Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 13, No. 3, March 2017
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Learning to See in the Dark Amid Catastrophe:
An Interview With Deep Ecologist Joanna Macy

Dahr Jamail and Joanna Macy

This article was originally published in
Truthout, 13 February 2017

Joanna Macy, deep ecologist, systems theorist, Buddhist scholar, author, speaker, teacher, communing with the Earth at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, January 2017. Photo by Lois Canright. Poem by Drew Dellinger.

We are living in a time of the convergence of multiple cataclysmic forces: runaway anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), chronic wars and the most grotesque economic inequality ever witnessed on Earth. And all are worsening by the day.

Humans have changed the chemistry of the oceans and altered the very atmosphere of Earth. The planet's largest ecosystems are in free-fall collapse as ACD proceeds apace. Racism, sexism, xenophobia and myriad other structural forms of hate are amplifying around the globe as a fascist authoritarian has ascended to the US presidency, the most powerful office in the world. This reality-television star, failed businessman, sexual predator, and hate-and-fear monger is clearly aiming for the fast track toward totalitarian rule.

"[The totalitarian leaders'] careers reproduce the features of earlier mob leaders: failure in professional and social life, perversion and disaster in private life," Hannah Arendt, author of the essential The Origins of Totalitarianism, wrote. "The fact that their lives prior to their political careers had been failures, naïvely held against them by the more respectable leaders of the old parties, was the strongest factor in their mass appeal."

Sound familiar?

Origins, published in 1951, should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned about what is happening in the US right now, and what may be to come. Arendt, a world-renowned and respected philosopher during her time, could have also been called a prophet.

"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist," Arendt also wrote. "But people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists."

Many believe that Trump's chief strategist and senior counsel, Steve Bannon -- the racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynist former chief executive of Breitbart -- is essentially the puppeteer pulling the strings. Bannon's goal? "I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment," he told the Daily Beast in 2013.

More recently, just after Trump won the election, Bannon was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter as saying, "Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power."

The news on all fronts is truly horrific. Yet as these malevolent forces charge ahead, equal and opposite reactions of resistance, awakening and love for humanity and the planet are emerging. Not even one month into the presidency, the Trump administration has spawned global demonstrations the likes of which are comparable to those that occurred in February 2003 in opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

Clearly an awakening is well underway.

Hannah Arendt begins Origins with an epigram from her teacher Karl Jaspers that seems apt: "Give in neither to the past nor the future. What matters is to be entirely present."

That statement parallels what I was told by one of the great teachers of our time, Joanna Macy.

"The most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world," she told me in 2006.

Macy, an eco-philosopher and a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology, cofounded with her husband Fran Macy a method of grieving, healing and empowerment that evolved into what is now called the Work That Reconnects.

I attended one of her workshops in 2006 in order to deal with the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I was struggling with as a result of my reporting from the front lines in Iraq, and wrote about that experience here.

Yet now, in 2017, a new darkness is enveloping the world.

After taking some time to herself in the wake of Trump's ascendency to power, Macy emerged with an offering of a retreat in Abiqui, New Mexico, aptly titled, "In the Dark, the Eye Learns to See."

The title, borrowed and melded from poet Theodore Roethke's "In a Dark Time," as well as Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote, "Only when it's dark enough can you see the stars," could not have been more appropriate.

The moment I was aware of the opportunity to engage deeply in the work again with Macy, who is now 87 years old, I enrolled.

Like so many, I have felt utterly overwhelmed by the viciousness and rapidity with which what Macy refers to as "The Great Unraveling" is now occurring. Like a mountain climber beginning to slip down an icy slope, I needed to find a way to check my fall, hold fast and resume the climb, even if it meant climbing up into a storm.

Simultaneous to "The Great Unraveling," Macy coined the phrase "The Great Turning" to describe "the essential adventure of our time": the shift from what she calls the "industrial growth society" that is consuming the planet to a life-sustaining civilization.

Whether that shift will occur or not is an open question, now more than ever before as we move into the darkness of this ominous storm. But it is this very storm that could very well bring about "The Great Turning."

"We need an opposing wind to fly," Macy said to the group the morning before our interview. "It's the hardship that catalyzes our awakening."

