Me, You, a Puppy, and Why We Can’t Solve Our Big Problems Through Violence, Greed, and Exploitation Anymore
Source: Eudaimonia & Co
Right about now, humanity reminds me of an angry baby. Take my puppy Snowy. He’s still a tiny thing — just three months old. He’s just — just — learning to communicate, to express himself. He’s learning how to be a person. He understands new things every day, and it’s strange, funny, glorious. Sometimes. And at other times, well…
The other day, he suddenly understood the treats were stored on the shelf against the wall. Uh oh. Aha! He ran over, hopped up, and whined and barked and growled. Bad boy! And then when he didn’t get any treats, he marched into his little bed, next to the sofa, opposite the shelf with the treats, and…sulked. Pouted. Made little big eyes up at us, half accusing, half sullen, and half pitiable (and yes I know that’s three halves, but that’s how big his eyes are.)
Now, it was so obvious, and so funny, what he was trying to express, that we made up a little song, which goes like this:
“No treats, no treats, no treats, no treats.
I never got a treat my whole life long!
No treats, no treats, no treats, no treats.
For little big ears Snowy!”
Forgive me. I guess puppy love will do strange things to you even if you’re a vampire. But you see my point. Being refused a treat, Snowy went and sulked in his little corner, making big accusatory sad eyes at us — like he’d never (say this in baby tantrum voice) even gotten one single measly treat in whole entire life! Because we were so mean!! What were we to do with this adorable little pouter? Ah, but all that reminds me of you and me, too. Let me gently explain — and you judge if my words carry any water.
The world has four Big Problems (maybe five, depending on how you slice them): climate change, mass extinction, capitalism failing and imploding into fascism, supremacy, and hate, and inequality and stagnation turning middle classes into the new poor.
Yet instead of fixing these problems, we’re acting, collectively at least, so far, like spoiled and bad babies. Who’ll do anything to get more treats — even ignore the house burning down, even rip down the foundations, even neglecting sounding the alarm, but just shouting and demanding more treats. More treats, more treats, more treats…sound familiar? We’ve regressed into infantile stages of development, a psychologist might say, observing us, and our fixation with shiny things, flashy things, with shouting and tantrums, with butts and boobs, with instant gratification. The world falling apart so fast has overwhelmed us, left us in a kind of shock — and we’ve responded by retreating into textbook baby-like shells. Waaah!! I want my treats!! Who cares about anything else?!! I can’t handle reality if I don’t have my treats!!
And yet. Are these problems really different, separate problems? What links all these problems? These problems are all really different expressions of the same underlying thing — violence.
Climate change is the most obvious example. Violence we’ve done to the earth, scarring it with mines, wounding it with fires. Then there’s mass extinction — the bees, fish, trees, insects all beginning to die off, because, well, we don’t care when we kill them. Capitalism imploding into fascism is a problem of violence, too — when we can’t get the life of prosperity and material indulgences we’re promised by capitalism (which has no intention of ever giving it to us, just making capitalist rich), we grow embittered, hateful, resentful, and turn on our neighbours. And so too is the problem of democracies dying — as old ideologies fail, like neoliberalism, people are turning backwards to authoritarianisms for meaning, purpose, strength.
The thread of violence is what links all of today’s Big Problems. It is the problem inside the problem — the paradigm, the mindset, the attitude, at the heart of this century’s troubles.
We’ve thought for a very long time, us human beings, that violence would be the answer to the problems. In fact, most of us still think it — even if we think we don’t — and that, my friends, is the issue. Let me illustrate.
First came the ages of slavery and empire. The violence was obvious and explicit. Today, most of us condemn those. But have we really outgrown violence — or do we just think we have?
Take the example of modern American life. The American lives under the constant threat of death — yes, really. At any moment, she can lose her job, which means she can lose her healthcare, retirement, income, savings, home…which means that one sudden illness or emergency might well cost her her life, or at the very least, her security and safety. I can make that example even sharper if you like. American kids are forced to pretend die at school now — “active shooter drills.” Masked men literally burst into their schoolrooms, and pretend to kill them.
