There is a persistent delusion behind the fevered activities of the state. As our predicament deepens it acts as an accelerant as it focuses the attentions of the most powerful among us to act in increasingly destructive ways. Simply stated it is the expectation that exceptionalism can be maintained in any meaningful way as we continue into a future in which global warming, extinctions, and depletion of the means of existence loom ever greater. It cannot. This is the greatest failure of imagination of our time. It rivals and will surpass the failures that led to our arrival at this point, and they will, if not corrected, take us into even more extreme difficulty than would otherwise be. Considering the range of probabilities we can glimpse from here, this is a harrowing outlook indeed.
Throughout the life of this blog I’ve written on the mechanisms that lead us into and keep us within delusional thinking from a variety of perspectives. These mechanisms act upon us individually and they add up to forces that act on us en masse through our social and cultural conditioning. As each of us looks for ways to come to grips with our realities we do face the result as yet another layer of intractable forces that surge through the turbulent waters we must navigate. These factors begin with our personal abilities and limitations. On top of those are the results of our personal conditioning, the blind-spots we simply cannot see, along with the traps we barely glimpse just before, or while, we fall into them again and again. On the other end of this spectrum are the physical limits of our existence on a severely depleted world – and yes! this is the ONLY world available to us. Here we have the basic economics of the biosphere, extremely strict for any form of life even at the best of times, compounded by the results of all the damage we have inflicted and continue to inflict as extinction and depletion spiral to extreme levels.
In light of this sobering prospect, to say the least, our best and brightest – remember, the term was not meant ironically when originally minted. It was the shining self-regard of the vanguard of neoliberalism as its first failures began to pile up even as their efforts and their influence was gaining hegemony over the world. In light of what we face, it is a source of amazement and dread to see how impenetrable our predicament is to these so-called intelligent minds unable to fathom its deepest implications. A bedrock belief in their own cleverness perhaps, along with personal histories in which everything they’ve ever desired, and more, has always come when called, holds their attention on the level of gadgets and tweaks and gaming the “system” so that they are seemingly unable to imagine their own fates as entwined with those of every other being on this world they continue to harry and destroy.
Just as they would scoff at the idea that stories are more important than power in affecting how we live our lives, if you scratch the surface of these technocrats you will find an uncritical acceptance of some of the most naive and infantile fantasies. Idiots with high I.Q.s blushing over their fondness for Star Trek, and before that John Wayne, and before that Buck Rodgers. Always another new frontier in which the naive and naked Ego could brandish its weapons and overcome all adversaries and never have to admit to its pathetic limitations and the need to grow up.
We’ve traced all this before. The way in which the desire for power erodes our strengths, leaving us unable to resist as we seek ever more power to counter our sense of increasing weakness. If we consider the root form of corruption to mean decay, the old saw about absolute power becomes more than just a trite saying intended to admonish children to behave nicely.
The Ring? We are surrounded by stories holding this truth at their heart in some way, yet those who have the most to gain by changing, and who threaten us all increasingly by holding their courses, are seemingly immune to their warnings. They are “too busy!” perhaps. They have “important responsibilities!” They are “too smart for all that to apply to me!” Always, we return to their underlying belief in their own exceptionalism. There will always be an advantage they can wrest from existence that will keep someone else, something else, between them and the raw naked edge of extinction.
I learned to swim by growing up in the water. I was unbelievably fortunate – in some ways – to have grown up on a beach where the waves were never too strong and the water, while chilly, was never too cold – during the summer season – to keep me out from as far back as I can remember. I was also not well supervised – that might be the current euphemism for it! I toddled off into the water and spent day after day in it year after year. At some point I began floating, at a later date I began propelling myself along. I was swimming. There was little instruction, at least proportional to the time involved. I do have flashes of someone holding me face out of the water lying on my back and letting me experience the foundational insight of swimming, that our bodies will float if we relax and learn to tolerate water in our ears and sloshing across our faces. This came to me as a great mystery finally revealed! It joined many other small miracles in a life of exploration along a shore brimming with a natural abundance and over topped by a clean sky with pinks and greens in the sunsets before the rusty orange mantle spread across my horizons and filled our skies.
