In a Strange Land

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You have a map of “reality,” in your head that if you keep following,  will take you over cliffs and into dead ends forever. 

This map is called “culture,” 

This inner world of yours, with its rules, expectations, and beliefs has evolved over thousands of years, is bone deep. Without it, you will be a stranger in a strange land. 

And that is exactly what you want.

 

I want to introduce a difficult concept by asking you to imagine that we have been contacted by a flying saucer from a very advanced civilization. They offer advances in every field of science, unlimited health and energy. They offer things we haven’t conceived of yet, but that at first impression sound fantastic. Do we welcome them, or tell them to keep going?

While you consider your answer review what happened to the Indians of the western hemisphere after they were contacted by a technologically advanced civilization. How well did they adapt? How much of the advanced culture were they able to incorporate?  How are they doing now, five hundred years later?

Roughly speaking, they incorporated little to nothing of the culture that defeated them, nor have they to this day. There is a reason for this, there is a certain invisible, rarely named element, that makes all the difference, and I am asking you to grasp it. Before I name it, bare with me for another thought-experiment.

Imagine that you had a fish swimming in a small aquarium on your desk. One day while you are working at your keyboard, you hear a voice singing. After much looking around, you finally realize that you have a talking fish.

“How can you talk?” you ask.

“How can you?” he replies.  And so it goes. You spend considerable time talking with your fish, and finally determine that some kind of radiation leak from your monitor is to blame. But this is incredible! You have a treasure here that  you have to take care of.

And so you ask him, “How is the water in your aquarium?”

He replies, “What’s water?”

As water is to the fish, so worldview is to us, our professors, and those about us. To comprehend worldview, is like the talking fish leaving the aquarium. And it is vital in the pursuit of excellence and freedom to do so. It is worldview that the conquerors destroyed when they invaded the western hemisphere. And it is worldview that you would lose if contacted by an alien culture. Also, a species advanced enough to get here from wherever, would know this, and they would know that their incomprehensible gifts were a type of worldview poison. So that just making themselves know is really a declaration of war. I am not worried about aliens, that is just a paradigm to help you begin to work with a very difficult concept. As you will see, it is you who will become the alien.

For this you will need the mnemonic and what it gives you. Several times I have referred to the Red Pill scene in The Matrix, and will again. Most likely you have glossed over Neo’s decision thinking, “Sure, of course I would take the Red Pill.” But regard the scene again. Note that there is an implied warning that most don’t seem to pickup on. The warning comes when Morpheus says that if Neo takes the Blue Pill, he will wake up in his bed, and believe whatever he wants to. If he takes the Red Pill, he will go down the rabbit hole. The thing is once down the “Rabbit hole,” you can never go back.

And this can hurt. This is alluded to in a favorite book of mine Journey to Ixtlan. It has to do with the author’s study of shamanism. On his ten year journey he has many “Red Pill,” experiences both literally, with the ingestion of psychotropic substances, and figuratively by being immersed in a different worldview, and so he is changed by his adventure.

Now “Ixtlan” turns out to be a metaphorical hometown to which the  warrior is drawn to return. However, after the work of changing his worldview, his changed perspective leaves him little in common with ordinary people, who now seem alien to  him.  The author can no more return to his former world, than Neo could after taking the Red Pill.

So a Ronin of the mnemonic, is a changed being, and for that reason can never go “home” to his old lifestyle and worldview again. At a very simple level, imagine that you have never skydived. You are still the same, though scared, as you take off, then step out holding onto the wing. But once you jump, you are a changed person. Not a big deal.

At the beginning of this section I mentioned the visitation of aliens in a flying saucer, and no doubt you made a quick judgement. I want to present you with a real life case study, and see if that affects your initial judgement.

Before WWII some people on an island of the South Pacific had never seen an airplane. But their islands were vital to the war, and shortly landing strips were built, and airplanes began to land. The aborigines carefully watched all this and were amazed at what came out of the airplanes, cargo. Now they had to fit all this into their worldview, which is that the universe has two locations. Their island, and the realm of their deceased ancestors. This being the case, it was obvious that the wondrous Cargo was sent by their ancestors for them, but that the sneaky white man was tricking the planes by creating the landing strips. 

The solution was simple. They would build airstrips, and the planes would land and disgorge their wonderful cargo for them, and this they did. So now on a mountain top in Papua New Guinea they wait for a plane to land on an airstrip dug into the mountain top.  At one end of the mock airstrip is a decoy airplane made of bamboo and fronds, and at the other end is a bamboo simulation of a coning tower. These are all meant to “trick,” a cargo plane into landing and dispersing its treasure to the natives. They sit and wait, staring at the sky, because their mental framework tells them that this will happen. But it never will.

