Bigsley the Oaf

To Know Ourselves/Drowning in Life

Posted in Uncategorized by bigsleytheoaf on November 28, 2011

There is a very common feeling that something is wrong. Something is wrong with our morality. Something is wrong with our consumption patterns. We are fundamentally bad – the same genes and culture that created you also created Hitler, Stalin, Charles Manson, etc. etc. etc. There is genocide and war. There are liars in the government. Everyone will die. The sun will eventually crash into sun, but long before that (with any luck), an asteroid will crash into earth, obliterating life.

Something is wrong, something is wrong, something is wrong, something is wrong…

A lot of the time it feels like it’s the background to everything. You’re watching the news and you can feel it in each pronouncement: new genocide here, new protest there, new corruption scandal over there. You watch a Disney movie, and it’s there, behind every smile. Something bad will happen to those characters. They may look happy now, but they will get old, and diseased, and die. Everything, everywhere. All culture, all religion, all time.

But then, every once in a while, something good happens. This something unerringly takes the form of a technology. Like the dishwasher, or the car, or taming horses, or taming fire. Something that makes us collectively exhale our tension – something that makes us forget that everything is wrong, something that makes us feel as if we’re finally – finally! on an upward trajectory.

I feel like there is some very deep truth, here, that I can’t quite uncover. I can’t say it. I feel it. I know it. But, I can’t put it into words. Instead I’ll just say a few (seemingly unrelated) things and hope that you can see the connection:

– Cancer cells are the same as regular cells, they’re just cells that “do not die when they should.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cancer_cell]

– The idea for the pyramids could not have possibly come from anywhere. It is completely, 100% irrational. It is not the solution the a problem. Thus, humans are capable of monumental collective undertakings without there being an underlying, “real,” reason.

— The connection being that the pyramids might have been the consequence of over-population, of human cancer, which had to take some form before technology allowed it to attain self-control.

– Humans have undergone a process of self-knowledge, but this process is still ongoing. Does it have a possible completion? Can humans ever “know themselves?”

– Perhaps what feels “wrong” is this – the fact that there is precisely one zone which is fundamentally hidden, in all of the universe, and it is us.

– There is a law governing conservation of energy, one for conservation of momentum, one for conservation of information, etc. But, if anything, life on this planet is exploding in complexity. Things are getting weirder. Why are complexity and weirdness seemingly increasing, without bound? Why don’t we see them increasing on other planets?

– As organic systems evolve, they seem to attain a sort of equilibrium. But, we generally think of this equilibrium as somehow slippery – as if we could all just get up and act differently if we wanted to. Perhaps it’s instead like a crystal, and as time goes by we are locked into our positions. Perhaps there are only a few dimensions in which we are locked, but in the others we are free. Perhaps we do “work” by locking down extra dimensions. The work of capitalism is to turn society into a crystalline form.

– Let’s go one step further with the crystal metaphor, however. The peculiar thing about human systems is that whenever a human system attains a form with a finite description it seems that there must be, a priori, a way of acting externally to that form – of stepping outside of the form and gleaning nourishment, creating new professions, new definitions, new math, etc.

– So, if we ever truly, fundamentally, deeply, purely, completely know ourselves – if we can create a human system which takes its elements completely into account – then there will be no stepping-outside-of. We will have pinned ourselves to the wall.

– The paradox being that it seems like there should always be a way of stepping-outside-of. Thinking of the something-else. A freedom unchecked. It seems like there’s something that can’t be pinned down.

– What is the force that pins it down? How do we do work by transforming freedom -> rigidity?

– Is this not precisely the definition of technology? (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=technology) The formalization of art? Self-knowledge? Reification? Turning our abstract selves into concrete selves, selves that can be locked together, formed into a structure?

– Has there ever been a movement towards more freedom? Away from technology? Is such a thing even possible?

– Sometimes I think that, if we were to kill 99.9% of everyone, the remnants of humanity might have enough perspective not to over-populate the planet, not to create new technology. We could, perhaps, know ourselves by remaining finite, rather than by conquering all possible selves.

– This is the “something that is wrong” – there is only finite novelty, and at some point the gig will be up.

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2 Responses

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  1. emmajolin said, on November 29, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    I felt like something was wrong this morning. I feel that way every morning, usually I forget about it as the day wears on, but in the morning underneath my reason and emotion there’s just a sense of wrongness.

    I wonder if some people don’t feel that way.

    I wonder if I ever won’t.

  2. Graham said, on December 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I feel like something is wrong. Often my focus on a specific obviously negative thing brings on this feeling. I’ll take something like a car accident or a fight with Beth and extrapolate outwards to all of life and go in circles like that ’til I’m paralyzed with that feeling of pointlessness and wrongness. And I’ll try to fight it off by doing the equivalent of throwing a tantrum — I’ll write a diatribe on some political point, or go off to my friends and complain about other friends, or get all anti-social and sit at home alone and stare blankly forward, basting in my own black juices. But other days — most days — I just live my life, and it feels right. It feels like something is right, like everything is right. Even from the first moment. Here’s my attempt at an explanation for it:

    Chris, your crystal metaphor and your tower metaphor are the same thing. To know yourself, or to create a system that can’t be stepped outside of — this is the paradoxical Tower tower, which requires its own self-annihilation to exist. A form of no-form.

    Similarly, one can step outside one’s ego. Whether this happens through meditation, prayer, a near-death experience, drug use, or something else, the effect is probably the same. We’ve all read attempts to describe this state — Huxley and Blake do a passable job. But language requires subjects and possession. Something happened… to *me*. Whose ego was lost? *I* lost *my* ego. But within the state itself — the ultimate stepping-outside-of — there can be no language, or subject, or explanation. There’s just this. This moment. It’s indescribable because there’s no point of view from which the situation can be described.

    A person is inseparable from their environment. Your upbringing and your books and your friends and your daily commute and the way your garden looks and the way the sky is today — this is you. Or rather it’s the background that informs your internal reality. Beliefs come from experience, or logical analysis. But they come from something. A figure can’t be separated from its ground. Everything that you are not pins down what you are. So then to know yourself is also to know what is not yourself. In a word, to know yourself is to know *everything*. Which, I think, can only happen (Laplacian demons notwithstanding) if the self is lost. To become your environment is to know yourself. You were at Rumble — you know this intuitively. To have complete focus on the next step or rock field, this is freedom.

    There’s a place that musicians and other creative people go when they are operating at the top of their abilities. It’s called The Zone. When you’re in The Zone you just *create*. You don’t worry about what people will think or what you’re going to go next or what you’ve done before. The act and the experience of the act are at long last compressed into a single thing. You’re a conduit between intuition and action. The ego ceases and you become the action. This is not a metaphor. Playing the guitar can be a religious experience, as can painting, or dancing, or writing, or rock climbing…

    To be in The Zone is freedom. Not freedom to, like the enumeration of the Bill of Rights, but freedom *from*. I think this feeling of wrongness, this idea that novelty is limited, comes from the deeply held desire to be free to do anything. Increasing novelty tends to increase personal freedom — all these computers and cars and phones and fires make me powerful. I can do more than any previous generation. I can fly around the world, I can record an album myself, I can run fast and jump high. I am strong. I am smart. But there are two kinds of freedom. If technology is self-control, as you claim, then the something-is-wrong gestalt that infects our waking life is maybe the desire for freedom from control. Freedom from the need to control.


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