Friday, June 2, 2017

Updating the Operating System: γνῶθι σεαυτόν

Reworked and updated excerpt from Navigating the Rubicon (9/2009)

The Trailhead

I've never written much publicly on my lead-up to this personal Odyssey. I always say it began in August 2004. In 2005,  I read a biography on Jean-Jacques Rousseau which introduced me to  the idea of unfettered commitment to truth and the phrase Vitam Impendere Vero which loosely translated means “truth before everything, even at the cost of death."

About the same time, I began Gandhi’s An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth featuring one particular simple anecdote that affected me rather deeply as he verbally bull-whipped himself for having lustful thoughts about his own wife!

I'm no Gandhi. But this set an example about being honest with one's self. No one would have chided him for hounding after his wife. However, he sensed a hypocritical flaw and allowed no rationalization. He believed he was not living up to his own ideals and went to work on it. Truth regardless of circumstance. Self-honesty at any cost. This blended with Rousseu into a simple cocktail of realization: in order to live according to one's ideals and beliefs, well, one must know precisely what they are! But first, one must know precisely who they are.


γνῶθι σεαυτόν

Nosce Te Ipsum (Te Nosce or Temet Nosce) is inscribed upon the Oracle at Delphi and simply means “know thyself”. Simple in concept; maddening in practice. It’s the foundation of the many ancient of philosophy, from Socrates forward: "An unexamined life is not worth living." As described on Philosophy Pages, "[Socrates] sought genuine knowledge rather than mere victory over an opponent, Socrates employed the same logical tricks developed by the Sophists …[in] the pursuit of truth. Thus, his willingness to call everything into question and his determination to accept nothing less than an adequate account of the nature of things make him the first clear exponent of critical philosophy."

I strongly identified with this and thus began the process of Andre's famously elusive Inner Dialogue: not merely accepting a happy-yet-meaningless internal "victory" via rationalization, but a willingness to identify and annihilate rationalization when possible while accepting (then welcoming) all defeats of falsehood, no matter how personally embarrassing, through a relentlessly bloody pursuit of truth.

It didn't take long to see that I was enthusiastically employed in the Business of Bullshit. I’d spent decades deceiving myself. And, because no one likes having their snouts rubbed in their own shit, the corrections were difficult and the exhumation of highly-personalized bullshit narratives continues. I’m under no illusion that it will ever be finished. Nor should you be.

I've heard the analogy that first you must tear down to rebuild. Great. But you still need a place to live! In this case, I equate it to slowly building a new house adjacent to the old. While erecting your spiffy new home you periodically return to the old to rescue what’s still useful. Despite its difficulty, it is the most rewarding and self-beneficial thing I've done, continue, and likely will ever do. For the first time, I began seeing, at least with with semi-lucidity, who I’d been (horrified), who I was (shocked), and who I felt I “should” be (thoroughly unattainable). I've traditionally described it as an intense application of A.A.'s personal inventory with the theistic “higher power” bullshit replaced by an often unforgiving commitment to truth.

Once the inventory began and my “signal” was weakly acquired, I then found myself battling constant crippling fear and cowardice. There is a distinction. Fear is of the unknown while cowardice is an cowering before the known; there was a gulf between knowing my path and my willingness to walk it. I also found myself wallowing in a previously unnoticed and insipid laziness; an aversion to putting forth the effort to investigate then prepare for the path's daunting terrain preferring instead to mentally masturbate. In short, I failed to act in accordance with high-minded ideas and ideals unexpectedly manifesting themselves on paper once I started deciphering the signal’s code.

My operating system was updating and old behavioral software was no longer compatible.

Lacking extreme clarity on my part would be neglectful if not outright deceitful. It's important to understand my realtime reactions: I brutalized myself over these shortcomings. In retrospect, I expected too much thus went too far. Yet, bizarrely, I would never have let anyone treat someone I cared about the way I treated myself! But, I rightfully allowed a repositioning of standards and altering of outdated definitions ("success", "life", etc.) based on sometimes savage responses to often brutal questions. I had to feel authenticity and truth but despised what I saw in the mirror once these new standards and definition rooted.

**FRIENDLY WARNING TANGENT: If you were to ask a competent doctor, he would say the Toddzilla Method is probably not right for you. If anyone. There’s not much, but if I could change anything I’d have more appreciation for the lifelong task I’d undertaken and that it’s an epic process rather than just changing into a new set of magic cognitive underwear. (Sorry not sorry Mormons. You deserve it.) I expected the ideas to instantly set in and transform me with immediate and profoundly tangible results. When it didn’t happen to my satisfaction, I sabotaged my own growth with self-abuse and internal condemnation. That quietly went on, in phases, until I realized its destructiveness over a decade later. That could be another post all together. For now let's leave it at "don’t do that". 

But, it worked. It was only then, through bitter disgust for a newly exposed raw reality, that I was able to step forward and away from the comfort of a concocted and rationalized Castle of Bullshit and begin to live in at least semi-accordance with who I was. Baby steps stumbling in Singularity's direction.

In the years since, various Sky Daddyists have suggested I found God. I find this childish; some days, offensive. But, despite my best attempts, the previous 13-years also prevents me from bowing before any atheist religion's altar. The best my modestly evolved simian brain can come up with resonates with Pastor Snake’s sermon and some of my new neighbor Emerson’s transcendentalist ideas on the “over-soul”. Basically, I believe I likely cleared a previously unused channel and simply became an accidental conduit. For what? No idea. The more I try to figure that out the less I seem to know and I'm coming to accept that, whatever it is, it's likely far beyond my meager comprehension. If that changes, I’ll let you know. Hell, I'll scream it from a Massachusetts mountaintop out of the joy of finally achieving some overdue clarity! Hey! Sky Daddyists! Goddammit, where’s your talking snake (North Carolina pun intended) or an articulate Burning Bush when you need one? What's that? "God works in mysterious ways?" Yeah, yeah. Have a juicy apple.

Make no mistake, this sort of introspective commitment is not always comfortable to share a space with. People can misinterpret my skeptical questions as merely a combative attitude. I confess sometimes they are! But, more often, having blinders in place, my conscious tendency is to put the acquisition of facts before politely requesting them! I take great care in obtaining fact but not such care in protecting feelings. That’s compounded by my own personal experience with self-delusion and Mr. Quixote: I don’t always believe people are aware of the facts despite believing otherwise! Especially their own! Perhaps this is a shortcoming. One that, if tailored to mass-appeal, would afford me more friends. Granted. But, to be blunt, I don't put much value in the types of "friendships" it would preserve. If you choose to engage me into this realm, I'll come fully prepared, will assume you do as well, and have little sympathy if you don't. 

Burning Bush? I'd settle for The Singing Bush!