Aquarius Now: Radical Common Sense and Reclaiming Our Personal Sovereignty

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Themes of seeing light through darkness and revealing secrets once hidden, as well as a range of inspirational thoughts on human perseverance from many a familiar thinker, pepper this book and indicate its tone and content. Using an often vague and confusing self-help style, Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy and former publisher of Brain/Mind Bulletin, attempts to reignite the radical left toward social revolution by transforming humanity to combat the current "malaise," one self at a time. What we must save ourselves from is unclear, though Ferguson asserts it is neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal nor conservative, and only offers confirmation of her view that Christian fundamentalism is working for the dark side. Each chapter offers readers passionate, if choppily written, explanations of the many ways to use bodies and minds in the battle toward a higher consciousness. Filled with motivational bits like "Liberty is what we make of our freedom" and "You can have control or you can have creation but you can't have both," Ferguson's book is unwavering in its determination to inspire, if not offer an intelligible thesis. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578633692
  • Publisher: Red Wheel/Weiser
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Pages: 213
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.95 (d)

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Radical Common Sense and Reclaiming Our Personal Sovereignty

By Marilyn Ferguson

Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 2005 Marilyn Ferguson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57863-369-2



A New Method of Thinking

The time hath found us.

—Thomas Paine, Common Sense

On January 10, 1776, a recent English immigrant published a pamphlet urging American colonists to rethink their assumptions about something most people took for granted: the divine right of monarchy. According to contemporary reports, many affirmed Royalists were converted by a single reading of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Paine must indeed have argued well; half a million copies were sold over the next year, an astonishing number given a total population in the colonies of just over two million.

Because Paine assigned the royalties from his two-shilling pamphlet to the revolutionary cause, after the war a grateful United States Congress awarded him a small pension and a farm in upstate New York. Yet only a few years later, Paine was branded a traitor for expanding further on the meaning of democracy. At one moment he was a hero, the father of reason; shortly thereafter, an outcast.

What is this thing called common sense? We appeal to it incessantly, but it eludes definition. The very term implies a body of information that everyone knows, yet we ruefully agree that nothing is rarer than common sense. The French do not have an exact equivalent of the English phrase common sense. Rather they say le bon sens, the good sense, and they do not take it for granted.

Although we speak of common sense as if it were static and agreed-upon, in fact it evolves. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, Europeans considered bathing unhealthy. It was widely believed that tomatoes were poisonous until the eighteenth century when a man ate one on the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey, as a demonstration.

As the evidence becomes unassailable, a new common sense emerges.

Common sense is sometimes subjective. What one person considers sensible strikes another as wrong-headed. Common sense is also shaped by cultural and even sub-cultural values. One group's foregone conclusions are another's heresy.

Common sense is rooted in local assumptions. We deem a belief common sense when we no longer recall its origins. Some common sense is felt in agreement, values that seem so self-evident they aren't even discussed unless violated, as when people are blatantly acting against their own interests.

More and more often we are asking each other, "What ever happened to common sense?" A rhetorical question, maybe, but it bears examining. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see the inadequacy of the notion of common sense as a body of information. Even so, we seem to agree that something is missing. We may not be able to explain it, but we know it when we see it.

When we say that someone has common sense we usually mean a kind of practical balance. Such a person is in control without being rigid and is capable of spontaneous behavior without taking foolish risks.

It could be said that common sense is a way of being in the world, a function or an attitude rather than a body of knowledge—not thoughts but the ability to think freshly and purposefully. Common sense is not what we know but how we know it.

Common sense is remembering what we have learned and remembering that we forget. It takes its own ignorance, biases, and errors into account. It wants to learn even when the lessons are hard. It is a subtle sense of consequences and possibilities.

Our Runaway Societies

The final scenes of Emile Zola's The Beast in Man demonstrate a failure of classical common sense. An irate engineer and fireman are quarreling in the locomotive of a passenger train. In his rage the fireman has stoked the engine's fire into an inferno. The two begin struggling. They clutch each other by the throat, each trying to force the other through the open door. Losing their balance, both tumble out and roll down the steep mountainside. The train hurtles onward, picking up speed. The hapless passengers, soldiers en route to the front, are dozing or drunkenly partying, unaware of the impending disaster.

Zola's story is a parable of modern societies and their runaway institutions. Those supposedly in charge, embroiled in their own personal dramas, paralyzed with performance anxiety or preoccupied with their ambitions, have left their driver's seats. Meanwhile, we, their oblivious passengers, are about to pay the price. Unless, of course, we wake up.

One looks as hard and cynically for an honest culture as Diogenes searched for an honest man. In many countries, merchants and manufacturers are spending ever more to attract an ever more skeptical public. Television viewers and newspaper readers mistrust much of what they hear and see. Respect for institutions, even for religion, is in decline.

Few of our designated leaders offer credible comfort. High confusion translates into chaotic policy. People everywhere seem to be acknowledging the gap between the ideal and the reality, and we can't figure out who is at fault. Scapegoats—the infamous "they" and "them"—are in short supply.

