Uncommon Sense

February 7, 2009

The Great Escape

Filed under: thinking — Derek @ 7:24 pm

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”, said Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract. And try as we might, with every effort we make, we move from one form of prison to another, always confined in some way or another inevitably bound by some form, whether physically, financially, emotionally, and a whole host of other means life has at it’s disposal to enslave us. I have for many years been conscious of the fact that freedom was the most important word in my dictionary. It is said that in every living thing there is the spirit to be free – I needed no convincing that the ultimate state was freedom, and I sought it at every juncture…

My first prison was family, the bars composed of the expectations that my earliest cohesive group had of me. If I moved outside of those expectations, I was swiftly castigated – “that’s not the way we do things’ – and the bars were back in place. In addition, the direction in which I might be stimulated was carefully channelled, academics being primary, and instead of saying no to sport and other extra-mural activities, they simply ignored them, and made my participation in them conditional upon my academics being in order. They further negated any reinforcement in them by not watching me participate, my mother watching me once and my stepfather once, and that only because it was his duty to fetch me that day. I took their non-interest in my interests as rejection, and rejected their interest, academics, soon becoming the student from hell, disrupting classes, doing as little work as possible, and generally becoming one of the all-time underperformers in the school. I was a ‘problem’ student. I learned that the things that were important to me were important to me only; and so waited for the first opportunity to find a place of my own, where I could be interested in and do things that I found stimulating.

At school, I could hardly have been regarded as a ‘hit’ except perhaps in the physical sense, being engaged, as I remember, in at least one bout of fisticuffs a week with somebody or other. I was blessed with a sharp mind and a quick temper, never a good combination, and would inevitably have to take responsibility for an insult levelled at someone bigger than me. Almost everyone was bigger than me. I remember being called names and being laughed at and was never given a chance to belong to any groups. I was always the last to be chosen when teams were picked up for almost anything, and eventually understood that I was just not good enough, no matter what the criteria. Since institutional education stays away from the very core of the process of being educated, i.e. the question, school is less about education, which I do not believe it delivers, and more about socialisation, conformance and indoctrination, than anything else. You have to fit in. I didn’t. That was all there was to it. While this was devastating at the time, it was a blessing in disguise, for I did not enter the institution of belonging and in fact never did become a social clone, a carbon copy, dressing, talking, thinking, dreaming like everyone else. I was fortunate. Many there are who enter here and never escape.

My disappointment in society led me away to religion, the easy acceptance and smiling faces seeming to me a promise of appreciation and respect while providing the added bonus of living forever. It offered an escape from rejection, and I was in need… The smiles were plastic, however, and I was to discover in my travels through the world’s religions that religious people were all the same, and it did not matter whether pagan, traditional or mystic, the people had the same dynamic. They needed to believe in something, they had severe social needs, and they didn’t ask any dangerous questions, the kind I had running through my mind constantly. Religion is a prison in which you can never be sure that you are there for the right reasons; it is certainly not a rational environment, being dominated by emotional convictions that the unknown, supported by the writings and sayings of other people, is true. It is not questionable, since it’s tenets lie outside the range of rational exploration, and so it is effectively subscription to a mindset by mere adoption, unconditional acceptance and trust in something you cannot possibly know. I was never going to be comfortable manacled to a doctrine or a pew, and so I left. I have peered in from time to time, but have never been tempted to revisit the temples and assemblies. I wonder about those still locked within, the questions having not come to mind that would secure their liberation…

