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Safety Mania: Charles Eisenstein Talks COVID Hysteria, Mob Dynamics, and How to Forge ‘Communities of Sanity’

“Human beings are exquisitely attuned to reading the mood of the mob. It’s a survival mechanism,” says writer Charles Eisenstein. “In order to fit in, we instinctively adopt the correct opinions and profess those opinions. We signal the appropriate virtues. We respect the appropriate taboos that mark us as part of the in-group and not part of the sacrificial subclass.”

Eisenstein is the author of “The Coronation,” a collection of essays that explore the paradigms, dynamics, ideologies, and mythologies that predispose us toward narratives around safety and social control, especially in the age of COVID.

“This mania for safety, this obsession with risk minimization, and this worship of control actually never succeeds,” he says. “It always brings the opposite of what it intends. It brings less security. It brings less safety, it brings less health.”

We discuss ancient psychopathologies that have led to the current COVID hysteria and how we can forge what Eisenstein calls “new communities of sanity.”

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Jan Jekielek:

Charles Eisenstein, it’s such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Charles Eisenstein:

Happy to be here, Jan.

Mr. Jekielek:

Charles, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading “The Coronation,” your new book. Frankly, you took my mind to places that I didn’t know it could go. This is a collection of essays, and the first essay you included is about the Zika virus. You said, “All the ideological machinery was already in place for the transition that began in 2020 to a fully medicalized society.” What are you saying here?

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, I wrote the essay, “Zika and the Mentality of Control,” in 2017. It turned out that the Zika virus wasn’t scary enough for them to actually implement a lot of policies. Where I live, my son was going to go to a school camp. It was a camp out, and everyone was going to sleep in a tent in the woods and be outdoors for two days. They canceled it because in New England there had been two cases of Zika virus. That was more important to the school authorities than having children get to know each other and being out in nature.

This is that mentality where everything is subjugated to the litmus test of, “Is it safe or not? Could you get sick or not?” You should live your life in order to minimize that risk. On a broader level, we should design public policy to minimize illness or minimize death, which is actually a misnomer. You cannot actually save lives, and you can only postpone deaths. But that whole mentality was already well developed by 2017. That’s what I was seeing when I wrote that essay. The conditions for COVID hysteria are not new, it didn’t start all of a sudden in 2020.

Mr. Jekielek:

The moment you start thinking about things in terms of postponing death, you start thinking about other quality of life criteria a lot easier. But when you say saving life, it feels so total in a way.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, it can be a fundamentalism if you hold that as being of paramount importance. Then, you can use it to justify anything, and that’s exactly what we saw. That was the justification for the suspension of civil liberties. This is supposed to be a constitutional republic. We’re supposed to have these liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. There’s no clause in the Bill of Rights that says, “Except if the authorities declare an emergency, Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.” I have not seen that in the Constitution.

But we all agreed to this in order to protect our safety. It’s okay to suspend civil liberties. It’s okay to have dramatic changes in the way that we live. It’s okay to keep children indoors and close off all the playgrounds. It’s okay to prohibit handshakes and hugs and dance parties and singing choirs and Little League games and everything else that is defined as non-essential. So basically, it’s a social agreement that one thing is more important than everything else. I’m not saying that safety is not important, and I’m happy to prolong my life. But it’s for a reason, it’s so that I can live. It’s not so that I can exist in a bubble in this half-alive hell until I die.

Mr. Jekielek:

Something that comes through in multiple essays in the book is that you see society as inexorably progressing in the direction of ever-increasing social control. Please explain this.

Mr. Eisenstein:

We are immersed in paradigms and ideologies, and I would even call them mythologies, that specifically predispose us to the narrative that human progress and advancement means an increasing ability to dominate and control the world outside of ourselves. It is the idea that we will be better off only if we can control everything. When the pandemic hit a country, if it was really authoritarian, the first thing they would do is limit transportation. You can’t leave your state. You can’t leave your city. You can’t leave your apartment complex. You can’t go more than two kilometers from your home. You can’t leave your house. That idea that wellbeing and security and health come from controlling the perimeter is actually a very ancient mindset. You can trace this back to the advent of agriculture, conquering nature, domesticating the wild, killing the barbarians, and civilizing the heathens. That whole mindset feeds off of a mythology that says that human destiny lies in the completion of that program of control.

