“But in this dark world where he now dwelt…”

I’m in the process of reading again The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.  In a recent discussion with Quentin S. Crisp, I was mentioning how Derrick Jensen is more depressing than even Thomas Ligotti. 

The more I think about it, though, their two views do seem to resonate to a degree.  Jensen is an environmentalist and writes about environmentalism.  Ligotti, although not an environmentalist as far as I know, relies heavily on the Zappfe’s philosophy and Zappfe was an environmentalist who inspired the beginnings of deep ecology.

There is one other similarity between the two.  Both take suffering very seriously which I appreciate, but there is a limitation to this.  I don’t know how else to explain this limitation other than to use an example.  Here is a scene from A Scanner Darkly (the video is from the movie and the quote is from the novel):

“There had been a time, once, when he had not lived like this… In former days Bob Arctor had run his affairs differently; there had been a wife much like other wives, two small daughters, a stable household that got swept and cleaned and emptied out daily, the dead newspapers not even opened carried from the front walk to the garbage pail, or even, sometimes, read. But then one day, while lifting out an electric corn popper from under the sink, Arctor had hit his head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet directly above him. The pain, the cut in his scalp, so unexpected and undeserved, had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. It flashed on him instantly that he didn’t hate the kitchen cabinet; he hated his wife, his two daughters, his whole house, the back yard with its power mower, the garbage, the radiant heating system, the front yard, the fence, the whole fucking place and everyone in it. He wanted a divorce; he wanted to split. And so he had, very soon. And entered, by degrees, a new and somber life, lacking all of that.

“Probably he should have regretted his decision. He had not. That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe.  All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected. It was like, he had once thought, a little plastic boat that would sail on forever, without incident, until it finally sank, which would be a secret relief to all.

But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing.

 ~ Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (the book)

The last sentence is particularly what I had in mind as being a contrast to that of Jensen and Ligotti.  I’ve written before comparing Ligotti with PKD(Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti, PKD Trumps Harpur and Ligotti).  There are certain similarities: both are mainly fiction writers who also wrote extensively about philosophical ideas, both willing to look unflinchingly at the sources of human suffering.  But the difference is that PKD expresses an endless sense of curiosity, wonder, awe (see: PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs, PKD on God as Infinity).

I just love the way he describes this sense of reality: “ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly…”  That is beautiful.  It’s this kind of verbal expression that inspires my desire to write.

I’ve had many experiences that have touched me deeply, and they’re always at the back of my mind.  Even though I’ve rarely written about them, I strongly desire to write about them.  There are several things that hold me back.  First, they’re experiences that are a bit on the uncommon side.  Second, I don’t feel capable of of fully describing them in words, of capturing that actual in-the-moment experience.

Let me just mention some of them briefly so that you’ll have an idea of what I speak of:

  • Dream – In general, dreams are perplexing to write about.  One particular dream was of a theatre where spirits would come and go, but when the spirits were present the theatre transformed into a vast desert landscape.  The experience of it was profound and mysterious.  More than any other, this dream has always stuck with me.
  • Psychedlic – I experimented with drugs in my 20s.  I only did mushrooms once, but they really blew me away.  I felt the whole world alive, breathing in unison, and the field was shimmering like that scene from Gladiator.  Concepts such as ‘animism’ or panentheism are just interesting philosophies until you experience them.
  • Spiritual – In some ways, the most haunting experiences I’ve had happened while fully awake and when no drugs were involved.  There was a period of my life where depression, spiritual practice, and a broken heart all came together.  At the bottom of this suffering, I came across a truly incomprehensible experience of life, almost a vision.  It was a unified sense of the world that was both absolutely full and utterly empty.  My response to it was at times a sense of loneliness but it was an intimate loneliness that transcended my individuality.  It was a presence that wasn’t my presence.  It just was whatever it was.

Any of those experiences are probably meaningless to anyone who hasn’t had similar experiences.  Of course, they are far from meaningless to me.  Each individual experience is meaningful to me in that they’ve all influenced me.  I can even now viscerally remember these experiences.  More importantly, these experiences together are meaningful because they remind me of my sense of wonder.  The world is a truly strange place.

The animistic visions I’ve had particularly give me a sense of wonder on a daily basis.  I can to some degree shift my perception into an animistic mode.  I can put my mind into that sense of anticipation where the whole world feels like it’s on the verge of becoming something entirely else. 

This animistic sensibility combines both PKD’s gnostic revelation and the shamanistic worldview.  Much of PKD’s writing conveys a sense of paranoia.  I think this modern sense of paranoia is essentially the same thing as the premodern shamanistic view of the natural world.  The suffering of life is more than mere biological horror, more than mere existential angst.  The darkness isn’t empty.  There are things out there unseen that aren’t human.  The world is alive with intelligences.  The seeming empty spaces have substance.  We aren’t separate from the world.  Our skin doesn’t protect us from invasion.  Most of that which exists is indifferent to humans, but some things may take interest.  When we look out at the world, the world looks back.

