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All Excellence Is Elitist

Michael JacksonThis morning I opened my inbox and found the latest Quote of the Week from EnlightenNext founder (and editor in chief and spiritual teacher) Andrew Cohen, titled “Aspire to Be Great.” But before I quote it here, I want to mention what I’d been reading right before I saw it, which was a message that was sent out on the mailing list from alt-rock legend Billy Corgan, whose soulful music once lifted me (and countless others) through the tribulations of Gen-X/Y teenagedom. In the email, Billy expressed his disbelief that fans had flown off the handle when they heard that he had allowed himself to participate in a charity auction in which the winner gets the prize of having a private lunch with Billy — with the stipulation that the winner has to foot the lunch bill. When I first saw this, about a week ago, I thought it was funny and strangely appropriate that the highest bidder would also get to buy Billy lunch. But apparently I was of the few who felt that way, and many individuals let their shocked outrage explode in the forums, decrying Billy’s oppressive ways for wanting to take advantage of the average Joe (an average Joe who can afford to spend thousands of dollars to have lunch with a rock star).

Billy CorganWhile flaming forum mobs are nothing new, what struck me this time was the obvious root cause of the situation: people outraged at someone in a position of power. Period. Not people outraged at someone actually abusing his or her power, or even potentially doing so (Billy is a multimillionaire; one can assume he wouldn’t derive too much malicious satisfaction from making someone buy him lunch). But someone simply being in a position of power. You can see it playing out right here on the Editors’ Blog in response to my colleague Carter Phipps’s post titled “President Obama: The Birth of a Moral Leader.” While it’s been awesome to have such an overwhelming response to a post, we’ve been struck by the fact that a majority of the comments are purely negative, either criticizing Carter for so boldly supporting the leader of the free world, or criticizing Obama for being the leader of the free world. Apparently, you can’t please anybody unless you: (A) don’t dare to take a stand or (B) don’t dare to stand up. (Maybe that’s why the baby boomers perfected the art of the “sit-in” protest?)

Now, I’m sure some of those commenters would say that they raised some valid points by suggesting that Obama hasn’t delivered on his plans for change as quickly as advertised, or by criticizing him for being another war-mongering, hapless puppet of the System/Even-Bigger-Authority-Figure/Cigarette Smoking Man. But I have to question whether those concerns are really what they’re responding to, or whether their urge to pull Obama down as quickly and vocally as possible is actually symptomatic of something far more fundamental.

We Are the World by Michael Jackson and FriendsI saw another example of this last Friday morning when a few of us from EnlightenNext were speaking on a Burlington, Vermont, radio show. This was the day after the world learned that Michael Jackson had died, and one of my colleagues took the opportunity to pay tribute to the man by using him as an example of someone who had changed the world for the better, becoming one of the greatest performing artists of the twentieth century and profoundly evolving the realms of music and dance in the process (to say nothing of some of his other positive endeavors). But the second the words were out of her mouth, one of the three show hosts pounced, laughing at the ridiculous notion that a “pop artist” like Michael Jackson contributed anything useful or positive to our culture, especially considering all of his character flaws. We didn’t know what to say to that one, particularly once they cited Madonna as a counterexample, someone whom they thought did make a real difference. But why her and not Michael? They seemed to be splitting hairs.

“It’s easy to be postmodern sideline critics,” my colleague Joel Pitney said in response to the show host (“Who you callin’ a postmodern critic?” the host retorted, prompting much laughter all around). In postmodern culture we simply love to pull people down, even if we’ve never even attempted to rise up ourselves and become true cultural leaders, authorities, or exemplars in any field — whether it’s art, business, science, politics, or even spirituality. But why do we feel such a need to do it?

boomeritissmallIn books such as Boomeritis and also in the pages of EnlightenNext magazine, the integral philosopher Ken Wilber has explored this particular characteristic of our hyper-egalitarian postmodern culture in penetrating detail. In his first appearance in the magazine, back in 1997, he wrote an article titled “A Spirituality that Transforms,” which made the bold case that some forms of spirituality are, in fact, higher, deeper, and more powerfully transformative than others. I quote:

But isn’t this view of mine terribly elitist? Good heavens, I hope so. When you go to a basketball game, do you want to see me or Michael Jordan play basketball? When you listen to pop music, who are you willing to pay money in order to hear? Me or Bruce Springsteen? When you read great literature, who would you rather spend an evening reading, me or Tolstoy? When you pay $64 million for a painting, will that be a painting by me or by Van Gogh?

