“Secret teachings aren’t ones that teachers keep to themselves. Secret teachings are ones that teachers have a hard time giving away.”

“Vision is the flowing river. Programs are sticks set in the riverbed to impede the flow. What I’m saying is that the world will not be saved by people with programs. If the world is saved, it will be saved because the people living in it have a new vision.”

“The point I want to make here is that I have no idea what people with changed minds will do. Paul was in the same condition as he traveled the empire changing minds in the middle of the first century. He couldn’t possibly have predicted the institutional development of the papacy or the shape of Christian society in feudal Europe. By contrast, the early science fiction writer Jules Verne could make a century’s worth of excellent predictions, because nothing changed between his time and ours in terms of vision. If people in the coming century have a new vision, then they’ll do what is completely unpredictable by us. Indeed, if this were not the case–if their actions were predictable by us–then this would prove that they didn’t have a new vision after all, that their vision and ours were essentially the same.”

“Gunpowder,” B said, “is a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur, and I suppose you know that if any one of these ingredients is missing, then the mixture isn’t explosive.”
“Of course.”
“As an explosive mixture, our culture also consists of three essential ingredients, and if any one of them had been missing, no explosion would have taken place here on this planet. We’ve already identified two of the ingredients: totalitarian agriculture and the belief that ours is the one right way. The third is of course the Great Forgetting.”

“There once was a universal religion on this planet, Jared,” B said. “Were you aware of that?”
I said I wasn’t.
“Audiences are almost always amazed by this news. Occasionally someone will think I’m referring to what is sometimes called the ‘Old Religion’–paganism, Wicca–but of course I’m not. In the first place, paganism isn’t old. It’s a farmer’s religion through and through, which means it’s just a few thousand years old, and of course it was never a universal religion, for the simple reason that farming was never universal. Very often–almost invariably, in fact–no one will even recognize the name of the religion I’m talking about, which of course is animism. They’ve literally never heard of it.”

“Someone inevitably asks why I speak of gods rather than one God, as if I simply hadn’t been informed on this matter and was speaking in error, and I ask them how they happen to know the number of the gods. Sometimes I’m told this is just something ‘everyone’ knows, the way everyone knows there are twenty-four hours in a day. Sometimes I’m told God must be one, because this seems to us the most ‘enlightened’ number for God to be–as if the facts don’t count in this particular case. This is like reasoning that the earth must be the center of the universe, because no other place makes as much sense. Most often, of course, I’m told this is an undoubtable number, since it’s the number given in monotheistic scriptures. Needless to say, I have a rather different take on the whole matter. The number of the gods is written nowhere in the universe, Jared, so there’s really no way to decide whether that number is zero (as atheists believe) or one (as monotheists believe) or many (as polytheists believe). The matter is one of complete indifference to me. I don’t care whether the number of the gods is one, zero, or nine billion. If it turned out that the number of the gods is zero, this wouldn’t cause me to alter a single syllable of what I’ve said to you.”

“The Law of Life in a single word is: abundance.” When no more was forthcoming, I asked if she’d elaborate on that a bit.<P>”A useful exercise would be for you to go back to the mouse carcass and bring back one of the beetles. Then I’d have you pick off a couple dozen of the beetle’s phoretic mites so you could examine them under a microscope.”
“What would I learn from that?”
“You’d learn that each mite–such an inconsiderable creature!–is a work of so much delicacy, perfection, and complexity that it makes a digital computer look like a pair of pliers. Then you’d learn something even more amazing, that, for all their perfection, they aren’t stamped out of a mold. No two of them are alike–no two in all the mighty universe, Jared!”
“And this would be a demonstration of . . . abundance?”
“That’s right. This fantastic genetic abundance is life’s very secret of success on this planet.”

“The religions I just mentioned–the revealed religions–are fundamentally wed to our cultural vision, and I use the word wed advisedly. These religions are like a harem of sanctimonious wives married to a greedy, loutish sensualist of a husband. They’re forever trying to improve him, forever hoping to get his mind on ‘higher things,’ forever bawling him out and shaking their fingers at him, but husband and harem are in fact completely inseparable. These revealed religions clearly function as our ‘better half.’ They’re the highest expression of our cultural vision.”

“To flip a coin and bet on heads is to enter the domain of the gods. To draw a card to a four-card straight flush is to enter the domain of the gods. To read the marks on this patch of earth and begin a hunt is to enter the domain of the gods. And when the coin turns up heads, when the fifth card fills your straight flush, and when the hunt succeeds, it doesn’t matter whether you believe in one god, a thousand gods, or no gods at all, you know that the universe has taken notice of you, that you’ve been in touch with the fountainhead of meaning and being.”

“A few years ago, when I began speaking to audiences, I had the rather naive idea that it would be sufficient–indeed entirely sufficient–to say each thing exactly once. Only gradually did I understand that saying a thing once is tantamount to saying it not at all. It is indeed sufficient for people to hear the laws of thermodynamics once, and to understand that they’re written down somewhere, should they ever be needed again, but there are other truths, of a different human order, that must be enunciated again and again and again– in the same words and in different words: again and again and again.”

“Crimes are what the state defines as crimes. Trespassing is a crime, but interrupting is not, and we therefore have two entirely different ways of handling them–which people in tribal societies do not. Whatever the trouble is, whether it’s bad manners or murder, they handle it themselves, the way you handle the interrupter. Evoking the power of the state isn’t an option for them, because they have no state. In tribal societies, crime simply doesn’t exist as a separate category of human behavior.”

“Crime made its appearance during the dawning age of literacy. What this means is that, as soon as people started to write, they started writing laws; this is because writing enabled them to do something they hadn’t been able to do before. Writing enabled them to define in exact, fixed terms the behaviors they wanted the state to regulate, punish, and suppress.”

“It can happen that circumstances may shatter a culture’s vision of its place in the scheme of things, may render its mythology meaningless, may strangle its song. When this happens (and it’s happened many times), things fall apart in this culture. Order and purpose are replaced by chaos and bewilderment. People lose the will to live, become listless, become violent, become suicidal, and take to drink, drugs, and crime. The matrix that once held all in place is now shattered, and laws, customs, and institutions fall into disuse and disrespect, especially among the young, who see that even their elders can no longer make sense of them. If you’d like to study some peoples who have been destroyed in this way, there’s no shortage of sites to visit in the United States, Africa, South America, New Guinea, Australia–wherever, in fact, aboriginal peoples have been crushed under the wheels of our cultural juggernaut.”
“Or you can just stay at home.”

“We’re experiencing cultural collapse. The very same collapse that was experienced by the Plains Indians when their way of life was destroyed and they were herded onto reservations. The very same collapse that was experienced by countless aboriginal peoples overrun by us in Africa, South America, Australia, New Guinea, and elsewhere. It matters not that the circumstances of the collapse were different for them and for us, the results were the same. For both of us, in just a few decades, shocking realities invalidated our vision of the world and made nonsense of a destiny that had always seemed self-evident. For both of us, the song we’d been singing from the beginning of time suddenly died in our throats.”

“We are not humanity. I want you to understand what these four words are. They are a summary of all that was forgotten during the Great Forgetting. I mean that quite literally. At the end of the Great Forgetting, when the people of our culture began to build civilization in earnest, those four words were practically unthinkable. In a sense, that’s what the Great Forgetting was all about: We forgot that we’re only a single culture and came to think of ourselves as humanity itself.”