Dahr Jamail: Since our last interview, which was published in June 2014, we are in exponentially worse shape: Donald Trump is president, the catastrophic impacts of climate disruption only continue to worsen and make themselves all the more evident and chronic war is not even paid attention to any longer … among countless other ailments. Given how things were when we spoke in the summer of 2014, it's difficult to believe it is this much worse in such a short time, yet here we are. From your perspective, how has this not caused more people to wake up and take a stand?

Joanna Macy: I think the two answers to that, as I see it, are as follows. One is that, as Bill Moyers has said the morning after the election in that piece he wrote, "Farewell America," he laid it at the doorstep of the media: the failure of mainstream media to grow up and report what was actually happening. They let themselves be bought and cowed and distracted, and disrespected the intelligence of the American people by feeding them pap and amusement. They featured Trump up down and sideways. I think that's part of it.

Let's not omit Fox News, which has been a force for the distraction and dumbing-down of the United States of America for quite awhile now. [As] one whose spiritual roots are in Protestant Christianity, it makes me quite sick to my stomach to see what the evangelicals' role … has been in the mauling of the public attention and intelligence.

So there's that, but then there is something else.

For the last 36 years, since the advent into power of Ronald Reagan, public education and the public school system has been gutted. It's criminal that we've seen how two whole generations have grown up with shamefully limited understanding of the world, history and geography. People in this country now have great difficulty in critical thinking and being able to express themselves.

The public mind has been shattered, fragmented.

In the Vietnam War, for example, 50 years ago, all the protests were visible on television, and people knew where Vietnam was. So to me, one of the great tragedies has been the disintegration of the American capacity to think and pay attention.

In addition to that, there has been a [diminishment] of our capacity to absorb news that might upset the psyche. And this is actually what brought me into the work I do, which is … group interactive work, and I have a bunch of books, using certain methods drawn from systems theory and spiritual teachings -- from most traditions, but primarily from Indigenous and Buddhist -- to overcome the fragmenting of our culture through the hyper-individualism … that has produced, first unwittingly but then wittingly, a sense of isolation.

Number one in your pursuits is the nurture and feeding of the separate ego, separate individual. That leaves you very little to fall back on if you have to confront something unpleasant, like the criminal activities of your own government. So the weakening of the mind, through the reasons I've given, and the culture bred on competition, command and control, power over -- which we inherit from the patriarchy -- these also have bled people of the nerve to challenge the absurdity or criminality of the larger systems. This makes it very easy for people to allow themselves to be lied to and to be bought. There is the fright induced by finding yourself essentially alone. And that is much the story of the American culture.

One more reason, and I think about this all the time, is that we have, in the mid-20th century, the release from breaking open the nucleus of the atom. What we did in doing that was to release the strongest binding power in the universe. It's the glue of the universe. And you can't do that. If it ever were to happen, we'd need to be highly integrated, wise beings, who knew just what they were doing.

The tragedy is that we managed to do that when we were still very vulnerable to greed and hatred and this isolated ego needing to subdue everyone else for the sake of the ego. That that happened is perhaps the greatest tragedy of planet Earth. And for the sake of our poor ancestors. I've become convinced that people feel unglued, that there is a basic shakiness.

People used to be able to rely on certain things. Reliance on the Earth being there. Relying on the teachings you had. Relying on some values that mattered to you. Relying on your relationships with people. But this [relationships] is the strongest power of the universe that holds it together, that we would shatter that. I think about this a lot.

As an activist on nuclear issues, I notice how all efforts in environmental activism, peace and justice activism, were [hampered] by this difficulty people have in sustaining the gaze. This is an unfortunate development.

Back then we were trying to scare people to pay attention. You don't [know] how bad it is with climate change, you don't know how many nuclear warheads are on high alert. Get roused. And it wasn't working. People thought the public was apathetic.

But I realized the etymology of the word was a reflection of what was so. [early 17th century: from French apathie, via Latin from Greek apatheia, from apathes "without feeling," from a- "without" plus pathos "suffering."] It was not that people didn't care or didn't know, but that people were afraid to suffer. It was the refusal or the incapacity to suffer.

