“Safety first” is what we usually hear. But is safety the best compass for living well? Charles Eisenstein, author of “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible,” holds a magnifying glass up to what’s happening in our society and in our lives. He challenges our choices and how we are responding to the current narrative. He warns against ostracizing individuals or groups and invites us to let intuition guide us on how to live best and most fully.
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Within the below transcript the bolded text is Hilda.
Safety third. It sounds funny, I know. I’m not sure what 1 and 2 are, just as Charles says but I get the point. If we put safety first, we may avoid sickness, injury, and death but is that the same as truly living and living well? This is episode 344. Our guest is Charles Eisenstein. He is a father of four boys, a SAS speaker, and author of several books, including The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.
Charles holds a magnifying glass on what’s happening in our society and our lives. He helps us examine our choices and how we are responding to the fear narrative. It’s not just a philosophical discussion. He talks about why he and his wife decided to pull his child out of school. He discusses how our ancestors view death. He covers how our current situation has a parallel in modern agriculture, which features and attempts to use more and more control to subjugate the Earth. He points out the futility of that effort. Finally, Charles invites us to pull back from the drama of our time that we might better engage with life.
Welcome to the show, Charles.
I’m happy to be here, Hilda.
You are in the same situation that a lot of parents are, which is trying to decide what’s healthiest and best for your child. Tell us about your decision about schooling for your son and where that’s landed.
Our son was seven years old when COVID hit. We were set up to go to this beautiful Montessori or Waldorf school. We had some options, and then it became apparent that, for one thing, our views on COVID and vaccination were at odds with most of the parents, and these are alternative schools. At that time, people were defaulting into lockstep with the standard narrative but that has always been true.
My opinions always diverged from the majority. That’s not a big deal. This was before the vaccines were even an issue. This is in 2020 but we don’t want them to wear masks all day, never see a full human face and have that normalized. That is the nudge that pushed us from internally disagreeing with the system but still participating in it to just not participating in that aspect of the system. We were able to find some other parents of like mind. We made a little homeschooling pod and we are glad that we did it.
Why did you draw the line on the mask thing?
I can give all kinds of rational reasons why I disagree with masking but none of those are the real reason. The real reason is that it was a no in my body. This is not what progress is and also not the future because there’s always going to be a reason. Why not? If you were navigating principle, what is going to reduce your risk of getting sick, maybe you reduce your risk of dying or reduce everybody’s risk of getting sick or dying?
If that’s your main navigational compass, then everything else gets sacrificed to that. There’s a lot more to life than keeping safe. There’s a saying from Burning Man, “Safety third.” I’m not sure what 1st and 2nd are but safety is not unimportant. We are not supposed to be reckless but you are not going to survive life. You are going to die anyway, so then it becomes a matter of, “How do you live well? How do you live in a full relationship?”
It was in your essay, The Coronation, where you mentioned, “If we say, ‘We will wear masks. We will let our kids wear masks. We will go along with this narrative of staying apart from people,’” your question was simply, “How long?” The follow-up question is, “What kind of life is that giving us?”
I was once instituted all of these distancing, lockdowns, quarantines and masking. It’s not going to just go away because the reason why we are doing it will always be here. You could imagine a society where everybody is permanently in a bubble, and at least in a certain way of thinking, you are safer that way, plugged into the metaverse all the time, not in physical engagement with the material world and keeping safe that way.
You are not safer because strong immunity depends on challenges. Living in an aseptic bubble is not going to make you healthier in the long run, not only immunity but a thriving internal ecosystem like you require intercourse with the rest of life. Even on its premises of safety and security, it doesn’t work but what I’m saying is, “Suppose it does keep you safer. Is that any way to live?”
The rationale for instituting that inner and outer lockdown will never go away. I said, “There could be new viruses and mutations.” This was in April 2020 when I was saying this and got roundly criticized for that. Not to say, “I told you so.” Some of the things I said were not accurate. They turned out not to be right at the beginning but that one was quite impressed that we can’t rely on the authorities, which thrive on control and are immersed in an ideology of control to relent and hand us our freedoms back.
