Synthesis: Reflections on the Journey

January 7, 2014 § 46 Comments

By: Tai CarmenCurtain-Call, site credit: www.millstonenews.com/2013/05/synthesis-ii-fibre-art-show-opens-may-9-2013

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” ~ Marcel Proust 

“The only journey is the one within”. ~ Rainer Marie Rilke

The turn of another year inspires reflection on what has come before.

When I first started Parallax three years ago, I didn’t know what the theme would be. I wasn’t sure if anyone would care about the topics that interested me, or indeed, if I had anything interesting to say. I had only a vague feeling—a multitude of disconnected puzzle pieces floating around inside me, like dots begging to be connected.

Damien Hirst, dots, site credit: www.thelmagazine.com/TheMeasure/archives/2011/08/08/damien-hirst-to-connect-his-dot-paintings-around-the-world

I had one focal point, and it became the source of my first entry: “The Role of the Dreamer & the Falseness of Civilization,” inspired by a stop light. I realized how automatic my response had been upon seeing the amber traffic light turn red: foot on break, like a trained animal. Then the light changed to green and without conscious thought my foot obediently pressed upon the gas.

In that moment, I wondered what else I had been conditioned to accept that had become automatic—even intimate—to my functioning, which was the product of some external system. I saw that my experience with the traffic light—my unconscious conditioning—was a metaphor for society at large.

"they live" still, site credit: www.streetdemocracy.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/the-signing-of-peaceful-protesting-laws-first-uk-then-spain-now-egypts-interim-president-adly-mansour-signs-anti-protest-law/

The blog soon became my shared in-process journey connecting the dots, many of which (of course!) remain unconnected. Yet, a picture emerges…

I began to see a coherence to the topics, which at first seemed merely a loose, eclectic collection of curiosity-driven investigations.

Connecting the Dots, site credit: www.artisautobiographical.blogspot.com/2012/03/connecting-dots-differently

A theme began to crystallize. I realized I was trying to mentally pan back—to accurately perceive a reality, which I had witnessed for so many years that I had ceased to truly see it. Familiarity seems to breed a kind of trance state of assumptions. I began to attempt to deconstruct society as I knew it—imagining what our world would like like to an alien observer (“The Mad Cult of the World”) with no preconceived notions. This excercise was a tremendous eye-opener for me.

What I saw was a well oiled machine. An (apparently) self-perpetuating system of control, with built-in reinforcements & viscous cycles so as to appear both inescapable & desirable.

john-kane-i-had-an-epiphany-new-yorker-cartoonI observed how conformity & consumer-based lifestyles that feed the system—and increase people’s wage-slave circumstance with debt & emotional dependence on external status—are marketed & reinforced constantly from every angle (“Invisible Architects,“The Engineering of Human Desire,“Mind Control in the Music Industry,” “The Perversion of the American Dream”)…

How our natural instinctual herd mentality & desire for acceptance (The Mythology of Conformity: Totem & Taboo) is exploited by marketing to create a climate of uniformity (The Politics of Normalcy), where independent thought that jeopardizes the status quo (“Polarity & Paradox”) is not given a widespread platform of expression.

I began to realize that my feelings of alienation within mainstream society were not necessarily indications of personal failing, but perhaps symptomatic of a larger imbalance within the system.

conformity

As Krishnamurti says, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (“The Outsider” ).

I became convinced that positive social change, in fact, could only come from an outsider, because only someone looking in from the outside could see the problems for what they were (“The Outsider As Visionary”, “The Art of Madness”).

looking-at-world, site credit: www.louisdietvorst.wordpress.com/tag/world/

 I became interested in the idea of personal authenticity (“Authenticity & The False Self”) as the path towards true self-knowledge, beyond social conditioning. For I believe we can only incite true social change—contribute positively to society— when we have processed our own shadows (“Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul,”) and begun to piece together our true selves, which have been fragmented by a compartmentalized system (“Soul Retrieval”). 

