nature of the artform

The Collective

by j

I dreamed I was Saint Augustine, alive as you or me.

--Bob Dylan

I'm typing at my computer while my mother and my sister are "interfering," also typing different projects on the same computer at the same time. It irritates me, but it doesn't bother me all that much until they begin to threaten the operation of the computer by calling functions that slow it down and threaten to crash it. I have a database running which is a kind of summary of dates, or a listing of my writings (not my journals, but perhaps symbolic of them; it's a mere listing of my activities, not an exposition of them, but as if it were nevertheless a complete record). My sister (as a final act of an activity that she and my mother have been threatening all along), despite my definitive protests as I see what she is about to do, pushes a "save" button and the computer attempts the operation, gets sidetracked (overloaded) and attempts to "process" the database into an MSWorks file in order to save the info before it crashes, during which operation it gets locked into a loop and runs continually without actually doing anything. I get pissed. Whereas before I had been plodding along, not accomplishing much, but at least getting it down in pixels, now I have nothing, because the database is gone. I go off into another room (my mother's bedroom, which has no beds and is far larger than it really was; before we were as if in a backyard, yet sort of inside, in an area that I do not know, an almost non-descript area) in a funky fit of "catatonic depression" where I will not respond to anyone. At first, they (including my father) try to bring me out of it, but they soon give up and accept me the way I am. Later, I begin to come out of the "mood" slightly, but I am never the same again. I put on my boots, determined to leave and go into the mountains to the east (foothills really, and not far away, but symbolically far more distant), where I can contemplate the heights of nature. The others, my brother included, are happy that I am responding somewhat. Though minimal, my token response is enough for them to be relieved. They have no hints that I am actually leaving them for good.

I awaken thinking I have no hope, the affect of the dream persisting. I am isolated and alone. I isolated myself a long time ago, when I was young, before I even realized I was doing it. I am so isolated that I have virtually no social life at all, except in those very rare instances when I go out to visit someone, usually my brother. But those times do not cultivate relationships at all, except minimally with my brother's family. I have no job, nor any prospects, nor do I want any. The only things I have going for me now are my journal work and my house (and the small savings that support them), not that previously I had all that much more, a job that wore me out and made no sense at all--but at least it was a good source of income (but hardly worth the extended effort and chronic "disability").

In the same vein, who else has any hope, as an individual? As species' members, we make and support decisions that kill our fellow humans--in the name of progress, that we would be rid of threats (real or perceived) to our continued existence and prosperity. It is only in this collective sense, acting in concert, that we have any significance at all. Maybe it is necessary, from time to time, to kill off a portion of our populace in war (the innocent among them, usually in far greater numbers than the guilty, who are usually arguably so), but how much of this genocide is really an attempt to purge our own selves of the evil intent within, that which we do not want to acknowledge, but would rather just be rid of it via scapegoating it onto someone else?

The best that can be said of us, apart from this ubiquitous self-destructive motive our species seems to have, is that we do advance, mostly in medical or health-care terms (which benefits are heavily weighted toward the affluent among us), with the rest of technology tending to support that motive and being not so much worthy of merit on its own. (It's questionable as to whether technology really improves our lives otherwise all that much. Maybe in terms of better (warmer, more efficient) places to live and work; and probably in term of work itself which, although mostly hopeless in and of itself, does give us an excuse to carry on.

The whole point here is that we advance as a whole. As individuals, we're going to die, and the older each of us gets, the more we realize the truth of that statement. It becomes more profound as we mature. And if, as we age and continue to act as individuals, we are left with a sense of hopelessness. It is only by seeing ourselves as an expendable part of the collective that we can continue to work, for the greater good. Why continue struggling on when inevitable death will overtake us anyway? For material gains alone? For comfort beyond simple security?

This makes the capitalist agenda basically a lie, or at best a temporary rationalization that allows younger citizens to believe in the system long enough to keep them productive during their most productive years, whereas communist systems rob the young of their selfish motive to succeed materially, appealing to a collective (spiritual) motive that they never quite grasp until they are old enough to be staring death in the face. Communism is a theoretical construct, whereas capitalism is a practical strategy.