All excellence is elitist. And that includes spiritual excellence as well. But spiritual excellence is an elitism to which all are invited.

I'm OK--You're OKThe fact is, as postmodern egalitarians, we can’t stand the idea that some people might be higher, more developed, or even better human beings than we are. After all, aren’t we all unique and different in our own super-special way, just as Mr. Rogers always told us young Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers (and which the Me Generation apparently told themselves)? And that’s just the way we like it, too. If I’m OK and you’re OK, then there’s absolutely no need to rise up, take a stand for something higher, or try to make an evolutionarily significant or creatively beneficial contribution to this little project called Humanity. I mean, really, who would have the audacity to do such a thing? Just be as you are, and take it easy. Besides, aren’t those who actually do make a mark usually egotistical narcissists? Billy Corgan and Michael Jackson being prime examples? Well, perhaps so, but that doesn’t discount their positive contributions, which often benefit a lot more people than anything the passive sideline critic can come up with. Just because not everyone has 100% pure motives doesn’t mean they can’t contribute; otherwise, we would all be in trouble.

But that also doesn’t mean that the longing to go beyond narcissism and the longing for pure motivation aren’t desperately needed qualities as well. If everyone demanded pure motives, particularly of those in positions of influence and power, the world would undoubtedly be a better place — IF those who were doing the demanding also strove to do something about the impurity of the world, starting with themselves, and also had a healthy dose of humility in relationship to the people they’re criticizing. I mean, Obama may not be perfect, but I sure as hell don’t feel qualified for the job (and legally I’m not, being only 29, so I’m off the hook for now!). Otherwise, if we don’t give ourselves a good hard look in the mirror first, we’ll never get anywhere. And that brings us to Andrew’s Quote of the Week:

Aspire to Be Great

Individuals at the leading edge who change in a dramatic way and who are consistently able to manifest what evolutionary development and spiritual enlightenment look like will inevitably affect, in a powerful way, the world they come into contact with. Humbly aspiring to be a good person just won’t be enough to make any real difference. Boldly aspiring to be a great person, as much as we may fall short of that goal, makes room for the evolutionary impulse, which is our own Authentic Self, to surge through the very core of our being. And that is what has the power to change the world.

Not everyone can moonwalk, but everyone can strive to spiritually evolve. And “spiritual excellence,” as Ken Wilber said above, is an elitism to which all are invited. Who wants to settle for being a merely mediocre soul?

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Filed Under: CultureEnlightenNext Editors’ BlogEvolutionary EnlightenmentEvolutionary SpiritualityPop CulturePostmodernismSpirituality

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About the Author

Tom Huston is the Senior Online Editor of EnlightenNext magazine. Follow him on Twitter @KosmicTom.

Comments (22)

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  1. Omar says:

    A much needed article to bring some perspective upon recent posts and the “Narcissism” conversation going on these days. Despite Boomeritis, self-obsession with self and countless others flaws that different generations might express today, I wholeheartedly believe that a sincere intention to strive for excellence can make the world a better place.
    In such context, just as you say, egotistical narcissists with all their limitations can most definitely add positive contributions to the world.
    Great post :)

  2. Guy says:

    This could all be applied to Adolf Hitler:

    Rose up out of apathetic mass to make major difference to the world.
    Was motivated by ‘higher calling’ (as he saw it).
    Had great talent above that of ‘ordinary humanity’ (was undoubtedly great speech maker and uniter of those who believed what he had to say)
    ‘Bravely stood up for what he believed in in the face of great opposition’.
    Made a positive difference to his country (in the short term, the German economy flourished under Hitler and he was instrumental in the creation of corporations which still survive today, famously Volkswagen).
    Appeared to be strong advocate of elitism and excellence.

    The problem was he was a total psychopath and everything he believed in was nonsense.

