a book by Don E. Eberly
(our site's book review)
Eberly says that the greatness of American civilization has been made possible by freedom. But he also says that the problem is that freedom can evolve so that it is viewed and held in different ways over time. He says that the definition from the beginning has always been an ordered, responsible type of freedom, but recently there are those with more libertine definitions. And these, he warns, may make freedom unsustainable. And this is more than conservative dogma—much more, since he looks equally to the right and the left when he focuses in on the culprits who are trying to redefine freedom as boundless and absolute. The left wants to be able to have boundless morals and expressive freedoms; the right wants to be able to boundlessly acquire—to accumulate as much wealth as possible without boundaries (such as worrying about environmental effects of the endless growth required by the ambition of endless wealth).
He admits that maintaining the balance between rights and responsibilities, freedom and restraint, pluralism and consensus is difficult. One main worry in philosophical circles is that some have tasted so much freedom that they will be unable to give any of it up in the name of preserving the political, social and civil order. The baby boomer generation that is now parenting America’s children has turned communitarian and even moralistic (since the 90s), but it’s still “ambivalent about taking measures to shore up the social order,” in Eberly’s words.
Speaking of ambivalence, that was our reaction to some of what he stated in his book. He doesn’t understand either autonomy or authority clearly enough to write authoritatively about them. Some of his statements about autonomy border on the silly, as well as being erroneous, and some parts of his call for authority are misguided. These are the two biggest flaws in his thinking in general and in this book in particular. He implies that more authoritarian perspectives would help, although they would not—they’re part of the problem, not the solution. Obviously he’s right that we cannot have community without authority, and that rights and responsibility must be balanced. And of course society would be better off without some of the parasitic media products that glorify immorality, sensationalism, the easy score rather than the responsible job, materialism and selfish libertine values in general.
But authority is not that much of a solution. We have more of our people in prison than any other countries do (authority) but more crime than anyone else as well. And authoritarian parenting is backfiring tragically all over the world as you read this. Eberly is of course correct that permissiveness is foolish, but he needs to acquaint himself with a very special and important word: AUTHORITATIVE (parenting).
And his call for religion to be a main part of the solution negates both history and current events. Religious sentiments have been and still are behind the worst (authoritarian) violence ever. Even though they give comfort to billions, they also give millions of people reasons to kill each other each year and billions of people reasons to hate others who don’t share their values. Philip Slater and Riane Eisler had it exactly right on this point: When religion is about what people like Jesus (when he was alive) said that it’s about (positives like love, compassion, cooperation, generosity, knowledge, etc.), such things elevate and inspire all of us.
But when it’s about the tremendous power and authority of church hierarchies (more often misused than not), pain, sacrifice, guilt, shame, hate, fear, and other disempowering negatives that create unhealthy dependencies on monolithic institutions to whom we pay money as a way of buying a ticket to a heavenly afterlife, since they’ve instilled lots of fear in us about the alternative, then it misses its inspirational, empowering potential. In fact many religions today are among the most significant polarizing, divisive forces on earth, emphasizing the we-them dichotomy, the win-lose perspective, and the “evil others” concept. They clash with the diversity which is the signature of the Third Wave. (Happily, some religions do not; they preach tolerance for diversity, loving one’s neighbor and spiritual growth as opposed to dependency. This is benevolent and good—they are part of the solution Eberly describes.) The Tofflers, Carl Sagan, and many other brilliant people have warned us about how there are many regressive fundamentalist radicals that would gladly put most power back into the hands of religious hierarchies and push us back into the Dark Ages.
Before Eberly writes any more books, and admittedly he’s written some dandies, he needs to study the works of not only the above two aforementioned authors (Eisler and Slater), but also Richard Louv, Louise Hart, Thomas Gordon, Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, Gail and Snell Putney, George Lakoff, Ken Dychtwald, Fritjof Capra, Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Mark Gerzon, Wayne Dyer, and David Riesman. He needs to rethink authority and autonomy.
The Grinning Ghoul of Social Engineering
Happily, the author isn’t attracted to the false gods of politics, government and economic growth in his search for the forces that will reverse the social decay—no one is more suspicious of the grinning ghoul of social engineering than Eberly.
