The title to this post could be the name of a high power law firm. They could also be seen as a series of rallying cries. What I’m beginning to discover is how they are related and how they interact. And how they lead us astray.
There are many points at which an effort to focus on a different way of being and acting can founder. I’ve called this “short-circuiting” in the past. It’s similar to the way a break in an electrical circuit can spark off to ground and eliminate the current’s potential usefulness, replacing that with a bright flash, a harsh Zap!, and the potential of a lot of damage to everyone around it. Our cozy firm of I. F. R. A. & R. all behave in this manner.
Imagine attempting to run an electrical grid without an understanding of the hygiene of insulation and proper grounding required. The fireworks and arcs of current released would frighten, distract, and destroy far more than whatever meager benefits were ever accomplished. You would begin to doubt whether there was any point in even trying. Or think of surgery before any understanding of germ theory. Sure, some people survived, but that was in spite of the efforts taken to help them. We are in a similar position regarding the current state of our efforts to find a way past the collapsing paradigms all about us. We make partially successful attempts that are more often than not short-circuited by our misunderstanding of how our habitual conditioning gets in the way. It would be like touching a live wire to the tongue before hooking up a workable circuit, or wiping our surgical saws on our aprons and turning to the next patient. Habits that might be harmless for a tailor or a wood-cutter are suddenly disastrous to an electrician or a surgeon.
Let’s begin by rattling through the CV of each of our “partners.”
Innocence, as examined in this post, ends up being a projection that turns its superficial meaning and significance upside down and backwards. We are not nostalgic for a time – either in our lives or in our prehistory – when we did not know how to be bad. We are nostalgic for a time when we acted badly with no sense of having any other choice available, a condition in which we were insulated from feelings of guilt or shame because we were secure in our desperation that anything we could think of doing was OK. As with any form of nostalgia, it is a form of sentimentality. It acts to bolster cruelty and violence.
Innocence is closely related to all the other partners, nepotism at its finest!
Freedom is a dream to be without constraints. It is used as a free-floating talisman without any specific meaning attached, as a simple rallying cry that “says it all!” while not saying anything. In today’s culture, freedom stands in for frustration more than anything else. To cry for freedom is to find a valiant way to say “I’ve had enough!”
At times such a cry is the first step towards significant growth. If left unexamined, both as to what it implies, and to the ends-justify-the-means desperation it so easily descends into; is to guarantee that this projection leads to less of what might be wanted and more of what generated our frustration in the first place.
Righteousness! The Mother-of-All rallying cries! All of its partners are here to bolster and prop up this one. An intoxication of the will, it is the mechanism that blinds us to any possibility that we may be mistaken. It floods our system with the right cocktail of glandular secretions and intensifies the effects of its allies and partners so that we are willing to die for the illusion of being right.
Righteousness is close to anger, as it is to freedom. It takes whatever benefit we might gain from either and ensures that they short-circuit. As we’ve touched on, freedom does have its potential as a first step towards a rejection of domination. Anger also has its uses, as a signal of how we are upset by projections of aspects of our selves that we have not resolved. Once righteousness has taken over, there is no room for any of that. We run off with an escalating series of reactive responses that can only lead to a worsening of our situation while blinding us to what we are actually getting, “unintended” consequences.
Rage, our final partner, is the spark and flash and noise and danger set-off by the short-circuit. Rage stabilizes what would otherwise be a short and extreme emotional state and begins the process of habituating us to our addiction to going straight to the short-circuit without bothering to wonder if there might be another way. It powers our actions and ensures that we will over-reach.
Once we have identified these dangerous habits and the ways in which they lead us astray it becomes possible to see a way past them. There is a hygiene that can protect us. It starts with a realization that these are tremendously powerful forces. We cannot take them lightly. Except that we can.
Power works by fixating our attention on what it threatens or promises. While we are thus held by fear, or longing, or some combination of the two; we are incapable of seeing that neither of these is real in a subtle, yet telling way. Power gets to us by confusing our sense of what is with what might be. Since it may at some later date hurt us, or give us something we desperately crave, we lose track of the disjunction between this unattained potential and what actually is. This is why power works best as a pure threat or a promise, and begins to fall apart whenever it is actually put to use. While it is only a potential there is nothing intrinsic to it that might break its spell. Once it is put to use, the aforementioned unintended consequences pile up. The disjuncture between threat, or promise, and what actually occurs widens, and we reach a stage where it is finally impossible to miss power’s Achilles’s heel.
We are fortunate in this above all else today. The point at which we’ve reached, and the realm into which we are entering, may be the greatest period of disillusion we have ever faced. While it’s customary to see that as a “bad thing,” at least in this case it provides us with an opportunity for clarity that has also never been equaled. Power’s abilities to distract, to bait & switch, has always allowed its worship to continue through every phase-change. “The more things have changed, the more they stay the same!” That is simply no longer possible as the tipping points unleashed by our over-reach begin to toggle into place.
So the first element of our new hygiene is this realization that power’s bark is worse than its bite. None of this is to say that the wielding of power is not damaging! It is. Only it is as likely to backfire as be of use in the short-term, and it always backfires in the end. It’s not that a given wielding of power might not kill us, there is every chance that it will. But it is not true that we must be dominated by that possibility. If we can open ourselves to replacing the combination of past programming and projecting onto a “future,” we can tap into the satisfactions and Joys of the present, and inhabit the conviction that we can only gain anything by attending to what is and letting go of what was, or what might be. The first option, the option of fear, is to hold ourselves hostage to what isn’t. The second choice, the choice of now, is to inhabit, attend, savor, and cherish what is.
So, if these are powerful, then they can be avoided. We give them their dominion over us. We can deny it in the same way. Developing practices that are enlightened by this system of hygiene can prevent our blundering into short-circuits or nosocomial infections, medical newspeak for injuries caused by methods of treatment. They insulate the break that leads to ground, they break the chain of infection, by allowing us to see that we are not simply our conditioning, the sum of which appears to us as the “I” behind the thought, or feeling, or intention. This gives us the chance to attend to creativity and dialogue. As we change our habituation, at a certain point habit goes from being our enemy to being our friend. We begin to trust our instincts as they are no longer clouded by addictions and intoxications. What had seemed incomprehensible and fraught with pitfalls becomes familiar, and we enter into a new pattern of illusions – we cannot be without them! – that have reattached themselves to what is viable. Instead of finding life a minefield we wish to be extricated from, we can see it as the gift that it is. Our capacities, our strengths, increase; and we see power for what it is, not what it blusters into in a desperate attempt to convince.
Law is itself a projection. It attempts to use control over perceptions tied to the power to incarcerate or kill. Law firms deal in this false Alchemy, striving to navigate the perils of negotiation among parties with varied and unequal powers. We instinctively realize we have lost if ever we enter their purview. To turn to the Law is to admit that we have already failed. In this it is no different than our hypothetical set of partners. A fitting image perhaps, even if it’s not as catchy as “Dewey Cheatham & Howe!”