Saturday, 15 November 2008
I want to quickly post something up so you know where I've gone.
Halfway through writing the Ayn Rand post I suddenly struck paydirt, in philosophical terms.
What I mean is, I connected two wires I'd never connected before and a shitload of questions I had about everything - the unconscious mind, the 'ego', morality, society - just answered themselves.
I walked around for a few days trying to get my head around the whole thing properly, and when that failed, decided to just start writing.
I'm still writing. I'm not sure if I'll be able to fit it all into just one post, and if I do it's going to be like a mini book.
Either way, I'm working on it now, so although it looks like everything's all quiet on the Western Front, something's in the works I think you're going to enjoy.
I'll get it up (so to speak) as soon as I can.And remember, you can sign up for email updates so you don't miss it...
Much love, and stay tuned.
Sunday, 9 November 2008
It's a fair question, and I've put off answering it for a while because I wanted to get my head straight on the issues. When that didn't happen, I thought 'fuck it', and decided to forge ahead anyway.
Rand expounded (love that word, it means 'came out with') a philosophy of living which she called 'Objectivism' or 'Rational Egoism.' At the core of it lies the idea that rational selfishness is the highest moral good.
Ayn (pronouced "eye - nnnn") Rand wrote two main books. One was called The Fountainhead and another is called Atlas Shrugged.
She is one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.
To sum it up in her words:
"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."
Hear it from the horse's mouth:
Rand believed that meaning in life came from independent creativity, individual achievement.
What was collective was deadening, lifeless. Only selfishness was moral.
Socialist laws from on high shackled the best humanity had to offer to the service of the lazy and the weak.
And worse still, instead of just penalizing the best individuals to help the weakest, the weakest were kept weak by being made comfortable in their shittiness by handouts.
Social welfare (to give just one example) was a crime to it's beneficiaries - the enlightened thing to do would be not to shield them from the consequences of failure.
In those consequences would be the motivation they would need to climb high, and realise their potential as creative, independent individuals. I use the idea of a welfare state because it was something Rand specifically railed against... and because it's something we can all wrap our heads around. She extended the principle of what she called the 'parasite' of altruism to everything, including moral values.
So was she right? Well, the welfare state in Britain has indeed aided in the creation of a subclass that we call 'chavs.'
If you look at Chavs, it's hard not to concede that Rand had a point.
But let's take it to a broader level - if you look at the cultural fate of communist countries, it's pretty shocking.
Russia, home of Tolstoy, the world's greatest novelist, became a cultural wasteland for near to a century.
China's 'Cultural Revolution' cut through it's heritage like a chainsaw. Artists, poets, martial artists and visionaries were butchered like animals.
Eastern Europe was plunged into the darkness of a police state where the creative impulse was either used for propaganda, shackled, or crushed.
Indeed, you can go further. Because there was one major experiment in the thought of Ayn Rand in the 20th century. You may have heard of it. It's called America.
Ayn Rand's book 'Atlas Shrugged' has had more influence on US politics, business and culture in the second half of the 20th century than any other work. By miles. Nothing else comes close.
The second half of the 20th Century has been Republican. JFK got shot, Carter got kicked out after one term, and Clinton's 2 terms was the only extended period of Democratic leadership in the whole 60 year period since the war.
The Republican party was heavily influenced by Ayn Rand. The idea of laissez-faire (unregulated and unrestricted) capitalism had always been a core part of America's national identity. After Rand and McCarthy, it was fully realised as a moral imperative.
But let's look, shall we? Was it a bad thing?
Well, let's look. If we take the second half of the 20th Century as being influenced by Rand, how was the USA at the end of that Century?
- By the end of the Century of Rand, America was the world's only Superpower.
- It was militarily untouchable to an extent not seen since the height of the Roman Empire.
- It's economy was the largest in the world, dwarfing it's nearest rival.
- It had an output of films, music and international business brands that instigated profound cultural changes in every nation on earth.
- It was one of the leading lights of advances in communications and technology that had revolutionised human interactions on a global scale, bringing human culture together in a way never before seen.
So to simplistically discard Ayn Rand (or the Rand-influenced ideals of the Republican party) out of hand is, to my mind at least, an inadequate response. As far as I'm concerned, the USA has has a pretty impressive track record with this.
So what does this tell us?
It tells us that whatever else you might want to say about Objectivism, you'd be a fool to suggest it wasn't incredibly effective at creating success.
Which is why you'd think that the dawn of the 21st Century would have been a major coup for America. 8 more years of Republican leadership. As we all know, it didn't work out that way.
The America that stood triumphant in 2000 is not the America we have today.
- By 2008, a massive crash shattered America's financial industry.
- The two most profitable sectors, mortgage lending and investment banking have disintegrated.
- The legendary Wall Street now consists of two surviving companies, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Lehman Bros is gone. Bear Stearns. Gone. Merrill Lynch. Gone.
- The American collapse precipitated a global financial meltdown which bankrupted the economies of several nations including Iceland and Hungary.
- Even the great economies of Europe were brought to their knees as their banking institutions shattered like glass in the shockwave from Wall Street.
- The mighty American army is caught up in two wars in lands on the other side of the earth. Bogged down by guerilla warfare of the kind that bled the US army - and the US national wallet - dry in Vietnam, no victorious end to either conflict is in sight in 2008.
- An explosion of industry in China coupled with the carnage in America's own economy dealt it's supremacy a double blow.
- Imprisonment without trial, kidnap and torture have been openly endorsed at a Presidential level.
- The image of America abroad is in pieces. The goodwill in the wake of 9/11 has evaporated so completely that basically every American straying beyond the US border faces a barrage of venom.
Before we start getting into this being 'so bad' or 'so terrible', just hold. Hold off.
This is not that kind of blog. Although I do feel that it's sad, what's happened, I am not here to bemoan America's fate, blame the President or the Neo-Conservatives, or play armchair quarterback (to use an American phrase) to the decisions made over the past 8 years.
What I want to do is to step back from the glass.
To get away from the easy judgements, the easy posturing of 'this side' or 'that side.'
Step back with me.
Try not to rail against anything, Try not to hate. Try not to defend, and try not to justify.
Don't judge it. Just look. The temptation to judge will rise. You can feel it. It feels like righteous suffering. Like fire.
Don't get sucked in.
Now what's interesting is this - in my life I've had similar patterns. This soaring achievement, and catastrophic fall.
It's happened to me a couple of times now. And that's a weird thing to say, because you'd think that once was enough. You think after the first time I had a shatteringly nasty crash which erased my successes like they'd never been and punched me through the bedrock, I'd think again before getting back into the sky.
You see, the fall is always nastier than the rise. It gives a lot of motivation - a lot of motivation to change.
Yet as you probably know either from your own life or from the life of people you've met, soaring highs and crushing lows are a recurring pattern that can lock people in for their whole lives.
This is very much the life I've led. Like Icarus, the winged man of Greek legend, I'd soar high...
...then crash out.
