“It’s a Wonderful Life” Integral Chat – Special Holiday Episode



Usually in the second or third week of December, I host an “It’s A Wonderful Life” viewing party at my house. Friends, family, spiced booze of some kind, and one of the best movies ever made, which also happens to be a holiday classic. This year…? We moved to another state just two weeks ago and we don’t have a house yet, much less enough local friends for a party. What state, you may ask? Well lets just say that my formerly redundant vote in California is going to count now, so prepare to have a difference made, America.

But for now, it’s a gray short term apartment, an arduous house search, and no parties of our own. So,this year, we’re going talk about “It’s a Wonderful Life” here on “What’s Your Theory?”

Jeff Salzman of the DailyEvovler.com is here for a special holiday episode of the Integral Chat, and for at least part of this conversation, I want to talk about one of my personal theories about this movie. As with a lot of my personal theories, it’s about the meaning of words and how a better understanding of the words we use all the time can help us to better navigate our lives.

Faith vs. Belief in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

The meanings of most words change over time. Sometimes popular words and phrases will fade into disuse… words like “hep,” “23 Skidoo,” from the early 20th century, or words from Shakespeare’s time “anon,” “Honorificabilitudinitatibus” and so forth. Other times, and often completely out of the blue, innocuous utilitarian words become sly synonyms for things that people really want to talk about like sex, sex acts, sex organs, or sexual orientation, thus completely changing their meaning while simultaneously hitting the jackpot of linguistic popularity. Ask anyone named Richard after say, 1950. Ask or your cat. Or ask anyone from the 19th century who remembers the “Gay 90’s” a little differently than we might think.

Other words that are maybe less obvious that the sexy ones, words that were once clear and powerful can weaken with use over time just like the color dims on your favorite shirt with every wash.This is how once perfectly expressive words, like “ultimate,” lose their uniqueness to become interchangeable advertising copy.

For instance, the word “ultimate” means “final,” the very last of something.Technically speaking, the “Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich” from Jack in the Box should kill you. Placing “Ultimate” in front of “Sandwich” should be seen as a threat. As in, “this will be the last fistful of bacon, ham, eggs, cheese, and mayonnaise on a hamburger bun you will ever eat before you die.”

I want to talk about two of those kinds of words – the kind that should be clear, should be powerful, but whose meaning and strength have become blurred over time.

“Faith” and “Belief.”

Many people consider these words interchangeable. But they are not. Actually they are quite different. In some ways they are almost opposites.

Both words are frequently used for tackling big issues, and answering the big questions that people have asked since the beginning of asking questions. Everybody knows what those questions are, and everybody has thought about them at some point, either a little or a lot.

“Who are we?”

“What are doing here?”

“What is the meaning of life?”

“What really happens to me after I eat my ultimate breakfast?”

These are the questions we can’t quite answer. Not exactly anyway. We can approximate. We can feel our way. We can guess, suppose, or intricately philosophize some answers. Yes.

But we can’t know.

In order to even talk about this stuff, we need to use words like “faith” and “belief.” This makes them some of the trickiest, most nebulous words we have, because they refer to things that are just beyond our ability to really understand.

In keeping with the Christmas spirit, let’s use one of the greatest films of all time, holiday or otherwise, to illustrate.

In Frank Capra’s classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” we see the difference between faith and belief played out in the titanic struggle for control of Bedford Falls. For this discussion, “faith” will be championed by George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), and taking up the mantle of “belief” will be Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).

Now right away you can see that this is stilted, because belief is represented by the villain. Now granted, there are many very good people in the world who have very strong beliefs.That’s certainly true. But it is my contention that anyone can have strong beliefs, heroes and villains alike. But villains do not have faith. Case in point, both Mr. Potter and George Bailey have beliefs.

So we’ll start there, with “belief.”