So where does this leave me? Nowhere, man. Alone, I am...alone. I still don't feel lonely, but, hey, I already know I'm defective. But we're all defective, most of us. Either we're young enough to be deluded into working for the system or we're mature enough to glimpse the truth, but have "advanced" beyond our most productive years, when we were young enough to bust our asses, thinking that was what we had to do. But that gray area in between, when we are somewhat marginally enlightened and still productive enough to make something out of it, seems to be expanding as science extends our lives, causing us problems as we better see into the farce, but must continue working despite the insight. And since science is enabled by a capitalist system, but enlightenment is not, but is rather impeded by it, as when our great society decides to bomb the hell out of peasants in order to disable a few despots, we struggle to come to terms with how we are to continue to fit in. Or, at least, I do. As I've said, this is all I have going for me now and I'm making the best of it, in my small way, since I have no hope of any god who is going to lift me up as an individual from all of this mess.

I tend to think of God as that force that makes things run smoothly or determines that they will continually thwart my intentions, so that when they are thwarted, I turn my attention to that power and say "You Asshole; there was no reason for you to do that at all." God, in my mind, is capricious at best, answering my expectations occasionally, but more often throwing obstacles in my way, and leaving me to my own devices the rest of the time.

But sometimes I think I have a direct line to God, or at least to a mechanistic "heaven" somewhere that makes things work out for the best, as symbolized (personified) in the film Le Petit Ceil when Jacques prays and his prayers are answered by sub-deities, without question. I exercise this ability when I expect things to happen in a certain way, to my or others' benefit, and sure enough, within a few days, they do. I need to do this more intentionally, like praying, to get my message more consciously into the cosmic grapevine where it can act more effectively. I can establish the "direct line" via meditation, but seldom do I ever use it to an end like prayer, preferring instead to accept the way things are. Maybe this is just the wrong way, after all. Maybe I should go after the things I want instead of waiting for them to come to me. But when I wait, it's always a pleasant experience, whereas when I go after them, often there are caustic results, such as...

As it is now, I'm just existing, nothing more. Something must be going on inside of which I am completely unaware, evidenced by the way I lose my motivation to work when I return from being out among people, especially when I have been privy to intimate details of their lives. This happens to me all the time, and so I conclude that their agendas and psychologies affect me at a level too deep for me to reach and understand. This is logical, of course, but so foreign to my ability at conscious analysis as to confound it, to cause it to stop functioning. Maybe it's working beneath the surface so intensely that it must forgo all conscious function in order to operate more efficiently. I don't know. You'd think I'd have run across an explanation of this phenomenon by now. I'm a part of a larger motive, some force beyond myself, I know. But I can barely notice it on rare occasions. Most of the time, it functions as if I'm totally divorced from it, although I know, if I stop to think about it, that I am not. This is the problem: I can think about it, but I can't feel. I'm isolated and on my own, I think.

Yet nowhere is the collective more evident than within my own self. I've been criticizing George Bush's policies and warmongering for a while now, even as I know that I myself harbor similar desires, which I hold in check, abhor, and work to purge, by being as anti-war as I can be, without losing my sense of practicality. I've been maintaining for a while now that Bush's war policies, in conjunction with the terrorist threats around the world, are rapidly heading us toward World War Three. But I've been wrong. WWIII has already started. It started long before 9/11, but the collapse of the World Trade Center may come to be seen as the war's defining initial moment. We're caught up in something so profound that we can't know its extent until it is fully set upon us and we are inextricable.

