Dreaming and Creation

The Gods Remain book cover

Dreaming

A traveler is walking in a lonely district of China. He meets an old man who offers him shelter for the night and conducts him to a palace. The palace is surrounded by acres of lakes and running streams and pavilions and gardens. The interior of the palace is polished teak and mahogany and lacquer and painted silk, and everyone in it is young and beautiful and exquisitely dressed. Everyone is happy, there is no pettiness or conflict. The men serve him delicious food and excellent wine and make brilliant conversation, the women delight him with beautiful music and song. He goes to sleep, happy and warm with wine, with a beautiful young girl in his arms. He awakens the next morning in the wet woods with his arms around a rotten log. His acquaintance of the night before had been a sage who understood magic and dreams. How many of us would want to know the truth, if only we could go on dreaming? That dream is paradise, but everything Sacred lies outside of it, in the wet woods. 1

What is this that is Sacred? Technically, I could say everything I have said in terms of "God" if I wanted to, but I absolutely do not want to. Whatever else this that is Sacred is, it is real, and as we have seen you can’t talk about anything real directly. If you try, you in fact talk about something else and something very different. Let’s run that by again. Whatever else that which is Sacred is, it is real, and so you can’t talk about it directly. When you try to talk about it directly, you necessarily begin to talk about something very different. If I use "God" poetically to express something that can’t be reduced to a cognitive idea and that I have actually perceived in some way, then I have used the word properly and perhaps appropriately. But directly, the word doesn’ mean anything at all. The "God" that people refer to is a mental image, a concept, a dream, it is something we have dreamed, something we have done. History indicates that it is terribly easy to forget that, and I stay far away from that mental image. Religious people have to be especially careful of this; things are not as they seem.

By now, you have probably realized that I have direct contact with God. I have great authority as a result, my words are an expression of God, they are a paraphrase of the Word of God. To listen to my words is in a very real sense to listen to God. All this is technically true. My words are an expression of that which is necessary for your salvation, therein lies my authority. Those who attend to my words will be saved. Those who fail to accept these words, those who oppose or contradict these words, those who ignore these words, well .... I have now joined a tradition of religious evil that stretches from modern Christian evangelists and from the Ayatollah Khomeini et al, back to Plato2 and beyond. If I saw this as self-will, I would have some defense against it. But it is not my will, but God’s Will, God’s Word, and so there is nothing to limit my compulsiveness. Things are not as they seem. "God" has become the expression of something very far from Sacred.


1 The relationship between dream and reality, or perhaps between dream and fact, has always been a major theme of Taoist thought. A story similar to this appears in Raymond Van Over’s Taoist Tales. See "A Taoist Priest." The Chinese thought that foxes had the power to create such complete illusions, and severalstories are recounted in E.T.C. Werner’s Myths and Legends of China, chapter XV, "Fox Legends."

2 For Plato’s method for dealing with thoughtcrime, see Plato, Laws, X, 907, E to 910, D.

 

An expression of what? What are these words, these forms that have somehow become so ultimately real? A virus is a string of nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA, protected by a coat of protein. When it makes contact with the proper cell, it invades that cell and transforms the cell’s nucleic acid into its own pattern. These new strings of viral nucleic acid will then form protein coats and travel to other cells, repeating the process. The invaded cells are no longer capable of functioning according to their own nature, and if they are yours then you get the flu or AIDS or whatever. This is the most basic form of eating, an alien entity transforms your substance into its own form, your nature is eliminated, you are no longer you, you become it. The history of the last few millennia, especially the history of Islam and of Christianity with its idea of Original Sin, can be theoretically explained as the reaction of people infected by a ravenous force bent on transforming human lives into its own mindless, inhuman pattern. I am not saying that such a force exists, I don’t believe that it exists, I am saying that people have acted exactly as if such a force has existed and as if they have been consumed by it. And whether or not such a force exists, such forces certainly do exist; they appear to us in the form of mental images and of talk.

