Mike Feder: Hello everybody. We’re back again after being bumped by the hockey or basketball game last week. This is your host Mike Feder and we’re here with Rabbi Simon Jacobson on Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. It seems like years when you’re not on for one week, doesn’t it?
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Well, we can play our own ice hockey here.
Feder: Okay, let me just jump into this thing that’s been on my mind. Something happened last week—kind of a massive news story all over the place—that AOL merged with Time Warner. Now, this is not just business news. I’m going to express certain fears and thoughts that I have about this, and I hope you can shape it and discuss what you think is going on here.
Editorials and articles are in every section of the newspaper about this—as I said, not just the financial section. This seems to be having some sort of massive, symbolic effect on our whole culture. And what’s happening, it seems to me, is that everybody has this universal fear that one company, or a few companies which seem to be merging into one large company, are swallowing up every single company. You can already see the results of it in some places, but basically here we’re talking about communications companies.
Someone made a joke once in an editorial that one day “President” Gates would do such and such. But of course now we see that Gates is stepping aside theoretically because his company is probably being broken up.
But yet there’s a feeling that one company or a group of companies controlled by a few individuals are going to control absolutely everything: what you wear, what you see, what you hear, any kind of thing that you read, what you buy, and I think what I’m getting at is that it feels as if I, as an individual human being in society, am being completely marginalized to the point where I think, as an individual, I might disappear.
And I don’t mean this in any way as a psychological issue, that’s a separate problem, but I wonder if other people listening have this same feeling—and I’ve seen it in editorials—that in this modern world, with everything being globalized and taken over by an increasingly narrow group of people, you get the feeling that as an individual…
The government doesn’t care about your vote. The companies don’t care what you think. You buy what they make; you vote the way they tell you. That’s it. So I feel like I’m expressing a fear that a lot of people might share.
Jacobson: Yes, but the fear has to be broken down into several components in order to discuss it intelligently. In a show like this, “Toward a Meaningful Life,” the key question is, how does all this bear upon our lives? What are the consequences? What are the risks? What are the challenges that lie ahead of each of us as individuals and as a group? What responsibility do we as parents and as educators have, and what responsibility does the government have?
I would break it down essentially into two types of fears. One is the control of the flow of knowledge and information: that whenever that is allowed to be controlled by a particular party or group of individuals, there’s always the fear that the knowledge will not be completely free, meaning that some individuals will choose what is relevant and what is important for others to listen to or hear or read.
The second fear that you describe is the fear of losing our individuality, our personalities. That we’ve become, as Huxley puts it in Brave New World or George Orwell in 1984, a type of mass society, with mass consumerism, where individual interests are not that relevant or important.
Feder: Well, in fact, they become crimes in these societies.
Jacobson: Right. For the collective good. Now, speaking from somewhat of a spiritual perspective, in Jewish mysticism, we can almost see the universe, or history, divided into two ages: the materialistic age and the spiritual age. I believe what we’re really experiencing right now is the transition—that we’re coming to the end and the edge of the materialistic age and we’re entering a spiritual age.
Feder: Do you mean that it’s getting darker before the dawn? Is that what’s happening here?
Jacobson: No. But I’ll explain. We’re still using the old economic rules in a game that’s soon going to change entirely. The old rules — which have prevailed for quite some years now — are based on a specific economic model for capitalism, which essentially allows for a corporate structure that leads to mergers we are witnessing. Remember, before AOL, it was Time and Warner that merged. Now it’s Time, Warner and AOL. So maybe Time, Warner, AOL and AT&T, Yahoo, and… WEVD!
Feder: Maybe WEVD will buy all of them. And we’re in on the ground floor here!
Jacobson: So the economic model that allows for this is a model based on a materialistic age. In a sense, what’s happening is that the Internet, which is of course very critical in this particular merger, has opened up a completely new, exciting level of commerce, which has become international. Global lines are being redefined or actually disappearing; where now you have one large international mall that anyone, anywhere, can come and access. This is giving the corporate honchos a whole new perspective on how to play the game, but they’re playing by the rules that go back at least a century or two and they’re just taking it to the max.
I believe that it’s going to come to a point where we’re going to have to create a new economic model for a new type of world.
Feder: It’s that idea of a “critical mass.” So something’s going to have to approach a point where it’s almost going to blow up before it changes, right?
