“We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance,
For as the players tried to take the field,
The marching band refused to yield. […]
And in the streets, the children screamed,
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed,
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.”
-Don McLean, “American Pie”
It’s hard for me to believe it, but Saturday is the winter solstice. Saturday!
Think back to that wondrous time when we encountered adventure and near-death on our titular mountain to commemorate the June solstice, the longest day. That was both ten minutes and several lifetimes ago. Such is the passage of time.
We’ve traveled an entire solar year, one trip around the sun, and now it’s like a collective reunion between us and this magical day where the light stops falling and starts to rise again.
Now we’re here, and what’s great is that this is now our second winter solstice on this journey together. We’ve traveled an entire solar year, one trip around the sun, and now it’s like a collective reunion between us and this magical day where the light stops falling and starts to rise again.
Only the passage of years can grant us a body of recorded experience through time. It’s not much to begin with, but the ability to compare the present with the sentiments and efforts we chronicled a year ago informs our celebrations with regard to what works. Whether or not we succeeded in our attempts at celebration or, just as importantly, in our quest for sufficient rest and renewal during this time last year informs the way we’re going to go at it this year.
But just as the truth of history is not found solely in accurate chronologies, the truth of a year cannot be found solely in a collection of events.
Earlier today, I took a straightforward look the expectations versus the reality of 2013. But just as the truth of history is not found solely in accurate chronologies, the truth of a year cannot be found solely in a collection of events.
Left hanging in the air as this year draws to a close is a confession: I do faith. I say do instead of have, because it seems like such a vice. There are many reasons I don’t talk about much, but as wizard I try to cultivate an environment of open sincerity. As this year draws to a close, whether I like it or not, I’ve been left with little beyond a small and feeble yet potent and all-encompassing faith.
The thing I’ve always disliked most about Buddhism is its fundamental premise, which very crudely boils down to the notion that existence is equivalent to suffering, therefore we should work tirelessly to escape existence and be rid of the suffering. I say that life involves suffering – who could deny it? – but saying life is just suffering takes it to such an extreme that it’s essentially suicidal in a very unique way, one that goes beyond self-loathing and veers into life-loathing. I don’t loathe life. Even when I have a difficult time of things – which is, let’s be honest, most of the time – I dig life.
To be a sentient being is a very rare and weird thing in this universe. Even if there are all kinds of other aliens all over the place that we don’t know about, conscious life is still but the tiniest fraction of the components in a nearly incomprehensible universe. Of all the stuff that exists in the universe, we who are alive are the only ones who know about it. To me, that makes our position a pretty lucky one.
It means loving your fate – not just recognizing it, tolerating it, abiding it, or even accepting it, but looking it in the face, seeing it for what it is, and loving every bit of it. It’s knowing that even the bad stuff is good.
When it comes down to it, my highest ideal state is quite different. It lies in the notion of amor fati, something Nietzsche (among others) talked about. It means loving your fate – not just recognizing it, tolerating it, abiding it, or even accepting it, but looking it in the face, seeing it for what it is, and loving every bit of it. It’s knowing that even the bad stuff is good. Don’t think I’m at that point – I’m not sure I’ll ever truly get there – but it helps to keep in mind that everything is part of a bigger picture.
I believe in free will, and I firmly believe in committing oneself to action that advances one’s causes in harmony with one’s values. Even if I didn’t believe in free will, I’d still believe in the very same commitment to action. You might as well be righteously defiant about it, right?
Still, so many factors of our existence are, if not predetermined in a technical sense, strongly predisposed by historical, societal, and economic factors. These predispositions are strong enough that they limit the parameters within which our free choices have influence. Our control, in other words, can only be exerted on the slimmest slice of our world.
I grow increasingly concerned with the future conditions of the biosphere that sponsors us living things. I have long accepted inevitable future disaster and, accordingly, I’ve spent years putting the issue from my mind. Sometimes, I feel like I’m carrying such a heavy load I couldn’t possibly add one more thing, especially something I’ll never change.
There’s still no way for me to block out the information, and it seems like I’ve been directly confronted with a lot of it lately. I really don’t want humans to go extinct. I don’t want my kids to survive until middle age yet want to off themselves every day because staying alive sucks. At the same time, the full weight of those historical, cultural, and economic predispositions is stacked against any possibility of us changing course.
Christmas Card Break:
Now, back to the program.
If you couldn’t tell from my political posts, I very much believe in the existence of villains – and, occasionally, of heroes and champions. When you go too deep into this line of thinking, you risk turning devotion to crusade and mindfulness to jihad.
I can’t help, though, at least getting into that a little bit. It’s also a mistake to lay the blame for absolutely everything on insurmountable impersonal forces. Most of us lack much influence over our surroundings or even other people, so it’s easy to forget or deny that powerful people are real. Those people can make decisions that affect millions or billions. Those people can make decisions that affect the fate of our existence on this planet.
“How long shall they kill our prophets
While we stand aside and look?”
