Cate Montana and me in a much more hopeful time. (Her selfie c. 2014)
WHAT WE ARE witnessing in this year's presidential campaign is the transformation of the politics of trauma into a politics of rage. It is unlike anything I have ever witnessed, neither during my 55-year journalism career nor as a citizen, but it is obviously (and eerily) a nationwide macrocosm of what Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described as the five stages of terminal illness: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The trauma is capitalism's double murder of the so-called American Dream and the U.S. experiment in representative democracy. It is the shock of the accompanying assassinations, the terror generated by the inescapable joblessness of the 99 Percent and the associated foreclosures, evictions and homelessness. It is further evidenced by the resultant unprecedented increase in poverty and particularly in premature death rates, including among previously favored proletarian white males and white women as well.
Thus we are once again shown what Karl Marx first dared reveal in 1848: that capitalism is an always-fatal disease for which there is no cure save revolution.
But – witness events in Russia c. 1917-1941 – we also know the cure can prove to be as deadly as the disease, which adds to our fearsome hopelessness.
Hence, as we shall see, the relevance of the Kübler-Ross hypothesis, which remember is not – say again NOT – necessarily a linear progression. Indeed – based on my own observations, which include the deaths of friends and colleagues, the death of liberty in the United States, the looming death of our species and my own experience with the encroachment of death that is aging – I would reverse Kübler-Ross' final two stages. First comes acceptance: the complete acknowledgment, emotional as well as intellectual, of what is occurring. Then – unless one is deluded by the fantasies provided by religion or spirituality – comes depression, the unavoidable consequence of recognizing the utter futility of human life, the ultimate metaphor for which is the graveyard.
Here then is my initial impression of how the Kübler-Ross model defines our present political circumstances:
Denial: as in the overwhelmingly closed-minded refusal of most voters, especially the Republicans and the Clintonoid Democrats, to recognize the deadliness of capitalism. Therefore they cannot understand their choices of candidates – metaphorically the same as choices of medicines and treatment modalities – are at the very least as worthless as snake oil and in all probability will radically hasten the onset of death.
Bargaining: typified by those throughout the political spectrum who, ignorant of history, foolishly believe negotiation by disempowered masses can ameliorate the savagery of capitalism.
Acceptance: the infinitely bitter realization we have been reduced to serfdom and/or slavery, that the “America” we knew will never be resurrected and that resistance is therefore futile. The result is begrudging surrender to capitalism (that is, to a society based on the moral imbecility of infinite greed and selfishness, with these qualities officially redefined as maximum heights of virtue); and equally begrudging submission to capitalist governance (that is, to a political apparatus based on absolute power and unlimited profit for the One Percent and their Ruling Class vassals, total subjugation and bottomless poverty for all the rest of us).
Depression: the realization of our total powerlessness, characterized in the political realm by recognition of how our powerlessness reduces politics to meaninglessness. This was undoubtedly the realization that – after the 2013 Republican coup in Olympia gave the GOP total control of Washington state government and schooled the electorate in the irrelevance of elections – prompted 72 percent of the state's registered voters to refuse to vote in 2014. The result, a turnout of only 28 percent, is reportedly the lowest ever recorded in the United States. Not coincidentally, it reflects exactly the sort of alienation that is symptomatic of clinical depression, which in turn is increasingly recognized as a definitive byproduct of capitalism.
*** *** ***
UNLESS WE ARE obscenely rich or already lost in the wastelands of dementia, the painful realities of old age will sooner or later reveal the “golden years” meme as merely another of the Big Lies routinely disseminated by capitalism in its predatory hunt for profits.
Originally intended to loot the pensions of petite-bourgeois retirees by conning them into buying overpriced real estate, the “golden years” Big Lie caught on because it cleverly sidesteps the awful truth of old age – that unless we are spared its horrors by the blessing of sudden death, it is a long and terrible imprisonment in ever-increasing misery and wretchedness, with our own bodies reduced to torture-chambers from which there is no hope of rescue.
