CRITICAL THINKING

The unexamined life is not worth living. -Socrates

I am writing a post about something as mundane as critical thinking – which already has entire websites and foundations devoted to spreading its gospel – because it is what has led me to my current understanding of the world. I hold many ideas that are not widely held, ideas which have lead me to choosing an unconventional lifestyle and are the basis of this blog. It is critical thinking – particularly challenging assumptions – that gives me the courage to go against conventional wisdom and forgo pursuing a career and the traditional trappings of success.

Likewise I think it is only through others thinking critically that they might come to see what I believe to be the grave problems facing our world. Looking only at the surface one is led to believe that while things aren’t perfect they’re getting better and the problems we do have will eventually be solved. This does not inspire action or change, it enables complacency and invites more of the same of what has led us into an increasingly untenable position as a species. To see beyond what is presented to us by the powers that be takes effort and the desire to do so. And thinking critically.

Critical thinking is the mental process of evaluating or analyzing information. This process is crucial because there is so much information in the world and much of it is partial or just plain untrue. Information we accept as true becomes a belief, and our beliefs shape our actions. In order to be able to be responsible for our actions we must be responsible for our beliefs. Taking personal responsibility for one’s beliefs is a huge part of being a mature human being and doing so requires critical thinking. As Socrates says, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

This is why reading is so valuable. It exposes you to new ideas and new points of view and encourages you to evaluate them on their own merits as well as how they relate to beliefs you currently hold. It is for this very reason that books get banned and burned. New ideas can be disruptive to, and cause one to question, the status quo. This is not appreciated by those who have a vested interest in the Way Things Are. But the truth is not scared of the lie, nor of the smaller truth, and is happily incorporated into the bigger one, and hide it though we may always seems to out. As we grow in our understanding, so do we grow in our being.

From criticalthinking.org:

“Critical thinking can be seen as having two components: 1) a set of information and belief generating processing skills, and 2) the habit, based on intellectual commitment, of using those skills to guide behavior”

The extremely difficult part of it is #2 – the application of intellectual belief toward behavior. It is one thing to believe in human-caused global warming, it is an entirely different thing to give up a car while living in Suburbia. I should know because I found it impossible. Despite having roughly the same understanding of the world for many years, until now I have been able to make only superficial changes in my lifestyle to align it with my beliefs.

Take again for example climate change. Despite 97% of scientists whose entire careers have been devoted to studying the phenomenon saying that human-caused climate change is real, somehow we collectively act as if this is a point up for debate. We have U.S. Senators bringing snowballs into Congress to prove global warming is untrue. This is because to accept human-caused climate as real, and more importantly to act as if it is real, would require monumental changes in the way the world is run – the global equivalent of me giving up my car in suburbia. Those in power don’t want the ways things are done to be changed and so there is a vested interest in keeping it an open question, from being accepted as fact. Which is why Exxon knew of climate change in 1981 but funded deniers for 27 more years afterwards, to protect their bottom line at the expense of us all.

In a more general sense, I am convinced that those in power lack the motivation to make the changes necessary to save our world from coming hardship. It is up to the each of us. So I encourage you to question what you are told, and what you currently believe. I also encourage you to send me a message if you disagree with anything you find on this blog. While I, like most everyone, like to be “right”, I like most to be Right. Thus I am thankful to be shown when I hold an incorrect belief and happily admit when I am mistaken.

I leave you with the Kalama sutta:

Do not believe anything on mere hearsay.
Do not believe in traditions merely because they are old and have been handed down for many generations and in many places.
Do not believe anything because you are shown the written testimony of some ancient sage.
Do not believe in what you have fancied, thinking that, because it is extraordinary, it must have been inspired by a god or other wonderful being.
Do not believe anything merely because presumption is in its favor, or because the custom of many years inclines you to take it as true.
Do not believe anything merely on the authority of your teachers and priests.

But, whatever, after thorough investigation and reflection, you find to agree with reason and experience, as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all and of the world at large, accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it.


