Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Friday, March 15, 2002; Friday, March 15, 2002

_A Sliver of Freedom_
It's hard to raise the question of determinism in a way that doesn't let it seem academic and abstract and apart from daily concerns. And yet it's actually the fabric of those very daily concerns that makes the matter not only relevant but pressing, as pressing as the concerns themselves. The too often dreadful and deadening humdrum that is life in modernity, a blizzard of decisions and distinctions and choices that reduces to a mechanically utilitarian servitude ... it seems entirely obvious that the person hasn't a moment for authentic self-expression, and so determinism suggests itself as a sufficient explanation. Perhaps well educated and developed rats we are, and running in wheels of elaborate sophistication, but at the end of the day the rat running a wheel is just that and nothing more.
There is a substantial basis for such a view, easily enough to confirm the pessimist and even enough to compell the optimist. The exit point, the crack in which there lies the potential sliver of freedom, lies not in the denial of those deterministic aspects and processes, but in the realization that they do not exhaust the actuality of our experience as conscious human beings. The signal moments of real option, the opportunities for true and authentic expression are just those moments within which we feel the lurch of dissonance, when the logic of the situation sputters for an instant and we are at sea, cast adrift if only for the fraction of time it takes for our habitual rhetoric to pop a slogan into the slot.
It is in the forlorn moment when we are thrown back onto whatever sustains us, and if only the most mercenary drives inform our beings, then the mercenary calling will be manifest in the following moment. The deterministic here plays out causally, but only mediated through our agency. The situation in which I find myself has come about through a history that is a perhaps endless and infinite regress, and the role I've played, like the degree to which I have contributed, may not be clear. But the richness of the moment is a vivid encapsulation of that past. If I revolve an ambiguity as though the matter were trivial, then that's the extent to which I will see my authentic self in the world I will be inhabiting. Or if I slyly rationalize some subterfuge, then in that tactics result I'll find the fruits of that inspiration. But if I find myself despairing at my unfreedom, it's likely the case that I'm in fact disputing the demands of nature itself ... as though proclaiming a primordial right to eat my cake and have it, as well. It is only too conceivable that protestations of unfreedom are little more than passive-agressive attempts to slip out of responsibilities, as though this will somehow moderate consequences. Unfortunately, in a naive and disingenuous attempt at avoiding guilt, we give rise to a future that is empoverished. That future will not find us less free or more determined, but neither will it be one that enables and fosters happiness, comfort and deep relaxation.
Rather than constantly finessing the sort of crude motives that we would loathe in others, motives we dare not acknowledge in ourselves, we can in the humdrum cascade of daily tasks and duties, inform our situationally constrained actions with tendencies and predispostions of a wholesome and benevolent sort. "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow"; the moment seldom requires more from us than the planting of an acorn. It is unlikely that we will be often called upon to expose ourselves as heroes dedicated to the emancipation of all sentient beings. Liberated from the myth of unfreedom, we can enjoy a simple ease that supports a humble appreciation of our freedom in the moment, however slight it might be.

By what fire do we warm ourselves? In the moment, when there's no distraction operating, when there's no grand plan sweeping us along, to what do we look to indicate the next source of momentary comfort from the emptiness and confusion? It occurs to me that coping with a passive aggressive strategy meets the needs of the moment adequately, without even a slight opportunity to escape from the cycle of suffering and error. With the plausible goal of maintaining our autonomy in mind, we can on one hand strike out at those we think are our antagonists and on the other avoid commitment to anything largre than our selves. By validating failure, I subscribe to certain fulfillment, however sterile and diseased it might be. The self-perpetuating nature of pathological relations, this is evidence to how information rich is our environment: if survival itself is taken as adaptive, then cancer is looked to as symbolic of virtue. But our most elemental appreciation of virtue recognizes heedless growth for what it is: life forces engaged in processeses that are machine like in their lack of responsiveness. And so it is with an atititude of mind such as passive-agression, which heedlessly floods every aspect of the situation, bringing us along step by step and moment by moment in a series of mindless interventions, intent on replicating the single autonomous moment of sabotage. Perhaps it's only the agony of despairing in such strategies that can afford an extraction plan, so that the habitual can be related to with a fresh understanding, the impulses can be countered with new insights, and the cycle collapses and dissolves under the influece of new understanding. Appreciative of the deep inter-relatedness of our situation and aware of our absolute enworldedness (in which not a single aspect of our experience does not relate back to what has been or is now, in collaboration with what is coming into being), we can fall backwards out of our conceptualized mappings of the world and find ourselves in the space of authentic spontaneity. In a simpler and more honest relationship to everything that really is, without the obstructions and distorting influences of what we have for so long projected and imagined and otherwise conjured up for the sake of our story line, we find ourselves playfully engaged in the larger project, and in that engagement is deep joy and satisfaction. How exhausting, to be constantly fueling the flames of desire and aversion, poaking and prodding the moment to maintain the fiction, to derive success, to impose our authority, to declare our autonomy. How good it is, to bask in the radiance of a situation that shimmers and shivers in its intimate responsiveness!

Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Wednesday, March 13, 2002; Wednesday, March 13, 2002

* Aligning With Purpose's Our Future page typifies what makes me grow very quiet and introspective from a sense of strained solidarity.
"With the decline of corporate control over thought and information, we have entered a new era of exploration and discovery. During this time, many of our old assumptions are being challenged and replaced with more rational conclusions." Rational?! ... I wish I could read this with an optimistic attitude, but I'm afraid that would be naive. When I read the documentation from World Bank or G8 or USAID, I'm awash in a rationality that is anything but sane, the sort of rationality that spins produces conclusions effectively because it proceeds reductively ... no messy human factors here, all problems can be managed and all conflicts mediated.
I would be far more heartened if we aligned with purpose inspired by a disgust for the machinations of greed and a gut-felt revulsion at the grotesque scale of daily injustice. When it occurs to me that hundreds of thousands of well intentioned bodies are rallying with the purpose of "figuring out" how to apply the newest technologies to our age-old problems it makes me slump in despair (and I've been a com-tech geek since 1972).
Visions of a new world may inspire, but so too, and better, can the prospect simply breaking modest bread in comfort and comraderie with collaborators who we've come to regard as peers. The cult of expertise and optimization thrives on the dope of excellence. I'd say we need the integrity that is bred from a humble acceptance of constraints and limits; maybe that would re-invigorate our need for human community.

Anchor for this item posted by Bernard (ben) Tremblay at Tuesday, March 12, 2002; Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Unless a person is going to argue in favour of a total, complete, absolute and mechanistic determinism, there has to be admitted something very much like agency and free-will, if only of the "within limits and contraints" type. Which leads flowingly to the other flavour of dangerous non-sense, which is the foul notion that we are as though angels or gods or greatly empowered demons who know no bounds and are always fully informed, clear sighted, cool headed, and willfully effective. The sort of rabid fundamentalist who argues to abject helplessness in the face of _this_ will argue that eternal amnation, perdition and hell-fire are causally required by _that_ ... the sort of foolishness that plays into the hands of the the exploitative, psychopath and sadist alike.
What I find most painful about this abject naivete is the prospect that it is, at root, a failure to realize consequences ... misery does not leave one un-scared, loss of integrity is not a fleeting thing, and neither self-deception nor denial give rise to the sort of happiness we're all striving for. The raw stock of democracy always remains: free of threat or promise of reward, we tend to render judgments that are of use to ourselves and others. We don't need to be always right, but being reasonable isn't likely to put a bad spin on things ... unless one is just sucking up, of course, in which case all bets are off.

This is not a movie, and so there really is no "blue pill / red pill" choice to make. And yet something very much like that is unfolding every instant: moment by moment, individuals are choosing to adopt easy explanations in order not to tangle with the problem that has arisen, and so the next moment they are a bit more deadened and a bit less responsive than the moment before.
If there's no blue pill or red pill, there's something like a poison pill, and that's what the person swallows when they buy into the notion of powerlessness in the face of a need for change. Whether responding out of cynical loneliness or from a pessimism born of fear (fear creates a manic need for certainty, even if it's only certainty in everything being futile), we can extend the worst of the past through the moment into the future by pretending to actual powerlessness.
But how many of us are so cynical and so powerless that we would not flee a burning building? Why, then, do we stand mute in the face of social injustice and environmental degredation except from a deeply ingrained, entirely irrational, and profoundly mistaken faith that everything will work out for the good? If we are so bold here as to factor in the effect of guilt and self-loathing, then we are greeted with a scenario that meets in every particular the Buddhist imagery of the hell-realms.