As I became more conscious of my personal journey (“The Modern Vision Quest,” “The Question of Reality, “The Human Soul & The Floating Man,” “The Art of Seeing,”) I began to explore my own thoughts, feelings & direct experiences with reality. The further down the rabbit hole I went, the more the dots seemed to connect. And it felt different to come to these ideas in a visceral way—through personal gnosis—than through reading the ideas of other minds. I only used their works to substantiate my own discoveries, and offer what I hoped would be interesting background to the topics which most compelled me.

connect-the-dots

As I wrote on these subjects, I received—wonder of wonders!—a positive response from readers (you guys!), which reflected back to me that I was actually speaking to subjects which were not just in my heart, on my mind, alone, but were also meaningful to others. I actually acquired readers at all, which itself is both humbling & thrilling.

Your feedback is what keeps this blog going. To know I am not dropping letters into a well but actually contributing to the collective conversation has shown me that these subjects, which at first seemed so disconnected, are truly on our collective mind—and truly form a cohesive picture.

Global connection, site credit: www.thebrooklynscribbler.blogspot.com/2011/12/meet-your-creative-needs-with.html

The idea put forth by British Zen philosopher Alan Watts in the 60s that “[We] are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself,” later re-popularized in the 80s by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan—“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”—was actually first developed in its modern form by 18th century German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Hegel contended that Spirit was at first unconscious of Itself. (Hegel’s use of “Spirit” is a translation of the German word “Geist,” a nonreligious term, not comparable to our English word for “God,” but a neutral term, mingled with the idea of “transpersonal mind” & “essence”.) He called this stage of unconscious Spirit the Thesis stage.

Cosmic Man, site credit: www.tsgarp-mysticlight.blogspot.com/2012_02_05_archive.html

At one point,  Spirit-exploring-itself-through-Man became conscious of existing.

The self-aware man looked around (or Spirit looked around through Man’s eyes) seeing himself and others—others who might be similar to him, but were not him. And the newly self-aware man defined himself through this negation. In short, he knew himself in part by what he wasn’t: the other. He looked at the world and saw many, a multi-facetted prism. He saw division. Those who were not him were perceived as foreign, alien, other—often, too, inevitably, as “enemy.”

This was Antithesis stage.

by: Francisco_de_Goya, "Two Men Fighting with Clubs"

Eventually, as man’s time on the planet progressed, a few, rare introspective humans—specifically, for Hegel, the philosopher—became aware of the interconnectivity of all life-forms (“Connectivity Through Form”), at which point he perceived Self in Other (a hallmark throughout all mystical literature of enlightenment) and became self-realized. The prism revealed itself to be—while multi-faceted in appearance—in essence, a single diamond.

This was the Synthesis stage—where thesis & antithesis, two apparent opposites, merged & integrated to form a more complete truth.

Polarity by Jair Rhuÿs, site credit: www.absolutearts.com/cgi-bin/portfolio/art/your-art.cgi?login=rhuys&title=Polarity-1118522979t.jpg

I believe we are currently experiencing the growing pains of collectively & individually moving—shifting—into a Thesis stage of existence (“Transformation, Destruction & The Inner Apocalypse“). That is where my studies thus far have lead me.  (“Starseeds, Cosmic Consciousness & The Galactic Generations,” “Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination”).

There are many fighting this emerging connectivity. But there are an increasing number straining towards it. Some, only half-consciously, as I was when I first began this blog—driven only by a vague sense of discontent & yearning. As Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix: “Something is wrong with this world, you’ve known it all your life, you don’t know what it is. It’s like a splinter in your mind … driving you mad.”

Still others, aware & awake through their own process of trail, error & self-discovery, are fighting for the cause: of reverence for life & planetary harmony.

The Fear Culture of the media news may tell you otherwise, but I—perhaps you, and so many others—are beginning to tear down the facade like a paper sky and see it for what it is: the attempts of a system under threat to maintain control through division, traumatization & uncertainty.