So this has been a lot of my work. To help people open to and become enamored of the idea that they'd really like to see what was going on. And to open the eyes and open the heart to discover, again and again, universally in the work, that acceptance of that discomfort and pain actually reflected the depths of your caring and commitment to life.

And people became positively charged with determination and caring and creativity, and community. We were re-weaving. But without that people are lost, isolated, scared. And that became conscious certainly under George W. Bush. They were consciously using the plan of Joseph Goebbels, who served Hitler, who said you have to scare people, give them an enemy. And also divide them against each other. So to me, this was a logical unfolding [after] what happened on 9/11….

My concern with Hillary winning was that, while it would have been easier to see her crowned, and I mean that literally, we would have stayed asleep. So this is a very painful waking up.

During the end of 2016 you held several one-week intensives where you spoke of seeing people wanting, more than anything, to simply be able to be present and feel this time, despite how painful and heartbreaking that is to do now. You said that instead of doing so, particularly at this time when so much is vanishing before our eyes, and the planet is screaming at us at the top of what is left of its lungs, people are choosing to put their heads in the bucket of manure that is our corporate press, and infinite other distractions. Please talk more about all of these. 

When people find that they can, and want to, feel and know and tell what is happening to our world, that is so much sweeter and [more] liberating than the opposite. When people get integrated and find how good it feels, then they really want that more than the narcotic of ignorance and delusion, as painful as it is.

And you can't do it alone. The dangers coming down on us now are so humongous that it is really beyond an individual mind all by her/him/itself to take it in. We need to sit together, grab each other and be together as we even take in what is happening, let alone how we respond.

Because alone you get overwhelmed, and it becomes traumatizing. But once people have tasted that they can, with each other, speak about what they see and feel is happening to our world, a number of things happen, in addition to the fact that they fall in love with each other. There is a trust and realization of, "Oh my god, I'm not alone." There is a return to your own self-respect. I think self-respect has not been realized as such a source of strength in the individual psyche. I think people would rather see themselves facing an overwhelming foe with conviction of their purpose, than to be comfortable.

So that was the release. And the release would come, and as people began to break through their reluctance to suffer with our world, once they took that on and spoke to it, then they found their unity with our world. Often, not only did a sense of bondedness come, but a lot of hilarity. There is laughter and joking, and a shaking off of a kind of spell or curse. A feeling comes, of, "I can be here." And that feels more liberating and true to you and brings you into the moment when you are less dependent on someone giving you a failsafe method to make everything fine, because no one can do that.

People dare to be comfortable with uncertainty if they are in solidarity with each other.

What are some of the things you see that are posing the biggest challenges to people? 

When I began this work, someone asked me, Joanna why are you doing this? I thought I was doing it to make us more effective, working for global peace and justice, that we were doing the work to be better agents of change.

But when I was asked that, the answer came right from my solar plexus: I'm doing this work so that when things fall apart, we will not turn on each other.

So I think that's the biggest challenge now. The powers that momentarily have gained ascendance in our culture know how to manipulate our fears very well. They know how to try to turn us against each other. So a big challenge is to not buy into that, and to be able to look at each other with trust, saying, "Here is a brother or sister, brought by the intelligence of Earth, to be alive at this moment, then this person can also deep within them have a care that life can go on."

So there you have something in common right away. Instead of contempt and judgment of them, and we practiced this recently in our work…moving that contempt into curiosity, which is very helpful.

We've got to use our wits, and by grace re-knit and find our way into some solidarity with one another. Facing the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, with climate change and the threat of nuclear war, which I think is very real.

We will come together when we die, but I would love for us to come together before that. [Laughs] I would love for it to be before it's too late. Or at least long enough so that we can look into each others' eyes with love.

When people come to your intensives, or even just your lectures, what are they seeking? What are you seeing happen to them, from when they come to you, to what happens to them as they do the work that reconnects? 

Since the ascendency to power of Trump, the Work that Reconnects is being turned to by many more people than ever before, and many who have already experienced it are actually taking it out to more people. I think people are coming so that they can openly speak of their distress, pain, despair, fury. They love that about the work. They come for that, because this is a place where these dark emotions are not pathologized, but taken as wholesome and realistic.