Once we extend it down to the genetic level, to the neurochemical level, to the molecular level, then we will have no more suffering, because we can control the brain chemistry. We can control every bodily process. We will have no more disease. If we surveil and monitor everyone all the time, then we will have no more crime. If we join all material objects into the internet of things, we’ll be able to deploy them most optimally for human wellbeing. This is all part of the same mindset. It depends on a belief that humans are the only source of order and intelligence and consciousness in the universe, which gives us the duty and the destiny to impose order onto a world that has none. That’s called progress.

If you believe, though, as all indigenous cultures believed and as all mystics in our own civilization believe, that intelligence is not in human beings alone, but is in all things, then we no longer need to impose it onto a world that doesn’t have it. Our place in creation is very different. It becomes a matter of participating in the unfolding of life and beauty in the cosmos, not on dominating and imposing it. The pathology that expressed itself in the COVID madness—in the hysteria, which is one way to look at it—is not like some passing phenomenon, but it indicates that we are at the brink of a very deep revolution.

Mr. Jekielek:

The authorities will say, “Wear masks, get vaccinated, and you’re a good person.” This is the propaganda that stems from the deeper ideas that you are describing.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes. The idea of, “If I wear a mask, then I will be safe,” conforms to the ideology of control. Of course, it seems natural, “I’m going to distance myself from the world, and I will be healthy.” Social distancing and creating your own bubble is a primary way to control the world. Here’s another thing, when the natural order seems to fall apart, when something disrupts our illusion of control, people panic, and they want to do something. The authorities are under pressure to do something. So, what do they do? They do what they know how to do. They do what is familiar to them and familiar to the public, which is to prohibit things, mandate things, separate people, and go to war against something.

In a way, COVID was a relief to the anxious, fearful members of the public, which included most of us. Our generation has lived through decades of decline; decline of leisure, decline of wealth, decline of the health of the ecosystem, and decline in our own health. Chronic disease has skyrocketed in the last two generations; autoimmunity, allergies, obesity, depression, anxiety, and addiction. None of these maladies are really an enemy that we can fight. There’s not a bad guy that we can kill or isolate or protect ourselves from. Domestic violence would be another one. There’s not an external enemy that you can shoot to stop domestic violence. So, when COVID came along, it unconsciously suggested that if only we could control this virus, we would be happy and healthy again. It’s like the relief you get from watching a horror movie where darkness and evil are projected and concentrated in the villain figure, and then the villain is destroyed.

Mr. Jekielek:

You’re saying we decided to project all of this onto COVID. But that doesn’t explain to me why the policy was so flawed in so many respects. For example, why would you pick lockdown strategy, which is known to be a bad approach to dealing with respiratory viruses in the health literature? Why would that be chosen? Was it just because we believed that the Chinese Communist Party somehow knew what it was doing, and then we had to replicate that? This stuff is paradoxical to me.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes. There’s a lot of deep, unconscious psychosocial forces at work here. It’s totally irrational. But people do irrational things all the time. And if you don’t conform to the irrationality, to the hysteria, then you become the enemy. Anytime that you invoke an external enemy to unify society, it is always mirrored with an internal enemy, which is the traitors, the heretics, the nonconformists, and the taboo-breakers. There is always some purge or some kind of authoritarian, police state environment in these times of existential crisis. It doesn’t even have to be a real crisis. As you probably know, historically speaking, COVID-19 was a pretty weak pandemic. But that didn’t matter. It was enough to spark this pattern of hysteria and mob violence, which is very ancient.

