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On Reflection… part 2
There have been times when it has seemed appropriate to appeal to the metaphor of a snake shedding its skin. This last year brings to mind a different serpentine behavior, stupor induced by the effort to digest an enormous meal. An Anaconda at these times can be mistaken for a fallen tree trunk….
The giant, if unappetizing, meal that's had me stupefied results from attempting to metabolize certain sea-changes taking place as we've dropped out of an habitual, if not any less dangerous, status-quo into what is now euphemized as the new normal.
There has been the obvious Brexit-vote/Trump-election turmoil. Perhaps even more disturbing though, has been the collapse of any reason to feel that anything can be accomplished on-line. There began to be a sense that something similar to what had happened during the year of the Arab Spring was happening everywhere. Not just here in the US, but across the world. A sense that whatever might be happening "in the streets" or in people's everyday lives was submerged under multiple and competing narratives disseminated via memes and all the growing and various tactics virtual-communications have brought about so as to make it impossible to tell anything significant from what is simply being promoted. From being able to tell when someone is lying outright – Even whether they were a real person and not simply the electronic twitch of an algorithm. Even what someone is actually for. Who they are against – or whether any particular voice is just someone caught-up in and perpetuating the general confusion.
Confusion. Not simply being confused, but feeling manipulated into confusion and maintained there by means of an elaborate gas-lighting shell-game. A shell-game in the sense that each layer is not what it appears. Not a substantive actor in its own right; but a shell for another actor manipulating a series of other players into doing something that provides a semblance of authenticity. The authenticity a liar believing his own lie can summon. In this case not a la Mein Kampf, the way a grand narcissist chooses to believe his own fabrications; but in the way dupes, manipulated into believing lies they then go on to perpetuate and repeat as if these were their own truths. We find ourselves in a hall of mirrors. Each player's distortions reflect off every other player's distortions in ways that quickly make it impossible to tell what kernel of truth or matter of import or significance might be reassembled out of the resulting shards.
This has had the effect of dropping the bottom out of what had been an already difficult but seemingly workable set of heuristics allowing for some sense of connection with what might actually be happening. How delusional this belief might have been has become a moot point….
This is a social reality to be distinguished from a physical one. Or a spiritual one. In a sense our physical reality could not be more plain. It's there to be seen in the rising levels of plastic contaminating everything and everywhere; and in the increasing poverty of almost everyone everywhere. It is also clear that our social schizophrenia paints a clear picture of our spiritual state, wallowing in the depths of the nightmare of reason, living under the increasing cruelty of an ascendant nihilism.
But, our sense of being able to function in the world is most directly diminished when we feel we cannot trust our discernment of our social reality. When what we hear and even see cannot be attributed to either a trusted observer or a delusional hallucinator. The current condition of our modes of communication, primarily electronic as they have become, do not allow us to make these distinctions. They aggressively violate any heuristic we may bring to bear in an attempt to see through the noise.
Confusion is information.
Uncertainty is a way of knowing…
So far, and even at the point when our mania for a digital apotheosis brings us to the verge of our own self-extinction, one heuristic I've found much more useful than idiocies like Moore's Law has been that the digital is finite and cannot break out of the limited. Thought, as we've been using the Bohmian term, is finite. The digital is a product of thought. In a way its logical extension and final conclusion. Mind, and our capacity as living beings to engage with Mind from within an integrative perspective, is unlimited. We might not be able to defend ourselves against the physical predation of the digital; but, we will always be able to see through it, given time….
A brand new computer, at least up to a few years ago when this stopped being true for consumer electronics, seemed blindingly fast. After a year its speed was routine and after two it was agonizingly slow. This persisted until Moore's Law dropped off the chattersphere. Today we struggle to keep up with the mega-machine manifested as Big-Data hurtling through virtual clouds, a block-buster travesty of Zeus or Odin. Eventually no increase in the speed available to carry out programmatic, digital thought will be able to overcome Mind's capacity to discover creative insights and create pathways of understanding. This is a race between the violence brought about by these divisions and our capacity to survive. Violence of thought manifesting in our physical world versus life's capacity to survive. Any life. All life….
At least this is what this Luddite has to say on the matter, reflecting on recent discoveries of Neanderthal Art; bolstered by yet another example of our feteshizing innovation….
This all might seem an elaborate detour off the path, if such a thing was discernible, set by the first post in this series. That may be; but it does carry on from the first in that we are describing an elephant in the room. We leave ourselves open to delusion whenever we indulge the ready-habit to ignore such creatures.
