Saturday, May 15, 2010

Autonomy At Any Cost

The author would like his readers to know that this article is in no way influenced by, or relating to, the recent attacks made on Americans, as it was written, for the most part, nearly a month before those events transpired.

There comes a time in every man's life - or if he is lucky, or blessed by fortune, many times - where the shackles of the world fall away, where the completely artificial constructions, laws, rules, regulations, mannerisms, customs, and arbitrary habits of behavior that we are pressed beneath every single day of our lives disappear into thin air, and when placed in a single scenario or situation, or a moment, specific because of its later impact on one's thought, one is placed face to face with cold, naked reality, and forced, through whatever internal fortitude or instincts of personal management one may possess, to simply survive. Alone. Without the 'help' of others - crutches, inopportune assistance that draws you two steps back for every step forward, 'relationships', love - that grandest and most fragile of all illusions, that shrivels in the face of hunger it is so sanguine - the ties that bind us to the earth, definite locations, power struggles and hierarchies, the habits and every day moments of our stale, colorless, odorless, sanitized, fluorescent-lit 'reality', yes, without (in the most literal sense, being on the outside, forever and throughout all eternity in these seconds, separate and all-inclusive, these rapturous driftings beyond or beneath 'normal existence', epiphanies) all that we have come to take for granted, all that we take for real, stable, concrete, invariable, fixed situations and structures in our own lives...without all of these, without anything that would turn one's eyes (the mind's eye) away from the bare facts of existence. Life or death, starvation or fulfillment, growth or debility, light or dark, pain or pleasure, freedom or...the illusions that keep us slaves.

I live, I think, solely for these times in my life when the veils are lifted, when the scales fall from my eyes...and because I am so constituted so as not to be able to experience the reality that hides behind the light without feeling an extraordinary amount of pain (I am, of course, absolutely 'average' in this sense), I have been, through my short life, trained in a Pavlov process to raise my ears for the rumbling of that 'true' existence as I am clutching myself in the most abject misery. For this life, and I am not pretentious enough (or, indeed, self-righteous enough) to speak of any other, carries with it what must surely be an inexhaustible fount of pain. I believe, and this is not a theological precept, but rather a completely emotional reaction - completely subjective, and thus completely 'true' to me, here, in this moment - that it is our station in life to suffer, and I apologize if this seems like an untoward cliche to you, who would think differently if it could only mean suffering a little less. Rather, I would apologize and smile at you, and not necessarily in a mocking way, if you were to think otherwise, if only my sudden and quite unexpected pleasure at your own point of view could be legitimate. I believe, by this point, that very few of my own emotions carry any sort of legitimacy with them as beings-in-themselves, outside of the tint of the world...no, the poison is too far inside me, and my own corruption, my own fall too far advanced. Is this just a posture? I sincerely wish it was.

It is very difficult for me to escape the most basic facts of existence, and my time here on Earth, spent - profitably or not - in the examination and eager perusal of the simplest lessons life can offer me, repeated ad infinitum, or I should say, ad nauseam, because of my own temperament and its unwillingness to build any sort of life upon the illusions handed to me by my upbringing, my environment, and my culture, and knowing, moreover, the completely nonobjective status of reality itself, conforming only to each individual mind, and thus being an abyss of hits and near-misses in discourse, love, relationships, and other attempts at negotiating the inferno of self-actualization, has been nothing more than a constant fall, a slide into gray, unprofitable mirror images of ideality - the miserable illusions of bringing my dreams into reality, through a rigorously applied creativity and personal ethic of tenacious independence. For I would rather starve, it is true, than be a slave. And this is the position I am often in, not only in relation to the actual physical maintenance of body, health, and home, but also in the line of deriving any sort of profit, no matter how small, any product at all, from my interactions with other people or with reality itself in all of its guises, institutions, and abstract constructions. To put it simply: I am eternally outside the commerce of reality, and nothing of my efforts towards mimicking a 'normal' life, relatively free from pain and trial, have yielded results whatsoever. It is like being caught in a quagmire, a quicksand, swimming against a strong current that freezes and paralyzes one's every instinctive attempt to just live, to survive. I wonder if I am alone in feeling this way...for some reason, I don't think so...but I also know that this false empathy that I feel, half wish, again, and half derived from experience (or was it my dreams?) is just an illusion. I vacillate between this cruel mirage of harmony and the bitter knowledge of truth - which is to say that I attempt to levitate between the two, not touching either. In this small space, this dimension of denial and withdrawal, clear sight and masked vision, is where I believe we must live. It is the most basic urge of the survivor, who would deny all of reality, all madness, all of reality rushing in his ears and into his eyes, only in order to live for another day. Of course this instinct - the preservation of the self - is the greatest torment, the most painful scourge, possible in a man's life (it also goes by the name of hope), as it is constantly in conflict with the desire for death, and the hunger of the flesh, that tormenting spirit, gadfly, and killer that drives us endlessly onward - the killer within, the murderer that awakens everyday and cries out to be appeased, who is only made stronger by denying him...

