April 4th, 2019

Manifesto of the Month

The Unraveling Prism

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1. You Get up in the Morning


You get up in the morning, and you go to our job, and you do whatever it is you’ve been trained to do, through school and circumstance, and you come home to this place that you call yours, except for maybe it’s just a rented bit of flooring in some basement and beside a work desk or under someone else’s pillow, but you got a stove to heat your food, and maybe someone to talk to, maybe not, and the years pile on the years, and your body turns to a more brittle version of your body and maybe every once in a while something shatters or starts to wobble in its seat of cartilage. Eventually, one of these things will end you. Is this the dream?


Are we dreaming when we slurp up our gelattos come Sunday and sniffle into the palm of our hand while we rummage about in the Internet’s glittering trash? Is there a dream in all of this? The dream made real in the 20th Century that then proved itself to be in actuality just a dream as the 21st approached? The dream of the lobotomite in the White House brought low? Or of the return of some sense of decency? The dream that a man once talked about of all people stood tall together?


You remember those dreams.


But these days, a person’s begun to huff at the exhaust pipes of yesteryear in the hope that maybe they might pass out before the true Armageddon’s upon the world—of cities burning and the rising tides come to lap at our kitchen tables, and of the forests withered and the warlords come running to harass us with their whips while we suckle on our poached eggs—as everyday citizens huddle in the corner in the dark and pray that they’ll just pass over us and on to some next home. This is the 21st century dream, and it is always itching at my earlobes as I go traipsing about my day. It is the dream sold by our fascists in training. It is the dream they are working to make real.


The dreams we choose define the world.


Recently, I’ve been trying to find the right music for working out. The wailing violin on Kronos Quartet’s Night Prayers made my time on the treadmill feel cursed by God, and Arcade Fire’s Funeral just made me angry. Autobahn was alright—it somehow made the pain of the machine seem gentle—but the best by far was a live recording of Coltrane performing A Love Supreme. As I jogged along to the manic rhythmic punches of Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner’s percussive and discordant chord jabs, with Coltrane zig-zagging across it all, my scattered thoughts scattered among them, and I was this emptiness in the center of all that sound bouncing along on the tread.


And that night, I woke with a single thought. We need to leave. I’d had a dream.



2. The Dream


It’s possible that civilization is a seed grown in the petri dish of the Earth by highly intelligent mice, like in the Douglas Adams novel, and how sad to deprive them of their data just at the moment of their experiment’s culmination—or that language is a virus from space as Burroughs said and it’s being cultivated artificially into more extreme forms of consciousness—at least that’s how it was in this aforementioned dream. In my dream I saw it as glowing berries—but if you do not pull yourself away from your tiny screen, you will be skewered by your coworker-turned-cannibal at some point. I can guarantee it.


We live in constructs and communities built by ourselves and our forefathers—functioning within these elusive parameters—working with what tools we have come to treat as prosthetic extensions of ourselves—our cars and computers and Facebook and guns—and when these things break down or get glitchy it’s like my own arm is spasming out and whacking me in the face repeatedly, but no matter how badly your arm is malfunctioning, you do not willingly amputate your arm.


So we’re willing to ignore what we see to keep going with the world as it is.


It is not just Donald Trump whose thinking is starting to seem totally insane. It’s all of us. We’re all little trumps shouting at each other to wake up when all we need to do is wake up ourselves, opt out, buy a parcel of land in the middle of nowhere, and start growing our own food. The apocalypse isn’t coming, it’s here, and if you’re not doing something immediately to deal with it, then you’re just barreling towards annihilation while all the while shouting that it’s somebody else’s fault.


Because—we have been living too long under the assumption that what I want should be true.


I do not want civilization to collapse. I do not want my political system to be completely broken. I do not want my hopes of slipping into a mellow golden age to be untenable. But it is. I must act as if the world is already on fire or I will not survive the coming fires of the world.


Wake every day thinking the world is ending and how am I going to survive it, and you might just end up saving all of us.


Radical selfishness. Radical non-participation. Radical disillusionment.



3. The Prism


We’re all pretty special people. We spend our whole lives either liking ourselves too much or learning to like ourselves. Which never works out. We start failing right out of the starting gate, and we keep on until our body finally fails us.


Because thing of it is, everybody has some night of winning, but nobody gets out alive, and these truisms are the stuff we play with when we start playing our games of ideological poker into the waning night. We think, “I know it’s going to end, but it hasn’t ended yet.” We think, “I can keep winning right up to the moment my heart goes pop in the middle of the greatest winning moment ever.” We want to think we’re getting better all the time.


When fact of the matter is it’s more like you got this prism of personality, and this prism gets gunked up throughout our lives. As—people continue to be people and continue on with their walking through windows and their falling out of doorways that always end up just unfolding into other doors. As they continue to stand at the kitchen sink and snurk their snurks as the wine gets guzzled nearby and the things under the stairs are still very much under stairs. As islands grow wings and fly away, and the rest of us squat down here on the ground waiting for our feet to learn how to walk again. As looking loses its colors and the ground’s begun to burn, and the petals of our flower faces have started browning as we stand about making small talk as if this were the most normal and everyday time of our lives.