Practical Paranoia, by Mike Elko, site credit: www.blog.lib.umn.edu/peza0001/arts1001wednesdays/2008/11/millions_of_innocent_accidents

I perceive this as a time—intense & trying as it may be—of integration for many. We are all connecting the dots. Feeling more connected to one another, across space & time, even while we may still experience major bouts of isolation…we see that we are not alone in our strange (or not so strange) thoughts & visions. If through the advancement of technology alone.

We are a mere Google search away from learning, for example, that the long-dead Hegel’s complete life philosophy beautifully articulates that intuition we could not quite put to words; or perhaps that blogger you’ve never met, but read sometimes, has been mulling over the same insights you’ve been contemplating on your journey.

And it is a journey. (“Alchemy: An Allegorical Map for the Transmutation of Consciousness.“) No doubt about it. Complete with dragons to slay, puzzles to solve & dark forests in which we must, by virtue of necessity, learn to generate our own inner light to illuminate the path ahead.

site credit: www.awesomedigitalart.tumblr.com/post/60796504639/polarity-in-art-fraility-of-memory-and

We are heroes and heroines scaling Dark Nights of the Soul like mountains … swimming rivers of sorrow, where we reach dry land of revelation & new strength. Each trial, an initiation, each passage, a threshold into new insight, if we continue to search for the lesson, for the center, for the truth. Nothing is wasted. We can use it all.

Happy 2014, fellow journeyers! I would love to know what you think about all this! All comments on this first post of the new year—as has become Parallax tradition!—will be entered into a drawing, the winner of which will receive my current heart-compass book-companion,  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…And It’s All Small Stuff,” By Richard Carlson, Ph. D: a slim inspirational little easy-read manual for transcending postmodern angst and tapping into inner peace.

Here’s to the journey, fellow travelers.

On on!

TC

The Politics of Normalcy

July 6, 2011 § 45 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing.” Michel Foucault

Perhaps you noticed it, too. The word ‘anxiety’ appearing more and more in conversation, ads and media. People talking, not about ‘being anxious,’ (a moment that can pass) but about ‘having anxiety’ (a permanent affliction).

In “The Age of Anxiety,” a poem written in 1947, W.H. Auden links modern angst with man’s quest to find substance and identity in a shifting and increasingly industrialized world: …It is getting late / Shall we ever be asked for? Are we simply / not wanted at all?  

Writer-philosopher Albert Camus dubbed the 20th century “The Century of Fear.” One wonders what he would say about the 21st.

Writer Herman Hesse, exploring the age of angst in his novel Steppenwolf, attributes the feelings of isolation and loneliness in his protagonist to the breakdown of repressive bourgeoisie values, which let loose the wild, irrational forces within man without offering a new standard or value system for support, thereby creating an uneasy limbo, lacking guidance and direction.

Though the subject has been explored for centuries by writers and philosophers, social anxiety disorder did not officially exist until it appeared in 1980’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-III — the psychiatrist’s bible of psychological afflictions — under the name “social phobia,” the same book which once classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Not that the problem didn’t exist before — it was the ancient Greeks, after all, who coined the word agoraphobic —  but during the latter half of the 20th century, anxiety seems to have shifted culturally from a covert issue to an overt one.

By the 1990’s pharmaceutical companies received F.D.A. approval to treat social anxiety and poured tens of millions of dollars into advertising its existence. In 2002,  Anxiety Disorders Association of America reported that 19.1 million (or 13%) of adults ages 18-54 were affected with a form of anxiety disorder. Now the percentage has climbed to 40 million (or 18%) of the population.

The current version of the DSM-IV describes diagnosis as warranted when anxiety “interferes significantly with work performance” (italics mine) or if the sufferer shows marked distress about it.

So in other words, according to the DSM, if you can’t adjust to your life as an employee, you may have a disorder. If it affects your productivity within the system, that’s the true indicator of a problem.

Of course, this makes sense on an individual basis — why wouldn’t job performance be an issue for individual workers? We all have bills to pay.