Jacobson: Right. Well, not blow up literally. I think what’s going to happen is that the economic equations resulting from the old model will become so ludicrous, that it will become obvious that we need to create a new model. We will need to address the growing paradox that we find emerging today, on one hand the centralization of corporate power you describe, on the other hand, a decentralization which is unprecedented in history how individuals can, at their will, access any information they wish.
You can go to any library and read about anything. You can go onto the Internet and access any information that was once very difficult to access.
Feder: So there’s more choice now than ever.
Jacobson: So it seems like a paradox. On one hand, centralization seems to give certain individuals the control of the information flow. On the other hand, there is an unprecedented free-flow of information. We don’t live in a Fascist regime where the radio waves are controlled. You and I can say anything we want on the radio right now. We can even challenge the corporate structure and we have a right to do that.
So what’s happening is that a real dichotomy is being created and there is going to be a real serious tension, including the fears you described… but I don’t think that the fear will be as it’s painted in Brave New World or 1984. I think what will happen is that the masses, the grassroots, that these mega-conglomerates want to control and have them buy their products, are going to rebel and make a very large statement. And that, I believe, will have to change, on a governmental level, our economic structure of how we sell things. Even on a basic level of how we sell things, who controls what is sold.
Feder: These people seem to be the kind of people—and I’m not judging them so much but just describing them—who will eat everything that they can eat that’s in their path. Now if you don’t want to be eaten, you’re going to have to stand up and say, “I don’t want you to eat me.” You can’t just sit there because they will consume you. And I believe that that’s the way things are. So what I’m saying is that I think there will be a battle of some sort, legal…
Feder: It’s becoming a Darwinian jungle world.
Jacobson: When I say a spiritual age, I mean a world in which there is an individual search for deeper meaning, for G-d, for purpose, that will ultimately, because of the easy access of information, be a very loud voice. And there will be a clash, and the economic model will have to be redefined entirely to really address a community of individuals. But it will be an international community of individuals.
I’m trying to take a different approach from the conventional approach, because I don’t know if the issue (or solution) here is regulation, for instance. You know, the government can always come in and say, “This is a monopoly and therefore it undermines free commerce” because the corporation can control pricing in addition to controlling the flow of information that we’re describing.
But that’s called damage control. There’s a reason that these conglomerates are being created, because the industries are converging and the economic climate is creating a demand for that. Time Warner has interests on the Internet. AOL has interest in what Time Warner has to offer. So you can’t stop the flow of progress so to speak. It’s logical that if two people need something of each other they’ll join forces, just like two partners may open a business, except here the partnership is becoming so large that it has the consequences and the fears that you, Mike, described earlier.
But you have to remember that they’re not being driven by some type of dictatorship type of position—they feel it’s economical: it’s going to ultimately make more money for them and their shareholders to join forces rather than stay apart.
Feder: But isn’t there anything beneath that drive that seems to be even a deeper drive?
Jacobson: We have to then assess each individual. But I have no reason to be suspicious of someone trying to be a Hitler here and trying to dominate the world. Obviously, power corrupts and power is addictive and all of that. What I’m trying to say is that there are forces that are driving them together. So regulating is one thing. But the real question for us has to be, and that’s what I would address, which is, as individuals, what does this mean for us. What do we say about it—including the fears you described.
And we all struggle with peer pressure and conformity as we grow into adults as well. You go to work and there are certain standards there; standards that may not even be healthy. A certain competitiveness in the marketplace often creates a real type of dog-eat-dog attitude; survival of the fittest.
On the other hand, since we’re in that culture, the question is, how do we maintain individuality in the face of any type of mass consumerism.
Now the fact is that the media has inundated our lives. You look at a magazine, television, newspaper, radio… much of it is controlled by those who buy advertising time or space in those media, and they have the money to create images that are so psychologically compelling and seductive that the proof is in the pudding. They wouldn’t have spent the money if they weren’t selling products due to that advertising.
Look at the Super Bowl as an extreme example. The Super Bowl has created an industry just to see the new ads — entire industries are developing ad campaigns surrounding the Super Bowl because it has such a market share of viewers.
So what you have here is a general trend toward that type of mind control, and the question is, what is to be done about it? So on the one hand we can say, okay, let’s regulate the conglomerates
Feder: Break them up, scatter them…
Jacobson: Scatter them so you don’t have any monopolized control. But then the argument would be that you are really undermining economic progress, because there’s a reason that these partnerships and alliances are being created.