You could say the same thing about the witch hunts. Back then it was a troubled and divided society that went around burning witches. That didn’t really solve anything, except it kind of did on the surface. This is the pattern of unifying violence, when everybody turns on a sacrificial subclass of victims or scapegoats, then that desire to do something about the societal crisis is satisfied. This is the historical pattern that René Girard, the philosopher, called sacrificial violence. René Girard described this as the original social crisis. It starts with cycles of vengeance. Say we are all together in a tribe. I’m in one clan and you’re in another clan and we’re getting along fine. Then, one day there’s an accident. I shoot you with an arrow by mistake. You’re not killed, but you get revenge. Then, maybe I get killed. And then, my brothers get revenge on you, and then your brothers get revenge on them. There’s an escalating cycle of violence that ends up dividing the entire society and creates an impossible crisis that can tear society apart, create blood feuds, and tit-for-tat violence.

The solution, according to Girard, was that everybody would turn on a scapegoat and murder them in an act of unifying violence that discharged all of the blood lust and all of the desire for vengeance, and it unified the society once again. Therefore, the crisis which was caused by the division itself would go away, because we’re all unified now. So then, human psychology being what it is, if killing the victim solved the problem, then the victim must have been responsible for the problem. Myths and legends grow up around these events, casting these scapegoats as arch-villains, casting them as possessed by demons, and casting them as unclean. In a sense, they are unclean. They are agents of contagion, because if you associate with them, then you’re tainted.

We see this dynamic even today. I noticed it in grade school when there was the weird kid in class. Did you have a weird kid in your class?

Mr. Jekielek:

Always.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes. In our class, he was named Kent, and Kent had cooties. Who decided he had cooties? Who knows? One of the class bullies maybe just said, “Hey, Kent has cooties.” As soon as he said that, nobody wanted to associate with Kent, because if you associated with him, then you’d get cooties too, and you’d be the weird kid too. We had a couple loudmouths who gleefully accused Kent of being weird, and then there were the enthusiastic who joined in with the name calling and the ostracism.

Then, there was the silent majority, the people who said, “Well, gosh, I don’t necessarily think Kent is weird, but if everyone says so, I guess they must be right.” And then, there were the doubters who were also silent, and maybe they even felt sorry for Kent. This was me. I didn’t want to risk being friends with him, because then I’d get called weird too. I didn’t want to speak up for him, because then I would be ostracized as well. So I kept silent. My silence and the silence of that other group that just shrugs and says, “I guess everybody can’t be wrong,” creates an illusion of unanimity.

Each person who doubts, who looks around and says, “Well, nobody else seems to think that Kent is okay. How can I be right, I’m the only one.” We see that today in the medical community where you might be a physician seeing a lot of vaccine damage. “But is this just an anomaly? Is this really happening? Maybe it was always like this. I don’t know, how can I be sure? Well, let me look around. Are my colleagues saying anything? Are the medical journals saying anything? No. Okay, I guess I better not speak out.” Human beings are exquisitely attuned to reading the mood of the mob. It’s a survival mechanism. In order to fit in, we instinctively adopt the correct opinions and profess those opinions. We signal the appropriate virtues. We respect the appropriate taboos that mark us as part of the in-group and not part of the sacrificial subclass.

That mark of belonging could be a mask, could be a vaccine, or could be a vaccine card. It doesn’t matter if the mask actually works, or if the vaccine actually works. It doesn’t matter if the kid actually has cooties or not. This is an ancient, powerful, psychological disposition that fascists and totalitarians exploit in order to control society. This mania for safety, this obsession with risk-minimization, and this worship of control actually never succeeds. It always brings the opposite of what it intends. It brings less security. It brings less safety. It brings less health. You think that, “If I could only isolate myself from all germs, then I would never get sick.” But the more you isolate yourself from germs, the more vulnerable you become to whatever germs can get through your bubble, because your immune system gets weaker and weaker. Not to mention your body ecology deteriorates, because your microbiome requires constant interchange with the outside world in order to thrive.

This is an example of the paradox of control—the greater the level of control, the more need you create even more control. It’s the same pattern with agricultural chemicals. You spray Roundup, and then you get Roundup-resistant weeds. Then, you spray for those, and now you’ve destroyed the mycelia and the ability of plants to uptake minerals. You add more minerals to the soil, and that kills the earthworms. You substitute one technology after another after another, each one addressing the consequences of previous technology.

