Monday, December 31, 2018

My New Year's Revolution

Changes need to be made, and I have come to the conclusion I can no longer wait for others to make those changes happen. While I have long held to the idea that the changes required were too big to be handled by individuals acting on their own, I now realize they are too urgent to not be confronted in every way possible. And thus I, one has always avoiding being a role model or placing attention upon myself, seek through my actions to be an example of how we must live in the next year. Please don’t think it is because I consider myself special that I do so. It is only because I am no different than anyone else that I think my actions can inspire others. If this porkchop-eating, shopping-as-entertainment human being can commit to building a better world, then heck, anyone can. 

Once I believed our government should lead us in change, but now I see it is hopelessly corrupted and will never change until confronted with an undeniable commitment by the populace. Once I was lulled into silence by those who spoke so certainly that the free market would make all good things come to pass, now I realize it is only an engine driven by our collective greed, fear, and insecurities. No, our institutions will not save us, they will eventually lead us to our deaths. Only us, acting out our humanity, can make the world what it needs to be. If we allow our institutions to stamp out the best and most human in us, there is no hope for our species, at least none that I care to speculate.

Here then are my resolutions in support of revolution:

-I resolve to abstain from animal products to the best of my ability. I am not saying I will be perfect but year by year I have gotten less dependent on them and this year I will push myself away from the unnecessary inclusion of meat, dairy, and eggs in my diet. This is important to me both from an environmental aspect and because it expresses my commitment to non-violence. I don’t have to kill animals to sustain myself, and I sure don’t want them living their entire lives in the most deplorable of circumstances. My abstaining from animal products will reduce the amount of land required for agriculture, which can then be given back to nature to do with as she pleases.

-I resolve to eliminate plastic from my life as much as possible. There is no need for me to ever use a disposable plastic bag. None. Furthermore, there is no need for me to drink water from a disposable plastic bottle. If I am too lazy or forgetful to bring my own cup or bottle to work, I can drink from the water fountain or cup my hands beneath the faucet. When I go to the grocery store, I will not put my fresh vegetables and fruit in the plastic bags provided if I can help it. Why waste a bag for one pepper or onion? I will not use straws. I will in every instance, think long and hard about how I can avoid plastic when making a purchase. If I am at an ice cream shop, I will choose to eat it out of a cone if the alternative is to use a plastic spoon. Simple choices that at the worst will do little for the planet, but will cost me nothing.

-As much as possible, I will try to eliminate doing business with corporations. I have had my prescriptions changed from Walmart to a locally-owned pharmacy. I will buy what I can from local shops and restaurants, will buy my food from local farmers. And if I feel the urge to buy something and it is only available through Amazon or some other huge corporation, I will ask myself if I really need it that much. I have found that most of the time the answer is no.

-I will, as much as possible without making an annoyance of myself, alert people to the reasons I am making these decisions. Not in a judgmental but in an inspirational way. Everybody loves nature, everybody love turtles and clean water and bumble bees. I want to remind people that they have the power to protect nature and make the world a better place.

So how about you, what are your New Year’s Revolutions? I know it’s kind of late to bring it up but if you have any, please share. Otherwise, let the idea sit in you mind for a while and see what you start practicing in the lead up to 2020. They need not be the same as I have shared, in fact I am confident many of them will be more creative and ambitious than my own. I just felt the need to get the ball started, or at least add my name and commitment to a movement that will never start with our institutions and must begin with us average human beings. Here’s to a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

"You Can't Change Things"

“You can’t change things, you know,” he said. Who it was isn’t important, he is many people, he is a she as well. I’ve encountered him/her everywhere I go, online and on television too.

He saw me using a reusable bag at the grocery store, in which the cashier was putting my veggie burgers and soy milk. I always go to a cashier rather than using the self-checkout because I’d rather give a person a job than interact with a piece of machinery.

“It doesn’t do any good,” he said in the silence that existed while I weighed the words he first spoke to me. “You all by yourself are not going solve the world’s problems.”

“Look at all the other people shoving their groceries into plastic bags that they will then throw away. Not only do they not care, your example will be ignored, and you can’t do it on your own.”

Like I said, I have heard the argument many, many times before, from people who felt they knew better than me, were wiser in the ways of the world. In the past, their words would weigh heavily upon me. I would believe them because they were so certain, while all my conviction rested on that ever fragile notion called hope. Their argument, however seemed to rest solidly on past examples.
Who was I to argue with all the evidence the past provided? Who was I to say that something new might be achieved? A dreamer, surely.

But perhaps it was the utter repetitiveness of the argument that finally made me tire of it. In all of my life it never wavered, and in all my life, it never did anything to make me happier or the world a better place. So I gave him my reply in a way I never had before. I said it confidently, whereas in the past I weighed my hope with his defeatism.

“Yes, I can,” I said, and it really made me feel good inside to say it.

“What?” he said, as if I had just pronounced myself to be Napoleon Bonaparte or Jesus Christ.

“I said,” and I paused for a moment, confidently, “I am going to change the world.”

“You’re crazy,” he said, with the certainty such types are known for. But freed from my own doubt, my own despair, I could see his certainty and his narrative begin to waver. Never in his life had he had it confronted so directly.

“I am going to change the world,” I said. Not cruelly. Not confrontationally. Just confidently, filled with a brightness I had always longed for but never believed myself capable of. “I am going to change the world and you and everyone else in this store are going to help me.”