He says that “Durable prosperity depends upon a vibrant moral and social order, not simply upon unfettered markets.” He knows that economic capital depends, ultimately, on social capital, and America is quite deficient in that area at present. He also wisely points to the advantages of asset-based community development, building on the existing assets in neighborhoods—as opposed to coming from a deficiency perspective where the entire context is about needs, problems, deficiencies—which often leads to a futile search for funds when outside money sources are drying up daily. He welcomes the character movement that realizes, like our Founders, that unless this is the foundation you build on, your social structures will topple or rot. A nation full of people with a victim mentality who can talk about nothing but their rights and entitlements isn’t a nation of good character.
Suburbs are designed around privacy and separation instead of neighborly proximity. Malls replaced shops, fast-food franchises replaced diners, and public transit is underused while the private car is overused. People want to be independent, self-sufficient consumers, not citizens with social contracts and obligations. According to Eberly, “. . . core virtues have waned and too many Americans have become shortsighted and selfish through their obsession with rights and entitlements. Ordinary citizens intuitively understand that this deeper corruption, and not merely a lack of civic participation, is driving us toward isolation and distrust. . . . Our nation is in the midst of a process of cultural disestablishment, in which the ideals and symbols that once animated our collective consciousness are disintegrating, without a viable candidate for replacement waiting in the wings.”
Registering for MC search and match
(This underlines the context in which the MC movement will be presented to the nation [and world]. See Why Register for an MC?. Whether one refers to J.F.K.’s 1961 speech “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country” or whether one refers to the new calls for balancing rights with responsibilities, the communitarian movement, or the volunteerism movement, the MC movement is based upon the needed knowledge to empower the social rebirth Eberly, et al., pine for. People whose early needs are well-filled will naturally want to make sure that others’ needs are too, as long as the parenting method is authoritative (or P.E.T.) rather than permissive or authoritarian.
Almost everyone who went wrong in our society will quickly express to you how angry they are about early family and childhood facts in their lives. Many who go very right and good will talk fondly about their early years. And there are a few who went right who were those resilient exceptions to the rule that thrived in spite of adverse childhood conditions, because of how they’ve set up their lives as good environments for themselves and their families since that time, because of the type of friends they’ve sought, and because of the humanness with which they’ve pursued the relationships in their lives since their early years. In all cases, the empowering/inspiring environment that people are either born into, or somehow create for themselves at the earliest opportunity, is the key. MCs exponentially multiply individuals’, families’, communities’ and nations’ potentials for “going very right and good,” as we’ve termed it above.)
Eberly takes Robert Bellah’s confusion and adds to it. Merely referring to the best works of two main authors, Maslow and Riesman, would probably suffice to clarify their confusion. It would be critical to avoid secondhand sourcing. The majority of the would-be interpreters and critics of the works of these two men either completely missed their main message or went astray on part of their analysis. People (who should have known better) as educated as Alan Bloom actually ended up with analyses that were at best the antithesis of Riesman’s message, and at worst relating something they happened to hear about the subject—never having read the works themselves, apparently.
Anyway, could a thinking person possibly walk away from such brilliant works as Slater’s A Dream Deferred, Eisler’s Sacred Pleasure, and Gordon’s Discipline That Works and still feel that ramping up the authority component in our lives will salvage our degenerating culture? As Toffler confirmed in his powerful Powershift book, either surplus social order or inadequate social order needs to be replaced by socially necessary order, all of which exactly parallels replacing authoritarianism and permissiveness with authoritativeness.
In view of the great books Eberly has contributed to the common wisdom, one wants to give him the benefit of the doubt and interpret his discourse about authority as merely advocating more balance between authority and individualism. But if that was the intent of his book, he said it crudely and with the wrong follow-through—the book contains too many appeals of an authoritarian flavor. The win-lose intrinsicalness of authority is immutable, as is the win-win intrinsicalness of authoritative and P.E.T. mindsets. The Third Wave will still have room for authority, but it will be more the authority of knowledge and wisdom (at least eventually) rather than the authority given one by the ability to coerce, overpower, fire, outbid or bribe. In short, it will be about higher quality power. Ramping up authority as the culture ramps up disintegration assumes that the problem is all about spoiled, permissively raised young that need heavy handed discipline to make up for what they should have had earlier. This is incorrect.