Symbols of the collective process prolifereate. I see them everywhere. I encounter them in crowds (surprisingly, the least obvious) and alone (more likely), a paradoxical perception--but maybe this is only me. Frequently, I see them on tv. On a Seinfeld rerun, Jeremy Piven plays a sitcom actor, Michael Barth, who in a sub-skit based on the "lives" of the sitcom characters plays George Costanza, a character based on a real person [perhaps-- like Kramer, or if not, then this same outline can be applied to Kramer, and maybe Elaine, but I don't know their pseudo-sitcom actors' names and pseudo-names] who is played by Jason Alexander. In other words, an actor plays an actor who plays a character played by another actor. The meta-levels are almost fractal. In this same way, but far more profoundly, when we examine our mutual psychologies, where we intertwine, exchanging psychic material in a flurry of continual transferences, we are all one, inseparable, except within our limited illusions that we are unique individuals.

This is our heritage, to think we are separate, living discrete lives, relatively immune from the effects of what we do to others. Even as Orientals, we do not so much give more than lip service to the theory of karma, not any more than Christians "believe" in communion within the Church and responsibility for their fellow Christians. Yeah, we all believe these spiritual tenets of our respective "faiths," but we do not live them, preferring instead to live practical lives and pay homage instead to the warmongers who pretend to protect us.

I don't believe in heritage because inevitably somewhere in every person's past a social pattern of cruelty and inhumanity exists, which the worship of heritage tends to glorify. I look to the future, not to the past; I look for the hope of advancement to a higher form of human being, a true collective where we know that we exist together.

But I can't find this form, anywhere, except in rare states of meditation that are few and far between. Otherwise, I have become jaded and get more bitter every year, it seems. Until someone proves to me otherwise, as a practical matter, it hardly matters to me most of the time that we kill off endangered species, or pollute the rivers, streams, air and, generally, poison our environment, cut down the forests and deplete renewable resources to the point where they become unrenewable, kill innocent people (as long as one of them isn't me), disenfranchise increasing millions of world citizens each year, allow corporations to steal from the poor and give to the rich, etc. The human race is fucked and deserves to kill itself off. Let it happen. I don't give a shit. Maybe there's some hope, but I don't see it. I'm too caught up in my own narcissism most of the time to be a world-class citizen. And yet, it is an ideal of mine, a collective form of being. Or should I say that it's an idle dream?

But I'm very much into idle dreams, at times. What I like most about idle dreams is that they don't have to be practical.

A bishop of the United Methodist Church, President Bush's denomination, stars in a new antiwar ad in which he declares that making war against Iraq "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ." [CNN.com]
Jesus was an idle dreamer, after all, wasn't he? He didn't say "Turn the other cheek, except when it's convenient or practical for you not to." By his example, he showed us that we are to turn the other cheek even if it is the cause of our own death. In this sense, all of those conservative fundamentalist "Christians" are just dead wrong when they support a war of any kind, and doubly wrong when they do it primarily for money.

I don't believe totally in Jesus' message either, but at least I don't pretend to be a Christian. I don't believe we should attack Iraq. Red-blooded Americans like my brother and his firemen cohorts would be appalled at this conclusion I've come to. Should we have not declared war on Germany? Should we have not bombed the Taliban to hell? Should we just allow tyrants to overrun us and ride herd over us? They'd want me to justify my pacifist stance. I can't, not in logical terms in this instance, at any rate, and not generally re terrorism. I think we (as a nation) are doing the only thing we can do, given the circumstances. But that doesn't make it right. We're starting too late to apply sound pacifist principles of non-violence to these latter day problems without suffering the consequences of years of neglect. If Chamberlain had not done what he did, or failed to do, we could have contained Hitler in much the same way that Saddam is now contained. The same is true of the Taliban. Had we applied sanctions universally decades ago, it would have been a much easier problem, working with local governments to contain terrorism. If we would apply those same sanctions and pacifist principles now re Saudi Arabia, we will have prevented World War Three. But we won't do it. We don't act with that kind of foresight, because we are not pacifists. We wait, until it's too late, and then we attack our enemies into submission. And anyway, as I've already said, I think that WWIII has already begun.

Someone (I think it was Rumsfeld) has recently suggested that the new type of warfare (terrorist bio-threats) precludes using our traditional strategy of wait and see and attack later after it's clear what's really going on. More and more, threatening situations demand preemptive strikes. Well, maybe, from a practical point of view. But I doubt if Jesus would agree, and certain, pacifism doesn't.