The material world beckoned and here was a land where, given a little talent, a little effort, and a little luck, I could show everyone what I was worth. As it turned out, I had more than a little of everything, and the good life suited me. Fast cars, women and cash flows suddenly made life worthwhile, and I didn’t even see the gaoler as I made my way further and further in, my mind becoming more and more enslaved to the promise of more, more, more… The business mentality is the greatest self-reinforcing myth in existence, because the more successful one becomes, the more one thinks that this is due to one’s own intelligence, character and energy. And of course the more one has, the more one is able to leverage those capabilities, and it is all too easy to congratulate oneself. When things go wrong, however, we always blame factors outside our control. The delusion is completed by our own willingness to participate in it, to feed it because we are so desperate to be recognised and respected. It is not easy to separate oneself from the benefits and the plaudits, and it is only when we start to see big pictures that we realise, ”this isn’t it”. My own realisation went something like this: “There has be more to this than winning at the expense of others. If this is all, then it is scarcely worth it. So I make money, buy things, have fun, make money, buy things, have fun… Is this enough? And if you step away for a moment, and put yourself inside your view of the world, rather than the view from behind your eyes, you can see how this system, which has delivered to you, but has taken from many in order to do so, really works. It is not a happy picture.

Self-indulgence is the most dangerous of all dungeons, because it never feels like one. It seems one is free to do whatever one pleases, and there are no consequences, no downsides, no end to the pleasures and stimulations. It’s a free-for-all where the fun never ends. Until it does. End, that is. The whole world of self-indulgence is an avoidance of responsibility, but there is an old saying: “someday you’re gonna have to pay the piper”. And you don’t see it until you see it. Nothing can prepare you for the revelation, the sheer surprise of coming out and looking back and asking: “Was that me?”.

Now to some the addiction to the material world and it’s superficial offerings lasts a lifetime, to others it never appeals. To me, the disappointment of the realisation that none of it was real, not to mention just an enormous waste of time, energy and resources, plunged me into depression. I needed a lift, something to help me escape the very real trauma of life with no meaning…

Mood-altering substances offer an entry to a state of well-being while the harshness of the world recedes into the distant past or distant distance or some equally nonsensical statement made by people who’ve never taken a risk in their lives. What they actually do is free your mind from dealing with the current reality, and with every additional ‘fix’ you become less and less capable of doing anything about whatever it was that you were trying to escape, because it’s forgotten, as is the last thought you had just seconds ago…Unless you get paranoid which can be a real bitch but then it passes and everything is okay again. And when you wake up you deal with everything but when it gets tough you know you can always just have some more, and make it all seem okay. It’s less a confinement than a place you know you can go to get away from it all, and it’s more difficult to get out because you’re not conscious that you’re ‘in’. There are many versions of this phenomenon, and some of them are extremely dangerous. The worst ones are the ones that act chronically, sneaking at you from within and over a long period of time until they have become part of your routine, and you do not see them as dependencies, merely as ‘things you do’. Dependency is easily the most deceptive of the prisons, because you just don’t see it coming. Food is a case in point, since it’s just a little more of what we must have, but no less destructive than any other drug; alcohol comes a close second because it’s socially acceptable, and of course there is nicotine and the recreational drugs. Why is alcohol not illegal? It is most certainly a drug; and in many scientific opinions, only less destructive than the hard drugs such as Heroin, Cocaine, Barbiturates and street Methadone. Merry Browne said “Preconceived notions are the locks on the doors of wisdom”. Say no more, Merry.

Coming out of a ‘binge’ is not a pleasant state, and it is necessary to find a replacement for the sensual barrage. The path of high adventure is often the ideal solution, doing away with the boredom that comes with a reduction in stimulus. With every rush and high-five there is the knowledge that one must step up, take on the next challenge, the more dangerous the better. Sooner or later, one of four things happen. You die, you get hurt, you get old, or you understand that it’s really an exercise in futility that brings nothing in of any real usefulness. Whenever I hear that yet another peak has been climbed or some other daring adventurer has achieved his lifelong ambition, I yawn and look for someone who has done something that benefits someone other than themselves. “But what about the inspiration they give others?”, you say, and while on the one hand I concede that there is some merit in giving hope to others, why is it that the great achievements of those who are facing impossible odds while trying to feed the poor or rescue animals, are given so little publicity in comparison to the ‘hero’ adventurers? There are two reasons – single-shot events make more of a splash, they’re more visible to the superficial public; real contributions happen over time and incognito, and people who are helping others are not nearly as glamorous in the public’s eye. Danger is so much more appealing to the majority. So much for popular opinion…