Mental images, mental patterns, concepts, are terribly dangerous when we decide that they are necessary to our salvation. We consider such images or patterns not only good, but Good, Good in an ultimate sense, and we consider them Real. We consider these mental forms as being not merely necessary to life, but as life itself. And when we do that, they become real, they actually acquire a life of their own independent of our intentions. Once it has been decided that these forms are the world and are essential to our salvation, they tend to keep that value regardless of what happens or what we intend. We no longer consider the image as real, the image itself presents itself as real. We must answer to it, our thoughts and actions must be consistent with it. Reason, perception and expression must be suspended or blocked out except insofar as they reflect this form. One’s creative processes must end here. If this form is to be the ultimate, the acme of creation, it must also be the end of creation.

In practice these forms have often already been given their value somewhere in the past and are now imposed from the outside; they enter the deeper regions of our minds by in some way purporting to save us. They become a "virtual reality" which cannot be switched off and which contains no means of escape. The modern theory of the seven-day creation of the world is a good example. It is based on two different creation stories that were included in the Christian Bible. They were so included by tradition and by decree of an ecumenical council. The stories had both been included in Jewish historical literature, specifically in the Torah, at a much earlier time, much earlier than such councils.

The council was going under the assumption that the reality that we perceive at a given moment is not in fact Real, and that Reality, ultimate, timeless, universal Reality, exists in a particular form that can be determined fairly precisely by human lip. That idea had kicked around the fringes of the Hellenic world for a long time, it was popularized to an extent in Athens by Socrates and turned into a seamless and impressive form by Plato. A discouraged and defeated post-classic Greek population bought it. Intellectually, it did not begin to break apart until the Enlightenment insisted that the forms of Reality must be determined by observation rather than purely by lip.3 Anyway, these two stories were obviously included in the Jewish tradition before such councils came to be. Otherwise one of the two stories would have been eliminated, after much lip, and failure to believe in the other one would have been considered heresy. When the two stories became part of the Jewish tradition, they obviously had a different significance than they do to modern fundamentalists. Even an ecumenical council could not change the Torah4 and the discrepancies between the two stories were not weeded out but ignored.5

Our liberal, literary and existential traditions are our oldest and deepest traditions. They go back at least to the time when the proto-Greeks and the proto-Germans were part of the same cultural entity, and the latest that could have been is the Copper Age, the time of the Chorded Ware or Battle Ax culture, about 3000 to 2300 BC. It is clear that what we now call "literature" was our religion then, that we did not conceive of Reality as existing only as cognitively well-defined objects, and that we did not conceive of the Sacred as being contained within a cult that we must submit to. These few precious fragments are perhaps the only accessible and fully developed literature that still exists from the time before the "higher" religions transformed the world.


3 More on this point in "Truth in the Iliad, Truth in the Aristotelian Tradition, and Truth in the Enlightenment."

4 Christians haven’t changed very much. I understand that a recent convention of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was unable to decide whether non-Christians were admitted into Heaven andreferred the matter back to committee.

5 Genesis, I, 1, to III, 14. This point is noted on pp. 3-4 of the Oxford Annotated Bible.

 

During the time the stories became part of the Jewish tradition, the Jews had something more like a religious literature than either they or the Christians were to have later. "In the beginning was the Word,"6 the Word rather than anything that exists in nature, that is perceivable. As we have seen Mideastern deities existed apart from nature, and anything that exists apart from nature can be thought of as a word. This Word may represent a purely cognitive approach, but the Word has no specific form, it is "Yahweh,""I am."7 The Word was never allowed to take any kind of visual form, and there were inhibitions even about speaking it. It cannot be defined or encompassed or directly expressed in a specific way. It can be identified only indirectly as the Word that Abraham knew.8 All Egyptian and other Mideastern religion was primarily cognitive and this formless Word did not engender poetry or anything like it, but still it did engender and it remained creative for a long time. It had room for great diversity, especially during the time of Christ, and it had room for individuals with unique visions responding directly to the Word and answerable to nothing else. It is not surprising that those who were not satisfied with Greco-Roman culture flocked to it. But by the third and fourth centuries AD the Word had in effect taken a very definite form, that tendency had always been there as well, to say the least, and the Word became quite easy to say and act out directly, and creation became some thing that had happened long, long ago. And since the Word could now be clearly defined, only one version of a story could be consistent with it. This happened to the entire Mediterranean world, Plato and the post-classic Greeks were a crucial part of this process.

