What is the ontological status of what others call falsehoods? Are they simply inaccurate statements housed in material form? A friend invited Sarah and I to his house the other night to celebrate his fortieth. While there, some comrades and I stood beside a carpeted cat tree drinking beer debating amongst ourselves our beliefs as Marxists. I suppose that what prompted this debate was my desire to defend terms like “wellness” and “mindfulness.” It is by now a common procedure on the Left to show how these ideas have been put to use by neoliberalism. (Barbara Ehrenreich performs this argument, for instance, in her new book Natural Causes.) But to me, some of the practices associated with these ideas, practices like yoga and meditation, provide benefits to practitioners such that they transcend the uses to which they’ve been put. Up with survival strategies. Up with coping mechanisms. Up with the perennial demand, the one demand that class societies can never fully satisfy: collective joy, collective reconciliation with Being.
Days blaze like a road in morning sunlight out in front of me. Car culture limits our ability to merge into larger communist groupings. Yet we’re forced to participate, both because we need to commute to work, and because we need experiences with which to refurnish our supply of concepts. To satisfy this latter need, Sarah and I attend “You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences,” an exhibition currently up at the NC Museum of Art. The show features a number of works of a psychedelic bent, including Yayoi Kusama’s wonderful infinity room, “Light of Life.” Heads peer through portholes into a shadowy antechamber as galaxies of lightbulbs flash in kaleidoscopic profusion across the room’s mirror-box multiverse. Afterwards I attempt to meditate using a mindfulness app on my phone. My “Best Possible Future Self,” to use the name of the thing the app asks me to visualize, is itchy minimal. No, scratch that. Har har, some “uncle” humor. Crash landing. #kneetoface “Come on, Subject — liberate yourself!” coaxes the voice of the revolution. “Come one, come all,” it says. Space Invaders. Critters. Mind at play. During my first pass through the exercise, the antinomian in me imagines the worst. I’m hiding somewhere. It’s chaos. Will they allow me to work (flow, thrive, persist, whatever they call it) if I challenge reason? If, in other words, I question the enterprise of our knowing? How about if I show up to work in a trashcan? My “Best Possible Future Self,” I think to myself as I begin again. What a sad, peculiar exercise! Would live intentionally, in a self-designed home, with nods to Dwell and Nowness and the Whole Earth Catalog. Sarah and I would read, write, cook delicious healthy meals together, raise a brilliant happy child. All of the above, certainly. But what, pray tell, does this Self wish of the world beyond its household? After all, it must wish something, no? Just as it takes a village to raise a child, so too it takes the oikos of an entire planet, a whole integrated system of economy and ecology, to reproduce the oikos of the family. Let us, then, in dreaming our “Best Possible Future Selves,” also imagine our Utopia.
Slow, given to loops and routines, I lay down on a couch, as in a therapist’s office, and allow Jesse Fleming and Electric Sound Bath’s Ataraxia Series #1: Heart and Insight Meditations, a tape released last year on Crash Symbols, guide me to a place of self-questioning.
“When did I start behaving like a jerk?” I wonder quietly, as if for the first time. “Ages 5-10?” Cousins, neighbors, video games. “Why was I sometimes cruel to others?” I was bullied. Just in minor, ordinary ways: small attacks, acts of aggression. But certainly with enough frequency to embitter me. To this day, for instance, I find it hard to forgive some kid who, before gym class one day, pegged me in the face with a basketball, unprovoked, without forewarning, breaking my glasses, blackening my eye. But forgive I must, I suppose, if I’m ever to forgive myself. Ages 10-15. Fears about measuring up, fitting what was expected of me because of body type, gender. Ages 15-20. “I was a nice person at times,” I blubber. Fleming’s words unearth points of pain, but he advises well. Under his direction, I allow myself to ask for forgiveness for the harms that I’ve caused, knowingly or unknowingly, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Thus we advance toward the extinction of suffering.
Scratches, marks, grids painted over to form a black and purple twilight. Contemplate the addition of fireworks. Half past. Articulated into body and religion, given outfits, gear, we become something we are not. 18,000 feet, naked. The voices we hear belong to many: snippets, phonemes, syntagma, broadcasts, transmissions. Magnetoreception kicks in; we possess cryptochrome eyes. Then we return again to our walking bodies. A mockingbird flies past and lands itself atop ground cover at the base of a neighbor’s lawn. After flying a figure-eight formation, bluebirds in a pair come to rest in a blooming dogwood. All of this by way of the day’s migration. I amble about in a magical space-time: pure sensation, innocent of any distinction between reward and punishment.
