Saturday, September 25, 2021

Find Your Own Truth, Before It's Too Late

Vietnamese C-19 propaganda
By definition, there's nowhere for a person who doesn't follow the crowd and submit to authority to feel at home. It makes for a lonely life, but I can't change who I am. 

I got to thinking about this in recent days, as I see the madness growing and deepening all around me. No one will read this, but it all seems worth saying nonetheless. 

First off, I decided to read some Philip K. Dick before bed last night, and I stumbled on the part of his exegesis where he argues that the universe is actually insane. We think in terms of a benevolent creator or an indifferent Tao, but what if the thing that gave rise to the universe actually was certifiably looney-tunes? It would really explain a lot, especially now as we see the world devolving into a profound mass psychosis. 

I've been working on stitching together my own theological worldview, since I deeply believe there's something "out there," yet organized religion has never really cut it for me. I gave it one more try recently with Eastern Orthodoxy, but I think I've gone as far as I can go. On one hand I find comfort in some of our world's religious traditions, but on the other hand they all leave me wanting in one way or another. They get it, but they don't get it. Which I guess is understandable, since I think whatever the Truth is, it lies far beyond the ability of our feeble mortal minds to ever fully grasp. 

Accordingly, I'm working in fits and starts on a book that lays out my own mash-up of theological ideas. Seems like I always have these Big Thoughts rolling around in my head. They've been in there for years, as I've tried to beat my own path up the Mountain of Truth. And the more I try to make the world's traditional paths -- i.e., organized religion -- work for me in some fashion, at least to the extent that I can use one of them as a foundation and spin off from there, the more I'm reminded of Jiddu Krishnamurti's wise words that truth is a pathless land. No one else can make the journey for you, and in fact it's quite foolish to think that anyone could. There's no avoiding putting in the hard work yourself. 

Relatedly, I plan to enroll in an online seminary next year, with the goal of receiving holy orders to become my own priest, with actual apostolic succession in the Old Catholic line through a laying-on-of-hands ceremony. By then I imagine I'll have managed to fully flesh out my own theory of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Whether anyone will listen, or come to my church, is another story, because I don't imagine my vision of things will resonate with many people. 

See, I keep coming back to a kind of binary system similar to that of the Gnostics, who I think dreamed up one of the best explanations for why the world is the way it is. It neatly explains the Problem of Evil and so many other things for which theologians have had no satisafctory answers down through the ages. My thought, similar to that of the Gnostics, is that most of us have been fooled, by the Great Deceiver himself, into confusing the diabolical for the holy. And boy, after doing a PowerPoint on Islam for my kiddo, believe me, I'm more convinced than ever. Where the Old Testament merely relates stories to us about a malevolent God who commanded his armies to kill everyone, rip open the bellies of the pregnant women, dash their babies on the rocks, and keep the virgins for themselves, the Quran literally commands the reader to commit these kinds of atrocities himself, against all the indifels who won't submit to Allah. It's truly horrifying.

Among the reimagined scriptures that will pepper my book, there will undoubtedly be a verse that goes something like this:

Thereupon Satan, having posed as the Almighty, went to a place of many warring tribes, and, disguising himself as an angel, he told the greatest of all lies to a man taking rest in a cave. These lies united the myriad warring tribes as a single great warring tribe, and they sowed chaos throughout the world in the name of their God, and Satan roared with laughter as the people called it a religion of peace. 

At least for today, I took some solace in the words of the great medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen, who speaks for those of us who have never been content to live by others' truths, religious or otherwise: 
We cannot live in a world that is not our own,
 In a world that is interpreted for us by others.
 An interpreted world is not a home.
 Part of the terror is to take back our own listening,
 To use our own voice,
 To see our own light.
When you think about it, it's kind of the 12th-century equivalent of saying "Kill your TV."

It's scary to step out on your own and have the courage to not live life the way others expect of you. You pay a price for nonconformity, often a steep one. But, paradoxically, I think it's the only way you'll ever find true peace. And maybe at the end of it all, the world will actually look slightly less insane.

Either way, the alternative -- a world where safety and conformity smother freedom and choice -- is clearly untenable.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has for years been talking about the growing culture of safetyism, where every threat is exaggerated and we become more and more afraid to take risks. Seatbelt laws, safe spaces, and trigger warnings are all examples, as are coddled kids whose parents force them to live in a bubble where no perceived harm can ever come to them. 

