If we were to make a three dimensional model of contemporary thinking, we would get something like the urban core of New York City, lots of rectilinear positive and negative space, and predictable circulation patterns through these spaces.. Into this conceptual geography, however, come we at the freehoodship, Parkour novice expert novices, projecting ourselves “Deleuze-style” into spaces only the liberating (not liberated) imagination can access, risking whole-heartedly beyond failure or success on the plane of immanence.
In Volker Harlan’s interview with the artist Joseph Beuys, Beuys refers to our habit of “retinal seeing” not only as it relates to visual art, but also to the rest of the world, including each other. According to Beuys, this sort of seeing is superficial, passive, and cold. He insists that only a more active, multi-sensory, and participatory mode of sensing reality, one that involves the imagination, will keep us from plummeting further into alienating and unhealthy social forms. In my experience, the outcome of protracted retinal seeing is apathy. We are called upon, therefore, to take up a practice of cultivating a more conscious and creative engagement with our lives and our communities, treating each as great art projects, what Beuys calls “social sculpture.” The freehoodship is my attempt at social sculpture.
From the title of this blog one not familiar with my writing and the ethos of the freehoodship would be little surprised if I were now to launch into some patriotic USA chanting disguised has reasoned argument; I am not going to do this. Like Thoreau, I think patriotism or nationalism of any sort is “a maggot in the head,” and thank you very much, I already have enough of those in that very location. My maggots are not of the patriotism sort, though they are patriotic, pledging allegiance to my double or shadow as if it were the corpse they feed on, and I think it is. Anyway, these maggots, my maggots, your maggots, go by other names, such as “guilt,” “shame,” “hubris,” and “depression.” They have voices so much like our own — they are highly skilled at doing voice impressions — that we don’t realize, often for many years, that we are not them, that even the trusted voice of our conscience is frequently not even our own, but rather, one of those maggots. But if one is interested in freedom, true human freedom where the motive is a pure love of the deed, then one first begrudgingly loves and then fully loves the wise teachings of these maggots, funny as that sounds. Indeed, if rightly employed, these maggots will eat the dead shit out of your head. And trust me, that’s a good thing!
I was reading Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” today with a class of 12th graders when we came upon the following lines: “And there is no trade or employment but the young man [or woman -- Whitman wouldn't object] following it may become a hero.” What he said made me immediately think of the previous blog post in which I speak about my reaction to all the contemporary talk about and attraction to heroes, both real and fictional. I would like to think that Whitman’s take on heroism would be much like my own in that he would have contagious confidence in every human beings’ capacity for leading a heroic life, yet he would not just acquiesce to that particularly popular view — which I’m about to exaggerate, but not much — that seeks to bolster self-esteem by giving a laurel wreath to anyone who simply falls out of bed on time. Can’t we have heroic potential as well as accountability and personal responsibility for everyone? Yes, we can all be heroes, but we can all be lame too. The real ideal is to make the ideal real, which is not like injecting the ideal into the real like botox. This has everything to do with heroism, if you’re wondering.
I’m a bit ambivalent about the use of the word “hero” on this website and in modern culture generally. For some reason, a part of me cringes nearly every time I hear it. This reaction may be because I think we use the term too easily, as though we’ve all been infected with the “everyone-gets-a-trophy” virus. I hope it’s not because I have unacknowledged elitist tendencies that reserve hero status for only the few — the few whose qualities are a lot like my own, only far better. The part of me that is beyond cringing or not cringing, however, wants to live in a world where to be a hero takes great dedication and sacrifice, and where, at the same time, people realize they have what it takes to dedicate themselves to and sacrifice themselves for what they most love. In this world there will be no need for generic superheroes with generic superpowers — the ability to fly, x-ray visions, etc. – for we will each of us realize and cultivate our uniqueness and ipseity to heroic degrees. I imagine a space in this world for a hero whose superpower is the ability to transform suffering into compassion with a heart made powerful by its infinite weakness. She would wear no mask.
For a long time I’ve thought of myself as an interventionist artist or artist provocateur (on a very small scale, mind you), but I’ve come to realize lately that my approach, my purpose, and my values are less about needling and provoking and more about inviting and evoking — a more subtle sort of intervention, one that hopes to appeal to human freedom and moral intuition, one that hopes to access the superconscious (the higher self) as opposed to trigger the subconscious (the lower self). Though a more subtle approach, I would suggest that it is more radical and iconoclastic than the traditional provocateur’s approach. I say this because the mindset of the traditional provocateur has much in common with a mindset that found purchase in the West during the scientific revolution. This mindset was founded on a vision of nature, and later of all of reality, including the human, as essentially mechanistic, meaning everything could be manipulated if one could just find the right lever. We have come to design pesticides, animal testing practices, psychotropic drugs, and even social policy based on this mechanistic model. At the freehoodship, however, we seek to establish other, ethically committed, models of reality, yet models that are conscious, so to speak, of their own obsolescence, of their own limitations. We realize that models ought to be the training wheels, not the bicycle.
