This is part 2 of our series on Monism as a general theory for the human condition. Part 1 explored the nature of ego, what it means to be enlightened and why monks often laugh at lay people who bring them their worldly problems.
Part 2 will wrap things up by tying ego back to monism and presenting our general theory.
Reality is not a serious place, stop pretending that it is
We live in a kind of terrible prison called Samsara. It’s terrible because of ego. It’s a prison because you can never escape it, death won’t really stop anything. If you step back for a minute and look at our modern society from an abstract point of view the whole thing is just pretty silly.
Take a modern government for example. Every few years we hold this big contest to decide which egos are worthy of making the rules for all the others. Then we must enforce the rules so we hire police and others to catch and punish egos that break the rules. We all then pay into this system as taxes and pretend that it isn’t something we all just made up 235 years ago. It is. This isn’t ordained by god, we are all god and we made it up ourselves.
Now apply that same perspective to anything you can think of. Income inequality, war, famine, genocide, bills, taxes, murder… none of this is inherent in the universe we live in. We add these things, via our selfish ego, and then we suffer because of them. No human baby is born with a burning desire to pick up a gun and go invade Ukraine are they?
Let’s explore that one a bit more. Imagine you are in a trench, it is world war 2, western front and your commander has called for your squad to climb the trench and charge the other line. So you are sitting in the trench, next to your squad mates waiting for the pistol shot to start the charge. What is going through your head? Why don’t you just turn around and run away from all this?
Ego is the real problem
Ego is the reason. One way to think about your ego is as that little voice in the back of your head telling you to be afraid, telling you that you aren’t good enough, that you need to try harder. We discussed this concept in our piece on artificial intelligence as we use this same idea to train AI. Your ego is there to make sure you keep going, to make sure you keep seeking new things.
It is also trying to protect you. In this trench scenario it is doing that in two ways: first, it is telling you to run away. Your fight or flight response is on high alert in this moment. Secondly, it is telling you not to run away. You will embarrass yourself if you do that. Your squad mates will think less of you, your commander will punish you or maybe even kill you right there if you run.
Ego doesn’t only use fear though, it will also motivate you by weaving tales of glory. You will be the one who makes it to the other side, you will clear the other trench and win some sort of fancy medal. Ego creates stories like this to make you do things you otherwise wouldn’t do. Modern organizations, such as armies, absolutely employ psychological techniques against unwitting lay people to reinforce what their ego is already doing to them.
Now step back into the modern world. No longer are you a soldier on the front lines, now you are a rising politician maybe you just won your first house seat and have your eye on the senate. Lobbyists start approaching you, you try to resist and mostly you do, but some of them make it easy to fit their request into your ethical world view so you accept that money. Your ego tells you this was ok, but you have been corrupted just like everyone else.
We look at politicians like Bernie Sanders and say “See, there is a honest politician, they are not corrupted”. But we would argue Bernie has been held back by ego just as much as any fully corrupt politician. Both his own ego in not being bold enough, or not compromising on the right things to get some part of his vision done. Also by the other egos that work night and day to stop him from accomplishing anything.
Coming back to monism
We started this post with the theme of Monism and it is time to return there. Now that we understand what ego is, and how it works to corrupt the world that we live in, let’s explore how this all fits back into Monism.
Monism is the idea that we are all one thing, one organism expressing itself through these varied consciousnesses. Monism is the modern philosophical way to express the ancient Hindu idea of Maya. It is saying the same thing, we are one being who decided to separate to play this big game called Samsara.
Lets look at Bernie Sanders again. His inability to accomplish his vision over a 40+ year political career is interesting and tragic. And yet his tragedy is not really what it seems. We only see this as tragedy if we take the game of Samsara seriously. Its a horrifying perspective to take at first, but this is the only honest perspective there is. If Bernie wasn’t there doing what he was doing telling us all about the amazing world we could have had — we would not feel the horror of the world we have so acutely.
We are everyone
If we truly believe that we are everyone, we are a lonely god who separated to experience Samsara. If we really believe that, then we must believe that Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders are also both god, they are also both us. They oppose each other as that is the game we’ve decided to play, but the game is not real. At any point they could decide to stop opposing each other and implement progressive policy together, or Bernie could decide to go full on fascist.
Neither event would be out of character for the universe we’ve created. In the exact same way that our earlier experiment as a soldier on the front lines of World War II could have ended any number of ways. We could have run away, and our commander would shoot us. We could have charged forward, defeated the enemy and gotten our medal. A meteorite could have come down from space and ended our lives before we could decide.
All outcomes are valid outcomes and all paths are valid paths. To the universe — experiencing ALL of it is the entire point. Ego is setup in all of us to ensure that this happens. Our desires to walk a certain path, or experience a particular outcome are ego driven desires. There is nothing else capable of expressing desire, only ego can do this.
It sounds crazy but at any point we could all just stop. Stop collecting bills and stop paying them. Stop fighting, stop punishing, stop judging. We could break the corruption of ego and make our own choices about the world we want to create. However, like any good prisoner’s dilemma nobody wants to give in first, so we are locked in samsara forever.
a general theory of the human condition
Gravity is one of the primary forces that drives the theory of general relativity. Gravity warps space-time in ways that create the effects we observe in the universe, such as the orbits of our planets around the sun. Gravity is an invisible force, yet we can observe it through its effect. Those effects can be as tiny as causing a pebble to roll down a small hill, or as large as the collision of two stars.
If you’ve stuck with us this long, congratulations, we are almost done. Just as gravity acts as this invisible force driving the interactions of everything in the physical world above the size of molecules –ego is that same force for humanity. Ego is the gravity that gives us the systems of government that we have, the wars that we fight, and also the happiness that we feel on achieving something great.
Before dismissing this idea off hand consider it for a little longer. Think about major events in history that you are familiar with. How would those events play out different in a world without ego? Well don’t take our word for it, hear it from the man himself:
Ego is to our human condition as gravity is to the physical world. That is our general theory of the human condition. When we look back at historical events, they all were driven by a selfish ego either in pursuit of a desire — or running from some fear.
You don’t have to live like that, letting ego drive all your decisions. Fear and Desire are just two sides of the same coin, both are used to manipulate you into doing things that aren’t in our nature. Once you free yourself from this tyranny you can start to look at things more objectively, without needing to be personally involved. Acceptance, and ultimately happiness are possible on this path.