Category: The Unbound Spirit

The Bigger Picture

BY SOFO ARCHON

It’s been over two years since the start of the pandemic, and people are still talking about vaccines, masks and antiseptics.
But who’s talking about poverty, malnutrition, stress, pollution and environmental destruction?
Where are the trillions of dollars spent to resolving those problems that are at the core of our public health crisis?

You see, our priorities are upside down.
We deal with symptoms, but not their causes.
We focus on control, but not understanding.
We fight disease, but don’t cultivate health.
We see parts, but we’ve neglected the whole.

Our myopic attention prevents us from seeing the bigger picture.
And please don’t get me wrong.
I’m not saying don’t get vaccinated, don’t wear masks or don’t use antiseptics.
What I’m saying is simply this:
Let’s not pretend that such actions are going to fix our civilization’s health crisis.

The enemy is neither the virus nor the unvaccinated.
The enemy, so to speak, is a system of thought and the social structures that arise from it.
But this enemy is unlike those in movies:
He won’t be defeated by fighting against him, but by understanding him, as well as changing the conditions that gave birth to him.

Disease doesn’t occur in isolation of the environment it appears in.
Disease is an expression of disharmony between parts embedded in a web of relationships.
Disturb that web, and disease arises.
Bring harmony back to it, and disease disappears.

We cannot disturb the planetary ecosystem and expect not to harm ourselves.
We cannot keep the entire human species under chronic stress and expect that it can cope with illness.
We cannot poison the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, and expect that we won’t get sick.

The health crisis is nothing but a result of a cultural crisis, which is a reflection of a consciousness crisis.
Hence, unless we see it for what it is and deal with it from its root source, it won’t go away.

The Wisdom of Anger: From Suppression to Liberation

BY SOFO ARCHON

Go back to your childhood. Can you still remember those moments you were boiling with anger, yet were afraid to express it? Those moments you wanted to jump and scream, yet you shut up and sat down instead? Those moments your heart was about to explode, yet you painted a fake smile over your face and pretended that everything is okay? Or have you squeezed them so deep into the dark alleys of your psyche that you can’t bring them to your conscious awareness anymore?

That anger you suppressed was your very spirit urging you to rebel against anyone or anything that was hurting you, be it your parent, sibling, friend, church or school. But you did not follow its impulse. Like everyone did at times as a child, and most still do regularly as adults.

Anger is perhaps the most misunderstood emotion. It’s usually called “negative” in so-called spiritual circles, and is often equated with rage and hate. But in reality, anger — just like any of our basic emotions — isn’t negative in itself. Rather, it’s there for a very important reason: to help us live a better life. More specifically, it’s there to help us remove what’s obstructing our way to joy and freedom. And it does so by drawing our attention to what our needs are, what’s preventing us from meeting them, and what corrective actions we can take in order to meet them.

A great analogy for anger that I’ve heard is that of a warning light on a car’s dashboard: it’s there to show us that something is wrong or could go wrong unless we promptly attend to it. If, however, we choose not to pay attention to it, or stick tape all over it to stop seeing it, that doesn’t mean it’s gone or that we’ve avoided the problem it points to. It only means that we’ll likely not end up to our desired destination, and perhaps experience serious trouble on our journey.

Imagine someone forced you to do something against your will. If you’re like every other person, you’ll naturally feel anger, for who is oppressed by someone else and doesn’t feel angry about it? Now, in response to that situation, you might want to express your anger in an effort to stop being oppressed. That could simply mean giving voice to your feelings, as well as requesting the other person to stop trying to impose their will on you, and, lastly, distancing yourself from them (assuming that this is possible) if they don’t respect your request.

Admittedly, the above example is simplistic, but it does the job of illustrating the purpose of anger: pointing out our unmet needs, and urging us to find ways to meet them. It also illustrates what a healthy way of expressing our anger looks like: no judging or fighting — just being open about our feelings and needs. Sadly, most people don’t deal with anger like that, and understandably so, considering their unhealed emotional wounds and unconscious social conditioning.

As children, most of us learned to suppress our emotions, especially our anger. The reason was two-fold: firstly, to protect ourselves and our loved ones from possible abuse — whether physical, sexual or emotional — caused by people we didn’t know a better way to deal with, and, secondly, to feel accepted by the individuals and social groups that meant the most to us. That’s because we found out early on that expressing our anger was often met with pain — whether in the form of violence, judgment, ridicule, neglect or abandonment. To avoid experiencing further suffering, we learned to wear a personality mask that hides our anger and pretend that things are alright, when they clearly aren’t. In addition, we learned to numb ourselves to our anger in order to avoid coming in touch with the unhealed emotional wounds associated with it. And whether we realize it or not, many of us still live this way, even if it’s not serving us anymore. Rather, it does the exact opposite: keeping us stuck in an unresolved emotional state and the constant stress generated by it.

Contrary to what we might think, suppressing our anger never makes it go away. It still lies deep within us, hidden yet present, ready to erupt at any moment we lose our self-control — moments such as when “we’ve had enough” or are under the influence of alcohol. That eruption is what has been termed rage, which is nothing but the result of long-term suppressed anger. As we saw earlier, anger can actually be gentle and kind, but when it turns into rage, it becomes violent. Then the repressed, dark side of ourselves manifests into our consciousness and the world, bursting like a volcano and burning everyone it meets along its way. This is why anger has gotten such a bad rap: because it’s being confused with rage — an unhealthy, perverted expression of anger.

