A Non-Dogmatic Structure of Thinking: An Overview of What I Was Trying to Say for 35 Years

The Buddha Gate

 

The sneaky bastard fooled me again. I can’t keep my eye on it steadily. It’s like trying to drive when you’re getting sleepy. When does wakefulness become the deceptive dream of being awake? 

I wanted to write because I needed to bring some order to the swirling fog of my own experience. Not a belief system that pins thought down too tightly, but a lattice of sorts it can safely grow, so it knows its place and doesn’t keep sprawling chaotically like Kudzu over every aspect of life, drowning out the world in this relentless voice, which is perpetual self-deception.

I think many people handle their own restless brains differently. They don’t look for the source of this restlessness, but find a job or some other way of occupying their thoughts at a certain safe level of magnification. They focus on the practical necessities of navigating this crazy highway of life, a perpetual state of semi-emergency that becomes routine, but a tenuous routine that can’t afford to be interrupted by larger questions about the underlying infrastructure of belief they’re riding upon. Accept the crazy beliefs, the nationalism, the war-state, the cut-throat economic system, the values and goals this emergency approach to life forces on us — accept all that at face value and call our subjugation to this mad system of thought “a practical approach.”

(By the way, some people like to say that they’re not philosophers. Still, we’re all running on vast infrastructures of metaphysics unconsciously, in the same way that any generic moron driving too fast on an interstate is unconsciously following the infrastructure of road-building ideas. We may not consciously reflect on why we’re heading in this or that direction, but our lives are following patterns of an infrastructure of belief nevertheless. So we may not be capable of understanding the descriptions of these philosophies, but they’re still under-girding the way we live).

The restlessness is the same for me, but the practical approach wasn’t helpful. And leaving behind the highway metaphor, the practical approach constructs a solid floor to everyday life, and all the restless energy of a constantly swirling brain gets kept in the crawlspace. Then it becomes a taboo or “simply uninteresting and pointless” to look beneath the floorboards at one’s own churning mind. And this is a clever tactic if all you want from life is the kind of happiness that remains circumscribed by a repressed turmoil. And what goes missing in life isn’t missed, because nobody misses what they don’t notice.

But still they compensate themselves for everything that gets left out by making an art out of the minutiae of life, appreciating the “little things” as you would admire a knick-knack shelf, but always remembering that what’s important are the practical necessities of maintaining this bubble of unconscious repression wherein happiness can reign. In fact, the rule is, don’t indulge in any larger questions, which tend to pry open the floor boards and release all sorts of religious and political demons that ruin dinner parties. 

Now and then, of course, a few of the pressing questions and confusions in the crawlspace nevertheless erupt from the floorboards and circle the brain in repetitive patterns all night like giant mosquitos. And until a distraction is found (a way to nail the boards down again), the person is forced to see themselves as powerless victims of these escaped thoughts. And this reinforces the conviction that our own turmoil is something external to us, a fact of nature that can’t change. That’s one of the strongest nails keeping the flooring in place: we’re helpless victims of our own brains, so ignore the brain and just focus on this nice little space we’ve created.

If any readers have made it this far then they also probably can’t ignore the racket from beneath the flooring any more than I can. The pursuit of happiness begins to feel like a shallow sitcom, devoid of all real adventure and danger. 

So you and I (the nervous ones essentially) couldn’t follow their lead and rest comfortably while the floor kept popping and creaking all day. Every belief that was designed to nail down those loose boards — whether it was religious or patriotic or careerist beliefs —  included the same taboo against questioning the framing, which made them feel deceptive.Read More »

The Problem with Guardian Angels: A Very Short and Steep Comedy

Madelleine Elizabeth Fitzroy, my client, so to speak, died on May 12th, 2021. The obituary in the Seneca Falls newspaper was thin, but not inaccurate. “Madelleine E. Fitzroy (Sherman) died peacefully in her sleep on May 12th. She was pre-deceased 12 years by her husband Harold Mackinack “Mack” Fitzroy. They had two children, Phillip (Jenner) and Maureen (Johnson), and three grandchildren, Elizabeth, Benjamin and Dwyer. She loved to cook and enjoyed playing cards with her friend.”

That was published this morning, two days since she died.

She loved to cook and enjoyed playing cards with her friends (it should have been plural). Otherwise, that’s about it. I couldn’t have added too much more without delving into private matters. I know so much because I’m her guardian angel, and she was my “better half” as we quip up here sometimes, while waiting.

There wasn’t much else to do but wait, because she didn’t live a very dangerous life. Oh, I had to step in a few times, once when she got stung by bees, and then when she almost choked on a liverwurst sandwich while arguing with her husband. I also steered her away from courting Gene Abbott, although Mack Fitzroy wasn’t much better.

