I went for a bike ride in Southern Albemarle County yesterday afternoon. As I headed onto Old Lynchburg Road, the chill of the late fall air sent a shock through my lungs reminding me again that riding in Virginia in the Winter is as much a test of will as it is exercise. Before long, legs and heart pumping, I thawed myself into a steady state that drove out the cold. By the time I turned to head east on 708, I had long forgotten the cold and was relishing the fact that I was back on my bike after weeks of travel. And then, after cresting the third long climb I saw them. Two zebras and a mule standing in the middle of a field on the north side of the road. Zebras! In a region of the country where one expects to see ostentatious horse farms, manicured vineyards, and sweeping estates, zebras are certainly unexpected. In an instant, I pulled off the road, hopped off my bike and walked over to the pasture fence to take a photo. As I did that, I realized my motivation for the photo was an echo across over 40 years.
On one family trip across the desert Southwest in the early 1970s, my parents got a bag of M&Ms (still the official road trip snack of champions!). The four of us boys were told that we would receive M&Ms for being the first to spot any wild animals during our drive. Long before iPods, iPads, and all digital manners of diversion, a great idea was to get sons distracted by a little competition that would have them focusing out the window rather than on the fact that Dan liked the seatbelt too tight or that someone was in someone else’s space. While on the road and at rest areas, various ones saw all manner of birds, reptiles and the occasional dog in another car. For each first, M&Ms were dispensed. The behaviorist B.F. Skinner would have been having a heyday with this Pavlovian environmental conditioning experiment.
Late into dusk, still suffering from my M&M deficient hypoglycemia, I announced that I saw a moose. And before I could get through with the surprise sighting, I clarified that I had been certain it was a moose because I saw its ears! I was told that I was “lying” and was not rewarded with M&Ms. And so, yesterday, when I saw the zebras, the little boy in me wanted to be damn sure that I had a picture to prove that, indeed, I had seen the zebra. What I didn’t know when I was 4 or 5 was that objective truth was not objective at all – it was consensus experience. Sure, the objective fact was that I probably saw a misshapen saguaro cactus with wide sweeping arms and little flower bud nubs (filling in for ears on my moose). But in the shadowy silhouette, the geometry was that of a moose standing in the night air of the Sonoran Desert.
As I reflect on this lesson – “lying” about seeing what others didn’t see – I marveled at the hypocrisy of my “truth” conditioning. Most impactful in my childhood were stories from the Bible, a daily companion to my upbringing. As a boy who saw and heard things that others didn’t, I often marveled at how giants could exist, how bushes could talk, how dreams could fracture ribs, how fantastical miracles could be revered if they were told in a book that I was supposed to “believe” but the same dimensions were “lies” if they were experienced by a little boy. And as I grew older, I was supposed to accept other consensus “truths” – faith, hope, love, justice, honesty – only to see in their consensus practice evident hypocrisy and contradiction. The same boy who saw a moose was able to decipher covert operations by the U.S. government in Central America which later became known as the Iran Contra affair. The same boy found and helped close the second largest white collar criminal tax fraud in U.S. history; developed a mechanism to render visible assets that were off balance sheet to stabilize and grow economies; went into conflict regions around the world where corrupt corporations were bribing governments to rob wealth from countries and their people and brought light and justice to places where no one else would go; and, continues to find the elusive desert moose that others don’t see.
I’ve watched over the years as those who have been the arbiters of public “truth” – the consensus keepers – have manipulated propaganda to hypnotize the population into being fearful of their own observations. When governments manipulate and abuse their governed selling predatory intrusion and industrial warfare in the name of security; when churches and clergy demand their tithes but build their own wealth rather than feeding and clothing the needy; when families cling to the illusion of what loving relationships could be rather than acknowledging the pain of isolation in their midst; when disease management is sold as “healthcare”; and, when financial security is built on digital records that can be eradicated in a single magnetic burst, we’ve long abandoned integrity to our own observations and we’ve long left any realm of truth. Over the past few weeks, while terror has marched across every media feed again, weapon makers have seen their fortunes soar (Defense Sector stocks up over 5.4% while the market has been up 0.47%). The Brookings Institute along with many others have reported that those wonderful Toyota trucks driven by mercenary forces flying black flags are financed by oil sales (that’s right, someone is buying the oil) and “venture capital” style investments from Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Purveyors of fear are most often the most vocal proclaimers of “truth”. Why is that? Well, for one, it’s terribly unacceptable to question “truth”. In the past, it’s led to being outcast, stigmatized, or even killed – all significant aversion re-enforcements to insure consensus thinking and acting. Additionally, as Gregory Bateson pointed out in his work on psychological disorders, if you can get someone to doubt their own observations of reality, you can rapidly convince them that they cannot trust themselves and therefore force them into situations where they “trust” others. The more subtle the subterfuge, the more effective the coercion. And behind every “truth” and “fear” purveyor stands someone who benefits. Convince people they’re in danger – no worries, the government will keep you “safe”. Convince people that they’re sinful – no worries, the church will take your time, focus, and money in exchange for an eternal peace. Convince people that they’re incapable of understanding money – no worries, advisors will sell you no-downside guarantees in the form of pensions and insurance which “can never go down” never telling you what they do with the “ups” they make.
I’m going through an amazing journey in life. Each one of the consensus illusions in my world has been held up for examination in 2015. And each one, on close examination have crumbled into bits. Not a little bit – entirely! And what I’ve chosen to do is find the motivation behind each – find out who was the beneficiary of my distraction – and elected to learn from these experiences rather than judge or despise them. I’ve chosen to live in transparency – sharing what others would see as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without any sense of concern. I’ve chosen to live in complete and emanating love – insuring that those who are in my life receive the best from me and that I receive the best from them. I’ve reaffirmed my commitment to give no quarter to the illusion of fear in myself or others. Why? Because I’ve always seen a world that includes imagination, wonder, and conscious living. I’ve always seen the elusive desert moose. And I choose to live in a world where I’m measured by the quality of my actions, not by my resonance with consensus. In so doing, I’m inverting alchemy – taking gold and turning it back into humanity. I think I’ll have a few M&Ms now cuz there’s a Little Guy who just saw a zebra!