Tag: searching

The Reality of Being “Human”

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Every culture on the planet has an origin story, a way they describe how things came from not-being to being. In this, they often have a mythic narrative that also discusses how the first man and woman came into existence. Equally as often these progenitors are presumed to be just like us. If you were to transport the First Ones through time, they might be surprised by the use of modern tools or new cultural taboos but they would still fundamentally be recognizable to us and even, over time, become acceptable (even revered!) in our modern culture.
For almost 1,800 years, the dominant narrative has been of only two people—an Adam and an Eve—instead of a first tribe or a pair of couples or a set of hermaphrodites separated by the gods. This formed a very distinct starting point. Before Adam & Eve, there was nothing like them and after them, nothing different was ever conceived (at least by the gods).

A mere two-hundred years ago, Charles Darwin was wandering the world and observing things (and just as often meddling with them). In contrast to the prevailing thought at the time (”God made everything. Deal with it”), he discovered that life exists as a series of discrete relationships that can change slowly over time. It wasn’t the first time folks had noticed it, but its presentation was well-timed and shook up the world at the time.

Much to Darwin’s horror, a number of people (including members of his family), choose to focus on the ‘discrete’ instead of the ‘relationship’ part of his theory. From this particularly loathsome attention came the fields of eugenics and genetic determinism. Now, people had a ‘scientific’ way to justify prejudices. Poor people? Poor genes. Criminal tendencies? Must have passed from father to son. The god-blessed positions of royalty and their sycophants? Now blessed by Reason.

The absolute experts on this became the German Reich scientists, who produced outstanding work on the different genetic branches of mankind. Time and time again, they came up with clear definitions of how the blue-eyed, blond-haired ubermen of their homeland were definitely the end-result of Darwin’s evolutionary claims. All of their work was mad nonsense, of course; the results of overwhelming confirmation bias thanks to a horrific political climate and pressure to succeed under ridiculous circumstances.

Their work, idiotic and as cleverly worded as it was, leaked into modern day. A drive for which ‘race’ started where, for where the origin of ‘humanity’ came from. Scientists, in all seriousness, argued that their findings marked the humble beginnings of the species as here or there and that this was some sort of discovery or achievement.

In essence, the scientists were looking for a myth. So wrapped up in Christian theology, they were searching for an Adam and an Eve.

Do you remember how Darwin was studying discrete relationships? Once you start focusing on the relationships part instead of the discrete, a far more realistic pattern emerges. An astonishing ‘bush’ of life instead of a tree. Species that may appear different can successfully mate if they have the chance, or not. Time and distance do change things, sometimes on the surface, sometimes underneath. The ‘missing link’ that was ‘never to be found’ a mere century has been found over and over again. Suddenly, there are dozens of different types of Genus Homo, some of which we know, definitively, that we have bred with. Those branches that vanished didn’t just vanish; they just sexed their way into what was up and around at the time. What was new based on the environmental conditions that favored them.

You might think this is avoiding the question — where did humans come from? The answer, of course, is another question. What is a human? Is it when we started walking on two legs? Fire? Tools? That was all millions of years ago. Gathering in small tribal units (still millions)? Art? A million or so. Hunting? Gathering? Funerals?

We tend to think that Genus Homo from about 3/4 – 1/2 million years ago looked pretty much like us. But like us does not mean us. Were they still having sex with Homo Neanderthalis at that time? Or the Denisovans? Or something we haven’t found yet? Culture as we like to recognize it can into play around 250-50 thousand years ago but that just means there was a lot of it shared out there. Civilizations came in about 12-10 thousand years ago. Was that ‘human’?

Let’s take a step back. We know humans succeeded because they were persistence hunters, which is basically running down animals to death. To be a successful persistence hunter you have to have a strong sense of curiosity and time. You have to be able to assemble stories. This plus this plus this means that the deer ran through here.

What does it mean to be human?

Not our genetics, not our form. If this was our sole measure of success then we would have died out in places where persistence hunting failed. Instead, our success comes from being a storied people. Instead of a genetic shift over time, a storied people relies on memetic changes and the epigenetic changes that result from those memetics.

Epigenetics, which is a relatively new field, hypothesizes that a chunk of DNA is expressed only in relation to an environmental stress or benefit. Epigenetics speaks to the physical changes that occur that allow humans to adapt to an environment, causing variation in their appearance, though they are fundamentally the same. The same… well… the same kind of being that can choose to mate with their neighbors, to build relationships and nurture them.

