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

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The Outsider As Visionary

December 16, 2011 § 39 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“In an overstructured world only the misfit is free.” ~ Tom Robbins

“Your visions will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside, wakens.” ~Carl Jung

“Vision without execution is hallucination.”~ Thomas Edison

[Click here to read Part 1, The Outsider.] The word visionary is a nebulous term, evoking mad bouts of genius or peyote taking shamans, but we shouldn’t be scared off by the word’s exotic implication. In its simplest form, a visionary is one having or marked by foresight and imagination, fresh ideas that push the boundaries of the accepted or the known.

“When you grow up,” remarks Apple computer visionary Steve Jobs, “you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

“That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is — everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

In our last post about The Outsider, we discussed common traits, identifying the outsider as one who, to quote French novelist Henri Barbusse “sees too deep and too much.”

The Outsider is sensitive, often with introverted tendencies, imaginative, many times plagued by a sense of isolation and unreality. He does not identify with the common values of the society around him, rebelling against the role he’s been given, often out of pure necessity. Many don’t rebel, but remain outsiders forever in their hearts. To these I would encourage an outlet of self-expression. The outsider, simply put, is a square peg who finds himself in a world full of round holes.

Of course this, combined with natural sensitivity, will inevitably create some neuroticism in the typical Outsider, for which he is well known.

But, the Outsider need not be tortured by his difference. Rather, he can recognize that within his unique perspective, within his sensitivity and keen ability to “see too deep and too much” — his power of noticing what others miss, of being on the outside looking in at the way the world works — lies the seed of the visionary. This is the true destiny, the true potential, of the Outsider.

“The visionary,” Colin Wilson notes, “is inevitably an outsider.”

Often all it takes is a simple flipping of the coin to gain perspective and begin one’s journey: on the flipside of neuroticism, lies sensitivity, on the flipside of rage, lies passion; with difference comes the insight of unique perception, and within an “overly active” imagination lies boundless possibility.

Without recognition of their own potential gifts, without a constructive outlet for their depth and intensity, the frustrated Outsider can become easily depressed. We’re already sensitive, and once we submit to the pain of our own hearts, often the deluge of the world’s collective suffering rushes in as well. The unexpressed outsider can even pose a  danger to themselves or others. As the great Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran once observed:

For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts, it drinks even of dead waters.

Which is why it is essential to push in the direction of our potential. An unexpressed dreamer is like a beautifully made guitar that never gets played, but hangs collecting dust on the wall.

It’s easy to let oneself off the hook with the protest that one doesn’t have any fantastic potential. This is a cop-out. No one just picks up a pen and writes the great American novel; they put years and years into studying the craft of writing. They submit wayward drafts to ruthless revision and often scrap fledgling starts (Flaubert’s first novel was so full of flaws, he ended up burning it at the urging of his friends, after which he wrote  Madam Bovaryconsidered a masterpiece. James Joyce’s first attempt at a novel, Stephen Hero, was rejected by publishers and never saw the light of day, but later became reworked into one of his most influential and critically acclaimed works, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.)

It’s a myth that the ‘true genius’ just starts painting and pulls a Picasso out of the essence of his magnificent spirit. Picasso studied formally from the age of seven onward. While Mozart showed extreme aptitude at a young age, it was no less his dedication which brought about the fruits of what is now called his genius.

You don’t have to be naturally brilliant to become a visionary; you just have to follow through and refine your craft.

You don’t have to believe in yourself, so much as believe in the importance of the journey you are on or choosing to embark upon — the innate worth of visioning, of going deeper, of creating something where there was nothing, of giving some kind of insight or inspiration to the world. Believe in the value of adding your voice, however thin and wavering, to the chorus of voices throughout history who have called out: I am here. This is how it feels to be alive, this is how it feels to be me. How does it feel for you? 

“The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders,” notes Colin Wilson. Despite, he might add, messages of conformity to the contrary. “It is their strenuousness that purifies thought and prevents the bourgeois world from foundering under its own dead-weight; they are society’s spiritual dynamos.”

Everyone loves a successful visionary, but while one is still visioning, and brewing one’s ideas, when one is simply on the journey of discovering one’s source of strength and insight, the road of the Outsider who dares to dream is no easy foot trail.

