Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Talking with some of the regulars at Lily's Coffee at the Laurel Canyon Country Store Monday morning, I was led to an epiphany of sorts. You know how I love my epiphanies. We were talking about how pet philosophies seem to wear out their usefulness after a while. Obviously this isn't something that troubles philosophers who spend their lives developing their thought shenanigans, but for those of us groping through the fever of our lives, merely splashing our faces with philosophies here and there, who don't have the time or desire to dive deep into the currents of thought, for us a thought-pool like Existentialism or Stoicism, used as a handy refresher of perspective skimmed off the surface of better thinkers' deeper explorations – well, we go through these like Wet Wipes. Because we're not plumbing the depths of ideas, we're busy working and sweating and eating spare ribs or barely eating anything and getting all sloppy, and we just want something to wipe off the day's accretion of schmutz.
Whenever I think I've got the tiger by the tail, and keep swinging that tiger around, knocking obstacles out of my way, day after day, I eventually find the tiger doesn't swing the way it used to. My grip on the tail loosens out of habit, or maybe lack of mindfulness, and the tiger itself becomes emaciated and moth-eaten. Eventually I'm holding nothing by the tail. The tail itself has dissolved. The obstacles don't comply, and they're different somehow. The landscape has changed. Finding a new tiger doesn't help, can't get the same grip, it's just no good swinging tigers anymore.
As with mental constructs, so with systems and objects in the material world. After many a strike, the subtle rotation of the wrist no longer gets the bowling ball into the pocket. Musical styles begin to wear on the nerves. The car wears out and croaks a dusty death. To a hammer everything looks like nail, but everything isn't a nail. It never was. That way of seeing only stood the hammer in good stead temporarily. Approaches and equipment need to be refreshed and renewed.
Amish Tripathi is an Indian author of adventure fiction, known best for his first series of books, the Shiva Trilogy. He asserts that the initial novel, The Immortals of Meluha, began as a treatise on the nature of evil. How did the immortals of Meluha become immortal? Easy! They drank the somras, the elixir of immortality.
The somras was discovered in an earlier age, but the Meluhans figured out how to manufacture it. In manufacturing it, though, they polluted the rivers and created an underclass of monsters with whom they refused to share either their somras or the bounty being immortal brought. They also took all the good land and diverted the polluted rivers into the underclass areas. It's all this big-ass allegory, although for Amish Tripathi it's also a truth based on his Shaiva bhakti beliefs.
A cosmic principle emerges from the history of the somras. Anything, no matter how good at the beginning, becomes evil eventually. By their nature, people keep doing what once worked, over and over, even after it stops working. Like democracy in the United States. It's not something you can tweak and fix. Eventually the thing is so broken and has accumulated so much evil that it must simply be destroyed, and a new system or ambrosia or source of wisdom or energy be found.
In the Hindu stories of the sourcing of the Amrita, the immortality elixir, the Asuras, or demons, are tricked out of receiving the Amrita. So even in the original history, the somras or equivalent thereof was derived in an unjust way.
Let's say capitalism is our somras today, and the system has accumulated so much negativity as to be all but useless, except to the minority of humans amassing immense wealth. This is a simplistic analogy, but as always with these epiphanies, bear with me. Capitalism was born out of colonialism and mercantilism, and some of its early negative features were wars of conquest and slavery. Negative features which have continued to this day, it turns out. Conceived in injustice, and accumulating injustice.
But what if it was the very injustice that was the system? It certainly seems that civilization was created on the backs of slaves and workers, built on their corpses.
Historically and prehistorically, some small, arrogant class of people has always managed to figure out how to profit absurdly at the expense of everyone else. It began long before Homer sang, before Gilgamesh sought Enkidu, before the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, before the Polynesians set sail to discover their islands.
A subgroup of any larger civic entity will select a special person to declare their loyalty to, defend that person's or family's designation of specialness, and enforce it on others. And maybe there was at one time something excellent about the special person. Genghis Khan was an excellent horseman, apart from his prodigious horniness, charisma, and enthusiasm for violence. Or perhaps there were better horsemen. What he excelled at most was raising armies.
