Monday, 25 April 2011

God's Heir

Some refer to our species as Homo sapiens, the thinking hominid, as if the capacity of our motivational and emotional systems to control behaviour lay entirely subordinate to wonderful Father Reason.  But most of us are well aware that really it is the other way around.  Indeed, Shakespeare made his very living off the abilitiy of passionate feeling to overcome the whining of the intellect, an innevitable tsunami threatening the wall’s of Reason’s fortress.

So what’s the appropriate taxonomic name for our species?  What single word connotates the entire ability of unreasonableness, emotion, passion, feeling, and love to overcome the tremendous resistance initiated by the pursuit of logic?  Mircea Eliade proposed Homo religiosus, the religious hominid.

If we consider the history of humanity, from an anthropological and animal behavioural perspetive, we find that an enormous amount of our behavioural output has been oriented towards the pursuit of goal’s seemingly ordained by divine and spiritual beings: the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids of Egypt and the temples of the Aztec, the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, the Angkor Wat’s of the Khmer, monasteries in the Himalayas, and the God-Knows-What-Goes-On-Over-There.

Perhaps now adays you’re not so convinced of the necessity of religion for anything.  Fine.  We’ll get to that.  But for the time being we should agree that for most of the rest of us, at least until a couple hundred years ago (of say, 40 000 years of human cultural evolution), perhaps the most primary motivation in the lives of the majority was somehow or other a religious one -  a pursuit of goals passed down to us from beings on another plane.

Cute.  I know.  That we should believe in fairies and elves and Hercules and El, monsters and hells and Hades and spells, Christ’s, alright! Buddhas, Shiva, Thor, and Night, god’s a plenty, oh so many, where’d they go, are they alright?
Are we alright?

If you would humor me so much as to agree to the taxonomic designation Homo religiosus, then it is a curious thing that we should find our selves in an era where the popular claim of influential philosophy is that God is Dead.  God’s have been with us, sometimes personally, sometimes much more socially, for at least the last 40 000 years.  And now they are gone.  Where did they go?  Or did we just get smart enough to realize they weren’t there?

Here’s why you cannot deny the existence of the gods.  The stuff that gives rise to the religious experience, to convictions about Divinity and an unbreakable passion to fulfill its will, is the same stuff that gives rise to dreams, to ideological persuasions and pursuits, and to the deep and wonderful well of humanity’s creative juice.  It’s all the same stuff.  And it’s right there in our nervous system, somehow coded as the interaction between our bodies and our environments.

What is this stuff?  And what are we to make of its various manifestations?  What forces lie beneath ourselves, operating in neural circuits parallel to our conscious river of ceaseless thought?  What unconscious personalities battle for expression into consciousness, and realization in behaviour?  Have the gods gone into hiding, motivating us without our knowing?  Coaxing us into a downward spiral of socio-ecological destruction, from within our very own neurophysiology?!

In this age, then, of smothered gods, industrial jaws, and consuming paws, we grope and we grope for the brief, subtle pause of a fleeting feast of satisfaction.  But a fleeting feast is on the order of yeast when compared to the beast in the scheme of life’s greatest feats.  We’re hooked on treats.  And The Trends can be tough ones to beat.

Consumption cannot extend the pause of pure joy.  It can only make it repeat.  And the intervals between treats will toss a driver out of his seat.  Desire will consume you, as you so ravenously consumed before.  And the spiral contends release.

The gods cannot be replaced with treats.  The gods commanded diligent effort, commitment, discipline.  They enforced order and stability on societal goo, molding it into the cultural mosaic of our world.  But we no longer serve majestic, immaculate divinities.  We find ourselves the servants of new gods, of the Pepsi’s and Nestle’s and Gucci’s, and their legion of Great and Powerful Providers.  Are these satisfactory heir’s?    Are they deserving of a seat in legend?  Our diligence is to them, not for the sake of the universe, or of Nature’s Great Beauty, or of divine, passionate, love, or of the pure thrill of the existential position – but for the immediate pleasure they bring to us as individuals.  And don’t think for a second that such pleasure is authentic.  Our reward systems have been hijacked.  Sugar tastes as good as it does because it was once rare – nature did not intend for us to consume hundreds of grams of the stuff a day.

So where does this leave us?  Mass marketing, the Economy, and the world of advertising have made us into addicts.  They have usurped the role of the gods and taken hold of our reward systems, our motivations, our emotional health, and our passions.  They have desacralized us, shamed our inherent divinity.  They have shaped us into vultures.  What retribution can we seek?  How can we re-instate divinity?  Are we in need of new gods?

Or are we in need of something different?

Something a bit more fluid, more tolerant, more accepting.  Something more identifiable, present, and sustaining.  Something that does not fool our sense of joy with the trick of a treat but rather encompasses and reminds us, just how wonderful, really, is this Great Feat.  Something like humility and inspiration.  Like the realization of your own infinite, and your own emptiness.  Something like unconditional acceptance of the way things are meets determined passion for the integrity of us, as stars.

We are God’s heir.  And that is an enormous responsibility.  Act wisely, lest we unleash the final flood.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Reflections on Passover

Festivals are awesome.  There is nothing anyone likes more than festivities.  That’s their very point – they are festive.  And its fun that there are common times to have festivals – usually when you are celebrating something, like a birthday, a new year, a historical event, sunshine, snowfall, or just Pure Golden Love.  Today, April 20th, was a celebration of something I like to think is awfully close to Pure Golden Love.  I’m bound to touch on the topic of the Green and Delicious Mother Goddess, Cannabis, at some point, perhaps also under religion, but here we are concerned with Passover.  What exactly is passover celebrating?