Do you see my point? Many Americans will reject the idea that they are still a society that solves their problems through violence. And it’s true in a weak sense, maybe the weakest sense — slavery is outlawed, and you can’t whip someone and put them in stocks. But Americans don’t fully realize that they are solving their problems with violence still, just in less visible ways — but those ways are systemic, and so the violence that’s come to rule America is institutional and structural. There’s not a mafia thug who shows up at your door and threatens you if you can’t pay your healthcare bills — instead, an invisible system makes your life a living hell, taking away your home, savings, income, possessions.
But violence is violence. When a society is based upon the principle that America still is — we will control each other through violence, by threatening each others’ lives, safety, security, livelihoods, what’s the result?
Well, the result is just what happened in America, too. A society becomes a fearful place. It grows afraid. It begins to submit — and even to, in a classic move of psychological defense, to identify with its aggressor, to believe in its own abuse being good for it. Hence, many Americans won’t believe their society is run for and by violence — even when most Americans struggle to afford decent healthcare, and their kids are made to pretend die at school. In the end, violence twists us upon ourselves, until we believe up is down, wrong is right, bad is good — harm is benefit.
Violence can’t solve problems that it creates, my friends — and this century is going to be the ultimate test of whether we, humanity, have evolved far enough to understand that yet. Even riches and power are no guarantee that you’ll get it — Americans have been unable to understand how their love of violence has come back to haunt them. You can’t love guns more than books, and not expect your kids to get hurt, too. You can’t make war on the world, and not expect the worst and most ignominious of those soldiers and generals not to come home and make war on you — Caesar did it, didn’t he? And so it goes. Violence can’t solve the problems violence creates. So what can?
There’s a lesson for the world and the future here. What happens if we don’t understand that our problems are all forms of violence? Well, violence takes us and twists us like it’s done to enough Americans to destabilize society wholesale. We begin to believe in violence as good, just, necessary, wholesome — that violence isn’t violence at all, but some sort of noble and righteous act. But it’s not.
We solve problems of violence when our consciousness grows, matures, elevates, rises. When we understand the violence we really do — and also know, in just that moment, that there was always a better way. Then we become capable of greater things. Empathy, truth, compassion, defiance, grace, love. I know that many of you will roll your eyes. Go ahead — it’s OK. It’s just a sign of how deep a hold violence has on you, really.
Just think of little Snowy, sulking there in the corner, pouting. “I never got a single measly treat in my whole life! Not even one! You’re the meanest parents in the world!!” He’s a sweet puppy. Innocence radiates from him like a newborn sun. But what would it take to make him an angry, selfish, spiteful dog? To really hurt him. To punish him. And then to reward him when he became abusive, too. Do you see my point a little bit? Probably not. So let me turn it inside out.
What do I do with Snowy when he’s sulking? The books — American books — tell me to ignore him, to punish him, to put him in a little cage. I did it for a month. I hated every day of it. It wasn’t working. It was taking the soul, the magic, the truth of him — and me, too, whatever was left of it.
So now I pick him up and say: “little guy. We’re a family now. Did you know that? Everyone here loves you. And your only job is to love everyone. Just that. It’s OK! You can whine and jump and bark. You’re safe here. We’ll always take care of you.” There are those who’ll say: a little puppy can’t speak English! Umair, you dummy! LOL. Ah, but Snowy somehow knows exactly what I’m saying, even if he doesn’t grasp my symbolic words. He fully and completely understands the feeling, the truth, the message. His little heart stops pounding. He stops quivering with anxiety. He relaxes in my arms. His little frown becomes a tiny grin. I get a little puppy hug. He gets it, alright. He gets it better than most humans would, in fact.