A poem I wrote that expresses the freehoodship ethos better perhaps than I could do in prose:
2012 Epistle of the Virtual Apostle
I’m apocalyptic tonight, Lord, though supine in
civilization’s pastiche below a pasteurized Milky Way
wondering how many back-up generators are there
keeping this light pollution between me and
the stars and
for that matter, how
many back-up generators were there all week
keeping the limp handshake and the half-hug
between me and other people? Maybe we
are, as lactation experts
claim, not trailing
clouds of glory, but former babies wired
for such future skin to skin contact.
And maybe I’m wired likewise, a dim
bulb livewire, to consider the consequences of
that metaphor. Or maybe not, Lord, because
consider means “with the stars” and tonight,
as I’ve stated, I can’t see them
from any of the seven thousand parking
Sunrise Mall. Live apocalyptic update:
just Venus visible here in the dark
nether regions by Sears where it appears
out-of-work meth-head contractors stripped the copper wire
and got away, discovering another
to the penultimate rock bottom. Live apocalyptic
update number two: coincidence or serendipity that
there exist as many false bottoms as
generators, darkness being a man-made light like
a 20th Century
comb-over distracting as beautiful
rainbows on flies attracted to dog crap
in all occupied parks, Tai Chi or
no Tai Chi. In one of those
parks, Lord, the
one where Saturdays I
offer free handshake lessons, I recently dissed
my friend’s prophesy. I recant my dis. She
prophesized that we’ll naturally conceive of everyone
in 2012 as our stunt-doubles: when
an off-color joke in sensitive company, there’ll
be a stunt-double to do your smile.
When some brainwashed jihadist enters a burning
mosque and rescues the 1% innocent bastard
son of the 99% evil enemy
cleric, he’s also your stunt-double. And when
you’re doing your “reverse Borat” thing, those
interventions that seek to appeal to the
highest in people, you’re
being a stunt-double
for all those politicians so bent on
pandering. Anyway, Lord, if she were here
tonight and delivered, cross-legged on her neoprene
yoga mat, the third live apocalyptic
she’d say those meth-head contractors, running with
hastily spooled spools of copper, fearing the
searchlight of the police chopper, are my
stunt-doubles in that they’re helping me consider
a brief history of truth
Once truth was something gods had made.
A feather, we’re told, was all it weighed.
Later, truth was explained with waves and particles
That made up stacks of peer-reviewed articles.
Then truth became so damn individual,
Our brash egotism an effect vestigial.
Now we yearn for truth that isn’t a thing
But all of us finally listening.
In fulfilling mission #20 I had a moment last year of synchronicity or grace involving a dime (see blog entry: “the mystery of the penny made clear by the dime”). I mention this because the dime has recently returned and once again as an explicit emissary of some supersensible implicate order. Interestingly enough, the dime returned because I removed it from a commencement address I gave earlier this month for the graduating seniors at Sacramento Waldorf. Up until the day before the graduation, I had planned on ending my address with the story of the dime as I related it in the earlier blog; I was using the dime story as an example of how moments of grace can intercede in one’s life. The day before the graduation, however, a growing unease with this particular story grew strong enough that I could no longer ignore it. I was originally uneasy because the story seemed too much about me, too much tooting my own horn. On this day, however, I was more uneasy about how the dime fit in the story — it seemed fishy to me. It only took a few minutes of research for me to realize that my unease had not been without merit: I discovered in an urban dictionary that a “dime” is a term for a small amount of drugs, a shortening of the expression “dime bag.” Of course it made me wonder whether the dime I gave the woman on Market street was in fact what she wanted — maybe for her my giving her an actual dime seemed like an insult. The dime story certainly revealed my naivete.
But here the story grows more complicated and the context widens. The senior class for whom I was giving the address had lost one of their classmates to suicide early in their senior year. Needless to say, their senior year had not been easy and the school community had struggled to make sense of the tragedy. I tried as best I could to take all of this into account as I composed my commencement address; I didn’t want it to turn a blind eye to suffering. I even asked for help in writing the address from Kyle (the young man who had killed himself) and from the rest of the supersensible implicate order. Still, the address did not come easy.
Thankfully, when I actually gave the address, it went well — removing the dime had been the right choice. Immediately after I gave it, however, I was speaking to my friend Sharon about that very dime and how and why I had removed it, when she stopped me and proceeded to kneel down and pick up a dime from underneath the chair that Kyle’s father had been sitting in. She smiled, shook her head, and gave me the dime.
