notes from occupy: 2011


I sat on this for long time, because I was frankly embarrassed by some of my conclusions and loss of objectivity during the heyday of the occupy movement.  Looking at it again, there is a lot of merit in the theoretical side, so I’ve decided to let it out.  Try to appreciate my flawed predictions from the time, and I’ll bookend this from my current perspective with new podcast sometime soon.

Podcast page HERE

Direct download: OCV2011.mp3

two years since my last released recordings? yup.

Forgetting to Remember

If nothing else, this site and all the work on it, serves a very important purpose: it is a snapshot of my mind at its best and worst moments, all my best ideas and best thinking preserved, in some kind of context, a kind of a lifeline to lead me back out of the occasional blind alley. I suppose that is one of the points of having a journal in the first place. Even deeper though, I have come to think of this place as a concrete manifestation of a guiding spirit. It is odd to be able to go back and hear my own voice telling me things I ought to know, and once did, but forgot.

If human history were just a matter of us learning things once and moving on, of a painfully slow yet incremental and one way ascent into the light of understanding, things would be drastically different for all of us. But of course, they are not that way at all. We receive lessons, then forget them, then struggle bitterly to win them back again, time and time and time again, until the world around us bears enough marks of the lessons that they become burnt into the very landscape, and we simply live in the space that has been carved out, whether we have ourselves actually understood anything or not. In a very real sense, it is not people who learn, but the world. It is the lessons embedded in the world that shape our behaviour.

It doesn’t matter if you understand how cars work, how electricity is generated, why slavery and child labour are immoral. Those lessons are carved into the social economic and even physical landscape. You are surrounded by cars, you use electricity and there are no slaves. Similarly, it doesn’t really matter how often you think you understand something, it isn’t until you reprogram the environment, that your actual behaviour changes in a lasting way. We are only weakly creatures of rationality, and very strongly creatures of instinct and habit. the best use of our fleeting rational faculties, of our transient willpower, is to change the world around us, to make into a manifestation of understanding. To make the world into an extended mind. Our guiding spirit.

Once you begin to see this, it is utterly clear why few positive changes get much traction, and what does happen appears often to be utterly inexplicable or orthogonal to our intentions. If all you do is think of choice and action, and the childish democratic calculus of getting everyone to think the same ideas as the only way to improve our situation, you will miss the way the manifest conditions override even the largest electorates. Millions of people protest the second iraq war before it even starts, net effect? Zero. Design a cellphone cheap enough that everyone on earth can own one? Sooner or later everyone will.

Philosophically speaking, I am closer and closer to be a thoroughgoing monist: whatever is going on here is all one thing, one fundamental substance. There is no point talking about matter and mind as separate things. In a very real sense, if you want to change enough minds, and it’s abundantly clear that is what we need to do, then it’s all about moving the right kind of material stuff around in a way that our collective extended mind has finally learned something in a way that sticks. Instead of letting ourselves get lost in mere rhetoric about justice, peace, freedom and evolution, while embedded in the material assumptions of corruption, warfare, coercion and stagnation, maybe we should struggle always to remember that justice will only be guaranteed when injustice becomes physically impossible. We should remember to ask ourselves what a manifest justice looks like, the same way we are often asked to visualise a ‘free market’.  We should remember to ask what we look like in the mirror when our lessons are written in our very flesh, and the world itself has been transformed into our guiding spirit. The ‘true will’ only matters if it strong enough, for just a moment, to move us closer to that.

broken links II


so, continuing the theme of wayward links and sundry fellow travellers, it’s good to consider the dimension which we might call ‘spiritual’, which I increasingly think is an obscurantist and unhelpful term and perspective, or the meditative/cognitive, which is not tremendously better, but at least more clear. As a ridiculously quick yet at least somewhat cogent aside, the more I study western philosophy, the more I get the horrible sensation that a lot of the western discourse on enlightenment, as imported in the form of buddhism or vedanta, is badly recapitulating the work of early modern philosophers like david hume, and getting utterly mired in the ditch of metaphysics and cognitively meaningless gibberish. I defy anyone to read something like hume’s treatise of human nature alongside almost any enlightenment text you care to name, and see which one describes our moment to moment experience more clearly. Much of what’s being peddled out there, is the would-be enlightened getting lost in the weeds of what are known as the corruptions of insight. From Plato on down, western culture has been grappling with questions more devastatingly real and obvious than most gurus or teachers would dare tell you, we just don’t do it consciously that much.

