The myth of the separate self underlies our entire civilization, says philosopher and author Charles Eisenstein. This dualistic view of the world pits people against each other and turns nature into something we want to control. But we can choose another story — one of interdependence and connection. By doing so we become able to solve “impossible” problems, from political polarization to global warming.
Jeff Krasno: I think, from what I'm hearing is that not to discount the millions of people's lives that would be affected between let's say a Donald Trump presidency and an Elizabeth Warren presidency. That there are thick minimum wage and healthcare and essentially millions of people's lives that would be affected that I don't want to discount. But you might say that we're talking about very narrow goalposts that separate these two figures, even though they're countenance couldn't be more different at some level. And that the new story will emerge outside those narrow parameters. Sort of MSNBC on one side and Fox on the other side. It'd be like tight little parentheses.
Charles Eisenstein: Right. Outside that, I mean, politics... that spectrum from right to left is a one dimensional spectrum.
Jeff Krasno: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: So the future that we want isn't only outside those two poles but on the same axis, it's totally in a different dimension. The things that need to happen are not even considered political issues.
Jeff Krasno: Right. That's true. Essentially is spiritual issues potentially.
Charles Eisenstein: Or you could see them as being part of a different kind of politics but we talked about this in the course. What's left out of the conversation when we define the issues as being a certain set of positions. Obamacare, should it be repealed or not? Well, what gets left out is the entire universe of holistic and alternative treatments. I mean, we don't question the healthcare system itself. It's just kind of like who pays for it? Or if we're talking about education more or less public funding, does that even consider the question of school as an institution of the industrial age. To train people to be compliant, obedient factory workers? Or if we're talking about... I mean, if we can go down the line. I think the most issues today are not really discussed because the spectacle, the froth and controversy mesmerizes us.
Jeff Krasno: Yes. I think Marianne Williamson says we keep watering the leaves and not the roots. It's not that we're not interested in examining, exhuming the roots, but I don't think... it is certainly not what mass media is interested in. So it needs to be sort of a self-propelled journey to look deeper. And I think one of the, I think, very beautiful pieces of your message is around the importance of not dehumanizing others. And when I think of global warming and I think of the oil and gas executive that wakes up in the morning. Even that person I don't think wakes up in the morning with the intention of, "I'm going to warm the globe today."
Charles Eisenstein: Right.
Jeff Krasno: "Let's see. 1,415 parts per million by the end of the day 420." Nobody is doing that. But in the absence of a new story, of essentially what I think of our values, he goes to work and then that's the natural output. In the absence of values, medical innovation gets used for the pharmaceutical industry that just essentially keeps people on drugs instead of off of drugs. Agricultural innovation goes to sponsored by Monsanto instead of actually feeding the people of the world. And I wonder if you think that that is essentially what this new story is potentially about. Is it about the re instilling of value based society of value based culture that then will change consciousness. And then all of those things will change leaders, laws, policies, platforms?
Charles Eisenstein: Not so much.
Jeff Krasno: No.
Charles Eisenstein: No. I mean, most people hold beautiful universal values. It's that the story hijacks the values and diverts our creative energies toward things that pretend to serve those values but actually do not. And it's true that values also do evolve and deepen over time. But as you were saying, it's not that the oil company executive does not value peace, love, fulfillment, beauty, truth. If you could extract him from the reinforcing circumstances of his life, then you could probably have just as... I mean, you could take Donald Trump and if you got him in the right situation, you can have a beautiful conversation with him. So the question is, what are the circumstances that pervert those values or redirect those values, hijack those values?
Jeff Krasno: Right. Yes. And so playing that forward a bit, if you're... I suppose, fashion yourself a conscious human being or an aware human being, how would then you go about addressing injustices that you see in the world that then are perpetuated by certain roles or figure heads or models? Whether that be Mr. Exxon, Mr. Trump, whatever. Essentially without dehumanizing, What is the approach?
Charles Eisenstein: I'll preface this by saying that sometimes it might be necessary to fight Mr. Exxon or Mr. Trump. But even if that's the case, your fight is going to be more effective if you actually understand this person and why they're doing what they're doing. Rather than abdicating any attempt to explain it by saying, "Well, they're just bad."
Jeff Krasno: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: When you say they're just bad, you're resisting any attempt to explain, to understand. There's no understanding there. It's a substitute for understanding. So even if you are going to fight them, demonizing them in your own mind is a liability.
Jeff Krasno: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: And it also forecloses any possibility of any other response besides fighting. But if you understand what is it that makes a Donald Trump. What are the totality of circumstances that causes the fracking executive to do what he's doing.
Jeff Krasno: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: Then you have other options besides defeating that person. You can also maybe find some way to change the conditions. If you don't do that, if you don't understand the conditions that create a Donald Trump... and I'm not wanting to name him as the boogeyman here. I've never met the guy. I mean, who knows.
Jeff Krasno: By many accounts, he's lovely in person.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. But if you don't examine those circumstances, even if you take them down, guess what? The circumstances are still there. You're going to get a new Donald Trump.
