Almost exactly ten years ago, in June of 2002, my wife and I were driving through Colorado, on our way from Los Angeles to New York City. In the early afternoon, while paused to tank-up our Toyota Corolla, at a massive convenience store/self-service gas island that boasted of “two-for-the-price-of-one, One and One Half Footlong Hot Dogs.” we watched a family of six emerge from a late model, oversized pickup truck, proceed into the store, and return with a bounty of hot dogs and super-gulp soft drinks.
A few minutes later, we passed their vehicle on Interstate 70, and I remarked to my wife on the connection between oversized consumer goods, oversized people, and the oversized amount of greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere. I queried, “Do you think they would even look up from their titanic hot dogs, if the world before them ignited into flames?”
A few minutes later, my question was answered when a series of wildfires (very much like the ones that are scorching Colorado to ash and cinder, as I write these words) began to close in on our periphery.
Stunningly, mortifyingly, the answer to my question was, no. The occupants of the pickup proceeded straight through the screen of wafting smoke without averting their gaze from their gigantic snack food.
When the world is on fire and a people refuse to take note . . . we’re apt to find ourselves in a bit of a fix.
People, I have seen the Footlong Hot Dog of the Apocalypse. Apparently, the end of the world, as we know it, comes with your choice of condiments.
Often, when walking the streets and avenues of New York, one is forced to dodge a fellow pedestrian who walks directly into one’s path as he/she stares distracted into the screen of some electronic appliance. There have been times when I have stopped in my tracks at the approach of one of these mindless denizens of the Cult of Endless Distraction as he/she has walked head-on into me.
At times, they evince an aura of victimhood . . . feeling an injustice has transpired, because I fail to clear a path for them.
Their trope of entitlement is delivered thus, “Why didn’t you get out of my way . . . You saw me coming.”
“Yes, but didn’t you notice yourself proceeding,” I reply.
At this . . . a blank stare . . . as if I had just posited some fragment of arcane law, adhered to by some alien race lost to time.
Indulge me in the following digression: In the (failed) attempt to create a republic, the early U.S. aristocracy deemed and codified into law that property rights were paramount to human rights . . . that self-interest would, as a rule, proceed before public good. Later, the age of advertising introduced the notion that instant gratification trumps self-awareness.
The combination of these two principles have engendered a series of generations of consumers (the practice of citizenship barely exists, at present) for whom the concept of civil engagement is so obscure that, for these sorts, sharing a city sidewalk seems a task too complicated to envisage.
“I was born here and I’ll die here against my will/ I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still/ Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/ I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from/ Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer/ It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”
—Not Dark Yet | Bob Dylan
Individually and en masse, U.S. citizens are checked-out, lost, possessed by inertia or manic jags of distraction, feelings of hopelessness and powerless rage, and are desperate for some kind of quick fix . . . as if that were even possible. For example, why else would so many be addicted to unhealthy corporate food, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications? Why are so many so desperate for relief from reality itself?
One reason: There exists a void of purpose, both communal and personal; a keening hollowness that becomes present when a person has been rendered by circumstance bereft of the belief that life can be resonant with meaning . . . that he is in possession of a unique destiny. The concept has been lost that one’s life is a fascinating question that is addressed to the world—and it is imperative that one quests for answers.
The tragedy is that too many look to their exploiters for answers. Those who insist on dwelling in an ad hoc architecture of denial—as flimsy as the prefab edifices of this Strip Mall Nation, as empty as the soul-devoid rooms of a McMansion—conjure disaster, and those who evince a noxious innocence (when no adult is innocent in a blood-sustained empire) become monsters.
It is one’s societal (perhaps, even sacred) duty to strive for awareness. Those who demur will become slaves, and, in ways overt and tacit, argue for the exploitative and cruel caprice of their masters.
Too often people practice freedom of speech, rather than committing to the more difficult task of pursuing freedom of being . . . thus, all to often, mistaking the din of a prison for freedom of expression.
To dwell in the domain of the heart . . . is to choose to live in a dangerous terrain, for the choice will forever alter the world you (believed) you knew. The thoughts of the heart are dangerous items to carry in this age of the facile and fascist; it is the dangerous cargo that the national security state is searching for when applying body scans and pat down searches. The thoughts of the heart are at the top of the state’s “no fly list.”
Why does one choose to call the stultifying enclosure of a self-constructed prison of the mind . . . freedom . . . come to regard his jailers as his benefactors, and hate those who point out his predicament . . . insisting the clanging of his chains is music to his ears—the stirring melody of a patriotic hymn?