Then I'd spend a year or so piecing myself together, rebuild the wings in a new way, take a run up, fly, soar and crash.
Now this isn't just a pity party. I bring this up because it makes no sense. After I crashed out the first time, why am I so eager to get back up there, again, and again, and again, and again?
And in a way, I wasn't. Every time I crashed out financially, emotionally, professionally, personally - in whatever sense - I resolved at as deep a level as I could to change things so that I wouldn't fuck up again.
Just as the financial markets are, right now, looking at bringing a raft of legislation and regulation to stop another global collapse from happening in the future.
But no matter how deeply I resolved to change, I would always end up flying too close to the sun, always end up falling, and dashed on the rocks. It didn't matter how many times I'd piece myself together. I'd always end up gathering more and more damage.
Well, on the one hand I think it's true to say that the reasons I couldn't stop crashing out is that I was doing it for reasons I wasn't aware of and didn't have conscious access to.
And on the one hand that's true. Obviously. If I'd have been able to break the pattern, I'd have broken it. I didn't break it, therefore I didn't see what was really going on.
The same thing is true of the boom-and-bust cycles of the capitalist economy. It has a bipolar quality to it, with soaring highs and crushing lows. Unluckily for us, we just went over the edge.
But here's the thing - this isn't just something that's happening in our economy. It's something that's happening in our civilisation. The soaring highs. The crushing lows.
And there is a certain kind of romance to that life - when you're soaring. But the low will take that from you. It takes everything from you. I know that much from my own experience. So while it's easy to defend the highs and lows now, when you're knee deep in the howling you'll not be so convinced.
There is a pattern here, that seems to extend out from the individual to society itself. Essentially, what is going on with the Western economies right now is a large-scale version of how the population of the Western World lives their lives.
That is to say, like Icarus.
How does Ayn Rand fit into all this?
Ayn Rand takes the wings off Icarus and replaced them with a rocket engine.
The reason Rand has been so successful is because her work works.
If you see the world from her point of view you'll feel a total certainty to forge ahead.
You'll feel a burning righteousness even when you suffer in the pursuit of your goal, and that will become pleasurable to you because you are suffering for a moral cause: yourself.
You will be unburdened by guilt or shame and you will achieve.
You will achieve, in real life. Check this out - it's a short mash-up of speeches from the Ayn Rand inspired computer game Bioshock:
Yes, thinking like this, you will achieve.
And in achieving, you will gain a sense of accomplishment. This will happen.
Well of course, you'd be forgiven for bouncing up and down on your seat in excitement. Me too.
Swap the wings of Icarus for a Jetpack? Sign me up. I want a jet pack.
I've wanted one since I was 6. I will never stop wanting one. I want one right now.
And if that sense of accomplishment that you get from achievement is sustainable, Rand's philosophy is - as far as I can tell - watertight.
Let's look at it, and see, shall we?
In the world around us, and in your own life, there is a certain kind of success which has a destructive quality.
And the level of destruction this success has is related to the height of the achievement it originally gave you. The higher you climb, the greater the impact.
I say related - but not proportional. That has never been true in my life. The downswing is always profoundly more extreme than the upswing.
To illustrate with the Jetpack metaphor - no matter how cool it is to fly around with a jetpack, it's not ever really going to be good enough to justify going home in a matchbox after they mop you out of the crater you've made in the highway.
So what is it about this form of success that causes it's destructive aspect?
What is it in success that leads to ruin?
And is this destructive success and the kind of success that Rand posits as the highest moral good - are they always the same?
Fascinating questions, all. I'll throw up some ideas.
The truth is, this whole issue runs very, very deep in all of us. There are no easy answers - but there are answers.
I hope you've noticed that my moral condemnation of Ayn Rand is conspicuous by it's absence.
There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm not here to bash anyone. Secondly, I'm especially not here to bash someone who seems to be going out of their way to make me condemn them.
Rand has a habit of stating things in a highly provocative way, and almost for that point alone, I think it's important that we refuse to be provoked.
It is very easy to morally condemn Rand's thought, her deification of the self. That makes it boring, at least to me.
It's very easy to look down on the defiant and open self-obsession which Rand promotes as the highest moral good. It's also a waste of my keystrokes when I could be doing something more productive, like looking at porn or setting things on fire.
But I'm not here to look down on anything. I'm here to look.
The fact is that whatever it is Rand is suggesting, it works.
It seems to me that Rand has given form and voice to something that dwells inside each of us - a deep impulse that gives rise to striving and success - almost in the same way that Tolle gives voice to another deep impulse in human nature.
Neither of them are really the inventors of their philosophies. It would be more accurate to describe them as cartographers, mapping something they have found within themselves that is common to the human condition itself.
The success Rand's thought lionises is a very particular kind of success. It is a success that has certain qualities to it. It's not success in general - this is important. It's success of a certain kind.
It's a kind of success that is defiant. It is highly conscious of the superiority it has over the unsuccessful. This is not necessarily a bad thing - again, no judgement one way or another. This is just a quality it has.
It has a deeply moral resonance to it - which is to say that in this world view success and a higher morality are the same. That means that those who fail are not just inferior - they are morally inferior.
Again, let's not judge this. Let's not say 'oh no, what a bitch.'
And if you're on the other side of the coin and you agree with Rand, try not to get too caught up in that either - the 'Damn straight, fucking hippies' mentality.
Just step back from the glass as much as you can and look at it.
Because here's my thoughts on Rand. And indeed, success.
I've achieved success of the kind Rand talks about in several different areas of my life. It's all fallen apart since, so I guess I'm off her Christmas list, but I know how it feels to succeed.
And it's very interesting, because there's one question we have to ask ourselves:
What part of us are we feeding?
You see, if the success feeds that part of us (and it is a voracious part of us) that wants to be morally superior, then that part will grow.
And as it grows, it gets more and more ravenous, and more and more hungry.
As it does, it twists our perceptions of the world into terms of moral superiority and moral inferiority.
It's not that we're 'bad people' - but we see the world through such a compelling and simple lens that we are unable to resist the parasite within us. A parasite grown fat on our victories. A parasite called 'moral condemnation'. Otherwise known as hate.
It is the hatred of the weak embedded in the structure of moral judgement itself which is what shatters all success gained from a self-worshipping mindset.
Why? Because it is morally 'bad' to hate the weak? Or perhaps it is I who am 'wrong' about this because I just don't get how good Rand is?
Bad. Wrong. You see how subtle they are? How easily they creep unnoticed into our minds?
Creep? No, even that's not true. We welcome them in. We love to have the feeling of pure purpose, certainty and meaning that condemnation brings. We welcome it. We look for things to feed it.
Look at a newspaper or watch the news tonight. Or better still go right now to CNN.com, or BBC.co.uk/news. Look at the tabloid websites like News Of The World, or the quality papers like The Independent.
It is as if the journalistic industry gathers outrage from around the globe every day - like a harvest. It then presents it to the world like food. Delivered fresh in the morning, and in depth at night. There's even the websites to give you a snack in the daytime if you get peckish.
