When I think back, the beginning of the madness was hearing others rave (or rant) about their experience at Landmark Forum. Later it was Byron Katie’s notion of everything being “a story” that got my irritation juices all astir. In the beginning I couldn’t quite formulate why it irked me so much. Looking back, that was my first (at least conscious) exposure to the ethical inversion that has since swept the world. It’s not only showing up politically. It’s wreaking havoc in the lives of people I know both personally and professionally.
And that has loads to do with our (un)happiness. I’ll get to more on that and the “improve your life” part shortly but before I do that, some thoughts on political double standards.
Moral Relativism and Ethical Inversion
When 9-11 happened, as heartbroken as I was, I remember looking out at the smoking Manhattan skyline and thinking to myself, “At least now they’ll know. At last the world will recognize what Israel has been subjected to and that our attempts at self-defense are just that – not acts of aggression but reticent efforts to defend our lives.”
It’s not that things didn’t change after 9-11. They did. But the change was more of a political coming out of the closet. With rare exception no-one shifted their position. Rather, our positions simply became clearer. The lines in the sand were drawn.
From my vantage point (and from the perspective of both Biblical and secular law of pretty much all civilized societies – at least until recently) those lines seemed off. Over and over good and evil, right and wrong were mixed up. Then they were inverted! Someone or some group would attack – and then play the victim card. In media discourse and in discussion among otherwise seemingly intelligent individuals, the bad guy became the hero. Our clarified opinions on external politics revealed an internal moral quagmire in the minds and hearts of millions.
“It’s just a story” reflected, and possibly spurred on, a culture of moral relativism.
Nowhere has this moral relativism been clearer than with regard to the current conflict between Israel and Gaza. As I quoted Mike Huckabee in my previous post, “Not one of the Palestinians would have died if Hamas didn’t insist on firing rockets into Israel and then using civilians as human shields…I’m not saying this because I’m a Jew. Cos I’m not a Jew. I believe there’s a difference however between good and evil. And I would never tell good to restrain itself. Nor would I ever treat evil as if it were the same as good.”
It’s not that complicated. I can’t find the wiggle room that would in any way whatsoever allow me to equate the two positions.
Yet the world rages at Israel. Why?
The Personal Piece
At the most basic level this is anti-semitism couched as human rights. But there are others more knowledgeable than I to address that issue.
What I want to point out is that at another level, this inversion of aggressor and victim in the Arab-Israel conflict is indicative of a much broader global malaise that first blurs moral and ethical boundaries and then inverts them.
The notion of “It’s just a story” morphed into a culture of moral equivalence – which morphed into a culture of ethical inversion! Whereas anti-Semitism is obviously the root cause of the anti-Israel rhetoric, it’s being helped along by this brand of warped thinking.
And here I come to the personal, spiritual, and psychological dynamic.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denying that our experience of our lives has much to do with our internal consciousness. In The Method (a program I designed for personal transformation based on ancient mystical teachings) we have a number of Isms – pithy sayings that pack a punch of powerful ideas. Here are a few that reflect the notion that we hold responsibility for our own well-being:
Pain is inevitable. Suffering’s a choice.
Thinking is a chiropractic adjustment for your soul.
Mind your mind.
I could go on. But it’s the opposite point I want to make right now.
It may be true that my experience of an event is seminal to my experience of an event. However…there’s life and meaning beyond me! Despite what Landmark forum teaches, life is not empty and meaningless. And it’s not empty and meaningless to even suggest that life is empty and meaningless. Despite what Byron Katie teaches life is not just a story. There are truths and realities outside of our subjective experience.
For example murder is wrong. Adultery is wrong. Theft and burglary? Wrong! Yes, you may have a miserable marriage and yes, an affair is not as much the cause but a symptom of problems. Regardless, cheating on your spouse is still wrong. It’s wrong not just vis-à-vis your partner but vis-à-vis the Creator. It’s an absolute. By the same token, you may have grown up in the slums but a Robin Hood hero is not a holy hero cos robbing from the rich to feed the poor is always wrong. Advocate, legislate, motivate. All good. But steal? No. Cos theft is plain old wrong.
Now most of us might have some bottom line “rights” and “wrongs” but when it comes to so many of our interactions, what I’m seeing more and more of – on social media, with my friends, clients, the full spectrum of people I’m in touch with – is that because we bought in hook, line and sinker to it all being a “story,” there is (at least in theory) no blame but then there’s also no real recourse to change.
Because here’s an inconvenient little secret: If you can’t identify a problem, can’t name an aggressor, have no permission to point a finger, then you can’t solve the problem. Problems don’t simply go away because we’re exclusively beholden to “positive thinking.”
Problems don’t simply go away because we’re exclusively beholden to “positive thinking.”
That’s how we find ourselves caught in the Land of No-Wrong, trapped by our self-imposed construct of moral equivalence.
But that’s not the worst of it. It’s the ethical inversion piece that’s really destroying our relationships. For even though we may talk of there being no right and no wrong, the notion that those constructs actually exist just won’t go away. Although much (possibly even most) of the time, the solution to our problem is a matter of perception, some of the time it’s about who’s right and who’s wrong. And so, instead of remaining in the swampy ground of moral relativism, those politically-incorrect notions of good and bad, true and false resurface. Only they do so in a perverted, inverted kind of way .
As we’ve said, there’s only a blip from “It’s all a story” to no moral distinctions. The next step, framing anyone who dares challenge that “truth” (by claiming to have been wronged) as bad, is only a skip and hop away.
Of late, people begin sharing with me and then self-edit. They cut in with, “I don’t want to be a victim. Let me rephrase that.” It’s gotten to be that individuals can’t even tell their story let alone analyze or process it because to maintain a semblance of self-respect they have to give over their grievance in a way that simultaneously lets me know what someone has done to hurt them (at least in their perception) and ensures that in no way do I think they’re blaming the other person cos that would make them bad (and I’d judge them and not like them and not help them! Maybe.) These days it seems that not only do you have to contend with the pain of feeling violated but you also have to manage the guilt of being a “victim.”
It’s a double-whammy. And it’s not doing us any good.
I propose embracing the possibility that there are objective truths out there. I believe that by allowing the notion of “It’s all a story” to have its place but not to hijack our moral equilibrium; and in readmitting “right” and “wrong” into our consciousness and discourse; we might just generate peace both in the Middle East and in the confines of our own homes.
Some of these concepts were initially addressed in my article Mike Huckabee vs the Dalai Lama: Moral Relativism and Ethical Inversion in Gaza.