Occupying the collective consciousness

February 21, 2012

collective consciousness, tribes

You don’t have to be a new age bohemian or break out the chakra crystals on a regular basis to acknowledge the existence of a “collective consciousness,” a concept which simply refers to the current shared views and perspectives of a society. As is most often the case in people, the views and perspectives of a society tend to evolve and mature over time.

50 years ago, the collective consciousness of the U.S. held that segregation was OK. Had we reflected more, perhaps we would have realized sooner the simple ignorance of this view, and wouldn’t have needed such a messy movement to help us come to our senses. But reflection and second-guessing have never been our strong suit. We’re much more interested in winning the argument.

Today, we look back on that time with dismay. How could we have been so stupid? And yet we’re no less sure of ourselves, no less eager to defend to the death the various views we’ve chosen to identify with. On a personal level, we’re emotionally removed enough to reminisce on the naivety of our youth, or even laugh at our shortsighted indiscretions of a few years ago. But the conflict in our lives now? We have no greater inclination to look for its source in the mirror today than we did at any point in our lives.

Thankfully for us humans, as sure as the universe expands outward, our collective consciousness is on a constant trajectory up. The question, then, is not whether we’re better off or smarter than we were 50 years ago. Clearly, we are. The question for those concerned about our present and future state of affairs is whether our collective consciousness will evolve quick enough to salvage a world worth living in. Will we be able to develop a more sane, sustainable way of interacting with the earth and each other before it’s too late? Will we finally enable socially conscious couples to answer in the affirmative the now commonly pondered question of whether or not it is moral to bring a child into the world? To many, the recent appearance of not only the Occupy movement, but the numerous other ongoing revolutions around the planet, offer some hope that our collective consciousness just might be in the process of going into overdrive.

So what exactly does that mean? What is wrong with our consciousness now and what would a more enlightened consciousness look like? It would express itself in different ways, but perhaps the most succinct way of summarizing it would be that a more enlightened consciousness would greatly enhance humanity’s ability to self-correct. In other words, by taking a genuine interest in the actual issues at hand, and giving the issues themselves priority over our own tendency to personalize and defend previously self-identified views on those issues, we would greatly enhance our ability to make effective decisions, as well as our ability to make adjustments to those decisions if an oversight is made.

Why did we segregate 50 years ago? Really, how did it happen? Back then, great debates were held among society’s thought leaders, grappling with that ever so high-minded conundrum – the sensibility of using skin tone to classify a particular strain of humans as inferior. Were those debates held in good faith? Were they honest attempts at increasing understanding and arriving at the best possible solution for all, as they were no doubt purported to be? Or were they more like a boxing match? Knockdown drag-out affairs with the sole motive of vanquishing the opposition, with no greater understanding achieved, no clarity gained, and with both participants always emerging bloodier than before.

Nevertheless, as the specter of injustice grew so ugly and offensive in our collective consciousness as to become unavoidable, we were dragged, kicking and screaming, into reforms that allowed us to reclaim the moral solace needed to sleep at night. But that solution, like all our other solutions since then, was a band-aid. It stopped the bleeding, but our ability to handle the knife was none the better. Today, however, there is the palpable sense among many that, at last, we have arrived at a critical point – a recognition that continuing to use band-aids is no longer good enough. We have to learn, finally, how to better handle the knife.

Armed with this new skill, humanity will regain its recently neglected but perfectly natural ability to see ridiculousness in the moment, rather than having to wait years for hindsight’s 20/20 vision to kick in. We will empower ourselves to identify propaganda - not only in the world, but in our own minds as well.

In that spirit, in the midst of our rapidly expanding collective consciousness, what are the typically unexamined aspects of our society that, if viewed without the usual filters of pre-established dogma, blind acceptance or stubborn ideology, could only be seen as utterly and undeniably ridiculous? These aspects might be political or religious institutions, systems of governance, laws, cultural norms, ways of doing things, or mere states of mind. Plenty of things come to mind for me, but for the sake of respecting the internet’s brevity bias, I’ll save those reflections for the future, and welcome yours as well.

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