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November 2006

When we abscond

When we abscond, the voice within us grows louder and the chatter of the crowd fades.  When we abscond, we see culture, movements, beliefs, behavior, as a set of choices (as opposed to inevitabilities).  Choices are made based on who we are, not how we should be.  Morality flows from our hearts, not from the forces of external fear.  The crowd is far enough in the distance that even it is amusing, perhaps even looks beautiful.

Like a helium balloon that a child has let go of, to abscond is to remain attached to nothing...to rise and float away from the crowd, over the horizon, fulfilling the promise of the energy trapped inside it...at peace with the direction of the wind, its present splendor...and yes, even its ultimate fate.

In this, my second philosophical post, I will attempt to describe the conditions through which it is possible to abscond from the crowd in order to discover our authentic selves.

It isn't enough to become a hermit, avoiding contact with others.  While this approach is still favorable to blending in with the crowd, it isn't possible to fully develop our authentic selves in isolation.  The value of any biological organism is in the function it provides to nature.  It isn't natural to exist in isolation, and the depression we feel when doing so is nature's consequence.

How paradoxical it would seem that I claim it is both necessary to abscond from the crowd, and yet seek a connection with others.  But this seems contradictory only on the surface, because it actually is as unnatural for us to attempt to fit-in with the crowd as it is for us to exist in isolation.  The fundamental question one must ask is, "If a culture, organization, movement has it all figured out...why do I exist as an individual?  What is my value?"

The purpose of individual existence is to develop our potential as individuals.  In doing so, we provide the maximum value to the species and to all of nature.  To conform is to become a ghost; to deny the life energy within us and take on an artificial, lifeless form defined for us.  To conform is to become part of the dying, cancered world.

If our intuition tells us that these ideas are true, then one might wonder what can be done to live in this way.  It is easy.  To start with, we need to look at others in our lives with complete acceptance.  I'm not talking about others in an abstract sense, but the people we have close relationships with and with whom we spend our time: our lovers, friends, and family.

The most important thing that can be done to develop our authentic selves is to offer complete acceptance in our relationships and convince others to do the same in return.  Promise that you won't judge, and mean it.  I will only judge you when you judge...only point out to you that you're constantly telling me what to do.  That said, we also need patience.  We need to find peace with exactly where others are in that moment.  Start with the perspective that everything is as it should be.  What is just is.   Acceptance doesn't come with a goal.  It is an end in itself.

It is only when both people perceive what I have described as the basis of the relationship...when trust exists...that growth can happen.  Healthy change will flow naturally from a relationship in which we begin to explore each other, perceive, and focus on the unique aspects of each other.  That's because we have created a space of freedom in which we can begin to develop our authentic selves.  We have created a universe in which we can explore who we are outside of the rules of the world outside.  The more free and open this relationship can be, the better.  We have to question everything, redefine our own shared universe, and constantly tear down social barriers.  We all need at least one relationship like this in our lives...what we usually call it true friendship or love.  The possibilities that exist in this kind of relationship are as unique and limitless as are the two people involved. 

Beautiful are all of the possibilities that exist between two people without the burden of external influence.

I don't think any of this is new, original, or unfamiliar to most people.  I do, however, think that most people aren't conscious of how we achieve this state...or perhaps they avoid this state because they feel it might threaten the trivial, herd-based reality that most people cling to out of fear.  Most people look at relationships from the perspective of society; how relationships fit into our public lives, what others would think, what social benefits are attached to relationships, etc.  That's why most people also fall into the trap of trying to change loved ones, encouraging them to fight who they really are and attempting to force others into some sort of social mold.  Unfortunately, when you let the outside world into these most sacred relationships, what is sacred about the relationship starts to decay.

To live at peace with our nature is to live in peace.  We need to stop trying to change the world, fitting into the world, behaving according to its lifeless constructs, and start developing divine relationships which help us abscond the crowd and develop our authentic selves.  Doing this allows the world to shape itself around us, not the other way around.  In future posts, I will talk more about the extrinsic and intrinsic reasons why any of this is important.

It should be said that the purpose of this post isn't to describe or celebrate the divinity of these kinds of relationships.  It is the language of art which attempts to do so, but there can be no substitute for direct experience.  Indeed, the power of the word, even art, falls short.  Perhaps it is only when we feel ourselves floating away in silence, like the helium balloon, that we know we have found what I have described.  It is only possible when we develop a perspective which makes possible these kinds of relationships. 

Posted by Mark Manney.

We should be more self-centered

I hesitantly created a new category for my posts called "Philosophy."  I realize that it may be a little vain to call this series of posts philosophy, especially since I likely won't be referencing many philosophers.  But when the time comes in a man's life that his thought patterns seem to have little to do with the thought patterns of others, and when his own thought patterns move him closer to those things which we all desire -- contentment, happiness, success, love -- then perhaps it is time to risk the harsh judgment of others and declare some of his words philosophy.  Call it what you will...let's move on.

