30 June 2011

A dancing, nascent insight

As Stewart Home put it, the essential fallacy of liberalism and lifestylism is that it is impossible to live differently under capitalism. But it is possible to live ethically - i.e., with integrity. And part of that integrity must surely involve putting something into training ourselves and others to live differently. "Starting with the Man in the Mirror" is a cheesy way to put it, so maybe "live as if you were in the early days of a better nation"? Or even - this horrible world of advertising agencies and mechanised death is a university in which we train ourselves to live in the better world. The Kingdom of God, in Reality as it is in the Nice Place We Made Up Inside Our Heads. A world where Love In Action becomes easy, or at least easier.

"It's steam-engines when it's steam-engines time", as a wise man once said, and while you can't stop playing the capitalist game (there is no longer any outside to the money and capital system, which, as Rosa Luxemburg said in 1903, means it's coming near to TILT), if you play the game with integrity - which means accepting that you're not going to win the Fabulous Prizes, and that you wouldn't want to anyway - you will keep enough "soul" (energy + free time + financial spending money) to give you a chance at contributing to building a better world.

At the right time, that is. You can't be a revolutionary in a non-revolutionary time for the same reason you can't be a saint or a prophet by your own volition. The time is not right for most of the world, but - for example - in Greece I think it's getting close. If you and your mates keep doing your exercises and your eyes on the prize, one day the Black Iron Prison might show a chink and you might be able to declare a jailbreak or even an occupation.

25 June 2011

Further to the below...

... being good, bringing Light into the world, making the Solid World more like Universe A and less like Universe B, is unnatural. It's fighting against gravity, as Robert Fripp puts it. It's contradicting our animal nature, and it contradicts every rational, logical scheme for living and surviving in the World-As-Is. This planet would have gotten along perfectly fine without sentience, hence the Eden myth. Consciousness=the Knowledge of (and therefor responsibility for) Good and Evil, to be better or worse than animals, the ability to make Heaven or Hell real right here right now.

Which is why utilitarianism (in liberal democratic, social democratic or Stalinist flavours) doesn't work - it assumes that good=logical, when in reality all the words and abstract concepts on paper - if not backed up with an effort of Love In Action - just lead to the same primate games, with higher technology. As R. A. Wilson pointed out, most people use words in the same way that a chimp will use a handful of its own shit.

One of the things that appeals to me about the Islamic tradition is that there's no original sin - people are not naturally sinful, but they are naturally forgetful and weak. Bad things happen because it's easier to let them happen, and it's extremely easy to forget about God or Universe A or the Inexpressible Benevolence of the Creative Impulse or whatever.

The power of capitalism is of course that it feeds on our animal nature - greed and territoriality, in particular. But the tragedy of capitalism is that it has trapped us in one of those tiny universes I was talking about in the last post - we have, in other worlds, all entered into playing a game which we can't win and is running down the planet and poisoning us body and soul, but if everyone thinks that The Game is the entire universe, then ceasing to play it and acting like adults is unthinkable. And if thinkable, then too damn hard.

If we can look after our animal selves without giving into every single prompting - if, in other words, we can stay awake, act according with Will (=Love In Action) - in little things, then perhaps we can do so in big things as well. We are what we do, and our political activism will not be worth a damn if we act in our private life like we are entitled to everything we want, that Those Guys Over There have no rights because they're wrong, that our actions have no consequences, etc.

23 June 2011

If there's a shortcut, I'd have found it, but there's no easy way around it

Light of the world, shine on me.

One thing that's very interesting in the Abrahamic religious tradition is this idea of the tragedy of prophecy. The idea that when Universe Central taps you on the shoulder and says "oi! pass on this message!", you are not in for a good time. Prophets are always getting stoned to death, crucified, shot with arrows, betrayed by their nearest and dearest, cursed and slandered, etc, and Universe Central doesn't do anything to help. Even the religious experience itself is portrayed in disturbing terms. The Holy Spirit, in the Christian tradition, is said to descend "like a dove". Have you ever had a pigeon land on your head? It's nothing but feathers and shit. And in this case it's DIVINE feathers and shit.

That's why these modern "You Are The Chosen One" myths fail somewhat because they don't point out that being the hero in the World-As-Is - to be technically accurate, making a commitment to act from somewhere else than your own immediately perceived selfish interests - is not going to end up with you being King and getting the Girl (or whatever gender). Actually, the best modern account of the tragedy of prophecy is Terry Pratchett's Small Gods, which gets it just right despite the fact that Pterry was an atheist until he got sick. And as for our secular prophets of revolution - MLK and Malcolm X were shot, Karl Marx died in poverty and 11 people came to his funeral, Ché Guevara ended up dead in a jungle. Fighting the good fight is not a pleasant lifestyle choice.


The more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps my real "religion" (in Sufi terms, my shari`a as opposed to my tariqah) is still the Church of the SubGenius. Yeah. I am sure that Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley would be kind of shocked to know that people are reading this who really, truly are Discordians - but I think Ivan Stang kind of accepts that there are people who really, truly are SubGenii (as long as they keep buying swag). And - let's face it, people - J. R. "Bob" Dobbs is a pretty damn good folk-hero for the lumpen intelligensia and the petty-creatives. Congratulations, Stang, you and Philo created something that works.

