The love of the Fire-hose

The sign that we’ve arrived is to be complemented – and self-congratulating – on our capacity to “drink from the fire-hose.” The elite universities are fire-hose drinking academies. Their graduates’ claim to fame, ticket to success, that they can thrive at the fire-hose.

The Future! is always seen as a place where even greater fire-hose drinking skills will be required. Those baptized in its mysteries welcome the challenge with great optimism, bullish in their eagerness to accept an ever-stronger stream of overwhelming input.

The whole idea brings a smile, half snicker, to the kind of young man whose head is turned by being referred to, along with his closest cohorts, as “Men,” or “Gentlemen.” As any marketer of overpriced liquor can tell you, these boys love to show how they can take it.

It’s no surprise that callow youth be drawn to stunts of over-consumption, from drinking games to marathon sleep deprivation parties with an, until quite recently, highly marketable degree at the end of it and job offers from all the big firms. I guess, since this culture of initiation has been going on for so long among the self-aggrandizers, it shouldn’t be too surprising that as they “mature” they join the ranks of their elders who hold the same values, have the same fond memories….

It should also not be surprising that this culture carries a particular kind of oral fixation, that of “ramming down throats.” From GOP “Talking-Points” on almost any topic, all with the theme of how the powerful are oppressed by those whose survival might get in the way of increasing their power and privilege; on to the recent case of “DSK” – from shadowed power-broker to newly “branded” poster-child of the oppressed and put upon – whose equally unsurprising rise from perp-walk to oak-paneled ease is dripping with the imagery of the fire-hose and rammed throats.

All of this is mere record-keeping of the ways and wiles of self-aggrandizing power elites. They’ve behaved this way since they stepped out of the shadows and took their brazen, antisocial pathologies on the rampage we know as civilization. What’s important is to keep in mind that this is an aberration.

Sacred” has been thrown at us as an excuse and a rallying cry by the fire-hose brigade for so long that we tend to forget it ever meant anything. It did, and it does. It has an irreducible connection to that which maintains life. We know it when we see it, we recognize its breech with an instinctive reaction of shame.

The displaced manic activities encompassed by the fire-hose drinking mentality seem to be driven as much by a buried shame as by anything else. The need to maintain a fever-pitch of stimulation just always beyond what can be managed, as well as the bubbling-up of the shadows in direct and indirect violence to themselves and to others, make sense if we see the whole pattern as a reaction to a buried shame.

The result is an intoxication. Not the joyous and freeing intoxication of a Dionysian cult of the mysteries, but the grueling and frantic intoxication of an addict hiding from his life.

We all see the connection between the “rise” of civilization and the cultivation of grains. We go directly to bread and on up the ladder of progress. We tend to forget about beer, and spirits.

Before anyone goes off thinking this is a gambit for Prohibition, I’ve spent years of my life writing about the traps of Prohibition and the cycles of “unintended” consequences that are enchained to it. Recognizing the existence of a historical connection between a culture of intoxication and its repercussions is not the same as campaigning to outlaw a certain kind of behavior. This feeds back into the discourse on striving and intention and is beyond what I’d like to cover today. Suffice it to say this isn’t about taking away your beloved pint or glass of Merlot.

There is a direct connection between shame and intoxication. Understanding how this works, and simply that it is at work as a major motivator for so much of what is clearly pathological about our culture helps clarify what might otherwise remain a mystery. Another “advantage” of having been raised in a Schizophrenogenic household under the shadow of alcoholism is an awareness and deep abiding experience of the way the simplest direct connections remain hidden in plain sight while under the spell of a pathology, whether as a practitioner or as its victim. In continuing a tally of what shouldn’t be surprising, that this is true of our perception of the grand shakers and movers – even in face of all the evidence – is just not that big a surprise.

Nothing written here will ever break the chains of confidence and intoxication that wed these great men to their actions. They will go on as they have been – and if the history of addiction is any guide – they will continue in their destructive and self-destructive behavior until their final breaths. The enticing promise of their “doing better” or “changing their ways” no more likely than that of any unrepentant addict. Just another part of the “family” pathology that maintains us all in the thrall of such parties and their ways.