Another common problem with anger is that, when filtered through judgment, it can quickly be diverted to hate. For example, when we view someone who has wronged us — whether personally or collectively — as bad or evil, we might start hating them and desire to hurt them back. While anger urges us to understand and change the conditions that hurt us, hate turns our healthy desire for change into toxic energy and throws it at some external “enemy” — a former best friend, a politician, a journalist, the wealthy elite, the “illuminati” and so on. But, as it’s often the case, that enemy is in reality nothing but a symptom of a deeper cause, which hate doesn’t allow us to see. Instead, it locks us in its limited perspective and has us wage a war, which, even if we win, doesn’t bring us healing — on the contrary, it usually intensifies our suffering, and in turn, our anger and judgment, thus entrapping us in a vicious circle of hate. To avoid misunderstanding, I’m not suggesting here that we should ever tolerate abusive behavior — we shouldn’t — but unless we understand the conditions — psychological, social, political, economic, etc. — that give rise to it, our efforts to fight it are going to be fruitless and most likely counterproductive.

Anger is a wise friend — not an enemy — whose purpose is to help us discover greater joy and freedom. But we need to be extra careful with how we use it, so we don’t make the mistake of channeling it into hate. And when we experience hate, within our psyche or in the outside world, we need to remind ourselves that unresolved anger is hiding beneath it, and unmet needs beneath the anger. Then, instead of suppressing anger or lashing it out, we’ll want to pay close attention to its wisdom and let it guide us out of what’s hurting our — or others’ — well-being.

The Mask of Hypocrisy

BY SOFO ARCHON

hypocricy

I have a basic principle in life: to speak the truth, and embody the truth that I’m speaking. And yet, sometimes I’m called a hypocrite.

When I write about ending the ongoing pillage of the Earth, some people call me a hypocrite because I use a smartphone and a computer. When I write about ending world hunger, some people call me a hypocrite because I don’t donate most of my money and possessions to the poor. When I write about ending racism or sexism, some people call me a hypocrite because I do it from the position of a privileged white male.

Such claims don’t affect me, for I know in my heart that I want to see the end of all the above, and that I do what I feel is right for helping to achieve that. But I find a serious problem with the dismissing attitude behind those claims, which is that it’s not only discouraging social change, but it’s also myopic in its understanding of the nature, complexity and depth of the crises that we as a civilization are faced with.

As I’ve written time and time again, we’re all immersed in a sick culture with toxic values, institutions and systems. And, whether we admit it or not, everyone is (more or less) bound to this culture, and hence to its sickness. For example, in this culture, to some extent we all need to be competitive and destructive. Would you call someone a hypocrite for wanting peace and unity, yet who’s participating in our global economy, which is inherently anti-social? Would you call someone a hypocrite for being against environmental pollution, yet who’s commuting to his working place nearly every day using an automobile? Lastly, would you call someone a hypocrite for advocating against sexism and racism, yet who’s working in a sweatshop run by a corporation which profits from the mass exploitation of women and people of color?

Back in 2012, I was in search of a job, and after much effort, the only job I could land was that of a video editor for a corporate TV channel. Part of my job was to edit commercials, as well as videos that would play in the news. I hated that job, for I despised both manipulative advertising and the propaganda machine that the mainstream TV is. Yet, I had to somehow earn a living, and couldn’t find a better alternative at the time. Many of my colleagues were in a similar situation. Does that mean we were hypocrites, who secretly wanted to support corporate television?

If the above are examples of hypocrisy, then every activist, social critic or anti-establishment individual is a hypocrite, simply because of being those things! But when the word “hypocrite” is used in this manner, its meaning becomes distorted, muddening the waters of communication. To clear them, it would be helpful to remind ourselves of its meaning, as well as its origin. According to Merriam-Webster,

“The word hypocrite ultimately came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means “an actor” or “a stage player.” The Greek word itself is a compound noun: it’s made up of two Greek words that literally translate as “an interpreter from underneath.” That bizarre compound makes more sense when you know that the actors in ancient Greek theater wore large masks to mark which character they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

The Greek word took on an extended meaning to refer to any person who was wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone or something they were not. This sense was taken into medieval French and then into English, where it showed up with its earlier spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to someone who pretends to be morally good or pious in order to deceive others. (Hypocrite gained its initial h- by the 16th century.)”

A hypocrite, therefore, is someone phoney, someone who’s wearing a personality mask to show off a fake image of themselves. And there are certainly plenty of people among us who act like that. In fact, I’d argue that we all act hypocritically at times (myself included, despite my basic life principle of life that I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article), for occasionally we all hide ourselves under the veil of pretence.

If we want to live in an open, honest and high-trust society, it’s important to point hypocrisy out as soon as we detect it — especially when it comes from those sitting in positions of political power — for openness, honesty and trust never go hand-in-hand with lying and deception. Before doing so, however, we need to be extra careful to discern hypocritical behavior from non-hypocritical one. Otherwise, we’d be making the mistake of blaming honest people for being dishonest. If, let’s say, we call someone a hypocrite merely for engaging in the toxic system/society/culture that they want to change (as in the examples I gave above), this would not only be a mischaracterization of who they are (for they have to engage in it, at least in part), but also counterproductive to their efforts. Such people need social acceptance, encouragement and support to be effective agents of change, not to feel blamed and shamed for not being able to do better.