    For the same reason Michael Jackson is a terrible example. No-one could deny he made great music but as a role model there is almost nobody worse:

    Denied his race by actually dyeing his skin (the song ‘Black or White’, rather than being a ‘positive contribution’ to the world as you put it, could be seen as a justification of his decision to change from one to the other).
    Probably denied his sexuality (many close to him have said he was gay, yet he married twice in order to hide the fact).
    Tried to cosmetically change how he looked out of all recognition (great example for kids to be proud of who they are)
    Lived a totally unsustainable and over the top consumerist existence to the point that even the man who co-owned the Beatles back catalogue could not live within his means(!)
    Apparently did the dirty on his ‘friend’ Paul McCartney in the acquisition of said catalogue.
    …and so on, and you will notice I have not even mentioned possible inappropriate relationships with children yet.
    So at best, he was a massive narcissist (the man who sailed down the river in London with a huge statue of himself on board the boat for one example), albeit a talented and maybe even a good-hearted one- and at worst he was a traitor to his race, his sexuality, and possibly a paedophile to boot.

    Post modern cynicism does not arise out of nowhere, it has come from being repeatedly let down and lied to by leaders. Our trust has been abused every time and we are not willing to let it happen again.

    “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist” – George Carlin. This is the root of post-modern cynicism and although I do not like some of the results of it any more than you do, I feel that the ‘won’t get fooled again’ attitude is often the right way to go.

    We had this same whole thing with Obama in the UK in 1997 when Tony Blair got elected- on a left-wing, ‘yes we can’ idealist mandate. And we got the most right-wing, conservative ‘yes YOU can Mr. Bush’ religious narcissist maniac it is possible to imagine.

    Obama is the ‘good cop’ to Bush’s ‘bad cop’ and he has manifestly continued to support the same corrupt system by making his first major act in power the bailout/reward of those who caused the financial collapse with billions of dollars of your children’s and grandchildren’s tax dollars, thus making any future reforms he may have had in mind immensely more difficult to implement.

    Let’s look at some REAL role models. What about:
    James Brown (I’m black and I’m proud)
    Harvey Milk (gay and proud)
    Prof. Stephen Hawking
    Nelson Mandela
    Helen Keller
    George Carlin
    The Dalai Lama
    Rev. MLK
    Muhammad Ali
    Curtis Mayfield
    Pankhurst sisters
    Jimi Hendrix
    Allen Ginsburg

    etc etc… and definitely not including fakes like MJ (or Madonna).

  3. susan olshuff says:

    Brilliant Tom!!! Love this piece!

  4. Duff says:

    A nice exposition of the SDi Orange vMeme, i.e. “strive-drive.”

    It doesn’t seem “obvious” to me that everyone on the Billy Corgan list objected to the idea of paying for his lunch because of “people outraged at someone in a position of power”–it seems to me like Corgan pulled a tacky joke that some enjoyed and others did not.

    Apparently, you can’t please anybody unless you: (A) don’t dare to take a stand or (B) don’t dare to stand up.

    This is certainly true, but “you can’t please all the people all the time.” It’s not a matter of trying to please everybody. In politics especially, there is no pleasing of everyone unless you don’t participate at all.

    The fact is, as postmodern egalitarians, we can’t stand the idea that some people might be higher, more developed, or even better human beings than we are.

    I don’t think that’s what Cohen is saying: he’s saying “other people can’t stand the idea that I/We are better than THEY are.” This a very different stance.

    It’s one thing for a great leader to say “I am humbled by all the people who have helped me to get where I am today” and quite another to say “you fools don’t understand my genius!”

    It is quite reasonable to critique the latter, given the long history of corruption and power.

  5. Eric Schey says:

    I was reminded of a passage from Thomas DeZengotita’s book Mediated while reading this post, especially as it relates to how “ In postmodern culture we simply love to pull people down, even if we’ve never even attempted to rise up ourselves and become true cultural leaders, authorities, or exemplars in any field”. It is so much easier to nit-pick a leader (or dare I say Hero) down to average Joe level than it is to actually recognize that person as being higher morally, culturally or spiritually and face the possibility that we may not be as high as we thought we were.

