The More Beautiful World We Know is Possible


Yale graduate, social philosopher and countercultural intellectual Charles Eisenstein begins The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible with a reflection on the nostalgia he sometimes feels about the “cultural mythology of my youth” where “life made sense.” In that world, you would be successful if you followed the rules of our society, “stayed away from ‘bad things’ like drugs,” worked hard to get good grades, got into a good college perhaps including grad school, or followed some other professional path.
Eisenstein refers to the insular privilege of his youth which established a belief that the scientists and experts were working hard to fix our society’s problems and propel us forward as a human species. He now calls that narrative the “Story of the World” or “Story of the People.” In that story, humanity was “destined to create a perfect world through science, reason, and technology.”
As Eisenstein broadened his horizons, he could no longer accept the way the dominant narrative of our culture handled things like nuclear weapons, rainforests, or disappearing species as “fragmentary problems to be solved, as unfortunate facts of life to be regretted, or as unmentionable taboo subjects to be simply ignored.”
Now he believes that on some level we all know better but do not find a way to clearly express it, so we rebel either covertly or overtly. I think I have rebelled in both ways. Like me, more and more humans are now seeing the “narrative of normal” crumbling on a systemic level.
Even though The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible was published in 2013, its words ring true for me at an even higher level since the Pandemic has hit our planet. “Our systems of money, politics, energy, medicine, education, and more are no longer delivering the benefits they once did (or seemed to),” writes Eisenstein. We are beginning to awaken to the interconnectedness of all our systems, i.e. we cannot change our energy systems without changing our economic systems.
I am pleased to note that progressives get this, as with the connections between racism and ecological destruction, between the Military Industrial Complex and the Prison Industrial Complex, for example. Even though millions of us see the absurdity of war and mass incarceration, our society’s general narratives have tried to “obscure or normalize that absurdity, and thus protect the Story of the World from disruption.”
Even when horrors such as the Nazi Holocaust have presented humans with cultural and spiritual crises, we are all too quick to shrink back into the comforting old narrative with explanations such as evil is taking over and the Good Guys must step in to stop it. All the while, to protect the old Story of Control, we deny the “mass participation of ordinary people—people like you and me.” Isabel Wilkerson speaks poignantly to this in her 2020 book Caste.
One of my favorite chapters in Eisenstein’s book is devoted to examining SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. Closely linked to denial and the Good Guy-Bad Guy mentality, this human trait also makes it difficult for us humans to relinquish the old Story.
According to Eisenstein, two thirds of political discourse is about meeting our need to be right, to align ourselves with the Good. If I declare the person who disagrees with me to be “stupid, naïve, bamboozled, or wicked, then I must be smart, canny, independent minded, and good.” I will tend to congratulate myself for my superior ethics and look condescendingly upon you for not “seeing the light” as I do. I make you into the dangerous “other” by slapping a label on you.
Online comments, on both right-wing and left-wing sites, reveal that the “underlying narrative is the same: the other side is deficient in the basic qualities of human decency.”
Eisenstein offers a jarring thought here: If we achieve a goal of looking good while making our opponents look evil, we are actually increasing the amount of hate in the world.
And another jarring thought: “When both sides of a controversy revel in the defeat and humiliation of the other side, in fact they are on the same side: the side of war.”
The language of our politics, media, and scientific paradigms signals that we humans see conflict, struggle, and force as necessary elements of change.
“To act from a new story, and to build a society upon it, requires a wholesale transformation.”
Along with Eisenstein, I now see evidence of a greater desire to transcend the old Story and act from the new. Old answers from the 19th and 20th century view of what is “real, practical and possible” are now giving way to the new physics, biology and psychology that are beginning to “infiltrate our operating beliefs.”
“We do not have a new story yet,” writes Eisenstein in 2013. And we may have to reside for a time in the “space between stories.” That’s where we appear to be now, in 2022.
“Each disaster lays bare the reality underneath our stories. . . . In such moments our dormant humanity awakens as we come to each other’s aid, human to human, and learn who we are.”
For the past decade, the fulfillment of Eisenstein’s prophecy has been on full display: “Now the calamities and contradictions are coming so fast that the old story has not enough time to recover,” especially evident during the Pandemic and recurring Climate disasters.
“Such is the birth process into a new story.”
Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution. His viral short films and essays online have established him as a genre-defying social philosopher and countercultural intellectual. Eisenstein graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy and spent the next ten years as a Chinese-English translator. He is the author of three other books: Sacred Economics, Ascent of Humanity, and Climate—A New Story.
I highly recommend two recent YouTube videos in which Charles Eisenstein is interviewed: “How Can We Repair the Collective Mistrust?” on the Aubrey Marcus Podcast and “The Pandemic is a Prism” with Paul Kingsnorth and Charles Eisenstein.