This question is asked by John Michael Greer in a reply to a comment on his most recent post.
He has been slogging through the log-jam of our cultural resistance to abandoning the bi-polar insistence that we are bound either to Heaven or Hell, Utopia or dystopia. That if we cannot have our heart’s desire then the whole thing must go up in flames or die out in some horrible, quick manner that satisfies our sense of aggrieved disappointment.
I agree that this is one of the greatest impediments to any sort of meaningful dialogue about, well, about anything that matters.
More generally, we are caught in habits of expectation that make it nearly impossible to avoid clashing with each others projections, or grunting noises of meaningless approval at those we expect agree with our own particular grab-bag of likes and prejudices.
In a way, I can begin to see the genuine shock and surprise that just might be occurring to political elites around the world faced by the Summer of ’13. Duran Adam is not playing the game.
What we are surrounded by on scales large and small is a series of encounters between those a bit less ensnared and those whose momentum has them careening full-speed at their image of an expected, desired future.
This is the challenge of this moment.
We have options.
The most likely scenarios, the ones backed by tremendous inertia, involve our confronting each other in opposition. This is the “dream scenario” of the elites. The one they bank on. The one they spend a tremendous effort in propaganda at all levels of sophistication and cunning deceit to ensure. It is one that needs only the barest whiff of contact with evidence.
We are so well primed to read the descent from a peaceful demonstration to a police riot as “the forces of order re-imposing normalcy against rising chaos.” All it takes are a few agent-provocateurs in face-masks smashing windows or throwing Molotov cocktails for most people, that is our media-driven perception of what “most people” might mean, to think rioting police on a rampage of fear-induced violence against the people they nominally are sworn to protect and serve is not what it most certainly is and is what most benefits their uneasy masters.
We are currently reaching a level of cognitive dissonance over these disruptions of “democratic principles” so that even the a-political find it hard to avoid that these are not “bugs in the system, but its features.” Elites are self-perpetuating and have no underlying loyalty to any principals beyond their self-preservation. As they see it.
Such injustice! Certainly it is all the justification we need to join battle?
Here we confront the paradox of justice. For throwing our selves at this fight will not end suffering.
Our conditioned reactions to suffering hold us in this trap. By fighting we are truly joining with the reactionary forces. We justify their projections. We energize them by our resistance. And, in the end, they have the greater weapons….
Perseverance! The perennial council of the revolutionary. “We may suffer and die a lost cause, but someday…!”
And so we are folded back into the oh-too-familiar pattern of history. We make inevitable that which we oppose because we insist that our reactions to conditions are more important than affecting any real change.
This goes so much deeper than we care to imagine. This process is so internalized….
For organisms, and creatures in a prehuman world, habit bolsters survivability. The forces of habit are allied with instinct. Together, they bring whatever wisdom is available to such creatures to bear on their existence from moment to moment.
Our condition is different.
At a certain point. Christian Ford posits a plausible candidate about 6,000 years ago, human cultures began to exploit human beings as just another resource, just another crop. We, following the wording of the winners in this struggle – for they have made of human life a struggle and they have been victorious – call it civilization. Another, perhaps more useful term would be domestication. Along with wheat and cattle, these people began to domesticate each other.
Domestication is the development of a new layer of habit that runs counter to instinct. It uses the imbalances of precarious states, their prolongation, the replacement of a homeostasis punctuated by moments of terror with some form of habituated continual emotional precarity punctuated by transient moments of reactionary release. The domesticated creature huddles and obeys and can be exploited because its experiences, its expectations, are that life is a constant threat that can only be alleviated by obedience. And salvation, the bait & switch substitute for sufficiency in the moment, is the carrot to match the stick of imposed terror.
A herd of wild beasts and a flock of sheep are not the same. A herd stays together out of instinct in part as a response to the pressures of predation. A flock is held together by ritualized terror coupled with an illusion of safety promised by its masters and enforced by their domesticated pseudo-predators.
