Sunday, July 18, 2010

One Dimensional Man in the Three Dimensional World

Why abstractions, norms, and absolutes
are an assault on humanity and existence itself.

"A woman can never be too rich or too thin."

The anorexic and the body builder are both pursuing ideals that recede before them. Once one starts to measure oneself against a one-dimensional standard, such as strength or slimness, too much is never enough: the goal is always ahead of you, no matter how far you go. These ideals cannot be reached in this world. . . but if you follow them far enough, they can lead you out of it, into the abyss which is their true domain—as Arnold Schwarznegger's early heart problems, and the suicides of our rock stars and sex symbols, clearly attest.

It's true that Arnold Schwarznegger, Hollywood actresses, and others like them were practically factory farmed by this competition-obsessed society; but the rest of us are infected with these values too—think of us as free range versions of the same livestock. All our judgments, all our conceptualizations of the world refer to absolutes and ideals: Sara is pretty, but not as pretty as Diana, who is not as pretty as the girl on the magazine cover; Jane is smart, but not as smart as the boy who was accepted to Harvard, who clearly is not as intelligent as Albert Einstein was; serving free food is revolutionary, but not as revolutionary as setting a police station on fire. We are truly one-dimensional thinkers: unable to see each individual quality or action for what it is alone, only able to apprehend it in terms of how it compares to others. . . the implication being that there is some fundamental scale against which everything can be compared. This is one way of conceiving of the world, yes, but not the only way, and not the best way in most circumstances, either.

This way of thinking makes everything into a competition, for those who don't want to accept their inferiority; it makes us disregard the value and unique significance of every event and entity, in favor of finding a place for them in the system of calibration. The truth is that every human being really does have a value unlike any other, every radical action and approach is important to "the revolution" in irreplaceable ways (the important question is not which means to apply, but how to make them complement each other), and we desperately need ways to articulate this to ourselves. We need a language with which we can celebrate through description, not comparison. Without this, no matter how clearly we know we should value every little thing for its own sake, we are trapped by the assumptions of our own means of expression:

"I love you," whispers the young girl.
"Do you love me more than anyone else, more than anything?" demands the boy.
"I love you . . . differently, because of what you are. Not more, not less—there's no comparison with love, for love cherishes what is. Love is not judgment, it is measureless, matchless . . ." she replies—but he has already turned away.

Where did this obsession with one-dimensional standards come from? It originated with language itself: where one word serves to represent many different individual experiences, abstraction is already present. When you say "sunlight, " it seems as if you are designating a thing that exists in the world somewhere, when actually you are referring to a multitude of experiences, all different but with some very basic similarities. What is most precious in experiences is not the lowest common denominators, but the once-in-a-lifetime particulars— but words leave those out entirely. What use is a word that only applies to one moment of one individual's experience? That is not a currency that can retain value from one to another, and thus is useless for communication. Communication is a necessary part of being human; but it is crucial that each of us remembers that no word or concept could ever capture the infinite depth and complexity of a single instant of life.

The birth of Western civilization, which is founded upon one dimensional thinking, occurred in ancient Greece, when Plato took the abstraction of language one step farther. Plato declared that our abstractions referred to some "higher" world of ideals, in which "courage" and "honor" and "justice" exist in their pure form; in doing so, he turned everything backwards, placing our broad generalizations before the experiences they are drawn from, and claiming that it is those vague generalizations that have truth. Thus he took the reference point of our concepts out of the world altogether, suggesting that our real experiences in it are unimportant, irrelevant. Paul, the founder of Christianity, extended this philosophy into the world of religion: the "ideal" existed in heaven, and the earth was the flawed, evil imitation of it.

Ideas and doctrines alone were not enough to bend human experience of the world to the system of absolutes, of course. Against the wisdom of bodily experience, in which the unique qualities of every entity and event are encountered up close, they were powerless. But slowly, it became possible to enforce the doctrine of the ideal upon the world of daily perception.

It began with the end of the barter system, and the beginning of subdivided time. Suddenly, everything had a certain, set value, and the day was divided into measured segments. Time and worth cannot really be measured—the man who has truly lived knows that the stopwatch cannot capture the way time speeds up when he is in bed with his boyfriend and slows down when he is "on the clock" at work, he knows that the best and worst things in life cannot be "deserved" or earned, let alone appraised—but the pay-by-the-hour jobs of the exchange economy forced people to measure them anyway, and the habit sunk in.

