How Metahistory Works
Orientation to Metahistory
Beliefs may be patently absurd, ridiculous on face value, but those who adopt them are empowered by what they believe. They may act for or against their own humanity, depending on what they believe. How to explain this dynamic?
The Power of Believing
Because beliefs are unfalsifiable—no one can prove that the world was created by a giant gnome who lived on the dark side of the moon, but no one can disprove it, either—they seem to have a power that defies and surpasses reason. This is one aspect of their appeal. The other is that beliefs provide answers to questions such as "Where does life begin?", that cannot be answered easily, if at all.
People frequently say that such answers (most notably about life after death) console and encourage us and life would be intolerable without them—but this statement is also just a belief. Not having tried to live without these consoling beliefs, we do not know how life would be, stripped of such beliefs. We believe that it would be intolerable to live without unsupported and unverifiable beliefs to answer the unanswered questions that life puts before us. The strength of this belief, rather than the unverifiable answers we settle for, is what deters us even trying to live without dependence on beliefs.
So, the specious power that excels reason, and the consolation of unverifiable answers are the two primary appeals of belief; and there is a third. What we believe is usually an unexamined idea or conviction uncritically received from others and shared with many others, hence, it is basic to our identity. In most cases, children believe what they are told to believe, period. (The truth is, children can resist with determination what they are told to believe, but with no one to confirm their resistence and support their dissent, they gradually comply and come to forget their objections, stifling the feelings that came with them.) In adopting beliefs, children naturally identify with those who share those beliefs, and who insistently impart them. The transmission of belief, hugely celebrated in high-toned rhetoric about spiritual and cultural "tradition," is actually one of the great, unadmitted tragedies of the human condition.
Unlike other animals, human progeny are neotonic, taking a long time to mature. When we are born, the brain is not yet developed as an organ. It takes many years to ripen a brain. While it accounts for the exceptional scope of learning and innovation of our species, this neotonic handicap makes offspring excessively dependent upon what is inculcated in them by adults. The sight of children cramped in a madrasa, an Islamic kindergarten, nodding like zombies and repeating the Koran eight hours a day is only one example (an obviously flagrant one) of how children are programmed to believe. Such practices, which exist in many forms in diverse cultures and religions, ought to be regarded as child abuse.
Neotony offers to our species the unique advantage of a reverse transmission of generational assets, from younger to the older members of the tribe. (This is the theme of my book, Quest for the Zodiac.) In other words, nature requires the long-term maturation of human offspring so that the evolutionary potential to learn and innovate embodied in the new generation can be shared with the older generation. Children come into the human tribe for us to learn from them, not for us to tell them what we believe. We are all tulkus.
The threefold power of belief—unfalsifiability, consolation, identity—is not to be discounted, but the power of belief is spurious: it simply does not deliver what it appears to deliver. The Tyranny of Faith explains how the placebo effect works in belief, delivering a false return on a huge investment. It is not easy to detect and understand such dynamics, but it is essential to anyone who intends to become free of received beliefs and neotonic programming.
Phantom Belief explains the same dynamic from another perspective and explains how, even though faith is in decline all around the world, the illusory power of belief is escalating to dangerous levels—toward total dementia.
One of the essential messages of metahistory.org is that belief can destroy our capacity to experience. Citing the work of R. D. Laing, the Lexicon entry on behavior explains how we can be robbed of our own experience, so that we end up living on terms that do not reflect our authentic talents or inner potential. A lot of what has been called "spirituality" and "inner work" since the 1960s is about deprogramming, liberating oneself from received beliefs, and getting back to the authentic resources of individuality. This is the gist of the human potential movement. Unfortunately, the work of deprogramming often morphs into games of "personal growth" and "empowerment," leading people to believe that spirituality is about getting your way in the world, winning at social games, etc.
On this site, we distinguish self-empowerment from consecration, and emphasize that human potential goes to the highest level of fulfillment when the lifepath of the individual is integrated with the ways of Gaia, the living planet. Hence, the concept of coevolution that is extensively developed in these pages.
It is, of course, impossible to proceed with such initiatives without operating on beliefs of some kind. So what are we asking you to believe here? We ask that you take nothing said in this site on belief, but we invite you to consider how we assess beliefs (metacritique) and choose among them.
Throughout this site I argue that it is desirable to believe as little as possible, and to rely upon direct experience rather than speculation, hope, and fantasy—this depends on the capacity for experience being sane and whole, healed from damage and crippling beliefs—and to enter a visionary path of commitment in which we believe in what can actually be achieved, rather than in what might be possible, or what we would like to pretend is possible.
