Monday, August 21, 2017

The Slow Strangling Of Our Consciousness

Asking the experts of today to solve the world’s problems is like asking the priests of the volcano god how to end the drought. All they will tell you to do is sacrifice a virgin, it’s all they know. Today’s experts are little different, there are just more of them. Ask them what their solutions are, and they will tell you to bomb it, privatize it or medicate it.

Everyone in a position of power in a corrupt system is de facto corrupt himself. In bowing to a corrupt authority, they have surrendered their conscience, have proven themselves unable to choose between right and wrong. They cannot save us, they can only hurt us. We must help ourselves, there is no other power we can turn to.

Those in power, those whose job it is to inform the public, are more herders of opinion than people interested in expanding our understanding of the circumstances we now face. Their job is to limit the view of those who must toil for the present system in the same way horses are blinkered to prevent them being distracted from the task demanded of them.

And in blinkering others, they blinker themselves. Intent on their task, they are so focused on it that they lose sight of their larger obligation to humanity. Not constricted themselves, they yet become even more myopic than those they blinker because, as it is said, none are so blind as those who refuse to see.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion. A rock rolling downhill not only continues to roll downhill, it picks up speed as it does. Media that is more concerned with directing thought than it is opening new paradigms and providing greater context for its viewers will not merely maintain the status quo but will continue to narrow the window through which the world is shown. This has been occurring for decades now, though it has happened just slowly enough that we somehow have not become aware of it. The imperfections of the human mind are many, and the study of how those imperfections can be exploited has been well funded. Kind and decent human beings can be manipulated into supporting the most inhuman of systems if they are led to believe that the “experts” know more than they. Research the Milgram experiments if you have any doubt.

There are two ways thought can travel: outward and inward. We can expand our understanding of the world we live in by permitting ourselves to hold more than one possibility, one paradigm at a time. By not demanding hard and simplistic answers we can drift off into seeing facts and events from multiple perspectives. This requires a degree of faith, a relative absence of fear. In this way we can acquire a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the world and our place in it.

But fear is a barrier that bounces such understanding back upon ourselves. The media has erected a curtain of fear that causes us to seek simple answers in order to deal with immediate threats that may or not be real. The media would have you believe that ISIS, fascists, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and people of the party opposite yours are right outside the door. The crisis is perpetual, though ever-shifting, and in such a situation, you have little recourse but to trust those who have been kind enough to alert you to the threat. They have to run the media this way, it’s good for business.

Once your thoughts and perceptions begin to peer inward, once you begin to discard possibilities and embrace simplistic solutions, the lens through which you see the world continues to shrink. And like the teeth of a predator, the tools of the media are designed to grab hold of you and constantly direct you towards its awaiting maw. You sit transfixed, staring with fear and incomprehension at the world outside which is actually the world inside the media’s constricted narrative.

It is worth reminding yourself that the media is not your friend. What they do they do for money. There are ample examples easily found on the internet where those who are in the know admit as much. The CEO of CBS himself said of Donald Trump’s presidential run, “It might not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Are these the sort of people you want guiding you, guiding your nation? Are these the sort of people in whose hands you want to place your emotional and spiritual well-being? The future of the planet?

They do what they do for money. They do what they do for self-enrichment. Oh, I know, the mantra of the day is that the free enterprise system that rewards individual greed ends up being the ultimate delivery system for all that is good for us. It is repeated to us constantly until we accept it uncritically, indeed unthinkingly. And who is it delivering that message to us night and day? The media, a conglomeration of corporations that not only seek profit for themselves but seek a cultural milieu that justifies such profiteering for themselves and their sponsors.

The result is ultra hi-def television that nonetheless offers us only black and white broadcasting, the contrast level turned so high that there is little to no gray area. The definition our televisions are capable of is nothing short of miraculous, and yet so little detail is ever provided. Instead, instances of violence are looped continuously and the narrative that accompanies the video must play to the beat.

In short, the media is a Frankenstein monster created by powerful corporate interests and faithfully obedient to the Military Industrial Complex, the more direct weapon of those same corporate interests. It has a job, and it is not to inform you. It has a mission statement, and it is not the search for truth. It has an obligation to someone, and it is not the viewer. Unless you truly believe you live in a free society, you must know this is true.

You do know it is true. On some level you are unable to accept the lie. In your calmer moments, those moments where the media is not busily herding ideas that have strayed too far from the official narrative the way a sheepdog herds the flock, you have admitted as much. But then the powers that be find some new unsavory business to attend to and the media is put into motion once again in order to justify some great evil, such as destroying the environment or bombing nations that have done nothing to us. Then the fear sets in and you cling to the narrative the media spins the way Harlow’s lab monkeys clung to their cloth mothers.

It's time to step away from the artificial zone of comfort the media has constructed for us. Not only is it a trap but it is one that crushes us once we are inside it.