I couldn’t help noticing the cashier looking at me as I spoke. I wasn’t sure what she thought of me, but I realized I wasn’t embarrassed by the words I spoke, the position I took, or the attitude I had assumed. My groceries bagged, I thanked the cashier quite genuinely for the service she provided for me, grabbed my bag and walked out the door, making sure I gave something to the bell ringer and thanking him as well. I wish I could explain to you the joy I felt inside. My uncertainty I left behind for the man who had tried to talk me out of my foolishness. “That’s okay,” I thought, “uncertainty is where I started and it led me to where I am now, which is quite a nice state of mind to be in.” 

I truly believe he had been waiting his whole life for someone to show him he was wrong.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Are You Technology's Bitch?

I have one of those rare jobs where the extent of my interaction with technology is when I use a computer to clock-in in the morning and clock-out when I leave. The only tool I use which requires electricity is a SawZall, which I have need of only on rare occasions. Yes, this is being written in the 21st Century, 2018 to be precise.

It is a joy to be free from technology for eight hours. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy technology, it’s just that I want to pick and choose when and where I interact with it. I enjoy social media, binge-watch shows on Netflix with my wife, download podcasts I listen to with Bluetooth. But I’ve become aware that technology is not always a choice. Every appliance I own nowadays beeps at me. Usually it is trying to tell me something I already know, but sometimes things beep and I don’t even know why. It makes me feel stupid. It is not a refrigerator’s job to make me feel stupid. Keep my lettuce crisp and  keep quiet, damn it.

My Kindle beeps. Devices used for reading books should never beep. Beeping is anathema to reading. Beeping is the ultimate distraction. It is the Pavlovian signal that I must emerge from deep concentration and deal with some trivial task. And like a dog, I unthinkingly respond every time. I am technology's bitch.

Speaking of dogs, my dog hates beeping. When she hears it on the television, she gets up from her spot on the couch and goes into the basement. Same for when the microwave finishes, the stove gets up to temperature, the refrigerator is not closed properly, the batteries in the smoke alarm starts dying, or my wife gets a text. Even my dehumidifier beeps. There is no need for that. My dog prefers being alone in the dark to the sound our infernal technology makes, and I don’t blame her.

I don’t have a smart phone. I’m not sure how much money that saves me a month but I know it saves my employer a ton. I see my coworkers take the occasional glimpse at their phone the way any drug addict takes the occasional hit off a pipe. They get edgy when they start thinking about it and it’s been a while. Maybe they’ve missed something important, as if anything they’ve ever seen on Facebook has been important. At any rate, all productivity is lost until they've received a sufficient fix.

The thing I dread more than anything is when a coworker comes up to me with their phone to show me something they’ve seen on the internet. Never, in my entire life, has this turned out to be pleasantly amusing. It is at such times I cannot deny the banality of existence. I start to wonder if this is the same species that created space-flight and War And Peace. It is one thing to find a crude cartoon worth your time, it is another to frame it and hang it on your wall so that your guests must view it as well. At such moments I wish I was alone in a dark basement.

A coworker of mine is fond of pointing out to me how backwards our company is for not finding ways to employ technology to do our job better. When I inform him that it would only make my job less enjoyable, he tells me it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we find ways to improve efficiency and do things cheaper. I tell him I’d rather be happy, and that’s when he looks at me paternally, even though he’s always reminding me I’m older than he is. He then delivers the argument that has been drilled into his and every other American’s head, though he certainly believes he was intelligent to come up with it on his own.

He tells me that my sense of enjoyment comes not from the work I do but in the success we are able to achieve by using technology to beat out the competition. In other words, my success is the result of being more miserable at my work than some poor shmoe in some other factory. By upgrading my position to an even more alienated cog in a super-advanced machine, I can be the lucky one who keeps his job. I tell him that’s not exactly a win/win proposition.

But the real payoff of technological progress, he says, is not at work but the things we can buy with the money we receive from working at a job we hate. I as of yet do not have an ultra hi-def television, so there’s that to work for. But to spend 40 hours of week at work not enjoying myself, I would feel compelled to spend an equal amount of time watching my television in order to feel the tradeoff equal. That's a hell of a commitment.

In truth, if I were to get a new top of the line television with all the necessary accoutrements, it would probably sit half-assembled in my living room. The payoff just wouldn’t be sufficient motivation for me to finish the job. I’ve seen South Park in Hi-Def, and to be honest, it wasn’t all that. Besides, if I were able to follow all the necessary instructions and turn on my new 65” Class 4K (2160P) Ultra HD Smart QLED HDR TV, the first thing it would probably do would be to start beeping, in which case I held towards the safety of the basement. I'm glad I have a dog to keep me company.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Conversation With An Onion

My wife keeps a bowl on the kitchen counter in which she places onions to be used for cooking. While packing my lunch yesterday, I noticed an onion that had apparently been sitting there for a long time and had begun growing, a shoot of six inches or so reaching skyward.

“What a futile action,” I thought. “There is no life for you. And now that you are no longer fit even to eat, you will wind up in the trash to be buried forever in a plastic bag in a landfill.”

Then, a very unusual things happened: the onion spoke to me. How it knew what I was thinking I cannot guess, nor did I stop to ask such a question, as startled as I was by this talking onion.

“I grow,” said the onion, by way of explanation, “because it is in my nature to grow. Lacking a developed cerebral cortex such as you possess, I would never think to do otherwise. And for that lack of an ability to overthink life, I must say I am immensely grateful.”

I wasn’t sure what annoyed me more, the fact that I could not deny that the onion was speaking to me or the imperious tone in his voice.

“That may be,” I said, unwilling to let an onion get the best of me in an argument, “but it is a pointless effort that will do you no good.”

“Nothing is pointless if you enjoy it,” said the onion. “Living is growing, and life is its own justification. It feels good to grow. Living and growing, those are the only two true joys possible, except perhaps in giving of oneself to nourish life in another. And while I was quite willing to share of myself as food for you in order that I might become part of your life, you left me sit too long and I grew impatient.”

