Critic of the Contemporary
Beyond East and West
Changing your perspective on health, social and personal transformation
Something is desperately wrong. People in Western countries spend billions dollars on healthcare, therapy and drugs. France and the U.S. have the highest rate of antidepressant consumption. They spend even more on entertainment. The principle option in life seems to now be entertainment-games, television, movies, etc. If entertainment isn’t enough, and social and emotional supports prove insufficient, people look for consolation and escape by other means. Current consumer trends and medical statistics draw a clear picture. Our consumptive actives reveal the state of our being.
The dominant cultural message, which is now institutionalized, is to seek financial and/or professional success. Many people manage to maintain an illusion of satisfaction for much of their life while others tumble into darkness and turmoil. Those who are lucky enough to find their passion channel their life-energy into “money-making” or some creative endeavor seem to fare a much better than others. But even for these people, the reality of their life eventually intrudes. That reality often turns out to be empty and is managed through outer dependence, distractions and whatever it take to avoid feeling. For example, there are many of successful creative people in the arts and entertainment who seemingly have it all, but who end up in despair and even dead by their own hands. How and why does the model of success end so badly? Perhaps the cultural myths re-enforced by media, of dream life is an illusion with life numbing results. Medical and health professional have a window into the state of the contemporary soul even if they don’t understand what it means. Unfortunately they also contribute to its perpetuation.
There are many therapeutic and self-help systems available on the market today. In addition to legal intoxicants, illegal drugs and overeating, people look to Western psychotherapeutic disciplines like psychoanalysis and psychotherapy for solutions. They look for what they don’t know but want; they’re looking for themselves. It is a secularized version of what formally was a religious function. Workshops offering every type of solution and promise are readily available, popular and profitable. There is a large and growing self-help industry to meet everyone’s personal, spiritual and professional needs. Answers to a multitude of emotional problems and spiritual solutions are appear to be easily obtainable with little effort and that’s the way it’s marketed! But as our personal obsessions grow and our minds search, our economic and ecological problems increasingly intrude on our insulated existence. These intrusions clash with our dreams of personal fulfillment in a human-made world free from biology and nature’s perturbations. People are discovering that they not an island, and avoiding or escaping reality is not possible. The social world and biological imperatives eventually impinge on all our plans. Even those with millions and millions in cash can no longer escape the eyes of public scrutiny, and certainly not the realities of their inner life. In actuality neither the social or biological world can practically be separated.
The emerging picture of the contemporary world is of obvious inter-connectedness. But we have not caught up with that reality! Interconnectedness, an idea recognized in traditional societies, indigenous cultures and the developed philosophies of the East emerging again but this time with stark implication. Global history exposes our past in the present as different levels and speeds of development, distribution, opportunities, outmoded ideologies and incompatible worldviews. Economic, cultural, and geographic differences create increasing tensions and confrontations because of the interconnectedness caused by expanding global exchange and migration.
After hundreds of years of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, utopian social movements, and economic dreams, people are still searching for answer, cures, and happiness. The search for happiness sometimes happens explicitly or is hidden beneath the frenzy of traction and consumption. The spread of consumerism (which is what now completely drives our economic and social systems), commercialism and non-stop entertainment hide the underside of addiction, self-obsession, and narcissism. This is all happening in the midst of the growth of non-denominational religions and a spiritual revivals and eclecticism. The clash and dependence between the personal and social, the individual and the corporations grows more pronounced every day. The death of the individual is insidiously crafted without any intentionality, by societal and techno-economic forces. High teach modern medicine extends life, and saves lives in ways beyond anything witnessed in history, but it offers little in terms of quality of life. Health-care costs are astronomical and presently limited to only a small sector of humanity. Our social systems, institutions and offer little in terms of solutions to growing social problems and individual dis-ease. Personal health and wellbeing cannot be separated for society. Yet the obvious fact that people are still searching for mean medicine keeps reducing people to biology doesn’t get addressed. The medical disciplines only refer to “mental health” as if we were only a mind-based brain on top of a body to be treated separately. The majority of people have come to accept the authority (and final say) of the scientific and its reinforced by the mainstream media. It is what is considered valid even if unproven. The scientific materialist method has become the philosophical validator of society worse tendencies.
Western philosophy and intellectual traditions although worthy, have become a kind of intellectual play, an isolated enclave of discourses offering little appeal to the general public and very little practical import. Traditional religious institutes are losing followers in increasing numbers and the discrepancy between theology, ideals and action become more and more pronounced or obvious. People turn to psychiatry and psychotherapy, but problems related to what used to be called the “soul” are now medicalized and mostly medicated. Traditional psychotherapy and counseling when available focus on readapting people to an unhealthy society and media propaganda culture. And for those who can afford it, therapy becomes a perpetual problem oriented form of seeking for an imagined solution to filling a void at our core, whether recognized or not. Then there are those who reject the psychological profession completely and turn to spiritual solutions or merge the two in a new age composite. Self-help plans and groups proliferate as people serve themselves up to a smorgasbord of alternatives from a depthless new age eclecticism to indigenous revivals at weekend workshops. An economic boom created by well-intentioned people on a cultural merry-go-round circling a prize that may never be won.
Are there positive aspects these trends? Yes! There are currents that go in very different directions. These are of course generalizations of trends that do not discredit the many exceptions and simultaneous positive development in our midst. It’s the very conditions that produced these trends in the first place that also offer the potential for a vey different future. The dissolution of the present is necessary for the emergence of the new—the seeds of that new are already present. So what CAN emerge?
Are there any alternatives? I believe there is, but those alternatives involves a radical understanding of what “human” actually are in their totality as a biological, social, cultural and spiritual being embedded in an evolving and non-separate dynamic world. It involves bringing together disparate fields of knowledge, scientific developments and age old wisdom and reframing them all into a new paradigm that was only implicate in past. This requires a new perspective.
The West promises fulfillment through material acquisition, personal identity and bodily perfection. It embraced the world through technology and economic means, which are pushing humanity to our biological, personal and social limits. The higher ideals of the East rejected the outer and material world and turned inward, in search of spiritual transcendence-an escape form morality and death. But now the West and East are inverting and we can traverse a Mobius strip from one to the other. Western ideas and economic models have disseminated and transformed the East. Eastern philosophies and practices have rooted in the West and are now growing. The separation and metamorphosis of the two hemispheres is almost complete. The global division is dissolving.
When we go beyond East and West, we find the WHOLE – world – not the two halfs with separate ways. A new paradigm can encompass the material-body and mind, both the inner and outer world, the ecology of life without seeking to strategically escape via spiritual transcendence. This perspective includes the invisible but felt, non-material transcendental dimension of existence from which our visible world continuously emerges. Human knowledge and development is at a precipice (and “event horizon” a point of no return) and a great convergence. From this point a new perspective with very practical alternatives exists for understand the state of individual and societal health and how to proceed.
Based on basic long established Eastern spiritual traditions and awareness practices, Western psychological traditions, and scientific insights we can now draw a picture of a new paradigm that supersedes and encompasses the many different paradigms of the past without excluding them. In other words giving them their rightful place in a greater space.
2021© Keyvan Golestaneh