Selected Readings
From

Book cover for A New Republic of the Heart

Chapter 1 Part 2: Our Wicked Predicament and the Consensus Trance

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Why the convenience of our "social consensus" gives us common agreements for civilization to function, yet gets in the way of adapting to and solving our wicked problems.

Setting the Context

You all know that with each passing year wildfires consume larger expanses of territory, the hurricane season starts earlier and causes yet more tragic loss, record shattering temperatures are constantly being recorded, and more species are declared extinct. Forever.

Have you ever wondered, perhaps lost sleep while wondering who is in charge? Who is allowing our Mother Earth, the only home we will ever know, to become so sickened that she soon may no longer be able to support us and all that would follow?

We are the Voices Blog Team of the New Republic of the Heart reading our favorite excerpts from A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries by Terry Patten. We will be zeroing in on these perplexing questions in a two part recital of selected passages from Chapter 1: Our Wicked Predicament and the Consensus Trance.

In our first segment author Terry Patten summarized our faltering ecological systems whose trajectory points toward catastrophic collapse with horribly unimaginable implications for humanity. Then, he exposed the built in road blocks which team up to impede our efforts to recognize and address this runaway crisis.

Now, in our second segment, Terry digs deeper to reveal how our perceptions and attitudes are, unbeknownst to us, corralled into a conformity sufficiently narrow to assure society’s cohesion and mutual understanding but which cripple our ability to fend off new, unanticipated challenges.

Patten concludes Chapter One by asserting that these unprecedented headwinds can be overcome by summoning depth of character and uninhibited creativity which we already have within us. It’s Time! 

 Selected Readings From A New Republic of the Heart

Recitations by Anneke Edson, David Chasteen, Sallie Justice, Phil Justice, and Ed Prell

Ultimate Hope Versus False Hope

(p.30) If the measure of a human life is its significance, its ability to have positive effects much larger than itself, then all of us alive now have hit the jackpot. We are the lucky ones who have been born “where the action is,” in a time when we have the potential to make a difference on an evolutionary scale. And we have unprecedented access to, and the ability to draw on, the highest accumulated knowledge and wisdom of all cultures across all ages.

(p.31) Most of us have at some point glimpsed a wondrous power beyond the mere observable mechanics of things, and we know it can work miracles. When we keep showing up in the next moment with openness, intelligence, positive expectancy, generosity, the desire to be of benefit,and the courage to throw ourselves into life completely–that is when we participate in miracles.

(p.31) That is what we intuitively choose; we recognize that this positive orientation to life is healthy, whatever the prognosis of experts may be.

(p.31) We place our intuitive bet on life and the creativity of evolution. When hope is powered by this kind of faith or intuition —our sense of the ultimate wholeness and beauty of things and our own power to meet real challenges— it is actually not irrational at all.

(p.31) In order to productively address and adapt to our global predicament, we need to face the facts, and we need to act.      

The Seduction — And Power — Of Hope

(p.32) There are solid reasons to believe we can meet today’s challenges. But not as we are. 

(p.33) To me the greatest grounds for hope are in the resilience and creativity that have emerged many times before in human history and prehistory when we have been faced with unprecedented challenges.   

(p.34) Optimistic scenarios are much more likely to become reality if people cut through denial and soberly take in the magnitude of our ever-intensifying predicament.

(p.34) Critical masses of people rising up as one have made positive differences (as well as negative ones) many times throughout history. But in this case, more is required than simply winning some political and technological victories; it will also require quantum leaps in human maturity and spiritual vision. 

(p.35) The subject of our predicament is avoided like kryptonite —because we recoil in pain from what we believe are its profoundly debilitating psychological and emotional effects.

(p.35) Human beings, myself included, find much of our strength by being motivated toward hoped-for futures. Our psychological need to maintain an optimistic perspective on life is so deeply ingrained that it colors all our thoughts, actions, and decisions.

(p.35) Factual evidence rarely persuades people to change their attitudes and beliefs—on the contrary, research shows human beings more commonly harden their attitudes when confronted by evidence that seems to undermine their pre-existing beliefs. So we respond instinctively, deflecting instead of absorbing objective facts if their implications challenge our attitudes, especially if we fear they might cause us to lose heart.

