Notes on “The Paradigm Conspiracy” by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent
PARADIGM: The word “paradigm” was originally one of those obscure academic terms that has undergone many changes of meaning over the centuries. The classical Greeks used it to refer to an original archetype or ideal. Later it came to refer to a grammatical term. In the early 1960s Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) wrote a ground breaking book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he showed that science does not progress in an orderly fashion from lesser to greater truth, but rather remains fixated on a particular dogma or explanation – a paradigm – which is only overthrown with great difficulty and a new paradigm established. Thus the Copernican system (the sun at the center of the universe) overthrew the Ptolemaic (the earth at the center) one, and Newtonian physics was replaced by Relativity and Quantum Physics. Science thus consists of periods of conservativism (“Normal” Science) punctuated by periods of “Revolutionary” Science.
PARADIGM SHIFT: When anomalies or inconsistencies arise within a given paradigm and present problems that we are unable to solve within a given paradigm, our view of reality must change, as must the way we perceive, think, and value the world. We must take on new assumptions and expectations that will transform our theories, traditions, rules, and standards of practice. We must create a new paradigm in which we are able to solve the unsolvable problems of the old paradigm.
PARADIGM ADDICTION: What occurs when a paradigm and its most ardent supporters are addicted to the paradigm to the point where they lose the realization that they are even in a paradigm at all? Ardent paradigm supporters have equated paradigm survival with their own personal survival, and will manipulate and control a society in order to prevent any social or cultural advancement out of the existing paradigm, ignoring or suppressing public knowledge of anomalies, equating perception of anomalies to “personal abnormality” in order to intimidate populations to remain within the status quo control paradigm. Addiction to a paradigm results in either paradigm death or death of those who maintain the paradigm.
We’re concerned about where the culture is going, and what we can all do to change its course. As we see it, our main power lies with philosophy and the force of paradigm shifts. Shifting our mindset doesn’t cost money, it’s democratic (we can all do it), it goes to the crux of problems, it’s nonviolent, it’s effective, it’s not stoppable from without, and it’s our greatest power, though largely untapped.
We see a pervasive mindset of control and domination permeating our cultural institutions, a mindset driven by the fear of anarchy. If someone—some authority or power over us—doesn’t control us, society will fall into chaos, or so we’re to believe.
But who controls the controllers? What kind of order do those in positions of power have in mind? Is power-over an order that works—i.e., that creates social harmony and makes us happy? Or does it create wars, blind obedience, inner deadness, Littleton, Colorado nightmares, injustices, epidemic substance and process addictions, economic exploitation, cynicism, chronic stress, and unhappiness?
It doesn’t make sense, for example, that we control children morning to night with rewards and punishments and then wonder why they grow up selfish manipulators: “What’s in it for me?” or “Just don’t get caught!” That’s how child-rearing and schooling methods trained all of us to think. And if people grow up obsessed with gaining power over others—the chance to be in the one-up position and to control who’s rewarded and who’s punished—where’s the surprise? This is the logical extension of our cultural paradigm.
In other words, is our culture built on a paradigm that’s working for us as well as we need it to? Is our consensus philosophy shaping our institutions to serve us, or are we becoming servants to systems that warp our minds, consume our energies, and turn us into people we never wanted to be? When more and more of us find ourselves asking such core questions, it’s time to start rethinking things from the ground up. It’s time to reclaim our powers.
The Global Crisis of Addictions
Caught in deadly processes. Recovery: it’s not just for “addicts” anymore. It’s not even just for persons, not when addictive processes permeate every social system we’ve got, from schools to churches to workplaces to governments.
The world is managed through Addiction-Based Dynamics
We’re up to our ears in addict-making processes, and we can’t take two steps out of bed without running into them. Substance addictions. Substance addictions—alcohol, drugs, nicotine, food, caffeine—are just the surface, the outward and visible ways addictive processes come get us. And they do get us. Drugs (legal and illegal), alcohol, and tobacco constitute the world’s biggest economic empire. Only the weapons industry rivals it. It seems we can’t afford not to be substance-dependent; our economies certainly are.
Next in the line of killers are process addictions, ‘the ones society applauds’: addiction to working, winning, high-stress, fast-track jobs, perfectionism, relationships, making money, spending and debting, gaining power, getting fame or notoriety, living out family dramas, or—brace yourself—shopping. Sex can be another process addiction, but it’s not one society looks kindly on, however much advertising promotes insatiable and manipulative sex as the solution to life’s challenges. Gambling is another old addiction, coming back now with a vengeance with all the state lotteries, especially among young people.
Even the most lauded activities—religion, science, academic inquiry, and government service—may take on classic addictive patterns. Religion turns into obsession. Science turns into dogma, as if collecting enough facts will make up for a narrow worldview. Academic inquiry becomes an in-your-head addiction—quibbling esoterica with rabid acrimony, fiddling while Rome burns. As for government service, it’s power addiction from the bureaucrats who throw around their paper-pushing weight to the big-timers who become brokers for corporate conglomerates.
Process addictions are every bit as deadly, because they underlie substance addictions—as well as just about every social and global ill we’ve got. They’re the invisible killers, the ones we don’t suspect, but the ones that made millionaire Ivan Boesky raid savings and loans to become a billionaire, leaving in his wake thousands who saw their life-savings disappear. As Boesky was later to admit, “It’s a sickness I have in the face of which I am helpless.” Nor was Boesky alone in his sickness. Since the ’80s, we’ve witnessed an army of greed-addicted corporate raiders, who made the jobs and pension funds of millions vanish overnight.
Process addictions aren’t limited to movers and shakers, though. Ordinary folks following the right diet and taking the right exercise are dropping dead at age thirty-five from workaholism, relationship addiction, anxiety, and stress. If all these substance and process addictions don’t afflict us, they nonetheless affect us. While addictions to drugs, food, alcohol, sex, or work hit us one by one, addictions to money, control, divisiveness, status, and official-think oppress us together. We can’t have power-addicts running the world and not experience the consequences. Even when we try to claim it’s business or government as usual, we find ourselves suffering from global plagues made invisible by their familiarity.
But a familiar plague is no less deadly. As Anne Wilson Schaef points out, a deadly virus is a deadly virus, even if the entire population has it. Alcoholics Anonymous holds that addiction is a “progressive, fatal disease.” Schaef believes—and we agree—that this is true, no matter what form the addiction takes. Our lungs may give out from tar and nicotine, or our hearts may give out from stress. We may die from the greed that destroys the environment or from a nuclear chain reaction set off by a someone’s power play. Addiction—substance or process, acted out privately or on the world stage—is a fatal illness that we ignore at our peril. Not that this is news. We can’t read the papers or watch TV without wondering: What on earth is going on? We have the knowledge and technology. We have the resources, human and natural. We even have the desire. Why can’t our social, economic, and environmental problems be solved? Why do we live from crisis to crisis?
Addict-making systems. Neither substance nor process addictions are limited to one race, sex, economic class, region, or occupation. Rich and poor, conservative and liberal, male and female, Hispanic, European, African, Asian, and Native Americans share the same disease.
When something so deadly cuts across society, we have to look at what we share: our social systems. In her 1987 ground-breaking book, When Society Becomes an Addict, Schaef suggests family dynamics, school rules, workplace policies and practices, corporate hierarchies, government workings, media messages, as well as cultural and religious belief-structures all operate in ways that set us up to behave addictively. In fact, society itself, Schaef writes, “is an addictive system.”
That’s a strong statement, yet the more we understand addiction, the more it seems like an understatement. Award-winning teacher John Taylor Gatto, for instance, pulls no punches about the messages schools send through their structure: “I began to realize that the bells and the confinement, the crazy sequences, the age-segregation, the lack of privacy, the constant surveillance, and all the rest of the national curriculum of schooling were designed exactly as if someone had set out to prevent children from learning how to think and act, to coax them into addiction and dependent behavior.” In When Money is the Drug, counselor and writer Donna Boundy sketches a similarly addict-making picture for corporations. The level of thinking-distortion that takes over people in these systems is astonishing.