Spanking: heavy handed discipline
Ramping up not just knowledge but the application of same is already starting to make the Third Wave a higher quality life game for hundreds of millions of people. Ramping up authority has occurred in Kosovo, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lybia, and other places in the last decades of the 20th century. And it was tried in Germany and the U.S.S.R. and lots of other places earlier this century, and by not just various countries but the Church itself in centuries past. And much of the world now sees these social engineering experiments as either past mistakes or ongoing mistakes—sometimes profound ones. These errors are all part of the quest for Second Wave (and some First Wave) solutions by people who just didn’t/don’t “get it.”
Eberly is looking for balance, not authoritarianism. The problem is, however, that some of his ideas about how one could ramp up authority aren’t that likely to result in balancing anything, but are more likely to just be more grist for the mills of already too powerful elements in society, as well as encouraging more authoritarian errors by parents.
Here’s a good hypothetical example of the different results that one would probably get depending upon whether knowledge or authority were ramped up:
First, AUTHORITY: Suppose one is creating an MC movement via political salvationism and social engineering, so that the implementation was through the authority of various new laws, statutes, bureaucracies, agencies, commissions and leadership from various authorities, and one also got the churches to use their authority to back the idea. Sounds like liberal heaven until you analyze it in depth. It turns out that one can predict that it would just end up as another issue to be used to polarize and divide, another bureaucracy to fowl things up due to the intrinsically naïve Second Wave structure of government bureaucracies in general with all ther perverse incentives, and another social program that everyone wants anyone but themselves to pay the taxes for.
Perhaps tax-and-spend liberalism has had its day and we need a better idea (MCs)
The MCs themselves would take a back seat in the media to the passionate sound bites for and against—you know: the type of stuff that “sells copy,” gets ratings, and pays the bills. This would all be a tragic mistake and perhaps mess up the chances for an appropriate launch of the MC movement forever. It just so happens that MCs are intrinsically unifying, synthesizing and inspiring, so you can wonder how such a foolish end result as what I just described could possibly come about. The answer: because that’s where political salvationism and its sound bites and social engineering and its bureaucracies take everything. The various authorities that are the powers that be run the great new idea through the obsolete sociopolitical system and the above farcical clown show is the end result.
What political salvationism and its sound bites and social engineering and bureaucracies turn things into
Second, KNOWLEDGE: Applying the most useful and well-demonstrated knowledge mankind has to the subjects of lifestyle, parenting, neighborhood structure/function, communication and relationship (with PSBs and MC inventions thrown in as new entities based on this knowledge), individuals and families would make wisdom-guided free choices to start MCs to improve the lives of themselves and their loved ones. No politics, bureaucracies, taxes, corruption, heroic political leaders that turn out to be stinkers, no dependency on the state, etc. No social engineering. No increasing of the polarization index.
In fact, exactly the opposite would happen (i.e., unification but without loss of diversification), since the new lifestyle applies equally well: to all humans and all nations; to conservatives, liberals, communitarians, independents, populists and undecideds; to men, women, (and undecideds!); to young, old and middle-aged. Name one person who has no desire for his or her life to work much better, be happier and more purposeful and more meaningful and more satisfying. You cannot do it. We’re only here once and we all know it. It’s a fact: WE ALL POSITIVELY DO WANT OUR LIVES TO WORK GREAT!
Rightly applied knowledge can do wonders
What this is pointing to is that if the directionless, the libertines, the alienated, the spoiled and the disaffected seem to need more authority in their lives to ensure that they walk the straight and narrow and commence a moral, meaningful life, then that authority must come from an authoritative context in their upbringing in which the best knowledge and wisdom is actually applied to parenting, communications, learning, relationships, conflict resolution, and social connectedness. Reading a book or two won’t help; knowing some interesting facts that never get applied to our lives won’t help; and parenting the way your parents parented you simply because it’s too uncomfortable to both admit that they didn’t do so good and learn a new, actually effective way—this won’t help either. They (the alienated, etc.) need the authority of well-applied, excellent knowledge, and this knowledge must not be laid on them from the elites of the social engineering ranks; instead it must be chosen—by individuals and families—by their own intellects and lifewish and—especially—by their own hearts.