Another reason people don't wake up is because the culture and psychotherapy are both so reductionist, focused on making happy isolated individuals. And that has been very good for the pharmaceutical industry too, let alone other forms of addiction.

So it's like waking from a kind of addiction. It is a noble thing. It is a choosing.

So our breaking free, in order to see clearly, takes many forms, doesn't it?

What is called of us now, from the planet? What are we being called to do at this time? 

To wake up together. That is actually the name of the movement in Sri Lanka that I went over to do field work with. Sarvodaya. Taking the Gandhian term, but using it in a slightly different way, but the same Sanskrit, which is "everybody wakes up together."

It's hard to wake up alone now. It's scary to see even what is going on. But there is almost no limit, I've come to believe, to what we can do with the love and support of each other. There is almost no limit to what we can do for the sake of each other. This taps into the Bodhisattva heart. That's that hero figure of Mahayana Buddhism, "the one with the boundless heart." The one who realizes there is no private salvation.

If you are going to wake up, you have to wake up together. Never has that been more true than now, at this stage of late stage corporate capitalism.

There is a huge force, through the media, through the banking system, through these people and corporations that are locked in runaway system that is very hard for them to stop now. Because once you create something, an economic system or being or contraption that has to keep making more money, it is forced to do that. It is forced into these extractive industries, and the mining. Even the nicest people are caught up in this. These are super-human forces and principalities, and so many are trapped in it. Those who appear to be our enemies, they are just flesh and blood who are also trapped by this economic system. And it's good for that system to keep making nuclear bombs. It had President Barack Obama over a barrel. He was caught in that system before he walked into the White House as president. And his first act had to do with more permission being given to Wall Street.

So that can give us compassion for each other. And we don't have to waste time being scared of each other. We can see each other as captives of a force that's got us all by the throat. But we can stop it. We have to help each other wake up to how we are destroying everything we love, before we are turned into robotic instruments of these inhuman systems. Just by their own logic, it is pretty simple to see.

It's going to be beautiful to see what we dare to do. Facing our fears, and letting go of and getting over our knee-jerk reactions to what we think we don't like, or are afraid of. To see our capacity to walk into the fire. To discover how much we really love being alive. To give ourselves a taste of what that passion is. To let us fall really in love with our planet, and its beauty, and to see that in ourselves, as well as in each other.

The inhuman economic machine does not love us back. It makes us into robots. It sucks us into the destruction of all that is. And even if we can't turn it around now, at least we can wake up, so that in the time that is left we can discover who we are, just looking into each other's eyes. Just looking into the face of the moon at night, or the trees, or the faces of our children and free ourselves. I think we want that.

We can do that, we are capable of that, and that is what I see happening. I know that is possible, because I see it. Because it's happened to me, and countless of my brothers and sisters. They don't have to do the Work That Reconnects, they just have to fall in love with life, and there are many ways that people are doing that.

And as you do, you find that you are not alone here. We not only have each other, but we have the ancestors. And we have the future ones. And that is the truth. The ancestors are with us because their blood flows in our veins. They made us. We wouldn't be here without them. Every single one of them, back through time, carried us like a seed. They are here. And they are worried sick about us.

And the future ones -- we carry the future in us. And the future ones and the ancestors, I feel they surround us at times, as witnesses. And if we open our heart-minds to them, they can give us guidance and strength and strength in our hearts. Because it helps us realize how big we are. We are bigger than the balance sheets of the mega-corporations. But the mega-corporations are not real. We are real!

People are starting to take radical actions -- the resistance at Standing Rock, people chaining themselves to railroad tracks to block coal trains, etc. -- valiant acts of resistance -- yet much of mainstream society still has not joined with these movements. Talk about that disparity, and that phenomenon. 

There again is the betrayal from the media. Fox News and all the others are made to do what they do, skewering the truth as they do.

These people who take these valiant actions to help the Earth, they call to me at the center of my soul. They are the cutting edge of human evolution. They have broken free from being captives of the hyper-individualism of our culture. They are no longer held captive by their lonely ego winning out over other people. They are no longer held captive by a shrunken ego.

