For past millenia, our cultural mythology has taught us the Old Gospel — the possibility of perfection, that we can discover or create a world in which every tear is dried, every loss redeemed, where the lion lies down with the lamb (and the lamb can even sleep), where justice and freedom is for everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.
All the western religions hold out this ideal as our lot after death in heaven and exhort us to create heaven here on earth by treating our brothers and sisters with the same kindness and consideration we would want for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that… but…
But today I give you a new gospel. The ideal of perfection is an illusion. It’s not how the world works. It’s the cultural carrot used, along with the cultural stick of hell, to entice us, the donkey-headed populace to preserve the cultural norms. But it’s not how the world works and it never has been.
Complex problems like poverty, world hunger, social justice, warfare, environmental degradation, global warming, and the like don’t have simple solutions. They can only be managed over time.
Life consists of repetitive cycles of prosperity and adversity. No matter how prosperous this cycle is, it will end and we will see adversity again. No matter how bleak and painful this cycle of adversity may be, it will eventually turn and we’ll see prosperous, happy times again. The cycles continue, so far without end. The age old aphorism, “This too shall pass,” is perennially true.
The dominant cultural religions teach us to look forward to the Day of Judgement, the end of the world, when all shall be made new, all the problems solved, everyone pigeon-holed neatly into heaven or hell, good or evil, saved or lost. So do most television shows, fiction books, movies, video games, and other entertainment modalities, including sporting events, television wrestling, and political debates. They all end with a satisfying emotional cadence in which everyone gets their just desserts (at least from the storyteller’s point of view), a winner and loser, and all the loose ends are neatly wrapped up (unless the storyteller wants to leave a few threads dangling on which a sequel can be hung).
Perhaps such a Day of Resolution will eventually arrive, but despite it having been regularly predicted and anticipated over the past millennia, so far it has not arrived. While we’re waiting for it, we have to go on living. The solutions that are working today may fail tomorrow and we’ll have to find new ones. The problems looming on the horizon may melt away like morning fog or may be the harbinger of the next cycle of adversity.
So, given that life goes on in the meantime, how are we to live these cycles of prosperity and adversity? How do we navigate this reality?
Prudent people have always set aside resources during prosperous times to help them get through the adversity they knew were coming. We live like the grasshopper or the ant in the ancient fable, either freely spending wealth when we have it and suffering when we don’t, or saving some in the good times against the difficult times. If we live as ants, saving responsibly when we can, we may even get to offer help to some grasshoppers when times are tough. We can still offer our brothers and sisters the kindness and consideration we would want for ourselves. We just have to be careful not to turn ourselves from ants to grasshoppers by giving away too much of our husbanded resources in a fit of generosity.
The dominant culture encourages us to live as grasshoppers. It tells us to gamble, borrow, spend with abandon, that we can have it all, that we deserve a break today, that we can have our cake and eat it too if we’ll just keep putting coins in the slot to keep the economy humming. It doesn’t want us to reflect on how history shows that every boom is followed by a bust, every recession by a recovery.
This new gospel will be hard to hear and even harder to accept. Our human brains evolved to look for simple solutions for the simple problems encountered in small tribal groups on the African savanna. The dominant cultural religions, news programs, and pundits pander to this evolutionary predilection of human neurology, offering black and white assessments of complex realities, simple ethical and moral dicta that overlook the complexities of modern life and the cultural and environmental changes of the thousand years or so since those dicta were formulated.
Let them who have ears to hear…