There is no bargaining with old age. Its essence is ever-more-intensified awareness of approaching death. And death, which completes the aging process of reducing our bodies to reeking garbage, is likewise the obliteration of individual consciousness. Since there is nothing outside of or beyond individual consciousness, death is for each of us the apocalypse in microcosm. It is literally the end, forever, of everything including all potential.
And here in the United States – where we low-income elderly people are now forced to survive under constant threat of maliciously lethal cuts in life-sustaining stipends and services – its inherent awfulness is methodically worsened by the intentionally cruel policies of what statistics prove has become the most deliberately vicious nation in the industrial world.
*** *** ***
BEFORE I CONTINUE, I should apologize for (again) dropping out of sight.
I was working toward posting to OAN weekly, as I have done for most of its six-and-one-half year history, as indeed I did until last year, when my working life became depressingly complicated due to the failure of my computer and an infuriating succession of Microshaft-inflicted disasters with its replacement.
Hence my OAN posting-frequency dropped off to less than once per month, and I lost probably 95 percent of my readers. Finally, recognizing the magnitude of the loss, I resolved to return to once-weekly posting or at least as close a proximity to that frequency as I could achieve.
Now though old age has intervened, this time in the form of a life-threatening geriatric ailment called cellulitis, an infection that necessitated inter-venous antibiotics and an ongoing course of oral antibiotics which – knock on wood – seem to be (slowly) beating the run-amok bacteria into reluctant submission.
But that affliction, which includes the possibility of a complication called necrotizing fasciitis – bacteriological storm troopers ravaging one's flesh, invariably causing loss of limbs and often the (merciful) loss of life – has combined with another I am not yet able to write about, and the two have stripped me of any and all illusions about the future, including whatever long-range potential I might have (foolishly) imagined was yet residual in my photography and writing.
Of course I will continue writing and photographing – for me those activities are as natural as breathing and perhaps equally vital as well – but from here on I do so with full and bitter recognition that since the 1983 fire destroyed my true life's work, I have never been more than another faint specter of that art-scene archetype for whom William Butler Yeats wrote the short poem “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing.”
*** *** ***
THIS IS MY second battle with cellulitis. The first, in my left leg, was in the fall of 2014. Now it is in my right leg.
My susceptibility to it is intensified both by old age and the bad circulation in my extremities that is the legacy of a childhood fall through the ice – fortunately into water that was only waist deep – during subzero Michigan weather. This time the cellulitis began a couple of days after my 76th birthday – not really a surprise as I am always stricken by some life-disrupting disaster on or near my birthdays – as if fate must always remind me that in the eyes of whatever gods might or more likely do not exist, I will never be more than the despised child I became after my mother 's 1945 attempt at post-partum abortion.
(My personal calendar includes two other days I long ago recognized as guarantors of misfortune. One is Christmas, on or close to which no less than three computers have died and which is often the occasion of some grave sickness – happy holidays from Jesus. I am similarly bashed by fate on or near the autumnal equinox: that's when I came down with the 2014 cellulitis infection, and in 1978, on that exact date (23 September), was when a defiantly habitual drunken driver's vehicular assault destroyed my new Honda Civic and damned me to a lifetime of relentlessly worsening back pain.)
The medical people tell me another contributory factor in the cellulitis problem is the now-obviously permanent obesity that has plagued me since I quit smoking 20 years ago. Though I was a slender child until I entered puberty, from about my 10th year on, my hateful mother used her summertime custody of me to force-feed me into grotesque obesity. It was, from her perspective, a trifecta: an expression of her hatred of me, an expression of her hatred of heterosexual males and, best of all, an expression of her hatred of my father – a way to avenge herself on both me and him by giving him – a former prep-school athlete who regarded obesity as an ultimate form of loathsomeness – yet another item to add to the already long list of reasons he despised me nearly as much as my mother and most of her relatives did.
