For the past ten months, I have been in a constant battle with fear. Even though I understand where my fear comes from and how I can deal with it, or at least I try to. It does not simply dissolve. In addition to all the current events, we are heading for a crisis that is hardly comparable to everything we have seen before.
I have delved deeply into myself to try to understand why I cannot stop being afraid. Remember my first article, heal your wounds. This is a wound, and I think we all share it. It is not really personal, no trauma that I carry alone. It is a trauma that we share together.
It is worth repeating what I have said in the last few years that in our language we have a distinction between thinking and thought. Thinking implies the present tense some activity going on which may include critical sensitivity to what can go wrong. Also, there may be new ideas, and perhaps occasionally perception of some kind inside. Thoughts are the past participle of that. We have the idea that after we have been thinking something, it just evaporates. But thinking does not disappear. It goes somehow into the brain and leaves something trace which becomes thought. And thought then acts automatically.
Not so long ago, I was talking and thinking with a wise woman, still unknown to me, about the sadness in our world. We talked about the many reasons to despair about the state of the world today. Isolation policies are increasing on both sides of the Atlantic and are taking up the frustration of voters. The refugee crisis in Europe has reached record levels and millions more are expected, and in the United States, there has been a stream of police murders. We had elected a President in America who boasted of sexually abusing women, dividing society, and more. Thank God that the topic has been dealt with. #goodbytrump And I did not even mention climate crisis, Mental crisis, biodiversity, society and so many more things going on.
She called this Weltschmerz
Who and what can young people who could still weather the storm turn to? I plead for aging at a time when people are desperately seeking the wisdom that comes to those who are ready to grow old, who are ready to know limitation and deep service until the end of days. To be wise and child alike.
How did Weltschmerz emerge?
What are we talking about when we talk about suffering? Do we know what it means to have pain? I am thinking of suffering for a while now. When you don't get what you want, you suffer; when you get what you don't want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you suffer because you cannot hold on to it forever. Your mind is your Dilemma. It wants to be free from change. Free from pain, free from the obligations of life and death. But change is the law, and no pretense can change this reality. But how do we shape the realities in which we live? I believe in the power of written words and the realities we create with them. Just imagine how many times we believe something because we have read it. So let us start where it all began. Cultures older than our own widely believed that words have magical, generative power. They were not just symbolic ephemera, arbitrary signs linked to the real world of things by arbitrary social conventions. Words were emanations of land and life, closely linked to the intrinsic nature of the things, processes, and properties they denoted. To name a thing was to call it.
All the more powerful was the arrangement of the words into a story and the ritual staging of these stories. The world was told to exist and maintained by telling stories and performing rituals. Thus it came about that older cultures widely believed - or should I say widely acknowledged - that the degradation and abandonment of their rituals heralded the end of the world.
Given the misfortune that befell these cultures, when Christian conversion and the market economy swept aside their rituals and replaced them with school, money, law, and medicine, who can say that they were wrong? We never developed a framework to think about that, we never learned to question something.
Today the dominant culture faces the same fate as the one that is destroyed. Our own rituals and stories seem to be withering away, as does the power of the word itself. We live in a world of showmanship and hype, of messages and image, of official lies so routine that they have lost their ability to shock us. This is why the hierarchies of Western society seem no longer able to proclaim: "This is the way it should be", and thus bring miracles into being. Despite their hyperbolic elaboration, the rituals of the medical establishment cannot banish new wave diseases such as autoimmunity, allergies, Lyme disease, and cancer. The rites of the injection, the pill, the divinatory test, and the procedure have lost their magic power. And we are searching for something new.
We no longer stare with superstitious awe at the power of our high priests, the scientists. We no longer believe that a Brave New World is waiting for us, but one or two inventions away. We no longer believe in the glorious rise of humanity to the supremacy of all beings. We are still stuck in the habits and institutions that have arisen from these beliefs, the whole Tower of Certainty built upon them, but we no longer know what we believe, or no longer believe what we know. We enter a space between the stories.
Could it be that the material plundering of the world, the reduction of its stones, soils, plants, animals, and water to commodities, the economic reduction from quality to quantity and form values to value, suggested and then demanded their conceptual reduction? Whatever came first, our present predicament is that history sustains the system and the system sustains history. They are an inseparable whole, a being in itself.