I mentioned that the Jewish religion, like other Mideastern religions, was based on cognitive ideas. Naturally these were cognitive ideas that people felt very emotional about... cognition and emotion. But there is no poetry in any of this, poetry involves perception.

People who insist that the Word has one particular form and no other are compelled to insist that everyone in the world believe it as well, especially their immediate world and especially those who are most important to them. (The Jews never bothered the gentiles in this way, simply because they didn’ feel that the gentiles counted for anything.) And further, such people are compelled to insist that all thoughts and observations inconsistent with such forms, such as the image of the world being created in seven twenty-four hour days, are invalid and probably evil. Because if most or even part of the world believes this to be just one more image rather than a reality, then the dream they are trying to live in, the image that means their salvation begins to blur. It cannot be an image or a thought, it must be the world. Once one sees that a dream is only a dream, one can never again live in it, at least not in that particular form; there is no going back. So this image, this form must be the only possible form. The only way we can keep from waking up is to eliminate creation forever, both in ourselves and in the world at large. Creation must be something that happened somewhere else, long ago. It happened then, and it froze forever in this form, this image. Creation within ourselves can only be eliminated when we lose contact with everything that is Sacred. Our substance, our life must be frozen into a particular form or image. Creation comes from the wisdom of the serpent, and creation must die before such forms can live.


6 Gospel of John, I, 1.

7 Exodus, III, 14.

8 Exodus, III, 6.

 

In the case of religious doctrine, the image is imposed from the outside. In the case of personal self-image, that is of vanity, the image grows in a sense from within. Both work in about the same way. Our effective power extends only so far, beyond that Edge lies our Fate, our mortality and everything we are vulnerable to. The purpose of both vanity and religion is to eliminate that Edge, to be omnipotent and to merge our identities with something that supposedly is. We are human only insofar as we are in contact with the Edge, and in the cases of both vanity and religion in the Judeo–Christian–Islamic tradition, being inhuman is the main point.

Bad things are dangerous, good things are more dangerous, ultimately Good things can kill the soul. The "God inspired" words I have written could quite easily devour me. The concept of God is potentially the most evil thing that exists.

Everything we can think of or imagine is an image imagined by ourselves. Everything we can imagine is a dream, but there is that which is not a dream. Something is. I know that because I can hear it. It is not anything that I imagine or anything that I want. It is a song, it has no form. It is better not to call it God, it is better to listen.

Whenever I tell the truth, I am not alone. Mental images that might be formed from that do not matter very much. What matters is to listen. If I did speak in terms of "God" I would say, "Whatever you believe in isn’t God." But it’s better not to talk that way at all, it’s better to listen and be willing to listen. To put that in a Judaic context: as soon as you say the word"God" you have created something. And if you "believe in" that something, then you believe in and worship your own or someone else’s creation. It’s better not to take words that seriously, it’s better to listen.

These images which I have made which you have been reading for the last two hundred- odd pages are not in any sense "God," they are something I have made. That would include any concept of God. Whether I have made them well or less well depends on my ability and on my effort of will. I could have expressed the same essential thing in entirely different images or in some non-verbal way, I could have said all this with a guitar—electric preferably. Another person might perceive the same thing and say it better. For example, another person might interpret Achilleus, Oidipous and Antigone in terms of sacrifice and see them from a different angle and possibly better than I have here. If Achilleus hadn’t given his life, how could creation be? Without him it would be an empty dream.9 Sacrifice was one of the two fundamental aspects of all Indo-European religion, the other was poetry. Yet this hypothetical person would be expressing essentially what I have expressed here. Homo sapiens is distinguished from all other lifeforms by its awesome power to dream. Everything we do, we do essentially by dreaming. I have made these images, they are an expression of my will and my power to dream. But to be human is not only to dream but to listen. These images I have made are not an attempt to define the world within their own boundaries, but to express something that is not an image, not a dream, not my will or my ego or what I want, but something outside all that, and something that matters far more.

We mentioned in "The Approach" that to understand the Gods is to discriminate between fantasy and reality. Like our Chinese friend, we have forgotten that all of the things we think of as good and desirable are mental images and nothing more, we have become convinced that the products of our minds are more real than that which touches us. And we wonder dully why love is no longer possible. Or are we too dead even to wonder?