Of course, once you’ve created some kind of product — a book, a technology, an album  — then our consumer-oriented society feels more inclined towards praise, or at least the begrudging admission that perhaps you’re not totally crazy.

Until that time, however, you must be strong. You must be the source of your own illumination; remain tenacious, patient, determined. Some days you won’t be able to summon any of these feelings, and in that case, give yourself the day off. But come morning, rise again.

The visionary is one who is tapped in to the invisible forces inhabiting mankind’s collective imagination. As Jonathan Swift  said,”Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.”  In his Psychology Today article, “Long Fuse, Big Bang,” Eric C. Haseltine, Ph.D elaborates:

“Neuroscientists have learned that the brain is an extremely efficient consumer of energy (calories from food) because it cuts corners and cheats. For example, instead of ingesting and processing all available information — and in the process consuming a tremendous amount of energy — the brain throws away most of what it senses, and frugally focuses only on a tiny percent of information that’s likely to be valuable. Ignorant brains are efficient brains, and efficient brains run cool.

“So what does your brain’s temperature (or lack of it) have to do with becoming a visionary? Everything. Another way of describing your brain’s strategy of willful ignorance is blindness. […]  Becoming a visionary is simply a matter of knowing where your brain’s hard-wired blind spots are, then focusing your mind’s eye into those blind spots.”

In other words, a person who doesn’t see or think like the rest will be all the more likely to have a visionary perspective, and pushing one’s own boundaries of perception will pay off creatively. Open your mind, embrace your own unique perspective, brew it, dream it, study the craft of it, and add your voice to the chorus.



The Outsider

October 29, 2011 § 46 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I see too deep and too much.” Henri Barbusse 

“The visionary is inevitably an outsider.” Colin Wilson 

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Jiddu Krishnamurti 

“I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative.” Bill Hicks

The outsider, by definition, is isolated in some way from the dominant thrust of society. They do not, like the majority, expect to find satisfaction in striving for material success and status, seeing these limited focuses as necessarily generating a mediocre and myopic existence.

What others accept easily, the outsider has trouble accepting.  They tend towards pressing the issue — “But why does it have to be this way?” And so within the restlessness of the outsider rests the seed of the visionary.

But no great visionary is comfortable in their time, or they wouldn’t be a forward-thinker in the first place. We are the misfits for whom the world feels strange. Common to this personality type is often a prevailing sense of dislocation, a feeling perhaps that home is somewhere but not here.

“What can be said to characterize the Outsider is a sense of strangeness, or unreality,” details Colin Wilson in his fascinating and influential book, The Outsider.  “This is the sense of unreality, that can strike out of a perfectly clear sky.”

“Good health and strong nerves,” Wilson continues, “can make [this sense of unreality] unlikely; but that may be only because the man in good health is thinking about other things and doesn’t look in the direction where the uncertainty lies. And once a man has seen it, the world can never afterwards be quite the same straightforward place.”

Literature is rife with stories of outsiders experiencing this moment in which the world is turned on its head, assumptions fall to pieces, and the truth of society’s blindness revealed — from Holden Caulfield to Siddhartha. Philosophy, and its accompanying questions of being and meaning, go hand in hand with the great literary tradition of the lonely hero who undergoes this disorienting transformation of consciousness.

Classic existential novels such as Sarte’s Nausea and Camus’ The Fall explore this relationship between the outsider and the crisis that awakens him from the sleep of the average citizen. A more modern example would be Haruki Murakami’s Toru Okada in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.

Common to the outsider and the existentialist is the feeling, as Colin Wilson mentions, of unreality. Described below in an excerpt from T. S. Elliot’s classic poem, The Waste Land:

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,


I had not thought death had undone so many.


Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,


And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.


Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,


To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours


With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

Here we see the poet as outsider watching the daily trudge to work of the average citizen and feeling the life of the city somehow “unreal.” He notes how “each man fixed his eyes before his feet,” and that the sound of the clock striking nine o’clock, signaling the start of the work day, has a “dead sound.” Elliot is not — and does not wish to be — one of them.