But by age 15 I had smoked my way back to some semblance of physical attractiveness – at least enough to lose my virginity early that year thanks to a very lovely young lady – and though I was never truly handsome, I remained adequately attractive until the successful battle with nicotine addiction (ironically) upped my weight by 100 pounds. I smoked my last cigarette 20 years ago, and after innumerable diets it is now obvious there is no way I will ever lose the excess fat. Hence I am once again the ugly blob I was from age 10 to age 14. Obviously there are some forms of childhood accursedness that always triumph in the end.
Moreover the life-disruptions inflicted by this most recent episode of cellulitis have shown me beyond any doubt I am no longer able to meet even self-imposed deadlines, which in turn tells me there is no point trying to rebuild OAN's readership or – for that matter – attempting any work (photography or writing) more demanding than the monthly newsletter I produce for my 50 neighbors. (And this month, thanks to my illnesses, even that is late.)
Yes, as I said above, I will continue posting here, but never again with any attempt to maintain a predetermined schedule.
Meanwhile the cellulitis is obviously prophetic. It is a preview of what awaits me in whatever years or months I have left. Old age, I now understand, is a terminal illness. I will have better days. worse days and, undoubtedly as the end nears, truly awful days, but I know now I will never again be well.
And what will become of me if I am still alive when next the One Percenters and their wholly owned Democratic and Republican vassals further slash my access to medical care?
*** *** ***
OLD AGE IS also – unless one is genuinely craven – a time of confronting the ugliest truths about one's self. When one finally acknowledges that one is definitively unlovable – that one has never known, nor ever will know, the exquisite blessing bestowed by a truly loving woman's infinitely affectionate glance – all other tragedies, death included, are diminished to psychological manageability.
Subconsciously I have have known this truth since childhood: my mother never once said she loved me, and following the events of 1945, all but one of her relatives made their own animosities evident. From their perspective I was the embarrassing reminder of a terrible secret – my mother's arrest and subsequent (merciful) confinement for two years in an insane asylum because my father (mercifully) refused to press charges against her for the attempted murder of me, their son, and himself as well. From then on, my mere existence thus threatened disclosures that – given the vast universe of predatory malice that underlies capitalism – would have jeopardize my maternal grandparents' financial security, which was based mostly on my grandfather's ability to peddle life insurance to corporate clientele.
Though no woman ever truly loved me, I did acquire, during my sexually active years, a reputation for patient, sensitive, perceptive delivery of orgasmic goods and thus – because women speak comfortably with one another of such matters in clinical detail we men can scarcely imagine – I was blessed with bed-partners aplenty. I also, from childhood onward, had many female friends, not the least because I regard their gender, with all its innumerable subtleties of interacting logic and emotion, to be far more interesting than the my own gender's (pathetically) linear thinking, which is typically as emotionless as poured concrete and as directionally predictable – boring, even – as any Interstate highway.
But the fire and its aftermath stripped me of all the occupational panoply of attractiveness. Since then – save for two distant interludes with women I had hitherto known for many years but will never see again – my bed has been naught but chilly emptiness.
Conversely, the women who were my friends – those who sought nothing more from me than intellectual companionship and/or emotional support – have remained utterly faithful to our friendship, sometimes in unexpected ways so moving it has brought me to tears.
But now nearly all of these women – Left radicals or pagan activists – are dead. Each of them was felled by cancer in the primes of their lives – an apparent coincidence so unnerving that more than once it has prompted me to wonder if the Presidential Death Warrants announced by Barack the Betrayer do not have a much longer clandestine history.
The bright spot in all this malaise – the good news (at least for me) – is the awfulness of my childhood and the radically diminished but nevertheless omnipresent elements of wretchedness that always haunted the edges of my adult my life and that now in old age have become its epicenter have nevertheless given me an ability to unflinchingly recognize the dimensions of our present-day impasse: to think the officially unthinkable and to verbalize, often defiantly, the officially unspeakable: that the positive qualities that defined what we once thought of as “our nation” are slain and never to be resurrected, and that as a result our entire species is most likely doomed.