Disenchantment with the motivations of the world can easily lead to detachment from society altogether, and the recluse has no further use for all the silliness. It is abdication of the first degree, however, and really means one has given up, not on society, but on one’s capacity to change it, to ‘make the world a better place’, like you’ve never heard that before. But it does not become a better place of it’s own volition, it does so because people with vision and drive and sheer force of will see the need for change and get it done. Leadership is for those who see a need and do everything in their power to move others to meet that need. Achieving for one’s own congratulations and security should neither be applauded nor respected, and it’s time we grew out of this fascination with having and being looked up to because of it.

Hermithood suited me too much, and it becomes yet another comfort zone. I made a conscious decision to integrate back into society around the same time I resolved to support that which I believed was important and valuable, because I was never going to be able to look at myself in the mirror and admit that I had given in to the System.

The final Great Escape is the realisation that escape is unnecessary, the greatest freedom is in choosing to take responsibility, recognising that you are no better or worse than anyone else, that ambition is a state of self-justification, self-denial a state of moral superiority, both equally arrogant. Get in, do what you can and try not to attach too much importance to whether you are successful or not. Knock over a domino. If there are enough of us knocking over dominoes, big events follow from little ones. There is no guarantee that the universe supports truth, but to leave the status quo as it is leaves the future in this state of separateness, isolation and confrontation. I guess if you’re happy to do that, then so be it, but when they look back at this generation, will they say that we shouldered our share of the posterity burden, or were we too busy pursuing our 15 minutes of fame?

As Dostoevsky said “If you can put the question ‘Am I or am I not responsible for my acts?’ then you are responsible.” Seems responsibility is the one thing we cannot escape.

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4 Comments »

  1. Bravo, no a BIG BRAVO! to you second last paragraph!!!I made me feel alive to read those words! You are where I am.
    Took us a long time to come to the same conclusion that most previous generations came to eh?
    Your description of your life is a carbon copy of mine, but even if so many others walk different paths and struggle in different ways to find some kind of answer, the greatest blessing they can get is to come to basically the same conclusion. Life is actually not good or bad, it just IS. Deal with it. Try your best and get on with it. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes good things happen, sometimes bad thing happen, to us and all around us.
    “Get in, do what you can and try not to attach to much importance to whether you are successful or not.”
    And for fear of sounding corny an old spiritual reality – in the end, LOVE is the biggest reward of all. Love, and be loved unconditionally and as much as you can. Wherever and whoever you are. I find my best and most satisfactory moments come from my feelings of love for those around me, and feeling loved in return. The rest is all bullshit.
    Linda

    Comment by Linda Davis — February 9, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  2. Riveting reading, Derek! As always.

    “The final Great Escape is the realisation that escape is unnecessary, the greatest freedom is in choosing to take responsibility, recognising that you are no better or worse than anyone else, that ambition is a state of self-justification, self-denial a state of moral superiority, both equally arrogant. Get in, do what you can and try not to attach too much importance to whether you are successful or not. Knock over a domino. If there are enough of us knocking over dominoes, big events follow from little ones. There is no guarantee that the universe supports truth, but to leave the status quo as it is leaves the future in this state of separateness, isolation and confrontation. I guess if you’re happy to do that, then so be it, but when they look back at this generation, will they say that we shouldered our share of the posterity burden, or were we too busy pursuing our 15 minutes of fame?”

    If this could be condensed into a sweet phrase, it would be one of my Mantras.

    Comment by Bernice — June 25, 2009 @ 8:14 pm

  3. I sat down, somehow opened this, and …..wow.
    I just read “myself&I” – who are you ?
    It is such a relief to know that there is someone out there that (based on this)
    IS EXACTLY LIKE ME… so, there are mirror images………..?

    I would love to speak to you about positive changes and hopes for the future,
    please contact me.

    Love&Light
    Pia

    Comment by Pia — August 25, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  4. wow!

    Comment by Deborah Leask — May 19, 2011 @ 5:30 am


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