Why Am I Writing?

Photo by Aaron Burden

I don’t write because I know something. I write because I don’t. This is the narrative of someone who isn’t fully developed and never will be, and who sees things partially.

Writing occurs when a growing tangle of questions (or contradictions between my everyday life and a wider, less self-defensive perspective) becomes uncomfortable, much like a hairball in a cat. So I’m forced to disgorge this tangle in the form of yet another story or essay.

However, it’s not as if there’s a Right answer to anything and all undeveloped perspectives are simply sophomoric. Every definitive conclusion to my questions and contradictions would remain sophomoric (I remind myself), because there is no positive answer, only negative observations (of what is not true).

But this absence of certainties doesn’t imply the absence of honesty. At any stage of development, at any consistent depth of perception, I’m honest to the degree allowed by that particular depth. At a certain depth, the honesty may be only verbal. At another it may be more behavioral (trying to live up to moral codes and such). Or at still another it might be self-lucidity, the ability to recognize the persistent failure to live up to codes, and the kindness inherent in not trying to be perfect anymore, which is an honesty that exceeds morality. They’re all forms of honesty, but some reach deeper.

Read More »

When I Was Seven Years Old I Was Abducted by Aliens

You can receive this: “on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death”—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others: — TS Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”

When I was seven years old I was abducted by aliens. You don’t have to believe me. I’m being as honest as I can, but everything – everything – in the retelling becomes fictional. What is an alien anyways? I can only observe a small bandwidth of stimuli even at my best. And from what I Can see, I only remember a smaller fraction. And of those memories, I can only stitch together the few that make the most sense to me. And when I realized this, I no longer bothered to distinguish between fact and fiction, but only between honest and dishonest fiction. And I’m being honest about something I encountered, even if the event itself is little more than an unreliable dream now, distorted by years of confusion and fear.

Despite all that, I can recall the honest facts, which are given shape by a kind of fictional wrapping paper. Without the shape of the fiction you would see nothing. The experience remains untranslatable otherwise. But look through the paper to see what I mean.

I remember waking up in the dark room and feeling a pulsing heat or color or emotion. I could describe it as any of these, or by a thousand other words, but look, this is what I meant: the fictional telling gives an unavoidable skew to the memory. Words are always distortions, and when I don’t keep that in mind I become delusional with certainty. I become entranced by a hall of mirrors and can’t see through the complicated reflections to the actuality that is nature’s complex simplicity. Complexity and complication are very different. For it’s the simplest thing to sit quietly on the land. And yet it remains the most complex world of microbes, fungi, trees, and birds, with no ceiling above us, only endless space.

Read More »

The Schizophrenic Crisis

This appeared in Dissident Voice.

I’m not looking at schizophrenia for the moment as a sickness, but as a more or less inevitable development or consequence of a body that refines thought to such an extent that it becomes confused by its own images and beliefs and mistakes them for reality itself.

Conclusive certainty or dogma would be an obvious symptom of this crisis – a crisis which may have begun several thousand years ago and is only now approaching its ‘do or die’ moment: Learn this lesson or perish.

Read More »

Might Makes Right

I think the philosophy that drives Trump could be summarized (from one angle) as “might makes right.” And I’ll bet that a large segment of Trump supporters might be ashamed to admit that they share that philosophy. A smaller portion probably openly holds that view without shame. In fact, they might see it as a sign of treasonous weakness to think of the world in anything but “might makes right” terms. And a portion of these supporters would be violent racists. To them the “fact of life” is that it’s a battle from birth to grave. And a larger portion probably quietly support them, whisper to one another that they’re “our soldiers, which isn’t hard to do when you’ve been raised in a culture that worships the warrior, the conqueror, the rugged individual ready to fight for an imaginary independence

Read More »

The Nincompoop and the Better Angel or Taking the Red Pill or Rambling (Uncontrolled) Notes on Chaos and Control

red pill

One

Let this entry be chaotic and disorderly. I’m tired of writing in a suit and tie. Tired of this formal voice.