The Paradigm Conspiracy
What’s going on? Why are systems betraying their service to us? Instead of performing their rightful functions of educating (schools), nurturing (families), promoting public good (governments), managing the shared household (businesses), and inspiring us to find and fulfill our life’s purpose (religious institutions), they’re abusing us and turning us into people we never wanted to be. Why?
Enter “paradigms.” Back in 1962—so long ago John Kennedy was still alive—historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn gave an analysis of how systems change (or don’t) in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, that rocked the intellectual world. He wasn’t talking about addictive systems but about the system of scientific research, which has its own brand of obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Introducing the term “paradigm,” Kuhn said that scientists operate from mental models—paradigms—that shape everything they think, feel, and do. How scientists perceive and interpret experience is shaped by their internal structure of beliefs and concepts—their paradigm. If something is wrong, the paradigm is the place to look to find out why. To raise paradigm issues is to reflect on the ideas or concepts we’re using as our map of reality—our world view, life perspective, philosophy, or mental model. Whatever we call it, it’s powerful stuff. To look at our paradigm is to look at the blueprint we’re using to build our worlds.
How do paradigms start? They usually begin with some exemplary model—“Newtonian science” or “Einsteinian relativity”—that weaves together theories, standards, and methods in a way that makes better sense than anything else. To share a paradigm is to share a commitment to rules that define how a scientist acts and reacts. No part of scientific activity is outside the reach of the paradigm’s influence. It’s as if scientists’ energies get poured through the paradigm’s mold, and whatever comes out is stamped by that all-encompassing model.
In the decades since, Kuhn’s paradigm-concept has been applied to every discipline, from the arts to business. And rightly so. We experience our lives the way we do because of the paradigms we carry around. In computer terms, paradigms function like the central operating system of consciousness—the supra-program that transforms undefined perceptions into something we call our experience. They give us the mental tools to make sense of life and survive in it. We may not be able to summarize our paradigm in ten words or less, but our every thought is paradigm connected, even paradigm created.
Development Within A Paradigm
Given the power of paradigms, two kinds of development follow. The first occurs within the paradigm’s framework. The second chucks the paradigm and forges a new one.
“Normal science,” as Kuhn calls it, is the first kind of development. Practitioners operate within their mental model and pursue its implications to the nth degree. Working inside the prevailing paradigm is the secure, accepted, and well-rewarded way to do science.
In fact, the paradigm gets so comfortable that scientists forget that it’s there; it becomes functionally invisible. They way they see things is just the way things are. For them, there is no paradigm between their ideas and reality. Applied to life, the normal-science phase is business as usual, families as usual, politics, churches, schools, and professions as usual. When we’re ticking away within a paradigm’s framework, the norm is well defined, and we conform. Coping skills mean finding ways to fit into the norm, whether it’s healthy or not. In fact, “healthy” is whatever the paradigm says it is. Becoming healthy means adjusting to the paradigm’s definition.
The revolutionary development comes when the paradigm reaches a crisis. It doesn’t solve problems the way it once did. Anomalies—things that the paradigm can’t explain—start accumulating. Paradigm-health starts making us sick. More and more, the paradigm doesn’t work. That’s when scientists are challenged to shift paradigms by moving into a phase Kuhn calls “extraordinary science.” But, “extraordinary science” isn’t easy. In language suited to academia, Kuhn describes how scientists freak out. Everything they ever learned is called into question. During the revolutions in physics early in this century, even Einstein, no slouch in forward-thinking, wrote, “It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built.”
The more the paradigm fails to do its job, the more old-paradigm scientists try to make it work. The paradigm is ripe for a revolution, but because they’ve forgotten that they even have a paradigm, scientists conclude instead that their world is falling apart. Solutions—alternative ways of doing science—don’t exist. As far as they’re concerned, they’ve explored all the possibilities, and the only options they see don’t help. They’re too paradigm-bound to notice that they’re stumbling over the limits of their own models.
The Paradigm: Cause of Soul-Abusive Systems
“Extraordinary science” describes the situation we face today. We’re not experiencing paradigm-norms as healthy, either personally or globally. The blueprint for our families, schools, businesses, and governments isn’t working. It’s causing our shared social systems to function abusively and to make us sick as a result. Happy people and healthy systems don’t turn addictive, life-destroying substances into the biggest growth industry on the planet.
We’d think changing a paradigm that’s not working would be easy, but it’s not. As Kuhn observed, the paradigm-cause of crises remains invisible to old-paradigm practitioners. We don’t need a new paradigm, they believe, we just need to make the one we have work better. Nothing is wrong with our social systems, since that would call the underlying paradigm into question. Instead, when things don’t work, something must be wrong with us. “Blame certain people and label them as the troublemakers. We need more discipline, more restraints,” old-paradigm experts advise us, “more tests and tougher grading systems, more hard-nosed business-management practices, more God-fearing, sex-repressing piety, and more laws with stricter enforcement.”
In other words, according to the prevailing paradigm, coming down hard on people isn’t abuse. It’s how we create healthy families, schools, businesses, governments, and churches, because it rids us of the sinful, ignorant, or otherwise unruly souls that muck up the social machinery. If things don’t work, the solution is to take away more rights, stifle more creativity, intimidate more people, build more prisons, and bring back the death penalty. More fear keeps people in line.
This paradigm touches every part of our lives—but invisibly. We don’t realize that the paradigm is there, which means we don’t recognize its role in creating our social institutions. As long as the paradigm remains hidden, we don’t see what’s causing system-wide suffering, which means we can’t stop it.
The paradigm of control and power-over. What kind of paradigm requires that we blame individuals, intimidate, and punish them in order to keep our social systems “healthy”? Like a complex tapestry, the paradigm has many threads, but the overall pattern has to do with control: Who has power over whom, and how is a power-over relation maintained? Riane Eisler, in her pioneering work, The Chalice and the Blade, calls this the “dominator model,” contrasting it with “the partnership way.” Domination is the paradigm’s driving issue, and for a reason: in this world view, top-down control is necessary for social order.
According to the power-over model—what we refer to as the control paradigm—if somebody doesn’t control us, our social systems will fall into chaos. Archaeologist John Romer notes, for instance, that the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in an attempt to hold “a ramshackle empire” together, “made a state where animals, land and people were all tightly organized and controlled.”ÉLike Diocletian, authorities of today believe that nothing would work if we each did our own thing. To have order, we must do what the authorities tell us to do.
Soul: the big threat
Now come the threads: to be controlled, we have to be unplugged from competing sources of control. The major threat to external control is our internal guidance system—our souls.
“Soul” refers to our deep presence. It’s our inner connectedness to whatever we take to be Being, God, the One, the whole, or the ground of creation (to paraphrase theologian Paul Tillich). Physician Larry Dossey describes the soul as “some aspect of ourselves that is infinite, beyond the limits of space and time.” It’s our direct link to reality.
This whole-connected core is the source of our talents and the wellspring of creativity. It’s also what gives us the conviction that our lives have meaning. When we live from our souls, we feel alive and vital, and we take seriously the idea that we’re here for a purpose.
To us, our souls are our best friends and most trusted guides. But to the control paradigm, they’re the enemy—what has to be removed in order for external control to work. Only when we’re sufficiently disconnected from our inner compass will we follow outer demands.
“Get rid of the troublemakers.” For fear of chaos, social systems adopt the control paradigm and run with it. Through all sorts of institutionalized policies, we get the message that we’re unacceptable as we are, but that if we surrender ourselves to the social system (the family, school, business, profession, or religion), we’ll become acceptable. Our souls are sloppy and unmanageable troublemakers; they clog the system’s efficient workings, and we’re better off without them.
This isn’t ‘reality’ talking; it’s a paradigm—an old one. Maybe sometime in the dim, dark recesses of human evolution a control-based paradigm may have served the species—we’re skeptical about that—but it’s not serving us now. The more power-over systems zap our inner lives, the less social order we have. It’s a paradigm in crisis, and it’s creating neither personal nor global health.