What, then, are Mr. Potter’s beliefs about the world? Like a lot of people, he believes that his fellow man is basically untrustworthy, ignoble and would stab you in the back the first chance he gets. Fair enough, but is this the case? Why are these Mr. Potter’s beliefs about the world and his fellow men? The answer, as any psychiatrist could tell us, is because his opinion of the world is a reflection of himself, his opinion of himself, and his observations of himself. You’ve heard the phrase “seeing is believing?” Well, it’s true, and Mr. Potter is a perfect illustration. He is untrustworthy, ignoble, and would stab anybody in the back the moment they turned it. He knows it, he can see it for himself, and therefore he believes it is the way things are.

When Uncle Billy accidentally left the $8,000 deposit for the Building & Loan in Potter’s hands… Potter kept it. The richest man in town stole $8,000 because the opportunity was there. What in the world would drive a man without need of money, to steal from people who actually do need it? The answer boils down to one true thing about his character.  Mr. Potter fervently believes that someone else would do the same thing to him if they only had they chance. After all, he might say, only a fool wouldn’t take such an advantage when another fool presented it.

Now, the flip side. What are George Bailey’s beliefs?

In the movie, nothing too specific is mentioned. Though there is a scene when, at the end of his rope, in Martini’s bar he turns to God and says “I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, please show me the way.” This says something about his beliefs. He’s a bit agnostic (maybe there is a God, but who really knows for sure?). And he doesn’t want handouts, even from God, if he’s there.  He would, however, like to know “the way.” So maybe he is a Zen Buddhist… it’s hard to say for sure.

But, like Mr. Potter, George Bailey’s beliefs about the world can be inferred by his actions. He seems to believe pretty much the opposite of Potter concerning the human race. He believes that people are essentially good, and if given half a chance, they will prove it in the clutch. Why does he believe this? Same reason as Potter. Because his view of the world is a reflection of himself. George is essentially good, and as he demonstrates throughout the entire story, given half a chance he always does his best to come through in the clutch.

So what is different about these two men that they would have such opposite beliefs about the world?

The answer is that George Bailey has faith too.

When we say that someone has “the faith of child,” we mean a very good thing. It is a general sense that everything is as it should be, that no matter how bad it may seem in this foxhole, in this hospital bed, hiding from Nazis in your neighbors attic, or even in this concentration camp… everything will be okay when looked at from a wider point of view. It’s possible that you might even have to die to see that point of view. But faith makes that okay too.

But what if we said, “he has the beliefs of an adult?” Is that necessarily a good thing?

Alan Watts once pointed out that the word “belief” comes from an anglo-saxon root (you’ll need an O.E.D. to find it, but the word is pronounced like “leaf,” and likely spelled “lygfh” or something insanely anglo-saxon like that), which means “to wish” or “to hope.” So, to fervently believe something is to fervently wish or hope that is so.

Belief, ironically enough, is what religions call “Faith” with a capital “F.”  As in “Defenders of the Faith.”  Faith with a small “f” does not need to be defended.  While “Faith” (Captial “F”), belief, or Creed (latin Credo: “I believe”) needs to be defended pretty rigorously.

This need for defense naturally arises because the more you act upon a belief, the more you will hope it is so, simply because of all the work you’ve put into living by it. At some point it simply becomes too painful to realize you may have been wrong. This is especially true after you’ve started stealing money from people poorer than yourself, or in extreme cases, after you’ve started lighting people on fire for believing the wrong thing. Once that happens… well, you just better be right, that’s all.

Faith (small “f”) is what the martyr demonstrates when she forgives the people who are burning her at the stake over a question of Faith (capital “F”). Belief is what the Inquisitor has, and it’s the thing that makes him think it is a wonderful idea to light people on fire so they don’t wind up burning in hell for believing something different than he does.

Ironically, the Inquisitor’s belief that this is a good and necessary practice would leave him the instant the roles were reversed. Why? Because he lacks faith.

Faith (small “f”) is what allows a person to be at peace, even in the worst situations imaginable. While faith allows you to relax, belief is an agitator. Belief drives people, sometimes to create great works of beauty and benefit to all. But belief also allows people to create those same “worst situations imaginable” and inflict them on others for what apparently must have “seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Joseph Campbell once described this bugaboo of belief as the unenviable situation of climbing a ladder your entire life only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. For many people, life is too short, and too much of theirs has already happened to start worrying about the wall their ladder is propped on. It’s the right wall. Damn it. It has to be. Well, it better be… well, I hope it is anyway.

