March 18, 2013
Impoverishment is relative. That is to say, relativistic in the sense that Einstein intended it. Neither space nor time is a separate dimension of any reality; they can only exist cooperatively as a continuum of experience and meaning. I may be thrown out of my apartment or I may endure another month — the space and its time cannot be divided, even if they are measured discretely. If only in my own experience, I must find a way beyond the mechanical as my measure of the whole. Even visible weeds have quantum roots.
The pressure of impending loss cannot be denied; but its emotional physics may be understood somewhat differently than is common in our culture. I do not know what truth there may be in any of that; I only seek a certain wisdom in desperation, because the frigid pressure of this imperious austerity would otherwise crush me. I must find a way beyond survival and a path into living. No matter who or what else might be involved, that path must take form within me. This is the connection between the dispersal of false belief about the cosmos and the ordinary struggles of an impoverished life down here.
I see that the most active planets and nebulae appear silent and cold; and I know that this is exactly what I have been. There is necessity even in failure: this has been my only self-defense amid my pillar-to-post stagger of submission to loss and estrangement. I hold nearly everything within, reasoning that we cannot reveal much when we are poor. I must be cold and still, or else risk tainting others with the stain of my collapse. If my orbit has broken, then I alone must bear the responsibility and the consequences. Expression must recede as currency dwindles.
And so I quail before the most common and trivial of conversation: “how ya doin’?” becomes a mystery greater than the sound of the last trumpet (Cor. 15:51). But it is more than a matter of not troubling the still waters of others’ sensibilities; that is only part of it. We live on bread — not because it is the staff of life (John 6:35), for it is not. Bread is, in fact, an ugly metaphor on the essence of God. The modern poor understand this. For while it is true that we do live on bread; we consume it because it fills and bloats us cheaply. Many of us eat it because our teeth are too rotted and broken for a crisper, more diverse and nourishing sustenance. Whenever surveys are done of the uninsured, the dentist is commonly rated first or second among the medical providers most sorely missed.
The decayed remnants of our social philosophies lie exposed on the board of want; even pabulum cannot be chewed when there are no teeth. But again, we cannot speak of these things; they open too wide a gulf between with and without; between have and have-not. There is no space in our discourse for the examination of assumptions. Certain things must be politely assumed or God will tumble out of heaven like the last drunk thrown from the tavern; the government may crumble before its time; and the television will go dark and quiet amid the temblors of awareness and compassion.
In this age of the Internet, search has some meaning — it delivers information and sells advertising. But to seek does not become us. Our searches must be for cold data and stop there. We are content with facts and have no need for truths. A fact can lie dead, stiff, and bare before us, like a corpse beneath the undertaker’s hands. Truth, however, vibrates with life and is therefore more elusive. It takes more energy just to touch, let alone hold truth than to discover a fact. What is dead can be claimed and owned; but truth can only be loved, shared, and then released. Release is half the act of sharing; and sharing is the essence of compassion. Truth’s light and joyous movement evades the iron point of possession’s flagstaff. The search box delivers ready information; the seeking heart promises understanding. It is not a technological choice; our machines have no advice for us there. And so we remain marginally free, for the moment.
My landlady and my ex-wife want to know where their money is and why I do not pay. There is an oppression of shame in the inability to pay. The chains of poverty thicken and multiply with time, and write their sentence into our skin: abandon the dream of building bridges across the chasm of separation; getting and spending is all the quest your life needs. The Corporate Church teaches that compassion and survival are enemies. So grab as much as you can reach; survival allows for no other recourse. No wonder, then, that the poor are reticent: they have violated the great commandment.
In any event, our questions fade under the thickening ice of want. The vision of desperation goes blind under the glare of judgment: you are a lazy parasite within the belly of society, a leech on the back of the collective. The judgment must be accepted, the poison ingested, if there is to be any hope of re-assimilation. Just remain on or close to the surface and you will not be isolated. But go further: seek any depth beyond the veneer and you will be lost, trodden underfoot, crushed by the ice or drowned amid its melting.