    Here is the passage from the Twilight of the Heroes chapter of Mediated I was reminded of:

    “The old-style heroes just weren’t empowering, that’s the point. They had an intimidating kind of greatness that could make you feel like not bothering to develop your own average greatness. We no longer approve of that demanding kind of greatness; what we want now is a supportive and inclusive kind of greatness.”

  6. Guy says:

    @Duff – that is rather weird- I just subscribed to your blog from Reality Sandwich, then came here and the second post after mine was from you… synchronicity anyone?

  7. Reid Pitney Higginson says:

    In response to Tom’s post and the Hitler comment above.

    I appreciated your response Guy, because it brings in something that Tom didn’t mention explicitly in his blog: morality. (Though I do think it is there implicitly—for us to live more enlightened, bold and influential lives.) You’re right, Hitler did have real excellence, expressed in very immoral acts, so we have to consider morality when we think of excellence. Nevertheless, I have to critique your position as well because I’ve noticed in my own postmodern self a very interesting relationship to morality. I think about most things in terms of morality: when I vote I vote based on my morals, I always try to make sure I am kind to the people around me, and whenever I buy something I question whether or not it was ethically produced. But what is skewed with my relationship to morality is that whenever I know that one aspect of something is bad, I assume that the whole thing must be bad across the board. For example, I almost always feel guilty whenever I ride in a car, because they are so bad for the environment. But that means I’m overlooking the fact that cars have bring people together in ways never possible before, expand the reach of health care and other basic systems that make our lives so easy and can even be beautiful. In essence, whenever I see one aspect of something as immoral I throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    When I read this blog I had a similar reaction, I kept thinking, “He’s got to critique Michael Jackson more, he’s got to critique him more. He’s got to counter-balance all the good he’s saying about MJ with some more of the bad stuff. I don’t want people thinking they can act like MJ and feel they are excellent.” Later, however, I realized that Tom’s post is trying to attack this postmodern sensibility of throwing something out just because one (or many) parts of it are wrong. I’m sure that Tom knows MJ has some terrible flaws and likely did some horrible things. We all know that. What we (postmoderns) forget to appreciate is that he was excellent at what he did, was an unbelievably talented artist and had a bigger influence on the world that most of us could even dream of having. While I think it’s important to consider morality it’s pretty redundant to reiterate MJ’s flaws; we all already know them. What is more pertinent and implicating to me is the morality implicit in Tom’s argument: every moment we spend hacking down influential people with flaws is a moment lost in actually taking on the enormous challenge of rising up above our own flaws to live a striking and influential life.

  8. MrTeacup says:

    I’d also add that there is a SD Blue dimension to this perspective, which says we should behave deferentially towards more evolved people. This is also my impression of what Genpo Roshi is getting at in the “Spiritual Hierarchy” dialog. The Orange meme throws that all out, which is why in our culture we often find an obsession with the horror stories of exploitative authority. Not that those don’t happen, but we have a lurid fascination for them that reminds me of watching horror movies. In the same way that watching a violent horror movie might sustain the repression of our violent impulses, the cultural obsession with abuses of authority sustains our repression of our inner authoritarianism.

    This blog post, Genpo Roshi and Cohen all alert us to this tendency and the importance of integrating it, but that’s the easy part–what I’m looking for is a solution, and I don’t see that here.

    One point on the question of whether a “pop artist” make a contribution: isn’t that statement itself elitist and condescending? As if to say “He’s a mere entertainer who is worshiped by millions of misguided philistines.” Maybe the real Orange viewpoint in this story is here. I’ve noticed a tendency for people to reframe their perspectives in what they perceive as the moral high-ground, which is often Green anti-elitism.

  9. Duff says:

    Good point @MrTeaCup re: the elitism of criticizing pop culture.

  10. Guy says:

    @Reid – yeah I know what you mean, though actually I did start out on MJ by saying ‘no-one could deny he made great music’.

    Where it gets problematic is that here in the UK we had this pop star called Gary Glitter who made some pretty ropey (yet commercially successful) glam rock in the early 70s. Then in the 90s he gets put in prison for child abuse- and of course his records are never played again on the TV and radio etc and that’s good. But the point is, what if the records had been brilliant?