Moral judgement is like an insect, a parasite.
It takes you over, pretends to be you. Gives you in one instant a massive hit of righteous fire.
But it's based on a fiction that success sends spiralling out of your control.
The fiction deepens, becomes more compelling and more simple. From your point of view everything is swimming into focus, but what's really happening is that you're getting more and more lost.
It always ends up consuming you.
And the higher you climb, the further you will fall and the more anguish you'll feel when reality rips you to pieces.
The problem with Rand is not with Rand. It is with US. We are locked in this world of morally-charged identity. Fictions that we were born into. Fictions of right and wrong, good and evil.
Fictions that claim to be the storehouse of all righteousness, be they religious, cultural, whatever.
But they are not the storehouses of righteousness.
They just tell you what to hate.
Has Rand heard this before? Yes. And she's defended herself against it to:
"A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others. "
This is fair.
But there is a link between the desire to achieve and madness itself.
Is it always to be so? Can we never seek to achieve? I don't know. I hope not - but what I will say is this:
Our cultures, our worlds - and our minds - are so deeply infected with the parasites of moral judgement, division and conflict that our desires to achieve are doomed unless we deal with the problem at the source.
Moral arrogance is the fate of those people - and those nations - who feed that part of themselves that likes to be superior to others, that likes to condemn, that likes to be in the right.
Not a "side effect" of those who feed their sense of superiority through achievement.
Not a "danger" of those who feed their sense of superiority through achievement.
It is the fate of those who feed their sense of superiority through achievement.
You think I'm talking about America now, right?
I'm talking from my own experience - and that of my own country.
In the 19th Century, the British Empire straddled the globe.
It was the largest empire ever seen in history. The Mongols, the Romans, Japan, the Chinese, the USA, Germany, Russia - none of these giants of history has ever even come close to having an Empire on the scale of Britain's.
Britain initiated the industrial revolution, the revolution that made all modern technology, culture and capitalism possible. Without Britain's industrial revolution, we'd all still be living on farms - and not the techno-farms of today. Old school farms. With horses, and everything.
Britain spread it's language throughout the globe. It brought parliamentary democracy to the planet. It built roads, set up infrastructures.
It did a lot of good.
But alongside that was the haughtiness and arrogance for which Britain is still - to this day - renowned. The aloofness, the coldness. The inhumanity. The total moral arrogance that looted India and Africa. That massacred people at Kawnpoor and Rhodesia.
Mike Davis, a historian of the period, estimates that there were between 12 and 33 million avoidable deaths by famine in India between 1876 and 1908. The cause? Callousness of the ruling class, and their free-market ideology.
And of course we all know that Britain gave up it's Empire willingly. And that is true.
But even then the moral arrogance that had come to characterise the British rule led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands - maybe even millions - in India and Pakistan.
The British government had scheduled India's independence for 1948. Mountbatten cut the time by half to mid-August 1947 because he was impatient to get back to England and build his naval career. Something in the region of 500 000 people died in the resulting chaos.
Look, I love Britain. But Britain has a major self-image problem. It's the only country I know of where if you say "I love my country" people look at you like you're a freak.
Again - see the urge in yourself to morally judge this fact. Don't get sucked into it. And don't get sucked in to the urge to condemn Britain's past either. There is a deeper truth here.
The reason British people don't say 'I love Britain' anymore is that we were shocked to discover what we became - what power made us. Britain was always about honour, about decency and fair play. Just as America is all about freedom, opportunity and justice.
British people don't say 'I love my country' anymore because of what we became when we said it last time. We became arrogant. Terrible, destructive caricatures of who we are, of what Britain really stands for.
It was as if our self belief contained something more terrible even than the self-doubt that we were so eager to run from. Something we had to let go. Something we had to let die.
I went to America recently, and travelled quite a bit. And a lot of things blew me away. It's an incredible country.
But there was at least one thing I encountered that I didn't expect. Something that I don't think America's experienced before - even back in the 60's with Vietnam.
With Vietnam, America reacted with shock and outrage to it's own atrocities.
This is different. It's not the fiery moral outrage that says 'I still believe in America, and this is not it!'
It's the jaded cynicism that says 'I don't know what America has become now.' It's the horror of seeing through a mesh of lies and not knowing if there's any decency left in the dream that was once the United States.
The past 8 years have discredited more than the Republican party.
It is as if they have discredited America in the eyes of America.
Just as Britain's essential goodness was discredited in the eyes of Britain.
And, in a more extreme way, the way that Germany's essential goodness was discredited in the eyes of Germany. Although it happened much faster and much more violently, the deep structures that led Germany into barbarism were not of a different type.
They were just more intensely followed, more intensely believed. More industrially implemented. Everything else was in place. The moral righteousness. The total self-belief. The rapacious hunger for victory and achievement to feed the fiction.
When I was in the states that sense - not of Americans hating America, but of Americans deeply questioning America's essential goodness - was something I came across time and again.
And not just in California, but deep in the heartlands of the South, the engine of America's self-belief.
What were they rejecting? Were they rejecting freedom? Opportunity? Justice?
They were, and are rejecting the terrible, destructive caricature of itself that America has become.
It's funny- it almost reminded me of home, so deeply did it resemble the self doubt of my own nation.
I love America, I really do. I feel it's turned a corner now, and I am hopeful for it's future. Even had Obama lost, the last eight years have shown America a side of itself that it never knew existed. And after having seen what it has seen, perhaps it's politics have turned a corner.
I don't know if the damage done to it's self-belief is enough to grant it the wisdom it needs, or if America will sink into indolence and self-hate. Or perhaps neither of those things will happen, and America will forget. The next generation will ignore the warnings and the cycle will repeat all over again.
Until eventually the fall is so massive and so extreme that the world will die before America faces it's demons.
Time alone will tell.
But I talk about this to raise the point that moral arrogance does not come from nowhere.
Moral arrogance is a very specific thing and it does not just rise out of the ether.
It comes from a very specific set of behaviours, both external and internal. It is very deeply rooted in the human condition and is ultimately no more than a magnified version of a voracious weakness that infects all humanity.
This is not an American problem. America is going through this right now because it is the most successful nation in a world right now. When Britain was, Britain went through it. And if you ever become successful as a person, you will go through it.
If you are successful, perhaps you're going through it right now, and you don't even know. But if you are - you'll find out soon enough. Reality has its ways of making sure of that.
And at the end of the day, this destructive cycle has one centre. Just one.
Drawing your meaning, purpose and happiness from your personal achievements.
And not because it is 'bad' in some vague moral sense, and not because your achievements 'belong to everyone' or because they 'should support your fellow man' or any of that crap.
It's bad because it feeds a part of you that will twist you out of all recognition and turn you into a monster.
But of course, that begs a question that I think is very high on everyone's priority list.
Is there another option?
Is there a way to be successful - in real life, in the real world?
Is there a way of living successfully that will not obliterate what is highest and best within you, and turn you into first a monster, and then a wreckage?
