Frauds Can Be the Bringers of Wisdom

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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?

The Delusions of Me, Myself and AI: On the Origins of Our Crises

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This appeared on Dissident Voice.

“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 »

Funnel Vision: The Black Hole of Insight

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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 »

Extinction and Responsibility: Why Climate Disaster Might Heal Us Even As it Kills Us

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This appeared on Counterpunch.

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 Radical Derelict: Giving Up the Work Ethic for Peace

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This appeared on Counterpunch and Dissidentvoice.

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 »

“And I said, with rapture, Here is something I Can Study All My Life and Never Understand!”

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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 »

What Is Real?

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“All is a Question of Voices” (Samuel Beckett)

I don’t know what is real. I know only stories. Reality itself is obscured behind an interpretive film. But if there was a way to remove these perceptual “cataracts” I’d blind myself, because I can’t make sense of reality without a story. Story and reality are impossible to separate. But I need to find a way to distinguish them. Otherwise I’m delusional. And this delusion has real and deadly consequences.

Stories create every objective thing and Other I encounter. Nations and races, for example, are highly selective distinctions that settle over the world like transparencies over a drawing. And when these fictional separations are conflated with reality, real national and racial divisions erupt. These divisions are not facts of nature, but what physicist David Bohm called “artifacts” of the story, of my own imagination.

There’s something electrifying here. Against a fact of nature I’m helpless. But my own agency is revealed in artifacts of the imagination. It suggests that much of what passes for human nature, including aggression between groups, is not inevitable.Read More »

Death Is the Mother of Beauty

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Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. (Wallace Stevens, from
Sunday Morning)

Why this confidence that technical ingenuity can drive through, over or around any obstacle? Even the dead end of death itself is seen by the more fanatic of the Techno-Utopian thinkers as a barrier that will somehow be conquered. Apparently they’ll be carried into the infinite limit of the Singularity on the backs of 72 virginity-regenerating sex robots.Read More »

You Say You Want a Revolution?

 

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“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” —  Rilke

This was published on Counterpunch, September 5, 2016.

“What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.”

— from The Man Watching, by Rainer Maria Rilke

As CJ Hopkins pointed out in Counterpunch, “… we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system [to global neoliberal capitalism], or a way to get there.”

Or maybe we conceive alternatives, but the canopy of globalization has grown so wide that it stunts their growth. The media’s floodlight shines only on a sucker’s coin of allowable alternatives: Regressive Revolution — a rabid demand for the nation to be “great again”; and Patriotic Reform — a “gentler” allegiance to American exceptionalism. Both sides of the coin bank on what no longer exists – a sovereign nation.Read More »

Alchemical Writing

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Feeling the Bones

Sometimes I wonder why I can’t stop all this burrowing into the bones of thought (as I like to think I’m doing).

But that’s when I forget what I love. I love feeling those bones, the hidden, labyrinthine structures supporting our simplistic surface consciousness. And I love encountering my own shocking assumptions, the ones I didn’t even realize I had until I started fumbling around among those bones.Read More »