The close of this year has me once again in a curious form of free-fall, as if the inertia of past impetus is losing to the sheer force of gravity.
I tend to welcome these periods. Without the chance to notice the tug of futility it’s easy to get caught-up in enthusiasms that might entertain, but will not bear fruit.
This past year has put further focus on our need to find a space, internally and in the world, from which we can be and act. The current buzzword for this is “occupy.”
I continue to pay for an unwillingness to jump on bandwagons, though it might only seem that way. I may simply be paying for the effects of marginalization and an inability to gain effective traction. What I mean is that I continue to be unwilling to support any movements that continue to spring up and glare brightly before passing away again. I don’t believe movements are viable or something we should be looking to have. Their placement of an idea before reality and pressure to manufacture and coerce consensus to maintain that fixation on a fixed idea, no matter how broadly stated, or inclusive in its intention, is a recipe for mass delusion. The details don’t matter. There is no finding the right recipe.
Movements that do spring-up, even the manufactured ones like the visible caricatures on the right, like the Tea-party, an attempt to harness and dress-up a lot of truly deep and dark nastiness and make it palatable in a time when those behind the status quo are betting on riding a brinksmanship tight along its hairy-edge as a way to get just a few more days, weeks, months, maybe even years out of their advantages before it all comes crashing down. Notice how everyone from members of Congress to Greenpeace is happy to trade on the fear of imminent disaster for another donation, a little more reluctant allegiance to get them through another fund-raising quarter. These movements, all movements, do register a sense of the yearnings in society. However poorly they may be addressed these yearnings are real. They are facts we must contend with.
We hear a lot about how a political “spectrum” shifts. Of course what is being considered a spectrum is just a narrow section of a manageable and therefore apparently “controllable” line between two points that are supposed to delimit what is possible, let alone imaginable. As this shift has inexorably moved to the right, we tend to think this is because the right has gotten more extreme. What we fail to realize is that this was hardly possible. The hard right has been extreme all along. Its tenets have always been to carve away any other and exclude them from their conception of shared humanity so that their put-upon followers can practice their righteousness and be saved. There cannot be anything more extreme, or more consistent, if we look beneath the veneer of blandishments and self-justifying propaganda that seeks to gloss over its true heart. What’s happened is that the other “end” of this “spectrum,” the Tweedledum to their Tweedledee, has become increasingly indistinguishable from the right.
The far right, with their perfect-pitch at describing their reflection as they criticize their foes, has for a long time now characterized the left as “fascist.” The claim has become less and less ludicrous. Not for the “reasons” given by the right. To them anyone who gets in the way of their hunger for domination deserves condemnation simply for not having the good-sense to simply die and get out of their way! It’s that what the left wants is becoming harder and harder to distinguish from what the right wants. What has been passed off as the entire spectrum of what is possible is increasingly coming to resemble a single point instead of a broad difference of opinion. They all come down to an increasingly brittle demand that control be exercised. They only differ in the details, who they see at those controls, not in what the outcome might be.
A while back I saw Obama as possibly our Gorbachev. That, with this presidency, the system itself would be strained to its limits, and it would be shown that even with the best of intentions and a mandate to change, the system that produces our “leaders” would be incapable of resolving our predicaments. That this would lead to the collapse ad absurdum that the Soviet system went through after Gorbachev. Just to show how any attempt to be overly “pessimistic” will usually be outstripped by events, it is beginning to seem that Obama is more a Brezhnev than a Gorbachev. He is more a willing apparatchik than a sincere reformer, and he is working hard to formalize the extremes of his predecessors in the hope that this will solidify control in the hands of those with power. That this is met with barely a flutter of concern from a marginalized “fringe” is a sign of how the distance between right and left has closed, leaving us, what?
Space. We need space. We physically require a space to place our body and a space to act so that we can maintain ourselves. We also need a mental, emotional, and imaginative space in which to interpret our contact with reality and find ways to carry on as our needs run into constraints and the needs of others. This is perhaps our fundamental need as organisms. Hell! even mere “matter” requires space to exist, without space, it collapses into singularity, as in a black-hole, not that other neo-technic-apocalyptic fantasy of eternal “life” inside a computer….