Once we’ve detected someone’s hypocritical behavior and feel the urge to point it out to them or others, it’s important to be clear about what our intentions are. Do they come from a place of love and compassion, or judgment and blame? People who’re chronic hypocrites are for the most part deeply hurt individuals who’ve learned to navigate through life by constant use of lies and deception. Hypocrisy is an emotional defense mechanism they have adopted to protect themselves from experiencing further pain. Think of the times you’ve been dishonest or pretentious in your life. I bet in most cases you felt afraid, right? Behind our hypocrisy usually lies a great fear: the fear of vulnerability. When we open ourselves up to others and let them see our true colors, we become vulnerable, for we expose our weaknesses (along with our strengths), which others might ridicule, condemn or use against us. If, therefore, we want to see people being more honest, we need to create a space of trust, love and care — a space that makes them feel embraced with their flaws and imperfections, even while we’re pointing out their hypocrisy. Otherwise, we run the risk of achieving the opposite of what we want: causing more fear within them, and thus intensifying their emotional need to stay hidden behind the mask of hypocrisy.

Now, you might argue that not everyone pretends out of fear; there are some people who do so in order to gain social status, financial wealth, political dominance and so on, and who therefore deserve neither our love nor our compassion. Rather, they deserve our hate and contempt. They are people who should be shamed and punished! A popular example of such people is politicians (when you hear of the word hypocrite, what comes first to your mind? To mine, it’s always politicians). In this case, I’d say that politicians pretend mainly out of fear too: the fear of being small, insignificant, insecure, powerless. For why else would they strive to gain so much fame, money and power? It’s because of a dreadening emotional void that they are trying to fill, not realizing that they are using the wrong means. (Of course, not every politician has such aims — there are a few ones who don’t, and prioritize the well-being of the world over the satisfaction of their ego, but that’s not the general case.)

To better understand hypocrisy, we also need to look into the social conditions that give rise to it. Otherwise, we might try to deal with it on a symptoms-level, without addressing its root causes. For instance, we might fight against politicians in order to remove them from their positions of power, only to soon see others ones taking their place. What if the entire political game as we know today is based on hypocrisy? What if it incentivizes hypocrisy and rewards those who are best at being hypocrites? If that’s the case (which is, for obvious reasons that I won’t bother mentioning), then hypocritical politicians are just a natural outgrowth of a hypocritical political system. The same logic can be applied to all the other systems and institutions that exist in our society. Take the economic system, for example, wherein the businesses that are better at deception (through advertising and other means) earn the highest profits. Or take the school system, where students are coerced to act in certain ways in order to be rewarded — and not punished — by grades.

Hell, our entire civilization is built on a hypocrisy — the hypocrisy of so-called progress. We see ourselves as the masters of nature, who, through technology and culture, have managed to rise above and beyond the rest of life. We think of ourselves as the most benign and intelligent species on Earth (we’ve even named ourselves, Homo Sapiens, the wise man!), yet no other species is nearly as competitive, acquisitive, and violent as ourselves. But we don’t want to hear this truth, lest it disturbs our comforting illusions. So, we suppress it deep within the unconscious of our collective psyche. As a result, we raise our children in the hypocrisy we call normalcy, thus perpetuating our belief in our superiority.

To some extent, we were all conditioned as children to behave in certain ways in order to be considered “good” boys and girls, to be accepted and validated by our culture, to become “civilized.” Which brings me to the last point that I want to make: Often, we’re too quick to point fingers at the hypocrites around us, to blame them, to accuse them, to judge them, and perhaps the reason for doing so is to distract ourselves from our own hypocrisy that we are not willing to admit. As it’s usually the case, instead of facing our inner demons, we project them on other people, who then become our external enemies. That makes us feel relieved, at least temporarily, for it pulls our attention away from the “enemy” within.

The hypocrisy that we experience in the outside world is nothing but the expression and reflection of the collective hypocrisy we’re immersed in. Therefore, to effectively deal with it, we need to look inside us and heal it from its very source. At the same time, we need to create space for others to heal too, as well as to redesign our social structures so that they don’t systemically produce hypocrisy, as they are doing today. Then, we won’t cling on to our masks anymore. Rather, we’ll want to remove them from our faces, and expose our naked selves under the radiating sun — the sun of truth and honesty. And then, after a long long time, the warm presence of trust, intimacy, love and belonging will at last be felt again.

A Single Species is Destroying All the Rest. It’s Time to Stop this Madness.

BY SOFO ARCHON

biodiversity-loss-painting

Let’s talk about “biodiversity loss”. Or should I say the “mass extinction of non-human species”? For what is biodiversity loss other than a euphemism that means exactly this?

Well, if you want to be more technical, here is a definition by Britannica:

“Biodiversity loss, also called loss of biodiversity, [is] a decrease in biodiversity within a species, an ecosystem, a given geographic area, or Earth as a whole.”

If you didn’t know already, the world’s biodiversity – that is, the variety of life on Earth, in all forms and at every level, from genes to microbes to humans and all other species – has been reduced dramatically over the last couple of centuries. And that is mainly because of… humans.

The current rate of extinction of animals and plants is estimated to be up to 1,000 times greater than it was before 1800, when, through industrialization and the rapid advancement of technology, humans began to exert much greater control over the world. And as human population grows to 10 billion and more cultures across the globe adopt the ethic of economic growth and consumerism, the human-caused destruction of life on Earth is only getting worse.

But how exactly are humans driving biodiversity loss? Let’s find out.

The Many Causes of Biodiversity Loss

One of the main causes of biodiversity loss is habitat destruction. According to the IUCN’s Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are over 40,000 species threatened with extinction, mostly due to the destruction of habitats they depend on (in fact, according to a report, one million species will likely be pushed to extinction in the next few years).