I am amazed at the talent on display by the oppressed of the corporate/military state: In particular, their impressive skills as contortion artists—who are able to lower a boot on their own necks, as, all the while, they march in lockstep to the dictates of their economic overlords—a damn impressive talent, and more than a little unnerving to witness.
Thus, the fallback taunt of the witless to those who question (or cannot adapt to) the current order, “get a job.”
The global economy does not have an underemployment problem; we suffer an over-employment tragedy, i.e., the precious moments of this finite life that are squandered laboring for a corrupt elite of pathological greedheads.
In fact, those active in the Occupy Wall Street Movement do have jobs: Our job is to transform the present order—to put out of work the capitalist criminals who have enslaved too many, body and soul, for far too long. Our job is to eliminate their jobs.
Moreover, do not believe for a moment the corporate media/police state dismissal that Occupy Wall Street is so “last year.” When, in fact, trusting in neoliberal propaganda is, oh so, last millennium. The resonance and reverberations of the global-wide uprising against neoliberal exploitation and injustice—which is woven into the molecular structure of the OWS movement—is far from done, because the global bankster/corporate plundering class are not done yet. By the very nature of building a prison or sweatshop, you have introduced the dream of freedom into the hearts of the enslaved.
As many readers are aware, vis-a-vis my recent essays, last month, I returned to the region of my birth to bear witness and bid farewell to my father as he departed this life for cosmic points unknown.
An experience whereby one is confronted by the demarcation point dividing life and death, or the transitory nature of time, brings what is essential into stark relief. Visits home, to the precincts of one’s youth . . . exited, long ago . . . can buffet one with enveloping sorrow. When catching up with old friends, who never left the area, one becomes subject to the Mortality and Contretemps Report . . . a gawky girl you exchanged French kisses with, when you were thirteen, has succumbed to brain cancer . . . a seemingly level-headed, steady friend that you (thought) you knew . . . a scientist, a father, a man of humor and forbearance . . . committed suicide.
Fortuna’s Wheel, it seems, is a chaos-proliferate fractal of perpetual hurt. The fate of others (and ourselves) is providentially unknowable. The present moment opens before us . . . so astounding to behold that we feel we can go on forever, held in beauty . . . emboldened by evanescent grace.
There is birdsong that enswathes the air of the graveyard . . . Joined with the chorus of the dead, it pierces the heart with more precision than prophesy. This song . . . of the living’s eloquence and the deads’ abandon . . . carries us towards evening.
Its melody wends through Time, through Fate’s indifferent landscape. No mathematician can map its course nor calculate by statistical prediction its destination.
What we know is this: We are riding this song together, and have done so through eternity . . . Marrow-fruited bone, drifting dust, and omnipresent birdsong—all of our forms and guises—propel us through the impossible . . . the Unfolding Fate of All Things.
Self-knowledge begins when one is open to an acceptance of life’s dark verities, as well as to an awareness of one’s deepest and darkest drives and desires, even awful, hateful thoughts and impulses. Otherwise, denial of these aspects of one’s nature creates what James Hillman termed toxic innocence, whereby one’s psyche is so driven to protect one’s perceived innocence that it becomes overwhelmed by its hidden drives.
In short, an underpinning reason how distressingly large segments of the U.S. populace began to evince the mode of mind on display under fascist rule.
Conversely, to the mode of mind of a tyrant—one possessed of a compulsion for control of others, mind and body—one should become fond of exploring psychic landscapes, even those of hostile, fact-resistant, capitalist true believers, fundamentalist religious types, crackpot pragmatists, puritanical ninnies, insular liberals, Obama cultists, and self-referential tyrants and dogmatist tight-asses. There is a great deal one can learn about oneself when confronting strange, even hostile landscapes of the human soul; in particular . . . the assertions and actions of others that induce despair and reflexive rage within you.
Human engagement, like art, involves more process than principle. One must engage the process, evoke the ritual, show up at the ceremony, join the protest . . . to see what spirits have been summoned, e.g., the unsettled ghosts of memory, the strutting spirits of the age, the admonishing/beckoning spirits of the deep.
It is not enough to deliver light; one, also, must listen to the soliloquies of restless shadows . . . just don’t take them at their word. Moreover, light is a deft liar as well. Yet, when tales of light and shadow are entwined, we start to move in the direction of a compelling tale.
Do not demur from dialog with difficult feelings, and those seemingly irredeemable aspects of your hidden nature . . . even if doing so engenders inner conflict and involves trespassing into your comfort zone. Violate the fascist catchphrase: “Don’t go there.”
By all means, go there. “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”—T.S. Eliot