-Buddha

Originally published July 11, 2015

THE MORE BEAUTIFUL WORLD OUR HEARTS KNOW IS POSSIBLE

This post (and the sub-title of this blog) shares a title with the book of the same name by Charles Eisenstein. I first encountered these words in another book of his, The Ascent of Humanity, and immediately loved them. If you are at all interested in the themes of this blog, I cannot recommend these books, and Eisenstein in general, enough.

This term, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, is his. And I am unabashedly hopping on its bandwagon. He has written quite a bit about what it means to him, and I have found his doing so to be inspiring, enlightening, and affirming. So much so that I want to share what it means to me.

At its simplest level, it is my knowledge that the world could be a so much better place than it is. If we were so motivated, we have the capability to completely reinvent the human condition as it is now as well as heal the biosphere. Almost all of the problems facing the world today are human caused. Can we even begin to imagine what the world might be like if we stopped causing them? Or began to instead seek to make life as amazing as possible for each other? I have a hint of an intuition, but I know the realization of this possibility is so incredible that I cannot begin to grasp what it might look like.

The world is the way it now for very good reasons, and in no way am I suggesting that we abandon our hard won gifts of hand and mind. What I am saying is that if we take an honest look around us we find that there are many large problems facing us that are only getting worse. What has worked for us ever since the advent of agriculture is no longer helping us, it is hurting us and our planet.

For me at least, whenever I witness injustice or hear about some avoidable tragedy, I can’t help but think there could be another way. A better way. A more beautiful way. That is what Eisenstein’s phrase means to me: there is a better way than what we are currently collectively doing. And I want to do everything I can to help bring this more beautiful world into being.

This is not just about feeding the hungry and saving the rainforest, it is also about restoring our happiness. I think we all feel it, a nagging sense that life is supposed to be more than what is offered to us. We all have those rare moments when the humdrumness of life stops for a bit and we experience a pure joy just for being alive. But for me at least, those moments don’t come that often. But I think they could.

What I have found is the structure of our socioeconomic systems actively works against my more noble aspirations. It makes me more self-centered, and more afraid that I won’t be able to get by or be happy.

When we submit to lesser lives, we cannot avoid a sense of self betrayal: that we are complicit in the plunder of our most precious possession. The roles society offers do not befit the divine beings that we are. It is not merely that a career as a retail clerk is beneath my dignity; it is beneath anyone’s dignity.

-Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity

While I have no idea what shape it will take, I KNOW, to the core of my being, that there exists a world in which no one has to wash dishes for 8 hours a day, or cut down rainforest to provide for their family, or have children starving to death daily.

There exists a world that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all people, rooted in the knowledge that we are connected to all things, and what we do to others and the planet we also do unto ourselves. That humans – all of us – are meant for so much more than just to get by and survive.

So I ask you: what do you think would make the world a more beautiful place? And what are you doing to make that a reality?

WHY I AM JOINING AN INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY

Whenever I tell someone of my intentions of joining a “commune” I invariably get asked “Why?” I do my best to answer them but there are many reasons- more than I ever really have time to explain. So henceforth I will be referring them to this post, in which I have the space to fully explain the many aspects of what motivates me to make this change in lifestyle.

My motivations can be summed up into two big umbrella reasons: I believe living in an intentional community will allow me to align my lifestyle with my personal values and at the same time grant me a higher quality of life.

In all cultures there are things that are simply taken for granted. Each person in a culture is taught what is and is not normal and how to behave and how not to behave. In the west we call this enculturation and/or socialization. As I have grown as a person and have looked around me at the world I find myself in, I have realized that the lifestyle I have been raised in has repercussions that I am no longer comfortable with.

