Questioning of the status quo, anti-authoritarian, angry perhaps, undoubtedly rebellious, critical rather than accepting of what is. Complex analyses and algorithms are deployed to compare shared psychological traits, relationships to authority figures, level of socio-economic privilege, and even birth order.
If any of this
attributive, long-form speculation is correct, I may be more of an
anomaly than my grade school report cards alluded.
I wanted to be a lawyer or some such technocratic, middling career that would satisfy my immigrant parents' desire for white acceptance and simultaneously uphold the logic of the system that put the whole house of cards together.
I grew up in a poor part
of the relatively affluent city of Vancouver, Canada. I maintained
mediocrity with the occasional hints of rebelliousness that would be
produced in any sentient being living in the Canadian suburbs.
Even if I had read fragments, I couldn't fully understand them in my state of pre-consciousness. It was, in fact, the influence of my mother's spiritual values that seeded my initial morality. The influence of her brand of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, self-cultivated within me, even though I explicitly rejected Islam from a young age.
I started to adopt some
of its principles as the basis for my own spiritual journey, both
rejecting and accepting its tenets at my discretion, while
incorporating other modalities including Buddhism, Taosim, Ayurveda,
After all, every religion especially the esoteric traditions are, at their core, a moral philosophy.
The illusion of reason and the animalistic drive for self-interest that are the main features of late-stage capitalism challenged my spiritual values.
This tension awakened my political sensibilities.
I started to understand
that one's politics are simply their morality put into action. I
could no longer not act.
I did not self-select
into the dual camp of the mystical anarchist, both in the hopes of
maintaining my political friends who would be embarrassed by such a
'new age' sentiment and my spiritual community that would see me as
divisive, judgmental, and living in 'non-acceptance.'
Despite what my Leftist sensibilities tell me, I know that simply changing the rules of the economic and political system will not be enough.
And despite my spiritual disposition and what many 'spiritual gurus' propose, I do not believe that shifts in our individual consciousness, even at mass scale, will change the outcomes of our material reality in the absence of a superstructural overhaul that more closely resembles revolution than reform.
Concentrating power at
the top of the pyramid will unequivocally lead to the capture of the
democratic process and a tyranny of plutocratic rule.
The highest values in anarchism are the simultaneous upholding of freedom and equality. The traditional Right values freedom over all else (e.g., they champion property rights and fight against redistributive taxes), or at least they value the rhetoric of freedom. 1
And the traditional Left values equality over freedom (e.g., they are willing to bear the costs of societal levelers and safety nets such as healthcare, welfare, etc. at the expense of some personal freedom).
But for anarchists, both of these conditions must apply.
True freedom is equality of choice and equality of opportunity for everyone to thrive in his or her own way. It has nothing to do with private property or ownership per se.
If we can decide on our own arrangements for how to live, the majority of us will not be subjected to the greed and wealth extraction of a tiny elite and, therefore, will not need to reduce our freedom or equality to compensate for this.
This fundamental belief
in the dignity of the human soul, the desire for collective
liberation, the intuitive understanding of a shared consciousness,
and the faith in a human creativity greater than any one individual
are in many ways all recognitions of a greater 'source' in each of
'No gods, no masters' as the famous dictum goes.
Anarchists also believe
in the conscious individual as the unit of free societies. This
requires sovereign women and men who understand the structure of
power, consent to rules they themselves have legitimized, and
consciously choose to live within their own communities according to
their shared principles and values.
It requires active and mindful consent. It requires the infrastructure for direct democracy. None of us ever consented to the way things are in the current system. We couldn't - not only because it was built and calcified before we were born, but also because it requires learning and interest and patience and humility to study the vast power structures we have today.
Anarchism offers a relationship to power that is grounded and consensual, which means power can only be so big and so distant. Power too easily and rapidly grows out of conceptual and practical reach left to its own devices.
Anarchism believes in
keeping group power under a shared, transparent, and democratic
'system' rather than putting society under the boot of a small group
of elites and experts.
If this is the case,
I have either tiptoed around these questions or I have gone straight into the bluff.
I have laid out the play-by-play policy plan that gave them confidence that there is, indeed, a better way. But these answers are illusory salves. I was answering the question with the wrong level of consciousness, as E.F. Schumacher would say.
We are asking questions
on the material realm that, in fact, require spiritual answers.
But the intellectual life of modern man has been hijacked by an extreme form of Enlightenment logic, a deep rational materialism that focuses only on the observable and measurable at the cost of everything else.
It is a scientism that
believes that if something cannot be measured, it cannot exist.
There has been a daylight hijacking, a coup d'état, of the political agenda of defined reality.
As Slavoj Žižek reminds us, ideology is always a background condition - we are accessing and referencing ideological principles in every act and utterance whether we recognize it not.
