Complicity and Contingency
by Antonio Dias
We live somewhere in tension between complicity and contingency. It’s not a linear polarity, this space. These are not categories with any sort of rough equivalency.
Complicity is a state. We are within a relationship to the forces that seek to destroy. Some of these we are aware of, others are hidden from us, some through lack of knowledge, but mostly through our anesthetized inability to feel the violence inherent in almost everything surrounding us in our modern world. We surrender to the ubiquity and to the sullied sense of guilt that should be a passing warning phase of leaving a state of honest relations, entering the edges of some slippery slope. Since we are immersed and surrounded by cause for this feeling we cannot take it as a simple warning, like the discomfort that precedes the pain of a burn if we fail to flinch away from a flame. The fires are all around us.
We remain in a chronic state of complicity. Adding to our knowledge of its extent beyond a certain point becomes an exercise in masochism and only succeeds in maintaining us in a precarious condition, unable to change our state, caught in fear and panic, at the mercy of our paired scourges, urgency and futility.
Contingency is a relationship we have with the limits of our umwelt and the necessities we face as beings-in-the-world. We can only know a finite and imperfect subset of our situation and we are pressed by needs and desires that are tangled into a mix we are incapable of unraveling. While ideals attempt to draw us into so-called purity we cannot leave the questions at the center of our situation. We are irretrievably caught up in contingency.
We are conditioned to maintain these relationships within opposition. We strive to battle against complicity, or to wallow within it and spread our pain by inflicting it on others. We oppose the necessities of contingency and escape into ideology or other forms of fantasy, or we embrace contingency and set ourselves up as enforcers of the cruel demands of pragmatism.
All of these reactions are within the realm of negotiation. We embrace whatever sets us apart and fight for our rewards from within a feeling of entitlement. We throw ourselves into conflict relishing the way our opposition frames us and gives us an outlet, a release for our negative emotions that keeps us from seeing their true target, our own behavior. We are wrapped up in urgency and all the drug-like inducements of intoxication and addiction. Behind it all lurks a fantasy that all this strife and struggle and pain will lead to victory in the end, either in the “Future,” or in the after-life. Addicts always believe that everything will be “fine” someday, just not right now….
Is there another relation to complicity and contingency?
Dissensus is a way in. Following compassion and expanding empathy seem at first to only increase our pain, but as soon as we begin to let more in – without tossing something, or someone else, out in “compensation” to maintain our masses of allies and enemies in a constant state of equilibrium, a “balance of power, of terror,” we begin to feel stronger, buoyed by an upwelling of vigor and joy.
An insight struck a few nights ago, while talking to an old friend over a set of computer generated drawings of a classic sailboat design. We had been talking about the violence intrinsic in technologies and how following a practice of Craft keeps us in relationship with the compassion within all things. We were maintaining the spirit of Dissensus. We can point out what is destructive about a behavior without the need to vilify the one carrying it out.
With this as backdrop there we were, responding to the fine expressions of Craft within the design of this boat built in the 1920’s while handling artifacts that were deeply entangled in a complicity with high technology.
I thought of Hemingway. We have both long appreciated his writing, even though I’ve often been impatient with his persona, at least as it is commonly depicted.
Hemingway was writing about, embodying, exploring, celebrating this very position we are in. We are complicit, and we are subject to contingency; but we are also immersed in a world of great beauty brimming with value. Without maintaining a complex relationship with all these elements we shut ourselves off from some central truth of life. Maintaining this relationship is hard and requires sacrifice. We may not survive the trials it puts in front of us, but there really is no other choice but an abandonment of life itself.
To see this in Hemingway today requires that we set aside his public persona. This opens us to a realization of how fraught we all are, caught between our own attempts at generating a persona and the way in which a culture based on Ego will transform any expression outside its appetites into toxic simulacra. We are susceptible to this, both as we apprise ourselves of others, as well as, when we attempt to see and judge ourselves from within a dynamic of negotiation and conflict.
My friend noted, “He was a nurse in the First World War.” Bringing up his position as a non-combatant, driving an ambulance in the Italian Alps….
He went on to say that Hemingway is always returning us to the fullness and beauty of experiencing the world.
For me, I was reminded, though it was way too late that night to start another topic, of how Hemingway had been an inspiration for me in writing Shoal Hope and Something for Nothing. It was for these qualities, along with the accidents of history that made a set of fragments into what can now be seen as a whole with its own coherence, Islands in the Stream; that I’ve been drawn to his example, along with those of Conrad and Melville….