That destruction can be caused by natural phenomena, such as flood and fire, but it’s mostly caused by human activity — including mining, logging, trawling and urban sprawl. But the most significant such activity is deforestation, with around half of the world’s original forests now cleared, mainly for agricultural use. To understand the level of destruction taking place, picture 30 football fields (or, if you’re from the US, soccer fields) of forest being cut down every single minute. That’s crazy, isn’t it?

Biodiversity is also threatened through pollution, particularly air and water pollution. For example, burning fossil fuels creates acidic rain, by releasing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, thus causing water and soil acidification, which negatively affects the biodiversity of our planet’s ecosystems. Other than polluting, of course, burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses that are warming our planet, which, among other things, causes soil erosion, desertification, the melting of ice caps, flooding, and extreme weather patterns, which are all immensely detrimental to the Earth’s biodiversity.

Another example of pollution-induced biodiversity loss is the sewage and chemicals that run off into water from agricultural land. Currently, humans are breeding and raising over 60 billion land animals each year, most of which are crammed in small spaces. As you can imagine, the pile of excrement of this unbelievably big number of animals is poisoning the land life around them, as well as the marine life where it sooner or later ends up in. The same is true of the antibiotics and other chemicals that are given to farmed animals in order to protect them from disease that is otherwise extremely likely to develop due to the horrible conditions they are forced to live in.

Humans are also driving biodiversity loss through “overharvesting” – or, in my words, “the mass murder of non-human life” – whether by hunting or fishing. Fishing, in particular, is responsible for the death of more than a trillion marine animals each year. Now, that isn’t bad just for those animals, but also for the entire marine ecosystems they are embedded in, since in an ecosystem, all life is interrelated and interdependent. For example, overfishing can damage coral reefs and remove essential predators, both of which mean potentially fatal effects for the oceans.

I’ll briefly mention two other significant ways humans are bringing animals and plants into extinction. The first is habitat fragmentation – that is, the breaking up of natural habitats – through activities such as dam building, which, among other things, reduces the amount of suitable habitat available for organisms. The second is the introduction (whether intentional or accidental) of so-called “invasive” species who can upset the balance of ecosystems, such as by carrying disease, or eating up entire populations of native species or the resources those depend on.

Now that we’ve looked at the most important ways biodiversity loss is being caused, let’s see why it’s such an important issue.

Why is Biodiversity Important Anyway?

Our planet is a complex system that took billions of years of evolution to reach its current state of complexity. Now, the more complex, and hence diverse, a living system is, the more healthy and resilient it tends to be. Therefore, when a living system becomes less diverse, both its health and resilience are compromised.

Here’s an analogy of the human body to illustrate what I mean. Your body is a complex, integrated system whose parts are working synergistically to maintain homeostasis and other processes necessary for keeping yourself alive and healthy. If a vital part of your body — let’s say, an organ like a lung — is harmed, then the health of your entire body is compromised. Just like your body, the Earth is a living organism comprised of organs and tissues whose condition plays a vital role in the health of the entire planet. Those include the soil, forests, coral reefs, wetlands, fish, whales, and elephants (I could offer several examples of how they all contribute to a healthy biosphere, but I won’t to keep the article shorter. A quick online search, however, would show you plenty of them). By degrading or destroying the above, therefore, we’re compromising the health of our planet. And the unhealthier it becomes, the more unable it is to recover, for the processes necessary for doing that have been interrupted.

Now, perhaps needless to say, every living being on Earth — ourselves included — totally depends on its environment. Hence, by harming nature, we’re harming ourselves and all life on Earth. So, if we want to live in a vibrant, healthy, thriving Earth, we need to stop stripping away its biodiversity. On the contrary, we need to help increase it. By doing so, not only will we live on a healthier planet, but also on a more beautiful one, for it’s the biodiversity that enriches life with animals, plants, landscapes that make the world the wonderful place that it is.

The Big Question

The big questions is: What can we do to stop driving biodiversity loss?

Obviously, we need to stop engaging in the activities that cause it. That means, we need to stop using up resources faster than the Earth can replenish them, we need to stop burning fossil fuels, we need to stop releasing toxic chemicals into the land, air and sea, and we need to stop farming animals – among other things. But, of course, that’s not a simple thing to do. And there are three main reasons for that:

Firstly, because, as paradoxical as it sounds, we need to keep destroying the planet if we want to survive in our economic system – a system that depends on infinite growth and consumption. In this system, most of us have to engage in anti-environmental behavior, such manufacturing, selling or promoting unsustainable products in order to earn a living, although earning a living this way is eventually going to kill all humanity.

Secondly, it’s hard to stop our ecocidal behavior because we’ve been conditioned since we were little kids to see ourselves as consumers whose primary purpose in life is to buy stuff. Products, we fervently believe, is what makes life rich, not realizing that we’re trying to enrich our lives by destroying the very planet we depend on and are inseparable from.

Thirdly, and in my view, most importantly, we keep on harming our planet because we don’t feel intimately connected to it. Being enclosed in man-made boxes (houses, cars, offices, etc.) and jungles of concrete for most of our lives, we have been psychologically distanced from the Earth. Hence, instead of seeing her as a sacred, living being worthy of love and reverence, we only see an inanimate bunch of resources to control and exploit. No wonder we care so little about the destruction and suffering we’re imposing upon her.

To stop causing biodiversity loss, therefore, it’s of utmost importance that we start feeling connected to our planet. And the best way this can be achieved is by immersing ourselves in nature and inspiring others to do the same. By doing so, we’ll not only discover the immense beauty, complexity and intelligence of nature, but we’ll also come to see and feel the amount of destruction and suffering we as a global civilization have been causing to it. So, whenever you can, go spend some time in the wild (or in the park or field closest to you, if the wild isn’t easily available), and if possible invite others to join you. Also, when you find the opportunity, share with others written, visual and auditory content that inspires love and stewardship toward the Earth, whether in person or through social and other forms of communication media.

