The inherent bankruptcy of our economic system is lodged in its total disconnect between meaning and reward.
This won’t be an exposé uncovering all the ways in which jobs have no connection with how meaningful work might be. Or an exploration of the perverse correlation between meaningfulness and reward in our time. Both of these statements are, at this point, self-evident to anyone willing to abandon their willful misunderstanding of what can be seen anywhere. What needs to be considered is how this situation could be redressed.
Attempts to make our economic system, or any of the narrow range of “alternatives” we are allowed to consider, nicer, fairer, more in keeping with our values, are all doomed to failure. They simply don’t go deep enough. Championing shallow reforms we quickly find ourselves in the position of trying to be a good doctor in a concentration camp.
All of our problems are manifestations of a root difficulty. We are unable to think our way out of our predicament without changing the way we approach thought. We cannot even recognize the source of our errors unless we can question the mountain of assumptions we currently allow ourselves to be controlled by.
It is commonplace to take a statement like this as a revelation of some deep conspiracy, “Yes! They are out to get us!” This misunderstanding points back at the mechanism by which our assumptions control our thought.
Let’s look at this statement again,
“We cannot even recognize the source of our errors unless we can question the mountain of assumptions we currently allow ourselves to be controlled by.”
A typical first reading leads us to visions of domination. We find ourselves hemmed in by unseen outside forces working to keep us under their thumbs. This is the result of a rough scan. We’re not looking to understand what was said. We’re seeking corroboration of what we already believe. Ready to find verification anywhere. This demonstrates a willful, but largely unrecognized, act of refusal to see anything that might break through our binary divisions. Acting out debates in which we insist that we are free to be both in complete agreement with one position and in total hatred of anyone holding its opposing view. Any other potential reading slips away without leaving a ripple.
What did this statement actually say?
“We…” means us, as in all of us, everyone. “…cannot even recognize…” We are oblivious to whatever does not already feed into our preconceptions.
“…the source of our errors…” We have no interest in uncovering our own errors. The whole point of every interaction is to win the argument!
“…unless we can question…” Again, we have no interest in questions besides rushing to fill a perceived gap with supposed answers. This in itself would not be so bad if we could actually discriminate between actual answers, actions that would resolve a situation’s difficulties and the making of aggressive noises that fulfill a ritualistic need to be positive and assertive.
“…the mountain of assumptions…” What I’m calling a mountain of assumptions is what we commonly perceive as the source and home of our precious self-identity. Any effort to call any of them into question can only be regarded as a threat to our very existence. In the face of actual existential threats we are blinded and thrown off balance by any indication that we need to challenge the foundations of our identities. A pseudo-existential threat trumps the real ones in our estimation. We are left, at best, profoundly confused.
“…we currently allow ourselves…” This confusion between threats to a fiction, our Egoic sense of self, and threats to our continued existence provides the mechanism by which we allow this to happen.
“…to be controlled by.” We expect to be controllers not to be controlled. If we are not “in control” then someone else must have stolen that control from us. That it might be that no one is ever in control other than in the sense of being able to destroy things just does not enter our considerations.
Parsing every statement so that its unstated assumptions and those of one’s readers are given even a cursory airing condemns us to some ponderous writing and difficult reading!
Writing and reading were both quite ponderous until sometime after the invention of the printing press. Even then, thick, embroidered Germanic scripts continued to lend a certain ballast to the written text. If we look at Latin inscriptions we are forced to decode not only the language which was in its own day limited to the written word and a narrow literate class; we have to constantly guess whether a group of letters makes up aseriesofwordsorasingleword since there was no standard convention of leaving spaces between them. There wasn’t much punctuation either.
Julius Caesar stood out in his day as one of a very few capable of sight reading. For most, to read was to stumble along with a finger or stylus dragging along the line of text as he, almost always a he in those days, formed the sounds of each letter and attempted to recognize the sound of a word as he went along. Coming to the point where a complete thought might show itself concluded because the next few words seemed not to fit. He would go back and half by memory and half by sight say the potential sentence aloud and take a grasp at its meaning. Reading was hard!
That reading was hard was to be expected. It was accepted that communicating complex thoughts was not easy. That there are all sorts of impediments to understanding and that by going slowly we might take enough time for a richer sense of what the written text might mean to surface. Speech, rhetoric, were always easy to consume even if they might be difficult arts to acquire. Rhetoric was distrusted as much as it was relied upon to sway one’s opponents. Writing was something else. If it was to have value as something else, as a potential repository for complex thought, then its difficulties were accepted as necessary.
We’re a long way from having any contact with the necessities of difficulty and the need to question what is seemingly laid out before us in plain sight. We accept what we see as being what is in front of us. We therefore have no qualms about taking this apparent ease of comprehension as some sort of birth right. To question that what we think we see might not be what is there before us is taken as an outrage. Think back to the “Gold dress/Blue dress” controversy of a few years ago. The most fundamental tricks clouding perception are impossible for most of us to accept, “Someone must be lying to me if they insist that I did not see what I know I saw!
This is one reason why I feel it is so important for everyone to grapple with basic drawing and painting. Not, “So they can feel free to express themselves!” But so that they can begin to see how questionable our seemingly seamless perceptions really are. How difficult it is to question and challenge the assumptions upon which this unearned trust in what we see is based and how powerful it is to begin to break out of these illusions.