But on a broader level, from the perspective of analyzing cultural trends and messages, it strikes me as eerily dystopian that humans should be viewed like malfunctioning robots who need repair because their efficiency has faltered, rather then looking into possible problems with the work places themselves (environment, demands, etc).

Not “Maybe we need more breaks to maximize efficiency,” but “Maybe you have a problem. Take a pill and get back to work.”

There is a lack of humanity in the description, an emphasis on product over person.

In Madness and CivilizationMichel Foucalt notices the link between society’s labor needs and their attitude towards the socially maladjusted:

Before having the medical meaning we give it, or that at least we like to suppose it has, confinement [of the insane] was required by something quite different from any concern with curing the sick. What made it necessary was an imperative of labor. Our philanthropy prefers to recognize the signs of a benevolence towards sickness where there is only a condemnation of idleness.

I want to be clear that I am not criticizing individuals for taking anxiety medication. I am not telling anyone to stop taking their medication or saying it’s weak or wrong to do so. It’s a personal choice. We need all the help we can get, and I understand that medication is one form of help for many people.

My interrogation, rather, is aimed at our perception of anxiety as a society — our knee-jerk reaction of repression over investigation, of labeling the feeling a disorder, rather than seeing it as a potential initiation into deeper mastery of one’s will and character, or as a symptom of an imbalanced social system.

Interestingly, angst as put forth by the existential philosophers refers to the spiritual dread one experiences in the face of one’s own freedom. As Kierkegaard said in The Concept of Dread:

 “I would say that learning to know anxiety is an adventure which every man has to affront if he would not go to perdition, either by not having known anxiety or by sinking under it. He therefore who has learned rightly to be anxious has learned the most important thing.” 

In that context, there begins to appear something ominous about the medication of such a feeling, which may be uncomfortable, but also suggests the presence of our own grand possibility. If anxiety is a natural reaction to the experience of our own overwhelming freedom, what will it mean to repress that sensation?

Some might take issue with the fact that I am not drawing a distinct line between philosophical anxiety and physiological/psychological anxiety. I am aware that our society sees them as different issues — one as garden-variety-human-condition-angst, which everyone experiences to some degree, and the other as the more pathological, in-need-of-medication-chemical-imbalance anxiety. This is because I don’t believe they are different. Rather, I think they are gradations of the same experience.

I see the varying interpretations of anxiety by different fields as exactly that: interpretations. The difference between, say, a poet’s description of an elephant and a zoologist’s. The elephant remains the same.

Just because one field has identified the chemicals related to the feeling does not mean the chemicals are the beginning, or the end, of the story.

Social anxiety is often linked with introverts — incidentally, a much misunderstood personality type within our modern culture.

“The day may come,” says Susan Cain in her recent New York Times article, “Shyness: An Evolutionary Tactic?” “when we have pills that ‘cure’ shyness and turn introverts into social butterflies […] [But] the act of treating shyness as an illness obscures the value of that temperament.”

As a culture we need both the shy, sensitive introverts to ponder the deeper meanings of things and the assertive, bold extraverts to take action and get things done. Diversity in a species is an evolutionary advantage.

Case in point: evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson performed a simple but telling experiment on a school of unknowing pumpkinseed sun fish. About 15-20 % of animals display introvert characteristics of caution (interestingly, the same percentage as in humans,) called “sitters,” compared to the more curious, assertive “rover” types…

The biologist lowered a metal trap into the water and a large number of  “rover” sunfish went inside to investigate — only to be caught. While the more tentative “sitter” sunfish, who sat back and watched, remained free.


“Had Professor Wilson’s traps posed a real threat, only the sitters would have survived,” points out Cain. “But had the sitters taken Zoloft and become more like bold rovers, the entire family of pumpkinseed sunfish would have been wiped out. ‘Anxiety’ about the trap saved the fishes’ lives.”

Wilson then caught all the sunfish and took them back to his lab. The rovers acclimated faster, eating a full five days earlier than their sitter brethren. In this case, the rovers had the evolutionary advantage.