What does it mean to be a storied people? A people who use culture to alter themselves?

It means there is no such thing as a human race. It means there is no such thing as an “Adam” and an “Eve”. A case in point, sometime before we ‘matured’ into homo sapiens sapiens, we started hanging out with wolves. Any biologist can point out the sudden shift in ‘human’ attitude and ‘wolf’ attitude that resulted in a co-evolutionary path. The two species couldn’t mate genetically, but epigenetically and memetically, they were on-fire.

Homo lupus gave way to tribes. Tribes gave birth to an impossible variety of humans. Homo Lakota. Homo Cymmru, Homo Taino, Homo Gunwinggu. Ultimately, the cancer that is Homo Civis. It’s that which is our strength. It’s also why the ‘origin of the species’ will consistently be wrong. It’s chasing after a myth which has never been the reality of our species.

We are all Adams and Eves.

The Professional and the Battle for Art (pt 1)

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About a week back (more or less), I was witness to one of those curious interchanges that occasionally leapfrogs its way across social media. This one was about art. Insults were exchanged, friendships were broken, and both sides rushed to sooth the wounded. Pretty typical. But its commentary on art and its placement in society got me thinking.

Since I make my living on art, I figured I might as well jot those thoughts down.

I’ve probably heard this about a few thousand times over the years (maybe I exaggerate a bit, but probably not): the birth of human culture is found in art. Not tools, not domestication of fire, or habitats or funerals or settlement or brain weight or body type or agriculture. Art. Some consider art proof of ‘abstract thought’ and most recognize art as a skill that combines both technical expertise and imagination to evoke a visceral response. It’s how our ancestors talked to their children across vast seas of time.  It’s how cultures first talk to each other; through analyzing their aesthetic.

The first recognized arts are visual, blobs of paints on different media from stone to bone, exquisite in their window onto the lives of ancient cultures. Writing is the far-removed, bastard step-child.  It’s a visual media that takes lines and curves to create hallucinations (the much better quote is from @KatieOldham is below) that are vaguely consensual among users. It condenses visual information down to two-dimensional points and still manages to explode it across a person’s cortex, transporting them across time, space and sanity.

Given the power of such artifice, that it literally forms the foundation of human culture and arguably forms the glue that binds societies’ current forms together, why, oh why, are terms “artist” and “starving” ever used together? Why is funding cut for art in school? Why are young adults wanting to go to art school considered to be childish dreamers, as opposed to fearless visionaries, which is much closer to the truth? After all, art is quite possibly entirely why we are human.

Animals require three things in this world.  First, a healthy body, able to deal with the various standard challenges of the day. Whether it’s waking up when the stimulus is right, understanding how to find food that keeps you going, to recognizing your own physical needs for comfort or family.  A healthy mind is next up, a net of input that is filtered by that organ (in whatever form it takes) to allow one to sift through one’s relationship to the environment.  Food vs. medicine vs. threat vs location. The last piece of the trilogy is the heart, which holds the core of memories, allowing things to connect to you, whether it’s lovers or friends or foe. It both warms and warns an animal, affecting the behavior.

Yeah, fine… but what does this have to do with art? Art is the ability to make our own personal environment interactive, mutual. It’s our attempt to reach out and connect proactively to the Other. To any Other. Whether it’s the girl you want to woo, the other band of humans (or Neanderthals or Denivosans or Norwegians), that head of cattle, or that pack of wolves, it’s art that gets you there. Art is the cauldron within which body, heart and mind cook and combine to produce a healthy human. We produce Art to interact with the world around us and you can look at the world around us to see where our current art is targeted.

You want to know where all the non-starving artists are? In marketing. In graphic design. In advertising. In legal writing. In tech writing. In convincing you that there is no world out there, save the one we make, in which there are things you can consume, manufacture or trash. The primary art of this culture, and it’s been this way for a long time but not forever, is mirrors and obfuscation.

This places creative art in the service of rebellion. Sometimes it’s productive; sometimes it’s futile. But like all the revolutions, the folks in charge / the folks invested in the system will consider it childish. They will ridicule it, even as they buy little bits and pieces of it to consume. They will let talent starve to prove how ‘unrealistic’ their talent is.