Eberly seems to be saying that the alienated libertines and amoral disaffecteds were mostly raised permissively, and therefore need more authoritarian discipline in their lives, along with more interfacing with church authorities, etc. But the statistical facts are that most young are raised with permissive-authoritarian combination parenting methods and only a few are raised permissively. Additionally, a relatively minor few are raised authoritatively, and some are raised with authoritative/authoritarian/permissive combination parenting. Most parents use physical violence at least sometimes with their children, and kids always resent it and are angered by it and it never works that good in the long run. So, in truth, we need to leave behind not just permissive parenting methods but authoritarian ones as well and do what works: authoritative parenting and/or P.E.T. uncombined with the other parenting methods which merely serve to dilute, contaminate and undermine good parenting.
Most parents use physical violence at least sometimes with their children
In a good, authoritative environment that fills needs well and uses mostly natural consequences (and perhaps a few logical consequences if needed) in its disciplining, kids will make good choices and not need authorities forcing various types of behaviors except in dangerous situations. Authoritatively used knowledge works better than knowledge-rationalized authority to encourage, inspire, and engender growth and wisdom. Active listening works better than continuous active intervention. Encouragement works better than instructions. Suggestions beat orders. Eliciting feelings—all of which are acceptable—beats eliciting fear. Warmth motivates better than threats. Love beats forced “respect” and/or “loyalty.” Conflict resolution beats parental dictates. Allowing choices beats “making them do what I think is best for them.”
Alfie Kohn wants classrooms to move from compliance to community, with kids working with teachers cooperatively and teachers treating students as fellow citizens in a small community where everyone deserves respect—not just the teacher
Alternate nurturers in a flat-gradient context beats forcing oneself to angrily and resentfully cope with kids you desperately need respite from—the failed, anomalous steep-gradient-nurturance model. And cooperating with neighbors whom you like, to set up a nurturing and close-knit environment that’s nurturing to all, beats the isolated, defensive, covertly hostile neighborhood context in vogue today.
Now, about autonomy. It is stylish today for conservatives to dislike the word because liberals love it, and therefore right-wingers malign it, distort its meaning, and condemn it with guilt by association (with liberals)—another casualty of the Culture War. Eberly joined this bandwagon a bit too easily and conveniently—and a bit too quickly. This is way too important a subject to breeze over it so lightly, like Lasch , Bellah and William J. Bennett have done—to name only a few. The conservatives seem to feel that because they have it right about character, the work ethic, the evils of social engineering and tax-and-spend big government, and keeping dangerous criminals locked up, that they also have it right about such things as autonomy. Sorry, conservatives. Your intentions are good, but your knowledge is lacking on this one; the liberal’s position is closer to correct.
Liberals wrongly count on social engineering superheroes, but conservatives are right about the evils of social engineering and tax-and-spend big government
Autonomy boils down to being controlled by one’s self, as opposed to being controlled by others, by the latest fads, by the norms of one’s peers, by a superego, or by no one—including oneself. By far the best type of citizens to have in order to support the community, the democracy, and therefore freedom are autonomous people. (Read Fromm and Riesman if you’re not entirely clear on this point.)
Autonomous people will not let others do their thinking for them, nor will they let demagogues pull the rug out from under our Constitution
People controlled through the indirect self-acceptance (a Putney and Putney term from The Adjusted American) from their superegos (inner-directed) or their peers (other-directed) are easy for tyrants from the left or the right to manipulate like sheep into becoming part of violent and/or repressive authoritarian regimes. Autonomous people will not let others do their thinking for them, nor will they let demagogues pull the rug out from under our Constitution during an attempted coup d’etat or when they try to pass tyrant-friendly laws or take away Second Amendment rights to bear arms for self-protection. Of course, the problem is that autonomous people are not the ones who gain political power—U.S. politics amply highlights the saying that scum rises to the top.
Robot-like, non-autonomous people are relatively easy to convince with ads and sound bites to buy things they don't need
Non-autonomous people are relatively easy to convince with ads and sound bites. People who think for themselves are not. Autonomous people are the type most admired by the world’s greatest thinkers (Fromm, Riesman, Slater, Maslow, and thousands of others, including most professionals in psychology, sociology, philosophy and social psychology). George Lakoff (of Moral Politics fame) makes a good point when he says that the right and left aren’t thinking of the same meaning when the two opposing sides of the cultural war use such words—so, of course, they cannot hear one another or really communicate. In short, the right has redefined such words for their own purposes.