Jeff Krasno: Right.
Charles Eisenstein: Or some new new occupant of a role that is systemically necessary.
Jeff Krasno: Yes. I often hear this kind of nostalgia for Barack Obama and then which also brings me to the point of like actually will nostalgia actually means our pain. But that the good old days of a leader that was graceful, compassionate, without controversy. But then of course the conditions for our current situation were essentially that soil was cultivated over that period of time. So it's not fair to be kind of looking at figure heads per se and attributing human condition to various figure heads when essentially, you're not addressing the underlying root cause.
Charles Eisenstein: But it's comforting.
Jeff Krasno: It is comforting.
Charles Eisenstein: There's a perverse comfort in scribing the evils of the world to some evil people. Even if they are these ultra powerful Illuminati that you could never take down, there's still a comfort there because in principle at least you know what to do. You know how to solve a problem. It's to take those fuckers down.
Jeff Krasno: Yes.
Charles Eisenstein: But that vent, that outlet for the energy of not knowing what to do does us a huge disservice. Because if we could stew in the helplessness and not divert onto a ready false solution, maybe we'd be able to actually find some real solutions.
Charles Eisenstein: I think that the warfare that we see among our political figures, it's an outgrowth of a more generalized polarization of society or even a barometer of that. So yes, I think that there is a path toward a restorative politics. It involves re humanization, just as restorative justice puts victim and perpetrator together and offers the opportunity for apology and forgiveness, offers an opportunity for each to really hear the others story. That's what's re humanizing to hear your story. If I hear the story of why you locked me in the closet and starved me for four days, when I thought I was coming here to record a course.
Jeff Krasno: I'm sorry, but that's how we got you up here. And then of course there's the reality of the torture chamber, but yeah.
Charles Eisenstein: Right. But if I understand your whole background and I am like, oh, I understand now why you did that, then there's a possibility of real forgiveness. Real forgiveness is difficult. Real forgiveness is not an act of indulgence, that's fake forgiveness. Real forgiveness only comes through a meeting of the souls. And one way to do that is to tell your story and to have that story really be heard. So I think politically we can do the same to create conditions and starting with the grass roots even. Not necessarily just the leaders, but starting at the grassroots where people can hear each other's stories, then they can't dehumanize each other anymore.
Jeff Krasno: Yeah, absolutely. Well I think what it is, in some ways we were talking about Hannah Arendt, which is essentially, she would claim that essentially the conditions that lead to authoritarianism, totalitarianism are a real sense for belonging that is missing, that there is no identity. So then you can roll in with a red cap and fancy slogan and get people all riled up, kind of ratchet up the fear, serve up an enemy and off you go. But that really what we're lacking is sort of what, I think what you're saying, which are forums for the exchange of ideas amongst free individuals or the exchange of stories that can essentially create a level of humanization. I mean, I guess the dominant narrative in American culture is like, oh, we've got a bunch of liberal cappuccino sipping folks on the coasts and then we've got a bunch of folks in agrarian and manufacturing Rustbelt, mid Midwest fly over States or whatever and that have been "left behind."
Jeff Krasno: And that these are the folks that then essentially out of desperation, fear, whatever voted for Trump. This is the narrative and that are there ways to essentially create forums where people can hear each other again? Because it's hard to hate up close.
Charles Eisenstein: It's hard to hate up close. Yeah. And one of these Trump voting "deplorables" if you really hear their life story, you can't deploy that and you can't hate them. And the same thing, if one of them could hear the story of an illegal immigrant who-
Jeff Krasno: It's the same story.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. I mean this are heartbreaking stories. What it takes for somebody to leave their family and come with their children with no guarantee that they're ever going to make it. I mean, and the horrors that happened to them, you cannot hear those stories and uphold the standard right-wing narrative about the immigrants. You don't have to even, see the paradigm of punishment that you were referencing before it just keeps coming back and back and back. It's like it can become like, well, let's make them really, let's make them feel bad by telling the story as an act of violence. There has to be an attitude of generosity and of peace in the sharing of stories.
Jeff Krasno: I want to continue to mind this story component and how we actually create structures for this exchange of story and idea. I mean, is it that what we need to return to is more local, decentralized forms of community. I read this quote the other night, the other day I think John Maynard Keynes, "it's easier to ship recipes than cakes and biscuits." Which is on the surface neither here nor there. But then when you essentially think of, well, this pen was, the ink was probably made somewhere and then this was made in China and then shipped over here and now we're sitting here in Topanga. That essentially, that we've developed great piping to share information and technology or recipes essentially, and is the part of the solution being able to impact, create structures and systems that reward distributed leadership, decentralized organization, where people are actually, can have that exchange of story. And what does that look like?
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. The answer to the question is yes. As far as what does it look like?
