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Archive for December, 2008

Human sovereignty as a New Year’s resolution

I hate lies, and I hate just about everything that doesn’t hate lies. We live our lives enmired in lies — in hoke, in smoke, in hints and allusions and innuendoes, in juice and hustle and jive — and it is entirely too easy to become one of the liars, de facto, without really intending to. My post on linking is one of the best things I wrote this year, and it’s apposite to the discussion I’ve been carrying out all week:

People are so used to marketing trickery that they expect it everywhere. The challenge for anyone seeking to change minds in the Web 2.0 world is to take away that expectation. Transparency doesn’t mean I am obliged to disclose to you the color of my underwear. Transparency means that if there is any possibility that you could entertain the smallest doubt that I am effecting some kind of sleight of hand to trick you into doing something you otherwise would not do, I have to give you the means of eradicating that doubt to your own satisfaction.

On Christmas, because of the latest episode of puerile posturing, I said to Teri, “I believe in Christmas. I won’t let it lie to me.” Later it came out as, “I believe in humanity. I won’t let it lie to me.” And the final form, I think, is, “I believe in life. I won’t let it lie to me.” That’s the architecture of this year’s Christmas story. Now all I need is the story.

I smile to myself at all the ways my life has conspired to put me where I am right now: A philosophically-adept obsessive writer, enraptured by the most beautiful and rigorous kind of ethics, with a background in high-volume, high-tech publishing problems, who works as a real estate broker and who spends much of his time thinking about the marketing of everything. Where would I be, by now, but here? It’s funny for me to watch people try to whimper-whip or brow-beat me into echoing their lies — after I’ve told them every way I can think of that I would rather die than take a position I don’t hold down to my last atom — but that’s just part of the same thing.

On top of everything else my life has taught me, I end up knowing everything there is to know about how people get sucked and suckered into being yet another one of the life-liars, without ever really intending for that to happen.

In that respect, I am the best friend you could ever hope for, if you’re paying attention. I live my life as a challenge, deliberately, but most of us don’t want that kind of conflict in our lives. I don’t like it, but I also don’t hate it — and I rebel against any implication that, by my silence, I am accepting or going along with the lies. Much of what I do here consists of pointing out how to avoid becoming entangled in error — willful, intentional, self-destructive error. Certainly this post is of a piece with that objective.

Every bit of this is easy for me. I’ve been training for this job for thirty years. The hard job is yours: You have to renounce that world of cloying, addicting lies. In the world of lies, all you have to do is “play ball” — all you have to do is go along to get along — and, just like that, everything is yours — buddies, laughs, trinkets. You won’t like much of what you hear here, but that’s no surprise. No one wants to have his corruption called to mind, again and again, so you have to shut your mind to the voices you can’t shout down.

This strikes me as being a very poor choice in every possible respect. I can’t think of anything that can be gained in exchange for giving up your sovereignty that could be worth it. We talk about “selling your soul” to gain eternal life or vast riches or unequaled artistic talent. But what really happens is that people renounce their own minds and run in herds for nothing — for the false security of not having to stand alone. And then, when the herd turns on them, they have nowhere at all to turn.

The world I live in is not easier than that one, but it’s better. You may not have any buddies, but you will have the opportunity to make true friends — people who will not lie to you, for you or about you. You won’t share in the herd’s tittering xenophobia, but the absurdity of unminded human beings is comedy enough for anyone. As for the trinkets — how does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he loses his own soul?

It’s not kind of me to express things this baldly. I believe I am just, but, because I am just, I know that softening the truth is just another kind of lie. There is no benefit to either of us in my trying to make things easy for you.

But do consider this: You are all alone. I can’t see you right now, nor can anyone else. I am a master of this medium because I understood all of this, perfectly, thirty years ago. I can muck around inside your mind like this, and you’ll let me, because you are alone, because I can’t see you — can’t see what you shrink from and can’t see what you long to embrace.

That’s a comfortable way to take on difficult ideas, actually, since there is no way anyone outside your mind can hold you accountable for a commitment — unless you make it manifest. But at least in potential, that is the lie that precedes all the others. Every single one of us wants to live as a hero, holding firm — proudly, defiantly — against every possible form of domination. And yet so many of us cave and cave and cave to the most pitiful of demands.

What accounts for the difference between the life you imagine and the life you actually lead? I think it’s whether or not you have made your commitment to human sovereignty manifest — given it an existence apart from your imagination. It’s a simple enough thing to say, out loud, “I won’t back down.” But until you actually do say it, you will back down, again and again.

I hate the lies, I hate the herds, I hate the mobs. I feel shame for the way people behave when they’re running in mobs. But I love you more than you can ever imagine the way you are right now — with your mind open to me, even if only in secret and in solitude.

I conceal nothing, and so I have never hidden the fact that I am a subversive. Why am I doing this, why am I talking to you like this on New Year’s Eve? The answer is, “So you’ll remember.”

Again and again you see people trying to shut me up or shout me down, trying to smear or insult or browbeat me into telling their particular flavor of lies. And again and again you see them getting nowhere. There is nothing that I’m doing that you cannot do just as easily. All you have to do is say “No” — and mean it — and other people can have no power over you.

Tomorrow is the first day of 2009, and I want to be in your head all year long. Every time someone tries to maneuver you into doing something you know is wrong, I want you to think of this post. Every time people try to court or cajole or bribe you into telling a lie, I want you right back here. Every time that you feel that you’ve stained your soul, I want you to remember this night. And every time you stand firm for what you know is right, no matter what pressure is brought against you, I want you to think of this moment.

You can’t shut me up and you can’t shout me down. But if you have the guts to pay attention to me, I can show you how to live the life you have always loved so much in your imagination.

I wish you health, wealth, happiness — and the most scrupulous kind of honesty — for the New Year!

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