The question I would raise is how can we empower individuals so they can not just withstand this inundation but flourish and have the best of both worlds?
How can you benefit from a large company, for example, and not lose your individuality? That would really be the question. Because remember, if you think this is just the case in our generation, was there no conformity in the Roman Empire? It’s just that they didn’t have technology that reached billions of people. But they controlled their communities. It’s always been an issue in history where several individuals, either through government or through religious or economic power, try to control the masses.
So I think the real question is, what’s happened to us, to our souls? To blame AOL and Time Warner that they have extinguished our souls…
Feder: No, you can’t accuse them of that…
Jacobson: Exactly. They are really a product of a general system that’s going a certain way, a way that we’ve all always tolerated and, at best, participated in. For example, if you or I were working as a Vice Chairman of AOL or Time Warner or one of these companies, and they asked us logically what we should be doing now, and you said, “You know, I vote for this merger,” your vote would be based purely on a logical, economic rationale—the same as you’d make a decision to change a job or to buy a home in a different area that has lucrative potential. It’s an investment type of idea.
But the problem would be that you’ve already become a victim because you’re working in that environment.
Feder: And you can’t see the forest for the trees.
Jacobson: Exactly. So it’s very difficult to begin to preach ethics once you have a society that has essentially created these monsters. You know, if you talk about a dictator or a Fascist, like a Hitler, even that, without people supporting him, he could not have risen.
But in our situation, we’re not dealing with an individual evil, an individual who’s an evil force, and we’re not talking now about people who are so fanatical that they think that Bill Gates is a fascist, G-d forbid. I wouldn’t even compare.
We have a world that is capitalistic by nature. The laws of the government are controlled by publicly elected officials. It’s true that lobbying and money does control much of the regulation, but the basics are controlled by people, and if the people would have a very loud voice to change certain principles, for instance, of capitalism. If you read any Marxian thought on economic theory, the driving force is greed, to have more money. I think the majority of Americans have always voted for that.
Jacobson: One could argue that they haven’t been given the choice, and you know, they don’t call it greed, they call it success built upon the motivation that you want more and more.
Feder: It’s called greed!
Jacobson: But they won’t call it greed, they’ll paint it as something that motivates people to grow.
Feder: Enlightened self-interests?
Jacobson: I think the question is how do we reclaim our souls? And remember, Gerald Levin and Steven Case also have souls, and they have families. I’m sure that they try to be good to their families.
Feder: Well, Levin had that tragedy in his family.
Jacobson: And I think that they are, in a way, just products of the society that we, ourselves, have created. That’s why I like the idea of looking at the two ages we spoke about: a materialistic age… which they’ve taken to the extreme. It’s almost like lawyers who come and say, “Okay, the IRS has written certain tax laws. We will now show you every loophole possible to figure out how to maximize your income.”
And then the IRS says, “Okay, we’re closing another loophole. It almost becomes a cat and mouse game, as they say, the manufacturers of speed radars for cops, are the same manufacturers of radar detectors. And as they make better radar detectors, they have to create a new radar, so it’s an entire economy based on their own internal competition.
I think our focus should be, Mike, how does a person, as an individual, reclaim his or her soul or control that soul not just from conforming but to any forces—not just economic or corporate forces. That would be my approach, rather than just painting the situation as an evil force where information will be coming from two or three individuals, period.
Feder: Okay, that’s a very good answer to a stated fear and a question. Let me come back to refine (since the answer has already been given and a search has been pointed out) just a couple of things.
Now, the first point is, and you use the words often, “The people have to do this to bring about something.” As anybody familiar with science knows, a mass is constructed of individual particles. Now, “the people” is not one big uniform thing. The people are all of us as individuals together. And that’s what’s important also that was planned in our Constitution.
The second thing is, once upon a time, when you didn’t want to participate in the mass culture of wherever you were, you could go someplace else. You could get on a ship, you could emigrate, you could get on a plane. Today, there’s nowhere left. And the only place left is to retreat inside your house or apartment to get away from this. There’s no America to explore. There are no lands to explore anymore. Nobody’s going to outer space to find a place to go. We’re all here right now.
And I think actually what’s happening is that it is pointing to this critical switchover, from one sort of world to another, because, in a way, there’s no place left to go. We are all boxed in here. And we’re either going to have to conform to this or learn to live in this collective way, or we’re going to have to move in some other direction. We’re almost being squeezed like a toothpaste tube. Do you see what I mean?
