From the moment that human beings were able to organize themselves Power and Wealth have always had their way. To be sure the fate of an individual life may here and there to a greater extent bow to Nature through the vagaries of the winds or disease with little regard to the general condition of things. But as a people, through tribe or group or nation or alliance, in the halls of religion or ideology or academia, Power and Wealth always hold sway as we operate collectively. Whether this shall forever be the case is impossible to know, but for now, it has always been. Because peace is easier to maintain than war, so Chieftains remain in power by providing the tribal members with Bread and Circuses to placate them and obtain their quiet consent to be ruled. It is only when these means fail that the glove is taken off and the brute force of the hand is used to maintain the structure. Of course, when revolution happens it means just that, the tables are turned around and the tribal members use their strength against their rulers. If it is successful, then the revolution had enough Power to upend the chessboard. And the pieces are reset; the same game resumes with new players.
Within our depths we at times feel discomfort with this “arrangement.” It would appear to be an inexorable law of Nature, yet deep within us we hope for a different story. That hope means something. We want to believe in a hero that fights and wins against the way things are. We want to believe we are more than just pawns in the hands of powerful players. We want to believe that The Ring can be cast back into the fires of Mt. Doom. This is why the story of The Jesus is so meaningful for so many. He comes not from Power or Wealth – just the opposite. Instead, a poor man through good works and miracles reaches those who have been left without hope by the structures of society. His message challenged the powers of his day. Indeed, those with Power or Wealth are so threatened by him that they had him put to death. The central message of the Christian story is that even though Power and Wealth destroy his body, he has the ultimate victory because he did not buy into their story and he used their act of putting him to death to defeat death and offer salvation to the world, especially for the poor and the downtrodden.
We have come a long way since Golgotha. Most of the religion that today we call “Christianity” is not being crucified by Power and Wealth simply because it is fully in its service to maintain the status quo. Not only is it now a pillar of Power and Wealth, not only does it exercise it, but it preaches it to its adherents. God wants to bless you with Power and Wealth. God wants you to use Power and Wealth for His Kingdom. God can work through Power and Wealth. The call is not to be like The Christ; instead, with God’s blessing you, too, can become a Pilate or a Caiaphas. Treachery! Yet, many still want to believe in the original story. Were not the meek to inherit the earth? And what about the merciful? The pure in heart? The peacemakers? Did not God so love the world…? It was Judas, one of his very own, who betrayed The Christ to Power in exchange for Wealth. Who is the Judas now?
All of humanity entered a new Age in 1914. After that year, what it meant to be a human being changed dramatically. Across the board, from governance, to science, to medicine, to technology, to war, to art, to ecology, to human behavior, to thought… fundamental aspects of who we are began to shift. One hundred years have brought the most dramatic changes in all of history. Today, we are still living through the tsunami set in motion by 1914, and we are trying to come to terms with it. But the new Age did not seem to change the fundamental truth. Power and Wealth were not displaced as rulers, we just put different kings on the thrones. Yet, through the horrors that embraced the 20th century we learned something very important. That which is, need not always be. At our evolutionary core we are human creatures that seek a tribal norms that generate qualities both beautiful and horrifying. Power and Wealth in exchange for Bread and Circuses has not changed. But there are some who shine a light that is different. The horrors of World War I unleashed a torrent of art with license to question everything, because everything was unmasked as so unreasonable. And it is – so unreasonable. This stream continues today to refuse to accept that things are just the way they are. It refuses to see the world in the tribal, xenophobic dichotomy of Us vs. Them. There are those trying to push beyond the limits of what we have always accepted.
Many doubt, however; and understandably so. Justin E.H. Smith writes in his article “Blood and Soil: The rise of vindictive nationalism” in the February 2017 edition of Harper’s:
Soft nationalism, defense of the particular against the encroachment of the universal, always threatens to cross over into hard nationalism, ethnic cleansing, persecution, genocide.
It did cross over in Germany. We know that. Heine already knew it, too. “A play will be performed in Germany,” he wrote in 1834, “which will make the French Revolution look like an innocent idyll.” This prophecy came true with the outbreak of World War I, which the bellicose intellectual Ernst Jünger called the “forge in which the world will be hammered into new limits and new communities.” Nietzsche made a similar prophecy, though he spoke in plural: “There will be wars the like of which have never been seen on earth before.”
It has been one hundred years now since the world was reforged by the war to end all wars. But then there was another war, far greater, and the world was reforged again. Those new limits and new communities held together for a while, but now, it seems, Nietzsche’s prophecy is as potent as ever. I, meanwhile, am looking out the window of my room in Leipzig at a crumbling monument to the power of the workers, feeling nothing but dread, as irrationality, ressentiment, and anger engulf the whole damned earth.
While I am in general agreement with his description of the situation, I do not share Mr. Smith’s pessimism. There is another way and we can not see the future. Reforgement sends out sparks that can ignite firestorms beyond our comprehension. Even as we live out our daily lives as extras in a play that is being directed by others, by an unseen hand causing events to unfold before us and sweep us into the vortex, used and exploited, being placated so that others can wield the glory that is themselves, there is something each of us has that remains sacrosanct. There yet remains a story to believe in. There is another truth beyond Power and Wealth and Bread and Circuses. And that is that we will all be dust.
We live. And within each of us is an essence so extraordinary, unique, and powerful; it is not only our complete and whole self, it also is in communion with all of existence. In accord with our conventions, we live a life defining self-worth in terms of how much someone will pay us or how much we own. How much of our selves have we exchanged for disbursements from the treasuries of Wealth enabled through Power? In our preoccupation we forget that no man knows the value of his soul, because no price can be placed on it. Who you are is in your hands. Other values in life, money and possessions, status and power, are nothing but a vapor, a shadow. For this, all of this, is destined to pass away into dust. Now, however, in this moment, you are the animated embodiment of the universe.
It is true that we are born onto a stage of a play that is already in progress and that we will make our departure before the play ends. We do not control this fact and our path is to live out our lives in this setting. But we can decide how we think about it. We are not, in fact, marionettes of the Director. We choose our reactions. We decide what to honor and what to reject. We elect what or whom we will serve. It is easier, of course, not to see that. We seem to think that the formula of Power and Wealth in exchange for Bread and Circuses is the epitome of human life. A revolution of the mind turns this on its head. The way things are exists for the purpose of providing you with the physical means of life and health to discover the essence that flows through you.
You are the animated embodiment of the universe. You are the hero of your story; and you can choose not to be a pawn in the game. Because you can be your self: your radical or conventional self; your conformist or non-comformist self; your religious or non-religious self; your bold or humble self; your art, your music, your dance, your words, your life. The world you find within transforms everything without. A revolution of the soul illuminates the fact that the game of Power and Wealth for Bread and Circuses only works when we are deceived into placing value on the frivolities of this life, to rejoice in the condescension of the scraps that are offered; when the truth is that those things are merely dust.
Do not bow down your soul in submission to the mirage, for it is all you really have. If necessary, bow down your head only to offer it to the sword. For the essence of who you are, your unique embodiment of the universe can never be taken from you or bought, unless you let it. Our lives here will pass, as will the lives of all of those playing the game of Power and Wealth, and we must now choose what has value. For each of us, that choice is wholly our own. We can choose an extraordinary life.
The great native warrior Tecumseh said:
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.
He did just that. We are dust in the wind and therein lies our freedom. For the brief moment that we are here, we can choose to live life not as a servant to the way things are but as a hero preparing to go home.
I close my eyes only for a moment, and the moment’s gone
All my dreams pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind
Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind
Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind … everything is dust in the wind.