Life in a herd is whatever it is. Moments of joy, pleasure, satiety, punctuated by instances of panic and fear. These subside. Life goes on. Within the flock this does not happen. The more fully domesticated it is the more likely that the moments of peace and living within a flow of experience is dominated by a pressure of ritualized violence that turns life’s instincts to the service of its master’s agenda and away from the organism’s own interests.
Our habits have been domesticated. We have achieved levels of domestication-led dependence and learned-incapacity that have reached levels rarely seen before. Certainly not at this absolute scale. We are at a point at which such a great percentage of the earth’s biomass is caught-up in this project of human domestication that it now rivals the total biomass as its pressures bring much of its environs into collapse along with it.
If we ignore how conditioning binds us to this project and continue to react, as this conditioning has made it habitual for us to do so, we have no chance at all of doing anything substantive.
As part of our domestication process we have internalized a ritualization of something called “wildness.” This ritual, commodified, has been turned into a reactionary fetish. The most popular strain, growing out of Romanticism and 19th Century avant-gardisme, crested in the 1960’s and has since become a hide-bound tradition. It parallels the domesticated, “civilized” narrative about the natural world, whatever that means.
In both cases, the domesticated – we tend to prefer the term civilized, looking only at our most laudable achievements – call everything else, Wild. Savage. Barbarian? These straw-men, stereotypical characterizations of the non, or un-civilized, are then “acceptable” outlets. We can understand something, someone, strange if we can apply this label. Then, of course, this caricature of thought, reductivist labeling itself, is a symptom, a facilitating behavioral habit of domestication.
This process is self-reinforcing. It is one of the bulwarks of this culture’s virulent robustness. One of the reasons why a system that is so obviously deadly and destructive is so hard to change. As with the Titans of old, it eats its own young.
Expectation has again reared its ugly head. Any attempt to break the chain is siphoned-off into “rebellion.” And we all know what that means, even when we choose to ignore its implications. Every rebellion replaces one set of masters with another.
I’ve mentioned momentum and inertia. We have expectations of what these terms mean. Not only in physics, but in a social context. We strive after gaining momentum. We celebrate the occasion when inertia is finally on our side, “Our desire is in alignment with the inevitable progression of history!” Well, maybe not in those words…. But every cry of solidarity, every tear shed, every catch in the throat at an orchestrated event designed to manipulate our civic emotional responses, banks on our expectation that, finally, “This way to our Utopia!”
There has been a realization growing in me as a result of practicing Qi Gong that has only today begun to resonate clearly with our topic. It has to do with momentum, with inertia.
In Qi Gong, one of the best ways I’ve found to explain why we move the way we do. Why motion is stripped of purpose and repeated over and over. Why it is accomplished at a pace that approaches stillness. Is that we move without momentum. When we do this our organism enters a different relationship with our intentionality. A deeply ingrained habit of domesticity is the rupture between our organism and our will. Our intentionality has tyrannized our organism. This is the arena of the internalization of our domestication. This has broken our organism’s trust that its “driver” has its/our best interests at heart.
When we move without purpose beyond carrying out a form as smoothly and evenly as we can. When we move at a pace that does not allow momentum and inertia to take over. We signal to our organism that we will not put it into harm’s way capriciously. We signal that we are concerned with discovering and strengthening and extending the limits of our balance, our vitality, our range of motion without expecting our organism to pay the price of our willful, heedless excesses.
When we move in such a manner our organism is allowed to do what it does. We stop “doing things twice.” We also allow the organism and its instincts the time and capacity to modify or stop any motion before it takes us out of balance, overcomes our vitality, or breaks past our capacities for range of motion. This bond of trust with our selves is the source of the vitality Qi Gong awakens in us.
What struck me today was how this quality is lacking in our social interactions.
Ego, in its usual fit of pique at any limitations that might threaten its rule, insists that unless we drive with “passion,” with power, with momentum on our side, we are not trying hard enough. We find it so hard to resist this ploy.