Pacifism is not the equivalent of weakness, though non-pacifists believe that it is. It takes more courage and strength to be a pacifist than it takes to be bellicose. And it takes more planning and insight into the nature of human psychology. Pacifism means that you don't attack. It doesn't necessarily mean that you don't defend yourself when attacked, although some extremists believe that should also be the case. I do not. I believe that you should develop strong defenses that discourage and even prevent attack, and when attacked, you repel invaders at your designated borders. Meanwhile, those peoples who declare themselves your enemies, or those whom you declare your enemies, are thwarted in their efforts by coalitions developed by diplomacy with effective sanctions. As it is, we can't make this work because we aren't strong enough to do it. We (coalition members; not only Americans, but our allies as well) weaken and allow exceptions; we let "humanitarian" concerns break our will, such as in Iraq. We could have deposed Saddam via sanctions alone, but we felt sorry for the millions of innocent Iraqis who were suffering, as if that were our fault, not Saddam's. We've always been weak in this regard. Not to mention the fact that we (Europeans) want cheap oil.

None of the problems we (Americans) have today would exist if we would have developed the technology that's existed for over fifty years to eliminate our oil dependency. But our corporate leaders haven't wanted us to take that course of action, because they saw the far more profitable direction in which we were already heading, a direction with far less overhead in research and development. But even given this direction, we could still have avoided the problem by biting the bullet and opting for more expensive oil, for living a far less affluent lifestyle and struggling to assert our free way of life independently of the oil rich Middle East. But we've been weak. We want affluence, not austerity. We don't want to tighten our belts. We want to expand our waistlines. Consequently, we choose to believe that attack at the critical moments in our history is preferable to defensive buildup when times are good. We lower our defenses during good times and leave ourselves vulnerable to attack, almost as if we invite it, to justify our existence as warmongers.

As a pacifist, I see attack as the equivalent of failure to live as a rational and peaceful lifeform. You cannot be an attacker and a peaceful person. The two are diametrically opposed, despite what real red-blooded Americans claim, that they love peace and freedom and are willing to fight for it. You can't fight for peace. Not only does fighting disrupt the peace, it doesn't even bring later peace, because repercussions will always result, if only subversively. Our current state of affairs is proof of that. Bosnia was a result of the World Wars, and the Al Qa'ida is a result, in part, of Bosnia. It's a vicious circle. The cycle never ends.

You have to be strong to be a pacifist, stronger than warmongers, not only to ward off their attacks against you, but also to make your own tactics and strategy work for you. Bullies will always exist. They operate on the logic that, if they aren't the bullies, then they will become the victims of other bullies. And this is true, if you allow it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it can be negated, by standing strong in the face of attack. Bullies do not attack people whom they feel are stronger than they themselves are. Inner strength will be perceived and respected, especially when it is coupled with an ability at and willingness to use the strength in immediate (as opposed to delayed) counterattack. Bullies are thwarted by this stance. This is the theory behind the most advanced of Oriental martial arts, not the watered-down American versions, but the original ones that propose that your best defense is a strength unused except in the direst of life-threatening cicumstances.