I believe that we humans as a species are living in a way that is out of balance and is leading us towards some incredibly difficult crises on a global scale. We are running out of fresh water. We are facing human-caused climate change that is already causing real damage to both human and all other life. We have severely drained the oceans of fish and yet continue to fish in record numbers. Our inexhaustible thirst for oil has led to fracking and mining the tar sands of Alaska with severe ecological consequences already, and more sure to come. Our global political system and global money system have led to massive inequality, leaving billions of us with a terrible quality of life. We have already cut down half of the Earth’s tropical forests and destroy 18 million acres of forest (an area the size of Panama) each year. Species of life are going extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate due to human causes. It is so severe that scientists have termed it the Anthropocene (Age of Man) extinction event, the first in 66 million years. Our rivers, fields, oceans, and skies have all been polluted with toxic chemicals which have been implicated in our many new health crises. We regularly kill each other on a massive level. This is not an exhaustive list.

Up until now my lifestyle has contributed to these problems. I drive a car and eat food from California, adding to demand for oil and creating pollution. I’m sure I have bought clothes made in sweatshops, contributing to human misery. I have eaten fish, helping create the demand that has led to overfishing. My tax dollars have gone to a government that kills civilians in the Middle East and all over the world. I have created what I am sure is an obscene amount of trash, adding to landfills. I have eaten factory farmed meat, which is produced under horrifying conditions. And I am no longer okay with these things.

Living in an intentional community such as East Wind will allow my lifestyle to align with my values. I will no longer need a car, and my carbon footprint in general will be massively reduced. I will be able to eat healthy, local, food produced without hormones, chemicals, or antibiotics. As I will no longer have money I will not participate in a system that breeds inequality, and also will not pay taxes that fund the death of others. In general by living a sustainable lifestyle I hope to no longer contribute to the destruction of the planet.

I also believe that by living in this manner I will have a higher quality of life and simply be happier! Like most people, work is currently a necessary evil in my life. I do the same thing for 40-50 hours a week so that I can have a somewhat decent standard of living. And then I have to get gas, and do laundry, and cook, and clean, and get an oil change, and discharge all of the various chores outside of work. Between these two things, work and chores, I end up with very little time that is actually free. And what free time I do end up with I usually just want to use to rest and recover from the work and the chores that I have been doing. And then the cycle repeats…

East Wind requires 35 hours of labor per week (and only 27/week on holiday weeks which occur once a month!). In exchange one gets a private room, food, clothing, and medical care and $150 a month for personal spending. Not only will I work less actual hours than I do currently, all those aforementioned chores are taken care of communally through the labor system. And no chores means that my free time is actually free. And as if that wasn’t enough, other than two hours a week of kitchen clean up (which is mandated), I will be free to chose how to allot my labor! I will be able to follow my interests and passions to contribute to the community as best I can. Furthermore, the works of my hands will be completely directed towards benefiting those in community with me (and myself!) rather than just making the owner of my company more money.

I am also very excited to live in community, despite not even really knowing what that means. We humans are very social creatures, and the modern world is very lonely. To quote The Ascent of Humanity:

“Simply observe that the financially independent individual, among other equally independent individuals, has no basis for community except for the effort to “be nice” and “make friends”. Underneath even the most well-motivated social gathering is the knowledge: We don’t really need each other.”

And we are not really needed. We could easily be replaced. While I can only guess at it now, I have a feeling that living in community will meet needs I never knew I wasn’t having met, and I will be a much happier person for it.

And I will be in a community with those who hopefully share most- if not all- of my values, and have also chosen to live a more harmonious life. East Wind is very open minded, and I will be so much more free to express my individualism than I am in modern society. As East Wind’s property is 1000 acres in the Ozarks, I will also be living much closer to Nature, which has always soothed my soul. And when the time comes to have children, I will be able to actually spend time with them and help them grow and develop as a father should, instead of disappearing off to this mysterious place called Work for the majority of their waking lives. All of these things are priceless to me. I am also excited to have a simpler style of living. To live in a culture that doesn’t emphasize material possessions and doesn’t constantly assault my attention with advertisements.

In short I believe that making this change in lifestyle will allow me to follow Gandhi’s injunction and be the change I want to see in the world. I will be able to live my beliefs and be an example to others.

Originally published May 19, 2015