Colin Wilson expands, “the Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. ‘He sees too deep and too much,’ and what he sees is essentially chaos.

“[…] When he asserts his sense of anarchy in the face of the bourgeois’ complacent acceptance, it is not simply the need to cock a snook at respectability that provokes him; it is a distressing sense that the truth must be told at all costs, otherwise there can be no hope for an ultimate restoration of order. Even if there seems no room for hope, truth must be told.

“[…] The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life (in the Kabbala, chaos—tohu bohu—is simply a state in which order is latent; the egg is the “chaos” of the bird); in spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced.”

The person who finds themselves alienated from the dominant thrust of society tends to have a more responsive emotional life, a more vivid imagination, a hungrier mind than their peers. Because of this sensitivity, they are more affected by the world around them than others — more easily hurt, but also more discerning, more astute.

Most outsiders don’t decide to be outsiders, but are born with an inner sense of difference, a sense of seeing or feeling, observing, more than others, often with a driving sense of purpose (however vague) and a lack of interest and/or ability to conform with the expectations of the status quo. Others are made into outsiders because of a particular experience which separates them from the average person’s experience of the world — perhaps an early encounter with loss, a difference in appearance or desire.

Whether the cause for their difference is  a priori or posteriori, the outsider is invaluable to society. As Wilson asserts: “The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders. […] It is their strenuousness that purifies thought and prevents the bourgeois world from foundering under its own dead-weight; they are society’s spiritual dynamos.”

As Arthur O’Shaughnessy wrote in his lovely Ode:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

The qualities for which the outsider is ridiculed may prove to be his greatest asset – his difference from others, obsessions, introversion, unconventional perspectives, all fuel the landscape of creation. In his article, “Creative Thinking,” Michael Michalko muses, “Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.”

Click here for Part 2

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 Mad Cult of the World

June 16, 2011 § 42 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives.” John Lennon

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” Edgar Allan Poe

“The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.” William James

Imagine how our world would look to an alien observer. The notes taken by an evolved and sensitive species might look something like this:

Humans appear to be creatures of routine — the majority wake up before they have rested sufficiently, needing a loud beeping alarm to prematurely stir them from their slumber, and a liquid stimulant to force them into unnatural alertness. They then get into small metal vehicles, which emit toxic gasses and were assembled by mostly miserable factory workers.

A large number of humans take these small metal vehicles to small, sterile cubicles, where they stare at a small rectangular screen for eight hours, pressing buttons, with one hour off to eat.

For their time in front of the screen, they receive tokens (some people have their own private cubicle and receive more tokens than the rest,) which they exchange for shelter (which is left empty most of the day, while they go off and earn the tokens which obtained it in the first place).

Other items of interest requiring tokens are packaged food of mostly poor quality and various large unnecessary upgrades to their stronghold of posessions, the desire for which is stimulated by large rectangular screens in their shelters, for which they exchange a large amount of tokens willingly.

On these screens (which most humans watch, mesmerized, for hours at a time, when they are not staring at the screen in the cubicle) they see images designed to simulate reality (a form of entertainment which has all but replaced the experience of reality) and stimulate covetousness, which seems to mesmerize them into exchanging their hard-earned tokens for items which appear to have social significance for them.

Another large percentage of the population goes to work in factories which produce (or stores which feature) these coveted and mostly useless items.

This exchange is considered desirable. The rationale is that it creates more jobs and keeps the economy in good health. No one seems to question the point of this self-perpetuating wheel of psychological enslavement, and those who do are deflected and dismissed.

The primary activities expected to be carried out by these adult humans seem to be almost unanimously joyless, but the tokens received appear to be incentive enough.

Individuals who refuse to conform and pay homage to the tokens are almost unanimously ridiculed as lazy, good-for-nothing, mentally unsound, losers, etc. Unless individuals can find some way to earn tokens, they can not afford to buy or rent shelter and as a result become cemented in their roles as social pariahs.

Often these pariahs abused liquid downers to numb their misery in the world described above. Their status as shelter-less social rejects only fuels their need for this numbing agent. It seems reasonable to blame the numbing agent, or the individual’s inability to cope with reality. However, few blame the reality which made them have to cope to begin with.

