Problem and Resolution: Why Optimism Is Not Necessarily Personal

bird cage

Anything and everything, depending on how one sees it, is a marvel or a hindrance, an all or a nothing, a path or a problem (Fernando Pessoa)

Why are problems sometimes interesting and sometimes frustrating?

I think if we’re too focused on obtaining a solution, a way past the problem, then the persistence of the problem can lead to despair and frustration. But if the problem itself is interesting, if its persistence is seen as the unfoldment of a mystery, then the problem is something we’re enjoying and we’re not merely trying to get rid of the problem.

When it comes to the “problem of Literalism” — which is the problem of thought, of being confused by our projections, as humanity has tended to be — the “solution” to the problem of Literalism is so rare that it either gets dismissed outright as an impossibility, or it tends to get labeled as “enlightenment” or “grace” or some other pedestaled conjecture, which are various forms of escape from the problem itself.

Most reasonable people will try to avoid tackling a problem that almost nobody in history has resolved, such as Literalism. From this personal angle, their hope of resolution is squashed immediately by realizing that almost nobody has ever solved this problem of thought, so why should they? Who are they to imagine that the solution is within reach? To avoid embarrassing delusions of grandeur and inevitable failure a seemingly humbler response would be to ignore the problem.

But this reaction is premised on the desire to get past the problem, rather than enjoy the problem.

But reasonable people don’t enjoy the problem. If they can’t get past it, they don’t want to consider it.

The problem is, we can’t enjoy a problem if we don’t recognize a possibility of resolution. But if we focus too much on resolving a problem, then we’re trying to get past the problem too ambitiously, which means we don’t enjoy the problem, which means the problem never resolves!

So most reasonable people get stuck between these two poles, hoisted on a double-bind that not only blocks any further interest but also wears them out.Read More »

The Stupidity of Greatness and the Absurdity of Conflict

Intro

Does this curve depict an abrupt change?

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I think this is an unexpectedly meaningful question. It pertains to why human beings tend to differ so violently in our interpretations of reality; whether or not we can come to understand two divergent visions (of anything, even this simple arrow) simultaneously without conflict; or whether we’re forced to take sides and stick to our positions until one of us submits (i.e., plots revenge).

Even the resolution of this simple question depends on finding a view wider than the widest view of the question – not merely a wider interpretation, but an awareness that encompasses the limits (and therefore valid extent) of every interpretation that is encountered. (It’s always a little startling how this “negative awareness of limits” is precisely what adds clarity to an interpretation. Until I know the limits of something I don’t know it’s real shape and function. Two sides of the same coin).

(Whether the arrow describes something abrupt or gradual looks meaningless, I grant you. But I think it matters because climate catastrophe and political rebellions, are all nudging this civilization to an abrupt end, or at least to abrupt changes in direction. But we tend towards despair when we see the magnitude of change that’s necessary, which is why the gradual interpretation of change is still more popular, which means we’re not alert to the more optimistic possibility of rapidly shifting our whole approach to life. I suspect, in other words, that we get comfortable with an illusion of gentle progression, which shuts down the possibility of seeing a new potential for learning and changing astonishingly fast. So that’s probably why this feels like a necessary question, a way of waking myself up from this sleepwalk to extinction).Read More »

The Problem with Guardian Angels: A Very Short and Steep Comedy

Madelleine Elizabeth Fitzroy, my client, so to speak, died on May 12th, 2021. The obituary in the Seneca Falls newspaper was thin, but not inaccurate. “Madelleine E. Fitzroy (Sherman) died peacefully in her sleep on May 12th. She was pre-deceased 12 years by her husband Harold Mackinack “Mack” Fitzroy. They had two children, Phillip (Jenner) and Maureen (Johnson), and three grandchildren, Elizabeth, Benjamin and Dwyer. She loved to cook and enjoyed playing cards with her friend.”

That was published this morning, two days since she died.

She loved to cook and enjoyed playing cards with her friends (it should have been plural). Otherwise, that’s about it. I couldn’t have added too much more without delving into private matters. I know so much because I’m her guardian angel, and she was my “better half” as we quip up here sometimes, while waiting.