In another sense this is an elaboration, if not a description of a genuinely new factor, of the Enormity we face, of what makes this, our moment, unique. Again not in the customary sense of "This time is different!" that gives one an out and excuse. Every moment is unique and when we over-generalize our situation we lose sight of what-is in some crucial sense.
In another, and this should by now seem a customary sense, this newly described obstacle or fault is equally a feature and an opportunity; something the reflexive quantifiers and maximizers will never understand! Any time we add to our sensitivity, to our capacity, to perceive our surroundings – Even if it is simply a capacity to notice how very dark and foggy and slippery it is out there! – adds to our ability to respond instead of simply reacting reflexively.
A salient point coming into view is the feeling that another barrier to our capacity to function in bewildering conditions without resorting to or being sidetracked by delusions has been loosened, if not dropped. As horribly simplistic and so easily perverted its example was intended to be; we can see ourselves as having arrived at a point analogous to when Nemo discovered that the speed of the Matrix was only mechanical speed. That he could see through it and act inside its cycles, rendering it powerless to resist his purposes.
Of course, one simple heuristic continues to hold true: If a purported work of art is visible on a broad social platform it is bound to confuse more than it enlightens; but maybe this can now also be seen as an aspect of this new insight: our confusion strengthens us, or has that capacity, if we find the right perspective, or, let's refine that, if we open ourselves to an aspect of Mind that can make hay out of confusion instead of being blocked by it…. Shades of Antifragility…
At the core of these reflections is an impulse to record, and also, to allow a manifestation of where the experiences of this past year-and-change have brought us. At its center this seems to be about a new relationship with confusion and uncertainty. At least a window, a peep-hole….
Every journey of the soul has a dark night, a point at which a bottom is reached and then discovered to be a doorway, not just a dreaded entrance to a tomb. What makes this different from some video-game quest – where so-called virtual-stakes ensure that nothing is ever risked, nothing really lost, but time and opportunity, so that nothing may ever truly be gained – in this we find a new equilibrium.
Now, what spoils most journeys is that a new-found equilibrium can lead to euphoria, making it difficult not to glorify a particular insight setting it up as an eternal standard of truth and authority. When this happens its entire value is demolished. We simply replace an old illusion with a fresh one.
This new equilibrium reads as a plateau not a summit. Not a cause for frustration. It could be termed an education in humility. After seeking humility has; as it so often can; and so easily does become; a pose and not a reality.
Humility stands as a radical unknowing. Hubris is extreme self-delusion. We insist we do know and can therefore act with whatever violence we can summon armored with all the self-justification we'll ever need.
Remaining humble is unstable. Difficult. There is always an impulse to find a way to act on what we consider to be right. We cannot hold a tension between the apparent passivity of humility and our urge to act. Something eventually gives and a moment of true humility and the illumination it provides dissolves into new divisions under the blows of some new violence. Violent thought is so supremely capable of hiding from us behind a thousand masks of self-justification.
What keeps us in this tension? Bohm said that whenever we consider a delusion, thinking we recognize its extent and its detriments clearly, and it still persists; this is a sign that we have not seen all of it. Some aspect remains hidden, out of sight, perhaps swept under the rug, or hiding behind some elephant…. At such a time we continue to insist/assume on a division between the observer and the observed.
So…, here's the fun part. This heuristic, once absorbed, is a powerful – I was going to say tool… – a light. It illuminates any dark corner. But, not in the way we expect, or desire, or anticipate. We keep looking for some grand breakthrough and what this insight, at the pinnacle of insights into the nature of thought, gives us is a gentle nudge, "No, son, that's not it. If you had it you wouldn't still be struggling with it." And what can happen as this strikes us ever so softly is that, as with every other illuminating insight that penetrates us, delusion dissolves….
Now, the particular delusion that's been nagging, getting in the way of some movement beyond impasse, blocking a broader revolution of thought, for this observer has been that I've taken all of this confusion and violence to be something taking place in a distinct outer world. Of course, so long as this division remains invisible to me whatever delusion is at work will not drop away. It cannot. It continues to function, persist. Another way to put it might be that it still has work to do!
Owning, as worn out as this expression has become, this violent division illuminates a path onto new ground.
Trapped in its influence we see our question as a difficulty forcing its way between us, the observer, and the observed. I am here. The difficulty is out there. All of you, out there, are, therefore, part of my difficulty…, Oh! What to do?
Let's sit with this….