Words Create Worlds.5 To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism & Humanism

“Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]

To Fight Against this Age: On Fascism and Humanism[2] by Rob Riemen

The Words Create Worlds series of essays was inspired by Rabbi Heschel’s warning of the way certain words led to the Holocaust, Riemen’s To Fight Against this Age, and Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names. I felt compelled as a health professional to speak up about fascism, based on the warning flags of the current US presidency and other world movements. In my youth, I was fascinated with World War II, later as a professional I became interested in trauma and the role of the trauma therapist as a moral agent – not just a neutral technician, but a human being who takes a moral stand against human rights abuses, what Robert Jay Lifton calls a “witnessing professional.”[3] As I have watched this regime unfold over the past four years, my early uneasiness has gradually turned to alarm. As physicians, we need to remember our higher calling to function as witnessing professionals for the health of society.

I think it is time for the Doctor to make the diagnosis: fascism, the prognosis: serious.

Fascism is a sickness, an illness, a disorder. It spreads through false-fixed beliefs (delusions), scapegoating (projection), and its continuous stream of lies creates unreality (impaired reality testing). Fascism infects the individual, but it spreads through the community. As a doctor, I am trained to diagnosis and treat sickness. As a doctor, I am trained to attend to individual health as well as public health. Some would say that doctors need to shut up and “stay in their lanes.”[4],[5] However, as someone who has read Nietzsche,[6] has read Robert Jay Lifton, Jason Stanley, Timothy Snyder, Rebecca Solnit, Madeleine Albright, and Rob Riemen – I have learned from history and I have studied epidemiology – people staying in their lane and just following orders leads down a deadly road. 

It is Time to Call it Fascism

Could it really be happening again? Right here in the USA? The erosion of democracy and the growth of fascism and totalitarianism. I think it is time we started calling it anti-democracy and fascism. Umair Haque thinks so, see his article “What Does it Take to Fight Authoritarianism? The One Thing Americans Still Won’t Do,” in which he writes:

“I don’t blame Americans for not getting why they have to say fascism. It’s a complex and subtle set of thoughts to understand, this responsibility.

And yet if I say ‘not calling racism or sexism racism or sexism is legitimising it,’ you get it instantly. Get exactly that logic for fascism and authoritarianism now. That moral, social, and personal responsibility.”[7]

The Leader spews a continuous stream of “false statements,” otherwise known as lies, propaganda – to confuse and disorient opposition and to mobilize a base of followers into a false-fixed state of loyalty and unreality. There are so many lies that the footnotes start to eclipse the text. During his presidency, the president of the United States had made more than 20,000 “false statements,”[8] which we should just start calling lies and propaganda because there is a method behind the madness – the method of the fascist playbook.

It sounds like a constant stream of gibberish, (just try to read this two hour speech), it makes no logical sense, but it appeals to biases and emotions. It is propaganda: “othering” and demonizing of groups of people: Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, and women, “Antifa,” “radical leftists,” “anarchists.” Every event is amplified and weaponized to create divisiveness. He casts doubt on the institution of elections and hints that he will not honor the results or submit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

And This Also Has Been One of the Dark Places of the Earth, D. Kopacz

To Fight Against This Age

Let us turn to Rob Riemen’s To Fight Against the Age: On Fascism and Humanism (2018). Riemen is the Founder, President, and CEO of the Nexus Institute, “a leading international center for intellectual reflection to inspire the Western cultural and philosophical debate,” and is the editor of the journal Nexus.

I picked up Riemen’s book, by chance, when I was traveling for work and was in Charleston, West Virginia. I found it at a nice little bookstore, Taylor Books. I bought it on impulse and then was fascinated by it and finished it on the flight home. The book consists of two essays, “The Eternal Return of Fascism,” (originally published in 2010) and “The Return of Europa.” In keeping with the theme of Words Creating Worlds, Riemen writes that “to be able to understand something,” you have to “call it by its proper name,” specifically, “populism…will not provide any meaningful understanding,” (18).  Even more specifically:

“The use of the term populist is only one more way to cultivate the denial that the ghost of fascism is haunting societies again and to deny the fact that liberal democracies have turned into their opposite: mass democracies deprived of the spirit of democracy,” (19).

Fascism Rests on Dehumanizing Others

I have personally been concerned with the objectification and dehumanization that happens in medical education and medical practice (see Kopacz, Re-humanizing Medicine – 2014). The antidote to dehumanization is quite simple in theory: re-humanization. The more difficult questions are: What is a human being? How is the soul of the human being lost? How is the soul of the human being regained? Riemen reaches a conclusion similar to mine about the limitations of numbers and the scientific method and the need for the humanities and a whole person philosophy.

“Science and technology will never be able to provide us with a complete understanding of the human being with his instincts and desires, virtues and values, mind and spirit…The humanities and the arts” provide “the only knowledge that could provide a true understanding of the human heart,” and that “the real requirements of a democratic civilization [are] the wisdom of poetry and literature, philosophy and theology, the arts and history,” (19-20).

How does fascism return to civilized democracies? Germany, itself was a democracy, Hitler was elected and then gradually did away with democratic institutions, consolidating power. Riemen puts it bluntly, “the main reason fascism can return so easily in mass democracies: ignorance,” (21). The ignorance of history. The ignorance of social psychology. The ignorance of power and fascism. If we don’t call it by its true name, as Riemen and Solnit both implore us, we will have no chance of confronting and stopping it.

Riemen takes his title of his book, To Fight Against this Age from Nietzsche, whom he paraphrases, “we should not accept the blind power of the actual and that instead of conforming to the whole noisy sham-culture of our age, we have to be fighters against this age…It is now upon us to fight against a zeitgeist that destroys the spirit of the democratic civilization,” (27).  

You Let Your Magic Tortoise Go, D. Kopacz

The Plague of Fascism

Riemen writes about Camus’ allegory of fascism, The Plague,[9] commenting on the “fascist bacillus,” he tells us that if “we want to put up a good fight, we first have to admit that it has become active in our social body and call it by its name: fascism,” (34). We must diagnose the problem before we can treat it correctly.

Riemen’s book was published in 2018. Now we have the strange juxtaposition of an actual pandemic being used as a fascist tool for promoting divisiveness and effecting the first purge of this regime, 200,000+ dead in the United States as of late September – 25% of the global deaths for 4% of the global population, at least we are “great” at something. Even stranger, now we have a president who is actually infected with a virus he is hell-bent on spreading to others.

Riemen, following Nietzsche’s critique, sees a problem with European and Western culture – that we have lost spiritual values. “With the loss of spiritual values,” he writes, “not only did morals disappear but so did culture in the original meaning of the word: cultura animi, the ‘cultivation of the soul,’” (38). We have become the barbarians. Barbarian originally meant “unintelligible speech,”[10] again, just try reading through this transcript.

This “cultivation of the soul” and the recognition of our common humanity is what humanism is founded upon. Fascism is the opposite of humanism – it is about the degradation of the soul, it is about exaggerating the differences between human beings into a false and superficial sense of sameness rather than seeing “out of many, one,” e pluribus unum.

Writing in the mid-1930s, Menno ter Braak noted that fascist movements were focused on “stimulating aggression and anger.” Riemen summarizes that a fascist movement:

“was not actually interested in finding solutions, had no ideas of its own, and did not want to solve social problems, because injustice was necessary for maintaining an atmosphere of vilification and hatred,” (51).

Lousy at Democracy, Super-Good at Fascism

If we look at the current US presidency, we might be tempted to call it incompetent – and from a perspective of democracy it would be right to do so. However, if we view the current president through the lens of fascism – he is hypercompetent. He is lousy at democracy, but he is super-good at fascist.

Menno ter Braak focused on the use of “social resentment vented on a scapegoat who was blamed for everything: the Jew.” Riemen further summarizes ter Braak’s view:

“At the same time, this movement considered itself to be the eternal victim of the ‘left’ or the ‘elite’ and harbored a deep aversion to intellectuals, cosmopolitans, and anyone who was different…[with a] continuous use of slogans and empty rhetoric…it was reactionary,” (52).

Untitled, D. Kopacz

Fascism is Semi-civilization and Promotes the Cult of Resentment

Fascism is “semi-civilization” and promotes “the cult of resentment.” These are the rules that the current US president is very good at, he consults the fascist playbook at every turn and fascism is winning and democracy is losing.

How did fascism gain hold in European democracies? By using those democracies against themselves. Both Hitler and Mussolini were voted into power. Riemen writes that both the liberals and the conservatives caved in to fascism because they thought they could gain something from it. It is the classic devil’s bargain of “the end justifies the means.” This is based, or maybe we should say de-based, on the idea that getting power or money (the ultimate materialist focus) is more important than human values, civility, decency, or humanity.

“The liberals no longer defended the freedom principle of European humanism but became interested only in the freedom of the markets: that is to say, As long as we can earn money,” (56).

We see this today – somehow the stock market in the US seems to give permission for fascism, as long as we can earn money.

“The conservatives were unprepared to unscrupulously exchange the protection of spiritual values for the preservation of their own power, under the veils of ‘tradition’ and ‘social order,’” (56).

We see this today, the conservatives going along with the president, even when it seems to violate their own principles, as long as they can preserve power and social order. This is the definition of fascism: power and order become more important than principles, ideals, more important than human beings.

After World War II, after Mussolini and Hitler were defeated, some still worried that we had not learned the lessons of history. Riemen reminds of that both Albert Camus and Thomas Mann, both Nobel Prize winners, warned of the return of fascism.

