The fictions we createIs Technology Rewiring Our Soul?

We are transitioning from the modern mind of the industrial-globalization “modernity project” of the last two centuries into a life-sustaining world, an ecological-cosmological new world mind. We are fostering values that will be inherited by the world to come and thus have an obligation to rewire ourselves to a more integral, empathic world. Part of the role of our global communications has been to rewire our minds into functioning across linear relations; to become accustomed to dealing with multiple connections rather than single ones; and to become immersed in varied and diverse relations and not just local families and communities.

We are now beginning to embody a myriad of viewpoints, beliefs, and identities. As a species we are beginning to fuse; although we are still fragmented and rife with cracks and schisms. The initiation from our species infancy into adolescence will require a moral and ethical growth. We are called to respond differently to the world around us — not in fear or with anxiety, with trepidation or apprehension; but with robustness, energy, flexibility creativity, and positive intentions. The world in which we live is an ecology of which we are a part — we must learn to respect this, to feel it, and to develop our lives around it. The world we are moving into requires of us that we both inspire and be inspired. What we are witnessing, now for the first time as a planetary species, is a transition between world ages, from one mode of psychic reality to the next. Our scope for shared collective consciousness and intention will continue to have a greater capacity to affect our environment and our potential futures. Just as the use of electricity has altered our industrial skylines, so we can learn to use the energy of our collective psyche to transform our world into the community skylines we wish to see for the future.

Like never before our connective and communicative environments are becoming embedded with our bio-psycho-social influences. We are establishing what psychologist Daniel Siegel terms as “interpersonal neurobiology” — how our social relationships influence and affect our nervous system. We are unable to separate the neurological functioning of the human being from the environment. Our various social and cultural impacts, influences and experiences are rewiring our neural circuitry. It is thus imperative that we have positive and constructive external stimuli in which to foster and support conscious development. The scale of adjustment to live differently may be enormous, or will be to those without adequate preparation.

Information is our current global energy and each new energy revolution stimulates also a revolution in human communications. This in turn catalyzes new patterns and organization within the human psyche. Examples of this process include the introduction of cuneiform tablets at Sumer that ushered in early city organization, and Gutenberg’s printing press that helped to democratize Europe and encourage distributed information sharing. The Gutenberg printing press was a dramatic revolution in that it made information more available within the public domain. And this in turn affected the physical and physiological condition of those exposed to printed information. Not only did the general masses take up reading on a large scale but also the very act of reading (which for Latinized Western cultures was left-to-right) stimulated parts of the human brain hitherto underused. Furthermore, the sudden increase in a reading public put emphasis upon the need for greater social organization as the written word became responsible for promoting increased individualism and instances of opposition to ruling structures (as is very much the case today).

And so today our distributed digital networks of communication are rewiring and re-patterning human consciousness through their diverse and pervasive interconnections. Such international connections breach cultural and national borders and force us to self-reflect on our identity, values, and ethics. With more and more people accessing connections outside of the heavily corporate controlled mainstream media, gaining information from a social media that is more distributed, independent, and alternative, more people are being exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, beliefs, and narratives. This exposure to new patterns of information helps us to break out from rigid, narrow and myopic scenarios.

A re-patterning of the self can lead to new priorities in our lives, to be more in balance with our needs rather than swamped by our wants. Perhaps we will be compelled to orientate ourselves toward needs rather than wants in order to have a more focused path upon which to drive forward. This re-patterning and re-structuring of social relations incorporates new styles and modes of interpersonal connections and communications. It heralds a new set of shared values, understanding, empathy, and respect. As a global family we have already suffered enough from egocentric systems and a world driven by power, greed, and control. These institutions are now archaic and destructive to our continued survival. They are the dregs of an old mode of existence, one that is unsuitable for a world to come. The ideal set of relations would be that which honours the “Golden Rule”: social exchanges on mutual trust and respect. We may be a long way from this, yet the seeds have been planted, and are growing in firm soil around the world — in projects, communities, social networks and organizations.

The world systems for a new era will not emerge from the centre, like the Renaissance that sprung up in Medici-funded Florence in the Late Middle Ages. The new “renaissance” will come from the periphery or from the bottom-up, a distributed and networked emergence of conscious individuals and groupings. Like ink dots on blotting paper, these conscious and creative centres will spread their influence through decentralized channels and processes until a time will come when the ink dots begin to fill the blotting paper. The social changes of the future are likely to come from revolutionary movements from the people, a shift catalyzed within the hearts, spirit, and minds of the people. Movements for social and spiritual change are already growing, adding more pressure to the older institutions, which will be forced to adapt or die-off. Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest details some of these activist/actionist movements with over one million of such groups worldwide. More and more people are already insisting on increased social responsibility from business, as people become more choosy and selective according to their values. The old mind/old world energy systems of scarcity and control are ripe for change. The new revolutions in psyche and action to occur on this planet will be more in tune with the new energies, and no longer tolerant of the old systems.