Insane and Inhumane describes the basic beliefs to be developed on this site, and makes it clear that such beliefs are not to be adopted as a predetermined platform or blind agenda. We do not ask anyone to go along with these beliefs, but we invite everyone to examine, discuss, and perhaps test them out experimentally. Metahistory (Approaching Gnosticism) proposes a clear distinction between belief and faith: the former is blind dependence on what cannot be proven or experientially known, the latter is confidence in the power to define, realize, and accomplish all that we can truly imagine. The Gnostic principle (Pistis Sophia) of belief advises:
Believe that you can discover innately whatever you seek to know through an external quest for knowledge, or through the adoption of received beliefs as substitutes for direct knowing.
To foster free and conscious choice of beliefs, rather than unconscious enactment of them, metahistory.org offers two tools: metacritique, the radical analysis of beliefs and belief systems, and an open source narrative for evolving a different story of what it means to be human.
It is now widely recognized that human beings in all times and cultures enact stories (scripts, or agendas) of six recurrent types: religious, racial, national, sexual, political, and familial. We look into the content and composition of these stories to see how they drive behavior. The power of stories is universally appealing, but even more powerful is the transmission of fundamental beliefs in story form.
We behave as we believe.
The effect of a story or script is to produce identification, but usually this happens in an unconscious way. We adapt the beliefs encoded in story form without a truth-testing process, or a clear awareness of what the beliefs actually entail.
Once the beliefs carried in stories are exposed, their motivational force can be examined and the behaviors driven by them changed. The blind enactment of scripts at personal and collective levels is typical of human history, but beyond history there is another way to manage the power of beliefs, a path of reasoned choice and enlightened response. A path of alignment.
The motto of Bioneers, who collaborate with the Marion
Institute to offer the annual conference, Bioneers by the Bay, is "connecting
for change." The mix and merge of our different realities induces
a sharper, more compassionate sense of our common reality. Beliefs that
we have acquired through others can be changed by dialogue with others
(but not without confronting fear and attachment, emotions that link
us to unsustainable beliefs). Belief-change is
the single most revolutionary action leading to a sane and sustainable
future for human life on earth. On this site we examine beliefs to discover
what guides the human animal, for better or worse. Belief-change enables
us to make personal and social commitments freed of blind conformity
to received stories, imposed rules, and unexamined agendas.
Metahistory is a pro-active discipline for radical change in personal, social, and collective terms. Through the open narrative, it offers a framework for commitment to a shared planetary vision. Metahistory goes beyond a mere recounting of facts and events, and even beyond the interpretation of these facts and events. It goes beyond debating about ideas because beliefs, rather than ideas per se, determine the ultimate background of everything conceived and achieved by human beings. Belief is the matrix from which ideas emerge, even when those ideas eventually lead to liberation from specific beliefs.
Faith in the Species
In this site we propose living without faith based on unverifiable beliefs and propositions, but we encourage faith that can be tested by real-life experience. Faith is a huge concern for many people because, as noted above, the most essential questions of life seem to be unanswered, or answerable: Does God exist? Why are we born? What happens when we die? Is the soul immortal? Will we see those we love after death? Does chance exist? Who guides us, or judges us, throughout life? What power directs the course of history? How will this world end?
It is easy to leave these questions to faith, but who provides the answers and beliefs to be taken on faith? No matter what the issues, faith always comes down to trust in sources believed to lie outside or beyond our innate capacities. Although it seems to confer power—due to the way it allows us to face the unanswerable issues of life—faith is futile and disempowering.
Above and beyond all else, metahistory poses the question:
The very nature of faith blinds us to the veracity of what we embrace on faith—unless it can be personally tested. We affirm that the authenticity of individual experience is superior to any faith, except faith in humanity itself. Thus, Metahistory encourages faith in the species, in human potential, but not excluding the spiritual and supernatural dimension of human experience, either. It is not a form of secular humanism, but it addresses the key problems that humanism fails to solve.
Going beyond history means initiating a different story, the adventure of our shared liberation from imposed scripts. As the process unfolds, all our beliefs are brought into focus in the single and ultimate issue: our belief in humanity itself, in the potential of the human species to realize its mysterious role in the cosmos. Gnostics taught that human life is this adventure in learning, an experiment in novelty. Guided by faith in human potential and a Gaian story for all species, metahistory provides a visionary path toward all that is truly excellent, and truly humane, in the ageless striving of the human spirit.
rev: January 2007 jll
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.