“Camus and Mann…as early as 1947…stated that fascism was a political phenomenon that had not disappeared at the end of the war and that we could now describe as the politicization of the mentality of the rancorous mass-man. It is a form of politics used by demagogues whose only motive is to enforce and extend their own power, to which end they will exploit resentment, designate scapegoats, incite hatred, hide intellectual vacuity beneath raucous slogans and insults, and elevate political opportunism into an art form with their populism,” (60).

Untitled, D. Kopacz

A Realm Where Words are Separated from their Meanings

Riemen warns us, as early as 2010, that “this is a new outbreak of the plague,” (60). But just as you cannot treat a disease you cannot name and diagnose, you cannot appropriately respond to a movement if you cannot call it by its true name – fascism. We, in the US, were sick, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we were in the throes of a revival of an old illness – the pandemic of fascism. We entered into a realm where “words were separated from their meanings and reduced to slogans,” (61).

Again and again, throughout this essay, Riemen reminds us that the cure to fascism is the medicine of our human unity and spiritual/moral values. This is not about religion – many of the most vocal followers of the president are “religious” people who are more interested in power than in human goodness.

“Our true identity is determined not by nationality, origin, language, belief, income, race, or any way in which people differ from one another, but precisely by what unites us and makes the unity of [hu]mankind possible: universal spiritual values that shape human dignity and that every… [one]…can adopt,” (67).

“Anyone who really wants to be a humanist rejects every form of fanaticism and learns the courtesy of the heart and the art of conversation, dialogue,” (68).

What is needed is not a political solution, but a human solution. We need to remember our original instructions and the principles and tenets of spiritual democracy. While fascism is a political movement based in materialism (money and power), its cure is a spiritual movement based in humanism (soul and spirit).

Continuous Lies as Politics

Riemen describes the Party for Freedom (PVV, Partij voor de Vrijeheid) in his native Netherlands in words that sound like the current US president’s playbook. Fascism is not creative, it is not novel, it is really just the same damn thing, over and over again – the basest aspects of our material nature. It is the propagation of dehumanization through dehumanization. The PPV offers

“the shameless opposite of the Judeo-Christian and humanist traditions: vulgar materialism, oppressive nationalism, xenophobia, ammunition for resentment, a deep aversion to the arts and the exercise of spiritual values, a suffocating spiritual bigotry, a fierce resistance to the European spirit, and continuous lies as politics,” (68-69).

Doctors Against Fascism, D. Kopacz (2020)

Doctors Against Fascism

The way you learn how to diagnose something in medical school is by seeing case after case after case – until it becomes automatic, at the first signs or symptoms, you see the incipient signs of a more serious illness. This is why we need Doctors Against Fascism – witnessing professionals to diagnose and warn us that the fascist bacillus is starting to dehumanize our population and make it vulnerable to fulminant fascism. In the USA, there has been a growing concern about the signs and symptoms of fascism since 2016. Riemen has been seeing it in Europe since at least 2010 and we see it spreading all over the globe – a pandemic of fascism in Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Philippines, England, Brazil, India, and the United States of America.

The Doctor is in and has bad news for you – the prognosis of our nation’s health is serious. We are infected with fascism – it has taken hold in the minds of many of our citizens and it is spreading through our institutions. Words Create Worlds and we are surrounded by continuous lies as politics.

This essay seems to have found a natural ending-point here. I will pick up with the rest of the review of Rob Riemen’s book, To Fight Against This Age: Fascism and Humanism, in the next installment of Words Create Worlds. Perhaps I will develop this theme of Doctors Against Fascism more.

This series, Words Create Worlds, grows out of my work with Joseph Rael on peace. In Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility that grows out of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which can ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[11]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog.

[2] Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

[3] Robert Jay Lifton, “Foreword to the First Edition: Our Witness to Malignant Normality,” in Bandy Lee (ed) The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2019.

[4] “Doctors Revolt After N.R.A. Tells Them to ‘Stay in Their Lane’ on Gun Policy,” Matthew Haag, The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2018. The original criticism was in a Tweet from the NRA, “Someone should tell self-important  anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Half of the articles in Annals of Internal Medicine are pushing for gun control. Most upsetting, however, the medical community seems to have consulted NO ONE but themselves.” https://twitter.com/NRA/status/1060256567914909702.

[5] “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns: At ‘woke’ medical schools, curricula are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness,” Stanley Goldfarb, Wall Street Journal, 9/12/19.

[6] Richard Huelsenbeck, German-American psychiatrist and Dada-ist who was investigated by the Nazis and forbidden to write, once said, “We are psychiatrists; we are Germans; we have read Nietzsche; we know that to gaze too long at monsters is to risk becoming one―that’s what we get paid for!” (Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, p. 211). Marcus’ book traces the spirit of protest from punk rock back to earlier art movements that were cultural and political critiques of the times.

[7] Umair Haque, “What Does it Take to Fight Authoritarianism? The One Thing Americans Still Won’t Do.” Eudamoinia & Co, Sept 25, 2020, https://eand.co/what-does-it-take-to-fight-authoritarianism-the-one-thing-americans-still-wont-do-676dfb86794b

[8] Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, Meg Kelly, “President Trump has made more than 20,000 false or misleading claims.” The Washington Post, July 13, 2020 at 12:00 a.m. PDT

[9] Albert Camus, The Plague, New York: Vintage International, 1991.

[10] https://www.etymonline.com/word/barbarian

[11] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Words Create Worlds.4: The Fight for Humanity – or should we say – Working for Humanity

Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]

Are we in a fight for humanity? You bet your life we are. In 1973 Bob Marley & Peter Tosh wrote the lyrics:

 Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!

Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight![2]

Is fight the right word? Maybe there is a time to fight, even if you are a pacifist, but what does it mean to fight?

Maybe fight is not the right word, as it conjures up opposition and separation – and that is the very thing that we are “fighting” against. There is a quote, often attributed to Mother Teresa, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”[3] This captures the danger of fighting against something. Nietzsche warns us, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”[4] And yet, how do we respond to the growing fascism in the world and our history of colonialism and racial oppression and genocide? We have never recovered from racism, we have never fully addressed it. We are in the midst of a pandemic from Coronavirus COVID-19, and yet we are suffering from a re-infection of “the plague bacillus” of fascism.[5] Are not the risks of racism and fascism such that all human beings with a heart must necessarily “Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights?”

Tree, Lime Kiln State Park, WA, D. Kopacz (2015)

Carl Jung’s 1946 essay, “The Fight Against the Shadow,” actually argues not so much for a fight against something outside in the world, but rather an internal struggle to acknowledge, own, and integrate one’s own shadow. While Jung comments on mass psychology and group psychosis following a fascist leader. He wrote that Hitler had an “unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or a guttersnipe.” He also wrote that the reason that Hitler was so successful was because he “represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody’s personality…and this was another reason why they fell for him.”[6] Jung seems to assume that the fight had to be done in the outside world, but that the cause and the ultimate cure had to do with each individual’s inner fight against their own shadow, to acknowledge, to accept, and to integrate so that one is conscious of this inner darkness within the heart of humanity rather than unconsciously acting it out in the world. He calls this a “moral evaluation,” and an “ethical responsibility.” He notes that the people who are capable of this are often not the political leaders, but the “moral leaders of mankind.” The “maintenance and further development of civilization depends on such individuals” to act in these roles of moral evaluation and ethical responsibility.[7] Jung’s defense against mass movements and collective psychosis resides in the strength of individuals to face their own darkness, for only one who has stood up to one’s own darkness can stand up to another’s darkness. As Jung wrote, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.”[8]

Jung reorients us to the inner fight as well as the outer fight. From this perspective, we are the barbarians, they are not out there. The word barbarian originally meant “all that are not Greek,” and came from the Proto-Indo-European  root “*barbar- echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners.”[9] A barbarian was originally just someone “other” than you whose speech you were to ignorant to understand. Somewhere along the way, though, we projected our shadow onto the other and imagined they were the ignorant and dangerous one. Look at the murder and pillage that the colonial empires of Europe let forth upon the world. When Jung met Ochwiay Biano (Mountain Lake) of the Taos Pueblo in Southwestern United States, he was told how the non-European sees the European.

“See…how cruel the whites look. Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds. Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something; they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they are mad.”[10]

Binding Sites of Coronavirus Covid-19, D. Kopacz (2020)

Perhaps Western civilization is not only barbaric and mad, but also sick. We evaluate the health of countries primarily by their economies. Economies are not people. As we have seen with the Coronavirus COVID-19, our health care systems, educational systems, our systems of justice, even our economic systems – were all in ill health and fractured. A few weeks of interruption of the economic machine and everything was revealed to be so very fragile and weak where we thought it was strong. “Civilized” people look with disdain and horror at earlier civilizations that sacrificed animals or people to the gods, however the Economy demands human sacrifices – homelessness, underfunded health care systems, underfunded education systems, the rape of the environment. If another civilization comes after this one, surely they will see us as mad, primitive, barbaric, worshipping false idols of money and profit at all costs, even the cost of our own humanity and our own home, Mother Earth.

Rebecca Solnit writes “Who Will Win the Fight for a Post-Coronavirus America?” in The New York Times, 3/29/20:

Every disaster shakes loose the old order: The sudden catastrophe changes the rules and demands new and different responses, but what those will be are the subject of a battle. These disruptions shift people’s sense of who they and their society are, what matters and what’s possible, and lead, often, to deeper and more lasting change, sometimes to regime change. Many disasters unfold like revolutions; the past gives us many examples of calamities that led to lasting national change.

