Monday, July 28, 2008

regarding the world, which spins

I’ve always gotten a kick out of the world flag. I passed one the other day walking up 13th st in South Philly, where people light off fireworks from mid-June to the end of July. It’s not just that a world flag undercuts the whole concept of a flag (ie, nationalism), but that amid all the stars and stripes, it seems to provoke the bumper-sticker-loving nationalists, engaging them in the kind of ideological conflict which nationalists live for—Americans 1, earthlings 0. Let’s blow up some shit, yo.

Every day is independence day.

Also funny is that there are several versions of the world flag. There is not just one world flag. I like the one with the image of the globe from outerspace. But if you’re in outerspace you’re an alien.

The world-flag-waver might argue, well, the land we’ve named is going to outlast both us and the name we’ve given it; and anyway people have far more pride in the name (and the ideas attached to that name) than they do in the land, which we all plunder; and more and more of us are now helpless cityboys (such as ryan eckes) long divorced from the land – drop our children off in the mountains and see what happens to them; so why wave a country’s flag, which serves only to justify that divorce between human and earth by pointing to the historical cleverness (“greatness”) of the human; isn’t it about time we hold the earth in higher esteem?

I understand, of course, but I doubt the earth needs people to represent it. At all. So if we can be good to the earth without being righteous (blowing ourselves up, so to speak) and without provoking the jingoes (which can be awfully tempting), then I’m all for holding the earth in higher esteem, staying/getting in touch with the earth, trying to erase the lines we’ve drawn between human and earth. Perhaps that’s too tall an order, to not be righteous and provocative. But look: we can’t actually represent anything more than ourselves and our ideas, right, as interesting and destructive and meaningless as they may be. Isn’t it this whole process of representation, which is a way of enlarging ourselves (eg, nationalism), regardless of how natural it is, that leads one finally to the desire to defend the earth? When someone claims to be a defender of the earth, they’re really only defending their own identity, right? We further distort our naturally skewed sense of proportion any time we name something. I mean, we probably do so even when writing a blogpost.

Can any one of us fathom the physical difference in size between a human being and the earth? We can’t actually see that, right?

Well, least we know how to blow shit up.

Which led me, recently, to take stock of what of this human world I can say I believe in. This blogpost, after all, is not about the earth; it’s about people and their beloved conflicts, as is the world flag.

It didn’t take too long for me to take stock of my beliefs, as most things people do, especially collectively, either bore or repulse me. I thought a little about technology. People have technological minds. My question is does that mind lead us inevitably away from nature; or, where might there be a line between survival and greed? Industrialization accounts for a tiny segment of human history, which suggests that such a line is possible, that such a line can be learned, that some people have known it and know it.

Beyond survival, I believe in technology, in the most general sense, inasmuch as I believe in acting on curiosity. I think that there is a desire to know more and to see more that exists simply to satisfy those ends; ultimately, that desire is a desire to know what we are, and possibly why we are here. So I believe in what got us that picture of the world from outerspace. I believe in that. And I believe in what created our religions, as nasty as they may be now. But I don’t believe in such productions as much as I do in the spirit that produced them. I don’t believe in the static, in the image of the world, or the flag, or the holy book, at least not very seriously. I don’t believe in reproductions.

For a long time I struggled with this passage from the Tao te Ching:

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel
. . .
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

(Lao-tzu, trans. by Stephen Mitchell)

It’s those last four lines that nagged me. If one wanted to travel (or explore) did it mean necessarily that one was dissatisfied with where one was (lived)? Even reading the passage strictly as an allegory, I couldn’t buy it. A wisely governed country was one without government; one in which we governed ourselves, destroyed the tyranny within ourselves. I understood that, but why couldn’t a person get curious just because? I struggled with this because I wanted the Tao te Ching to be a grand theory of life. I discovered the book in my early 20s in search of an answer, in search of a way of being – in fact, I wanted the book to be The Way. That was my real struggle. I wanted the book to lead me to an end. And that end, of course, would be my security against the shit of life that will surely come my way, any moment.

I still read the book from time to time, but not for a final word. It’s a useful book; it informs the spirit. But I read nothing anymore for a final word. I read, I think, to kind of sing the world as I go (to borrow a line from Alice Notley).

Our language talks me and I try not to be too much of a puppet. I try to be aware of my puppetness. Puppethood?

If I have a grand theory of being, it is that we need, each of us, now, always now, to discover the world for ourselves. In this sense I am a nationalist. I believe in leading and following the nation of oneself, for the sake of knowing as you go, for the sake of knowing as a way of going, and for the sake of being good to each other. Those are the only ends. Which is to say that I don’t think it’s useful to repress that curiosity--which I equate w/ spirit--out of fear or want of security (which is an end of questions, an end of knowing the world’s spinning); so, no I don’t think it’s very beneficial to follow the nation of Christianity or the nation of Islam or the nation of Judaism or the nation of the United States or of Venezuela or of Korea or of France and thus participate in all of their attendant conflicts and destruction. I don’t think that mass suffering is worthwhile. I may learn from a religion or an economic theory, but if I pin myself to it for too long I will become so serious about it that I can’t smile at its absurdity, or its weirdness; once I’ve made it my be-all-end-all insurance carrier, moving only to defend or justify it, I’ve lost the spirit, I've become a full-blown puppet, a contributor to the conflicts I don't really want. And when this happens to me again, as it certainly may, I hope I recognize quickly what harm I’m doing to myself and others.

What’s far more worthwhile, I think, is to face one’s complicity in murder and destruction, if you are opposed to those things, which in my mind stand opposite human communication, which we all live for, ultimately (even if we don’t know it yet). That means refusing the readymades, the hand-me-down solutions, the reproductions; and that means facing oneself, paying attention to how one travels, how one goes about being a part of the world. And so I suppose the main idea of this blogpost is that the only main idea that counts is the one you can’t articulate once and for all because it’s bigger than us, like the world, which is moving, and moving us. And this is not the final word.