To Hell With Forbearance

I’m totally in favor of gun control. After all, who could kill that many children in such a short time without a meticulously-designed, highly-optimized killing instrument? Some cold-hearted engineer put a lot of careful, loving thought into it. Imagine….

But gun control’s not even close to being a solution. What about giving mentally-ill people resources that they can actually use, that their families feel are accessible, that actually have a chance of working?

What about the culture we live in, that’s so safe and secure on the surface that, for kicks, adolescents turn to TV shows about psychopaths dismembering people?

What about this culture in which gain is everything, religion has been mushed down into positive thinking whose only goal is to get what you want, whether or not you need it, without a thought to its value for either the individual or our society?

Why is the competitive spirit prized over humility, compassion and common sense? Who cares if you’re better than someone else at manipulating high-risk stocks, or designing printed circuit boards, or curing disease? What about everybody doing what they love best and are happiest at? Why is that for losers?

We live in a time when we can’t imagine that economic growth will ever stop, even though every other sort of growth reaches its limit and decays? Isn’t there something pathetic about a society in which the most exciting prospect in our brief life is the next iThing?

Do our children know or even care about the meaning and the reality of the word ‘decadence?’ Do they know that progress is always, always temporary and that every one of the world’s greatest empires since the beginning of time has fallen irreparably into decline and fall? Do they know that everything passes, including the dominance of America, of Hollywood, of capitalism and democracy? Have they the slightest notion of how bad things can get, of how bad they are for eighty percent of the world’s population? Might they have willfully ignored that the universe will end and that, far sooner than that, they themselves will end without warning or fanfare?

People kill people most efficiently with assault weapons. It’s not rocket science. If we could harness the total human intelligence that goes into denying this blatant fact, might we not cure cancer or find an end to hunger? Have we ever really tried to imagine our full potential for good?

Good? That old-fashioned crock?

I dare to believe that goodness is not a cliché. I feel it takes daring. I don’t care that it’s not cool, that I’m out on a limb.

What’s wrong with our brains? Where’s our spirit? What happened to poetry, to love and compassion, to curiosity, to the sense of being completely awed by the night sky, by the majesty of human intelligence, by the breathtaking beauty in every child’s wide eyes?

What the fuck is wrong with us?


Author: Stephen Schettini

Host of The Naked Monk

11 thoughts on “To Hell With Forbearance”

  1. Strangely, or maybe tellingly, there’s something completely unsurprising about what happened in Connecticut, isn’t there? When — not if.

    I hear you; it’s jolting. A little harder to slip back into life as usual this particular horrendous tragedy. For me, it was slightly positive to hear Obama’s authentic, non-rhetorical response the other night. Maybe something serious will take place, as far as evaluating the specific problem; maybe slightly beyond gun control.

    “What the fuck is wrong with us?” Where is goodness and sensitivity in our culture?

    My take:

    The Greeks had three related ideals: Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. Their thinkers unflinchingly ascribed self-evident positive moral quality within three realms: Beauty was moral positivity within the realm of feeling or emotions; Truth was moral positivity within the realm of thinking; Goodness was moral positivity expressed within the realm of willing, of action, of human deeds. None of this was theory. It was a description of reality.

    And a natural progression is suggested for the education of children. First, quite naturally via our senses directed at the natural world, we perceive Beauty. (Notice that this is greatly aided by the actual presence of perceptible nature in our environs during childhood. And we are slowly obliterating that opportunity for our children.) Early childhood education or acculturation should be principally about awakening our sense of wonder. Job number 1 for raising young children. Encouraging the awareness of and expectations for Beauty makes for a strong basic moral foundation in the growing child. The child thinks and knows: the world is good. Instead, we kill or minimize Beauty, deprive children of access to nature, and stick them in front of garish technical devices which teach passivity and consumer mentality.

    Later in childhood, once this firm base is established, the emphasis should move towards learning how to discern and value Truth. If the intellect is engaged and encouraged too early, the world becomes merely factual, and the child develops a mood of utilitarianism. Facts hold no wonder in and of themselves, they may be correct or lies, or concealed lies because of no appreciation for context. Maturing thinking during the age when children are developing their intellectual capacities should never stray far from wonder. In particular that means never emphasizing economic roles or job prospects in connection with genuine curiosity. Thinking training needs to have a built-in orientation towards truthfulness, which is not factual correctness. We are now automating our education system more and more for youngsters. Why would taking the human element out not lead to de-sensitized children?

    By the time we reach early teenager status, our education and culture should be exposing us to increasingly subtler moral examples of goodness, with the power of discerning thinking infused with a healthy truthfulness instinct guiding us. This means non-cheerleading humanities education, not as an option, as a necessity. Nowadays we regard humanities as a decreasingly needed inconvenience which diverts us from the reality of obtaining glorified clerical positions within a global corporation. Philosophy becomes marketing awareness.

    We’ve been making this problem for 35 years or so by my reckoning.

    If we want the resolution to not be some inadvertant side-product of a culture collapse or semi-apocalypse, then we have restore to and even re-invent real education. We have to commit to raising our children to value and understand Beauty, Truth, and Goodness. This has to become the new pragmatism.

