2019-10-03 | Subject | Standing in the Way of Control
It seems to me that in general civilization is about gaining control. This might be dominance over people, ability to store and distribute water, more bling, light at night, advanced medical care, access to food 24x7, etc. Whether control is gained by letting market forces guide behavior, or a command economy enforcing the mix of control and beneficiaries of control, the end goal of civilization is the same: control. This isn't that strange of an observation about civilization.
Current civilization mostly runs on oil. Even if civilization ran on magic material X, it is hard to imagine that it wouldn't deplete resources and cause destruction at a similar rate. Even if magic energy source X existed, and it didn't deplete resources or create the kinds of negative externalities that current energy sources and raw materials create when utilized, we still need to convert the existing infrastructure to something that uses magic material X, and this would be done mostly with oil. This is the situation with solar energy, but we also have issues with scale, intermittency, and storage. Further, oil is ingrained deeply in many products, including food production. I think it is fair to say that there is still a hard correlation between current civilization and consuming the earth and creatures on it. We are feeling the effects. The idea of rolling back civilization to some form that might work, is equally unthinkable and politically impossible, almost by definition. We just have to ride this one out, and the end of the ride looks scary (i.e. collapse and severe drop in population). If we had simply bootstrapped our civilization with oil, as Buckminster Fuller advised, we wouldn't be in this predicament.
That isn't what this is about, though, this article is about the idea of control. As the civilization example shows, there are issues with control, mainly that it can be elusive and illusory. Did we grip so hard trying to gain control that we lost all of it? It appears there is a decent possibility of that. As we ride this out, what else can we do? Well, let's look at the idea of control a bit, and come back to that.
What is the opposite of the kind of control I'm talking about as far as principles? It seems to me that the sermon on the mount, or the more concise version, the sermon on the plain, might very well be the opposite of control. This is a wee bit of a strange observation. At the time of Jesus, civilization was not really in a balanced state. Civilization was generally oppressive, although it gave citizens various mixes of control as described above, usually at the price of submitting: ceding individual control. Now, of course, when civilization is in play, it is to the benefit of those in control to convince people to let go of control so that they can jump into the control void for themselves. From this perspective, then, Christianity might be a good tool of control. I am thinking that Gossip's song Standing in the Way of Control is an interesting way to address this problem, as standing in the way of control could illustrate a way to keep the void, to keep God, instead of simply letting somebody else into the control room.
I suspect there is a double meaning of this song, where you can stand in the "way" of control as a stance, personally, or you can "stand in the way of control" which creates a void, or simply prevents others from controlling you. Now, we all came from this idea of needing control, but what is the opposite? At a personal level, what does it mean to stand in the way of control, to use my bastardization of the Gossip song? Do the teachings of Jesus fit these principles?
First off, while I was raised as a Christian and was officially confirmed as both Episcopal and Catholic as a youth, I am not religious in that sense as an adult. My interest is one of a socio-economic-ecological perspective. While it is true that the sermon on the mount has been part of my life for many years, I had to look up the general points for this essay. With that caveat, let's do a quick run through of the ideas of the sermon on the plain/mount and apply an initial reaction from the perspective of control:
Be poor: you certainly have lost control over tomorrow. Don't worry about that loaf of bread tomorrow.
Be hungry: don't fret about the feeling of hunger. You will eat eventually, or die. Either there is food or there isn't. If you are hungry, eat if you can. If you can't eat, you will be able to eat later, you must assume. With the control perspective, this is more about trying to control future hunger. In the movie Red Headed Stranger, the story revolves around a town well. Some trappers sell water to the town from a spring they control. The Preacher discovers that the supposed dry well really does have water, so he re-digs the well and they put up a windmill. The trapper family comes down from the hills and destroys the windmill, and as they do the father of the trapper family says as he is destroying the town windmill, "You ever again get to thinking you can depend up on God and the Wind to bring your water, you remember this day."
Head trapper, Larn Claver, and family destroy the town windmill after the preacher goes rogue. Red Headed Stranger, Charter Entertainment (1987)
Weep now: nothing wrong with weeping. Control for ideas of happiness leads to unhappiness. Like hunger, allow weeping in the present. It will be followed by joy, naturally, as it is part of the sine of life. Trying to control this is a mistake.
