The Separation Myth: How the Modern World is Living a Lie

January 2015

Charles Eisenstein is one of the relatively new voices on the scene in my world. I like the way he writes. He’s smart and a provocative writer – a combination I enjoy.

Recently I received an email from him about a “neat inversion” in which he inverts the logic of the hard left wing approach to resolving the world’s problems and changing the system.  You can read the entire piece here.

In this piece, Eisenstein reminded me of the “story” we are living in – the Separation Story. This Story pervades both sides of the ideological divide – left and right – and thus either position tends to reinforce itself. Here’s an excerpt of what he’s written:

The radical [hard left] critique gives the system primacy over the individuals that make it up, and concludes that change must originate on the system level. The opposing position gives primacy to the base level and doesn’t recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In truth, the system arises from the totality of its constituents, and then conditions its constituents to perpetuate the system. System and constituents form a unified whole. That means that disruption at any level is equally revolutionary.

In May of last year, here in these pages, I wrote about the need for a new story. In that short piece I asserted that the old story was “worn out.” Now I realize that I was wrong, at least partially wrong. If the old story – the Separation Story – was indeed worn out it wouldn’t continue serving those who refuse to give it up. So even though virtually every human-made system in the modern world is in some stage of collapse right now, the Separation Story apparently still has enough life in it to serve as a refuge for those unwilling to accept the new story.

Pachamama Alliance 8 min. video: an example of a bridge to the new story

The new story – what I will call the “Oneness Story” – will replace the Separation Story when there is enough disruption or invalidation so that the foundations of the existing dominant system of thought in the modern world  – that we are all separate from each other and other living things – starts crumbling and a critical mass of people recognize this. Some of us see this now but not enough of us see it or the Separation Story would not still be alive.

By the way, I had the pleasure of hanging out with some indigenous shamans recently and the indigenous cultures never bought into the Separation Story – the myth that we are all separate. They have never lost that deep sense of respectful connection with all living things. So the Oneness Story is alive. It simply isn’t very visible to those of us in the so-called “developed” cultures.

So if the truth is that we are all one – as Gaia and Pachamama and other indigenous cultures believe – and we are acting as if we are separate, isn’t that living a lie? Living and treating one another like we are strangers when we are related, acting as if we are separate from Nature when we are part of it, allows us to do things we’d never do if we acknowledged our Oneness. As long as we continue living in this lie we can excuse ourselves and our fellow human beings for being so cruel, disrespectful and callous to one another and our planet Earth. Living in the lie enables us to condone behavior we would never tolerate otherwise.

If we don’t stop living the lie and begin recognizing the truth very soon, the Earth will get tired of all the abuse we have dished out to her and we will be history. Well, not exactly, because there won’t be anyone around to write the history books.

Unfortunately, those in the indigenous cultures rely on the same natural resources provided by Mother Earth – the global commons – so we will drag them down with us. In fact, we have already started.

[See also my editorial from November 2012:  “Our Biggest Sin: Pretending We Are Separate When We Are Connected” or my July 2006 piece: The Ubuntu Way: Learning From South Africa.]

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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