This place is a kind of test, present only inasmuch as the “rat,” the possessor of consciousness, is aware of it. Occupants of the test say, “Please don’t forget us.” Consciousness knits itself over its time gaps and appears to itself as an unbroken continuity, a single being. I reassemble into a self, calling together into formation as Multitude my pharmacologically-enhanced body politic. We collect ourselves before a past life guided meditation tape: Curious Margie Meets Sunbirthed at the House.
Plastic cups dance before my eyes. I cross a bridge; I enter a house. But when coaxed to enter a doorway and recall a past life, my awareness dips and takes leave and I merely fall asleep.
What kind of allegorical reality may we ascribe to the myth of the Demogorgon and the Upside Down? A flimsy one, no doubt. A world based on a memory of a mass-media simulation. The same bodies of the past eerily reprising the moment of their youth, despite the change of age. Historical time portrayed as a collective post-traumatic episode to reawaken a numbed sensorium. Capitalism steals away from us our toys. The cathected objects of some originary moment of fully immersive imaginative play. Those objects held the imaginative universe. Why can’t we restructure economic reality around play? Students transform into patients, their automatic writing assignments revealing to me as I read them clues about their psyches. When I contemplate the many towering structures arrayed against me, however, anger flashes through my skin and I find again my hatred for my “fellows,” my “countrymen.” What can I say? It’s a mixed bag. Most of the “work” in our society is mere busy-work, as arbitrary as the mining operations that anchor the value of Bitcoin. “Everyone’s running around, trying to get up off the ground,” sings Transcendental Meditator Rick Stanley, “for that same thing.” “TM is a technique for direct experience,” states the text on the back of his album Song of Life, “And the result of that experience is a showering of pure delight.”
Where is this taking me? Can I trust fully in my journey? These are questions I ask myself while in the presence of Stanley’s LP and similar such objects rescued from historical neglect. Archaic remains of the “New Religious Consciousness” of the 1970s: so promising at decade’s start, yet somehow stalled by Prohibition by decade’s end. “Go deep into silence, take your mind into silence and transcend.” Out we come with energy and intelligence. Big takeover, here we come. We mustn’t turn self-exploration, though, into a mere chartered trip.
Charles Koch calls ideas “technologies.” His goal is to employ them to “enchain Leviathan,” so that capitalist princes like him, titles won through rigged competition and inheritance, may stand in its stead. Imagine scumbags in power smugly performing lead roles as heads of playground drama. The bullshit of national pageantry. Headlines are looking grim, comrades. The hundredth anniversary nears. News agencies keep pumping blatant propaganda. Global corporate fascism is upon us. Erik “Prince,” Donald “Trump”: who’s writing this tragic race-to-the-apocalypse farce-drama? Nut-bag headlines like “Threat of War May Sound Scarier Than It Really Is.” States and corporations are entities that we haven’t built ourselves. Our wealth and happiness stolen from us and stacked like bricks of gold. No longer is there a way to raise a sufficient counter-power to combat the words and acts of bullies. The affliction known as nihilism replicates by causing those who claim to have successfully defended themselves against it to lash out at and attack its victims. In reaction to this insensitivity, this betrayal of any commitment to compassion, the afflicted lose whatever remained of their admiration for former allies, while these latter observe in horror as their own actions become those of hivemind despots: the rote subjecthood of beings commanded by fear of what lies within. But the affliction remains treatable. By closing our eyes and stilling our minds and bodies, we become pure consciousness, in itself and for itself, rather than instrumentalized will or ego. To transpose this experience into language is to do it a disservice. Plans to visit the pool crushed again by overcast skies. Meditation shelters me from the void and grants me space to breathe, but the object-world remains depthless and unresponsive. Welcome to what Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention.” I scan the surfaces of semiocapitalism looking for something — anything — that might hold my gaze and deliver some sense of connection. Pot thankfully interrupts this debased mode of being, however briefly, even when we remain online. It permits vision to pixelate experimentally, turning reality into a sea of floaters. Mind becomes through its engagement with matter. This is what happens when we go outside with it. We must build up our mental maps of neighborhoods, scaling from the local all the way outward to the global. But doesn’t that require media? Houses in the neighborhood belong to people of different classes. Sometimes on the same block. And a varied ecology. Each gardener designs a miniature individual nature. Some of these gardens contain herbs and medicines grown locally, to the best of the climate’s ability. Each one t’each one. The utopia of the diverse city-state, subordinated in a more abstract level to state and nation, and containing further subordinate diverse units within called homesteads. This is what the US imagines as the proper distribution of power through land, that prior-most means of production. And suddenly, one is thinking again.