    We have some wisdom… suffering begets depth of soul, and we are suffering, even if we are fortunate and only afflicted by the generic alienation and isolation characterizing our society. We might be able to notice some pitfalls we would not have during the 1950s. Children want to discover and fulfill their destiny; we systematically obstruct this, deaden it. They contain the solution within them, beyond our capacity to imagine. We need to encourage it’s unleashing. Fear is ruling right now.

    Besides all this, I see once core lie which is keeping us confused. It is the unjustified assumption of materialism. Young children know materialism is untrue. We accept it uncritically as the linchpin of our sophisticated worldview. Our science therefore is becoming macabre. There is no way that human consciousness, life, and nature can be fully explained on the basis of a materialistic worldview. Those of us who can see and know this need to speak out against prejudice masquerading as informed skepticism. Religiosity vs. Atheism has to be exploded as a fallacy and fundamentalist divisive false dichotomy. Like Republican vs. Democrat, or Conservative vs. Liberal. Academicians have to be allowed to investigate basic questions without censure or the specter of career suicide. Materialism is a basic question… more basic than ‘Is there a God’. If and when the materialistic worldview is subjected to real, intellectually honest scrutiny, it will fall apart. Then people will be able to see that this is psychologically closer to them than questions about God or Biblical accuracy or scientific conflicts with theology. When free of the handcuffs, real seeking and inner questioning can proceed, uncluttered by fears or inherited (but not thought out) abstraction systems. People must decide and speak out of rich deep inward experience, not intellectual theory allegiances or habits.

    I believe that applying techniques like mindfulness, or better-said, practices which gradually reveal details of our inner landscapes, will naturally lead us to see past materialism. That is why impulses like Naked Monk, Eckhart Tolle’s silent now witnessing, and so on are valuable, in potential. It provides a way for damaged psyches (because of all described above, culturally) to self-diagnose and self-heal. If true mindfulness had been present in the first place, then deceptions like materialism or consumerism or factualism could never have taken root in us in the first place.

    1. I think we have to be careful when using ‘materialism’ (and the other ‘isms’ you mention) as general purpose bogey-men. This is misleading. Does it not make good sense to assume that physical objects, for example, have mass and behave in regular ways? And that the chemical elements have regular properties? And that if you follow a cake recipe you get a tasty cake?

      Perhaps you mean by ‘materialism’ our immersion and belief in conceptual thought as a universally applicable system for representing truth. This is what ‘mindfulness’ helps to cure – our addiction to one mode of interpreting our world.

      Don’t blame all scientists for the way the human brain has evolved (in that it has multiple ways of perceiving worlds one of which appears to be a physical world that we can have a similar experience of with others) . Good scientists are deploying an honest and humble (because disprovable) methodology to agree how to interpret regular behaviours of the observable worlds we share. This is a noble endeavour. But, of course, honesty on its own is not enough, we need compassion, kindness and insight. And ethics committees on science boards should be well aware of this…although of course, not all research and application of scientific studies in various types of technology are kind and good.

      1. CHRIS WARD: Does it not make good sense to assume that physical objects, for example, have mass and behave in regular ways? And that the chemical elements have regular properties? And that if you follow a cake recipe you get a tasty cake?”

        Sigh. This is at the heart of what Alan Wallace is trying (with stunning patience, despite utter incomprehension on the part of Batchelor and his dualistic followers) to say. I don’t understand yet why it is so difficult to make such simple points. I tried over the course of a year over at and it seems that the fundamentalist mindset and cultish attitudes among believers in such things is far greater than in the Bob Jones students I used to talk with in Greenville SC.

        Rupert Sheldrake sees this quite clearly. So does Dean Radin. So do thousands of physicists, fewer biologists, and the fewest are in my field, psychology.

        I think, at this point in my quest for understanding, that the best place to start would be with Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary”.

        Unfortunately, I won’t have time until early to mid 2014 to devote the energy to this topic it needs. I think there may be some rather simple ways of clearing up the confusion (sorry, I’m being deliberately vague in this post otherwise it will just lead to endless confusion and further obscuration of what should be an extremely simple point – I haven’t seen any evidence that people like Glen Wallis, Stephen Batchelor or Frank Bosco, to name a few, are remotely interested in having a true dialog on this topic, which explains, I think, Alan’s frustration in trying to have a sincere discussion of these points. The solution, I think, would be to step outside of the frameowork of “Buddhism” altogether and just examine experience freshly.

        As Ralph Chidiac so wisely pointed out, it is materialism – understood in its deepest sense, as the reification of experience, of self and other – that is at the heart of our problems. But this is obscured by the fact that mateiralists think they ARE seeing things are “they are”, and can’t see the filters that in many ways are far more entrenched and much greater and “thicker” than any of the most dogmatic theist. Worst of all, materalists fail to see that they are actually completely absorbed in dualist rather than monist thinking and feeling and anything you try to say to them simply gets filtered through that way of seeing/feeling. what to do?