“Nevertheless,” I said, “not to be cruel, but you are just an onion, and your desire to grow at this late stage is really quite absurd. Nothing will come of it. Sometimes you just have to give up the fight and admit you are beaten. It’s over. Just quit.”

“Oh, I suppose I should be like a human, with your big advanced brain. You are capable of seeing so much, and yet are able to rationalize away all that is important. You would have me give up while there is life yet in me. Now I am not as smart as a human, so maybe it is easier for me to understand the limitations of my intellect. But I see no reason not to live while the urge to burst forth resides within my oniony soul. I cannot see where it will lead, but neither can you, with all your capacity for thought.”

I thought for a moment, realizing this pungent little fellow may just be right. We do have no idea what meaning exists in our actions, try as we may. I thought of trees taking root on the rockiest of mountain sides, of flora finding places to grow from the thinnest cracks in sidewalks. Who could explain the meaning of it all, and yet it was quite amazing, even inspiring, to see life burst forth against all odds. It is best to live with all one’s might rather than to not live at all because your quite-possibly-faulty sense of reasoning cautions otherwise. And while it hurt my ego to admit it, this bulbous vegetable got the best of me in argument.

“Perhaps you are right, onion,” I said, enthusiasm in my voice. “Perhaps there is meaning in your drive to grow even in the most hopeless of situations. Who knows what may come of it. Why, perhaps it is your destiny to inspire me, one who has witnessed your tenacity and will to grow. And perhaps I can share with others a message of hope and appreciation for all the life that is. Perhaps I can let my fellow humans in on your secret and help make the world a better place.”

“Right,” said the onion, and I couldn’t help notice a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “like anybody’s going to listen to somebody who talks to onions.”

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Words (Because Too Much Is Too Much)

At some point in history, words were spoken that were so profound, so rich in meaning, that the printed word was invented in order to record them for posterity. Books were written to capture words of beauty and import. Thoughts themselves, those nebulous creations of consciousness, were given form, brought into the physical world from the secret depths of the human mind and soul. Not every idea, not every string of words was given such distinction. Only those which gave most meaning and joy to those who heard them. The words and ideas were painstakingly imprinted by hand onto paper, which was then stored in the sacred halls of learning, there to be studied, recited, memorized, passed along to future generations. Thus was culture established, thus was our knowledge of ourselves increased, our memory less subject to failing.

The invention of the printing press made it possible to pass such words and ideas to more people. Now each home could have within it the knowledge passed down, now a common laborer could sit and have a conversation across centuries with the likes of Plato or Lao Tzu. Until printing made books so available, even words of less beauty and import were placed into books and disseminated to all.

Finally came the digital age, where the books of millions are available to the billions. Stored electronically rather than on paper, there is now little that is out of reach of the average human. But in the process, words once again became ephemeral, lost their physicality and prominence. No idea, no reflection, observation, or essay was given the dignity and accord that books are capable of bestowing. Each thought became but a drip in a vast ocean of thoughts and words, recorded forever within a library so vast that it conceals that which it wishes to preserve. It is a complete egalitarian system where every expressed thought is equal to every other, the only exception being when money elevates one above another. And money does not seek to raise up the wisdom of the ages but the newest product on the market. The wisdom of ages is mere flotsam and jetsam on a river of the new and marketable. So that Sophocles is buried under E.L. James. Martin Luther King Jr. has equal time on Facebook with your Uncle Leo.

Is this what happened to the Library of Alexandria? Did it become so large and cluttered that the books it was founded to hold got lost in the shuffle? And if so, were they not right to burn it down?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Quiet Hours

The Quiet Hours

There is magic to be found in the quiet hours.
New perspective to be found in the light of an early morning sun or a midnight street light.
To wander the streets of a summer tourist town in autumn,
when crowds have passed and streets and stores are stripped to their essentials.
To speak with the store owners and waitresses who now have time to reveal themselves.
Like actors with their makeup removed.
To enter a theater and be allowed to walk upon the stage,
to walk upon the field of play
to get a sense of what the actor and athletes feels.

When the spectacle has receded, the sublime emerges.
When the excess has been sloughed off, the essence is revealed.
The fleeting fireworks display extinguished, the enduring stars regain their rightful prominence.
We no longer view the world, we feel it.
We are no longer walk through life, we become part of it.
We become aware of the firmament upon which all else rests.
Become attuned to deeper senses than sight and sound.
It is the ebb-tide, the slow exhalation.
It is when the moonlight and the introvert at last announce themselves.

Thoughts On Caitlin Johnstone And Russell Brand

On Caitlin Johnstone And Russell Brand And Addiction And Gaslighting

In 2010, I read The Easy Way To Quit Smoking and finally was able to overcome my addiction to cigarettes. The author, Alan Carr, explained my current (and his former) inability to overcome a habit that was doing me physical harm and also keeping me feeling as though I was not in charge of my own life. In the process of exploring my relationship with cigarettes, I began to understand that it was not necessary or helpful to blame myself or consider my inability to quit as a sign of moral or physical weakness. As he said, I had fallen into a trap, and recognizing it as a trap I could begin the process of liberating myself from it. So that when I finally decided I was never going to smoke again, I did so eagerly and joyfully. And in the process, I discovered that I had the power to make positive change.