“There is no single best … personality,” Professor Wilson concludes in his book, “Evolution for Everyone,” “but rather a diversity of personalities maintained by natural selection.”

Yet we live in a culture which treats the sitter personality as freakish. “Just do it!” our slogans roar. Action is prized over contemplation, assertiveness over timidity. One way we manifest this bias as a society is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see their tendencies as problematic, needing to be cured.

Studies show that introverts, who tend to digest information thoroughly, do better in school than their extroverted peers, despite having the same I.Q. The careful, sensitive temperament from which both shyness and anxiety can spring is not only rich in observational skill, insight and inner vision, it may well be essential to the survival of our species — a point well illustrated by our friends the pumpkinseed sunfish.

As science journalist Winifred Gallagher points out: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor ‘Paradise Lost’ was dashed off by a party animal.”

I’m not saying that people who take medication are doing so to “conform to the status quo,” (obviously they are doing it to feel better and to function more effectively in their life) but the increase of medication use in the Western world does suggest the possibility of an increasingly homogenized human experience.

Though some might argue that such “increased homogeny” is just fine if it entails a more well-adjusted life experience, I am suspicious of terms like “well adjusted,” because they require that we hold a yardstick up against the majority to measure the minority; it fails to account for individual temperament or the gifts that come with eccentricity.

Back to the original thought: being anxious vs having anxiety. This is a shift of language I have witnessed in my lifetime. And what a consequence the simple replacement of “having” with “being” implies: one is an emotion that passes through you, another is something you are stuck with, a state, part of your personality, even your identity.

And could it have anything to do with the multi-million dollar pharmaceutical companies filling the airwaves with the language of “having?”

What great symphonies, works of literature and philosophies would not have been created had the sensitive temperaments creating them been medicated? And what will our society look like in 100 years if it continues down its current trajectory?

The Mythology of Conformity: Totem and Taboo

March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments

By Tai Carmen

The story goes like a joke: five monkeys and a banana. Or a parable: under the banana there was a ladder, and every time a monkey climbed the ladder to reach for the banana, he and the other monkeys in the group received a shock of cold water. Eventually no one reached for the banana at all.

In this famous experiment, monkeys conditioned not to pursue the banana were replaced one by one with unconditioned monkeys. Each time a new member of the group began to climb the ladder to get the forbidden fruit, the rest of the group dissuaded him by force, regardless of whether they themselves had experienced the cold water spray. The banana had become taboo.

Eventually the entire group was replaced with monkeys who had never experienced the water spray firsthand, yet the banana remained untouched. The conditioning had become self-perpetuating, independently functioning upon its own momentum.

Studies in group theory indicate that we naturally bend our opinions at least marginally if not majorly to conform to group values and standards. Who among us hasn’t found themselves laughing in a moment of group solidarity without quite getting the joke?

In the Asch Conformity Experiment, test subjects were placed in groups consisting of fake participants and asked a variety of questions. Such as, “Compare the length of A to an everyday object,” “Which line is longer than the other?” and “Which lines are the same length?” etc

When alone, the answers people gave were almost unanimously correct. In the groups of fake participants, however, when each person had to say their answer out loud, incorrect answers proffered confidently by fake group members caused test subjects to falter and give 30 % incorrect answers to these deceptively simple visual tests.

In his explosively titled work, Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between The Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, Freud speculates that modern institutions such as family, law, and religion still closely resemble the tribal cultures from which they sprang, specifically in totemic projection and conformity achieved through the exercise of taboo.

Derived from the term “ototeman” in the Ojibwe language, meaning “brother-sister kin,” Totemism indicates the veneration of sacred objects as symbols. A totem is any animal, plant, or other object, natural or supernatural, which provides deeply symbolic meaning for a person or social group. A great example of modern totemism can be found in sports fans.

For Alan Watts the primary taboo in today’s culture is against knowing the true nature of the self, which he suggests is multi-dimensional and universally connected. “If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything.”

