Listening to my daughter’s tenth grade history teacher at Parents’ Night the other evening, I found out that California high school world history covers only modern history:the European Enlightenment, the French Revolution, world colonialism, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and so on up to the present day. Except for the Enlightenment - when Europeans actually began to question their own civilization in areas such as religion, monarchy, philosophical dualism- this is a history of the same old corrupt politics, militarism, capitalist expansion at any cost, polluting and socially abusive industrialism all of which we have become used to over the last centuries.
Why must we study the foundations of our present sick and dying worldview? What has happened to the exploration of far away times and places (such as the ancient Mediterranean, Buddhist and Jain India, Confucian and Taoist China), societies so different yet equally civilized and interesting. Their study couldn’t help but force us to take a much larger view of things, including awareness of how dysfunctional our own cultures are?
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but teaching our children 500 to 2000 year old curricula (Greek math, classical literature, ancient religions, rote histories, formulaic science) completely robs the school day of time to explore more urgent matters. In the US, the government’s solution to less-than-internationally-competitive test scores (and the presumed implication that we will lose our technological and hence economically competitive edge) is to take the last remnants of free- and hence creative and enriching and deepening - time and fill it up with basic skills remediation.
But this traditional curriculum has led to the status quo that we suffer with now. Besides, students don’t learn or retain much of it anyhow. What they actually learn are the prejudices of their parents, teachers, gurus, friends, television or internet reality, magazines and newspapers. So even if the traditional curriculum had inspiring messages, its presentation is lost to more passionate - even if false or biased - discourse outside of school.
I would guess that no educated, informed adult in today’s world would doubt the dysfunction of our collective worldview. What we desperately need is to explore a new worldview. And this will seem overwhelming and ridiculous (individuals actually creating a worldview!) unless we go about it wisely. By wisely I mean in manageable steps and negatively.
The first step is to acknowledge the corruption, disintegration, and failure of our values, problem-solving measures, and truth-finding behaviours. And this is done by simply asking whether or not these help lead to universal order, security, compassion, justice, freedom, sustainability, inclusion, and tolerance. However, this is really a rhetorical question because we all know - if we read newspapers or watch TV news - that our current worldview in fact leads to disorder, violence, injustice, and exclusion. Revenge, selfishness, symbolic satisfaction still rule the individual, the family, the community, the nation.
One must not refrain from this critical appraisal because there is no viable alternative in sight or because any change other than window dressing will upset the local, national, and world economic or social order. Critical examination of reality must happen in order to create psychological space for the new.
The next step is to look at our current beliefs and assumptions to see where they fail us. In my own research, the very issue of belief vs. evidential thinking is a large aspect of both traditional and modern worldviews. Humans have painstakingly worked out ways of reason to survive and prosper in their material environment, reason that should also be used to sort through their non-material superstitions and projections.
But for all the progress of the institutions of reason (science, mathematics, logic, philosophy, engineering, democracy, the open society, the material arts, etc.), there is a parallel, interfering, and often debilitating, shadow of the irrational. A large part of this reason-undermining behaviour is our clinging to beliefs that carry no evidence for their truth.
The scientific and philosophical concept of truth—which took millennia to perfect—is of a universal and unequivocal fit with reality. An idea or perception is true (or as true as we can have it) if it conforms to structures in the real world as shown by observational, experimental, or logical evidence. With no evidential support, we really have no idea if an opinion agrees with reality or not. This is not academic theory; the way we do almost anything, from riding a bike to choosing our food, follows evidence. Traditions of religion, of mind, of spirit typically carry no evidence for their truth; they are believed in on the basis of authority (a holy book, a lineage of saints, parental indoctrination, a seemingly universal worldview, etc.).
Right now in the world, a ‘superpower’ that thinks it is rational (although its politics, economics, and militarism carry deep irrational flaws) is fighting a small nation whose entire society is based on religious tradition. On all sides we have lost the path of reason, the way to evidential truth.
Because there is no reliable evidence—past, present, or possible—supporting any religious belief system, there is no way to deem them true or false. They all assume they are uniquely true. But our most basic logic—that something cannot be all black and all white at the same time—dictates that only one of a group of contradicting beliefs (and all religions contradict each other) can be true. But with no possibility of evidence weighing in any direction, we can never know which belief tradition is true. And religious traditions go on killing, not out of pursuing truth but rather out of unreasonable blind faith.
So, for me, the significant lines of contention in the world lie between irrational traditions (that support their ‘truth’ with false history, illogical theology, inflated hagiography, and psychological projections) and rational traditions (that support their ‘truths’ with tangible evidence, logical inference, and coherence with existing realities).
Throughout history, irrational belief systems have not respected individual humans, animals, or the earth, usually because their goals are beyond this material world. For them, the physical earth is meaningless and only to be used in a struggle for salvation in another realm. Yet the earth and all its wonderful dimensions is truly meaningful: mysterious, beautiful, fecund, familiar, and after all, our home. It is an odd creature that is so alienated from its living context.
Furthermore, we can derive an entire human ethic from the nature of visible creation. On a planet with limited resources and innumerable species and individuals that seek personal survival (if only in order to reproduce), the reasonable course for humans is to strive for fairness—so everyone gets at least minimal needs met. And logic can then help us determine which behaviours and institutions might facilitate fairness. But this determination must be made in an open discussion amongst all of us. What better curriculum for schools could there be than the honest examination of our failed paradigms and the creative exploration of a new worldview.
Perhaps we would still need to retain some schools that teach the skills needed for economic competition—not because this violent international competition is a good thing, but because we will need transition time with some degree of economic order. But we should begin pilot schools, elementary and high school and post-secondary that focuss on the deep intellectual needs of our time.
And if schools dedicated to worldview exploration fail to teach the survival skills needed in the status-quo set up, then rather than give up on this urgent exploration we need to facilitate survival in a different way. Perhaps we should look at survival as a species problem rather than that of an isolated, alienated individual, and help students survive by not playing the corrupt social game. Collective buying or renting of property with homebuilt living quarters, homegrown food, community cottage industry, least-expensive alternative energy use, alternative health care, etc. - all these could support a community of worldview explorers. This could constitute a school or a post-school living community.
The Krishnamurti schools, of course, have committed themselves to providing an open critique of society and of individual consciousness, on the basis of his teachings in that direction. But all of his schools are still college-preparatory institutions teaching the traditional curricula of the current dysfunctional worldview. That worldview with its constituent paradigms and corresponding ethos is obsolete. Its death-throes take the shape of the increased violence, corruption, and insanity extant in the world today.
Within the ashes of this civilization lie the seeds of the future worldview. Rather than standing by and lamenting the end of the civilized world (it hasn’t been very civilized anyway, has it?), wouldn’t it be more interesting and creative and wonderful to be a part of creating this new worldview? This should not be a sidelight but rather the essence of a school appropriate for these times. Krishnamurti’s teachings are a first step in this creative act, but the next steps must come from us - students, teachers, parents, administrators, vitally interested community members.
When the ancient Greeks (and ancient Indians) began to construct their worldview - and construct they did through their epic poets, lyrical poets, architects, sculptors, politicians, mathematicians, and philosophers - it was such a time of joy and excitement and open exploration. Instead of trying to squeeze our satisfaction out of over-stimulating entertainment, we might draw real inspiration and profound accomplishment from working on a more reasonable direction for humankind.
I invite the Krishnamurti schools to truly radicalize their goals and curricula... and finally begin to fulfill the purpose of their founding and the vision of their founder.