The other thing that comes to mind when you talk about having a safety-first mentality is if we thought we wanted to stay safe the rest of our lives. We would do what Bill Murray did in some movie where he stayed inside of a house trying to avoid whatever pains and dangerous there were out there. Do you know that some kind of steamrolling crane construction gear came into his house and started knocking it down? In other words, we can’t avoid the risks of life. Is it truly living if you are holed up in your house?
Underneath that, it’s based on a certain view of the world that says that the world or universe lacks any intelligence. It’s this random melee of forces and masses bumping around. Therefore, any kind of meaningful, good life and the ordered world requires humans to impose order on the world to control the forces of nature and dominate the other beings of nature.
Other societies and cultures didn’t see the world that way. They had a concept of fate or destiny. “When my time comes, it’s going to come, whether it’s getting sick from a virus, wrecking ball or a meteor crashing into my house. I cannot avoid the trajectory of my life.” Therefore, instead of living as safely as possible and minimizing risk, the question is, “How do I live well? How do I recognize what is mine to do?” It may not take every single risk.
This is another point I have been making throughout this pandemic. This thing of safety is not a Black or White issue. If we were facing a 50% death rate, I don’t think there would be any question that we would stay away from each other for a while if it were a death rate of one person on the planet would die or everybody didn’t change their lives. Most people would agree that it’s not worth it. It doesn’t mean we don’t have compassion for that one person but my friend Lauren Buckley puts it this way. She said, “If what it took for you to survive would be to prohibit hugs for all human beings forevermore, would you do that?”
Most people would say, “No. I’m not more important than humanity being able to hug each other.” Collectively, our society is choosing to ban hugs and, figuratively speaking, to keep very few people safe. For me, it’s a question of, “How many people? How important are hugs?” They are important. Singing, gathering, dancing together, sociality, seeing each other’s faces, and children playing freely in the outdoors and indoors are important.
We need to remember the sacredness of those things alongside our considerations of safety. Those things typically don’t enter into the calculus that informs public policy. They should enter in not necessarily to ignore safety entirely but we can’t obsess about risk, safety, and organizing life along with one metric. Otherwise, we will have no life worth living.
Your question is so important for us to ask ourselves individually and corporately, “How can we live well?” Taking into account these softer, more human values that we prize like intimacy, collective joy, celebration, and even collective mourning. I know so many people who have had family members, I’m raising my hand here as well, who have passed in the past couple of years who have been unable to mourn collectively with their community and the loss that they have experienced. There’s something that we are missing by not asking the right question.
How important is it to have loved ones around you as you are dying? A lot of people are dying alone because, for the sake of safety, their relatives are not allowed to visit them in the nursing home. They say goodbye through a plate of glass or FaceTime. Where is that valued in public policy? There’s inhumanity about the world of control. In a sense, ironically, paradoxically, in the name of preserving life, it is anti-life.
You mentioned in your essay, The Coronation, the war on death. It’s like they see death also. Whoever it is, it’s wanting to control our situation. They see it as the worst thing it could ever happen, whereas our ancestors saw it as a part of the cycle of life.
Partly because their understanding of themselves and identity was a lot more communal or relational. Modernity has confined us to a very narrow conception and experience of self because so much of what we consume is created by strangers and mediated through money and technology. We are not as woven into our social and ecological environment. We have become these narrow individuals that the Cartesian self, separate self, soul encased in flesh, the mind encased in a body, and consciousness generated by the brain.
If that’s how you understand self, then death is the total annihilation of the self and the ultimate catastrophe for the ego. People who don’t see the self that way, whether it’s Christians and other atheists who see themselves as, maybe, a little spark of God who believe in an afterlife. It could be Hindus or Buddhists who understand a much larger existence or Aboriginal people but everybody, except the modern human, had a much larger understanding of self. In that context, death is no longer so scary.