Seeing so clearly and unflinchingly was an exceptionally useful talent when I was a member of the working press. But I was never allowed to apply it to its maximum potential. This was true even in the alternative press, which – ironically – pioneered what is now damned as “infotainment”: a perversion spawned by its editors' relentless insistence on text that is as entertaining (i.e., “fun to read”) as it is informative.
Though it is something of an aside, I should note here I was never a “fun” writer, not even when, as a three-pack-per-day smoker, I was effectively self-medicated against dyslexia and thus at the height of my reportorial ability. The frown so often inherent in my prose – and even it its best, the corners of its mouth have always tended downward – was never a problem as long as I was in the Northeast, where news was expected to be solemnly informative, and where my reports on a New Jersey school crisis, for example, were sufficiently authoritative to be submitted as evidence in a Supreme Court case. But on the West Coast, being able to turn even a matter of grave importance into a “fun read” was a prerequisite for major-newspaper success. Hence – though I see this only now in the harsh clarity of geriatric retrospect – the real death of my journalism career, the point at which it became fatally becalmed in a Sargasso Sea of mediocre publications, was in 1970, when a decidedly improbable series of tragicomic disasters stranded me in Washington state with no means to return to New York City.
Because I have been a male Cassandra most of my adult life – my identification of the old Counterculture as the first wave of the resurrection of antiquity's Great Goddess and thus also the opening battle of a revolution against patriarchy was initially as much jeered as it has since been emphatically proven true by the events themselves – I am not surprised to be equally scorned in old age. It is merely another of the predictable but nevertheless frustrating ironies of an unalterably disadvantaged life that, even now when my skills as a visionary, iconoclastic analyst might at last prove useful in our pathetically tardy campaign to save ourselves from extinction, I am confronted by both the microcosm and macrocosm of death. The microcosm is the personal, the unmistakably terminal condition of old age and all its characteristic ailments and limitations. The macrocosm is the political, our species' headlong rush toward apocalypse, for which the interplay of shibboleths and taboos in the 2016 presidential election campaign compose an almost perfect metaphor. Whether personally or politically, I am thus already in the fast lane on the Death Expressway, and whatever I might say or do will make not a scintilla of lasting difference, either in my own circumstances or those of anyone else.
Yet as much as I am saddened by my looming personal apocalypse, I am much relieved by the near certainty I will not live long enough to witness the infinitely larger apocalypse I am now absolutely sure will befall our species and our Mother Earth just as it has already befallen the liberty for which our homeland was formerly a global symbol.
*** *** ***
AS I MYSELF was inescapably cursed by familial hatefulness, so are we all inescapably cursed by the metastasized hatefulness that defines capitalism and Abrahamic religion – the most venomously murderous pair of afflictions ever evolved on this woefully unhappy planet.
But these ideologies of malice are the very pillars of Hillary Clinton's consciousness. Which is why – as I have said so many times in comment-thread posts on Reader Supported News – I will not vote for Hillary under any circumstances. Though my preference is of course Bernie Sanders, it is literally better we have Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton. Trump not only brandishes the morally imbecilic avarice Hillary so desperately tries to hide (which makes him easier to predict and therefore to control), but, like Sanders, he swears he will protect Social Security and Medicare. Hillary meanwhile is sworn to do the opposite: to “reform” it – that is, to destroy it (thus boosting the profits of the Wall Street whoremasters) – presumably with the same genocidal savagery her husband “reformed” welfare.
In the meantime we seniors and disabled people are once again threatened with the (further) termination of our life-sustaining subsidies and services. Once again we are (deliberately) assaulted by (intentionally) death-dealing anxieties earlier generations of modern USians could never have imagined. Such is capitalism, and such too is apparently the Hillary Clinton brand of Christianity.