How can we fight against this inner and outer madness that is the very structure of our economic civilization? As Charles Eisenstein writes, all the problems that we are facing are all part of one root problem: separation; and the only solution is that we need to move from separation to “interbeing.”

This book is a guide from the old story, through the empty space between stories, and into a new story. It addresses the reader as a subject of this transition personally, and as an agent of transition—for other people, for our society, and for our planet. Like the crisis, the transition we face goes all the way to the bottom. Internally, it is nothing less than a transformation in the experience of being alive. Externally, it is nothing less than a transformation of humanity’s role on planet Earth.[11]

Jung and Eisenstein point out that we do not know who we are and this ignorance is killing us – it leads to fascism, racism, plundering the environment, it leads to us seeing human beings and the environment as “other” as we only focus on this littlest, meanest little part of our larger humanity, our ego. We do not know who we are and this ignorance is killing us and turning our lives and world into a living hell.

Rob Riemen picks up this theme that we have forgotten our humanity. His book, To Fight Against this Age: On Fascism and Humanism takes on the task of a response to the growing rise of fascism and the response being to reinvest in a kind of spiritual humanism. Perhaps, then, our fight is not against fascism so much as it is for every individual to have the right to choose the human, to choose humanism. This is not the kind of humanism that fundamentalists fear – although I am not exactly sure what they have to be afraid of, other than losing control of control.

Our true identity is determined not by nationality, origin, language, belief, income, race, or any way in which people differ from one another, but precisely by what unites us and makes the unity of mankind possible: universal spiritual values that shape human dignity and that every man can adopt.[12]

This kind of humanism recognizes our sacred nature – a sacred humanism, a sacralizing of humanity. Riemen writes that some of the ways we can continue to rehumanize ourselves is through the arts, the humanities, and by learning from history. He also writes that we must have qualitative values, valuing the things that can be felt, but cannot be counted. He critiques a purely business or scientific view of humanity reduced to dollars, numbers, and percentages.

The religions tell us about the sacred, but if a religion leaves out the sacredness of humanity, it literally has no place on Earth. In promoting the idea of a sacred humanity, I am not speaking of one people’s religion, I am speaking of the religion of One people, a religion of humanity that recognizes the sacred in all human beings, in all beings, and in all the Earth.

I am working with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) over the last six years. The kind of work I do with him is listening, writing, and reading. The work that is most important to him is world peace and he was recognized by the United Nations for this work. Joseph’s grandfather used to say to him, “work is worship,” and that is the kind of work we do together – worship.

When Joseph had his vision of a Sound Peace Chamber in 1983 (a circular structure, half above ground, half below, with men and women sitting in a circle and chanting for world peace), he took a year looking for the best place to build it. After one year, the Spirit Elders came to him and asked why he hadn’t built it yet. Joseph said he was looking for the perfect place. The response was a beam of light that came from the Heavens to Earth and landed in his backyard. It turns out that the work for peace begins at home – in your own backyard!

Joseph learned, in the Tiwa language of Picuris Pueblo, that the name for God is Wah-Mah-Chi, which translates as Breath-Matter-Movement. This tells us that our breath, inspiration and expiration is sacred and holy. This also tells us that our matter, far from being dead or a neutral resource, is alive as well, and full of vital spirit. Movement, too, all of our movements and the way we touch each other is meant to be inspired and full of divinity. In the Tiwa linguistic world, everything is God – just as in the non-dual philosophies such as tantra and Non-dual Shaivism. God is not out there, God is everywhere. The question then is on what do we place value? What do we invest in?

Earth Child of Spiritual Democracy, J. Rael (1997)

Our contemporary civilization invests in money, economic growth, building capital. While the United States of America is often considered by many to be a “Christian” nation, it is actually a nation of heretics if money is placed before God and before humanity, because humanity is one of the homes of God on Earth. In The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad wrote, “This also has been one of the dark places of the earth.” The question is what “this” refers to – is it inner Africa; up river; is it the pagan African people who are physically “dark;” is it King Leopold’s Ghost, the colonial conquest of Africa; or is it simply the darkness in our own hearts when we cease to honor the spiritual humanity of ourselves and others?

Psychoanalyst Robert Stoller describes the motivation behind dehumanization and objectification of others: “we anatomize them … we deprive others of their fullness.”[13] As I wrote in Re-humanizing Medicine,

“Stoller believes that reducing the other to a body part or replacing a relationship with an object is a psychological defense against the anxiety of relationship. The risk is that the process of dehumanization goes both ways. One cannot dehumanize someone and remain human oneself. It is not a human action to treat someone else as an object.”[14]

Stoller writes that the act of dehumanizing another “dehumanizes the dehumanizer.”[15] The colonial project of conquest, plundering resources, slavery, forced conversion to Christianity, the outlaw of indigenous languages and religions, and genocide, both cultural and literal, against indigenous peoples created a vast dead zone on the planet Earth, a vast zone of dehumanization and de-spiritualization, a hell on Earth. What does it matter if one is rich if one lives in hell? The outlaw of indigenous languages and spiritual practices, as in the United States until 1978, was a war against words because it was known on some level that words create worlds. The colonizers took the words right out of the indigenous peoples’ mouths and substituted their own words as they renamed and over-named the landscape in an attempt to make pale copies of the places they came from and from rulers, kings, and queens. Colonizers and colonized were both, thus, dehumanized.  

How do we fight against dehumanization? Is it ever human to fight? Or is the method, rather to get up, stand up, stand up for your rights – your human rights? We must choose the human, not the dehumanized. We must choose to re-invest in humanity by seeing the divinity within Breath-Matter-Movement. Is it possible to get up, stand up, stand up for your rights without turning it into a fight? What does it mean to fight?

fight (v.)

Old English feohtan ”to combat, contend with weapons, strive; attack; gain by fighting, win” … from Proto-Germanic *fe(u)hta … probably from PIE *pek- (2) “to comb, to pluck out” wool or hair (source also of Lithuanian pėšti”to pluck,” Greek pekein ”to comb, shear,” pekos ”fleece, wool;” Persian pashm ”wool, down,” Latin pectere ”to comb,” Sanskrit paksman- ”eyebrows, hair”). Apparently the notion is “pulling roughly,” or “to tear out one another’s hair.”[16]

How do we make sense of the etymology of the word, fight, referring to pulling hair? We can turn to Ayenwathaaa or Aiionwatha, whom we know in English as Hiawatha. While his life and words and legend belong to the Haudenosaunee, the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy: Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora peoples, The Great Law of Peace (Kayanerenkó:wa) is said to be one of the inspirations for the Constitution of the United States of America (See the enlightening new book by Glenn Aparicio Parry, Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again).[17]

War & peace, fighting & working are all tangled up. Hiawatha can be translated as “He Who Combs.” He is called this because he was tasked with helping Great Peacemaker bring the New Mind, the Great Law of Peace, to the minds of humanity – however, he must first comb the snakes out of the greatest opponent to the New Mind, Atotarho.[18] Hiawatha was living a life of dehumanization and depravity prior to meeting Great Peacemaker, in some version of the story he was even a cannibal – a thing that feeds on humanity. When Great Peacemaker explained the Great Law of Peace to him, Hiawatha said, “I take hold, I grasp it. . . . Now what work is there for us to do?”[19] The work he takes on is to bring the New Mind of to those who have become dehumanized, who have lost their connection and memory of their own divinity. There are no enemies to the Great Law of Peace, only opponents, because once a human being makes the choice to be a spiritual human, to grasp a hold of the New Mind and the Great Law of Peace, that person becomes a carrier of Peace. Jacob Needleman, in discussing this story, writes that “man must experience himself as the force that resists the good.”[20] The beauty of this story, and by story I do not mean fiction, I mean medicine,[21] is that no one is forever lost, even the most depraved has the hope of redemption. As Joseph Rael says, Wah-Mah-Chi holds back a place of goodness in our hearts, no matter what we have done, no matter what we have seen.[22] Needleman sees in Hiawatha’s struggle to re-find this goodness within his heart the struggle that we, as citizens of the United States of America, must go through as well for our crimes against humanity.

Here…the legend speaks of a human crime for which no ordinary action can atone. Here the story may well be heard as speaking to our own remorse as we see in a clear light what has been done to an entire people. And here the tale echoes the constitutive legend of our own culture—the crime for which no ordinary action can atone, a level of self-remorse which demands of man an action of an entirely new quality. And for this action the man needs now to turn to the greatness he has seen in himself.[23]

In Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey model one of the stages before being able to return home is atonement, or as Campbell sometimes wrote, at-one-ment. We must do the work of the heart to atone for our own sins as well as those of our ancestors and culture. To do this means we must become at-one with them, we must bring together both sides of the wound, as was done in the Truth & Reconciliation work in South Africa after apartheid. Perhaps this is a way to look at our culture and society know, the places where we see separation are really two sides of the whole which the wound has cut apart. To pull further from each other only leads to deeper wounding. Also, continuing with this metaphor, we cannot simply force the edges of the wound together, without cleaning and what surgeons call “approximating” the edges of the wound, full-thickness from the base of the wound to the superficial edges – together. We are all wounded and we are all part of the wound and our healing cannot be done individually, it is only through collective healing that we can bring the division of the wound back together into a whole. Needleman and Hiawatha learn that the wound will be healed through the new idea of peace, an idea that is a power.

