2.3 The Axiomatic Flaws


When things are going so spectacularly wrong in any system, it is a safe bet that there is a fundamental flaw in one or more of the foundational axioms of that system. If we identify and correct these flaws, then the system has a chance to right itself. But if we keep patching up the symptoms that arise in the faulty system, then we will be applying more and more complex patches over time until the whole system collapses spectacularly as well. It is not a question of whether such a collapse occurs, but when. For the modern human enterprise has truly been a seat-of-the-pants engineered, waste producing, rickety contraption when compared to the robust, waste-free ecosystems that Nature has developed through eons of evolution.

Thus far, we have been applying patches to the symptoms of our systemic distress as they arose. Both the Haber-Bosch process and Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution were patches. It is long past due for us to examine the foundational flaws in the human enterprise instead, even if this results in a fundamental sea change in the way we live out our lives. And it is up to us who are alive today to make that shift. And it is most likely the Miglets that will lead this social transformation, the Metamorphosis.

In contrast, members of my generation that is currently in power throughout the planet are still behaving cynically, perhaps because we have more years behind us than ahead of us. We have oinked our way through the true wealth of the planet, the totality and diversity of Life on the only life-supporting planet in our galactic neighborhood, leaving a vastly diminished base for the Miglets and future generations to work with. And though in power, we have yet to face up to it. We have punted the problems down the road at every opportunity, while looking for make believe fixes of the technological kind. We have found trillions of dollars to bail out the banks and the bonuses of their executives, but we have failed to find the resources needed to ensure a livable planet for our children. We have been behaving like addicts, desperately seeking the next fix to keep our destructive enterprise going. We promised change to energize the Miglets during the 2008 American presidential elections and then when ensconced in power, we delivered more of the same.

How did it come to this?

The mythology that drives our global, modern culture stems from the rousing words of Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers of the American Revolution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness[13].” The “Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America” is probably one of the most consequential documents ever produced by human beings, but it has been profoundly misinterpreted to the point where we are currently doing the opposite of what it says. I base this observation upon my familiarity with the Bhagavad Gita, but I’d wager that a scholar in any other religion would be able to point to the same parallels in their foundational texts as well.

As the science fiction author, Philip K. Dick, wrote, “The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of the words, you can control the people who must use the words[14].” And this manipulation of words began even as the Declaration of Independence was being written. With respect to the phrase, “all men are created equal,” the English abolitionist, Thomas Day, wrote in a 1776 letter, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves[15].” Indeed, many of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners. Later, in the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Stephen Douglas asserted that the Founding Fathers only intended the phrase “all men are created equal” to be applied to white men only, that the purpose of the Declaration was to justify the independence of the United States and not to proclaim the equality of any “inferior or degraded race[16].” But Lincoln took the expansive view that the language of the Declaration was deliberately universal, setting a high moral standard for which the American republic should aspire. When Lincoln’s view won the argument, the arc of the moral universe was bent towards justice as Martin Luther King so eloquently put it[17].

But the much more egregious misinterpretations of the Declaration of Independence that bedevil our modern industrial civilization lie in the “rights” to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. In America, the right to Life is variously interpreted to argue against abortion rights in some quarters and against capital punishment in other quarters. But in our modern culture, the ideal Life itself has been interpreted to mean the attainment of leisure. In our popular media, we celebrate those who have achieved a life of leisure and indolence.

The Bhagavad Gita stridently opposes such a Life of indolence and inaction. “Do not be attached to inaction[18],” warns Lord Krishna to Arjuna. There is no doubt about it; the Gita is the gospel of action. We are given the gift of Life in order to act. And our actions matter profoundly.

Next is our interpretation of “Liberty.” According to the Bhagavad Gita, true liberty is attained when we are steady-minded enough so that neither praise nor criticism affects us and what we think, say and do are all in perfect harmony. Then we are truly untethered from the control of others and are free to pursue our autonomous path, to dance our dance. Unfortunately, in our current culture, praise and criticism are used to train humans from their infancy onwards to adhere to societal norms, while a steady programming of fear and violence is used to keep them from their true expressions, to turn them into compliant Caterpillars. The right to Liberty has been misinterpreted to mean the right to bombard an individual with manipulative messages through the mass media, while individual liberty is mistaken to be our freedom to do any imaginable depredation on Nature, especially on the property that has been designated to us by the society we live in, while being thoroughly controlled by the punishment and reward systems of that same society.   

Finally, the biggest mistake of all has been our misinterpretation of the Pursuit of Happiness. In our modern culture, this has been completely conflated with the Pursuit of Affluence in order to fulfill an infinite procession of desires that are being constantly stoked through the media. The Gita clearly states that true happiness is found within ourselves, and that the incessant fulfillment of desires leads to the exact opposite of happiness. This final misinterpretation is what gets even well-meaning politicians to pay instant attention to the misfortunes of corporations and their executives in their drive to keep the affluence engine chugging along, while ignoring the needs of the Miglets and future generations.

Thus, we have become a culture that has profoundly misinterpreted its foundational axioms and is presently doing the exact opposite of what is in the ancient texts. Perhaps, if we interpret our foundational axioms following the guidance in these texts and act accordingly, our world and our lives wouldn’t be in such a complete and utter mess.

Just like the character, George Costanza, in the popular TV serial, “Seinfeld,” we would be better off doing the exact opposite of everything we do today.




[15] Thomas Day’s quote can be found in Armitage, “The Declaration of Independence: A Global History,” Harvard University Press, 2007. http://www.amazon.com/Declaration-Independence-Global-History/dp/0674022823 . The quote can be found in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence as well.

[16] Stephen Douglas’s quote can be found in Pauline Maier, “American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence,” Knopf, 1997. http://www.amazon.com/American-Scripture-Making-Declaration-Independence/dp/0679779086 . The quote can be found in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence  as well.

[17] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.

[18] Bhagavad Gita 2:47 in P. Lal, “The Bhagavad Gita,” Orient Publishing, 2012. https://www.amazon.com/Bhagavadgita-Purushottam-Lal-ebook/dp/B008QA4MZ0

2.2 The Strange Paradox
3. Dharma
Sailesh Rao
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