An Interview with Dr. Dieter Duhm
This interview is the first in a 17-part series and forthcoming book entitled The Deschooling Dialogues: Wisdom from the Front Lines of the Battle Against the Western Mind edited by Alnoor Ladha (AL). He is an activist, author and the Executive Director of The Rules, a global collective of activists focused on addressing the root causes of inequality, poverty and climate change. Dr. Dieter Duhm (DD) is a sociologist, psychoanalyst, historian and author. He is a co-founder of Tamera, a peace research center in southwestern Portugal. He is the author of the bestselling book Fear in Capitalism and most recently Terra Nova: Global Revolution and the Healing of Love.
AL: Firstly, I want to express my deep gratitude for Tamera, for the pioneering research you are doing here, and for doing this work for so long, in the face of a slow-moving, defensive culture. This is my third time here and every time I’m back, I feel more immersed in the field that you’ve co-created. There are two related questions that I want to start with: (1) how do we expand this field of healing and solidarity, both vertically and horizontally (2) and what do you think needs to happen globally in order for these ideas to become widely accepted?
DD: Thank you for being here. What has to be done to spread the ideas for an intact Earth are two things: first, the proper utilization of our global information system – the Internet and other media – for spreading basic information in service of human liberation from the existing systems of political power. That is one global track we need to establish everywhere, in a language that can be understood everywhere. At the same time, there is another level where certain groups on Earth transform their inner system of life, where the inner issues of sex, love, partnership, community, authority, power are being solved. These are groups that find this place of truth within themselves and between each other, where all those interpersonal struggles are being worked on. We need both, the two levels – the new groups for this inner anchor and a global information field for the anchor in the world.
AL: Is it possible that this can happen in the next twenty years? Are you hopeful?
DD: I only know that this is absolutely necessary. I personally am hopeful but I realize how long this kind of change takes. Building the global field for the new information has so far always failed due to the conflicts within the groups. I have for many years been active in the Marxist movement, in the German student movement. I realized we can never establish the Marxist struggle against the imperialist economy so long as people in the movement fight each other. It’s been the same for fifty years.
Sculpture shows the sign for Tamera and the Healing Biotopes Plan at the shore of Tamera’s big lake.
I believe that we, as humanity, are at a place in our evolution where the shift can happen really quickly. We are in the midst of a transformational process that is accelerating exponentially. Many people are already experiencing this transformation. We are reaching the point where we can start to communicate about this and share wisdom among these new nodal points of change. In that sense, I am hopeful.
AL: Yes, hope seems to be the only path. Despair is a luxury for the privileged. There’s the old Buckminster Fuller line: we have a choice between utopia or oblivion. Do you think our option set is this binary?
DD: Buckminster Fuller was totally right in this place. Either we come to utopia or we will perish. There is no third way. A large part of our intellectual culture tries to find a third path, like the Social Democratic parties. They neither want concrete utopia nor to perish, but there is no other way. We are globally at the place of total decision. Humanity is unequivocally at this decision-making point.
AL: In some ways, the reformists and the liberals are more the problem than the Rightwing reactionaries. I’m sure you’re familiar with Oscar Wilde’s line from The Soul of Man Under Socialism where he said that the worst slave owners were the ones who treated their slaves well because they actually removed their conditions for emancipation.
DD: Intelligent, violent rule uses sugar, and only afterwards the whip. First, they feed you sugar so you will obey; however, if you don’t obey, you will be eliminated. In that regard, the statement is true but only partially so. I am still glad that slaves aren’t treated as brutally. Sometimes I’m happy that there is still a liberal system in Germany. It’s difficult to accept, but in some ways, those are the buffers that still save us from the worst at the moment. It doesn’t matter how hypocritical they are. This is still a buffer for the existing society so that not everything falls into catastrophe right away.
AL: What were the key moments that allowed you to arrive at your personal philosophy? How did you become free – intellectually, spiritually, etc.?
DD: My childhood was difficult. After the Second World War, my family had to flee from Berlin to Southern Germany, and when we got there, near Lake Constance, the parents told their children, “Drive out those refugee children.” The parents had nothing to eat and the neighbors vented their anger against us. And the neighbor’s children persecuted us. They treated us in an incredibly terrible way. They undressed us and threw us into the nettles and put tar on us. They tied us to a pole and threw shit at us, and such things. There wasn’t the possibility for a refugee child to get out of this situation. And at the same time, I kept going back to these strawberries, and the flowers in the fields. And the little Viola flowers at the side of the cereal fields. This was my home, in Nature, and this is where I encountered God. And through these experiences I knew, in addition to the cruelty of this world, there is healing, there is this higher power, and I followed it.
I always wanted to go back to Nature, to the places where there were no people so I could find this connection with God again. Until God told me, “Now you need to go to the people”. And so, I learned to do that too.
AL: This connection between struggle and liberation and politics and spirituality, how do you see this playing out in the global political field? What needs to happen?
DD: We need to enter into the universal field of healing, of life, in which all living beings are interconnected. We call this field the “sacred matrix.” We need to know that. We need to know that, for example, the peace community of San José de Apartadó [based in Colombia], are connected with this healing field. And then we need a group of people here that comes together in that knowledge and sends them a message. A message that reminds the people over there, telling them, “You are part of this healing field.”
Healing also consists of connecting with this healing field itself. That is the miracle of Life. What we need to do is to globalize the miracle of Life. Yes, we need to globalize the miracle of life. The original power field of Life has to be opened to the whole planet. It is of course there anyway, but we need to connect with it consciously. We need to activate it by manifesting it in real communities. That’s a political task of a new kind. If a small but critical mass does this, then the global healing field will be activated. It’s very simple and very possible, and of course, we have no other choice but to make this happen.