Alan Carr pointed out to me the various misunderstandings I had in regard to my addictive behavior, and as he did so, the bars of my cage of addiction dissolved one by one. This, more than anything, led me to not merely the concept but the actual experience of self-liberation. There was not some force outside of me that was greater than me, that I had no control over. I had mastery over my addiction and my own life. I was free. And I very much had a feeling I could now describe as being “woke”, but which I then referred to as being freed from a prison.
 Which is why I immediately identified with Russell Brand when I first heard him discussing politics and society in general. Here was someone who had overcome far greater addictions than my own. But still, the patterns are the same. The traps are the same and the way the mind rationalizes and looks away from unpleasant truths is no different regardless of the addiction or fixed mental compulsion. There is something that occurs on a subconscious level in the addict that leads him to retreat from healthy decision-making into the destructive but comfortable cycle of addiction and self-destruction. Even a cage can provide one with a sense of security when one fears the outside world. 

My escape from a destructive routine is also why I was so enthralled with Caitlin Johnstone when I first read her. Hers was a message of the need to emerge from a destructive mindset into a healthier way of connecting not only to oneself but with the world. From her I was introduced to the concepts (I'll later explain why paradigm is a better word than concept) "woke" and "gaslighting". Though they were new concepts that opened up new ways of seeing for me, they ran parallel to what Russell Brand spoke of and what I had experienced. 
The terms used to describe the process of abandoning a destructive mindset and opening up to healthy one are different but the idea is the same. Caitlin Johnstone uses the term “narrative” to explain what needs to be recognized as the faulty mindset that needs to be overcome. Though the narrative she refers to is a societal narrative, it must be addressed on a personal level as well. Russell Brand’s philosophy is deeply rooted in the 12-step program, a program used to help individuals overcome addiction. Basically stated, the individual has to admit that he is unable to overcome his addiction on his own and recognize there is a higher power which can give strength. While this higher power is often referred to as God, Russell also reinterprets it to show that an individual cannot overcome his addiction until he recognizes his pattern of behavior (i.e. ego) and is able to see a larger reality and connect to it. Russell sees the addictive behavior as an unconscious program, which is little different from a narrative you uncritically (and unconsciously) accept. While Caitlin begins with the societal and works towards the individual, Russell Brand begins with the individual and points out the societal attitudes that are responsible for many of the addictive behaviors we engage in.

Before I encountered either of them, influenced by Alan Carr and an experience of overcoming addiction that proved revelatory to me, I came up with my own term for what Caitlin describes as narrative and Russell describes as program. I called it paradigm. I was stuck in a paradigm that said my addiction was a reflection of my own weakness, and I required an alternative paradigm to free myself from my addiction. In achieving a more constructive paradigm, I transcended the ineffectual one. I was in a very real way “woke”, since the results were verifiably real and life-altering. Of course, being unfamiliar with Caitlin Johnstone at the time, I did not refer to it as “woke” but used the word self-liberation (a term borrowed from Houdini, who described himself as a self-liberator in performing escapes. You see, I had taken to writing fiction and was exploring such concepts in my Amazing Morse series, about a magician who is able to escape the mundane reality he has come to accept as an adult and rediscover the magic he had perceived as a youth.). While Russell calls harmful behavior patterns "programs" and Caitlin points out "gaslighting" as a means of keeping people in such patterns, I referred to them as “ruts”. The more well-worn a rut was, the harder to pop one’s head above to see beyond them. Ruts are naturally occurring not only to individuals but to societies. To escape a rut requires overcoming the fear of the unknown.

But while Russell Brand and I were familiar with the self-imposed traps into which a person could fall, Caitlin’s terms gaslighting and narrative have a different element to them. Both narrative and gaslighting imply an “other”, a jailer, one who places you or ensnares you in your trap or at least discourages you from leaving it. Without pretending to understand Caitlin’s background more than I do, let me posit that her perspective is derived not from a struggle with addiction but with an unhealthy relationship or mindset towards relationships. If this is true then in her case there was an active agency keeping her from self-liberation, from becoming woke and transcending unconscious programs. Whereas I saw the need for a different paradigm/narrative/program, the thing I had to overcome was merely something of my own creation. A narrative is a paradigm told to you by another, by an individual or a ruling class which seeks to rule through coercion. It is vital to view our understanding of many issues as narratives fed to us by those with their own agendas. Because there are those within society willing to lie and gaslight others into an understanding of the world that benefits them but harms us as individuals and society itself.

I believe both ways of perceiving the situation as being useful tools to be deployed at different times. While the concept of narrative is vital, it is also important to remember that many of those pushing harmful narratives are also victims of them, also stuck in traps they would be more happy freed from. We don't always have to blame people for the false narratives that exist. Indeed, every single narrative that has ever been falls short of accurately describing reality. And yet they are all evolutionary attempts at organizing society and our own minds. Let us learn even from the failed ones and question the ones that are currently functioning. They are all fingers that point at the moon, but they are never the moon. The more narratives/paradigms/fingers pointing at the truth, the easier it is to see it.

Indeed, I believe the more paradigms we are capable of seeing through, the more nuanced we are able to perceive reality. The more paradigms we are able to hold within ourselves, the less likely we will surrender ourselves entirely or uncritically to a single paradigm, which is inevitably simplistic. We need to hold onto the paradigms that have shaped our lives since childhood even as we realize that we have outgrown their ability to define our world for us. That they have shaped us at all is proof that we will never be utterly free of them.

At the same time, we must recognize the truly revolutionary paradigms that are presently emerging, which are redefining our understanding of the world we live in similar to how Origin Of Species reshaped humanity's understanding a century-and-a-half ago. We are getting currently some pretty intriguing glimpses of a paradigm that is still nascent, still indistinct and yet undeniable. We are just now getting the first photos of something we cannot dismiss as false and yet cannot as of yet easily interpret. It is. Let us, each and all of us, work towards explaining WHAT it is. Let us accept the various different explanations not as incontrovertible facts but as fingers that point toward the moon. A new paradigm is being born, let us embrace that. At the same time, let us not be hasty in trying to define it. But having said that, let me draw your attention to the fingers Caitlin and Russell are pointing, because their vision seems unusually acute and their willingness to point straight is quite rare in this age.