This is an unfortunate attitude, because admitting your ladder is on a different wall than you had thought, or believed, is an invitation to discover faith.

When the illusion you’ve created falls away, what are you left with? When you realize your ladder is on the wrong wall and you’ve wasted so much time climbing it…what are you left with? That may be a frightening question, but the answer, the good news, and perhaps the true message of Christmas, is… “everything.” When your belief fails, so do your limitations. You are left with everything. Ask Ebeneezer Scrooge about that.

Or the Grinch. To find our own sense of faith, maybe we each need to climb our own personal Mount Crumpet in our own sleigh filled with all those stolen Who-toys for all the Who-girls and boys, sneering at the suckers all the way to the top… until we finally hear that song. You know the one.  Our hearts may grow three sizes that day too.

Maybe we can’t get to that big-hearted place of faith unless we first try all the alternatives. Maybe we need to believe our own bullsh*t so strongly that we steal Christmas from Whoville, take advantage if poor Uncle Billy and steal from the Savings & Loan, and then climb on our ladder all the way to the top of the wrong wall.

Maybe.

But the nice part about belief is that your level of commitment is really up to you. For surely, as the richest man in town, Mr. Potter believes it is wrong to steal, right? And yet, his steadfast belief in self-preservation takes precedent over his beliefs about “right” and “wrong” behavior, and leads him deeper into his own dark side. Through Mr. Potter, we can see that beliefs can be ranked in order of importance, and when a little notion like “thou shalt not steal” bumps up against, “always screw the other guy before he screws you…” we see that beliefs are really only reliable until the moment they suddenly aren’t. And when that happens… well, luckily for Mr. Potter he’s still got all that money.

Faith (small “f”), on the other hand, gives you freedom from the tyranny of belief. Or perhaps it is your reward for escaping from that tyranny.

Faith allowed young George Bailey to dive into the freezing stream where the ice broke to save his brother Harry from drowning. Belief, and common sense, would tell anyone that diving into a frozen stream is a potentially fatal thing to do. Faith allows George to act fast and without fear. This also was an early episode in George’s forming beliefs. For him, belief started with an act of faith. And his faith was rewarded. His friends quickly formed a human chain and both George and Harry were saved.

A young Mr. Potter could not have saved Harry from drowning. Without unthinking faith in the other kids, the instinct for self-preservation would have prevented it.

Throughout the film, we see the battle between belief and faith play out. And belief almost wins more than once. Always it is Potter as its voice. Trying to get his hands on the Building & Loan which George has reluctantly protected and nurtured his entire adult life… Potter offers him a job, a huge salary, and everything one could ever need if you believed the world was a dangerous place where walls were needed to keep it at bay. The idea of security for his family almost does it. But George simply does not believe that the world is as it seems to Potter. He might agree that it looks that way, but he doesn’t believe it. He has faith that the world is better than that, even if he can’t always see it.

Later, at the crucial point of the story, George begins to believe in Potter’s vision. All seems lost and Potter’s words echo in his head. “You’re worth more dead than alive.” At that moment, in Martini’s bar, when George asks to be shown “the way” he is on the verge of believing that his family’s future well-being rests in a life insurance policy, and not the uncountable blessings his every action has brought them since his birth.  The belief that all is lost brings George to the verge of losing faith.

Then his prayer is answered. The “way” is shone. Suddenly, an old man is drowning in a freezing stream. George Bailey dives in to save him. The “way” it seems never changes.

We can believe that because we can see it. Sometimes.

Or… maybe it’s better to have faith and not have to worry so much about what we can and can’t see.

Faith vs. Belief.  Which is stronger?

You all know how the movie ends. 

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Miguel Conner on Gnosticism -Then and Now



To journey toward the light, we must dare to embrace the knowledge that there might be miles of bad road in the darkness before we eventually get where we’re going.

