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.

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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.

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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

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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 »

Why this Shit Matters: Notes on the Last Few Essays

hall of mirrors

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 »

Negative Knowledge and the Eruption of a Metaphoric Mentality

aurora

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 »

An Honest Fairy Tale

 

Burlingname Falls

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

Vladimir 3
Vladimir and the author after a few beers.

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?