Tonight the emperor will appear in his finery and share with his subjects a few of his fantastic and incredible accomplishments.
Who among us can imagine what that would feel like: with the world looking on, moved by our performance and by our capacity to enunciate a promise of transformation?
I have to go back to an image of myself lounging in my Montreal apartment–unemployed, disengaged from society, and with no plans,–listening to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto over and over (getting up to turn over the 33 rpm recording). Time meant nothing in my fantasy, in which I was the virtuoso on stage, drawing the adoring gaze of an audience with my soaring flights of music—which I was producing with an imaginary violin on which I couldn’t have played “Happy Birthday”.
I’m so glad that I now have a life. To be stuck in a claustrophobic bubble in which actor and audience collapse into an isolated self–dancing in front of a mirror—is a form of self-gratification that no sane person would wish for themselves.
It came into my mind earlier this month that I would like to write a book. But like all promissory notes—disconnected from vision, intention and action—such words are empty on their own. Even the impulse to communicate any of our personal opinions to others warrants healthy skepticism.
What kind of book do I imagine writing? I’d like to express appreciation for the Time, Space, Knowledge vision, in a way that connects it with the exploratory nature of individual human life, in particular as I live mine in this world of sound bites, discouragement, and rampant madness at the helm. I would like to “share” my own experience of the TSK vision, since any attempt to summarize or contain the existing vision would amount to a claim that I understand what is beyond my comprehension.
Anyone who has had their weekend leisure time invaded by avid believers, standing expectantly on their doorstep, knows that “belief” is not transferable to non-believers. It’s just not possible to ‘share’ a fundamental conclusion about ‘reality’ to someone who has not come upon it on their own. And when communicating with others who have earned their own “conclusions” in the course of living their own lives, such an effort is likely to be worse than pointless. The obstacle to sharing our private affiliations and moral indebtedness is more fundamental than having different outlooks and conclusions about the meaning of life. The central obstacle to sharing whatever has become meaningful for us is that we can’t share the spirit of how we were rescued from our own suffering at an earlier time in our life—and how it was at that time, when we felt lost and desperate, that some particular vision or teaching or community spoke to us deeply.
This espousal of a new vision—perhaps sudden, perhaps gradual—probably didn’t get our attention because someone interrupted our morning coffee standing at our front door or appeared on our computer screen with a promise of liberation from unnecessary suffering.
I hesitate to even mention–but I will–that it can be a wonderful discovery to encounter a spaciousness that leaves room for all our interests and dilemmas; a time that leaves the responsibility for driving to an inner dynamic that is creating our experience moment to moment; and an innate kinship among all we see and know, that includes and empowers our own potential.
One more thought before this evening’s “State of the State” address. Anyone who has some acquaintance with the role of the ‘self’ in our human lives will also recognize that there is an ambiguous, rather unhelpful, tendency to blame the ‘self’ as the cause of suffering for ourselves and for others. True: our self-centered view of experience causes us to view everything through a tiny lens and leads us to polarize everything into mine and yours, good and bad, here and there, subject and object; so that the ‘idea’ that there is a greater whole embracing all these polar opposites remains little but a nice ‘idea’. But attacking the ‘self’ won’t elevate this idea of wholeness to the center of our being.
It doesn’t even help to point out that the president, who is scheduled to talk about unity and collaboration this evening, is the logical consequence of unbridled self-centeredness in the political apparatus that produced him. It won’t help, unless we look at the phenomena of selfishness itself, as it operates in our society and in each of us individually.
This president offers us an opportunity to look at the role of the ‘self’ in our own lives: As he struts his stuff, boasts, cajoles, and acts out the kind of daydream that in ourselves we probably keep hidden—a mental realm where little counts but the satisfaction of our wants, the avoidance of discomfort, and the freedom to ignore any truth we find too inconvenient.