This is a universal pattern. The world is not this reductive, linear mechanism that we can control by controlling all of the parts. It’s non-linear and subject to emergent phenomenon. What would happen if we fully take in the truth of the fundamental dysfunction and illness of society and enter the realm of we don’t know what to do about it, the space of unknowing?

Mr. Jekielek:

If there’s one thing that stunned me over the last three-odd years, that is the realization of how important the idea of belonging is to humans.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Part of the crisis of our civilization is a crisis of belonging. It comes from our dissociation from community, from place, and from nature. Ordinarily, we get a sense of identity from our relationships. Today, these relationships have shrunk to the nuclear family and to the superficial relationships of maybe the workplace or the suburban neighborhood where you don’t really know your neighbors very deeply. For most of our lives, we’re immersed in a sea of strangers. We don’t really know who we are. We don’t have a sense of belonging like an indigenous villager, or a medieval peasant, or even someone living in a small town in the 19th century would have. You know who you are because you are connected to the people around you in relationships of giving and receiving, and to the non-human beings around you, to the plants, and to the animals. You know the name of every tree, you know the story of every hill, and you know the sound of every stream. You know what your neighbor’s grandfather was like, where he fell in love, and where he fell through the ice in the pond that winter.

You’re surrounded in by a matrix of stories that give you the sense of being at home in the world. Today, we don’t have that, so we are very vulnerable to substitutes for a real grounded sense of belonging. Those substitutes could include membership in an opinion tribe on the internet, in a political ideology, or by subscribing to any fascistic story that says, “Here’s who you are. You’re one of the good people, not one of those bad people.” Everybody is basically performing the same ritual of dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. And then, the way to a better world is to conquer and destroy and humiliate the bad guys. It’s kind of the same attitude as achieving health through conquering a virus. Now, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a virus, or that viruses can’t make people sick. But when that is the exclusive lens, this good-versus-evil lens, then we end up fighting an endless war and justifying the results of the war, which include totalitarian control over society.

Mr. Jekielek:

This reminds me of the whole narrative that the unvaccinated are the source of disease and the problem. These are the people who aren’t doing their part for society. Very quickly, we understood that just was not be accurate. It got to the point where the President of the United States, said in a televised address, “It’s a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” So, they became the sacrificial group.

Mr. Eisenstein:

That was starting to happen. At least in this country, the unvaccinated were never physically removed from society and liquidated in concentration camps. But figuratively speaking, we were in many ways removed from society. If you professed any vaccine skepticism, you would be de-platformed. You would be censored. You would be removed from social media. You would be ostracized from family events. I collected some stories on my Substack. One woman listed 20 groups and organizations that she was prohibited from attending, everything from her ukulele improv group, to her knitting circle, to the public library, to the church choir, and to the church itself, which was supposed to be a very inclusive church. It doesn’t matter if the sacrificial victim is actually guilty or not. All that is required is that guilt is projected onto that person. My alarm bells were really ringing, and that’s why I started speaking out about it. I was breaking my pattern that went back to fourth grade and Kent with his so-called cooties.

Mr. Jekielek:

I appreciate in your writings how you describe your own moral process. Please tell me about that process.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, I spoke out right at the beginning when I wrote the namesake essay of the book, The Coronation. I got pulverized on social media. People were making whole podcasts about my fallacies and the people that I had put at risk and probably killed by fomenting counter-narrative ideas about COVID-19. I didn’t say anything that different from what I had said in the Zika essay and other things that I’d written going back to the early 2000s. My writings had never been controversial. Nobody was outraged.  Actually, this is part of the lineage going back to Ivan Illich, that the only valid excuse not to go to school is a doctor’s excuse. I noticed that we had already installed medicine as the highest authority in our society, way before COVID.

