A Witty Post About Unconsciousness

This is one of those times when I feel like I ought to write something, but I don’t know exactly what to say.

I think the fire of life, which I purport to endure by being immune to it, is akin to “reality as it really is.” While most people content themselves with the notion that they live, psychologically speaking, in reality, I believe that few people actually do.

You might say that people’s bodies live physically in, and contribute to, reality without their psyches doing the same. It is a misconception that living in reality is quite an easy thing to accomplish — indeed, upon observing human behavior I conclude that it is actually a necessary misconception, crucial for the mental health of the large majority of people. Most people cannot remain sane unless they continue to believe that they live in, and have, a firm grasp of reality. It’s actually good for the large majority of people to believe this.

Why would it be good for so many people to believe something false? Because believing it helps them cope with other things, which they otherwise couldn’t handle, and, taken as a whole, it actually makes for better behavior.

But you can’t have everybody in the cloud of unreality. Therefore a society functions best when a certain few members actually do live and breathe reality. While our modern culture has a hard time accurately defining this role because of our culture’s complexity and newness, it’s easier to turn toward other cultures for prototypes of the healthy kind of society I’m talking about.

I say this because I believe that the primitive shamanic cultures have an excellent prototype for the kind of healthiness we should aspire to in our own culture. A lot of information about shamanic cultures is available.

The shamanic initiation is akin to being roasted on the fires of “the awareness of reality.” The advantage these cultures have is that they have a ready place both for ordinary people and for shamans. It is ingrained in their belief patterns that some people are made to be shamans and others are just made to live ordinary – unconscious – lives. The thing we need to work on is that unconsciousness is still a source of embarrassment for people, which runs directly in conflict with my proposition that a healthy society actually functions better if its people are largely unconscious.

But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. — Hamlet Act I Scene v

No Hits Since Saturday

According to Site Stats, I haven’t had a blog hit since Saturday — that’s right, not ONE person has read my blog since Saturday, and it’s Thursday now. I’m really in the darkness of the tunnel now, and it upsets me because my last post was about screaming with no one to hear it.

But on the bright side, I can’t screw it up! La la la la la, no one cares, la la la la la. I guess I have to take back what I said on this post about publisher’s not playing as heroic a role as they once did now that we have the internet? Well, I still basically believe it, although I must either be writing crap, or doing a piss-poor job of marketing myself, or both, to have achieved such a low readership count.

I don’t think my writing is crap — maybe a little unrefined, but not crap. And I veer towards darkness perhaps a little too often for warm-blooded creatures. I wonder how widely distributed among people is the feeling of no one caring about you. I feel it strongly — I think it’s because it’s mostly true in my case, but it could be looking through a glass (or a scanner) darkly. Besides, when you say no one cares about you it’s often just a pity-seeking gesture. Which is rather apropos given that no one’s reading this blog anyway.

So maybe the only thing my blog is good for is personal psychotherapy. No — that is too dark an interpretation, because it’s also good for historical purposes. Any researcher of the future will have this preserved for them — it’s actually a good thing for me too, because it reminds me of my own condition years later.

It may be a public journal, but it’s private until someone else actually reads it.

Primordial Scream

It’s weird how sometimes I want to scream, but there’s no one there to listen, and nothing to say. A non-verbal angst. The scream of an animal in an impossible universe. I wish I could blame something for it but there’s just no target. The conditions which brought about the Big Bang, maybe? The primordial, pre-temporal essence of all things? But just thinking about it cancels my anger. My scream points toward that one true target and cause of everything — but is deflected and wants to attach to something and finds nothing.

I guess the original purpose of a scream is to raise the sense of danger. It’s a communal activity — a scream doesn’t matter much unless someone hears it. But nobody hears it.

I have such a powerful sense of reason that I reject all possible objects of my anger. Two things play a role — one, I am so accustomed to adult life that I expect no one to care about my pain. Two, I want to avoid an unjust target — I’ve been an unhappy target of blame too often myself.

Trying to Figure Out Why College Is So Unattractive To Me — Part II

At fifteen I was so overwhelmed by my personal crisis that I stopped doing any homework for which I couldn’t see the purpose. I wanted someone to answer the bigger questions for me. It is this schism between the kinds of things I really cared about and what the school was teaching which began to characterize my understanding of schools generally.

