Few people are so devoted to cultivating a more conscious understanding of the world and our place within it as Charles Eisenstein. And few are able to articulate a framework of this world and its contours with as much intellectual facility. Even rarer still is the person who blends these two intentions with elegance. And so I've turned to his essays to shed light in a time of political tumult—and I was not disappointed.
Of all the blog articles, op-eds, essays and Facebook rants I've read about Trump in the past 2 weeks (and that's 1 metric shit ton), none have given me as much hope as this one by Charles Eisenstein: it's compassionate, politically insightful, and yet never loses sight of the spiritual opportunity afforded to us by such a chaotic upset in "business as usual."
As fringe as his writings may be, since the overlap between New Age hippies and astute political commentators is a small space indeed, I regret he doesn't have a bigger mainstream following but am happy to share his works with friends in appreciation of his contributions. Some thoughts on his latest essay (and a lazy summary of sorts).
Trump's election is more than just a political upheaval but instead a deeper unraveling of the seemingly stable status quo, in which "institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve." Thus the central message of the article.
Normal is coming unhinged. For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.
A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.
The dismissal of Hillary as a "sheep in wolf's clothing" is a strong statement, but 1. I admit I agree (cue the tomato-throwing) and 2. there's a deeper point being made here. In short, we need a wake up call. The most harmful of our economic, environmental and foreign policy norms stay constant even as candidates and parties rotate through the Oval Office, and this is something we can no longer afford to be complacent with. We cannot be mollified by the dazzling promises of elected officials who frequently are unable or unwilling to enact even their own desired changes, let alone to recognize and shift the wider systemic issues that chronically lead to our decay.
For Clinton supporters, many of whom were halfhearted to begin with, the Trump administration could mark the end of their loyalty to our present institutions of government. For Trump supporters, the initial celebration will collide with gritty reality when Trump proves unable or unwilling as his predecessors to challenge the entrenched systems that continually degrade our lives: global finance capital, the deep state, and their programming ideologies. Add to this the likelihood of a major economic crisis, and the public's frayed loyalty to the existing system could snap.
We are teetering at the precipice. Our trust in the system is more fragile than ever and it'll take one more straw to break. Feels truer than ever now. This is scary. This is also heartening. If this is the short-term chaos paving the way for deeper long-term shifts, these changes signal the time not for despair but for hope.
It's also not common to refer to the collectivity of our financial, economic, educational, political, environmental, and military norms as one discrete modern "order," which admittedly sounds vaguely conspiratorial. But Eisenstein doesn't do common. If we consider that the most damaging of these institutions arise from the same source—call it greed, call it ignorance, call it the trance of separation—then this makes sense.
As this order collapses, a new one must take its place. And yet which? We've already shown a penchant for being divided as a country on the topic of what direction we should go, from Bernie's progressive populism to Trump's conservative one. Each with wildly different diagnoses and prescriptions, and yet both similarly anti-establishmentarian. If nature abhors a vacuum, the political arena really dislikes it—at least, such is indicated if you zoom out to history. Hence the urgency a new set of institutions in America that are based on compassion, inclusivity and clarity.
The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normal falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Unthinkable ideas range from rounding up the Muslims in concentration camps, to dismantling the military-industrial complex and closing down overseas military bases. They range from nationwide stop-and-frisk to replacing criminal punishment with restorative justice. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of fascistic and totalitarian nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that arise in revolution against them.
So how to prevent the horrors of mob mentality, of unrest and bigotry? It begins with love. I appreciate Eisenstein acknowledging how fluffy that sounds, how unrealistic. Yet what else could help?
That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. I would call it love if it weren’t for the risk of triggering your New Age bullshit detector, and besides, how does one practically bring love into the world in the realm of politics? So let’s start with empathy. Politically, empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together.
We all want the same things. We are all scared, we all feel disappointment. So what now? IDK. And nobody else seems to either, and this is something we Americans share in vulnerability. And because we now find ourselves inhabiting this space of being afraid in the uncertainty together, what a perfect place to begin finding and honoring our shared humanity.
This is my wish and my practice, and I'm willing to dedicate my life to exploring how this loving solidarity of spirit can translate into clarity of action.