And to me, there is nothing more beautiful. I see beauty in them. Such great moral beauty. They are aflame with meaning. They are like beacons. They are saying, "Don't let it get the best of you. This is just hardware! This is just cement and steel! Don't let this cow you. See, watch! I'm not afraid. I'm going to do it. I'm going to lock myself down…. But see! See how it is to be free!"

That's what I hear them saying to the psyche. I think there is nothing more beautiful. They are showing us what we can be. That we can spring free, and walk out of the prison cell of the separate ego and find our true nature in our inter-woven-ness in the web of life.

Oh, that just blows my mind it is so beautiful! It makes me so glad to be alive!

What does it look like today for someone, as yourself, who is living with eyes and heart wide open? Describe the world you see right now? 

[Long pause.] I'm so glad to be alive now. [Long pause.] I'm so glad that if this had to happen, that I hadn't checked out 10 days or centuries earlier. I'm so glad to be able to, even in the smallest way, to take part in this "Great Turning." To give it a chance for a life-sustaining society. Otherwise we are just right down the tube. We are just flushing everything right down the toilet.

But it's not over yet. And I'm here with my brothers and sisters, and even if we go under, and I have to admit looks more likely today than yesterday, we're going to discover how big is our strength, and how big is our love for life. We can do that, and see how much we care. And we can be scared. I can see myself now in a situation where I can forget these words. Because the global corporate economy has developed such tools for destroying the mind through different ways of breaking the mind.

But I'm not broken yet. And I'll forgive myself ahead of time if under the pressures that the system has developed and used on plenty of other people, my mind breaks. I'll forgive myself ahead of time if my mind breaks.

But right now, I see the people that are working, that I work alongside, I see people like the scientists how they are saving the information about climate chaos. People are being called forth to do some beautiful things. It makes me so glad to see this.

And even if in the future, from some cosmic place, they say, "That little third planet out in that little old solar system over there, boy they blew it" -- even so, there were some beautiful efforts made, some beautiful music. Strong hearts, and a lot of loving.

What should we each, individually, be doing? What is the most important thing for us to do, right here, right now? 

To find our strength and our reason, in connection with each other. So that will be different with everybody. Each one will have a different path. People will find different ways.

So, if you're a clergyman or woman, you'll find yourself saying new and stronger things from the pulpit. And if you're working in a corporation, you'll find ways to sabotage. There is plenty of that already going on. Do you think we're alive now just by chance that we haven't blown ourselves up yet? There have been Bodhisattvas at work, gumming up the works.

The most important thing to do is find your gratitude for life. Take stock of your strengths and give thanks for what you have, and for the joys you've been given. Because that is the fuel. That love for life can act like grace for you to defend life.

So don't get too solemn. Don't just spend all your time gritting your teeth. Laugh out loud. Enjoy a kind of wild joy. Ah! Now I have time, to break free from what had stopped me before. Now I've time. This time. To realize my inter-being with all life.

So it'll be different for different individuals. But I think we should not make a move to do things alone. Find others. Even if it's one other person to begin with. Then others will come. Because everybody is lonely. And everybody is ready to find what they most want. And if it means that we have to be in such danger for us to find out how much we need each other, then let it be that.

So little study groups, and book groups, make a garden together. Keep your ear to the ground. Inform each other. We have to develop the skill of finding that it is more fun to be waking up together, Sarvodaya [Sanskrit term meaning "universal uplift" or "progress of all"], than a single lone star on the stage.

At the conclusion of the interview, thanks were shared, then Macy smiled and said, "I'm going to go walk in the sun now."

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Joanna Macy is an eco-philosopher, a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory and deep ecology. A respected voice in the movements for peace, justice and ecology, she interweaves her scholarship with five decades of activism. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a ground-breaking theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as a powerful workshop methodology for its application. Website: Joanna Macy.

