The Me Decade Continues

Vic Stenger

In her 1976 new age bible,The Aquarian Conspiracy , Marilyn Ferguson quotes physicist/guru Fritjof Capra as predicting that the decade of the 1980s would be a revolutionary time "because the whole structure of our society does not correspond with the world-view of emerging scientific thought." As outlined most recently in his film Mindwalk (see my review in the March, 1992 HH Newsletter), a new holistic philosophy based on quantum physics was supposed to teach people to be less selfish, to recognize that they are part of a greater whole and to work cooperatively for the benefit of everyone.

Following Capra, Danah Zohar in her 1990 book, The Quantum Self, informs us that "Cartesian philosophy wrenched human beings from their familiar social and religious context and thrust us headlong into . . . our I centered culture, a culture dominated by egocentricity."

Notwithstanding, we can faithfully report that no great holistic revolution, brought about by humanity's widespread acceptance of quantum physics, actually took place in the decade just past. On the contrary, the 1980s have been characterized, in America anyway, as the "Me Decade." Far from everybody recognizing that we are each an inseparable part of the whole, and all pitching in to make the world a better place for its inhabitants, life in the decade of the 1980s was characterized by an unprecedented level of individual self-absorption. And the 1990s so far show no sign of any change in basic attitudes, with everyone now a "victim" and not responsible for anything.

Now some will argue that the fixation with self only reinforces the need for a holistic philosophy like that of Capra, Ferguson, and Zohar. The problem is that the new philosophy has not yet taken hold. However, I think that at least a small part of the blame for current excessive self-absorption can be laid at the feet of the new mysticism. Anyone listening to new age gurus can't miss the emphasis on the individual finding easy gratification - never individual sacrifice and selfless labor for a better world. It's the perfect philosophy for the spoiled brat, all decked out in the latest fashion at a fancy watering hole, blaming all the problems of the world on the very system that provided him with his unearned comforts.

Classical physics does not make people egoists. People were egoists long before classical physics. In fact, classical physics has nothing to say about humans except that we are material objects like everything else, occupying a speck of dust in a vast universe that will take no notice when we inevitably become extinct. This is hardly a philosophical basis for narcissism.

The new holism, on the other hand, feeds our delusion of personal importance. It tells us that we are part of an immortal cosmic mind with the power to perform miracles and, as Shirley MacLaine has said, to make our own reality. Thoughts of our participation in cosmic consciousness inflate our egos to the point where we can ignore our imperfections, excuse our short-comings, and forget our mortality. As with the myths of most religions, the myth of cosmic mind provides a means for escaping reality. And so, in a land where self-gratification has reached heights never dreamed of in ancient Rome, where self-esteem is more important than being able to read, and where self-help requires no more effort than putting on a cassette, the myth of cosmic mind is just what the shrink ordered.

Cosmic mind is a grossly misapplied version of ancient Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, which were deeply based on the notion that only by the complete rejection of self can one find inner peace in this world of suffering and hopelessness. Where Capra and his colleagues see similarities between the new and the old mysticisms, I see only contrasts. Where they see the new mythology as an antidote for self absorption, I see it as a drug that induces self delusion. When they say they are building a modern face on ancient Eastern philosophy, I say they are covering a noble edifice with graffiti. And, where they blame rational science for the ills of the world, I see rational science as the one, last flicker of hope for the world.