"The world does not reward honesty and independence, it rewards obedience and service. It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have power are not going to reward people who question that power."-Chomsky

"The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out. Reality doesn't "spin." Reality does not have a self-image problem. Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management." -J.H. Kunstler

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."-Dylan

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10/11/09: Pondering Camels

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24)

In June, Chris and I had a conversation about evil, and I offered that greed and powerlust are its fundamental root. Money is inanimate and cannot be "evil." However, greed is wealth's (Mammon's) engine, and power it's club. The club's damage is NOT limited to its victims; those who swing it, regardless of the rationale and justification, are damaged even if the ego believes otherwise! The Camel Quote has become a personal  favorite.

To his credit, Andre was by far the most "aware" of the affluent people I have associated, which isn't saying much. But, with a little reflection I began to see why the above quotation, attributed to Jesus, is so powerful in its hostility toward wealth. I firmly believe that, on both a micro and macro level, wealth and enlightenment are diametrically opposed and usually mutually exclusive. The wealthy will argue and rationalize 'til Rapture, but I believe this to be a fact that will not change.

After I returned home from house-sitting, spurred on by the conversations with Chris in Port Townsend and the writing I had done at Katie's, I decided to actually open my unused Bible to see what the "presented version" of Jesus himself had to say about it. Using the familiar quote above as a starting point in Matthew, I expected a whole lot of ambiguity and interpretable "parable"; typically "Christian" rhetoric. What I found  astounded me. As I've said before, I'm (intentionally) no Biblical scholar, but I CAN read! Just a few of innumerable examples; Jesus was far from "ambiguous" when it came to wealth. He was outright hostile:

-"Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor... and come and follow me." Matthew19:21

-"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon."
Matthew 6:24

-"For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
Matthew 16:26

-"But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full." Luke 6:24

And, He seemed to despise hypocrites:

-"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 6:1

-"So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full."
Matthew 6:2

Like Dennis, Andre was inadvertently providing something priceless in his own way: a naked, unsolicitied glimpse at the struggle wealth creates for a man who's on a spiritual quest. At some level, he deserves a twisted degree pity for his financial triumphs. In this culture, it's unheard of to describe wealth as an "anchor," but that's the spiritual sacrifice of a life of comfort, security, and power. It usually comes standard with a closed, sheltered existence barren of the true experience/struggle needed for genuine empathy, compassion, and concern for others, as demonstrated perfectly by Andre's "debt is a state of mind" comment.

I believe I just answered my own earlier question regarding why it requires a sudden sense of self-mortality for many, particularly the affluent, to begin to take an interest in something beyond materialism. It's simple: Why would they? When a man has few "real" friends, is surrounded by those motivated by self-interest, and an ego addicted to Mammon's power, why would the typical tycoon reflect inward?

Without critical thought or conversation, and surrounded by "yes men," it's easy to convince ourselves of whatever narrative we choose to write! It's a self-delusion that reminds me of Huxley's "soma" from Brave New World; an opiate that numbs the spirit and intellect.

We've been programmed to function on a consumerist, egoistic plane. While the rich have succeeded on that plane, perhaps they've done so at the cost of sacrificing the intellectual and emotional tools needed to authentically empathize.

And, for those who have internalized these notions due to an inkling that "something's wrong," there's another foreboding quote found in Matthew: "Many are called. Few are chosen." As in classical mythology and with Joseph Campbell's "Call to Adventure", I don't believe these words are meant to be taken literally, but it doesn't take much talent for abstraction to see the implication.

When you arrive at this point, I believe, "The Fates" are an egoistic/escapist mirage. Free will, ego, and intellect come into play long after you're "called." I believe that your own capacity for and, more importantly, your decision to look internally, with uncomfortably clear-eyes, and then your actions determine whether or not you're "chosen," however you choose to define it.

I have a very different concepts of "called" and "chosen" than Christians of course, but I've come to suspect that the language is irrelevant. When you think about the barriers, for the wealthy, the path to self-actualization seems impassible and perhaps cruelly unfair. The have their reward in full.

Obviously, I believe Andre is handicapped by his wealth, ego, and the bubble in which he lives. From the beginning of my stay, I was keenly aware of the lair in which I dwelt, despite the fact I was greatly enjoying its benefits!

Periodically, I would find myself observing how Andre interacted with people, and more importantly vice versa, looking for patterns. Several times, I witnessed people seemingly afraid to deal with him honestly, afraid to upset him. Toward the end of our stay, there was even adolescent talk claiming someone close was "just using him." And, of course, Andre's protective of what he has because, of course, everyone wants it! This could lead a person to believe they are in a position to judge another's "worthiness" or to believe they know what's "best" for another. I can understand that, however, wealth alone does not grant one the moral superiority or lofty personal status required to judge by generalizations. And, when judgment and power turn to control...as they ultimately do...that person is likely doomed.

I also believe Andre, even with his noble and (I believe) genuine ideas, still has an epic battle ahead of him. In the end, he's inadvertently stacked powerful cards against himself and, although it's sacrilege in the "Age of Hope", I'm sadly pessimistic. If he's committed to succeeding, and I believe he is, he has in my opinion failed to see the obvious: That despite his best rhetoric and intentions, his identity is still completely anchored to his ego & assets. His ability to "work magic" is, literally, his ability to write a check. His ability to "be of maximum benefit" is tethered to his ability to write a check AND wrapped tightly within his ego.