In a certain frame of mind, whether reduced to the most fundamental straits of reality by duress, hardship, trauma, or illness, or in fact placed in this position by events that bring on these categories of suffering, it can not be ignored that the basic, underlying foundation of all experience - of all life - as it is taken in by the senses, can be reduced to one's most agonizing moments of suffering or unbalance. Homeostasis, as anyone who has been through traumatic events can attest, does not furnish memories. As such, in our wish or fundamental desire to maintain a stable, balanced, painless existence, we are in fact putting ourselves in the position of constantly forgetting what transpires - never creating personal events or psychological scenarios that would brand our memories with the force of the present. In this way, the future, past, and present, in itself, seem almost to become one...and much like Odysseus's fabled crew of Lotus Eaters, later further popularized or commented upon by Tennyson and a host of other writers, we exist in a twilight world of dreams, of fantasies, hopes, pale desires, weak motivations, unguided and unmotivated energies. The Freudian pleasure principle comes into effect with a vengeance here - what he first abstracted and labeled as mankind's negative avoidance of tension, moving towards a release of pain instead of a positive increase in pleasure, we now know is our civilization's entire thrust as it is typified as a collective effort at technological evolution. We will make our lives easier - but will we then remember them? Will we have even really lived when everything is idleness, gluttony, caprice? Without memories, without pain, how can we say when it comes time for us to die that we have even lived? How will our death, in any true sense, be different from our birth?

I am not a masochist, but even I, who could never realistically be called a proponent of pain for its own sake, have realized in the course of my own life that even the most heartrending tragedies are smoothed over by time's comforting veil of forgetfulness and/or amelioration. I am not exhorting one to increase pain for it's own sake, but merely not to live one's life in order to minimize suffering at the expense of potential experiences. Over time, we lose emotional ties with present events, relationships and/or causal synapses loosen, drift away from each other, and our view expands to include all the reasoning and emotional events that have transpired since the trauma. Memories are simply events recorded in the mind to warn us to change our behavior...or rather, they exist in the body, as records of our own pain, and it is the function of the will and understanding to draw conclusions from them. In the absence of real life experience, in the vacuum created by an existence that is painless, sterile, emotionally barren (only negative in the sense that 'positive' emotional events are considered to be the norm), without real ties to or relationships with others, drifting alone, exiled, separate, alone, cast free (in the sense of Camus, 'condemned to be free'), without any way of determining the standards of one's behavior or the minutiae of traditions, men and women should not be expected to pass through life without further pain - unless they descend even further into that twilight that is their present birthright, into nullity, numbness, emotional suicide, bestiality - because they have no foundation of wisdom to draw upon. In this sense, every event they experience comes upon them as if they were the first human to witness its like, and where there is novelty there can be a pleasant sense of discovery, but most often an overwhelming experience of fear, displacement, or physical and emotional paralysis. What I'm essentially interested in, however, is not how we flee these situations (now so unavoidable), into an emotional or spiritual death (killing ourselves on one or more levels so that we can not experience any more pain), but how this way of life - this reality that has become both our burden and our special privilege - can be seen as the true fount and nature of all our experience, as something that has to be enjoyed, supported, waited upon, felt deeply, and ultimately searched for passionately. Otherwise, we will not be alive.

Freedom, to me, specifically refers to the state and powers of self-determination, and I don't place any sort of restrictions on that state or its motives of self-preservation and self-realization. In order to come to this conclusion I think it is vital to experience events that will prove to you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, your essential powerlessness in swaying others basing your arguments in rationality or logic. The emotions are the true arbiters of judgment, and the precedents of action. Logic follows in their train. Once you have experienced the illusion that is modern discourse, the fragmented nature of personal arbitration, the faulty relationships that you have been trained to consider existing in reality, you can only be thrown back upon your own resources. Experiencing this, in addition, is merely the first step towards self-realization...and reduced to a solo state, alone, helpless except for what you can do for yourself, forced to draw on the lessons from one's own education, background, training, or traditions (which more often than not prove to be illusions in themselves) - placed, as it were, face to face with an unflinching reality and only having one's will, emotions, or mental forces to rely upon in order to guarantee or achieve survival...I believe this is the starting point of freedom. Unfortunately, in our world today, such situations are truly rare - not in that the modern mind has been reduced to an unfeeling state, and can no longer notice its own opportunity for freedom, or because we are somehow incapable, collectively, of understanding the perils and earnest dangers of reality-in-itself (reality as a holistic, widely-understood, traditional concept), but because we now have a firmly entrenched, inherent, rigidly manifest physical tradition and spiritual legacy of avoiding life, avoiding the true dangers and experiences of reality, and avoiding or fleeing (emotionally and spiritually, if not physically) all the opportunities for true experience (that is: events or scenarios where our independence of mind and essential state of exile as an individual, free human being are felt deeply), and all paths of living that would bring one in contact with the true nature of existence. Without suffering, I believe, without staring reality directly in the face, freedom and true independence of mind are impossible, and self-actualization is never awakened. Of course why I believe this is another matter entirely...

