Rex Tillerson was the chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobile from 2006 to 2016 and is now United States Secretary of State.
Michael Richardson-Borne: As you know, the Chinese are carrying out construction to fortify islands in the South China Sea in order to build military bases complete with air-strips and complex weapons systems. At one time you supported a US ban on continued construction as well as a blockade of the Chinese from accessing these islands. As tensions escalate, how would you now answer the South China Sea question?
Rex Tillerson: Let’s begin by giving a brief interpretation of how I see my job as Secretary of State as it will set the groundwork for you to understand how I will answer your questions today.
Traditionally, the position of Secretary of State has been seen as one with a couple of primary duties. The first is to serve as the President’s chief advisor on foreign affairs. The second is to carry out relationships with leaders of foreign governments in a manner that is meant to optimize the enactment of the President’s decisions. It was the second of these two responsibilities that lead me to turn within and to ask the question, “What is relationship?”– a question rarely asked in the political realm.
What I discovered is that most of the work I would be doing, relationship-wise, is a game of charades of the separate self, thus continuing a long pattern of separation that the world already has plenty of and could probably continue without my participation. I’ll say more about what I mean by this throughout the interview– but I wanted to preface that the job of Secretary of State from a place of separation is quite different than the job from a place of non-separation. The actions, strategies, and implications of non-separation are of an emergent kind, a global invitation that has the prior unity of all peoples as its starting point and primary assumption.
So, in regards to the tensions in the South China Sea, I would say that what we think of as an external problem is actually an internal problem. The world of separation sees a battle of separate nations composed of separate selves. The world of non-separation sees a battle of every separate self with its self. By focusing solely on the external happenings in the world and reacting to them, the game of charades I previously mentioned is blindly fortified. This obsession with all things external causes us to constantly overlook the true source of “the South China Sea problem”– which is leaving our addiction to the belief in the separate self, and the corresponding world of separation that is created through it, unquestioned.
However, if one questions the separate self and looks “under it,” one finds that there is an awareness that is empty of content, that has no labels, that seems to effortlessly view all of life’s stories (including the body) while being none of them. Recognizing this awareness is a gateway to non-separation, a “place” where a real solution to the South China Sea problem exists.
Unfortunately, from birth, we are all born into a culture of separation, a society that worships the separate self and trains us to not only normalize the experience but to protect it at all costs with stories that re-enforce forgetting the underlying awareness that allowed the rise of the story of separation in the first place.
In this kind of separative environment, story after story of “who and what we should be” is piled on top of this naturally peaceful awareness. So much so that it leaves the people of our world embedded in shallow identity stories as opposed to awareness itself– the perfect soil for constant chaos, discomfort, pain, and suffering.
In our current global culture of separation, it is possible, encouraged even, to identify as “Chinese” or “American” or hundreds of other stories that separate the interests of a story called China and a story called the United States. This is the crux of the conflict that is happening in the South China Sea as our brothers and sisters continue to look for answers to the pain of separation through the lens of separation– something that will never work. If deep down, you feel like something is just “off” about the state of the world– the feeling stems from exactly what I’m pointing to here. The separate self always knows it’s a fraud but, so far, finds a way to trudge through the muck of separation and justify the suffering that comes with it.
What all of our world leaders are failing to do is take a courageous look at the truth of their identity stories as compared to the awareness that is underlying them. When the truth of this awareness is seen, behavior tends to change from one focused on the desires of the separate self to behavior that is much more impersonal in nature.
That said, in today’s world, it’s still about holding external global affairs in as balanced a position as possible. I understand that the culture of the separate self is the dominant mode of discourse today and that the use of hard power is sometimes necessary to hold things stable while soft power measures are utilized to spread the possibility of non-separation.
But, ultimately, the real question of the South China Sea is the same as every other conflict on the planet– can we all remember the prior unity of who we truly are and align our behaviors accordingly?
MR-B: President Trump formally withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this week. What’s your take on this action?
RT: It can be seen as a lost opportunity to spread United States soft power messages of non-separation in a region that is competing with China for the dominant narrative. But, I’m sure there are other pros and cons from more perspectives than I can count. This is how separation works. Because everyone is an adversary of sorts, each pushing a separate agenda aligned with a separate story or worldview, the outcomes of this game cannot cohere. It’s rigged from the start to be fractured and violent.
The goal of TPP was not “to make the world work better for all as an expression of our prior unity,” it was to appease the separate selves of the twelve partnering governments and a handful of corporations– thus creating a separative, conditional interconnection that was only set to unfold within the egoic arc of human existence. Basically, just more of the same.
Again, look at the prevalence of externally motivated story in TPP and the negligence of the awareness that underlies this story. Focusing on economics and trade without first understanding what relationship is virtually guarantees unaligned agreements that are set to fail. Why are we so eager to continue creating partnerships before acknowledging non-separation at the foundation?
Partnerships with separation as an underlying understanding are partnerships of the unreal. They are pretend. Mere scrimmages compared to what the world will see when our population is consciously rooted in non-separation– where partnerships can begin with relationship and have the understanding of non-separation gradually grow into an agreement with systems that represent it accurately as a natural outgrowth of the embodiment of an acknowledged prior unity.
