The Reductivist Empire
Observe, orient, decide and act. Boyd's dictum might appear to be rote moves in a square dance, a set procedure, a stiff cycling punctuated by the occasional doe-see-doe. Or sped-up in a Dervish spin, faster and faster until we're but a blur, confounding all adversaries as we drill down through the floor in a cloud of smoke! It's neither, and both, mostly neither.
Any settled routine, over time, takes us out of sync with reality, leaving us hunkered down in a system unable to judge that system from within. The rhythm, scale, and speed of our adjustments needs to vary and shift, inwards, outwards, upside, and down. Our own perception demands it! Any input that settles into an unvarying signal disappears from view, our neural pathways atrophy, our habitual responses ossify.
These insights are, in an old turn of phrase, self evident. Still, it's amazing how we are continually drawn to, seduced by, the systemic; wowed by the ranks of marching red-coats in file after file. The bullshit of facts and figures ever-ready to shake any conviction to the contrary, even in the face of the colossal failures of the reductivist empire. These failures surround us and threaten us from all sides, from out of its blind confidence in self-hypnotic clap-trap.
It's no wonder it has the world in its thrall. Even now adding adherents in their millions with its hollow, empty promises no one fully believes. It enters through our healthy instinct for doubt. It insinuates itself with a whisper of a promise of certainty. It turns our doubt back on ourselves whenever we begin to slip from its strictures. It is ready to throw conviction at us, in a systematic breakdown of all nuance and complexity. It works to replace life, in all its messiness with a hollow, sham certainty, taking and taking, and never giving anything back.
The weaker we are, the harder it is to hope. The weaker we are, the easier it is to settle for wishing. When we're strong, we understand life is fragile, contingent, and ultimately tragic; and that hope is the form our desire takes to make something of our circumstances, to give life meaning. In weakness, we settle for wishing that things were easier, wishing that someone, somehow would alleviate our burdens. We enter into bargains, looking for saviors, heroes, or just an end to our suffering, suffering that in our weakness leaves us feeling that life is nothing but a burden.
Empires, – the culminating phase of all civilizations including our own – whether religious, military, mercantile, or all three; gain their strength by draining us of ours, then distracting us with a show of granting us wishes. Empire will never directly attempt to disabuse anyone of the insubstantiality of mere wishes, or lead anyone away from the bottomless craving these wishes inspire in us, a craving for solutions that can never satisfy. There's no profit in it! No power to be held onto by giving away the game. No advantage to be maintained by pointing out where we've gone wrong. Look at anyone caught up in the higher end of the spectacle. They have a tiger by the tail. They are as trapped as any of us who continues to expect a system to offer a valid replacement for a life.
Any language that tries to overcome the subversion of life into system is easily co-opted and subverted in turn to promote a "new" system as corrosive as the last, if not more so. Our frailty is always available, ready to be preyed upon. There are always enough people broken enough to accept and defend the false haven promised by a system that will destroy them along with everything else within its orbit. They accept the dirty promise that everything is someone else's fault, that certainty, even the false certainty of an obvious lie, is preferable to ongoing doubt and the weight of responsibility for creating one's own meaning; finding our own way to meet life's contingencies, opening ourselves to temporary joys, and enduring long stretches of pain without the questionable balm of convenient scapegoats, without the needy expectation of some reward to be bestowed in a far-off not-right-now.
These thoughts give me courage, at this moment after the spectacle of another "election." What we face is hard, hard to accept, hard to deal with. It's important not to get lost in the siren songs set upon us at every turn, to distract us, to lead us to question our instincts when they begin to favor life over fitting in.
It's important to change gears often, to shift our perspectives, to step outside any "program" and take a fresh tack. Our domestication – We forget that we not only domesticated animals and plants, but also ourselves – this is the true work of civilization, not the touted advances and conveniences, but our own loss of autonomy as members of an interpenetrating totality of being. Our domestication began with the deadening of that instinct for awareness, the awareness we see in the eyes of a wolf, what any who is hunted, and knows it, must never be without. Boyd in his delving into the conditions of a fighter in combat, like Lao Tsu before him, takes us back towards those instincts. His life so full of paradox, a champion of fluid thought who "invented" the PowerPoint!
Boyd was wasted on the Neocons! He is wasted and his influence brought to a dead-end if he's seen merely as the tool his erstwhile admirers take him for. Too bad he never met Illich! Together they illuminate a broad spectrum of what we've had beaten out of us. Neither "did well" as he worked to do good. Neither was ever caught. They don't make good saviors, heroes, or provide any excuse for nihilistic self destruction. Their voices are not broadcast, they have no "big reputations" in the "greater world."
As I attempt to shift my perspectives from the wider, almost abstract notion of Uncivilization, to the specifics of dealing with the wrenching trauma of this most recent "civic lesson," I feel shaken and dizzy. Conclusions that seem clear and settled when we talk broadly of the "trouble with civilization," become testy and worrisome when they begin to bang-up against whatever particular habits of allegiance we've grown up with. The poisons fed to us in the schools we were forced into, not much different from kidnapped Aborigine or Sioux children, schools that stripped away our undomesticated selves, and demanded we love our oppressors, and take their side as our own.
These poisons leave us ill-equipped for revelations that we are being done violence to by, and are doing violence for, a system whose only end is complete destruction. It's funny how sometimes it's the "little things," when taken from an inclusive view, that become such stumbling blocks, and moments of resistance and doubt when they loom out at us in all their unexpected specificity. How else can I explain, my sorrow at discovering this most recent exercise in brutalizing-the-victim, carried out by demanding we not only agree to their violation; but take part, and that we should bless one "faction" of our oppressors by electing them to office in "free" and "open" elections, after "making up our minds" on the "issues?" Or my growing conviction that concepts like freedom, choice, and happiness have been utterly perverted and thrown back at us, to bolster our continued co-option?
It is our lot, at this moment when the worldwide results of this fantasy carried out over so many thousands of years, is to catalog, and witness, and mourn for the losses; to the world, to its creatures, to its people, to ourselves. The significance visible from this particular horizon is devastating in its enormity. The one slim hope, shoal hope I like to call it, is that only at this horizon can we have possibly grasped this overall significance, and in this we are fortunate to be able to take its example. The chances to do anything to change the course of what's to come have dwindled and approach a vanishing point. The chance to enter into whatever awaits us as awakened beings, instead of beasts sent to slaughter, is all the opportunity anyone should ever need.
The fall, more like a rising, back into a full awareness of the limits and bounds of life, as well as a returning awareness of how fulfilling such life can be, is doubly painful when we have to work our way out of such enticing and persistent fantasies. As Charlotte might have thought on approaching poor Wilbur, we have a long way to go if we're to understand our fate, and go beyond being mere brutes for the slaughter!