Beyond the Whirlpool

There is more life and sincere exertion of real power in a random blade of grass than is exhibited by any statesman today. There is more discovery in the way a morning breeze can draw the discrete perceptions of many days into a unified experience in the mind than in all the public school textbooks being ground into the immobilized souls occupying today’s classrooms, or in all the corporate assembly lines that produce those textbooks. There is more art in a spider’s web, or in the way a kingfisher shakes its feathers dry, than in all the pop stars and avantgarde fine arts graduates dulling the spirits, respectively, of the all-too-comfortable masses and the slavish nihilists who like to believe they are above the masses. 

The surface of the modern sea is a panoply of competing whirlpools: vortices of narrow, specialized, tribalized information, each trying to pull you down into its motion so that the world, as you perceive it, becomes nothing but the limiting, dizzying, inescapable circularity of the swirl. Each whirlpool, however, is slowly dying out, giving way to a newly emerging one, which is to say that its certainties cannot be knowledge, but only a provisional, inherently false and vanishing “perspective.” To live in the modern world without sacrificing the desire to know to the lure of the ever-vanishing vortices — the trap of modern certainties — thus requires flying constantly above the water’s surface, or swimming forever far below it. 

Every time you hear that voice in your head saying, “I wonder what X will have to say about this,” where “X” is the name of a person or organization seeking money or practical power by means of his or its public statements, remind yourself that that voice in your head is not your voice. It is the voice of the tribe, the call of childlike certainties, the siren song of the collective calling you to intellectual dependence and moral surrender.

Reject that voice in your head. Ignore its comforting deceptions. Think of every time — so many, so many — that you let that voice, and all the Xs to which it was calling you, pull you into accepting falsehood, into the cowardice of groupthink, into the spiritual immaturity of “belonging,” into the denial of self-reliance, into being something inferior to the lonelier, less certain, and happier individual you might have been.

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