We worship a fetish, an icon, a saint, a book, a guru, a God, a group identity, a personal identity, a relationship, a good job, a social position, an image that someone has of us, a large sum of money, a bottle of wine, a vial of crack, or some other version of the Good. We call this thing "real," we conceive of it as more real and significant than anything in the world. In the meantime there is something that is, that is Sacred, and our purpose in worshipping the Good, the mental image that is the Good, is to keep the Sacred as far away as possible. We dwell in our versions of the Good because the Good cannot hurt us or touch us deeply in any way. The hallmark of true evil is its lack of content, its shallowness. It is above all trivial.10 The touch of the Gods is inevitably painful, it has nothing to do with anyone’s idea of paradise. I promised at the beginning of the book that I would try to give some light to that side of our lives which is not meaningless. The Gods are not Good, they are what our lives are worth.


9 The same is true of Bima (pp 64-65). This is a very, very old insight, and it has appeared in many different forms. The self-sacrifice of the priest-king on behalf of the people makes the crops and the herds and the women bear abundantly, sacrifice allows creation to continue. On another level, by sacrificing ourselves, that is our egos, we live, and the empty dream made by our egos fades away. That is what happened to Achilleus. When myriads of gentiles flocked to the universalist Jewish sect founded by Jesus, they brought this insight with them, and it is still to be found within Christianity. However, it is much older and more universal than any one cult.

10 For the best portrayal of evil I have ever heard, see Colin M. Turnbull’s The Mountain People.

***

We have been looking at a very negative, perverted kind of belief in abstractions or mental images. We will now note another kind of belief. I got the following story from a Japanese film called "The Sound of the Trolley." I don’t know who the director was; I think the film was made sometime during the sixties.

A man went to see the local pharmacist after the pharmacist had closed his shop. They sat and talked in the closed shop. The man said that his wife and his sons had died years ago; he had built a sort of life for himself since then, but now his business had failed and his mistress had left and he had no more motions to go through. Nothing was left but senseless pain. He asked the pharmacist to give him some poison.

The pharmacist said that he had some very good poison in stock, and he had the antidote too. He said the poison was painless, one simply became drowsy and fell into an endless, peaceful sleep. He said the poison’s effects began after about fifteen minutes.

The man took the poison, and the two chatted while they waited for the drowsiness to begin. The pharmacist said, "Tell me, do you still think of your wife and your sons?" The man said, "Yes, every night I see them in my dreams."

The pharmacist said, "But after you are gone, no one will think about them and they’ll die."

The man began screaming, tearing through the rows of bottles on the shelves, scattering everything, and screaming for the antidote.

The image of the wife and sons did not acquire its value in its capacity as an image, it acquired its value from that which it expressed. The image the man worshipped was of something that at that point did not exist, yet it was worth more than either life or death. Nothing was present but an image and a man. But if the wife and sons were an image, the man was not. This man’s belief was free from greed and from the desire for salvation and from the desire to escape pain, and obviously from vanity, and it was completely human. Images mean what they mean. The image that we call "God" is evil if it is an expression of evil, and it is Holy if it is an expression of evil’s opposite. For example I think that for Dostoyevsky, "God" would be an expression of evil’s opposite. People generally get what they want. My own observation has been that if one’s purpose in worshipping God or any other image is to become a theoretically impressive and powerful object, rather than a human being, then that purpose will be fulfilled.

Humanists will do well to remember that religions are not just a mistake in logic or a question of overactive emotions or purely a question of perversion, as we have discussed here, they are also something on the order of the man’s belief in his wife and his sons. Half of everyone in Europe did not suddenly rise up and throw away their lives on a crusade simply because they were confused or evil or because they needed money. Yes, all that was part of it, but the other part of it was something like what the man felt for his wife and sons. It is quite true that the various religions of the Judeo-Christian- Islamic tradition are virtual realities that contain no mechanism for awakening or escape, but they have human beings inside them and that to some extent redeems them. Why isn’t it possible to believe in what’s here without making a bloody cult out of it? It’s like not being able to approach someone we are in love with without making up a lot of stupid stories and acting like idiots. Why can’t we just be ourselves? Because we think that this that we love is going to save us and make everything right and make our lives perfect. And our love becomes a loveless dream.