Let's consider the concept of self-centeredness.  What's needed in the world is more self-centeredness.  What I mean is that it is up to us to place our own life at the center of our world.  We do not exist to serve the needs of "the crowd" or "the system"; rather, I think we should find ways to relate to "the world" only insofar as doing so enhances the true quality of our lives. 

Much of what I will say in this series will be the opposite of conventional wisdom.  Naturally; conventional wisdom is cliche.  Cliche is the crowd's truth.  "The crowd" doesn't truly exist...well only to the extent that we all imagine it does.  Just as with economic and political systems, they only are real in the sense that we all agree to pretend they are.

Naturally, "the crowd" will define self-centeredness as something bad.  When one is "too self-centered", that individual isn't doing his job to serve the crowd, and therefore threatens the power of this non-human thing called "the public", "the mass", or "the herd." 

But what if we decide that, individually, we are at the center of it all...that our individuality is divine and that the crowd and the systems which it conforms to should merely exist to the extent that it supports our divinity?  Of course it is difficult for most people to make this leap.  Christianity came along to convince us that somehow it was Jesus' message that we should conform to this thing called "The Church" to achieve salvation.  Wasn't Jesus a perfected individual?  Then a few hundred years ago, during the Enlightenment, it was believed that, through science and technology, humans could create more and more perfect systems that would get us closer to utopia.  We are constantly taught to fight our authentic selves in order to support this external, "more important" thing that is "bigger than us."

Well I'm here to say that nothing in our collective imagination is bigger than us as authentic individuals.  As long as we continue to define ourselves only in terms of how we fit into that which is "bigger than us", we will continue to act against our own self-interest and our collective self-interest.   We aren't even thinking!  We're just reacting out of fear that we don't fit the crowd!  And what is there to fear?  That we will be lonely?  To the contrary, the superficial relationships we find in the crowd are what make us feel lonely.

Clearly, the path we are on will not lead us to utopia.  There can never exist a collective utopia.  But what *can* exist are individual utopias.  We can only find our divinity by expressing and constantly developing our authentic selves while at the same time allowing others to do this same.  We cannot find, express, or develop our authentic selves as isolated, lonely members of a society in which relationships are solely defined by economics, systems, organizations.  What I'm talking about can only be done one-on-one...in situations where two (or occasionally more) people create a space where they are not only free to be their authentic selves, but they are expected to be that.  This state can only be achieved when it is protected from "the world outside" in every sense.  The moment something authentic is thrown into "the public", it is thrown to the dogs...becomes interpreted in an inauthentic way and is destroyed.

It is, indeed, possible to develop our authentic selves while at the same time successfully relating to the crowd.  This is done by adopting the perspective of "both, and" as opposed "either, or".  We don't have to choose between being either completely authentic all the time or being sellouts.  We can have both money and quality of life.  On the other hand, we can be both poor and have a high quality of life.  The examples aren't as important as the way of looking at choices.  What did you "sacrifice" recently?  Was it really necessary?

Of course there are times when something is clearly not needed in our lives, and it should be rejected completely.  But my point is that, when we put our own quality of life ahead of all else, we no longer worry about that which might appear hypocritical to others.  In fact, when we live in this state, we no longer care what "the world" thinks about us...as we are beginning to understand ourselves and we have others around us with whom we share this private, personal utopia.

I will talk more about all of this in future posts.  Specifically, I will talk about how to build the kinds of relationships that are needed to achieve this state.  I will also redefine other words as I have done with the concept of "self-centered". 

But for now, it is enough that we remind ourselves to stop worrying about where our life "is going" or, worse yet, what we can do to change the masses.  Our lives are not missions.  The only purpose for our existence is to be the unique genetic mutation that we are.  So for us to become that which we were meant to become, we have to slow down and take the time to become that which we truly are!

Posted by Mark Manney.

On democracy and nation-building

Now that the Democrats are tasting power, some of their ideas about Iraq are starting to be taken seriously.  Senator Joseph Biden is currently leading the charge by suggesting that Iraq should be broken up into three separate states, roughly along the lines of the three major ethnic groups.

This may be a good idea, but there is a larger point that eludes Americans on in this matter: this isn't for "us" to decide.  Americans know startlingly little about democracy, and absolutely nothing about nation-building.  Democrats, just as the Republicans have done, are trying to rule Iraq from the "ivory tower"...trying to guess what Iraqis want, and then convincing the rest of us that somehow they know the answer!  Of course the fundamental idea of democracy is to let the people decide.  When that happens, the outcome has the greatest possible chance of success.  When something is decided democratically, the people want it!  More importantly, feel they have a stake in it (a critical ingredient to a successful outcome).

This principle was understood very well by Vaclav Havel in 1991 and 1992.  He was a political outsider (a writer) who came to power in Czechoslovakia immediately after the fall of Communism.  His charter: oh simple; to build a nation.  Well this intellectual political outsider was just what the country needed...somebody who didn't know much about politics but was an idealist who believed in the people.  He believed in democracy.