Watts elaborates, “Although our bodies are bounded with skin, and we can differentiate between outside and inside, they cannot exist except in a certain kind of natural environment. […]We do not ‘come into’ this world. We come out of it, like leaves from a tree.”

In 1954 Robert Bannister was the first man recorded to run a mile in under four minutes. Though never before achieved, after Bannister proved it possible, the  four minute mile barrier was soon broken by others.

What are the grand, socially defining taboos that hold power today in your country? What taboos exist within your social culture? Do they make sense, or are the conditioned monkeys dissuading you from reaching for your banana?

The Art of Madness

January 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

By Tai Carmen

By Minjai Lee; site credit: www.hdw.eweb4.com/search/surrealism/

“Madness is to think too many things in succession too fast, or one thing too exclusively.” ~ Voltaire

“A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” ~ Robin Williams

In his seminal work, “Madness and Civilization,” French philosopher Michael Faucault posits that psychiatry uses labeling language (known as positive science) to camouflage the bourgeois values imposed on social deviancy.

In other words, the mental health system acts as a kind of suppressive goon against nonconformity.

site credit: http://floatinginthebellyofawhale.tumblr.com/post/69345544932

Vincent Van Gogh, famous for his sunflowers, wheat fields and ear-chopping, acknowledged that:

“It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill — it’s a life which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider. I’m all right when I completely immerse myself in work, but I’ll always remain half crazy.”

From an evolutionary perspective, survival depends on some kind of social acceptance. So it’s natural that we attempt to avoid stigmatization. Yet, the seeker-dreamer feels compelled towards living authentically and will often sacrifice herd acceptance for the satisfaction of true self-expression.

Still, there is the ever-present, if subconscious, awareness that if you go too far, you could lose liberty. If you act too differently, you could be institutionalized.

Once deemed clinically insane, the individual’s rights become blurry, as with criminals.

The incarceration of psychological dissidents acts as a kind of warning to wayward thinkers; a cautionary tale to not let one’s mind run too far into the fanciful woods. 

unknown source

Edgar Allen Poe observed:

“Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” 

In the Renaissance,  the mentally ill were considered to have gotten too close to “the Reason of God.”

Tribal cultures throughout the world consider madness the first sign of a shaman’s birth into his power, marking him as one who can communicate between the physical and the invisible worlds.

Dr Adele Juda, researcher at the Institute for Psychiatry of Munich, interviewed over 5,000 people between 1927 –1943. She found what was considered neurosis and personality disorder in 27% of the artists & 19% of the scientists and statesmen studied, against the general rate of 10-12%.

The highest rates of psychic disruption were seen among poets (50%).

As French poet Arthur Rimbaud writes:

“A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men… Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone, he attains the unknown.”

The lowest rates of neurosis were found among architects (17%).

A good friend of mine once worked as a personal assistant for an Oscar-winning talent who shall remain nameless. She has shared moments with me wherein the successful entertainer barreled through the living room in boxer shorts, a newsboy hat and cowboy boots, a manuscript of papers clutched to his chest, saying, “I’m going mad!”—after dumping his papers in a pile to play a beautiful fit of piano music & jumping up to scribble in a notebook.

He smiled of course when he said it, because he had managed to play the most beautiful hoodwink upon society that a creative mind can play: he made money being slightly mad.

And that is the art of insanity: valuing creative chaos and giving it room to unfold without premature critique or analysis. Order and reason can come later. As Nietzsche says:

“You must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star.”

Creative process doesn’t have to make sense, and some of the world’s greatest visionaries have proven that it’s better if it doesn’t. Far-fetched processes yield unusual thoughts, and novel ideas garner more attention than pedestrian ones.

Am I suggesting that one can not be brilliant without being insane? Certainly not. But in order to have great thoughts, one’s mind must certainly be open to a broader scope than the average thinker, and when a mind is broad in expanse, the impressions therein will be unusually varied.

