Excerpts and thoughts from Charles Eisenstein on the Rich Roll Podcast
Charles Eisenstein on the Rich Roll Podcast
11:30 Rich mentions how reading the Coronation really moved him and he thinks Charles’s voice is much needed right now. Rich says. “I decided that now is the time. I think that your voice is much needed in this unprecedented and precarious moment of fear, uncertainty, anxiety and also opportunity. And I also think it’s fair to say that you’re pretty ideally perfectly situated to speak to this calamity with a certain wisdom, breadth and perspective. As from my perspective this situation kind of weaves into focus and intersects so perfectly with so many of the themes and ideas that you so eloquently speak to and write about from our increased separation from self and others, and nature, and our divinity — to the ills and the myopia of our economic and political systems, and our inability to kind of problem solve from a perspective that transcends the polarization and the shared assumptions, and the kind of entrenched paradigms that were currently sitting in.”
Rich says, “The reason and the kind of moment for this podcast is really to talk about what’s happening now from your perspective, And how you’re thinking about this collective experience we’re all enduring.”
Charles says, “wow that’s an amazing summary. I couldn’t have done it better myself.”
For years and years I’ve been writing about systems change and how it corresponds to something even deeper that you might call a narrative change, or a mythology change. And then how that also interpenetrates our own psychology. Because we’re not just these discrete individuals floating through a world — the world becomes us and we become the world. When the system changes and when it falls apart, which seems to be happening now. Then we fall apart in some way, or at least we get this vertigo that… “who am I now” when the reenforcing circumstances of my life disappear. And who I’ve been, how I’ve been thinking, how I’ve been speaking, what I’ve been doing — doesn’t make sense anymore. Like “who am I now?” And it’s like disorienting, but also in a way empowering. Because it reminds us of that the things that we took for granted are both externally (on a socio-political level) but also in our own lives. Maybe those are coming up as conscious choices that had once been unconscious programs.
So there’s a certain ascension into a seat of… if not power, at least volition.. at least choosing now. People talk about a reset. A pause in normality. Which gives us the opportunity to even ask : “Do we want to go back to “normal?” We were stuck in normal. Generations of revolutionaries and people who wanted to make change, social informers, have been getting burned, pretty frustrated because now matter how hard their efforts nothing really seems to be changes. And we’re all, to some extent, stuck in a system no one actually loves. No one thinks, I mean look at members of Congress… like, how many of them should say “Yeah, I think Congress is really working well. This system’s good”
So now, it’s like this deliverance. Not that it’s going to automatically usher in a more beautiful world. But at least it gives us this moment of choice. And we ask, “Do we even want to go back to normal?” And if not, what is possible? If such a big change is possible, what is possible?
Rich says, “Yeah, it is interesting. I feel like there’s a battle between this sense of enhanced volition or agency, as you mention, but also a countervailing force of loss of control or a lack of agency where, you know, we’re seeing forces beyond ourselves taking the reins of power. And we’re seeing diminished liberties and a sense of disempowerment with an inability to kind of go about our daily lives.
Rich mentions, “It’s creating, at least in my own experience, like this sort of emotional storm as to what to do next. I’m certainly seizing the opportunity and the gift inherent in the pause to reflect and think more deeply about the choices that I’ve made, and better choice that I could make. And also to think more broadly about the systems at platy, and try to imagine better systems for the future. And it is a war between an optimistic voice and a pessimistic voices about what is to come. Because on some level, there is a light dusting of existential crisis about this. But at some point it will pass. And we will be allowed to, you know, reenter the world and everybody’s talking about a “new normal” — it’s unclear what that new normal is.
And about if there ever was a “normal” to begin with. And my fear is that people will be in a rush to resume business as usual, and we will have missed the opportunity to set in motion the ideas that we’re all thinking about right now to craft a better, more sustainable, kinder, gentler world.”
