We can win this thing and create a healthy, harmonious world, and the work each of us does to help bring this about makes a real difference. The more I observe and learn about human behavior, the more convinced of this I become.
Let me explain.
Every positive change in human behavior is always preceded by an expansion of consciousness. This is true whether you’re talking about positive behavioral changes in an individual or in a collective.
By “expansion of consciousness” I mean an increase in awareness — someone or a group of someones becoming more aware of something than they previously were:
- Someone gaining a new perspective on the forces within themselves which drive them to seek out dysfunctional relationships.
- An addict becoming more conscious of the inner dynamics that compel them to use.
- A victim of abuse realizing that abuse is happening, and that a better life is possible, and that they deserve it.
- A community becoming aware that their clergy have been sexually abusing children.
- The US civil rights movement making Americans more aware of the injustice and destructiveness of racism.
- Increased literacy and a greater ability to distribute the written word giving society a greater hunger for freedom and democracy and less tolerance for overt tyranny.
Conditions don’t get better until the forces which give rise to them are clearly seen and understood. This movement from the darkness of unconsciousness into the light of awareness can create the illusion that things are getting worse, because they turn up so much ugliness.
After the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, his mother made the decision to hold an open-casket funeral to expose the world to the cruelty that black Americans were being subjected to by showing his mutilated body to the public. In that moment it looked like the world was being made more ugly, because an ugliness that had previously gone unseen by many people was being published in papers across the country. But it was later said that “The open-coffin funeral held by Mamie Till Bradley exposed the world to more than her son Emmett Till’s bloated, mutilated body. Her decision focused attention on not only American racism and the barbarism of lynching but also the limitations and vulnerabilities of American democracy.”
Similarly, the dawn of the internet has turned up a tremendous amount of ugliness and cruelty that had previously gone unseen and unknown to most people. This can lead to the mistaken impression that the internet itself is making people more cruel and ugly than they previously were, but it isn’t. It’s just turning up humanity’s longstanding inner demons that had previously functioned solely in the dark.
It looks ugly, it moves in a sloppy, clumsy, two-steps-forward-one-step-back shamble, but human consciousness is undeniably expanding. We’re getting so much better at sharing ideas and information with each other that we’ve arguably changed more as a species in the last thirty years than we did in the previous thirty centuries. We might outwardly look similar to the way we looked in our grandparents’ time, but billions of human brains connected to each other through the internet is something that is wildly unprecedented in the entire history of our species. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
So humanity is indisputably becoming more conscious, as awkward and sloppy as our situation looks right now. We’re becoming more and more aware of the problems our species faces, and our rulers are having to do more and more work to pull the wool over our eyes and keep us marching in a way that is convenient to them.
Police brutality. The abuses of Israeli apartheid. The agony of poverty. The ravages of ecocide. The ways we’ve been deceived and manipulated by the mass media. People are becoming more and more aware of these things than they used to be, because the truth about them is suddenly vastly more visible now than it previously was.
And what’s exciting is that we all have the ability to participate in, and facilitate, this expansion of consciousness. We each have the ability to help humanity become more conscious in our own small way, thereby bringing us that much closer to a positive shift in our collective behavior.
Anything you can do to help make humanity a little more aware of the abusive nature of the systems which drive the problems we now face makes a difference, even if it’s a difference as small as making one single person a little bit more aware of one specific aspect of the tyranny we’re being subjected to. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but it does make a difference. And as long as it makes the slightest bit of difference, it is worth doing, because a lot of slight differences adds up to a massive difference. And there are a whole lot of people who have the ability to do this.
What this means is that we each have the ability to directly and meaningfully participate in the creation of a healthy world, because we are each able to directly and meaningfully advance the only factor that ever leads to positive changes in human behavior. We can do this through the new technologies which have expanded humanity’s ability to share ideas and information like videos, blogs, podcasts, tweets and memes, and we can do this through older means like holding demonstrations, creating art, distributing literature, writing messages on walls, and just having conversations.
Anything you can do to help people become more aware of injustice, abuses, propaganda and tyranny, whether in your own community or in the world, makes a difference. Does this mean you will single-handedly save the day like the protagonist in a Hollywood movie? No. That’s not how real change happens, and it never has been. Real change is the result of sustained efforts of many, many people whose individual actions could never achieve much on their own.
I think the protagonist-driven storytelling models humanity uses in its legends, folk tales, novels and films often plays an unwholesome role in distorting people’s expectations about the efficaciousness of their own individual actions. Those storytelling models are designed to appeal to the human ego, which gets a tremendous amount of energy and attention in this particular slice of spacetime, but they are not accurate representations of the way real change actually happens in real life. In real life, change happens because a great many people put their shoulders up against the change that was needed and shoved in the required direction.
So that’s what we can all do: we can all lean our shoulders into the expansion of human consciousness and shove. Spread awareness of what’s going on in the world, make people more aware that we’re all being deceived and manipulated at mass scale, and help people to see that a better world is possible. The more people open their eyes to what’s happening, the more shoulders there are to help join in our collective shove toward consciousness.
Ultimately what we’re looking at is humanity’s journey toward becoming a conscious species. One that’s no longer driven by unconscious animal impulses and the flailings of illusory egoic constructs in our psyches, and is instead driven by a lucid perception of reality and a desire for the greater good of all beings.
We can all play a role in this achievement, both by expanding our own consciousness as far as it can go by bringing clarity to our own minds, our own worldviews and our own inner processes, and by helping others to become more aware of the world around them. It won’t often unfold in a way that is elegant and linear and egoically pleasing, but it will unfold. And if it unfolds enough, positive change becomes inevitable.
Caitlin’s Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, throwing some money into my tip jar on Patreon, Paypal, or Substack, buying an issue of my monthly zine, and following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. All works co-authored with my husband Tim Foley.
Featured image via Adobe Stock.