Perhaps Vaclav Havel's defining moment has to do with the question of whether or not Slovakia should split with the Czech Republic.  Sentiment was growing at the time that Slovakia should be a separate nation with its own, independent government.  The Slovaks and Czechs speak a different (but similar) language, and generally have always identified with their respective nationalities above the official "Czechoslovak" status that was imposed on them for roughly 50 years. 

Havel decided that this was not his decision to make...but the Slovaks.  If he neglected them the opportunity to decide such a matter, they would always feel oppressed...that they were being illegitimately ruled from far-away Prague.  On the contrary, if he decided to arrange a split, then the Slovaks would have little stake in the process, and the success of their new country would be in jeopardy.  He decided that the only right thing to do is to put the matter to a vote.

In 1992, the Slovaks bravely voted to split with the Czech Republic.  The decision was respected by Prague, and on January 1st, 1993, the independent Slovak Republic was born in a completely peaceful transfer of power.  Now almost 14 years later, the results speak for themselves.  Today, both the Czech and Slovak Republics, as members of the EU, are healthy democracies with rapidly improving economies and a strong social infrastructure that in many ways exceeds that of the USA.

Maybe its time to bring Vaclav Havel to Washington.    

Posted by Mark Manney.

Congratulations to the Democrats!

It has been a long, dark night and (despite what I said yesterday's post) it is possible that it just may be morning in America again.  We can't change the past.  We need to learn from it, look the present directly in the eyes, and move forward. 

Yesterday's victory would not have been possible without the support of many of the people who were guilty of enabling the terrible Bush regime.  I will never be able to sympathize with the viewpoints of anybody who voted Republican during the past 6 years.  But I am grateful, and most of the world is grateful, that so many of you finally did the right thing.

This victory is a small, but necessary step in the enormous challenge of creating a future that is habitable and worth living in.  I do want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Posted by Mark Manney.

Absconding politics?

Anybody who's known me for a long time knows that I'm very political, and they know exactly what my politics are.  Back in 2002, I was part of the very vocal minority telling every American who would listen that Iraqi WMD's were a lie, that the Bush Administration are corrupt crooks, that the mainstream media was lying about anything and everything to sell a war on behalf of corporate power.

Well of course we were right about everything.  And even though nobody seemed to listen in those days, the painfully long and complicated arguments were apparently worthwhile.  The truth has slowly spread over the past few years.  Now, even the corporate media can't ignore the common knowledge of thinking people around the world.

So elections are tomorrow, and I've found myself strangely silent politically.  Of course I want the Democrats to win both houses, but I no longer feel that the burden falls as squarely on people like me as it used to.  Of course the mainstream media is still full of propagandistic lies, but enough truth has seeped through the failing American propaganda system that there is no longer any excuse for any voter not to be reasonably educated about the truth as it relates to George Bush the war criminal, the corrupt and incompetent Republican Party, and how the US military-industrial complex is nothing other than a cancer on the earth.  At this point, I simply feel that if people vote Republican they get what they deserve: to live an increasingly difficult life of struggle in a third-rate, third-world, has-been superpower.

Of course the other very real possibility is that the entire election will be rigged via the new voting machines, which lack a verifiable paper-trail.  In that case, it doesn't make sense to talk about politics either.  Perhaps this is the issue: that I've actually stopped pretending that the USA is a democracy.  It hasn't truly been one for a very long time (only two parties, and both of them with essentially the same pro-corporate agenda), but this fact was made literally true with the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004.

So what can I say....yeah go to the polls and vote for anybody with a D; either because you believe in the Democratic Party or as a logical moral reaction to the criminal, fascist Republican party of right-wing nuts who could care less if they destroy the world for a quick buck or for the momentary thrill that power brings.  Then go home and cross your fingers, hoping that your vote has been counted.

Either way, America as we knew it and used to believe in it is through.  The idea...the paradigm of the American dream...is no longer relevant in a fragile world of diminishing resources.  Everything that is still lovable about it was built long ago.  Let's get real: a catastrophic economic collapse is as inevitable now in the USA as it was in the USSR, and I seriously doubt that the Democratic Party is going to prevent it.  The truth is, if the American system were to collapse, the world could take a momentary sigh of relief (and then get busy building something better).


Posted by Mark Manney.

To die trying

What I really want in life is beauty, immortality, and infinite bliss.  But since I can't have that, I need to settle on something that I can have.  Lately I've been dedicating substantial energy to recording music, writing, and other personally meaningful activities which have no economic or practical value.  It isn't that I ignore the practical aspects of my life, because I know that's important.  But all too often society, and even loved ones around me, seem to suggest that I am wasting time huddled by my computer with the headphones on as the world spins around me.

The concept of wasting time is interesting, because usually it is used to suggest that we are not sufficiently carrying on with practical matters: work, chores, responsibilities.  But it occurred to me today that it is precisely these things which are a waste of time.  If I were to spend a lifetime dedicated to "not wasting time" by this definition, I would in fact waste an entire lifetime!  I would die and nothing I would have done would have any significance!

I may not ever create anything meaningful to anybody at all...but regardless I will die trying.

Posted by Mark Manney.