That’s obvious: Exodus.  We celebrate the anniversary of the simultaneous release and birth of a nation from the pangs of slavery in Egypt.  Oh my how beautiful and wondrous is Egypt.  Such spectacular tradition!  And the magic that floated about in that country, a hub between the entirety of Africa and the Eastern world.  Talk about charged places.  But what were the Israelites doing there?
The bible’s got a great story of the epic.  And it really is an epic, so I’m not about to recount it here.  Take a look at that story again some time, without your childish rebellious values.  It has all the features of a marvelous story – a tragic hero, magic, chaos, mass suffering, freedom, and existential loneliness.  And it’s surely a hell of a thing to consider that elements of it may have actually been true.  The Exodus Decoded, a documentary that investigates the very history of the exodus, does a superb job at explaining how the ten plagues might have happened, given how they appear to happen, in modern times, in similar sequence, in the aftermath of certain volcanic eruptions.  A wonderful watch.  But why do we care?

Lets make a couple basic assumptions here, some propositions we can work with in building up a plausible basis for appreciating passover.  Let us assume that there was an Egypt, and there were slaves in Egypt, and a subset of those slaves probably had some kind of familial relationship with one another, through some common heritage that may (or may not) have originated in Mesopotamia and travelled through Canaan.  And let us further suppose (just for fun), that there was a massive volcanic eruption during the period of this slavery, sometime towards the end of the seccond mellenium B.C (in fact, there is a vast amount of  evidence in the geological records and in the literature that supports the occurence of such an event, and the massive wave of migrations that it triggered – sometimes called the invasion of the Sea People), and the aftermath of this eruption caused enough havoc to free a number of these slaves from bondage.

These are moderately reasonable assumptions.  Details are unimportant – everyone mythologizes.  Think Chuck Norris.  But the next assumption is crucial, and it goes something like this: Let us suppose that this group, who has by whatever means exiled themselves from slavery in what was considered a foreign country, now band together under a new ideology, one vastly different from that of their previous masters, but perhaps still borrowing elements from it.  They take this ideology, and they champion it.  They render it the fruit of all their hard work.  Their real salvation.  Perhaps one man played a primary role in the generation of the ideology and its distribution.  Perhaps not.

Regardless of the details, we look at these people and this is what we should see: the birth of a new child – the most wonderful event that occurs on the planet – the birth of a unit, an identifiable, conscious (eventually, we hope), cohesive body of intelligence, passion, and being.  A Nation.  And what a beautiful thing for that to happen, that they should emerge from the perils of slavery into the brightness of a new time with a new, powerful, present God, who offers them peace and security if only they will subscribe to him, and praise him, and allow him to really protect them, and care for them.  Now that is fucking beautiful.

And how different is it from what we are doing now?  Are we not in the throes of a transition out of the tyranny of broken capitalism and industrial mechanics into a new world of global electricity?  Are we not trying to free ourselves from the slavery of our consumption and ecological ignorance into a new era of care, compassion, empathy and for lack of an English phrase, namaste?  We are slaves, still.  There is no doubting that.  We are slaves to the media, slaves to our wallets, slaves to our stomachs, slaves to our drugs and to social judgements.  Slaves to the great pyramidal power of the Big Corporation and the slow click of the Political clock.  But we need not be slaves forever.  The Israelites were freed from their oppressors, freed to spawn their own kingdom, under the eyes of their own God, with their own temple, practicing their own true love.  And that potential rests within us, too.

But I don’t think it would be wise to depend on a Volcano for salvation.  The volcanoes are already erupting and they’re only complicating matters.  We need to be the ones to harness the power of the new religion, the second passover.  Because this time, we cannot be sure that the Angel of Death will pass over the doorways marked with lamb’s blood, or hash oil.  We must be God’s outstretched arm.  We must make the change, and free ourselves, by our own free actions, from the tyranny of today’s institutions.  We must ensure our own survival, for our own sake, for our children’s sake, and for the sake of this magnificent and caring planet.


About Me

I’m generally called Ethan, or E, or sometimes Reginald, Greg, or Steve.  But I couldn’t possibly say that that is who I am.  I’m not exactly quite sure who I am, and I don’t think I ever will be.  At least I hope I am never ignorant enough to think I know.  But I do find that very proposition of my own unknowing to posses a quality that is immensely uplifting, electrifying, really, and you might say I use it, however ironically, to help define who I am.  But talking like that doesn’t get us anywhere (anywhere but right here).  And I imagine you clicked on this page to learn a thing or two about the supposed human who authors these posts.  I suppose I am that supposed human – but I cannot take full credit for authorship.  There are certainly critical forces, far outside my consciousness, much greater than my human being, that play a large role in much of what is done by me.  So if you are enjoying yourself here, or ever in my presence, thank them, and while you’re at it, thank the guys running your show, too!

As far as the human goes, if you are still interested, well, he’s a university student, in the marvelous town of Guelph, Ontario, studying some kind of mysterious assembly of topics he likes to call Neurophysics, and playing music as often as he can in his wonderful band, The Company.  But really, he likes to think, and to talk about his thoughts, and to hear other peoples thoughts, and to have about as much thought-sex as he can get his mouth, ears, brain, and peers to put on.

He also knows that there comes a time in the life of all good hearted individuals – with plenty of things to say to themselves and not enough people with not enough time to sit and listen to them – when they decide to start a blog so that they can write those things down, publicly, to share the burden of their own thoughts with the rest of the world, and to bring their thought-sex online. I hope you do not object to thought sex.  And I sincerely hope you find something here that interests, fascinates, inspires, and/or elevates your already wise soul.

Cheers, to learning, compassion, and beauty.