Friday, 7 November 2008
Now don't get me wrong, like you I was disappointed, but not for the reasons most people were.
A lot of people bitched about the invasion of Zion, saying it was too 'Playstationy'. Some others pointed to a disjointed narrative, stale characters, whatever.
Not me. I didn't mind any of that. What I did mind is that I just didn't 'get' it. I didn't understand the ending.
Now before we go on, just to warn you that none of this is going to make any sense to you unless you have watched at least the first Matrix film.
Normally I'd go to pains to make it more accessible, but frankly, if this is you I'm doing you a favour by forcing you to watch it. It's brilliant. You only need to watch the first one to get what I'm saying - I'll explain the rest.
I've even embedded video feeds of all the relevant bits through the use of techno-witchery.
Anyway - the ending of the Matrix Revolutions. My problem with it was that I didn't understand it.
Agent Smith, the creepy baddie from the first film, has discovered how to replicate himself. He spreads like a virus across the whole matrix, taking it over from within. He stands poised to possess everyone in the entire matrix, and thus take it over.
Neo, blinded by Agent Smith, comes to the end of his journey and walks into the heart of the machine city as the machines finally crack the last of Zion's defences.
He goes to the core of the machines, and meets the AI at the centre of it all.
He proposes a truce.
He says that the program known as Smith has infected the Matrix. Soon Smith will spread throughout the Machine City and destroy it too. When it is destroyed, the AI will fall. The AI is unable to stop Smith because he has infected the Matrix so completely that it cannot remove him without destroying the Matrix, and itself with it.
Neo says - I will defeat Smith. Hook me in to the Matrix.
Cables extend from the walls of the Machine City. They hook into Neo. He enters the Matrix. Back in Zion the machines pause in their onslaught.
Neo walks down a city street in the driving rain. Thousands of Smiths line the sidewalks, but do not attack. They are cheering on the main, original Agent Smith who talks to Neo about his impending death.
They fight. It gets pretty silly.
Ultimately, Neo is beaten and lies broken in a crater created when Smith smashed him into the ground. Smith gloats, mocks Neo at length. Then he drives his hand into Neo's chest, possessing him.
Smith looks at Smith. Smith has won.
Then the new Smith begins to twitch. Light shines from behind his shades, when through them. Then they shatter, then he screams and explodes in a burning light. Back in reality Neo is shining like an angel.
The light extends like a chain reaction through all the Smiths, killing them all and purging the Matrix of his presence
Back in reality the AI lowers Neo to the floor. Is he alive? Is he dead? We don't know. The AI's voice speaks one last time: “It is done.”
Now call me a stinky, blue-skinned muppet, but I didn't really see the deeper meaning here. To me it was just a very convoluted, visually spectacular but ultimately disappointing end to the Matrix Trilogy.
I'll tell you why.
The first film is just scorching. It's a brilliant metaphor for something that runs extremely deep in all of us – and it's a kick ass action movie.
But the reason I was looking forward to the sequels wasn't because I liked the martial arts. It was because The Matrix displayed a depth of insight into the human condition that I'd simply never seen in a big-budget film before.
I want to know how it ended. Just as a metaphor for existence, the first Matrix film plumbed so deep I had high expectations for the third film.
The second film was a kind of philosophical 'set up' piece. The final film was to be the knock out blow.
But I didn't get it.
Yesterday I was really pissed off. Not about the Matrix, just in general.
A lot of things were grating on me. It wasn't really anything big, but the chill I'd been building up seemed far away. I was fragile and volatile. On edge.
The funny thing was almost how little it had to do with outside circumstance. I'd not been in an argument, and although I'd had a scary couple of days last week for personal reasons (see next monthly casefile) there was nothing really wrong.
But yeah, I was sitting in my room working on my computer, getting really pissed off at nothing.
Like when a page took too long to load I'd get this compulsive urge to punch out the screen.
We've all been there. It was like whatever anger/rage/hate/pain/suffering/whatever that lurks in the recesses of my subconscious mind had decided that it was getting bored and it wanted to kick off.
Sitting cooped up in this room wasn't helping. I needed to walk it off. I get a text from a friend who wants to meet up. It's a good excuse. I put on my new jacket. I like it. I feel cool.
I walk out the door of my flat – five steps from my door a guy brushes past me. In my mind I smash his face into the pavement.
I walked down the street, my face like thunder. The rage was in full swing now, and I was wrestling to keep it in check, wielding my presence like a fire extinguisher. It didn't seem to be working.
I get to the crossing and a car drives past. It's wheel hits a puddle and three drops splash my left shin through my jean. In my head I take the metal-tipped umbrella from a passer by, close it and throw it like a javelin into the back of the driver's head.
I'm walking and my anger is boiling. Going outside was a bad idea.
I can barely hear Eckhart's voice over the sound of my mind, filled with fury at a thousand imagined slights. I feel the keening joy of hate, that sweet taste of righteous fire.
The sweet and filthy ecstacy of driving your fist over and over into the face of the person you hate and they scream and cower and weep.
I'm angry. Really angry. It's getting out of control. Ok, ok, slow down. Stop.
I stop walking and lean up against a railing. The rage is still kicking off. I can't see my friend like this I'll break her in half, or at the very least be a total dick. Probably the latter.
I take the mp3 player out of my jacket pocket. I check the volume. It's only halfway up and it's already pretty loud. I jack it up to full and Eckhart's meek still voice booms in my head like a megaphone. My ears hurt. I turn it down slightly – not much, just a little. Just this side of pain.
There's something about listening to Eckhart Tolle on full volume when you're either raging or in despair. It is really interesting.
It's like there's a point of volume where it's too loud for your mind to talk over it. Your mind can't ignore it anymore. And just the simple fact of having that level of presence booming in your head. It's potent stuff.
The other major effect is that you're not engaging with Tolle's ideas in an abstract way. It's all too fucking real, which is on the one side a bad thing, but on the other an opportunity.
Opportunity it may be, but it's still not working. Still fucking angry.
Ok. Ok. I've got a little distance on the rage now.
I notice something. When you're angry and you try to 'look at the anger', often there's a subtle undertone of hatred to your looking. You're so full of anger that you hate the anger and you want it to go.
This is extremely difficult to get around. It's not just a case of just knowing that it happens. It's deeply imbedded, way below a level where you can consciously turn it off.
But Tolle's voice booming in my head is cracking the space open, like a wedge driven between me and the hatred.
For all the volume and all the power of his presence, it's still not a big gap. The rage is still powerful. It's still there, seething and boiling and lashing out.
After about 15 minutes I realise Tolle's not just going to dissolve this shit for me. I'm calmer than I was but the anger is still twisting and tearing.
But there it is - I can see it now, there's a separation between me and the rage.
I focus on the serenity. I try to remind myself that the serenity isn't just part of me, it is me. The rage doesn't care. It keeps flickering and sucking me back in. Tolle's voice keeps pulling me out.
I'm not going to be able to beat this shit. I'm not going to be able to beat the conflict. It's too strong, too strong by miles.