Soon, everything was measured and calibrated: women's clothing sizes, for example. Until the end of the nineteenth century, women's clothing was made by hand, for individual women. A woman was seen as possessing distinct personal qualities, not as a "size 6" or "plus size." It's very telling that over the last few decades, the perfect ideal of the woman has been described numerically—"36-24-36"—and anything that varies from that perfect Platonic form is less than beautiful. Women now occupy a scale of value according to their measured weight. Some struggle with scales every morning, hoping the number will be lower so their value will be greater.

It only remained for brand names to finish reducing the real complexity of the world to the empty simplicity of abstractions. Once upon a time, human beings had gardens; in those days, every fruit or vegetable was unique, and looked it. Now our food is scientifically engineered to total uniformity, and comes with a brand name identifying which absolute it represents: the supermarket's generic brand is the Platonic form of the "inferior banana, " the name-brand banana is the perfect incarnation of the banana as abstraction, and the archetypal banana of the rich, eco-elitist consumers comes marked "organic."

Those who would resist these attempts to bend the real world to the flatness of the conceptual world often fall into the same practices. The world of political theory is rife with abstraction and one dimensional thinking. Many make it through childhood with their ability to appreciate the irreplaceable details of life intact, only to fall to the maladies of generalizing and idealizing when they begin to read theory and attempt to form an "analysis" of life: their impressions and emotions are converted into an ideology, and where their struggles and goals once referred to real people they now see those people only as playing pieces in a war of symbols.

Ultimately, the pursuit of "ideals" which cannot exist in this world constitutes a rejection of this world, the real world, and thus of life itself—as demonstrated by the sad fate of the body builders and anorexics who take it to its logical extreme, the grave. We are so used to denigrating this world, saying it is a fucked up, imperfect place—and so it appears, compared with our "perfect" standards and ideals, which seem so perfect only because they cannot exist. A truly radical resolution would be to embrace existence just as it is, as the only thing that matters, to proclaim that this world itself is heaven, made for our total enjoyment and fulfillment. . . and then, to ask: If that's the case, how do we act accordingly? What have we been doing wrong all this time?

In doing so, we would finally have to accept and embrace ourselves exactly as we are, in all our diversity and variety, and free ourselves from the shadow of the false heaven of Plato and the advertising agents, where "real" beauty supposedly resides. Liberated entirely from standards, from the lingering ghost of Christian judgment and condemnation, we could see that what we are must itself constitute the measure and meaning of beauty, of dignity and magnificence, if such concepts are to exist at all.

I took off my paint-splattered jacket and my shirt, and gazed at myself in the mirror of the airplane restroom. What I saw was something I had only glimpsed before in the eyes of my most adoring lovers: the curves and textures of my skin, the scars and tattoos and lines cut into it painted a picture together, telling a life of wild adventure and undreamable extremes, a story more poignant and thrilling than any other. I was beautiful—beauty itself was incarnated in me, as the vessel of a world of struggles and longings and triumphs bigger than anything that could fit in any book. It was a moment of blinding brilliance, but I rested comfortably in it, confident, as if I had known through all the squalor and desperation that I was simply being primed for this. And, for once, I felt that I could live a hero's life as well as die a warrior's death.
It is only now that I can recognize your beauty
and deny no part of my own.

Courtesy of CrimethInc's, Expect Resistance.

Your Friend,

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I would myself, like a shot.

It's been fifteen years at this writing since I first came across THE LORD OF THE RINGS in the stacks at the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. I'd been looking for the books for four years, ever since reading W.H. Auden's review in the New York Times. I think of that time now - and the years after, when the trilogy continued to be hard to find and hard to explain to most friend - with an undeniable nostalgia. It was a barren era for fantasy, among other things, but a good time for cherishing slighted treasures and mysterious passwords. Long before Frodo Lives! Began to appear in the New York subways, J.R.R. Tolkien was the magus of my secret knowledge.