Now it’s time to drift into deeper topics so that I might get as close as I can to a real movement, not the idea of a movement. Everyone’s probably heard Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory”. If this is understood as a concept then it’s not really understood at all. As a concept it’s merely another “map.” To really understand what he means the statement has to initiate a full stop, which is an action, not an idea or concept, not another map. I’m trying to write essays that run into the limitations of thought, which would initiate the action of negation, rather than the positing of ideas or concepts.

I’m not sure I’m doing very well yet. But for some reason I can’t stop trying.

So when a new meaning (which is a new way of being) eludes me, remaining tantalizingly close but still too vague to realize, I feel compelled to write. But writing involves not writing for the most part. I wait to catch myself in the act of some relevant stupidity. Then the writing draws attention to this movement of stupidity, and mainly by negation (the elimination of assumptions that divert my attention) I get closer to what is happening.

I’ll place the various negations I encounter in bold.

I wish the writing didn’t end up so f’ing complex, but in reaching for the thing that is just beyond my grasp there are no precedents. I’m always pushing into the dense underbrush of my own unconscious habits, where the new movement distinguishes itself (if I’m patient).

I don’t write knowing anything, but the writing itself allows me to discover things, so that I end up sounding as if I know something after all, which is a lie. But I can’t seem to avoid that lie just yet, so I’ll expose it up front.

(You might say I’m distinguishing “discoveries” from “knowledge” and I am. The first is a negative discovery that pries me loose from blind assumptions, leaving the questions more open-ended; and the other positive certainty (knowledge).

One of the most tantalizing movements that I’ve never had enough patience to focus upon fully is the relationship between chaos and control. It’s a fascinating oddity: Order emerges by realizing one’s own disorder. Or honesty is the realization of dishonesties. Cosmos is the realization of Chaos.

This means the honest fool, who lives close to their own foolishness, never hiding from their mistakes, is a far more interesting and worthwhile companion than the intelligent person striving for the perfect theory or behavior.Read More »

The Limits of Ken Wilber: An Appreciation

ken wilber

Ken Wilber likes to say that every stage of human psychological or spiritual growth “includes and transcends” the previous stage. We don’t lose our capacity to access earlier stages of development; and we don’t reject those earlier stages as “wrong.” We see the logic that drives earlier stages and can operate within that logical framework whenever it’s necessary.

He also seems to imply that growth is a gradual diminishment of ego as a driving force. A wider and wider horizon of empathy accompanies each stage of development.

This vision provides the impression of a kind of winding stairway or double-helix of personal progress. Each step in this stairway represents a certain leap from one set of assumptions or “action-logics” to a new and more encompassing set of assumptions. But all in all this “inclusion and transcendence” represents a gradual growth.

There’s nothing wrong with seeing things in this way, even if the emphasis on inclusion and transcendence seems incomplete to me. Rather than saying we “include and transcend” each previous stage, I’d prefer to say that transcendence of previous stages involves inclusion and shedding or sacrifice (the positive and the negative). Because in every stage of development (whether from 1st grade to 2nd; or from an ethnocentric to a more interconnected vision) fundamental assumptions driving previous stages are lost or negated. This is far more significant than inclusion. Inclusion is simply what remains by default after certain fundamental beliefs are sacrificed. The real change occurs via negation or sacrifice of old beliefs. Negation removes a layer of confused mud, leaving the vision a little more cleansed and wider in focus. What isn’t removed is still (by default) included in the new vision.Read More »

Starving the Tree of Racism: How Seemingly Benign Values and Beliefs Feed Racism

Strange Tree

Dear fellow white men, but I hope others stick around as a Greek chorus.

An honest recognition of this culture’s history of treachery, kidnapping, torture, and murder is needed to read this. This is my fundamental starting point. So I’m essentially only speaking to those white men who recognize this and want it to end.

I’m arguing that if this is really our passion, then we can’t solely focus on stopping overt racists, or eliminating the racism and sexism baked into our institutions. These are necessary goals of course. But ultimately we won’t be very helpful if we don’t simultaneously (and primarily) work to expose the subtlest roots of racism in ourselves. And if we dig deeply enough we discover that we’re contributing to this violence through our identification with many of this society’s seemingly benign (but in fact toxic) values.

