Beaten Down, Isolated, Angry, and Distracted
‘Awake we share the world; sleeping each turns to his private world.’
A couple of decades ago, upon returning to Atlanta, Georgia, after spending a year abroad, I would frequent an independent bookshop that contained a small coffee shop/cafe, where I would sip tea, read books and periodicals, and engage in the nearly extinct art of long form face-to-face verbal discourse with other habituates of the cafe.
To this day, I have long standing friendships with a number of people I came to know during those years.
Yet even then, I noticed how the atomization inherent to the internalization of the corporate state (the manner that the domination of commercial and work space had all but eliminated the public commons) had diminished so many people’s ability to converse on all but the most superficial level.
Any invocation to deepen conversation or an assertion that arrived outside of the realm of status quo consensus caused all too many to simply go haywire. People checked out, went blank, testiness ensued…. Comfort zones were mobilized for a siege. The space between people became a no man’s land, stippled with a minefield of sensitivities.
In short, approaching life and one’s fellows from a mode of mind evincing aspects of the human condition that existed outside the realm of workplace expediency and consumer desire had been diminished to the point of being rendered all but absent. People seemed adrift — bereft of the ability to cohabit public space. The will towards communal engagement had atrophied.
Essential qualities — traits that are uniquely human — had been lost. A wasteland of fragmented discourse and inarticulate rage howled between us.
And the situation has only degraded since that time. Unless communal space can be reclaimed and our innate humanity re-established, to paraphrase Kafka: There is infinite hope but not for us.
After decades of economic decline, the loss of public commons, the emotional blowback of the militarist brutality required to sustain empire and the effects of social atomization and mass media-borne insularity — the act of engaging in fruitful, democratic discourse, with all too many of the people of the U.S., without evoking angst, anger, and a host of demented fantasies, has become increasingly unlikely.
“Awake we share the world; sleeping each turns to his private world.” — Heraclitus
Exploitative social arrangements, throughout history, carry this circumstance in common: A citizenry too beaten down, harried, and/or prideful to recognize they have been swindled by a corrupt elite. Due to an indifference to outright hostility towards gaining awareness as to what forces create their degraded situation, the swindle will penetrate the populace to the bone; will become part of its (social and individual) DNA. To apprehend the reality of the situation would, seemingly, tear those afflicted asunder on a molecular level.
Once you have allowed the swindle to permeate your being — taking back your life must become the driving force of your existence. If you don’t recapture the landscape of your own soul, then your life will be comprised of a dance with dust and ash.
Do not underestimate the power of the seeds of awakening that sleep within you. Yet, do not be naive in regard to the knowledge that, all to often, all too many will choose not to cultivate their potential for humanity, and thus will yield a bitter harvest of pettiness, spite, cupidity, and cruelty.
At times, even in seemingly mundane moments, the air is plangent with a silent scream of terror. Yet, we go on, as if we hear nothing. We continue to make small talk. Wander to the refrigerator when not particularly hungry. Fumble for the TV remote. In reality, those are the times that try men’s souls. And we are found wanting.
More often than not, the face of oppression is fronted by a facile smile and rewards you for your complicity by proffering piffling bribes.
The comfort zones of the checked-out, distracted, self-involved citizens of empire are perched upon a mountain of corpses. When the agendae of a culture are circumscribed to merely selfish agendas and empty appetites — compulsive materialism, militarist aggression, bigotry cloaked as religious conviction — the world seems to wend towards wasteland.
In such times, where can sanctuary be sought? Both within and by risking casting oneself towards the beating heart of the soul of life. Human beings contain deep reservoirs of empathy, a capacity for apprehending the sacred, and the ability to love. Deep wells of redemption pool beneath the wasteland. The human heart is a divining rod that helps one locate the source of the healing waters of life.
Recently, I was asked online: Where was God when seven human beings of the Sikh faith were gunned down, on Aug. 5th, in their place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin?
A more pertinent question might be — as long as one possesses a desire to make inquiries into the whereabouts of invisibles — where is the nation’s collective humanity?
Will we continue to banish it by escape into distraction, denial and fantasy i.e., refusing to look deeply into ourselves and the social conditions and attendant mindsets that engender a perpetual reign of violence.
There was a god (metaphysically) present at the scene of this latest shooting rampage. The God all too many Americans revere and look to for guidance: The God of Death.
Are the people of the U.S. at this stage of the entropic decline of late empire, even capable of the type of collective introspection necessary to come to an understanding that something is fundamentally wrong with our concept of culture?
Part two of this essay appears next week.