Such probing strikes close to home: as every socially functional person is aware, there is no escape from the need to conform to the all-consuming demand of the token. And so those who do put forth the effort to work are forced to ennoble their enslavement, calling it a good hard day’s work.

Though hard work is a virtue, there is a stickier truth surrounding this truth, which is more convenient to ignore.

If our ET observer were to have read up on the nature of cult indoctrination, he might notice what writer Bettina Drew observes, “[…] there are similarities between corporate indoctrination and what’s thought of as organizational brainwashing.”

In her interesting article on the mind control techniques of cults, writer Amy Sillup elaborates:

“The victim must first be isolated from society, so that the cult or other coercive entity need not compete with outside influences. Access to outside information must be eliminated or at least rigidly controlled; the information is then reinterpreted according to the precepts of the cult. Questions from the victim are not be tolerated, nor are replies given.

During the early isolation period, certain psychological pressure or even physical torture techniques are usually employed. These measures can include […] sleep deprivation […] humiliation […] and constant repetition of indoctrinating ideas. 

Repetitive tasks may be assigned to dull the senses and reasoning skills, while also hastening the breakdown of the will. Threats of violence, death, or destruction of the victim’s soul if she rebels against the “groupthink” are frequently utilized. A period of punishment followed by the doling out of small rewards or privileges keeps the victim off-balance.” 

Sensory overload, such as drugs, flashing lights and overwhelming visuals, she notes, are also employed.

To our old friend the alien observer, the Westernized world itself could seem like a kind of cult.

Repetitive tasks? Check. Small rewards? Check. Sensory overload? Check. Drugs? Check (Prozac anyone?) Sleep deprivation? Check. Limited access to information? In a sense: while the modern world does have access to international media in most cases, the information itself is limited to the focus of our contemporary culture. Those with ideas not in line with the accepted reality face the threat of social rejection — in the past they have even been put to death, and still are in some parts of the world. Threats of death? Check.

Studies show that “the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection.” So in a very real way, the threat of outcast status can act with the same coercive force as threatened physical violence. Threats of pain/humiliation? Check.

The average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, which adds up to two months of non-stop TV-watching per year. By age 65, that person will have spent 9 years watching television. 99 % of American homes own at least one television. Sensory overload and repetition of ideas? Check.

As social media mogul Joe Summerhays points out:

[During the advent of the industrial revolution] gin carts filled the street of London, numbing the dehumanizing pain of mindless factory work into submission. The 1800′s lacquered workforce lubricated the march of industry […] As the efficiency of industrialized society produced more free time, the gin cart became television. This new lubricant oiled things into the late 20th century.

And so our sensitive and saddened extraterrestrial anthropologist would have to report that humans have essentially cornered themselves into having to conform to an insane system, where they are required to spend the majority of their lives gritting their teeth through joyless activities to earn tokens to support their enslaved existence.

We have built a society where, in order to survive, we must, in effect, build our own cages, even paying to consume our own propaganda.

Our interplanetary visitor might feel obliged to make one final note in his evaluation of 21st century human culture:

It appears, none the less, that some individuals are not entirely hypnotized. They still turn inward to the private flickerings of their dreams, which whisper of possibilities greater than the reality before them.

 

 

See “The Role Of The Dreamer & The Falseness Of Civilization.” 

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 Question of Reality

January 19, 2011 § 9 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” — Chuang Tzu

From Plato’s Cave to The Matrix, thoughtful humans throughout the ages have found different ways to ask the same question: Are we fully cognizant of the true nature of the reality that surrounds us?

There is a basic unease to the human condition, the vague and gnawing sense that there must be something we are missing, something we have not been told; a feeling rooted, no doubt, in the fact that we are born into a world where the most burning questions have only theoretical, subjective answers.

Religion has attempted to fill this void with meaning, but even in its answers, more questions arise.

How solid is our reality? Science, so often pitted against the mystical, has the most mystically fraught of answers: not solid at all. On an atomic and subatomic level — as we all learned in school, though most likely didn’t grasp the full implication of at the time — there is space and movement between atoms. The so-called solid wall is teeming, pulsing, dancing — molecules full of wide open space.