AL: In some ways, this is the message for the ones who want to listen, but what would you say to the power elites, the one percenters?
DD: We don’t need to tell them anything special. We want to create a global morphogenetic field based on the sacred matrix that’s capable of overcoming the existing system. The other thing is – the members of the “one percent” are also just humans. Some of them will realize early enough that it’s good to change sides and support the new system. In the gatherings we are hosting in Portugal, Colombia and the United States, we often have high-ranking representatives of the existing system who know very well that global capitalism has become untenable. We have to build a public lobby that can be heard, a lobby that’s a bit stronger than the NGO complex and is focused on supporting Life.
We need to set an example in the public conscience for an efficient political power which is no longer an opposition, neither inside nor outside of parliament. This belongs to the past. Le Corbusier, the famous architect, said, “We make the revolution by offering the solution.” So, lets find a group of influential people that collaborate in the solution.
AL: I’d like to pivot to a more controversial question: what do you think the role of psychedelics are in the revolution?
DD: Humanity has had a culture of sacraments, medicines and drugs throughout history. We need a sensible continuation of the global traditions of medicine that we’ve had all over the Earth. The question is: which plants, and under which circumstances?
I think that groups that want to reconnect with the universal consciousness should work with the helping agents in a very conscious and ritualistic way. This is how it’s always been. In most cultures, a symbiotic relationship with medical plants is normal. What is abnormal is the life we are leading in the West, the mental sickness of our times, and the collective abuse of the sacred plants.
We now need to translate the experiential content of the medicine work and shamanic practices into real social structures and continuous Life practices, into genuine spirituality.
AL: Let’s transition to what might seem a more banal question in a place like Tamera. I know you spend a lot of time exploring the role of Eros here. Why do you think that the Left resists it so much?
DD: This may sound like I’m avoiding the question but bear with me. It could be related to the biography of certain key characters in the historical trajectory of the Left. For example, Karl Marx had a housekeeper, a woman, where he lived in Trier, that he desired for years. As he was walking up and down his carpet, developing his thoughts, he was probably deeply repressed [laughter]. He couldn’t deal with his own sexuality. And he’s just one of many unembodied men who transposed their pathologies into their writings, in the cannon of Leftist thought.
Leftist dogma has been so limited by Dialectical Materialism. The theory didn’t leave any space for the woman, for the body, for Eros. They really believed that with their concept of political economy, they would be able to change the world. But it was written by a sexually repressed young Marx in Trier, to the foibles and limitations of human experience. It’s incredible how much global movements or ideas can be bound to a single person.
AL: I can only imagine what it must have been like in post-World War II Germany, being as liberated as you were, to hold these types of ideas. Now, forty years later, do you feel like the world is catching up or do you feel a mounting sense of frustration?
DD: I didn’t know that it would take so much time. I was totally frustrated for many years, yes.I couldn’t relate to most of my comrades in Germany, and I don’t think they understood my ideas. When I wrote the book Fear in Capitalism in 1972, it became a best-seller, and was widely read among Leftist circles in Germany. I thought that was an opening to a broader discourse. But all of the books that followed were just rejected. It was a collective rejection. It was a defense against specific insights in the realm of sexuality and our inner driving powers. They were based on a different emphasis than simply rational economics.
My thoughts didn’t fit with the thoughts of consensus culture. I felt like a singularity. I was a lone rider, a crazy. Year after year, I needed to see how I could stay faithful to my path, how I could continue. And Sabine helped me (Sabine Lichtenfels is Dieter’s life partner and the co-founder of Tamera].
I was never just simply frustrated though. It was more complex than that. I knew at some point there would be a change and now the shift is happening, there is a lot of work to be done. And it’s exciting. There are many co-workers here who look forward to this work. Tamera and I are in a new situation. The next generation is taking the reins – they understand the critique of the existing system and they are embodying the solutions.
AL: Do you have any sense of regret, or lessons, in the way you’ve lived your political life?
DD: No, I don’t have regrets in a linear sense. Perhaps I wasn’t courageous enough in some ways. I regret that I had such a thin skin, that I didn’t have enough power to accelerate the process. I made so many mistakes that I don’t regret [laughter]. You know, if you’ve been misunderstood and harvest negative projections all the time, you get angry. You condemn other people, you go in this hostility state. I wish I didn’t treat anyone unjustly on this path. And if I did, well sometimes, there was no other way and I am sorry.
AL: For me and many activists of this next generation, we see what you’ve done as the hugely courageous and radical, especially in the context and era that you did it in.
DD: It’s hard to say.
At some point, I realized, my life is guided. I no longer needed to do the exercise of courage, but I needed to agree to what was required of me, the decisions that were required of me. The decision to step out of my profession, to give away my possessions, to let go of my marriage, and to do all these things at once was a decision I had to make. But I didn’t need courage. It was just like it was.
AL: So the courage to be carried and the courage to choose Life is the ultimate courage?
DD: Yes, if you want to say that. We do need that kind of courage, yes.
AL: What would your advice be to the next generation of radicals, revolutionaries, and mystics?
DD: To help establish the new infrastructure, the new systems. To help establish the network according to where your talents are and your joys. To help build communities around the world. The new system consists of these two tracks: the upper and the lower, the spiritual and the political. We must help create communication between these two tracks. We must create a new language that brings these two tracks together. And we must show our solidarity for the various resistances that are actively protecting the sacred. When communities in places like Standing Rock start to see that we are standing with them, they will see that they are embedded in an international community. Together we can reconnect with the original power field of Life. If we can start to believe again in this planetary community then a global field will arise in which Indigenous knowledge can come together with a futurological perspective. And that is a great vision to serve.
AL: Deep gratitude to you and Sabine, and thank you for blazing the trail for all of us.