The New Mind has come to you . . . and you are miserable because the New Mind does not live at ease with old memories . . . Now you will work with me to bring justice and peace to those places where you have done injury to man. We will work together to bring to the earth the new idea of the peace that is power. Such is the work given to man by the Creator of Life.[24]

Needleman sees that we need a re-spiritualization of ourselves as human beings and or our democracy. Joseph Rael and I talk about the idea of Spiritual Democracy, in our book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. I came across this term in Steven Herrmann, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forwardand Herrmann found it in Walt Whitman’s writing.

Adopting the big idea of Spiritual Democracy, the realization of oneness of humanity with the universe and all its forces, can help people feel joy, peace, and interconnectedness on an individual basis. It can also inspire us to undertake sacred activism, the channeling of such forces into callings that are compassionate, just, and of equitable heart and conscience, and give us some tools to start solving some of these grave global problems, while uniting people on the planet.[25]

“The written word, the spoken word,” writes psychiatrist Paul Fleischman, “is like a hand feeling its way into a dark room, looking for a switch.”[26] The switch that we are looking for is the one that turns on and illuminates our shared sacred humanity. We are not alone in this quest, as Fleischman writes in his book, Cultivating Inner Peace: Exploring the Psychology, Wisdom and poetry of Gandhi, Thoreau, the Buddha and Others

Shakers corresponded with Count Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s book was one that transformed Gandhi, and Shaker and Gandhian ideas re-molded Count Tolstoy into a Christian peasant Tolstoy. Whitman and Thoreau met and influenced each other, and Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” became the manifesto for Gandhi’s social action. Scott and Helen Nearing read Whitman and Thoreau, as did Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore and Gandhi had a long relationship. John Muir’s favorite author was Thoreau. Thoreau “carried Leaves of Grass around Concord like a red flag.” Seekers of peace read each other, write to each other, influence each other. The quiet life of inner peace isn’t a vacuum.[27]

In Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, Joseph told us that we are all brothers and sisters. He says, “I am my brother’s keeper,” thus contradicting the first documented murder in the Biblical tradition. After Cain has killed his brother, Abel, God asks Cain where his brother is. Cain says “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Joseph would say, “Yes, I am my brother’s keeper!” In Becoming Medicine, we move from us being brothers and sisters to us all being One, an identity of non-duality.

Joseph told me, when we were working on Walking the Medicine Wheel for veterans, that every veteran should get their DNA analyzed through National Genographic’s program, so that they would learn that we are all brothers and sisters, we all originally come from Africa. We know this is true through genetic science and the migrations of peoples. We also, literally, all have common human ancestors. We are all the sons and daughters of Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa about two hundred thousand years ago. We also are all the sons and daughters of Y Chromosome Adam who lived between 150,000 and 300,000 years ago. Mitochondrial Eve’s initials are ME – this reminds us that we are all not just one family, but we are all One. Mother Earth’s initials are also ME, thus we are all relatives of the Earth and are One with the Earth. We are made of the Earth and the Earth moves from place to place through our Breath-Matter-Movement.[28]

Mother Earth Dreaming all of the Two Leggeds into Beauty, J. Rael (2006)

We all come from Africa and Joseph says that when he was growing up the Pueblo people would refer to Black people as “our ancestors,” recognizing that we are all related and honoring the Black people and Africa as our common homeland. And where did Africa come from? Africa and all the continents were once all part of One continent, Pangea, which slowly broke apart and is slowly coming back together to reunite in Pangea Ultima.[29]

We have a choice in this life, do we want to be Lumpers and Splitters? This is a concept Charles Darwin described in determining whether two individuals are part of one species or two different species. He noticed that some biologists tended to focus on small difference and others focused on large similarities. Science works, largely, through separation and differences. When you are doing science, it can be good to be a Splitter. However, when you are doing humanity, it is better to be a Lumper, and to see our common spiritual humanity. Another word for “doing humanity” is mysticism. Mysticism is the spiritual practice of being a Lumper, of attaining a sense of peace and unity – what is sometimes called, non-duality. Joseph Rael and I have chapters devoted to becoming a visionary, becoming a shaman, and becoming a mystic and really all of these are about another thing that Joseph often says, becoming a true human.

We must reinvest in our humanity, in our spiritual humanity. To reinvest means we need to take what we consider “mine” and we need to think of it, instead as “ours.” We are out of balance. We have too much energy going into separation, isolation, and hoarding. Our view of the economy and life as always moving toward some imagined future of better profits and no pain is obsolete. Our economy and civilization is based upon expansion. There never was any “empty” land to expand into, it was only other people’s land that we took, stole, signed treaties for and then broke later when convenient. Western civilization has stolen, pilfered, raped, and mutilated the earth and in doing this we have tortured and distorted our own humanity. Who will stand up for humanity? Who will get up, stand up for humanity. We must re-invest in humanity and that begins with you, that begins with me, that begins with us.

But if you know what life is worth

You will look for yours on earth

And now you see the light

You stand up for your rights. Jah![30]

I have been writing on this topic of how our “words create worlds” in relation to our spiritual and political situation. In working with Joseph Rael, writing Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[31]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[2] Bob Marley & Peter Tosh, “Get Up, Stand Up,” from the album, Burnin’ (1973).

[3] This quote is popularly attributed to Mother Teresa. The Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center site says that it is falsely attributed to her and that it is “significantly paraphrased versions or personal interpretations of statements Mother Teresa made; they are not her authentic words.” However the page does not say what the original quote or statement was. https://www.motherteresa.org/08_info/Quotesf.html She did speak out for peace, as in this letter to George Bush and Saddam Hussein in January 1991, “Please choose the way of peace… In the short term there may be winners and losers in this war that we all dread. But that never can, nor never will justify the suffering, pain and loss of life your weapons will cause.” “10 inspiring quotes by Mother Teresa,” curated by Jessica Durando, USA Today, published August 26, 2014, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/08/26/mother-teresa-quotes/14364401/

[4] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, p. 134? What edition? Kaufmann translation?

[5] Camus, The Plague, 308.

[6] Carl G. Jung, “The Fight Against the Shadow,” Civilization in Transition, Second Edition, CW20, page 223.

[7] Ibid., 221.

[8] Carl G. Jung, Alchemical Studies, CW13, pages 265-266.

[9] https://www.etymonline.com/word/barbarian

[10] Ochwiay Biano, quoted in Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 247-248.

[11] Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, 6.

[12] Rob Riemen, To Fight Against This Age, 67.

[13] Robert Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1992), 32.

[14] David R. Kopacz, Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transformation of Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine, 2014, 34-35.

[15] Stoller, 32.

[16] https://www.etymonline.com/word/fight

[17] Glenn Aparicio Parry, Original Politics: Making America Sacred Again. New York: Select Books, 2020.

[18] Needleman, Jacob. The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003., 225

[19] Needleman, 225.

[20] Needleman, 230.

[21] see Kopacz & Rael, chapter “Story Medicine,” in Becoming Medicine: Pathways of a Living Spirituality, 2020.

[22] Kopacz & Rael, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, 254.

[23] Needleman, 223-224.

[24] Needleman, 224.

[25] Steven Herrmann, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward, xiii.

[26] Fleischman, Cultivating Inner Peace, 101–02.

[27] Ibid., 101–02.

[28] See Kopacz & Rael, Becoming Medicine, 368, 424-425.

[29] See Kopacz & Rael, Becoming Medicine, 361-379.

[30] Bob Marley & Peter Tosh, “Get Up, Stand Up,” from the album, Burnin’ (1973). “‘Get Up, Stand Up’ was also the last song Marley ever performed on stage, on 23 September 1980 at the Stanley Theater, now the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,” (Wikipedia, “Get Up, Stand Up,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Get_Up,_Stand_Up, accessed 6/6/20.

[31] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Words Create Worlds.3

This essay first appeared in The Badger, Year 6, Volume 6, Issue 1 (4/4/20). Thanks to The Badger for permission to reprint.

“Words create worlds.” These are the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, here is the full quote, remembered by his daughter, Susannah Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[1]

Remembering the Past & Learning from History

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)[2]

Are we witnessing a rise of fascism and totalitarianism? Many say we are, and it is worth looking at what these words mean and if they apply to our current situation, which Rebecca Solnit calls a linguistic crisis.[3]

Are we justified in using such a strong word as “fascism” for the language and ideas that are being tossed about under the guise of a resurgent nationalism? The Director of the McMaster Centre for Research in the Public Interest, Henry Giroux, believes so.

“I have no apologies whatsoever for using the word fascist politics. And I think that people who are afraid to do that become complicit with the very politics they condemn. Because if you can’t learn from history, then it seems to me that you end up in the dark,” (Henry Giroux).[4]

In this next installment of the Words Create Worlds series, we will turn to the work of two authors who warn us against a global movement into fascism. Both authors have familial roots in the persecution of the Jewish people during the holocaust and the Soviet take over of Eastern Europe after World War II. We will first discuss former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning. Then we will turn to Yale professor, Jason Stanley’s book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. I do not intend this to be polemical, partisan politics, but rather to objectively document the current resurgence of fascistic rhetoric, in the United States and globally, in light of the history of fascism in the 20th Century.

“Crow Flying through Cosmos,” D. Kopacz

Fascism: A Warning

Former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright published her book by this name in 2018. She starts with describing her family’s experience with fascism, escaping to London in 1939 from the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. The family returned to Czechoslovakia after the war, only to have to flee in 1948 from the communists, this time to the USA. The family lost numerous members to the Holocaust.