    I mean Peter Townshend was accused of downloading child porn from the internet and he was acquitted, but what if it had been true? Would we have just forgotten The Who’s great music ever existed like we did with Gary Glitter’s (much easier to forget) music? And then take that a stage further with MJ who was many times more popular even than The Who… and of course the more popular the person is, the more powerful are the lawyers they can hire and the more they can pay out of court to people to shut them up. So none of us can do any more than give the benefit of the doubt to MJ- we can’t say for sure he wasn’t guilty. Maybe we don’t want him to be guilty because we don’t want his music to be taken away from us.

    So the point is, is morality relative to the amount of excellence? If someone is really good at what they do, do we excuse their failings more, even if they are very serious ones?

    I’m sure a lot of people made large short term gains out of Bernard Madoff, but can they really say he was a good guy, even if he did a good thing *for them* (and ran an excellent and successful Ponzi scheme for many years without being caught).

    We can see many examples of gurus who have failed morally but because they have had such positive impacts on so many peoples’ lives, those people just don’t want to hear the bad news until it is shouted so loudly that it can no longer be ignored- possibly someone like Sai Baba is at that tipping point now (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and by the way Sai Baba says the internet is evil- go figure…). I could name others but you get the point.

    I felt I had to reiterate MJ’s failings one more time because it seems people just don’t want to look at the whole man, they just see what they want to see- ok no big deal with a pop star, except possibly when put up as a role model, but when it comes to Presidents and leaders of all kinds especially spiritual, this kind of denial of reality means a LOT of people get hurt very badly.

    So in the US those who voted for him still seem on the whole to love Obama, even though he has not appeared to deliver on too much of importance yet. I’m all for giving people a chance but as I said we have been fooled before and it just ends up with the guy running out of chances.

    So your point about cars is a valid one, but you only need yours to break down to realise how valuable they are, even if the ideal car is some way away in the future. We can, I believe, demand a faster rate of moral change from our leaders than we can of the automotive industry, especially as most leaders use a moral component to in their campaigns to become leaders in the first place, and let’s face it, the automotive industry does not; they are there to make money and fulfil a demand.

    I think that great leadership sets the tone for whoever is ‘under’ them, and I really believe it is a big mistake to take the morality out of it and just gloss over peoples’ failings because they happen to have written some good songs or opened the doors of perception for you or whatever it may be.

    In fact I seem to remember an article (probably in WIE, please correct me if I’m wrong) by Andrew Cohen in which he expressed admiration and awe while watching the tanks lining up in the desert getting ready for the Iraq war- he did not come from the angle that they were going to do a good thing, more that it was a celebration of an enormous feat of teamwork. So it was, but to ignore the extremely dubious morality of the action was for me, to be blind to something which one should never be blind to, no matter what the excellence and other positive aspects of something may be.

    So basically, for me the morality of a person or action can never be a side issue, or taken for granted- it is right there in the heart of what is important.

    I gave James Brown as a role model precisely because he was a flawed character – in defence of the ‘post-modern’ view I would say that I don’t think anyone expressing that kind of view expects anyone in the public eye to be absolutely perfect, just that there not be a huge gulf between the public image and the reality. This puts all the more pressure on gurus and religious leaders who actually profess to be perfect morally and then of course fall way short, and then (crucially) deny that this is the case, creating this dissonant gulf.

  11. Jordan Allen says:

    To assert that the anti-Obama comments are simply a reaction to his power ignores real criticism that stems from many different values memes. This may be true of many of the comments; many of us who read these blogs have a green center of gravity. But for the same reason I feel that much of the Obama praise comes from our green sentiments.

    The integral perspective aims to maintain the health of the spiral, and it seems like Integral Politics would ask the question, “What kind of leader is most appropriate for the current center of gravity of this nation?” These questions are the ones that lead Steve McIntosh to assert (in EnlightenNext) that Singapore needed a heavy does of blue to unite the 5 disparate ethnic reds before they could move to a more US styled orange democracy. Imposing a democracy which values individual freedoms and rights with the assumptions of our constitution is only capable in an environment where the cultural values align; in other settings it leads to pure power domination by the largest and most powerful group. I’d like to evaluate our President from this question, trying to ask from the Integral Perspective what does our country need? How can we allow all the values to develop into healthy manifestations?