Once we feel connected to nature, we’ll naturally see a shift in our values. For example, we’ll not value anymore overconsumption over the destruction of the Earth. With our values changed, our behavior will change as well, for it is largely an embodiment of our values. Then, instead of destroying our wonderful planet, we’ll want to engage in activities that have a positive impact on it. Such activities include reforestation, regenerative plant-based agriculture, as well as eco-friendly product and city design.

But then we’ll also want to radically transform the economic system we live in, realizing that it’s antithetical to the activities just mentioned. Instead of a growth-based economy, we’ll design a steady-state one that is aligned with – and not against – the natural world. Personal change is important, but even more important is collective change, and true, lasting collective change can take place only once our economic system – the very foundation of our, and any other, society – changes as well.

Social Media is Not Connecting People. It’s Dividing Them.

BY SOFO ARCHON

social media society

Image: Pawel Kuczynski

Social media is supposed to bring us together, to connect us with each other. Hence, we call it social media. But does it really bring us together? Or does it maybe bring us further apart?

Most of us, if not all, love to connect with other people. We love to have others to share our thoughts, emotions and experiences with, to feel part of a community, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves. And that sense of connection and belonging is contributing greatly to our happiness and well-being.

Those among us who have been lonely for a long time know well how bad it feels to have no one in life, to feel disconnected and alienated. I used to be one of them, luckily only for a short while. Perhaps you were or still are one of them too.

Research shows that those who are lonely tend to be more stressed, and hence unhealthier than those who feel connected, both physically and mentally. Lonely people have a much higher risk of developing a wide array of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, respiratory conditions, depression, anxiety, and the list goes on and on. A study found that loneliness affects people as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And another study found that people who are chronically lonely are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.

This is how lethal loneliness is. Yet sadly, over the past few decades, people have become increasingly disconnected from each other. Currently, about half of US citizens feel lonely and isolated. And the problem is similar in many other countries around the world.

Interestingly, at the turn of the 21st century – perhaps at the peak of humanity’s social disconnection – social media suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and it made a big promise. It promised that it would break the walls between people and allow humanity to come together. It promised that it would bring us closer to old friends and family members we had lost touch with. It promised that it would enable us to easily meet interesting people from nearly every part of the world. It even promised us intimacy and love.

And guess what? This promise resonated with hundreds of millions of people. Being thirsty for connection, they believed that social media is exactly what they were hoping for. So, they jumped into it without second thought.

At the beginning, social media seemed great, but over the years it became crystal clear to many that it failed to offer most of what it had promised. Instead of connecting people, it was actually separating them. Even worse, it was bringing them against each other. So, what could have gone wrong?

There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, people started to spend more time on social media, which means that they had less opportunity to go out of their homes and meet people in person. Yes, on social media people might communicate with others via text and image, but true, intimate connection is missing from it. No text message or emoticon can replace the feeling of being in the same physical space with someone else, looking into their eyes, feeling their touch, sensing their presence. Yet social media still does provide some solace to those with lonely hearts, which is what keeps them returning to it. It provides a substitute, which, although never enough, it temporarily soothes their pain.

The second main reason why social media separates people is that it breeds polarization. Most people don’t realize it, but the truth is that today’s popular social media platforms are profit-making machines, who’re earning tens of billions of dollars in ad revenue from essentially selling people’s attention. And to sell more of it, they have to be designed in such a way to keep people engaged in them.

So, what’s one of the best ways to increase engagement? Playing with people’s emotions, such as by promoting polarizing content that divides people in opposing groups who fight endlessly in comment sections. Something that the big social media platforms are doing very well. Which makes one wonder: Is social media “social” or actually “anti-social”?

To make things worse, most social media platforms filter what they show to their users, according to each user’s behavior. So, if, let’s say, the algorithm detects that you have a certain political affiliation, it will show you as much content related to it, preventing you from being exposed to different political ideologies or groups of people affiliated with them. As a result, social media creates an informational echo chamber that further alienates people from each other.

Having said the above, I want to make it clear that I’m not against social media per se. I might not like social media as it exists today, but I don’t think that it’s inherently bad. In fact, I like many aspects of it, and believe that it could play a big positive role in the evolution of humankind.

The problem that I find with social media is how its platforms are set up, and what people want to get out of it. Social media could be an immensely powerful tool in bringing people together, but it will always let us down if we think that it can substitute intimate, in-person physical relationships. Social media could also enable people to engage in a free flow of information sharing, if social media platforms were designed for the benefit of its users, and not with the end goal of profit-making.

Then, a revolution in consciousness would likely begin. But for that to happen, our values need to change. Social media technology as it exists and is commonly used today is nothing but a reflection of our collective values, and unless those change, social media won’t change either.

41% of US Kids Think Bacon Comes from Plants. What Does this Reveal about Our Society?

BY SOFO ARCHON

Does bacon come from animals or plants?

This is one of the questions kids from the US were asked in a recent study. And the results are very disappointing: Believe it or not, over 30% of kids answered that bacon — among other foods, including hot dogs, shrimp, cheese and eggs — comes from plants!

So, what exactly does this reveal about our society? Which the video below to find out.

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How to Disagree Without Fighting

BY SOFO ARCHON

Do you often find yourself fighting with others over something you disagree with?

I used to do that, but over the years I have come upon some realizations that helped me to express my disagreements without engaging in fighting.