The Elephant in the Room—The Hidden Fear Agenda

(p.36) In order to function, human societies must agree on a consensus reality. Without it we lack a social common ground. But the agreements we have are of a “lowest common denominator” variety, which critically limits our ability to picture reality in a way that’s adequate to the complexity of our current dynamics. 

(p.36) Some of us want to revise the old social agreements while others cling to them, and our common ground is increasingly unstable.

(p.36) Not everyone thinks alike; there are seemingly unbridgeable gulfs between the ways different individuals think about complex issues such as climate change. 

(p.36) These differences are not arbitrary and are not easily solved. They are not only matters of cultural identity; they reflect deep developmental and educational differences. They not only make it hard to understand each other; it also becomes very hard for most of us not to begin to relate to our divisions as if we were facing a competing tribe. So our mutual distrust grows, resulting in our civic dysfunction.

(p.37) We fear the disruption of our lives. If our predicament threatens the future of human civilization, it jeopardizes everything that gives our lives a sense of meaning. It implies a bleak or nonexistent future for our grandchildren, friends, students, and all legacies we might hope to leave behind. It is the death, not just of us, but of the whole world we know. It is the most terrible scenario we can imagine. 

(p.37) If we allow ourselves to imagine it as a realistic prospect, we fear being immobilized by depression. But we also fear what would happen if we took the predicament to heart and began to do everything we could to address it. In that case, the obligation and sacrifices of our activism would upend our lives and comforts and identities—and maybe, when all is said and done, no good would come of it anyway.

(p.37) The subtle shadows of all these fears are operating invisibly in the background, distorting all supposedly rational conversations about our civilizational predicament. Fear and our inability to face it give rise to denial of the scope and urgency of our predicament, and reflexive faith in imagined technological salvation. 

(p.37) This is made worse by the many “experts” who try to persuade us (at least implicitly) to think of this subject as if it were only a matter of politics and economics, rather than physics and ecology. 

(p.37) Our individual and collective psyches function very differently, depending on whether we are emotionally dominated by hope or fear. These powerful unacknowledged emotional responses are the subtext that usually dominates every attempt at objective discussion. 

(p.37) Sometimes we humans have to hit bottom before we wake up and really change. This is the language of addiction and recovery. We are nearing that moment in the human story.

(p.38) Much like a family sitting down with an addict for an intervention, it seems to me that our whole species is being commanded “Halt!” by the scientific evidence of our planet’s ecological crisis. We have a destructive addiction—and we are ruining our home and destroying the lives of our family members. 

(p.38) We are hearing, in no uncertain terms—from the rising CO2 levels, mass species extinctions, melting glaciers, dying coral reefs, and rising seas—that we have to stop what we are doing right now, and go into radical rehab. And the voices are only getting louder.

(p.38) It is simply easier to block out horrible realities if we seem to have little ability to affect them. We’d rather be resigned to  it as one of “the things we cannot change” and choose serenity. We like to focus on the things we can change—on our personal goals, dramas, trials, and satisfactions. 

(p.38) Our personal lives always demand constant and immediate attention. So, many people confidently assert that our “emergency” is an unhealthy preoccupation—a distraction. 

(p.38) Instead of changing the world, many of us simply change the subject. If we can’t actually improve our situation, what’s the point of getting worked up? Both reflexive optimism and learned helplessness are based on deep-rooted cultural agreements as well as subtle but very effective personal indoctrination. 

Consensus Trance: How We Perceive (And Deny) Reality

(p.38) Experimental psychologist Charles Tart’s powerful idea (is) that what is usually called “normal” consciousness may also function as a “consensus trance.” 

(p.39) The premise of consensus trance is that “normal” waking consciousness is actually a trance state. One of its implications is that people believe what they are indoctrinated to believe — and that this mass hallucination is powerful, often impervious to our own direct experience and critical thinking.

 (p.39) Consensus trance supports the tacit acceptance of “official” narratives (however unfounded they may be), and encourages us to unconsciously repress, deny, or reject unpalatable truths.

(p.39) Tart saw the process of drawing children into a sense of “the right way to do and see things” functioned very much like a hypnotic induction. Particular views are reinforced again and again throughout our lives, starting in childhood, via countless social cues.