Friday, July 20, 2018

From Fear To Joy

Consciousness has a tendency towards constricting, so that if you do not openly push boundaries and question assumptions, it will gradually lead you into a smaller and smaller world. It will shrink around you, limit your circle of friends, limit the light that enters into your world from a vast universe of mystery where joy can be found in infinite varieties. With the constriction of your consciousness will come a feeling of helplessness and persecution. You will feel the world is a hostile place and that you need a place to hide. You will stop exploring and turn even further inward, rejecting new ways of seeing things and clinging tightly to what is comfortable, even if it is an addiction or an unhealthy relationship.

There are those who are willing to prey on this human propensity. Closed off from the universe themselves through fear, they seek a false sense of strength through controlling others. They will seek to shape the way you see the world, will erect barriers of fear within you mind, and their ultimate achievement will be when you begin to do the work of censoring yourself for them. Within you own mind will be their voice, telling you to fear, telling you to run away and hide.

You will know you are in the grip of such thoughts when you are angry and fearful and feel helpless. You will know those who seek to manipulate you because they will always try to steer you back into you cage through fear and hatred of those who they do not approve. They will never allow you your own thoughts, never permit your mind to wander or for you to express curiosity.

You can never be free without being open, can never be truly free without trusting in a universe that holds more hope than fear. Your greatest act of self-liberation will be to dare to look outwards, dare to feel a positive connection to the world so that you feel a power to shape the world around you and a willingness to have it shape you in return. In short, you will never feel free until you are capable of experiencing joyfulness.

It is time we stepped out of our bunkers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Blurring The Lines

When we are young we are handed a coloring book and a box of crayons to amuse us. The hard work’s already been done, all we have to do is stay within the lines. We can choose any crayon we want to use on the picture, but we already know if it’s a pony or a kitten or a flower. We can pretend we’re rebels by coloring the horse purple, but it’s still a horse.

The game doesn’t change as we get older. We are still given parameters and are judged every time we color outside the lines. Not only do we receive negative feedback for crossing the lines, even our thoughts are expected to stay within accepted parameters. And if we practice drawing within the lines long enough, we forget to question the shapes we are presented and for the most part don’t pay much attention to the lines at all. We accept them as we accept a law of nature such as gravity.

An outline is not a natural phenomenon but a human construct. People draw lines on a map in order to define nations, but it is never as neat as that. Different people draw the map in different ways, depending on which country they identify with. Germans did not see the same Germany those in Poland did, Serbia did not see the same Bosnia Herzegovina that the Austrian Empire did. Both cases of seeing too clearly the lines they wished to see resulted in world wars and tens of millions dead.

Reality has no clear lines. Only the human mind can come up with such a concept. Reality is much more fluid than a human mind can comprehend, especially a human mind clouded by fear and hope and greed and insecurity and whatever other emotions that disrupt the calmness required to see things as they are.

Small minds like lines because they make a complicated world simple. Greedy and selfish people like lines because it separates what is theirs from what belongs to others. The thing is, the greedy and selfish people will always be moving the line outwards so that there is more for them and less for us, because that is what greed and selfishness does. The greedy and the selfish and the small-minded are unable to comprehend concepts like “we” and “us”, “share” and “co-exist”. They need to draw lines in order to feel secure and in control.

The imagined paradise of the line drawers is not a world where all share and work together but one where individuals working against each other magically create a magical capitalist wonderland, where each one’s selfishness serves to make an ideal world. At least that’s the vision they sell. Personally, I don’t think they spend their time imagining an ideal world at all, at least not for society as a whole.

They cannot help but divide. They feel compelled to build walls: around their homes, around their neighborhoods, around their nations. They need always to protect what is theirs and in the process destroy all that is ours. “Our” is too big a concept for them, does not fit neatly within the lines they have drawn.

Divisions exist between each and every one of us. So too does commonality. Our current perception of reality is one that breaks us all down into separate entities with separate interests. Which we are. But we are also part of something larger, with shared interests. Indeed, life is ultimately meaningless if we cannot find something larger to be a part of.

Lines/walls/barriers divide us, artificially so. The line that divides liberals from conservatives is an artificial distinction because there are so many agreements between individuals on both sides. Not everyone on one side agrees 100% or even 50% with those they are lumped together with, and the line that is drawn does not even include issues on which most of us agree, such as not wanting to die in a nuclear holocaust. The only useful reason then for these lines to be drawn at all is so that those in power can divide us in order to rule us.

Those who see lines wish to make them obvious to others. Those who wish to rule us always see an “other” on which to place the blame. We cannot accept the notion that we are all to blame, and consequently that we all can find solutions. Oh, no, that is not how they see things. They need an enemy. They need terrorist Muslims and Russian bots and job-stealing Mexicans. They need not only foreign enemies but domestic ones as well, Dumbocrats, Deplorables, Libtards, and especially Nazis. Because everybody on the other side of the line is a Nazi nowadays.

Lines are illusions created by minds afraid of complexity, afraid of external threats, afraid of just about everything. Lines become limiters, become boundaries, become borders and walls and fences and barriers. They become prison walls that shut us off from the outside until the world we inhabit becomes our own private bunker where we are safe from the outside world even as we become dead to it.