Two paradigm conspiracies. As long as the paradigm remains invisible, we’re stuck. The prevailing model stymies change. Every time we try to move in a new direction, the old paradigm kicks in and intimidates us into doing the same old, soul-diminishing stuff.
That’s the first paradigm conspiracy, the one that blocks our best efforts to confront crises and change.
But one paradigm conspiracy deserves another—the leap into “extraordinary-science.” True, paradigm shifts are full of uncertainties, trials and errors, hiccups and false starts, not to mention soul-searching forays into the unknown. We never know if we’ve come up with the “right” paradigm—or even if there is such a thing. In extraordinary science, we let everything go into flux. Yet nothing conspires to change our world so completely as doing precisely that.
The most conspiratorial part of a paradigm shift is that it lies within the power of each of us to do it. Paradigms aren’t Godzilla monsters; they’re ideas. Their power comes from our shared commitment to them. The minute one person starts to explore alternative models, the paradigm no longer holds the same power.
As Marilyn Ferguson explained in The Aquarian Conspiracy, the word ‘conspiracy’ comes from ‘conspirare,’ which means ‘to breathe together.’ A new cultural paradigm begins with each person stepping out of the old and daring to breathe something new. The “movers and shakers” are powerless to prevent a paradigm shift, once we together breathe a paradigm-revolution into being.
Walking the Truth vs. Sleepwalking
We are not walking the full truth of who we are because we’re “sleepwalking”, unconscious of our immense abilities. Instead, we’ve come to believe that those abilities don’t exist for us. Even people educated at the best schools in this system experience education as indoctrination. The advantage for power-over institutions is obvious. People no longer indulge in big-picture thought. Control paradigm systems want the human brain to be an obedient machine, not a mind.
The Control Paradigm Posing as a “Philosophy”
The dumbing down – becoming less than who we are – brings us face to face with one of the control paradigm’s most powerful devices for achieving control. The control paradigm presents itself as a “philosophy”, as if it’s innocently telling us what’s what. It even insists that its mechanistic, materialistic, control-measured picture of reality depicts the “real world” and tells us how to be practical in the world of facts and things, dogs eating dogs and sharks eating whatever. The more our reality can be reduced to objects, this “philosophy” tells us, and the less we trouble ourselves with ideas, values and other intangibles, the more we understand the “realities” of the control universe.
Adopting this philosophy as “the most practical way to maximize our personal sphere of control”, we don’t notice that we’re made controllable in the process. To “buy into” the “philosophy” is to become controllable by its “values” of external rewards and suggested into a view of ourselves that is not true to our nature and potential as True Human Beings. But, the control paradigm isn’t philosophy. It doesn’t encourage free thought or dialogue. It doesn’t develop our minds or souls. It doesn’t invite inquiry into its core assumptions, strategies, responses and goals. Instead, it functions as a mind-control trance.
The control paradigm comes across as “the one way” to experience reality, and it doesn’t make room for alternative perspectives. To do so would go against the control agenda. As a result, the control paradigm in truth has little in common with philosophy and much in common with propaganda and mind control methods – trance inducers, the kind Hitler was skilled at using.
In order to work, mind control methods must be hidden or pass as something seen as socially acceptable. The trick to a manipulative trance – as opposed to a therapeutic one – is that it remains unnoticed. The trance-inducers need a good guise. Conditioning and manipulation of others are always weapons and instruments in the hands of those in power, even if these weapons are disguised with the terms “education” and “therapeutic treatment”. The control paradigm uses all of the above, but ultimately posing as a “philosophy” is its greatest cover. Posing as a “philosophy” lends the control paradigm an “air of authority”. If we recognized mind-control methods, saw through their disguises, and named them as such, they would lose their effectiveness.
Anatomy of a Trance
Selective focus that by-passes the critical faculty. A trance state is when our minds voluntary choose to bypass their critical faculty and focus selectively, with consciousness fixated and focused to a relatively narrow frame of attention rather than being diffused over a broad area.
Humans can be highly suggestible, which allows the by-passing of the critical faculty. It is a matter of record how subtle cues and suggestions can influence and even control people’s minds and behavior. But “I’m not in trance!” – Hypnosis is in fact not so much a “state” but a process of selective focusing that we choose to engage in, since many of the characteristics of the trance process apply to other processes of consciousness as well. In fact, when people are in a trance “state”, many swear they’re not. They have no sense of altered consciousness when responding to suggestion and do not believe themselves to be in trance.
Trance as a Tool of Oppression – The Dark Side of Trance
The very power of the trance suggests its potential as a tool of oppression – for making us less than who we are. Although there are positive uses for hypnosis, negative trance conditioning is very different. The mind-control uses of the trance process are thousands of years old and permeate control-paradigm institutions. Let’s take a look how two master oppressors, Hitler and Eichmann, used the process in the concentration camps:
Eliminating the critical faculty – Prisoners were taken from their homes, deprived of all possessions, stripped naked, shaved head to toe, and mass showered. They were treated as if they were sub-human. The impact of this was that all the assumptions they had ever made no longer applied. Inmates went into shock and their ability to think was shut down. The critical faculty was gone.
Narrowed focus on survival – The brutality of camp life made prisoners think only on the barest survival level. Every thought focused on how to stay warm, get food and avoid the wrath of the guards. Thinking became highly selective. No one could form any reliable strategies.
Normal emotions were removed and camp emotions implanted – Given the shock of the experience, emotions shut down, including the emotions of disgust, horror and pity. Apathy took over – the inability to care about anything. The prisoners gave up their normal ways of responding. Instead, new responses were implanted (“suggested”) – the desire to save one’s life, not to antagonize the guards, to submerge into the crowd, even to do “favors” for the guards in order to gain a “favored position”. The responses that the guards wanted from the prisoners were unquestioning obedience, abject submission, and lack of personal will except for what the guards permitted. Suggestions were also implanted to the effect that human beings had no intrinsic worth, only extrinsic usefulness to authorities.
Aware of the trance or not? – Those who bought the trance didn’t last long. Those who allowed their inner hold on their moral and spiritual selves to subside eventually fell victim to the camp’s degenerating influences, and their bodies soon followed suit. The trance of dehumanization overcame them without their conscious awareness or resistance.
Coming out of the Trance to Walk Our Truth
Philosophy – Reawakening our critical faculties Prayer or mediation – Letting our minds roam the big picture, Correcting dehumanizing suggestions
De-suggesting cultural influences. We decide not to give dehumanizing trances our assent or energies. The man who stood in front of the army tank in Tianenman Square in China was not in a control paradigm, fear and submission trance. His no-trance response apparently broke the trance of the driver of the tank. Another example is when the Berlin Wall came down. The wall symbolized a political control paradigm trance for almost 50 years, Once the control paradigm trance broke, the wall came down almost overnight.
Expanding awareness – Once we’re awake, we’re awake, and we have choices: trance or no trance. Of course, waking up from the control-paradigm trance is not what society encourages.
Closed-System models don’t work for human society – Preserving the “Norm”
Single individuals don’t create a society-wide climate where dialogue has no place. That’s the desire of the Control Paradigm, and it uses an effective device for doing it. The Control Paradigm designs social structures to function as closed systems. The rules, policies and structures of closed systems have one purpose – to exclude input – outside, non-controllable factors – that could initiate system change. The first response to any problem is to “return things to the way they were”. Closed social systems are not intentionally “evil” – they are simply designed to maintain the status quo. Maintaining a pre-determined order is their mandate, which closed systems carry out through strict rules of control. As long as new energies can be either neutralized or made to conform, things continue on as before. The lines of power are preserved, and control is assumed.
