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How we all struggle for what we want & how we are seduced.
All you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be. — Pink Floyd
Progress. Hope. These are demons of seduction masterfully placed into our economies of attention. Here at Stoic Observations I offer neither. You might interpret the existence of the Logos here as a bulwark against the miasma of the interwebz, at least I have some reason to believe some of you may have. That’s as good as it gets.
I see 85% of the teaming American millions in the functional class of the Peasantry according to my framework. As I move forward in my thinking, it appears to me that most peasants would not be happy being identified as one. They are still jonesing to keep up with the Joneses, they are still on the hunt for hope and progress. It’s not because they are destitute and it’s not because of their basic human hungers and desire for more. It’s because they’ve been presented with night and day portrayals of American life and they see themselves in the twilight. So somebody needs to convince them that they are actually in the dawn. Somebody needs to tell them that the unarmed will not be shot, that the unwise will not be judged, that the unskilled will not be starved, that sooner rather than later cancer will be cured and the burdens of their hearts rolled away.
Maybe if the Overton Window were opened a bit more. Maybe if we got a balanced budget amendment. Maybe if we could get rid of some of these guns. Maybe if we could get a few more different people up on stage. Maybe if we made electric vehicles more affordable. Maybe if we legalized one more drug. Go ahead. You know the blank you want to fill in. What’s the color of your three magic beans? Good luck with all that. Not that you won’t get spam from beanstalk dot com.
In the meantime all I can do is trust human biology, more specifically its survival instinct. It’s the most enduring and central fact of human nature. If we rats are pushed far enough into corners we will use our teeth and claws. No matter what maze we are lost in, we’ll smell the cheese and find our way to it. Even if the corners of the maze are symbolic and we find ourselves in a semiotic simulation of truth, we will find ways to hack our way through fake walls. Humans gotta human. It serves me to remember that war is real and never going away. It serves peasants to remember this as well, no matter how poorly or well they are doing. If we must abandon all hope and progress, we can always depend on our biology.
Not long after I read Blonsky’s American Mythologies and Foucault’s Pendulum by Eco and came to understand how deceived societies can become, I happened across a short exercise in postmodern critical thought by Toni Morrison called Playing in the Dark. What remains in my memory from that work is what she called the Problem of the Rescued. Using the metaphor of [white] Robinson Crusoe and his [black] man Friday, Morrison reminded us from a racial point of view what is true of all men. If someone saves your life, you are indebted to them for the remainder of your life. They may come calling for that debt to be repaid at any moment in any currency they desire. This frightening combination means that you could feel trapped while not actually being trapped then owe your life to one who ‘freed’ you. This is the aegis of the two demons of Progress and Hope.
What remains for the peasant is only the self and its necessary self-determination. Needless to say this requires some honed skills in a society as complex as ours and the inherent risk of deceptions across the miasma of the interwebz. One might be best served by getting well accustomed to one’s own muck as the peasant Dennis reminds us. Even when kings come in their ignorance demanding some puzzle piece from peasants to aid them in their own quixotic quests. It’s an opportunity.
The woman in this skit does not get repressed, because she has no hope for progress. She didn’t even vote and keeps shoveling her literal shit while Dennis goes on bringing class into it and talking himself into conflict. Of course Dennis is just as intelligent as the Genius Class ‘horse’ who stands mute by his lord, and probably more intelligent than the king himself. He ends up yelling out for witnesses to his conflict with the ruler. He’s lucky the king is more interested in his quest, but of course there is violence inherent in the system.
I have speculated that our democracy will fail in places, reverting as it does to various feudal arrangements. That’s what I think about Ferguson, MO. which serves as an excellent example of a failure of institutions organized for the benefit of the common man but irrevocably undermined by its cynical participants. That failure finally manifest to level 3/5 of turmoil, ie burning down of buildings. That was a life debt being called in a normal rat-human response of teeth and claws. I got a smug chuckle from the hypocrisy of New York expert lawyers looking down their noses at corrupt officials they would never give up their Manhattan apartments to replace. How many hundreds of journalist tourists? How many wannabe activists all flocked to the semiotic ground zero? All were constrained by the ever present demons of hope and progress, but Ferguson wasn’t saved. It’s just another canceled TV drama that got its Emmy when it could. It’s just another hole in the swiss cheese of American civil society.
I too wrestle with my own fantasies of hope and progress. It is difficult to disambiguate what I want from what others want me to want. I have purchased quite a bit of jewelry for myself over this past pandemic year in isolation with nobody to show it off to. In truth I love my pendant inscribed ‘Esse Quam Videri’ because I honestly feel like a tattoo would be too showy. I’m conflicted about it. I’ll admit to my own vanity. It might all be a waste, but at least there was the moment of instant gratification when the Amazon delivery dude rang my doorbell. A good piece of jewelry is like a good meal. It fulfills its promise and its value lies deep in the psyche, not easily betrayed.
Any peasant would have to work diligently to rejigger their value system. To push self-determination up the hierarchy of values and the chase of material possessions down cannot be done with a slogan repeated. That is the purpose of disciplined meditation, philosophical reflection and spiritual praxis. But sometimes a slap in the face works.
Sometimes we need to be harshly reminded that yes it actually is twilight and not only night, but Winter is coming. To the extent that we carve conceptual artifacts into our personalities because we intend to leverage the resulting social capital, we are vulnerable. Are we learning clever Russian idioms because we want to drop a bombshell quip at the next DNC cocktail party? Are we reading the expose on the wealthy individuals who make and sell opioids? What does it profit a man if he gains awareness of every issue but cannot find his own soul? Indeed how much of all of our education is helping us find ourselves? Google can’t find it for you, nor evidently can a $100,000 undergraduate education in the liberal arts.
So my idiot prescription is to become more self-centered, and I mean that in terms of being organic and self-sufficient. One should not want being leveraged too much by the institutional laurels that can be bestowed, because they can just as easily be taken away. Be a sprinter against the clock and against your own personal best, not a dancer for the judges. Accept your peasant self and your obscurity, and then finally prepare your self to end. Don’t become the Winter Soldier. You can experience a heightened being above the level of mere survival, but it requires you to work hard at not becoming a mercenary of any sort. That’s not easy, but it is definitely possible. As I experiment with losing my self, I’ll let you know what works for me.