Magnification, Not Abstraction

I feel that poisonous minerals of racism seep into our bones microscopically through values that often appear innocuous and beneficial. But it might not seem practical or relevant to talk about these subtleties at first, because this can feel like an escape into abstractions from more pressing racial problems. But these are magnified examinations of the subtle roots of racism, not abstractions.

Nevertheless, it feels like I’m asking readers to pause for a moment in rescuing the drowning people downstream. But I don’t feel anything can be resolved downstream. I think we need to discover the deepest source of the problem, which remains hidden in us.Read More »

Quick Footnote to A Fly Fable

Not that A Fly Fable should be read literally, but my brother found these two interesting articles on animal intelligence that shows yet again that fiction has no chance of keeping pace with reality.

Bee-Brained: Inside the Mind of a Bee

Three mind-blowing facts about the minds of bees and flies: 1) lonely flies get drunk; 2) bees are optimistic or pessimistic based on life experience; and 3) flies and bees have sleep patterns reminiscent of REM and Deep sleep stages

Canine Exceptionalism: Trainers working with dogs every day have documented extraordinary talents and skills. Will science ever catch up?

Dogs are a hell of a lot smarter than we imagined. Same goes for Everything, including plants.

Two Notes: David Bohm and Negative Knowledge

Krishnamurti and Bohm

Listen starting at about Minute 14:30, here:

Here’s the key quote, which is a perfect summary of what I meant by 1) Negative Knowledge and 2) the positive movement of thought, which can result in a swing towards Literalism and all the vicious circles this confusion and self-deception inevitably generates; or it can swing towards a swifter, metaphoric mentality, as long as negative awareness keeps the positive aspects of thought in check (not controlled, but stripped of self-deception perhaps):

Bohm: “… in physics you could use a measuring instrument in 2 ways, the positive and the negative. Like an electric current, you can measure. You can measure the current by the swing of the instrument. Or you can use it in what is called the Wheatstone Bridge, where the reading you look for is a null reading; a null reading indicates harmony or balance of the 2 sides as it were. So if you are using the instrument negatively, then the non-functioning of the instrument is the sign that it is working right. Could we say the brain may have used thought positively to make an image of the world… K: which is the function of thought … B: …One of the functions of thought. The other function of thought is negative, which is to indicate non-harmony….”

I have no memory of Bohm saying this, but it obviously made an impact because the entire Negative Geography project is based on that very observation above. Interesting to me, and worth noting as a matter of record.

2nd Note:Read More »

A Fly Fable (Which Includes the Amoral of the Story)

cluster_flies

1

Eugene yawned. He dreaded another day of banging his head against the glass.

His friend Leslie, however, was eager to get started.

“Yesterday that precocious young fly Skip said he felt the glass in the upper pane softening a little. Let’s get cracking! Today’s the day, I can feel it.”

Eugene stretched his wings and nibbled on sun-dried bacteria. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Most of the flies stuck between the storm window and the regular window were already banging away.

Eugene stretched his wing again.

His world measured approximately 64 inches by 26 inches by 5 inches. The majority of flies were banging on the glass facing the interior of the house, and not on the storm window to the outside. That’s because the curtains in the little shack were usually closed, which made the interior window into a weak mirror reflecting the trees and fields across the road. And that’s where they wanted to go.

And all memory of night, when they had banged away on the storm window facing the dark fields and trees, had by then faded into legend.

“Eugene thinks he can sit there all day and reap the benefits of our hard work!” a fly named Bixby complained, when he saw Eugene slowly crawling his way towards them.

“Yeh, but guys, how many generations of flies have been trying to get out of this window?” Eugene said, looking down again at the piles of corpses on the sill.

“Oh, listen to Mr doom and gloom!” Bixby said. “Legend has it that a fly named Boris flew out this very window and into those yonder trees!” Bixby shifted a wing to point at a shimmering mirage of a tree. “So how’d he do it? Not by moaning, but by banging that’s how.”Read More »