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Esteemed Reader: December 2008 

Hope of consciousness is strength
Hope of feeling is slavery
Hope of body is disease
—Ashiata Shiemash

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

Since the fateful night of November 4, 2000, these years have felt like living in the darkness of the damned. The outrageous crimes perpetrated against nature and humanity produced the sense of an emerging American Fourth Reich, and collective recognition that the leaders of the free world are the most accomplished criminals and terrorists on the planet.

Now the results of the corporatocracy’s transgressions of the past eight years—the grand finale of a greedy and an unsustainable mode of living—are upon us. We face an eviscerated economy, layers of liberty-quashing legislation, looming environmental disaster, and genocidal wars against people whose only transgression is that they live on top of oil reserves or in the path of proposed pipelines.

But the event of the presidential election was a ray of light. It demonstrated that the impossible is possible, and an ideal can be made real. By all appearances it was a miracle, and inspires hope not just for our world, but for anything we might aspire to achieve for ourselves. The event sheds radiance in the gloom, as though a prayer like Goethe’s last words—“More light!”—has been answered.

Politics and the president-elect’s choices of the same old insiders for important positions aside, the feeling of hope lingers like the smell of fine perfume after its wearer has left the room. It is as though an ember has been lit in our hearts, which we may carry to ignite campfires in our own backyards. But what do we hope for? What do we want?

I’ll speak for myself.

I want to stop participating in a system that makes slaves of both those who fail and those who succeed. I want to discover what has value and leave what is worthless behind. I want a real, living sense of purpose in a community of others who also feel their aim.

Life, and that which leads to more life, has value; which I mean not in the biological sense but in the sense of the fullness of living. We need a culture that values the intelligence within us, not what we can contribute to the GDP or produce as a human resource. We need education that is true to the meaning of the word and draws out what is latent in our young people. We need occupations that engage more than a tiny fraction of a person’s capacity—that don’t fracture but instead make us whole. We need communities where we are interrelated and interconnected socially, culturally and practically. We need to learn to bear one another’s unpleasant manifestations and love our neighbors. We need to eat food that is grown on the farm next door instead of on the next continent. We need to feel the preciousness of everything we have and learn once again to husband our things, to apprehend the work and resources required to make what we use, and to take care.
For our hope to have legs that will carry us into a new world, we need to be willing to sacrifice. Only some voluntary suffering will suffice to prepare us for the changes to come. Sacrifice means to pay in advance—something our debt-laden society is unaccustomed to. Gurdjieff posited that the most difficult thing for a person to sacrifice is his suffering—unnecessary suffering. He meant that we cling to the suffering evoked by our pride, greed, self-love, self-loathing, vanity, lassitude, and laziness because it feels like real life. But it is a distant simulacrum of living. Real life, and really pleasant, useful suffering is possible when unconscious suffering is shed like old skin.

These are my thoughts about hope, and you may take issue, or disagree. But we are all connected in our hope for a more sensible, harmonious world, and it behooves us to ponder this new world. Though we focus on the political issues as they are framed, we know that the fundamental paradigm is flawed, and that there is, in front of humanity, the possibility of paradise on earth, for all.

I remember Dante’s story, and so does poet Dane Cervine, who tells it perfectly:

the simple difference between heaven & hell.
In two rooms, the same large soup bowls,
the same impossibly long-necked spoons—
but in hell, the endless failure of feeding alone;
and in heaven, the ease of dipping each long spoon,
lifting it to your neighbor’s lips, the joy
of being fed in return.


--Jason Stern
  • With a view from the turning point, Jason Stern expresses some hope for the future.


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