Creation

Obviously anything that goes through our minds, anything we dream, becomes a virtual reality when we regard it as more important than the reason we dreamed it, but these virtual realities are only really dangerous to the extent that they become compulsive and infective. Any kind of cult or general cult thinking is like this, if you belong to it, if you join it, if you believe in it, if you obey its demands, if you accept it as the lens through which the world is properly viewed, if it reduces conflicts to a limited and predetermined set of questions with predetermined answers, if it involves mistrust and fear of the world outside its defined boundaries and the conviction that the world should either place itself inside those boundaries or acknowledge the superiority of that which is within them, then to the degree that these things are true, it has possessed you, deprived you of a substantial portion of your humanity and your birthright and prevented you from becoming a grown-up, a fully developed human being. A great many thought patterns have this compulsive and infective aspect to a greater or lesser extent, a partial list would include: communism, feminism, racism, "family values" orientation, "politically correct" orientations, philosophy (which has been a cult right from the beginning), and probably all academic disciplines, the obvious things that are small and marginal enough to be called cults by the rest of the world (but to their members these cults are the world, just like the broader entities seem from within), and all the major world religions that have arisen during and since the 5th century BC, especially in the Mideast, the list goes on.

The new computer-generated virtual realities are fairly safe, no one is confused about what they are and they can be turned off. The older virtual realities are much, much more dangerous. I have portrayed them here as dreams of our own creation that got out of hand, and one would like to believe that. But all we really know is that they appear to us in the form of patterns of thought and perspectives, many religions claim that they are in fact the manifestation of an alien inhuman entity. For example, Christian fundamentalist evangelists describe the process of infection by such an entity in rather chilling language. If they are right and we were attacked not by our own dreams but by something alien, then such attacks became universal a long time ago. The war is over, the monsters won, and no one got out alive. We aren’t just a story that can be made up in one way or in a different way depending on what one finds most satisfying. We have a particular nature, and this isn’t it. There is such a thing as human life and human experience, and this isn’ it—these are the remains.

But this possession, which exists to some degree in all of us, is not complete, at least not so far. For most people only the self-conscious parts of the mind become severely infected, the rest seems to remain relatively natural. This means two things: First, we need the "higher" self-conscious parts of our minds and we don’t have them. Where we should have knowledge and direction and vision we have compulsive alien patterns that have nothing to do with who we really are and how we really feel, and a great deal of whose purpose is to suppress such humanity as we might detect in ourselves and others. And we argue violently for beliefs we do not believe and die without hesitation for things we think we are supposed to care about. Our self-conscious thoughts tend to mean nothing, and the more self-conscious and deliberate they are the less they mean. It doesn’t have to be this way. Second, underneath everything we think we are supposed to be and do, we tend to remain human. And in moments, especially moments at some distance from the rules, relatively private moments, moments of shock or crisis, moments that are very out of the ordinary, our humanity comes out and in all sorts of ways.

When Richard the Lionheart was king,
when Robin Hood lived free,
when cathedrals rose high like songs in the sky,
hushed builders built silently,
when farmers and knights marched east toward the light,
to give their lives to a word,
an acrobat leaped for the crowd in the street,
their money he procured.
Now the streets are mean in the country of France,
and the crowds in winter grow thin,
and whores and thieves are poor company,
when you’ve lost your youth and your kin.

So he entered a cloister and took a vow,
he gave his life to God.
But the life of the monks was copying,
and Holy tracts and tomes,
and saying the hours and learning the prayers,
and speaking never a word.
The tumbler could not read nor write,
his fellow monks were silent.
How could he learn? he didn’t learn,
the empty halls he walked,
Till he found himself at midnight hour,
in Our Lady’s chapel alone,
Our Lady stood in her Holy niche,
her smile of painted stone.

Before Our Lady the tumbler knelt,
what had he to give?
The monks they thought him lower than dirt,
an artist of the street.
He could not pray, he could not read,
as every good monk does.
An artist is good for nothing it’s true,
but that was who he was.
He squared himself, he coiled his legs,
and then he left the ground.
A forward flip, a landing of grace,
tense for another bound.
Push off into space, turn and dive back,
then spring from the pew like a cat.
Flip backward now, the ceiling so near,
how many turns was that?
Higher he flew than ever before,
not that he saw or knew.
A watcher might note that this night he did,
things he couldn’t do.