In such a mindset we can no longer perceive the undeniable fact that we are connected to the world in ways far beyond understanding. Much of the way we interact with the outside world and with our fellow humans is done sub-consciously, not unlike how lower levels of animals are capable of working together for the good of all without a brain sophisticated enough to be aware of it.

The human mind gives us a tremendous advantage over other species, but we tend to overrate its ability to envision the big picture. The intellect is useful but it is not infallible. Logic is a wonderful thing, but can only work within our limited data set, and the data set humans have compiled is quite small compared to the universe. The intellect is a wonderful tool, but so too is humility. In fact, we need to make sure the two are balanced within us. Too much belief in our intellect and we become arrogant and destructive. Too much humility and we start accepting what the arrogant and destructive tell us.

If we make a conscious decision not to see the lines, or rather, not allow them to direct our vision and determine our reality, we open ourselves up to truly miraculous things. If we refuse to see the distinction between “them” and “us”, we come face to face with the concept of an interconnectedness between not only all human beings but all life itself. Dropping the pretext of borders and differentiators, we have nothing standing between ourselves and the vast universe, and we are left open to the realization that all life is interwoven and identical in its urge to grow and reach out. It is truly overwhelming and I understand the fear of stepping outside the lines. But once one does, the foolishness and emptiness of the alternate view becomes apparent. We will still feel the pull of the things we leave behind, will still have sentimental attachments to old ways in the same manner a child is reluctant to put aside his nook or special blankie, but it is a necessary step in achieving a new level of maturity.

Imagine an entire planet of “us”. If you think it is a powerful thing to belong to “An Army Of One”, of belonging to a immensely large and powerful group that is capable of protecting you from a powerful and frightening enemy, imagine being part of a far larger group of people with no corresponding “other” to oppose you. You are part of such a large army, you just have to dedicate yourself to it in order to help make it a reality. This army, having no external foes to fight, will work side by side with you in making the world we all share a better place to inhabit. This army is dedicated to helping the fallen, since they don’t have to worry about taking enemy fire. Like the armies every nation now have, they will require a certain amount of selflessness. But unlike the armies of today, they will not demand that we abandon free will: we will be active agents in shaping the future. It is an army that is in the service of life, not death. It is an army without borders, walls, or lines of any kind. We all belong to it whether we know it or not, and our mission is not to destroy but to build. Go ahead, dare to take a peak over the lines you have drawn that have separated you from the outside world. I promise you it won’t be as scary as you have imagined.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Media's War On Spirituality

Spirituality is either the result of having a comfortable enough place to reflect upon the meaning and purpose of human existence, or else it is the result of such suffering that one has no choice but to retreat inward in search of ways to cope. The most spiritual among us are those who embrace both ends of the spectrum, those who forsake physical comforts in order to have the time to focus on the meaning that can be found in simplicity. I refer to the religious, who can be found in any primitive society, from Buddhists to Taoists, to Christians, Muslims and Jews. And I refer to primitive societies because I wonder if it is even possible to retreat from the modern society that now exists.

Economically, we should have arrived at a point where we are all comfortable enough to afford the time and space necessary to reflect upon spiritual matters, but the economic engine that was so good at creating convenience and answers to physical want also demands of us our undivided attention. A capitalist economy soon realized it needed to become a consumer society in order to further itself, so that wealth creation went from beyond the merely physical to the psychological. In order to maintain a system that can give happiness on merely a physical level, they needed to eradicate from people’s consciousness any thoughts of achieving happiness through non-economic means.

When people are neither actively purchasing or consuming or else creating goods or services for others, they must either be lulled into a stupor or else be driven to distraction by emotional provocation. They must be given constant distractions so that their thoughts never stray to the spiritual perspective, which revolts in the face of such mindless creation and consumption. To distract from the spiritual, they must never let minds stay too long on a single subject. A mind left alone too long might start out on a path of self-directed thoughts. Interrupt it every few minutes or even seconds, and the mind is forced to respond to outside stimuli and forget whatever internal ideas that might be bubbling beneath the surface. Scatter the pieces of the puzzle at regular intervals, and the puzzle solver will never be able to put them together to form a coherent image.

Thus we have commercials on television to take us from those very rare instances when a compelling argument or narrative is taking place. And what was once an every fifteen minute or so break has become more frequent. Live shows, that once had a single camera resting upon a scene for moments at a time as it played out, have been replaced by the hyper-editing introduced to us on MTV in the 80’s.

News channels not only give us one story, they give us many concurrently. They have the narrative spoken by the host, but they also have a running stream of information below it. Add to that the constantly shifting graphics all about and the mind is always in motion, never permitted to orient itself.

This is not a stylistic choice, not some mere fad that has come and will then move to some other style. The immense amounts of information that is thrown at you on CNN and elsewhere is not an attempt to keep you as informed as possible in a hectic and changing world, it is a way to insure your mind is always kept busy, because a busy mind is always concerned with the surface noise, and is never able to plunge the depths of issues. The media has created a kinetic Potemkin village, one of pure flash and no substance. It is not merely useless, it is distracting. No useful knowledge can be gained from such a system of information dispersal. It does not permit you to connect with your rational nor spiritual aspects, it merely demands you absorb. It does not give, it demands obeisance.

It—the media—is not there to inform you. It is not there to help you become a more active member of a democratic society. It is there to keep your emotions heightened so your intellect is never in the driver’s seat. It is there to prime you for the people who make the commercials and pay the bills. It is there to wear down your defenses. And since it is so all-encompassing, it inevitably will. When it does not leave you feeling stupid it will leave you feeling helpless. And for those most in its control, you will be left feeling intelligent and powerful while having a grasp neither on truth nor on the reins of power.