I live by this principle: I forego affluence and the pursuit of material excess, favoring principle in general instead. Practically, now, we may have no choice but to attack tyrants and terrorists in order to protect ourselves. But if we would adopt a (truly) pacifist agenda, future incidents would take care of themselves and we would be secure. But we won't adopt this agenda. It's not in our (American) nature. I, though, as an individual, believe in the agenda and continue to assert and support it. You're going to attack Iraq. So go ahead and do it. But leave me out. You do it because you're weak and want to prove you're not. That's always the motivation of attackers. They attack because they don't have the strength not to. If you disagree with this and want to attack me for it, you prove my point. Even in oral argument, bullies attack because they can't calmly argue and must resort to raised voices and other implied physical threats. It is, nevertheless, an American principle, however disregarded, that we allow people their say. But when they say it, we shout them down, just as, in world politics, when political leaders act undemocratically, we threaten their regimes (even while maintaining that we defend their right to govern their own countries without interference). Much of the world sees Americans as bullies exactly for this reason. We're always interfering, because we feel that our way of life is better than theirs and is threatened by their alternative forms of government. Through our weakness, we try to impose our way of life on the rest of the world, much of which doesn't really want it. (But to be fair, they do want the affluence. Who wouldn't? They're as weak as we are.) This world of humans is a weak world. But we can be stronger. Two thousand years ago, a man showed us how. But he was too weak himself to mount a good physical defense. He had the right idea, but he took it too far for existence in a physical world. He believed in a spiritual afterlife. I do not (necessarily). I affirm my physicality, and that of others, resolving that I will not attack them unless they attack me first, and only then, in immediacy to defend myself, and not out of vengeance, hunting them down later, yet reserving the right to apply sanctions against their future behavior and stonewall them into accepting me as I am, a physical entity with all of the rights and privileges of human nature and freedom. This is the same strategy I propose for this country. But, of course, it will not be adopted, because humans, generally, have a stupid and warlike heritage and still operate from it, eschewing advancement. The human race has preprogrammed itself and is running the same program over and over again, escalating up through the ages of increasing technology until it results in the endtime tribulation. We could head this off. There are elements among us intelligent enough to do this. But we won't, because the people who could do it will not find their way into a controlling organization, and the rest of the population is too unconscious.

Many people feel similarly to me, but are too wary in this political climate to reveal it. Right-wingers' [like Bill O'Reilly, who claims he isn't right-wing; like, yeah--but that's okay. He can be what he wants to be] criticism of actors who recently have come out publicly against war with Iraq (Tim Robbins, Suzanne Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, etc) is an attempt to discredit via ridicule. Not only do the actors have the right and even the duty as public figures to speak up, but they have the potential to understand the situation just as well as do the right-wing pundits and "news people" (Are they really news people, or are they the same thing we are, ordinary people who use the postmodern "news" format as a place for spouting their ill-informed opinions?) or even those who are "in charge" do. Right-wingers want the rest of us, the unwashed masses, to believe that only they are capable of understanding and deciding what the appropriate course of action is, because they are the only experts at war-like situations. (They define the situation as warlike a priori and thus elevate themselves to expert status.) They attack because they recognize the potential for undoing their bellicose agenda that they've convinced the administration to adopt. It's a defensive position, really. And that's a good thing. Maybe they're finally on the run. Maybe they're circling the wagons. These are the agendas (right and left) that (appear to) break up the collective.

I see the collective breaking up all the time. People, situations, and environments that I have become fond of tend to disappear suddenly and fade away immediately in my mind, only to return years later as figments of nostalgia. I let these go in the moment without a thought, too preoccupied with what I am doing at the time, the present state that goes on without the absent elements, because that's the way life goes, it flows on, and to be perfectly appropriate and adaptive, which I seem to be, to be a survivor, you move on and deal with what is, in the present, and maybe feel a bit of regret later when you have the time to reminisce, when things slow down a bit, when you have the luxury to be able to afford to feel the pain you should have felt when those elements of your life disappeared. This is the time for analysis, if ever--never in the present. Spontaneous, on the spot analysis is seldom done correctly. It almost always leads to gross misjudgments and mistakes based, not on intelligence and wisdom, but on emotion and sentiment. If someone or something wants to leave or change, let it. Go your separate way. It's self-defeating practice not to. If they seriously want to go away, they should be allowed to go, and if they do not, they shouldn't be playing those kinds of games. At least with me they shouldn't. Life will play those kinds of games, intentionally or unwittingly within personalities that are out to manipulate others and situations, or programmed as a kind of "cosmic" script (symbolized by supposed astrological forces) that predetermines how events will turn out if you do not make the effort to act with intelligent foresight and correct behavior.

