This post began as a response to Warren Draper's comment on Do we need leaders?
Warren brought up B. Traven's Death Ship and Robert Shea's essay, Empire of the Rising Scum before relating some quotes and insights from Wilhelm Reich. The following began as a response. It moves on to what I think is better handled as a new post. Thank you Warren. I don't think we realize how helpful a direct response can be to push forward one's ideas, to find new ways of expressing what we're working towards.
I've seen the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, but hadn't realized Death Ship was by the same writer. I'll add it to my cue. Shea's essay is also new to me, though I suspect it's a founding document in anarchist circles. I especially like his thought that perhaps society exists to keep us fringe people fed on its margins. I sometimes wonder if civilization isn't here mostly to benefit dogs, to give them cushy lives and pick-up trucks.
* * *
What hasn't been thought of yet always seems so amorphous and impossible to get hold of. Once it's been conceived a new view seems obvious if not inevitable. What drives people to accept their roles as "little men" is fear and a capitulation to superficial "pragmatism." What interests me is to work at defusing fear, putting it in its place, and putting off a panicked accommodation to its traps. This approach, the cultivation of Negative Capability, is rarely tried and seems to me to hold the only true hope.
I grew up with a sea-horizon and have always been good at spotting whales. That's a skill without many direct applications these days! The key is to maintain a wide scan so as not to prematurely focus in on what we wish to be true, but so we are always ready to turn towards the slightest hint of what might be true. It takes an active patience. This might be a model for the kind of mastery I keep looking for as a means forward. Once one spots a spout from out of the noise of waves and spray soon everyone can see it, now they've been shown where to look.
To jump out of this analogy; socially, we are constricted by the fearful among us not to practice that sort of discipline. It annoys those caught up in fear. To them it seems a distraction. Fear demands a tunnel-vision response to its bogies. A hierarchy succeeds because it rewards those who maintain the strongest tunnel-vision. This is a vicious cycle. They demonstrate to the fearful who are in their thrall that they have supreme confidence and focus – the realm of the clever. Systems demonizes their heretics. Continued failures to assuage fear – it only grows stronger the more it is catered to – lead to further escalation. The process repeats until collapse.
We can't just let ourselves fall into our "roles" in this drama. We can't just be salmon beating up against a dam, sacrificing ourselves to a futility revealed by the sacrifices made by our elders before us. We need to recognize that the lure of short-cuts/short-circuits to reach "desirable ends" are mirages. Otherwise we're just another form of cannon-fodder for the machine, taking care of our own annihilation/continued marginalization by choice without the need to be compelled by the system.
I seem accustomed, if not comfortable, with the demands of this search. I've always been drawn to little wisps that mark leviathans somewhere below the surface. I've always felt most at home along boundaries, between realms, outside of bolstering systems, hierarchies, and organizations. It's instinctive. It took me a long time to stop seeing this difference as a handicap and begin to trust it as a strength. I need to remind myself that most people don't feel comfortable in the nebulous fringes – at least not without some group reinforcement supplied by a fringe-group's cliquishness. I've never been "cool." It's important once in a while to dip into why I follow this particular trail. Not just giving hints at my predilections, but delving into why this path might be worthwhile.
Let's begin with what it isn't. It's not an attempt to save the world. That was THE hard one to realize and admit. The world cries out in its need, but in the end if I don't acknowledge that there is no magical font of power – no matter how deeply craved for by my Ego – that will allow me, or any of us, to right all the wrongs then I am held in the same thrall as those I've learned to see through. Step one has to be to put that particular demon in its place.
The world is not "my" problem. It's not "a problem" of any kind awaiting clever solutions. This is the trap for those who have been able to salvage some shreds of empathy and compassion. It's heartbreaking to have to acknowledge that focusing on problems does not serve the impulse to do "good." It only guarantees continual futility and marginalization. What's hard to admit is that this impulse leaves us substantively no different than the hero of this story. Deep pools of "Righteousness!" are there to comfort villains who claim their partial vision is total, and that they alone have the answers, and the rest of us only exist to be gamed by them.
I keep harping on humility. This begins to show why it's so important, and, so elusive. Ego is always ready to provide rationalizations for grasping at power. This may be a way into the reason why. Intuition, reason, and practice all lead me to accept that life is a foment and that there are so many traps awaiting to lock us into false certainty. Each thrust or viewpoint available to us has its attributes, its value, its compulsion to lead us to expect it to be "THE ONE." This is even true of those we shy away from, even those we abhor. In the end, none can be discounted, but none of them provide the haven they seem to promise.
Let's go back to the water. I can't seem to stay away from it! We are in over our heads. We have visions of succor caught in glimpses that cannot be differentiated from what our experience leads us to believe are mirages. In any event, they are all too far off for us to swim to. We have some capacity to tread water. We experience varying levels of panic interspersed with awe at our surroundings. As we take a moment now and then we see that this place we find ourselves in is magnificent in immense and miniscule ways.
If we try to maintain one "stroke" as the correct one, as the most "efficient" to keep our heads above water, we risk fatigue of the muscles we overuse and paralysis of those we leave fallow. We also loose the flexibility of preparation and practice to face a change in our conditions that might be best served by another mode. We can't stop, but we must remain rested, or we will exhaust ourselves. There is a continuous need to do the "right thing" and there is the need to understand that we never know what that right thing really is: The expectation that any one technique is the resolution of our predicament, providing us with an answer, is wrong. This is our only certainty.
There are those around us who seem to do rather well for a time by manipulating others to sacrifice themselves for their benefit. We're tempted, but have a persistent, nagging doubt that this is only making matters worse by turning the focus away from the general predicament towards abusive short-term solutions. We sense that the overall health of the group in which we identify ourselves is diminished by these antics. As we follow that trail we come to see that "our" group is only part of what we belong to. We find glimmers of a sense that instead of resisting to maintain our distance and separation from others, we would be better served by an increasing acceptance of our inclusion in wider and wider circles of Being. – An inexperienced swimmer fights to keep his head above water. A calm, experienced swimmer floats with just her face breaking the surface.
What the slow accumulation of experience appears to lead us towards is a growing familiarity with what one would consider, if an "ideal" was ever an option, to be unacceptable. We begin to accommodate to our conditions and find that our resistance, our insistence that there be some other way to live, has not helped anyone. We've seen the way a certain calm and open attitude has allowed a few to abide. We find the "trick" to what they're doing elusive. Maybe there isn't a "trick?…"