But my opinion of schools is not without its consequences. For example, I live, rent-free, in the house of a retired biology professor whose life was paid for by the college he taught at. We have often argued about this matter. His position about me is that if I had attended a “good” college I wouldn’t have had the messed-up experiences I had at the “inferior” institutions I actually attended. While his theory is clearly rather protective of the college system from which he came, it’s still nonetheless one of the most important questions of my life — what would have happened if I’d been accepted to, and proceeded to attend, a “good” college?

I’m going to attempt to pick this question apart, both for my own sake, that I might achieve greater clarity, and for the sake of the impersonal masses, for whom college is equally daunting.

The preliminary question is how to get into a college in the first place. Ever since my personal crisis at age 15, my chances of getting into a “good” college declined relentlessly with my grades. There are two things which affect your pre-college admissions criteria, your ability and your motivation.

Ability is derived from two sources, inner and outer. Inner ability is innate intelligence and talent. Outer ability is the quality of your environment, which again has two parts, the physical and the emotional component. A household with no food, for example, is a physical detriment to your ability to perform. A household with no parental support is an emotional detriment. I had the food. I didn’t have the love. As far as the inner component of ability, I am blessed with formidable intelligence, although I now understand that it’s proportioned in a largely imbalanced way, such that I’m extraordinarily good at some things and yet somewhat below average at others.

The second factor is motivation, which requires a kind of inner faith in the goal itself. I certainly suffered a severe detriment to motivation. I didn’t believe in high school, and no one I knew was able to convince me to believe. There was something missing. The question is whether I might have received this missing something, had I persisted enough to be able to go to a “good” college, if there be such a thing.

People have a habit of saying that you must jump through a few hoops in order to get to where you want. But my inner sense is that unless each hoop is of intrinsic value, it reflects a dishonesty running through the whole system. I can, however, jump through tedious hoops if I really believe.

But why would you believe in a system? The answer is, you can’t. Only if you find real human role-models can you believe in the system from which they came. But I found none.

I want to invoke the image of the Cross, again, here because my true sense of what was good and right began to diverge with the possible identities people had laid out for me. All of those identities included a college education, but no one from the college-educated sphere could address the inner pain I felt. I was ripped apart. It hit home when all my friends left.

My self-esteem was very low, and I simply burned for something better than what was around me. I blamed myself of course.

So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did society fail me by failing to ignite the inner spark of desire in me? Or did I simply fail myself in that, by the time I was supposed to apply for colleges, my grades were far too low to get into “good” colleges? Would a “good” college have saved me from the turmoil I have since experienced, because I might have been surrounded by intelligent and competent helpers who might have shown me the light when surrounded by a sea of darkness? Who can say. I doubt it.

I invoked the image of the cross before. Maybe it seems strange that I would invoke that image. But it’s not. One consistent thing about my life since my spiritual crisis is that I do not believe I did anything wrong, even if its against society’s wishes. When the pretty girl rejected me at age fifteen, I felt I was correct in abandoning my original life track. I started working out in the school gym, for example, and I joined the cross-country team. I hadn’t read Henry David Thoreau, but when I refused to do my schoolwork it was nonetheless in the spirit of his writings — if you can’t see the reason for doing something, you shouldn’t do it. If everyone just followed orders then no wrongs would ever be righted. And yet by the time I was 19, my grades were so low that I couldn’t expect to be admitted to the kinds of schools others had expected I would go to.

So high school ends and I have no idea how to lead my life. Up until then it’s easy, because high school defines your life, and attendance is mandated by the government. But that in that critical moment when it’s over, the crucifying question, what do you do? presses in.

Part of why college is so unattractive to me is that it seems like it divides society into classes. Those who attend college are society’s darlings. Those who don’t are tasked with what seems like a more fundamental question though: What do you do now? (Click here for accompanying video)

Stay tuned for Part III, God willing!

Trying to Figure Out Why College Is So Unattractive To Me, Part I

On this hazy morning I imagined typing a post describing why the idea of attending college is so fraught with negativity for me.

I guess I’ll divide this story into parts, the first of which is my life before I was 15 years old. So both my parents were “college educated”. (I put the phrase into quotes, because it is a status symbol in our society, regardless of what effect it actually has, per se.) My father was a lawyer from a Jewish family. My parents met when my dad was still an undergrad.

