The pace of my entries has faltered recently from the high of the previous six to eight weeks. There have been a variety of reasons, though most of them boil down to one concern. The need for fallow periods, times when one’s thoughts are too tentative, even jumbled, to be put together into any sort of cogent statement. To resist, or to discount this necessity is to fall prey to one of the most damaging assumptions in circulation today; that “production” is the only useful measure, and anything interfering with it is to be pushed aside. There is a tyranny to a deadline. It is one of the pernicious factors that turns professionals into hacks and therefor an underlying cause of our crises of expertise and leadership. For me to let myself fall into this trap would be to accept the hobbles of such an external imperative, with none of the perks – like getting paid to write on schedule!
In thinking about how this imperative gets so deeply lodged into our basic assumptions that it effectively takes over our efforts, even when we work to break free of such constraints and have no external compunction, I’ve been hobbled by the realization of how deep and forbidding the constraints on such a basic and potentially simple task as sitting, reading and thinking of ways to get past our ingrained assumptions, attempting to find something that is true, can be.
Once we begin to follow the threads, no matter how much we might think we know or understand about a situation, it is ultimately inescapable that a question opens out into vast new arenas and that previous efforts leave us ill-prepared to face the new challenges presenting themselves. Funny, there is a certain satisfaction in this discovery. This is exactly what one would expect to find. It verifies that the overall process is working, that “peeling the onion” does bring tears and a pile of “skins” proves that in fact we’ve been peeling an onion and not doing something else entirely! This confirmation is a powerful antidote to the irritants of impatience and worries about productivity….
If my criticism of confidence and surety as signs of hubris and misguided “optimism” have any merit, then I must accept doubt and confusion as necessary states, if one is ever to break past the merely comfortable and familiar.
One of the habits we fall into regarding periods of doubt or confusion is to hide them. There is shame attached to these “failures.” This is a mistake. I’m not talking about the “own your failures” and “be creative’ b.s. currently popular as a short-cut to some higher level of confidence and certainty; these are just attempts to be clever without risking any real change in outlook. If this is to be a document of my journey through the questions on our horizons then it’s important that I not hide away during this time.
This may come across as “mysterious,” “What is he going on about anyway?” “Is this the preamble to some great turn around?” “Is he going to recant?”
This post is essentially about a mystery, though that is no excuse for being cryptic. Neither is this a preamble to some confession of “cold-feet.” I do have a strong sense that my striving has taken me along a path that is leading away from the minutiae of frustrations and the miseries of an unexamined confrontation with the conditions that embroil us. It seems to be heading towards something too. Even my growing sense that where this is leading is not a destination is a hopeful sign.
I’ve come across two thinkers recently that have helped bring on my current state, both bogging me down and opening my mind to another level of understanding. The first is new to me, Derrick Jensen. The second, I first read some forty years ago, Jacques Ellul.
I first ran across Jensen via some of his appearances documented on YouTube. I’ve gone on to reading his first major work, Endgame, volume I. As with my belated discovery of Ivan Illich this past year, this feels like stumbling on a vast new continent. I’m excited and also a bit frightened by what I see there while I’m convinced that here is someone I need to come to grips with. I can see now where the Dark Mountain Manifesto comes to its mission of “Uncivilization.” Jensen ascribes the failures I’ve been assigning to modernist capitalist society to the existence of civilization as a whole, humanity living in cities existing by taking “surplus” from other places. He points out the overarching hubris and the violence inherent in civilization. Its people and their activities assume privilege over the needs and aspirations of the people they subjugate to get what they “need.” Couple that with the continuation of linear and constantly escalating despoliation it requires to maintain its existence with the mechanisms, the sheer depth of ingrained acceptance of the rationalizations and the violence behind this process, we are facing a most radical re-adjustment – to put it in clinically neutral terms – to not only our way of life but to the possibility of there being anything left to sustain when all these forces have played themselves out.
We’re still talking about Enormity. It takes an enormous amount of effort to even glance at these potentialities without wanting to run away and hide. But then, there’s more….
Lee Rowland, in a comment to a post on Dark Mountain, brought up Ellul. He put together a wonderful synopsis of Ellul‘s Propaganda written in 1965. As I’ve been finding of John Berger and Ivan Illich, there have been writers of the last half of the twentieth century that today appear to have been writing about our exact moment. I remember how right they seemed even then. It’s been a cause of mounting frustration over the last thirty years, watching these ideas become marginalized and effectively ignored while we squandered whatever opportunity there once was to do something transformative that would have at least softened the blows of what is coming.
In another example of synchronicity, this ongoing sense I have that as I open myself to something it presents itself from multiple directions, Jensen also talks about Ellul‘s Propaganda. – I recommend at least reading Rowland‘s short paraphrase at Dark Mountain as a start into these deep waters. I will probably write on this subject in a subsequent post.
It’s essential to continue exploring the extent of what we face, not just the external conditions that make this such a precarious time, but also to strive to grasp the factors that impinge on our own abilities to make sense of our situation and how we can move forward. In the end, it is this striving, this effort to make sense of our lives that gives us meaning, no matter what the material outcome may be.