The state of our current world is the end result of the overwrought hysteria of safetyism. Faced with a virus that the overwhelming majority of people will survive, we have mandated everything from porous masks that do nothing to getting a shot as a condition of continued employment. And now we're reverting to show-your-papers Germany, circa 1943, just to gain access to public events and places. Maybe there will an "Unvaccinated Only" lunch counter segregated out for the untouchables, or maybe you won't be let in at all. But that's where we're heading, and we're doing it at a breakneck pace.

This can only happen when we let fear override our critical thinking and turn over our lives to a tiny cabal of propagandists with lots of guns and money.

The lesson we never seem to learn is that whether it’s a government, a religion, or a multinational corporation, concentrating power in the hands of a few almost always ends poorly. The rights and freedoms of the many are restricted in favor of the few who hold the reins of power. They do it using fear and the threat of punishment. And it works because humans have a hardwired tribal instinct. The average person has a job and friends and social obligations. So most people don't want to be the one who steps out of line and risks alienation. They might hate the conditions they live in, but staying quiet and conforming is much easier and carries little social cost. Just ask Jesus, Gandhi, or Dr. King what it costs to stick your neck out. The tribal leaders leave you alone if you don’t rock the boat. Fear is a powerful motivator, and people in power understand this all too well.

What they fear most is the day when the people come to the realization that we outnumber them. Massively. And that's why they work so hard to divide us, to lessen the chance that we'll ever unite in common cause against them, cast off our shackles, and finally become free people with free minds and free wills.

This, in a nutshell, is why I'm an anarchist. I'm just fed up with everybody's bullshit. That goes for institutional powers as well as for those who empower them by constantly rolling over and exposing their bellies -- and then having the audacity to blame our problems on the people who didn't obediently submit.

But I struggle even to find common ground with others who call themselves anarchists. A lot of them, far too many for my liking, think Marx was just misunderstood and his policies misapplied. And the rest, especially those from the liberatarian wing, labor under the false assumption that government is the sole threat to our self-determination.

Religion, for one, controls a lot of people. Some might say the world would be better off without religion. But I'm not so sure, because people will always fill their religious impulses with something. I don't think religion is inherently bad, so long as we use it to discover our place and ponder our origins in the face of a vast universe. Instead, the religious tend to either hand over their brains wholesale to their priests and pastors, or they let the teachings of their holy books fill them with self-righteousness and hate. The whole point is to tame our egos, not sacrifice our critical thought processes.

Far more powerful, and to me far more worrisome, are today's multinational business interests. Corporations should exist primarily to serve human needs, not to enrich their executives and their shareholders on the backs of what amounts to slave labor in the sweatshops of far-flung dictatorships. Nor should they be able to wield their power to control or compel social or political behavior, especially when it's done at the behest of a government that uses corporations to enact its will by proxy. "Private companies can do whatever they want," goes the tired mantra, but the problem is, whether it's a CEO or your governor enacting a restrictive mandate, you're being oppressed either way. But even if we accept the capitalist apologetics of that argument, then companies should be small and powerless enough that if they do whatever they want, their actions would have no large-scale societal consequence.

Then there are our political institutions. This one is simple: Governments should exist at the smallest and most local level possible -- if they exist at all.

That's the world I want to live in. And I doubt that I'll ever see it. In fact, I think there's a good chance I'll live out the remainder of my life as a prisoner in my own home, looking out my window at a world gone mad. I refuse to submit to this insanity just so I can earn a permission slip to exercise what should be my own inherent freedoms.

If somebody time-warped to the present day from, say, a decade ago, I think he would be baffled at just how easily the entire planet can be propagandized into obedience and submission, and then programmed to blame the people who refuse to follow the script. We're upending our entire way of life over a bug that has more than a 98% survival rate. We're treating as an existential crisis an illness that generates mild to no symptoms in the overwhelming majority of people who contract it. We're being programmed to wear masks with air gaps and with pores 20 to 30 times larger than the virus itself, and then demonizing those who point out the plain fact that masking a healthy person is like ordering people to wear garlic necklaces to ward off vampires -- i.e., rank superstition. We're redifining herd immunity as mass vaccination, ignoring the obvious fact that our bodies generate their own natural immunities. The sky is falling, the sky is falling, and it all truly blows my mind. Either critical thought is in even shorter supply than I ever imagined, or fear really is that powerful of a motivator. Maybe it's both.  

Times like this are exactly why we've taught our child to always question what authority figures tell her to do -- to examine the facts, and to say no even if she's the only one doing it. I'm glad we live where we do, in a pocket of de facto resistance. But I fear the noose will tighten and the propaganda will become so relentless that there will eventually be nowhere left to go.

Whether that happens is up to us. Only we can save ourselves.