There wasn’t much else to do but wait, because she didn’t live a very dangerous life. Oh, I had to step in a few times, once when she got stung by bees, and then when she almost choked on a liverwurst sandwich while arguing with her husband. I also steered her away from courting Gene Abbott, although Mack Fitzroy wasn’t much better.

You call us guardian angels but I’m more like her reflection in a higher dimension, so our fates are tied. Tomorrow, on the third day since her bodily death — on what you call “judgement day”, but which we know as True Death — she’ll either rise like a feather or sink like a stone. But up or down my fate is tied to hers.

My job is to convince her to rid herself of all her attachments, because any extra weight will cause a soul to sink, and there are all kinds of rumors about what happens down there.

OK, I’m off to meet Maddy in the “flesh” so to speak. And I’ll write these notes as I go, hovering as it were above myself (and a little to the left), which is a skill reserved for those of us in this dimension, sorry.

There she is, already standing in line, holding the memory of her old suitcase.

Damn it, next to her are 4 or 5 elderly ladies and gents of a similar constitution, all yakkety-yakking away as if they were waiting for a bus to Vegas.

The other guardian angels already look frustrated

“… and so I said to her, ‘you think you’re the only one with troubles like that, I got a son in law who won’t even talk to me until I tap him on the head and say “what’s up, buddy?” and then he only says ‘nothin’’ and goes back to playing with his phone. It wasn’t like this when we were young”

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The Greatest Paradox: Why Change is Possible but Why We Can’t Change on Purpose

Let me clarify the last essay, I think we can emerge from this trap of thought in time for the earth to heal. I do believe it, for what it’s worth. I’m not saying this as a spur to change, but as an observation of the nature of the problem itself. It’s not unresolvable.

We can change because the problem driving the world to the brink of collapse is a runaway imagination, thought that has no sense of itself as a creative fiction, which means we get fooled by all the red herrings that this imagination produces. Not just the usual evils such as status, power, money, but also suckered by all the well-intentioned solutions that are invented to counteract these evils.

However, we aren’t even coming close to realizing what this change demands from us. This is not the usual crisis we’re facing.

Every previous crisis in human history could be surmounted by applying our extraordinary capacity for imagination. This time we can’t.

Any species that develops this far in this direction would face the same dilemma. It’s a dangerous new power and we haven’t learned to use it in proper measure.

These dangers weren’t obvious over the vast course of human history. Population pressures weren’t enough to incite the imagination into hyperdrive. But as these pressures grew, more complicated products of the imagination appeared, such as agriculture, cities, governments, writing, and on and on. Products of the imagination became increasingly complicated, causing new problems faster than the imagination could be used to solve them. [Note, I have somewhat changed my mind on the inevitability of this problem, see comment below and “Notes on Closed and Open Views of Evolution”].

Essentially we entered into a predator/prey developmental relationship with our own imagination, inventing new forms to solve the problems caused by unforeseen complications arising in previous forms. And this has led to a logarithmic increase in products of the imagination and in the kinds of problems we face.

So up to this point we could say that we’ve only faced problems that the imagination was capable of solving, albeit by kicking the can of ever more complicated problems farther down the road. We are keeping one step ahead of a shadow that keeps growing larger and more menacing.

But now that road has shortened to a dead end. There is no room to kick the can anymore.

In other words, we’re beginning to realize that this two edged sword of imaginative development has grown into such a large sword that it’s going to kill us on the next swing.

Some don’t realize the implications of this development yet. They either fail to see the double-edged quality of so-called progress, concentrating only on the promises and not the perils of every new development of the imagination; or they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this is not a problem like previous problems. They can’t see that we’re engaged in a logarithmic growth in products of the imagination, and that this has become a momentum that imprisons us. Technology is a steroid in this development, but not the real problem. The problem isn’t merely that we work for machines now, and not vice versa. The underlying reason why we’re susceptible to this enslavement is because we were already trapped within the products of our imagination.