Hence my remarks on a Thom Hartmann comment thread last week, shortened, revised (and therefore not italicized) for publication here:
Were there still in the United States any mainstream journalists worthy of the name, Hillary's infinite corruption – including the fact her true politics are those of the closeted, reflexively fascistic Goldwater Girl she has remained ever since opportunism prompted her to don Democratic disguise – would be common knowledge. Indeed it is at least possible she, her husband and Barack (the Betrayer) Obama are each not only the agents of Wall Street we know them to be, but willing operatives within a far greater and more malevolent One Percent conspiracy to actually destroy the Democratic Party and thereby forever remove from U.S. politics even the most remote possibility of overthrowing the plutocracy and restoring the New Deal.
If indeed Hillary's hate-Sanders campaign succeeds in winning her the Democratic nomination, it will also succeed in destroying the party beyond any hope of repair. The consequences will ensure a Republican presidential victory, the result of which will be either the beginning of de jure Christian theocracy under Cruz and his Dominionists or the advent of overt USian Nazism under Trump and his latter-day stormtroopers.
Given Hillary's Goldwater Girl politics, it is at least arguable this is her clandestine purpose. For confirmation of which see The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Jeff Sharlet, Harper: 2008), pages 272-277, particularly the infinitely damning disclosure on page 275: “Hillary fights side-by-side with (Sam) Brownback and others for legislation dedicated less to overturning the wall between church and state than to tunneling beneath it” – precisely as any deep-cover Goldwater Girl/Christofascist agent would do.
It was thus no surprise to me one of Hillary's supporters would seize the RSN comment thread generated by Naomi Kline's “The Problem With Hillary Clinton Isn't Just Her Corporate Cash. It's Her Corporate Worldview” as an opportunity to denounce Sanders as a “Godless socialist.” I responded accordingly (my reference to The Family retained because I truly believe Sharlet's disclosures cannot be cited too often):
Frankly, if the United States is so toxic with Christian fanaticism it still despises spiritual nonconformists or nonbelievers and thus would deny us our Constitutional rights, then like all the other hateful Abrahamic theocracies, it deserves whatever apocalypse befalls it.
In which context note too Hillary's woefully under-publicized collaboration with the Christian Dominionists – most notably Sam Brownback and his ilk – to impose de jure theocracy: see The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Jeff Sharlet, Harper: 2008), particularly pages 272-277.
Thus Hillary willingly collaborates with fanatics who believe the destruction of our planet and the extinction of our species is the “holy” fulfillment of the Abrahamic god's “divine plan.” This in turn suggests she holds such fanatical views herself. Which thereby explains both her otherwise inexplicable support for environmental destruction and her wanton provocations of nuclear war.
In other words, Hillary the 1964 Goldwater Girl is still a Goldwater Girl in 2016. Which means that in her heart, she is no different from her Republican rivals – and may in fact be running precisely to facilitate a Republican victory and the apocalypse that would inevitably follow.
Think, people. Or as a fellow Occupier so memorably said, “Occupy Your Mind.”
With Sanders' alleged atheism further inflaming the Christians – the evidence of this presidential campaign is beginning to convince me the term “Christian fanatic” is a redundancy – another pro-Sanders poster suggested the Christians' real grievance is their adamant opposition to the constitutional separation of church and state. Hence I added an afterthought:
History proves unequivocally that most people who are genuine believers in the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – do indeed despise the Constitution. That's because the scriptures attributed to the Abrahamic god repeatedly command the persecution and death of all non-believers.
(The link to RSN's republication of Klein's piece is here. Unfortunately the link now goes directly to The Nation, the original publisher of “Corporate Worldview, ” which means the RSN comment thread has been obliterated – flushed down the Orwell hole for no reason I can discern.)