I've never thought it an accident that Tolkien's works waited more than ten years to explode in popularity almost over night. The Sixties were no fouler a decade than the Fifties - they merely reaped the Fifties' foul harvest - but they were the years when millions of people grew aware that the industrial society had become paradoxically unlivable, incalculably immoral, and ultimately deadly. In terms of passwords, the Sixties were the time when word progress lost its ancient holiness, and escape stopped being comically obscene. The impulse in being called reactionary now, but lovers of Middle-earth want to go there. I myself, like a shot.

For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien's considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day's madness hire in a poisoned world. We are raised to honor all the wrong explorers and discovers - thieves planting flags, murderers carrying crosses. Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams.

-Peter S. Beagle
Watsonbille, California
14 July 1973

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First you must learn to smile as you kill

Home is a commerical advertisement.
-Look at my colors, sparks, advantages, says It, look at the lessons I teach, the value at which I'm worth, and my security. Here you will learn what the world expects of you. What I expect of you. In this sense you need me.
-But what if I don't need you, says I. What if the rules you teach are only relevant to you and the whimsical mood of your flamboyant nature? What if your value, your security, your advantages, are only based on a false sense of entitlement, a fallacy of self-realization?
-You owe me, says It. To whom was my food given? My money, my time? In this sense you can not leave.
-And what of the rules of Nature, says I. Am I to be bred concordant to the understanding that I must reap what I sow when all of Nature reaps what it does not sow? "I know how to obey, I was trained to obey." Should I stunt my growth any further in order to remain obedient to a misunderstanding? You give your food, your money, your time because you are meant to, just as we are meant to pluck what we did not sow. You give because if you would have retained, your gifts would have receded inside, festered, diseased, and exploded. You gave because it is instinct, and it will also be mine.
-You can not live without me, says It, here is family, laughter, comfort, love.
-And here is a blank sheet, with a purpose either to veil and forget or to be painted upon and hung. You teach me "responsibility"? You teach me that my actions have consequences? You are fixed on the rules of your world but there will be consequences of the earth; of the Universe, and yes, for your actions as well.

Your friend,

Friday, June 4, 2010

Their System Doesn't Work For You

They steal "our" money, they steal "our" lives, they steal "our" time. Isn't it time we take back that which "belongs" to us?

This country just celebrated Memorial Day in one simultaneous wave of patriotism and national fervor. Is this what you soldiers die for? Is this what you sacrifice yourself for? So that, we as a nation can waste ourselves into oblivion? Oh, you die for freedom - you die to give more freedom to governments and their companies to reinforce this murder, this thievery of freedom and life.

Oh, everything is fine, everything is perfectly under control. We will show you just how in control everything is with our flares and bombs.

"Anarchy wears two faces, both creator and destroyer. Thus destroyers topple empires; make a canvas of clean rubble where creators can then build a better world. Rubble, once achieved makes further ruins' mean irrelevant. Away with our explosives, then! Away with our destroyers! They have no place within our better world. But let us raise a toast to all our bombers, all our bastards, most unlovely and most unforgivable. Let's drink to their health then meet with them no more." - V for Vendetta, Alan Moore

Your friend,

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Police State in the USA"

May 24, 2010

The laws that apply to us should also apply to them

— Just my thoughts on the new immigration laws that will soon go into effect in the state of Arizona.

In the United States of America, if a citizen is stopped by a police officer, the first thing that officer will request is a photo I.D. In the state of Arizona, if an illegal immigrant is stopped by a police officer, that officer will have the right to ask that illegal immigrant for an I.D. or documents proving who they are.

If the citizens of the United States of America are required to carry a photo I. D., then why is it called “racial profiling” if we require the illegal immigrants to do the same thing that we require from our own citizens ?

Seems to me that the other states should pass the same laws that Arizona has passed requiring everyone to have proper I.D. and show proof of the same if requested by a police officer.

And also, I would like to add that every person who lives or works in the United States of America, either, learn the English language or “Adios, amigos.” (Sorry if that offends you, but I have never been “politically correct” and Im not going to start now.)

May God Bless the U.S.A.