Controlling the Variables – The People
Closed systems work to offset variables. That’s how they maintain equilibrium. In closed social systems, personal differences are the variables, and roles are the way to offset them. For example, because nothing is more variable in marriages than spouses, or in families than children, in schools than teachers and students, i businesses than employees, in religions than spiritual seekers, or in society than citizens, closed social systems devise countless techniques for steering us back to role-governed equilibrium, called “family harmony”, “family values”, “school discipline”, “business as usual”, “religious devotion”, or “social order”. The most effective technique for doing this gets people to internalize roles and act them out without question. People are manipulated to meld with the roles, until they are the roles. Given that dialogue is really about thinking and questioning, it is no wonder that its not generally welcome in closed social systems. It undermines a powerful tool of control: a control device that reduces our “unpredictable” nature to predictable boxes and persuades us that the boxes are who we are and that “we are nothing” without them.
The Control Paradigms “Claim to Legitimacy”
The aim of closed social systems isn’t to shut us down, although that’s the effect. Closed systems may behave like the evil Empire in Star Wars, but those “in charge” honestly believe that “society would collapse” without their order-reinforcing, power-concentrating, control-preserving responses. That is why dictatorships often follow social upheaval; the “chaos” of transition is used to justify closed-system methods. The greater the apparent “chaos”, the more “absolute rule” can be “justified”. Current closed social systems welcome, and may even create an appearance of “chaos”, because according to their belief is “validates” their “authority”, and that “crack-down” methods “must be necessary”.
The reason closed social systems don’t work
Responding to the need for balance in society doesn’t work using closed-system thought patterns, because the current systems:
Maintenance of a toxic order: First, if the system equilibrium is already toxic, it gets reinforced. Bad “norms” are simply perpetuated, since closed systems “run on automatic”. They don’t have the power of discernment. They don’t evaluate systems in light of personal needs, human evolution or planetary health. Their one mandate is to “preserve the established order”, even if that “order” is toxic for the people and planet.
Put systems above people: Achieving “social order” through closed-system methods put systems above people – system needs over personal needs. Systems come first. That’s the message we hear in social systems, namely, preserving systems is more important than nurturing people. Closed systems say to people, “You are part of us, therefore we own you. Who you are is incidental. You must perform the roles we assign you in the ways we require. We won’t allow you to deviate. If you changed, we’d have to change, and that we won’t allow. Our ‘social order’ would collapse”. Putting the rigid structure of social systems first costs all of us. People get “chewed up” by systems. The idea of “sacrificing ourselves for the greater good” may be a laudable idea if the greater is good. But, what if it isn’t?
Control is Abuse: Closed social systems don’t work because they keep order through control – force, punishment, and other power-over methods of enforcement. But, can social harmony be forced? Is top-down control the way to achieve “social order”? Threats and intimidation cannot be the fabric of healthy social systems. They do too much violence to our inner lives, costing us our freedom. How healthy can our social system be if the people are psychological wreaks? When we are deprived of out essential powers as free, creative beings, our social systems reflect our emptiness. When do we get in return for “submission”? Not security. Being one-down in a control hierarchy isn’t a secure place. When people get deprived of freedom and security while at the same time they are bound by control systems, they behave like caged animals. Intelligent beings don’t do well in cages.
The Nature of Reality isn’t closed: Another reason closed social systems don’t bring social order is that reality itself isn’t a closed system. The old scientific belief systems such as closed-entropy energy systems, also used to reinforce closed-system social control patterns, are rapidly becoming transparently false as scientific research has shown over the last few decades. No matter how much closed systems try to control variables and shut out change, reality won’t be shut out. We can’t make our social units into “islands of no-change”, because the greater reality (the context on which our systems depend) is dynamic.
Reality is ever-shifting. It sweeps through our systems and impels change whether the system controllers like it or not. Two shining examples of closed systems, the Soviet Union and Communist China, tried to create “perfectly controlled, closed societies”. It didn’t work. Their determination to establish closed-system control exacted a terrible price from their people. Individuality, freedom and creativity “had to be crushed”. That’s the reason closed social systems don’t work. The Spiritual Evolution of Society Won’t Be Put Off: Human beings are every bit as dynamic as reality because we are made up of reality, and we are constantly evolving in response to it. In contrast to Westernized control-oriented systems, including the systems “exported” to China, ancient Asian spiritual traditions defined humans as profoundly open systems, involved in constant self-transformation. Just as social systems can’t ultimately ignore the dynamics of reality, so too they cannot ultimately ignore our dynamics. No matter how hard closed systems try to fit us into “boxed”, we don’t fit. The more systems negate this quality, the more we react as if we’re under siege. Our personal reality as beings-in-progress fights back, whether through conflict, addiction, social action ,recovery, spiritual awakening – or some combination thereof. Nor is this bad news. If social systems could make us into static units of conformity, what sort of societies would we create?
The Awareness Gap: Another reason closed social systems don’t work as a model for social order is that closed systems operate blind to the people in them. Social order is not built on an awareness of what people think and feel, but on ignoring human needs and imposing system demands. That is why closed systems are typically out-of-touch with the real thoughts, feelings, and abilities of their members: they shut the door on this information. It’s not deemed “relevant” to “maintaining order”.
Too many tragedies, too little order: In the end, closed-system control doesn’t work because it creates more tragedies than order. Dysfunctional patterns destroy. For example, the general approach to “health care” is a business. If health is a business, which demands its existence in perpetuity, than there can by definition be no health in society. The pattern also involves “killing disease” while at the same time ignoring what it takes to create health. National ill-health is just one example of closed-system tragedies. The Western political systems are another example.
Breaking Through Paradigm Defenses
We pay a heavy price for filtering reality as we do. When paradigm filters obscure our inner self to create an “outer self” that does the coping, the gap left inside grows into a chasm. The trouble intensifies when we identify with our paradigm filters. We begin to believe that to expose our filters is to expose ourselves, and worse, we begin to believe that to lose our filters is to lose ourselves, and that having “filters” is how we have survived. We fuse with them and believe that they’re all we’ve got.
Acceptable Paradigm Cloaking Devices – Paradigm Protective Dynamics
The best way to make our paradigm “armor” invulnerable is to make it invisible. What can’t be detected by the population can’t be shot down. When invisible, our paradigms avoid the risk of attack. We hide our paradigm’s filtering processes under acceptable cloaking devices – and many such covers will do the trick.
Staying within a group
One way to make paradigm filters invisible is to surround ourselves with people who share our set. We align ourselves with groups who take the same paradigm for granted. Surrounded by people whose filters are familiar, ours blend in. Paradigm filters stay invisible, and we ask “What filters?” and “What paradigm?” Everyone shares the same agenda of keeping the paradigm filters unchanged. When paradigm issues do manage to surface, it’s to reinforce how “successful” and “right” the group’s paradigm is. The official lines get repeated and the catchphrases echoed. Those who question the paradigm and don’t speak its “language” are out.
It is because of this that cliques permeate paradigm-rigid societies, with each group accusing the other of being “cultish”. Paradigm dynamics, or dogmatics of each group resemble what goes on in mainline churches, corporations, schools, universities, governments, labor unions and non-profit organizations. The strategy of keeping filters invisible under the cover of a group-shared paradigm turns out not to be considered aberrational behavior, but the “required norm”. When Groups Support Growth – There are groups that support growth and evolution, and group-shared paradigms can be useful if they are exploring these areas involving full potential. Working with people of like mind takes us forward by leaps and bounds. As we work with others in this way, developments emerge greater than any one person could produce. Whether group involvement supports “filter evolution” or “filter fixedness”, therefore, is a matter of paradigm development.
Compartmentalization of Paradigm Filters
Mechanism: Another way to keep paradigms invisible is to split our lives into compartments and to design paradigm filters for each “box”. When we are convinced to split our perceptive world into separate pieces, we protect the paradigm filters we use for each piece. In a fixed area, certain paradigm filters don’t apply, and we don’t mix them with filters we use for a different box. That way, we never have to ask how it all adds up; it just doesn’t, and no one expects it to add up.
