Sacred Activism

Maybe this is the moment I’ve been waiting for without realizing it–the approaching object in my rear view mirror that’s much closer than it looks.

I’ve spent time in the past couple of years in the company of others mulling the limits of language, not merely the occasional futility in finding words for experience, but to feel through the subtle and tenacious bonds by which language as a function of consciousness, shapes and expresses default beliefs about the world. I require not merely new words, but a path beyond limiting structures. This is a descent into the substrate, a journey into the interstices of the existential. Haha. That journey invites a new consciousness, new thinking….or…perhaps no thinking. Whatever it is, it’s part of a critical decolonization process underway as we reconnect with self, other and the earth.

That phrase, “self, other and the earth,” is a core principle in a recent collaboration between Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker titled, “Savage Grace.” Their definition of decolonization tracks Derrick Jenson very closely, about which he writes:

Decolonization is the process of breaking your identity with and loyalty to this culture–industrial capitalism, and more broadly civilization–and remembering your identification with an loyalty to the real physical world…It means seeing the harm the dominant culture does to other cultures and to the planet….It means recognizing that the luxuries of the dominant culture do not come free, but rather are paid for by other humans, by non-humans….It means recognizing that we do not live in a democracy, but rather a corporate plutocracy, a government by, for and of corporations. It means remembering that the real world is more important than this social system. Without a real world we don’t have a social system.

Derrick Jenson

The colonizing power of language is also a manifest tool of conquest and domination. This has been most true of English in particular, but also French, Spanish and Portuguese. And that’s only in the past four hundred years. The dominant narrative of the human story has been so deeply buried in language it’s hardly noticed. Along the way, as has been broadly noted elsewhere, our relationship to the natural world and to death have been denied, pushed away and/or buried. Along the way, a relentless barrage of linguistic bullets has mowed down nearly every alternative world view, redirecting (and destroying) every un-dammed river of shamanic consciousness standing in its way. The bill for this error, and all the hubris accompanying it, is coming due.

Just as surely as those once colonized still struggle against the multiplicities of zombie neocolonialism, such as disaster capitalism, the rest of the world remains in the grip of neocolonial ideology couched in the narrative of mass culture, the interlocution of establishment media, organized religion, finance and the multi-national juggernaut of extractive capital perpetuating its myth of “progress,” and “growth.” In subtle and not so subtle ways, we are constantly told, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no alternative.” The great extinction unfolding before us is noted and shrugged off.

To be sure, slipping the inertia of the neural substrate is no simple task. This is also not a new idea and there is no shortage of places to start. Just take the term “sacred activism,” for example. It’s been an evolving topic for decades. The meaning of these two words has been under perpetual construction and deconstruction, constantly shifting depending on whom you ask. Books are written about it. It’s jargon for some, a source of inspiration for others. It’s a guideline, a goal, a handy slogan whose meaning is debated, abused, misunderstood and celebrated.

A long time ago (haha), back in the 70s, one could be involved in politics OR spirituality. The two could not coexist in the same person. There was no bridge. You could either be on the front lines of “resistance” or back in your hutch sitting silently, doing “nothing.” Or so we thought. The traditional activist pitted herself against the inertia of the Industrial Growth Society. The spiritualist dropped out. Since then, the journey into politics AND spirituality (like the converging journey of spirituality and physics) has been leading to the same quantum location, which means everywhere, but mostly into creative institutions marrying the two.

Spirituality and politics were two separate pursuits. We could not envision acting simultaneously in both realms. The term itself embodies a powerful dualistic view of reality, a linguistic field from which we now seek escape velocity. Nevertheless, the confrontational nature of traditional activism and the perpetuation of that dualism eventually felt like a dead end. Activism isolated from its sacred roots became part of the problem, not part of the solution. The realization that all politics is personal and that the personal is political worked its way deeper into awareness, sending us on long journeys of “personal growth,” which not only ignited deepening inquiries into spirituality, but more complex inquiries into the politics of interactive dynamics.

Gradually, we come to know that “politics” is rooted far more deeply than we ever imagined, far beneath the silted and nutrient-poor everyday channels of discursive thought, all the way into the primary beliefs we hold about reality such as the (un)conscious division between subject and object, I and It, Human and Nature. Along the way, those “beliefs” have been informed by, supported by and also undermined by science and philosophy. What are we to think?

Language is the carrier of our separation. Language will never overcome its self-perpetuating confusion and grasp the singularity of sacred activism without inventing new words for it. I now have difficulty saying these two words together. They have become baggage from the Old Story. The words no longer make sense together because, ultimately, (finally?) what they describe are mirror images of that singularity, as if I’m seeing confusion as the inextricable four bodies of Buddha. There is no longer any daylight between them. No distinction between the essential meaning of either.  And there’s no time left to even debate the issue.