I find it ironic that rather than envy him, I pity Andre. Not because of the spider bite or his uncertain future, but because I ask myself this: "If all of Andre's money were to vaporize tomorrow, who would he be? How would he see himself if he were unable to work Monetary Magic? How many "friends" would still be there?" Of course, this is a single perspective, and I'm sure that this last question will result in some other folks I met in Portland wondering, "Is that asshole talking about ME?!?!?" Please relax, and realize I am not interested in rendering judgment. But, I would counter that it may be useful to ask yourself, "Am I one of the circling vultures?"

In the event you've assumed this is arm-chair psychological conjecture, I know a bit about a ravaged "external identity." When the radio show ended in 2002, and I was no longer Todd Thompson, most of my "friends" vanished like farts in the wind leaving me sitting emotionally naked asking why. The answer was clear: the relationships I had built were based on the shallow radio "persona" I had developed, and I was forced to ask, "Now that I'm not Todd Thompson, who the fuck am I?" If you need to ask, then have trouble coming up with answers, you have a problem!

The ones who remained unchanged remain treasured friends. I can literally count them on one hand. These are not easy questions to ask, are even harder to answer, and impossible to investigate without a commitment to truth; that inner dialogue Andre admitted having trouble with. Despite his wonderful complexities, Andre is struggling as a confused personification of his wealth, with little clue of how to escape it. How to cut free from a spiritual anchor.

The very first quote above also speaks nicely to the Chris McCandless question and what I believe was his Poverty Field Trip. Friar Chris has often taken exception to my McCandless critique because he closely identifies with McCandless's background. He has struggled with my indictment, often replying, "What's a rich kid supposed to do? Just give up?"

My reply had always been that I honestly don't know. Do what you can, and hope for the best. Subconsciously, however, there's always been a faint smell of hypocrisy to even asking that question, as though wealth is somehow entwined into your DNA and fused to your existence. I've suspected that the philosophical answer is simplistic, and as stated above, would sound something like "Get rid of it and legitimize your fraudulent Pauper Papers."

Of course that IS simplistic, and very few of us are prepared to sell all of our worldly possessions and sacrifice the security they provide! (Foreshadowing alert!) Frankly, I see nothing wrong with openly half-assing it, or openly doing nothing! To my knowledge, none of us are Saints nor aspiring to be. However, my blood pressure tends to rise when people are portrayed, or prop themselves as something they're not. Someone please tell Mr. Penn, Mr. Krakour, and the rest of the McCandless Cultists that McCandless burned his money knowing he was a phone call away from a family "line of credit" whenever he ever decided to bless his parents with his "forgiveness". Rather he used it is immaterial; he knew it was there. It would be much more impressive for someone raised poor to do the same, without a golden parachute just waiting to be deployed by phone.

To me, the shallow image of renouncing wealth, while never intending to do so, is condescending and nicely articulated by:

"Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full." Matthew 6:16

Again, it takes a little abstract thought to comprehend that "gloomy face" can mean many different things, from countenance to clothing and hygiene. Cleverly clinging the literal interpretation and employing rationalization? That could indicate something!

More often than not, I don't believe people rationalize on a conscious level; I don't think they sit in their chairs creating clever, conscious, fictitious narratives. I believe it's subconscious because, as The Sage pointed out later, it's challenging to confront the dark things residing within ourselves.

That observation cut to the heart of my internal, "I feel like a dick" discomfort. I know full well how difficult it is to confront ourselves. I reject the role of  Encouraging Sympathetic Voice because, from my experience, I find to be it a counterproductive haven.

This simple train-of-thought demanded an overdue investigation as to my evolving purpose. The answer was simple and (again) reinforced surprisingly from the Bible in quite an arrogant way!

Reading thru Matthew, it became clear that Jesus was sort of...a dick! His tone was that of a man annoyed with metaphorical blindness and willful ignorance, intolerant of rationalizations and hypocrisies. I could identify with the man who entered the temple and violently overthrew the moneychangers table! Contrary to characterizations as the "Price of Peace", tact and non-confrontational politeness seemed of little concern to Him, even saying, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." Perhaps that "sword" is to slice off the fat of doctrine, dogma, and self-deception. And, if blunt honesty is good enough for your Jeebus, it's good enough for me!

Overall, the impression that I got from my tiny foray into a miniscule portion of the Bible was that, if true, most Christians are in a lotta trouble when their Messiah returns! I repeatedly (and to Laina's chagrin) asked, "Do Christians even read this fucking thing? Or, do they simply rely on someone else to interpret what's inside AND believe whatever they're told it means?" 

Ambiguity toward wealth? MY ASS! I found little resemblance between what I managed to read, and the acts of Jesus, Inc. I have more scripture examples I could share, but I'll close by simply saying that I've come to believe that the greatest blasphemy on Earth is perpetrated by organized religion and what it has done to the concept of God. I would stand tall and say that to Yahweh's face, quite certain that he's agree.

How about you?