Core Energetics: Developing the Capacity to Love and Heal by John C. Pierrakos M.D. was one of my book acquisitions from Glastonbury. I agonised over the purchase at the time as it was expensive and densely written (the original in German from 1986), but it seemed to cover the questions I had about energy and emotional dysfunctions. (I am still working through it.) In his chapter of Western energy theory, I was gratified to read these paragraphs:
The conviction of cosmic unity that continues to infuse Oriental [sic] investigations of reality is perhaps the main reason for their increasing acceptance beyond Asia. The history of major thought systems in the West is marked by dichotomy, despite the efforts of philosophers and religious theorists to embrace all of creation in their systems. Over two millennia, the trend has been for one discipline or endeavor, or even one aspect of life, to develop at the expense of other proven good paths. Judeo-Christian spirituality articulated a brilliant theology, a society-supporting ethic, and deep philosophical compendia, but spent much effort on stifling innate human impulses and stifling scientific inquiry [emphasis mine]. The Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, allied itself to the mind while downgrading emotion, intuition and religious spirituality. Covering this period and flanking it, two industrial revolutions and the age of empire building emphasized material progress and acquisition (bodily welfare) to the point of sacrificing basic human securities and freedoms. The imbalances were followed by the formalism of the Victorian era, destructive of emotional values and physical expression, and by the human stalemate and disintegration that erupted in World War I.
This criticism is not intended that the East has not suffered crippling developmental deformities. Its traditional approaches emphasized animism and vitalism at the expense of material life and sociopolitical thought. Cyclical wars have rent the East; perennial floods, particularly in China, aggravated famines whose like the West experienced much more rarely. And in our century, reactions to these imbalances has driven parts of the Orient [again, sic] to equally disproportionate emphases on the material and sociopolitical.
The “crippling developmental deformaties” of the East have been food for thought most of my life, someone who’s traveled and lived six years in the US and who could never stop comparing and wondering about the differences in thinking and culture– beyond the superficial. To date, all comparisons I’d read were from sociologists and psychologists. One was Affluenza by Oliver James. While not a book I finished, it had given me the best idea for understanding how cultures/individuals resisted programming and consumerism: Intrinsic value. I once talked about this book on my livejournal blog, so I’m just going to do the lazy thing and quote from it to explain:
There are people who can only find value in activities and objects by having that value told to them. And there are people define the values of things by their own measure. Extrinsic vs intrinsic values.
It goes further than consumer culture–this ability to find intrinsic values (as opposed to simply accepting extrinsic values defined by others, and corporations) is an ability either encouraged or completely suppressed by cultural norms, parental upbringing, education systems and a society’s media. The more of this ability you have, the easier it is to define your own happiness, to do things just for fun’s sake, to be active in one’s community, to think outside the box, be adaptable, etc etc.
Babies and toddlers left to their own devices will develop the ability to find intrinsic value in stuff. They become hugely interested in things like empty cardboard boxes or wrappers–ignoring the expensive toys wrapped within–Sorry, that toy’s monetary or educational value won’t convince them even if explained. Nothing external is going to sway the kid’s opinion. He or she has assigned an intrinsic value to the cardboard tube and ain’t letting go of it.
You realize where this is going… kids as they grow up get the “real” values of things hammered into them–by their parents, their peers, their heroes and idols on TV. In a highly commercialized and materialistic society, severe Affluenza will render a person incapable of defining happiness outside of having/owning stuff or the ability to buy stuff. And the value of the stuff they must have is dictated by TV, magazines, trends, and basically, everything external. These people don’t buy paintings or decor for their houses depending on what they like. They buy stuff on the basis of the stuff’s price-tags and prestige. They take jobs based on the pay and prestige. Their own value depends on their pay, their possessions and prominence in society. They measure themselves with this, and may tend to see and judge others by what they own and wear too.
Without sounding (too) snarky, these people would be easily swayed by perceived authority. They would shun grassroots movements or blogs by no-names (no intrinsic value there), they don’t read books that aren’t on bestseller lists, would tend toward heavy-headed political ideologies and parental behavior. Religion, if pursued, would be in the paternalistic vein, etc etc. They don’t pay a lot of attention to issues or people that are “beneath” them or different from them–there’s no value or benefit there. And so they would continue until someone higher up the societal ladder instructs them otherwise.
( Anyway, here are my disclaimers: I am not a social psychologist. I just took one class of it in college; I’m just an artist with a B.A. in Journalism who reads plenty of this “boring” stuff to make sense of the world. Disclaimer over.)
Most Asian cultures run on extrinsic values. I’m of Chinese descent, and I will say unequivocally that despite Taoism, Buddhism, and all that zen stuff, Chinese people in general are the most materialistic people on the planet. Which is why I think John C. Pierrakos nailed it. Trauma, materialism, and fear of lack all still cripple and deform most Asian psyches (though not exclusively, of course) and it’s gone back in our history a long, long time. And now even science has confirmed that trauma can be carried through the genes.
It’s been a recent working theory I have that a broken system produces broken people. I think this fits in with our inherited traumas, and since I know my own culture best (heh), it’s the only one I can speak with any confidence about. I should state as another disclaimer that I’m actually half Cantonese, quarter Teochew and quarter Peranakan, and I have never lived on the Chinese mainland (unless you count many family vacations in Hong Kong). This means I am more like a sullied mongrel in the Chinese diaspora rather than a mainlander.
It was already from a young age that I saw many problems in my culture: racism, intolerance, misogyny (so much of this), over-deference to authority and tradition, hypocrisy (many behaviors only motivated by “face” or the desire to look good), materialism, suppression and the general lack of inquiry, of innovation, and of intrinsic values. (If this post ever attracts and offends any aggrieved nationalists or champions of Chinese culture, I’m not saying that it has no good points, but very few of them are exclusively “Asian values”. Things like family, loyalty, and self sacrifice are celebrated throughout all cultures.) It frustrated me as a child that much of the unquestioning bigotry I saw in the adults and teachers was supposed to be the norm, if not the ideal. I was of course fighting against all that was disempowering to me, but until the recent years it was usually a futile battle, and I’d be first to admit some of these attitudes infected me too, until I knew better. (And I am still learning.)
The problems I saw so early in my life persist today, though thankfully there is more awareness and willingness today (somewhat) to examine these less-than-great aspects of Chinese culture. On the other hand, though perhaps it is just the contentious side of the Internet, there also persist many massively insecure people denying these problems, and denying the repercussions of their attitudes on society and on their children’s emotional health and outlook. “We’ve always done it this way and it was fine”, whether used to justify emotional manipulation, authoritarian systems, or corporal punishment, not only doesn’t work anymore, it’s damaging even if the damage only takes decades (or generations) to see.
I’m going to rest here and try to explore this topic more (the shadow aspects of Chinese culture) in future posts.