Hi Folks. I’ve had some wonderful stimulus lately. Met a dear old friend on Friday for a lovely nature walk and energizing conversation (you have to love The Vale of Avoca – and right in midtown, too!) then yesterday I walked nine kilometres down to the lake to see another dear friend (first time I’ve covered that sort of distance in a couple of years – so it took me two hours, way off my normal pace). On top of those powerfully heart-lifting visits, I’ve been greatly enjoying a new art group and a couple of groups about sweet and unusually subtle spiritual and psychological ideas. Uplift, brain prodding, nifty new questions and challenges – all my favourite stuff, really.
I have two poems to share today, which seem to me to go toward the same important point. In a way, I’m really after a very useful old piece of wisdom. “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”
We are all so very excited about denouncing the sin of others right now, we haven’t looked in the mirror in ages. Might even be shocked if we did. Blood enemies always come to look more and more like one another over time. Nature of the world. One of the simplest reasons that war-mind is always an evil approach to any problem – cultural included.
But even though it is a contrarian and rare argument, I have seen several brave souls tackling the implications of the enthusiastic emphasis on demonization on both left and right. What can you reasonably expect to cook with evil ingredients? Nothing sweet or nutritious – that’s obvious.
The question I don’t hear this century is – what do we proud western individuals do with our ideas? Do we even know how and why to understand things anymore?
As I’ve noted before, I love a lot of people who would absolutely hate one another, were they forced into the same room. I’ve been so far ‘out’ that I oppose all sneering and categorical hostility. Unkindness is so often a tantrum from a mind which ought to have learned to deal with its own weather internally. All noise, no signal.
I also have respect and even gratitude for many writers who some suspect, or consider outright problematic. I don’t like Hayek’s work at the Chicago school of economics at all – but the questions he raises in “The Road To Serfdom” are very relevant to our political debates today. Have you ever seen a committee that had zero corruption and got tons of incredibly helpful stuff done for everyone? Would you trust them to control absolutely everything about society, with your least favourite party in power?
Similarly, we hear a lot of criticisms of Freud and Jung, which try to suggest that their own personal character flaws, or failure to display mores of a later century, prove their work has no lasting value. Rubbish!
UNLESS – you are foolish enough to take an individual book of ideas by one particular person, addressing one particular moment, and judge it as if it was intended to be immaculate, immortal and universally applicable scripture!Psychologists and psychiatrists are fascinating people, where strict Freudians and Jungians, like strict Marxists, far more often impress us with what else they willfully fail to acknowledge.
I mentioned to a new friend recently that in my experience, pretty much everyone who described themselves to me as an existentialist, turned out to be an egotistical sociopath. I do have a huge problem with Camus for “The Myth of Sisyphus” – a very dangerous book to set before anyone under 30. But I consider “The Rebel” important, and adequate penance. And still, if I met someone today who considered “L’étranger” their personal bible, I’d RUN!
Youth struggling hard to form an objective worldview is fantastic – but obsessing over Ayn Rand’s infantile centre of the universe objectivism is a phantasm. Deeper into the text, so often means further away from reality.
One of the greatest madman-egotists of the twentieth century, Aleistair Crowley, might be one of the sharpest examples of this weird split. His quote, “I place no reliance on virgin or pigeon, my method is science, my aim is religion” still resonates for millions in the west who are unsatisfied with mere dogma, as a substitute for genuine connection to the divine. Part of what makes it appealing is the adversarial tone – we just love to sneer and dissect! Nothing else satisfies quite so well. But with ego in the lead – we are left stranded, when it comes to progress in many subtler areas of study – the wisdom we need evaporates from the heat of our own lust. Exciting quests are not at all uncommon. Epic self-destructions even less so.
If you hang around with Crowley maniacs awhile, you get a rather creepy feeling. Too many who arrive in such occult spaces are looking for unfair power over others, instead of a path through humility (in an important way – power over themselves) toward greater insight and higher duty.
I am personally very fond of Robert Anton Wilson – who I discovered when I had just escaped an insane commune. He set me off to practising yoga, and reading everything from the ancient Sufis to the wild zealots like Leary and Lilly – out at the cutting edge of consciousness research – with a stop on quantum physics and another on media and semiotics along the way. No other writer has ever offered me a richer or more useful bibliography. He’s also impish and challenging in a way which is very American in the most positive sense. And still he was by his own admission completely unable to get over his own skepticism. (take his own advice). A new age Pagliacci.
Were I to mistake his million questions for a system, I could get in serious trouble – because he insists on never saying which is joking invention, and which is fact – challenging you to dig and discover for yourself. Just like obsessing over Marx instead of Socialism, or Freud instead of Psychology, elevating a particular text too high is more about blinkers than lenses.
Also funny about our western way of thinking – you will never in your life hear more foul criticism of say a band (or writer) than you will from someone who used to think they were immaculate, the best thing ever – then had their own emotional fantasy destroyed, and blamed it on the external referent!
On the other hand – after stewing in an adversarial culture our entire lives – why are we so sure that we can even find other tools, let alone use them properly? I know many people of deep conviction, and I don’t want to offend, but I can’t be the only one who has to work incredibly hard not to laugh out loud when an American from a Christian background self-describes as a Taoist or Buddhist.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the aspiration, only that there are few known worldviews more starkly opposed, and the proportion of Americans (or Canadians) capable of truly overcoming their consumerist and adversarial mindset to achieve even the entry level benefits is observably tiny. Has been for many decades.
Allan Watts had a great talk where he expressed gratitude to Jung for reminding him that he was always going to be a creature of Christendom, no matter how much energy he put into his fascination with exotic faiths. We love the studies he made far afield and the engaging talks he left us – but I’m sure his avuncular chuckle owes much to knowing what he was standing on – without the foundation-undermining denial so common today.
When we put on something like Buddhism (and to be sure, there are plenty of other ‘new age flavours’ misappropriated like fashion in this way), we aren’t just showing disrespect for the living tradition, we are also making it much less likely that we can progress in our own studies. The ability to put something (in some systems an almost arbitrary focus, for teaching purposes only) ahead of our ego, is a prerequisite. Problem is – we in the west outright specialize in sucking at exactly that.
We can put on a pious display of care for a cause – and we love to share our hatreds and celebrate our most evil passions. But will we make serious and steadfast sacrifice ourselves, without complaint (because the cause is so much more important to us than our own convenience?). Really not so much.
Not only will we not sacrifice convenience, we won’t even give up our sanctimony to make progress!
We prove and celebrate our righteousness by denouncing others – which proves only that we do not even understand the minimum requirements for democracy anymore. There has never been one perfect mindset, compared to which all others must be suppressed, exterminated or punished to achieve social virtue. There is no immaculate text or dogma for this moment!
We need to be about truth, respect, fairness and principle – because if we can’t prove that these things are still alive by actively living them ourselves – then they are dead, and we really ought to stop pretending we are even trying anymore.
Seriously folks, if we really have decided to make this the Titanic – we might as well be dancing!
“Swallow the Leader” is from “Night Song for Cigar-Box Banjo” – 2018 Large Ess Small Press.
“Peace Meal” will be included in my next poetry collection.