But watcher there was, another monk
came into the chapel.
Horror and sacrilege, thought the good man,
and to the abbot he flew.
The abbot came, and the righteous monk,
they saw the tumbler prone.
He could do no more, he lay on the floor,
his clothes were soaked with sweat.
Then they saw a thing, the worthy twain,
they would not soon forget.

When Richard the Lionheart was king,
when Robin Hood lived free,
when cathedrals rose high like songs in the sky,
hushed builders built silently,
when farmers and knights marched east toward the light,
to give their lives to a word,
when children left home to save God all alone,
hopeless but never absurd,
an eternal smile lit Our Lady’s face,
down she stepped from her Holy place,
a cloth in her hand of softest lace,
to cleanse the tumbler’s dripping face.

We find a more modern miracle story in the film, Field of Dreams. That story is fairly complicated and every detail of it is mythic, but the core of it is this: An ex-hippie becomes a corn farmer in the Midwest. He begins to sense something he doesn’t understand, and his response to this something is to build a fully-equipped baseball field in the middle of the corn. He learns something as a result, but the ballfield is expensive and takes up a lot of cornland. He can no longer pay his bills, and the bank is about to take the farm. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he realizes that people are going to come to his farm from all over the country, and like himself they will act without really knowing why, they will wander around in his work of art and play a little baseball and give him a little money before they leave. They will sense something just as he did.

Miracle stories like these are about things that would happen if the world made sense and had something to do with our feelings. But in fact the world makes little sense, especially the part of it we have constructed ourselves. The statue stayed in its niche and the acrobat was beaten and humiliated and perhaps worse, most of the crusaders died useless deaths in failed or even dishonorable campaigns, the children who tried to save God were enslaved and sodomized, and of course the people of the real contemporary America were busy trying to Get What They Want and Feel Good About Themselves and were incapable of responding to anything outside that, and the people didn’t come, and the farmer who had given his life was ruined.

The best that is in us is likely to be futile and is quite likely to destroy us, and even if it doesn’t completely ruin us it gets in the way of what we want and what those around us want. That which is purest and most decent and most human in us has no advantage for us, which may mean that it will eventually become extinct. But that hasn’t happened yet, not altogether, and until then it doesn’t matter if this thing inside us helps us or not; all that matters is that it’s there. A "realistic" story ending with the acrobat’s humiliation would truthfully tell us what the world is but it wouldn’t tell us who the acrobat is, the miracle tells us that. Even if the world around us makes no sense and can’t tell us who we are, myths and miracles can.

***

The problem that acrobats have, unless they are fortunate enough to live inside myths, is that they get in the way of what everyone wants. They don’t mean to, it’s just that being human has nothing to do with what anyone wants, since what everyone wants is necessarily directed towards something inhuman. Sometimes large numbers of people respond in this human way all at the same time, in the Athenian classic age they more or less kept it going for something like a century. This is at least partially because this response permeated and defined an independent political unit that managed to remain independent. Certainly all kinds of things happened in classical Athens, but as we have noted throughout this book, the defining cultural ideal of Athens and the center of Athenian religion was a question of acknowledging and honoring rather than suppressing those moments in which we manage to be human. For the classical Athenians, as for the acrobat, this response was to the world beyond our virtual world of objects and directly to the real world that we perceive outside ourselves, the source of all our forms and objects. The Athenians simply called the perceivable world "the Gods." To put it one way: They were thinking of something besides themselves, something existential. We haven’t responded this way in large numbers since the sixties, the Athenians stopped responding this way during the Peloponnesian War.

The Peloponnesian War had the same effect on Athenian culture that World War I had on European culture, except to a much, much greater degree. The war began with the death of nearly a third of the Athenian population in a plague, especially among the middle class, especially among those who were inflexible about caring for their relatives. That was the first year, the war continued for twenty-six years longer and ended with the destruction of two Athenian armies at Syracuse and Aigospotamoi, each army comprising a traumatically large proportion of the Athenian population, followed by a long siege of Athens involving mass starvation. The population turnover in itself was a major factor in cultural transformation. World War I may have killed the flower of European youth, but the Peloponnesian war killed the flower, the leaves, the stem and a good part of the root of Athens.