I also can’t help but think that people are broadening their sense of self by saying, “I need to do something for the broader community because I’m a part of that. My responsibility, I have been told, is to get an injection because that’s going to help my neighbors.” It’s calling people to a broader understanding of who they are.
Good intentions are no guarantee of a good outcome. People need critical thinking alongside their motivations.
There is a reemerging consciousness of service to the whole, which can be co-opted or hijacked for pretty much any purpose. Even going back to the Holocaust, most Germans who participated in the Holocaust firmly believed that they were doing something good. This was a prevailing morality. If you took for granted say that Jews are polluting the race, filthy, hotbed of disease, corruption, and so forth, then in good conscience, you would support policies. Tragically, maybe we have to eliminate them. This was not gibbering themes or salivating over the prospect. These were just normal people. Good intentions are no guarantee of a good outcome. We have to have critical thinking alongside our heart motivations.
What’s the fallacy in the way they are projecting this current situation and our need to get injected for our neighbor?
I’m not as qualified as maybe some people you could interview about questions such as, “Do the injections prevent transmission? For how long? By providing a non-lethal selection pressure, are they intensifying mutations and creating new variants?” There are all kinds of debates that we could get into about, whether they are doing as they say.
I will also say as a more general principle that technologies of control always breed the necessity for even more of them. We see the same pattern in say, agriculture, where what initially seems to kill all those weeds and solve the problem eventually generates roundup resistant weeds. What is the solution to that? More pesticides and a cocktail of herbicides. That seems to work. Problem solved but then there’s even more resistance.
You have destroyed the soil biota and have some other pest problem. What’s the solution? More control. We are seeing this happen with the vaccines where the initial promise of a final solution, which is another mind form of the totalitarian, was what was promised. You get your injection, and COVID will be gone, then it becomes a booster. It never goes away.
What we end up living in is endless war. The same pattern is in other branches of medicine where the side effects of the medicines need even more medicine to alleviate the side effects. It’s in the criminal justice system, where incarceration, punishment, families were destroyed, and communities breed more crime. It’s in foreign policy where you bomb the terrorists and create more terrorists. This is what we are called by this pandemic to question. It’s not simply the techniques of control, “This one is better than that one. We should do this instead of that.” It’s also the whole mindset.
It sounds like this war on death and germs. You also mentioned in the essay, The Coronation, all these wars put us at war against our humanity in a way.
Against each other. That’s part of the pattern like, “Who’s the bad guy here?” In the health freedom movement and the resistance to this, I’m very wary of the diagnosis of, “This is perpetrated by a conscious conspiracy of very evil people.” If somebody is immersed in the logic of control, then pretty much everything that what they are doing makes sense, even the cover in the lion. It’s for their good.
It’s partly the ideology of progress that the inexorable trend of history is that we get better at controlling the world. As we do that, we bring more benefits to humanity. If you believe that, then maybe this vaccine isn’t working very well but vaccines are good because we are extending control down to the genetic level. That’s progress.
Maybe there are some hiccups along the way but we better not let that get out and let people know that because then, they will get in the way of what we know is progress. There are some bumps along the road but someday, we will solve those problems. We will make our control precise. That’s the ideology. Anyone who is immersed in that, let’s say, Bill Gates or Anthony Fauci, they are going to enthusiastically do everything that they are doing.
Maybe there are some malevolent actors in a system that does, in fact, reward ruthlessness but as far as being the primary diagnosis of our problem, it misses the point. The risks that we remove all those bad guys don’t change the system, the mythology, and the ideology behind the system. We end up with a new crop of people who are addicted to control.
I love what you are saying because all along, I have noticed that it’s not just those who are convinced of the ideology that is trying to control us, push us toward injections and thinking that’s the final solution who are creating an atmosphere of fear in our society but it’s also the people who are opposed to that ideology. I sense that they are making us afraid of the injections. I feel like this huge fear narrative is enveloping us on how we opt out of that altogether and not just perpetuate the current system.