Donnie Rice

Mount Savage

June 1, 2010

They’ll need an ‘illegal spotting’ device

In response to a letter to the editor in the May 25 Time-News from Donnie Rice (“The laws that apply to us should also apply to them”):

I don’t think the issue here is that the United States of America requires everyone, including illegal immigrants, to carry some form of identification — that is in fact what makes an illegal immigrant’s status “illegal,” when they are not a citizen and consequently have no ID to show it.

You are correct, sir, that is not racial profiling. The United States does not discriminate between anyone as to whether one need obtain citizenship in this country and have the identification to prove it.

The issue is that (Section 2, Part E of Arizona’s SB 1070) “A law enforcement officer, without a warrant, may arrest a person if the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed any public offense that makes the person removable from the United States,” gives an extreme amount of power to that law enforcement officer to arrest someone if that officer has “probable cause” to suspect that that person is an illegal immigrant.

Perhaps I may be naive, but unless the law enforcement of Arizona has recently obtained some “illegal spotting” device, then how can any law enforcement officer have “probable cause” as to whether someone is an illegal immigrant, when such a status is only confirmed by stopping that person and asking him/her for their ID?

It becomes racial profiling because to have any more “probable cause” than the actual ID itself in front of that law enforcement officer is to stereotype a race of people that have crossed the border illegally.

What checks the power of the officer when he harasses the young Mexican mother who has three kids by her side, and two jobs in order to support them and the exorbitant amount of debt she has already been handed by becoming a citizen, because she looks like a “border hopper”?

And don’t tell me it doesn’t happen. Even locally, young adults are constantly harassed because they either look like they are too young to drive or because they might be carrying some drugs — and all under the power of “probable cause.”

The question really in this issue is when the people of Arizona — and perhaps, as you want it, the whole country — give the power to law enforcement to suspect a person of having an illegal status solely on the basis of race, where does that power stop?

And does that power build a better and more accepting “blessed by God” nation as you so desire?

Additionally, in respect to your last statement, Mr. Rice, requiring that every person speak one language is not only a genocide of language, but of culture, and of a people who have had a big hand in building the Christian religion, and is what I would call a disgrace to the One Christianity believes in.

Alex Grabenstein

Fort Ashby, W.Va.

Your friend,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Don't Lose Touch

You call me disrespectful, I will show you disrespectful.
You call me rebellious, I will damn well show you what rebellious looks like.

If you can denote rebellious as following the rules, doing extra around the house, making good grades in school, becoming determined to make college something that I don't have to push debt either on you or me for the rest of our lives, staying away from drugs and alcohol, not acting like a complete dick to my parents for the past 17 years, not deliberately trying the make trouble, and not sneaking out, among other things, you are delusional.

As a leader of anything I can imagine you don't think about what exactly your consequences are that your actions bestow on the world, but I hope you can imagine that when I leave - and I will leave – there won't be much coming back. Sure, my life was pretty fortunate but I don't want to come back to something that has a stick so far up its ass, one moment from the next is made quite unpredictable and, in fact, an insane. Why do you think Jon "went crazy"? I believe part of that answer is inscribed in what I've said already.

Is one who becomes decisive before the question is even brought up capable of making a fair decision? Does one even start to understand the question and all that it encompasses? Perhaps it is an effective parenting method, but I don't believe it. You say it teaches responsibility because “the world 'ain't' fair” but I say it teaches the inept abilities of the world we make to become less than an indiscriminate and indifferent method of oppressive control. You say it teaches the rules of the world we give power too but there is at least one difference between you and I: I will not give power to it.

You are parent and I am son but there is a question as to how long that title can be held over one before the power of that title is undermined by the actions of the parent and that connection – under the pressure of all the energy pushed upon if for years – snaps, finally and with a sense of relief and liberation – perhaps so forced with those feelings that the discord is held eternally.

Your friend, Alex

Monday, May 17, 2010

We do not exist

"At the public library, in the air raid shelter converted into a museum, in their apartments, they long to be protagonists of their own stories, for once, not professionals or protesters—a whole generation wasted, working in the service industry, collecting comic books, matching skin tones to shades of lipstick . . . but the fuse is lit, now, a hiss in the distance like air escaping from a slashed tire—and ears are pricking up."

-CrimethInc. Ex-Worker's Collective

Standardized tests all this week; talk about good education.

Your friend,