Our subject is Gnosticism – what it is, where it came from and – with gnostic themes occurring and reoccurring in popular films, television and books – why it’s all over mainstream consciousness today. 

 

Miguel Conner is the host of the popular and long running Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio Podcast. He is, in his own words, a storyteller, garage philosopher and hedge historian. He is also one of the most informative and entertaining experts on the subject of Gnosticism you’re likely to find anywhere, and today he is our guest.

Miguel Conner is a lecturer, an essayist, the author of 2 critically acclaimed non-fiction books, Voices of Gnosticism and Other Voices of Gnosticism, and several works of acclaimed fiction including the post-apocalyptic epic, The Dark Instinct Trilogy and the fantasy novel, The Executioner’s Daughter. In fact, if you venture over to Aeon Byte today, you can pick up a copy of Stargazer, the first book in Dark Instinct Trilogy, for free. I’ve done it and I predict that after listening to today’s interview, you’ll want to read more of what Miguel Conner has to say as well.

But in the mean time, choose the red pill and strap in for an hour of conversation, gnosis and my interview with Miguel Conner.

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Special Halloween Episode: Here come The Brides



It’s the “What’s Your Theory?” Halloween Episode!  Jeff Salzman of The DailyEvolver.com returns (from the grave) for another Integral Chat to discuss “The Bride of Frankenstein” and “Brides of Dracula” from an Integral Theory point of view.

So gather ’round your smart phones… if you dare.

And prepare to evolve your consciousness into TERROR!

 

 

The mysterious voices in the preamble: The original theatrical trailer for “Brides of Dracula” and a conversation between Doctors Praetorius and Frankenstein from “The Bride of Frankenstein.”

And as with every Integral Chat, this chart comes in handy.

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Seeing Through the World – The Next Step in Consciousness Evolution?



Jeremy Johnson is the President of the International Jean Gebser Society. Fresh from this year’s Gebser Society Conference in Manhattan, Jeremy stops by WYT for a fascinating discussion on the evolution of Human Consciousness – where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The good news? If you are listening to this podcast, you are exactly the kind of person who either is currently – or could soon be – tapping into a greater sense of empathy, employing the ability to view reality from new and greater perspectives and… in short, seeing through the world.

What’s all this then?

Jeremy Johnson writes on Jean Gebser and the theme of Transparency and Planetization:

Jean Gebser (1905-1973) was a German philosopher, poet, and phenomenologist of consciousness. He is best known in the English-speaking world for The Ever-Present Origin(1949/1953), a masterful work of philosophical scholarship detailing a series of structural transformations in human consciousness. These leaps, or “mutations”, between structures often coincided with the simultaneous breakdown of deficient mentalities and the creative resurgence of new, spiritual qualities in humanity. Our present world anticipates a dramatic leap into the new, integral structure, which is noted for its quality of a-perspectivalism and seeing through and behind things. Only through transparency can the ever-presence of origin be perceived.

In Jean Gebser’s body of work, the principle of transparency is a unique expression of the emerging integral world. The nascent, integral structure of consciousness, which Gebser believed was well underway during his lifetime, could be identified by its spiritual capacity to render the world transparent, to shine through (durchscheinen) to its originary and primordial powers. The effect this would have on the previously realized structures of consciousness would be to render them diaphanous in both its dark aspects (the magic and mythic ontologies) as well as its light aspects (the mental-rational ontology). The synonyms clarity and lucidity were also provided by Gebser as qualitative descriptors—found in both the arts, through poets like Rilke, or the sciences, through physicists like Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg with the discoveries in quantum mechanics—to further elucidate the integral structure.

For the 47th annual Jean Gebser Society conference, we ask our presenters to examine the question of transparency. What is the nature of transparency? In what ways has transparency manifested in our present world? What are its challenges and complexities? How might this quality be assessed in both the humanities and the sciences in the decades following The Ever-Present Origin’s publication? How have planetary-scaled phenomena, like climate change and the ecological crisis, or communication revolutions, like New Media and the internet, furthered and complicated our understanding? To what degree does transparency reveal both the efficient and deficient manifestations of globalization? (from RealitySandwich)

This week’s mysterious voices in the preamble: Alan Watts and Edith Keeler (Joan Collins)

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How do I purge this hate?