As I said on another RSN comment thread, this in response to remarks on “Carter Dismisses Clinton's State Department Work,” my original text substantially revised (thus not italicized) for publication here:
I am increasingly convinced Hillary is an undercover operative either for the Christian Fundamentalists themselves or for some organization that recognizes how fundamentalist theology sanctions the malevolence of capitalism and enables its subjugation of the 99 Percent. Note particularly her clandestine collaboration with other Christofascist types documented by Jeff Sharlet as noted above.
Thus the birds-of-a-feather-flock-together evidence indicates she believes, as they do, in Armageddon, the End Times, the Rapture and all the other implicitly suicidal elements in Abrahamic dogma. This in turn suggests her warmongering is deliberate rather than a product of incompetence and is in fact intended to bring on the end of the human species and the destruction of Mother Earth precisely as described in the chapter of the Bible entitled “Revelation.”
Obviously, the real source of USian “exceptionalism” – the most modern variant of Nazism yet – is the exceptionalism always claimed by the creeds of Judaism, Christianity and Islam: the “one true religion,” complete with the divinely awarded right to exterminate anyone who disagrees.
In the days since I wrote that paragraph in its initial comment-thread form, it has occurred to me it is entirely possible Hillary the Goldwater Girl was recruited during her undergraduate years at Wellesley College to become the deep-cover, anything-for-the-One-Percent agent she obviously is now. She apparently went operational with her obviously loveless, obviously opportunistic marriage to Bill Clinton. Hers is thus probably the hands-on-the-joystick influence responsible for her husband's shape-shift from New Deal Democrat to Closet Republican.
By whom was she recruited? Most likely the same Gestapo types who engineered the murders of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Robert Francis Kennedy, Fred Hampton, Karen Silkwood, etc. ad nauseam. In which context Oliver Stone's comment, “Clinton has been for every war we fought,” is especially relevant.
*** *** ***
ALSO RELEVANT TO this download of dismal discourse is the debate that so often dominates conversations between my dear friend Cate Montana and me. It is our own variant of the critical but mostly unpublicized disagreement that severed the Counterculture of Rebellion into two rival camps during the 1960s and has raged beneath the hurly-burly of USian society ever since.
One side argues, as do I, that we cannot save ourselves from extinction unless we recognize capitalism as the societal equivalent of terminal cancer and remove it with the same relentless thoroughness with which its biological counterpart is removed from the bodies of those obscenely privileged plutocrats who are wealthy enough afford the otherwise prohibitive costs of genuinely curative surgery.
In the vernacular of many 1960s communities, those who believed as I do were known as “politicals.”
The other side argues, as does Ms. Montana, that we cannot bring about the political and socioeconomic revolution that is now obviously our only alternative to extinction unless we each first experience a revolution – she would say “evolution” – in our own individual minds.
In '60s vernacular, Ms.Montana would have been labeled a “human potentialist.” Today she is part of what is called the New Age Movement.
Actually – and I cannot recall ever having witnessed more vivid proof of what I am about to say than is provided by the national dysfunction manifest in the 2016 presidential election campaign – both our positions are correct. The ignorantly reactionary rage of the Right not withstanding, it is increasingly obvious our only alternative to extinction (whether by thermonuclear war, environmental apocalypse or both) is socialism.
But the socioeconomic and political revolution essential to build socialism will not be possible until individual consciousness evolves beyond the Ayn Rand egotism that has become the USian norm. We either learn to live in a cooperative society based on the core socialist principle – from each according to ability; to each according to need – or we are doomed, already as a nation and almost certainly as a species. On this much, Ms. Montana and I emphatically agree.
Where we differ – differ radically in fact – is in the means to the end. Ms. Montana argues there can be no revolution – at least no successful revolution – without the prerequisite of personal transformation. I argue such a revolution in consciousness will not be possible until we first strip the capitalists of their now virtually divine omnipotence.
