Planet Earth gives us an epochal lesson in systemic laws, offers us a time-out
and hopes that we will finally “grow up”
– an essay by Alexander Nchuchuma Riechers –
Even if the word crisis is used very quickly and sometimes inflationary – in the case of the corona virus it is more than justified. After all, the global pandemic is heralding exactly what a “crisis” means at its origin: A decisive turning point in a dangerous development of conflict, which was preceded by a massive dysfunction. If one believes the narrative widely used by politicians and experts, then the enemy is quickly identified: It is said that we are at war with the virus. The dysfunction is the massive individual, social and economic damage we have suffered since the pathogen spread. If we win the war, then we can finally return to our old lives, without distance and without breathing masks to our workplaces, to schools, to sports clubs, quite simply to normality.
With war metaphors far past the goal
At this point, the subtle thinker could hardly be blamed for pausing a bit and getting thoughtful when using war metaphors in relation to a virus. Because the language game “being at war” is bound to a semantic context. In general, people wage war against other people. It is the culmination of an interpersonal conflict, which is carried out with the targeted use of armed forces. That the drastic containment measures and the resulting consequences have a war-like character due to their scale may still seem coherent. However, to declare a virus that is not independently viable as a warmonger acting in a targeted and planned manner appears adventurous to grotesque on closer inspection at the latest. Nevertheless, every rhetoric betrays something about the speaker’s motives: One feels attacked, and massively so. We, the people, have been sensitively hit, our world no longer functions. And even worse: There is no one to whom we can hurl our indignation at. There is no enemy, but it would be nice to have one. The fairy tale of the warlike virus, it serves only to reassure us about something much more disturbing: Corona is not an enemy to be defeated. Corona is the symptom of a diseased system!
Anthropocentrism as a systemic dysfunction
What can be helpful, as so often in muddled situations, is a change of perspective. Because from a systemic point of view we are also at a decisive turning point, but only with the difference that this time we are the preceding massive dysfunction. With our way of living, of doing business, yes, even with our normality, we, the micro system “human being”, wanted to bring the macro system “planet earth” under our control. No matter whether intentionally or negligently, we crossed a system boundary and now get to feel the impersonal maintenance mechanisms of a superior unit. For the current crisis we need neither a Creator God nor a conspiracy theory, but simple systemic laws. If the balance between give and take is violated, conflict will eventually arise in every relationship. And if the smaller system wants to dominate the larger system, sooner or later there will be a massive counterattack, which unmistakably reminds us of those very proportions. It seems to be the mission of the earth to create and develop life. No other planet known to us harbors so much life and offers such life-friendly conditions. We too benefit from this with our own existence. However, if we do not fulfil this unique mission through our behavior, we must expect corrective measures. From the perspective of planet Earth’s ecosystem, we have become a plague:
A rapidly reproducing species with an insatiable hunger for consumption at the expense of natural resources. Our overexploitation of nature has recently attacked the regenerative forces of the planet too strongly – and in doing so, we have clearly turned against life itself; not against our own principle, but against life as a life-creating principle. The dysfunction in this crisis is a mental defect of the human species, its anthropocentrism. Man sincerely believes himself to be the crown of creation and acts with the self-understanding of a world ruler. The responsibility that arises from his power is alien to him, for his reign primarily serves only himself. His zeal blinds him – unable to integrate peacefully into a higher order serving his own life. Metaphorically speaking, we are sitting on the branch that we are sawing off ourselves. We would seriously question anyone who behaved in this way and hope that he would recover. But the cure – for us it has already begun: A systemic auto-correction to restore the original balance of power and not to stand in the way of life any longer.
Corona as a healing impulse – against us, for us
From the perspective of the ecosystem Planet Earth, we are sick and out of control. We show pathogenic behavior, as we end up constantly hurting ourselves. Our auto-aggressive dynamics had recently assumed such a high speed that only one thing remained: To fix, isolate and let the patient, who was beating around in megalomania, come to rest. This is exactly what is happening now, and Corona is the tool for it, a healing impulse from planet Earth. For those who think that all this is too speculative, reality itself can be read from its effect. Because reality is, as is well known, what works. And in this sense, Corona works with an almost uncanny precision; its eruption is massive, it has a global effect, it only attacks the disrupter, and it is not designed for destruction but for retreat, slowing down and moderation.