It will seem like madness at first, because you have been conditioned your whole life to think within the box. Those paths to death and destruction are the only ones we’ve been shown, and you’ve been corrected every time you’ve strayed too far from them. But one only has to look honestly at the ever-shrinking mindset that the authorities present to realize they offer no hope to humanity. They offer death, fear, environmental destruction. Their hope for the future is a technology bereft of all morality or humanity, Their hope is that perhaps we can export a few fortunate ones to some new planet to begin again this dysfunctional system. Hope for tomorrow is just another product or viewpoint they’re trying to sell, not a guiding principle.

We’re on our own. Humanity must evolve or perish. The system that exists today, the one all the authorities and institutions promote in order to advance themselves, is a death cult hell-bent on wasting Earth’s precious resources to make weapons in order to blow up more of Earth’s precious resources. Where are the voices in government, in business, or the media that decry the insanity? They are not merely silent, they are loudly crying for more.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Bring The Sixties Back

My earliest memories seem to be of music, and that music was from the sixties. By the time I was 4 years old it was already 1970, but what had happened in the 60’s had been imprinted hard upon my psyche, though being of such a young age I had no way of knowing that. The Beatles, The Animals, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and countless others had been the music I was immersed in as a child. Psychedelia was in my DNA.

My earliest memories were of war. Not of war as most experienced it, a psychologically scarring experience that changed people’s lives, never for the better. No, I experienced war broadcast to our living room every night. My experience with war was not a visceral one but rather presented to me as a moral dilemma: was it right or wrong? People used to ask such questions back then.

I was a bastard child of the 60’s, too young to be considered legitimate and yet bearing all the distinguishing characteristics. Having four siblings, all at least 8 years older than myself, I considered myself a legacy Aquarian. I was only four, but I knew who Syd Barret was. I had not done LSD, but experienced much of the art that had been influenced by it.

Most of all, I breathed in the winds of change that had been blowing since the doctor forced my first inhalation. Things had changed a hell of a lot in the years surrounding my birth. At home, people were becoming aware of the need for preserving the environment, were confronting racial, sexual, and societal injustices that had so long been imbedded in our society that they were not even mentioned in the mass culture. Fortunately, a sub-culture had sprung up to shine a light on what was going on beyond the bright chrome, neon lights, and Howdy Doody Puppetry that so often blinded us from the subtler aspects of our society.

Elsewhere, far from American shores, people were rising up and sloughing off the yokes of imperialism and colonization and white rule. We were no longer a white planet. The 1960’s led us to the concept that the world was not a world of white actors with a few persons of color strewn about the stage for variety but an actual melting pot and quilt where people of all colors and races could add something new to the world vision.

The world view freaking exploded! A fourth if not a fifth and sixth dimension was added to our way of seeing things. When we saw ourselves we no longer saw merely through the eyes of a white male but of an African American, an Indian, a Hispanic. The possibilities were endless. They were endless doubled, because we could also see through the eyes of women, women of every background, race, and creed. Sure, there had always been the feminine point of view, but it was something foreign, an other, an alternative to the prism we stared through. Now we could look through the eyes of women, now that gap was not merely bridgeable but was insisting to be crossed. Women spoke for women, demanded to be seen for who they were, demanded to be understood, demanded to have a part in defining the group reality.

I was perhaps among the first of American children to grow up on heroes who were not exclusively Caucasian. Bruce Lee, Roberto Clemente, Mohammed Ali, these were the people I wanted to be like when I grew up. Somehow race was downplayed in those days. Everyone had outrageously big, frizzy hair and dressed in bright colorful clothes and skin color seemed to be less of a distinction: everything faded into hippie.
But what I had been born into—or more importantly, what my earliest initial memories were about—was the furthest representation of an already spent force. I do not remember a time where Robert or John Kennedy walked the earth. Malcom and Martin too were gone. The great peaceful gathering that was Woodstock had been and gone and was followed by the violence of Altamont. The Beatles had broken up, and while we still had a few decent years of pop music left to us, the change was coming.

Like I said, I was never part of the 60’s but grew up in its wake. The revolution that so many seemed to anticipate had been diverted, but the appearance of progress had to be maintained for a while yet lest the truth be too unpalatable. The great movement for equality and power to the people was slowly subverted and distracted until what was left was hollowed out and perverted remnants of what once was. Feminism became concerned about women wanting to smash glass ceilings and forgot about those who had to mop their floors. Equality of the races became identity politics, driving us apart rather than allowing us to come together. Capitalism became the magic bullet for helping people out of poverty, pretending to empower people, giving them freedom from limiters without providing the freedom to actually succeed.

And war became an acceptable means towards achieving whatever ends we thought were worthwhile. That was the great betrayal, that violence in both word and deed should become a vehicle for change.

Even more than change, the 60’s were about peace. No American represented this notion of peace better than Martin Luthor King Jr., whose campaign for justice through non-violent means rivalled and echoed Mahatma Gandhi’s struggles in India and South Africa.

Peace was important enough to merit a logo AND a hand gesture. Peace was part of the holy trinity, a triune aspect of god co-existing with love and understanding. Peace was a perspective, a commitment, a path forward from the problems that threatened our planet. People actually protested for peace. People actually wrote songs that preached peace. They were the first generation to grow up in a world that might be utterly destroyed by war, who were taught to cower under their school desks, whose parents built bomb shelters. They knew viscerally that violence was not the answer they were looking for.

