've been there and done that too. It can be a relief. And then I wake up with bills to pay, groceries to buy, hopes and desires for a better life and world for my children, and I muddle through.
Dear ant, thank you for this philosophical essay! Charles' day job has been consuming him into the political and I'm grateful that you're tapping into (literally) the intuitive, deep rivers of why we do what we do. This question has great relevance for me. I spent some decades in the charitable side of the argument figuring out how I could do the most good with that opportunity. I've come later to the revolutionary side of it. My focus is on creating that world of the Da Tong.
What I find is that people want my money, my vote, my voice, my assets, but not my ideas. "Well, it's all good for you who have what you need to focus on this pie in the sky, but I need a place to live right now. I have bills. Maybe I'll entertain your ideas if you give me money. So it's fine to have a plan to change things for everybody, but can we just change them for me first?"
Like you, I don't believe in privilege. It's not a privilege to have the last lifeboat while the Titanic is sinking. It's survivor guilt. I just did a YT reading from my book, How to Dismantle an Empire, Chapter 16: What If Money Was No Object?: https://youtu.be/eImnA-OqE3Y. We have to change this for everyone and doing that one at a time while the system chews us up and spits us out will never work. https://www.amazon.com/How-Dismantle-Empire-2020-Vision/dp/1733347607
Too exhausted for an intelligent response, but I am more interested in you, now that I find out about your Asian predelictions. I am a mere dabbler in all that. BUT since you brought it up, my I Ching bibliomancy for today (don't laugh) was: "The ways of ordinary people go on and on, while the ways of cultured people disappear." (Cleary)...I doubt it was pertaining to politics or class, but rather merit, since the I Ching will reference The Sage, or the Superior Man, depending on the translation. I am guessing not the Nietzchean Ubermensch either.
Considering that some say the I Ching is the oldest book still in existence...say what? Oh, well... just carry on...tally ho...and all that.
I am now at the place of such disgust that when a cashier asks if I want to donate to childhood cancer research, I will emit a resounding NO. How "perfect" is something like that for these morons? New flavors of the Hegelian Dialectic... we invent a problem that would NOT have organically arisen, then we'll get another whole segment of these idiot slaves to pay for it! Haha... But forgive my bad attitude. Carry on... As you were...
Interesting material in Helmut Schoek's book, Envy - A Theory of Social behaviour. In particular where he speaks of ingratitude as an expression of envy. Gratitude as a sacred duty. And how being a benefactor where there is no chance of reciprocity, fosters envy and thus ingratitude. Being deeply honest about our motives is essential to giving and receiving in a sacred way. To opening to the imperfect offering.
I feel like the fortune vs. privilege distinction is more useful when considering aspects of life not ordained by human society, like health vs. chronic illness or athleticism vs. disability.
Although I won't argue with the possibility that we are all working through karmic stories, I think it is also true that we ought to feel some guilt - or at least dissatisfaction - for benefiting from arbitrary inequalities imposed by collective human actions and decisions.
I'd like to share here a different critique of the modern "privilege" narrative: that it is *intentionally incomplete*, that it is itself a massive and perhaps even subconscious effort to assuage guilt and thereby avoid addressing other types of privilege.
I believe that neoliberalism is using a social justice narrative to gaslight the entire United States, and much of the world.
The nature of this gaslighting is as follows. Social justice paints a national narrative of progress toward greater equality, beginning with the original sins of slavery and colonization and proceeding through abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay marriage, transgender equality, and the ongoing (and likely to be successful) Black Lives Matter protests against militarized and racist police practices. This is in direct conflict with the lived experiences of a majority of Americans, who – as I discussed in Parts 1 and 2 of this series – have found themselves squeezed between stagnant wages, skyrocketing costs of living, and a profound absence of respect or empathy from those in positions of power, and have logically concluded that equality is decreasing.
Wise as always. I would just like more discernment from Charles on the difference between capitalism, an honest form of commerce, and corporatism, which is clearly destroying us and our world. The Corporation is a terrible legal entity. Privatize the profits, socialize the costs. Healthy cultures and The Corporation cannot co-exist.