A virus initiates an epochal emergency stop and restores the superior hierarchy of values: Everything has to serve life! The economic system of profit maximization, which drives the overexploitation, is shut down, airplanes stay on the ground, mass tourists stay at home – everyone is forced to make a contribution. Individualism is no longer required, solidarity comes first. People are presented with what is already possible after only a few weeks: clean air, clear water, international cooperation. This also leaves its mark. So, if we really wanted to wage war against the virus, we would take on the planet itself. We would be up against an opponent who fights classes above us, who sees more and knows more, simply because he originated us. He knows our weaknesses and can throw us on the boards with a hook. And let’s take a look at what has happened to us in the last few weeks: The system has gone to its knees. We stagger and hope for the next gong.
All of this should make us understand: It’s not about defeating the virus; it’s about recovering as a global society. War metaphors only underline the aggressive-expansionist basic attitude of anthropocentrism and confirm that we must change at the core.
Sustainability through change in spirit
So, order has been restored for the time being – we protect and save lives wherever we can. Time for phase two: the sustainable change in spirit. It is the liberating process of catharsis and it is just beginning. And to make sure that we have enough time for this, the virus will certainly not go away so quickly. To overcome anthropocentrism, the cure is shifting from the macro system of Planet Earth to the micro system of the human soul. For this is probably where the core of the poodle lies hidden, and this allusion to the tragic Doctorus and his alter ego, it is quite intentional. For phase two is not about the ecological consequences of the human defect, but about its spiritual foundations, which are quite obviously in the Faustian field of tension between genius and madness. An old game that now seems to be entering a decisive further round. But how could it ever come to this? What is the source of the spirit that, against its intelligence, lives such a frightening degree of ruthlessness and irresponsibility?
The unresolved trauma of feudalism
The thesis is: Our fate is the smallness of the little man. It is not the little man himself, but his everlasting basic feeling of not being enough. His constant urge to be more and better, just bigger. The little man, that is a part of all of us. What he has never overcome is the shame of compulsory labor, indulgence and humiliating serfdom. A great man once said about him: “You [little man] are the heir of a terrible past.” (Wilhelm Reich, Speech to the Little Man)
Especially in Europe, but also in other places in the world, he experienced them. His hard life was sold to him by his masters and priests as a God-given natural state. By serving without hesitation, he showed himself pious and godly. His world consisted of hunger, hardship, many accidents, social inequality and arbitrariness. For him, life was seldom a gift, but all too often a burden – a trauma that lasted for centuries, which, like every psychological wound, produces a survival structure after a certain time. One that should protect him from future pain, make him strong and unassailable. So, the so-called “natural state” had to be overcome. A third way was sought, past the castles and the pulpits. A quasi neutral field, which did not provoke any resistance. And it was found, in industrialization. As if driven by a Promethean spirit, it presented itself as a real doer, a transformer of matter, who created nature and man in his own image. A refinement of the human, previously all too often defenselessly at the mercy of the aristocratic powers, finally received its protective and defensive spirit, which heralded the worldwide triumphal procession of the bourgeoisie and ultimately gave a large mass of people access to education and prosperity. The industrial spirit of progress presented itself as deus ex machina and has since been the central figure on the world stage. It became the collective survival structure of the masses, which had been tormented for far too long, and to this day it continues to carry out their inner plan with an iron hand: Never go back! Never again into misery!
The honey trap of materialism
The production process became the new leitmotif for a modern society; a new pace-setter to which everyone, including the aristocrats and the clergy, ultimately submitted because of their rich fruits; a seemingly impartial greatness which, however, only served as a means to an end in the Kulturkampf. Thus, the time clock replaced the scepter and the pulpit – the new ruler was born. A ruler who now subdued nature with all his might in order to gain greatness for himself. We, the little men and women, owe much to the spirit of progress, but now we pay the price for its insatiable appetite. For the scenery has shifted. The spirit that made us great is now beyond us. That is unfortunately the case with spirits – they are spiritual fields that sooner or later mature into their own form. People call it the system, but the system is us, who have become servants of the spirit. Similar to the image of the Hobbesian Leviathan, to whom every single one had transferred his power, but then never received it back from the being that had become so powerful.