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of several books. He reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards. His new book, The End of Ice, is forthcoming from The New Press.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Sarah Hammerschlag

This article was originally published in
Sightings, 9 February 2017

Protesters at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, January 29, 2017 | Credit: S. Hammerschlag

Sightings: Religion in Public Life is a publication of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Subscribe to receive Sightings in your inbox every Monday and Thursday. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

With each passing day since the inauguration of Donald Trump the news cycle gets more punishing. Power is consolidated within the executive branch. The three-headed monster of authoritarianism, fear mongering and intimidation takes another step on its march to trample checks and balances. Attempting to counter this force with reasoned argument has come to feel a bit like wielding scissors against an opponent who plays only with a closed fist in a relentless game of Rochambeau (rock, paper, scissors).
For a scholar the situation can seem disheartening to say the least. 
Some of us—even those who do not like crowds—have thus taken to demonstrating.  “You know it’s bad when even the librarians are marching,” read one of the signs I saw at the Women’s March on January 21st in Washington, D.C. As many have reported, the march itself felt extraordinary: not only the experience of seeing and hearing hundreds of thousands reaffirm a commitment to civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, but also the sheer civility of it all, the wave upon wave of people making room for one another, a crowd whose desire was neither to get somewhere, nor to buy something; not to sell something, nor even to see something.
In a context of neo-liberal capitalism where everything is measured in profit, this might seem pointless to some or like mere consolation to others. David Brooks in his January 24th column in The New York Times wrote, “These marches can never be an effective opposition to Donald Trump,” because protestors “have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community.” Furthermore, he continued, in what might seem a strange juxtaposition if not a contradiction, “identity politics is too small for this movement.”
What Brooks sees as a twofold weakness in this conjunction, I want to insist is exactly the strength of these demonstrations and even their most potent force, the fragile but pervasive and prevailing paper to Trump’s rock. This is not only because the march itself has given rise to a network of participation and a series of precise and delimited strategies ranging from the organization of canvasing efforts in swing states, to phone campaigns directed at members of Congress, to plans for more marches and more rallies, each of which brings its own flurry of media attention at a time when such attention seems to be the most sought-after currency in our world (as Farhad Manjoo recently argued in The New York Times). Rather, it is because the community created in these moments, ephemeral as it is, is one made up of people whose identities do not always overlap. Their differences and grievances might, in a different context, even be set against one another, but now highlight a shared sense of injustice. It may be that the community created in these moments is neither “coherent” nor “demanding,” certainly not in the way that we perceive a tribe or a church to be coherent in its criteria for belonging and historical consistency, but neither is this new community restrictive or exclusionary. If our current political battle is about “securing our borders,” these protests reveal the potency of decentered networks in overcoming borders.

At the more recent protests against the immigration ban at airports around the country, Jews, Muslims and Catholics have gathered together, both because they themselves were once refugees and because they fear for those who are or will be. Rabbis from Jewish congregations have followed representatives of Palestinian rights organizations in the speaking lineup. These communities show up because they or their families have suffered, because their identities are marked by that fact. Such a politics of identity is exactly what Brooks and political philosopher Mark Lilla think the Left should overcome, even as Trump’s policies are targeted not only at identity politics but also at the very identity and practices of anyone who isn’t a white Christian male.
It is ironic that a new form of identity politics may be emerging as a consequence of the very policies bent on suppressing it. As our family histories of immigration and persecution are re-invoked by this new wave of bigotry, we recognize that our political identities are anything but abstract. Particularity is also the key to perspective. To see the plight of others doesn’t require overcoming difference, but it does require thinking analogically. While Brooks claims that identity politics is splintering, a shared sense of threat to the very institutions that once protected us in our abstract freedoms and particular histories is surely a strong enough common cause. I read the other day that the strength of this new grassroots movement cannot be measured by its size, because it is now so easy to mobilize people into action. Isn’t that precisely the point? 
None of this is to say that there is no room for reasoned argument, only that its potency now is not in direct confrontation with the blunt force of Trump and Steve Bannon. Trump is not going to change his policies because three thousand scholars signed a petition against him, but neither can he silence our paper machines. Spreading the word—or dissemination, as some of us like to call it—has perhaps never been more important. It ensures we’ll keep showing up in droves.
- Brooks, David. “After the Women’s March.” New York Times. January 24, 2017.
- Lilla, Mark. “The End of Identity Liberalism.” New York Times. November 18, 2016.
- Manjoo, Farhad. “The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests.” New York Times. January 30, 2017.