We modern humans bumble our way through the world oblivious to all that surrounds us.  The police protect us.  Various public and private institutions make sure our daily lives run smoothly.  We generally don’t think about any of it… until something goes wrong.  The indigenous person lived differently than this.  A tribal person depended on themselves and others in their tribe to take care of everything.  If you’re walking through the wilderness, you have to pay attention in order to remain alive.  The possibility of death is all around one.  Death is a much more common event for hunter-gatherers.  When someone is injured or becomes sick, there is no emergency room.

This seems rather scary to a modern person.  However, to the indigenous person, this is simply the way one lives.  If your life had always been that way, it would feel completely normal.  You simply know the world around you.  Being aware would be a completely natural state of mind.  All of the world can be read for the person who knows the signs.  Just by listening to the calls of birds you can know precisely where the tiger is, and you simply make sure you’re not in that same place.

The problem is that I’m not an indigenous person and I’m definitely no shaman.  I at times can see something beyond normal perception, but I don’t know how to read the signs.  If you go by polls, most people have experienced something weird in their lifetime.  The weird is all around us all of the time.  We just rarely think about it.  And when we do notice it, we usually try to forget about it as quickly as possible.

Yes, Jensen is correct about how humans victimize one another, is correct about how civilization is destroying all life on earth.  And, yes, Ligotti is correct about how humans are paralyzed by suffering, is correct that all of human culture arose as a distraction from this primal horror.  Yes, yes, yes.  Even so, there is something beyond all of that.

14 thoughts on ““But in this dark world where he now dwelt…”

  1. Your linking of a Jensen-esque critique or rejection of the civilizational project with its protective skin or “cosmic canopy” to a semi-Dickian and semi-Ligottian type of cosmic paranoia is, to say the least, provocative. Thanks for the stimulation, Benjamin.

    • Ultimately, all of these writers strongly inform my worldview. They do represent different perspectives, but I don’t think they’re in direct contradiction for the most part.

      I must admit that Ligotti makes Jensen seem like an optimist… which is rather funny. I’m not sure exactly what Jensen is hoping for, but he does seem to have some hope that humans might be able to eventually return to a more simple lifestyle… after civilization collapses and most of the population dies horribly.

      Personally, I don’t concern myself all that much with what may or may not exist after the end of civilization. I suppose that is why I was connecting Jensen’s analysis to the more philosophical views of PKD and Ligotti.

  2. ‘It was a unified sense of the world that was both absolutely full and utterly empty.’

    ‘I can to some degree shift my perception into an animistic mode.’

    I resonate with both of the above. There is an utter sense of Love when I shift my perception. But, it seems to be with me constantly these days. It usually feels like a ‘higher experience’ than what I was used to.

    Yeah man! Being alive to what is around. Most people aren’t. You are a profound man, Ben Steele. I remember reading in Jung’s ‘Man and his Symbols’ where he made the point that some people are really more ancient than we think, their psyches are so old. That’s not a foreign concept to me at all, it’s fairly common in African philosophy. I’m not sure whether I’m confabulating or I really saw that but Jung is prime candidate to make such a statement. Maybe, ours are old as well? We think too much. You know what I sometimes envy and always have? People who know where they are going and don’t ask too many questions.

    That seals it, this Steely man is my friendest friend. Why didn’t you direct me to these posts earlier?

    • I also remember reading about Jung’s thoughts about some psyche’s being older than others. It was an idea that immediately caught my attention. For what it’s worth, my grandmother supposedly said (when she was still alive and when I was a mere babe) that she thought my soul was old. I don’t know why she said that. She was a very spiritual lady which is probably where I inherited some of my own spiritual tendencies.

      Ah, yes, to know where one is going and to have few questions… it sounds nice in its own way. I’ve at times envied such people, but it’s not easy for me to imagine what that would be like.

      Why didn’t I direct you to these posts earlier? Good question. I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it. For one, I’m not entirely sure which posts of mine you have seen or not seen. Also, I tend to only think of particular posts when something particular reminds me of them.

  3. O, my man, today, I missed a big chance. I saw this pretty girl today, she was in the bus with me and I planned my whole approach (which usu changes by the time I start :-D) and everything for when we both got off the bus at the bus’ final stop, the bus terminal where many differently destined buses are available for boarding (just in case you’re not familiar with this practice) only for her to drop off at some bus stop. I anticipated that contingency but didn’t change my mind, thing is I was one person away from her so I was a bit shy about my move. O my God! This often happens to me, check out my post ‘One Time’, I express this there. How do you do with the ladies? Or has your broken heart so wounded you that you shun em?

    • A pretty girl, oh my! Living in a college town and working nights downtown, I see many pretty girls. It’s a tough life but someone has to do it.