Which I suppose actually leads me back on track, because what I wanted to talk about was the toll taken in the form of what I will call ‘insight casualties’ to coin another category to go with our ‘doomer fatigue’ from last time. In some ways they are actually sides of the same coin. If they are not the same thing, they are at least closely related. Insight casualties are more from introspection than outward premonitions of doom, and tend to follow a characterstic pattern best described in the stages of insight of vipassana, but appear in similar forms in many traditions, even something as banal as kubler-ross’s stages of grieving. It’s about how the mind processes and eventually transcends identification and loss of identification with its own contents, or all of our experience basically. The doomer tends to experience this as outward instability and the insight casualty as inward destabilization of the sense of self. One can easily see how these can go together and often do. The main difference is that doomers are often at least partly grounded in a hard analysis of objective facts, and this is what brings on the distress, while the insight afflicted get into trouble from a reflective self-observation that many doomers will simply lack.

The other main difference with the insight casualty is that there is an explicit exit to this situation, or at least, periodic exits that come from fruitions, paths, or peak enlightenment experiences. That is, if your practice is well-articulated enough for you to find the exit, which it frequently isn’t, often for the reasons I’ve described above. I cannot tell you how many chronic dark night meditators are wandering down blind alleys of impenetrable bullshit and deepening in the identity of spiritual basket case, or even worse, projecting their inner disorientation and distress onto the world, but it’s a lot. There is the odd person who manages to find their way out of this rat maze and if their internet presence was tied into their period of rat-mazery, one can easily see why these folks would just as soon drop that shit and move on. So whether you’re up and out or down in the ditch and simply non functional, I’m willing to bet this accounts for more than a couple missing voices. Since some of these I would consider my friends and collaborators, I will tactfully not name names, but you know who you are, and you probably even know which category you’re in, better than I do, anyway.

broken links I

freshening up my page today, and updating my blogroll, and realizing that the whys and wherefores of that constitute some interesting stories in and of themselves. If I mean to continue, then it helps to reflect on why some of my peers and influences don’t, can’t, or simply change. It’s good to internalise feedback and the lessons of others, and several years into the initiatory crisis that more and more looks to be mutating into an open-ended crisis transition-to-nowhere , there’s more than enough room for some tweaking of assumptions and course corrections.

More than anything, the toll taken in my little corner of the blogosphere is down to what I have come to think of as doomer fatigue. Seeing one sickening lurch into the abyss after another, from 911, to katrina, to bush’s second term, to 100$/barrel oil, to the 2008 market crash, and now the parade of helplessness and absurdity of the obama years, deepwater horizon, fukishima, endless churning chaos in the euro zone, the breaking upon the rocks of occupy, soon to give way to the Mormon yoke of Mittens Romney in the US, inevitable default of some kind in europe, and the ongoing reign of a tinpot thug with all the personality of a plastic doll in canada, PM stephen harper ( imagine bush, but even more of a blatant oil crony, and even less of an interesting target for ridicule)… but the fabric never quite rips completely, and the ongoing nervous exhaustion of hoping/wondering/fearing what’s next just burns people out from both ends and the middle. There’re sound technical reasons why the real life crisis never seems to quite match one’s intuitions about it, and sound reasons why few people ever assimilate the perspective needed for the long game. For a lot of people this genre of analysis is a kind of escapism, wish fulfilment, or ongoing bellows for rage and misanthropy, and making it your daily bread with no real outlet or catharsis is eventually toxic. It exposes some very dark and twisted things in certain personalties and even if you can keep your own demons at bay, seeing lots of others who can’t takes its own kind of toll, as does the other end of the spectrum which is blatant denial of what is going on, for lack of insight or a adequate attention span. I have had enough of people who are actually waiting on the crash of the global industrial economy and the ensuing mass starvation of 75% of the human race, just as I have had enough of picking over the gothic horror show of failed institutions pretending they can still do something, to maintain their illusion of legitimacy.