You call us guardian angels but I’m more like her reflection in a higher dimension, so our fates are tied. Tomorrow, on the third day since her bodily death — on what you call “judgement day”, but which we know as True Death — she’ll either rise like a feather or sink like a stone. But up or down my fate is tied to hers.

My job is to convince her to rid herself of all her attachments, because any extra weight will cause a soul to sink, and there are all kinds of rumors about what happens down there.

OK, I’m off to meet Maddy in the “flesh” so to speak. And I’ll write these notes as I go, hovering as it were above myself (and a little to the left), which is a skill reserved for those of us in this dimension, sorry.

There she is, already standing in line, holding the memory of her old suitcase.

Damn it, next to her are 4 or 5 elderly ladies and gents of a similar constitution, all yakkety-yakking away as if they were waiting for a bus to Vegas.

The other guardian angels already look frustrated

“… and so I said to her, ‘you think you’re the only one with troubles like that, I got a son in law who won’t even talk to me until I tap him on the head and say “what’s up, buddy?” and then he only says ‘nothin’’ and goes back to playing with his phone. It wasn’t like this when we were young”

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The Greatest Paradox: Why Change is Possible but Why We Can’t Change on Purpose

Let me clarify the last essay, I think we can emerge from this trap of thought in time to heal the earth. I do believe it, for what it’s worth. I’m not saying this as a spur to change, but as an observation of the nature of the problem itself. It’s not unresolvable.

We can change because the problem driving the world to the brink of collapse is a runaway imagination, thought that has no sense of itself as a creative fiction, which means we get fooled by all the red herrings that this imagination produces. Not just the usual evils such as status, power, money, but also suckered by all the well-intentioned solutions that are invented to counteract these evils.

However, we aren’t even coming close to realizing what this change demands from us. This is not the usual crisis we’re facing.

Every previous crisis in human history could be surmounted by applying our extraordinary capacity for imagination. This time we can’t.

Any species that develops this far in this direction would face the same dilemma. It’s a dangerous new power and we haven’t learned to use it in proper measure.

These dangers weren’t obvious over the vast course of human history. Population pressures weren’t enough to incite the imagination into hyperdrive. But as these pressures grew, more complicated products of the imagination appeared, such as agriculture, cities, governments, writing, and on and on. Products of the imagination became increasingly complicated, causing new problems faster than the imagination could be used to solve them.

Essentially we entered into a predator/prey developmental relationship with our own imagination, inventing new forms to solve the problems caused by unforeseen complications arising in previous forms. And this has led to a logarithmic increase in products of the imagination and in the kinds of problems we face.

So up to this point we could say that we’ve only faced problems that the imagination was capable of solving, albeit by kicking the can of ever more complicated problems farther down the road. We are keeping one step ahead of a shadow that keeps growing larger and more menacing.

But now that road has shortened to a dead end. There is no room to kick the can anymore.

In other words, we’re beginning to realize that this two edged sword of imaginative development has grown into such a large sword that it’s going to kill us on the next swing.

Some don’t realize the implications of this development yet. They either fail to see the double-edged quality of so-called progress, concentrating only on the promises and not the perils of every new development of the imagination; or they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this is not a problem like previous problems. They can’t see that we’re engaged in a logarithmic growth in products of the imagination, and that this has become a momentum that imprisons us. Technology is a steroid in this development, but not the real problem. The problem isn’t merely that we work for machines now, and not vice versa. The underlying reason why we’re susceptible to this enslavement is because we were already trapped within the products of our imagination.

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Optimistic Despair: Why there Are No Real Problems in the World, and What to Do About It

“Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still”

“Ash Wednesday”, Eliot

There is no problem with the world. Only thought makes problems. Every single human problem is only the result of how we imagined things in a crazy way.

Life does have challenges, but every stubbornly knotted predicament, such as mass hunger, war, greed, selfishness itself (internecine competition), are responses to a problematic way of imagining things.

Dropping bombs is not a quality of the earth itself or of life itself, but only a quality of human imagination. War doesn’t exist until we imagine borders, identities, competitive economic systems, hierarchy and status. Mass starvation doesn’t exist until we imagine competition, ownership, and hierarchies that undermine sensible ways of distributing food, as well as monocultural, soil-depleting, destructive ways of growing food.

Even selfishness itself is only a radicalized response to the world, not a quality of the world or of humans by nature. As soon as we begin to imagine the world, and create stories to make sense of it, we have left behind a static vision of human nature and have entered the realm of an infinite plasticity. We can’t hide behind the excuse of nature. Nature is not causing our problems. The imagination is doing that.

