What Realism…?

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.

Frederick Douglas

Looking at a history of Europe and its entry into Modernity in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries one factor stands out. The legacy that lead to Modernism was filled with internalized violence and the passing down of abusive behavior and the accumulating results of that abuse. This ranged from a propensity to look at life solely out of fear, to specific forms of abusive behavior towards children which then lead to violent outbreaks among adults who then passed on the abuse they had known. Combine this with living awash in alcohol and subject to its syndromes and we have a tremendous baggage that would have sunk any attempt to change things that failed to look at these as root problems, if not downright predicaments in their own rights.

These are manifestations of incoherence. They need to be seen as such, but they also show how deeply entrenched these types of incoherence are and how widespread and pernicious their effects.

Utopias have all foundered on the failure to realize this. Dystopias have proliferated and risk continuing and worsening because of these factors. These legacies are the fabric of our social, cultural, and even physical evolution. The effects of these institutionalized traumas extend for generations even after their causes have ceased, as can be seen in the way famine and deprivation has been shown to have physical manifestations two and three generations after the fact.

Just as the effects of pollution and habitat destruction will have long lasting repercussions, so will these forms of violence ripple through future generations even if by some miracle they were to cease overnight. These legacies all add to the Enormity of our predicament.

As with all the rest, the metaphor of battle, fighting against a ravaging enemy, a war on fill-in-the-blank; will not help. All we have to encounter any of these elements, if we are to break any of these cycles at all, is attention and compassion.

This sounds hard, or it sounds fool-hardy – depending on whether we take our situation seriously or remain trapped in bankrupt assumptions. We have striven for a very long time to carve out exceptions for ourselves when it comes to facing hard realities. Whether they have given us a relative advantage – shoving others down into poverty so as to keep our heads “above water” – or have built unassailable monsters of faith and reason to distract us from what is there. In either case we, especially in the “first and second worlds,” have been accustomed to some level of insulation from necessities that have been pushed aside and ahead until they eventually come back to roost.

This may seem like “piling on.” Adding yet more pessimistic “doomer” sturm und drang, to “bum us out.”

What abuse has taught me is that the only way to overcome it is to bring it into the light of day. In this way, I have always found the language of optimism and pessimism to be disingenuous. This is the thin edge of the great lie abusers have always hidden behind. Disillusionment does empower, or better yet, it allow us to begin to gather and feel our own strength so as to be able to look at the whole “power game” as another grand illusion.

There is nothing to be gained by glossing over the extent of our difficulties. The kind of incremental condescending path on which we are fed just enough “bad news” to make us pliable and just enough “good news” to keep us hoping; is the ploy of the manipulator. This “leadership strategy” is how we are kept off-balance and available to be used to fulfill someone else’s agenda. This extends even to the point where so many have no expectation that there can be anything else but coercion, that we are either perpetrators or victims. This has effectively closed off avenues that might lead beyond the fundamental incoherence of our conditioning.

As with the other legacies of past violence and destruction this human legacy of pain and disruption will not magically disappear. It will not disappear because we have “fought it.” It will not disappear because we have “outgrown it.” These effects are as real, and as intractable, as the chemistry of pollution or the math of extinction. We will continue to need to navigate within a world that is encumbered by their residue and the momentum of their inertia.

Our present methods of “dealing” with social strains we disapprove of is to bunch them together and label them ideologically. Then we choose to hate those who practice what we abhor and band together to decry what we hate. Such a strategy will polarize. We become impatient with that polarization and add to our enemies list. Two great hats are supposed to cover and describe all the players, “Progressives” or “Conservatives.”

The incoherence of these terms does not bother us. We expect coherence to be unattainable and lashing out is just so satisfying right this minute! That both are riddled with lies and inconsistencies is just an inflammatory way of describing their incoherence. We only have room to hear how the “other” is mistaken, not how we might be. Progressives strive after utopias and hide from a secret authoritarianism at the core of this attitude, “Something must be done!” and that usually means forcing someone to accede to our demands. Conservatives revel in their authoritarianism while hiding their hypocrisy behind their cries of hypocrisy leveled at their opponents. That all are equally deserving is not welcome news to anyone.

There will not be a transcendent moment when all these differences dissolve in mutual regard and understanding. The lag-time and the sheer volume and creativity of the kinds of mischief these outlooks can put forward beggars the imagination. Neither will the appetites to look towards doubling-down on one’s preferred pablum go away to be replaced by sober and enlightened progress or disciplined and God-fearing Liberty-defending gun-owning. Both these views will continue to plague us – although it is amazing how these tend to fall away in moments of true emergency when we see emergent behavior as it actually occurs. Though the ratcheting-up of fears of anarchy and chaos at such times make it easy for these outbreaks of coherence to be overpowered and then forgotten.

Again, this is not pessimism. This is how we arrive at clarity. Without suspending our reactions and looking at conditions for what they are we cannot arrive at clarity. We cannot find the necessity for coherence. It is only by holding our difficulties, our binds – be they double, or triple, or what-have-you – firmly in mind without falling into denials or obfuscations that we can find any traction with our situation. Without these questions we have no contact with reality.

If we ask ourselves,

“What realism?”

We need to be able to include all these factors in our reply.

Before pausing to consider all of this, I’d like to add one more concern. Somehow, a key to moving forward in regard to these and all aspects of our Enormity it is important to suspend our expectations. The offense we commonly hold against “pessimistic” appraisals is that they automatically lead us to having crippling expectations. They “breed” a negative attitude and we will be fated to find all the horrors we have unleashed in our imaginations come true. It would be better to remain ignorant, or to be “positive.”

This position is predicated on our inability to affect our expectations. This is a form of lacking proprioception. Our expectations may seem automatic, but they are subject to our control. We can suspend expectations and remain within the question. We can. We just don’t have much practice or support. But without doing this we hold ourselves prisoner to the one thing we can change without the need to manipulate some great chain of cause and effect across the outer world.

This too is another aspect of realism.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

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