      I tried to find your post ‘One Time’. For some reason, it didn’t come up in any search results. If you would post the link, I would be much appreciative.

      How do I do with the ladies? I’ve never been a ladies man, that is for sure. I’ve dated off and on, but things never worked out. Either I was leaving or the girl I was dating was leaving. In America, people are constantly moving from place to place… and this is even more true in a college town.

      I have experienced a broken heart. It did take a lot out of me. Along with depression, I don’t feel at all motivated to seek out the female of the species. I admire from afar and leave it at that. It’s much simpler that way. I like simplicity.

      The lady of my life at the moment has 4 legs, a tail, and lots of body hair. Her name is Stella Blue. She will never leave me because I keep her locked in my apartment. Between my furry companion and my books, what more could I possibly require for a comfortable existence?

      However, I wouldn’t necessariiy recommend my lifestyle to others.

  4. I’m reading Beebe’s article from the Australian Psychological Type Review Vol 8 No. 1 March 2006, and I must say I am astonished how much little some people can think of what they see around them to go for the simplistic erroneous view that the woman’s animus has to be some sort of argumentative side to the woman as if women are all feeling types as Beebe observed some were doing (the inference of women being feelers is mine) which informs me that they didn’t particularly watch their environments to see that thinking women were also around. It is similar to my environment where genders are pigeon-holed, a thing I opposed since my childhood based upon my observations of people but even before that by mere power of intuition; I didn’t know it (or rather, I just knew it), it just felt like it was true, that led me to even investigate further. A thing I used in my interaction with you to argue that ‘no, if a person has an extraverted function, he has to have its opposite in attitude too, or else he’s not going to be whole’.

    I’ve noticed something so far in the association of Hero with dominant, father with auxiliary, child with tertiary and Anima with inferior. Do you realise, with me, a sort of film or family situation here? The hero going out to conquer the world or some monster, the father giving him advice for his travels or even being by him all along, the child whom he has to protect from the dangerous fangs and the woman for whom he’d do anything, the woman who gives him strength. Not exactly an advising woman but the woman whose shouts from ringside appear to have some supernatural effect on the hero.

    I told you I don’t dream, look at my posts ‘Az It Iz: Demon’, ‘To The Nymph II’, ‘No Title 24’

    Going by Beebe’s designation, I can tell you for a fact that it was always my feeling side that felt like it was sort of childish and needed protection, the hero, I cannot fully tell whether it was my theoretical side or my logical side that had that function. What I remember made me come into particular contact with my feeling side was domestic abuse and a broken home, even that one, I vividly remember making a conscious decision to feel it. But, for the most part, it was a feeling for my mum that brought me to feel things better and see others’ suffering more personally, try to make others feel good, that made me feel good. Yes, I’ve been watching myself and many others for years. What made me an idealist was probably that period. My childhood was rather full of grandiose ideas of changing the world with some amazing discovery, not particularly any really felt need but cos I saw the world differently, perhaps, I can’t remember the exact motivations as a puny youth (perhaps, 6, 7 years) that caused this world changing attitude. For the most part, however, I was always looking for something and always watching, making notes in my head and being the ‘old man in the small body’ kid. Nevertheless, these are only products of memory.

    Mostly, like Jung, it was the Arts that supplied food for my thoughts, including my own plumbing of my psyche, through reflection and poetry occasioned also by having several valid voices within me, what I decided to call recently (before I didn’t see them so, they were just me) ‘the Monastery’, an assonant word to my ‘Monarc’ and extension of my primeval name (primeval, funny ay?), ‘J-Monc’ whose full form is actually ‘J.A.D.E the Monarc’ or ‘the J.A.D.E. Monarc’.

    Are you familiar with the Ouroboros? Superimpose a cross, equal-length cross, on that. How’s that?

    I find after careful experimentation with the personality questionnaires (and the import of the questions) that they work by assignation of percentages to the individual attitudes and functions. Some questions however seem to integrate function and attitude to look like function-attitudes. I believe this is an error-prone mode, unless of course, I am erring in my own evaluation of the questions.

    Here is my evaluation of the present, here’s my vision of the future:

    The Present

    The Future

    The future post was very much influenced by Machiavellian lingo. At the time, I was reading ‘The Prince’ and the post just flourished in my mind. Thing is, the idea had been rolling in my mind for some time before then. It has nothing to do directly with ‘The Prince’ but I thank Niccolo for his influence. The characteristics of influence is much varied

    • I guess you found Beebe’s theory interesting. I don’t recall reading Beebe’s exact thoughts about gender, but gender stereotypes do seem common in most societies.

      The archetypal roles are particularly interesting. I don’t know how Beebe came up with his model. It implies not only specific roles functions play, but also the specific relationships between those roles. I’ve pondered what exactly are the connections being modeled.