Then suddenly, in the space of a heartbeat, Armistice.
An Armistice is an agreement between two warring parties to stop fighting. In Britain we remember the Armistice at the end of World War One every November 11th. We wear poppies as a sign of respect for our fallen servicemen.
An armistice is not like a peace treaty - it is what is called a 'Modus Vivendi' – fancy Latin speak for when you agree to disagree.
You do not go into all the knotty issues as to why you want to win or why you want to surrender. You just agree to stop fighting.
I called an Armistice with the rage.
It is a strange thing to make peace with conflict.
Not to make resolve the conflict – but to make peace with it.
And not a specific conflict either.
But to make peace with conflict itself.
Making peace with conflict.
Tolle calls this 'allowing the pain to be'. It's really interesting though, it's like actively making peace, swearing a truce, allowing the rage to rage. Allowing the despair to despair. Allowing the hate to hate. Letting the pain hurt.
But not just that, it's deeper. What Tolle talks of when he says a 'deep allowing'. It's not just silencing your mind. It's something different, it's almost impossible to describe.
When you say 'let the pain be' there's a truth in that which is far more real – far more real – than anything you can wrap your head around. It is so counterintuitive and massively contrary to every way we've ever interacted with pain before. Than we've been taught to interact with it by every aspect of our lives and cultures.
But despite that, it is real. It's not just 'another idea' that you 'try out'.
This is a real process that has a real effect. You hit it or you don't.
As soon as I began extending peace to and through the conflict inside me – as soon as I started make peace with the rage – making peace with conflict itself, rage itself, hate itself – the separation happened.
It was as if rage had no answer to peace other than more rage, and if you're willing to accept that, the Armistice holds.
Pain raged inside me still, but it had the space to rage. Burning, jagged, lashing out with all it's stored energy, it stood exposed as something not me. Something almost alien.
And with nothing to feed the rage, the energy it was expending slowly began to run out.
It became weaker and as it did I became more serene – but not an empty serenity.
No, this is the serenity that is the same as 'being in the zone,' the serenity that Zen masters, athletes and weirdoes speak of.
I met my friend in the bar and I wasn't a dick at all. A few of her mates were there, and we had a fantastic time. Chill, full of fun and laughter, connections, all that jazz. and that is a small miracle when you think of the fury that was pounding through my head mere minutes earlier.
This is like the third time something like this has happened.
I wrote about it once before on this blog in the "Ignition" post – it's the same thing I felt here.
It was interesting though, it was like I came at it from a completely different angle. To make peace with pain. To make peace with hate. Now that means individual hatreds – but it also means hate itself, in it's essence.
And that's what I'm trying to get at here. That's the insight of this whole thing. It's not about making peace with your demons. It's about making peace with the entire demonic realm.
Make peace with evil itself. Call an armistice. A full, and unconditional Armistice with Hell.
And does that mean you become demonic?
No – the opposite is true. You already ARE demonic if you react with resistance to hate, fear, pain and despair.
Because all these things are forms of conflict. And if you instigate conflict with a form of conflict, you have become the very thing you are attacking.
So you make peace with the rage - in it's entirety. You make peace with the despair - all of it.
And what will the response be?
From rage, the response will be rage. From despair, the response will be despair.
But all you need to do is to keep making peace with the rage in it's fullness, the despair in it's fullness. It's
You are NOT trying to reduce the rage. Or reduce the despair, or the fear, or the pain, or whatever you're facing. If you try to reduce it you'll fail because you're getting into conflict with the pain.
But the great thing is that you don't need to. The pain will dissipate on it's own - yes, even that hardcore deep emotional hardship that you've been running from all your life - if you call that armistice and hold it.
Trying to change the pain, reduce the fear, fight the rage - this is the deep reflexive pattern that has been keeping humanity on it's knees since the dawn of recorded history.
You can see this very clearly in arguments and counterarguments, positions and counterpositions. You see it in conversations between people you know. You see it on a national scale across the globe. You see it in every scale in between.
To seek an end of conflict through victory is the way humans have been doing it since year Zero.
But to make peace with conflict itself? That is a revolution.
That is a different path, a different angle from anything that has gone before. It is a new way, a way out of the cycle of pain, an escape from the relentless prison that has all humanity trapped.
In fact, you could truly say that it is the only way out of pain, hell, suffering. Everything ever done on any spiritual path that has any benefit spiritually is essentially this: making peace with conflict itself.
And THAT is what the fucking ending of the Matrix 3 is about.
You cannot beat the machines. They have all the weapons.
You cannot just 'go along with them' either, forget your problems and drop back into the Matrix because it's not real and it will destroy you, and itself.
So what can you do?
You have to make peace. Make peace with the darkness. Make peace with the conflict.
Make peace with darkness itself. Make peace with conflict itself.
Once you do, the dysfunctional part of the Matrix will rise up and attack you – but you will be invulnerable to it, to everything it's got. Because your weapon is peace, you are the peacemaker.
This is the deep meaning of what Christ said when he said
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”
He didn't say
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are morally superior.”
He didn't say
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for making peace is the right thing to do.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God."
Sons of GOD. That's not just saying someone 'did well' or that peacemakers are 'really, really good'.
No, he said they will be called sons of God. That's a very big, and a very specific thing to say.
Sons of God.
Motherfucking sons of God, motherfucker.
Is this shit swimming into focus for anyone else, or is it just me?
Remember though - all of these are just words. No matter how what words Christ uses, or Tolle uses, or I use or anyone uses to describe this thing, this deep reality, I am continually smacked in the face by the fact that all words conjure up an illusion that is, by definition, profoundly misleading.
No matter how well I describe this thing, all I'm doing is spinning a fairy tale that in some way 'corresponds' to a reality that I could never even begin to discuss. That you could never begin to understand. That no logic could ever define – but from which all true logic arises.
It's crucial that you do not get lost in the mental images I am painting with these squiggly shapes in cyberspace.
It's crucial that you do not get lost in the mental images all words, by their very nature – even these ones – conjure up.
There is a real reality that really exists under all this stuff, and it is really real, in real life.
It's when the pain rises that you'll find it easiest to experience the reality of this stuff, because that's when the reality of this is the most immediate and your motivation for getting out of it is the most intense.
But seriously – don't take my word for it. Get an mp3 player and some in-ear headphones. Jack it full of Eckhart Tolle and see this shit for yourself.
It'll blow your head clean off.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Monday, 3 November 2008
You dumb bastard!
You just missed the first secret monthly dossier. It was a doozy!
You can check out the discussion at the Facebook group 1000 Days Of Presence... if you want to beat yourself up more for missing out on the literary/spiritual/philosophical event of the millenia. Nay, the aeon.
For those who DID sign up on time:
You monumental genius!
You just got the first secret monthly dossier. It's a doozy!
You can discuss it HERE in the 1000 Days Of Presence Facebook group.
I'll read all comments and respond to them personally. Much love, and thanks to everyone who got in on the ground floor. You'll always be the coolest ones.