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Optimistic Despair: Why there Are No Real Problems in the World, and What to Do About It

“Teach us to care and not to care/Teach us to sit still”

“Ash Wednesday”, Eliot

There is no problem with the world. Only thought makes problems. Every single human problem is only the result of how we imagined things in a crazy way.

Life does have challenges, but every stubbornly knotted predicament, such as mass hunger, war, greed, selfishness itself (internecine competition), are responses to a problematic way of imagining things.

Dropping bombs is not a quality of the earth itself or of life itself, but only a quality of human imagination. War doesn’t exist until we imagine borders, identities, competitive economic systems, hierarchy and status. Mass starvation doesn’t exist until we imagine competition, ownership, and hierarchies that undermine sensible ways of distributing food, as well as monocultural, soil-depleting, destructive ways of growing food.

Even selfishness itself is only a radicalized response to the world, not a quality of the world or of humans by nature. As soon as we begin to imagine the world, and create stories to make sense of it, we have left behind a static vision of human nature and have entered the realm of an infinite plasticity. We can’t hide behind the excuse of nature. Nature is not causing our problems. The imagination is doing that.

Our needs are not problems either. I’ve heard people say that testosterone is a terrible chemical. But testosterone is not a problem. It’s the way this natural energy, this necessary desire, gets perverted into bizarre shapes by our vision of the world, our ways of thinking.

The need for shelter, love, food and sex doesn’t necessitate the problems of identity (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth). The infamous seven deadly sins derive directly from a staked identity (from taking our self concepts too seriously). These seven varieties of selfishness are only secondary qualities of the way we’ve fetishized those simple necessities through an overpowerful or too literal sense of identity. A fetish arises only because something has gone haywire in the way we imagine ourselves and our relation to the world.

But the earth itself, life itself, has no problems, only challenges. These challenges are presented to us open-endedly. How we respond to the conditions of life is up to us.

This is why it’s a waste of time and energy to try solving human political, social and technical problems one at a time. Problems are only getting more complicated because we’re empowering illusions by trying to solve them. It’s the imagination that has to be resolved (clarified). We have to unearth our own compulsion of making a fetish out of simple necessities, step out of the momentum driving us to imagine ourselves in such isolated and alienating forms, as if we were each individually the center of the universe.

By spending so much energy working to solve specific problems we spread the virus of fetishistic thinking, which merely grows the canopy of problems and never digs towards that root, which is in our confused relationship to the imagination.

Turning attention to thought is far more practical and leads to far quicker changes than attending to every problematic symptom of thought. The practical approach to life is sleepwalking into a maze of ever-growing problems.

Looking more honestly at our confused relationship to the imagination is the only chance.

But chance for what? For personal salvation? Hardly.

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Kingswit

Short story posted in Subtle Mud, called Kingswit.

In a post-apocalyptic world, but one where ecosystems have regained their balance and people have become scarce, shy of technology, shy of one another, shamed perhaps, three travelers come upon a man they know vaguely from various encampments. He was a man people avoided as if he had rabies — he was sick with the disease of mind that had destroyed the world. They could recognize that easily. The man had been brutally beaten and left paralyzed by wandering tribes, who are themselves susceptible to the old disease. One of the three travelers stays with the paralyzed man for a few days, until he puts him out of his misery. And it’s about the guilt this causes, the poisons it stirs to the surface.

A second tone poem of sorts mentioning Seldon is also added to the site, and here’s an excerpt from that:

Sometimes I wonder if this is a different earth, if there were no survivors after all, and this is all there is to the great beyond. I think the survivors walked through a curtain of some kind and everything smells and feels differently now. The earth has grown larger again, too vast for a journey of several lifetimes. That’s what happens in the absence of technology. A weary, wary and quiet anarchy reigns now.

Now and then you pass an outpost where they still use a diesel truck to drag tree trunks; but most of them have become rusty bones hidden in the brush. 

There’s almost a taboo about technology now. It holds the embers of the previous world.

