Dear fellow white men, but I hope others stick around as a Greek chorus. I’ll try not to posit a morally correct picture of how things should be from a particular political slant. I want to dig beneath the surface of left, right and center by following the bread crumbs of my own self-deceptions and see what emerges by default if I stop being self-defensive.
But I rarely invite visitors to this little house of mirrors I call myself. Your presence makes me feel cornered into being especially honest (which is the whole idea), but it’s always at my own expense. So I’m nervous. After all, what is honesty if not the realization of my own dishonesties?
That might sound moralizing, but honesty isn’t really a moral issue. It’s only another way of describing animal intelligence. If I’m deceiving myself I end up too stupid to live.
So there’s a prerequisite level of honesty about my culture’s history of treachery, kidnapping, torture, theft and murder that’s necessary to read this. I won’t take time to lay that all out. Honest people educate themselves. It’s simply the fundamental starting point.Read More »
Goofy as it might sound, I’ve been trying to do something for 40 years that is almost impossible. I’ve been grinding my teeth on this thing against all good advice, pouring all my energy into what probably looks like an obscure and meaningless (or maybe just confused and confusing) thing.
The Buddhists say that the truth can’t be spoken; that words are a distraction from what is real, because language is a virtual reality that convinces us that it’s not virtual. So language is essentially a delusion, which can never help us encounter what is real. Reality is found off the page, not on it.
And the same goes for thought and feeling and imagery. It’s all a kind of curtain that pretends to be showing something beyond the curtain, where in fact nothing at all is found. We make up everything.
Look, the Buddha knew his shit. And I’m not disputing what the Buddhists say above. In fact, it was my starting point, not as an idea or belief (because I’d never heard of Buddhism), but as a terror. If for some reason you suddenly learn that you’re trapped behind a film of language, feeling, thought and imagery and that everything you experience is imaginary, then there is no “getting off the page” into reality. It’s like being stuck in a hall of mirrors. It’s not a choice.Read More »
This essay is fictional. Not in the way fiction is usually defined. But this voice – anyone’s voice, even a scientist’s voice – is the invention of a framework that puts experience in a particular slant and color. And there’s no way to avoid this.
Nothing can be discussed or known without being painted in some fictional color.
Even the colorless voice of a realist is a fictional application of colorlessness.
Phrases like “everything is this…” and “nothing can be that…” sound reductive and dogmatic. But in this case I’m talking about what can’t be known, not what can. Reality is unknowable. Stories are all that’s known.
In other words, claiming to know anything conclusive about the nature of reality is a sign of bullshit.
And knowing what is bullshit is a fundamentally different kind of knowledge. It’s not reductive, but expansive, because this discovery releases perception from cages of certainty, and awakens a questioning or metaphoric spirit. Read More »
Once upon a time a little girl was walking down a dirt road, beside a lively creek. There were five of them traveling together — the road, the creek, the dog, the grandmother and this girl – and they were all dancing their way to a waterfall, which is where the road stopped and Pan’s kingdom started. A few staggering clouds came along too, out of curiosity. And if the girl had entered paradise at that moment it would have felt like a let-down. The wilderness beyond the waterfall, and its mysterious beasts, which she knew from stories her grandma would tell her, would have lost their beguiling danger — that spice of potential doom, which the cooks of paradise always seem to forget.Read More »
Frauds can be the bringers of wisdom almost as often as a broken clock.
Do I refuse to hear the penetrating critique of a drunk in passing who says, “hey, buddy, you’re just as filthy inside as I am out here on the street. Go fuck yourself”? Is he no less right because he’s a liar?
And if I’m honest with myself, it’s my own fraudulence that teaches me. Then I stop swatting away the swarms of white lies that encircle some rotting portion of my personality, and they settle and devour the rot.
The flies are my teachers.
And so a minister hawking salvation for a buck is someone who might occasionally teach me something. Not about God and goodness, but about this rot itself. And after all, nothing that is known is wholly true. Sublime heights are reached on wings that become shredded like the wings of old bees. The farthest reach is defined as much by what it can’t grasp.
So why seek truth in trustworthy sources? Why trust a guide once removed when the only valid measure is my own? Failure and over-reach are the real teachers. And what is insight except the shredding of what I thought I knew, and long trusted?
