Being and Becoming

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Despite a rising immunity to the artificiality of binaries, being and becoming are co-arising epistemologies—ways of knowing the world–one pre-dating the Enlightenment and the other arising from it, erecting what we might casually regard as yet another binary. As if being is an artificially stabilized way of interpreting the world, while becoming is a more fluid and honest representation of reality (as if the word reality connotes unassailable objectivity). And even by imagining in this way, I might be guilty of reinforcing the paradigm I wish to upset.

Yet critique is foundational, as long as we don’t get too attached. If this is honest critique then, it must be a dance away from carelessly interpreting new information to fit into what we are already predisposed to believe to make ourselves comfortable and toward new information undermining what we believe. These remarks may arise from within a humanist paradigm, but they are also an attempt to diverge even further from it.

These two ways of experiencing the world, Being and Becoming, either by assuming human centrality which doesn’t exist or by de-centralizing humanity and recovering a capacity to experience our deep entanglement with all of life, are not so much mutually exclusive as they are a continuum. They imply each other and cannot exist independently of one another. One has to Be or at least comprehend stability to conceptualize Becoming. And vice versa. The order of nature is neither one nor the other so much as each emerging as possibilities within an event cloud, becoming apparent depending on where one is standing. 

The core human propensity to imagine a better future comes to mind. There’s a theory floating around that says habitual human focus on the future is driving our demise, though it seems a little simplistic to assume this drive was born with the concepts of modernity or the philosophy of perpetual growth. I’m not assuming this drive to improve was born in the Enlightenment, but that it’s much older, if not intrinsic. Regardless, we can acknowledge religion having something to do with propagating the need to expand, to fulfill some spiritual (if not exclusively economic) imperative, to aspire to a moral ideal, all for the sake of aligning closer to divinity. 

It’s intrinsic to all the dominant religions of the world: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Islam. We—well, most of us– transform our acts in the world to bring ourselves closer to God, to create a world in which all beings are liberated from suffering. Tikkun Olam.

Is this not the thread of history, the continuous striving or at least the persistent expectation that we can always improve, that we will become something we were not already—or perhaps we’ll uncover something about ourselves that was previously hidden? We climb an endless stairway, building our personal monasteries of achievement, all for the sake of reaching a remote ideal. These religious principles, aspiring to something greater than ourselves, coming closer to God, pre-suppose we are not good enough already.

A categorization of whiteness and western culture as a limited, exclusive establishment of stability, of Being, contrasts with older, polytheistic cultures of Becoming, in which we sense the degree of entanglement as a continuous processional emergence of rhizomatic relationships shifting, upsetting one another rhythmically, cyclically in an ongoing parade of exchange and revelation.

Perhaps Christianity is most closely aligned with the perpetual growth principle of capitalism in the sense that perpetual expansion and improvement drive behavior and innovation. In both, standing still equals death….or hell. If there is a sense of Being, of being stuck in an ideology of separation, exclusion and stagnation, it becomes a snapshot taken from the perspective of a particular time. The Enlightened vision of modernity is concretized and sanctified as a prop symbolizing our aspiration to being the most important species, to our aspiration to divinity and permanence.

Capitalism is the economic representation of religious dogma. By imagining our individual and unique and exclusive relationship with a monotheistic divinity and eternity, we align ourselves with God while excluding ourselves from the world. The world is transformed into the (cracked—and dying) mirror of our ascension. When that reference is expanded, the option and opportunity to see one’s life from a wider view of becoming is more accessible. But we still have to ask, becoming what?

I recall a principle driven home to me many years ago in the course of my own spiritual pursuits; namely, the paradox (ironically, referring to ‘enlightenment’) of “being there” vs “getting there.” Deliberately living this paradox means acknowledging the interpenetrating realities of both Being (there) and Becoming (getting there) as constant and shifting influences in our journey.

The definition of being I’m talking about regards reality as an assemblage including everything. Boundaries merely delineate ephemeral functional identities. “There is no doing that is not a doing-with.”(Bayo Akomolafe) The sole intrinsic driving force of all “events” is a vast openness and spontaneity. This state of being is the opposite of stable, the opposite of a reified reality or anything remotely referencing stasis or exclusivity. At this end of the continuum, Othering is an illusion. All binaries are false. The characteristics of Being (in the world) are openness, inclusivity, spontaneity and oneness. These attributes “de-territorialize the binary” quite succinctly.

“The myth of liberal humanist autonomy dissociates us from these pre-personal, more-than-individual forces and conditions around us,” blinding us to the deeply ingrained continuous and reflexive delineation of the world into subject and object, while comprehending reality as an assemblage in constant flux from which nothing is excluded is the impossible conceptual leap away from liberal humanism we are trying to take, while at the same time realizing the futility of that trying.

Thus, individually we perpetually live on the edge between aspiration and arrival. At the cultural level, we are stuck in the story of modernity, whiteness, and remain vulnerable to inadvertently imposing values of modernity on the transformational process we imagine or yearn to traverse by adopting a destination. The destination is the obstacle. The journey to Becoming is without destination, without resolution. We can never fully arrive. That is what “being there” means, arriving at a non-existent destination. Instead, we mutate, leaping from language toward a somatic molting unrelated to materiality as we currently know it. Mutation is a discovery of an as yet unknown cellular knowing, existing outside any conventional definition of transformation. An algorithm yet to be written. There is no way there. There is no “getting there.” There is only there. 

One comment

  1. Gary:

    I wrote a great comment to your essay, then I got caught up in a WordPress sign-in nightmare. I’m not sure it went through. Would you check and let me know?

    Excellent articulation, as usual.




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