But as powerful and omnipresent as the media is, it needs your help. It requires you to betray your most basic values in order for it to be effective. If you stay true to the values your parents and your teachers and your religious institutions have sought to instill in you, the media cannot control you. It may dress itself up as your mother, but it will never tell you to share with others. It may say it speaks for Christ, but it will never tell you to cast your bread upon the waters. It may quote from revered historical figures, but it will do so only in order to corrupt the spirit of what they have said. Peace and love are perhaps the most revered words echoed by family and church, but they will never be spoken in the media, because peace and love don’t help sell automobiles. The degree to which you do not hear the Sermon On The Mount Spoken on your television is the degree to which the media is working against your best interests and the interests of all humanity.

What can you do to escape from the insidious influence of the media? Find a source untainted by it. Pick up an old book, watch an old (black and white) movie. Step outside your era because it is only in this way you can step outside of the cultural milieu created by a media that has become both incredibly concentrated and far-reaching. If you must consume current media, then listen to genuinely independent news, art, and music. Get outside and in touch with the physical world around you, with whatever nature is left to you. Dig in the garden, walk in the woods, listen to the birds. Rebuild the connections that were all your forefathers ever knew so that you have a frame of reference built on something of substance.

It is time to step away from the television and get out in the streets. It is time to stop listening to the lies and start speaking the truth. Because here is the idea most feared by a mechanized and monetized media, the secret it seeks above all else to keep from you: that you are in control not only of your own life but are part of a society that can direct the future for itself, without the need for them. We as rational and caring human beings can construct a world where lying and coercion will be unnecessary, where force will be seen as a tool of the unjust. Because in order to build a functional society, you don’t need to be controlled, you need to be liberated.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is impossible to change the world for the better without being a joyful person. While the world will inevitably deal us moments where we must grit our teeth and bear suffering, no enduring good will come of a life of continual painful sacrifice or doing what is distasteful because it seems necessary. Positive and lasting progress will occur only from those deeply in touch with what makes us more joyful.

When I speak of joyfulness, I do not refer to the feeling we have when we have acquired a new material possession or bested another individual in competition. It will not be found at Disneyworld nor will we ever get more than a glimpse of it on our television screens. It is not the sort of thing Madison Avenue will ever try to convince us we want. Not only is it not something others can profit from, those who wish to manipulate you into buying what they are selling are themselves incapable of truly understanding the concept of joy.

Joyfulness is derived from the simplest, most natural, and most human of all our experiences. It is something capable of being experienced by all but the very most unfortunate and miserable of us, is open equally to the poor as well as the rich. Joy is to be found in the humblest of meals. It is the sensation of the sun shining upon our skin, a gentle breeze, the sound of flowing water or the observance of a sunset. It is in the voice of an old friend sharing good news, even as it is in the smile of a stranger.

Those who are able to derive joy from the simplest and most natural of things are truly dangerous to the status quo, for they give truth to the lie that wealth and violence will ever advance human happiness. It is why the violent and closed-minded always wish to make the joyful suffer in order to prove themselves right and others wrong. Whether it be by overt violence or the little aggressions of trying to tear the joyful person down, those lacking joy, those lacking the understanding necessary to achieve joy, always seek to perceive the joyful as rivals. The joyful have no rivals. Joy, like the experience of a sunset or the sound of water, can be shared by everybody equally. Shared joy is joy doubled.

Yet in our quest for achievement and progress, we have walled ourselves off from joy. Joy requires a certain amount of leisure and silence in which to work its magic, where our society has killed silence and replaced leisure with never-ending distraction. We toil ceaselessly in order to chase a happiness that is ever illusive, or else fritter our restful hours in consuming externally-produced information and entertainment that serves only to sell another’s narrative. The voices from outside drown out the one within that alone can experience joy and make us aware of all the joy that is available to us, that is our right as human beings.

Often we seek to be good, ignoring Oscar Wilde’s advice that when we are happy we are always good but when we are good we are not always happy. We feel the need to be something other than what we are, and forget the miracle of our own being, instead pursuing fantasies of what we should be. We seek to be good, valiant, noble, self-sacrificing, when in truth simply by being human we will be all that and more. It is in our nature. That is what it means to be human, but we have somehow come to believe that being human is not good enough. In wanting to be something other than what we are, we have closed the door on experiencing joy in the most basic of human actions. Work has become a means to an end, something we dread and fantasize about escaping, when it has the potential to be a glorious expression of our capacity for creation and sharing. If what we spend most of our lives doing is not a source of joy but instead an unwelcome necessity, we are doing something wrong.

We struggle to acquire wealth, and once we have acquired it, we need to justify our struggle by purchasing things we don’t really need. We spend on lavish dinners while we forget the joy we experienced from harvesting from our own little gardens. We purchase berries out of season at the crowded supermarket, forgetting the miracle of chancing upon them while hiking on an early summer day. Convenience is convenient, but no substitute for joy.

In ceasing to be joyful people ourselves, we become something other than those who inspired us. No child was inspired to be a teacher except by a teacher who not only shared information but joy. Whatever imperfections they might possess, we like to be around joyful people. We flee from the virtuous or successful who are unable to share a spirit of joyfulness. We love and remember our elders not for the material possessions they proved for us but for the joy they were able to awaken in us.

What joy does society give us today? It seems so many of us dread the company of our fellow human beings nowadays, since the sharing of joy seems to be a thing of the past. We shop at stores that don’t offer us human interaction, again giving us convenience and speed at the expense of joy. We joylessly interact with machines rather than face each other, seeing in the eyes of others the joyless reflection of our own souls.