One of the hardest things to achieve in breaking free of these relational compulsions is to recognize the unchanging character of the pathology and at the same time to realize that we are free to walk away from it. That there is a chain that binds us internally to the shame – even when we are too young and truly innocent to have any culpability. The drama of intoxication holds the victims as well as the perpetrators so long as they allow it to maintain power over them. Its power – not its effects – is a case of misunderstood proprioception. As with any form of our mental, and physical conditioning, it can be set aside.

On the other side of this divide is the capacity for joy. This is perhaps the capacity the fire-hose attempts to compensate for in its toxic mimicry.

Joy is connected to disillusionment in just this kind of way. The pressures, the damming/damning effects of a pathological response are lifted as we illuminate the illusions that maintain it and into the space freed of its toxic mimics joy floods in.

To follow-on with the pathologies of intoxication, one of its refuges is the insistence that all is being done for “our own good.” That if the drama was abandoned we would fall into chaos and that we are ungrateful to question the motives of our “protectors.” “The world is a terrible place and we are all that stand between you and your silly notions and a fate worse than death!”

We tend to be caught in the layers of embedded double-binds this situation holds us in. An incredulous persistent belief that “If only they knew!” They would reform and “We’d all be a happy family again!” is one of the hardest illusions to let go of. There is a mirroring immaturity to that of the grand “boys” in our holding onto an infantile sense of a “need” to be taken care of. That there are refuges of peace and security that can be bought, at whatever cost.

This folds us all into the same bargain that drives the fire-hose boys. Power will save us. Power can forge a haven from life’s contingencies. Power can insulate us from any danger.

None of this is true. Habit, fear, and layers of illusion hold us in that state of denial and arrested development as surely as it does DSK. For us it’s the shame of complicity. It is as potent as the shame of an active guilt in the breaking of the sacred.

Guilt. I suspect that in the more direct, and less perceptually overwhelming, world before the fire-hose; guilt, along with shame and the experience of the sacred, was qualitatively as well as quantitatively different. A persistent clue to this has been available to us in accounts of the way Native Americans on first contact with European invaders tended to have a mixture of wonderful innocence and an incredulity at the existence of such insanity as what they saw in the behavior and attitudes of the “explorers.” Not that there could be pathologies like these, but that they had been allowed, not only to persist, but to dominate a whole people. They had a “healthy” impatience towards the adepts of such a mania, and once they reached a conclusion about what they faced they would do whatever they could do rid the world of this insanity. They suffered no qualms of misplaced guilt, the kind we suffer in Baroque elaborations each taking a truism, however abstracted, and conflating into it a payment for all the guilt of action and omission we suffer under.

The Native American’s tragedy, our tragedy, was, and continues to be, that the aggrandizers are overwhelming in their numbers – including aspirants, allies and fellow-travelers – and their power to inflict damage and to “defend” their persons has only grown. Our difficulties in the face of this disease have only been compounded by intervening events. That so many have failed to put this genie back in the bottle throughout what victors have chronicled as “history” only underscores how intractable the situation is for us today.

All of this is equally part of our necessary disillusionment. There is no “ghost dance” that will restore what’s been lost. No Geronimo will defeat them in battle.

What’s lost in the hyperventilated frenetic of the fire-hose is that upon accepting the intractability and fatal consequences of our condition we are left with the same questions as before. There is Shoal Hope in that. We still have to come up with ways to fill our days. To act as witnesses to what is unfolding, and to open ourselves to the possibilities of creation that, while not a panacea, can affect deep changes in how the world goes on.

Intoxicants abound and their adepts will entice us with the advantages of maintaining a level of imbalance that covers up the lacks and losses, the shame of our condition. Urgency, along with the false-promises of striving and intention continue to beckon.

Our choice is to abandon the shame of our complicity and open ourselves to what is on the other side of all the rationalizations for maintaining our victim-hood. To begin, let’s leave the thrall of the fire-hose to those who cannot let go. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you have loosened its grip, or had it torn from your grasp. You’ve some inklings that this is at least a survivable condition! It’s “small beer!” But it is a place to start. There is everything out there beyond that unrelenting flow.

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