Dealing with “soul loss” is at the heart of shamanic work. We speak of “soul Loss” when an individual closes part of their natural self off to life. Obviously, this can happen for many reasons. And like an individual, a culture can also suffer soul loss. Today many of us are concerned about what has happened to the Western soul.
There was a time in England when there were no factories and few imports. In those days, everything was made locally and by hand. Cloth was hand woven, suits and gowns were tailored, furniture was built by hand and shoes and boots were custom made. Everything that could not be made at home came from the shop of a skilled craftsman. The quality of these hand-made items was extraordinary. The pride of the craftsman went into everything he did. This was also true for tradesmen like butchers, bakers and farmers as well.
But craft-made things were expensive, so common people had few possessions. They went barefoot or had wooden shoes, wore homespun and lived on what they were able to raise themselves.
With the invention of Watt’s steam engine in 1765, the world changed almost overnight. Machines allowed for the mass manufacture of just about everything. Output exploded and goods became available at a fraction of their former price. And with factory wages, average people could now afford to buy socks, shoes, pots & pans, tools, books, etc. – you know the rest of the story because you live in that world.
But the age of industry was and continues to be, a mixed blessing. Manufactured goods aren’t the same as craft items. The factory eliminated the need for the craftsperson and ushered in the “throw-away economy.” Factory made products, although abundant and cheap, don’t have the soul of the craftsman, they lack the quality of hand made things.* Although we are accustomed to them, factory shoes and manufactured clothing have always been cheap and have never fit very well. Factory products are sometimes shoddy. And then there are the attendant issues of environmental destruction, pollution, labor abuses and the corruption of government by corporate money.
Factory work changed the people too. Although corporations have been ruled to be “persons” by the Supreme Court, corporations are devoid of soul. They are environments that lack heart, whose compassion is governed by profit. The corporation doesn’t even really care what it makes, so long as there is profit in it. The only thing that matters is the money. . .
Companies pay wages and suck the life out of people. The corporate mantra is, “Put just enough into the product to get people to buy it, pay employes just enough so that they will not leave and give shareholders just enough in dividends so that they will continue to invest.” The early factories had turnover rates in the thousands of percent because workers simply could not stand the monotony and loss of freedom.
At the time of the creation of the factory, alcoholism became a huge problem throughout Britain. In order to better control the “problem,” the government eliminated The Commons – traditional public livestock grazing pastures (forcing farmers to seek factory work) – and required children to be “educated” in a rigid system of schools designed to suppress individualism and make young people amenable to the factory mentality. Two centuries later, the theme of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-4 was, “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Adapts.”
John Maynard Keynes, the great economist of the last generation, did not believe in unregulated free markets and the “trickle down economics” that have led to our present financial near disaster. In fact, his predictions are proving to be rather prophetic. He wrote in 1931:
When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life – will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease … But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to everyone that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.**
He wrote later in 1945, the year before his death:
The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of life and of human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.
Our culture has been so taken over by the corporate mentality that it is impossible to find soul in much of anything these days. Walk through a Wal-Mart with its acres and acres of plastic products entombed in even more plastic . . . even the food is artificial. . . Prepared food should be required to carry the label, “Mostly made from artificial ingredients.” The milk, butter, cheese and ice cream these stores sell could easily carry the label: “Very little of this product was ever associated with real milk!”
You may have a few hand crafted items at home – perhaps a shawl or coffee mug or a bowl. They probably came from either a third world village or some craftsperson who is scraping out a living working contrary to the corporate ethos. These objects feel considerably different from factory made things. They have soul. So why does this matter? Who cares if my Lean Quisine microwave dinner is mostly artificial? After all, scientists tell us there is no difference between organic and GMO food!
You may have heard of Massaro Emoto. Emoto captures images of water crystals. He has found that when water is exposed to positive, loving thoughts, it radically changes its crystalline structure.
Image of crystalized pond water.
Water after being exposed to the thoughts of “Love and Gratitude.”
Emoto’s work has largely been ignored by the scientific community because, in my opinion, it conflicts with accepted scientific theory. Thoughts are not supposed to have an impact on matter! But Emoto proves that it does! Consider then, the effect on your body, on your soul, on all of our souls, from living in a world devoid of spirit! We do not realize the loss because we are so accustomed to it, but our souls are starving. They cry out for spiritual sustenance.
We no longer work with our hands and are not surrounded by things that have been “blessed” by the love of the person who made them. Visit a school these days and you will find trained, formula driven teachers, clinging to tenure. Turn on the television and you’ll see plastic newspeople and insipid reality shows. Drive your cookie cutter car to a franchise restaurant and eat factory made food. Go to the cinema and see a formula-made movie with lots of special effects and little soul. Even our architecture is cold and lifeless!
We don’t speak to one another these days, we text. Life has been compressed to 140 characters. We send robots to Mars. Even the arts, the bastion of social consciousness, have been corrupted by money and narcissism. I joked with a musician friend recently that an album will be released one day with the notation, “No humans were involved in the creation of this music.”
Think for a moment about how different life might be, about how different you might feel, if everything around you carried the positive, loving energy of Emoto’s crystals! How different would your body react to food (that is mostly water) that reflected the love of the farmer instead of the greed of some impersonal mega-agricultural factory food conglomerate? How would it feel to own a car or live in a house that had been built by someone who really loved making it?
I did this experiment with a friend: I placed before him two unmarked glasses of beer. One was a factory made Budweiser, the other was from a local craft brewery. My friend tried the fist and spit it out. “Pisswater!” he said. He gratefully drank the second beer. That is the difference between craft and factory products, and we need to consider the price we are paying, even considering all the many benefits, of our factory-driven lives.
But there is even more: see part 2!
* John Galsworthy, the English novelist, lived during the end of craftsmanship in England and wrote a remarkable piece about the transition called “Quality” in 1911. It is well worth reading: http://grammar.about.com/od/classicessays/a/Quality.htm
** The Future, Essays in Persuasion (1931) Ch. 5, JMK, CW, IX, pp.329 – 331, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930); as quoted in “Keynes and the Ethics of Capitalism” by Robert Skidelsy
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