If I put my hand on the wall, the sensation I experience as touch is the interaction between the molecules of my hand and the molecules of the wall; on an atomic level, there is a point where the difference between my hand and the wall become indistinguishable.

In other words, it has been scientifically proven in our lifetime that the reality we behold is — to some degree, anyway — illusory.

The idea that the nature of form is misleading and ultimately unreal, of course, has been in existence for centuries — perhaps most famously put forth in the Eastern concept of Maya, (found in Buddhism and Hinduism,) a word derived form the ancient Sanskritma, meaning “not,” and ya, meaning “that.” Though the details differ, Judeo-Christian philosophy reiterates the same basic idea: that things are not as they appear, and this world is but a pale echo of a brighter, truer place.

There are more sinister shades, more paranoid potential, to this question of reality. The possibility that, as in The Matrix — where humans are grown by sentient machines, imprisoned in a virtual computer-generated world —we are living in an unperceived prison of sorts. As the character Morpheus says:

“What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

Of course, we can clearly see that there are many things wrong with the world — war, hunger, violence, hatred. Easily, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-feeling of unease can find its root in quite tangible phenomena. Perhaps it is a form of escapism to look elsewhere than the obvious issues — wishful thinking that there is some explanation which would make the world’s horrors somehow more comprehensible. And yet, true though this may be, it doesn’t hurt to probe, to dig, to question consensus reality.

The Matrix premise borrows heavily from the Gnostic tradition, wherein the world was created by imperfect gods (though within the spectrum a perfect one exists.)

These flawed creators are described as a race of inorganic beings local to our solar system, called Archons. Agents of error, they feed off human misery and hence work to deceive the mind towards darkness. Pretty trippy stuff, considering the ancient texts date back to the 3rd and 4th century.

The fact that our experience of stimuli in the world is actually an experience of our brain’s interpretation of that stimuli (rather than the thing itself) does make a Matrix-like gap between reality and perceived reality plausible.

After all, the smell of a rose is simply information recognized through sensory organs and registered as “rose.”

The light waves we see when we perceive the rose are in our eyes, not the thing seen; the molecules we smell are in our nose, not the thing smelled. They are not the thing itself, but a relayed message or impression of the thing.

In the language of philosophy, this is known as the “brain in a vat” thought experiment. Theoretically, if it were scientifically possible to place a brain in a life-sustaining liquid environment (or “vat”) & hook its neurons up to a supercomputer—generating electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives—the brain would perceive the simulated reality as experiential reality.

This concept is used as a  basic argument for philosophical skepticism; as theoretically it is impossible to know, from the brain’s perspective, whether it exists in a scull or a vat.

Brain in a vat

Surrealist artist Rene Margitte plays with this concept in his famous painting, The Treachery of Images, which displays a pipe, underneath which is written in French: “This is not a pipe”

For, indeed, it is not a pipe, but a representation of one. Yet our first thought upon reading the painting’s caption is to object—certainly this is a pipe. 

Yet upon reflection we must admit that the clever artist’s pronouncement is absolutely accurate and, indeed, our tendency to associate the-thing-itself with its representation has been illustrated.

How can we assume this world is as it seems, when nightly dreams themselves can seem so real? What deeper, truer, more expansive identity and truth might be revealed to us about the cosmos and our place in it upon leaving or waking from this reality?

I’m not in any hurry to get there, and as Tom Hanks says in Joe vs. The Volcano, “Some things take care of themselves,” but I do — after many a dark night of the soul wrestling with doubt — have a good feeling about it. After all, the world minus man’s debacles, is a place brimming with potential and inspirational phenomena.


I’ve heard the life-as-dream/world-as-illusion theory described as angst-producing, proof of pointlessness. I don’t see it that way. Does an inspiring nocturnal dream enrich our spirit any less because it gives way to a deeper, fuller reality upon waking? Is a great novel any less meaningful because it didn’t really happen? When you start subdividing it, the word “real” itself begins to lose meaning.

We can knock on a table and feel reassured by its bright, solid sound. But even the table is like Magritte’s pipe — both what it seems to be and also not at all. Reality ripe with paradox and potential, lots of wide open space for us to take a tip from the molecules and dance, even in the smallest spaces.

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