“no man’s land, the ghostly territory between the contending trenches” (A People’s History…Ch. 14)


People – which I will use here liberally, i.e. recklessly and reductively – often (I’ve taken measurements, I swear) read 1984 as prophetic instead of synthetic. That is, they see in it caution about the future instead of summary of the past; or at least the future’s possibility supplants the past’s reality in our imagination. Because if you look closely at the historical circumstances that generated Orwell’s vision, he was reporting more than he was predicting. This isn’t a revelation, of course. Animal Farm is read as allegory, so we’re well aware of the moves he was making. So what am I pointing out? Just (duh) that we’re stuck in samsara (Ecuador inspired in me a shift toward Buddhist paradigms). That the future is the past, and the present – with us included – is caught in the middle of it. That when we keep falling into the logic of impermanence – e.g. war is peace – we can’t escape our suffering. How do we halt the karmic wheel’s spin?

The first step (I’m hoping) is to see the wheel. Orwell and Zinn give us such insight, but we can’t dwell in their vision alone, especially if it only inspires the paralysis of cynicism and hopelessness. Revisiting American history – or imagining global future – can destabilize you to the point of giving up. If at any point I can be convinced that 2+2=5, if the state can crush me with its boot whenever it pleases, if everything has been motivated by greed and profit, why bother? I am Winston Smith, and in the end, I have no choice but to surrender to Power, an earthly force that always wins. I am Eugene Debs, and though I try to point out the truth – e.g. that “the master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles” – I too will be overcome by Power.

Except…there is hope in Debs’ case. Although he spent a significant portion of his life in prison under the terrible treachery of the Espionage Act – he dared to question the morality of the government in forcing the American people’s collective hand to embrace war – he held on to Love. Perhaps that’s where Winston Smith fell short; he tried – and failed – to guard his mind. Debs looked to his heart for power that trumped so-called “Power,” power that didn’t need the empty move of capitalization. As he said to his judge:

Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

This dude got it. He was free from suffering, but he also understood that he wasn’t so long as anyone else suffered. He was all in one. He was already and always me. I am already and always Debs, the personality draped over the eternal Self at his core. In the statement above, Debs showcases infinite wisdom. He addresses himself, for he is also his judge. When I criticize Donald Trump, I attack myself; if I fail to understand that I am him, my doubts are empty and futile. I remain stuck in my suffering because I forbid love’s participation in such necessary action against negative energy manifest in our world. If I act in love, wishing to understand myself in Trump instead of creating pointless separation, I have a better chance of freeing us both. If I act in hatred, neither of us (indeed, no one) is free. If this sounds privileged or naive, I understand your skepticism. I was there too, and if you are there now, I remain there still. Love as the answer? How can that be? Surely our human drama demands something more…interesting. But what is more interesting than a cosmic force capable of mass liberation?

Okay, Lou, but Interstellar already tried that nonsense as an answer, and that shit was ridiculous.

It is ridiculous if you have no faith in it as true. And I am not here to change your mind, but I do hope – and I now act in service of this hope – that I somehow manage to help you open your heart. Because there you are, and there I am, and there is where we all have enough room to live and flourish. Hard to believe? Yes. Until you’ve experienced its truth. I can’t get you there. I accept that. I try anyway.

A single trip to Ecuador, and now you think you’re Buddha? Pretty pretentious, Lou.

I think nothing, I feel everything. I understand if that (and everything I’ve written here) sounds pretentious. So be it. It comes from my heart. No apologies. Before the trip, I read Zinn’s book with deep frustration and tempered anger. Now, I read it with love. I experience it with the wish to understand, not the desire to judge. Judgment creates safe distance between me and my ancestors, when truly, I am them. I am the criminals and the victims in these histories. I am the space between them. I am no man’s land and every man’s land. I take on all these roles with love and let them go. They do not serve me, but they do – they must, for I can now not claim ignorance of their influence on my existence – shape my service. I serve knowing what has come before me and what may come after me if I choose not to serve. Zinn’s past is inescapable; Orwell’s future is not.

When Emma Goldman speaks of the need – “the right,” in fact – “to overthrow” the United States’ “despotism,” sanctioned by the Declaration of Independence, she likely imagined another ideology displacing democracy as the “answer” to our collective suffering. In truth, no ideology is the answer, and I mean that doubly: no ideology will save us AND no ideology – i.e. the absence of all ideology – will save us. There is nothing we can conceive that will free us from suffering except when we stop conceiving altogether, or at least, when we stop attaching ourselves so desperately to our conceptions. Democracy is a word, and yes, it creates a world. Whenever we drop the word, we let go of the world. We’re afraid to confront that void. What if the void is infinity? What if we’re left with the possibility of creation? What a gift we’d receive!

The abyss is not suffering; it is the absence of suffering. I choose to look into the abyss, fearing not what I stand to see. I hope to see you there soon.

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