matt savinar, creator of the life after the oil crash website really kicked a lot of my thinking off on these subjects, but his last nerve eventually gave out under the parasitic needs of chronic doomer headcases, and now he’s made his peace and preparations, folded up shop and is evidently doing astrology, of all bloody things. He’s either lost his shit completely, or gone somewhere I cannot follow. Godspeed.

jeff wells of rigorous intuition is probably the biggest influence on my style of writing. he likes to tell a scary story, in an interesting way. Alas, he never learned the secret of magick: write your stories carefully, because they might eat you. At least have an exit hatch from your reality tunnel. wells doesn’t seem to have one, and his audience never rose to the task, sadly, and he has mostly gone under the waves. This kind of writing is like tibetan buddhism: you need to be able to bind demons and turn them into benevolent spirits. Nobody can pull you back out of that hole against your will, once you’ve gone in.

There’s an interesting kind of thing that happens when you develop a large disconnect between people’s psychic condition, and the environment they live in. I talked before about ‘the psychic apocalypse’ that has to precede the temporal one, the kind of revolution of the mind that has to take place before upheavals in the physical world take hold. I think you have increasingly large numbers of people cluing in that the, for lack of a better word, psychological moorings of our civilization have been terminally compromised. But when the outer world doesn’t reflect your inner condition, when you see this weird aimlessness and blithe accommodation to stagnation and ruin everywhere, and no sense that anything can or will or even needs to happen…this can fuck up your mind.

The flipside would be hysterical optimists, particularly of the techno variety. The thing to always remember, and I have failed to do this a number of times, is that all trends occur in a whole system. Peak oil, moore’s law, the maps of insight progress, the kabbalistic tree of life, climate ‘change’, whatever, these all are subject to various negative feedbacks, because a system could only sustain itself if runaway positive feedback loops didn’t blow the whole thing apart during its formation. A runaway train is not a system, at least not for long. Whole systems require homoeostasis, and homoeostasis requires buffers, sinks, and negative feedbacks to dampen accelerating positive feedbacks before they explode or plunge the system into chaos. This explains why we are unlikely to accelerate straight into a singularity, nor dive directly into the maw of malthusian hell as we traverse hubbert’s curve. What’s interesting to consider is how much things can actually change without triggering negative feedbacks or overwhelming the buffers altogether and flipping over into some new condition. I spent a day or two thinking that ‘the singularity’ is not likely to refer to some godlike AI tipping over the applecart of human history, but rather the point where the planet becomes essentially a telepathic hivemind stitched together out of ultracheap mobile devices and ubiquitous computers of other sorts, powered by little more than background radiowave radiation. What does a singularity of social media look like? I think we are basically living it. Pretty soon the phones will be smarter than you are, if not singly, than collectively. Think about it. That by itself, combined with the fact that these things will be running on almost no power at all, tells me that we will never see the deleted scenes from ‘The Road’. The function of information in evolutionary terms is that it makes energy expenditure more efficient and forestalls entropy. That level of ubiquitous information transfer and connectivity will be the king buffer of them all against system disruption due to resource depletion and at the same time a driver for changes we cannot really forsee from here.

basically, extreme optimism and pessimism are not adequate to the level of weirdness we are likely to see. They are ways to not grapple with the real issues at work. I have no time for that anymore.

to be continued…