A hundred paths to freedom?

Imagine two scenarios.

In the first scenario Jack stands upon a plain, which reaches off into the far horizon. Leading out beneath his feet are a hundred paths. He can see nothing but the plains and the thin little roads leading off to nowhere.

In the second scenario Jack stands at the top of a commanding hill. He is at a crossroads: the path to the north leads into the forest. The path to the west leads to the mountains. The path to the east leads to the coast. The path to the south leads back to where he came upon the plains.

Who is more free?

In the first scenario Jack has a hundred potential pathways. He has a dizzying array of choice. But he knows nothing of where they lead. The paths simply lead off across the empty plains. There are no point of reference or landmarks, making his return to the crossroads all but impossible.

In the second scenario Jack has only four directions he can go. But he is stood upon a hill and can see where the paths lead. This gives him some idea of what lies ahead. He may not be a woodsman, but he knows what to expect from the forest. Trees, streams, birds, folks living in cabins, maybe a bear or two!

Despite the seeming lack of choices in the second scenario, the freedom Jack has is greater. His choices have more context and have more meaning. He can make an informed decision. And if the forest does not work out he can always back track to the hill and try a different direction.

The first scenario is more like a nightmare. It is flat and featureless. With no context to those hundred choices, Jack will have to choose one at random. This might be exciting and ‘adventurous’ at first, but it will quickly grow tiresome and anxiety-inducing.  As the paths lead nowhere, what is the difference between them? They might as well all be the same.

These are idealized scenarios, thought-experiments to get our minds thinking. But they are not merely abstract mind-games. The society of individualistic values and consumer nihilism is more like the first scenario. For instance there are hundreds of TV channels, but they are mostly awful. The promise of quality is false – advertising cuts programmes into three and wastes hours of your life each week; producers have to constantly churn out shows to meet voracious demand, so the quality is low. A hundred paths, but they all lead nowhere.

It is possible to have genuinely meaningful choices in life, but these require context and purpose. This should be our criteria of liberty – ‘meaningful liberty’. We should do away with any notion of ‘maximizing liberty’ as some indicator of moral good. It is hardly better than tyranny to live in a meaningless society.

So where do we find meaning?

Many of the things that are part of our ‘destiny’, things we do not choose, give us a massive sense of meaning. They are a context around which to build our lives. I think of my old friend, a philosopher of great ability, who sticks by Spurs FC through thick and thin.  As goes the tradition, you find the nearest football club to where you were born and then you support them. You do not ‘choose’ a team, it is given to you. Meaning and belonging is found within that context.

Likewise with your family. Your first relationships are with them. This has a massive shaping effect on your later relationships, even if you do not consciously realize how. It is a lifelong journey of discovery to work through these depths and there are no easy answers. But we do not choose our blood-family. Would we be better off if we did? Would the term family be able to maintain its meaning if we did?

And we can pull back further. The society we are born into and dependent upon, the culture that has been created for us, the first languages that we speak; these are part of our ‘destiny’, not of our choice. Yet without them we are nothing. Meaning comes when we realize that our choices effect not only ourselves, but also other people. To find meaning in society we must realize how our choices and desires are patterned by society – our dreams and aspirations do not emerge out of thin air. Knowing the sources of ideas, we can understand the forces that shaped who we are. Knowing humility, we can then create things for others as much as for ourselves; to live for others as much as we live for ourselves. Someone isolated from society, in an individualist bubble, can find no meaning. They are at the hundred empty pathways, every single one leading nowhere. Every adventurer they meet on those paths is going nowhere.

And then we can pull back even further, for society is dependent on Nature for its survival. Without the living world, we could not exist. The ultimate challenge of meaning goes beyond our lives, beyond our civilizations. It is to discover our place in nature, how our culture interacts with it, how we live sustainably within it to ensure a living world for future generations. This is our ‘destiny’.

Our deepest connection to nature is coded into us, evolving with every generation, yet continuous, leading back to some impossibly distant history which should lead us to nothing less than awe. The seasons and cycles of nature, the creatures which populate the environment around us, the plants and trees; all in incredible variety and multitude. We could not, given all the faculties of our minds, create a more enthralling landscape which can satisfy that natural urge to belong to something real and greater than us.

This is what is meant by the four paths upon the hill. The scope of choice is not so large, yet this is why those choices are comprehensible and have meaning. Where they lead is more clear, what they are is visible. Embracing our finitude and the parts of us that are determined is the key to meaningful liberty. And let us also give liberty its due, for what freedom we can have, we ought to have.

Jack shrugged his shoulders, hoisted on his pack and headed for the coast. He always wanted to try going on a fishing ship and with Spring a few weeks away, this was his chance.

All I have

All I have are faded memories

Of the songs, learned on the way

Raise your heads, face the coming night

For we all, must die some day

 

Know you not, of our destiny?