If you write an excuse for your child and say, “We were having some really good family times, so we went to school late today,” you can get charged with truancy. This happened to me. This is years ago when we still sent my kids to school, my kids are in their 20s now. The school said, “Well, we need an excuse, and the only valid excuse would be a medical excuse.” But no one was writing public denunciations of me and demanding that my publisher cease publishing my work, until COVID and all these things got political. Our politics are so confused right now. I no longer know if I’m Left or Right or whatever. I have always identified as Left, but now it seems like the Left has become Right, and the Right has become Left. I say, “Since when is questioning authority Right-wing? Since when is questioning the pharmaceutical, industrial complex Right-wing? Since when is questioning the government regulatory agencies Right-wing? I thought it was Left-wing to question those things.”

Two things happened that silenced me for a while. One was cowardice, and I’m not proud of it. I thought, “Oh my God, I better be careful here,” because for a while it looked like I might be jailed. A lot things were going really full tilt toward totalitarianism. Actually, to be fair to myself, cowardice wasn’t the main thing. It was actually self-doubt. I wondered, “Okay, how do I know for sure that the mainstream narrative is false? I have reason to believe so, but these sources that I have for the counter-narrative information, have I really checked into them, and have I really scrutinized them? Or is it that I’m predisposed to believe them, so I just take them for granted with very little scrutiny?”

So, I began to question everything. I didn’t want to speak out emphatically until I had clarity and coherence within myself. It’s not necessarily bad to look to other people to help you orient to the truth. Suppose that right now I see a glowing orb floating around with a angelic halo around it. The first thing I’m going to do is say, “Jan, do you see that?” Because my own eyes are not fully trustworthy. I would especially turn to the elders that I respect. In a healthy society, the authorities are people who have earned trust and respect over a lifetime. So, I would, turn to them.

This very natural, healthy impulse gets co-opted by authoritarian powers and corporate powers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be authoritarian. It can just be marketers and for-profit corporations, but it can get co-opted. Instead of looking to my trusted friends and elders, I look to the television, and I look to the politicians. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I guess one of the challenges we have in our time is to forge new communities of sanity.

Mr. Jekielek:

You’re going through all this, but then somehow you decide you’re going to take a stand. You’re going to start writing, because this is what you do, and this is how you communicate.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, at some point, I realized I was gaslighting myself. So, I wrote a little piece.

Mr. Jekielek:

This is from one of your essays, and it really jumped out at me. I’m going to read it. “What makes you crazy is to be an agent of your own gaslighting. It starts with outward conformity, when you say and do things that contradict your truth. You might have good reasons to uphold the pretense, to avoid shaming and ostracism, to be accepted, and to keep your job. But unless you can hold a place of truth within you that is inviolate, the show soon becomes real. You forget the boundary between true and false, and the bandits breach the walls. You run amuck as you retreat to the inner sanctuary, the seat of the soul. Finally, they usurp that too, and you become a fugitive in your own castle. That is what I mean by insanity.”

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, you become a fugitive in your own castle, dodging all of the negative voices that have gotten in that tell you that you’re crazy, that you’re alone, that you’re naive, and that you’re irresponsible. They are overwhelming, and you can’t stand up against them. They’ve taken over the throne, but you’re still in the castle skulking around, searching for something to save you from banishment. I definitely went through some pretty dark periods when I was going through that. It was key interventions at key moments that reminded me, “Charles, you have forgotten, please come back to sanity.” At some point, I just had to listen to my inner revulsion. The masks always bothered me more than the vaccines. The dehumanization of it was just so dystopian. It gave me the feeling, “This is wrong. And even if I am wrong, I don’t care, because this is who I am. I do not want my children to live in a world where masking has become normalized.”

A lot of our authorities were saying that masks should be permanent. Fauci said we should never shake hands again. He said that in 2020, and I actually dug up the quote. This was what I was alarmed about, the normalization and institutionalization of these temporary COVID measures. That is what pushed me over the edge to say things that I knew were going to get me in trouble. That’s when I published the essay “Mob Morality and the Unvaxxed.” I was building up to it, but I just let loose on that one.

Mr. Jekielek:

So, please give me the thumbnail. This is an explosive essay, “Mob Morality and the Unvaccinated.” 