But like I said, the movement that very naturally came about was very unnaturally co-opted by those who artfully spin the narratives that big money pays them to spin. A generation that was clued into the importance of peace were subtly led down other paths. Mainly we were sold the idea that such a movement was impractical, impossible, or simply naïve. And gradually the narrative about Martin Luthor King became that he was a man who protested for the rights of blacks and nothing more. As if his life was not a remarkable example of the power of peace, the triumph of “soul power” and agape over violence and hatred. As if the gift he gave was to African Americans alone and not every man, woman and child on this planet.

We need another peace movement in this nation. We need to dust off the one that was abandoned sometime in the early 70’s and wave that banner bravely once more. We are a different culture nowadays, no longer naïve but perhaps we are somehow better able to understand the situation we now face. Perhaps—and it may require a degree of faith, hubris, and commitment to optimism—perhaps we are more uniquely suited towards a more sustained pursuit of the path that leads us to where we need to go. Because there is little doubt of where we need to go. All indicators point to the fact that we are worse off than we were when we first diverged from the path of peace.

Whatever changes we wish to see, to make, in this world, will come about only by walking the path of peace, only by a very real and determined commitment to peace. Perhaps those in the ‘60’s—and I’m referring to the average person and not those such as Martin Luthor King, who knew the depths of commitment it took—had a rather naïve view of peace, a shallow faith that did not survive the hardships they encountered.
But if you call the peace movement of the sixties naïve, I call the lack of one today delusional and chilling. Nuclear war is even more possible today than it was then, the belligerence of nations greater, the structures that were erected between humanity and annihilation left to rust. Peace is never going to happen unless we make it happen. No government will ever create peace, it is up to the citizens to demand it.

Whatever other change we wish to see in the world will flow from that. To work for peace is to find commonality with one another. It is seeing ourselves as part of the world, not in combat with it. It is love not hate, it is the realization that we have to find an alternative to conflict. It is a very clear choice: are we going to commit to the path that leads to a peaceful future or are we going to stray from it whenever it is convenient and self-serving to do so? At some point we have to realize that convenience and self-interest are our enemies. Fear and doubt, too, we must admit to be working against our overall odds of surviving as a species.

It is not as difficult a choice as fear, selfishness, and doubt make it out to be. These are the voices of the child within us that fears to take the steps necessary to reach adulthood. We once believed that the sixties were a time of naivete, now we can see they were the first tentative steps taken by a young species learning how to walk, how to stand on its own without the prop of violence. It is time to take the step forward towards a peaceful future. The steps will be unsteady, like a child’s, but we must take them or else wallow our short lives in infantile fantasies about how the comfort of the world we’ve known up to now can continue to provide us safety.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

In The Time Before The Beeping

When I was a child, nothing beeped at you. We were left to our own devices to figure things out. When we spelled something wrong, no wiggly red line appeared beneath the word, nor did a green one appear should we use improper grammar (or rather, something Microsoft Word thought to be improper grammar). We were just supposed to know. The struggle was real.

Things were different in our day. You knew if your car door was open because you felt a breeze and it was kind of noisy. No need for a beep. You knew your lights were on because it was bright. You knew your seatbelt wasn’t fastened because—hey—nobody wore a seatbelt back then.

Microwaves weren’t constantly providing annoying reminders that they had finished the task you had assigned to them because there weren’t any. Perhaps computers beeped back then, but I couldn’t say for sure because, like most people of my generation, I had never seen one.

Games didn’t beep, they unfolded. Games didn’t make any noise at all, unless you count the sound of the rolling of dice or the spinning of a spinner. People made noise back then while playing games, it was called conversation. Believe it or not, games were something you played with other people. Sure, people occasionally played solitaire, but if people were caught someone doing it, they would explain their behavior by saying they were bored. Boredom, for those of you who are younger and unfamiliar with the term, was a state of mind that existed prior to deciding to get up and do something useful. Again, to explain to those of you younger than myself, solitaire was once played with a deck of cards rather than an electronic device. The cards did not beep.

Boredom was once a signal that something was not right in your world. It was a feeling of discontent with the situation you found yourself in. It was a necessary stage in the evolution from being unproductive to finding some activity that really absorbed your attention. I’m not sure that boredom exists anymore, we have replaced it with anxiety. Like a child who has dropped his nook, we are never really satisfied without a digital distraction nearby. We are never really satisfied when in possession of a digital distraction either, but we are to distracted to notice.

When I was young a song was not only a song but part of something larger, which we called an album. An album had an overall tone to it, quite often having an overarching theme. Songs were arranged in a certain way to provide an overall feel, the way flowers are arranged in a vase or gems mounted in a ring. The overall impression it made was far more powerful than could be made with a single song.

An album was not merely a sack filled with songs, it was a statement. It was an artistic expression—at least to those who knew and practiced the art—that captured the zeitgeist of both technology and cultural understanding. It was immersive: you put it on your turntable and then experienced it as you gazed at the artwork and read the lyrics. It brought you on a journey, the peak moments making you close your eyes in order to experience it more fully.