Brother dear, oh sister mine

For the fate of our trouble race

Is to strife, for all of time

 

Gaia screams, but we hear her not

For the warring of machines

Cut my hair, take my friends away

Kill my soul, for your dreams

 

Of a world bathed in concrete

A toxic sky, an acid sea

The cost of greed is humanity

And you still, want more from me

 

So I draw, this black shattered sword

And sing one, final song

I wish that I need not destroy you

But it would, right a wrong

 

All I have are faded memories

Of comrades, lost on the way

Raise your heads, face the coming light

The dawn is here, this is your day!

 

For Mitch

Inspiration

Inspiration, oh inspiration, where art thou?

This is the crassest of creations – a writing about writing thing. I hope it will go somewhere productive.

Already the nature of inspiration is being questioned. It sounds like a think separate from us, passing through us: I have become inspired.

In moments of uninspiration, then, is inspiration not there?

I feel that inspiration of all things should be the final nail in the coffin of intellectual property; the person who wrote the something doesn’t truly know where the idea came from. They were but a conduit, or a node, of inspiration.

Good habits and writing discipline will sure make things flow out more easily. But when the well is dry, it is truly dry.

Creativity itself is under attack in the society of the Pound Stirling. If something has no utility on the market, it is child’s play, or a mere hobby. Things need to be created to be sold.

I have no inspiration to make things for sale. The smith forges a hundred tools and throws them over his shoulder. Let whoever finds them, find them.

Nothing should be done unless it is what one wishes to do. We all have core beliefs, and we all have the capacity to override or live up to those core beliefs. Every day millions toil in servitude to sustain a machine they neither understand nor care for. I don’t want my inspiration to come at the expense of their souls, nor mine.

My inspiration is antagonistic. Not always, but often. Force has to come from somewhere.

The most prevalent and obvious source is all around us – the depravity so taken for granted by so many. This is a vice closing around the soul, and one that we must all collectively and individually strive to avoid being crushed by.

I have no inspiration today. Not to play music, nor to continue my great works. These things are in truth beyond my ability to grasp. That is why they are like magick; mana from the immanent heavens.

They will come back again, or they won’t. It is ok either way. Something always comes to fill the void.

Rather then lament the lack of inspiration, it is better to see it as the Winter of the soul. Even the muses and the naiads and the fey need to rest.

I am, I exist, the world is, the world exists

Aged around three I gazed at my hand and thought ‘I can’t believe I am actually here! I can’t believe this is real and I exist!’

I remember it distinctly. I recognized myself, and the stupendous odds of my ever having incarnated.

It took twenty seven years, but just this week it truly hit me that the world actually is, and the world actually fucking exists. It actually is, it really is, it moves through time, it is. I can’t believe it is actually there, its incredible! The stupendous odds of it.

Strange things happen in this universe.

 

 

Procrastination

Start writing it

Ask her out

Cancel your card

Leave the house

Take the risk

Send it in

Procrastination – anxiety in action. The brain’s version of two feet fumbling at the edge of a cliff, refusing to just bungeeeeeeee…

The difference between good and great is that good procrastinates and gets there eventually, whereas great is already one step ahead, having missed the procrastination stage.

The worst that can happen is that you could trap yourself in a spiral of negative thinking and unproductive worry!

This means that you are in control of how you feel today. It means that the insurmountable mountain is actually not that steep.

It means that all of the barriers on your path only seem so high because you are hunkering down.

It means that all of the monsters on your quest are infamous only because other people are so afraid of them.

I think procrastination is a form of enchantment – only, in the negative sense of overestimating threat. I suppose dread and fear is as much a part of the imagination as anything!

But it is not a part of the imagination we want to allow to rule our lives.

To ‘not do’ is not the safe option. To ‘not do’ is how phobias and disorders develop, and once they do, it is not easy to reverse them (believe me, I am in the middle of one).

If only I had done this, if only I had done that – also not useful. Procrastination.  What has been is not necessarily what will be. And who can tell where each path would have led, or what you would be now if you had done what.

What you have before you is what you can mould the most. Your destiny is undeniably a continuous thing which cannot be altered easily, as is your character. But the small steps you can make to begin changing that destiny – they can happen anytime.

And once you start winning and changing, the results are exponential. Find something you can feasibly achieve, and feasibly achieve it.

Procrastination – the product of too much intellect and not enough feeling. Get out of your mind for a moment, and back into the whole of yourself…

There is a world to explore

There are unjust systems to deconstruct

There is your novel to write

There is love to be found

There is music to be played

There are seeds to be planted

There is climate destruction to be undone

There is a Trump to be dethroned

 

(If you like this post, share it on social media and help your friends stop procrastinating!)

Enchantment

Without enchantment, we are lost in the world. Without myth, guideless. Without spirit, we are dead inside. Without art, we are silent.

The world-as-it-is: not suitable for our primed imaginations. Stillness is just a reprieve, sleep a chance to dream. The vigour of endless Western minds; ceaseless, like the snout of an anteater. The world is layered with our mark.

Then let us do the best that we can do with our candor and sheer energy. Let us enchant nature and live there, among the wood sprites and the sacred trees. Let us catch that mana, let us fly these concrete prisons.

Profit is a road leading nowhere. But the deep wood and the bramble grove is an infinite, winding adventure…