Tag Archives: civilization

The Great Unknown

It’s not so much the great unknown
that gives me pause and food for thought.
The universe may hide itself
as it sees fit, and choose to show
what tiny bits my mind can grasp
according to some private plan.
No, what’s out there, the mystery,
is not what keeps me up at night.

What keeps me wondering, late at night,
is that part we regard as known:
the “noble” truths, the pieces, parts,
that over centuries have grown
like sand caught in an oyster’s shell
into some grand and lustrous pearl,
its surface easy on the eye,
its core an irritating grain.

How plainly wrought, self-evident,
appears the thousand year old pearl;
but knowledge doesn’t grow like that.
It starts with sand, that’s clear enough,
but different forces coat the wound;
and their own interests, or designs,
small nudges, bumps, missteps or lies,
change truth’s shape and blur its flaws.

There’s the rub: the hidden flaws.
If what we know, or think is known,
is based on endless, unseen lies
that piled together seem a whole
beyond reproach, what do we know?
How much, in our experience,
is quite that easy to achieve?
What ageless lies do I believe?

It hangs there, like a house of cards;
One dares not touch it, or to breathe.
A single whisper, just one word
could rock to rubble the whole world;
well, what we care to name the world:
the tiny, weak facade we make.
Perhaps that’s why they bind the hands,
and cut the tongue out, at the stake.

09 DEC 2010

Share This:

On Tools

What future use will be our tools
for building greater monuments,
technologies to reach beyond
our yesterday capacity,
if all that drives tomorrow’s will
is to create for their own sake
more grand machines to take the place
of what was once achieved with hands?

What purpose, past mere science gained,
will drive the new mechanics’ soul
to strive outside the here and now
of knowledge limited to cogs,
efficiencies and labor’s yield?

Posterity will need more art
than engineering can provide;
lest it learn just technology
that serves as means to many ends,
and can be turned cruel and unjust
by pure philosophy’s intent.

What good these tools, these saws and nails,
these plows and drills, these guns and bombs,
without instructions for their use
that clearly spell the dangers out?

What will our far descendants know
of how we brought these things to bear
in carving out a worthwhile world,
one nurtured carefully and shared,
if all we choose to leave behind
is how to build, not reasons why?

22 MAY 2007

Share This:

Back to the basics

Back to the basics: down that trail
bringing us from the ocean’s foam
where we shared space with fish and snail;
back past Europe, far beyond Rome,
before we started keeping track
or had the means to tally score.
If we would find the things we lack
we must devolve, then dig some more
distaining drills and modern tools,
pickaxes, shovels and backhoes;
tricks learned in engineering schools,
and physics, too; they must all go.

Bring nothing with you, pen nor phone
will serve you here in this dead zone;
no trail guides, blueprints, wires or cups —
to walk this path, you must give up
all semblance to your modern self;
and all those volumes on your shelves:
pretend that they were never writ,
that all you know, the breadth of it,
spans just as far as your two arms
and runs the width of a small farm.

Back to the basics: eat and sleep,
hunt and be hunted, kill or die.
Turn back from hills that are too steep,
from rivers too deep or too wide.
Back to the basics: no free time,
no Broadway shows, no top shelf wines;
the Devil’s in such modern stuff,
so give it back, and say, “Enough!”

Forget how far the human race
has come; at least, in any case,
deny yourself the benefit
of what you did not work to get
and take for granted your whole life:
to slice that bread, you’ll need a knife.

03 JUN 2005

Share This:

Thoughts on Practical Philosophy

Philosophy is considered one of the humanistic studies, which are studies intended to provide general knowledge and intellectual skills (rather than occupational or professional skills). That is not to say, however, that they have no “practical” value. I would argue quite the contrary.

The classic philosophic question is “what is the meaning of life?” Typically, that question is posed in a highly theoretical environment, with the querant never actually intending to apply that meaning to their own life, only to a “life” in general, or a laboratory “life” to see what happens. Plato’s Republic, I suppose, would be a case in point.

In contrast to this strictly idealistic goal, the practical philosopher asks instead “what can I do to make my life more meaningful?”

The former presupposes a meaning that is somehow divorced from action, that is fixed and for the purposes of growth requires only the action of seeking, which if the search is well-directed and not in vain, may culminate in the act of discovery. The latter, on the other hand, does not separate life from its meaning, or more precisely, requires that all actions, including the “seeking”, be incorporated into a permanent state, rather than an isolated act or instance, of epiphany. It does not say you do not need to seek for meaning, but refines and focuses that search to begin within, rather than in some applied external condition.

