Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pretty Suicide Machine: Hints of a Solution

Some more thoughts I'm working on for Pretty Suicide Machine. (Everything you see up here is always in progress. If you want the final results, please pick up a copy of the book when it is released!)

We cannot say we have really looked at the ideological forces at play without also considering our cultural experience of time. While this may seem perplexing to some, it is indeed our experience of time that is colored by our cultural upbringings, not merely our ideas about time. Granted, there is an element to the passage of time that occurs the same regardless of culture, or so we must generally assume; but the way that we process our experience, in relationship to time, is a very cultural manner. Speaking generally, we may live with an emphasis on the past, the present, or the future. Many so-called primitive cultures are past-oriented; the focus of their cosmogeny, their festivals and rites and so on all relate towards connecting with the time "before," when the world was hewn, when man was taught to work with fire or tools, or so on. Examples of this exist throughout Eliade's Sacred & The Profane, as well as Alan Dundes' essay Thinking Ahead, which we will be turning to in a moment. There are also examples of present oriented cultures, as has been observed in several Australian Aborigine tribes (ref). We, however - and for this moment by "we" I am referring most specifically to Americans and those closely tied to American culture - live in the future. Dundes spells this out very thoroughly in Thinking Ahead, but a few examples may help clarify the point:
It is not only the past that is sacrificed for the future; it is also the past. Sometimes it is an unpleasant present which is denied in favor of a reference to a brighter future. "Better luck next time" and "Tomorrow's another day" are examples. In addition, there is the proverbial cry of baseball fans backing a loser: "Wait till next year." ... But it is not just the unpleasant present which is denied. Americans are so future-oriented they are discontent even with pleasant presents. For the present reality, no matter how good it is, can never be as good as the future might be. ... With Americans and their belief in efficiency, evolution, perfectability, etc., "The best is yet to come." Whatever one has, one hears, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." The same kind of sentiment is expressed in the American military slogan: "We have not yet begun to fight." Nevertheless, in American culture, one never does catch up with the carrot on a stick in front of the donkey; one never does reach the "pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." (Now there is a compact folkoristic expression of the American worldview!) (Dundes, pg. 76) 
    Now consider this observation in light of what we have been discussing. Is it any wonder that blind progress has yielded the results that it has? One cannot help but be reminded of the word of the "hungry ghosts" in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. For those unfamiliar with this image, Chogyam Trungpa provides a concise summary, "In the hungry ghost realm, there is a tremendous feeling of richness, of gathering a lot of possessions; whatever you want you do not have to look for." We only need to turn on the television to see that element of our psychology being worked upon; after all the Bardo refers not to just the state after death, but psychological realms we must contend with at all stages of existence. He continues, "...this makes us more hungry, more deprived, because we get satisfaction not from possessing alone but from searching. ... This is symbolized by the image of a person with a gigantic belly and extremely thin neck and tiny mouth. ... The joy of possessing does not bring us pleasure any more once we already possess something, and we are constantly trying to look for more possessions." (pg. 7 Fremantle and Trungpa). The economic system that we have developed, in accord with our cultural experience of time, in accord with our ideology of progress, and so on, not only promote the psychological state being described here: they depend on it. The American economy depends on consumption. And though it may prove nothing definitively, it is both interesting and horrifying to consider the growing obesity problem in this country, as we think of the image provided of the "hungry ghosts," eating food that provides no real sustenance; always hungry, never satisfied. Always yearning for a future that is yet to come.
    None of this is to say that the society we live in is the direct result of conscious planning on the part of a government, or some secret Illuminati or Masonic order. Though there are surely sociopaths at the helm of many major corporations, this "suicide machine" does not require any conscious malice to run its course. Even the best intentions, when rendered within the framework of this system, will yield the same results so long as you follow its definition of success and progress. Everything that we have discussed has been set in place and kept in motion by mass psychological factors. The machine is simply the result of unchecked ideological forces.
    There are other dimensions of this mythic complex to explore, but I'd like to sew a seed in the back of your mind to consider not only through the rest of this book, but hopefully far after you've put it down. At this point, you may be feeling a certain amount of despair at our predicament. In all honesty, it is something I've had to wrestle with many days of my life. We have thousands of years of history crushing down on our heads; and, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor, it should be quite evident that any single attempt to change the course of this history will gain little more result than a pebble tossed into a river with the intent of diverting its flow. However, there is one thing that we might take solace in, and which may provide some hint at a future solution: all of this has been the result of accumulated myth, and the behavior that has followed from those myths. This, above all else, is why I think modern myths are so absolutely essential- not any one myth, unless it sets fire to the imaginations of a generation, but rather the collective force of all of our myths, if directed towards a goal. If any goal is worthy of such an effort, it would be to provide new perspectives, and new methods of being in the world, which result is something far better than our eventual, mutual annihilation.

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