NERO FIDDLED WHILE ROME BURNED

It’s hard to separate truth from fiction anytime, but 2000 years ago? It almost doesn’t matter. Now we are in legend territory, and legends are at best loosely connected to facts. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of truth in them.

As historians point out, the legend that Nero fiddled while Rome burned can’t be factually true, if for no other reason than there were no fiddles in Rome in the first century A.D. Nonetheless, people still like to say: Nero fiddled while Rome burned.  It’s another way of saying that people with too much power become callous, if not cruel. There’s speculation that Nero started the fire himself, in order to expand the grounds of his Golden Palace.

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned” could also mean that once a problem gets too huge to address, we distract ourselves from it in whatever ways we can. That’s what I’m thinking when I say it. We are fiddling around while the world burns — fiddling and dancing, and checking our Facebook messages every five minutes, as we fall further behind in the race we’re in between consciousness and catastrophe.

Actually the situation is even more grave than that. “Falling behind” suggests that we were at some point staying even in that race, and now we need to pick up the pace, make adjustments, tinker a little bit. “Falling behind” suggests that higher human consciousness is already largely in place, but has to be more effectively applied.

But, far more likely, the hard work of developing our higher nature out of our much longer- standing instinctive nature is still in its infancy. We have for a long time now deluded ourselves into thinking that higher consciousness has to do with technological progress, sending a man to the moon, developing the world wide web, etc., when the heart of it lies in the moral/ spiritual realm of progress. Progress, for example, in doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Progress in choosing forgiveness over retribution. Or in living modestly. Laying not up treasures …

No easy stuff.  Individuals, it seems, can here and there elevate themselves into their higher consciousness through hard work. It happens now and then.   However, in the collective, how close are we to loving our neighbors, let alone loving our enemies (or even in truly loving ourselves).  Regardless of ideals being lip-serviced behind stained glass windows, most of us are wrapped up in self-protection and/or self-promotion, and our concerns don’t expand much beyond the well-being of our personal family.

The obscene hoarding by the wealthy (comfortable philanthropy aside), hand in hand with the tendency of those of modest means to idolize wealth, reveals the long odds we are facing in terms of elevating human nature. To be a billionaire, or a billionaire wannabe, is to be operating out of one’s animal instincts. Hoarding is the animal survival instinct gone berserk, to the point that one doesn’t see how it can ever be corrected. And yet (a note of hope) I’m reminded that in many native societies the chiefs had/ have the fewest possessions. They were/ are the chiefs because, among other reasons, they had/ have given the most away.

But (so much for hope) who among us looks to native cultures, past or present, for guidance? And to further complicate the situation there is the vast human capacity for wishful thinking. My New Age friends tend to speak of a quiet, almost secret positive growth in consciousness that is going on underground and is about to break through the surface and become visible.

Their thought goes along with “the hundredth monkey” story. Wikipedia: “scientists were conducting a study of monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima in 1952. These scientists observed that some of these monkeys learned to wash sweet potatoes, and gradually this new behavior spread through the younger generation of monkeys – in the usual fashion, through observation and repetition…. The researchers observed that once a critical number of monkeys was reached, i.e., the hundredth monkey, this previously learned behavior instantly spread across the water to monkeys on nearby islands.”

You get the drift. An individual has a breakthrough, and then another imitates it, and then another, and in time the collective has the benefit of that breakthrough without even having to learn anything

I can’t tune into this vision of progress at all. Think about racism, for example. Surely racism is somewhat rooted in our animal nature — an innate animal hostility toward outsiders who show up on the fringes of a group. Nonetheless, racism in modern persons is rightly seen as poorly developed, or sickly human consciousness, as something lowly that hasn’t been worked through. That’s the politically correct view anyway; meanwhile the backwardness of racism is supported by millions of like-minded, undeveloped others. (The Republican Party has been staying afloat for decades now by subtly appealing to this lowest common denominator.)

So much needs to be undone in a racist’s mentality and emotionality. To be even standing on the starting line of such work, we would have to understand the psychological phenomenon of projection in general, and our own projections in specific. We would have to know that when one sees inferiority in another person it is nine out of times a projection of hidden inferior feelings one has towards oneself.

Who admits without great pain that he or she is poorly formed or sick? To see one’s own inferiority feelings (as a first step to withdrawing one’s projections) is tantamount learning high math. It’s mind-bending. Yet, as Carl Jung observed, “there is no coming to consciousness without pain.” Seems true to me. He also observed that the owning of one’s projections is the beginning of higher consciousness.

So much for the hundredth monkey story as our way forward. We are in the kindergarten here, trying to spell god with the wrong blocks.

And since time is short, we latch onto another bit of wishful thinking: that those who arrive at the top of the power-food-chain are developed persons above and beyond the average ; that they are leaders who know where to go.

This is where we find ourselves at present in America. With Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton soon to be president.

 

1 Comment

  1. Debbie Thompson

    Jim,
    Thank you for this. To me, Donald Trump epitomizes everything that’s wrong with this country, and the people who support him are furthering his travesty. These people make it clear to me that our country is not making much progress in the right direction–the reality TV watchers, as I think of them. (But I have to keep reminding myself not to judge.) I think this phenomena is an outgrowth of what you say about Nero fiddling while Rome burned. When people feel their lives aren’t worthwhile, they don’t have enough, they want more, they’re bored, life isn’t fair, they feel helpless and that they have no control, they seek all kinds of distractions–from TV to booze to drugs. We have a long way to go before people understand that money and “things” don’t bring the peace and happiness they’re searching for so desperately. Taking a walk on the beach helps though.

    And so I do not agree with the 100 monkeys theory. I think becoming takes more work than monkey see, monkey do.

    I’m glad you talk about racism. A few years ago, I was living in my own la-la land of believing racism had been beaten in this country. That was until I started working on Barack Obama’s campaign. I was and still am appalled at the racism I encountered. And against him? The first president in how many decades who has a soul. I get upset when people refuse to look past his color, and I’m glad his time is almost up. He’s taken way too much abuse at the hands of narrow-minded, greedy Republicans. And now look at what’s been happening in the past couple weeks. I feel like we’re back in the early 1960s, only worse because everyone is armed. We really haven’t done much to ensure civil rights for any minorities in this country, and Trump wants to make it even worse. And people are for that? Unbelievable! Is it so hard to understand that the fear, anger, doubt we feel is more about ourselves than it is about the ones we fear, are angry at, or whatever. Look inside and start digging it out. It’s the only way to get rid of this ugliness.

    Thanks for hearing me out.
    Debbie

    Reply

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