We don’t have time to take a journey like that anymore. There is always a beep to drag us back to the here and now, away from the timeless.

I remember visiting my grandmother who lived in a small town and all the stores being closed on a Sunday. My father told me that’s the way it used to be in most towns, though by the time I came along such a thing was a rarity. My parents also never allowed me to cut the grass on a Sunday. Such notions were derived from Christian tradition, and I can understand how, with a decline of a strong Christian majority, such practices fell to the wayside (though I still never cut the grass or do anything outdoors that is bothersome to the neighbors on a Sunday). While I understand the change, I still can’t help feeling we’ve lost something in no longer observing a day of rest and refraining from commerce. We need to set aside time for what is important, and slowing ourselves down and giving ourselves time to reflect is important.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and with the receding of Christian values, a new set of values assumed cultural dominance: the idea that progress is both inevitable and always preferable. It was not simply swapping out the sacred and replacing it with the secular, it assumed religious overtones itself. Technological progress was not merely an idea, it became a faith. Sure, we always seemed to lose something in the exchange, but the promised rewards were too great to ignore. So we set aside the way of life we used to know and stepped aboard a train that promised to keep going further and faster. It did not disappoint, in fact it took us further and faster than any of us could have anticipated. It took us on such a dizzying journey we haven’t ever had a chance to question the initial assumption that technological progress will always make us happier. When something came along that made us stop to think—like losing a job because of technology, or losing the ability to engage in meaningful contact with friends and neighbors—we only had enough time to repeat the mantra that technology is inevitable before moving on to something else.

We once lived on human time. Then we created machinery and were to a degree forced to live on machine time. Alarm clocks woke us up, traffic lights told us when we could proceed, and lunch whistles told us when we could eat. Now we have created microchips and live on digital time, where everything is broken up into fractions of seconds. We have become anxious we might miss that new message, the next “Breaking News” story on TV, or a response to whatever we just posted on Facebook. We have adapted, but it is not a conscious choice we made. The excuse is—it has always been—that progress is inevitable. I would suggest that what takes us away from feeling and experiencing life more fully is not progress. I would also suggest that nothing is inevitable except that which we resign ourselves to.

Technology is fashioning our behavior, we are not fashioning it. We leap to the sound of the beep the way a dog is trained by a clapper. I’m not suggesting this is some nefarious plot devised by a secret cabal, though I could certainly see the danger of it being used in that way. I’m simply positing that it is a trap that we have fallen into. It is a habit which has spread across society, not unlike the way smoking did a century or so ago. And like smoking, we can gradually come to see how it adversely affects our wellbeing and discourage the practice.

Technology is a tool we created to make our lives better. We are its owners, its masters. It exists to serve us. It has no will or drive of its own. It is up to us to decide what we want it to be. I would suggest that we have forgotten that truth. We have abandoned our choices in the matter and now we have virtually everything we do being recorded digitally through cameras, cookies, or a myriad of other digital footprints we knowingly or unknowingly leave behind. More than most any other invention of mankind, digital technology has the potential to both help and harm us. If we do not pay it sufficient mind, if we are too busy checking Twitter to take control of the digital world we daily live in, there are assuredly others who will shape that world the way they see fit. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just heard a beep.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Adventures In The Not So Great Outdoors

There’s something about doing yardwork that gets me thinking. Perhaps it is just my mind telling me I should get out of the sun and back to my writing. It’s just that nature in any degree is inspiring and as a writer I get so little of it.

I’m not a big fan of bugs, especially when they are inside my house. Oh sure, I do try to shoo them out the door if at all possible, but I’m not above smashing them when necessary. When they enter the house they become intruders, and thus they become my enemies.

But I don’t see why we need to be natural antagonists. Bugs have their role to play, and in the long run they are probably much healthier for the planet than we humans. Which is why once outside my home I suddenly feel as though I am the interloper in their domain. I was picking weeds from my driveway today and as I did so, I seemed to cause a great deal of commotion among the little creatures that lived within the cracks. A colony of ants was all in a flutter as I ripped a handful of green growing plants from over the top of their little ant colony, and I couldn’t help see things through their little ant eyes. I placed myself in their little ant shoes and saw the catastrophe as something comparable to an earthquake or tornado. Their little ant world was being turned topsy-turvy and I couldn’t help wondering how this would seem to them. This event might someday be described by grandmother and grandfather ant to their little ant grandchildren as something comparable to Pompeii, might be written about and discussed for ant millennia to come.

Perhaps I anthropomorphize their behavior a little too much. Bugs surely experience things differently than human beings, but on some level it must have been traumatic. Not the ants only but some smaller version of bugs I know only as rolly-pollies were evicted from their homes like old ladies living where Donald Trump wants to build a parking lot. It left me questioning what it means to be a homeowner.

See, the whole idea of homeownership is merely a convention created by humans. Nobody owns anything, we merely inhabit a piece of earth for a while. Like every other creature on God’s green Earth, we’re just passing through. We don’t own the earth, we are part of it. From it we are born and to it we will return. Along the way we share the ride with everyone and everything we encounter. But we’re not in charge and we don’t really own anything.