Let me open this up a little. I think that there are many of you who will have problems in understanding what exactly I'm trying to reach for with these statements. Let me clarify, then: what I believe is simply that life, as it comes to us through experience, can not be adequately felt, understood, or absorbed, commented upon, or interpreted and acted upon in a self-actualizing manner with the current spiritual/emotional/logical tradition that has been passed down to us from tradition. This includes the tradition, of course, of just the last generation - our parents, teachers, mentors, etc. Furthermore, moving beyond this statement, I also believe that the fundamental tenets of this tradition, including the notions of a widely-applied methodology of philosophical or psychological knowledge and technique, are in themselves flawed, and can not be applied to man as he stands today - or as he has always stood, in history, ill-conceived, misunderstood, helpless, groundless, and a slave of his own culture. In order to derive wisdom and survival techniques from Nature and Experience, it is first necessary to eradicate the detritus of past psychological/philosophical traditions, and this is what I mean by a personal appeal to self-actualization and a resolute freedom. Where every tradition of school of thought has, to this day, appealed to the individual man as merely a cell of a larger culture of civilization, it is my firm belief that in today's world, man can only understand himself as, essentially, a being unto himself: responsible, completely, for his own thoughts, emotions, or actions, and in a position where his own spirituality can only be derived from an unimpeded, self-determined, contact and debate with reality unmasked, and the sources of his own suffering.

Furthermore, let me say that I think that a man can only consider himself independent and free if he takes his own conscience and experience for his ruling guide, and never allows any institution, group, belief system, government, or relationship with any other human being into account when determining his thoughts and actions. What others may think is an untenable, unsupported role or function in life in determining one's own actions this way I believe is actually the only true way a man can view himself, and, moreover, I believe it is the real state of every man, at all times, whether he admit it to himself or not. In viewing himself this way, he is only coming closer to a state of self-determinism (indeed his natural state) that has been his birthright all along. The unwillingness of others to admit this essential truth does not oblige a man in any way to deny or defer the autonomy of his own existence.

In order to unmask reality, a man must appeal, in interpreting his own experiences, only to what he has learned of life through his own thought, and build upon his own experience in a chain of ceaseless interpretation. He should never take what others have told him about life for granted - and this includes those who communicate with him in his life or through the medium of texts which he peruses for answers. In this way, a man will not be able to avoid responsibility for his actions or beliefs, and his beliefs, in turn, no matter how seemingly ridiculous, will be heartfelt and sincere, having been derived from his own experience merely. In facing, on a day-to-day basis, the deprivations, cruelty, and joy of life, he will build for himself a foundation of experience (and through that experience, a personal history of his understanding slowly awakening, coming into contact with reality, and interpreting his experiences in the light of what has come before) which will provide a seemingly inexhaustible source of rumination, and thus a source of strength for his actions. Not sheltered from the world by the beliefs of others, he will suffer greatly, but he will suffer directly, and he will never be able to escape the actions, thoughts, or emotions prompted by his own experiences. By 'suffering', this is all I mean: experiencing, in a natural return, all the consequences of one's thoughts, feelings, and actions, and not seeking to find an artificial solace in all the illusions which the prior years of our civilization have passed down to us. In this numb, funeral gray world, possessed by an overwhelming anomie and listlessness, I believe we have chosen the route of escape for far too long. The traditions and techniques of living which the generations which have come before us developed in order to not feel the horrible pain of existence has, in turn, kept us from living at all, and in trying to avoid pain and suffering - emotional, physical, and spiritual suffering - we forget that each generation has to come to terms with their own lives, and not blindly rest on the assumptions and 'knowledge' of those who have preceded us. Knowledge without application, investigation, and questioning is merely tradition, and as such strangles our experiences. In addition, we must allow ourselves to realize, at this point in our civilization's history, that group or generalized statements of technique or belief, applied wholesale, without discrimination, are simply superfluous - or, at their worst, depending on the personal situation, they are a method of nullifying life itself. Under the thumb of all these beliefs, these ideas tailored to fit every man (and thus no man), in seeking to avoid suffering, we lull ourselves to sleep, or live out all our experiences in a state of sedation.

Freedom, above all, is the willingness to suffer...

U. Amtey
August 15-September 12, 2001