Social Result: Lack of Consistency. We don’t ask whether the values we use at work are the values we’d like our children to live at home. If we adhere to one religion or belief, we don’t want to hear about the views of another. By putting walls between our filters, we protect our overall filter arrangement. We avoid filter comparisons which would inevitably bring our paradigm out into the open and subject it to revision. Some of the greatest leaps in knowledge and art – cultural paradigms – occurred when two or more societies interacted. Control paradigm isolation of societies prevents these leaps. Box-category thinking, valuable as it is for producing specialized knowledge, prevents this type of exchange. It forbids us even to attempt to integrate our filters with wider contexts – a process which paradigm evolution demands. “There’s no overall paradigm”, we tell ourselves, which means our cultural paradigm stays “offstage”, invisible.
Openness and Objectivity Issues
Another way to keep paradigm filters hidden is to “appear to be filter-free”, as if “we have no paradigm, no filters, and no covers for them either. For decades, scientists and social engineers hid filters behind claims of objectivity, pretending to be “unbiased observers”. Claiming to be “open” and “skeptical”, while rigidly adhering to paradigm dynamics, are other ways of hiding paradigms we’re not keen to question. Sometimes, claiming to be “open” is used as a strategy to make us appear paradigm-free, which guarantees that neither we nor anyone else has a chance to look at our filters. By appearing to be “big-minded”, we keep our paradigm close to the chest and off limits.
Use of Covers to Block Paradigm Awareness
If we are to evolve, we need to know what paradigm we’re using, so we can change it. Defensive covers block this awareness. How far are people willing to go to protect their paradigm? History shows that people will kill to protect what they “believe” to be the case. Changing paradigms, ways of thinking and perceiving the universe based on new information, can be scary for some people. No wonder the strategies for keeping paradigms in place are more developed than strategies for changing them.
Use of Social Taboos to Block Paradigm Awareness
One of the most potent paradigm cloaking devices individuals and societies have is the taboo. A taboo prevents the questions we dare not raise, the things we dare not do, and the ways we dare not think. When members of a society obey taboos, they pretend that aspects of their lives do not exist. Problems are not problems, and obvious sources of trouble remain off-limits for discussion, and people are manipulated into not speaking of them. People let the social system throw walls of silence around them, so the system is not threatened by hearing the truth about what we’re experiencing. Most current social systems on the planet are maintained in a status quo state in this way.
Taboos About Sex – The actual function of the taboo on sexual matters in Western countries, which paradoxically exists at the same time as the maintenance of a strong focus on sexual matters, is to supplement and increase the focus on sexual matters in society. The same principles holds for gender-specific taboos, which also have the function of suppressing different factors relating to wholeness of being and expression. Many of these taboos have the function of introducing the socially complicating factors of “guilt” and “shame”, and are also included in some religious paradigms. Taboos About Feelings – There is also another taboo which exists that makes feelings off-limits in some social system. People are programming “to be in control” of emotions. Even the words “emotion” and “emotional” are cast in negative connotations, and are often used to discredit a persons viewpoint. In fact, the process of socially programming the factoring-out of emotions is highly convenient for control paradigm systems, because if we cut ourselves off from how we feel under a situation of domination, we tend to “tolerate” it more readily, and we are programmed to disregard the pain when we witness control-system abuse to others. Control system abuse is seen on television 24 hours a day and termed “entertainment”, which goes to show how deeply some paradigm elements are buried. Another phenomenon that arises is that the control paradigm feeds people with rationalizations, judgments and the ultimate ultimatum: “Things must be done this way or chaos will follow”.
Science Taboos – Many of the social control taboos in our society have in fact been inherited from science – what’s “real” and what is not, what we can “talk about intelligently” and what is considered “superstitious” or “pseudo-science”. In general, the rule is this – “if you can measure something, manipulate it, predict its function and then replicate it (control the outcome of experiments on it) – “it’s scientific and real; if not, it’s imagination or illusion.” People are programmed to accept this approach to science because it reinforces the idea of control over the environment. Unfortunately, this strategy reduces the idea of “knowledge” down to a matter of “control”. We are led to believe that “knowing something” means being able to “control” it — which is the control-paradigm epistemology. We are led to grant science this “authority” and we are programmed not to question it, even if it stands in the face of mountains of observed (but not reproducible, and therefore “anecdotal”) evidence.
Science Taboos – The Wider Impact
Defining knowledge in terms of control raises questions. What kind of “control” does science give us? Control paradigm science inevitably disregards wider contexts, because wider contexts aren’t easily “controlled”. To “gain control”, scientists “eliminate variables” and “constrict the field”. In fact, scientists learn early in their programmed training to think in narrowly focused ways and to disregard broader contexts, thus, the most defensible Ph.D. thesis is the most specialized one. A result of this process is that using narrowed control thought processes, we find ourselves faced with wider-context problems. For example, we are stuck with nuclear waste with a half-life of 500,000 years and clouds of acid rain that kill forests. If the same money went into researching new evolutionary technologies, as the impression was given to the public in the early 1970’s that it “would be”, we wouldn’t have the problems we have today. But, a public programmed to think along the same lines has simply ignored this simple idea.
Science Taboos – Ethics and Values
A very important point to make is that the taboos that insulate control-science from its impact on society also hide its values. The directions that science and technology take involve decisions based on values – control values. Nonetheless, taboos place science above ethics. In other words, control-science taboos hide its decision-making process and the values that guide them. These values and decisions affect the course of science. The fact that some scientific research gets screened out while other research receives both funding and publication is attributed to “the natural course of scientific development”, as if there is no paradigm-based filtering going on. In fact, “there’s a whole lot of filtering going on”. Various “experts” dominate each field of “inquiry” and also dominate the direction and “limits” of research. They give their “positions” at “conferences”, where “reputations” may be “made” or “broken”, and they edit the journals. Even more telling is the funding of research by industry. There is an unspoken but real incentive to present projects that support the agenda of work being done in various industries. Combinations of industrial, academic, and political interests influence, and even control, what should otherwise be open scientific research, in many cases research that could potentially save lives. The cancer and AIDS industries are good examples.
Science Taboos – “Accepted Practices”
Control-science decisions affect not only the direction of research but how that knowledge is applied. As long as some practice is labeled “scientific”, people are programmed to be hesitant to ask whether it’s wise or cruel. The status of “accepted scientific opinion” is often enough to put a theory, along with its applications, “beyond moral question”. A good example would be the painful tests and surgery conducted on babies without anesthesia. Another would be that if you cut someone’s body part off while walking down the street, you’d go to jail. But if an obstetrician does it, without anesthesia, he gets paid for it. No consistency in this society. It sends a real message to baby boys about the world they’re entering. Female circumcision and genital mutilation, permitted in some societies, sends an equally meaningful message to young girls.
Science Taboos – Philosophy and Consciousness
Consciousness, certainly infant consciousness, is meant to have no place in the official “world view’ of science, and taboos keep it that way. Taboos hide how control-paradigm science affect our overall philosophy. Because of taboos, people don’t ask whether control science is adequate for understanding the universe. By making all non-controllable aspects of life off-limits – outside the “domain” of “scientific inquiry” – the taboos of science make sure that the general population ignores many realities, but most of all the subject of consciousness itself. The dominant paradigm of knowledge places consciousness research generally off-limits. Intuition, inner realities, synchronicity, spiritual seeking, the quest for meaning, healing, personal and social transformation, near-death experiences, out-of-body travel, and symbolic systems associated with things like these, are termed by control-science to be “hokum” and “non-sense”. Never mind that most of these things are a vivid part of reality for a significant part of the population. No “self-respecting” scientist would be caught dead investigating them.
One of the most powerful ways taboos shut down open inquiry is to ridicule those who step outside official scientific opinion. If something doesn’t fit control-paradigm science, the phenomenon is dismissed as “non-existent”, and the people who persist in violating the taboos of silence are dismissed as “crackpots”. The subject of alien interaction with the planet is a good example.