In the following video, I’m sharing my most important such realization, in hopes that it will help you as well.

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People-Pleasing: A Trauma Response, and How to Stop It

BY SOFO ARCHON

People pleasing

Just the other day I saw an interesting meme. It showed a young man building a cage around himself. And on top of it, the following was written:

The expectations of others were the bars I used for my own cage.

The meme reminded me of a situation many people — perhaps yourself included — find themselves in: trying to please others, while harming themselves in the process.

There’s a term to describe that kind of behavior: it’s called people-pleasing, and it usually starts in our early childhood.

Where People-Pleasing Comes From

When we were children, we had certain needs, primarily to be protected and provided for. But sadly, many of us grew up in an unsafe, unstable or abusive environment that made us experience a lot of stress and suffering.

To create a safer environment, we learned to please the people closest to us, such as our parents and siblings. Therefore, people-pleasing can be seen as a trauma response, an adaptive coping mechanism that serves a tremendously important reason: to help us deal with situations our well-being or even survival depends on.

But here’s the problem: even now as adults many of us still unconsciously engage in this behavioral pattern, when we don’t really need to. People-pleasing has become our second nature, and, whether we realize it or not, it is negatively affecting our lives.

The Most Common Habits of People Pleasers

Before we see what the negative effects of people-pleasing are, let’s first have a look at some common behavioral and psychological habits of people pleasers:

  • Saying “yes” when they want to say “no”
  • Apologizing for things they’re not responsible for
  • Suppressing anger, sadness or other “negative” emotions
  • Not expressing their genuine thoughts
  • Being constantly concerned about what others think of them
  • Trying to help others, even if those don’t ask for help
  • Feeling hurt when someone criticizes something they said or did
  • Being afraid of making a fool of themselves
  • Flattering others, even those they dislike
  • Avoiding disagreement and conflict
  • Wanting to appear perfect
  • Being hyper vigilant of other people
  • Doing favors for others, although they don’t want to
  • Not distancing themselves from certain people, even if they are abused by them
  • Feeling unworthy of love and respect
  • Believing that others know better than them
  • Letting others tell them how they ought to live
  • Showing compassion to others, but not to themselves

Now let’s turn our attention to how people-pleasing is affecting our lives.

The Negative Effects of People-Pleasing

The effects of people-pleasing can be seriously detrimental to ourselves, our relationships and the world around us. Below are the most important ones:

Stress, anxiety, fatigue and illness. To keep others satisfied, people pleasers emotionally suppress themselves quite a lot. They might want to cry in sadness or scream in anger, but they instead wear a fake smile to avoid conflict. They might want to sit quiet and relax, but they instead carry out tasks given to them by others. They might want to say “no” and step away from a relationship, but they instead choose to comply and stay with someone who’s abusing them. As a result of this ongoing emotional suppression, people pleasers experience chronic stress, which can lead to fatigue as well as mental and physical illnesses. In addition, because people pleasers are fixated on controlling people and situations, they tend to experience a lot of anxiety, as well as disappointment when things don’t turn out the way they wish.

Resentment and regret. When we don’t follow our gut, reject our inner voice, outsource our knowing or do things that are not in alignment with our needs and core values in order to please others, we’re dismissing our feelings and emotions, and therefore we’re, in a sense, betraying ourselves. In addition, when we’re constantly trying to please others, we usually end up finding that they take us for granted, which can make us feel unappreciated. Hence, we might end up experiencing resentment, and eventually regrets for not having spent our lives the way we wanted to.

Dysfunctional relationships. Although all that people pleasers want is to improve their relationships, in reality they’re unconsciously messing them up. There are several reasons for that, one of them being their dishonest behavior. If you think about it, people pleasers are, in a sense, liars, for they are pretending to be someone they are not. Of course, they don’t lie out of malicious intent, but in order to protect themselves. They are like chameleons, changing their appearance to adapt to their environment, hence nobody gets to know their true colors — at least, at the beginning of a relationship. This often results in communication problems, and once the truth surfaces, it can lead to serious interpersonal conflict. Another reason why people pleasers end up finding themselves in messed up relationships is that, due to their lack of assertiveness and weak interpersonal boundaries, they tend to attract narcissists and bullies into their lives. But because of the manipulative tactics of the latter, they might still feel accepted, loved and wanted, which is often what keeps them stuck in toxic relationships.

Lack of joy, freedom, meaning and purpose. People pleasers are living in a mental cage that prevents them from expressing their authenticity. They find it extremely hard to let go, enjoy themselves, pursue their dreams, or just speak out their mind and heart, for they are constantly concerned about what others think of them. As a result, they feel that their lives lack joy, freedom, meaning and purpose. Because of that, they tend to experience a sense of emptiness within, which they often mistakenly try to fill by pleasing others instead of taking care of their own needs.

Political obedience and conformity. Though often neglected by psychologists when talking about the negative effects of people-pleasing, this is another point worth mentioning. People pleasers tend to comply with sociopolitical systems, even if those are oppressing them and their fellow humans, or are destroying society and the planet. That’s because people pleasers are often scared to publicly question political authority, raise their voice against it, or move to the opposite direction of the masses. Instead, they are usually passive, conforming, doing as they are told, perhaps secretly waiting for some religious or political figure to save them — thus allowing injustices to continue, although they know well in their hearts that those are wrong and ought to be stopped.

How to Stop People-Pleasing

If you’ve found yourself to be people-pleasing often, and you’re wondering how to stop it, the following guide might come in handy.

