We’ve gotten so used to the convenient, routine, knee-jerk answers provided for us that we no longer remember the questions that once bore them. The dying pulse is a distant echo, buried beneath cauterized layers of dense skin – fading away, hidden by our collective hallucination, by our failure of imagination, by our inability to rise above our cognitive prisons to ask the probing questions.
Think about it for a moment.
Why do we have nation-states and electrified boundaries? Why do we go to school? Why does learning have to be assessed, quantified and standardized? Why do we compel 30 remarkably unique students to study the very same thing at the very same time and with the very same expected outcomes? Why are most of our religious faiths exclusive – preferring to see the ‘other’ as deluded, delinquent or damned? Why do we have to build sprawling cities and monotonous suburban layouts, subjecting the green eloquence of nature to the tyrannical spiel of asphalt and steel? Why does a light bulb built a century ago last longer than the light bulbs we build in our ‘advanced’ society today? Why do our technological innovations and products burn out long before we’ve even gotten used to them? Why is money suspiciously scarce, and yet banks monopolize the privilege of creating it out of thin air? Why do banks charge interests on principals that they themselves have wrought? Why do universities churn out PhDs whose degrees and dissertations only serve to confirm what was already known – according to the approved ways of knowing them? If technology is truly evolving and solving most of the world’s problems, why do we seem to be working longer hours at jobs that merely sound grandiose but have no meaning to us – meanwhile we are increasingly distanced from the things that matter – our cherished relationships? If fiat currencies and capital economics are a zero sum game, why aren’t we thinking of commons-based alternatives and gift cultures?
Why do academics write in elusive journals in cryptic languages that interest neither their kind nor the communities that supposedly benefit from them? Why does the supposedly universal quest for development seem suspiciously tethered to the profit interests of corporate monopolies? Why do we continue to give in to the compulsion to expand, to grow, to claim more ownership, to colonize attention, to seek popularity?
In the face of these subversive questions, we grunt, turn a dead eye, or blink in abject bewilderment – unable to see beyond our polished blind-spots. Eventually we contrive atomistic ‘solutions’ that seem to address the problem, but in fact only serve to perpetuate the paradigm that made the problem possible in the first instance. We rationalize away our creative apathy by concocting glorified pseudonyms to hide our nonplussed gestures.
It will take a radical upheaval of consciousness, a gross purging of our perceptual schemes, a collective shamanic dance across latticed world-veils to recognize that getting rid of bureaucratic corruption will only reinforce the larger problem which is the ‘nation-state’, that getting rid of the ‘peeping Tom’ and rampant cheating in schools will strengthen the logic of homogenization and disenchantment by which institutional education is defined, that trying to get rid of waste and sickened slums by building more lavish cities is the condition for spreading more poverty, that trying to effect change by enlarging authority is to silently celebrate the demise of initiative. What we desperately need today is not viscous skin lotion or longer moments in the bathtub. We need a knife. Specifically, we need a wound – a deep wound to burrow through the sinewy layers of givens we have been ensconced with – nay, that now form our very musculature. It will be a bloody odyssey. Nevertheless, if we persist at this pained quest to arrive at some resolution, we will find – with deep surprise – not ‘solutions’, but a thriving community of new kinds of ‘problems’. You don’t gift a leprous limb with healing by coaxing it out of its contortions or rubbing it down with some magic balm. The greatest gift you can offer the leper is the gift of pain – the oh-so-cherished ability to feel again. A healthy body is full of parasites and viruses – their ecosystems conspiring ironically to strengthen our immune responses. Here lies the paradox: the way to solve our problems today isn’t to provide ‘solutions’ (for they perpetuate the same logic they attempt to nullify), but to engage a different problem altogether – a new paradigm. The imperative is not so much to ask the hard questions as opposed to the convenient ones – as it is to ask ‘different’ questions, which disrupt the linearity of the former. The imperative is not to tell the same story with a new accent or enhanced vocabularies; the imperative is to tell another story – totally different in subtext, assumptions, plot and pace.
Einstein may have put it most appropriately when he said that we will never solve our problems with the same kind of intellectual tools and paradigms that created them. Audre Lorde’s way of saying this was that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. And while these mystic-poets could not have said it better than they did, I prefer to listen to, and watch, the madman as he dances outside the important walls of our long-winded conferences, as he laughs at our seriousness and logical pyramids, as he mocks our altars dedicated to shiny-faced innovations, as he in turn watches us take sides and draw bloodied lines in the sand…casting red-tipped fingers at the ‘other’s complicity and failure. When he fades away into the oblivious horizons, I cannot help but think that somewhere in his preposterous mutterings, somewhere in his insignificance, somewhere in his crazy dance-steps across the moorlands of consensual realities is the key, the door, the portal…the wound we desperately need to be whole again.