Charles Eisenstein: The decentralization of production and the distribution of production for most things makes a lot of sense and would certainly bring more connection and community and meaning into people's lives. There are some things that do not see themselves toward local production. Microchips and things like that perhaps, but most things that are produced globally should be much more local, food, shelter, entertainment. But I think there's another level to that even the recipes should be more local. Because they reference local conditions and properly speaking should come from local culture, which is not just a decoration on a place, but it's actually rooted in and part of a place, even an outgrowth of a place. The culture is part of the land, the land is part of the culture. So when you're talking about recipes you're talking about a cultural product that I think also should be decentralized. But at the same time there is this whole ascent of humanity to a mass global society has also happened for a reason. So it's not to, I don't advocate completely dismantling the collective global intelligence, but to revalidate the other levels of organization and intelligence.
Jeff Krasno: I want to talk to round it out about a bit about regenerative agriculture because, and its role in climate change. Because I met you through Reiland Engelhart and the Kiss The Ground folks, and we actually did a course with them around soil and the carbon sequestration properties of soil. That honestly was, I thought it was like this is a very philanthropic thing to do with them and we'll put it on the platform and it'll look like we're fulfilling our role as a good social impact conscious company. I mean admittedly this a little bit of that and it was so popular. I mean we had like 30, some a thousand people sign up for that thing. I'm like, well they're not going to be all farmers obviously, but I wonder how you think about regenerative agriculture, how you understand it in the overall context of climate change and addressing it.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah, climate change is another issue that my opinion is off the spectrum of opinion, which is defined on the one end by-
Jeff Krasno: It's your happy place.
Charles Eisenstein: By catastrophe and on the other end by skepticism or denialism as you might call it, I prefer skepticism. This is one of my operating principles is that in any polarized debate, the key to the debate lies in what neither side is talking about. Where in the assumptions that they both share unconsciously. And one of them is that in the environmental issue, the most important thing to be talking about is carbon. So Kiss The Ground, I am a big proponent, enthusiastic proponent of regenerative agriculture. But for me it's not because of carbon sequestration, it's because I understand soil as one of the organs of a living being called Gaia or called earth. I understand that without healthy soil, earth will survive no better than you would survive without skin. Yes, it sequesters carbon or helps modulate the levels of carbon in the atmosphere, but in my mind, more importantly, it helps to regulate the water cycle. Healthy soil absorbs rainfall that would otherwise run off and be a flood and then as it absorbs, it replenishes, aquifers and waters plants, trees, especially grasses that then transpire the water into what would otherwise be the dry season.
Charles Eisenstein: Creating clouds, recycling that moisture as rain, extending the dry season, so thereby first mitigating floods and then preventing drought. Someone was telling me in a, they were in a, I think it was Jamaica or something, one of the Caribbean nations where in the recent hurricane, none of the villages that had intact coastal wetlands suffered any loss of life. It was only the ones where there had been development and wetlands draining where there had been catastrophe. Because these wetlands absorb the incoming water and the same thing happens for land based wetlands. So basically, what I'm seeing, and this is part of the basic mentality of warfare, which is that if you want to solve a situation, solve a problem, the first thing you do is you find the enemy where you find the one thing to attack.
Charles Eisenstein: So carbon dioxide fits the bill, it's one thing to attack better yet it's quantifiable. So we can use all of the methods and mindsets of accounting to minimize a number. And I think that as in any kind of reductionism, the important stuff gets left out. So I personally do not think that global warming per se is the biggest threat. I think that it could easily result from eco side, from the destruction of organs of Gaia that just like your organs help maintain homeostasis. But we could equally see catastrophic cooling or catastrophic fluctuations and that there's a lot more to, I read a whole book on this so it's hard for me to summarize it now, but just as an example of the real issue being off the radar screen of conventional polarized positions.
Jeff Krasno: Yes, it's almost like you are a functional medicine doctor applying the theories of functional medicine outside of medicine on some level. Like to climate, to politics, that always, it's not really, I mean it's not that the orthodoxy in the conversation up here doesn't matter, but that there is a root cause that really is the thing that needs to be focused on. And it's funny that just, I'm having minor epiphany right now, but what you're saying and this regenerative agriculture course that we did, because my sense is that of those 30 some a thousand people that signed up for the course, how many people are going to be a regenerative agricultural farmer? Five? Three? 10? 20? 50? I don't know. But my sense is that there is a thirst to feel a part of nature where people have felt so divorced from it. And I think that might have been the reason why people are, they're innately drawn to this notion of connection and don't always, but don't have all this other resources available to get to that.
Charles Eisenstein: And I think maybe we could wrap up by saying that that actually answers the question that you posed earlier. What is the nature of this movement that will reverse the tide of separation? And it is exactly this, it's reunion, it's reconnection powered by what you're describing. This yearning to connect to nature again, to be part of the global reuniting of all that we have separated off. All of the beings, all of the people, the races, the cultures, the living things of this earth to come together again. I think this is the tide of our time that will carry us into a much more beautiful future.
Jeff Krasno: Yeah. Thank you, Charles.
Charles Eisenstein: Yeah. Thanks.