I mean this literally: we are participants in the life of an organic entity which, like all beings, goes through different stages of life. The being that we might call "modern civilization" is obviously in a stage of senescence, but whether this precedes its death or its metamorphosis is probably beyond what anyone in it can know. Be that as it may, the question we face is not how to prolong his youth, for example under the banner of "sustainable development" or "green growth". The question is not how we can preserve what is familiar, but rather what we want to become. Let me actually withdraw this statement. The question of what we want to become may be premature because our will carries the indelible breath of the madness of our time. It is more a question of listening to what we want to become. The question "What history shall we create next?" is new wine in old skin, contaminated with the dying history of man in the driver's seat, lord of his own destiny, lord of the world, lord of the wilderness, lord of mystery, forward and upward on a triumphal arch of progress. Better questions could be: "What story comes next? "Which new-antique story offers the greatest beauty? And: "How can we prepare ourselves to accept it?
This is one way how Weltschmerz was created and now we have a meta crisis. I often write that we are living in fascinating times, in which all these global political turbulences motivate various new ways of thinking and problem-solving. At the same time, all this leads to deep pain, a mental crisis is not seen as such but as an economic product. The Weltschmerz I described above has a lot to do with a meta crisis, which I have mentioned here several times before. Meta means "beyond". So when we "go meta" or make a "meta-movement", we take our present paradigm and find a new one that transcends and includes it. This is exactly what Einstein was getting at when he said that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking with which we created them. When we move to the meta-level, our thinking develops to a higher level of complexity. We arrive at "both-and" points of view instead of "either-or". Not ecological or cultural crisis, but both ecological and cultural crisis. On this level, we can understand world-weariness and find solutions.
To address Weltschmerz, we need to undertake new meta-actions in different dimensions of our lives. This newsletter explores various practical ways in which we can do this to overcome the underlying meta-crisis: Our psychology, society, and politics are quite terrible at problem-solving and paradigm-shifting - i.e. understanding and navigating crises - and keep us trapped in the problems and paradigms of the ever collapsing old world system.
Although this area can sometimes feel overly abstract, please do not doubt your ability to upset your worldview and push yourself into new areas of understanding. Psychological development progresses towards greater complexity through the synthesis of opposing perspectives. And it does so by combining most perspectives - or meta-perspective! - we can begin to see how we can coordinate and control the immense complexity of modern society. When you read and read my articles, you will first think that I often write about the same thing. But then at some point, you will realize that every article has its own dynamic.
Thinking about thinking - Healing Weltschmerz
This is an area in my book (almost done :-) ) where I want to illustrate how we learn to think. Metacognition is, simply put, thinking about our own thinking. We have to think about how we think, how others think, how we perceive ourselves, and how others perceive themselves - that is meta-cognition. And it is a central element for good philosophy. Socrates was one of the meta-thinkers - he was proclaimed the "wisest of the Greeks" because he simply explained his own ignorance. But this insight made the radical difference between him, the grandfather of Western philosophy, and the ordinary citizen (who was not aware of his ignorance!). In a strange paradox, a meta-movement allowed him to transcend and include his own ignorance, which is a totally transformative way that did not make him unimportant. What I always try to prevent is to fall into this old thinking pattern. I want you to develop a routine, to discover yourself getting lost emotionally or on small levels.
Another way of understanding Weltschmerz is that the global crisis cannot be reduced to a single view or explanation. Every lens we use to understand the global crisis (e.g. ecological crisis, political crisis, economic crisis) is partial and limited. Therefore we must be able to hold perspectives above our own perspectives and those of others - these are meta-perspectives. They enable us to judge which perspectives work and which do not, and to arrive at the criteria for a perspective that "works". As soon as we admit that every person always operates from some perspective, ideology, or worldview, the need for meta-perspectives becomes obvious. Only by holding meta-perspectives can we meaningfully grasp and compare several different perspectives. Understand? "Going Meta" enables you to hold several perspectives and synthesize them productively, thereby improving your ability to find your way around the collapsing, flourishing world system and find your way around it. This enables us to be in solidarity with all people and to empathize with them from their perspective. Compassion and mutual understanding increase. Even better: meta-perspectives make our own perspectives conscious and criticizable, not unconscious, and thus unquestioned. This enables humor, self-irony, and distance; we are less dogmatic and more open to alternative perspectives. Indispensable meta-crisis ability.
Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people.
With those words