What We Retain: Part III of a Series of Essays Inspired by the Book, “The Dawn of Everything”


Part I

Part II

Retaining Technology, Politics and Economy

Technology isn’t the problem by itself. Technological solutions are often necessary. But not as a primary focus. I can almost picture a sane (by no means Utopian) world, which steals an element from Amish culture – not a wholly luddite element, but the element in their culture that is considerate in its rate of adopting new technologies. Otherwise, technological development becomes an accelerating end in itself, which has a hypnotic and reductive effect on human consciousness (as noted in several essays).

But how could such a carefully considered approach to technology be organized?

It wouldn’t work as a top-down imposition, as it would for the Amish, who are pretty much stuck within a narrow system. Any top-down imposition of rules is a reductive strategy in itself, which bends eventually towards dictatorship. But profound shifts in social realities (such as our relationship to technology) would begin on a grassroots level, preceding the imposition of new laws. The Civil Rights era, for example, represented an alteration in the balance of attitudes towards white privilege, and this started to happen prior to any changes in law.

Let me ramble a while in this direction and see if we can return to this question.

Most grassroots social movements still feel compelled to beseech “authorities” for changes in top-down rules, still end up trying to persuade the kings and queens of commerce and government to give their permission for any grassroots shift that is already happening. Governments and titans of commerce yielded to the Civil Rights movement, for instance, because they felt the implicit threat to the whole system of power if they didn’t yield. Or they yielded to the grassroots movement of smoking grass, for instance, because they were lured there by the promise of controlling the revenue stream.

But beseeching these authoritative bodies also keeps us narrowly tied to the harness of commerce, and government, so that nothing significant in that sense ever changes. We earn a certain freedom of movement, yes, but still within the old reins (or reigns) – still trapped in systems of control (and machine intelligence is that system). Trying to live without a cell phone, for instance, is becoming almost impossible. Everything is being streamlined to assist the management of people on a grand scale, primarily it seems via apps on phones. (Not because the Bilderbergs have a broad vision they’re trying to enact, but precisely because they don’t have one, or have only a desacralized vision of manipulated self-interest, where a cosmic lens might once have been). At any rate, we’re still reined to the system, but hats off to those who are trying to build a community off-grid.Read More »

What We Lost (or How We Got Stuck): Part II of a Series of Essays Inspired by the Book, “The Dawn of Everything”

evolution cartoon

[Link to Part I, but you don’t need to read part I to understand this]

If I can look at my own history as a narrative with highs and lows, with periods of clarity and periods of confusion and frustration, then this also probably describes human history as well. Of course, this would contradict the typical historical narrative, which envisions nothing much happening in human development for almost all of our 200 or 300 thousand years, until the last few thousand years, when everything began to improve and become suddenly creative and “advanced”, thanks mostly to technology. This narrative ends up forcing us to look at earlier or less-technologically obsessed cultures as more primitive, and sometimes less intelligent or creative than we are now, as if our history was an escalator climb, and we’re standing quite a few floors above them now.

This picture of the past is a little too pat and conceited. It reminds me of the stages of human development envisioned by Ken Wilber and others (see “The Limits of Ken Wilber”). There’s insight in these stage development models, but the details seem to reflect patterns of development within a regressive culture. And this regression may tend to stretch individual development along lines of partial maturation. Slicing and dicing these stages of delay in our maturation is insightful, but when we begin to project these developmental patterns onto older cultures, I think we’re only repeating patterns of colonial conceit.

My inclination is to assume three fundamental stages of development, depicted in that old Zen saying – “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” I understand this to mean, first we see the world without the lens of language, a pre-linguistic directness. Then language begins to form an interpretive gauze over the mental eye, which is insightful, practical, and necessary for functioning in the world. But the gauze also begins to obscure the “mountain”. It’s the elongation of this second stage that most of these stage development models are elaborating upon (insightfully, this is not a criticism, but a different angle to consider). Near the conclusion of this stage, post-modern insights such as “everything is language” or “there is no ‘thing’, only ‘thought’” erupt. Here, reality itself begins to seem doubtful. A kind of derealization crisis takes place. They can see that there is no mountain without the idea of a “mountain”. But the eruption of a third stage, which is actually not so much a stage, as a gateway into a larger form of life, erupts when the post-modern insight is completed, and the insight that “everything is a story” no longer stops us from seeing the mountain again. Now we’re no longer blinkered by our necessary interpretations. We can cease interpreting the world from the outside (when interpretations are not needed), and no longer relate to the mountain like an alien visitor. Now we “know” the mountain, not merely as a practical idea (all the time), but as an unnamable portion of eternity, a portion of our own fathomless Being.Read More »