I suppose if one can force others to hold them up they don’t ever have to learn such lessons or tolerate even such minor discomforts as that. Vulnerability, “It’s a suckers game!” At least that’s what I imagine the powerful might say. Everything is a game to them. And they take their games very seriously…. That’s a funny inversion, isn’t it? Why not just take life seriously on its own merits? Of course that is a choice the powerful must make as a price of admission. We must choose one, we cannot juggle both of these views at one time, and unless we are ruthless gamers we will never get to those positions of power. It is definitely a self-selecting clad! Perhaps this is the source of all the rituals of exclusivity that fill their lives as they sacrifice to the gods what brought ’em.
Opposition, us/them, us?
So far this has been more of the same, a litany of amazement and disappointment at the situation we find ourselves in. It’s a fine edge to navigate, this riding along critiquing what we find without getting trapped into just another binary opposition. On the other side, we can fall into a too facile universalism. “We are all in this together!” It’s true, but what do we do when a significant proportion of actors and those the most potent, spend all their efforts on making things worse?
Still, there’s more clear air, to use a sailing term, on the side of universalism than in propping up outrage and falling into yet anther opposition of us versus them. After all, who is “us? Who them?
Yes, there is a tremendous difference in degree and qualities between those of us within the global five percent, and those in the top .001% or fewer who have tremendous puissance in this world. Their world is different. They don’t just imagine an unfettered will, they actually experience it on a regular basis throughout their days. When this will runs up against a limit they probably think it’s personal. Probably even know, or can easily find out, “who is to blame.” The rest of us form an uneven layer below them as a buffer between their lives and the lives of poverty of the majority. Some of us imagine ourselves “on the way up!” Others imagine ourselves “in solidarity” with the world’s poor more or less. These are interesting fictions mostly as they play into keeping things on our present course.
I’ve recently come across a blog, DARPA Dreaming. A wonderful, and chilling, example of the potentialities available to us today. Here is a bright young outsider writing cogently about our military’s obsessions and insane behaviors at a level that is probably head and shoulders above any analysis those infinitely deep pockets can pay for. It’s free, just follow the link.
DARPA is where our power elites go to dream! The nightmares concocted there end up infecting our realities quite directly as they work their way through the military industrial pipelines. They also infect the imaginations of the powerful and act directly upon them. In one way they reflect the worldview of their paymasters, and then they also extend and flesh out their deepest fears. It is the deepest ID to the all-consuming Ego of the powerful.
A side thought on what we mean by imagination, and what it could actually mean. Conditioned by generations of getting our way at the head of Empires and fueled by abundant cheap fuels we have come to think that imagination is an untrammeled fantasy. Then we take this as being the first step towards bringing these freaks of whimsy to life. This is how Disney and GE both see it. From here we get the idiocy of “Innovation!” “Remember there are no bad ideas!” “If we can imagine it we can build it!” And other such freaks and horrors rushing up out of the chasms where brutality and sentimentality meet.
In my life imagination has meant the capacity to see how badly things can end up if certain paths are followed. Imagination is what it takes to stop a “good thing!” before it goes bad, and before its momentum makes it too difficult to stop at all. This is what is meant by a failure of imagination. To crank out yet another idiotic futuristic manipulation and not see the inevitable results of its “unintended” consequences is a lack of imagination.
DARPA may be our current system’s “greatest success!” At least no one involved with it can claim it is underfunded, or that it is interfered with in any way. Those there get whatever they want. All the systems of elite education and preferment should lead our best and brightest right through its doors. Yet, when they get there, what are they focusing their prodigious capacities and sharpest attentions on? How to continue gaming reality and populating the delusional illusions of its masters?
Corruption isn’t a “cop on the take.” Corruption is decay. Rampant corruption is rampant decay. These failures of imagination are directly linked to this corruption. Honesty – not as seen from a moralistic point of reference, as when we are speaking out of some purity of naiveté, but honesty as a search for truths that cannot be found in any other way – requires that its practitioners are free and without the “moral hazards” of incentives to spout back just what is expected of them.
Ruling elite! You are wasting your money! DARPA and its like will not save you!
I imagine myself shouting this from the rooftops. It may be just as Quixotic as “occupying” some square footage of ravaged ground in some city, but at least it is honest. It is true, and does not stand on the proliferation of yet another opposition, and one at that that voluntarily takes up the language of the oppressor, thereby giving it a legitimacy it would not otherwise have.
Instead of protesting to be let into the club. I’d rather point out that the club is not worth joining. That those in the club, so intent on their self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, are self-deluded into thinking their machinations will do them any good. Just to be clear Oh powerful ones! This is not a threat! It is only a disinterested, honest observation. You are drowning as you seek out a fictional security. Couldn’t you be using all in your powers some other way?