(p.39) Tart proposed that normal waking consciousness is actually the product of an extensive collective hypnotic induction. This induction is practiced consistently by parents and teachers, and reinforced by every social interaction. It is sometimes brutally enforced via powerful taboos.

(p.39) While a requisite amount of . . . . “training” helps uplift a child’s primitive, unformed awareness, it also tends to inhibit free, expansive, and critical perceptions of reality in those who don’t outgrow it.

(p.39) In Tart’s view, our entire state of consciousness is indistinguishable from a trance,  . . . that we are inhabiting this trance together, and we have even been given hypnotic suggestions to ignore the evidence that we are in a trance.

(p.39 & 40) The “consensus reality,” about which almost everyone agrees, rarely corresponds to objective reality. Groups of people gradually come to agree on which perceptions should be allowed into their awareness, and then quite spontaneously and automatically train one another to see the world in only that way.

(p.40) Almost 2,500 years ago, the great Taoist sage Chuang Tzu wrote, “While…dreaming [the dreamer]does not know it is a dream…. Only after he wakes does he know it was a dream. And someday there will be a great awakening when we know that this is all a great dream. Yet the stupid believe they are awake, busily and brightly assuming they understand things…how dense!”

(p.40) Intentional manipulation has exploited the habitual tendencies of the human nervous system to manipulate public opinion. In a sense, public relations (and today, many other forms of media, marketing, and other methods of communicating news, advertising, and sociocultural trends) continues the hypnotic induction that begins in school, advancing and deepening the indoctrination.

(p.41) The hypnotic power of the consensus trance explains and affects many of the other challenges to our full, open, objective perception of our planetary crisis. 

(p.41) The consensus trance is not easily penetrated, even by the reality that our home is on fire.

The Challenge and the Opportunity

(p. 41) What we over-simplistically call “climate change” is itself only one facet of a larger ecological and cultural predicament that is the most “wicked” and elusive problem we have ever faced, because it reveals or hides itself in so many ways, and it affects literally everything.

(p.41) How do we get from where we are now to where we are required to be? 

(p.41) We cannot fully accept this challenge until we begin to understand and change the circumstances—both external and internal to us—that have kept this urgent imperative off our radar.

(p.42) Whole-systems change is required, and in a real sense it must begin inside ourselves.

(p.42) Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to face these impossible questions, this Genjo Koan.  If we face the questions of our time; if we recognize that they really cannot be avoided; and if we acknowledge how important, real, and existential they are, we will have accepted our mission.

(p.43) It requires new creativity at the levels of the individual, the local community, the virtual community, institutions, corporations, cities, and nations. It requires us to develop and express creative potential that has been virtually untapped—or, all too often, sabotaged—until now.

(p.43) It involves, in countless ways, the need to translate abstract ideas into concrete terms, and to discover what mandates such knowledge creates. And—starting at the level of every individual—it involves taking stock of where we are, and who we ultimately are.

(p.43) When he was in his eighties, James Hillman wrote The Force of Character, in which he identified the soul work of his moment in the life cycle, which is to withstand the ultimate ordeal of decline and death with grace and grit, and to put “finishing touches” on one’s life’s main creative product—one’s own character. If “it’s too late,” we can at least write the end of the human story well,through self-understanding, love in action, brother-sisterhood, elegance, and genius.

(p.44) Together, we can forge a productive path through a landscape that will undoubtedly be forever altered, literally and figuratively. It will be a future of joy and wonders as well as destruction and heartbreak—as is our present moment. It will be shaped by human beings, and by what is best in our collective character and imagination—if, that is, we grow up and show up at our very best.

Summary & Preview of What is Next

In Chapter one, Terry Patten has outlined a broad overview of the unprecedented crisis facing humanity. It threatens our civilization, our species, and the health of Earth’s biosphere. It is one entangled mess of our own making and cannot be ignored.

Climate change is the visible face of this crisis, with the root causes dwelling in human psyches and societies. Humans brought it on, and only humans can disentangle and resolve it.

Having laid out the vast dimensions of what is at stake, Terry Patten ends the chapter with a reminder that although this crisis is unprecedented, we do not yet know the full potential of our resilience and creativity. Will they be a match for the challenge that we face? And just how might they help us pull off this feat? That’s what the following ten chapters explore.