Anything but Survival - Official Kabbalah Publication of the Bnei Baruch Kabbalah Education & Research Institute
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Anything but Survival

The game show, Survivor, is an excellent example of how not to behave in order to survive in our world. But are we—people of the world, stranded on planet Earth—really that different from the contestants on Survivor?

"It’s all strategy, like, nothing but strategy. If anyone comes up to you it’s like: “Hey, what’s your favorite music?”— They don’t care what that answer is. The next question is: “What’s the alliance? Who’s next?” ... For me, the game Survivor is the greatest game ever: It’s like “Ah, I feel that evil.” It’s just fun for me."

Contestant Johnny Fairplay,
Survivor, Micronesia, CBS Broadcasting Inc.

“In simple words, the nature of each and every person is to exploit the lives of all the world’s Creations for one’s own good. And everything that one gives to another—is only due to a necessity … And all the difference is in people’s choices: One chooses to exploit others by attaining low passions, the other by attaining governance, and the third by attaining honor.”

Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam),
“Peace in the World”

“Survivor.” At one time, this word evoked thoughts of someone heroically rising above adversity in order to live. We talk about survivors of the Holocaust or Russian gulags; there are cancer survivors and survivors of natural or man-made disasters. Today, however, the word brings to mind images of exotic beaches where skimpily clad women and men battle each other for a $1,000,000 grand prize. In 2002, Survivor was the top-rated series on American TV.

On the show, 16 to 20 people are divided into tribes and stranded in a remote location. They compete against each other in “challenges” and each night one member of the losing tribe is voted off the show. The numbers dwindle until only one tribe is left, and its members fight to be the last person standing—the grand prize winner.

In order to make it to the coveted final spot, alliances are forged and broken. As one player put it, “It’s a game of loyalty and deception.” Competitors lie, scheme, and steal to solidify their positions in the tribe. They will do almost anything to their “friends” to win that tempting $1,000,000 dangled before them.

Fiction or Reality?

So what is the appeal of the show, aside from the buxom beauties who grace the beaches? Viewers seem to relish seeing how low the contestants will sink in order to win. At the same time, there is an overtone of admiration for the one who proves most capable at manipulating events to his or her advantage. Is it possible that we are reacting to something deep within our own nature, something only partially concealed by the thin veneer of “civilization”?

As distasteful as it may sound, Survivor exaggerates our own tendencies and presents them under the trappings of “entertainment.” This is hardly surprising, as our culture is all about competition, where the ends justify the means. Look at the way we operate in every area, from sports to business to politics. Are we that different from those competitors on Survivor chasing after elusive prizes of money, power or fame?

“Partnering” has become a common buzzword in the business world. Airlines go into partnership with hotels to offer the best mileage programs, thus ensuring customer loyalty for both parties. Now ask yourself this: How long would these partnerships last if the airline saw no benefit from the partnership?

Companies encourage employees to be team players and support the company. Yet, when there is an economic downturn, these companies will not hesitate to fire the same employees who contributed to their success. No matter what it may be called, there is no partnership here—it is all about using others to gain personal advantage, just like the “alliances” formed on Survivor.

A presidential election in the United States looms just ahead—a perfect opportunity to observe the current political maneuverings. Democrats and Republicans usually vote along party lines to defeat each other. At election time, however, party cohesiveness disintegrates. In order to become the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will go to almost any lengths to attack each other. Once the nominee is decided, the party will again close ranks around the victor to try to combat the Republican nominee.

The whole system operates on a “What’s in it for me?” basis. As long as I benefit, I’ll team with anyone. Once the benefit is gone, watch out!

It may be hard to admit, but this attitude permeates all of our relationships, including personal ones. How do I identify someone as a friend? Well, a friend is someone I enjoy being with, someone who makes me feel good. In other words, it is a relationship where I benefit from being around the other person. As soon as the relationship stops making me feel good, it ends.

However, this is not a condemnation—it is merely an observation that we are being true to our nature as human beings. Unfortunately, this egoistic nature has also given rise to the hatred, competition and brutality that we find in the world today.

The Lucifer Effect

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn,
“The Gulag Archipelago”

In 1971, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment at Stanford University to examine the psychological effects of imprisonment. He and his staff selected 24 normal, well-adjusted male students who had no criminal backgrounds. Then, these students were randomly divided into two groups: One group would role play as “wardens” and the other group would be the “prisoners.”

Both groups were put into a simulated prison environment. The experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but it was stopped after only six days because the “wardens” turned sadistic and cruel and the “prisoners” experienced nervous breakdowns.

More than 30 years later, Zimbardo decried the circumstances that led to the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. American politicians tried to give excuses for the abuse, claiming that those responsible for the maltreatment were only a few “bad apples” in the military.

In a sharp response, a book titled The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo claimed the opposite, saying that under the right conditions, this could happen to any of us. In fact, the surprise would be to find a few “good apples” who could resist the evil inherent in us as human beings.

Cleansing the Human Condition

Given this depressing assessment, what kind of future can we, as humans, expect? It appears that our animalistic nature is getting stronger every day, while values such as compassion and love are losing ground. Are we destined to use each other until only one is left standing, as in Survivor?

In the early 1900s, Kabbalist Yehuda Ashlag, author of the Sulam (Ladder) commentary on The Book of Zohar, foresaw the results of Zimbardo’s experiment and many of the other atrocities happening in the world. He recognized that man is egoistic and driven by the desire for pleasure, even when that pleasure may be detrimental to someone else.

Ashlag assured us, however, that there is a solution. The science of Kabbalah, which has existed for over five thousand years, shows how we can actually transform our present nature—from egoism to altruism. Ashlag took this ancient wisdom and divided its teachings into three main stages:

In the first stage (which we are just now entering), we must uncover the egoism within each and every one of us, which keeps us isolated from each other and prevents us from experiencing true love. Furthermore, we must recognize how our egoistic nature can drive us to perform despicable acts simply to get what we want. Once we clearly see the connection between our egoism and all the evil in the world, and once we can no longer deny it—it is in our power to begin creating change.

In the next stage, we must change the hierarchy of values in society. We must transform ourselves from a society that worships the ego to a society that values giving to, and loving, others.

In fact, we all try to teach our children to share and care for others. However, our efforts are quickly overshadowed by the values our children meet in reality. We must begin to live what we teach our children. And this can be done only when contributing to society becomes more important to us than selfish satisfaction.

Once we complete the first two stages, we will begin to recognize that we are all integrated parts of one, inclusive system. We will realize how interconnected and interdependent we are. Our new perceptions will grant us the ability to actualize one of Kabbalah’s central principles—Arvut (Mutual Guarantee). This means that one’s concern about the happiness and well-being of others becomes greater than one’s self-concern. Correspondingly, we will experience the same kind of love and concern returning to us from all others. Then, we will raise each other up, rather than trample over others on our way to “success.”

Achieving this seems far away because we are at the beginning stage of our journey. What we currently don’t see is that this dynamic between us is rooted in nature. However, as we learn and grow in wisdom, we will find that there is nothing more natural in the world than love. At that point, rather than letting the future produce a single “survivor” driven by greed, we will have a world of survivors, all of whom will be driven by love.