A hundred years ago, the freed slaves and children of freed African-American slaves sat around on the porch and told hilarious lies about John the Conqueror, which is pretty much what SubGenii do today WRT "Bob". Big John wouldn't pick cotton, he wouldn't bale hay, he wouldn't take a licking and he wouldn't run away; whereas every time "Bob" screws up, he makes a million dollars. (The Polynesian people's stories of Maui fulfill a similar social function.) Every era and culture and subculture creates its own mythology, its own way of being, its own gods and demigods and folk heroes, its own working religion - practical code of ethics, plus rituals to make sense of the world we live in.

You see, that's the problem for those of us out on the edge - we want to change the world we live in, change the community we came from, but we're not individuals, we live our lives in the matrix of community. But the problem comes when we turn the organisations we build to try to change our world into new communities - that's the basis of sectarianism, a turning away from the Real World of Horrible Jobs into an exciting "pocket universe" where we get to be Big Cheeses and heroes of our own narratives of Great Revolutionary Heroes. (I'm always impressed by how thoroughly the Spartacists and offshoots manage this - obsessively taping all their internal meetings, memorising the history of every ridiculous faction fight in their tradition, and in all other ways behaving as if what happened inside their group was the important thing. But it's common in pretty much all radical groups.)

That's where "small group psychosis" comes from - voluntarily withdrawing into a tiny universe that we created ourselves, and forgetting that it's all just something we made up and that it doesn't really mean a damn thing in real terms. In contrast, a real revolutionary or saint lives in the real communities where they are at and then brings Love In Action to bear in that community. ("Love in Action" is here identical to what Crowley would have called "True Will".)

I think perhaps the Sufi distinction between shari`a and tariqah is useful here. Shari`a, in our own sense, is "how we live our real day-to-day lives in the Real World of Horrible Jobs, how we take care of our needs, have fun, deal with other beings and the real physical world - our Rules for Living". Tariqah would then be "the discipline we accept in order to bring about change in ourselves and in the Real World of Horrible Jobs". The two are orthogonal to one another - they function by incompatible rules. Which is why Hazrat-e-Pir, Dr Nurbakhsh, was fond of saying "the master's faith is the disciple's infidelity" - what you have to do to bring Light or Revolution or whatever into the World-As-Is is completely a separate matter to the rules we follow for surviving and thriving in the World-As-Is.

God or "Bob" or whoever doesn't need you to do rituals - you need you to do rituals, preferably within the matrix of community, otherwise you will never have a solid and healthy basis to work from when "Bob" or God or whoever lands on your head like a big smelly pigeon and asks you to do something impossible. I don't think it matters what rituals you do in your community, as long as your community's practice is for Love and Quality and against braindeath. And I think you also need to have "escapism" - little private worlds where you do get to play pretend and tell stories where you are a hero, like sci-fi fandom or following a football team or whatever. Just as long as you don't start mistaking them for real life, for your tariqah.

As for practical ethics, Frank Zappa never joined the Church of the SubGenius, but he did approve of them, and I think his moral code works well:

Do what you want, do what you will,
Just don't mess up your neighbour's thrill
And when you pay the bill, kindly leave a little tip
To help the next poor sucker on his one-way trip.

And a quote from Grant Morrison, whose work is proving suprisingly helpful to me at the moment: "The Solid World is the only place where an ugly caterpillar can become a beautiful butterfly." Things change into other things. That is the central secret of life in this world - the materialist dialectic, but also the essential spiritual insight of Heraclitus, Gautama Buddha, and virtually every mystic who was worth a shit. All that exists only exists in one time and in one place; only in the depths of consciousness is there anything pure and eternal (or foul and sinful). The question is whether we can overcome the contradiction between the shari`a of daily survival and the tariqah of becoming something more than heredity and environment programmed us for, so we can eventually end up at the haqiqah of... I dunno.

09 June 2011

A new aphorism

If we can forgive without accepting, a lot more becomes possible.

"To forgive", in this context, should be understand in the same word as "debt forgiveness" - which means, nothing will change that you ran up a debt, but I waive my right to collect on that debt. It is not right that you ran the debt up, but I have decided that it's in everyone's best interest not to pursue it.

Note that we can forgive, not that we must or should. We have a choice of actions, we can pursue debts or forgive them. Which ties into the broader mystical frame that "God is both just and merciful". "Just" might mean: "everyone gets what they deserve". Mercy means: "everyone gets more than they deserve". Since we are all sinners and black sinners (or to put in secular language, we are all weak and forgetful and make mistakes), then we had better hope that others practice mercy; and indeed, an eye for an eye leaves the whole planet blind.

"Forgiving without accepting" means "exercising mercy while recognizing that it contradicts justice". In the outcome of that contradiction lies an ethical framework for a free humanity. The whole concept of restorative justice relies on precisely this question of giving the victims of a crime their own free choice as to what blend of mercy and justice should be pursued.