Colonialism, not just the kind that’s been going on within Capitalism, but the kind that’s been going on since the city-state, has always been, at its heart, a struggle to destroy the agency of others so that their space can be taken as our own. As this persistent and progressive – progressive as in infection, not the ascendance towards utopia – progressive effect has worked like gravity. It is now threatening to swallow up all our available space in its voracious maw. We are left with the distinct possibility that there is no space left, although we are misled by current-events if we think the singularity of left and right is the sum of all possibility. That it is not, and never was. The trouble is that these effects are so large, so massive in numbers, that they do leave us little space, even to attempt to examine what the true limits of possibility might be.
At this year end all my concerns revolve around space and the ways in which it has contracted, even as I’ve discovered ways to tend aspects of my own needs for it. Working with the benefit of various practices that allow me to gain strength and to disillusion myself of the siren-songs of power has given me a reservoir of internal space I never had before. This has been met and effectively – if we take the condition of my ability to be useful or have influence on events is any judge – by the contraction of the space in which I can maneuver.
This contraction is both actual and perceptual. Actual in that all our room to maneuver is contracting as the status-quo continues to collapse and take social liquidity with it. This liquidity is in part what we consider “economic” constraints, though that term is now about as useful as astrology! It is also, and more importantly, the wider ways in which consent and cooperation are allotted within a society that have narrowed. Since we’ve put so much effort of late in forcing all social activity into the economic model, it is no surprise that this leaves little robustness and resilience left in any alternatives to it.
Along with these real effects there are the perceptual effects that are, in fact, a result of growing disillusionment. We are habituated to seeing this as bad news. This is good news. As we become aware that false choices are what they are and not the panaceas they are made out to be, we are actually more likely to find some way forward that has a chance of gaining traction. This comes down to leaving the optimism/pessimism pendulum behind and rediscovering what hope really entails. John Michael Greer has a good essay on this running currently, Hope in a Cold Season. This has been a central theme of mine since I began writing Shoal Hope. Unless we can peel away the accumulation of wishing that has clogged our conception of hope, we will remain in this fibril state of vacillation and spasmodic flailing we find going on all around us.
Useless vacillation is the result of double-binds. It can be the result of layered double-binds that add up to a Byzantine web of constraints and false pathways that become a labyrinth. Perhaps it’s time to shift from a mode of detection of double-binds, and a desire to avoid their traps, to the type of activity required to navigate a labyrinth.
This has only occurred to me as I write this. This is why I write. These meanderings, which I can now recognize as characteristic of labyrinth-travel, do not show their results before the fact. Without forging ahead we are stuck in vacillation and a senseless desire to choose before we can know what the choices are.
Well, this is too new to be resolved here and now. New, and at the same time, so obvious! That is the way things appear, afterwards.
But still, this does give me a new way to look at the question of space. It places the spaces available to us within a context I had not considered so directly before. Instead of wishing for a clear space in the open, we may need to accept that the space available to us are within a labyrinth. This realization is a disillusionment, with all that dynamic implies, ultimately it is a liberating result. It also requires a different attitude and mode of action. It may just allow for better traction, since it puts focus and attention on an actual condition so that we are not hobbled by the nightmares of unintended consequences as we think we are doing one thing here, while we are in fact doing something else, there.
I was going to go on to describe how the apparent open spaces of the internet were just as ephemeral and fraught as the public spaces being fought over in the Arab Spring or Occupy____ events. This is still true, as far as I can see, but now with this inkling to re-examine them as parts of a labyrinth instead of as illusory openings, I’ll hold off.
I had no sense of opening, the kind that might only be optimism, or that might actually be a sign of hope, as I began writing this. It may seem a rueful measure to celebrate this, at the end of the year, but at least for now it will have to suffice!
Welcome to the labyrinth!