Charles says, “Yeah, on the very immediate level, we are much less free and much less in choice, than we ever have been. We can only even leave the house for things that the government deems are essential. And those things are the things that the most orthodox conventional mindset has applied not only to health, but to what’s important in life. So if you want to take care of your health by going to the chiropractor, or acupuncturist, or the herbalist, or the yoga class, or anything like that. The value of those things is not recognized by standard virology, or by the political authorities. So those are totally off the table.”
“All you’re allowed to do are the most conventional, orthodox things. So this restriction of our choice and the limitation of things we’ve taken for granted. Freedom of assembly, even to some extent freedom of speech. You know the internet censorship has ramped up to protect people from what the authorities deem to be misinformation, or disinformation.”
“Our freedom is restricted like never before. But in a way, it’s doing us a favor by showing us where we’ve been going anyway. Every response to Covid-19 is a continuation or an intensification of something that was already happening in society. Social distancing, people are congregating less and less in public spaces, and living more online. The migration of commerce onto the internet.”
The migration of education onto online forums. The restriction of civil liberties… this has been happening. The monitoring of your whereabouts at all times. The regime of paranoia about germs. And I’m venturing into somewhat unorthodox territory here. But a few years ago there was an article, I cited in my essay, about the dangers of excessive hygiene. I think the article’s title is: Is Hygiene Making Us Sick? Because our health and especially the functioning of our immune systems depends on constant interaction with the world of life, the microbial world, the viral world. And when we’re cut off from that and we are in isolation, then we lose the integrity and robustest of our immune system and our body ecology.
“In the same way that when we’re cut off from social interaction, we lose the robustness of a connected self that’s imbedded in community. And so like, so all these trends are reaching this extreme to the point where, you know, we can imagine never going back to normal. Like, a lot of people are doing just fine, in measurable ways: living at home, never going outside, getting everything delivered to their door. We can imagine continuing this, so that robots are doing the deliveries, and any time you’re out in public you’re wearing a mask and protective gear. And the handshake and the hug are relegated to the history books. Because why? Because we’re too afraid now. “
Rich responds, “Yeah that’s a rather depressing and dystopian extrapolation of what we’re experiencing now.”
Rich adds, “You know, to the point about our receptivity to our natural environment, the separation, you know, when you look at it in a macro sense — the additional hygiene, the isolation, the separation, ultimately when you cast it out into the future, creates a greater threat to our ability to weather a future pandemic. Because we’ve become so insulated and separated from the natural environment and preventing ourselves from developing the natural immunities that come with being immersed and more interconnected.”
Charles responds, “That’s right. And so the response to that future pandemic would be an even tighter regime of control. And this is one of the deeper patterns of our civilization is that our reflexive response to a crisis is to impose and extend our control over the world. And when that generates further crises, we respond by extending even more control over the world.
It’s an addiction pattern. And we see it played out in every realm: as applied to school shootings, as applied to terrorism, you know, foreign policy, agriculture, medicine. Say in agriculture when the pesticides, and herbicides, and chemical fertilizers destroy the soil, leaving crops even more susceptible to disease. And we develop even new, more powerful pesticides.”
Rich says, “Yeah, it is interesting. It belies our hubris. We can’t seem to learn our lesson from the great history of failed attempts at control. History is littered with these wars on various forms of illness, whether it’s pestilence, or terrorism, or drugs, that have not reaped the benefits promised. And yet, we seem to resort to control as the default mechanism for how we’re going to navigate the next crisis befalls us.
Charles says, “It’s part of a very deeper myth, I would say defines our civilization. Which is, I call it the Myth of Ascent, or the Myth of Technological Utopia, that basically says that we started out as these superstitious, primitive, helpless, ignorant creatures at the mercy of natural forces. And barely surviving amidst all the competition of the natural world. But thanks to our big brains we developed science and technology, and gradually, century by century, exerted more dominance over the world. And some day this grand project will be complete when science develops a theory of everything, when nano-technology and genetic engineering allows us to extend our control down to the nano level. Then we will be completely safe.”
