This ever-new-and-improved post-modern bubble in which we are living— routinely and affectionately referred to as the forward march of Western Civilization — is not merely unsustainable, but it was wrong-headed from the very get-go. This way of being-in-the-world seems to fly in the face of two million years of our genus Homo prehistory, and our natural placement within the world we actually, physically inhabit. The anxiety and ensuing ennui of this artful, and increasingly artificial, ‘lifeway’ creeps upon us daily with ever greater force and necessity. The newest appliances and electronic gadgets call out for our genuflection, routinely eclipsing our concrete relations in the world and with one another. Ontological insecurity overwhelms us at every turn, with each decision we make, and every keyboard stroke or touchpad click. Everyone of our choices, and each of our words, becomes unalterably fixed, alienated from us, locked in a digital cache, and dissected by so many remote observers and other unintended audiences. Grounded in an absurd concept of infinite progress, and the belief in technological salvation, this world we have thoughtlessly de-animated, objectified, and reconstructed, is yet crumbling before our eyes, physically, economically, and psychically. Our shelves, like our policies and our brains are being emptied on the heels of a ‘techno-industrial orgy’!
Do the Hustle: The End of Racketeering
The dissected, compartmentalized, and privatized ‘landscape’ of this brave new world — so loudly proclaimed as ‘exceptional’ in the footnotes to the American dreamscape — demands a competitive spirit (so we are told); that hustle of the salesman, the ‘can-do’ energy of the entrepreneur. We have come to believe, through centuries of (re)education or indoctrination — much like what happens when the USA occupies a defeated foe — that capital, consumption, and competition are fundamental ‘goods’ (see Plato). And we are told that competition will be appropriately rewarded. Even the recently disbanded ‘Occupy Wall Street’ crowd didn’t want to dismantle this system or the thinking behind it; they just wanted a bigger piece of the action! And so, winning at all costs has become our motto. And hustle — that results-obsessed, hard-charging get to the top of the pyramid behavior (see Berman) eventually has come to mean ‘trickery’ — as in ‘hustling the other guy.’ This has led invariably and undeniably to the concept of the ‘sting’ or ‘con’ (see Newman and Redford) — setting up a patsy for the fall. Finally it has given birth to the readily identifiable contemporary notion of the covert political ‘false-flag’ operation, where we set up a population, indeed, the entire globe, to ‘buy into’ our magic, our hocus-pocus, our chicanery, our sales pitch, our marketing campaign, our propaganda; and yet, they never see it coming! That is the real hustle!! Everything finally becomes a commodity for sale or purchase, even our ideas and beliefs become commodities for exchange in an economic and political system that views everything as a product, and as a means to an end.
Not only our financial systems, with their arbitrary printing of money, or their ‘hustled,’ ‘boiler-room’ selling of collateralized debt obligations — not just the casino capitalism as it has been called — but all of our dealings finally have become reduced to a racket, and to racketeering. We provide a friendly smile and the carefully constructed rhetoric, and then we bend you over and do you good and proper. Just ask Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Russia, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, or Yemen. Are there any better real examples we have of the end-game in this competition of global organized crime? I think not.
Am I a Butterfly Sleeping Through the Dream?
Talk of the American Dream is still rampant today in various flavors. ‘We have it.’ Or: ’We lost it.’ ‘It’s vanishing.’ Or: ’We need to reestablish it.’ Everybody wants a piece of this dream. It has been built (or ‘hustled’) into the very wiring of the modern, secular, rationalist, results-oriented worldview, animating the motivations of players from Austin to Altai, Boston to Bombay, and Shanghai to Chicago.
The Zen master, Chuang Tzu, is credited with making the following reflection many centuries ago:
Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.
The question we must ask ourselves is the following: Are we men, merely sleeping through this dream, or perhaps butterflies sleep-walking a nightmare, thinking we are the one, when in reality we are the other. This question needs be asked: Who are we? By all accounts we are products of our environment, our social and culture upbringing. We learn to mimic the behaviors of those around us, so that the objective standards of the community become our own. But, there is reason to question whether the current trajectory of this re-educational process adequately reflects what is natural to us and our primitive genetic constitution.
Healing the Wounds: The Recovery of Ecstasy
Our inordinate civilized capacity for drawing distinctions, creating cuts in the plenum (Bram), has become like a cancer – its mutant cells continuing to divide and multiply well beyond what the ‘body’ (humanity or the globe) needs to prosper. The result is a growth, a tumor, if you will. And this growth in distinction-making has become malignant. As I stated at the outset, this current condition is unsustainable. One way or the other it will come to an end, and when we awaken we will see if we really were butterflies living the dream or just men trapped in a nightmare, a cocoon of our own making.
From the Greek word, “ek-stasis,” ecstasy is, in a real sense, a feeling of being outside oneself, an experience of intensified or heightened sensitivity. It is a ‘standing-out’ into the world, not hiding, like some objectified and objective observer squatting in the bush, or retreating anonymously behind a screen, merely observing the passing spectacle. Rather, being ec-static, one exists necessarily outside oneself, not locked up within a bag of skin, but feeling the outline of your body as an inline of the world where one actively participates life, dancing the dance we were built to perform. This is what I mean by the recovery of ecstasy, the re-sacralization of nature, or the re-enchantment of the cosmos. It is the holy grail lurking silently behind every heroic quest. But to get there we must stop drawing all these distinctions, we must stop cutting the world up into so many disparate pieces, but learn, instead, how to reconnect them. The world is not a chess board of black and white, good and evil. It is a shading across a mysterious and inarticulate spectrum. We must rediscover our natural place in that plenum. Paul Shepard called it a sacred dance. I call it the re-enchantment of the world, a re-sacralization of nature. Or borrowing a phrase from David Abram, it is reinvesting ourselves in the intractable but elusive “spell of the sensuous.” And, at the very least, it gives us pause, something to contemplate after the deluge!