Mr. Eisenstein:

Basically, that essay says that the unvaccinated are fast becoming the new dehumanized subclass associated with contagion, a threat to us all, the internal enemy that must be controlled or destroyed or removed from society. They are not fully deserving of life and liberty because they’re putting us all at risk. That was pretty much what the Nazis were saying about the Jews, “They are unclean. They are threatening the species with genetic degradation. They have to be removed for the good of us all.” All of the Holocaust was done with enunciated intentions that were very lofty. It was done in the name of good and right. This should be a sobering observation that so much evil has been done in the name of saving the world and in protecting us from bad things.

I didn’t say that the persecution of the unvaccinated is just like the Holocaust. What I said is that similar social forces are at work today as were at work in Nazi fascism, as were at work in the pogroms against the Jews in Eastern Europe, and as were at work in the witch hunts in colonial America. That was one of the reasons why I was widely denounced after I published the essay. My own publisher, North Atlantic Books, who I had been with for 10 years, devoted the home page of their website for a month to denouncing me, and calling me an anti-Semite and a purveyor of disinformation. They claimed that I was putting people’s lives at risk and called on me to donate all of my royalties to a charity of their choice, which was going to bring vaccinations to underserved youth in the Bay Area.

Other teachers on these programs that I was in wrote to the organizers saying, “If Charles Eisenstein is going to be on the faculty, I don’t want to participate, because I cannot be associated with him.” It was this ironic confirmation of the thesis of the essay, the idea of contagion. If you’re one of the heretics, if you’re one of the witches, no one wants to associate with you, because they’re going to get cooties. In a way, I knew it was going to happen. For me personally, I had to confront that terror, which is in part ancestral, because I’m half Jewish. In 1903, my grandfather escaped a murderous mob in Russia by hiding in a haystack, and they killed everybody else. This is family history here. I’m still mad that they called me an anti-Semite, but this is the mob dynamic.

We really have to look at this pattern, because who knows what the next invocation toward mob violence is going to be? Who are we going to dehumanize next? In a few years, people are going to say, “Oh yes, I was never a pro-mask. I was never pro-vaccine,” when they actually were. One person wrote a comment in my Substack that they were an old-time hippie, opponent of the Vietnam War, and they had been condemned and ostracized by all their friends for being an anti-war zealot. Now, 50 years later, all of those same friends say that they had been opponents of the Vietnam War too. I really want to change this deeper pattern. For me, that’s more important than exposing the corrupt officials, putting Fauci in jail, reforming the pharmaceutical industry, and exposing the lies behind the vaccines. That’s important, but I really want to look at the dynamics, the ideologies, and the social habits that made it all possible to begin with.

Mr. Jekielek:

You mentioned dehumanization just now. I believe you see this as something that humans do, which is the real foundational problem. And if that can shift, then we can have a profound change. Is that correct?

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes. It’s one of the deepest lies of the human condition. Because anytime you dehumanize somebody, you’re not in truth. The truth about every human being is that they are a divine soul and a child of God, however you want to articulate it. They are a full sacred consciousness looking from different eyes. That’s the truth. When we dehumanize, we are not in truth, and that will generate all kinds of horrors. I even extend this to Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab, Anthony Fauci, and Joe Biden, this idea that the explanation for the bad behavior of somebody else is that they are deficient in core aspects of humanity, that they are a moral imbeciles, and that they are just closed-minded and ignorant. These dehumanizing epithets that we affix to our opponents, there’s always something missing from them. What’s missing is that if I were in the totality of Bill Gates’ circumstances, I might do just as he does.

How do I know what it’s like to be him, immersed in an ideology of progress having been validated through the spreading of certain technologies around the world, maybe believing that the biggest threat to the planet is overpopulation, which is driving climate change, believing that technology has all the answers, and believing in the project of engineering the earth itself as the next unfolding of the glorious march of science? If you’re immersed in that, not to mention whatever childhood traumas are in his upbringing and the entitlement from a wealthy background, if you were him do you think that you would be different? Once you start asking that question, then you have the possibility of changing the circumstances that drive the behavior.