Witness the fate of Occupy: as of now, the One Percenters and their Ruling Class vassals have the truly godlike ability to detect and suppress any progressive movement – including one as definitively non-violent as the personal transformation advocated by Ms. Montana – literally before its birth. And given our absolute and eternal defenselessness in the face of the One Percent's equally godlike powers of electronic surveillance and drone-inflicted murder, even the most emphatically peaceful revolution may have already been rendered eternally impossible. Many of us, myself included, now believe the only possible way a revolution could succeed is with Mother Earth's apocalyptic intervention.
At this juncture, in fairness to Ms. Montana, I believe it better she speak for herself. Here then is an explanatory quote from page 129 of her forthcoming book The E Word (Enliven Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster), which is slated for publication next year:
Over 99 percent of all scientists warn about the devastating impact of fossil fuels and climate change and the cataclysm the world is rapidly headed towards. But the egos in charge—the captains of government and industry crazed by their lust for personal power and control at all costs—don’t care.
And if the rest of us don’t catch on, shift gears and boot the crazies out of the driver’s seat—including the crazy running our own lives—we already know the outcome.
Since 1950 no fewer than 263 movies depicting apocalyptic wasteland realities have hit the silver screen: On the Beach, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Mad Max, Soylent Green...
In Ms. Montana's formulation, “the crazy running our own lives” is ego, which she describes, on page 91, as a highly fearful and insecure program obsessed with image issues...This EGO MIND is in control. not us. And the distressing, frightening, dog-eat-dog world we live in is the result. (Caps as in original.)
In other words, before we can topple our external oppressors, each of us must first liberate ourselves, overthrowing that which oppresses us internally, replacing it by shifting to a level of higher consciousness she asserts is already within us and awaiting activation. She has written The E Word – which borrows from her decades of personal experience with the world's transformative disciplines (Zen Buddhism, Taosim and the like) – to explain to us in everyday, non-esoteric yet often lyrical English, how such liberation might be realized.
Beneath the meditations described in The E Word is the unspoken and profoundly compelling assumption the human mind, when properly focused, can transcend even the most formidable modes of oppression. It is an ancient idea, probably most evident in the practices and traditions that enabled countless generations of Asian peoples to ride the disciplines of Zen and Taoism into a state of mind that rendered the indigenous horrors of caste and tyranny irrelevant. But these disciplines also suppressed – totally suppressed – the yearning for political and economic liberty that has been a driving force in Occidental society since the original, proto-communistic tribal democracies were exterminated by the advent of patriarchy and the emergence of imperialism.
Now however – because capitalism has grown so monstrously tyrannical its only counterparts are to be found in the histories of the ancient despotisms to which Taoism and Zen were reactions – such remedies as Ms. Montana urges may be our only alternative, a point made by Chris Hedges in a 2013 essay entitled “A Time for Sublime Madness”:
It is only those who can retreat into the imagination, and through their imagination can minister to the suffering of those around them, who uncover the physical and psychological strength to resist.
I cited Hedges in “Unbearable Truths: Reflections on the Imbecility of Hope,” an OAN piece that is relevant here because its opening graf posed a variant of the same question The E Word seeks to answer:
How does one who came of age when the United States was still a quasi-democratic, socioeconomically mobile society, cope with the new USian realities of irremediable powerlessness and inescapable socioeconomic hopelessness?
Ms. Montana answers, as if in reply, “There really is an understanding of self and life and the human condition so profound and complete it washes away all confusion and thus all fears, conflict, doubt and seeking forever...We just need to know what's what, so we can make it happen” (page 171).
The wellspring premise in Ms. Montana's work – the metaphysical precept from which The E Word flows – is that of an infinite, universal source-consciousness. It is, as she describes it, a borderless realm that is as absolutely real as the gods are absolutely metaphorical. It unites all being in the sort of force-field the discoveries of quantum mechanics suggest is the first cause of existence and therefore the origin of all being.
Perhaps its best summation ever – whether in classical literature or modern scientific treatise – is its metaphorical description by Lao Tzu 2600 years ago:
The DAO that can be expressed
is not the eternal DAO.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name...
The great DAO is overflowing:
It can be to the left and the right.