I only mention this because, like millions of suburbanites, attending college was part of the unconscious mythos of what life was all about. It was just part of the course of life. Those who didn’t go to college were of a rougher, blue-collar, breed. Part of distinguishing the higher class, to which we in my family were supposed to belong, was graduating from college. I wouldn’t have been able to phrase it so at the time, because this truth operated at a largely unconscious level.

But college was also a type of initiation for my dad (I had a bad relationship with my mother, so most of my ideas about life had to come from my father). He held his college experience in a sort of awe. I believe he encountered many people who were smarter than himself.

So this is how I understood college until I was 15 years old. Now 15 is a very important age for me, since it’s when my mystical qualities began to emerge, although I couldn’t have known this when it was happening. I had previously been dependent on my environment for my identity. That environment said that I was a secular math-and-science whiz — there’s a TV show I’ve seen recently called the Big Bang Theory which derives its humor from this type of person. That’s what people thought I was. This shell of an identity lasted until there were things, outside of people’s prejudices, which forced me to believe I was different — say, both more and less than a secular science nerd.

So at fifteen my ego began to break apart. The core reason was that I had thought my science-nerd identity was enough to get me through life, when it wasn’t. I detected this fact in the way a revelation often comes to a fifteen-year-old boy, through being rejected by a pretty girl.

It wasn’t the specific girl per se but the realization that I was very deficient in important ways. I fell into a kind of despair. In reaching out for help I approached one of my science teachers, whom I liked pretty well, and he gave me an answer which I found very disappointing. He said that if I was having trouble now I shouldn’t worry, that by the time I got to college everything would be okay. He said it in a friendly voice and I’m sure he meant well, but I had a strong impulse coming from within that said he was wrong.

You should realize that I was coming from a dysfunctional family which was recently divorced and was destined to make the rest of my teenage years a sort of living hell. So in the cases where many might seek guidance from their loving parents, it was exactly this lack of loving parental figures which forced me to try to find guidance elsewhere.

But in public school that guidance was lacking, too. I fell into a funk. The best thing the school did for me after that was to distribute The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger. It’s weird that a school would hand out a book like that, because it would seem that it’s their way of conceding that they let many lonely students fall through the cracks of the established structure of society. But it was good for me, because it gave me a new identity to wrap myself around in the wake of the collapse of my previous one.

I had two problems with my science teacher’s suggestion that I wait for college. One, it seemed like a somewhat ignorant answer to suggest to a tenth-grader to just wait for three years and then everything will get better. What was I to do in the meanwhile?, was the all-too-obvious question. It just seemed like the wrong thing to say even if it were true, that things get better in college. It was the kind of thing which someone who didn’t know too much about human nature would say. It was the kind of thing which someone who had had the same problems I was having in high school would say if he had himself escaped them by going to college.

I think the difference between myself and my teacher was that I thought my problems were real, that is, deserving of immediate attention and of satisfactory solutions. I think he thought they were temporary grievances which were not to be attended to. He certainly couldn’t attend to them, but I wondered whether anyone who had attended college could attend to them either, or whether everyone had just escaped the issue by forgetting about it at college, where ignoring it was the point.

I just didn’t want to ignore the issues of my personal crisis.

What I’ve said is more of a condemnation of public high schools than it is of college, but the whole school was run by people with college degrees. No one in that school could help me. It was an upper-middle class school where the norm was to attend college afterward. To give you an example of the prestige of my school, I know at least two of members of my class went to Harvard, and several others went to M.I.T., Princeton, and the like. I grew up in a prestigious college town. So college was not a distant mystery, but the very livelihood of several of my classmates’ parents.

The story of my rejecting college — if that is indeed my story — is one of bucking expectations rather than fulfilling them, as for example, a poor rural town might not expect to see too many of its children finding their way to a four-year college.

I did not want college to be a place of escape, where the serious issues of life were simply not taught and not addressed. And I feared, and still fear, it would be just that.

I’ve told the story up until I was fifteen, but not much more. That will have to come in part two of this essay, God willing ( I honestly have no idea what God is willing, but I feel I’ve typed enough for tonight, and I think I would benefit from extending this essay, but maybe I won’t be motivated. So, as I said, God willing.)

Paradise and Specks of Dust

I feel like posting about one of the major dilemmas of my life. I experience a split between two sides of my nature. I think this split is not unique to me, but I seem to feel it very strongly.

