Posted inEcodharma, Other Teachings

Awareness Bound and Unbound, by David Loy, Part 3 of 3

October 3, 2015

What does it really mean for awareness to be here-and-now, de-conditioned from attention traps both individual and collective?


Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of Awareness Bound and Unbound

The Control of Attention

Dictatorships control people with violence and the threat of it, to restrain what they do. Modern democracies control people with sophisticated propaganda, by manipulating what they think. We worry about weapons of mass destruction, but perhaps we should be as concerned about weapons of mass deception (and weapons of mass distraction). The disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq would never have been possible without carefully orchestrated attempts to make the public anxious about dangers that did not exist. It was easy to do because 9/11 made us fearful, and fearful people are more susceptible to manipulation.

Traditionally rulers used religious ideologies to justify their power. In pre-modern Europe the Church supported the “divine right” of kings. In Buddhist societies karma was sometimes used to rationalize the ruler’s authority and the powerlessness of his oppressed subjects: your present social status is a consequence of your past deeds. In modern secular societies, however, acquiescence must be molded in different ways.

According to Alex Carey, the twentieth century was characterized by three important political developments: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of propaganda as a way protect corporate power against democracy.

Although corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution — the founding fathers were wary of them — corporate power began to expand dramatically towards the end of the nineteenth century, so successfully that today there is little effective distinction between major corporations and the federal government. Both identify wholeheartedly with the same goal of continuous economic growth, regardless of its social or ecological effects. We are repeatedly told that any unfortunate consequences from this growth obsession can be solved with more economic growth.

The Liberation of Collective Attention

Who should decide what happens to our attention? Rowe concludes that we need a new freedom movement, to “battle for the cognitive commons. If we have no choice regarding what fills our attention, then we really have no choice at all.” From a Buddhist perspective, we also need an alternative understanding of what our attention is and what practices promote its liberation.

What does it really mean for awareness to be here-and-now, de-conditioned from attention traps both individual and collective?

Is awareness to be valued as a means to some other end, or should we cherish its liberation as the most valuable goal of all?

By David Loy, originally published as Awareness Bound and Unbound in the Huffington Post, March 3, 2014

Image Credit: Sunset, by Geralt, CC0 Public Domain, from
Featured Image: Spiral, by Alexis_Fotos, CC0 Public Domain, from

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