That’s why, at my core, I applaud anyone who takes up the pen or the brush or the camera or the instrument and completes something. Even attempting is worthwhile. It’s been in our blood for so long, it’s ingrained in us and for good reason. And it is the best way to reclaim our selves from a society that threatens to devour us.

[Next Post: On being a professional Rebel]

Solstice

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A summer sun awaits us(aka that Litha time of year)

They say it’s summer.

The Solstice, the longest day of the year.  In many places in the Northern Hemisphere, that means its blazing hot, sun beating down unreasonably though seasonably.

Here, though, it’s a roll of the dice.

And the dice have come up “gloomy.”

I’m looking up at clouds in the sky; the air moist. The tourists who have come to celebrate a typical California summer are having conniption fits. My wife and I are supposed to be celebrating our 20th anniversary but she’s feeling ill and we’re both in the middle of a move and exhausted.

So I’m here thinking about illumination. I’m thinking about the hidden.

There’s a sun out there that, with the proper exposure, grants bountiful life. But unbounded, it scorches everything, laying waste to the world, changing everything.

Today what stands between the sun and an unbearably hot day is the shade of the clouds, a million million drops of water, fiercely clinging together against all odds, one face heated towards the heavens, the other cooling towards us.

I think of a million prayers going up to the source of illuminated knowlege, the hidden mystery of the universe. I think of the the passion of those please, the needs thrown out from the heart floating out into the universe. And then I think of the kind of person who could stand underneath those oblations, struggling to catch a glimpse of eternity, held in rapture by a soft glow buffeted by the soft sounds of others’ hushed voices.

So I’m here thinking about illumination. I’m thinking about the hidden.

They say it’s summer. The Solstice, the longest day of the year.

Here, though, it’s a roll of the dice.

Can you see what’s beyond the senses?

Even for just a minute?

Try.

And breathe…

Categories: Personal, Philosophy, Shadowpath, Theology Tags: Tags: ,

Letters from a Fool

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A jewel from the Great Mystery!Less than a decade old, I’m listening to a reverend speak reverently of the Masters of Ancient Mysteries.

The end of my second decade, I am a college boy, devouring the myths of a hundred cultures.

A father later in life, I try to distill decades of experience into stories for my children and their peers.

Through it all, I am a voice in the back of my head, an old man whispering the secrets of a lifetime to my younger selves. Ouroboros.

***

A small Introduction

So…

Hello.

It’s good to meet you.

I’m sitting here in the heat of spring and I have to say, it’s absolutely beautiful outside.

The California sun is warm and shining; the Wind, an old friend of mine, is whipping the landscape into a delicate and artistic frenzy. Sky’s so blue it’s a reflection of the ocean stretching out from the shore.

I’m thinking about Initiations.

I’m thinking that in a world where we’ve got scientists by the barrelful, a global civilization (theoretically) based on rationality (well… at least that’s how it’s supposed to work!) and a dedicated supercollider primed to discover a “god-particle”, everybody’s still arguing over what’s real. Isn’t that strange?

An engineer will give you one set of specs for making the world work, a quantum physicist another.  Still, even as they differ, they’ll agree on one point: reality works, pretty good.  Good enough so that the rest of us can form conclusions on how to live our life with at least a little certainty that tomorrow the sun will rise and a fire will require a spark rather than spontaneously arising from some future action.

All said, that’s good enough for some folks, good enough for a lifetime, good enough for rational cultures to spring up, thrive for a time and then pass on.

Then there are some folks who need a touch more: a Mystery they can pray to, a sacred space they can hide all of their hopes and fears in, a ritual to share that feeling that out there, somewhere, something greater watches over them all. Like the followers of science, the worship of the Mystery is good enough for these folk, good enough for art to flourish and spring out into the world, overwhelming people with awe and emotion for just a time before moving on.

But…

There are also the others.

We are the people who aren’t content with the rational and aren’t only looking for a Mystery.

We’re the dreamers, the seekers, the explorers who want to get their hands into the gears and pull things apart. The ones who want to open our eyes and our minds and gaze lovingly over the plans for this universe.  We want to bathe in the beauty and analyze the geometry of its shape. To find out what color palette was used and where it is on the spectrograph. We want to know, to quote Albert Einstein, “the mind of God.”

Everything else?  It’s just details.

More to come…

Yours in Seeking

Bill