One of the most important goals of maturity is to transform from a dependent being controlled by others to an independent being controlled by one’s self. Americans love to think of themselves as individualists—hell, we pretty much invented the term, but only those Americans that are autonomous are truly individualists. Inner-directed and other-directed people are, as Riesman clearly points out, conformists, not true individualists. See The Lonely Crowd. (And the older Riesman type, tradition-directed, is certainly not an individualist.)
Of course, people can be a combination of types, such as partly individualistic and autonomous and partly inner-directed by superego forces—but that just makes thinking about the subject needlessly complex. The fact is, Riesman admired the person who demonstrated enough strength of character to reach autonomy. Those people who actually understand his book similarly admire autonomy, but those who don’t understand it—and there are/were many—either admire inner-directed conformists (because inner-directed sounds like a good thing) or drop the ball altogether and dislike all of the character types (Allan Bloom), seeming not to understand any of them.
But, for the purpose of clarity, let’s look at what autonomy is NOT: It’s the opposite of automatic. Non-autonomous people are more likely to act automatically from past conditioning, while autonomous people are more likely to insert the acts of thought and choice between stimulus and response. And that’s because they’re more conscious than non-autonomous people. There are tons of advantages of being more rather than less conscious—let’s just say it leads to a higher quality of life.
Autonomous people are more often being and coming from a position of being-cognition than non-autonomous people, who are more often needing and coming from a position of deficiency-cognition. Read Maslow (Toward a Psychology of Being) for more on the tremendous advantages (not just to self but to the kids whose parents are this way and to the society whose people are this way) such people experience and the life-quality differences they enjoy. Autonomous pretty much equals self-actualized and vice versa, usually.
Freud said that the superego being one’s locus of control is good but Fromm said no—that's too simple and crude; Fromm turned out to be right
You may have read in Freud that the superego being one’s locus of control is good and necessary to keep us from negative actions. Way back in 1947 in Man For Himself, Fromm attacked this classical notion because it was so simplistic (i.e., you may have been raised and taught by criminals) and authoritarian (some authority—parents—outside your self is telling you what’s right and wrong even though as an adult it is your responsibility to decide such things). Maslow says it’s better to be guided by your intrinsic conscience (Fromm calls it humanistic conscience) than by a superego (which is a conditioned repository of others’ values)—all of which is to say that autonomous people are self-controlled, and the values which guide them are chosen by them, not conditioned into them, and they are usually humanistic, benevolent and life-affirming values.
Maslow was frustrated later in life that so many of his readers misinterpreted his writings. He’d carefully described self-actualized, autonomous people as altruistic, dedicated, self-transcending, prosocial, etc., but people continued to confuse the words self and selfish. Self-actualization is anything but selfish, but many confused conservatives and religious radicals who saw life as something that’s supposed to be about suffering, guilt, fear and worship simply couldn’t hear it.
The fact that Maslow felt that being-love and care of others was needed for real autonomy wasn’t widely reflected upon. One reason is that Maslow (whose conclusions came from intensive study of real, healthy people, not sick ones—which is the type that Freud studied) assured us that people were born with an intrinsically good (or at least neutral) human nature, while Bible literalists were assuring us that man is born sinful. Accumulated human knowledge has tended to show that man is born neutral, and the good and bad potentials are brought out by both environmental and hereditary factors.
Fundamentalists say man is born evil
Ignorant people—and even some educated conservatives—have tended to confuse not only self-actualized with selfish but also autonomy with anomie (this type of person lacks purpose, roots, values and even identity and therefore is a bundle of selfishness and trouble waiting to happen). But autonomous people—called self-actualized by Maslow—are generally healthy, productive, authentic, and are more global than national in perspective, and they are for this and many other reasons (like thinking for themselves, having strong character, being good problem solvers, having win-win personalities, etc.) the perfect Third Wave type of citizen. They are less selfish than most, more social than most, make better and more informed decisions than most, vote more responsibly than most, and are likely to conform to most of society’s rules and norms because they share many values with the rest of humanity, but they will do this from choice—not out of conformity.