The process actually started in the middle of the fifth century with the loss of two Athenian citizen-armies in Egypt, the Peloponnesian War simply intensified it. Our concepts of history, philosophy, art, drama, literature—every aspect of Western civilization is the result of a spiritual devastation so great as to be beyond comprehension. When we look at the effect of the much milder World War I on the twentieth century, it is not difficult to understand why the Peloponnesian War resulted in the denial of perceivable reality and a complete reliance on mathematical/logical thought. The question then arises, "How then could a great civilization be founded on such infertility?" The answer is that what happened was not so great and nothing was "founded," limits were set beyond which people lacked the ability to pass. Remember that Europe has been a relative backwater until the last few centuries, and only became revitalized as its traditional civilization began to break apart. Once it is decided that intellect is cognitive and is limited to cognition and that all valid thought is cognitive, it is no longer possible to reach one’s perceptions—the bridge has been burnt. One can then recognize only virtual realities as being valid. One can move from one artificial reality to another, but one cannot reach the real world without adding other intellectual tools besides cognition to one’s kit. After this decision about cognition was made, Western Civilization made advances only at those times when non-cognitive elements were introduced to it. It would seem that the vitality of a civilization or a culture or even an individual personality is a function of its contact with the perceivable world.

This response to the perceivable world, this response that is life itself, is illegal, and is illegal to varying degrees and through various processes throughout the civilized world. This response, whether in a single individual or in a larger number of individuals, will necessarily cause conflict. That is because it is to something other than the dreams people want and live in, and because most people spend most of their strength most of the time suppressing anything that might threaten the reality of these dreams, and thereby suppressing anything human.

And we’ve all seen this response end, we who watched the sixties end. People start worrying too much about what they want, for all kinds of reasons, and they become something different, and then they start worrying about their identities and Feeling Good About Themselves and so forth, and they become something even more different, and to do that they invent and adopt a world that is more satisfying than this one, a cult, broadly, that has no room for anything human. And so it is we ourselves who see to it that being human is the ultimate crime, and that mediocrity is rigidly enforced, and that this human response becomes less and less compatible with survival. It is we, the uninspired, the possessed, the graceless, the shallow, the empty and the mediocre who are the enemies of humanity.

***

Mr. Sefton, what exactly is this that you’ve written? Is it scholarship or poetry or religion or ...?

Death is about to touch you. It is often thought of as a formless spirit that approaches you at the proper time and snuffs out your life. Carlos Castaneda simply called it "Death,"11 the Greeks called it the "Ker." But the Ker cannot touch you yet. Before it touches you, you must dance. You don’t dance the restaurants you have eaten in, the television programs you have watched, the things you have bought, the fantasies you have found comforting, the people you have managed to impress. All of that is nothing. There is something inside your bones, that something is not what you want but what you are, and that is what you will dance.

And that is in fact our present condition, we are born when Death appears. Death is about to touch us, and we do nothing, we pretend it is only a dream. Or we dance. If only Death would go away so we wouldn’t have to dance this terrible painful dance, so we wouldn’t have to be who we are, so we wouldn’t have to be in love. That will happen soon enough. Death will touch us and Death will disappear, and our light will go out. We have the alternative of living inside our dreams, inside all the trivial little things that we want, and of meaning nothing. Or we can dance; that’s what this is.


11 Carlos Castañedea, A Separate Reality, Chapter 13, and Journey to Ixlan, Chapter 13.

***

Someday we may all become behaviorists or religious fundamentalists or both or maybe just dedicated yuppies. If we are to be Saved we must become something like that, we must become objects and reduce the world around us to a multitude of objects. This humanity of ours doesn’t protect us in any way or get us anything that we want. But there is a counterforce to that emptiness, and we can hear it in the old songs, the old Song really, because it is always the same. We don’t have the power to be OK, but we have the power to be human. If we choose to be human, if we are willing to pay the price, then we have the power to be human and nothing has the power to stop us. And that is from one of the Songs that are the source of all knowledge and all creation. I had always thought that nothingness was the oldest of all powers and would win in the end. It is winning now. But the Gods may be older still, and the Gods remain.