The only way one can fully understand what they mean is to realize, spoken together, they are redundant. They have become the Tao or the Two Truths (which are really One). The very fact that we must still refer to something called “sacred activism” is testament to how far we have yet to go in eliminating the artificial boundary between the realities they embody together.

How can true activism, the pursuit of justice, not be rooted in the sacred unity of self, other and earth? How can sacred practices, seeking and restoring that Unity, not become the pursuit of justice? How can spiritual practice not also become the soul of activism? This is an evolution. Living your activism becomes the materialization of your practice. There is no longer any way to leave the cushion, the ritual, the river of shamanic consciousness behind. Nor is there any way to say that unleashing the colonized and controlled rivers of my consciousness and continuously informing and purifying my intentions is not the pursuit of justice. There is no other way. We can no longer even speak of activism without understanding that now the only true activism arises from the sacred heart of the earth, the soul of nature, the consciousness of the planet as Self, acting within the ethos of trans-corporeality, the only matrix in which we have ever lived.

The cognitive discontinuity introduced during the Neolithic was the beginning of straightening the channels of our perception and… placing the dams of hierarchical thought along these new, linear constrictions. The monoliths of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare were imbedded in these straightened channels to control the flow even further. Perceptual stagnation set in – not only unnoticed for what it was, but pursued as a charismatic ideal of perfection – becoming the sine qua non of the human species….Awareness had been civilized…The rivers [of perception] had been channeled, the flow multiply dammed.

The celebration of pluralities, the seeing of one/ness in all/ness and all/ness in one/ness, and the renewal of ex-stasis intrinsic to the previous two hundred thousand years of human cognition was deemed unnecessary. What was necessary was to straighten ever more cognitive channels, build more cognitive dams. Those populations of humans who persisted in the primal, unregulated cycle of cognition and ecstasy were driven out, marginalized or killed.

John Salskov-Iverson

The evolution parallel to a personal experience of overflowing the artificial channeling of cognition is in transforming the collective dynamics of this journey into wholeness. The agency we have imagined as humans, manifest in a broken relationship with the natural world, is a false version of our true condition.

In increasing numbers and in diverse places, this awakening is propagating itself, manifesting personal versions of an incipient mass spiritual breakthrough. We are igniting nothing less than global shamanic network–prophesied by Tibetan Bonpo shamans–by manifesting the true meaning of sacred activism, exhibiting conscious attention in ways that dissolve the collective mind control we call the liberal order of the Western world.

We are bringing the dervish mentality, the Shambhala warrior mentality–the energy of transformation, making peace with the demons inside while curing instead of killing outside, taking the cushion with them into every “being” while turning every moment on the cushion into “doing” justice. The tools of the true sacred justice warrior are, as Andrew Harvey would say, none other than those of the divine Shakti goddesses of Hinduism: Kali, the Dancer of destruction; Parvati, the messenger of love and devotion; Durga the Invincible; and Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity who restores us to the true  source of all bounty, the earth itself.

To channel energies such as these is to learn to stand in the eye of the storm, surrounded by profound spiritual and moral corruption, economic and ecological injustice with unwavering courage and integrity, performing mass healing ceremony, restoring eco-guardianship with unyielding dignity, fueled by illuminated compassion.

Wages for Facebook?

This page, Wages for Facebook, appeared in my feed the other day. Strange. Besides being entirely anonymous, no links, no credits, nothing to indicate its source, in blaring all-caps, it gives the reader less freedom from information than Facebook itself, scrolling away beyond my control, feeding me the prescribed dose of rhetoric embedded hip deep in rigid ideology. Is it art? Or what?

Turns out this scrolling iPad page was part of an art exhibit at UC-San Diego, an installation called How Are We Feeling Today  mounted in part by Lauren Ptak, a curator and faculty member at Parsons. She had been incubating it for a year, discussing it with students. After all that effort, how did she manage to be so off target?

OK. So the concept is interesting. What Facebook is extracting from us is unpaid labor. And we should be compensated. Marxism 101. It’s unclear whether she expects actual payment, merely a change in consciousness or some in-kind contribution.

What this polemic gets wrong is 1) the presumption that we have no choice and 2) that being surveilled is equivalent to unpaid labor. Perhaps, yes, we were duped to believe that signing on (clocking in?) meant we would get something of value in return, something more than friends and likes and community, the chance to create a personal “brand” or gain a following.

Well, yes, we do get something in return, but it’s not necessarily so obvious what that is, especially if all we do is hang out in a limited circle of intermittent activity and believe it’s all about “social presence.” In time, however, it has become increasingly clear what we are getting in return. What we are getting is distorted, bizarre, violent, myth-busting and soul-gutting. Ptak suggests we come to our senses and demand something more real in return, like….what, money?