So when Eberly indulges in criticism of autonomy, but his criticisms apply more to people who are selfish, alienated, antisocial, or suffering from anomie, one has to take his assertions with a grain of salt. To the degree he’s really talking about the anomic (anomie sufferers) and the selfish, he’s right. When he says that community is needed for culture to be strong, and that autonomous people aren’t community-minded, he’s twisting the truth. Let’s clarify: Non-autonomous people may often feel forced to indulge in community out of:
(a) loneliness and a search for human intimacy that the superficial socializing they settle for won’t fulfill, but it will at least take these people’s minds off depressing feelings,
(b) social pressures they’re too guilty to resist (to go to church, vote, attend community meetings, shoot the breeze with neighbors, etc.)—and these actions are fine, and
(c) keeping busy so they won’t have to be alone with themselves and face what feels like an inner emptiness.
Autonomous people are at least as prosocial as non-autonomous people but will indulge in community out of choice. Not superego guilt, emptiness, escapism or peer pressure—but choice. They will have more being-cognition as they socialize, thereby understanding what others say better and being more truly interested in those people and conversations that really are interesting; and these things make them a better social asset for the community and for individuals than are normal non-autonomous people. They are less interested in attending the community activities that are meaningless gestures and where conversations are phony, useless or superficial. They are wise choosers when they avoid such things, not elitists or antisocial beings.
So when Eberly says the autonomous are so self-involved that they don’t support community, he’s wrong. (E.g., they may not come to Eberly’s parties, but then they may not find much of genuine value at anybody’s parties. Alternate socializing methods are often found.) The idea of alienated people being so self-involved that they don’t support community is surely a valid concern of his, and America needs to address it—but the problem is caused much more by apathy and alienation in other-directed, inner-directed and anomic individuals than by any characteristic of autonomous people! Eberly is very wrong in jumping on this ignorance bandwagon with Lasch and Bellah and pointing the finger at the autonomous. Autonomous people are more like our country’s Founders, who ceased conforming to a system that didn’t work and creatively and wisely invented a new one, and they are less like the conforming (non-autonomous) sheep around the Founders that advised them not to get England madder yet at the Colonists. Autonomous people would grasp what the Founders were doing and join in the brave revolutionary effort.
Conforming (non-autonomous) sheep
If you’re getting this at all, one thing is becoming clear to you: autonomy is part of the solution, and inner-directed conformists and other-directed conformists are part of the problem. (This applies to a full range of problems: social, political, civil, criminal, fulfillment, satisfaction, growth, happiness, etc.) This is anything but a putdown. The context here is to see the problem clearly and then do whatever it takes (like MCs; See Why Register for an MC?) to help empower the non-autonomous to transcend their status and get more out of life. If helping people achieve their goals and reach their potentials is misguided, then all priests, teachers, shrinks, coaches, tutors, psychologists, social workers and even parents have been led down the garden path, bamboozled, and grievously misled.
We've been led down the garden path, failing to see that there's a sinkhole up ahead on this path—and it's miles deep
“There is no concept of the common good, only self-advancing individuals.” Is Eberly’s frustration valid? Very. Is autonomy the proper target of his frustration? Not even close. Self-actualized people love/care more and better, and also empower others to advance more and better, and advance the common good better (e.g., Founders) than others. But if this is true, then who are these people who are tearing down the social fabric in droves, unweaving the social web, abandoning the cultural mores, acting selfish and irresponsible and disloyal to the needs of the many?
One could say they're the conservatives because the liberals are more into social collectivism and the conservatives are more individualistically attuned and willing to let amoral market forces lead us wherever they happen to.
One could say they're the liberals, since they’ve so emphasized the rights over the responsibilities that they have forgotten what social responsibility even looks like.
One could say they're the lawyers, since they’ve helped turn us all into an aggregate of whining individual victims, fighting in courts for our rights as we totally forget how most of such disagreements used to be socially—not legally—handled.
One could say they're the S.A.s (Robert Reich’s symbolic analysts as depicted in The Work of Nations, and the citizens of Richard Louv’s America II), who have virtually seceded from the union, and are now the affluent outsiders behind the fences in the gated and locked and armed enclaves where they can avoid the blue-collar workers, shirkers, slackers and bums in peace and safety, and they're also the non-enclaved professionals and Third Wave knowledge workers who are cocooning (read Faith Popcorn’s The Popcorn Report if this word rings no bells for you) in our better neighborhoods as you read this.
One could say they're the Internet devotees, since now no one needs to socialize in anything but the safe network mode we call virtual reality, which creates virtual community as it evokes the question: “Where’s the beef?” (Where’s real community? See Why Do We Need Communities? and The Responsive Communitarian Platform.)