It’s just our tiny little egos don’t know that. Believing we are something, we then need to feel we are something more than that little thing we actually are. We are not simply our corporeal body, we are the domain we inhabit. The very earth outside our abode is an extension of us, each blade of grass an expression of who we are. They need to appear orderly, in the same way we need to have our hair combed neatly so the world knows we are sanitary and worthy of human interaction.

I think it stems from worrying about what other people think of us. We have such a deep feeling of insecurity that we spend more time worrying about the perceived opinions of our neighbors than we do thinking about why we do what we do. The second we start caring more about how our lawn looks to others than our relationship to the nature closest to us, we have surrendered our autonomy as individual agents. So while we stake a claim to a larger area of ground that we believe we are in control of, what we are actually doing is making our domain smaller. Our lawn is no longer ours since we cannot do with it as we will.

So we douse our lawns with chemicals, in the same way men in the 40’s greased their hair or women in the 80’s sprayed theirs into submission. It was not bad enough that we waged war on nature on a broad front, we now feel compelled to dominate it on a micro level as well. The actual health of our yards be damned, it was how it looked that was important.

The problem is that we still seem to feel we need to master nature, rather than live with it, be a part of it. We are nature fascists, determined to dominate rather than coexist. And dominance, after all, is a very natural tendency, in species other than just man. But it is a primitive notion, something perhaps suitable for chimpanzees and gorillas but not for a species capable of creating nuclear weapons and global warming. At some point, we as a species must learn a different way to view our relationship with the outside world if we want to continue to enjoy the privileged position we now have.

As man encroaches more and more upon the last unspoiled portions of the world, it is more than ever important that we regard the nature within our small realm of influence with respect and reverence. In these encounters with the smallest of God’s living creations, we must cultivate a true appreciation for life in all its forms. For all that we wish to feel superior and dominant, such an attitude does not in the end lead to satisfaction and happiness. It requires an initial feeling of insignificance on our part to let go of such notions, but in the end we are deeply awarded for doing so. For in the admission that we do not own anything, we discover that we are in fact part of everything. I cannot imagine any possession that could provide as much happiness as that revelation.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Simple Truth

There is no power equal to that possessed by the common man. The most powerful kings and emperors have only ever existed at the leave of the average citizen. All the power that any institution can have over the common worker is illusory. Armies, prisons, corporations, all fall to dust without the support of us. The only power institutions and rulers have is the power to divide us against ourselves. To that end they use all their efforts and all their skill, and all too often they succeed. They need our support even in suppressing us, need some of us to act against the good of all. Those who rule over us could never be where they are without a fair share of Judases.

Rulers divide using fear. No one would tolerate the despot if it weren’t for the fear that something worse awaited us should we not follow him. Fear leads to hatred and then to violence, which we all know feeds upon itself. The violence of one group creates the justification for the violence of another, which then places the justification for violence back on the other side of the court. Thus are we divided and thus are we conquered.

The games those who seek to rule us play are too crafty for us to understand, the average mind incapable of thinking in such twisted patterns. But do not fear that that makes you ignorant, do not feel inferior because you are incapable of thinking like them or cannot outwit them. A healthy mind should not even attempt such thoughts of manipulation and deceit. It is a game that well-adjusted people should never play.

Do not fear that you will never be free from their machinations. They will always be ahead of you in the games they play, but all their plotting will come to nothing if you keep to the basic principles you know in your heart to be true. They cannot manipulate you if they cannot make you stray from your core values.

Do not hate, even when you do not understand. Do not support violence, even when you are afraid for yourself and your family. Hatred and violence are their tools, not ours. They make tyrants strong but they are the ruin of civilizations.

Have faith, in yourself and in the overall goodness of humanity. Perhaps people are not naturally angels, but neither are they naturally devils. The deciding factor is the way we choose to perceive ourselves and others. If you commit to seeing the better angels of your own soul and of those you meet, you will turn the tide in favor of goodness.

We are meant to see our fellow humans as our brothers and sisters, our parents and children. This is the natural order of things, the way humanity has lived for countless generations. Primitive man realized he was part of a family as much as he was an individual. Advancing, he realized he was part of something larger, part of a clan. Then still something larger, a tribe, a city, a nation. The history of humanity is one of searching for belonging in an ever-bigger community. We have now arrived at the logical endpoint, the realization that we are all one people, a global family, each of us depending upon others for our own survival.

The ties between people are not merely economic ones, they are far richer than that. Nor need they be hierarchical ones, relationships between master and slave, ruler and ruled. Those are primitive kinds of relationships, dysfunctional relationships. Our society has learned on an individual level that healthy relationships are built on respect, equality, and love. We have learned that when you are treated cruelly and are manipulated by another person that the best thing you can do is to distance yourself from that individual. It is time we as a society begin to distance ourselves from the kind of people who create unhealthy relationships. Equally important, we must dismantle all systems of government and enterprise that encourage such unhealthy relationships.

Do not follow those who would lead through power. Do not react to them. Step away. Create your own reality. They will attack you, they will assail you, they will try to make you believe the world is coming to an end. Do not listen. Do not enter through the door they try to push you through. They want you to live in their world. Do not go. It is a horrible world. Build instead your own world. You are both world builders, he and you. Build a beautiful world. Build it and do not doubt.