  1. Become conscious of your behavior. The first and most important step to stop people-pleasing is to become aware that you’re engaging in it. To deal with a problem, we first need to become conscious of it, and the same holds true about people-pleasing.
  2. Don’t blame or judge yourself. To some extent, everyone tries to please others, and there’s no need to feel ashamed, guilty or bad about it, considering the reasons why you’re doing it. As we’ve seen, people-pleasing is a coping mechanism that was formed to keep you safe, so be grateful for all the help it has offered you.
  3. Listen to your internal guidance. Everyone has a gut feeling that informs them of what feels right and wrong at each moment. To better connect with it, spend regular time with yourself and pay close attention to your inner world — that is, your thoughts, emotions and feelings. This will help you to discern what your true needs and wants are, which is a prerequisite for communicating them to others.
  4. Respond, don’t react. People pleasers often react out of habit, saying and doing things they don’t really want to. To break that habit, you need to learn to pause, reflect on your needs, and repond according to each situation. For example, if someone asks you to do them a favor, take a few moments to consider if you want to or not, instead of immediately saying “yes” out of habit. And if you’re still unsure about it, let them know, and perhaps tell them that you’ll answer at a later time when you’ve made up your mind.
  5. Practice honesty. The primary purpose of communication is connection, and that connection depends on how much we are willing to open up and express ourselves. When we lie or don’t genuinely communicate our thoughts and feelings, others can’t get to truly know us. We might try to please them out of fear of rejection or desire for validation, and they might like us because of that, but in reality they don’t like us — they just like the mask we’re wearing. Hence, our relationships remain fake and skin-deep. So, I’d like to ask you: Do you want people to like you for someone you’re not? Wouldn’t it be better if you could connect with people who like and accept you as you are? By realizing the importance of honesty in forming genuine, intimate relationships, you’ll start opening up more to others, and see your relationships becoming much more satisfying.
  6. Set your boundaries. In a healthy relationship, we open up our hearts to include another as part of ourselves. That, however, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be setting any interpersonal boundaries whatsoever. In fact, for a relationship to work out, placing some strong boundaries are not only helpful, but necessary, for they inform others of what our needs and wants are. They also inform them that we won’t tolerate certain behaviors, so it becomes much more difficult to fall victim to abuse and manipulation. To set your boundaries, you need to clearly express them, both at the beginning of a relationship and later on as it evolves and your needs and wants change. A few examples include telling someone to stop lying to you, or to be on time when you have an appointment with them, or to not play music aloud while you’re resting. And if they continue the same behavior, they should be made aware that there will be consequences, such as you disengaging from the relationship.

I hope you found the above guide helpful. Needless to say, to stop people-pleasing can be imnmensely difficult, for it requires breaking down long-held mental and behavioral patterns. But through introspection, self-compassion and the cultivation of honesty, it can definitely be stopped, or at least minimized.

The Trap of Money (and How to Escape It)

BY SOFO ARCHON

Artwork: Zoe Elizabeth Norman & Kitty Forster

It is common for “spiritual” teachers and self-help coaches to state that money is “just neutral energy” whose effects — whether positive or negative — depend on how we use it. Money itself, they claim, is not inherently evil, but can be used for evil purposes when it falls in the hands of evil people. When used by good people, however, it can be nothing but a great vehicle for turning the world into a better place.

My take on money is different: although I agree that it’s not inherently evil, I don’t see it as neutral energy — at least not as it exists today. Yes, money can take positive or negative energy depending on how we use it, but how we use it fundamentally depends on the monetary system it is generated by and the wider economic system it exists in. And in the economic system that we have today, money is mostly a vehicle of destruction and suffering — not simply because of how some “evil” people choose to use it, but because of the conditions and incentives the economic system creates by its very design.

To understand what I mean, let’s consider how money is created: as interest-bearing debt. That’s because, when money is created, it is given out to people as loans with interest attached to it, which they have to pay off (or else lose their homes or/and other assets). Therefore, the amount of debt that exists in the world exceeds the amount of money in circulation (for the interest doesn’t exist in the money supply) — a condition that forces people to compete with each other in order to survive. And in that competitive game for survival, inevitably some people win while others lose (in fact, most people are on the side of losers, and only a few truly win). Hence, the 1% possessing more wealth than the bottom half of the human population. Hence, the 1 billion people going hungry. Hence, the 40 million slaves existing today. Hence, the manipulation and exploitation of human against human, as well as the violence and warfare that exists to this day.

The other main reason why money is destructive in our economic system is that the latter requires endless growth and consumption to sustain high levels of employment. In this system, people need to be employed in order to make money — and therefore a living — and to do that, they need to be constantly selling stuff. The more products and services sold in the market, the more money is circulating in the economy, and thus the more people are employed. On the contrary, the less stuff people consume, the fewer people are employed, and the less people are able to earn a living. What this means is that in this system, it is an economic necessity that the sacred and beautiful Earth is constantly converted into commodities so people can make profit off them. Hence, the rainforests being cut down. Hence, the land animals being abused and killed by the billions each year. Hence, the oceans being overfished, the fossil fuels and minerals being depleted, and the topsoil being eroded.

Now, you might say: “You’re right, Sofo, money has caused tremendous destruction and suffering in society and the planet. But it has also brought a lot of prosperity, healing and happiness.” You might point to the companies investing tons of money into the manufacture of eco-friendly products and the development of renewable energy technologies. Or to the philanthropists spending billions of dollars into feeding the poor or building schools and hospitals that provide free access to education and medical care. Or to the vast amounts of money being spent into the creation of great works of art in theater and cinema.