I’m afraid of the injections. I even think that there might be something to the whole vaccine shedding thing but I decided I’m not going to live my life in fear of that. I’m still going to socialize with people, including my dearly loved ones who have gotten vaccinated. We had Thanksgiving together. One thing I appreciated about my family, there are some, one of my siblings and her husband unquestioningly pro-vax, as far as I know, very science-y. I’m more on the other side of the spectrum, as is my brother but we all decided without even talking about it that family is more important than opinions. A lot of what’s going on here is not fear of the vaccine and unvaccinated on the part of the pro-vaccine people.
It’s more of mob mentality where it’s fear of associating with the unclean, heretics and fear of being in the outgroup instead of the in-group. Human beings are terrified of ostracism and being the mobs’ victims. We, as humans, tend to display the attitudes that are accepted. We tend to conform out of that fear. We are exquisitely attuned to what is going to bring ostracism and acceptance. That’s another dynamic that I’m very watchful for in the health freedom movement because this revolution is not ultimately about the issues at hand. It goes a lot deeper than that.
It is an opportunity to overturn that pattern of mob morality and one section of humanity turning against another section, identifying them as the source of the problem and exterminating, ostracizing, dominating, humiliating, and destroying them. That whole pattern of us against them divides humanity and incinerates 99% of our creativity in conflict. That can end. This interruption in normality is an opportunity to end it.
I have landed where you have in terms of thinking, “If I shun my vaccinated neighbor or loved one, I’m doing exactly what I don’t want them to do to me.” There’s no way I’m going to avoid hugging or being with them if there’s an opportunity because our humanity is found in that compassion and love. We won’t get anywhere. We will remain in the same system if we treat them with that hostile and polarized opinion of their different choices.
That even extends to the subtle levels of rejection that take the form of judgment. The idea is that those are sheeple. They are closed-minded, idiots or fools. Put yourself in their shoes. That’s what I did with Bill Gates. If you are in the environment and subject to the totality of influences, you might be the same who’s to know.
That reminds me of an amazing story I read. It was in a book by Thích Nhất Hạnh, “There was a young girl who had been violated repeatedly on a ship with some pirates. She cast herself into the waters, preferring to drown than to undergo that fate.” When we hear that story, we take the side of that young girl who was victimized.
We think horrible thoughts of the pirates but if we had been raised under the same circumstance as that pirate, we would have been the same. We need to have compassion for both in the story, the pirate who was doing that abusive stuff and the young girl. I found that very moving and a reminder to me of how I want to live and see others.
If you want to stop that thing from happening and you misdiagnose the cause of it as the irremediably evil pirate, then you can go around and try to kill all the pirates. If you leave the circumstances that create bloodthirsty and rapacious pirates intact, then you will always have more pirates to exterminate. The war never ends. That’s why we need to look at the conditions.
It’s like in agriculture. This is the same pattern. If you don’t address soil health and biodiversity, then you are going to have an endless succession of weeds and pests to go to war against but if you say, “This is the random incursion of some evil pest or is this a symptom of conditions?” If you go to that level, then you ask different questions, “What are the conditions? Maybe the soil needs this, that or we could bring in some new member of the community that will create a healthier ecosystem.”
Some people seem like they are genius farmers but what they are simply doing is asking that question and observing to find the answer. The same thing for the human body, a viral infection. Is that some random thing that happens to you because of an evil pathogen or is that also perhaps a symptom of circumstances? We could get into the terrain theory of what we call pathogens.
I’m not saying that every disease can always be explained in these terms but there are a lot to it that, in some cases, what we call pathogens are agents of a bodily process of a cleansing process or a genetic upgrade because viruses are vehicles of DNA transfer. There are certain diseases that maybe have co-evolved with human beings and that you are supposed to get in childhood because they bring new DNA or activate DNA. They do some epigenetic thing. This is a way of thinking that you can apply to health, agriculture and social change. It’s called compassion.