A high school English classroom, that bastion of standard usage and hackneyed “man versus nature” hermeneutics, is not often confused with a cutting edge research institute. And yet, in my fifteen years of high school English teaching, I have felt myself to be at the cutting edge, privy to some of the freshest phenomena in language. At the moment, the most interesting of these phenomena has been the gradual replacement of the term “based on” by “based off of” or “based off” in not only student speech, but in student writing as well. The first few times I heard or read this new usage at the beginning of the new millennium, I figured these particular students had merely misremembered the common turn of phrase, not in itself very unusual. However, as I encountered the new usage more and more I realized that it could not be dismissed as some mysterious and semi-annoying anomaly. Though I still, like any self-respecting English teacher, correct this “nonstandard” diction in essays, I have come to believe that I am witnessing a moment in the evolution of language, an evolution that could, in the not so distant future, render “based on” an archaic and nonstandard form of “based off of.” I have also come to believe that this change is a symptom of a more fundamental shift or reorientation of consciousness, as grandiose as that might sound. As some of you may know, I am not alone in considering changes in language indicative of changes in consciousness. Owen Barfield and Jean Gebser, among others, have shown with iconoclastic brilliance the fruitfulness of this line of research. Much if not all of what I will say in this essay is based on and based off of to their work.
Notice that I didn’t say based on or based off of their work because I don’t consider “based off of” just another way of saying “based on,” which is to say, I don’t see them as synonyms. For instance, when my students declare that their work is “based off of” a particular source, my sense is that they are implying a relationship between themselves and the source that is different from the one that others imply when they use “based on.” The traditionalist might lament that the first usage displays a troubling infidelity, as though the writer employs the source simply as a springboard into freer and more promising waters. Such a writer does not sufficiently acknowledge the debt owed the source. Like a wayward jazz soloist, perhaps, such a writer improvises too far towards newness, a newness which the adherents to “based on” would find much too associative, centrifugal, and incidental.
Though I am not a traditionalist, I understand the fear of the traditionalist: he or she doesn’t wish to see centuries of meticulous and responsible scholarship implied in the words “based on” superceded by a couple decades of shoddy student scholarship implied in the words “based off of.” Such a fear, however, blinds us to the potential benefits of this shift in usage/consciousness. Rather than seeing this shift as an inevitable minus mutation, to use one of Gebser’s terms, we could see it as a plus mutation, another one of Gebser’s terms. The minus mutation, as Gebser characterizes it, occurs when one trait replaces another: “B” replaces “A” or “based off of” replaces “based on.” A plus mutation, on the other hand, leads to a complexification, not “B” replacing “A,” but “B” in addition to “A,” “based off of” in addition to “based on.” Obviously, seeing by itself does not make something so. Therefore, for us to make sure this particular shift in usage/consciousness is a plus mutation, I don’t think we can just let it happen to us; rather, we need to be more active in making sure we don’t lose varieties and subtleties of consciousness within it’s unfolding.
In the work of such 20th Century philosophers as Husserl, Heidegger, and Gadamer, there is the understanding that our non-dualistic, direct, and unmediated experience of reality has the quality of both a discovery and a creation. These two aspects of experience are distinct, but not separable, like a wave and its medium. If one were able to distinguish an experience of reality that had more the quality of discovery from one that had more the quality of creation, one might get the sense of how I see an important difference between “based on” and “based off of.” With “based on,” the percipient (the one who experiences) brings less to the reality moment, so to speak, whereas with “based off of,” the individual creativity of the percipient is more involved, in a way that’s not necessarily simply subjective, in constituting reality.
My feeling is that “based on” has been a usage and habit of consciousness more in service of the status quo and has therefore tended to add epicycles and eccentrics to that status quo rather than overturn it. It is also my feeling that my students’ use of “based off of” heralds some sort of “sun-centered” reorientation, not in a spatial sense, that is, of representing an outward reality differently, but in a more ontological one. What I mean by this is that when my students use “based off of,” they seem to be both more individual and less individual than the preceding “based on” generations. They are more individual in how they use a source more as a catalyst for their own personal work and less individual (from a “based on” perspective) in how they seem less attached to the products of their creativity. Therefore, they don’t mind subsequent work being “based off of” their work; in fact, I would venture that they would be more uncomfortable with others’ work being “based on” theirs. I suspect that the hierarchical world implied by “based on” is becoming more and more uncomfortable or problematical for them.
As a teacher, I feel it’s my role to ground my students in all that is best of the thinking revealed in “based on,” and yet, at the same time, facilitate a conscious engagement with and development of that thinking revealed in “based off of.” Nothing less than this twofold approach – and hopefully something much, much more – will do justice to the new structures of consciousness that are appearing in and being created by each one of us.