Albright sees a worldwide movement of leaders “intentionally undermining the institutions and democratic principles that have held the world together,” (xvii). She has chapters focusing on the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Putin in Russia, Erdoğan in Turkey, Milošević in the former Yugoslavia, Chávez in Venezuela, Orbán in Hungary, Kaczyński in Poland, the Supreme Leaders in North Korea, and Trump in the USA. She defines a fascist as “someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals that he or she might have,” (245-246).

Albright includes Trump in this group of leaders leaning into fascism as “we have not had a chief executive in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals,” (5). She points out that he has “systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libeled his predecessors, threatened to ‘lock up’ political rivals, referred to mainstream journalists as ‘the enemy of the American people,’ spread falsehoods about the integrity of the US electoral process, touted mindlessly nationalistic economic and trade policies, vilified immigrants and the countries from which they come, and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world’s foremost religions,” (5).

Albright notes that, in 2016, “fascism” was the most searched for word in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, except for the word “surreal,” showing a popular interest in understanding the meanings of these words. She describes the history of the word fascism, going back to Mussolini’s revival of the Roman consul’s emblem, the fasces, a “bundle of elm rods coupled with an ax,” (19-20). Mussolini is also credited with coining the term, “drain the swamp” (drenare la palude) by firing 35,000 civil servants (20). Albright traces the history of the words, “America First,” back to Charles Lindbergh and the America First Committee of 1940, which included “Nazi sympathizers” to resist entry into World War II (216). One of the things we are looking at in this column is how words create worlds and to echo and mimic the words of a fascist is to risk recreating a fascist state. She quotes George Orwell’s one-word description of a Fascist, a “bully,” (209). We can look to see if the current president of the United States qualifies as a bully – does he call people names, does he push people around and try to intimidate them and always get his way?

The question is whether what we are seeing in the United States, which seems to resonate on larger geopolitical trends, deserves to be called fascism. Albright states that “Trump is the first antidemocratic president in modern U.S. history,” and that on “too many days, beginning in the early hours, he flaunts his disdain for democratic institutions, the ideals of equality and social justice, civil discourse, civic virtues, and America itself. If transplanted to a country with fewer democratic safeguards, he would audition for dictator, because that is where his instincts lead,” (246). She writes that leaders around the world “observe, learn from, and mimic one another,” and that they see “where their peers are heading, what they can get away with, and how they can augment and perpetuate their power,” (246). She describes how this happened historically in the Twentieth Century and she fears that history is repeating itself and that “the herd is moving in a Fascist direction,” (246). Albright is issuing a warning, as her book’s subtitle states, she feels that in the US, we “are not there yet, but these feel like signposts on the road back to an era when Fascism found nourishment and individual tragedies were multiplied millions-fold,” (224).

Albright’s Antidotes to Fascism

Albright mentions a few antidotes to fascism, such as “caring about others” and “the proposition that we are all created equal” which neutralizes the “self-centered moral numbness that allows Fascism to thrive,” (66). She also says that we need to develop world views that see similarities, rather than us and them, that we need “a way of looking at the world that recognizes the humanity that we share with one another, and the interests that nations have in common,” (187). This is similar to the idea of “spiritual democracy” that Joseph Rael and I develop in our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality.

“Medicine Wheel of Dark Matter,” D. Kopacz

How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them

Jason Stanley is a Yale professor and author of the book, How Propaganda Works and his recent How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. Stanley was born in the US, but his parents fled Europe as Jewish refugees. His father lived through Kristallnacht in Germany and his mother, from Eastern Poland, was in a Siberian labor camp during the war.

Stanley also speaks of the history of the America First movement (“the public face of pro-fascist sentiment”) and its roots in anti-immigration policy. He defines fascism as “ultranationalism of some variety,” with the nation “represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf,” (xiv). As does Albright, he sees the United States in a dangerous moment. A hallmark of fascist politics “comes from the particular way in which it dehumanizes segments of the population,” which leads to limiting “the capacity for empathy among other citizens, leading to the justification of inhumane treatment, from repression of freedom, mass imprisonment, and expulsion to, in extreme cases, mass extermination,” (xv). He points out that dehumanization can exist without overt fascism, but that “it should concern all Americans that as a candidate and as president, Donald Trump has publicly and explicitly insulted immigrant groups,” (xv).

Dehumanization

Dehumanization is the process of treating a person as a thing, as something less than human. I have written about this process in medical and health care settings in my book, Re-humanizing Medicine. Dehumanization can spread like an epidemic. Psychoanalyst, Robert Stoller, has written that the act of dehumanizing another “dehumanizes the dehumanizer,”[5] (Stoller, 32). The dehumanized individual has lost touch with what it means to be human and thus treats others as objects rather than as people. This recalls Martin Buber’s distinction between the I-Thou and the I-It relationships. The I-It relationship is a dehumanized relationship, it is profane and materialistic, treating human beings as raw material. The I-Thou relationship, on the other hand, sacralizes and spiritualizes the relationship between two human beings, it is a subject-subject relationship.[6] The reason that fascism is a spiritual as well as political issue is because fascism despiritualizes human beings and the world. Just as I called for Re-humanizing Medicine, we need a Re-humanizing Politics, and a Re-spiritualizing Politics after the resurgence of fascist rhetoric and action. Two of the antidotes that I describe in Re-humanizing Medicine are developing a personal counter-curriculum of re-humanization (an action plan to reinvest in one’s being fully human: body, emotions, mind, heart, creativity, intuition, and spirituality), and to join the compassion revolution – a global movement of bringing heart back into health care. We could use these processes in our current geopolitical climate.

Stanley’s 10 Common Features of Fascism:

  1. Political invocation of a mythic past – e.g. “Make America Great Again”
  2. Propaganda – to distort reality and create alternate narratives and “realities” of control
  3. Anti-intellectualism – “the liberal New York Times,” casting free speech and scholarship as liberal agendas
  4. Unreality – “fake news” and “alternative facts,” creating a state news organ
  5. Hierarchy – us/them, the deserving and the undeserving
  6. Victimhood – seeing oneself as a victim can lead to victimizing others before they victimize you
  7.  Law and order – warn about dangerous “others” and the need to control and contain “them”
  8. Sexual anxiety – fears of racial purity and appeal to need for “strong men” for protection
  9. Sodom and Gomorrah – decadent “coastal elites”
  10. Arbeit Macht Frei – This German phrase, meaning “work will set you free” was inscribed over the entrance to the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz[7]
“Out of One, Many,” D. Kopacz

Stanley’s book follows chapters on each of these different topics, but he reminds us that:

“The most telling symptom of fascist politics is division. It aims to separate a population into an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’” (xvi).

The antidote to fascism can also be found in the poison of it. Stanley writes that the “suffering of strangers can solidify the structure of fascism,” but that “it can also trigger empathy once another lens is clicked into place,” (xix).

This is the much-needed compassion revolution. I often find myself musing about what would happen if all these politicians who are spreading hatred and division simply asked themselves before they spoke, “Am I speaking from the heart and out of love?” Stanley sees the root power of fascism in the separation of people into us and them. Many spiritual practices cultivate the opposite of us and them, seeking states of peace, unity, and interconnection. For example, the Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen and Loving Kindness focus on breaking down the barriers between self and other. Hindu Kashmiri Shaivism seeks the understanding and experience that all is Śiva, that we are all God, and that there is no “us and them.” In our forthcoming book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality,[8] Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and I discuss the concept of Spiritual Democracy, of cultivating different ways that we can move from self and other, to brother and sister, and even further to the non-dual point where we are all one. Through exploring different pathways of initiation we come to the conclusion that the spiritual path leads to a state of oneness and from this state of oneness, one feels a responsibility for all life. After seeking initiation, comes finding & receiving wisdom, and this wisdom comes with the responsibility to return to the world and to find ways of giving compassion and wisdom to others. 

Sun Through Trees Near Sol Duc River, Washington state, D. Kopacz (2019)

In the next installment of Words Create Worlds we will be, “The Fight for Humanity – or should we say – Working for Humanity.” Throughout 2019 I was writing these Words Create Worlds essays that appeared in The Badger. In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[9]


[1] Life Between the Trees blog.

[2] “‘Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It.’ Really?” Nicholas Clairmont, Big Think, 7/31/13, https://bigthink.com/the-proverbial-skeptic/those-who-do-not-learn-history-doomed-to-repeat-it-really

[3] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018, pg 4.

[4] “Henry Giroux: Will Trump’s Deliberate Racist Rhetoric Lead Us to Fascism?” Interview with Marc Steiner, Big Think, 7/18/19. https://truthout.org/video/trumps-racist-rhetoric-is-deliberate-will-it-lead-us-to-fascism/

[5] Robert Stoller, Observing the Erotic Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 32.

[6] Robert Audi ed., ‘Martin Buber,’ The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 104.

[7] These are the chapters from, Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. New York: Random House, 2018. I have provided my own brief elaborations after the topic headings of Stanley’s chapters. For a quick review of Stanley’s 10 elements of fascism, which also comments on the rise of Hindutva in India, see “The ten indicators of fascist politics,” Kanishk Tharoor, The Hindu Business Line, 5/17/19, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/talk/the-ten-indicators-of-fascism/article27158525.ece

[8] David Kopacz and Joseph Rael. Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. Seattle & Marvel: Condor & Eagle Press, 2020.