All things owe their existence to it,
and it does not refuse itself to them...
...You look for it and you see nothing special.
You listen for it and you hear nothing special.
You act according to it and you find no end.
(From Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, The Book of Meaning and Life,
translation and commentary by Richard Wilhelm, translated
into English by H.G. Ostwald; Arkana: 1985)
Point being, I urge you all to read Ms. Montana's book when it becomes available next year.
*** *** ***
MY POSITION ON all this remains much as I stated it in “Unbearable Truths”:
Though a part of me believes, fervently and on the basis of seemingly otherwise-inexplicable evidence, in the existence of (some) deity and an afterlife including reincarnation, another part of me can with equal conviction refute all such evidence as hallucinatory symptoms of terminal insanity – the final response of the human mind to the terrifying reality of death: the fact that for the one who is dying, death is literally the end of everything, including the cosmos itself.
Trouble is, after the confrontation with mortality forced on me by this ongoing struggle – with cellulitis (which because of an apparent abscess may yet send me to the hospital and could even cost me my leg, a loss that, given my age and how I am crippled by spinal arthritis, would unquestionably be fatal), also with this other affliction I cannot yet name aloud – even the most logically presented, eloquently phrased notions of any reality beyond the world of our five senses is reduced to absurdity. Connection with DAO will not stop a bullet. Nor will psychic immersion in the ego-less state advocated by Ms. Montana – please, Cate, no offense intended – halt assault by terminal infection.
Like most New Agers, Ms. Montana often emphasizes our species' kinship with all other earthly life. But once we acknowledge that kinship – once we see ourselves mirrored in all else which is born and lives and thus inevitably dies (particularly if we have hunted and fished and grown food and watched other creatures expire) – we cannot but recognize the absolute permanence of death. The grouse knocked dead from the sky by a shotgun and fetched by a spaniel never resurrects itself in a game bag or anywhere else; the trout in a creel never awakens to new life; the spent corn-stalks cut down and stacked in shocks never re-green to fecund vitality. Death is forever – and even if one is willing to yield themselves up to utter madness – that fact is inescapable. So it has always been, and so it will always be.
Incidentally, it is precisely such intimacy with nature that reveals Abrahamic religion as the ultimate scam – as nothing more than an X-rated version of the Santa Claus myth, a tale of a vengeful god who knows if we are “naughty or nice” and sadistically punishes our temporal failings with the inconceivable horror of eternal torture. That is why I am always surprised by the Christian fanaticism of so many farmers and other rural people whose proximity to Nature should ensure their immunity to ecclesiastical lies.
Those of us inclined to political analysis, as I surely am, also recognize in Abrahamic doctrines not only the opiate condemned by Marx but a scare-fiction uniquely useful to bosses and other sorts of tyrants for controlling the behavior of ignorant subjects. But even then, if we have been raised in the Abrahamic traditions (which like their offspring capitalism have now metastasized throughout our planet), some residual fear may continue to haunt us no matter how thoroughly we have repudiated its vengeful dogmas: thus the huge number of death-bed conversions, an impulse of last-minute cowardice I fervently hope I will be able to resist.
Nor does Goddess-centered paganism offer a better alternative, as I discovered while being repeatedly stabbed with large-gauge needles during the nurses' apologetic but nevertheless miserably painful search for a vein suitable for massive infusions of antibiotics. I am what in medical parlance is called “a hard stick,” notoriously so; the circulatory systems in my arms and hands legs and feet are shrunken by the frostbite resulting from my childhood fall through the ice. Usually I am able to stifle my inclination to moan and wail, but this time the probing was genuine torture, and I was biting my lip to remain silent. When I could not Zen myself into numbness, I prayerfully sought the comforting arms of the Great Cosmic Mother or any other theoretical source of mercy. Eventually the nurses found a functional vein for their IV port. As for me, I found only darkness: the tomb of all hope, the grave of all illusion.
LB/14 April 2016