Of course, doubt has been inevitable, because that is what makes you different from those who seek to rule others. They do not doubt because they never stop to consider anything other than their desire to dominate. Doubt if you must, for your world is built stronger in the end by your ability to doubt. Doubt will cause you at the outset to contemplate that those who seek to dominate perhaps have the answers. If that is the case, then continue to doubt. Doubt until you find answers that give you strength and surety, not doubt and pain. Doubting in the end will give you greater surety, will provide a solid base for all that you build from then on out. But in the end no structure is built by doubt but through faith and will. Eventually you will have to build the world that crowds out theirs.

Do not accept their world. Do not accept their arguments. Do not accept the idea that it is their prerogative to frame the debate. They desire a master/slave relationship, and too often they get others to accept that paradigm because they are then permitted to be masters on a lower rung. Many who are dominated seek solace in dominating others.

They use the threat of violence. Your only answer to violence is to refuse to succumb to it. That is you showing you do not accept violence as an answer. That is you creating a peaceful world and it is your only hope of ever building one, the only hope of converting recruits from the other side.

We cannot beat them at their game. We can only survive by sticking to ours. We must play by our rules, we must live by our standards, our ethics, our ways of life. We must not bow to statues they have carved, nor accept the choices they have given us.

A better world is possible but they will never willingly give it to us. The war they say is needed to achieve peace will only lead to other wars. A better world is possible but we will never achieve it using their methods. We cannot ever dominate them, but we can entice them. We can set the good example. By showing others a better way, we will win many to our cause. And as they leave more will follow. Those who remain will lose much of what had made them strong. And if they do not then see the light they will at least play OUR game until the opportunity to play theirs arises once again.

You have seen a better way, and therefore it is incumbent upon you to lead. Perhaps it is not your inclination to lead but it is nevertheless your responsibility. Refusing to lead will mean allowing others to do so, those who desire to lead but are unfit to do so. Perhaps the best leaders, as Plato and George Washington would attest to, are not the ones who are willing to lead but those who must.

And each one of us has an opportunity to lead. Even if only in the smallest of ways we can still be leaders, teaching others the virtues and practices that will build a better world. Every time you hold a door open for someone, you are not only doing a good deed but you are being a role model, and that is what it means to lead. Every time you step out on a limb, take a chance of failing by doing the right thing, a noble thing, you place yourself at the front of a surge of a movement. Success will come not in one massive wave but in the countless successions of waves crashing upon the shore, transforming our world in unseen but substantial ways. Every single wave makes its contribution, each surge that reaches upwards and pushes onwards will bring us where we need to be. Even when we do not see it, even when the rocks of indifference seem no different than they were the day before, we must be aware that in time they will give way. And all of us, each of us, is pushing towards that day.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Self-Publishing And The Gatekeepers

"... The chief qualification of ninety-nine per cent of all editors is failure. They have failed as writers. Don't think they prefer the drudgery of the desk and the slavery to their circulation and to the business manager to the joy of writing. They have tried to write, and they have failed. And right there is the cursed paradox of it. Every portal to success in literature is guarded by those watch-dogs, the failures of literature. The editors, the sub-editors, associate editors, most of them, and the manuscript readers for the magazines and book-publishers, most of them, nearly all of them, are men who wanted to write and failed. And yet they, of all creatures under the sun the most unfit, are the very creatures who decide what shall and what shall not find its way into print–they, who have proved themselves not original, who have demonstrated that they lack the divine fire, sit in judgment upon originality and genius. And after them comes the reviewers, just so many more failures. Don't tell me that they have not dreamed the dream and attempted to write poetry and fiction; for they have, and they have failed. Why, the average review is more nauseating than cod-liver oil...."

-- Jack London, "Martin Eden"

All of us who learned in our youth a love of reading have likewise developed a love of books and those who introduced books to us. Somewhere above us, we imagined, way upon high, were those who decided what was and was not worthy to be set into print, given a lovely cover, and permitted on the shelves of that greatest of all stores, the bookstore. There was a certain magic to the process and there was a saintliness bestowed upon all who were involved in the process.

Most likely, too, we first acquired the love of reading from a teacher, a parent, or some other authority figure. Books were sacred mysteries passed down from the elders to the youth, an initiation of sorts, necessary before we could enter into this new world that only books could lead us to.

The same thing goes with young people who get their first taste and desire to become writers. Somewhere in their past they were given an assignment by a teacher to write, at which point they discovered they liked the process of creating something from nothing. Maybe they even felt as if they were talented at it and, maybe, a teacher or older person had taken interest in the writing they had done and complimented them on it. Perhaps they even encouraged them to pursue their interest in writing. Maybe they even went as far as sharing it with the class or submitting it to a publication or a competition.

We writers are always looking for our work to be recognized, acknowledged, appreciated. It is natural, after all, for those who spend so much time creating in solitude to want to know that other people can relate to what we have done. If we didn’t get positive feedback of some sort, it would be reasonable that we should question our relatedness to the outside world, even our sanity.

