We began this series by looking at how, at certain times in the life of civilisations, a ‘perfect storm’ of events overtakes and paralyses the forces of commonly perceived ‘good’ and cohesion; a state established over a long period of time.
We can consider that, in the case of America and the UK, this former consensus is in decline, and the shift of extreme wealth to the few produces a corruption which then erupts with society-changing force in varieties of violence, bringing the ‘age’ to an end… To people deprived of the the wealth and prosperity seen in those controlling the age, this is a good thing. To those of wealth it is a terrible prospect..
I am not a socialist. Having run a software business for over twenty years the aspiration-sapping dogma that often goes with it is not appealing. But the holding of more than ninety percent of a nation’s wealth by less than ten percent of its citizens is indefensible at the ‘state’ level.
No-one can blame an individual for being successful; it is what our commercial world is built on. But a society has to be something beyond this – and it has to be the home of our values. In my opinion, the living concept of society has been in decline since the time of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA.
To the ancient Hindus – who gave us so many of our core ideas of philosophy, this destructive decline was, and is, inevitable. It had to happen before something of new vigour could be born and grow to a restoring maturity.
The world would never be the same, again, of course, but the ‘real’ in mankind had to be given new life, new expression, like the spring brings the new growth of the organic world.
The last living memories are leaving us, but WW1 was such an event. Between 1914 and 1919 the old ‘age’ of Victorian Britain – and its empire – was swept away, as the country gazed on the blood-bathed horror of trench-based mutual destruction across a front line of war.
The U-boats’ successful attacks on American merchant ships was the trigger for the USA to enter the war in April 1917, under President Woodrow Wilson. Faced with this, the German forces, having tried to negotiate directly with the USA, signed a humiliating agreement – the Armistice – in a railway carriage located in the french Forest of Compiègne.
Endings are important. The German diplomats knew they would be hated for their perceived ‘surrender’. They also knew that their country was dying under the strain of military expenditure. President Woodrow Wilson’s entry into the war had tipped the balance and signalled their defeat. Both sides were exhausted in a way that we can barely imagine in our comfortable western world.
The terms imposed upon Germany were savage and punitive. The currency collapsed and there was widespread starvation. We could say that ‘they’ deserved it – many in Britain did, and continued to hate anything German for decades to come.
To me, it is ironic that Germany rose to become the dominant and the most inclusive, politically, as the forerunner of the EU was established after the ruin of WW2.
Matthias Erzberger, the German politician who agreed the terms of the armistice – reluctantly, for he knew how it would end – was murdered three years later by ultra-nationalist thugs from his own country.
In the confines of that forest, on the day of the Armistice, a younger German officer had witnessed his country’s surrender. He took with him a cold determination from that moment of national humiliation.
His name was Adolph Hitler…
Winning is complex; and the hatred generated by winners can be the driving force behind the destruction of an age. In 1938, no-one in Europe could believe that the continent had forgotten the horror of WW1 so thoroughly that another war was looming. But it was, fuelled by the hatred of the defeat and humiliation imposed by the ‘victors’.
There were few victors in the years that followed, as new depths of the human spirit were plumbed. The Nazis focussed their hatred of a target minority (the Jews) into the creation of the concentration camps – their ‘final solution’. Psychopaths – children of hatred – were running Germany, while the millions of ‘good Germans’ stood by in silent horror, terrified of speaking out but watching their country bring about what it hated, most.
Today we face a different war; one in which the natural and shared financial resources of the planet are centre-stage. We have reached the ‘finiteness’ of the Earth. Our intelligence has built machines that destroy as well as they create. The idea of ‘the good’ is paid lip-service, if not ridiculed by common expressions such as ‘do-gooders’.
Power breeds abuse. Abuse creates minorities who hate. Elements of the super-rich can harvest hatred as energy for their own purposes. Another name for this phase of ‘the Shiva cycle’ is fascism; where a minority with ‘differences’ is demonised for their skin colour or their ‘destructive’ religion. In the history of mankind it has been one of the most successful political philosophies.
As Edmund Burke – who was quite a right-wing figure – said: All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.
Usually, it’s not enough – nor in time. Occasionally, the Shiva force is put back in its box…
Is there a spiritual dimension to this? The force that feeds this negativity is hate. As a parent might look at their fighting children and wish upon them the higher perspective of an adult, so we can look at ourselves enmeshed in this cycle and pull ourselves ‘above it’. Without this, there will never be healing.
Other parts in the Faces of Shiva series:
These are my personal views. I respect those of others who may not agree with them. If there is a way through these things we need to share opinions and ideas in a non-polemic way. Currently, hatred reigns. As Stephen Hawking said, “All we have to do it to keep talking”.
If we don’t there may not be a future…
Please free to add your own comments.
Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
Images: The opening montage is by the author. The underlying image of Shiva is from Wikipedia under the licence detailed below.