Mr. Jekielek:

In your book you say that you have to really try to understand the other. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you should not hold the other accountable if they’re guilty of doing bad things.

Mr. Eisenstein:

And it doesn’t mean capitulate to their demands or let them walk all over you or anything like that.

Mr. Jekielek:

Right. I don’t have any insight into the inner workings of Bill Gates at all, but there’s all sorts of people in the past have been documented. There are people who are megalomaniacs, who just believe that whatever they cook up is going to be the right thing for all of humanity. Those people have existed. I’ve seen it. I’ve read scientific studies documenting such people. And it’s the same with psychopaths, people who just simply lack conscience. They can crush your head without worrying about it too much, you’re just another thing.

It feels like you have to put those people in a a different category. Of course, you don’t know who they are, or do you? This is a foundational question. To some extent, we don’t want to believe that these people are out there. 

Mr. Eisenstein:

This is another data point that we have to acknowledge. In my other book, “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” I do actually talk a lot about psychopaths and what makes a psychopath. The important question is, what allows a psychopath to rise to power? One way to understand it, and again, this gets a bit metaphysical, is that we have a fundamentally psychopathic system, because profit is so disassociated from the wellbeing of human beings in nature. You can make enormous profits by doing terrible things. The system actually encourages you to disregard the human and ecological costs, and to externalize those from the balance sheet in the pursuit of profit.

People who are totally decent, honorable people, when they are immersed in that environment, tend to make choices that harm others and harm the planet, and maybe not even be fully aware of it. It might just be in the language of market share and cutting the costs from the supply chain and labor costs. Once you’re in this realm of abstractions, you can do horrible things. For a psychopath, everybody is an abstraction. Other human beings are an abstraction. They’re just these cartoon characters. You don’t actually understand them as human. You don’t understand them as having feelings and subjectivity.

A psychopath is actually an extreme distillation of something that is ambient in our systems. In a way, they are a reflection of the system, which isn’t to say that they don’t exist. But as we change our systems, and as we change the psychic foundation underlying our systems, of which dehumanization is part, then the number of psychopaths and their influence in society is going to diminish. If somebody is irredeemable, practically speaking, they’re not going to change. Their megalomania or their narcissism is so deeply ingrained that we’re not going to sit them in an encounter group or feed them psychedelics and have them change overnight. Even so, understanding the conditions that make them what they are is useful in the struggle against them.

Sometimes a fight is still necessary, even when we’re coming from compassion and non-judgment. But very often, a fight is no longer necessary, because you have the curiosity to say, “What am I missing? What am I not seeing about the people that I judge.” That is basically a fundamental teaching of Christianity. The fundamental spiritual preceptive of Christianity is forgiveness and non-judgment. But to actually do that is a pretty profound commitment. If we do live like that we’re going to have a totally different kind of society, but the current polarization and division will not end. It will just take one form after another after another until we make that commitment to seeing each other with generous eyes.

Mr. Jekielek:

You mentioned that forgiveness is an incredibly redeeming element in Christianity, a very powerful virtue we can aspire to. Does it mean that’s your particular view of the world?

Mr. Eisenstein:

I’m not telling people that Christianity is the way. What I’m saying is that whatever your religious beliefs, this is an important truth for our time, a sacred truth. I’m not going to tell people how to incorporate that into their theology.

Mr. Jekielek:

For the benefit of our audience, why did you highlight these Christian virtues?

Mr. Eisenstein:

When it comes to the pattern of sacrificial violence, Christianity addresses it most directly . The Christ story is about a ritual sacrifice of a sacrificial victim. In the usual age-old pattern, the victim is imbued with all kinds of evil and their removal from society is then the removal of evil from society. Even in these narratives about a satanic elite, the idea is that evil can be concentrated in a few people, and therefore excised from society, the germ extracted, and the poison removed. The Christ story starts out like that. Pontius Pilate has an unruly mob, a divided society, and there’s a lot of social tension. He knows what to do, throw them a victim. They will all unite and crucify the guy. They will all be cheering, and they’ll go home happy. That is what’s supposed to happen.