Every ethnic and economic class is privileged in some way that is special only to them. For example I am native and would be generally considered an under privileged minority by the current politically correct jargon. Yet I have many privileges unique to my tribal status that non-natives do not have. My tribe has a 3.5 billion dollar yearly operatiing budget with much of that money coming from federal and state sources. Basically we have alot of money and resources and caring experienced people to throw at our problems yet our problems keep getting worse and worse. I won't go into details, but things are pretty difficult for a significant portion of our tribe. Generations of reparations have not improved our overall situation that much. So why do so many folks persist in believing that if we just redistribute the wealth everything will get better? I am not in favor of global elitists running the world with obscene resource hoarding going on, but neither do I think that just open handedly giving money to everybody solves anything either. We are unable to be responsible to the community when we do not feel a real tangible part of that community. Covid revealed just how broken our communites are. Virtual communites are no replacement for real people being dependent on other real people in a real neighborhood, family, etc. I hear alot of talk about creating community, but we seem to have lost the skill and the will to really be that interconnected and dependent on other humans on a daily basis. I get it, I really do. Real relationships are fucking hard and they can turn toxic quite quickly for various reasons. My grandparents generation knew that they needed each other so they sucked up alot of shit just to get along. This younger generation feels they don't need to do that and maybe they don't, but it means that in many cases they are living a virtual fantasy land scenario and spouting ungrounded ideologies they want the rest of the world to conform to.
Obviously I don't have any answers. So much of our behavior is unconcious and genetically encoded and can be quite effectively manipulated by those in power at the moment. Whoever those powers may be and no matter how well intentioned; there are too many of us now to have any intimate ongoing connection with our leaders. This creates projections and dissasociation to the degree that it becomes difficult to discern reality for both the masses and the leaders themselves. We have no natural feedback loop with those who make the policies that rule our lives. We did not grow up with them, we don't see them in all their human messiness and daily living and so we create them to be however we want to in our own minds. And then we fight with others over opposing mental constructs that have little or nothing to do with the actual figurehead we are fighting over and whom we will never actually meet in person. Get a few hundred thousand or million or even billion people projecting their hopes and fears and fantasies onto you and you would go insane too. We are evolved for small tribal groups and we eventually just break down under the weight of empire.
zhende henhao xiao...haode..gen yiqian yiyang, wo zhiyou tidao yige shiqing...A man intimatly grasps that confucianism has been used as a tool for millennium to control the people; he might even grasp that confucianism was invented and promoted by the ruling families, just as that spoiled little boy called Buddah was also from the ruling families, and yet...YET, he refuses to "consign" the system to the rubbish bin because on its "esoteric level" it promotes gratitude and humility, uh- huh... as if we need that whole system to practice a basic gratitude and humility....and it must be admitted that it seems strange for the elite ruling classes to always be writing books and creating relgions and ethical systems that teach humility and acceptance to ...whom? not to themselves but to the people they want to govern ..aint that convenient?
this kind of clinging to the old systems...perhaps like keeping the bathwater until it kills the baby...is the same mentality that would not reveal a conspiracy theory, even when one knows it to be completely true, because it will only redirect the peoples energy into unproductive channels; no, better to continue to promote confucianism and play down all notions of a tiny elite group of families ruling the world because...well, naturally one could not be angry that our leaders are posioning and lying about everything AND as the same time be grateful and kind and humble in our daily relations..no, those two things are mutally exclusive.!
Thank you, Charles. The analysis was thoughtful and appreciated. The simplicity of the Da Tong example is a treasure:
“The aged are cared for until death, those in the prime of life are well used, and children have all they need to grow.” “No one throws away valuable goods; nor do they keep them for themselves.”
I repeat it here, because we cannot hear these revolutionary ideas enough. We cannot conceive how we can make this happen. Yet the memory and truth of the possibility of society with these values resonates so deeply it creates a yearning for home almost unbearable.
It can be done.
In Joan Grant’s far memory book, LORD OF THE HORIZON, a character speaks of the society they have established with these values detailed even further. Then he reminds the listener that the leaders must remain vigilant to guide those who would fall prey to greed and fear – to show them the way back.
This change will be primarily a process of the individual taking the possibility of this society into her soul and making choices and taking actions congruent with the values of this desired society.
A goal of my Substack site is to engage conversations about how each person understands Something Greater than oneself and how they connect with it. I believe when we partner with this greater force, be it God, Life, Nature, Science or the Is, we know how to choose and act to imagine and create this higher society.
I am so grateful for your memory of what is possible. All the best to you.
You're confusing guilt with shame. Shame is about fear of being caught. The root emotion of guilt is empathy – when I recognize I've done harm, I feel the other's suffering and want to rectify the problem.
Most thought provoking per usual from Charles! I have a wider, more holistic and empowering perspective on privilege I have wanting to share and dialogue with Charles for awhile. It says that there are infinite types of privilege and everyone has it. Our job is to find our privilege and use it for the betterment of society. However, when you have privilege you’re usually the last one to know about it. Other types of privilege (beyond the ones we generally think of, class, gender and socio-economic status include age, language, spiritual, psychological and relationship to silence). Would this be a conversation you’d be interested in engaging with?