Thursday, February 4, 2010

By What Measure A Slave?

Seek freedom in indulgence and be a captive to your desires.
Seek discipline and find your freedom.
I have no clue who first said this but I got most of it from one of my hiking brothers on facebook.

I feel a certain level of unease in writing this post.

It's because I'm going to use the word "slave" and I don't want to belittle the fact that there are slaves who are raped 10 to 15 times a night for profits that they will never see because they believe that if they do not cooperate, harm will come to their family and loved ones or themselves. There are slaves who grow and cook the food that we eat, build the structures we find shelter under and clean the rooms we stay in. Close to 30 million of them exist today and the black market moving them has usurped illicit arms trading as the 2nd most profitable illegal enterprise. I don't want to make light of that fact.

But at the same time, I want to make clear that I was once enslaved and that we too are all enslaved. But when I speak in this manner, I speak in degrees. To what extent am I a slave? To what degree are you a slave? How slavish is your manner of living?

The Jack Lalanne video above hits as close to my heart as any video I have ever seen. We can be, most of us are, slaves to our body. It tells us when to lie down, get out of bed, eat, have sex (or watch porn) and check e-mail. It tells us when to start running, stop running, panic, and cower. For most people, the rational function of the mind should be looked at as a vestigial organ. We call these your average everyday ordinary human beings who can only do more because of a few exceptional human beings who invented the means to harness the power of fire, the strength of animals, the waters, the winds, the earth and the stars. A few people did those things. A disgusting mass of human-shaped parasites tagged along.

I am, to a degree, one of them. I was, in the past, much more of a parasite. Like I said, I speak in degrees and not absolutes.

I have several phrases that I like to repeat when others ask me what I really want in life.
"I want to see the uppermost limit of human potential. And I want to see it in myself."
"I want to live a life that's worthy of 10,000 lifetimes."
"I want to transform myself."
"I want to find my freedom."

All of them, particularly the last one, grows out of one kernel: the captivity of man to himself. I have been incredibly blessed to read Seth Grodin's blog since last night and this morning I read these words. Lightning stroke thoughts and thunderclap words stormed in my heart. This, I needed to read this. As I began to digest those words I knew that these words were a map to what I wanted to say.

I. Want. To. Rule. My. Life.

Not to merely have drives, but to be driven. What's the difference? There's a sex drive, a hunger drive, an Oedipal drive, a checking-your-email-unnecessarily drive and a why-the-hell-am-I-still-on-Facebook drive. Those are drives. I want to drive my life. Not my impulses but myself. How does a typical person operate? They live as if life was a game of whack-a-mole. Each impulse gets a wack. Each desire is a prompt for action. There's no purpose beyond the whacks in that game. Compare now, if you will, an advanced roleplaying game. Let me use Baldur's Gate 2 because it's one of my favorite games of all time. There's a story. You are given a character who has goals. Why are you doing any particular thing? Not because it's there but because you are working towards a greater goal. Consider the animals and all of nature who only have drives. Ravens, monkeys, dolphins, elephants all of these have displayed startling amounts of intelligence from building simple tools like ravens and monkeys, to the sophisticated language and emotiveness of the monkeys and dolphins to the burial practices of elephants. Each one of them is in no uncertain terms, remarkable. None of them display drive. All of them live circular lives, but the life of a human being should not be a circle.

It should be a line, a ray shooting inexorably forward into the inky ignorance of the world, plumbing the mysteries of the universe, cultivating the universe. Man should be venturing forth in confidence, integrity and intelligence seizing life with both hands. Should the highlight of his week be playing Settlers of f'in Catan? Should it be the oblivion of alcohol, the indolence of television, the cacophony of inane chatter about celebrity gossip, of finding trendy restaurants to say you've eaten at, to lusting over cars, phones, iPods, iPads, and all other nonsense? And when all is said and done, sink back into the ooze as a fatty meal for worms. Is this not an insult to the creator who fashioned Man inside His Mind?

More than asking "What are you doing?" I am asking "Where are you going?" and all too often the sad answer is nowhere. Where else is there to go? This is all life has to offer.

I move onward, the only direction
can't be scared to fail, in search of perfection
--Jay-Z "On To The Next One"

Get a degree. Get a job. Get a wife, a house, a pair of kids, a car, another car, another house. This is your life. This is your life and it's being lived for you by an automatic program.

Why are you so scared? Is it because you see Prometheus' liver being eaten before you?

You know what it demands. Your time, let's start there. The more time that you spend free, the less time you spend on the things that enslaved you. You're not going to spend time eating food you're not hungry for, with the people who don't want to see you rise above them because it reminds them just how inhuman a circular life is. It terrifies them with the question "Could I do that? Just maybe? If I worked a little harder? If I was a little more brave? Trusted in myself a little bit more?" But then the fear of these answers is far too much for them to handle and they tear you down anew. You know who hindered me the most when I was trying to transform myself? It was the people closest to me. How did they do it?

"Stanley, you look so good already, why not hang out with us?"

"Stanley, you're making an idol of these races. It's sinful."

"If you were godly, you wouldn't think about looks. You should exercise after you get married."

"Just be careful. We don't want you to hurt yourself."

"Ugh, I want to die hearing the things you do."

"Oh, triathlons? Yeah, they're no big deal."

Parents. Lovers. Friends. Fellowships. Lay persons. Clergy. Bosses. Students. Teachers. They tore my liver and tomorrow they will do it again. Because I'm too soft, because I truly do love them, I did not banish them. Others have. That was the assholery referenced in the Phoenix Effect series. But I was lucky. I did not need to go that far. I have triumphed over these nay-sayers in the past and will continue to conquer in the future. I do it because I want to live free, above my impulses. A unified man, a free man does not live as the servant of his desires, but his desires, as true, genuine and honest as they always are, serve him. That's what I want.

1 comment:

  1. Your last accusatory point of people holding you back misses the mark. A true collective of liberated people not only allow others to operate under their own whims, but encourage them to do so. I know, it's damn hard to imagine, but I consider it the sort of hippie stereotype.

    "That's cool man, be you! Alright dude. I dig. That's radical." There's something to be said of a mindset that allows not only yourself but others to flourish and - more importantly - fail spectacularly.

    I think true freedom comes when you realize you CAN'T help these people along. It's so hard to let the ones you truly love fuck themselves up. (When I was four, my father once let me stick a paper clip in an electrical outlet at great risk. After seeing I was alive he said, "See, that hurt like hell didn't it? You won't ever do that again, you idiot.")

    Your meddling only stymies their own ability to find their own way.

    In a bigger sense, I think you're indicting our own societal urge to baby us every step of our lives, instead of letting us get bloodied and bruised when life and it's perils colliding with our humanity. Not every place is like this, and you being a well traveled man should know that.

    It isn't, ultimately, anyone's fault that people want to hold you back. It's the byproduct of much love and a bit of training.