Jacobson: That is where we travel on an inner journey, in inner space. And that is what I mean when I use the words “reclaiming your soul.” You see, your individuality and your choices of how to live your life are ultimately your and only your responsibility. You choose how much television you want to watch, how many newspapers you want to read. You pick and choose. And knowledge of all sorts is readily available today. I agree that if we as parents just allow our children to be swept away by the media, then we are doing them a great injustice. But we have the power and the control how to to educate our children and to monitor the flow of information.
So it’s true that it’s definitely a legitimate issue to discuss what’s happening when all these mega-conglomerates are being formed, but at the same time, the place where we can still maneuver is the place where we always were able to maneuver, and that’s individual freedom which is a completely internal thing.
This would be true even if the entire world were controlled by one corporation, and I’m talking about a corporation that obviously is not a violent one (because if it’s a violent one, then it threatens your life) but an economic corporation.
Feder: It’s not an inconceivable fact. That one corporation could run everything.
Jacobson: Yes. I still think that unless they imposed rules and laws, like in those books that we mentioned, a human being’s freedom is not dependent on what they produce. It depends on who you are and how you see yourself.
Just as it is today. I think most human beings naturally conform, even if there isn’t just one corporation, even if there are a million corporations. In other words, conformity is not just driven by how many companies there are and who’s controlling them, it’s driven by your individual search for freedom.
Feder: Let me mention one last thing and I think we’re honing in here on the point. There was an article in the New York Times the other day (I think it was in the Science Section), something people have been writing about a lot, that it seems like it’s going to become possible, because of scientific developments which are produced basically by corporations that experiment with these types of things, that sooner or later there won’t be a question of aging anymore; that people might even be able to live for who knows how long, or forever.
Basically what they’re talking about is implanting chips and replacement parts in people’s bodies for body parts that wear out—they can do this even at birth—so that you won’t wear those things out. Now, I don’t want to get into some weird area of conspiracy or control in some way, but you know, if you’re a corporate guy and you’re in control of some worldwide corporation that runs and sells everything, you don’t want people saying, “I don’t think I’ll buy that.” That’s not economically good. You want everyone to say, “I’ll buy that new product and I’m happy to have it.” Why not just plant the chip in there to begin with. Do you see what I’m driving at? The novels we were discussing, these were prophetic novels.
Jacobson: But Mike. The solution from my point of view, the only answer to this, to rise above the fears, is the soul, is G-d. It comes down to that. If ever there was a time that we need G-d to be free, it’s now. Because once upon a time, the battle was with evil forces that were oppressive. They literally did not allow you to read what you wanted to read, they did not allow you to pray as you wished to pray, to educate your children as you wished. You couldn’t move about freely from place to place.
So today there is mind control in a very powerful way, but the soul is free if it wants to be. And it comes down to this. I’ll take another scenario. Imagine all these mega-mergers weren’t happening and there were billions of companies, with everything being completely fragmented. Do you think that human beings would be less conformist? Conformity is still an individual choice, it’s the easy way out when you don’t have an identity.
Let’s put it very simply: an identity crisis is really the issue at hand. When your parents did not give you an identity when you grew up because they didn’t have one, they’re insecure, and their insecurity was projected upon you as a child, and you go out into a world and look for your identity in a magazine, well, your identity depends on what page you’re looking at. Every ad has a different type of identity. And you’re in a world where there are a lot of identity-less people—what’s happening is that there’s no choice but to conform to the mass mentality because you want to belong, you want to have some type of security.
Now we all know that security is a complete farce because it gives you nothing: you have to play by the rules and if you don’t, you’re out.
It’s all the result of lacking security in our individuality. I know why I’m here. And I will use AOL Time Warner products when I want to use them because they benefit my individual search for meaning; for G-d.
If they don’t, I won’t buy their products. And when you’re intelligent and knowledgeable enough to know how to pick knowledge—you know, there’s a thing called objective knowledge—we have minds. The mind is supposed to be a processor. So we can say, “You know, Time Warner is producing very good products, but some of them are complete garbage. I don’t want to see them; I don’t want my children to view them. There are other things that are very good quality.”
It’s like going to a bookstore and buying a book published, say by Random House, which publishes I don’t know how many books a year—90% of which may be pure trash from our perspective. But one book can be a really good book.