    Reading Obama’s book and speeches, he seems to be a very SDi green (postmodern, egalitarian valued) president. This could well be my own projection, but he constantly asserts that we are all one people with the same values, the same needs, the same etc. etc. etc. There should be great wealth redistribution, equality in health care, free higher education, and so forth. His morality seems to be informed by the common good and does not seem to recognize that we have vastly different approaches to seeing and making decisions in the world and that some of these are more appropriate or valid in certain situations than others. Ask Obama to comment on the idea that “all excellence is elitist” and see if he agrees. Ask him if he won the election because he has excelled, because he has a clearer moral vision – or ask him if it because the common man has spoken, because so many individuals have supported him in grassroots efforts, because his policies give the greater distribution of power and government action to the people.

    A postmodern president may be exactly what the US needs to pull our center of gravity up towards second tier, because you have to go through each stage to get there. But it may not. That’s the question I’d like to see discussed, and the framework I’d like to view a President in when judging their actions.

  12. Guy says:

    @Jordan- all very good points, except I think when looking at politicians we should consider their actions rather than what they say. Obama certainly talks a good game, but his actions so far say otherwise. I’m not familiar enough with SD to couch it in those terms but he could be speaking from one meme and acting from another.

  13. Guga Casari says:

    The excellence that is being talked about here, seems to me to be of the kind of developing a sort of extreme talent (and talent is a form of currency somewhere isnt it), or in spiritual terms a sidhi from great long practice, or even in other terms Charisma (and there was a record label with that name).

    Charisma… that glow that atracts. Charisma that even evil Hittler had, that Michael had. Charisma that does not mean the shadow elements of an individual are well resolved, it may just mean that he or she became almost otherworldly proficcient at something. It may just mean that that individual is the pinnacle of human development in that arena.

    It is the “funniest” thing down here in Brazil, when pop stars start endorsing political figures, it always get messy, because they just don’t have the political skills to avoid the bullets and almost always get burned in the process. Music speaks to a broader audience than political platforms… And it seems the Charisma they developed for that area of popular evidence is just not enough to navigate on other areas.

    I think when we start hitting the sort of opinion wall that is apparent on these posts the (integral) issue may lay on a lower strata – that of the shadow. And we will not get past it into more a comprehensive mutual understanding unless we look straight into it.

    MJ, he gave/gives me the creeps, looking into this amazing light and shadow freak, someone gone so far in carving and bleaching himself into what – a moonwalking alien peterpan (?) elicits disgust, and a weird sort of campassion from my own moral neatly self composed high ground. Also Madonna scares the hell out of me but that is a whole another shadow issue.

    To end, i think we are trying to see things from a (positively) evolutionary perspective here, and my 2 very tiny cents on this are
    1- lets look at shadow
    2- there are so many identities that can be constructed, but some “structures” are just not flexible enough for the long evolutionary run, Pop Stars are usually brittle and saddly synthetic, they just break when we play them too much…

    To end i really hope MJ has become fred from all the pain he felt, and that he now can find a proper vessel, and a better simpler identity where to explore his great talent towards true enlightnement.

    Peace and Rock on

  14. Guy says:

    @Guga: I agree totally about the shadow issue, but to me charisma seems to come simply from people paying attention to you. I think Hitler would have been totally uncharismatic if people had just ignored him (or put him in a mental hospital as they should have done)- the problem was, he had an answer to their question, even though it was the wrong answer- so they listened to him, and he became charismatic, so more people listened, etc…

    Which pop stars do you mean? Gilberto Gil became a politician didn’t he? I have no idea what kind of politician he was/is but I love his music!

  15. Guga Casari says:

    @Guy: Yes Gilberto Gil was mayor in Bahia State’s capital, Salvador, once i think, and he was appointed Minister of Culture by President Lula at his 1st presidency term. He was a very odd minister… Well Lula is a very odd President. Actually i meant when actors and singers endorse this or that politician or policy, like Chico Buarque endorsing the Partido dos Trabalhadores, or other similar cases. It is just to much heat for most of them, and they are usually not versed in debating and arguing their positions, i guess in that sense artists are better at being loved (i know i am being mean here).