Again: we cannot speak of these things. Though there may still be millions of us in this boat, it is only the surface of the water that matters. Think outside the box, the Corporation tells me; but do not dare try to tip it over or look beneath it. Speech may be nominally free, but listening is restricted and often forbidden. Today, both the iconoclast and his audience are extinct, except as mere images. Otherwise, all strive to be insiders within the Corporate Body of God and His org-chart hierarchy of Heaven. The outsider declined rapidly under the weight of that tower supported by the stone columns of power and subjection; guilt and salvation; original sin and the commerce of absolution.
Transcendence has no place in a world where everything can be bought. There is no one left outside whose heart can be felt or heard inside; iconoclasm has no further place among us. If you dare to speak strangely or uniquely — should you risk the work of tipping over the box to expose the vermin beneath it — expect to be either cast out of the tower of shadows or lifted onto its top; the net effect is the same. Christ sits there now, atop the tower of belief and worship — isolated, distorted, and imprisoned — functionally as silent as if he had been buried under the frozen ground with all the others. He is lost amid those distant clouds: thus, the money-changers’ tables are safe from harm.
I am here below, with the others, the numberless horde pressed beneath the ice of disenfranchisement. I do not speak about it; I no longer ask why I cannot contribute; why I have not been able to see a doctor in over a decade; why I have no place or message for those on the inside, except as a warning against the price of dissent; why debt must be my present identity and my future legacy; or whether giving and receiving might not be the proper and natural leaders of getting and spending. These questions have no place in the silent order of shadows.
No, I do not talk about it anymore — not to family, friends, or even strangers. My voice goes cold and still in that sunless air, even before the thought can find sound. But here, in an electromagnetic space of anonymity, it may still be spoken; the questions may still be asked. The irony is only superficial: to write on the Internet is like walking through a great city — you can be visible to millions and seen by none.
Again, the realm of Search does not admit of seeking. It must also be recognized that philosophy — certainly Western philosophy — has been largely a failure. Plato and Spinoza mean no more to us than the numberless walls of Facebook; the government at least reads the latter. Philosophy surrendered itself to the tyranny of abstraction as, with few exceptions, it allowed its living heart to be consumed amid the ice of oppression. It gave up speaking to people when it insisted on talking to itself.
This is perhaps the barest and most broken form of Poverty: we no longer ask what it means to be a citizen either of the universe or a nation; we look instead for that point of subjection wherein survival but not life reside. It is as far as our minds dare reach.
Still, it is worth recalling that both greatness and folly lack constancy. The same is true of reality and delusion. These are all subject to the same principle — a law of transformation rather than of randomness. The wheel of fortune spins on the surface of the random; the breath of transformation flows through the entire body of the universe, embracing space and time within a single quantum reality. There is in nature no fixed state of wealth or poverty. Only belief is inscribed in stone; truth lives and moves — but it takes more energy and a greater commitment than belief. This is the point of a poem I once wrote, a prayer of sorts “To the Goddess of Transformation”:
Please come in: go all the way backto the old closet past the kitchenwhere the priests left their wine-stained robes.Where the arms and legs of hallowed toysthat never worked, never playedare buried in the graveyard of lies.
Let the drunken robes sleep on, undisturbed;but clear away the empty bottles of belief.For every time I touch them, I bleedonto the edges of their granite labels.
Perhaps we who are poor do not speak of our condition because it needs no words. To talk openly of ourselves and our state would be to touch the granite label of Fortune’s two-dimensional wheel. We may as well surrender ourselves to the rigid chaos of the daily Lotto drawing. The bipolar axis of Hope and Dread dwells lifeless and frozen within each, like the binary poles of a sunless asteroid.
To be a have-not is at least to have an identity within the collective, even if it is as its refuse. A society’s garbage is as much of its essence as is its gold. We are fed the hope that transmutation between those two states is possible. To say that this is an illusion, and that the actual rule is proven by its exceptions — that is the greatest blasphemy possible within the temple of acquisition. It is this blasphemy that must be spoken now, and loudly.