          1. Hi Stephen:

            Actually, I don’t mean to be overly obtuse, but my experience – repeated, over some 15 or more years, as moderate of several academic as well as “lay” forums – is that in regard to these subjects, people react quickly without thinking. Without doing a lot of “work” – careful, rational thought – these kinds of conversations descend into name calling and flaming.

            Over at Amazon, a group of us – including well published research scientists – are just ending a 2+ year conversation with one of the most dogmatic skeptics, Gerry Woerlee, a materialist anesthesiologist who I just learned has been quite nasty to patients he treated who reported NDEs (sorry I’m still throwing things a bit quickly together – if you read between the lines the point should be obvious). The conversation started out with people attacking Gerry. I stepped in about a year into it and made repeated requests for dialog. I wanted to learn from Gerry. In the course of the conversation, numerous other skeptics (debunkers, actually) joined in, and all them eventually were able to be dialogic, but not Gerry.

            The point of bringing this up is there are an alarming number of “Gerrry” in the Buddhist community, the most outstanding example being Batchelor. Not that Stephen is disrespectful, but he seems as blind to his metaphysical assumptions as Gerry.

            What, isn’t Stephen the ultimate agnostic, just appealing to experience, criticizing Alan for being the defender of outmoded metaphysical beliefs?

            See, Stephen, the problem I have is, I don’t know how ot respond to this. It’s like as if I am sitting here with a skeptic who is holding a teacup in his hand, and I point it out, and he vociferously denies he’s holding a teacup.

            What can you possibly say in a rational dialog to such a person? The only option seems to be therapy or medication.

            On the web, I suppose this sounds like flaming, or impolite or something, But I am truly at a loss.

            When Chris speaks of mass and energy and objects and chemistry, I just don’t know where to start. There are at least 4 centuries (really, at least 24 centuries) of such thick, interrelated metaphysical assumptions that are empirically unverifiable in his statement, I don’t know how one would even begin to address such a statement.

            At least “God” is associated with an experience. But “matter”, “energy” (at least as physicists, not new agers, use the term) are pure abstractions, incapable of empirical verification. The same with virtually all the concepts used by scientists.

            There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when such abstractions are unconsciously woven into our thought processes, and we talk about combinations of such abstractions as realities – I don’t think there’s any equivalent (not the Charvakas or other so-called “atheist” or “materialist” thinkers of ancient times) in medieval or ancient cultures.

            If anybody wants to do the work, again, I can only say – this can’t be made clear in a simple blog post. Start with McGilchrist, or read (again!) Wallace’s “Meditations of a Buddhist skeptic.” Or read my “Shaving Science With Ockham’s razor”.

            Then ask me. But before doing a little work, just repeating the same tired materialist/dualist metaphysical beliefs is not going to get the Buddhist community anywhere. I personally am not interested in what the Buddha was supposed to have said or not said. But until materialist faith-based beliefs are seen for what they are, these arguments will go on – and most likely, the shootings too.

  2. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that the only way for a society to prosper and be happy is through economic growth. The problem with that narrow-minded “reasoning” is that the rich and super rich always siphon a sizable portion of the economic wealth that is newly created. Salaries and purchasing power of the ordinary man and woman are often limited, but profits and capital gains are not. Consequently the more economic growth we have, the MORE the super rich amass for themselves, and the LESS the Underdeveloped — i.e. : the Over-exploited — world benefits from that type of growth. Spiritual growth in our Western society will never grow substantially as long as economic growth (materialism) is seen as the main criteria for happiness in our society.

  3. If we (humans) don’t start caring about our solitary nexus in this barren Universe, WHO is going to care. If we could only keep in the back of our minds how RARE the human species is in the Universe, how indifferent, neutral and merciless (from our perspective) the Cosmos can be, how even our organism and genes can wack-out on us at any time, irrelevant of our goals, aspirations, plans, or schedules —
    How great of a feeling a lost at sea person can find in the encounter with another (irrelevant of personality, race, or sex) human being.
    Now let’s extrapolate this image (lost in the ocean) to the Earth, lost in the Cosmos and think twice about how we treat each other.
    People, if NO-one cares — NOTHING cares.

  4. Stephen,

    Well said. We’ve been exposed for who we really are. I’m not optimistic about what we’ll learn from this inconceivable horror. I don’t hear enough questioning of core beliefs. At every opportunity, I intend to proclaim how dangerously foolish we are. Thank you for your continued reality checks.

    1. Thanks Michael. I’d hate to see this descending into another weak-minded debate about left and right wing politics. This is our society. We are all responsible. The people who kill like this are not monsters. Only human beings get this messed up. It happens in our social context.

  5. Don: I am also not sure what your main point is. The starting point for my initial post was a discomfort at the way “materialism” is used as a general purpose pejorative term to dismiss everything that we don’t like. I was trying to point out that assuming regular properties for materials is pretty useful. One does not need to turn these rules of thumb about how we label and communicate common properties of the world / our experience into a metaphysics.

    I agree that the “master and his emissary” book you mention is excellent: it identifies different ways we manage and interpret our experience and links these to brain structure – especially hemispheres. This is very helpful in distinguishing our favoured verbal reasoning and analytical mode from the ‘silent’ and holistic appreciation of experience.

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