Most of the
superstructures we are subjected to, from our education platforms to
our political systems, from the institution of marriage to who is
considered a societal keeper of knowledge, are relics of a
colonialist, capitalist, rationalist mindset.
None of the false gods, including,
...and other organs of the status quo ever address these first principles - although they offer us illusory answers that we are asked to obey.
They serve as both our siren and our lullaby. They present us with critical concerns and then pacify us with their agenda-ridden propaganda.
We become willing carriers of their pre-programmed memes.
For scientific materialists, the very word signifies an unacceptable negative:
At its simplest level, mysticism is the belief that our material reality goes beyond the 'observable' phenomena around us.
It recognizes that the
world of three dimensions and five senses is limited to exactly
those confines. We can therefore never truly understand all of the
the universe with our rational
As a mystic, I view all of the world's scientific knowledge as the minimal level of our understanding - it is the floor of our collective knowledge as opposed to the ceiling.
Every day, brilliant scientists from around the world add new observations to our constantly growing nest of accumulated wisdom.
But as recent findings in
string theory, quantum mechanics, and chaos theory have proven to
us, the more we discover, the more we realize how little
we truly understand.
Everything we learn from the scientific realm further enhances and deepens the magical aspects of the universe.
Even the atoms we are made of were forged from hydrogen that exploded long before our solar system was born. We all have the equivalent of a teaspoon of stardust inside of us from the Big Bang.
The universe expanded at the perfect rate from its inception. If it grew 0.01% faster, matter would never have been able to take form. If it grew 0.01% slower, the universe would have collapsed on itself. 4
These are just facets of
an incomprehensible, diffractive, and queer reality filled with
majestic mysteries, the bounds of which are beautifully unknowable
to us right now, and perhaps always will be.
These thoughts and facts further our awe for our Cosmos, our biosphere, and our fellow species. They impel the mystics and the anarchists among us to create a better world that is commensurate to this unfathomable, inexplicable, divine experience of the life we each have.
Having a mystical worldview does not abdicate us from rigor or from politics. Many of the most spiritually enlightened people I know will say things like,
Politics is just about power.
As we discussed earlier, ideology, and therefore politics, is always present, whether we recognize it or not.
Ignoring it doesn't remove our responsibility; it contributes to the status quo, working against the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us.
As Howard Zinn says,
We must be conscious and critical of our current economic and political structures - the operating system, if you will. We must recognize that this system is dependent on the misery and exploitation of other human beings.
As Dieter Duhm reminds us,
Capitalism is simply an extension of colonialism, slavery, patriarchy, imperialism, and deep racism.
For those of us who have benefited from this system, we must be cognizant of the moral implications.
In a lecture at Carnegie Council in 2012 the political philosopher Thomas Pogge said,
We must also be aware that the butchery of capitalism is not a historical relic.
The system is dependent on the destructive extraction of fossil fuels that is irreversibly devastating the only planet we have.
Its hunger for more - for everything - is insatiable, which forces us to constantly work more hours for additional 'growth' and 'wealth' that the majority of us will never see.
These are not 'bugs' in the system, to use coder language, but rather the core feature, the very logic of the system itself. For every dollar of income created in the US since 2008, 93 cents goes to the top 1%. 6
Therefore, growth creates inequality from its inception. Climate change is not manmade in the traditional sense that we think about it - climate change is capital made.
Every dollar of wealth created heats up our planet because we have an extractives and fossil fuel-based economy.
Capitalism turns natural resources into commodities in order to attract and generate ever more capital. It locks us into path dependency where we can never take a risk of slowing growth.
We even subsidize our own destruction by giving the ultimate agents and benefactors of this production and consumption - corporations - more subsidies and more power.
Neoliberalism is based on three tenets.
First, it defines our relationship to each other through a competitive lens (am I better, richer, etc.?), which inevitably leads to ordering society through rigid hierarchies. It equates material wealth with life success, which is equated to virtue (e.g., rich people are good, poor people are bad - i.e., re-interpreting poverty as a moral failing).
And it holds the
individual is the primary unit of power, an idea best captured by
Margaret Thatcher's famous quip that there is no such thing as
society, just individuals and families.
This directly leads to the extraction of wealth from the poor to the rich. Since our jobs and our identities are offshoots of this system, we are incapable of breaking free of the logic. We have all had to create our own stories in order to cope within the system.
People at the World Bank or USAID or the Gates Foundation think they're helping the poor (and at a micro-level maybe they are) and people in ad agencies think they're being creative (and at a micro level maybe they are), but they are, in fact, ensuring that the murky waters of the status quo stay toxic.
What Hannah Arendt
once called the banality of evil has transmuted into the
banality of good.