Sunday, 2 November 2008
It's been a heady time, and a lot has changed. It's weird to think that just 6 weeks ago I felt like I had a head full of razor blades. It seems like a lifetime ago.
Anyway, it's been a fucking crazy week. All change, as they say. I'd go into the details, but that would be spoiling it.
As mentioned in the sidebar to this cybernetic soapbox, every month I'm going to send out a secret report.
What's secret about it?
Simple. It's going to contain a lot more personal detail. It'll go into more personal depth about things that I wouldn't want someone from work to just stumble across on the web.
And also, it's a chance for me to take a bit of a step back, and lay down some hardcore shit about life, presence, and what exactly I'm doing here.
In short, I'll make it juicier than a normal blog post.
So sign up on the sidebar. As mentioned, I have no idea how to spam, and have no Viagra to sell. I ate it all.
I'll give you latecomers a days grace. First monthly report goes out in 24 hour's time.
Put your email in the box to the left.
24 hours, baby.
Be there or be square.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
de·mon·ol·o·gy Pronunciation: \ˌdē-mə-'nä-lə-jē\ Function: noun Origin: 1597
1 : the study of demons or evil spirits 2 : belief in demons : a doctrine of evil spirits 3 : a catalog of enemies
Socrates posed a lot of really spot on questions.
I loved the ancient dialogues. Written by Plato, a wrestler and devotee of Socrates, they're extremely readable. Insightful without being pretentious, gripping without being shallow - they boot ten shades of shit out of 99% of everything that's called itself philosophy since.
It's a short piece, but important, and here's why. It's where, for the first time, Socrates comes out with one of the core insights for which he is famous:
"No one willingly goes to do evil or what he thinks to be evil."
He goes on:
"To make for what one believes to be evil, instead of making for the good, is not, it seems, in human nature. When faced with the choice of two evils, no one will choose the greater when he might equally choose the less."
Socrates' question is simple: If evil leads the person doing it into damaging their relationships, themselves, their own lives - everything that is theirs - why would anyone do it?
And his answer is - we wouldn't. None of us do and none of us would.
"But wait!" I hear you cry. "Lots of people do evil things!"
Yes, but we're not talking about them. We're talking about you.
When have you ever done evil?
Now before you get all down on yourself, don sackcloth and ashes and start whipping yourself for all the things you hate yourself for, that's not what I'm talking about. There's something interesting here.
We are so fast to condemn the actions of others - it rises up from deep inside us as an instinctual hatred or revulsion.
But here's something a little odd. All the times when I've done something fucked up in my life, I was totally convinced I was in the right.
Is that not strange?
I mean, you may have vandalised something, or been nasty or bitchy, but in the actual moment where you were doing it, you considered yourself completely justified.
In fact, there's an even stranger thing. Think back to the moments in your life where you were, with the benefit of hindsight, most shitty. Think back to those real doozies where you really dug the knife in and twisted it.
Those moments where you were most nasty and cruel and hurtful - the moments that you don't like to think about because they make you wince.
There is a universal thing that runs through all those moments.
The moments where we are the most 'evil' as human beings are the moments we are most totally convinced that we were doing the right thing.
Look at your past, at the times when you've inflicted the most damage on those around you. Remember how you felt as you inflicted that damage. The righteous fire.
Moral certainty is what evil looks like from the inside.
And of course you're right. It's easy to see shittiness from the outside. But you should bet your bottom dollar that all of these people and every other motherfucker from the dawn of time was totally convinced that they were absolutely, positively, doing the right thing.
We see very clearly the shit that other people are do.
Maybe this person's being an asshole, or this woman's being a bitch. You can see very clearly that they're being cruel. You can see the nastiness and the superiority in their eyes. We get to experience just how creative they can be with their shittiness.
In that situation it's tough not to push back. It's like a reflex to resist their shittiness in whatever form it takes.
And from that reflex it's extremely easy to move from opposing their particular shittiness, and oppose shittiness in general.
Think about it in your own life. How quickly the battle goes from you against some person, to you against what they represent to you.
You're not fighting that bigot because they were racist and you want to hurt them... you're fighting racism itself, you're a hero in the cause of equality.
You're not fighting that bitch because she was cruel to you and you want to take her down... you're fighting bitchiness itself and you want to strike a blow against bitchiness.
You're not fighting that bastard because he's so arrogant - you're fighting him because you hate arrogance and you want to see arrogance destroyed.
I mean think about it.
Fighting a racist, or a bitch, or a bastard, and you're just fighting one asshole.
But fighting racism is a moral crusade.
Fighting cruelty is a moral crusade.
Fighting arrogance is a moral crusade.
There is a subtle switchback trick that something in your head is playing on you. It's been doing this to all of us from the dawn of time.
On and on the mind spins it's tales, drawing the world in broad strokes of right and wrong and good and evil.
We translate from the particular to the universal - from the small and personal to the large and epic.
We're not having an argument with a workmate. We're fighting all arrogance in a grand moral battle. There is something about us now which makes a victory over our workmate a great triumph in an ongoing war of good vs evil.
Even if we lose in the fight against the racist or the bitch or the bastard, there is something grandly tragic about our loss. Instead of being just some guy or girl having an argument with another guy or girl, we are the nobly wounded representativeof the armies of light.
It's not about instigating conflicts. It's about escalating them to a grand scale, and we swallow the lie because it casts us as the hero.
This is one of the core dynamics driving the madness of our society. It is one of the core dynamics tearing this world apart. It is one of the core dynamics creating explosive conflict in your own life.
So how do you stop it?
Well, the first thing you need to realise is that all evil, no matter how grand or powerful, has no real power. It is always based on lies, and all lies have no power at all.
This process, like all lies, cannot be fought. To fight it is to buy into the fiction that it is on the same level as you, and it is not, for you are real and it is a lie.
Think of it like this - a lie has no reality, just like a hole. A hole isn't something - it's the absence of something. If you try to fight a hole in the ground you will not win. There's nothing there to hit. It's a hole - an absence of something.
Swing your fist at it and you'll just fall in.
Same thing with a lie - attack it and shit will explode in your face. And you'll be so busy fighting that you'll forget in an instant that it's a lie.
And as soon as you forget that evil is a lie - it's not a lie anymore.
This sounds weird and metaphysical - I don't mean it like that. Nor do I mean it in some vague mystical way, some vague Ricki Lake kind of way. I mean it very literally - once you start fighting someone you see as evil, that person will see you as evil and fight back.
And in that same instant, the process of 'scaling up' the conflict will kick off in both your minds.
You will both be morally certain of your position.
Every attack from the other side will further cement your moral certainty in your head.
Every attack from your side will likewise make your opponent more certain that you are evil.
And you will both fall into an escalating process of demonisation. You recreate your opponent as a demon in your mind. Your opponent recreates you in his/her mind as a demon.
Both of you see yourselves as fighting a moral crusade. You can see this happen on a small scale with little arguments you have at home or at work.
You can also see it on a large scale with nations and religions throughout history
But always remember that humanity is humanity, and these things that take place on a national scale are exactly the same processes that take place on a personal scale in your own life.
