In the 1960’s the mantra was ‘Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out’ a counterculture phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in 1967. The post-war baby boomers discovered pot and acid and embraced cultural change through detaching from prevalent conventions and hierarchies in society. They sang happy songs and danced in mud. This sub-culture still exists today in many forms, perhaps Glastonbury Festival is a notable example.
To Leary, “‘Turn on’ meant go within to activate your neural and genetic equipment. Become sensitive to the many and various levels of consciousness and the specific triggers that engage them. Drugs were one way to accomplish this end. ‘Tune in’ meant interact harmoniously with the world around you – externalize, materialize, express your new internal perspectives. Drop out suggested an elective, selective, graceful process of detachment from involuntary or unconscious commitments. ‘Drop Out’ meant self-reliance, a discovery of one’s singularity, a commitment to mobility, choice, and change. Unhappily my explanations of this sequence of personal development were often misinterpreted to mean ‘Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity.’” From ‘Flashbacks’, one of his books.
Leary later wished he’d said, ‘Drop out. Turn on. Drop in’. Well, that’s hippies for you! 🙂 But the emphasis here is on disassociating from the mainstream and seeing reality for yourself. Forgiving the inherent sexism in the words of José Martí: “The first duty of a man is to think for himself”.
Gandhi is often attributed with the quote ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’. This is a misquote which provides an easy copout for those people who don’t want to deal with the complexities of politics – but still want to feel they might be contributing to the ‘battle for the planet’ by doing something. Gandhi’s actual words were: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him…” Once again forgiving the inherent sexism.
Gandhi clearly thought that personal and social transformation go hand in hand. Personal transformation is not enough on its own. Gandhi’s philosophy of social change involved self-denial and strict non-violence. He also thought that one person, alone, can’t change anything. He believed that unjust authority can only be overturned by people working together in persistent and peaceful opposition.
Laozi was a philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching. His association with the Tào Té Chīng has led him to be traditionally considered the founder of philosophical Taoism. He says:
“If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation”.
To me the ‘elimination of the dark and negative in myself’ is less important than its integration into my whole being. Lurking there in the dark is a whole realm of creative genius which can help turn the poison of modern life into nectar.
In the evolution of revolution, self-transformation alone will never be enough to stop Monsanto poisoning our foods with GM and banning heirloom seeds, to prevent the toxic products of Bayer killing bees like there’s no tomorrow, to stop global warming wreaking havok on our planet, to stop Texaco and other ‘energy suppliers’ killing South American Natives with industrial pollutants, to stop the manufacture of gold in India wrecking the health of children, to stop the confiscation of the ancestral lands of the Masai and the hundreds of pages I could write about the ongoing rape of Mother Earth and its people in the ever-continuing deeds of greed called ‘economics’. While we have been busy ego-centrically self-transforming, the powers of greed have stepped in to claim all that there is on the earth as their own to treat as they see fit. This needs opposition not navel gazing.
In the words of a truly modern revolutionary woman, Julia Butterfly Hill: “The question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘What kind of difference do I want to make?’”
There is hardly a lack of choice. We have come a million miles from The Wild One starring Marlon Brando. He is asked: ‘Hey Johnny what are you rebelling against?’ and replies ‘What have you got?’ Rebellion for its own sake – as a fashion statement – is a thing of the past. Now we are literally in a war to save the best of our planet for our descendants.
My mum says: “I just don’t want to hear about it.” And in some ways – who can blame her. Millions of people prefer to deny or edit reality than actually look at what is going on around them. In the UK The Daily Mail makes this so easy for people. In the words of Voltaire: “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”
In the United States there are 1500 newspapers, 1100 magazines, 9000 radio stations, 1500 TV stations, 2400 publishers. These are all owned by just 3 corporations. In the UK the picture is no better. The dominant myth is continually asserted as ‘Economic Progress at Any Price’.
People are presented with the illusion of choice. In the words of Noam Chomsky: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but allow lively debate within that spectrum.” And this is what we have – lots of choice but no real alternatives.
“Obviously I don’t vote as I believe democracy is a pointless spectacle where we choose between two indistinguishable political parties, neither of whom represent the people but the interests of the powerful business elites that run the world”. Russell Brand.
Cognitive dissonance is increasing as people notice the disparity between what they are being told and what they see going on around them. Gone is the quietly protestant stance of Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
To be replaced with Idle No More: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change – I am changing the things I cannot accept”.
Also, attributed to Reverend Charles F. Aked: “…for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.” Not forgetting of course, women.