Which is why it has always been the case that the writer has sought the recognition and acceptance of those who are the gatekeepers of what does and does not get published. Of course, in the past, that was the only option for a writer to get read, to win the favor of those who stand between the writer and an audience. If you could not win favor with the publishing houses or the media, few people would ever get the chance to read your work.

Such is not the case anymore. Granted, it is still easier to appeal to those systems and institutions that know how to smooth the way for a writer that fits their mold, but it is not the only way. The potential is now there to bypass the gatekeepers and thereby bypass the demands they place upon you. You no longer have to conform your writing to their tastes, no longer have to alter and mangle your work to fit into their conception of what a given audience wants.

Let us put aside all notions that publishing is anything other than a business, that publishers are interested in bringing your thoughts to readers rather than bringing the reader’s cash into their pockets. Don’t get me wrong, the art of writing can still be sacred and pure, as can the act of reading, but to get from writer to reader it must pass through the meatgrinder that is the market, where art and integrity are at best talking points.

And while publishing has been little more than a business for quite some time, probably dating back to Gutenberg, the machinery and industry that controls the process has only become more focused on the bottom line since then. The big publishers are getting bigger and the smaller ones are getting gobbled up or are fading away. The market for booksellers is increasingly coming into the hands of a few players such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The bigger the institutions making the decisions the greater the distance between the decision makers and those who have concerns other than profit.

Thus, the person in charge of reading manuscripts is no longer acting under his or her own discretion but instead looking for something that fits the template given to them by the corporate office.

Today, focus groups and spreadsheets have made it amazingly possible to remove from publishing decisions any thought of art, ideas, or beauty. As always, publishers have heaps of manuscripts awaiting attention, but today they are able to immediately access whatever is trending. Algorithms and corporate mindsets are shrinking the role that individual humans play. Nobody is asking what new work might speak to the troubles and concerns of the world as it is today but rather what is currently selling with the 14-18 year old market.

So on one hand we have a constriction of the gatekeeper’s concerns into a small gap of moneymaking banality and on the other we have an unprecedented alternative to traditional publishing in the form of self-publishing. Indeed, some people who have found success in self-publishing have seen the big publishers come knocking on their doors. What would keep people from taking the easier, less restrictive way that offers complete freedom and a vastly larger slice of the rewards?

But of course, that’s not the way we have been trained. Many of us are still looking for the approval—not from the ultimate audience, the readers—but from the anonymous sources at publishing houses, magazines, and newspapers. We are still looking for that nod from the teacher telling us we have made the grade.

There is some merit to that approach. It is important to get all the instruction we can from those who have the appropriate experience and knowledge. If we want to produce quality writers it is important that aspiring ones serve some sort of apprenticeship and learn their craft from acknowledged masters. Self-publishing in some ways has turned on a sewer pipe that’s been dumping a flow of sludge into the marketplace, but at the same time it is a conduit that permits those who don’t fit the mold or aren’t willing to conform to it to find an audience. And if you think the publishing industry has been elevating the art of literature, I ask you to take a look at the bestseller’s lists, where Bill O’Reilly and James Patterson never seem to leave the list. And the authors who are given the largest advances—celebrities and newsmakers who have never written anything more complex than a Tweet—are those who will be given a ghostwriter to do their work for them,

Which brings us back to the Jack London quote I began this essay with. Those who serve as the gatekeepers are not the best qualified to judge what good writing is. If that was true in London’s time it is doubly true today. They are neither successful writers themselves nor do they seek to advance the craft. Inexperienced authors may sometimes view them as benevolent fairies who will waive their magic wand upon them and pronounce them as the chosen one, but in truth it’s a business and business and art have never mixed well.

I am not saying there is necessarily anything wrong with choosing the traditional method of publishing, nor do I wish to say that publishers think about money to the exclusion of all else. But there is an alternative now, the likes of which has never existed until recently. Jack London went on to be the most successful and best paid author of his day. Much more than that, though, he was in my mind the greatest writer the United States has ever produced. But the rejection he received before breaking through the barrier the gatekeepers maintain is a tale of epic struggle, leading to countless moments where a less determined or less desperate person would have quit. I am quite certain he would have welcomed the opportunity self-publishing offers, and equally as certain he would have succeeded at it.

I have chosen the route of self-publishing, though I have yet to find success. Once it began to look like I would soon have a finished novel, I began to think about what to do with it next. While I had always assumed I would go the traditional route, Jack London’s warning had always been in the back of my thoughts. And when I got to know authors who were independently publishing I just seemed to fall in with the community. It seemed the logical approach for me, perhaps because I fell outside of the norm, never considered myself trendy. The additional work is no doubt something I would like to fob off on others: the self-promotion, the search for editors, proofreaders, and cover artists. But it is worth it to be in charge of one’s writing and one’s destiny. Too often one believes that the publisher cares for your book as much as you do and that is just not true. In the end, the writer is alone in his desire to nourish his work.