Frankly, I believe the more we can become face to face with other nations the better– it will provide the growth opportunities needed to get to the bottom of the false stories we impose on ourselves and one another. By transcending our stories of separation, we may collectively notice that there is an underlying prior unity of all of existence, non-separation as we call it. Recognizing that we are being collectively lived and that the only known is consciousness, fundamentally changes the game that will hold humanity’s collective attention.
We have tried globalization but don’t have the relationship skills or vision of non-separation to see our way through. This is why you see Brexit and other populist movements championing a retreat from the global community. We don’t have enough experience in the impersonal just yet to know how to love our way through challenges in a manner that carries everyone involved beyond the separate self.
But retreating from the world because we don’t want to face the growth challenges of relationship is just delaying the inevitable. We’re all family here– and we all know how families can trigger what we think of as the worst aspects of ourselves. Right now, humanity is just procrastinating the real work that has to be done– which is recognizing that we are on the arc of the separate self rather than the trajectory of non-separation. If peace is what we truly want, we must begin the self-inquiry necessary to make the jump.
All that said, I’m not specifically opposed to the US withdrawal from TPP as I understand it to be designed to protect the interests of multi-national corporations and could do great harm to some of the most impoverished people in the world. I support President Trump on this move while advising him to see the value of offering an invitation to this region that champions the realization of non-separation.
MR-B: Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, canceled a recent meeting with President Trump due to Trump’s hardline stance on having Mexico pay for a US border wall. What is your viewpoint of Trump’s mission to build the wall and how do you rate his relationship skills thus far when interacting with foreign governments?
RT: Building a wall the length of the southern US border seems to be a metaphor for separation if we ever saw one. So, if the goal is separation, we are succeeding by pushing forward with this initiative in the manner in which it stands. If the goal is non-separation, we have much work to do– a different kind of work that is much more focused on self-inquiry than building or protecting institutions of the separate.
Right now, Mr. Trump firmly believes that he is Mr. Trump, period. This story called Donald Trump has a particular vision of what the world is and what it should be. For better or worse, there is no awareness of the presence that is cognizant of the story of the separate self or of a pre-existing unity that is living him and the entire global story at once. As the President’s chief advisor on foreign affairs, relationship in no uncertain terms, I continue to work with him on this front.
Without a doubt, there are many people in America who share Mr. Trump’s view of the world– a view that is just as valuable as any that we have here in the US. However, non-separation understands that both liberals and conservatives are living on an arc based on the assumption of a separate self, an arc that guarantees continued conflict. My job is to help liberals understand that the way they are feeling now is the way that most Trump supporters have felt for the past eight years– it’s a very alien existence in your own land. And to help both parties (and swing voters) understand that flip-flopping between parties every decade or even finding a middle way will get America nowhere. All of our options today are part of the arc of separation.
If I may, I’d like to offer a funny aside that makes a small jab at both “sides.” It is common for Trump supporters to call liberals by the pejorative term “snowflakes.” The name is used to mock liberals for being soft-hearted and imagining themselves as somewhat unique and special. If we stick with this definition, I would say that both liberals and conservatives are snowflakes at the moment, neither side demonstrating the courage to question the identity stories that are currently in place.
MR-B: The major media stations in the United States have been continuously debating Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s defense of the term “alternative facts,” a phrase used by one of Trump’s advisers. What are “alternative facts” and do you buy into the Trump teams use of the concept?
RT: Again, the separate self is on an arc of development– one that seems to transition from religious/nationalistic, to modern, to post-modern value sets.
Alternative facts do not exist very well in predominantly religious, nationalistic, or modern cultures. These are black and white worlds with easily decipherable opinions on right and wrong. With the advent of post-modernism, the truth was believed to be contextually dependent, meaning that there was no such thing as truth. With the rise of the belief of truth being non-existent, alternative facts could easily exist. And whether the cultural elite recognized it or not, the belief in alternative facts became the accepted worldview in our higher education system. Now, this belief is being used against them politically– and they’re none too happy about it.
But, for many, the comment of Kellyanne Conway about alternative facts is signaling the beginning of the end of post-modernism and a potential opening for a birth into an emergent worldview. However, I see that if this breakthrough remains on the arc of the separate self, any new worldview will remain a mere translation of separation.
MR-B: Donald Trump has expressed approval of bringing back torture practices such as waterboarding. Do you support him and his stance on torture?
RT: First, I will say that Defense Secretary, General Mattis has decided not to move forward with these practices.
When one sees every human as the Self, it’s pretty tough to support such practices that qualify as torture.
MR-B: What are the implications of spirituality in today’s international relations scene?
RT: This entire interview has been pointing to the implications. Especially if by saying spirituality, you mean seeking or applying the realization of non-separation.
Leaders who are embedded in the separate self are masters of re-arranging the separate. It’s this separation that we watch unfold in the world every day. Peace and transformation do not exist on this path, only perceived change that happens on the surface of awareness– while the masses believe something new is transpiring. This is the best that can be done without the realization of non-separation.
If US soft power can be utilized to point to non-separation in our foreign policy, in our art and cultural exports, in our media, the implications are something unlike the world has ever seen.
But, until we make non-separation our chief global export (and import), everything that we offer and ingest is just more separation, including our dreams of democracy.
*This is a fictional interview written by Michael Richardson-Borne as a teaching of Non-separation.