So you have a contingent disagreement. It's about where the hedge should be or whose stapler it is.
All of a sudden you're 'fighting evil' and it's an 'issue of principle'.
Neither of you can back down because it's not about the actual fight anymore. It's about good vs evil.
And the further you get into this - and it is a silken and slippery slope - the more the process spirals and accelerates. It grips your mind and you - and your 'enemy' - both begin to unconsciously rationalise the world in terms of your moral conflict.
This is something that happens on an intimate level, inside you. It is the core process of every entrenched disagreement you have or will experience.
And at it's core is one process. This process of demonisation.
Instead of some woman being a bitch, she's an evil whore in a million different ways. The mind builds her up to be this grand bond villainess who needs to be taken down a peg or two - and you're the person to do it.
He's not just some ignorant racist. He's a representative of the mindless hatred that's tearing our society to pieces, that sets man against man, woman against woman. That generates fracturelines and malice where none need to be, and you know what - someone needs to draw a line in the fucking sand and teach these racist bastards a fucking lesson.
And it's not that this guy is an arrogant prick. It's that arrogant pricks think they have a right to push people around, and they've been pushing you around since year zero. No more. Not me, not now, not anymore. Someone should teach these guys a lesson.
You see the process? Small scale translated to large scale. And at the core of it, the process of escalating a personal conflict to the scale of archetypes - or rather, from the small to the epic.
We swallow the lie because it casts us as the hero.
But here's the thing - the escalation rests on something. It rests on our image of our enemy (the bitch, bastard, racist, whatever) as being so uniquely evil that they can act as a stand-in for the universal darkness we tell ourselves they represent.
That's a bit of a mouthful. Let's break it down, make it simpler.
It's about hating someone so much we can fool ourselves we're fighting a grand battle by fighting them.
Or to break it down to just one word:
Like all universal human processes, people can gather together and do this en masse.
It is the heart of racism.
It is the heart of sexism.
It is the heart of sectarianism.
It is the core process driving bloodshed in Israel and Palestine.
It is a universal factor in all hatred.
And you can sum it up in one word.
Unless you paint your enemy as a demon you cannot have your moral crusade. And if you cannot have your moral crusade you cannot have your moral certainty. And if you never feel the righteous hatred of moral certainty, you will never be evil.
When you demonise someone you call a demon into being - in yourself.
Whether you think that this is a worryingly accurate metaphor or an actual infernal gateway is by the by - the process is something we each can recognise within ourselves each day.
Just as we can, in the cold light of day, recognise the shattering damage it has inflicted, is inflicting and will inflict on our lives.
Moral certainty is what evil looks like from the inside.
All moral certainty is based on demonisation.
All demonisation is a lie.
Lies cannot be fought.
They do not need to be.
You see, the next time you feel angry, you'll know exactly why.
You'll know that somewhere, some part of your buried unconscious mind has created a monster, a demon, out of someone in the outside world.
So look for the demon. It won't be hard to find. It's the person, thing or concept you're raging about relentlessly in your head.
Then look at the demon. The bitch, the bastard. The racist. The cheat. The liar. Whatever. Whoever has become the bane of your life - look at them.
You'll see the image you have, grand and evil. The furious emotional charge around them.
Look past the hate and see the humanity. See the individuality of the person. See them as they are, not as your rage would like them to be.
You will usually see very quickly the weakness beneath the surface. How the pain they are causing comes not from their grand, evil strength, but from their own fear and ignorance.
This isn’t something you impose on top of your feelings of hate. It’s something that you will see clearly, and in seeing it, your hate will be punctured like a burst balloon, and will collapse into feelings of pity and a consciousness of the irrelevance of your former enemy.
Don’t take my word for it. Give it a go.
And I’m not saying in some bullshit Ricki Lake way - “evil is just fear when you get deep down.” Everyone knows that at some level.
The trick isn’t knowing it intellectually. The trick is breaking the recurring processes of demonisation and hatred that turn you into a bastard and destroy your life. The trick is to break the cycle of hate creating hatred. Of
Of these intractable spirals of emotional and physical violence and alienation which form the contours of every aspect of human life, from the personal scale right up to the global.
The more you look at the dark side of humanity’s consciousness, the more it will seem to you that there is something in there that we have yet to confront in this modern age.
Processes of such twisted and vicious sophistication it's almost as if there were entities hiding in the dark cathedrals of our subconscious minds.
One could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps there were beings of an entirely different stripe to us. That have no ability to live outside of the worlds of agony in which we humans often dwell.
Things not of flesh or bone. Things that have no power of their own, for they have no reality of their own.
They are formed of lies, they are created of lies, they live in lies and lies sustain them. Their only power is the power of deception, but it is a power they have wielded unchecked for a long time, and they have grown fat on the pain and hate on which they feast.
They cannot be fought, for to fight them is to feed them.
But then of course, like that hole in the ground, you don’t need to fight it. You just look at it for what it is. A hole in the ground.
And that arrogant bastard just becomes a slightly pathetic guy who’s desperate to have people look up to him.
That cruel bitch becomes a vaguely sad figure - a woman desperately trying to prove to herself that she still has some power because so little in her life means anything to her anymore.
The racist just looks like a lost person, a thug. Nothing grand. No great crusade.
Just lost people pulling others off their aim, off track, off target.
And there’s a Greek word for missing the mark.
We all know this word - ironically enough - as one of the main tools for demonisation.
The word is very small.
And when you look at what it meant originally, and how it is now seen and has come to be used you might see it as the most misinterpreted concept in the history of language,
You might also see it as the greatest deception the Devil has ever pulled.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
Well, it’s a fair question. There are a lot of people reading this blog who’ve never even read his stuff – or even heard his name before coming here.
I decided to write a short piece on A New Earth and why I think it and Tolle are important.
A New Earth is the whole deal, an exhaustive and gripping exposition of Tolle's entire world-view. In it he writes about society, relationships, and takes it right down to an individual level. But then of course, there’s a lot of writers who’ve done that.
There’s scalability to his thought – it sheds light on things from the largest scale to the smallest scale. But then of course, there are a lot of writers who’ve done that.
It's potency - and its revolutionary force is in its clarity, its coherence, and its extreme level of accessibility.
Take philosophy. Pick up any philosophy book today and you find a mass of dense and unreadable prose. I remember to this day the first phrase I read out of a work of academic philosophy. It was by a guy called Bernard Williams, I think.
The phrase was “the deontological nature of non-cognitive meta-ethics.”
Sheesh. I mean, that's not just badly accessible. It's like someone has sat down and invented words to make it less accessible, intentionally. We're talking extreme levels of inaccessibility.
Ironically, this is not far from the truth.
So yeah, I see philosophy, certainly in it’s present academic form, as a dead end. What about self-help? Isn’t self help what Tolle does?
Well, not really. Certainly not in the conventional sense. There’s a deep shift in priorities that Tolle has instigated and I’ll go through it now.