Then, what’s supposed to happen is that he gets memorialized as the villain, Jesus gets memorialized as the villain. But the Christ story directly subverts that pattern by making Him blameless, and by making Him undeniably innocent in the Bible’s narration of that story. Actually, that speaks to the innocence of all sacrificial victims. Even if they were guilty of something, that’s not the reason they were killed. That’s not the reason that during the Black Death, murderous mobs went around killing the Jews, accusing them of poisoning the wells. They were satisfying a desire which said, “Something has to be done. We’ve got to do something.”

The Jews were innocent of that crime. The witches were innocent of the crimes that they were burned at the stake for. But it didn’t matter, their guilt or innocence didn’t matter. The Christ story speaks to that innocence of anyone who has ever been victimized by the mob, and probably most of us have, if not on the playground, then in the workplace. You can see these dynamics in action, especially if you were unvaccinated,. People ascribe all kinds of horrible things to you. “You’re unvaccinated because you are selfish, and because you don’t care about the common good.” You become a repository for projections of evil. That’s the relevance of the Christ story to this pattern.

You can look to other religions as well. It’s in the Buddhist teachings of interbeing that also say whatever you’re seeing in the other, that’s going to be in you too. The splinter you perceive in somebody else mirrors the log in your own eye. Jesus said the same thing, really. I’m not saying that Christianity exclusively has something to bear on this situation, but it’s a very direct and very powerful commentary on mob violence, and it offers a way to transcend it.

Mr. Jekielek:

We see all sorts of people talking about what they think is the actual existential crisis, and it’s different things for different people. That’s what I find so interesting. People generally agree there’s a crisis, a very serious crisis. We’ve been talking a lot about it. As we finish up, how do you see a way out of this?

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, the way out is to inhabit a new story. The old story is the story of ascent, the story of domination, the story of control, the story of humans separate from nature, and of me separate from you. The new story is what the Buddhists call interbeing, which says that our destiny is participation in a larger intelligence that we discover more and more deeply. It brings us more and more deeply into service to life and beauty on earth, in a way, just like every other species. No species is a subtraction from the ecosystem. They always bring more biodiversity through what they give and what they receive. Bacteria fixes nitrogen that allow plants to grow. The plants send nutrients into the fungal networks, which then aerate the soil. The whole thing is a gigantic network of gifts.

We’re meant to do that as well. We’re meant to make creation even more beautiful and to be agents of creation and to make the world even more alive, which is the opposite of what we’ve been doing. We have all of the technology and all of the skills to be gifts to the planet and not a burden on the planet. But we have to understand that that’s why we’re here, on a collective level and also an individual level. We have to understand that our wellbeing is not separate from the wellbeing of the rest of life. The more that we contribute to life, to the oceans, to the soil, and to each other, then the richer we will be ourselves.

As individuals, this is where we get meaning and purpose and ultimately a sense of belonging and identity. It’s through our participation in a unifying story that tells us what we are part of. The new story is about first healing the damage that has been done, and then exploring and developing all of the incredible capacities that we have to bring life and beauty to new domains. If you find that in your life, if you’re doing anything that contributes to that emerging new project of humanity, then you’ll feel satisfied with your work. You’ll wake up every morning happy to be alive. What COVID did, and what the pandemania did, is show us what we were choosing. It said, “Okay, if we continue on this path, here is what society will look like.” We got a preview. The surveillance, the censorship, the lockdowns, and the mandates are a preview of a future where we subscribe to the story of control, of progress equaling control. We were shown that so that we could choose clearly, intentionally, and consciously. We have a very clear choice right now. One important thing to remember—and this is mysterious and the modern mind has trouble understanding it—our personal choices have cosmic significance.

Mr. Jekielek:

Charles Eisenstein, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Mr. Eisenstein:

Yes, Jan, I really appreciate it. Thank you for hosting me.

Mr. Jekielek:

Thank you all for joining Charles Eisenstein and I on this episode of American Thought Leaders. Again, his book is “The Coronation.” I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

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