[9] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Words Create Worlds.2

Words Create Worlds, Part 2: Rebecca Solnit and Calling Things by their True Names

This is the second essay in the series published in The Badger, Autumn/Winter (10/3/19), Year 5, Volume 2, pages 52-63. Thanks to The Badger for permission to reprint!

“Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[1]

What we call things creates not just discourse, but reality. The words that we use and the words that we do not use lead us in certain directions and have different effects. Words are not just words, they are tools that shape, and give expression to, reality.

Words are Spiritual & the World is Spiritual

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything that was made, (John 1:1).[2]

Neil Douglas-Klotz renders this from Aramaic as:

            In the very Beginningness

                was, is and will be existing

                the Word-Wisdom of the One,

                the ongoing Word and Sound

                the Message and Conversation

                that has not stopped

                and has never started

                because it is always Now.[3]

Advaita Vedanta of Hinduism also recognizes the importance of the Word, as Nataraja Guru has written in The Word of the Guru: The Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru:

There is nothing to know beyond the Word. The known, knowledge, and the knower meet in one presence in the Word…In never-ending beats, it continues in quantum pulsations of energy, to be calculated in split seconds or in millions of light-years, while new and unknown galaxies leap within the ken adding to wonder that is dumbfounding.[4]

Similarly, Southern Ute mystic, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) sees the connection between sound and reality, as he writes, the “true basis for Universal Intelligence is sound. Out of sound comes everything.” It is through perception that creation comes into being. “We are perceivers, and it is in our act of perceiving that vibrations become sounds, smells, feelings and colors. In our act of perceiving, things take form.”[5]

Sun Through Trees Near Sol Duc River, Washington state, D. Kopacz (2019)

Words create our reality and our current reality is in crisis.

Across the world, in many different countries, politicians are rising to power using words of separation rather than words of union. This political crisis is a spiritual crisis because using words to create reality is a spiritual act.

In our book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality,[1] Joseph Rael and I felt that we had to include something about the pathway that the world is heading down, a pathway that can lead to a loss of peace, to the start of war. The world is currently on a pathway that is being paved with words of separation: racist words, belittling words, disrespectful words, manipulative words, fundamentalist words, totalitarian words, and fascist words. Common to all of these words is an underlying attempt to recreate a world of separation, isolation, and hate. Joseph has long been committed to world peace and he has worked toward this through the development of his Sound (Peace) Chambers on four continents. In Becoming Medicine we write about Spiritual Democracy (you can download that chapter here), which is the opposite of fundamentalism―it is about opening our hearts to others and seeking to act in such a way that encourages others to open their hearts. Fundamentalism is idolatry―the worship of a fixed thing. Spiritual Democracy is about allowing ourselves to be shaped and continually reshaped by Breath-Matter-Movement, by Wah-Mah-Chi (the Tiwa word for God). I came across Walt Whitman’s concept of Spiritual Democracy in the work of Stephen Herrmann in his book, Spiritual Democracy.

Adopting the big idea of Spiritual Democracy, the realization of oneness of humanity with the universe and all its forces, can help people feel joy, peace, and interconnectedness on an individual basis. It can also inspire us to undertake sacred activism, the channeling of such forces into callings that are compassionate, just, and of equitable heart and conscience, and give us some tools to start solving some of these grave global problems, while uniting people on the planet.[6]

Sun Through Trees, Mt. Muller, Washington State, D. Kopacz (2019)

The Crisis of this Moment is Linguistic

Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names (2018) examines the uses and abuses of language in politics, stating that “one of the crises of this moment is linguistic.” The linguistic crisis confuses us about what is real, what is true, about who we are, and about our relationships with each other and the natural world. “Calling things by their true names,” Solnit writes, “cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid, or encourage inaction, indifference, obliviousness. It’s not all there is to changing the world, but it’s a key step.” Solnit has long been concerned with the use of language and power in her writings on hope, trauma, community, and environment. She writes artful and thoughtful memoir that weaves in the political and the creative spirit. Her writings are not overtly spiritual, but I imagine she would be comfortable with the concept of spiritual democracy as she writes about human rights, human dignity, environment, and on women’s and indigenous rights. Her writing is a form of activism and she encourages us to make the world a better place. She sees that we are currently going down a pathway of brutality and if we do not start calling this pathway by its true name, we risk being swept into deeper brutality. “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides brutality.”[7]

One of the elements of the current pathway the United States (as well as many other countries across the world) is walking down is a pathway of isolation. Isolation and separation are based on dividing people into the “good and the bad,” those who belong and those who do not, those who have rights and those who do not. Anyone with a sense of history can pick out words and phrases that were used in racist, totalitarian, fascist regimes: “enemy of the people,” “those are some very bad people,” and “send them back.”

Glorious Disconnect

Solnit writes about what she calls a “Glorious Disconnect:”

If you boil the strange soup of contemporary right-wing ideology down to a sort of bouillon cube, you find the idea that things are not connected to other things, that people are not connected to other people, and that they are all better off unconnected.[8]

Solnit points out how this underlying philosophy of disconnection and separation, which results in concrete policies, is also behind the current proliferation of “fake news.” “Taken to its conclusion,” she writes, “this worldview dictates that even facts are freestanding items that the self-made man can manufacture for use as he sees fit.”[9] This worldview influences our interdependence and interrelatedness with each other and the environment. In the mania to deregulate social and environmental protection, she sees the attempt to “deregulate meaning.”

If you begin by denying social and ecological systems, then you end by denying the reality of facts, which are, after all, part of a network of systematic relationships among language, physical reality, and the record, regulated by the rules of evidence, truth, grammar, word meaning, and so forth. You deny the relationship between cause and effect, evidence and conclusion; or, rather, you imagine both as products on the free market that one can produce and consume according to one’s preferences. You deregulate meaning.

. . .

And this is how the ideology of isolation becomes nihilism, trying to kill the planet and most living things on it with a confidence born of total destruction.[10]

This pathway of isolation is rooted in and creates loneliness, in fact, Solnit has an essay entitled, “The Loneliness of Donald Trump.” She writes about this loneliness coming out of power and privilege that insulates and isolates, until,

In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence.. . . When you don’t hear others, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it. That surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine that others exist in any true, deep way.[11]

Gerald Arbuckle, a New Zealander living in Australia who is a Catholic priest and anthropologist, also sees the current crisis of global political and religious fundamentalism as being rooted in loneliness and creating loneliness. His follow-up book to Fundamentalism at Home and Abroad (2017) is Loneliness: Insights for Healing in a Fragmented World (2018). Arbuckle points out that the United States is extreme in its individualism and that the “American Dream” includes contradictory values of competitive utilitarian individualism and egalitarianism. This pits the “rights of the individual” against the “common good.” The founding “myth” of the United States includes this tension between individualism (which when extreme creates isolationism and loneliness) and egalitarianism (which can create community and equality).

Arbuckle draws on his training as a cultural anthropologist to understand how groups function and to diagnose the various forces leading to our current epidemic of loneliness and fundamentalist totalitarianism. He points out how and why people use tactics of scapegoating, splitting and separating people into us and them, into “member” and “stranger.” He also draws on his training as a Catholic priest to point out how we can treat the current epidemic through creating love between neighbors. “The universal call to love one’s neighbor commits us to struggle for the common good. Individualism and individual and corporate greed contradict this imperative,” he points out. He quotes Pope Francis calling for a revolution of tenderness. “A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ . . . When there is an ‘us’ there begins a revolution [of tenderness].”[12]

Rialto Beach, Washington state, D. Kopacz (2019)

Doing the Work that Matters

Both Solnit and Arbuckle tells us that our civil society and spiritual values are being degraded and negated. They point out how our current global epidemic of loneliness and totalitarianism is rooted in our use of language and how we use words to create worlds. We have a choice between worldviews of separation and worldviews of union. Making this choice begins with the words we use to describe and create reality. One of our choices is whether we focus on “me” or “we.” ME and WE are actually mirror images of each other, if you place WE over ME, you can see that they both are reflections as in a lake. There is a saying, which I have seen variously attributed, that “When you replace I with We, Illness becomes Wellness.” The words that we use create different stories, and we need to choose whether we want stories of inclusion (we) or stories of exclusion (me). As Rebecca Solnit writes:

The only power adequate to stop tyranny and destruction is civil society, which is the greater majority of us when we remember our power and come together. The job begins with opposition to specific instances of destruction, but it is not ended until we have made deep systemic changes and recommitted ourselves, not just as a revolution, because revolutions don’t last, but as a civil society with values of equality, democracy, inclusion, full participation—a radical e pluribus unum, plus compassion. This work is always, first and last, a storytelling work, or what some of my friends call ‘the battle of the story.’ . . .  To sustain it, people have to believe that the myriad small, incremental actions matter.

. . .

To believe it matters—well, we can’t see the future, but we have the past. Which gives us patterns, models, parallels, principles, and resources; stories of heroism, brilliance, and persistence; and the deep joy to be found in doing the work that matters. With those in hand, we can seize the possibilities and begin to make hopes into actualities.[13]

Doing the work that matters, this is what we are called to do. Joseph Rael reminds us that work is worship, so this work of activism, this work of story, this work of loving our neighbors, is a sacred work that we are called to do and that we are called to put into words so that we can create (instead of a world of hate, separation, and war) a world of love and peace.

