Snowy Sake River Country, clearing [click photo for next . . . ]
after winter storm . . .
This is the New Year's Day (2010) view from my lowest winter
basecamp, at about 1500 m. One can't but marvel at "the silence of the snowy
land," to use Robert Bly's beautiful phrase. I also marvel at the news
of the world when I regularly ski back out and head down to my Office,
where I now sit, at about 700 m. I never take a radio with me. So a lot
can happen in two or three weeks time. And other than cameras and
an mp3 player, I'm out of the hightech loop. Snow is my friend. Then
I read in the NYTimes, which if I'm down here in Eagle Valley, I have
the habit of reading every day, about the weather chaos back East.
Snow is not a friend of Car cCulture. "Maybe snow is telling us
something important," I think to myself. Kids sense this instantly.
We should listen. When I was a kid in Ohio, I would stay up and listen
to the radio reports on stormy nights, praying for school to be closed.
I hated school, everything except music. Back then a good storm
might close school for more than a week. Snow meant freedom.
It still does . . .
On the road in the American Northwest.
ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE
BRUTISH BRAIN & THE COMPASSIONATE
“You’re either with us, or against us.”
“Whatsoever you do unto the least among you,
you do unto me.”
This is what I see as one of the signature divides of our
time, between the brutish brain and the compassionate
mind, two defining features of our species that are now
profoundly at odds with each other.
On the one hand, we have the brutish brain, which embodies
the deep and rich legacy of the human animal’s natural
history, and has clearly evolved to meet and master the
many demands of survival. It is not at all that different from
the brain of a wolf, or a bear, or an ape. The powerful engine
of the brutish brain is the mechanical intellect of problem
solving. How to make a better stick for digging roots,
a better skin for carrying water, a sharper stone for a more
deadly weapon. Its means is force. Its ethics is essentially
the ethics of the me, my group, or my nation. The identification
of this smaller me with the larger group, which is
then radically divided from the wider environment, is a key
feature of the brutish brain. What’s good for me and my
group is good; what’s good for my opponents is bad.
On the other hand, we have the evidently uniquely human
compassionate mind. The compassionate mind sees
itself in the other, sees itself mirrored everywhere in the
world around it, and, like an infinitely large grand piano,
its strings seem to resonate and reflect all the other sounds
of the symphony of life played around it. The energy of the
compassionate mind is not just the problem-solving, computer-
like ability of mechanical intellect, but rather intelligence.
Intelligence is in this view a vastly more subtle movement
of consciousness; it is this energy of intelligence
which is evidently very much broader in scope and source
than the isolated individual self. Its means or method is
understanding. Its ethics is that of the good of the whole,
the good of the widest context of which it is aware.
Now, I think we could say that the brutish brain, if it is not
limited in some way and simply left to run off on its own, is
potentially the single most destructive creation of evolution.
At the same time, the compassionate mind, as far as
we can know, is evolution’s most creative achievement.
The problem, of course, is that we in a confused way
Clearly, the mind of compassion has come into being in
part to limit the over the millennia ever-increasing lethal
capabilities of the brutish brain, through understanding and
insight, like a patient, loving mother checks the wayward
tendencies of an overly aggressive, self-centered child.
We are now at a kind of tipping point, or threshold,
concerning the relationship of these two, either conflicting or
complementary, movements of consciousness. By this I
mean a point beyond which it will become increasingly
difficult to change course. The fundamental question is down
which path will we go, down which path will the energy of
the world, of humanity, be led? Clearly, the brutish brain at
present has tremendous mechanical power behind it. Its
instruments are the corporate and military-industrial complex,
and the financial and legal systems that have co-evolved
to support, profit from, and protect these. Government at
present, call it what you will—oligarchy, democracy, tyranny—
serves overwhelmingly to safeguard these corporate
and military interests. That is my view, and I stand by it.
At the same time, the more enlightened democracies world-
wide embody in a tragic way the very contradictory division
of consciousness which is my theme. Freedom and
civil rights are guaranteed. But only insofar as these do not
get in the way of the more primary corporate and military
This is why even potentially good leaders will be torn apart
by the present systems of government. Because the worst
half, so to speak, dominates. So leaders promise peace, but
give us more war. They promise universal health care, but
sell out to the insurance companies. They promise to address
climate change, but give us more coal-fired and nuclear
power plants. It is in a word why politics is at present
the very worst place to look for leadership.
Unquestionably, the way of the brutish brain, if it should
for whatever reason be allowed to prevail, will lead to its
ultimate apotheosis of total self-destruction. This is self-
evidently so, especially when considered over longer spans
of cultural time like two or three centuries, because of the
already realized destructive potential of its weaponry, or
simply because of the rapacious waste of resources and
resulting damage to the biosphere inherent not only in
their possible use but solely in their development.
But the way of the compassionate mind, even though its
voice is at present weak in the political arena, has the power
of necessity behind it. And that will make all the difference.
That is, if we see the difference with clarity, and with
the energy our whole being.