Or we could accuse the anomic—perhaps these rootless, value-free slackers are to blame for everything.
Or as a 90s newspaper cartoon depicted it (satirically), perhaps the cultural shortcomings are all emanating from the cartoon show Beavis and Butt-head, even though it's no longer on. (Some of us miss those very funny morons. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh!)
Maybe we should all blame those Tofflers for bringing the Third Wave to us! See The Third Wave. (Note: if you just got off the banana boat and missed the irony, they didn’t really bring it, they just saw it first and told us about it in several brilliant books.) But enough maybes . . .
In fact, the culture can validly look to the Third Wave for the major portion of the answer. The new knowledge-based civilization and all its confusing changes really is the key here. The old Second Wave civilization is in transition to the Third Wave, and in this flux state is dumping many old ways and playing around with new ways. This is confusing people and making many people uncomfortable, pressed for time, socially adrift, vocationally insecure, and even alienated.
In this process many are experimenting with dropping old values and habits relating to churches, beliefs, civil duties, political convictions, community involvement and responsibility, and adopting new ones that have more to do with personal security, networking, connectedness through the Internet or using telephones rather than letters and personal visits, dropping relationships and marriages that are dysfunctional and seeking new people to relate to, and adopting electronic cottage lifestyles as they happily discard the commuter lifestyle forever—they hope! So, in addition to the other authors we’ve encouraged Eberly to get either acquainted or reacquainted with, we especially recommend the Tofflers. In other words, the social changes Eberly sees are more than simply symptoms of how society is degenerating. They’re also signs of how it is regenerating! Read the Tofflers: e.g., The Third Wave.
The electronic cottage
According to Eberly, the transcendent religious ethic has waned, to be replaced with secular materialism which attempts to substitute progress and reductionistic scientific analysis for spiritual truth, and the result is ceaseless attempts at social engineering through well-meaning but misguided political and governmental solutions. In actual fact, not just society is going through tough times—attitudes are taking it on the chin as well.
Louis Harris, the public opinion analyst, found in 1994 that people were getting more cynical by the year, with confidence in U.S. government, U.S. Presidents, the courts, Congress, the press, TV news and organized religion seriously waning. In 2013, 48% of Americans give a six to ten ranking when asked to project the status of the U.S. five years from now (0=our situation will be the worst they can imagine and 10=the best they can imagine). This is tied with the 1979 measure as the lowest in Gallup's history of asking the question. Additionally, the 40% who give a negative rating (zero to four) when asked to look ahead is lower than at any point in history. These negative ratings include 10% who say the situation of the country in five years will be zero, the worst they can imagine. And Republicans overwhelmingly say that the best times are behind the country, while Democrats look ahead and say the best times are ahead. (Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/160046/americans-downbeat-state-prospects-future.aspx)
Eberly says the unhappiness of the nonspiritual populace causes them to perpetually seek redress for injustices, in addition to seeking entitlements and new public programs—somehow these people hope they can find a way to socially engineer their happiness—which they will always fail at.
And of course he’s right, but his assertion that traditional interfacing with churches and adoption of religious absolutes will bring the happiness and civic responsibility that materialism does not is regressive and somewhat naïve. Admittedly, this may work for some. But for a great many citizens of Third Wave civilization, this will simply not be the panacea these religions advertise that it is. There’s way too much talk about money in churches, and too much emphasis on the church’s authority, to cite a few turnoffs.
There’s way too much talk about money in churches, and too much emphasis on the church’s authority
The people happily go along with the absolutes taught like love, justice, responsibility and compassion, and it is of course entirely appropriate that churches, schools or anyone else teaches such things, but there are too few church-based experiences that bring people to a feeling of deep unity and connectedness with other humans, with the planet, and with the universe itself. And the obvious reason for this is that these deeply spiritual experiences are not something one can purchase from a church, a cult, from priests and preachers, or even from the Pope himself.
It all goes back to self-actualization and autonomy, strangely enough. A person matured well in a need-filling, inspiring environment, who becomes autonomously self-actualized, will experience lots more being-cognition than most. And whether he comes from a religious or secular background, his being-cognition will often involve what Maslow calls peak experiences which the person will usually define as spiritual experiences in which spiritual unity with mankind and the universe predominates. If such a person has the background of a Carl Sagan, for example, his experience will be spiritual in the non-supernatural sense. If such a person is a devotee of a traditional religion, his spiritual experience will be perceived in the supernatural sense.