Dr. Tom Callanan mentioned in his book, “Vaccines immunity and the changing nature of childhood illness.” What we consider an illness we want to get rid of like wiping a weed out of the garden, serves its purpose in the child’s body. Those that have faced that illness and overcome it, end up stronger and less likely to develop autoimmune conditions as they get older. It’s a powerful and beautiful thing. I’m so glad you have brought that up and also the agriculture a bit because Joel Salatin, one of our favorite farmers, often talks about our need to be a part of the beautiful choreography of nature.
We are not biting trying to dominate nature’s work. We are working with it and learning from it. I want to pivot for a second and ask you, do you have any personal practices that help you connect to the deepest sense of who you are? What system are you buying into in this life? Do you pray, meditate or use breathwork? What do you personally do to cultivate that different attitude?
All those things. Whatever it is, it’s sometimes necessary to pull back from the drama and matrix. For me, it’s hard to remove myself from all of the dramas that are so intoxicating and compelling and from the identity of Charles Eisenstein, all that I am. I retreat sometimes to get a new perspective, to realize, and not to take everything so seriously. Even humor is a way to pull back a second. All of the funny things that we are doing with each other and to each other, we laugh at it.
That is a moment of perspective. Pulling out of the drama enables me to come back into the drama as a better player or actor. I’m more fully to making something beautiful of it. I don’t necessarily want to talk a whole lot about my practices but to say that, something of that nature helps us to live better. To step outside of life sometimes in some way helps us be in life better.
Speaking of pulling back, I have friends that are looking to create almost parallel communities or communities that are opting out of like-minded folks who want to live off the land and pull out of the matrix. What do you think of that?
Technologies of control always breed the necessity for even more of them.
To some extent, we did that in my family by taking Cary out of school and making our little mini-school. The same with healthcare, we have pretty much completely left the mainstream healthcare system. I have never been in it. I haven’t been to a doctor since 1991 but we have our parallel way of taking care of ourselves that works a lot better than the mainstream system, except maybe for acute trauma like if I were in a traffic accident and my limb was severed or something like that, I would probably go to a hospital.
In various areas of life, we have stepped out, and in other areas to some extent like food, we still go to Trader Joe’s but we are getting a lot of our food locally. We haven’t fully stepped out but we might have to, at some point, like what happens if they shut down the bank accounts of anyone unvaccinated, don’t let us into the stores, and have a monitoring system where you have to show your pass to do anything?
Not to cultivate fear but what happens if they put these spike proteins in food, which I understand they are attempting to do. It might be a good idea to have your food system.
There could be various developments that give that little nudge like what masking school children gave me. That’s like, “I’m not going to be in the system anymore.” It could extend even to money. That’s why people are talking about cryptocurrencies as an alternative to the dominant financial system entertainment like, “You can’t go to a concert. To go to rage against the machine concert, you have to show your vaccine passport.” “Fine. We will have our concerts.”
Maybe it’s the underground or small-scale of necessity but it wasn’t that great anyway. The small ones are better. We were at a gathering. People brought instruments. Some of the musicians were good but even if they weren’t, it’s still more fun than attending a big show, where it’s a different kind of fun. These are examples of parallel institutions that are starting to spring up.
In a way, I hope that the authorities don’t relent, and it’s not too easy to rejoin a world that was crazy, to begin with. This little nudge is a good thing to live the way we want to live and not accept these barely good enough compromises. This is a tremendous chance that we have to live the way that we want to. In a way, I’m grateful for the push that goes along with the poll of the attraction of living in a more communal, ecological and local way. The push as the alternative becomes more intolerable.
The kind of living you are describing of intimate house concerts and food with family and friends that we have raised or grown ourselves are glimpses of the world you described in your book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.