Notes on the Difference Between Closed and Open Views of Evolution: or why machine intelligence will fail


Careful how you move. The beginning is always treacherous. Here the pattern is established. The ink dries fast.

I don’t even know yet whom I’m addressing or what I am, but already a momentum has been established in these notes, an artificial destiny of sorts that I can’t trust entirely, nor will I try to dissipate this cloud of uncertainty by framing it prematurely. Something is evolving here that can’t be shaped intentionally, but which is nevertheless shaped by how honestly I attend its birth. So what pushes the evolution towards a beginning, middle and end? 

The beginning is found in these clouds of uncertainty, ghosts of ideas dissipating before they take clear shape, pareidolic in nature, the dust of thought suspended in the oblique light of a dawning concern, over-heated in some ways, to be sure, the Brownian Motion of listless thoughts resolving into more heated currents of desire and fear, the twisting smoke from the cooling coal of a brain, shrapnel from the Big Bang, recapitulating the evolution that had no destiny either, perhaps, and like spilled ink pouring out of a black hole, something forms, and then it looks inevitable, but it never was.

Language is my morning cup of acid. The psychedelics of language turning this perfectly transparent day into an opaque mass that can be molded into a figurine through which I see the reflection of a mind emerging as if it were destiny. Read More »

Abrupt or Gradual Change?

Found picture on Web, apologies to whomever it belongs (will remove if needed)

Each essay wrests a limited clarity from the infinite mycelium of loose ends that keeps the inquiry growing. As if demonstrating what I felt to be true in Truth and Distortion, the last essay clarified something, but also left distortions that I’d like to consider.

Is the transition to a proprioceptive mentality necessarily so dramatic and dangerous for example? Is it really like falling from a cliff? Or is it the most gentle transformation imaginable, giving up the strife that comes with trying to live up to a false ideal, seeing through all these deceptive feints and accepting them until they evaporate as irrelevant?

I’m never going to argue that anything I say is real. These are merely stories that wring from the world particular insights, while shutting down others. So the question has to be spun like a prism to see other spectrums of truth. And this also allows me to see with greater clarity the context in which the previous metaphor was apt. Let me see if this can be done with one of those loose ends right now, the gradual versus abrupt question.

Read More »

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.

Read More »

The Limits of Ken Wilber: An Appreciation

ken wilber

Ken Wilber likes to say that every stage of human psychological or spiritual growth “includes and transcends” the previous stage. We don’t lose our capacity to access earlier stages of development; and we don’t reject those earlier stages as “wrong.” We see the logic that drives earlier stages and can operate within that logical framework whenever it’s necessary.

He also seems to imply that growth is a gradual diminishment of ego as a driving force. A wider and wider horizon of empathy accompanies each stage of development.

This vision provides the impression of a kind of winding stairway or double-helix of personal progress. Each step in this stairway represents a certain leap from one set of assumptions or “action-logics” (Torbert) to a new and more encompassing set of assumptions. But all in all, this “inclusion and transcendence” represents a gradual growth.

Wilber’s whole body of work is profound, precise and coherent, even if the emphasis on inclusion and transcendence seems incomplete. It might be a small objection, but rather than saying we “include and transcend” each previous stage, we might say that transcendence of previous stages involves inclusion and shedding or sacrifice (the positive and the negative). Because in every stage of development (whether from 1st grade to 2nd; or from an ethnocentric to a more interconnected vision) fundamental assumptions driving previous stages are lost or negated. This is far more significant than inclusion. Inclusion is simply what remains by default after certain fundamental beliefs are sacrificed. The real change occurs via negation or sacrifice of old beliefs. Negation removes a layer of confused mud, leaving the vision a little more cleansed and wider in focus. What isn’t removed is still (by default) included in the new vision.Read More »