What we are getting is hollowed out. Facebook has become an open-pit mine, an offshore oil-rig, a clear-cut forest. Our interiors, our sacred internal wilderness, is being harvested and sold off just as surely as Utah’s Grand Escalante is being cut up for oil leases. And the worst part of it is that we are doing this willingly. If what we give Facebook is labor, then we are all unpaid sub-contractors….the new gig economy, with no benefits.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO RECOGNIZE THAT WHEN WE SPEAK OF FACEBOOK WE ARE NOT SPEAKING OF A JOB AS OTHER JOBS, BUT WE ARE SPEAKING OF THE MOST PERVASIVE MANIPULATION, THE MOST SUBTLE AND MYSTIFIED VIOLENCE THAT CAPITALISM HAS RECENTLY PERPETRATED AGAINST US.

In a normal world and in micro circumstances, it might have been true and acceptable that Facebook is selling a chance to be seen and possibly create community. Maybe it even started with that lofty intention and looked that way for some years. But then something happened. It’s still a space in which advocacy can flourish (if not immediately smothered by trolls and bots), but since it went public, it became the toy of venture capitalists and the revenue mechanisms (algorithms to harvest your personal information) became ever more precise and surgically invasive, bulldozing everything in their way.

Now is not normal. Facebook has become both one of the reasons now is not normal and the perfect reflection of that abnormality. Facebook is no more normal than the culture in which it is immersed and reflects/exhibits all the aberrations we now see everywhere we look, including and especially the cracking of the social order. Thanks to Trump, the corporate state and an irresponsible media, the socio-political space is fast becoming a playground for the rich with no rules and no ethical boundaries. Who benefits from that?

OK, there is a certain “aha” about this polemic. But it’s stuck in the perception that we are workers and that our participation and value is “labor.” Something crucial is being missed here. To Facebook we are not labor. What is being extracted from us has no value until it is repackaged and sold back to us. And if this factor/perspective is fully considered, it forces a redefinition of what Ptak means when she says “wages.”

That missing view is extractive capitalism, which, as we see everywhere, always externalizes as much of the real costs of extraction as possible. The “cost” to me and to the culture (that Facebook is not paying) of my participation in Facebook and Facebook’s continued success in convincing me that it’s something I need, is incalculable, particularly now as “news” is weaponized, as “truth,” the 4th Amendment and democracy circle the drain. Ptak makes no reference to this view. The only figure associated with the art installation at UC-San Diego who mentions extraction is the curator herself, Michelle Hyun.

If I, a sentient being, were to attempt a calculation of the cost to me and to the larger culture perpetrated by the extraction of my personal preferences for anything, the cost that is being externalized, massaged, traded and sold back to me, even if it could be calculated and returned as compensation, will never right the socio-political ecosystem because those wages do not address or promote any recovery from what Facebook takes.

To suggest that the true cost to me of the extraction and trading of my personal preferences can be equalized in the form of some imaginary direct payment, as wagesforfacebook suggests, would indeed be a hit to Facebook’s bottom line. A truer representation of a “repayment” for trading in my personal information would be some as yet undefined reparation–such as agency, for example–that could RESTORE what has been lost, rebuild what is broken, which is not material and cannot be converted into money. The agency of a clearcut forest cannot be restored by showering it with money, any more than the social contract or ethical standards or responsible governance can be restored the same way. Democracy cannot be rebuilt from the ground up by handing out money or merely by declining to be someone else’s strip mine.

If FB were to survive in an enlightened world, it would have to replow its profits into the promotion of restorative cultural activity that would be completely free of, and an antidote to, the primary extractive nature of its business model: a new economy– which is a reference to the original meaning of the word economy, oikos, care of the home. In other words, Facebook would have to be directly undermining its own business model with one hand while harvesting your personal data with the other. How likely is that?

But in this sense, Facebook is no different from CNN in that it has abdicated a crucial responsibility of journalism and offloaded the task (and cost) of differentiating between truth and falsehood to the viewer. It is no different from Exxon-Mobil in the sense that it has many corporate faces and stories, ones that play to the masses, others that play to investors and still others that play to legislators. As long as the externalized costs continue, a corporate system that knows no national boundaries, has no allegiance to anything but profit and remains rigidly opaque is not taking care of the planet or the culture.

They are extracting an immeasurably valuable resource, exploiting it, trading in it, and dumping the consequences on someone else. This will continue until there is nothing left to take, unless we do something about it. Like, for starters, ending online anonymity, restoring and preserving actual privacy controls, permitting a complete opt-out of personal data sharing, fostering true competition in social media and bringing transparency and regulation to the data traders.