Sarah Hammerschlag is Director of the MA Program and Associate Professor of Religion, Literature, and Visual Culture; Philosophy of Religions; and History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her research has focused on the position of Judaism in the post-World War II French scene, a field that places her at the crossroads of philosophy, literary studies, and intellectual history. She is the author of The Figural Jew: Politics and Identity in Postwar French Thought (The University of Chicago Press, 2010) and Broken Tablets: Levinas, Derrida and the Literary Afterlife of Religion (Columbia University Press, 2016).

Who Can Save the World and Bring Order?

Christoph Stückelberger

This article was originally published in
Globethics, 1 February 2017


As the New Year advances and as the Chinese celebrate their new year, many people are concerned about the disorder and tensions in the world. Since the beginnings of humanity, in times of disorder and transition the cry for saviours has been loud. It can be heard around the world today: "Who can save the world and bring order? "

1)      Politicians? Many try their best, some are captivated by nepotism and personal power games, others are criticized as being elitist or they do not have sufficient multilateral power for global solutions.

2)      Scientists and technocrats? Their influence and innovative power is significant, but they often lack the political wisdom and negotiating skills to build coalitions and majorities. Also rational scientific arguments often do not respond adequately to the fears and hopes of people.

3)      Religious preachers and prophets? They are specialists in fear and hope. They can abuse their power (as politicians and technocrats can also abuse their power). The prosperity gospel, which exists in all religions, is an example: the wealthy preacher tells the poor person, "Entrust me with your money and you will become rich as I am blessed by God". Such false prophets exist in the Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions as well as in others.

4)      The secular form of a religion of prosperity is prosperity populism as the populist leaders, themselves often billionaires, promise wealth to people who are neglected people if they give them their vote.

5)      For those who have looked to politicians, scientists, technocrats, religious leaders and populists to save the world and who have been disappointed by them, they finally choose escapism and become escapists: if they cannot save the world, I can only save myself by going back to the privacy of family and personal relations, to inner meditation or escape into drugs or virtual fantasy worlds.

These five options do not offer appropriate answers because they are built on short-term promises, abuse of power by leaders and false prophets, hate, fear, lack of responsibility or individualism. What is then an ethical and spiritual answer to the question "Who can save the world and how?" In my experience the life-giving power of five dimensions can provide answers, especially when they are combined together:

1)      Community: there is not one leader or group of people who can save the world. We all - wherever we are - can and have to contribute on a smaller or larger scale and we can encourage and correct each other on the way.

2)      Responsible leadership: the world needs outstanding leaders who think ahead and lead in a responsible way for the common good and not only for personal goals. Academic formation and the Ethics in Higher Education programme can contribute to fostering responsible leadership. However, let us not do it in the ivory towers of academic elites, but with academic thought-and-action-leaders in solidarity with all non-academic leaders with integrity.

3)      Information and critical thinking: the world in its complexity cannot be saved with simple answers and demagogy but only with the effort of detailed, precise information, science and technology and critical analytical thinking including investigative journalism.

4)      Faith: information, science and technology are key, but alone they cannot save the world and give meaning to life. Solid faith in its broad spiritual dimensions provides meaning, sense, hope, orientation and can help to avoid running after idols and false prophets. Let us be inclusive in ‘saving the world' together, with all religious and non-religious people working together on the basis of common compassion and solidarity.

5)      Thankfulness and joy: a more powerful and longer lasting energy than fear, hate and escapism is thankfulness and joy for the beauty of the world even in insecure times. Let us be thankful and modest in prosperity and courageous in crises. is a global community of people, with its leadership programme, with the online library and publications to impart information and encourage critical thinking and exchange, and as a place to share our faith, doubts, fears, hopes and joy. I wish you a blessed 2017!


Christoph Stückelberger is President of Globethics.Net, a global network of persons and institutions interested in various fields of applied ethics. It offers access to a large number of resources on ethics, especially through its leading global digital ethics library and facilitates collaborative web-based research, conferences, online publishing and information sharing.

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"Only when it's dark enough can you see the stars."

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968)


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