Rialto Beach, Washington state, D. Kopacz (2019)

Next:

Worlds Create Worlds.3

Madeleine Albright’s Fascism: A Warning.

Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

Throughout 2019 I was writing these Words Create Worlds essays that appeared in The Badger. In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[14]


[1] David Kopacz & Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality. Seattle & Marvel: Condor & Eagle Press, 2020.


[1] Life Between the Trees blog. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[2] John 1:1, The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Edition, Second Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.

[3] Neil Douglas-Klotz, Original Meditation: The Aramaic Jesus and the Spirituality of Creation, 42.

[4] Nataraja Guru, The Word of the Guru: The Life and Teachings of Narayana Guru, 75, 78.

[5] Joseph Rael, Sound: Native Teachings + Visionary Art, 2.

[6] Steven Hermann, Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward, xiii.

[7] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names, 4, 1, 4.

[8] Ibid., 43.

[9] Ibid., 43.

[10] Ibid., 50.

[11] Ibid., 13, 15.

[12] Gerald Arbuckle, Loneliness: Insights for Healing in a Fragmented World, 215-216.

[13] Solnit, 184-185.

[14] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Words Create Worlds.1

This is a series I have been publishing over the past couple years in the online journal The Badger. The Badger is not a political journal, but in my work with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) I have been seeing the intersection between spirituality and politics – particularly when politics is against peace and is against human rights. The spiritual path leads to ever greater states of union and love – and yet we are witnessing a resurgence of fascism which is based on separation, division and hate.

Thank you to The Badger for giving permission to post these essays in my blog. You can find the hub for all the issues here, and I will provide a link to the specific issue for each of these essays.

Words Create Worlds.1

A Memoriam for those Killed in the Christchurch Mosque Shootings

Originally published in The Badger, 2019, Year 5, Volume 1

“Words create worlds.” These are the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, here is the full quote, remembered by his daughter, Susannah Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world.  He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.  Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child.  They must be used very carefully.  Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn.  The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[1]

I am writing this the day after 49 people were killed in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand (March 16, 2019). I have a personal connection to New Zealand, having lived there from 2010 – 2013. I visited Christchurch days before the second earthquake in 2011. I have a series of selfies my wife and I took walking across the courtyard in front of the Christchurch Cathedral, which was destroyed in the quake.

Since leaving New Zealand, I have been working with military veterans. The way I conceptualize my work is that I am helping to guide veterans from a war culture of the military world to the peace culture of the civilian world. It can be a tough journey after speaking words of war to speaking words of peace.

Red Begonias, Christchurch Botanical Garden, (D. Kopacz, 2011)

During this work, I was befriended by Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), who has been working for world peace since the 1980s when he had visions of Sound Chambers, Peace Chambers: circular structures, half above ground, half below ground, with men and women chanting for peace. He has created over 50 chambers for peace across four continents.

Working with Joseph has reinforced and shaped my identity as a psychiatrist who is not just treating mental illness, but is supporting cultural transitions and transformations, and is creating peace. Joseph would agree that “words create worlds.” He often talks about the power of sound and speech. When we were working on our book, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD, Joseph would tell me, I am my brother’s keeper.” As I contemplated this saying, I realized he was not just stating a world-view of many indigenous people—that we are all interrelated and connected—but that he was also speaking an antidote to the first murder documented in the Bible. After Cain killed his brother, Abel, God asks Cain where Abel is and Cain says, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”[2] With these words an identity of separation is created in the Biblical tradition. Joseph, in saying “I am my brother’s keeper,” is using words as an antidote for an illness of separation which is once again becoming an epidemic in our world.

“Words create worlds.” J.M. Berger, author of Extremism, would likely agree with this statement. Writing for the Atlantic, he writes of the dangerous impact of publishing and thus publicizing the words of mass murderers.

“It is far past time to reconsider the standard for publishing such manifestos. That does not mean we should abandon the search for meaning. But manifestos are rarely simple confessional documents. They are works of propaganda, just like ISIS beheading videos and al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine. Like those publications, journalists should report on manifestos, but they should mediate their propagandistic intent instead of blindly amplifying it. . .We have only begun to suffer the cost of these writings, crafted with an intent no less lethal than their authors’ violent crimes.”[3]

We find ourselves in a war of words. I try not to use the word “enemy.” To think of someone as an enemy is to make them “other” and this is the very root cause of violence, hatred, racism, and bigotry. To meet violence with violence or hate with hate does not create peace. Rather than enemy, I think opponent is a better term. The United States fought wars against England, Japan, and Germany. They were our opponents during the wars, but they are not our enemies. Consider the relationship between Gandhi and Jan Smuts. Smuts was the only person to sign the peace treaties ending both World War I & II. He advocated for the League of Nations following World War I. Yet, earlier in his life, he was a proponent of apartheid and he had a worthy opponent in South Africa on this, Gandhi. While Gandhi was imprisoned he made Smuts a pair of sandals. He returned the sandals for Gandhi’s 70th birthday, writing, “I have worn these sandals for many a summer, even though I may feel that I am not worthy to stand in the shoes of so great a man.”[4]

These two men struggled against each other for their beliefs, and yet they were not life-long enemies. Smuts literally walked in Gandhi’s shoes. We can wonder if this influenced Smuts’ later 1926 book, Holism and Evolution, in which he coined the word, “holism,” the concept of not seeing things through separation and isolation, but as component parts of a larger whole.

Christchurch, New Zealand (D. Kopacz, Feb 2011)

In this war of words we are struggling with our own darker natures, as well as the darker nature of all humanity. It is human nature to view ourselves as separate tribes and clans and peoples based on the superficial colour of our skin or which football team we support, or which religion we belong to. Yet there is also a deeper truth that we are all one, we are all interconnected, sharing the same Earth. The findings of scientists about Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam tell us that we all are, literally—not just figuratively—brothers and sisters.[5]

This war of words is a struggle about what kind of world we are going to create: a world in which everyone is equal and everyone has a place and a voice, or a world which is only for some people, a world where some people have more rights than others. This is a struggle of words and world-views which is being waged in the hearts and minds of all human beings on planet Earth as we try to come to terms with our interrelatedness and oneness.

Gerald Arbuckle, a Catholic priest and cultural anthropologist (who is from New Zealand and lives in Australia) has been studying the effects of loneliness and isolation and the resurgent rise of fundamentalism in our world.

He calls this a “global epidemic of fundamentalism both religious and political,” and he defines fundamentalists as “boundary-setters . . . marking themselves off from others.” Arbuckle sees, “A typical fundamentalist leader is a populist, homophobic, charismatic, authoritarian man who likes to bully,” a personality type that is only all too common in positions of power across the world.[6]

To see ourselves as separate from others opens the doors to discrimination, racism, and violence. Separation leads to loneliness and authoritarian and fascist movements promise a way out of loneliness through belonging to a tight-knit in-group based on an exclusionary identity opposed to another group or culture. Fascisms power comes from having an “other” who is an enemy. We should be very suspicious of the use of this word “enemy,” for instance in hearing the press called the “enemy of the people,” which is an age-old fascist trope.

Christchurch Cathedral – February 2011, prior to being destroyed in earthquake (D. Kopacz)

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern’s response to these recent killings was this: “Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who needs it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”[7]

New Zealand is geographically isolated, tucked away in the South Pacific, it has a strong anti-nuclear policy, refusing to allow nuclear U.S. warships into port. In New Zealand, the police do not openly carry guns. One former patient of mine, a teenage refugee from the Balkans, told me, “As soon as I saw the police here in New Zealand do not carry guns, I finally felt safe after years of war.” Now we have a major act of terrorism in New Zealand. In the United States we have debates over gun violence. Second Amendment Rights advocates always argue for more guns after gun violence, but research on gun ownership and gun violence shows that guns are more likely to be used in suicide or against someone in the home than they are against a violent “other.” In the United States, powerful lobbies and ideologies actually banned scientific research on gun violence for fear that it will lead to restrictions in gun ownership.[8] How do we respond to gun violence, terrorism and acts of hatred? Research for individual gun ownership does not support that we should all arm ourselves. The suspected killer in Christchurch, a 28 year-old, Australian born man targeted this gun debate and wanted to fuel the flames. Reporting in the New York Times states:

“Writing that he had purposely used guns to stir discord in the United States over the Second Amendment’s provision on the right to bear arms, he also declared himself a fascist. ‘For once, the person that will be called a fascist, is an actual fascist,’ he wrote.”[9]

We should take a closer look at this word, “fascist,” including its current manifestations and history, because it is like a disease that our global civilization has had a recurrence of in recent years.

Duke professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Omid Safi writes of these killings,

“This terrorist attack is not an aberration. This is not about mental illness, it is not about one person. This is where all the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant discourse over the last few years leads to.”[10]

Safi sees the roots of these killing in the ideas and words of white supremacy and he anticipates the gun rights arguments that “guns don’t kill people, people with mental illness kill people.” Yet when we have the confluence of easily accessible lethal means and a growing epidemic of violent words, there is an increase in violent actions. “Words create worlds.”

Nietzsche warned us that those who fight something risk becoming the very thing they fight, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look too long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”[11]

Pink Begonias, Christchurch Botanical Gardens (D. Kopacz, 2011)

Clarrissa Ward, from CNN, sees a similarity in the ideas and words of the far-right and terrorist organizations.

“To me, there’s almost a symbiotic relationship happening right now between extreme terrorists on the far-right and between some of these other terrorist organizations that we’re more familiar with.