Madness and art are not mutually exclusive, but they do go well together, and often turn up as a pair to the same party. If you’re one of those who dreams awake and finds yourself an “outsider” like van Gogh, consider yourself lucky: you’re in good company and that much closer to doing something original.

So use your madness to your own advantage. Rather than stuffing it in a drawer, take it out to play.

“Imagination,” Einstein says, “is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

There is no genius free from some tincture of madness.Seneca

If you liked this post, you might also The Outsider, The Outsider As Visionary & The Mythology of Conformity 

The Role of the Dreamer & The Falseness of Civilization

December 24, 2010 § 31 Comments

“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
~ Arthur O’Shaughnessy

We live in a world of dead men’s dreams. Our reality, the society that has been conditioning our perception from the day of our birth, is a construction built on a construction built on ideas from other minds, long dead. Their creations compose our world and make up the maps of our psyches, a collective human inheritance.

Today, staring at a lit red traffic signal in the shape of an arrow, waiting to get on the freeway, I was suddenly struck by my—and everyone’s—trance-like acceptance of the symbol. I noted how automatic my responses to the direction had been: I stopped calmly and waited until the light turned green; a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Except, in that moment, I felt unusually aware of the lab rat-like nature of my obedience. Stranger still, I realized I had never noticed the phenomenon before, because it had always been that way.

traffic light

Green light, go. Red light, stop. Yellow, slow. It’s as if we are on a motorized conveyor belt with an endless array of arrows telling us where to go. Apart from the occasional miscalculation, our roads, our cities, our skies, run like the inside of a well-oiled machine. Sitting there, waiting for the arrow to turn green, I imagined looking down from an airplane at the grid-work of cities, the straightness of sidewalks, the neat ribbons of car rooftops.

Stop. Go. Cogs and wheels. The machine of the city, like the inside of a clock.

Our education starts young. We are groomed for the world: sit quietly, yield to authority and accept the consensus reality. Anything that falls outside of this perimeter is systematically dismissed.

We aren’t taught to ask questions but to regurgitate articulately. We go to school and learn the rules. Then, when we’re of age, we get a job and try to play the learned rules as good as or better than our peers, to make money to survive.

In a very basic sense, this rule-playing to survive is the only option given us. The alternative is homelessness, insanity.

There are other options, of course, and many brave souls do live the unfettered life of the irrepressible spirit within these thinly populated margins. But it’s damn hard, against the grain, and the majority of people get funneled into the general conveyor belt of The System, spending all day at work in order to afford the house or apartment they leave empty five days a week to go to work.

joe jones, working class artJoe Jones

As we all know, but rarely stop to consider the wild absurdity of, part of the Education involves some very highly regarded paper notes printed by The System to represent worth. We are told that some of these notes are worth more than others. Some are worth enough to exchange for a yacht and others are worth enough for only a cup of coffee. The only difference between these two notes is the symbols on their faces.

Despite our Education, I think everyone has had the passing thought that we’ve been duped. As we all know, this Monopoly money isn’t even backed by its worth in gold anymore. Though gold has its own hollow ring—you can’t eat it and it provides no information, functioning solely as a signifier—at least it has a tangibility. But the System ran out of gold years ago, and just kept printing bills. So, after spending all day at work we are given a handful of Monopoly money for our trouble.

“Here ya go!” says The System, patting Its worker bee on the head. “Some nice, crisp, colored paper. Don’t spend it all at once! Or do…”

Once we are equipped with our colored paper symbols, we are bombarded by advertisers who seek to steal our image of ourselves as we exist without their product, and sell it back to us “upgraded” in exchange for the paper notes we have earned with our labor.

We are encouraged by media everywhere to overeat bad food and shop our cares away. It’s not personal, it’s marketing. And yet how many commercials does an average American watch in a lifetime? Billions. It would be impossible to be unaffected by such a bombardment.