In the Zen tradition there is the tale of a young farmer who owned a treasured heirloom, a large and decorative glass bottle. One day a young gosling wandered into the farmhouse, fell into the bottle, and could not be extricated. Because the tender-hearted farmer could not bring himself to harm a living creature, he could not kill the goose. But neither could he bring himself to destroy the precious bottle. Out of kindness and indecision he kept feeding the gosling. Every day the crisis seemed more imminent.

The koan, or Zen riddle: How will the farmer remove the goose from the bottle?

Surely this is our story, humanity in the Twentieth Century, polluting and populating and quarreling, tearing a hole in the very fabric of our atmosphere. Living systems throttled more and more each day by our time-hallowed structures and the limits of our resources. Us in the bottle.

Radical Common Sense

When we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical constitution with a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans, it was assumed that the Americans who had that freedom would use it responsibly.

—Bill Clinton

To get out of the bottle we need radical common sense. Radical common sense is common sense deliberately encouraged and applied. Radical common sense reflects the growing realization that individual good sense in not enough—that society itself must make sense or decline. Radical common sense is a spirit. It respects the past, it pays attention to the present, and therefore it can imagine a more workable future.

On the one hand, it looks as if modern civilization hasn't the time, resources, or determination to make it through the neck of the bottle. We can't get there from here. We can't solve our deepest problems through such traditional strategies as competition, wishful thinking, struggle, or war. We can't frighten people (including ourselves) into being good or smart or healthy. We find we can't educate by rote or by bribery, we can't win by cheating, we can't buy peace at the expense of others, and, above all, we can't fool Mother Nature.

On the other hand, maybe the answers lie in the problem—our thinking, especially our ideas that nature is to be mastered rather than understood. We have tried to run roughshod over certain powerful realities.

Radical common sense says let's ally ourselves with nature. We have nothing to lose and a great deal to gain. As the old saying has it, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." We can apprentice at nature's side, working with her secrets respectfully rather than trying to steal them. For example, scientists who observe natural systems report that nature is more cooperative ("Live and let live") than competitive ("Kill or be killed"). "Competing" species, it turns out, often co-exist by food- and time-sharing; they feed at different hours on different parts of the same plant. Among moose and some other herd animals, the old or injured members offer themselves to predators, allowing younger and healthier members to escape.

Altruism appears to serve an evolutionary function in living creatures. In its inventiveness, nature—including human nature—may be on our side.

By documenting the health benefits of such traditional virtues as persistence, hard work, forgiveness, and generosity, scientific research is validating both common sense and idealism. People who have discovered a purpose feel better, like themselves more, age more subtly, and live longer.

Radical common sense derives its conviction from science and from the inspired examples of individuals.

The Lessons of "Living Treasures"

Japanese society has an admirable habit of honoring its outstanding contributors as if they were national resources. Individuals who have developed their abilities to a high level or who have given generously of themselves are designated "living treasures."

Every nation, indeed every neighborhood, has its living treasures, people who find their greatest reward in contributing to the society. Some are well known, but millions are quietly going about their heroic tasks perfecting their work, trying to serve more, not less.

Most of these people grasp the content of the body of wisdom Aldous Huxley called the Perennial Philosophy. They recognize that their fate is tied to that of others. They know that they must take responsibility, maintain their integrity, keep learning, and dream boldly. And they know that this knowing is not enough.

They are making clear that what they need now is the so-called "nitty gritty," the small steps that precede a leap. They want a technology transfer from the people who make their dreams come true.

Radical common sense says that we should collect and disseminate such secrets for the good of the whole. And, not surprisingly, that most capable people are not only happy to share what they have learned; they are also eager to benefit from the experience of others.

It is little wonder that our individual discoveries don't become common knowledge. When we stumble across certain tricks and short-cuts we usually don't think to tell anyone else. For one thing, they probably already know. Or we're competitive.

The more successful we become at our chosen tasks, the less time there is for analysis and reflection. The coach may recall that the gold-medal figure skater was once graceless or fearful. Certain psychological and technical breakthroughs made the difference. The champion, also a subtle observer of change, is too busy mastering new moves to spell out the anatomy of a winning performance. The same could be said of the outstanding entrepreneur, statesman, or parent. They aren't teaching because they are so busy learning.

Think for a moment of your own breakthroughs. Did you record and track your learning? Most of the time we notice improvement in retrospect, if at all. And we rarely think to mark the trail for others to follow. "Live and learn," we say, acknowledging the value of experience. We usually forget about "Live and teach."

Radical common sense says that our collective survival may depend on our ability to teach ourselves and others. By pooling and organizing the wisdom of many scouts we can assemble a kind of guide and companion for travelers everywhere.

Apply certain laws of life, and you have nature on the side of your dream. You are less reliant on luck and, at the same time, better equipped to take advantage of it. You can contribute your best without compromising your values, undermining your health, or exploiting others. You can be an explorer and friend to humanity.