Perhaps even win victory of death itself. And attain to immortality, and become the gods. Become gods, and we’re getting there. We can already do things that only the gods used to do. Like communicate instantaneously over distances, and fly through the air. And build mountains, called sky-scrapers, you know, and change the course of rivers. And soon we’re going to solve everything. And engineer all of our problems out of existence. And this has been the promise that probably reached it’s “hey-day” mid-twentieth century. That science was gonna conquer all. And surely by the year 2000, we would have conquered all diseases. This ambition, you know, this promise of technological and social utopia is 20 years overdue
“People are getting angry when they realize that rather than life getting better and better, by each generation, it’s getting in a lot of ways, worse and worse. Are people healthier now? And happier, than they were a generation ago? Not according to the depression statistics or the obesity or addiction or suicide, anxiety statistics. Even longevity is starting to decline now. So what do we do about it?”
Rich chimes is, “Gods without the wisdom. Wielding great power but without the adequate, you know, amount of information or foresight to make the best decisions, I suppose.”
Charles continues, “And also, there are inherent limitations to the kind of power we have gained. I’m not saying that it’s bad and that we should undo civilization. And give up the life-saving miracles that modern medicine has achieved.”
“But we tend to apply what we’re really good at, outside of it’s proper domain. And try to, you know, we end up usurping the sovereignty of other ways of engaging the world that are not about imposing domination and imposing force on the world. This is getting super philosophical, and I’m not sure how…” Rich chimes in, “No, this is great. This is why I’m dialing you up right now. I want you to go as deep as you want to go.”
Charles continues, “so okay, I was saying, like, the ultimate triumph, the ultimate conquest would be to conquer death itself. Then we would have finally ascended over nature. This ambition of ascent has a technological rendition where we end up in space, you know, uploading our consciousness to computers and things like that. And it also, it’s a spiritual rendition which sees spiritual progress analogously to technological progress being more and more separate from the earth, from the world.
And we see the same ambition register in socio-economic terms, where the highest status professions are the ones furthest separated from the soil. The ones that deal in abstractions. The abstractions of financial derivatives or scientific equations, those are the highest status. And the applied scientist has a little less status, and the engineer even less, and the plumber even less. And at the bottom, is the peasant. And that’s how it’s been for thousands of years. And although there is a revolution in our stories right now that is celebrating finally the farm, and wishing to be integrated with materiality and the soil and earth. So, this is the turning, I’ve been serving my whole life. So yeah, we see the signs of the new story.
“But it seems that Covid is showing us the old story in its most extreme form. One way that it’s showing us that is a reveal in what price we pay to prolong life, and minimize risk at all costs. That’s this shadow of the attempt to conquer death, which of course, I believe will never succeed. But… if we can’t conquer it, at least we deny it. We hide it with euphemisms and wet pursue endless use, and money and property. Which gives us the illusion that we’re gonna survive forever. So many ways that our culture denies and hides death. And one of those ways is medical. Where the entire medical system is geared toward saving lives, preventing deaths. And I’m not being heartless here. I like being alive, I want my loved ones to be alive.
My mother is in her late 70s and frail. If she got Covid, she would almost certainly pass away. But is that the most important value, to live as long as possible. What do we sacrifice when we pursue that. Or even just in our normal lives, what do we sacrifice when we place safety first above all else?
Rich says, “yeah, in the article, you present this thought experiment. You know, really pushing the boundaries of the precautions that we’re taking. At what point does it become no longer socially acceptable to isolate? If we’re doing it to save a million lives, or we’re doing it to save a hundred thousand lives, or if we’re doing it solely to save Charles’ life or his mother’s life. Should all of society be sequestered for that purpose alone. And somewhere in between rests the value that we will socially agree upon, and beneath it all is a conversation about the manner in which our culture white-washes death, this death-denial that you speak about.”
Rich continues, “And our inability to kind of be comfortable confronting that reality. And I feel that Covid puts this in front of us and exposes our fears around death. Like you qualify it as a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. And on some level part of our addiction is our addiction to this denial, that ultimately we will escape death. Even though we intellectually understand that we we’re going to die. I think all of us hold in the back of our minds, some sense that we’re going to find a way out of that.”
Charles says “Right. That’s what I’m talking about. There are conflicting values here. And I don’t think there’s a simple formula that can resolve these conflicting values.”
“Like yeah, I mean, you can say, “Charles how dare you say that maybe we shouldn’t socially isolate, when that could cause an extra 5 thousand deaths or 10 thousand or 50 thousand deaths, and that could be your mother. And you know, don’t be so heartless, these are precious lives…” But there are more important things than living along as possible. Theres something that you might call, living as beautifully as possible, living a good life, living the right life. That is hard to recognize when we are immersed in a quantitative mindset. It’s hard to value those things numerically. It’s hard to fit them into costs and benefits. And when society in general, I mean, this goes all the way down to who we know ourselves to be, who we think ourselves to be.
The reigning ideology of civilization says that we are separate individuals, we are separate selves. Which means that when you die that’s total annihilation, that’s the ultimate catastrophe. So of course you want to prolong your life. But if we understand ourselves as not just limited to a skin-encapsulated ego, as inter-relational inter-beings, then death takes on a very different resonance. And prolonging the life of a separate self is no longer the highest priority. And this is something people recognize on a gut level. I mean, every time you go to a music festival, or get in a car, or go rock climbing for god’s sake, or do anything that is fun, or that pushes your boundaries, or that challenges your limits, that puts you into an uncertain unknown realm, then you are in fact, trading safety and security and risk minimization, for a fuller experience of life.”
This is a tradeoff that different people resolve in different ways. Some people err more on the side of safety and caution, and others like to take risks. But I don’t think that there’s a clear formula to make that determination. And our culture over my lifetime has gone more and more toward safety, toward risk minimization. And the price has been an impoverished experience of life. To the point where children are no longer playing outside with each other. I mean, this did not just start with Covid. For my whole life I’ve seen a dwindling of that quintessential pack of kinds outside playing cops and robber, playing in the world of imagination.
Rich says, “I know. I would agree with that 100%. I think we’re about the same age, and the era of, you know, leaving your house and riding your bike all day and coming home for dinner, would get you in trouble with child services in this day and age. Which leaves me despairing.
I mean, this is something that Jonathan Haidt speaks about all of the time. One of the things that he also speaks to. I mean, it’s basically, in a broader sense, It’s another example of enhanced separation. We’re separating ourselves more and more from each other and from our natural environments. And we’re doing this now to our children, out of a, you know, I guess you can contend, laudable concern for their well-being. But at the same time, um, much of their peril. Jonathan also talks about the kind of end of shared experiences. You know, he speaks to 911 being the last of our collective communal shared experiences. Because now, by dint of technology, everything is channeled based on our silos, and those silos are separated.”
Rich continues, “And when it comes to Covid-19,
There’s 2 pandemics, or perhaps more. The kind of pandemic if you watch let’s say CNN
I don’t know, in spite
There’s certainly positive aspects to this. But at the same time.
Our experiences are becoming more and more tribe dependent
Charles says,”Yes. I think that this tribalism and social and political polarization is itself a symptoms as well as a cause of separation. Because when place-based communities break down, and when we’re no longer held in a web of stories and relationships to the people around us, and to the nature around us. And we, our identity which depends on relationships shrinks. And we don’t know who we are anymore. So then when a political narrative comes along, along with an in-group that says, “here’s who you are” and the price of admission to join the club is to display certain opinions. Then people are very vulnerable to that. And they get to get at least some identity through political identification. And then that identification is constantly reinforced in that particular silo or echo-chamber.
“And it says: here’s the way the world is, here’s who you are in that world, here’s what’s important, here’s how to do this, here are the good guys, here are the bad guys. So, we’re really susceptible to that.