REFLECTIONS ON FREEDOM IN 2020
CHAOS, TURBULENCE, and HOLDING HOPE
“Let Freedom Ring…”
— — “America the Beautiful”
“An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom, flashing…”
— — Bob Dylan
“Ring the bells that still can ring…”
— — Leonard Cohen
“Whatever colors you have in your mind,
I’ll show them to you, and you’ll see them shine…”
— — Bob Dylan
“Life is difficult.”
— — M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Travelled”
Life is complex.
Life is also vibrant, and holds the seeds of resonance and harmony.
“In the future, we will all be mystics, or we will not be.”
— — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
How are we doing, this Juneteenth, this Summer Solstice, this Father’s Day 2020? My answer: Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I feel terrible, and nearly always I’m glad to be Alive!
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In the early years of the Americas, long before and long after the ringing words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, That all men are created equal…,” the term “Passage” often referred to the long journey crossing the Atlantic. In the case of Europeans, this journey was frequently an escape from oppression and a seeking of hope and freedom in the “New World.” [There seemed to be no particular concern that the New World had indigenous peoples who would “need” to be displaced.]
For black men and women, the same word “Passage” was a very different journey across the Atlantic; it nearly always meant being bought and sold, being brought from freedom into slavery.
Long before that, the term “Passover” had referred to Isrealites fleeing from slavery in Egypt towards the freedom of a “promised land.”
In all cases the journey was arduous, but for Europeans and Isrealites the hardships were leading towards hope and promise…
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The human species, in aggregate, has been phenomenally prolific; there are about 7.8 billion of us on the planet. But in this rapid expansion we are not doing so well — — the human family is experiencing huge conflict and strife, huge pain and oppression. Human civilization seems to be characterized by such complexity that nowadays we often experience it as chaos. Some remember, or imagine, simpler times, and long for their return; others have lived, or died, through violence and abuse. But it is also true that Nature, and humans, and Life, can be exquisitely, quintessentially beautiful, and full of goodness and truth…
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In 2020 we live in turbulent times. With Juneteenth, commemorating Emancipation, there is rising protest of past and current wrongs, and growing awareness of systematic racial and economic injustice, supported by systemic violence. On Father’s Day we can reflect on the values of fatherhood, and on the limitations and abuses of Patriarchy.
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James Gleick’s 1987 book CHAOS describes turbulence. There was a rapid movement, in physics and mathematics, from a Newtonian world-view, earth seen as an elegant machine of orderly processes, to a quantum world-view, a place of “mysterious” interactions, so complex as to be largely unpredictable. Yet what I learned from that fascinating book is that “turbulence” describes the transition state from one smooth process to another. In ice, water molecules are crystalized into a latticework; as ice melts, the same molecules move differently and become liquid water. As water is heated, as it gets hotter and hotter, it follows predictable rules. And after water has evaporated into vapor or boiled into steam, it follows a new set of predictable rules, such as Boyle’s law and Charles’s law, the stuff of high-school physics in my day. The turbulence of the boiling water, the transition stage, is not unlawful, but the laws it follows are fundamentally different from the steady-state, orderly, Newtonian rules — — as the temperature reaches boiling, the physics and mathematics become non-linear, with complex, sudden shifts possible, different from the smooth progression of the heating water, and different from the new set of lawful principles that govern the behavior of steam. Ice, water, and steam are the same H2O molecules — — they are not being created or destroyed — — but the same molecules are in different structural relationships to each other, looking and behaving quite differently in their different phases.
My vision of our present moment in human history is that we are in the chaos of turbulence, like melting (from ice to water) or boiling (from water to steam). We are in a phase change, from one way of relating to each other and the planet to another way: a paradigm shift. Both ways are made up of humans, planet, and consciousness, and in both we humans, like the molecules of water, will be relatively the same individuals. But we will relate to each other quite differently, and the overall look will be quite different, as water is different from ice, or water vapor and steam are different from liquid water. The “laws” or principles that we will follow after that transition will be quite different from the former ones, as steam behaves differently from water, or water from ice.
7.8 billion of us cannot relate to each other and the planet in the same way that far fewer of us used to; the system doesn’t work well any more. And for many in our human family, the system that was working well for some was and is causing great suffering and hardship for others. What was once explicit slavery has become a system of structural inequality, economic and social. And a relationship of domination and subjugation is not only human to human, but also human to Nature, human to Earth.
When there is great unrest towards injustice, and great aspiration for basic change in the current system, is it any wonder that the transition phase is turbulent? No, it’s “No wonder!” and Yes, as a matter of fact, it is “quite Wonderful!” There is so much potential for transformation. The turmoil of our times has a feeling of Revolution about it. And that feeling, while deeply unsettling, holds a hope. It rises from anger generated by injustice and oppression; but it also rises from a possibility, an aspiration for freedom for all peoples, and for a more harmonious relationship of humankind to the planet. There is hope that a new vision might transcend the status quo of people and planet abused and suppressed for the benefit of a few.
Of course, there is no guarantee that we will reach an outcome that our children and grandchildren will feel happy about, and there is grave jeopardy — — we could devolve into nuclear war or unimaginable environmental destruction. But it is also possible to hold hope — — we could evolve into a new phase relationship, like ice to water or water to steam. And such evolution could take place quite suddenly, a kind of quantum leap, a phase shift into a new era in the way humans relate to each other and to the planet, a new paradigm.
Some of us can remember the fall of the Berlin wall. Nobody could see that event coming — — the system of separation and division was entrenched. In retrospect, we can see cultural patterns that were tributaries and streams leading up to the sudden manifestation of change. When the wall fell, it was astonishingly fast. And the paradigm shift I am speaking of now would be cultural transformation of a far greater magnitude, where changes in behavior and ways of relating would flow from fundamental changes in how we understand who we are and how we relate to one another and to the earth.
No one of us can entirely see what a new paradigm would look like. I think its name will include the word “Integral,” as the post-modern has been characterized by the “differential.” No one and no group can bring it about alone. But ferment is already taking place; tributaries and streams of change are building. And complex systems can change quite suddenly.
As a group of men once pledged to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” I feel I am joining with a rising tide of men and women seeking a new way of being with each other. I will devote my life to planting seeds for the possibility of transformative change, supporting life and love and freedom for all. And despite massive obstacles from entrenched systems, I hold hope.