Very seldom do I ever even realize in the moment that a person, place, or thing is gone from my life, let alone feel sad about the loss. And on those rare occasions when I do realize it, even on those occasions when I recognize that, if I acted, even minimally, I could prevent the departure, rarely do I intervene to prevent the loss. I'm too cool, I guess. I calculate that, if they want to go, let them go. I disconsider their agendas, if they have any [places never have agendas, and the existence of a situation's agenda (cosmic script) is questionable], because I intuitively (instinctually?) recognize the (unconscious?) attempt to manipulate me, to convince me to act in order to prevent a loss. And when they (people) inevitably leave, because I will not act to stop them and they have become caught up in their own agenda, not really wanting to leave, perhaps, but wanting me to change, which I will not do, I am left to learn how to deal with the loss, which I will not do, because I know that, however obstinate, however stubborn I may be, I am right. I act to my own principles, and if others cannot understand and accept this, too bad.

As for places and situations, that's a different matter. People may leave, but things change, usually for different reasons too complex for any single person to affect. These tend to be more broadly social issues--not that people leaving are not social issues too, but they are well-mediated by individual personal feelings. This is what I tend to stonewall, when I do--feelings. Reason and logic must prevail. If others do not comply with my rational sense, well, okay. So be it. If places and situations do not comply, well then, maybe it's time for me to leave. But, usually, I do not. I adapt, or I do not adapt, but hold out, resisting the change and living in my own self-constructed internal world.

Nevertheless, people are continually trying to change me, or to change my mind. And sometimes they do, eventually, after I've had time to digest what they have to say. It's only natural. But, when they engage me in dialogue (which is what they would label it, if they took the time to think about it, which they don't, because they're too busy talking, which more resembles a monologue interspersed with my comments they will elicit in order that they may disconsider or qualify them to mold them, and thus my opinions, into theirs), my reaction is to stonewall them, which is a defense against their intrusion, which they hate, to be resisted. They want to engage in a meeting of the minds. They want to (pretend to) modify their opinions, even as you modify yours, so that, in the end, you have come to an agreement that is acceptable to both of you, which is more likely than not to be more nearly their original opinion than yours. It's a ruse, compromise. It's a word/idea game, things said in different ways in order to convince you to believe what you previously did not.

People will ask me my opinions with this manipulative agenda in mind. And then, when I refuse to bend, when I will give them my true opinions, and especially when I will hit upon a sensitive topic, too close to the truth of a particular unconscious experience that they would rather not hear (a process--transference--that I seem to be particularly intuitive at), they will become defensive, affronted, resistive, or even hostile. If people do not want my true opinions, ones based upon my insight and ability to probe their psychology, then they shouldn't ask me. They should know by now [if they know me, or I should forewarn them, if they do not] that I'm not going to lie, especially for the sake of social propriety. If you don't want to know (about yourself and your psychic interactions with the world), don't ask, especially when your (implicit) purpose is to alter my ideas of what you are (and I am), even if that purpose is unconscious. You are responsible for both your conscious and unconscious states.

People will use a charming disposition to try to woo me over to their opinions and/or points of view. They should be careful how they approach me. I can be somewhat charming myself. It's easy. All you have to do is talk to people, not about your own opinions, but about theirs, and about their own selves. Seldom do I ever go this far, but when the mood strikes me, when I see myself being manipulated or when certain people interest me to an extent that I will reach out beyond myself, I will begin to "interview" them. I have even been known, on rare occasions, to initiate conversations.

And people will sometimes become offended, or at least wary, when they hear that I have written about them. But what do they expect? They know what I do, or if they don't, let this be their public notification. If you don't want to appear in my journals, or in my fiction, don't talk to me or interact with me, because this is what I do, I document my life, and if you happen to show up in my life, expect to be included. You will be, in any case, whether or not I write about you, because that too is what I do, sometimes even when I am alone. I can't help it. It's how I've always functioned. (So have you, but do you know it? Or are you too unconscious?) This is the collective, and you are a part of it. And if you do not know the intimacy that we all from time to time will hide away from, especially if your life choice involves aggressive attacks against a portion of the whole that you do not like, let it be known: you attack yourself.

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