Our needs are not problems either. I’ve heard people say that testosterone is a terrible chemical. But testosterone is not a problem. It’s the way this natural energy, this necessary desire, gets perverted into bizarre shapes by our vision of the world, our ways of thinking.

The need for shelter, love, food and sex doesn’t necessitate the problems of identity (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth). The infamous seven deadly sins derive directly from a staked identity (from taking our self concepts too seriously). These seven varieties of selfishness are only secondary qualities of the way we’ve fetishized those simple necessities through an overpowerful or too literal sense of identity. A fetish arises only because something has gone haywire in the way we imagine ourselves and our relation to the world.

But the earth itself, life itself, has no problems, only challenges. These challenges are presented to us open-endedly. How we respond to the conditions of life is up to us.

This is why it’s a waste of time and energy to try solving human political, social and technical problems one at a time. Problems are only getting more complicated because we’re empowering illusions by trying to solve them. It’s the imagination that has to be resolved (clarified). We have to unearth our own compulsion of making a fetish out of simple necessities, step out of the momentum driving us to imagine ourselves in such isolated and alienating forms, as if we were each individually the center of the universe.

By spending so much energy working to solve specific problems we spread the virus of fetishistic thinking, which merely grows the canopy of problems and never digs towards that root, which is in our confused relationship to the imagination.

Turning attention to thought is far more practical and leads to far quicker changes than attending to every problematic symptom of thought. The practical approach to life is sleepwalking into a maze of ever-growing problems.

Looking more honestly at our confused relationship to the imagination is the only chance.

But chance for what? For personal salvation? Hardly.

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A New World Is Only a New Mind

I’m picturing a mostly unconscious human being – a mind occupied all day by video games, food, sex, drink, and sleep. Or I could picture a corporate executive who has utterly surrendered to the sociopathic profit motive, perhaps somebody at Shell who has helped to bury the science on climate change. Or even myself more often than I care to admit – my thoughts like mice constantly scurrying to the higher end of a perpetually sinking ship.

But it’s all the same state of mind in one fundamental way at least – a mind perpetually busy trying to outrun itself, trying not to notice the unfathomed compulsion that keeps it busy. In this state of mind (if there aren’t sufficient distractions available) the tendency is to feel subjected to thought, tossed and turned by thought. To avoid the sensation of drowning in this tumult, an inner director, a thinker in charge, a focus of Self, is created, which seems to be a retroactive gloss that thought itself compulsively places over its own shenanigans to retain an illusion of order and control. But in this state of mind there is only a running script that is followed (though ad libbed) in which this fantasy of a director (a Me playing the starring role) ends up organizing what is still only a compulsive escape from its own unfathomed turmoil.

I need to emphasize this distinction between people and the habits of thought that hold them captive, otherwise I fall into the common misconception that people who think and do ugly, evil things are inherently (in their blood and bones) ugly and evil, and not merely ill with thought. If I blame the person — even my own starring Self — too much (and I often do) I become susceptible to the illness itself, willing to injure that person just to stop the ridiculous ideas driving them (or me). Then the distinction between these dimensions of life (between the actual human being and the thoughts driving them, between territory and map) is lost, and then I’m driven by the unfathomed compulsions of thought, and capable of ugly, evil things.

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Abrupt or Gradual Change?

Found picture on Web, apologies to whomever it belongs (will remove if needed)

Each essay wrests a limited clarity from the infinite mycelium of loose ends that keeps the inquiry growing. As if demonstrating what I felt to be true in Truth and Distortion, the last essay clarified something, but also left distortions that I’d like to consider.

Is the transition to a proprioceptive mentality necessarily so dramatic and dangerous for example? Is it really like falling from a cliff? Or is it the most gentle transformation imaginable, giving up the strife that comes with trying to live up to a false ideal, seeing through all these deceptive feints and accepting them until they evaporate as irrelevant?

I’m never going to argue that anything I say is real. These are merely stories that wring from the world particular insights, while shutting down others. So the question has to be spun like a prism to see other spectrums of truth. And this also allows me to see with greater clarity the context in which the previous metaphor was apt. Let me see if this can be done with one of those loose ends right now, the gradual versus abrupt question.

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Cliff Diving: The Dangerous Leap into Suspension and Proprioceptive Flight

Photo from Groundtruthtrekking.org

I’m forced to decipher the order that is slowly unfolding on its own. That is, this isn’t really an inquiry through words or logic of a thinking mind, but a way for words and logic to catch up with a wider perspective than a thinking mind can know.

It’s as if something non-rational is trying to recalibrate the rational mind so that it doesn’t block access to a larger perception.