Not liked?: don't worry about others disapproving of you.
Love your enemies: love is a pretty wide/deep word that isn't very specific, but what if love was simply the finest aspects of not controlling somebody for some purpose, but rather just having a fractal-light relation that grows, blooms like life itself, like the ocean, the mountain, the sky? Without control, you don't do stuff like kill them for bread.
Don't judge others: judging has the intent of relational control. For instance, I might judge somebody for driving a different class of car. That relationship does not hold in lack of control, since I'm rejecting that whole part of relations. I'm not even worrying about tomorrow's bread, FFS.
Blind leading the blind: this accepts that knowledge and leadership is learned, and not an innate quality of existing without some form of hierarchy of transmission/capture. Just because you don't worry about where you get your bread tomorrow doesn't mean you don't plant a field of wheat and bake a loaf of bread. The issue is not about resilience; it is about standing in the way of control structures. Knowledge can assist resilience by helping to understand the ontology of planting a field or baking bread, adapting to the current socio-economic-ecological stressors in real-time. Likewise, knowing what plants are edible or not is information that can be taught. I am pushing it a bit far on this. I imagine Jesus didn't talk ontologies and resilience in the face of socio-economic-ecological stressors, but he was a vine, as in John 15:4, and his knowledge is transmitted via his disciples as branches, so that is in the general area:
16th century Eastern Orthodox icon of Jesus Christ as the True Vine.
A speck of sawdust in your eye: this is similar to judgement, but is more specific. It is possible to improve your own self. In the case of the car, if you are tempted to judge somebody for the class of car (perhaps you think luxury cars are driven by looters, for instance), then turn that on yourself. Are you really that much different? Do you drive a 1967 Beetle, for instance? Is that really less looting all in all, or is it just another way to gain control in a way that is more palatable based on some ideas that were marketed?
The tree and its fruit: judge by outcomes. Is this way of living good or bad? Take a time period of 5,000 years, say, and compare different forms of civilization, from the most basic, to the more complicated. What bore good fruit? That is a way to judge. Note that when you are doing this, it is a fallacy to gauge "good" on how much control there is, with more control being better. A better gauge is the health and well-being of the entire garden, creatures and humans included.
Wise and foolish builders: this is a conclusion that if you don't heed the above, it will lead to flooding, the loss of your house - thar be dragons. Small side note here: "The Great Tribulation" is a period where 75% of all life on Earth perishes in a relatively short period of time (3.5 years from some readings). It is interesting that the decline and recovery does kind of map to business as usual in Limits to Growth with reserves doubled (Figure 36).
I am not alone in this correlation, it turns out. What started as a kind of thought experiment appears to be somewhat of "a thing". In his book Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr quotes Rabbi Joseph Klausner as he writes about Jesus:
...instead of reforming culture he ignored it. "He did not come to enlarge his nation's knowledge, art and culture, but to abolish even such culture as it possessed, bound up with religion." For civil justice he substituted the command to nonresistance, which must result in the loss of all social order; the social regulation and protection of family life he replaced with the prohibition of all divorce, and with praise of those who "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake"; instead of manifesting interest in labor, in economic and political achievement, he recommended the unanxious, toilless life exemplified by birds and lilies; he ignored even the requirements of ordinary distributive justice when he said, "Man, who has made me a judge or divider over you?" Hence, Klausner concludes, "Jesus ignored everything concerned with material civilization: in this sense he does not belong to civilization."
Particularly with my recent focus, the Phlegm House Bathtub vision has a bit of a different meaning to me now. One other interesting coincidence about this entry is that as I started writing this correlation of civilization vs. Jesus, Sean sent me a video of a church near her childhood home. I told her that I just so happened to be writing an essay about Jesus and civilization, so she sent me a picture of it:
I am going to try and cultivate some of these ideas in my own life. In what way can I stand in the way of control and protect the void that remains? I think there is some hope in that. I suspect that this is one way to dampen the extreme tendencies of current civilization. I get it that we have to ride this, but I don't think practice will hurt. Further, we will be forced to face some of the realities of control as we face extreme stressors to our socio-economic-ecological system. I am also interested in the idea that teaching doesn't have to be about control. One of the things that I'm shifting to is the idea of being a docent. It does not demand control; it facilitates understanding.church sean jesus forest control civilization