Each generation felt they had found the best measure of merit according to which they would hoist one or another person to a throne. Kings deserved the throne because God had chosen them. Popes, the same. Caliphs and Emperors had valor or skill in war. In the mercantile age the cleverest, most risk-taking, and luckiest traders and investors accumulated their merit in the form of coin.
But I think we can see from the current leadership all over the world that merit has little or nothing to do with where in the social hierarchy one finds oneself. The top people today suck at being people, much less leaders. God, they're worthless. All they do is suck up wealth and hoard it in their unconscionable oodles and scads.
From where did the notion come of rewarding meritorious people with material goods, anyway? Aren't honors enough? Isn't the adoration of the public enough? Do you really require more and better food, housing, education and medical care than someone unlovable and disinclined to swordsmanship or software design? Perhaps there was a shortage of the necessities of life at one time, but now there's not, and if there were, we're ingenious enough to fix it. I understand rewarding people with awards and affection, but cheese? Carrots? Linen? Plaster? Floorboards? How many floorboards does a nurse merit, and how many does a brain surgeon merit?
And how much education does the child of a shipping magnate merit, versus the child of a garbage collector?
I suppose, at one time, material incentives spurred on inventors and rewarded the clever, along with the undeserving but lucky. Today, though, I'm pretty sure that everyone who has a roof over their head is luckier, not better, than someone who doesn't. I don't see them meriting the roof more than the roofless, and in any case it is entirely within our power to house everyone, if people like, say, an Arizona Senator would give up 6 or 7 of his houses.
But I don't imagine for a second that we'll pry the property of those with too much from their fists. Not even their cold, dead fists. What I imagine is that we have exhausted this moronic system of often arbitrary rewards and it's really just running on fumes. Albeit a whole lot of fumes. Those who would never think to deny the hungry their right to eat, or the workers their rights to organize for better conditions, are on the verge of losing all patience with those for whom it seems so important to withhold help to the unlucky. It's just tiresome. Stop making the situation worse, that's where we'd like to start, at least. But even the middle and lower classes massacring the upper would be just a tweak to the age-old evil system of grotesque accumulation at the cost of lethal poverty. The evils of the old system always seem to be replicated in the new one.
The advent of the corporation, the sole purpose of which is to accumulate wealth, and grow to a size so inconceivable that human beings can no longer correct its destructive behavior, seems to have brought civilization to this intolerable condition, where an army of people and machines under the banner of Exxon or Cargill or Chase Bank takes commands from their abstract beast which only desires to eat and grow, regardless of the damage it does. The transnational corporation is the idea of the king of old, grown pathologically huge and mindlessly voracious.
Eventually we're just not going to do that anymore, I guess. Not take commands from the obese demons. Maybe a new reflex will be born in us from the ashes of the world we're destroying. A reflex that causes us, when we see a subgroup of us lifting some sparkly young Turk just a little higher than is reasonably justified, to put a stop to that somehow. I know, it's hard to stop a bunch of slavish jerks when they get started, especially when the chump-king they've created makes of them an aristocracy, which of course requires a police force to protect them. But if it really is possible for this system, grown so evil, to die, however violently, it will require a different set of reflexes, at the very least, to initiate something truly different in its aftermath.
Or maybe it will always be this way. Mediocre systems, created through injustice, will seem to be benefiting most people, or be advertised that way, then little by little the people they don't benefit will become more visible, the system will reveal itself to be ever more insupportable, top-heavy with wealth concentrated in a worthless class of bloated leeches who marry themselves to obese abstract shark demons and ravenous robots, that top-heaviness will swell to a hideous and comical size and explode in flames from its own gaseous inflation, and come crashing down on top of the hapless mortals below, burying us.
Then again, maybe there's always been pretty much the same level of misery ever since the world began. I'm not wedded to the system-outliving-its-usefulness idea. Maybe that idea itself has outlived its usefulness. I'm flexible. It's reality, after all. There aren't really rules. Just circumstances that change, and lives that struggle and dance and taper off to a quiet end.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!