-Bob Marley, “Redemption Song”
It should be particularly clear since the Reagan Revolution and subsequent economic decimation of the vast majority of the American populace that the powerful pursue ends that are directly unfavorable to the course of our life stories. It should be clear by the fact that a powerful national (ultimately global) mobilization, the same kind we’ve done before to fight wars, could be undertaken. If we pulled together and did it, we mitigate some of the worst effects of our biosphere-rape. Possibly, we could save the human beings, possibly this is the only hope for the human beings – and nooooobody’s even talking about it. It doesn’t exist within the discourse. That’s not accidental. That’s not decided by historical trends and economic principles alone. The people who have the influence required to make it happen continue to allow most technological research to be devoted toward the profitable fancy adult toy design game instead of toward figuring out a way to distribute adequate resources to a growing planet full of people that will face some climate catastrophe no matter what.
Some of them do it passively, choosing merely against lifting a hand. But there are those out there who are actively and intentionally pursuing this kind of self-destruction. That is what “evil” is. It’s not an abstraction. It’s a person whose choices directly lead to the destruction of wide swaths of people, in the present and in the future.
They’re the same people who are willing to kill or depose any president who threatens the status quo with too much peacemaking or economic reform. They’re the ones willing to kill or depose any popular leader who threatens to derive from the energy and enthusiasm of the common people a level of power that even begins to approach their own. I believe in prophets, and I believe there are others who would kill prophets as a matter of policy.
Whether or not it’s possible for individuals or small groups of people to push back against history, culture, and economics, people can be fought by people. What crushes me at the end of this year is the sense that the bad people, the market idolaters, the prophet-killers, the war mongers always seem to be winning.
The purpose of mythic narratives is the same purpose behind this lengthy expression of annual impressions – there are times when truth diverges from fact, when significance is discernibly different from detailed chronology. — All that is to say that I see the human condition as one in which the forces of good have occasion to rise up at rare moments within striking distance of perhaps pulling even or taking the lead in this monumental struggle for the soul – and bodies – of humanity. So far as I can see, the last time this happened, the last time there were people in America actually on the right track, doing the thing thing, was the 1960s. That shit got crushed, and we’ve never recovered, even after nearly half a century.
We were never really winning, even then, but now it seems we’re not even in the game. The entire setup of our present is predicated on that colossal spiritual, economic, and cultural defeat. Many of us good light spirits (if I may call myself that) occupy a position in society not unlike that of the American south – a defeated, humiliated, and disgraced rebel mini-nation.
The church bells all are broken.
That weighs on me. It weighs heavy. It weighs even heavier because I’m inescapably weakened, tired as all hell from loss and grief and unemployment.
“Just a box of rain,
Wind, and water,
Believe it if you need it –
If you don’t, just pass it on.
Sun and shower,
Wind and rain,
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame.
And it’s just a box of rain;
I don’t know who put it there.
Believe it if you need it,
Or leave it if you dare.
But it’s just a box of rain,
Or a ribbon for your hair –
Such a long long time to be gone,
And a short time to be there.”
– Robert Hunter, “Box of Rain” (perf. by the Grateful Dead)
It’s better to have no faith than to have too much. People who have none and need none base their disposition on reason and evidence. On the other hand, those whose faith veers into the territory of certitude typically exhibit signs of madness.
Just as I solemnly believe in personal righteous action regardless of whether or not free will is a comforting illusion, faith should also never serve as an excuse for inaction, negligence, or indifference.
Yet I have faith, and I’m left now humbled and tired but with it glowing inside of me. What is its nature, and does it hold any meaning beyond a comforting placebo for a weary soul?
I have faith that everything we know and everything we don’t know together comprise a larger total whole. That’s called the universe. It’s not controversial, but it’s still, for me, an article of faith.
I have faith that every pendulum, once having swung fully in one direction, will always swing back in the other.
I have faith that, just as planets and stars and comets and solar systems and galaxies all travel in circles, that we do, too. If we’re lucky enough that somehow humanity doesn’t go extinct, moving on from this low point will mean a rise in motion into a better phase on the cycle. I have faith that it’s at least possible.
I have faith in kin and clan and tribe. I advocate an ultimate society in which all of these forms are broken down in favor of a universal egalitarian unity among people, but I have faith that there is power in those bonds and ties to assist us in the navigation of these present treacherous waters.
I have faith that empires fall. Babylon fell, Greece fell, Rome fell, Britain fell, and America will fall. The whole of Western Civilization will fall. When empires fall, it involves calamity, but now it might just result in the kind of drastically curtailed carbon-blasting that might save our asses. The fall is inevitable, the question is only whether it will happen in time.
I have faith that things could turn out all right. The odds are against it, but my faith resists the final despair.
That’s how I’ll end my year. We all remain under the cloud of a broader and sustained defeat, and it it is only a tiny flicker of resiliency of spirit coupled with less than half a mustard seed of gritty faith that keeps my being ablaze – but that will be enough, for now.
A thousand salaams. Good riddance, 2013. On to the next one.