Now, this has been the question about publishers as well. Who decides what books should be published in America? It’s a few individuals, we know that.
Feder: Barnes & Noble.
Jacobson: It’s a few individuals, and money is a big factor, commercialization. I wrote a book so I’m very familiar with part of the business. Are the best authors being published? Are the best people who can communicate and share a message of hope for people today, fiction or non-fiction, being published?
No, it’s whom you know. It’s that mazal thing, a matter of luck. If you met the right agent, the right publisher, someone to really stand behind you. But to just paint a negative picture of publishers that way doesn’t help anything, because we’re not going to change it. And if you did change it, we’d say, okay, instead of these publishers, we’ll appoint someone else. So they may be even more corrupt. They may have even a lower common denominator of what they’d decide to publish.
Feder: The British have this phrase called a “level playing field.” And it’s not just an upper-class comment, it’s a certain ethical construct. For example, at the behest of a group of booksellers, the government sued Barnes & Nobles and a bunch of publishers because they found out that the major publishers were bribing Barnes & Nobles with tens of thousands of dollars to place books that they wanted to sell in front of the store and hide the other books in the back someplace. And this was considered unfair.
From an economic point of view and from these conglomerates points of view, you’re saying that an individual has to make choices all the time and be responsible. Correct. You’re responsible for your own soul and for your own choices. Yet if everything that comes into your five senses is so controlled, it becomes even harder and more of a challenge than it ever was to choose objectively what you really want. Would you agree?
Jacobson: I’m glad you put it that way. Regarding the five senses, yes. But you have something that’s beyond your five senses, and that nobody can give you.
Feder: Or take away.
Jacobson: Exactly. And that’s the key to all this. We live in a sensory world, which means that 99.99% of our activities involves our sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. That’s how we relate empirically to this tangible world.
But there’s a super-sensory dimension, which is who you are. Because remember, Mike, if you shut your eyes now, and all the listeners can try that as an exercise at home right now, if you shut your eyes and close your ears, and don’t use your senses of taste, touch and smell, what would be left?
So initially, the thought may be terrifying, because you may think that you would disappear. But no. Do you know what would be left? Your soul. Your individual you. The one that’s not controlled by Time Warner or AOL or by Microsoft, or by anybody.
Feder: I’ll bet if 99% of the people listening right now did that right now, provided they’re not in a car, they would become very scared and very confused.
Jacobson: Yes. But let’s follow through. We would become scared and confused because we are so accustomed to these tools. But let’s see what would happen for a moment. Remember, you don’t need eyes to see yourself and you don’t need ears to hear yourself, you don’t need taste, touch and smell to experience yourself. They’re only really, as it’s called in Jewish thought, gates between you and the world around you.
You need eyes to see others or for them to see you. You need ears to hear others or for them to hear you. Taste, touch and smell are in the same category. What you’re left with is an individual personality, and the fear that you’re describing is that we’ve not been taught how to nurture that part of ourselves. So we know how to nurture our eyes, or at least that’s what’s being sold to us. Watch this program. Read this magazine. Look at these pictures. Come visit us here.
We’re told what we should listen to. But that tool that I’ll call the spirit or the soul, that super-sensory dimension, is something that no one really teaches us in a formal way how to cultivate; not in education or at home. So what happens is it gets lost in the shuffle.
But what’s getting lost? You. The real you is getting lost in the shuffle. Your eyes, ears and other senses should only be enhancers of your individual experiences. Instead, they become the end in itself. It’s like the shovel being more important than the hand using it. Or like the glove being more important than the hand that goes in the glove, as if what you see is more important than the essence of what you see.
And there becomes a divorce, a dichotomy, between who you are and what you do and what you’re involved in. True, you’re involved in what others are exposing you to. If you want to entertain yourself on television, you don’t have a choice to watch what you like. There are only so many programs, for good or for bad.
However, real freedom will never come through your senses. Because let’s say the programming on television was top quality, excellent. Let’s say, for some reason, the most benevolent, spiritual person became the chairman of this megacorporation. He or she still cannot give you your soul. He can make sure that you have enough information to help you choose, and it’s open enough and it’s not driven purely by the lowest common denominator and sleaze and so on, but this still can’t give you your soul.
All he can give you are tools. Even in the best scenario. And the way he gives you those tools is in the same manner that a parent or a good educator gives a child tools and says, “Here are the tools, now you still have to discover yourself. All I can give you is information.”
