Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A raft, adrift

I make some sweeping generalizations here, I know.  It's a work of opinion.  Hopefully that's evident.

I've had a lot of time to listen this past year.  To myself, my friends, the news, the wind, the rumblings of change and inevitable transition.  I've been looking out for an opportunity to break into the next phase of whatever it is I'm involved with here.  The more I consider this progression as something natural in a material or outward sense, the less convinced I am of its validity as such.  What I've been doing is so much internal, the changes so personal, that tangible results are understandably absent, except perhaps in my appearance, attitude and writing.  My physical circumstances remain mostly unchanged simply because my focus isn't on changing them.  Nonetheless, the question of career ambition continues to hover; but it seems, when I really consider it, more a question of surviving in a material sense than undertaking any kind of pressing meaningful endeavor.  I have many such already and they keep me well satisfied, in my way.  It's like finding a perfect lover and being told there's no future with her because she has no name.  You're in love and content and paying the rent is just paying the rent, but somehow that's an invalid lifestyle because it's illegitimate in a technical sense.  It bears no seal, no credential to prove its worth.  Pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and for love of it has an air of misguided absurdity about it these days, and the reasons for this stigma are obvious.  You may be learning, but you aren't earning credit.

But don't get me wrong.  Academia is a fine path, so long as it's not just sophisticated hoop jumping masquerading as relevant, enriching study.  I wouldn't be the person I am without the teachers I've had and the earnestness of their efforts.  Good professors make good students because they have a genuine affection and talent for their subject and that process is a beautiful thing to be a part of.  It's also a fragile thing, dependent on a coincidence of conditions nobody can predict.  They can introduce you to a part of yourself through intellectual engagement, and set you on a course, but that course must be a personal one in line with your character and natural affinities.  It's given to you, not as a kind of tool, but as a guiding light; something spiritual as much as practical or profitable.  The interesting thing is what happens when you leave the grading paradigm behind.  You start grading yourself.  And far more comprehensively because you really want to understand the thing, as opposed to simply proving it to someone with the power of pass or fail over you.  Failing is not an option for someone who's in love with what they're doing simply because they're not doing it for anyone else.    

What I can't get over is the presumptuous nature of whole programs designed to turn open minds into efficient, technically capable instruments, with so little emphasis on whether the systems they're being trained to maintain are worth having at all.  It's this question again and again: what's education for really?  Job training or character development?  I love the creative advantages of critical thinking and the potential of the human mind to understand itself and its relationship to other minds and the physical universe, but I didn't develop that wonder in a classroom.  It's true I wouldn't have the skills necessary to pursue my intellectual interests without formal instruction, but that's not what's really at issue.  It's the spiritual blindness which occurs after taking a fundamentally selfish, exploitative and adversarial view of life because you were educated-that is, convinced, coerced, conned or forced by repetition, rote, rationalization or fear-to do so in order to make a living.  A living (life) which will mostly be comprised of working to pay for things you're not sure you really need (because you really don't).  So you're left with a kind of societal rift between the 'educated'-those who've completed their designated amount of classwork-, 'undergraduates'-those in the process of doing so-, and the 'unskilled', 'uneducated' or *gasp* 'dropouts'-those without the desire, ability or means of obtaining an institutional credential.  What's immediately implied in most people's minds at these divisions is the income associated with each, not an interest in the underlying motivations of those involved or the quality of the knowledge pursued and its humanitarian utility.  It isn't what you know, it's how much you know.  The size of your mountain, not the wisdom gained in climbing it.  Why?  Because it's understood, as a matter of normal course, that economic profit is the main purpose of academic engagement.  Why?  Because our culture measures worth in dollars and cents.  Why why why?  Because you're not supposed to listen to the wind, or the rumblings of transience, or yourself.  You're supposed to be busy.  You're supposed to be getting an education so you can be competitive and ultimately successful in some distant golden future.

It works the other way too, of course.  Non participants are degraded to the extent that their counterparts are lauded.  And sometimes the criticisms are valid.  A lot of people need to be kept on track, especially during adolescence and early adulthood.  The means of doing this are as varied as the cultures of the planet, but the end is the same: taking responsibility for oneself and one's role in the community.  It's a perfectly sensible and decent and natural thing to expect.  And, along with so many other natural things, it's been twisted and manipulated and mutilated by our delusional status quo.  We're born on probation, and until we live up to we're not really alive.  It's a game, and we want winners and only winners.  Not runners up, not the sick or frightened or those too disgusted to play.  We want the young and the beautiful and the strong and we want them to stay that way forever.  And if they begin to fade or become unhappy or stop doing what we need them to, we replace them with new winners.   And the losers?  Well, there's a place for them too of course.  Plenty of places actually.  And so long as they understand where they belong and stay there, we can forget their suffering or say it's their problem or condemn them as cowards when we're feeling low.  It's the information age after all.  Who has time to look around in the fast lane?  Adversarial systems make winners and losers, not God or Nature or anything else.  Animals that get killed and eaten by other animals aren't losing, they're being killed and eaten.  What we do is made up.  And if you buy in, don't be surprised when they sell you out.

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