I suppose I must appeal to people’s intuition when I discuss this because I myself don’t have total clarity. But I will invoke the image of “Paradise” and describe how I understand it. I think there are different levels of Paradise, and in our culture the image is invoked in different ways. But the one which affects me the most is that of the jungle paradise. You have all these wild animals, colorful, and vibrant. If I have to imagine the Garden of Eden, I sort of imagine a jungle paradise. If not a complete jungle, then at least a warm, tropical climate, warm enough for there to be vines growing.

What I want to say is that people are VERY susceptible to this image. And you can’t blame people’s susceptibility on the Bible either. The atheist Communist parties have invoked the image of paradise to sway their followers, for example. But in their case the original image of a Garden paradise is converted into an imaginary “Workers Paradise”, with its associated imagery of factories and brotherly love between the masses of workers, workers who, like Adam and Eve, are portrayed as childlike and innocent even as they produce advanced products with sophisticated manufacturing.

So the phenomenon we are identifying here is the general habit of human beings for nostalgia. In the book of Genesis, an angel with a Flaming Sword guards the entrance to the Garden. This angel with the Flaming Sword has become the enemy, in one form or another, of all people who are swallowed up by the compulsion to return to Eden. For example, in the case of the Communists, the Capitalists were the angel with the flaming sword, preventing the innocent workers from returning to the Garden as was their destiny.

I think the best instance of the Angel now is in the figure of Darth Vader. In Star Wars, the idea that the Angel can be pinpointed concretely in one or another group of people here on Earth has been rejected for a drama occurring in a galaxy far, far away. This shows that Star Wars is essentially more advanced than the political theories of the communists, in my opinion. In Star Wars, the galaxy far, far away is analogous to Jung’s concept of the Unconscious Psyche. So it represents an advancement in consciousness that the desire to defeat Darth Vader — the Angel with the Flaming Sword, blocking humanity’s return to Paradise — is understood as a psychic event (that is, occurring only a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) and not as a concrete event involving specific human beings here on Earth.

Another image of Paradise popular in America is the small town, Barnyard and Tractor paradise. It’s associated with the countryside. For this paradise, the Angel with the Flaming Sword would be the Big City and its decadent ways.

So this need to return to Paradise — indeed, the idea of Paradise itself — is a powerful Archetype we all carry. So I begin by admitting that I carry it too, that I want desperately to return to a simple, warm, abundant place where everyone gets along and there is no conflict.

Now the other side of my nature knows that it must live in the world we actually have and not in such a fantasy place. I will give an image now of a place totally contrasting to my naive image of Paradise (the happy jungle where the Lion and the Lamb all just get along). This is that of the Semiconductor Fabrication Plant.

In order to produce a microchip for use in computers and other electronic devices, well, Jesus, just read the Wikipedia Page:

The central part of a fab is the clean room, an area where the environment is controlled to eliminate all dust, since even a single speck can ruin a microcircuit, which has features much smaller than dust.

Or watch a video.

The contemplation of this causes a wrenching feeling in me. We make dust just by breathing, and all of the Paradises I know of have dust in them! The dust is a symbol for unconsciousness, lack of reflection.

The life of paradise is essentially the one where one’s actions can be aligned with one’s instincts. The life of the Fall or Separation is the one where there is no way to do the right thing unless you apply conscious reasoning to the process. We all can fall in love with the notion that instinct alone can suffice. I have another example, the film Forrest Gump — the message in this movie, is that all you need to be truly successful is a wise and loving mother. For the rest of life, pure instinct will suffice. The movie tries to make the point by showing how successful Forrest Gump is without his really having to think about things in the banished-from-paradise way the rest of us must.

But generally we feel that life is not possible in the Forrest Gump style. At any moment we might screw up if we rely on instinct alone. The only way to survive is to be aware. So, in a semiconductor plant, any speck of dust would threaten the process, and in our lives, any moment of relaxation, any moment where we just start assuming that things will go our way without having to think about it, that moment might be the speck of dust which ruins our life.

So where am I going with this?

Many years ago I got a vision in which I was suppose to create a video game. But I have had a lot of trouble with it. There are actually aspects of video games which resemble Paradise — colors and sounds which come across the screen, like TV, but with controls to add a tactile dimension also. This playful aspect actually falls somewhat in line with the instinctive way of life.

But in order to make a game you must program it, and, when I look at a screen of computer code there is hardly anything at all instinctive about what I am seeing. I have to find a way to program where I can feel instinctive, and not crushed and overwhelmed by all the ones and zeroes I must know about. I’m not quite there yet.