Really I see this whole media world, we’ve been calling it mega-corporations, as essentially tools. And yes, the tool has become more important than the individual and that’s why we need to enter into a new age in which the rules will be rewritten.
Because if people do reclaim their soul, and then they see that television is superficial and not addressing their inner needs, then they will have the option to tell you what they want to see because they know what they want. But how many people can say that they know what they want?
For example, if you took a poll and asked, “What would you like to see on Time Warner programming?” so Mike Feder would say one thing and Simon Jacobson would say another thing, and I’m sure every listener would say something else. One would say, I want more wrestling, and this one would say, no, I want more programming of another sort. But it would all be based on previous paradigms, not on a new paradigm of what do you want? What does your soul want? What do you really want to see?
Feder: Let’s take a break here, because I think the merger of two powerful corporations, you and me right now, have actually lost the individual listener in the shuffle. So we’re going to see if the individual listener is out there right now and ask that people call in so we can get your calls and comments on this issue. The number is 212-244-1050. If you wish to get in touch with us further, or express your opinions, there’s another number you can call: 1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646). You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and don’t forget our website which is www.meaningfullife.com where you can download transcripts of these radio programs.
Okay, we have Gary from Brooklyn on the line.
Caller: I was at a meeting last night (I live in Park Slope and they just opened up a Starbucks) and this person was saying that instead of walking in Prospect Park he feels this need to go into Starbucks. And I just think it’s about consciousness raising which is what the Rabbi was saying. We can make our individual choices and we don’t need to be manipulated by what we think is the latest fad and what we think is going to soothe us.
Feder: So you have no fears about what’s going on? Your individual soul is intact and good shape for you?
Caller: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s totally in shape, but I think that one has to be aware of one’s choices and just see through the illusions that are being sold to us.
Jacobson: It’s definitely true. I’m not in any way trying to minimize the challenges that arise when companies and those who control programming and so on create a culture that definitely makes it more difficult to discover our individuality. Yet, that just accentuates the challenge that lies before us as parents and educators of really looking deeper into our own souls and finding a soul language. All these tools and technology should simply serve our soul language.
Feder: And you’re saying that one day it will—that we’re on the verge of this?
Jacobson: It’s going to have to happen, because people are going to be terrified, as you voiced today, and there’s going to be a collision and an uproar. When a paradigm changes, even when we’re still living by old paradigm rules, the new paradigm dictates a change that brings new rules. That’s the beauty, in a way, that ultimately the truth will emerge, like what will work for people, or what doesn’t work.
Feder: Okay, we have a call from Shifra.
Caller: Hi, Rabbi. I was listening very attentively since the very beginning, and my question is this. As a lay person, and given this kind of pattern that’s happening, we as little people, I can’t understand how that’s going to affect me. Could you give me an example? When we speak about our neshamah, or our inner soul, or to choose, the filtering down will be so subtle, how is this going to affect the masses?
I believe that in our type of environment, there’s a great opportunity for a community of souls to commune with each other. When you email your friend today, you have a choice what you can email. You can email garbage and baloney, or you can talk about something that’s this type of soul language we’ve been talking about.
Feder: So it always does come down to individual responsibility.
Jacobson: It does. And this is part of our choices. See, I’m an optimist. I have faith in human dignity, in the Divine image in which we were created. So I believe that that Divine image will ultimately surface, despite all the challenges.
And yes, with these mega-mergers, perhaps one company will suddenly take over all of them because it’s so wealthy, and this will suddenly wake everyone up. Not that there’s something essentially wrong with that merger, but just a description of the current state of affairs. It will just force us to take a look at ourselves in a new way.
Feder: Okay, we have Dalia on the line.
Caller: Good evening. Last night I was driving down the BQE; I was really content and happy and my soul was peaceful…
Jacobson: On the BQE your soul was peaceful?
Caller: You know, contented. I was driving and all of a sudden this huge McDonald’s sign just popped up. It was so bright. I felt like my energy was disrupted; I started to feel violated. How can we protect ourselves from things like that? That sign was so violating.
Feder: I am so glad you called, because that’s exactly what I’m trying to express. Tell me, how to you deal with the fact that it’s in your face and in your ears, almost inside your brain every second?
