Here are two questions for you that I cannot satisfactorily answer.
- Is the world getting better or worse since this time last year?
- How comfortable are you with your own input into either its improvement or worsening?
From outside the US we have watched repeated incidents of what appear to be racially-motivated police brutality with alarm. Then we witnessed the national response with... well, pleasure is obviously the wrong word. So is pride. 'Good feelings'? Anyway, the widescale outrage shows us the America we all know is somewhere underneath this shit. Then it's back to alarm at the inability to publicly acknowledge very obvious agent provocateur activity (maybe because it happens every single time there is a protest in London) designed to split or polarise, and thus neuter, the discourse. Then concern at this same national discourse's difficulty in shining a light on two things at once: the persistence of racism in law enforcement being only the first one. The other one being the full militarisation of the police force and the hypergrowth of petty fascist laws. London's 'stop and search' laws were disproportionately used on black kids. London's police force doesn't even carry guns, though. It makes it very difficult to murder a kid with emotional difficulties playing in the park. (We prefer to murder them in custody, unfortunately.)
It’s not just cigarette tax laws that can lead to the death of those the police seek to arrest. It’s every law. Libertarians argue that we have far too many laws, and the Garner case offers evidence that they’re right. I often tell my students that there will never be a perfect technology of law enforcement, and therefore it is unavoidable that there will be situations where police err on the side of too much violence rather than too little. Better training won’t lead to perfection. But fewer laws would mean fewer opportunities for official violence to get out of hand.
The legal scholar Douglas Husak, in his excellent 2009 book “Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law,” points out that federal law alone includes more than 3,000 crimes, fewer than half of which found in the Federal Criminal Code. The rest are scattered through other statutes. A citizen who wants to abide by the law has no quick and easy way to find out what the law actually is -- a violation of the traditional principle that the state cannot punish without fair notice.
And now there is that torture report. Or the fact that Britain has been run for decades by a paedophile ring that kills at least some of its victims and will -I guarantee you this- continue to get away with it. Each day it seems there are more horrors heaped upon more horrors. The historically ignorant criticism of gnosticism that it takes a dim view of physical reality looks more and more like the happy clappy 'the universe is pure love' white privilege that it probably is. If this is what you think a dimension running on love looks like then remind me never to fall in love with you.
Question two, then. What did you do? Did you march against something? The cynic will tell you that if marching accomplished anything they would ban it. (The paranoiac will tell you that's what they want you to think.) Did you share a hashtag? Did you go to share a hashtag and then realise the inherent absurdity in the belief that it will actually contribute anything? Hashtags are well-designed to amplify real-time journalism but they should probably come with a mental health warning: if you retweet this too much you will start believing you are accomplishing something beyond widening out the polarised liberal echo chamber. Chris Rock:
What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?
Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.
In their political views?
Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.
When did you start to notice this?
About eight years ago. Probably a couple of tours ago. It was just like, This is not as much fun as it used to be. I remember talking to George Carlin before he died and him saying the exact same thing.
As we saw in one of the more popular posts of this year, it is increasingly difficult to verbally work through challenging concepts or situations. I expect I have already offended people by suggesting that racially disproportionate policing -which is certainly an actual, appalling thing- is also about the rise of an overarmed police state and the explosion of fascist laws it kills to enforce.
Whatever are we to do?
This is going to sound like cold comfort until you experience it. It is going to sound like running away from your problems until you try it. But there is a part of you -your innermost part- that cannot be hurt, damaged or stopped by the unrelenting horrors of the world. It is a diamond; bright and impervious. Just a few minutes in meditation and you begin to discern its presence, its location. Once found it can be grown, it can be lit up like a thousand christmases: so bright you cannot look upon it.
This core sits at the centre of a universe that -if it isn't actually a dream- behaves according to the same rules. A recent episode of a podcast I was on earlier this year, the Cult of Nick, has a great interview with lucid dream researcher, David Jay Brown. Computer games, it turns out, reduce your capacity to lucid dream. The implications of what this says about our reality are impressive. We appear to struggle to associate our consciousness with more than one virtual world. The last time I gamed with any regularity was in college. It was Carnivores: Ice Age and my dreams over the summer holiday all looked like this. My non-waking mind was 'trapped' in a virtual universe I did not build but chose to occupy.
One of Brown's suggestions for improving your lucid dreaming capacity is to regularly ask yourself throughout the day "am I dreaming?" The reasoning behind this is lucid dreams are so real that you regularly mistake them for waking life. I appear to be built in the complete opposite way. I need only ask myself two or three times "am I dreaming?" before the whole edifice of waking reality starts to melt like a cartoon version of an acid trip. I become less certain that I am awake, rather than more. Part of this is likely due to the fact that I only remember to do this in already mildly dissociative states: sitting on the tube with headphones and sunglasses. But there is no getting around the realisation that the world seems particularly flimsy when compared to that experience of your inner core.
Due to a combination of lingering manflu and experimenting with my alternate health regime, I dreamed of Jerusalem on Wednesday. When I say I dreamed of Jerusalem, I was there. And there was either 'real' Jerusalem in the late 1960s or a sort of Blakean 'eternal, astral Jerusalem'. This is not a place I have ever dreamed of and there appears to be no current magical reasons for doing so unless the words "I am Moses thy prophet" count. (And if that were the case I would have been dreaming of Jerusalem for years.) The dream was lucid in that I was aware I was dreaming and also aware this experience was in some sense 'real'. It didn't carry the same 'realness' as waking life. If anything it appeared more solid. The city was 'lighter' and infused with a sort of golden glow. Perhaps this is a seasonal thing? The place certainly gets mentioned in enough carols. Regardless, it was profound and -in the way of so much profundity- objectively pointless.
Thinking on this post over the weekend, I briefly looked into whether there has been a meaning change to the words of the title during Seder now that the state of Israel actually exists. Technically you can immediately follow up the words "next year in Jerusalem" with "actually why not now? Pack your bags, I'll book some flights." As some of you know, I continue to wait for my minority Jewishness to manifest in some small way in my magical practice and it appears I will continue to wait. (I figure if this was 'the sign' it would have actually happened closer to Seder night.) The notion of an 'astral' Jerusalem as a model of a perfect city ideal is largely Christian. For some very obvious historic reasons, the Jewish reference during Seder was/is definitely to the physical place... not some half-assed metaphoric one that, for instance, hermeticists tried to turn London into after the Great Fire. Accept no substitutes, eh?
Now it appears to have accumulated additional layers of hope, of promise. Whilst the ideal remains tied to physical Jerusalem, the intent also expresses a Jerusalem of peace, a sincere desire to personally do better, to hope that next year the world we bring into being will be better. It folds in the reality of today's world with an earnest desire to improve it.
I dreamed of Jerusalem on Wednesday night. I listened to the lucid dreaming podcast on the tube on Thursday morning, questions of reality floating through my mind. This whole thing is a construct. Do not give in to fear, do not give in to disgust. Find your core, realise it is imperishable and unstoppable, and from within it build the City of God.