MBG recently underwent some criticism for creating a commercial that literally burned the image of their logo onto the inside of movie-goers retinas. Utilizing the phenomenon that happens when you look at the sun and close your eyes, the effect left an after-image on the inside of the viewers’ eyelids for several moments after they had stopped viewing the advertisement.

But how different is this from what regular commercials are doing every day? In this world of advertisers who steal our images of ourselves, of speedy soundbites and cheap entertainment, a newer/bigger/faster culture of diversion has taken us hostage on its runaway train. Writer Nicholas Carr speculates that our constant Internet trolling is remodeling our brains, making it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing.

He wonders if modern humans’ addiction to technology is weakening our ability to engage in deep thought.


Tests show that internet perusal activates the “seeker” instinct in man left over from foraging days, so that when a quest for online information is initiated, the promise of obtaining a new nugget of social interaction or trivia sets the dopamine flowing in our brains.

But research suggest that, chemically, the payoff is less exciting than anticipated. In affect, an obsessive loop can be activated, leaving us continually pressing the lever for another crumb.

Modern entertainment culture creates a largely passive experience for the viewer or listener. While some films do generate spectacular visuals, and even, at their best, mental-emotional exploration, movie-viewing is a passive experience. The image is generated for us by other minds, and viewers become happily immersed in an alternate reality. With the rising popularity and marketing push behind 3D movies, today’s cinema experience is beginning to look more and more like a “feely” out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” inquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactile effects…”

In our tick-tock world we are encouraged to function like clockwork, prescribed medication when we aren’t integrating well with society [See “The Politics of Normalcy”] and given our jollies at the “feelies.” To quote Jim Morrison:

“We have been metamorphosised from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.”

For centuries, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures have utilized disassociative substances to step outside the hive mind & brush with other dimensions of reality. They have taken psychotropic plants to travel through inner space, bringing back dreams & stories to stimulate the imagination of the tribe.

It’s noteworthy and suspicious that substances which might open up new ways of thinking are illegal in our culture, but consumption of the cancer-causing distraction of cigarettes and the numbing agent of alcohol is legal and actively encouraged (shades of  “1984‘s” Victory Gin.)

What is to be done then, once it becomes clear that we are living in a reality inherited by long dead others? The first thing is to step outside of the consensus spell, as much as possible. Awareness is key.

And then what, after deconstruction? Endless analysis? What really can be done? Society will not disappear. Enter The Dreamer.

1-hannover-double-exposure“Hannover,” by Aneta Ivanova

The role of the dreamer is the same as the philosopher, the artist, the social critic, the wizard or shaman, and s/he has had the same noble destiny for all of time: to stimulate the imagination of society.

During times when philosophical complacency runs high and value for the arts and the humanities runs low, it is the moral and metaphysical obligation of every Dreamer to speak their truth as best they can in whatever medium most excites them. It is the destiny of every Dreamer to bring aliveness to the mechanized time, provocation to the complacent culture.

In order to engage in the original thinking necessary to provide the world with stimulating observations, The Dreamer must effectively step outside of the mental framework of society and perceive the world from a bird’s eye view.

We must question everything we have been taught and hereto assumed. We must seek new information of worth and be on a constant mission to set the imagination on fire.

There is so much beauty available, so many notes left behind by others before us who have questioned the way we live. To combat the mechanized, plastic, consumeristic worldview infiltrating our minds everyday from the outside, we must consciously seek experiences that feed the soul.

We must give ourselves time to dream, to exist in undisturbed silence and nature, to ruminate on our lives and question reality.

As the advertisement-driven Western World slowly succeeds in covering the globe with McDonald arches and brand name blurbs, as people become more and more addicted to the instant gratification of pop technology, we are increasingly in danger of losing the impulse to dream. Without vision, without self-questioning, we lose our way.

Dreamers are in high demand these days. This is a call to arms. Can you be a professional dreamer? I, for one, am certainly going to try.

Related posts

“The Outsider As Visionary”

“The Mad Cult Of The World”

“Creative Connections & The Science Of Inner Space”

“The Art Of Madness”

 

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