Who else but this president ever displays these characteristics so publically? (Yet these qualities are also weirdly familiar to us from our own self-glorifying day dreams.) Certainly not the members of Congress, who—at least in their group affiliations—exemplify the craven insincerity to which only a follower can descend. And the president is no follower.
So what does the TSK vision have to say about the dynamic in which a gigantic ‘Self” is elevated and placed on a pedestal–at the expense of everything that is balanced, reasonable, integrated, and in a ‘state of union”?
A passage I read this morning in Love of Knowledge, about ‘technological knowledge’ gave me some insight into the current political situation. ‘Technological knowledge’ (most strongly exemplified in the scientific method, which aims at complete ‘objective’ detachment from the bias of subjective perspective) has the side-effect that the subject and its perspective fall outside the scope of ‘technological knowing’. And since our sense of what is real and true comes with this seal of objectivity, the self isn’t required to demonstrate that its concerns are true and real. ‘Technological knowledge’ systematically excludes the concerns of the self from examination. And, since the ‘self’ remains the primary decision maker, those concerns rise to the fore by default.
This skirmishing between the objective and subjective realms can be seen in the world of government; where the FBI and Department of Justice–whose long-time employees, we are often told, are conscientious, unbiased, and respect the real and the true–are contrasted to a president who is impulsive, opinionated, and guided by desire, aversion, and indifference to facts. Could the subjective and objective realms and their realms of interest be more boldly polarized?
So how can a selfish, uninformed self, with a mean-streak, hope to compete with an Intelligence apparatus whose employees are able to think, research and analyze patterns?
One answer might be that ‘technological knowledge’ (with ‘objectivity’ inherent in its scientific method) is obliged to leave the vagaries of ‘subjectivity’ out of its investigations. But a method unable to question the ‘reality’ of subjective perspective doesn’t prevent those perspectives from operating in human affairs. In fact, subjective desires and aversions are strengthened precisely because we have no way to subject them to the kind of examination to which the objective realm is accountable.
Our inability to evaluate subjective perspectives in terms of agreed upon standards has consequences in private and public arenas alike. We live in a culture that has given itself over to a belief that the success of science and technology is proof that their ‘objectivity’ is the gold standard of investigation. However, using a method that insists on the superiority of objectively verifiable evidence, and which therefore leaves the vagaries of personal desire and interest unexamined, the subject is bound to be excluded from a comprehensive understanding of what is ‘real’. It seems that until quite recently, the FBI and the Department of Justice had ‘objectivity’ on their side; and that this was enough to guarantee their place at the top table. But when a giant ‘self’, whose private interests, by their very nature, are not urbane to the investigations of intelligence agencies, is himself under investigation, it is natural that this ‘self’ will question the credentials of his accuser. That is what the ‘self’ does: it reacts in self-defense by lashing back And since this president has neither the interest nor ability to fathom the actual investigations, the FBI and Department of Justice find themselves swimming in a foreign sea (the realm of an opinionated self, whose opinions are beyond the realm of their objective examination).
Meanwhile the followers, like followers everywhere, look around and ask themselves on whose banner they should pin their own lunch ticket.
In a state of the union–which currently looks a lot like government of the lemmings, by the lemmings, for the lemmings—individual bystanders can only feel helpless.
In that context, I would like to ask: Can the TSK vision, which places knowledge (along with time and space) at the center—for us individually and for the entire realm that provides our field of possible experience–provide a means for us to reclaim our world?
And these days I am also asking myself: Can I find a way to draw upon the TSK vision—viewed through the only body of knowing with which I have an intimate relationship: my personal experience—address the chief ailment of our current times: the lack of access to and belief in the healing power of knowledge? It isn’t just the limitations of the scientific method; it isn’t just the indifference to understanding history, biology, literature, psychology or philosophy; and it isn’t just our selective attention to the small and the large, to the close and the distant, and to the inner and the outer realms. It’s more that we no longer believe that everything is woven together by a quality of knowing and that at every moment we are being invited to enter in and consciously become both weaver and woven in the tapestry that runs through the vastness of time and space.