Who are we and how do we know?
The struggle for individuality
"A human being, appearances to the contrary, doesn’t create his own purposes. These are imposed by the time he’s born into; he may serve them, he may rebel against them, but the object of his service or rebellion comes from the outside. To experience complete freedom in seeking his purposes he would have to be alone"
That quote is from the closing pages of Stanislaw Lem's 'Solaris', an eerie science fiction novel I can recommend.
The story explores human attempts at understanding an extraterrestrial entity that is ineffably different. Attempting to establish 'contact' with something so very far removed from what Homo sapiens is proves so hard that no one is ever sure that contact is possible, despite interactions that suggest reciprocal awareness.
Whether Lem intended this in his words above, I've no idea, but it makes me think of how difficult it can be to think outside the frame dictated by the dominant culture (and emphasised by everyone around us who are similarly 'constrained'). And also to recall the conditions that led me to probing that frame and discovering that it seemed to represent a contracted or obscured view of ... I'm not sure what.
Call it 'reality', for convenience.
The conditions under which I did this, had you been observing, were extended periods of aloneness and focus on establishing a sense of rootedness, specifically in the physical world.1
Meditative mindfulness practice also played a part. It revealed that there are 'truths' to be found through no more sophisticated a tool than the oddly rare phenomenon of full awareness - and that these 'truths' or 'insights' probably can't really be shared with others without recourse to language that distorts them beyond utility.
It's one of those you had to be there kinds of thing.
You'd sometimes have seen me doing a lot of nothing but being still and undistracted. Or sometimes doing repetitive tasks, like scything grass, building something from a pile of rocks or just walking in the woods.
It was a pair of unwelcome personal and global incidents that led to this. But it turned out great. From fearing that I might sink to finding that I could swim. Days that I will look back on, from the proverbial deathbed, as reassurance that this life really was in the end worth having. That I actually learned something.
Something that wasn't a hand-me-down. A rarity in this mimetic world in which we try to piggyback the great thinkers of history by dropping out-of-context snippets of their insights (from books we’ve never read) into everyday chat, to prove to other people that we know something about some things.
This was maybe the first time I realised that I am me, rather than a cut out and pasted version from some class of person.
Here is where language runs out of road. You just have to be there.
"The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters" - Antonio Gramsci
This is a popular sentiment among those paying attention to currents running through the 'modern condition'. Like many good lines it can mean whatever you want.
For the utopian social justice enthusiast the monsters might be 'white supremacists', the absurdly rich, or 'hyper objects' like climate change and the threat of nuclear war. And for those of a conservative bent the monsters can be biology-denialists at the bleeding edge of full transhumanism, relentless surveillance and control, Wokeist religiosity, western democratic liberalism's prioritising of rights over responsibilities and the individual over community.
For people of a more esoteric bent (guilty!) the monsters of this time are egregores, emergent properties of networked mass negative emotions, the all-encompassing suppression of reality by theory and narrative, the absence of meaning or purpose in spending so much of our time in idle distraction. Seduced by handheld screens and their guarantee of never needing to be truly present with yourself. That you'll never need to confront yourself.
Some will be glad that the 'old' world is dying and some will want to cleave to an 'old' world which only really exists in their imaginations. The world of this meme, with its objectively false claim about days of yore.
There's a great deal of cheerless, despairing commentary out there, lamenting the loss of tradition, the atomisation of communities into myriad special identities, the so-called epidemic of loneliness, declining fertility, declining happiness and increasing neuroticism among teenagers.
Plus all the worrying things that seem to be looming from energy, habitat and species depletion, under the shadow of potentially escalating war on mainland Europe.
The online left and the right are reduced to extracting their joy from taking turns at black pilling their own groups and then ‘owning’ the other side. To this end they repeat themselves day in day out. Telling stories whose emotional valence flows straight from meme to brain stem and back out, barely mediated at all by objective reality.