Joyfulness is not only our default setting, it is our destiny. If we do not look towards our future with the anticipation of joy, we are severely off-track. Regardless of the incessant call for individuality and freedom that is used to promote the path we are on, no group of free individuals want a future bereft of joy. No free thinker looks forward to a time when we are all ruthlessly competing to see who can become the joyless king of a joyless planet. If joy—true contentedness in both being and working towards becoming the human you were born to be—is not part of the equation that formulates your world view, I would humbly suggest you are walking a needlessly painful and ultimately futile path.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Our Fear Of Hope

I have noticed that I am reluctant to openly express to people what most gives me hope because it sounds too abstract, too spiritual, too far beyond what is accepted thought. We live in an age of contraction, not of expansion, where ideas beyond the prescribed limits are dismissed as nonsensical. We have stopped openly wondering what we may become, have replaced such wondering with a fear of what we might actually be. Either of these lines of contemplation may lead to the truth—the future shall tell us which—but only one of these possibilities leads us where we want to go. Only one provides us with any hope.

We are in an age paralyzed with fear. Past generations pushed boundaries to discover new continents, placed footprints on the moon. And yet we seem to be unable or unwilling to contemplate a path towards a brighter future for our species and our world. Our one dim hope, technology, is an absurdly outdated notion for salvation. Our literature and our films seem incapable of showing us a better tomorrow, instead giving us bleak dystopian visions where humans struggle against each other like the worst versions of our primitive selves.

In such a climate, we find ourselves keeping our light under a bushel, timidly speaking of hope and change but not daring to speak of revolution and evolution. For some reason we fear to fully realize the greatness of which humanity is capable. We somehow place on the back shelf the examples of the lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, and so many others who have demonstrated the hope and beauty of humanity. We do not wish to embrace our greatest power, our capacity for love. Perhaps it is because we fear losing what we have, even though we feel the foundations rattling beneath us.

The path towards the future we want is clearly marked: it has been blazed for us by countless heroes and martyrs for centuries beyond reckoning. And yet we choose other roads, ones that merely keep us within distance of the path we know we should be on. We are too afraid to commit ourselves to what in our hearts we long for. We anxiously wait for others to take the first step so that we may be swept along in the rush of the crowd, but we are too timid to take the first steps ourselves. And we are so easily led astray by the very worst liars and sociopaths who always find an excuse for hatred and greed.

I feel the fear of calling attention to myself, of standing alone with my mad optimism exposed, to say loudly and clearly that another way is possible, that hopelessness, callousness, and selfishness is not all there is. It appears to be folly to speak of hope and truth and beauty in today’s environment. Fear and hate are the only motivating factors now.

I read a quote today by Bill hicks, something about evolution being not an unreasonable idea but in fact what humans as living beings do. Not only is it what we do, it is unavoidable. It brought home to me the fact that what is true today will not be true tomorrow, that what worked yesterday might not be enough to help us get through today. We as humans must change or we will perish. We must react to an environment that has changed, must adapt or suffer the consequences.

Our environment has changed, profoundly. Where once we had uninhabited lands to run to when the inherent troubles of civilizations became too burdensome, there is no longer anywhere we can go to escape our fellow humans. Where once infinite expansion seemed not only achievable but desirable, it is now madness to cling to such an idea.

Once we could play at war because the toys we used were limited in their destructiveness. Now it is only a matter of time, should we continue to behave as we always have, before we destroy ourselves. Where once we could wantonly slaughter animals and lay waste our environment without serious cost to ourselves, such behavior, in the world in which we now exist, is madness.

Values that advanced humanity in a different environment now serve to destroy it. Human vices which the world could once tolerate are no longer sustainable. To speak thus is not conjecture, it is elemental science and it is the commonest of common sense. The environment in which we live now is radically different from any environment humans have so far encountered. It only makes sense that we need to adjust, adapt, to the new reality rather than ask reality to bow to our desire to behave as we have always behaved.

To pretend the situation is different is denial. Most of us realize this, at least on some level, but we behave as co-dependents in the presence of those whose behavior is destroying our lives, our society, and our planet. So violent and insistent are they that we continue to let them play their selfish and self-destructive games, afraid of what will happen if we stand up to them. But we know eventually that we must have an intervention for them, as well as for ourselves. We cannot continue living the way we have been, we cannot continue to tolerate destructive behavior, we must act to alter the situation or be dragged down by the money junkies whose lives are controlled by their addiction.

Adapt and survive, or persist and self-destruct, those are our choices. Evolve to meet the world as it is and not how it once was. A healthy life looks outwards, an unhealthy one leads us ever inwards, constricts what we permit ourselves to be, limits our ability to see the positive changes we are capable of making. Like an addict, our perception of reality becomes so warped we are eventually no longer able to function.

But there is hope even now, just as there has always been, we have just always had other options before now. We have been like a person in a room with the walls closing in. There is a door to the room but we have so far managed to convince ourselves the walls are not moving, or at least not fast enough to worry about. But the walls will continue to push closer until we realize the door is the only option open to us. It is a door our spiritual leaders have been urging us towards almost since we began recording human thought. It is an idea that all of humanity are brothers and sisters, that whatever divides us we have so much more in common. It is an idea that we must treat others as we would like to be treated, that in casting our bread upon the sea of humanity it will give back to us all we require and more.

The day is coming when ideas that have always sounded so wonderful, and yet so far away in some imagined future, will seem the only logical path we as a species have left to us. So much do we fear what might happen if we are unable to achieve it that we have forgotten to imagine how magnificent and natural it will appear when we as a species have at last embraced it. As unlikely as it once may have seemed to us as human flight or the telephone, it is an idea whose time has arrived. And it will come, the moment we seriously assess the options that we have in front of us. Evolution is not merely possible, it is unavoidable.