Saturday, June 26, 2010

But seriously, why a journal?

A human is stripped of the agglomeration of petty daily concerns, short-term grievances, social expectations, biological survival concerns -- down to the clearest possible mental level -- what is the first logical question to ask?

What are the rules of operation for this world?

Not an obvious question at all, given that most of us spend our growth to adulthood following well-worn paths of one sort or another, and largely absorb our conception of what reality comprises without conscious intent. To (re)visit the question from a position of life experience and matured logic is to sacrifice the impressionability of our formative tabula rasa years, but though the lanes of subconscious influence we build as adults are more shallow, they at least have the advantage that they can be self-directed to a preferred aim.

What can we see?

The majority of the world's population lives at or below the minimum regionally acceptable conditions, as measured according to a scale that allows sufficient headroom for those with slightly above-average ambition to raise their own standard of living enough to satisfy them personally, but not to threaten any part of the infrastructures of authority.

A variety of systems, often with overlapping jurisdiction, are in place to help maintain a balance between docility and productivity in this population. Some systems establish and distribute the baseline level of comfort that is tolerable within the local culture. Some systems are designed to use the manipulation of fear as a motivator for their citizenry to adhere to certain restrictions or compulsions in behavior. Some exist purely to normalize obedient action through rote repetition, regardless of any value produced.

Individual people are, of course, too personally complex for us to attempt the reductionist task of systematizing their behavior, but populations do clearly communicate their commonly accepted concerns and boundaries through the observable cultural autodialog. These boundaries can be stretched and experimented with, but general adherence is expected and the spectacle of breaking the rules is frowned upon and often institutionally punished.

We don't need to relearn the physics of the world, within which we always exist and whose details are refreshingly fixed regardless of any social or personal upheaval, but the insufficiency of our initial learning may become evident and incline us to upgrade.

How do we learn about working within these systems, dealing with people (and with individual persons), and negotiating the essential maze of life?

Ideally, through targeted experimentation. But how does one determine the right target when the world is still an equation that one is trying to solve?

There may be those for whom the challenge of the puzzle is enough, but I suspect most of those who arrive at this point of all-encompassing reconsideration of the nature of their lives have arrived through the usual doors: overwhelming personal trauma, phenomenologically-oriented use of drugs (or other temporary derangement), or a crisis of faith -- the common thread being that the rug of consensus reality on which our culture stands is suddenly pulled out from underneath the feet of the individual, to reveal not floor, but emptiness.

The individual standing in that space has had a personal history, and if that history can be viewed in detail, and relatively objectively, during such a window of opportunity, a direction may present itself. This is the advantage of the "born again" position, the chance to exert our will -- but the position has tremendous personal danger for the subject who has not sufficiently detached from the superfluous concerns of their life. Some (necessarily incomplete) knowledge of our own core question/s can orient us on the map, and only when this orientation is achieved is it safe to step further.

A crisis point is a test, and our life to that point has been the study period. An unexamined life leaves us disoriented, with no sense of north, and the crisis point becomes wasted or destructive. At this moment, the right questions are what returns us to solid footing, and lights a path through otherwise empty space.

Without clarity on the relationship between the world and the self, there can be no meaningful action. Without a recognized aim, there can be no clarity. Without self-knowledge, there can be no aim. Without rigorous observation, there can be no reliable self-knowledge. Without discipline, there can be no effective observation.

The essential purpose of the journal is as an observational tool to practice and develop personal operational discipline. The intended product of the journal is self-knowledge.

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