Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To travel in stillness

I consider that life rich which is not lazy, but which is also not bound by the logistics of life.  Which has some wealth but also leisure, and space, and silence within.  Which has a ticking watch on its wrist but is also aware of the stillness of time, of the changing colors of the sky, of others' voices.  Which can commune with nature.

By that measure, a sleepless diplomat in Brussels, a caffeinated day trader on Wall Street, and an impoverished laborer in Dubai are equally poor.  They are all trapped by the need to sustain themselves.

That man is to be admired who, while lacking in means, ventures into the subtler dimensions of life.  That man is to be pitied who, while rich, doesn't.

When a man realizes he is wasting his years in the mere pursuit of means, the solution is not to suddenly start reading travel guides.  The remedy is not to start consuming experiences.  The cure is not to substitute one kind of noise for the other... but to be silent.  In that silence, when the destination is in the here and now, there can be simultaneously full awareness and a total contentment.

There is, in life, both the joy of achievement, and the peace of contentment.  Neither is the full expression of living.  A life lived bound by ceaseless achievement is as unbalanced as a life bound by endless complacence.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tattoos, sports cars and other symbols

Ratcheted down by law, the atomized modern man seeks symbolic victories.

Tattoos were historically symbols of gang membership, of belonging to a certain group, of one's identity as being part of something larger.

In the absence of a meaningful community, self-expression becomes perverted: it gets directed at strangers.

A tattoo on an otherwise sane person says a number of things:
  • "Please look at me."
  • "I am not just another, anonymous, person."
  • "I may not be able to verbalize what I am, but here's something cool that may interest you."
  • "I make my own rules.  I am an individual.  But I need acknowledgment for being me."
  • "I am not part of the herd.  I am esoteric." (people like to choose a foreign, sometimes ancient, script for their tattoos, e.g. David Beckham has his girlfriend's name etched on his arm in Devanagari).

Mutilating one's body to a further extent, by piercings and studs, is an attempt to rebel by violating one's own body. Since one cannot meaningfully rebel against socioeconomic oppression, one chooses to violate the "rules" about one's own body. That, at least, is under one's dominion.

These rebellions are symbolic. But symbols can be pacifying. In the absence of freedom, an illusion of being an outlaw might soothe.

Sports cars are likewise attempts to be find adventure where there is none: to get a rush from something mundane. Since urban life is full of anomie and dullness, sports cars offer the childlike thrill of getting to the speed limit (again, the law) with an unholy acceleration. It is to want to be in a roller-coaster as an adult.

Understand: "Sports" cars are mostly driven to "work". Sport, adventure, the "power process" (cf the Unabomber manifesto) is absent in life today. So, a symbolic, temporary, meaningless alternative is purchased, at a premium of thousands of dollars.


People who do not have tattoos, and who do not drive sports cars, do they have less of an instinctual drive to rebel, even if symbolically? Or maybe some of them realize the vise-grip they are in. And realize that mutilating their own bodies, and paying large (automobile) corporations more money to feel alive, is not the way to go.

Are they more institutionalized? Or is a tattooed person more deluded than someone who realizes their own oppression and refuses to be placated by symbols?