Defensive routines are entrenched habits people use to protect themselves from the embarrassment and threat that comes with the exposure of thought patterns they wish to hide that underlie views and opinions. The perceived “threat from exposing thought processes”, or the programming which creates this dysfunctional process, starts early in life and is steadily reinforced in the “educational” system. Everyone can recall the stigma at having the “wrong answer” in school.
Defensive routines also block transformation, since they block access to the basic paradigm filters. As a result defensive routines block learning and expanded experience.
Defensive routines also block communication. When one person seeks to hide the paradigm upon which thought is based, very often the other person does it too. Defensive routines are contagious. Defensive routines are also “self-sealing”. Not only do they hide paradigms, but they hide their own existence as well. To hide the paradigm and be psychologically “correct”, people fall back on the “openness” cover, where people want to “seem” open an candid, so they work hard at appearing that way.
Lies, Secrets and Cover-ups – Trapped in Defense Mechanisms
By hiding the paradigm that lies at the root of problems, defensive routines allow situations to get worse. They do not let concerns or confusions surface, even if these may be the key to a breakthrough. Instead of helping us deal with realities, defensive covers divert energies into preserving masks and ego images. They force people to live a lie – not to be honest about what’s happening. As long as we participate in a control system. we are not at liberty to speak openly about what we are experiencing. When taboos forbid us to speak the truth, our lives get “zippered shut with secrecy”, leaving us vulnerable to secrecy’s chief weapon – propaganda. Everywhere people go they are lobbied into believing the official line that justifies control-paradigm systems. People begin to think “everything’s fine, as long as we lock up and get rid of the ‘bad’ people, kill them or drug them until they ‘fit the norm’. Then our system would ‘work'”. But, our systems don’t work, no matter how many people are drugged, subject to mind-control, lock up or kill. Instead, a chasm of silence comes between people and system realities.
Dialoguing Our Way to Social Balance and Harmony
As a response to the control-paradigm world around us, dialogue sends a liberating message. Dialogue is the real source of order in human societies. It communicates openness, trust, mutual respect, adventure and shared exploration. It is a response that invites paradigm shift in precisely the direction we want to make it, namely, toward soul-honoring interaction.
Discussion vs. Dialogue
David Bohm, the physicist, whose ideas on dialogue follow the Socratic tradition, believed that dialogue is an art that’s distinct from ordinary discussion. Discussion works like ping-pong – opinions are tossed back and forth to set whose views will win out. It’s a competitive game of scoring points: one-up, one-down, argument and rebuttal. But, discussion has its limits. In discussion, our options are restricted to the starting point positions of each side. Discussion is not designed to increase options, only to narrow options. Discussion operates on a win-lose model.
Dialogue, in contrast, has a different dynamic. It’s purpose is not to establish a “victor” or to prove a question, but to “love the truth” and pursue it. We let truth be what it is, whether it happens to fit our paradigm agendas or not. We let out pursuit of the truth spill over our current thought boundaries, drawing us into areas we have not considered before. How does a dialogue response do this? David Bohm mapped out three criteria – three rules of dialogue. These rules cannot be imposed from without or faked. If inwardly we’re stuck in a one-up/one-down mode (a control paradigm response), we can try and create a dialogue but it won’t happen. The exercise lapses into ping-pong. Real dialogue grows with soul connectedness. In paradigm terms, a dialogue response grows from soul connectedness assumptions and strategies. We simply love the truth and want to explore it in the same spirit with others. Bohm said, “the purpose of dialogue is to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. We are not trying to win in a dialogue. We all wind if we are doing it right.”
Bohm’s three criteria, listed below, will facilitate a dialogue response:
Suspending our Paradigms – First, since truth is greater than our concepts about it, loving the truth means loving truth more than any one perspective. Even the best paradigm falls short of reality, which is infinite and surpasses our most advanced ideas. Both parties cannot respond in dialogue and be dogmatic about their respective paradigms. In dialogue, we stay open to exploring our ideas and perceptions from the ground up. Because reality is infinite, there is always room for evolution. The first criterion for dialogue, then, is that participants must “suspend their assumptions”. This takes work, because most paradigm assumptions lie in the shadows where we don’t notice them. Dialogue begins as we put our models on the table for consideration. A dialogue response doesn’t trash what we’ve assumed so far. It simply keeps our options open, so we can discover the reality lying beyond them. Huxley once said, “Sit down before fact like a child, and be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
Honoring each other as Equals – Whereas the first criteria opens the window, the second lets the breeze blow through. The second of Bohm’s criteria tackles the control paradigm’s response directly, since the most common (and most internalized) barrier to true dialogue is the one-up/one-down model of interaction. We can’t have an open dialogue with people who have power over us or whom we perceive as superiors. Bohm observed that “Hierarchy is antithetical to dialogue”. Those in dialogue must treat each other as equal partners in the pursuit of truth, working as a team. Responding as colleagues, we support each other and create a space that’s safe for exploring the truth – where loving the truth is allowed. During the Challenger disasters in 1986, it was discovered that one of the factors involved was the unwillingness of upper management to listen to the concerns of the engineers who felt that the program was being rushed and insufficient testing time was allowed. Those in charge didn’t want to listen to feedback that didn’t fit their agenda and used their superior status to block it. Naturally, the process of evolving awareness raises differences. Responding to each other as equal partners does not mean we all must think alike. Differences enrich the process. Instead of using differences to divide us, dialogue uses them to expand the possibilities we’re able to consider.
According to Bohm, “In dialogue, a group accesses a larger pool of common meaning which cannot be accessed individually. Individuals gain insights that could not be achieved individually. Defending one paradigm or another isn’t the focus in dialogue. Broadening our awareness is the focus. The jockeying that goes on in hierarchies through win-lose discussion becomes irrelevant.”
A Genuine Spirit of Inquiry – Freeing ourselves from internalized ranking is easier said than done. That is why dialogue needs a third criterion. We need to protect the dialogue atmosphere from our own histories of being shamed. One way to do this is through a facilitator who “holds the context” of dialogue and keeps the space safe for exploration and risk taking. Because dialogue requires that we reveal our deepest and most “unofficial” thoughts, it makes us vulnerable. Facilitators keep the factors of shaming, one-upsmanship and official-think at bay. They support the shift from discussion to dialogue by affirming differences and not letting participants become polarized in win-lose contests. With a genuine spirit of inquiry, we don’t care who said what or which direction the dialogue takes. We are all on the same side in dialogue, pursuing a common quest for understanding.
One way of responding that supports a dialogue atmosphere balances advocacy and inquiry. Advocacy presents a position, while inquiry explores it. The more we each do both, the more our responses stay fluid, true to a dialogue context. When we advocate a paradigm perspective, for instance, we also open our thought processes to inquiry. We explain how we arrived at an assumption, strategy, response or goal, and why. We also keep the door open to rethinking our positions from the ground up. We reflect on our own paradigm and invite others to do the same. That way, we don’t get stuck “defending one position”. When others present a paradigm perspective, we not only inquire into their thought processes but also state our assumptions about what they are saying and acknowledge them as assumptions on our part. “What I’m hearing you say is…” Our assumptions may be preventing us from grasping what others truly mean. The real message often lies behind the words and can by the opposite of what’s spoken.
What’s normal or possible for Consciousness?
Awareness of paradigms and the possibilities that emerge with changing them carry enormous implications for how we understand consciousness. Are the limits we experience in perception, learning, and knowing absolute, or are they imposed by a paradigm-one that we can choose to have or not?
Psychic and paranormal experiences suggest that the limits imposed by materialist philosophy are not absolute. Even one case of powers that defy physical limits proves what’s possible, whether these possibilities are commonplace in the current paradigm or not. By challenging paradigms that put our mental powers in straitjackets, we free ourselves to tap powers we’ve barely begun to imagine.
