Lies Trotsky Told Me

December 16th, 2005  |  Published in old and busted

Ed has some good thoughts on mindfulness:

> Thinking about it later, I think I could sum up the central change for me in reading “mindfulness” in my understanding of the world as something like this—

I had always, my whole life, thought of the world as something which had an inherent structure, and you came to understand that structure, you could then interact with it competently. Most typically, I would understand it to be structured as a machine whose parts interacted according to the laws of physics and other sciences.

> I was always looking for the One True Theory which would help me understand things. Apparently there are other people susceptible to the same bug, because a lot of people are selling One True Theories. For example, check out the book How Nature Works by Per Bak. He says that everything we see everywhere is a matter of “self-organized criticality,” and history is bunk, because the causality which history traces is all unimportant; the bigger organizing principle is self-organized criticality. Oh, economics is bunk too, and so on and so forth.

> […]

> Is Mindfulness a One True Theory? Well… if it is, there’s not much to it. It doesn’t tell you how the world works, it just asks you to think about the world in a variety of ways. I guess if it makes a theoretical claim about the world, it is that the world is not actually amenable to summing up in theoretical claims.

> Anyway, the change in my thinking upon reading The Power of Mindful Learning was mainly that I started taking seriously the old saw about “The Map is Not The Territory.”

Tangentially, this hits on why I came, eventually, to really mistrust ideologues of most stripes … or at least the “true believers” in assorted ideologically driven movements.

You know how the cliffhanger at the end of the second Matrix movie involved Neo suddenly manifesting “powers” in the “real world”? Based on the rules the Wachowskis had established in interviews, that should have been a tip-off that being freed from the Matrix was just one step in the process of reestablishing true perception, the same way walking into the service hallways running behind all the stores in the mall doesn’t mean you’ve left the mall … just its consumer-facing shiny side.

I don’t want to do a whole screenplay treatment, but imagine if the third movie showed that being “freed” from the Matrix was actually a process of giving a truly enslaved mind a shocking but easily swallowed metaphor (you used to live in a tub of pink goo … now you live in a dirty subbasement with other hippies) designed to ease the captive mind out into objective reality (where maybe humans long ago merged into some sort of machine group consciousness).

Ideology has the power to confuse on that level. You walk out of the false perceptions supplied by the dominant ideology (which we call “common sense” or “human nature” or describe as being “just how things are”) and you enter a sort of second perceptual layer where, because it’s not what you’ve seen in the past, you assume what you now perceive as “reality” to be true. But it’s not, necessarily. It’s just another framework striving to establish maximum determinism in an entropic world. It might clear some things up for you (“the walls are actually ugly concrete under the shiny paint,” or “the water for that lovely fountain comes from these rusty and slime-covered pipes down here in the subbasement where shoppers aren’t supposed to go”).

It feels empowering, and to the extent it might clarify issues left poorly addressed by the dominant ideology/perceptual scheme, it might actually shorten some paths to a deeper understanding of the world. But it’s also a trap … just another construct. Some people spend their entire lives moving from ideological framework to ideological framework, intellectual service corridor to intellectual service corridor, never finding the door to the outside … always pulling aside one curtain to find another and another.

A friend of mine in movement politics once said to me with disgust “Mike … you’re never going to get past the last curtain … we’ve got the tools we need to understand the world and this society well enough and make some meaningful changes.”

On a practical level, that may be true: Sometimes we have to decide that “good enough” will work for what we want. On an applied level, he continues to be right, too: Changes in my life, new experiences, seductive reasoners and persuasive mentors have a way of making each curtain seem like the last until it’s not anymore.

On another level, my friend was saying “pick your jailer, walk into the cell, and hand the key out through the bars … you’re done.” That doesn’t sound right, either.

Is there a moment of finally perceiving objective truth? I have my doubts, though I imagine there are some people further along the way than the rest of us. When I imagine what it would take to get further along my own path, the recurring visual theme I have is one of relaxed and open awareness … and Bruce Lee thumping me on the forehead.

“Don’t look at the finger!”

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