Achievers have an enabling attitude, realism, and a conviction that they themselves were the laboratory of innovation. Their ability to change themselves is central to their success. They have learned to conserve their energy by minimizing the time spent in regret or complaint. Every event is a lesson to them, every person a teacher. Learning is their true occupation, and out of it flowed their profession.

These four-minute-milers of the spirit insist that they are not unusually endowed, that others can do what they have done. They know factors of success more reliable than luck or native ability.

The not-so-hidden agenda is the conviction that leadership must become a grassroots phenomenon if our societies are to thrive. If that strikes you as unlikely, consider first of all that nothing else is likely to work. And secondly, be aware that people already secretly suspect that they are capable of taking charge. Sociological surveys have shown repeatedly that most people believe themselves smarter, more caring, more honest, and more responsible than most people.

Apparently we can't show these traits because "it's a jungle out there." It's as if to be "smart" we must hide our caring lest we try to live up to our responsibility in the jungle. So the dangerous jungle persists as a self-fulfilling prophecy from our collective self-image. One of the ways we can spring the goose from the bottle is to unite as free and honorable individuals who have the nerve and good sense to challenge defeatist assumptions. In so doing we have to pierce the veil that separates our heroes from the heroic in ourselves.

As our societies go through their identity crises, we can view the chaos as a sign of life, the turbulence as a healing fever. Radical common sense paraphrases Socrates: The unexamined collective life is not worth living.

The more sensitive I am as an individual, the more permeable I am to healthy new influences, the likelier that I can be molded into an unprecedented Self. That Self is the secret of success of a society. It sees the ways in which its fate is joined to the whole. It has the attributes we sometimes call soul and the passion we have called patriotism.

Radical common sense is the wisdom gleaned from the past that recognizes the perishable opportunities of the moment. It is the willingness to admit error and the refusal to be deterred by failure. Heroism, it becomes apparent, is nothing more than becoming our latent selves. Victory doesn't lie in transcending or taming our nature but in progressively discovering and revealing more of it.

Great problems, like the wars of old, may be a stimulus to achievement, but we don't have to rely on external challenge. Radical common sense says we can challenge ourselves. Or as the Taoist tradition puts it, we can embrace the tiger.

When asked for his most important discovery, a famous corporate trainer said, "I finally realized that people learn from only one thing: experience. And most people aren't very good at it."

Beyond a certain point all education is self-education. New learning comes slowly unless we choose it. A self-defined challenge is an irresistible teacher.

In encompassing the simple secrets of the visionary life, radical common sense may be the long-sought Grail, a powerful vessel in which we might shape ourselves and be shaped.

The Forerunner Self

"I don't want to be a butterfly," the caterpillar said, "because I've never been one."

—Stewart Edward White

At any time we are capable of stumbling into valuable new behavior. We might call this phenomenon the Forerunner Self. We grope, blunder, or wander our way into new avenues. If we're alert to such changes or if they are pointed out by others, they will consolidate more quickly.

Radical common sense tells us that as we catch glimpses of a more integrated, "higher" self, our task is to unify the knowledge fragmented by old traumas. Maybe inside each of us there's a wise self trying to take charge.

The death inherent in transformation is like the snake's sloughing of a skin or the pupa shedding its cocoon. The death is just letting go of trying to stay the same. It is the radical shift of birth.

Humanity's greatest presumption is our effort to stop the river, to arrest inevitable change. To invoke the metaphor of Zola's train, we have been fretting over our individual timetables and cabin comforts when the train itself is hurtling ahead without our conscious guidance.

Our venerable institutions, the repositories of our beliefs and values, need retooling if they are to regain our trust and pride. A Forerunner Society may need to establish innovation and truth as traditions rather than desperate last measures.

Virgil, the Latin poet, wrote Novo ordus seclorum, "A new age begins," a motto inscribed on United States dollar bills. The dream of a new beginning is recurrent, yet there are historical periods when deep cultural change seems more imminent.

Those who see the present era as a New Age are right on at least one count: Unprecedented numbers of people are pursuing visionary arts once restricted to the leisure classes and religious elites. Much of so-called New Age thinking is a kind of realistic idealism, the art and science of leading a rewarding life.

Excerpted from AQUARIUS NOW by Marilyn Ferguson. Copyright © 2005 Marilyn Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents




1 We Have It in Our Power: A New Method of Thinking          

2 A Time to Move: The New Visionaries Are Revolutionaries with Radical
Common Sense          

3 Waking Up in the Dark: Vision in a Time of Paradox          

4 The Selves We Travel With: The Repertory Company          

5 Challenge and the Art of Self-Encouragement: The Athlete          

6 Choosing to Be Intelligent: The Hunter-Gatherer and the Scout          

7 Tuning In to the Field: The Dowser          

8 Rekindling the Flames of Intuition: The Firemaker          

9 The Drive to Discover: The Artist-Scientist          

10 Finding the Right Engagement: The Sacred Warrior          

11 Creative Responses to Fear: The Holy Fool          

12 Liberty and the Law of Levity: The Free Spirit          

13 Remembering the Future: The Navigator          

14 Creating the Future: Reclaiming Our Sovereignty          




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