Practical philosophy is a classical example of removing the barrier, or glass, between the observer and the observed. It postulates that there can be no meaning without subjectivity. That there is no “objective” or primary Truth, no universal that is not at its core absolutely and irrefutably personal.

Practical philosophy, then, can have no universal dogma, nor tenets. The fact that multiple people find the same truths to be self-evident does not make them universal truths first, only secondarily.

The question then is this: is civilization as Julian Jaynes defined it “any group of people gathered together in sufficient number so that it is impossible to know each individual on a first name basis”? Or is civilization in fact the natural coalescence of those individuals whose personal philosophies are compatible with each other to a sufficient degree to enable cooperation, coordination and coexistence? Can any “civilization” whose boundaries and philosophical framework are externally imposed hope to survive or progress?

How do ethical systems of behavior (which can all, since the beginning of time, be reduced in principle to a simple statement – “Thou Before I”) and codes of morality (which are in essence guarantees of punishment from one’s peers or superiors [i.e., employers, homeowners’ associations, communities, representatives, rulers, divinities] for wrongdoing either immediately or on a future payment plan) fit into a frame of reference where the ultimate requirement is personal responsibility?

Share This:

Thought for the Day

The world goes on because civilized men exist.
Without them it would collapse into mere dust.
Though their minds are as sharp as a rasp,
Men without human decency are as wooden as a tree.
-Tirukkural 100:997-8

Excerpted from the Tirukkural, translated by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami.
Copyright Himalayan Academy Publications, www.himalayanacademy.com.

Share This:

Blues for Elijiah/Fallen Angels

For some reason, sitting out under the carport this morning in the rain made me think of a period during 1991 when I wrote about 30 songs in the course of 36 hours. It was a very strange Peter Gabriel meets Van Morrison kind of weekend … just me, the computer terminal and the digital piano.

Blues for Elijiah

Ravenous, we turned our backs on civilized pursuits
in suits of woven rags and skins, exposed to elemental change;
No human chatter breaking forth, no spewing after-thoughts
of imperfect internal combustion.

Blinded by the word of the immortal beast of broadcast,
scarlet-eyed, star-struck, in cathode-ray imposed myopia,
we foolishly believed that we had found the new Messiah
and we called to him by name, Blessed Technology.

Cloven-hooved, through clover fields, we chased the dream inconceivable
Thinking we could make believe and make it more believable

Turn away from your television
Turn away from your radio
There are more things in Earth and Heaven
Than you’ll ever know

Words are only words if they hold no other meaning
Symbolized interpretation of an unseen imagery:
The silence shouts out deafening; cover up your ears
or you might hear something important.

Hungry now, and rooting through the leftovers of history,
power ties no longer bind, yet cut off circulation.
Do you still believe that you have found the reasons for your presence?
Do you still hold fast to dreams that have no meaning?

Turn away from your newspaper
Turn away from your bulletin board
There are so many things escaping your attention
There are more rivers left to ford

With all your money, can you still pay attention?
Will all your bridges tumble into the sea?
With how much credit can you purchase my affection?
Will you be frightened if I love you for free?

Turn away from your television
Turn away from your radio
Listen to the music playing out in the courtyard
They’re playing verses you should know

Turn away from your radio
Turn away from your magazine
There are things happening that are much more important
There are still wonders you’ve not seen

26 JUL 91

Fallen Angels

A monster’s out walking the streets tonight
Devouring the city, cobblestone by cobblestone
A soul without mercy; and you know
pity is a lonely word, small and forgettable

Silent in mute screaming agony
Following the gutters down and out to the sea;
otherwise, without purpose, directionless,
void of apparent course.

Searching for fallen angels
Fitting them with dragons’ wings
‘Cause if this play falls on its face
We’ll have to think of something

The monster in his guise, so human,
licks his lips, mastiff-inspired,
the scent of life, animal
caged words, primitive and sophisticated.

Alone in schizophrenic company
Following the sound of life around the corner;
no intentions, only expectations
of disappointment in the shadows

Searching for fallen angels
Fitting them with dragons’ scales
‘Cause we’ll need more cannon fodder
When self-preserving instinct fails

A monster is stalking the city tonight
Devouring the pavement like lines
on a printed page, without mercy or pity,
which are lonely words, small and
easily forgotten

Searching for fallen angels
Fitting them with dragons’ hearts
‘Cause we’ll need all our energy
Once the floor show starts.