Look back into history at the famous people who have done the most good and thought the best thoughts. They are a combination of people some of whose spiritual sides were supernatural and some of whose spiritual sides were natural—non-supernatural. The natural or supernatural factor seemed irrelevant. Churches can propagandize about this all they want, but the supernaturalists were no better or worse, nor did they benefit mankind more or less than did the non-supernaturalists. These facts don’t change no matter how much fundamentalist extremists spew inflamed rhetoric, lies, and propaganda denying them and calling the humanists evil. The humanists of history have barely done one millionth of the harm and caused one billionth of the violence as the supernaturalist religious fanatics of history. The radicals’ hysterical assertions simply don’t track. They're fantasy, wishful thinking, and dead wrong.
Witch burning—the violence of the supernaturalist religious fanatics in history knew few bounds
As we’ve said, the spiritual essence we all seek cannot be purchased by churchgoing or anything else. If your environment has been one in which you were loved and inspired and you thrived, you’ll achieve spirituality experiences whether or not organized religions are involved. They can surely help guide one’s spirituality once it is found, and they often do. But a self-actualized, autonomous person can guide this part of his life quite effectively as well without organized religion being involved.
This is why you’ll see in MCs what you so often fail to see in society at large: spiritually inspired people of both supernatural and non-supernatural persuasions working side by side with absolutely no we-them polarization, mistrust, suspicion, elitism or Culture War nonsense. They are unified in the benevolent acts of close encounters of the first, second and third kinds, out of choice and inspiration. There will be no thought of the authoritarian word “duty,” since the people will be following the dictates of their hearts and minds, not being “do-gooders” out of boredom or as the purchase price for a ticket to heaven. In short, they’ll be doing what they want, as autonomous beings, and what they want most is for their own and other human’s lives to work so well that we can all kiss the hate, war, fear and misery goodbye.
It’s interesting that Eberly draws a polarizing line between the narcissistic moral relativists, secular rationalists, and utilitarian individualists on the one hand and the morally upright church-oriented absolutists on the other. This makes this book, which is otherwise quite good (exceptions are noted above), stray unknowingly into the part-of-the-problem camp rather than the part-of-the-solution camp, because of its intolerance of diversity and its hard-line, right-wing stance on the imperative of worshipping in the pews of organized religion. This is polarizing. But what we need is a benevolent unifying force, not a strict father-figure taking a strap to our behinds for skipping church to build a treehouse. He errs further when he insists that the best character comes from the inner-directed and other-directed forces (of fear of parental or community censure) of the superego and peer-directedness.
These forces hold us back from our evil intrinsic natures, according to most dogma on the subject. This is correct in the sense that inner-directed and other-directed people certainly need to rely on these inhibiting forces to keep them in line. Call it fear, guilt or character—it works. But autonomous, self-actualized character goes a critical step further: It relies upon the existential choices of the person to comply with the guiding light of the person’s actual intrinsic, deeply-held values. In exercising self-control, the person chooses to be. Other- and inner-directed people need the approval of others or internalized parents, and they fear to disappoint them, because they are in a normal state of emotional need and often seek approval which is symbolically the love they never really got. It gets even more complicated, but it should suffice to say that even though one can sometimes find fine and strong character in inner-directed and even a few other-directed people, it has a weak basis compared to the basis in self-actualized people, who avoid negative social actions because it’s not who they are—and because they choose to be who they are, which relates directly to the values they hold dear.
Hopefully, the path of wisdom that this author has led us down for years will be rediscovered, recognized and once again utilized. He is beginning to stray off this path. Eberly has been giving us the best and strongest of conservative and middle-of-the-road values for years, well-written and well-received. He continues to do so, but has diluted and contaminated this wisdom with the worst and weakest of the conservative camp. What began as a quest that empowered unification and community has strayed off the beaten path and has been seduced by the polarizing, the divisive and the intolerant. His one-road map to spirituality is as reductionistic and simplistic as he claims the social scientists are who are trying to address our society’s problems. We can all hope that this isn’t the new pattern of Eberly’s thinking. We who have read him know he can do better, think better and see more clearly than this. Here’s hoping he’ll see the light.
Path of wisdom from which one should avoid straying