    About a popular person’s charisma i can understand your point, yes power to (and from the people) there. They are mostly held up high by peoples expectations in that case. But the question remains, what makes them so able to hold and cater to that spot light (so shamelessly at times) and always get more attention? I think they do glow in some special form, iradiating something that people just want to get, or to blame, or to follow… Why didn’t they ignore Hitler, why could not the whole world ignore him for that matter? Was it his voice, or everybody’s? Was it the Mithic’s meme last grab at power, a volcano’s eruption? Is it ever gonna happen again…? I am always scared when people want to fully relinquish their own personal power and judgement to someone else, so now i am suspicious of all the “Obama’s the Man”. I read it as a cowboy’s ol aspiration “we want to get back in the saddle, and everything will be all right” – as a racially correct ride into the sunset. My take is that nothing will be as it ever was, because here in my own country we already experienced this saviour of the country drama a few times, so it is a known drama. Deja vú now in Hollywood for me.

    Off form politics, of which i know nothing of, into more chewy and personal stuff: I am observing this charisma vs shadow play in a very charismatic leader of a spiritual comunity i participate. I can see many of his personal flaws, as many other at this group can. Still he comands a lot of respect, and even if the group is starting to have second thoughts about his recent actions he still can call them up, and even excomunicate some of them with a weird kind of moral fortitude. He is a spiritual healer, a channel, and often shows telepatic and healing powers that are very unusual. Also he is very human, and complex in more ways than i can explain. So in a sense he has the popular acclaim kind of charisma, also he has the unquestionable development of sidhis and glows charismatically in his own right, and he drags a great shadow also in the same bag with the immense ambition of good intentions. Very human, also divine… Trying to save the world and people, trying to do what is right, and moral…

    And Yes Gilberto Gil – great music, cool dude, funny minister, so so mayor. Who could ask for more?

  16. Guga Casari says:

    @Guy: I was at your blog- cool. There is a post on there being no self at all to be called upon. Yesss, it feels right. So here i am noself talking to noself, thinkin’

    “Whos looking at the popstar’s noself and thinking there is someone (else)”


    “Whos looking at the Obama’s noself and thinking there is someone (else)”

    Back on the issue of Charisma – whos giving who what (attention / focus)? And the wheel turns, like an old LP (they do sound better, dont they?)

  17. Holly says:

    Great discussion to open up Tom — and seems to have started a very firey debate!
    What I think is important to see is that just the concept that someone is “Excellent” at something or striving to be excellent, churns up so much in us Gen X-ers and Y-ers. Usually after someone makes a statement about someone’s excellence or attempts to be an example of something higher, most of the time the retort starts off, proudly, “Yeah, BUT…” and then the ripping down starts. It’s a delicate thing to hold both the fact that someone is making real, productive contributions to their community or the world AND that they have very human faults and impure motives. It always seems to make it very easy, then, to throw the baby out with the bathwater, level the playing field, and relax in our postmodern swamp where there is no pressure on us to strive to be anything better than we are because, as you say Tom, we deeply believe we’re pretty damn perfect as we are, and have been told so all our lives. What if, holding the imperfections, we also STRETCH to see and hold an individuals incredible achivements and gifts. It took me a long time, for example, to appreciate Tiger Woods. Not a golf fan, probably never will be, but once someone explained to me his almost impossible talent, his drive, his focus and dedication, I had to let in the respect and humility that doesn’t come easy to us. He’s pushing an edge that pushes us all forward…he has broken limits on what has been possible, and become an inspiration to countless others. If that bothers anyone, perhaps it’s a good time to make a list of all the things they have done that they could say the same about. If there’s a gap, it’s just interesting to note…what does the idea of “excellence” trigger in us…and why might that be?

  18. Guy says:

    @Guga, just noticed your replies.