It’s taken at least this much preamble to give me a minimal confidence that someone reading this, “out of the blue,” might actually have some idea of what is being presented. If we are to break the chains of our enslavement to pseudo-existential threats and have any possibility of addressing real ones we need to leave the boundaries of our preconceptions behind and we need to find ways to be capable, if not excited, by our efforts to disentangle identity from habitual Egoic roles.
This requires that we accept the effort. We need to accept that difficulty is not something to be automatically shunned as we smirk over our shortcuts to wallow in a hollow, faux contentment. There is a distinction between a difficult but rewarding challenge and the kind of futile abuse of our time, our attention, our effort, and our health squandered as we submit to the kind of work rewarded by this civilization.
At this level I hope it becomes a little more clear that what separates the meaningful from the futile is of much greater significance than the difference between what is easy and what is hard; and that there is a much greater necessity to attend to this question than just about anything else.
Our habits of thought, and this goes much deeper than just a system or an ideological construct…. It goes to the heart of every system, every ideology…. All of our habits of thought work to maintain a psychological barrier between what appears possible and what seems impossible. Even the small effort required to follow this essay may conjure a yawning abyss in the reader beset by a combination of brain-fog and vertigo that leaves one looking for any excuse to just forget what’s been said and get back to business-as-usual.
This is no small thing! This has been our internal border wall for millennia. Most efforts to break out never get beyond this barrier!
It is essential to find ways to connect internally, working at self-integration; alongside of finding ways to join together in shared practices, working to develop new pathways and release energies that have been thwarted and channeled into destructive acts by our entrapment in futility. This is not a proposed argument to be agreed with or opposed. It is an invitation to begin to question for one’s self, to find ways for each of us to be able to look at our situation, without being trapped in a false-innocence.
This false-innocence is how our bad faith presents itself whenever something threatens to penetrate our masks. This is the first step of lying to ourselves. This is an Enormity.
So long as we maintain habits of lying to ourselves and continue to claim that we’re not there is no way we can enter into the most basic and fundamental relation with trust.
The body knows. There is no fundamental division between mind and body. The appearance of a division is a symptom of this gulf of distrust we introduce into ourselves with shattering results. So long as we insist on lying to ourselves about the most important things, along with just about everything else, we are divided. The Egoic identity, or identities, roles, and the projections that maintain them, all force a division where there is none. This leaves the rest of the self, our alienated selves, locked away in what the Egoic self interprets as a resisting, polluted, shameful physical body.
Once we develop an ear, or a nose for Ego’s tricks, we can see the way it attempts to project its own truthful doubts about itself onto the aspects of a complete identity it wishes to keep hidden. The resistance, the polluter, the shameful entity is the Egoic identity itself.
Alienated and alienating roles hijacking potentially integrated individuals are what we perceive as that evil external force leading us into destruction. Without seeing through its insistent antics we will never break free of remaining active, if unwilling, participants in destruction. Every thrust at a projected externalization only feeds its destructive powers.
Everything we consider to be work, labor, toil, a job, is a more or less institutionalized way of feeding the illusion of separation and remaining in bad faith. Put this way it seems either a reckless hyperbole or a tremendously sobering warning. Ego will assert it is the first. It will claim, “If that were true why would anyone keep doing it?”
Look at any self-destructive behavior and consider that every destructive act is ultimately self-destructive. We continue to do them because we are caught in Ego’s trap. We have confused a pseudo-existential threat, a threat only to Ego’s dominion over us, for an actual existential threat. This same mechanism leads a heroin addict to suicide and leads every self-proclaimed Master of the Universe to massing all the energy available to him, almost always a him…, to actively promote the destruction of the fabric of life.
Look at every public forum, even though we can rarely find ourselves in a real public forum since we’ve been infested by ersatz, virtual toxic-simulacra of a public life-space, and there is always something forced. Not just the use and abuse of physical violence to suppress anything the forces of control fear. There is an often subtle ingenuousness rising up from everyone involved. A sense that while they don’t want to recognize it for what it is no one can ignore the falseness, the hollow futility of going through a set of motions that are supposed to work even though we’ve never seen them work as advertised before.
This is hidden bad faith. Its mirror is the ginned-up militancy of fanatics who bury themselves in self-justification to guard against any doubt that might penetrate the maelstrom of confused roles and real guilt that would otherwise flood over them. In either and all cases bad faith is at the heart of our difficulties.
What would meaningful effort look like?
There is this one obstacle in the way before we can really consider the question. It appears in the realization that so long as bad faith can operate in hiding we remain mired in futility. As long as we only seek out the bad faith to be found in some perceived other we are only continuing to hide from our own.
Who is hurt by this?
Everyone and everything. But the damage begins with the destruction of the possibility of trust developing within each of us and then finding ways for that trust to widen in relationships among us. So long as we remain alienated minds and bodies, alienated by the violence done by our Egoic roles on our selves, on what could be our integrated selves, we are condemned to futility.
The Egoic identity will whisper or shout, “That’s human nature! Original Sin!”
Listen to it. Listen to the way this accusation sits with you as you hear it. Is this true?
Or is it a last gasp effort to confuse made by a fiction attempting to prolong its existence at our expense?
This is a gate through which we might approach meaning.
Following this opening we might find meaningful work.
There is so much to be done.