And it is doubtful that those of the Cargo Cult will ever develop a worldview more adapted to the 21st Century. The above is taken from a small slice of an old film called Mondo Cane, which I recommend if you can find it. There is another part of that film wherein some of the Cargo Cult are put in a van and taken to the Port Moresby air port. At the time of filming the airport was surrounded by a chain link fence and the aborigines, with body piercings and paint, are gripping the fence, fingers clenching and unclenching, as they watch a plane take off. You might imagine that this would correct their worldview, nothing could be further from the truth.

And if they grasped the truth, many of them would be hurled into a spiritual crisis. What would happen to their meaning system? Their purposes, goals, and values would all be shaken at the core. And all this is happening to many of those about you. And as you continue with this material, you are making this choice. You are choosing the Red Pill, to rearrange your comprehension and meaning by what you develop down the Rabbit Hole, and when you try to come back to visit the people of the Blue Pill, you will be forever different.

But that is you, the hero with a comprehension, I hope, of worldview, and the power of the mnemonic. The vast majority would be shattered and shamble about on reservations as some type of slave.

We just reviewed the Cargo Cult to get a better handle on the concept of worldview. Now lets come back to our own culture and check for its effects. Worldview is as much a part of a person as his parents language and culture, it is the assumed Rules of the Game. Those you see about you, and you too for now, are the result of bad scripts generated by a failed worldview. For the purposes of this Position I am saying the worldview of the Cargo Cult is a failure in that its members are working for something that will never happen. They are following a map that describes no territory. I can imagine the guy sitting in the bamboo imitation coning tower as being very proud, and of his high status, somewhat like a politician or certain professors.

A mental map that fits no territory, might feel good, it might feel like home, but it generates artificial values, so that they prize what they have, not what they are. Sound familiar? Now consider the result.

This is from the NY Times: “There is some kind of hard to define spiritual crisis across the land, which shows up in rising depression rates, rising mental health problems. A survey the Pew Research Center released last year captures the mood. Pew asked people to describe the things that bring meaning to their lives. A shocking number of respondents described lives of quiet despair.” 

“I no longer find much of anything meaning, fulfilling or satisfying. Whatever used to keep me going has gone.”

From an old Wall Street Journal; “Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. But they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? The result is that the 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.”

Actually, this book does answer those questions. But consider that those who lack meaning, identity, and purpose are like zombies or aliens. These feelings, motivations, and values, come from deep within you, and are nurtured and grownover a lifetime. When they are missing, as they are in so many, you have someone who looks normal, unlike the zombies of the movies, but they are just going through the motions and don’t dare stop or look inwards. To do so would bring about a dark night of the soul. They would have a spiritual-identity crisis similar to the Cargo Cult member who suddenly grasps the true nature of airplanes and his world. Things would fall apart inside and his attitudes and beliefs about himself, his world, and what he should do in it fall apart. A dark night indeed. So much better to keep shopping and watch TV, or waiting for that plane of cargo.

Now not everyone is lost in some dismal internal swamp. There are other people who are jewels, works of art, which they also produce. There are scientists who work for the love of watching the darkness recede. Dancers in love with their own movement, which they share with you, and so many compassionate people whose heart swells with their love of others. All of these you should care for, and about, but you can only do that by being aware of the idiots, charlatans, and clowns that are intermixed with them, and seem to exude an atmosphere of doubt, confusion, and valuelessness.

I call such, “Matrix people,” and you don’t want to be one of them. 

The position of Strange Land means that the world about you becomes strange and an adventure, when you grasp the nature of worldview, and how it distorts the life of many about you. If you were suddenly cast into the Cargo Cult society you would profit greatly by not waiting for a plane to land on one of the mock airstrips. You might even trade your share of future cargo for whatever you need right now.

In our present society grasping worldview is metaphorically taking the Red Pill. But without your own meaning and purpose you too would experience a dark night of the soul. With your own value system, dropping out of the current worldview frees you and your resources for the tasks at hand.

A long time ago I enjoyed a series of science fiction novels by Jack Vance. They involved the hero being marooned on a planet of many different life forms, some of them derived from humans. He must cross the planet, have countless adventures, in an attempt to find the means to return to Earth.  He has the advantage that the aliens he encounters are quite different in appearance. Would that make a difference to you? Or would you project your own values and needs into the various species you might encounter. 

I would like you to imagine, on a daily basis, that you are not in your familiar situation, but stranded on a strange planet, that you must cross in search of home, that you will eventually discover is within you.  And that out there about you it is a strange world.