We have all seen the filmstrip, a bed strewn with pillows, a shelf of cough syrups, a small kerosene stove and of course the bloody floor, the vestige of a final unseen encounter. Other snips and shreds add to the picture, the young boy who played with the Bin Laden children, the neighbour who saw the comings and goings of the elusive clan, the wife who never left the top floor.

There was another house in Haripur we are told; they had been living there for five years it is asserted. From these fragments, the end of the world’s most wanted man is to be constructed, a man that killed thousands but who instructed his own children to not join Al Qaeda, a man who leered at America for its imperialist sins but unthinkingly condemned Pakistanis to pay for them.

Osama Bin Laden chose a good place to die — a place where truth and history are constructed with imagination and passion nearly always defeats the facts.

Even as Pakistani television channels rant and rave at the lack of official statements on the incident, a public which is used to the manufacture of explanations has already produced what the government cannot. The whole thing was staged, one cadre will tell you, there was no Osama and no killing, they will insist. Where is the body and where is the picture they will question.

Others will present a slightly varied version; more accommodating of the truth, adding elements that would preserve their lifelong faith in the invincibility of the Pakistani military, of the omniscience of its intelligence agencies.

Their version portends that the leadership of both these institutions knew of Osama bin Laden’s presence; some even say that he was delivered to the Americans, that Osama was lured to Abbottabad, the Americans tipped off by our superior sleuthing skills. Pakistanis, they will insist, played a crucial part in delivering to the Americans the victory they had so longed for.

Pakistan’s television hosts and experts, self-appointed oracles benevolently offering the populace a smorgasbord of inspired truths, have by now weighed the value of several of these narratives, adding a bit here, trimming a bit there.

However, contrary to their estimations, it is not the facts of Osama’s death or the question of whether Pakistani authorities were complicit or ignorant that is of crucial importance here. The revelations that emerge lie not in the actualities that elude us but in the fictions that Pakistanis have constructed to explain their absence. If anyone wishes to discern the infamous causes of our decline or the dynamics of our diseased existence, the answers lie in the fictions we have created while scratching our heads and maligning our leaders.

The first of these and the most obvious is the central belief in the gleaming aptitude of our military capabilities. The alternating decades of military rulers, the orderly lawns we can glimpse inside messes, the parade of missiles we like to salute a few times every year have cultivated a belief that the military actually works; that unlike the rest of everything beaten and broken, there are rules, procedures, perhaps even competence.The stories we are making up now, the fact that they probably knew, no they must have known, or yes, they surely did know point to our inability to let go of precisely this myth. The idea that this one institution that has imposed itself on the Pakistani people could also be, like the rest, decrepit and somewhat inept is too formidable a burden to bear, a truth even more indigestible than that of Bin Laden’s unglamorous end.

Our theories expose not simply political and institutional truths, but also social ones. Again and again, the ordinary folk of Abbottabad and Haripur have scratched their heads before television cameras. As one villager in Haripur put it: “We know each other, we go visit one another’s homes … no one can live here and not go unnoticed.”

Such anecdotes, variously worded, are reproduced in a sad cycle, each one poking holes in a disliked reality — that Osama really was there among them or that he was actually killed.

This collective mantra of denial upholds another myth nourished over the decades; that Pakistan is a deeply connected society, that everyone knows their neighbours, that the bonds of community eliminate the possibility of anonymity. But just as the fable of the vanguard all-defeating fighting force has been shaken, so too must the idealised image of a closely bonded community sustained by neighbourly bonds.

The Pakistan that exists, whether it is the village in Haripur, the house in Abbottabad or any old neighbourhood in Karachi or Lahore, has few such idyllic communities. Neighbours are increasingly strangers, everyone has some stash of secrets they would like to preserve, and most just don’t want the burden of neighbourly evaluations. In the Pakistan of today, the desire to be left alone trumps any straggling wish to know or be known.

Conspiracies are constructed when the truth fails, when the narrative arc of reality does not deliver either the drama or the truth that our instincts demand. The account of Osama bin Laden is no different; the fact that he would be living so close to a military installation that he could go undetected and then be summarily eliminated is an assault on Pakistan’s picture of its military and of the people’s account of themselves. And so, in an effort to defeat their own helplessness, Pakistanis will create stories, pushing against the gaps and making them wider, while revelling in the ambiguity that makes alternative beliefs possible.

The burial at sea, the night-time attack, the lack of pictures and the political gains of the Obama administration all becoming instruments in the painstaking efforts to remain faithful to the truth we want rather than the one we have.

Rafia Zakaria is Associate Editor of and an attorney who teaches constitutional history and political philosophy.

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