      I might understand what you mean when you wrote, “my feeling side that felt like it was sort of childish and needed protection, the hero”, but my experience is maybe a bit different. Even though my Feeling is dominant, I don’t know if I feel all that heroic about it. However, whatever courage I have does come from Feeling. Since my dominant is Introverted, I’m not sure I ever use it for protection in any direct way. I’ve learned to use my Extraverted functions for defense, especially Ne and Te… which combined together is why I can be critical and argumentative.

      Yep, I’m familiar with the Ouroboros. So superimposing an equal-length cross on that creates what? Is this a symbol that is personally meaningful to you? I like playing around with symbols, especially mandalas. I often play around with circles and crosses, but the Ouroboros hasn’t drawn my interest as strongly as some other symbols.

      I’m not sure what you’re referring to in saying that you believe questions integrating function and attitudes are “error-prone”. As I recall, the MBTI was designed with function-attitudes as a basis of the model. The theory is that functions and attitudes are never used separately and so the MBTI is trying to determine relationship between the two. Still, it’s just a theory.

      Your future post definitely is idealistic. I’ve never read ‘The Prince’ and so I can only guess at the influence. What stood out the most to me was the ending:

      “It is in those days that men will look at vows, oaths, promises and the like- which are to bind to word, though externally and tenuously -with contempt as they will be viewed as insult, umbrage to them.”

      That reminds me of thoughts I had earlier in my life when I was trying to come to terms with my own values. I’ve always had this desire to be true to myself, but I also realized that my ‘self’ or my understanding of my ‘self’ was always changing. Any promise made would be a lie because I couldn’t make promises for my future self. One can only make a vow about the present which often, but not always, correlates to the future. To be true to oneself means to be true to one’s present experience, present situation, present sense of meaning and purpose.

      • You’ve most assuredly been thinking for a long time, my friend.

        The Ouroboros cum cross just came to mind when I was looking at the wikipedia ouroboros, it’s very circular. I just put a cross in the middle and realised, ‘ah, mandala’. A different mandala though, with more profound meaning. I don’t know if it’s personally meaningful to me but crosses have always sort of had some personal significance.

        Yeah, honesty to self – all about the present.

  5. By the way, the only reason I even have some belief in the vision is it hasn’t been tried before. But, many haven’t been tried before but also my vision involves those others.

    You know, there’s one thing futurists overlook: we already have artefacts that rule us, and impassionately too, viz. our Laws. We don’t need to go that far to find our creations lording over us.

    • I assume your thoughts about what “futurists overlook” relates to your thoughts about “vows, oaths, promises and the like”. Correct?

      I wasn’t initially thinking of how artefacts rule over us, but what you say makes sense. Laws are creations that rule over us.

      I have thought about this in terms of societies we are born into. I was born into a supposed democracy that idealizes freedom, but I never freely chose to be born here, to be an American living by American laws and paying taxes for American wars. People in the past made the decisions that created this society and I’m held responsible for the results of their choices. No one ever asked me what society or kind of society I wanted to live in.

      • Wow, you’re sharp. That wasn’t in my mind when I posted that but I see it.

        In the end, what I see is:

        With laws of inter-personal relations, we rather honor the laws in the end, not the people themselves.

        With laws for things, we don’t perceive the things anymore, all we see is what the cipher makes us see. All we see in the end is the same Law. Ah, there’s even a connection between this and what you say ‘We modern humans bumble our way through the world oblivious to all that surrounds us. The police protect us. Various public and private institutions make sure our daily lives run smoothly. We generally don’t think about any of it… until something goes wrong’.

        • Yep. I agree with your statement that, “With laws of inter-personal relations, we rather honor the laws in the end, not the people themselves.” What you call “laws of inter-personal relations” is what I would more simply call an ideology. I’ve always had issues with ideologies, especially when they are used to trump real living flesh-and-blood people.

          I wrote about this many times before.

          For example, I’ve often written about my criticisms of pro-lifers. It’s not that being for life is wrong. Even pro-choicers are for life. What is problematic is that pro-lifers tend to value their ideology over the real world results of how their ideologies when implemented impact real people. The data shows that banning abortions doesn’t decrease the number of abortions. It just forces women to get illegal, dangerous abortions which cause harm to the woman and, if the baby survives, causes harm to the baby. Making abortions legal doesn’t increase abortions. It just makes the whole process safer. What pro-lifers don’t understand is that most women don’t want abortions. Pro-lifers tend to be against the very methods (sex education, providing birth control, etc) that reduce unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

          Of course, idolizing ideologies isn’t merely a problem of rightwingers. But personality predispositions seem to make rightwingers more prone to dogmatism and groupthink (such as seen in fundamentalism and in the research on right-wing authoritarians).

          I more generally wrote about my dislike of ideology in my most recent post.


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