Two philosophers met in the ancient world on a traveler’s road, to rest with their families, and discovered they had but one loaf of bread between them. Immediately the one asks, “Shall we fight to see who eats, or shall we share the loaf and discuss our visions of the future?”
Being philosophers, they sat down together and shared the loaf, and explained to each other their purpose in life. The first philosopher said, “To name, number, and protect ALL things for my family, and to stop anyone who touches any of it or wants it for themselves. “ The second philosopher answered, “Pity, for I exist to ensure that ALL things are available to anyone, regardless of who names and numbers them – life must remain free.”
So, after amiably finishing the bread, the two philosophers fought to the death…the first man won.
Conflict over opposing ideologies is inevitable – abortion, assisted suicide, ultimate reality, class separation, ownership. Fighting over ‘resources’ demonstrates which ideology has attained prominence. Tyrants frame their wars in ideology – “We must liberate the Iraqis” – while they commit murder over resources. The covetous ways of power and authority emerge from the mite-makes-right philosophy, the undeniable victor in the original conflict of ideas.
History is replete with opposing ideologies, from Epicurean parsimoniousness to Manifest Destiny. Napoleon felt that France should own the world. Many indigenous peoples feel it is impossible to own anything at all. Of course, the most halting aspect of our current reality is that the ideology of force that gained power through force now maintains power, by force, through the exaltation of an opposing ideology of human responsibility and corporate concern…the idea of justifiable conflict.
This is what has turned the world on its ear, ideologically – conflict over resources under the premise of conscious responsibility. How are we to reconcile this Frankenstein of human development? What can we expect to come of this twisted nature of doing evil by pretending it is good? Philosophy can no longer help us, if we can no longer distinguish between philosophies. When black and white might equally be applied, our view has turned hopelessly gray.
This is the significance of the original two philosophers – that there is something to decide, that there is everything at stake. We must relive the original question, and reform the original ideas. Is private ownership even possible – is it advisable? Are conflicts over resources justifiable, and under what circumstances? Are humans inherently equal, or under the hierarchy of the fittest? Is it an eye for an eye, or the Golden Rule? A coherent ideology provides direction and accountability.
We are in ideological ruin, with no philosophical coherence in which to gauge our decrepitude – we are falling and many feel they are rising. We cannot even place ourselves in history’s scales for we have obliterated the units of measure. We are Attila the Hun pretending to be Mother Theresa. We are the Inquisition all over again – torturing you to save your soul. We lack a philosophically secure stance from which to repel this obscenity – we traded it for greed at birth.
The sages all said the same thing, essentially, when it comes to loaning money to your fellow beings at interest – don’t ever do it. We pay hypocritical homage to ancient wisdom and culture while destroying both in every detail. We live in a Christian country that is run by and for murderous gangsters. We give lip service to the Enlightened One (and surround ourselves with statues), but do we forsake the path of illusion, or simply revel in it? The ancient sensibility of debt jubilee, which would serve modern economics well at this time, is deliberately ignored in the insistence that all debts be repaid even if it brings humanity to its brink, though the debt is electronic in nature and fraudulently induced in practice.
The scariest part is that while civilization is thus ripped asunder, and the actions of our collective ideologies bring the physical planet to its cataclysmic ruin, most people think nothing of the warped view we follow, but imagine they are philosophies of love, and compassion, and spirituality – a hard crop to sell now that we are reaping the seeds of selfishness, greed, corruption, and indifference. The ruling ideologies around the world appear more diabolic than altruistic, at least in practice.
Whose ideology are we following? George Bush? The Devil? No one? How did we get here from Aristotle and Buddha, from Confucius and Christ? Slowly. Steadily. Deceptively hiding away the core of righteous ideas behind layer after layer of self-serving amendments. We don’t love our neighbor usually, but we would like to have more than him. In fact, once the idea settles that it’s him or us, we know that we’ll have to be crafty and possibly cruel to make sure that it’s us.
What is the individual responsibility in this? What does it mean anymore to be, ‘a good person’? What notions do we follow individually that have lead to collective decline? If we examine our original two philosophers, we can see the schism – selfishness versus selflessness. Could it be so simple? I’m afraid the answer is, it is that simple. We are confounded because we have combined the sage wisdom of self-examination and service to others – the idea of Love – with that of winner-take-all materialism and the philosophy of survival of the fittest – the idea of force. We talk the talk of love and human responsibility, but we walk the walk of egoism, indifference, and personal gain.
The philosophy of selflessness has been worn away as a matter of course until it is lost in the conflict of emotions…unrecognizable through the salacious luster of personal exaltation and greed. The ideas of the greatest of mankind have become the lost philosophy. What’s the nature of the lost philosophy? Just that, individuals do not live only for themselves but to animate a greater purpose – Love. To achieve this purpose, human beings are instruments of conscious intent, capable of love or any number of lesser burdens. The cornerstone in this ideology is to resist the urge to put oneself first, and instead to seek a way of serving others…to find richness in purpose rather than power…to find force powerless but to destroy…to find your neighbor lovable.
Why we left the path of the great mystics (if we were ever on it) is unsure. As a species, we are reactionary. Once the burden of selflessness became too much of an impediment to unrestricted debauchery, we changed the rules. During the Enlightenment, philosophers reacted against the Victorian nonsense of the time with the notion that mankind is beholden to nothing but himself…no God, no other-world, and certainly not his neighbor. We were creating existence out of our minds, we were told, and we could make it anything we wanted…and we have. We combined the idea of selfishness with the idea of selflessness, like school children experimenting in chemistry, and POOF! We can now go to war for resources and pretend it’s the right thing to do. We can deny the most basic of human equalities and convince ourselves that it is ideologically equitable. We can be the most greedy, consumptive humans that ever inhabited the earth, and believe we are spiritually advanced.
There is nothing new under the sun. A Gorgonian Knot of conflicting and incestuous ideas has snowballed from the ancient past to become the brain trust from which our immediate world springs, with predictably outrageous consequences. No explanation can penetrate it. No system can undermine it. Only the inner clarity of the mystic has the power to cast the menace into eternal nothingness and begin again…with two philosophers, and a choice.