“Do I need to justify what most call philosophy? Aren’t all these social and political issues building into huge cumulonimbuses that demand a less solely reflective response? But look, a thunderstorm has its origins in the vibrations of individual atoms. And as an atom of this society, I need to examine myself, because whatever is driving me (and you) is driving that developing storm.”
“In other words, what is the role of individual perception in all these less abstract issues of immigration, governmental control, war, and the dangers of AI?”
“Well, I bristle at the word “abstract.” I’m saying that the storm has a concrete origin in the atom of my personality. There’s a dynamic there that translates into society. My personality is a twisted wreck of inauthenticity — defensive denials, and bald declarations of pig-headed belief in anything and everything. I leap from one conclusion to another, rarely questioning any of them. Rarely learning.”
“Are you saying that society is a cumulative stupidity?”
“I think so. But on the “atomic” level it’s only me and you getting caught on what we think and usually staying that way the rest of our lives. It’s not just stupidity, but a stubbornly self-enforced stupidity, which is beguilingly odd. There’s a clarifying thrill in this, like being trapped in a small cell my whole life and suddenly discovering that there are doors everywhere in the cell that I’ve simply refused to open. Every resistance in myself is a door I refuse to open.”Read More »
I’m going to tell you a story. That doesn’t mean I’m being dishonest. I’m being as honest as I can, but the first honest thing I’m going to tell you is that the Truth is beyond my grasp.
Well, it’s not so much a story as a description of a place I visited: Picture a funnel, like the inside of a tornado. We’re looking down into the center of the funnel. In the very center is an empty place. I’ve colored it white for contrast, but it’s more like a black hole. Or call it the “still point in the turning world.”
The sides of the funnel are thoughts, feelings, interpretations, stories. The whole of consciousness, what I’ve been calling positively oriented perception, spinning in a vicious circle. Human consciousness only? I don’t know. Perhaps the section of the funnel we can see is human consciousness, but that may change farther down the funnel, or farther above our position. There appears to be no end to this funnel, above us or below. We’ll come to that in a moment.Read More »
If climate disaster has left us with no future do we still feel responsible to the earth that outlives us? Or do we say “who cares?”
If we say “who cares?” then our sense of responsibility was never anything more than a moral rule, a business deal of sorts, where we agreed to behave honorably as long as we were allowed to project our egos into future generations. But I think real empathy for a world without us is still possible, and I think it matters in some way that can’t be calculated on a strictly transactional basis.
The possibility of near-term extinction is new, but the underlying dilemma this presents is as old as the Big Bang, or older. Death is death. It comes to the individual as surely as it comes to the species, the planet, and the exploding universe itself. What’s different now is only this onrushing inability to avoid facing this fact. And I think this is a good thing, because it forces a confrontation with the many reductive delusions that have limited our creative participation in the world, which is our responsibility to something more than ourselves. The chief among these limitations has been a strict and too literal image of who we are, an identity that keeps us trapped in a solipsistic circle.Read More »
The same relentless energy driving a toddler in its Terrible Twos still drives that voice in my head. However, when I see a toddler, I know I’m in the presence of a genius, albeit a naïve one. It’s not the size of the intellect, but the velocity of learning that describes its intelligence. I, on the other hand, tend to move in well-worn circles, constrained by prejudice and vested interest. I’ve learned to “circle the wagons”, so to speak, around particular conclusions.
Essentially, I’m what happens when a toddler’s unstoppable urge to learn gets diverted into supporting a predatory status quo. Open-ended learning gets replaced by a narrowing framework of instruction as the driving force; and a dawning sense of some innate order or intelligence in the world gets short-circuited by dependence on authority and by conformity to the culture’s creeds and isms.Read More »
Here’s something very hard and extremely simple at the same time. A beautiful paradox. But it’s not an idea, that’s the hard part in a sense. Because we’re oriented to wanting some static knowledge that we can claim as ours. But knowledge is actually very difficult to process or really understand. To hold the idea that I’m selfish, for instance, isn’t the same thing as really facing my own selfishness. Real intelligence is honesty, not intellect.
Sometimes self-knowledge is a false cover, confirming our tired old convictions. But real self-knowledge is critical self-awareness. No firm conviction can survive the irradiation of critical (or negative) awareness. After all, I’m only being honest when I recognize that I can’t actually know anything for sure. The world is infinite, and my brain only measures a few measly inches. So being certain is a way of lying to myself, saying “reality is here in my grasp.” What I grasp is already past-tense, static and artificial.Read More »