And here’s my response: Yes, some money is being used for positive purposes, but for the most part it’s being used for negative ones. For example, consider the trillions of dollars being spent each year by the advertising industry to persuade the masses to buy stuff they don’t need, or the trillions of dollars being spent each year by the armies of the world in preparation of war. Concerning the environmentaly-friendly products and technologies being developed by some companies, they won’t be able to make much of a difference in a fundamentally anti-environmental system. When it comes to the philanthropists, they are only doing patchwork, trying to deal with the symptoms of a sick society, without addressing the root causes of poverty and economic inequality. Plus, how do the billionaires get their billions in the first place? They get them by exploiting the poor, only to spend a tiny percentage of their net worth back to them, and that often just for publicity reasons. Lastly, regarding money being invested in the creation of great works of art, there’s a thousandfold more money being invested in low-quality “art” created for the sole reason of generating profit.

If money truly achieves anything in this system, that is to provide certain incentives that help coordinate human activity in service of endless economic growth and so-called development. That is, through the threat of poverty, homelessness, starvation and death, our monetary system by design forces people to do work they dislike doing and which they’d never choose under different circumstances. So, what could be the solution to this problem and the others described above? How could people live differently, doing work they love without having to struggle for survival, compete with each other, and destroy the very planet they depend on and share with countless non-human beings?

When talking about economic change, most activists, scholars, economists and politicians suggest reforming the economic system — meaning, finding ways to “improve” it, mainly by implementing stronger regulations. Such regulations include taxing the rich, raising the minimum wage, restricting fossil fuel consumption, and reducing plastic production. What those people don’t seem to understand though is that in a system where money rules the entire world, money rules the government too, and hence its regulations. It’s not surprising, therefore, that most attempts to regulate the system against its inherent destructive tendencies have largely failed.

The change that is needed has to go much deeper — as deep as the foundations of the economic system. More specifically, we need to structurally redesign the economy so that it is as far removed from money, trade and markets as possible. If you think about it, nobody (or at least, nearly nobody) really wants money itself — they want what money can buy. Money doesn’t have value in itself — you can’t eat it or do anything else with it, other than perhaps use it as burning material to make fire (and that only works for paper money, not for the bits on computers that most money consists of). Moreover, nobody really enjoys competing in the market for the sole purpose of earning profit — they are just forced to, as I’ve already explained. So the question is, how can people satisfy their needs without having to engage in trade?

To answer this question, it’s important to first point out that we possess the technical means to satisfy the needs of each person alive. Contrary to popular belief, the Earth has enough resources to go around, if used wisely — which currently are not. For example, there’s enough food to feed every hungry stomach in the world, but about half of the global food production is being wasted. Similarly, there is enough water, housing, and energy. In other words, the problem that humanity is faced with isn’t technical, but economic: how resources are being distributed. Now that we’ve made that clear, let’s see how a true economy (that is, an efficient, fair and non-destructive one) would look like.

The first and most important step for designing such an economy is to create an “access” society — that is, a society where people have free access to what they need, starting with their most fundamental needs: nutritious food, clean potable water, a roof to live under and sufficient energy. For example, imagine that each area of a city has enough organic community gardens (supplemented with vertical farms, where needed) to provide ample food enough for everyone living in it. Nobody of those people would starve or have to engage in trade in order to pay for food, for it will be freely available for everyone!

Once people’s basic needs are covered, the idea of access can be expanded to include other aspects of the economy, such as product usage. If you think about it, people don’t want to own most of the products they use — they just want access to them. For example, let’s consider tools, and in particular power drills. Currently, it is estimated that the average power drill is used for just 15 minutes during its entire lifetime, and most households have at least one of them. How unecessary and wasteful that is! Why not instead give people free access to power drills they can share through, let’s say, tool libraries? If you think that this idea is far-fetched, consider the book library, an institution that has existed for hundreds of years: anyone who wants to read a book, can borrow it from the library for free, and then return it so others can read it too. By sharing — instead of owning — stuff, not only will all people have access to pretty much everything they need, but also far less resources will be extracted and wasted.

Now, in transition, the introduction of certain economic policies would be immensely helpful. One of them is the so-called Universal Basic Income (UBI) — that is, a guaranteed payment given to everyone, regardless of their personal economic situation. A UBI would help in two ways: firstly, it will provide people with a stable income as jobs are being lost via the implementation of an access society (since people won’t be buying and selling as much stuff anymore, and hence less money will be moving around), and, seconly, it will free people from the need to engage in tedious, degrading, competitive labor. Instead, as income becomes decoupled from labor, people will be able to engage in meaningful, fullfiling work in true service to society and the Earth.

When economic growth is rendered obsolete, other policies could be introduced, such as the adoption of eco-friendly product design, localization of production and distribution, as well as surveying and tracking of the Earth’s resources. In the meantime, stronger regulations of the current system could be applied, including heavily taxing the rich, improving working conditions, reducing plastic production and fossil fuel consumption, and forcing businesses to pay for the environmental and social damage they cause. But, as pointed out earlier, those regulations are not effective in containing the ferocious beast our economic system is, and should only be seen as a temporary fix, not as the end goal. The end goal should be to create a system that doesn’t need extrenal, forced regulation, but a system that regulates itself from within. Yet until that happens, such regulations would be beneficial.

I hope that this article helped you to better understand what’s wrong with our monetary — and by extention — economic system, and what are some of the steps needed to be taken in order to move toward a healthy economy. In the near future, I intend to write a longer article with more detailed critical analysis of our economic system, as well as an expanded guide on how we could escape it, but for now this is the general idea.