On Conservatism

Humans have been profoundly conservative for most of our existence. That statement is rendered meaningless if we take conservatism to mean what is sold in its name today, or believe in what passes for the span of human existence as our self-professed conservatives would insist it to have been. Let’s pry the term away from their frightened, self-pitying, greedy hands.

Throughout most of the time humans have existed changes occurred so gradually as to have been imperceptible even across the span of any living memory. Habit, world-view, all of the elements of our conditioning, were synchronized with and supportive of maintaining, conserving, the way of life that had existed when an individual was born and leading to its continuation throughout their life-time. This is a form of deep comfort, an integration of the individual within a society and culture of which we have absolutely no experience. This had nothing to do with any Utopian or Dystopian rendering of an “oppressive” society holding its individuals bound to a life that was forced on them either for good or ill. Individuals saw themselves belonging to “the People,” and the way things were done, the way everything had ever been done, or even contemplated, fit into the stable constellation of roles available to a child as they matured.

In this atmosphere, medium, oceanic inclusive existence; innovation, creativity, adaptation to changes all took place; but they did so in a process that is beyond our experience today. This is an important area of inquiry, how can we trend towards a new world-view that rekindles this integrative connection between what we’ve come to see as polar opposites? We tend to see this as having been a prelapsarian existence Romanticized on the one hand, and belittled, on the other, as hopelessly naive or pre-conscious. With the same insistence to force barriers into existence that we’ve used to convince ourselves we alone have awareness, intelligence, power, what-have-you; a fetish of superiority that becomes the glam to feed our envy; we refuse to see that there is any value in the integrated lives we glimpse in animals, plants, rocks, and seas.

This tension between the way we passed 90% or more of our time on earth, and the structures and frameworks we alive today find ourselves confronting, is enormous; and for the most part hidden, really, invisible to us. In our present experience there are ruthless radicals insisting they are wrapped in the mantle of conservatism while we all are drawn into some skewed perspective where our “natural” condition is seen as one of endless, rapid, and dislocating change. Everyone, it seems, welcomes certain changes while fighting to block others. These battles take place within an atmosphere of profound alienation from the conditions that maintained our equilibrium, our sense of place, our having a place at all on which to stand as part of the cosmos.

The result is a cascading pathology of reaction and recrimination. A projection, either known as an ideal or as, simply, The Future; is held as a goal for human existence. And we partake in a struggle to strive to reach that goal. Any sense that this is unnatural to us is just missing. We react to the phantom pains of our lack without any understanding of why. We’ve even forgotten we ever had such a limb, or what it was like, what it was for….

It’s not any sort of surprise that those who are fundamentally questioning our predicament today tend to have had histories of alienation. We tend to have habits of mind, ingrained in us from an early age, to distrust and see through the lunacy of the societies we’ve found ourselves in. We have developed instincts that push us to overcome barriers built into the human organism and its social structures that originally maintained our innate conservatism, but which have, over time within civilization, been usurped as mechanisms to maintain whatever topsy turvy set of assumptions has risen to the top of the fomenting pile. What is surprising, the reason for this post, is that we are now the ones who are, whether we know it or not, looking for ways to re-establish that previous balance, or at least give it its due and look at the distance we’ve come from that point as a cause and a facilitator of the pathology we currently live under.

On a certain level of ideas many of us are comfortable with this situation. We recognize, and tend to honor, deeply conservative values while bristling at the current usage of the term. We can even find this as a way to pull ourselves away from the Progressive Camp. This insight highlights the shallowness of attempting to pick and chose between a variety of essentially identical choices; ways of thinking, acting, believing that promote a continuation of this ideological, future driven mania. We insist that, “If only we, the right-minded had control, everything would be fine!”

The hard part is to inspire, to breathe-in, the full implications of our particular predicament. We are drawn to, and have reasons to believe that, the human condition was throughout most of our existence and all of the time before this rush to overreach, profoundly conservative, not in the holding of certain ideals, or of having certain opinions, but that we were immersed within an existence that knew no gaps between what was and what we’ve come to fill our brains with in a never-ending rush of projections of how “things should be.”

We are caught in the conditioning we have received. There are certain useful, though minor, adjustments we can make to the way we perceive and act; but in the end we are using the habits and methods that have been our inheritance in an attempt to re-imagine a way of being we have no direct experience of. This is the ultimate layer of our internal “colonization” by the forces of civilization/empire! We chafe at the impossibility of finding a physical space that isn’t under the dominion, influence, suffering from the poisonous destructive effects of that hegemony, while inside of us we are in the same position.

The tools, skills, instincts, predilections we bring to this situation are in many ways opposed to the conditions we’d like to see re-established. This same medley of attributes are the ones that now maintain and exacerbate the run-away change we live under. While using our “counter-tools” in “reverse” of their intended use; the maintenance of a status quo; we need to value and respect that these same tools are being used to maintain this status quo. All the while we need to resist our internalized colonization, which has led us to insist on innovation and change at an increasing rate and in a way that is foreign and destructive to our organism. We have pushed for certain changes, wanting the dynamic skewed “our way,” so as to reach what we see as “THE ANSWER!”

Unless we can be aware that we are attempting critical surgery in a mirror, we will be continually frustrated by the way our efforts tend to achieve cross-purposes. How could it be any other way? Unless we can understand and acclimate ourselves to this strange reversed perspective we will continue to blunder without understanding why. Our alienation is almost complete. Unless we can maintain an awareness of the difficulties we face while learning to navigate this reversed perspective we find ourselves in, we cannot ever hope to break our bonds of futility.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

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