    ‘Why didn’t they ignore Hitler?’- I think because they needed easy answers and he, being insane, was totally convinced he had them, and his total conviction, plus their need for it to be true, ended up being like a self-fulfilling prophecy, where one person’s belief in something ends up convincing other people, which makes the originator even more convinced he’s right, which allows him to persuade more people. Basically if there had been no inner need for Hitler’s ideas then he would have been ignored.

    Very good question about if there’s no self, who is convincing who? Well it’s the same answer funnily enough- I, being ‘insane’ (you could call it that) believe I am a totally separate and unique entity, I present myself as such, convincing other people (also believing themselves to be separate), which reinforces my belief as myself as something separate and special… and so on like the above example. In a way you could say every pop star who believes his own publicity is a ‘little Hitler’. Look at someone like Bono and it’s easy to see…

    But I think in a way compassion is appropriate for these people- they are stuck in their ivory towers and from that position it’s difficult to evolve with everyone else. One day they wake up and things have passed them by and they are a dinosaur.

    With people like Gilberto Gil or Caetano Veloso or Neil Young, they probably don’t believe their own publicity too much, and recognise that becoming ossified into this big projection of people’s idea of them is a bad idea artistically, so they constantly try to reinvent themselves and destroy their previous image so that they don’t get stuck in the artistic abyss of never taking risks. Sometimes they fall on their arse but I’m sure they accept it’s the price you pay for being an artist.

    Also Gil and Veloso have the experience of exile and prison and probably realise there are more important things in the world than being a pop star. Hmm….maybe we should put Bono in prison for a bit… just kidding.

    Of course, returning to the idea of a separate self or a no-self, I think it’s fairly apparent that we *are* separate people on an outer, relative level, it’s really inside and when all relationships are removed where the truth of no-self is really seen (by no-one- check out for more of that approach).

  19. Guy says:

    @Holly – I totally agree with everything you’ve said- it’s so important not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Having said that I think it’s important to also not keep the bathwater because the baby is so beautiful!

    A lot of the time people strive for excellence in one area of their lives because they feel totally inadequate in others – their comfort zone is this excellence in their chosen field, but they may be a disaster in other areas- someone like Van Morrison springs to mind, musically has been absolutely excellent IMO, apparently socially a total disaster, rude, arrogant, painfully shy and closed, etc.

    On the other hand some people are incredibly well-adjusted and their brilliance grows out of that- Tiger Woods may well be an example.

    I just think it’s important not to let the light of people’s excellence dazzle us to the extent that we are blind to their faults. As Guga implies above, spiritual teachers can get away with a certain amount of questionable behaviour if they are able to give people a taste of their own true self or have seemingly magical powers. However there has to be a line drawn where no matter how excellent someone is in one way, if their behaviour is not appropriate, they have to be called on that.

    Andrew Cohen talks a lot about respect for the teacher, but I think it’s a basic respect for the other person (and teachers are people too, like it or not) to tell them when they’re out of line and give them another perspective on their actions. If that is inherently impossible in a particular teacher-student relationship (even as a possibility which may never actually have to be used) then I would look for another teacher.

    I think the abuse of power by ‘excellent’ people is the root cause of our mistrust of excellence, and yet I agree we need to move beyond that to a place where everyone can manifest their own full potential and it not mean that we are trying to build an ivory tower of separation from others out of our own excellence.

  20. Guga Casari says:

    Yes i agree the self (or no self) likes to play in the sort of crazy feedback loop you mentioned above. Compassion is very much necessary for those who played those parts for all of us to see (or to blame on them…) I also feel that it is much better, and saner, for someone in great evidence not to take themselves too seriously. It is a show of grace (and graciousness) and humility when people do that.
    Thanks for the chat, and for the link, i will be checking that out.

  21. takao says:

    getting attention is our motivation for excellence. it helps us excel. sometimes for good sometimes for bad mostly for both. even hitler could do good things. we should relax about what others should be and give this life all we have.

  22. Frank Luke says:

    Did I fail to notice if those elitists, our Founding Fathers, were included in the list of elitists?

    It’s like being recognized as a truly great artist: only others can acknowledge it and usually after enough time as passed to be able to evaluate their worth. The doubting Thomases will find all kinds of reasons to denigrate elitists but time will confirm their worthiness. ??