Examples of mental powers defying so-called laws of matter abound. In addition to the volumes of literature on the subject, we’ve encountered many cases that we find fascinating, and several come to mind:
One young woman from Laos, a student of ours, endured several years of harrowing escapes to reach America with her family. She experienced this journey between the ages of 7 and 9. Along the way, she and her family spent many months in concentration camps for refugees, where women and children were abused by soldiers. During this period of constant fear and trauma, she developed the ability to leave her body at will to guard herself and her family, especially when she was asleep. Years later as a college student, she was able to report everything that was said or done in her room or anywhere in the building while she was sleeping. Hers is an interesting case of what is now widely known as out-of-body experiences.
During the late seventies, a Swiss colleague of ours told of a little girl in Zurich who was having trouble in school because her vision did not stop with walls. She couldn’t see the blackboard because she was seeing through it into the next room, where apparently things were more interesting. Her grades improved only when she was taught to make her vision stop with walls. The story was carried in the Zurich newspapers. Perhaps Mr. Swann or someone else reading this knows more about this case.
Then of course there’s research begun by Georgi Lozanov in Bulgaria and reported by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their books Superlearning and SuperMemory. According to learning studies going on all over the globe, our minds are capable of vastly more than we ever imagined. If we have human brains, we’re geniuses, and the only reason we’re not experiencing our minds’ powers is that they’ve been shut down by stress, negative programming, trauma, or mind-numbing boredom. Clearly, there’s more going on with consciousness and our human potential than the official paradigm acknowledges. Again, the fact that extraordinary powers occur at all proves the possibility of powers that may be latent in all of us.
Seeking Paradigms that fit us
Imagine, for instance, a paradigm that describes us as free beings, moving in time, space, and matter through the powers of consciousness, unconstrained by demands for money and unconcerned by the quest for power or control. Imagine further a paradigm that honors us for who we are, that treats human beings-as well as all beings-as treasures of the universe, and that therefore places a priority on nurturing and developing our potential. In the current world where humans are “ownable”, exploitable, controllable commodities-useful only insofar as they can either command or generate capital-such models seem utter fantasy.
According to spiritual teachings the world over, though, such models more closely fit what they call “True Human Beings.” Hindu philosophy, for instance, takes our potential seriously enough to categorize liberation as the fourth basic desire of human beings, the one that naturally arises in us after we’ve grown weary of pursuing the desires for 1) pleasure, 2) success, and 3) duty. Liberation is the liberation to be who we are in the big picture, not to be narrowed by models that aren’t worthy of us. It’s the freedom to live from the inside out, to be guided by who we are in our essence, rather than to spend our lives juggling family, social, financial, religious, or other cultural expectations.
“Saving the Paradigm”
If we don’t experience ourselves or each other as free and great beings, it’s not because we lack this potential but rather because the paradigm/cookie gadgets our cultures pour us through aren’t equal to our essence. We come out twisted, grasping, angry, and insatiable because we know we’re more, yet the cultural paradigm has no room for us. The paradigm can’t both acknowledge our innate worth and treat us as objects to be subjugated-objects that must be coerced into systems that violate our dignity and potential by their very structures.
Born into the culture, what choice do we have but to be subjugated? Babies and children don’t have options but to submit. So we adapt ourselves accordingly. We conform to social systems by adopting the roles that go with them, narrowing ourselves to fit the cultural agenda. We become the competitive, insecure, obedient, brain dead, soul-disconnected creature that our social systems require. If we didn’t comply, there’d be no place for social systems to hook into us and control our behavior, which the paradigm says they must do in order to achieve social order.
But instead of social order, the paradigm generates violence and suffering-images of which we see everyday on the news and feelings of which we experience as stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or even self-hate. These images and feelings say nothing about which alternative paradigms might better serve human beings or who we might be if we used less narrowing models. They simply give us feedback about our cultural paradigm.
But paradigm oblivious, we don’t interpret culture-wide pain as paradigm related. We don’t trace personal and social suffering back to the cultural paradigm and so set the stage for changing it. Instead, we save the paradigm by believing that humans must be fatally flawed and we ourselves more than most. Accepting the cultural paradigm that excludes what’s most valuable about us, we view ourselves in the mirror that social systems give us: a mirror of externals. Our paradigm options go unexplored.
Life in a Paradigm controlled by external reward systems
In a paradigm of externals, externals call the shots. Instead of allowing us to be guided from the inside out (a formula for anarchy, the control paradigm claims), the paradigm controls our behavior through rewards and punishments. We come to think and act like Pavlov’s dog, salivating over the next bonus, a bigger kennel to call home, a fancier collar to sport, or a top dog position. The paradigm isn’t about developing our talents, abilities, or potential; it’s about making us controllable by giving or withholding external rewards.
To achieve this control, the paradigm grades each “thing” in a hierarchy of externals. The inner life means nothing compared to the outward characteristics indicated by our species, race, gender, age, status, group affiliation, and income. If dogs possessed the wealth of Bill Gates, for instance, they wouldn’t suffer in medical experiments, just as people who have money don’t work in sweatshops or sell their children into slavery.
That’s the problem with externals: they’re fine until they become the means for enslavement, which unfortunately they do almost immediately. When a paradigm puts external values first, consciousness dimensions are dismissed out of hand. Small wonder that the potentials of our minds and hearts-and all the values that go with them, e.g., meaning, compassion, justice, or wisdom-go undeveloped. A control paradigm has neither use nor place for them.
Closed social external Control-Based Paradigms don’t like discussing this
Naming paradigms and their power for good or ill isn’t a new insight; it’s as old as philosophy. It is, however, an overlooked insight in an age that can’t seem to shake a materialistic, control-obsessed paradigm-and for good reason. Reflecting on paradigms is the stuff of change, and changing paradigms is the most fundamental and powerful change we can make.
To a paradigm of control, that’s not welcome. The sum total of our experience contingent on something as invisible and changeable as a philosophy? Change by paradigm shifts, which anyone can make? Powers of perception and creativity that defy rigid material boundaries? Humans as beings of immense powers and abilities? Once you let these cats out of the bag, there’s no telling what mindsets and institutions might be made obsolete.
Obsolete is precisely what established institutions of power and control don’t want to be. They learned from the fate of carriage and buggy whip manufacturers when cars came along. Established interests now make sure that questioning the neanderthal paradigm of burning things for energy triggers “War-of-the-Worlds” panic about destabilizing the world economy. Even the call for improved public transit systems borders on subversive. Stiff challenges face a paradigm shift on the simple level of out-there technology, frozen at a stage that Captain Picard sometimes finds among the more primitive human civilizations he encounters. What challenges might we face if we embark on a far deeper level of questioning-on redrawing the paradigms that sort out who we are and why we’re here?
Plenty. If the cultural paradigm’s purpose is not to honor human potential but rather to make it an obedient servant to existing social structures, then nothing could be more threatening to the established order than a paradigm shift regarding our self-conceptions. We fit into society as it is now only as long as we don’t remember that we’re more and here for more.
Examples of Control Paradigm lack of interest in developing human potential
The agenda for traditional psychoanalytic therapy, for instance, isn’t to develop human potential; it’s to keep people functional in established social structures, however miserable their lives may be and however abusive or wrong-headed the social structures. “Well-adjusted” becomes a synonym for mental health.
But if someone is well-adjusted to being an SS officer in Nazi concentration camps, is that person mentally healthy? In Fire In The Soul, psychoneuroimmunologist Joan Borysenko writes of this narrow aim of therapy: “Sigmund Freud…believed that when a person was cured of neurosis the best outcome that could be expected was return ‘to an ordinary state of unhappiness.'” (New York: Warner, 1993, p. 54)
Psychotherapy’s official job is mopping up the mess that social systems make of our lives by convincing us that the mess is our fault, our failing, our screwiness. If we don’t conform, adjust, fit in, and measure up, something must be wrong with us. And psychotherapy has its truth: we may well be frozen in grief or shock and not functioning at our best, but don’t the social systems that shape us deserve equal scrutiny, equal critical analysis?
Thankfully many therapists reject this paradigm and venture forth with their clients on the forbidden territory of meaning and human potential as well as of critiquing social structures, but it’s no easy task persuading insurance companies to come along. Control institutions pay insurance companies to pay health professionals to keep people in their place, serving the established order.
