At the hotel, there was a shrine to all the gods of the island and I stopped before the Buddha. The cupboard underneath Lord Ganesh opened and a kitten mewed out. It looked like its eyes were gouged out. I was shocked, I had to do something, I wanted to fix it, to take it home. On closer look its eyes were just rheumy, but the feeling remained.
I felt the sense of a higher purpose and an utter powerlessness in front of it. You can’t fix every kitten you meet, let alone the ones you don’t. Indeed, you’re not supposed to. This is the human condition. This is the hurt of hubris. We are cursed to feel a higher consciousness with an utter incompetence to act upon it. We just stand there in front of the gods, asking them to do something. And they just stare back.
The subtext of every sad news article is that someone should do something. So many conversations about affairs end with ‘they should really do something about it’. But who is they? There is a sense of a higher consciousness shared among us, but responsibility is so diffuse that the obvious actions cannot be taken. Democracy™ makes this worse. Democracy™ lies that everyone is a fractional ruler when in fact we’re just a useless voters on a TV gameshow called American Idol of Assholes. We get to change the color of paint on the oligarchic machine while it grinds us and the planet into dust irregardless.
Mass media gives us eyes all over the world but the arms belong to arms dealers. They just gin up outrage about places we’ve never heard of and use it to bomb them in more outrageous ways. We can’t do anything but watch. At best we’re manipulated into cheering on these wars, at worst we try to resist and get ignored. These screens give us a dim sense of omniscience (cameras everywhere) but there’s actually no higher programming. The news is all just advertising for the powerful, to keep you buying toys like children watching Saturday morning cartoons.
Throughout our lives we keep feeling higher levels of consciousness—the nation, the inter-nation, the race, the religion, the family, the marriage. Yet the illusion western philosophy labors under is that the individual somehow is the one true consciousness underneath all of this, the one locus of free will. This is a view as dim as the idea that the sun revolves around the Earth, but we labor under it still. It is a futile grinding, like a gear grinding against the machine. It brings only suffering.
When I was a child I used to think that if I pointed my toes a certain way, I could make the Ohio State Buckeyes win on the TV screen. This is the same delusion we labor under watching the news today. The point is not that you actions are completely meaningless, the point is that you are completely meaningless. Without each drop, there would be no wave crashing on the beach. And yet each drop itself is meaningless. Such it is with being just a part of the higher consciousness called humanity, and life, and whatever this energy is that resists the entropy of space.
You can see shit happening, just as water in the ocean can sense some perturbation going on. Perhaps some of us even feel like the vanguard foam on the wave, fronting some historical process as it happens. Today—as this centuries long civilization crashes—many of us are consumed with trying to understand what’s going on, to avert it, or simply say I told you so. But ‘I’ is really the least operant character here. Even ‘we’ is largely meaningless. We are beyond pronouns and in the realm of nouns now. Like ‘Earth’ and ‘planet’ and ‘history’.
What can an individual do in the face of societal collapse? What does a naked ape do at the end of naked lunch? It’s like asking what an ant does about a thunderstorm. It’s the most important question to an individual, and also a stupid fucking question. The answer the universe gives is who cares? That’s all there is to it really, you can care, you can stumble through your dharma within the Age of Kali, but you cannot control things in any meaningful way. This is not the answer anyone wants, so we keep asking the question in a million different ways.
The fact, however, is that every major religion is apocalyptic, except maybe Buddhism, which is still pretty apocalypse now. Ever since civilization started popping off we’ve known that it wouldn’t end well. We stopped believing in all that but it didn’t make the general point any less real. Science was supposed to be our final domination plan, our final triumph over superstition, but it is in fact what caused climate collapse in the end. We meet our fate on the road we take to avoid it. We’ve known that story since that motherfucker Oedipus, but it’s still a surprise in the end. Such is the higher unconsciousness we carry across generations.
I stand in front of the Buddha, Lord Ganesh, Jesus, and the crescent moon and do what? All I can do is take refuge in the Buddha (buddham saranam gacchami), like an ant in a thunderstorm, like a drop in the crashing waves. Underneath each religious cupboard blind kittens come tumbling out, and I can’t save any of them. The best I can do is my limited dharma and even that’s impossibly devilish to ascertain. Such is life when you know you’re living. It’s suffering mainly. We have this higher consciousness and an utter incompetence to do anything about it. It’s a pain.
What Should An Individual Do In The Face Of Collapse?