(How does he know it? Come now. The truest words never have to be spoken at all, do they?)
What have I done? I’ve expanded Snowy’s consciousness. That’s a bad way to put it, but it’s a beginning. A truer truth: he’s expanded mine, too. We have grown together into a new feeling, a new place, a new level. It’s taken us both to understand something as beautiful as it is true. Violence is never the answer. We are different — human and dog, big and little, brown and white — or are we the same? Snowy could fight me all day long for all the treats, and I could put him in his cage, ignore him, shout at him. What would the point be? When I can just pick him up in my arms, and tell him that we’re a family, and that he’s loved? Isn’t it really that feeling that he’s after?
We can do just the same thing, my friends. We can simply give one another the very things we are desperately fighting each other for. Healthcare, education, retirement, childcare, income, savings. There is more than enough to go around — “money” is a fiction anyways — and the truth is that millions of good jobs, careers, futures would be created in the process. It’s not having enough of these things — feeling like you will really never have enough of any of them to feel safe or secure — that’s causing the world to fall apart. Yes, really. When you don’t feel safe — what do you do? You lash out.
We could stop the whole cycle of violence that’s ripping the world to shreds — yes, really, American fascism, British nationalism, European extremism, Chinese authoritarianism — by simply giving one another the things we are competing against each other for, in increasingly desperate ways. (“We”, by the way, means giving trees, rivers, animals all those things — nourishment, safety, security, too.)
Why don’t we do it? Because we have been conditioned by centuries of violence, millennia of it, to believe so deeply in it that we still do, deeply, even when we think we don’t. Just like the American that thinks denying his neighbor healthcare or his neighbours’ kid safety at school isn’t violence. Of course it is. Anything that threatens another with harm is violence. And that is the only way we know how to exist. If Snowy and I existed that way — only ever threatening one another with violence — our lives would be a living hell, though, wouldn’t they?
So Snowy and I are on this journey together. This strange, improbable, bewildering journey. I look at him and wonder — where did you come from, little guy? Who made you? What do you see when you look at me? He stares up at me, with big black eyes, full of wonder, full of grace. We are at peace together. We are simply giving one another the things we need, instead of making each other compete and contest them.
We are a family. We are there for one another. We care for another. No words need to be spoken. The message is felt in a heartbeat, in a glance, in a smile, in an embrace.
Do you see what I mean by higher consciousness? Do you think that humanity can get there? Perhaps you’re a cynic, like so many today. So why is it that if a puppy can grow into higher consciousness…humanity can’t? Perhaps you see my point now. If Snowy can…surely we can, too. It’s just a matter of will, of presence, of desire and insight.
So “higher consciousness” isn’t what American culture has made it out to be, either. Some kind of mystical, magical accomplishment, you need to be a saint or a yogi to get to. Wrong.
It’s just the relationship I have with my puppy. Maybe you have with yours. It’s a child walking through the park struck dumb by wonder for the sunlight pouring through the trees.
Higher consciousness is just a kind of unconditional love, which we now, as human beings, must develop for all the things we have taken for granted — our planet, its beings, each other, ourselves. If we can’t do it, won’t do it — we don’t have a future, my friends. There is just chaos, regress, and decline for us human beings. That much couldn’t be clearer. We will have failed the test of adulthood for our species, or anyone, really. Remember me and Snowy?
Higher consciousness, unconditional love, is just the feeling that we are only here to care for one another on this terrible, beautiful voyage we’re on together. What else can we do? We’re just dust on a rock lit by a flame hurtling through the darkness. Where did we come from? Where do we go? We’re all the same when you see it that way, aren’t we? Me, you, Snowy — all of us. We’re walking together, one tiny step at a time, towards grace, towards the mountain, towards the river, towards the ocean, through the desert, looking up at the stars, discovering the bitter questions and the heartbreaking miracles of being here, just being here, for ourselves.
In one way, we are strangers. But in a truer way, we have always been friends.