Hemingway lived within the tragedies of the Twentieth Century. He was there in Paris at Berger’s Moment of Cubism, and his central involvement in all the ensuing cataclysms, and the way he was crushed – as so many others were – by the accumulation of a widening enormity beset by the last gasps of the possibility for a certain kind of innocent defeat at the hands of alcoholism and suicidal despair.
We cannot repeat that arc. Thank God. This is what gives us our moment of clarity.
We tend to see constraint as a negative. We tend to see “negation” as “bad.” Negative capability turns these both on their heads. It is the quality of being able to abide within questions without having to attach one’s self to an answer, simply out of impatience, from out of the insistence of our old nemesis, urgency.
Our clarity comes precisely from the closing off of naive pitfalls for us to readily jump into. We cannot avoid what we cannot see, no one ever could, but we cannot willfully run into traps that are now so clear, whose consequences have played out repeatedly and in every variation over the last centuries and longer.
Living within a relationship with complicity and contingency is not an excuse for ignorant destruction, whether directed outwards or directed towards our own organisms. That this constraint closes off numerous “avenues” for behavior as worse than non-productive gives us the freedom to turn our attention elsewhere. We don’t need to wallow in justifications either. Once we are open to the voices that direct us away from violence and towards compassion we do not need to bolster our resolve or marshal forces of consensus. We simply drop what is irrelevant and increase our acuity towards the subtle and almost silent hints that show us another way.
Krishnamurti often said, “We are not speaking of opinions here!” when someone chose to treat an opportunity for dialogue as just another titbit on a smorgasbord of available “choices.” What it appears to me he was saying was that once we are open to, and listening to, that inner compass, finding that connection with creation and creativity; we are not tossing out opinions in a bluster of negotiation without responsibility for what we say, in the expectation of “countervailing” forces. We are making statements from the heart. Our responsibility is to our own sincerity, that we maintain its health and not fall into projecting a schtick. We expect our partners to do the same, and that we shall all do what is in our capacities to follow compassion where it leads us. This may seem at first sight to be resorting to authority, either that of a sage or of some divine power from which we can wrestle some scraps of infallibility. It is neither, and this might be the most unfamiliar aspect of life outside of negotiation’s realm.
At the center of this relationship is a relationship with truth. But not any form of absolutist truth, nothing that can be turned into a means to an end to provide power within a struggle or negotiation. Truth is acknowledged as essentially a mystery beyond any complete or direct understanding – although approachable through the holographic nature of Being, through the rhymes and rhythms of Art and Craft that give us a point of contact with the whole as we relate to any part.
Through these practices we can access Mind, what Sheldrake would call the Morphic Fields perhaps. Compassion and empathy are our guides. As we exercise them we strengthen our capacities to discern their presence, or their lack, within the spheres of our interactions. Their feedback is clear, as clear, more clear, than any other claimant to such qualities. Following their leads increases Joy and brings us strength as we find new avenues of integration into wider spheres, and smaller ones too.
Our increased openness to our intrinsic vulnerabilities both increases our sensitivity to violence – we note its presence sooner, do not need to fall into its deepest clutches before responding – and we grow stronger, more able to resist its effects. We find our place. We gain confidence in and mutual trust of our own organism and recognize its strengths and capacities that extend way beyond what our conditioning leads us to expect as absolute limitations. Instead of bending, overbalanced towards or away from influences – the opinions of others – we feel the heft of sincerity flowing through us.
At this juncture we have left the smorgasbord behind. It’s there in the pauses in Krishnamurti’s speech as he takes in and absorbs a question in his dialogues with, say David Bohm. Instead of the urgency and impatience of an Ego-driven persona, eager to project a mask, we have a centered individual who waits for what he is attuned to to well up. The Shakers called something like this Grace.
But with any religious model we still do not leave the realm of negotiation, the absolute desire after an authority, and a willingness to bend to coercion even if only from some “He who is most on High.”
What is different here, from our descents into revenge or self destruction, or from our resorting to anointing a final, arbitrary, coercive authority; is that here we turn aside from all these traps and we follow a compass that at no point demands obedience.
Compassion cannot be reduced to any prescription. Any prescription evades the possibility of compassion and returns us to more of the same, what Vera Bradova has called “New wine in an old skin.”
We remain in relation to complicity and contingency. We have no promises of release or of entitlements to be fulfilled. What we receive is that we live life as we are alive. We connect with Being, and we join into the compassion within all that is. This is neither a recipe nor a program. There are no trappings to be bought, or trinkets to display.
Nothing has changed, we are still between complicity and contingency. Yet, everything has changed….