Since the very lifeblood
of modern capitalism is the energy derived from material
consumption, it is inevitable that those who single-mindedly and
'successfully' desire, adore, and glorify consumption to the point
of gluttony will fit neatly and effortlessly into the seats of
We are quick to point out
the misery accumulated by communism or fascism. But capitalism,
especially neoliberal capitalism, is a form of distributed fascism.
What a few despotic elites once did to a massive population, most do
to each other now, in the hopes of accumulating more wealth, status
and hedonistic pleasure.
If we want to reconnect with spiritual truths, the first essential challenge is to disconnect just enough from the economic machinery and its incessant propaganda to recognize neoliberalism for what it is and what it does to us.
How else can our political organizing have the power and to know the importance of our spiritual wisdom?
But if we look at the arc
of history from its beginning, the dominant mode is extinction
and collapse of species and civilizations. As
evolutionary anthropologists remind us, 99% of every species that
has ever existed is now extinct.
Depending on one's ideology, we are given three types of answers or, more accurately, three levels of answers.
The truth is that we need to create change at all three levels simultaneously, and given the state of climate change and the destruction of the biosphere, we must operate at a rate that creates interdependent, positive feedback loops.
If we simply try to change the superstructure, we will spend our precious resources in an inefficient battle with well-funded tyrants (they do print money in private mints after all).
This war of attrition will frustrate, criminalize, and dishearten us, will lead to burnout, and worse, we will miss the infinite moments of opportunity that surround us.
If we only focus at the community level, we risk contributing to the banality of good and ensuring that the status quo stays in place.
We will only create
temporary bubbles of moral superiority while our species and fellow
planetary co-inhabitants are forced into extinction all around us.
We are who we are through others. Beyond the quantum truth of this, highlighted by Einstein when he said that the idea of the separate self is just "a kind of optical delusion of consciousness," there is also the sociological truth of our entanglement. 8
We are inherently social creatures.
As the old motto of the American abolitionists goes,
Spiritual narcissism will
not save us. In fact, the gilded threads of self-evolution negate
purpose before the meditation starts.
They are not ontological states to be punted to a future self.
The actions define who we are and even how we see ourselves. We now know from behavioral psychology that we always act first and then retroactively create our identities from the fabric of those actions.
We are tomorrow what we do today.
...are not separate, discrete issues.
They are interdependent
and interwoven. Ours is a temporary society built on the quicksand
of fossil fuels, human misery, and the destruction of our biosphere.
This change will require
revolution at all three levels simultaneously.
A lot of the common sense 'conventional wisdom' that has built up has proven to be incorrect. We're only as selfish or as generous as we allow ourselves to be.
In The Original Affluent Society, anthropologist Marshal Salins showed how hunter-gatherers worked less than us, were highly cooperative and egalitarian, and even consumed more calories per day than modern humans.
Thomas Hobbes had
it wrong - we don't have to fight and struggle to survive.
The first decision must
be made within. We must all decide what role we want to enact. Then
we must set our own intentions and look to activate those around us.
Accessing non-ordinary states through meditation or yoga or psychedelics can be beneficial avenues to break from the spell of the dominant Matrix ideology. 9
Until we can become free thinkers once more, how will we gain the independence to break the cycle of complicity?
As Hakim Bey poetically states,
After embodying this realized self, the second stage is to organize among family, friends, and the community around us with the aim of liberation and delegitimizing the logic of the operating system in any way possible.
We can refuse to participate in ways small and large,
Whatever the avenue for radical change, all that matters is that,
Many of us will choose to create alternative communities to live in.
These are growing all around the world including,
All of these can create
containers or even just sparks for the new consciousness.
Creating new stories and the infrastructure to carry the utopian seeds for the New Earth will allow us not only to materially protect our species from a dramatically changing climate, but will allow us to live in spiritual accordance with our values.
Dieter Duhm confidently reminds us that this,
Perhaps this process will be a part of our spiritual ascension.
It could be that the collapse of neoliberal capitalism and the healing of our planet and species from the grips of destructive growth, greed, and self-annihilation is a planetary initiatory process that will catalyze the human species to evolve.
This will require a new type of politics and a new type of spirituality.
We need activists motivated by social justice and empathy but with the sense of wonder and self-confidence of a mystic - the balance that comes from a deep spiritual practice and grounding.
Those who can break through the prison walls of Cartesian dualism and find the magic and mystery in our collective struggle.
Those people who can create what the Russian novelist Chyngyz Aitamtov calls the 'divine spark,' a resonance that has both love and power to operate at all three levels,
I immediately went back to my mother's faith in the magic of the unknown, her confidence that every atom was the embodiment of God, and her totalizing ability to trust in a wisdom greater than our own.
I can leave you with no better words than those of Guillaume Apollinaire that she read to me all those years ago:
"Come to the edge, he said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
He pushed them and they flew."