Hey! People are listening to this show! It’s only hundreds among the possible billions, but that’s still a lot. More than I expected this soon. Thanks to all of you! And thanks to Jeff Salzman of the DailyEvolver.com for helping me keep a steady flow of quality content each week while WYT gets off the ground. Thank you, sir!

And not only are people listening, but some are engaging too. Last week a comment appeared under the “Bright side of the Trump Apocalypse” episode that had a lot to say and also asked a very interesting question. I pointed it out to Jeff and we agreed that it would make a good topic for the next Integral Chat. And having just listened to the show before posting, I think it did. This is a good talk. So thank you to William for your comment and your question.

You can see his full comment here. It is detailed and insightful throughout, but here is the section we will be focusing on in particular.

“I truly wish I could develop the level of unattachment that Jeff displays towards the Traditional Mind Set. As a 65 year old gay man, I have to admit I have tremendous rage towards these people. They actively seek to scapegoat gay people. They actively lobby to have gay rights and gay marriage overthrown. They actively promote GOP religious fanatics who seek to do as much harm to me and my husband of 40 years as possible. How do I purge this hate?”

That’s an excellent question. If there is a specific answer, I imagine it would differ from person to person, but often the learning is in the contemplating itself. And that’s what we’ll try to offer, contemplation through conversation. I think I learned something from contemplating this question today. So thanks again, William.

As always, the Altitudes of Development Chart will help to follow along with the conversation.

But beyond the chart, I also want to provide a little underlying context about what Integral Theory means to me specifically. In other words, “Why the Integral Chat?”

Here is a paraphrasing of what’s discussed early in this episode:

Quoting Joseph Campbell from “The Power of Myth:” “My friend Heinrich Zimmer of years ago used to say, “The best things can’t be told,” because they transcend thought. “The second best are misunderstood,” because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, and one gets stuck in the thoughts.”The third best are what we talk about.”

As one of the many people of the current generations on who seek some kind of bridge between the logic and measurability of science and mind-expansion and soul nourishment that comes with spiritual pursuits, Integral Theory offers a set of tools, really a terminology which we can use as common reference points when we talk about the ineffable, higher things. Science and rationality don’t do well with the higher things because they lack the tools to measure them. Thus all spiritual information is reduced to anecdotal information, and is therefore viewed but he scientific and rational mind as largely meaningless. Or at least more meaningless that it all seems to experiencer who is struggling to convey his anecdote of spiritual consciousness in a useful way.

If you were trying to explain to me what it’s really like to be in love with a the specific person you are in love with, you would need to step into Campbell’s “second best” things to get me close to seeing what your feeling. You may have to right a beautiful song or poem if you really want to make an impression. The tools and terms provided by Integral Theory (again, the chart is pretty potent), make it easier to have conversations that begin from higher ground, and that makes it easier to really get some where.  So.. thats why the Integral Chat.

As aways, I try for the disembodied voices in the pre-amble to set the stage for the theme of the episode. Today it’s Alan Watts from “The Myth of Myself.”

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Is Climate Change an evolutionary tool?



Why do Traditional, Modern, and Post-Modern mindsets see climate change differently? Why doesn’t science settle the issue? And what’s it going to cost us if we can’t get on the same page?

Jeff Salzman of the Daily Evolver podcast stops in for another in an ongoing series of conversations we’re calling the Integral Chat. Jeff and Steve look at our world’s rapidly evolving circumstances through the lens of Integral Theory.

This week: Is Climate Change an evolutionary tool? Is it going to change us fast enough to deal with it? Is it getting hot in here or not? How can it be that three different types of people can disagree on the weather?

The voices in  the pre-amble this time are Terence Mckenna, Charlton Heston and, in one of the most “integral” speeches ever, Rick Grimes.