Jacobson: Well Dalia, that’s a great question, whether it’s a McDonald’s sign or some other sign. It’s not easy to answer but I’m going to try to put it in somewhat of a mystical context. If a soul, before it came down to this earth, when G-d sent a soul into life on earth, it could have been much easier for every one of our souls to just live in a world where there were no McDonald’s and there were no billboards, and none of these huge corporations, and then we wouldn’t have this conversation altogether, because the habitat would be one that was completely like a womb, a womb-like environment.
We have to see (in your case the McDonald’s sign) as symbolic of the challenges of life in general. The Bible puts it this way: that when the Scouts went into Israel and saw what was going on they said, “It’s a land that consumes its inhabitants.” Because Dalia, if it wasn’t a McDonald’s sign, it would be something else that violates us.
We live in a materialistic world that is constantly bombarding us with images and self-interest, trying to sell us things. You noticed the McDonald’s sign, but maybe you don’t notice those subtle colors and subliminal messages in a department store, or in a supermarket, that cause you to buy different brands, as they are able to affect us that way.
So we’re constantly bombarded, and I agree that it’s a violation, but I think that at the same time we have the power to not just withstand it, but to thrive. You know, there’s an analogy given for this: When water is rushing down the river and you build a dam that in a sense is resistance, the water just builds more pressure. So your sense of violation and your outrage, and mine as well, should be translated not into negative energy by sending sharp letters to our senators or congressmen, but it should be translated into ways to reinforce that serenity that you were experiencing. Not that you won’t notice the McDonald’s sign next time, but you’ll see it almost as being a catalyst for us to wake up, like a wake-up call and seeing it as the challenge ultimately for our lives.
For instance, when your body beckons that you’re hungry, but you at that point want to meditate or you want some spiritual serenity, you can say that’s also a violation. Not in the same way, obviously—a McDonald’s sign is the choice of a corporation—but it’s a violation because our material body suddenly reminds us that you can’t just be a soul, you can’t just be spiritual, you can’t just be spending time with your family all day because you have to go to work to earn a living, you have to go out into the world and face material challenges.
So life’s challenges can be seen as violations or they can be seen as catalysts or challenges for us to rise to the occasion, and they just reinforce us and make us stronger spiritual people. That’s how I see it.
Feder: Okay, thanks for your call. And stare straight ahead going down the BQE—you don’t have to look at that sign! We have individual rights.
Okay, next week our guest will be Stephen Dubner who is the editor of Toward a Meaningful Life, the book upon which this program is based. Stephen has written his own book called Turbulent Souls. The topic will be, “Can Children Survive Parents Who Claim to Know the Absolute Truth?”
We have David on the line.
Caller: I enjoy your show very much and I just wanted to respond to Dalia who called before. I think we have to be careful to realize that the reactions that people have to these signs or symbols can vary from one individual to another. For example, she was offended by the sign, but it’s possible that somebody else who may have been driving all night and is hungry sees that sign and is thrilled by it! So I think that at the same time we are trying to criticize these large corporations for being impersonal, we also have to realize that our own feelings may not be universal for everybody else.
Feder: Excellent point, David.
Jacobson: A very excellent point. And I think in all fairness, to myself and to you Mike and to the callers, we’re definitely not preaching any type of excessive extremes that we should destroy all corporations; destroy all companies. Because in the big picture, the fact is that the standard of living is a higher one, this country is experiencing a period of prosperity, there are comforts that we have that you and I, Mike, continuously benefit from. So I don’t think that we’re talking about extremes, we’re talking about the elusive balance of individuality in the face of mass production. There aren’t too many people who are going to consider the Industrial Revolution a curse. The curse develops if it becomes excessive, if it depersonalizes us. But as I stated earlier, before the Industrial Revolution, before there was mass production, it was easier to hold onto your individuality, because your home was more significant, your community…
Feder: Well, there was more space, more privacy…
Jacobson: But at the same time, the Industrial Revolution, like anything in science and technology (as I write in my book Toward a Meaningful Life) is essentially neutral like a kitchen knife. Is a kitchen knife healthy or destructive? It depends what you use it for. It’s the same with atomic energy; it’s the same with computers. The same with any type of tool.
It’s unbelievable today how medical breakthroughs can save lives. Yet there’s always that fear of genetic manipulation, of going too far, starting to play G-d. So our show is dedicated to trying to make us aware of the challenges and in addition to try to find the balance. So David’s point is really well taken, and Dalia’s point as well.