26 JUL 91

Share This:

The Great American Novel

Ah, how many times I have seen those words in print … so and so wished to write the “Great American Novel”…Mr. X has effectively given us the “Great American Novel”. And yet, how many times have I wondered exactly what that meant. Perhaps the GAN represents capturing the essence of American life, providing a Petri dish full of Americanisms (whatever those may truly be) or placing under the microscope some fragment of nostalgia on the one hand, or a slice of dystopia on the other. It seems to me that the GAN often is used to refer to something that captures the essence of what America has been, or is now. But just like so many modern rock bands, that notion while eloquently describing what is wrong and bewailing the negative, fractioning aspects of “American” society does so very little to suggest any kind of solution. America, they say, is a dream. America is fucked up. The American dream? What does that mean? Ask a Choctaw-Kiowa-Apache, or a practitioner of Vodoun. They will not have the same answer as the descendent of a Puritan — at least, not likely.

America, it seems to me, is a victim of its own conceit — much like so many of the monotheistic religions of the world. Both would do their damnedest to deny the theory of evolution. But a species, a culture, a nation MUST evolve in order to survive. And evolution implies CHANGE. Radical change. So by extension it appears to me that a truly American novel must address what America SHOULD be, what it COULD be. And of course, that’s not just a novel. It’s a revolution. As George Bernard Shaw once said, democracy is the only form of government where revolution is against the law — simply because the constituents of a democracy are in theory the government itself, making revolution a kind of self-abasement or self-immolation. But it is very easy to point out, particularly considering the rapidly decaying civil liberties of this country, the increasingly important role played by big money in the control and destiny of politicians, the absence of any kind of radical left, the dumbing down of educative systems so as to eliminate the role of intelligent dissent, the jingoistic emphasis on “our way or the highway”, the Hitleresque masquerade of national security threat prevention and monstrous incorporation of the philosophy of Christian Fascism into the micro-management of personal lives in service to the greater Church-State, that any nation whose president is determined by the Supreme Court in opposition to the popular vote is NOT strictly speaking a democracy. In that case, or to paraphrase slightly, when in that course of human events, it becomes necessary to stage at least some kind of revolt. Revolution, in that instance, becomes not only a right, a necessity, but also a kind of “sacred” duty.

And of course, the solution is not, as many neo-pagan organizations might lead you to believe, to establish a church of your own in every city in America. Nor is it to find some kind of “perfect” candidate who can somehow single-handedly reverse the tide of bullshit that fills the streets of Washington DC, the foxholes in Afghanistan or the trenches in Iraq. The answer, I’m ashamed to admit, can succintly be found in the Hollywood adaptation of the Gospel. That one line where Jesus screams out (and perhaps you like Ted Neeley in Norman Jewison’s film adaption, but nothing compares to Ian Gillan when it comes to screaming out) — “Heal yourselves!”

That, however, is unlikely to sell ANY copies whatsoever as a NY Times Bestseller. Because Americans are not, and probably truly have never been, that kind of people as a whole. The masses, to coin a phrase, are asses. And America never has really been about individual freedom. It’s been about conformity. Sure, the Pilgrims shuffled off to Massachusetts Bay to ensure that they could practice religion as they saw fit, without the deterrents of thumbscrews, stake burnings and other establishment cures. But they turned around and did the same to those who disagreed with them. And so on and so forth. The problem with America is that whether you call it a melting pot, or a salad bowl, people like their own fondue, their particular style of Waldorf, and think that anyone else is wrong. Which is not so bad, except that they want to picket any restaurant that serves non-standard meals, despite the fact that EVERY culture that has come to this country has been persecuted to some degree once they arrived. And then turned around and picked on someone who arrived a day later. The sad part is that this culture is about five minutes ago and the history thereof. So learning from history is fortunately an easy A.

What’s that boil down to in the long run? Who knows? But the human beings that think they run this show ought to stop and think about this: IF evolution is more than a theory, if it is the way it is, then where are we going, as a people, species, planet, etc.? IF evolution is FALSE, and the self-determination of the planet simply STOPPED when homo erectus erectus appeared on the scene, then why did we learn to swim? To play tennis? To sell junk bonds? To deal smack?

Bah. Enough ranting.

Share This: