Craft's Collision with Civilization, a starting point
Andrew Taggart recently asked me to clarify how I see the deterioration and loss of Craft resulting from its confrontation with civilization. This is a big question!
Let's begin with a few definitions. I'm beginning to see Craft as a central focal point in examining how our confrontation with civilization has led us to where we are now. That Craft could have origins outside of the context of civilization, a view that I've not seen expressed before directly, that the impulse to Craft comes from our relationship as creatures with the World and with Being. – To keep this post from becoming an endless glossary, follow the links to see what I've come to mean by these terms. – That all creatures exist in a state of reciprocity with the quality of Being as a whole and that we had this relationship throughout our evolution and that our abilities to manipulate materials and to make things evolved within that relationship.
A Neanderthal stone tool is beautiful and stands up to the quality we see in an eroded shell because of that innate relationship with quality expressed through an urge to craft well. This urge is not limited to Homo Sapiens, or to "Civilized Man," or any subcategory of life. Civilization has transformed this urge into a form in its own likeness and has created structures that have modified our conditioning in ways that support its needs instead of our own. It has added a distinct layer of mediation to the unavoidable mediation of perception and awareness. This layer of mediation, instead of holding us in a keen relationship with reality, has transferred that focus onto itself, and its needs, at the expense of our ability to adapt to our surroundings. This derailment of our ability to make evolutionary adjustments has left us open to over-reach and collapse resulting in a very real threat of extinction, for us, and much of the life we share this World with.
I don't see civilization as its boosters would characterize it, as the fount and receptacle of all that is good in humanity, but as a set of toxic behaviors that have developed around our ability to manipulate our surroundings. Our natural fear of death led to a willingness to give up everything so as to maintain an illusion of security and power over our fates. This syndrome has taken forms of behavior and channeled them into particular paths and then closed off our capacity to even recognize that these forms had an existence before we fell into civilization's traps. This is true of Religion, of Techné, of Art, of Craft, of every aspect of life.
"Well! What about…?" Is the common response. Fill in the blank with any of the favorites of Progressivism or Conservatism or any strain of civilized thought. I've examined a series of these cases here in the past, feel free to bring up your favorites for a run through.
What is becoming clear is that in each case there has been a toxic simulation of a laudatory urge that has channeled behavior and limited awareness to blind us to any alternative. As with any ideological approach to reality there is most often a mirroring reversal at work. A benefit with a source outside of civilization's circumscribed orbit is claimed as a reward of civilization. Any of civilization's destructive results is externalized and held up as a warning to anyone who would be so brazen as to abandon civilization. In this way we have built up a series of beliefs around the distinction between us and them, between the civilized and the barbarians, between humans and everything else, between – fill in the faction – and anyone else; a system of profound compartmentalization and the creation of a relentless habit of seeing everything from within a pattern of linear opposition.
Together these have created a mechanism that has driven us away from a working relationship with the complexity and integrity of Being. This bargain with civilization has remained constant since its beginnings. Faith in a fantasy of eternity, of power, and control has closed our eyes to the way these promises remove us from an engagement with life and put us on a pathological course. Within the dynamics of this pathology this toxic mirroring has been replicated at every level, and with every form of action and contemplation, creating a trap with very little room for an exit. The psychosis gains its strength by "healing over" any chink in its hold on our awareness by turning us in one of three directions. We identify more strongly than ever with the construction that is civilization: the prototypical Stockholm Syndrome. We fall into some mechanism of denial that anything is wrong: by adopting addictions. Or we fall into Depression. These choices hide under the cover of categories like "Hope," "Optimism," and "Pessimism."
There are hints at the way out. This relationship of Craft to Quality, inherent in Being and the maintenance of a relationship of reciprocity with the rest of creation, is one way to look past the traps of civilization. The wellsprings of Joy, on the other side of a profound disillusionment with civilization's conditioning of our awareness, is another. Understanding the mechanisms that lead us into the traps of futility is a third. What they have in common is that they direct us to vast reserves of adaptability and vitality that civilization has derailed. We can break the patterns of these three responses to our first inklings that there is something wrong, and we can gain strength from these reserves as we proceed. This is a process of moving towards health where the signposts are – once the initial resistance to breaking old habits and addictions is overcome – leading us towards greater vigor, joy, and a sense of integration.
Central to the whole process is an understanding of the dynamics of attention. We tend to see ourselves from within a civilized perspective. We are our own subjects, and we strive to control and command our selves just as we do with all of our surroundings. This is supposed to lead to all of the "benefits" of civilization; power, control, and eternity will be ours if we maintain this attitude to everything. The way this controls us – for the trick is that control always backfires – is that it overwhelms our attention. We flood our awareness – or the place where awareness would be if we let it – with the dramas of this striving for control. As our innate system suffers and tries to right itself under the onslaught, we double-down and insist that we submit to our will. When we break down, we are forsaken by "Hope" and fall into either a manic "Optimism" or a passive "Pessimism." AND that is where we leave it. Eventually we break down completely, but not before passing the original pathology on to our descendants. In pure civilized self-absorption we latch onto some version of the archetypal responses to Gilgamesh's Dreams. We identify with the Story of The Fall, of "Original Sin" that claims this condition of struggle between our nature as creatures and civilization's corruption is inevitable and throw up our hands by crying out that this is "THE Human Condition."
