It is hard to exaggerate the magnitude of social unrest that's boiling over across the globe. Accounts out of Syria detail unspeakable atrocities with hypnotizing frequency. While politicians engage in name-calling, Ukraine's citizens see themselves and their societal fabric fraying reminiscent of the Balkans just a few years ago. The hollow shell of peace in the Middle East was eviscerated with the cooperation between parties deemed to be "sponsors of terror" while drones rained down death at the hands of the "democratic" and "freedom-loving". In this, another Spring of Discontent, it is fascinating to observe the ease with which we trade life for ideology - our acceptance of extermination made more palatable by our technologically advanced, sterile remoteness. It seems that life in the digital age has somehow devalued.
Dogmatically held beliefs of all sorts have variously seduced humans into inhumanity for millennia. We sit in what many would describe as a pinnacle of technological evolution despite the evidence that we're actually, on a larger scale, regressing into ethnocentric bigotry. We celebrate our achievements of digital communications and virtual reality failing to observe that, from a certain perspective, we're regressing into animistic paganism where we pay obeisance to that which can be plugged in and has a keypad or touch screen forgoing actual human engagement and interaction. If information cannot be found within the first two pages of a Google search, it doesn't exist. "I tried to find him online but couldn't," I recently heard a person state. As though the physical presence of a person - absent a virtual persona - is somehow less a person.
In the May 2014 Vanity Fair, Editor Graydon Carter (one of my favorite writers) took on the story of Edward Snowden with a team of journalists. In their story, "The Snowden Saga: A Shadowland of Secrets and Light", they detail the interplay between the former Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton employee, The Guardian (and other media outlets), and the governments who insist that their opaque intrusions are justified. On more than one occasion, according to the reporting, Snowden and those around him, were faced with decisions that were cast as potentially jeopardizing their lives. The cavalier nature of threatened assassination as a means of message control, whether real or perceived in this case, would suggest that the central organizing narrative is incapable of standing on its own. If shown for all its costs and benefits, apparently "the system" is incapable of weathering accountability and scrutiny. Somehow the "30 or 40" files that represent a catastrophic risk to "national security" are so vital that they threaten the very foundations of what is purported to be one of humanity's most celebrated experiments. Spoiler alert: what they most likely threaten is the anonymity of corporations and individuals (who are most likely named in said files) who have become enriched at the expense of a public who would find their complicity unpalatable (for more information on this, read Hank Crumpton's memoirs The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service).
This week, I was fortunate to engage in dialogue with people as varied as an NBA superstar and a senior executive at the World Bank. I marveled at how many of these amazing, accomplished people, at one point either at the zenith of their life or at least seeing it within reach, now sat on the bench watching a suboptimal life play out. Far from run-of-the-mill monotony, these people influenced millions and yet, in the moment struggled to see how to make a difference at the same intensity that they brought to their 'game'. In each conversation the dissonance between a world that was perceived to be possible and 'reality' was the source of resignation and looming futility. And in a world of clandestine carnage - where life is thoughtlessly extinguished for opaque interests - I understand the expedient emotional fatigue that could lurk in the minds of those who are lucky enough to discern the madness.
But at the same time, I wonder if the reason why we're so dismissive of life is that few of us are actually living? Seriously. When we wake up in the morning, are we animated into relentless pursuit of purpose or do we begrudgingly stare into another monotonous day seeking to fulfill Maslow's pedantic isosceles aspiration? If "making a living" or "surviving" enter into one's consciousness, is it possible that we wouldn't recognize the former if it bit us in the face and we're actually slowly killing our vitality in the latter? Is the luxury of narcissistic drama a mark of 'civilization' or is it the evidence of devolution?
Life is an analog proposition. It involves complexity that defies digital representation. Our keystrokes and finger-swipes across conductive silicon are less artistic than the stylus pressed into soft clay that bore the cuneiform advocating tolerance and reverence for the explained and unexplained. Our social organization - from regent patronage to limited liability corporations - has resulted in the hybridization of our species into far too many laborers and far too few enlivened, vital manifesters. We're missing the mutations - the wild types - that actually move from prehensile tails alone to the fascinating utility of thumbs. And when the wild types emerge, our consensus indoctrination tells us to warn them of their imminent extermination if they don't fall into line. "Is it worth dying for?", is the ominous warning.
My life is evidence of the fallacy of this question. I've been warned that challenging corporate tax and accounting fraud, treasonous acts by elected officials, unsustainable monetary systems, colonial tyranny and suppression, all run the risk of jeopardizing "life". However, I know that far from threatening my existence, they have enriched not only my life but the lives of countless others who see the value of their own 'mutations' from the mechanized consensus. You see, truly living cannot cost you your life and pretending that it takes some sort of 'super-human' dispensation to 'transcend' fear and oppression is part of the tyranny of suppression. I love being a person who is learning how to fully live. And, when age, aggressor, or accident punctuates my life, I'll know that "worth living" was the only motivation I needed.