In many ways, my life has gotten a lot better. It has gotten smaller in a certain way and bigger in some other ways. It’s not like I’m cut off from the world. I’m still speaking to you doing shows. I have an interaction with the world, and ultimately, the world is 1, not 2. The parallel institutions are still going to have some ways in which we are all one human family, unless maybe eventually reality itself bifurcates or the mainstream system falls apart, and everybody comes and joins the parallel society that is emerging.
Is there a way to usher in The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible?
Yes. Anybody who tells you that they know what that way is, that they have a grand plan and, “Here’s your role, her role and my role. Here’s the most important thing to do. Here’s the highest impact. This isn’t worth doing,” they are full of it. The plan is far beyond human comprehension. What’s important is recognizing what is yours to do in the plan. You recognize that through the communication and the heart that reveals what your role is by making you care, love, be passionate about something and feel as yes.
It’s a basic biological orientation system because you are life, and you know how to contribute to life. Like any other species in an ecosystem, there’s deep inner guidance that is of the body and heart. Only tertiary early is of the mind. All I’m saying is, you know what to do. It’s important to know that there is a plan. This more beautiful world is real. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t possible. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have a role to play in making it a reality. Once you hold from that knowledge, then you are oriented to what is mine to do, to serve these conditions.
I keep telling people, “You know exactly what to do. Stop saying you don’t know what to do.” I know that they do. There’s something inside of each of us that, if we attuned to it, it can become clearer in terms of what our purpose is and what we should do in any given situation. All we have to do is tune in. Sometimes people discard that because they have been trained not to pay attention but if we pay attention, we can ultimately fulfill our role. I have to close to you the question I often do at the end. If the reader could only do one thing to improve their health, what would you recommend that they do?
Don’t listen to anybody who says that they know what the one thing that you should do is or at least run it by your intuition. For one person, it might be just to get more sunlight. For another person, it might be, “Move your body.” For another person, it might be, “Stop eating sugar.” For another person, it might be, “Get out of that house that is infested with mold.” You could be doing every single other thing right. If you have a mold problem in your house, you can be sick. I’m not going to give a general formula and prescription for that.
I appreciate this time. I’m so thankful for you. I’m extremely grateful that you took the time for this conversation.
Thank you. I’m grateful for the work that you are doing and for The Weston A Price Foundation.
Can we put a little PS on here about you and your brother?
John and I, when my first batch of kids was little, I went the whole shebang, and it was making Lacto-fermented soda. Until they were 6 or 7 years old, they thought that soda was this sour, fizzy beverage. Weston A Price’s Wise Traditions Conference came. We went, shared the soda and sold it. We didn’t make a huge amount of money but it was fun.
My very first keynote speech ever was at a Weston A Price Foundation Conference. It was in 2004. I’m embarrassed to say that it was such a greenhorn that I read my speech. Since then, I have always done speeches without notes and spontaneously but I still have such a warm spot in my heart for the organization and appreciation for what it’s doing in the world.
We have one for you, too. Thank you, Charles.
Our guest is Charles Eisenstein. Visit his website at CharlesEisenstein.org to discover all of his resources like podcasts, upcoming events, and his wonderful essays on his Substack account. For a review from Apple Podcasts, “My all-time favorite podcast,” from Emily Inlove. “I listened to a lot of podcasts but this is by far my favorite. I have listened to nearly every single episode over the years, and it is packed with so much helpful information that has been pivotal to my health journey. The host does a fantastic job of interviewing people with a broad scope of ideas and does not shy away from controversial topics.”
Emily Inlove, you are so sweet to write this. I appreciate this review. If anybody else would like to leave us a review, you know what to do. Go to Apple Podcasts and click on the ratings and reviews button. Give us some stars and tell us what you think of the show. It helps make the show more attractive to the prospective audience. Thank you so much for reading. Stay well. Hasta Pronto.
About Charles Eisenstein
Charles Eisenstein is an essayist, speaker, and the author of several books including “Sacred Economics” and “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.” He is the father of four boys.
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