It's not. This is just another coil of the snare.
The process that leads us out of this trap is a series of practices that help us deal with the toxic effects of civilization and our "withdrawal symptoms" at leaving it behind. They help us integrate our awareness by showing us how letting go of an attitude of command and control allows the intrinsic working of our beings to come back into force. The way this occurs is predominantly visible to us by changes in our attention. Attention is all we have. All of our systems, all of our internal and external "Infrastructure" and logistical supports, exist to provide a home for attention. It is in our attention that we "exist" at all – without the awareness attention brings we wouldn't have any sense of existing. Attention is how we exhibit value. No matter whatever protestations otherwise, we value what we give our attention to, and that value is not relative it is total. There are no "Banks" where we can hoard anything we claim to value while we maintain our attention elsewhere.
This admittedly rushed and unprofessional accounting sets the stage for how Craft was derailed by civilization. None of this mechanism is particular to Craft. The same, or parallel, mechanisms have derailed all our other workings in a similar way. In each case a reversal, a classic bait and switch, has occurred. Civilization claims credit for whatever it has not yet destroyed – even as it redoubles its efforts to eliminate this recalcitrant pocket of vitality! – while insisting that its direct consequences are a sign of our failure to adopt its regime more fully.
We study aspects of existence. We make distinctions within the frames of our attention. This is the way our awareness develops in an interaction between attention, the making of distinctions, and actions we take that posit the results of our intentions in the World so that we can test them against our surroundings and see whether they enhance life or destroy it. Craft is a relationship to making that forms a significant part of this process. If we fail to see through the cross-purposes civilization puts in our path at each step of the way we are easily caught and returned to its fold. The beauty of this is that it is not that difficult to recognize these gambits once we are aware of how they work. In each case they are couched as "aides" to make our life "easier," "safer," to make us more "powerful," or to give us privileged access to "eternity." These gambits are institutionalized. They are systematized. They allege to provide us with a short-cut that is in reality a short-circuit leading us away from any possibility of genuine engagement back into the traps of civilization.
A mechanism that civilization relies on is to manipulate our urge to conviviality and subvert it to its own ends. We are social. We have always been social as human individuals with our fellow humans and we have always been integrated as societies within the greater whole of what I've been calling the World. When civilization gets between us and those urges it toxifies them. It creates categories that break our integration and lead to alienation even as they claim to be bringing us together. Ivan Illich's work lays out how this has unfolded in a wide range of situations.
A local example of this mechanism is the way Red Sox fans at Fenway Park in Boston chant, "Yankees Suck!" during a game between these intense rivals. This is civilization in its most naked form. As usual, the cultivated would decry this as "Barbarian" while secretly either smiling in sympathy or gritting in enmity at the sentiment on view. It is within the bosom of civilization at this new coliseum in the "Hub" of the Universe that this takes place. Human envy, animosity, competitiveness all exist with or without civilization, but only civilization gives them such a nested series of supports and rationalizations in which to fester. It's like decrying that the birth-place of Beethoven, Brahms, and Schiller might harbor the horrors of Nazism! Whatever creativity the former may have exhibited was arguably in spite of civilization. The excesses of the latter would have been impossible without it.
David Bohm's foci on Creativity and Dialogue show us a way out of this trap. Creativity, in both the artistic sense and that of Craft, is an engagement with what is. Dialogue is an engagement with each other. These are direct experiences taken part within the rigors of disciplines of practice. They do not promise any result. There are no short-cuts to their achievement. What they do give us are paths to meet our two most pressing needs. We need to engage reality and we need to engage each other to do so.
Craft applies to both of these categories of practice, each within the situations and conditions inherent to that practice. They both feed each other and this fused process is the pathway to re-entering a direct engagement with the processes of evolution at the heart of existence. What an engagement with Creativity and Dialogue does offer us is the possibility of honing our awareness and adapting our actions to our situations in ways that loosen civilization's grip on us. What this might lead to is impossible to tell. What it does do for certain is remove the barrier of futility from our path. That alone should make it worth while.
This post, any of my forays into the essay, exists as an attempt at a dialogue with the self. It is a practice that allows me to extract what has gone on in an unconscious dynamic between my organism and Mind. These products of creativity I try to present in as direct and unmediated a form as possible. This consists mostly of letting them take shape as they come, and refusing to systematize them or to predigest them in any way and glean a précis of their "results." They are partial, fragmentary, quirky, and stiff; but that is how they come into being. This is an attempt at writing that isn't civilized. They are a work-product meant to become useful in deepening and providing background to dialogue with others. They are not a replacement for dialogue, they are an invitation.
More on this thread next time….