There are only a handful of people for every 3 days journey. People are shy, an inherited shame I think. Maybe in other places the power vacuum has been filled by warlords. But in my experience nobody wants that kind of power now. Power is another ember of that lost world.

When I Was Seven Years Old I Was Abducted by Aliens

You can receive this: “on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death”—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others: — TS Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”

When I was seven years old I was abducted by aliens. You don’t have to believe me. I’m being as honest as I can, but everything – everything – in the retelling becomes fictional. What is an alien anyways? I can only observe a small bandwidth of stimuli even at my best. And from what I Can see, I only remember a smaller fraction. And of those memories, I can only stitch together the few that make the most sense to me. And when I realized this, I no longer bothered to distinguish between fact and fiction, but only between honest and dishonest fiction. And I’m being honest about something I encountered, even if the event itself is little more than an unreliable dream now, distorted by years of confusion and fear.

Despite all that, I can recall the honest facts, which are given shape by a kind of fictional wrapping paper. Without the shape of the fiction you would see nothing. The experience remains untranslatable otherwise. But look through the paper to see what I mean.

I remember waking up in the dark room and feeling a pulsing heat or color or emotion. I could describe it as any of these, or by a thousand other words, but look, this is what I meant: the fictional telling gives an unavoidable skew to the memory. Words are always distortions, and when I don’t keep that in mind I become delusional with certainty. I become entranced by a hall of mirrors and can’t see through the complicated reflections to the actuality that is not translatable.

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The Schizophrenic Crisis

This appeared in Dissident Voice.

I’m not looking at schizophrenia for the moment as a sickness, but as a more or less inevitable development or consequence of a species that refines thought to such an extent that it becomes confused by its own images and beliefs and mistakes them for reality itself.

Conclusive certainty or dogma would be an obvious symptom of this crisis – a crisis which may have begun several thousand years ago and is only now approaching its ‘do or die’ moment: Learn this lesson or perish.

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A Fly Fable (Which Includes the Amoral of the Story)

fly

Act 1

Eugene yawned. He dreaded another day of banging his head against the glass.

His friend Leslie, however, was eager to get started.

“Yesterday that precocious young fly Skip said he felt the glass in the upper pane softening a little. Let’s get cracking! Today’s the day, I can feel it.”

Eugene stretched his wings and nibbled on sun-dried bacteria. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Most of the flies stuck between the storm window and the regular window were already banging away.

Eugene stretched his wing again.

His world measured approximately 64 inches by 26 inches by 5 inches. The majority of flies were banging on the glass facing the interior of the house, and not on the storm window to the outside. That’s because the curtains in the little shack were usually closed, which made the interior window into a weak mirror reflecting the trees and fields across the road. And that’s where they wanted to go.

And all memory of night, when they had banged away on the storm window facing the dark fields and trees, had by then faded into legend.

“Eugene thinks he can sit there all day and reap the benefits of our hard work!” a fly named Bixby complained, when he saw Eugene slowly crawling his way towards them.

“Yeh, but guys, how many generations of flies have been trying to get out of this window?” Eugene said, looking down again at the piles of corpses on the sill.

“Oh, listen to Mr doom and gloom!” Bixby said. “Legend has it that a fly named Boris flew out this very window and into those yonder trees!” Bixby shifted a wing to point at a shimmering mirage of a tree. “So how’d he do it? Not by moaning, but by banging that’s how.”Read More »

An Honest Fairy Tale Retold

Linda

This is an honest fairy tale. But it’s not a true story, for who can know the fathomless truth of anyone? It’s about my sister, who died recently.

In this tale the child is led deeper into the hall of mirrors, which was in fact an enchanted forest. A bewitched forest.

And the more frightened she became the farther she fled into the foggy interior of the woods. There she made her stand, a brave and lonely thing, and built her refuge and her prison.

Or course, these enchanted forests are invisible to others. You can walk around in broad daylight and nobody would know you are lost. As the saying goes, you never see the forest for the trees.

So the child couldn’t tell anyone where she was. I’m here, she would cry. Can’t you hear me?Read More »