From the perspective of materialism, we fell straight into the trap: The immaterial was devalued, the material was lifted to the throne. Technology and science became our new faith, one that produced viable results. The sacred halls of universities and laboratories have since become the sacristies of modern societies, which from then on worshipped a counter-God: sacred empiricism. Their results were too good, their achievements of civilization too sweet. This eminence was more powerful and suited us perfectly: not an act of grace, but feasibility. Progress was now predictable. The little man, finally beyond God’s grace, had overlooked only one detail: his soul.
For one cannot sacrifice God without losing his soul. Because what is then missing is its foundation: spiritual depth and transcendent height. God, not as a denominational but as a numinous principle, is the living symbol of precisely this – not provable, only experienceable. But in the intoxication of modern times we have sacrificed the archaic symbols, without kettledrums and trumpets, very secretly. The soul, this ancient being, had served its time. It was banished to the private sphere, to the exile of its own four walls. From there it could no longer get in the way of the new spirit of the age with its sloppy sentiments, its call for moderation and humility. The machine spirit had triumphed and became a public doctrine. And those who did not adhere to the new course were quickly denounced as superstitious, or, if they were reluctant, even as pathological. This was the decisive victory for materialism: The spirits are dead, long live the spirit of the age! Together with his trauma, he was now invisible and had free rein to raise the beat unobserved.
The industrial revolution eats its children
By then at the latest the train was too fast to jump off unharmed. The spirits of profit maximization and constant growth had unleashed a momentum of their own that we could no longer slow down. Their engine was the unconscious “away from”, away from the precarious conditions, away from oppression. Their strategy, what gave them power – growing, growing faster, getting more out, getting everything out. Those who wanted to be “successful” had to kiss their ring and were placed in the power-sapping system. What had originally started as a rescue mission for the little man became a crazy rally with high crash potential. Many have already gone under the wheels, but collateral damage is cheaply accepted. Because as I said: Never back again! Never again into misery! Avoid the old pain at all costs!
What was left behind was not a healed man, but a driven man. One with a sting in his flesh, because: “The little man does not know he is little, and he fears to know it.” (W. Reich) His fear is his motivation. Instead of becoming free, he voluntarily enslaved himself to his self-made savior, one who has kept him happy with the drugs of consumption ever since. So blinded, he could not be stopped by rational means. For measure and renunciation mean for him the hated natural state. The great eco-icons of our time, no matter how good, right or charismatic they were – they never had a chance against the frightened man. Until now.
System collapse as a window of healing for humans
Because besides the “away from” there is also a “a way to”. It is the great and unexpected comeback of the soul, with a procedure that seems strange from the perspective of consciousness: making the pain visible again to initiate healing. This healing impulse of the soul – at the end it works like a ball pressed under water: One day every pain comes to the surface again. The trauma of the little man has finally left a crack in his soul. And if, for some reason, his survival structure is not able to hold its protective shield, everything breaks down again: the insecurity, the feeling of powerlessness and helplessness, the panic of losing everything. The consciousness is flooded and gets into resistance, even wants to wage war. It tries to bring everything quickly back to the old order: aid packages, rescue funds, economic stimulus programs – just quickly back to “normality”. But emotionally an opportunity is created, a window of healing. Because now the pain that underlies the self-destructive spirit is on the surface and can be transformed. That which is otherwise so well hidden behind the iron mask becomes visible in the short term. And this is where the circle closes: Corona has put our survival structure out of action. The collapse of the system has opened the healing window. The earth can recover, and we can heal again – if we want to.
Be brave and finally grow up
Historically, we have been presented with an opportunity that humanity has probably never received before. We can get out of economic madness without losing even one of the modern achievements. Nobody has to lose face; nobody has to be first. Now everyone can make a fresh start at the same time. The only thing we have to sacrifice is the smallness of the little man – probably the most dangerous virus that has ever existed on earth.
The next weeks and months will be hard. During this time the healing window is open. We do not need to do anything; the soul will contact us. In the quarantine, in the short-time work, in the threatening unemployment, in the grief, in the loneliness. In the end it is simple: “Through the symptoms, the soul demands attention. Attention means affection, it means care, a certain caring concern, just like waiting, having time, listening. It requires a span of time and a strain of patience” (James Hillman, Searching within).
The soul does not demand the impossible, it is gentle and offers us a unique exchange: smallness and lack for greatness and abundance. Greatness that can go hand in hand with responsibility. Abundance, which is nourished by the gift of life.More about Alexander N. Riechers