The other thing that’s interesting, and disconcerting, frankly, is how much of the language and ideas he [the Christchurch killer] talks about have also seeped into mainstream political rhetoric.

He talks a lot about the idea of invasion, that Muslim migrants are invading white Western countries. He talks about the birth rate, the idea of replacement, that white culture is being replaced. We’ve heard such words coming from the President of the United States. We’ve heard them coming from far-right governments in Europe, whether it be Italy, whether it be Hungary. . . .

When you look at the zeitgeist and the rise of the far right in Europe and the US, ideas that were once considered as taboo to talk about are now being flaunted and public discourse invariably sets a tone.”[12]

Ward raises this disturbing spectre that Western Democracies are at risk of becoming our enemies—state-sponsored terrorism and extremism. The disturbing rise of far-right ideologies and words is being supported at the highest levels of governments across the globe.

Over the next year, I would like to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[13]

Cape Reinga, North Island, New Zealand – meeting of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea (D. Kopacz, 2013)

[1] Life Between the Trees blog. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[2] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition, Genesis 4.9.

[3] J.M. Berger, “The Dangerous Spread of Extremist Manifestos: By sharing the writings of terrorists, media outlets can amplify their impact,” The Atlantic online, 2/26/19, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/christopher-hasson-was-inspired-breivik-manifesto/583567/.

[4] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas, ed. Louis Fischer, 98.

[5] This is discussed in National Genographic DNA results. Also see Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Gene: An Intimate History and “Y-Chromosomal Adam,” Wikipedia.

[6] Gerald Arbuckle, Fundamentalism At Home and Abroad, 28, 9, 15. Also see his recent book, Loneliness: Insights for Healing in a Fragmentary World.

[7] Lucy Bennett “Christchurch mosque massacre: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to nation following shootings,” New Zealand World Herald, 3/15/19, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/crime/news/article.cfm?c_id=30&objectid=12213187.

[8] Arthur L. Kellermann, et al, “Gun Ownership as a Risk Factor for Homicide in the Home,” New England Journal of Medicine, 10/7/93, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199310073291506. February 13, 2013

Arthur L. Kellermann and Frederick P. Rivara, “Silencing the Science on Gun Research,” Journal of the American Medical Association, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1487470. J. John Mann, M.D., Christina A. Michel, “Prevention of Firearm Suicide in the United States: What Works and What Is Possible,” American Journal of Psychiatry, Published Online: 22 Jul 2016, https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16010069 .

[9] “New Zealand Shooting Live Updates: 49 Are Dead After 2 Mosques Are Hit,” New York Times, 3/15/19, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/asia/new-zealand-shooting-updates-christchurch.html.

[10] Omid Safi, Facebook, 3/15/19, https://www.facebook.com/omidsafi/posts/10157227737858793.

[11] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146, trans. Walter Kauffman (1989).

[12] Clarissa Ward, “How language in the attacker’s purported manifesto mimics the words of ISIS and al Qaeda,” CNN, 3/15/19, https://www.cnn.com/asia/live-news/new-zealand-christchurch-shooting-intl/index.html.

[13] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, 106.

Words Create Worlds, Part III, published in The Badger

Words Create Worlds. Part 3

“Words create worlds.” These are the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, here is the full quote, remembered by his daughter, Susannah Heschel:

“Words, he often wrote, are themselves sacred, God’s tool for creating the universe, and our tools for bringing holiness — or evil — into the world. He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda. Words create worlds he used to tell me when I was a child. They must be used very carefully. Some words, once having been uttered, gain eternity and can never be withdrawn. The Book of Proverbs reminds us, he wrote, that death and life are in the power of the tongue.”[i]

Crow Flying through the Cosmos, D. Kopacz (2020)

Remembering the Past & Learning from History

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)[ii]

Are we witnessing a rise of fascism and totalitarianism? Many say we are, and it is worth looking at what these words mean and if they apply to our current situation, which Rebecca Solnit calls a linguistic crisis.[iii]

Are we justified in using such a strong word as “fascism” for the language and ideas that are being tossed about under the guise of a resurgent nationalism? The Director of the McMaster Centre for Research in the Public Interest, Henry Giroux, believes so.

“I have no apologies whatsoever for using the word fascist politics. And I think that people who are afraid to do that become complicit with the very politics they condemn. Because if you can’t learn from history, then it seems to me that you end up in the dark,” (Henry Giroux).[iv]

In this next installment of the Words Create Worlds series, we will turn to the work of two American authors who warn us against a global movement into fascism. Both authors have familial roots in the persecution of the Jewish people during the holocaust and the Soviet take over of Eastern Europe after World War II. We will first discuss former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright’s book, Fascism: A Warning. Then we will turn to Yale professor, Stanley Jordan’s book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them. I do not intend this to be polemical, partisan politics, but rather to objectively document the current resurgence of fascistic rhetoric, in the United States and globally, in light of the history of fascism in the 20th Century.

Follow the link for the full article, pages 58-69.

Medicine Wheel of Dark Matter, D. Kopacz (2020)

[i] Life Between the Trees blog.

[ii] “‘Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It.’ Really?” Nicholas Clairmont, Big Think, 7/31/13, https://bigthink.com/the-proverbial-skeptic/those-who-do-not-learn-history-doomed-to-repeat-it-really

[iii] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2018, pg 4.

[iv] “Henry Giroux: Will Trump’s Deliberate Racist Rhetoric Lead Us to Fascism?” Interview with Marc Steiner, Big Think, 7/18/19. https://truthout.org/video/trumps-racist-rhetoric-is-deliberate-will-it-lead-us-to-fascism/

Sun Through the Trees Near Sol Duc River, D. Kopacz (2019)

New Article in The Badger: Words Create Worlds, Part 2 Rebecca Solnit and Calling Things by their True Names

My next article in this series on words creating worlds, fascism, and spirituality is out in The Badger online magazine! It can be found on pages 52 – 60.

This article focuses on Rebecca Solnit’s latest book, Call Them by Their True Names (2019). Here are a few excerpts from the article and accompanying photos from the Olympic Peninsula.

“Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.[i]

What we call things creates not just discourse, but reality. The words that we use and the words that we do not use lead us in certain directions and have different effects. Words are not just words, they are tools that shape, and give expression to, reality.

Words create our reality and our current reality is in crisis.

Across the world, in many different countries, politicians are rising to power using words of separation rather than words of union. This political crisis is a spiritual crisis because using words to create reality is a spiritual act.

One of the Crises of the Moment is Linguistic

Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names (2018) examines the uses and abuses of language in politics, stating that “one of the crises of this moment is linguistic.” The linguistic crisis confuses us about what is real, what is true, about who we are, and about our relationships with each other and the natural world. “Calling things by their true names,” Solnit writes, “cuts through the lies that excuse, buffer, muddle, disguise, avoid, or encourage inaction, indifference, obliviousness. It’s not all there is to changing the world, but it’s a key step.” “Once we call it by name, we can start having a real conversation about our priorities and values. Because the revolt against brutality begins with a revolt against the language that hides brutality.”[ii]


Sun through the Rain Forest, near Sol Duc River, Olympic Peninsula (D. Kopacz, 2019)

The Deregulation of Meaning

"If you begin by denying social and ecological systems, then you end by denying the reality of facts, which are, after all, part of a network of systematic relationships among language, physical reality, and the record, regulated by the rules of evidence, truth, grammar, word meaning, and so forth. You deny the relationship between cause and effect, evidence and conclusion; or, rather, you imagine both as products on the free market that one can produce and consume according to one’s preferences. You deregulate meaning. . . . And this is how the ideology of isolation becomes nihilism, trying to kill the planet and most living things on it with a confidence born of total destruction."[iii] 

A Storytelling Work that Matters

"This work is always, first and last, a storytelling work, or what some of my friends call ‘the battle of the story.’ . . .  To sustain it, people have to believe that the myriad small, incremental actions matter. . . . To believe it matters—well, we can’t see the future, but we have the past. Which gives us patterns, models, parallels, principles, and resources; stories of heroism, brilliance, and persistence; and the deep joy to be found in doing the work that matters. With those in hand, we can seize the possibilities and begin to make hopes into actualities."[iv]

Doing “the work that matters,” this is what we are called to do. Joseph Rael reminds us that “work is worship,” so this work of activism, this work of story, this work of loving our neighbors, is a sacred work that we are called to do and that we are called to put into words so that we can create, instead of a world of hate, separation, and war, we can create a world of love and peace.

Sun through the Trees, Mt. Muller, Olympic Peninsula

Next issue: Rob Riemen’s To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism

Throughout 2019, I will continue to write about some of these topics of how our “words create worlds.” In working with Joseph Rael, writing our next book, Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality, I felt compelled to write about the responsibility of mystical, visionary, and shamanic experience—that we must work toward “Spiritual Democracy.” At its deepest point, mystical experience leads to an awareness that we are all one and this comes with a responsibility to challenge words of separation which ultimately lead to fascism. Mystical experience is a pathway that leads us to question who we are and gives us a responsibility to use our words wisely to create worlds where we are becoming the medicine that our world needs. As Rumi says, “We are pain and what cures the pain.”[v]


[i] Life Between the Trees blog. I first came across a shorter instance of this quote in the Omid Safi reference below.

[ii] Rebecca Solnit, Call Them by Their True Names, 4, 1, 4.

[iii] Ibid., 50.

[iv] Solnit, 184-185.

[v] Rumi, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it,” The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks, (106).