The agenda for school systems in a Control Paradigm
Nor are school systems committed to developing the more that we are. Schools are an arm of social structures, whether religious, governmental, or economic. According to the paradigm-defined needs of those structures, tapping human potential doesn’t create enough Dilberts to ensure the “efficient” running of corporate, governmental, religious, and educational hierarchies.
In this century, business interests have dictated the structure of schools. Henry Ford quickly noticed that creative genius and intuitive knowing aren’t useful on factory lines. So he pioneered the “modern” school system that inculcates values and skills appropriate for 20th century work life: being punctual, obeying orders, enduring hours, weeks, and years of boring, repetitive tasks, not talking while working, not resting, keeping to the schedule at all costs. Our minds become casualties of industrialization.
Our souls end up casualties as well. Trusting our own judgment, thinking for ourselves, adhering to our values, and having confidence in our innate worth don’t make us good foot soldiers for my-way-or-the-highway bosses. Only people with low self-esteem are sufficiently insecure to tolerate abusive work environments. Insofar as we believe we don’t deserve better, we adjust, becoming the kind of person that’s required to “do the job.”
Obligingly, school systems produce people with precisely the low self-esteem that’s needed for worker “flexibility.” Fears of being wrong, of not making the grade are fears confirmed for 90 percent of the population. That’s the percentage who are required not to get A’s by the bell curve system, guaranteeing that 90 percent of everyone coming out of school believe that they’re incapable of excellence. Schools mirror back to students the mass message that “you’re just not good enough, but if you do what you’re told without question, you may get better and be rewarded.” That’s a handy message to have installed in the psyches of 90 percent of the population-handy for perpetuating corporate, religious, governmental, and professional tyrannies, that is.
All this modern schooling goes against what we know about the human mind and how we learn-and have known for decades. Studies in learning show that we learn best when we’re most relaxed, yet schools maximize stress through fear of failure. Studies show that children learn most easily through cooperative learning, yet schools impose a competitive model. Studies also indicate that students’ beliefs about their own learning abilities affect their performance-if they believe they’re good learners, they learn easily; if not, learning the simplest things becomes difficult-yet schools systematically undermine students’ confidence.
In these and many other ways, school systems perform virtual lobotomies on our psyches, producing graduates who’ve long since lost their joy in learning, who believe they must be right all the time and “know it all” or be condemned to outer darkness, and who experience post-traumatic stress symptoms at the thought of having to learn new things on the job.
On Cultural Non-Commitment to Human Potential
Alice Miller, a champion of the potential we all possess from birth, pulls no punches in her books-For Your Own Good in particular analyzes the social, cultural agenda of shutting down our potential. As she explains, the traditional rules of child-rearing passed down from generation to generation have nothing to do with developing our potential, either emotionally, intuitively, psychologically, or intellectually. Their one agenda is control: control the child as soon as possible by any means, whether it’s by punishment, humiliation, intimidation, beatings, grading, whatever it takes to break the child’s will and autonomy.
The justification for this agenda is that children raised any other way won’t fit into society when they grow up. According to this cultural paradigm-expressed in the rules of child-rearing-learning to forget who we are and to become what others want and expect us to be is the most important survival skill. Our potential as human beings is irrelevant, a side issue, compared to our ability to conform. Of course we’re supposed to believe that social systems have our best interests at heart and that obeying them is indeed “for our own good.” If we conform properly, our potential will develop accordingly. But is this so? As we’ve seen, schools and therapy-two systems that you’d think would be committed to developing human potential-have no such commitment. In what system or area of the culture might such a commitment exist?
Governments are fully occupied with who has power over whom, who has the biggest budget, where money can be found, who wins which election or vote, etc. Developing the human potential of its citizenry is not a priority. If anything, it’s not on the agenda at all. The insider’s view that “the masses are asses” is music to ambitious politicians’ ears, who then believe it’s their manifest destiny to expand their personal power and become benevolent dictators. Dumb masses are easy to manipulate with slogans and half-truths. For their purposes, the less human potential the better.
As much as we value spiritual teachings, we can’t say that religious organizations have much commitment to developing human potential either, though granted there are exceptions. Adhering to fixed doctrines, building congregations, raising money, meddling in the personal affairs of members, running down sectarian competitors, and using fear and guilt to exact obedience and tithing keep them busy enough.
Businesses and corporations certainly don’t concern themselves with human potential, even though they sometimes pay lip service to it in the hopes of making employees more “productive.” The bottom line is the bottom line, and if human potential comes up at all, it’s considered a frill or luxury-“warm fuzzy stuff” that doesn’t count in the “real world” of business except to mollify disgruntled workers or help them adjust to higher levels of stress.
Scanning the culture, we frankly can’t find any system that’s consistently committed to exploring human potential. If anything, our social systems regard human potential as an impediment, an annoying feature of human beings that gums up the systems’ otherwise efficient workings. If people would just learn their roles and stick to them, everything would work so much better.
If we didn’t know the paradigm behind these systems, we may find this lack of interest in human potential odd. Developing human potential seems crucial to keeping human civilizations vital and evolving, up to speed with the challenges that continually arise. Technology per se can’t save us, since we’re not using the alternative technology we already have to remedy social and environmental ills. What we lack is the the wisdom and foresight, the honesty, the sense of meaning, justice, integrity, and the good to manage human affairs well. These aren’t technology issues but paradigm ones. Wisdom and foresight are precisely the potentials that a paradigm geared to domination and control factors out of us.
Making Some Changes
But no paradigm, even one that’s used to having the last word, is the last word. The human spirit, being what it is, doesn’t take kindly to soul-lobotomies and develops all sorts of responses. One is to join the lobotomizing dominators: do it to others before any more can be done to you. Another is to adopt roles and play along, to accept one’s lobotomized lot in life.
Addictions make both responses easier. We can lay off 5,000 employees and numb the pain with a 15 million dollar bonus. Or we can take drugs to make it through the day in our Dilbertesque cubicles. Either way, numbing ourselves with addictions of process (money and power) or of substance (drugs and alcohol) makes us forget the pain of living in a control paradigm culture.
By numbing us, addictions serve the established paradigm well: insofar as we forget pain, we don’t confront its causes. Lobotomizing systems go unchallenged, as long as we find ways to cope with being lobotomized.
That’s why recovery from addictions begins with recognizing pain. Acknowledging what we feel in social systems is the first subversive step toward a cultural paradigm shift. A paradigm of control through externals unravels when we affirm the importance of what’s going on within. When pain counts with us-when we refuse to ignore it, “to put up and shut up”-the days are numbered for the paradigm that’s causing us pain.
New world views bring the onset of New Worlds
From this springboard begins the journey of transformation by paradigm shift. It took us 360 pages to explore this process in The Paradigm Conspiracy, so that’s a pitch both for whoever is reading this to get a copy and for us to close this electronic essay. We’ll just say that when we’re too tired to explain the book to someone, we call it our revenge on the control paradigm, both for us and on behalf of our readers. But when we’re feeling more peppy, we say that the book has a happy ending, or at least holds the promise of one. Refusing to be trapped by dominating institutions on one hand and on the other claiming our essence, who we are in the big picture-what’s called the “soul” until a better term comes along-we foment revolution of the most constructive, effective, and powerful sort. Each of us in our own ways participates in creating new worldviews, which in turn create new worlds within and without.
We thank you for taking the time to read our thoughts and reflections on this subject, and should you read our book, we hope you enjoy it. We don’t pretend to have the answers or to give the “correct” paradigm. Our best hope is that the book gets the philosophical, paradigm-shifting juices going. That’s quite enough for us. The rest we leave to the human potential emerging in all of us.
The Paradigm Conspiracy
by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent
Paperback – 387 pages
1996 ISBN: 1-56838-208-1 (Paper) ISBN: 1-56838-106-9 (Cloth) $13.95
Reprint edition (May 1998) ISBN: 1568382081
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