Once again, here is the helpful chart that makes Integral Theory easy to follow:

 

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The Bright Side of the Trump Apocalypse



President Donald J. Trump. Those words bring out a lot of emotions all the way across our political and emotional spectrums. Some liberals view them as Apocalyptic. Some conservatives think they are going to Make America Great Again.

But what if they are both right? What if the Apocalypse can be a good thing?

Most people associate the word Apocalypse with a myth about the total destruction or end of the world. That is what the word has come to mean, but as with many words, like “liberal” or “conservative” or “myth” to just name a few, the word “apocalypse” used to mean something else. And that original meaning is something worth looking at.

There is, of course, a great deal of symbolism implied by the word. In the Bible, the book most often associated with it, the Apocalypse can also be viewed as the total destruction not of the world, but of the ruling paradigm. In other words, Jesus came to change the world, in a sense destroying the old way of being in favor a new one. Hammurabi’s code of “an eye for eye,” for example, became “love thy neighbor as you love yourself.” And, symbolically, a new world was born with the destruction of one paradigm in favor of a new, more evolved world view. In another myth making the same point, the Phoenix rises from the ashes.

However, the origin of the word Apocalypse gives still another meaning.

ORIGIN
Old English, via Old French and ecclesiastical Latin from Greek apokalupsis, from apokaluptein ‘uncover, reveal,’ from apo- ‘un-’ + kaluptein ‘to cover.’

And the election of Donald Trump, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum, has uncovered and revealed a lot of things. Revelations open the door to new possibilities. Could it be that the Trump Apocalypse is opening the door for one or more new paradigms to take the place of old worn out patterns and practices that are no longer helpful?

NEW WEEKLY FEATURE: The Integral Chat

WYT is a new Podcast. And while we gear up to bring you many guests and fascinating theories in the future, this week kicks off a new regular feature we’re very excited about: Jeff Salzman of the Daily Evolver will be joining Stephen T. Harper for a series of conversations about a variety of topics, viewed from Jeff’s unique perspective and the lens of Integral Theory.

This week we take a look at the bright side of some of the many disturbing things happening in American culture.

Because there is always a bright side. Well… usually.

Who’s talking in the Pre-amble this week? Terence Mckenna, Donald Trump, Terence Mckenna, Donald Trump, Prince Ea

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Integral Theory



Human consciousness is in an ongoing developmental process that began millions of years ago. The biggest steps, the ones that move us from one level to the next represent major shifts from old paradigms to new. We’ve only taken SIX of these paradigm shifting steps in the last 200,000 years. But they are coming faster and faster. The last step happened about 50-70 years ago as a new, widespread and deeply ingrained global awareness arrived in the mainstream of human consciousness. The next step, and the massive change it will bring… is coming on faster still.

That next step in our development is emerging right now. And there’s good news (phew!). It looks like it COULD be the bridge between rationalism and spiritual awareness. It COULD be the answer to all our scary questions about the future. In the human race’s ongoing internal conflict to bring about competing futures filled with truth and beauty or… you know… Dr. Zaius and the Planet of the Apes, our next stage of conscious development is crucial. And it’s coming. Ready or not.

Jeff Salzman is the co-founder of the Boulder Integral Center in Boulder Colorado, he is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Cultural Evolution, he is the Creator of the Daily Evolver podcast, and above all else, perhaps, as his resume indicates, he is an advocate and teacher of Integral Theory.

What is Integral Theory?

“Integral theory is a school of philosophy that seeks to integrate all of human wisdom into a new, emergent worldview that is able to accommodate the gifts of all previous worldviews, including those which have been historically at odds: science and religion, eastern and western schools of thought, and pre-modern, modern and post-modern worldview.” – Jeff Salzman

Join Stephen T. Harper and Jeff Salzman for some good answers to big questions…

Follow along with the conversation with this handy chart. You can learn more about Jeff and Integral Theory at www.dailyevolver.com

Who is saying all those fascinating things in this week’s pre-amble? They are Alan Watts, Terence McKenna, and Alan Watts again.

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