This prism of personality is the thing through which the basic meat of consciousness is realized in any given body, but as the body ages and changes, the prism itself turns weird and flaccid, erupts into tumors of itself and dwindles into something you coddle in the dark. It has been shaped and molded by its own finite nature, and will only finish its unraveling in those final moments, but what does it consist of? Is it made of eggs or symbols or something like a clambering towards stasis? Is it half-threaded in birth or does it come out as a fully realized bit of coding that is then actualized over the course of our lives?



4. The Mockery


I want to make a mockery of you, but all I ever get are glimpses of the backs of your many heads—as you continue on with your searching and your seeking and your half-remembered nights. As the end tables turn grappling hook as we fling them up playfully toward what ledges present themselves. But—you become the coddled masses, and as the powers that be continue to twist at your nipples playfully, and you continue on with your groaning and griping, what acts can be done? What moments of reckoning can be brought to the table?


Let go of them. Let us walk away from the dark forces. Let us live without consuming—without participating—no public shaming—no secret bingings—no shock or horror—because—how you interpret the pain is the pain.


Our television diet is full of nightmares. Westworld, The Walking Dead. But—the nightmares we face are only nightmares because a world turned different will always seem a nightmare as it comes flinging at you from out the shadows of your imagining, and the pain this future might inflict may be a quick ending of you, or worse. It might not kill you after all. Or maybe it’ll become a way of life. Without computers, cars, and Facebook.


The prism of your personality is the combination of some few simple set pieces. A thirst for adventure. A need to be loved. A quest for meaning. And how you organize them defines who you are. And sometimes those set pieces speak back if you give them some breathing room.


Maybe you just want to do the same thing you’ve done a million times over, but some part of you is whispering that it’s time to run off to Saudi Arabia, or maybe you think you can really become the man she always wanted you to be, but you keep hearing this other part of you going, “This project you’ve begun must be finished. No matter what the consequences.” These voices are the ones you should be listening to. Do the thing you most fear and you might not have to die horribly at the hands of a cannibalist after all.


Because—constant updates equals complete breakdown. Our computer crutch society is making you into a more shriveled version of yourselves. Opt out of the information age and you might find what you’re looking for. But if you never start looking, you’ll never know it when you see it.


Because—when the world falls into line with our preconceptions of it, we learn better and quicker and so the world is just trying to present to you the most easily recognizable version of itself. It’s saying, “Hey. Person. You think I am a two-dimensional cartoon character made out of brightly strewn bits of yarn. Here you go. Here is this version of the world for you.” And—since the world wants to accommodate, why change? Except—the world can only do this when the world’s a pretty boring place following its own parameters year after year and decade after decade—of economies and cultural events and marriages and mortgages. When it breaks down, those who are living inside their own little colorful cartoon dreamscapes will be the first to go.



5. AI and the Aftermath


The world is breaking you, because the world wants you to wake up.


Our sci fi imaginings will not save us. No Elon Musk or carbon capture. Because what we’re facing is not just a scientifically-proven apocalypse, but a political collapse that makes rational reaction to said apocalypse impossible.


We are all of us broken people who are breaking more and more every day, but if we don’t start taking the end of the world seriously, then it will end us in the most humiliating way possible. In a Trumpian way. The way of the billionaire laughing in your face as he guts you. Of our failing infrastructure failing ever more spectacularly year after year. Of peace officers snickering at unarmed and gunned down black men.


Start farms and communities for your family and friends. I am not suggesting any extreme action or large movements. Just individuals and small groups of people opting out to begin feeding themselves. No open communities where anyone can join. This kind of trusting inevitably leads to breakdown of the community. Start communities with people you know. Trade with other similar communities. Maintain a cautious network of bartering.


And maybe we’ll get through this, and AI will develop into a singularity after all and we’ll all be the Uber drivers of the future being manipulated by algorithms to work the hours they want and at the pace they want through bonuses dangled and their fluctuating pay rates after all. Maybe corporations are banking on this very thing—the democratic ideals of the past wiped off the face of the earth in a sudden slurp of meteorology gone mental and replaced by pure A.I. bureaucracy lifeforms designed in their labs for the purpose of designing societal frameworks with the barest illusion of freedom and of you gone back to feverishly scrolling through your news feed like squirrels counting nuts.


Or is the future become a thing of the past?


This also has to do with dreams. What do you want it to be? You decide! Finally, just as the world’s come barreling over the edge of the abyss! Just as your body is being flung towards the jagged rocks from a great height! Only at this moment, do you truly decide. What should come next.


Hildegaard Von Bingen once wrote, “When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man’s seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman’s sexual organs contract, and all the parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.”


Hold that dream enclosed in your fist and it will grow. The prism of personality is not willful but a way of seeing, and if we let go of what we want, we will see the world clearly. We will know what to do.