And I’m not sure of my role as a speaker entirely. The speaker seems to be necessary in some way, but it’s not central to what is happening. Currently it seems to function mostly as a filter, to help organize certain features of reality into a workable personal relationship to the world.

But this worked-out relationship to the world – not only this sense of Self, but also everything this form of Self demands, such as power, prestige, and economic and national systems to promote all that – is leading to self-destruction.

The culture keeps looking for new ways to improve the filtering function of the Speaker or Self (which is to say, improve the moral quality of this fictional approach to the world); and we also keep looking for ways to improve the economic and national systems designed to promote the function of the Speaker or Self (which is to say, we keep looking for social solutions to this psychic and spiritual crossroads).

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… And Now I don’t

I made a big and interesting mistake in trying to ascertain who you are in the essay “I See You Now.” Even the title sounded threatening. But this is what Negative Geography was built to handle — a place where I can stare back at my own footprints in the subtle mud of language and decipher where I go wrong.

And some of these mistakes reveal ancient confusions, ancient in that they are not entirely personal mistakes, but self-injurious reactions to transgenerational traumas as Mate tends to describe it, stretching back through human history beyond reckoning.

From one angle, this is the kind of mistake that our parents wisely warned us against — staring too long into the image reflected in the water, because we’ll drown in confusion.

However, I’m no longer susceptible to this fear. I think it’s because I already drowned a long time ago and now I’m beginning to crawl back to the shore like some kind of primordial shape, picture a mud puppy if you need to.

The first surface mistake was in devaluing the deeper personal and impersonal relationships I have with many of you. You aren’t some abstract conception of an Other; you are not merely mined for your value and then discarded, which is what I described. But the image I hold of the person listening is mysterious to me still, as if I’m picturing a mind that is still forming; but one that is partially revealing itself in many of you; and sometimes even in brief exchanges with strangers on a bus; with everyone who carries that charge of honesty that can change a life; and all this feeds the image of a wider mind that is listening, a real mind, in flesh and blood. And I made the mistake of accidentally discounting the fact that this potential is visible in real people reading, and is not abstract and disembodied.

So this led to the the second surface mistake — a failure to acknowledge how important these ongoing dialogues with you are in everything I write.

The underlying error, however, is solipsism. But solipsism is not merely a fancy way of describing a self-centered outlook.

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Technical Note on Why the Last Essay Isn’t Really About Writing

Maybe what I’m really after in speaking of an imaginary “you” and “Me” is a rapport with these persistent thoughts of self and other, these imaginary beings that occupy center stage in life. I’m not interested in being a writer, it’s not my career. But in looking at the dishonesty of thought honestly I’m dealing with a communal mess. And part of the resolution of a communal mess will necessarily involve communication of this sort.

Writing provides the opportunity for an elongated span of attention on these matters.  But it’s not the only way to approach all this. So it’s not about writing, it’s about the communal movement of thought. In any communicative case (speaking, fighting, using sign language, doing math) the same issue looms that I was trying to contend with — what to do about the self-image that insists on acting like a middle-man at all times, even poking its ugly little head between two embracing lovers more often than not in the form of anxieties and worries. This spoiled brat of thought has to be the center of attention and is constantly driven by insecurities, because it is by nature a deception, a projection posing as a reality.

So the question tends to be, how do I look at thought honestly knowing full well that a fictitious “I” or “me” will inevitably intrude on the scene demanding to play a central role?

There are a million ways to handle this and all have been tried in these essays, with varying effects. The one is to do what is being done in this paragraph, which is to refuse to use personal language and speak from the third person’s perch.

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I See You Now

Would you believe me if I said I don’t want to call attention to myself? It would seem impossible because I’m placing these private and somewhat personally unnerving words out there on Facebook, for one thing.

But personal attention makes me sick. And yet I couldn’t find you until I placed these things in some kind of public thoroughfare. I didn’t care if it was just a park bench. Someplace where you might happen along, allowing me to imagine you.

A park bench is almost perfect, but not quite believable enough, because I’m sure these words would be pecked to pieces by a passing pigeon or thrown up on by a drunk, before anyone real like you happened along.

And so I tried a publication like Counterpunch, fairly broad and relatively easy to access. But periodicals have a far too particular outlook, are too demanding in what they want from me. I’m not inclined to work at molding myself to anyone’s demands. I need a thoroughfare that is utterly open-ended and will not lead to any kind of fame, which would destroy my solitude or anonymity. But the thoroughfare still needs to be larger than a park bench in order to allow me to convincingly imagine you as a passing stranger with a mind as large as God’s.

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