We live in a world where there is a duality, a tension between matter and spirit, and that battle is pronounced when there is a merger like AOL Time Warner, because we suddenly see how powerful that’s becoming. So what we have to figure out is how to counter that with an equally powerful spiritual response.
Feder: On an individual or a collective level?
Jacobson: Individual, because collectively we don’t trust any one group to suddenly define how to discover your soul, or else it will become another corporation.
Feder: But with all due respect to the historical antecedents of America, Ben Franklin said if we all don’t hang together, we’ll all hang separately. So in fact it’s all very nice to be individually concerned and to look inside ourselves, but if we don’t join together with that message to them, then maybe nothing will come of it either.
Jacobson: Correct. And I think that the challenge really is on an individual basis, ultimately. It’s very hard to speak to groups about this. You can speak to groups but you want to speak to individuals and say, “Look, take control of your life. Take control of your soul; take control of your heart. What enters it is up to you. You don’t have to be a victim just because the television is producing all kinds of programming, it doesn’t mean you have to sit and watch it all day.”
I’m not defending inferior type of programming, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the same statement that you hear, where the people who are producing this kind of low common denominator programming say, “It’s your choice to shut it off.” They’re feeding into that part of human beings. That’s not what I’m saying.
I’m speaking to individuals, as individuals, that you have to take control. Remember, your life begins with your soul. And your body and what it listens to and what it reads and what it watches…
Feder: What it eats…
Jacobson: What it eats, what it consumes… The saying goes, “You are what you eat.” You also assume what you consume. We can coin that here!
Feder: Well, I think that was a pretty good running jump at the problem. You can’t solve these huge issues obviously in a brief span of time, but it was a good discussion.
Jacobson: Oh, I thought we were going to solve it here once and for all and retire.
Feder: One big merger and that would be the end of everything, right? Okay, so you have been listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. This is Mike Feder. Let me just reidentify who we are. This is WEVD 1050AM in New York. We’re on the air every Sunday evening from 6-7pm. You can reach the Meaningful Life Center with your questions and comments at 1-800-3MEANING or write to the Meaningful Life Center at 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11213.
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One more bit of information. The Rabbi has a class which he’s had for many years now where he expounds on many types of spiritual subjects from a spiritual point of view. It’s on Wednesday nights at 8pm at 346 West 89th St. in Manhattan (corner Riverside Drive).
We’ve said about everything there is to say, but maybe you have one more comment to make. We’re struggling around in this big, mass-conglomerated world. What do we do as individuals tonight, this evening, when we turn off the radio?
Jacobson: Well it’s interesting. We use radio. I don’t know if theis radio station is owned in some way by Time Warner.
Feder: Could be.
Jacobson: That would be interesting. I think it goes back to basics, which sounds so simple, but at the same time so difficult, so elusive, which is maybe to try tonight to shut your eyes and ears, taste, touch and smell, before you go to sleep (don’t read a newspaper, turn off the TV) and focus in on the soul that you have. Put yourself to sleep knowing that you can begin ushering in this new age, instead of a materialistic age, a spiritual age in your own personal life. It all begins with a microcosm. You know, Mike, if one person can do it, ten people can. If ten people can do it, a thousand people can. And if you get small groups… I think you have to look at yourself and ask “How can I recapture my soul? What can I do to feed and nourish my soul?” And the basic elements are essentially three pillars that the Torah always teaches us will nurture our soul. Number one is through knowledge, through study. Dedicate a time to study, focus in on understanding what a soul is, what your purpose is, meaningful study. The second thing is prayer, which is more of an emotional type of meditation. And finally good deeds, implementing and concretizing it in actual good deeds of kindness to strangers or to people you know.
Some of us are very good to strangers and terrible to our own close ones. Some of us are the other way around. Go against the grain of your habits and just extend yourself.
Those things nourish your soul. Believe it or not, these simple things actually feed your soul; they’re not just the right thing to do. And they make your soul stronger and build your immune system to handle the McDonald’s signs and AOL Time Warner mergers, and so on.
I just want to say on a personal note, I’m always very excited to do a show with you, Mike, particularly a topic like this which touches on a contemporary issue, and I look forward to doing many more shows with you. I’m also particularly excited about next week’s show with Stephen Dubner. I have a personal relationship with him and we’ll be talking a little about his background. He was born to two Jewish parents who converted to Catholicism before he was born and he has returned to his Judaism. I hope everyone tunes in.
Feder: Okay. Thank you very much.