November 1, 2009

Culture is not your friend

What civilization is, is six billion people trying to make themselves happy by standing on each other's shoulders and kicking each other's teeth in. It's not a pleasant situation. And yet, you can stand back and look at this planet and see that we have the money, the power, the medical understanding, the scientific know-how, the love and the community to produce a kind of human paradise. But we are led by the least among us: the least intelligent, the least noble, the least visionary. We are led by the least among us and we do not fight back against the dehumanizing values that are handed down as control icons.
This is something – I don't really want to get off on this terra, because it's a lecture in itself – but culture is not your friend. Culture is for other people's convenience and the convenience of various institutions, churches, companies, tax collection schemes, what have you – it is not your friend. It insults you. It disempowers you. It uses and abuses you. None of us are well treated by culture.
And yet we glorify the creative potential of the individual, the rights of the individual. We understand the felt-presence of experience is what is most important. But the culture is a perversion. It fetishizes objects, creates consumer mania, it preaches endless forms of false happiness, endless forms of false understanding in the form of squirrelly religions and silly cults. It invites people to diminish themselves and dehumanize themselves by behaving like machines, meme processors of memes passed down from Madison Avenue, and Hollywood, and what have you.

How do we fight back? It's a question worth answering. I think, by creating art. Man was not put on this planet to toil in the mud, or the god who put us on this planet to toil in the mud is no god I want to have any part of. It's some kind of gnostic demon, it's some kind of cannibalistic demiurge that should be thoroughly renounced and rejected. By putting the "art pedal" to the metal, we really, I think, maximize our humanness and become much more necessary and incomprehensible to the machines.

The whole thing with culture and language is that they tend to become traps. And yet, they can become the platforms for enormous freedom, if you understand what it's all about. And what it's all about is you! You are the center of the Mandela. You are not marginalized in any way. The message that the culture gives us is that we are marginal. It doesn't matter if you have 100 million dollars (Fortune magazine will tell you that so do 10,000 other people on the North American continent!)
This is part of the democratic legacy, we are constantly told that "you're not special", "special isn't special", "anyone could do it". And so then, when you look for guidance, direction, mentorship, we always look towards institutions. 'Well, I'll go to the university, the army, someone will give me a larger purpose' ... but it is you who is the final arbiter. If you keep yourself as the final arbiter then you will be less susceptible to infection by cultural illusion. Now, it makes you feel bad not to be infected by cultural illusion – because it's called alienation. The reason that we feel alienated because the culture is infantile, trivial, and stupid. The cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation. I grapple with this as a parent, and you come to this realization what will it be? Alienated cynical intellectual, or slackjawed halfwit consumer of the horseshit being handed down from on high – there's not much choice there. We all want our children to be well adjusted, it's just that there's nothing to be well adjusted to!

In the past 100 years, as these super technologies have been developed in the West, data has been arriving about the practices of Aboriginal cultures all over the planet – that they dissolve original culture values through an interaction and symbiosis to local plants that peturb brain chemistry. In this domain the cultural operating system is wiped clean. Something older, even for these people, more vital, more in touch with the animal soul, replaces the cultural operating system. Something not in touch with geography and history, but something writ in the language of the flesh itself. This is who you really are, this is true nakedness.
You are not naked when you take off your clothes. You still wear your religious assumptions, your fears, your prejudices, your illusions, your delusions. When you shed the cultural operating system, you essentially stand naked before the inspection of your own psyche. It's from that position, outside the cultural operating system, that we can ask real questions about what does it mean to be human, what kind of circumstance are we caught in, and what kind of structures can we put in place to assuage the pain, and accentuate the glory and wonder that lurks waiting for us, in this very narrow slice of time between the birth canal and the yawning grave? We have to return to first premises. I travel around a lot and get that jolting experience frequently, of let's say, leaving London on a foggy evening and arriving in Johannesburg 14 hours later to a sweltering day in a city of 14 million on the brink of anarchy. I get to change my cultural operating system frequently, and so I notice the relativity of these systems. Some work for some things and some for others. You don't have to be the victim of your culture – it's fragile. It can be remade if you wish it to be. It can be wiped out and replaced with something else.