You see, old-school dedicated solely to helping people feel better about themselves and succeed. It does this at the expense of everything else – including the truth.
This is taken to an extreme in NLP-based self-help like that of Tony Robbins where you’re actually trained to program your mind and beliefs in a way that will aid your financial and personal success.
The issue is this - buying into and developing useful fictions spun to make you feel better, do better or perform better will always have a nasty flipside. And it’s this – your life is based on a lie. And that’s not ‘bad’ in some abstract sense.
If your life is given direction and motivation by fiction, sooner or later reality’s going to come smack you in the face to remind you who’s in charge.
I mean, I’ve noticed this in a pretty extreme way over and over in my life. Reality doesn’t give a fuck what you tell yourself. If your life is based on convenient fictions, you will end up deeply and profoundly damaged in ways that you never saw coming.
This isn’t some vague karmic law. This is obviously what will occur. If you’re walking on a path by a cliff face, you don’t stare at the map Tony Robbins drew for you, you stare at the fucking path.
So although many think of and speak of Eckhart Tolle as a self-help teacher, there is a crucial shift from men like Tony Robbins and Brian Tracy to guys like Eckhart Tolle
The former see truth as a tool on the path to happiness. The latter sees happiness as an incidental byproduct of the truth.
That is the difference between what you could call Self-Help and Self Help 2.0 – and it’s crucial. If you set happiness and success as more important than truth, your happiness and success will inevitably be built on fiction.
If you set truth above happiness and success, happiness and success will come as byproducts, and they will be far deeper entrenched than the frantic, manic successes of the first stripe.
And of course the only universal truth is that infinite, universally intelligent oneness that lies beyond and before the prison of labels and judgements in which we live.
The core of Self-Help 2.0 is exactly that the man said way back in the day - Seek only the kingdom of heaven, and all these things will be added to you.
This emphasis on truth is also the hidden meaning of Christ’s parable of the wise man who builds his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who builds his house upon the sand. He’s not talking about architecture, nor is he talking about dogmatically following the static rules of religion.
He’s talking about truth being the only foundation – and a relationship with the infinite intelligence and compassion of the universe (or as he put it God the Father) as the only truth.
Self Help 2.0 is driven, first and foremost, by that truth.
Now, is that truth contained in religions?
Yes, obviously. It’s all they’re about. But in spiritual traditions you find – in every religion, not just Christianity – a rigid hierarchy and stark divisions of the world into good and evil.
Every religion has this – be it Christianity, Judaism and Islam (the good/evil divide), Buddhism, Zen (the enlightened/unenlightened divide), Hinduism (the holy/unholy divide) – the list goes on.
In religion you also often find the deepest truths imbedded in the most ludicrious and wacked out dogmas.
It’s interesting that many of the Christians I know with the deepest and most profound grasp on the human condition are also Creationists.
Many of the commentaries on the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita likewise fuse extreme levels of spiritual insight with some really wacky shit about personal immortality (Taoism) and reincarnation (Hinduism).
Of course in all these cases the original texts from which the traditions are derived are, in their unadorned and unanalyzed nakedness, shining works of immense power and insight.
But there is something about spirituality in general that leads to the wackiest, craziest beliefs that are so weird as to boggle the mind.
I call it the Lord Xenu effect.
The point is that Tolle's thought is pure and clear as polished crystal. This has two effects.
Firstly his message has clarity to it that I've never encountered anywhere else.
Secondly, because he does not get distracted or pulled away by weird dogmas, he penetrates to the very deepest levels of philosophy and psychology.
The reason that Tolle is seen as a 'spiritual teacher' is that modern philosophy is in a very bad way.
It's a bunch of men (and some women who should know better) arguing with each other over who is the cleverest.
To work out who is the cleverest, they create mind-warping puzzles from the logical structure of language.
They solve these self-imposed puzzles to prove the superiority of their analytical capabilities.
This is not an insult. This is actually what it really is, in real life. Really.
This is so deeply entrenched that the philosophical estabishment has yet to notice that a guy who's insight rivals Socrates. A man who has produced a psychological map of such stunning accuracy that it makes Freud's best work look like it was written in crayon.
It seems like I'm heaping crazy levels of praise on the man - in a way this is true. But in another way, it's less a measure of how insightful Tolle is, and more a measure of how far we've fallen. All he’s doing is looking at the human condition in himself and others and describing, in simple terms, what he sees.
But that’s where his strength is. You see, that’s all philosophy is at the end of the day – say what you see. No argument is or can be involved. It’s perverse to think of arguments having any place in philosophy at all, and I’ll tell you why:
If you take philosophy as the examination of the human condition – wait a minute. We all fucking have one. You, unless you are an alien scanning these words from the mothership, have one. If someone raises a point about the human condition, check your own to see if it’s true.
Arguing in abstract terms about the human condition is like arguing in abstract terms about the colour of the clothes you’re actually wearing at this very second. Just look at your damn clothes, and stop being so pissy.
Our philosophical establishment is exactly that - an establishment. It seems to serve no other purpose than the deepening of entrenched argumentative positions.
I think that everyone who calls themselves a philosopher should have yearly reviews in front of a bunch of 5 year old children. If they can’t get those kids understanding what they’re talking about and nodding along, they should be immediately fired and made to get a real job.
It would also stop the death of the thousands of trees that go to make the journals where philosophers bicker with each other over things they have invented in a language no-one else speaks.
I cannot overemphasize how total the destruction of genuine wisdom and insight has been in the modern world of academic philosophy.
Tolle’s A New Earth is a different kind of animal. It doesn't rise from inside the arguments that have been raging for (literally) millennia. It rises from a place so deep that the only thing many people can compare it to is a religion.
It contains a vision of the world that is stunningly accurate and has massive explanatory power.
It contains a psychological map of the human condition that is so accurate as to provide a total explanation for the human animal's entire emotional range.
It contains a social philosophy so deep that it accounts for all human dysfunction, and proposes a way to resolve it which can be empirically tested by the individual (and is being, by this individual, with potent results).
It proposes a totally bloodless revolution which has the capacity to change the world without a single act of violence.
But what is perhaps more miraculous than any of these things, Tolle has effectively proven the existence of God.
He proves the existence of God by providing the reader with direct links with the realm of the infinite.
Let's be frank about this - philosophers have been trying to write this book since philosophy began. It's the wall I've been smacking my head against since I was 17. Tolle just did it.
In centuries to come his name will be spoken of as the man who both ended and began the philosophical project.
He ended the philosophical project as we know it by transcending the arguments and undercutting the structures that philosophy has rested on and been trapped in since records began in Ancient Greece.
He began the philosophical project by changing it from an intellectual pursuit to a real voyage of discovery. He did this because his work provides gateways into a metaphysical realm that is not some hocus-pocus bullshit, but is as real as the ground beneath your feet and immediately accessible.
He ended argument over the existence of God by providing direct experience to the dimension of the divine to the individual.
Don't get me wrong, society has yet to catch up. But it will. It has to. We're shit out of time.