Ego, the unrestricted reactionary force of emotion without proprioception, is another symptom. A driver of the chronically precarious state of our domestication. When an organism is kept under these stressful conditions it will react in this way. It is a dis-ease.
What would it mean to interact socially without momentum? And, here, by social, I mean any form of interaction with others.
You see, there is no other way to avoid the tyranny of expectation than to dissolve our attachment to it.
We tend to see this sort of thing, as most often we come into contact with some form of bastardized Buddhist concepts of detachment, as kind of crazy. How can “letting go” be anything but some kind of trick?
It is through direct participation in a practice that helps us counter the effects of habit and our stressed, distorted instinct that we can begin to see what is involved. We cannot get there by theorizing. Nothing replaces direct experience. The entire expectation that direct experiences can be replaced by abstractions is another symptom and driver of our condition.
Let’s return to JMG’s reader’s desire. We insist history has a direction, either “positive” or “negative,” because we are enslaved to expectation. We have been domesticated. We no longer know how to behave without a plan. An imposition from whatever source, internal or external, that will eliminate the need for us to do what we at some level recognize we are so ill-equipped to handle.
These are the chains that tie us to this system. They tie jailor and prisoner equally. They distort and pervert ruler and subject. No one is free.
This is why I suggested we have pity for the powerful. They are pathetic. They are so invested in their own domestication they are incapable of seeing they are instruments of our destruction.
At least our pity disarms the expectation so easily met if we respond with anger to their fear.
But, what if we take this further? The only way past division, distinguishing others so as to create oppositions, is to discover a commonality deeper than any notion of consensus can ever touch.
If we accept that our condition is a result of a breakdown between habit and instinct as a result of our self-domestication, we can recognize there is no other in opposition. We are all together. Not in some horrid sentimentality of “benevolence” misplaced, but in palpable fact.
This can only be perceived within direct, individual experience. Something like this may have affected those exposed to Duran Adam? This may be what we see on the faces of demonstrators and police sitting down together in São Paulo?
In any case, this needs space to develop beyond, outside moments caught in deep precarity in the midst of old-style confrontation. This needs to be nurtured, given a chance to develop and build.
This, in the end, is only another paraphrase of what it means to enter into dialogue. Of course, it is essential, if we are to avoid the institutionalization of dialogue. If we are to continue to find relevant ways that touch our direct concerns.
How can the school that is not a school, come into being in a way that embodies and builds upon these insights?
We need to learn how to do so many things. As this era of inflated expectations, of monsters of reason fueled by a coincidence of easily extracted, seemingly unlimited sources of energy playing out at a point just before the hard boundaries of physical limits have come into play, bringing us to an inevitable catabolic collapse; we are at our weakest point. This almost total reliance on power, on the tricks of self-domestication that have led to our fragmentation has left us so poorly prepared on every level for what is to come.
But it is not enough to school ourselves in techniques. Unless we also teach ourselves. Give our selves experiences to counter this disruption between habit and instinct. We will not have done anything to break free of our greatest difficulties.
What we teach. What we learn, need be inextricably bound within practices that re-attach our habits to our instincts.
Only then, will we have anything to counter these desperate desires for historical trajectories. And, as history has repeatedly shown us, when we fail to deal with our demons internally, we are forced to confront them externally as Fate.
Most people, if JMG’s experience is any guide, will short-circuit at some point as they read this. Expectation will trump open-mindedness. Straw-men will rise before their eyes and block any possible understanding of what is being said. This is further evidence of how much we need this. Just as it shows us how difficult this truly is.
This is not a call for agreement. A search for consensus. For anything like this to work it requires those participating to set-aside these crutches. The wider the net, the more disparate the past experiences and the capacities and limitations of those involved, the stronger the result.
Sometimes, just finding a way to ask for the seemingly impossible is the hardest step to take….