I do not rule out signing a contract with a publish someday. But when I do it will be as someone who has already achieved a degree of success and has attained a degree of knowledge of the industry. I realize it is a hard road to take, but I do not see an easier one. The world—the publishing industry included—is utterly indifferent to what you are writing and it is up to you to change that situation. While those who initially encouraged our writing had our best interests at heart, those in the publishing business have their own interests. I don’t blame them, they have a job to do. Those who are unable to write must still bring home a paycheck, and I’m sure they offer a degree of assistance to those who do. Still, should I ever wish to go into business with them, I’d like to do it on my own terms and with the sleep wiped from my eyes.

Monday, May 8, 2017

We Don't Have To Fail

I know, the problems of the world seem so vast, so far reaching, never ending and unconquerable that they scare the hell out of you. But we don’t have to fail. Our leaders and our institutions are failing us, and everywhere people are shouting and angry with their fellow man when they are not actively killing one another. But we don’t have to fail.

How, you may ask, can we do other than fail? It seems we know of no approach except to blame others for the way things are. We are incapable of looking inward for the answers, are afraid to believe that inside us lies something of value we can give to the world. Afraid of the awesomeness of the task and the smallness of ourselves, we place our faith in powerful forces, ceding the role we need to play to governments, corporations, and technology. But we need not do so. We need not fail.

Our world can only ever be as free as each one of us is free. So long as we give our hearts, our minds and our labor to institutions that do not respond to our humanity, we contribute to the problem rather than the solution. We must be both servants and rebels, servants to humanity but rebels against demands from anyone who asks us to surrender what is best in us to systems and bureaucracies that are not functioning as they should.

We can only triumph if each and every one of us works towards the goal, each one of us dealing with the piece of the grand puzzle that is placed in front of us, that part of the puzzle only we know how to solve.

We will only succeed if we have faith that others are not so different from us, that each of us, deep down, has the capacity to work towards a better end than the one we are hurtling towards. We will succeed if we stop digging through the wreckage of our current situation for bones of contention and instead seek out what can still be salvaged. We need to let go of what separates us and focus instead on the vastly more important issue of what unites us. For God’s sake, stop pointing the finger of blame.

We succeed one individual at a time. We move towards success with every soul that commits to the betterment of mankind without waiting for a sign from God or proof that their fellow man is doing his part. We cannot wait for the change, we must be the change. It must start with us. Each and every soul that commits to the path is a step in the right direction, is a step away from the abyss that awaits us should we fail. We need not fail.

We succeed when we refuse to see one another as an enemy. We succeed when we refuse to see war as an option. We succeed when we take away the power of another to dictate our actions and take the power in our own hands. No other person can make you work against the common good. No person, even at the barrel of a gun, can make you do injury to your fellow man.

This is power. This is ultimate power, the power not only to define who you are as a person but the power to influence others by your example and thereby change the world. Powerlessness is merely the belief that others control your behavior, that you must do things you’d rather not as a way to respond to their actions.

You have the power. You must believe this. You are not helpless. The feeling of helplessness you feel is the will of others working within you. You cannot and never will gain power through this feeling of helplessness, it will only further ensnare you in the world that others wish for you to inhabit.

You are free. Whatever holds you down and limits you, you have the choice as to which road you travel. Knowledge is power and the truth shall set you free. You must never use the excuse that the institutions won’t let you do what you would like. They cannot rule without your consent. It is time now for you to exert the authority that is invested in you and in all of us.

The roads diverge quite sharply. One leads to division, discord and destruction. If you choose that road you will see every approaching stranger as an enemy. On that road you will find countless excuses for selfish behavior and the use of force. The other road is a commitment to optimism. Not foolish optimism, for you know the way is long and hard. It is a commitment to optimism whatever setbacks you may encounter. It is choosing a path and sticking with it when hard times come, not falling back on your crutches of negativity and conflict whenever you face obstacles.

The world is in danger. Civilization is in danger. It seems foolish to believe there is something you are capable of doing about it. It seems daunting, the sheer audacity of it makes you want to run away and let mommy and daddy or the government or the free market deal with it. But mommy and daddy can’t help you, the market doesn’t care about you, and the government is only what you have made it. If you have distanced yourself from the power structures that rule then they will not work in your best interests. It is you. It is you, believing in the commonality of humanity and our ability to find a way to peacefully coexist and make our way to a better future. Because if you believe in humanity, humanity will respond positively to your belief. You are not the only one working towards that goal. There are others, too many to count, who have shown the way. Their lives have been a testament to the nobility, courage and faith that can be found in human beings. They have made sacrifices far beyond what most of us ever have to worry about, so do not worry about not being up to fulfilling your small part in the play.

But do not make idols of those who came before you. Do not believe that the greatness exhibited by them does not exist in some degree in you as well. It lives in you, or else you would not be able to appreciate it in others.

You need not do great things, you merely need to do what you were born to do, be what you were born to be. You only have to become aware of the nobility and the possibilities that are latent in us all. Appreciate it in your role models, accept it in yourself, encourage it in others. These three things, acting upon one another, will strengthen each, thus making yourself and others stronger, thus raising up all of humanity. It is within you, it is within all of us. This is our future, if we are to have one. It is a choice for us to make. If you have a better option, I’d love to hear about it. We are all in it together.