What many philosophers circle around like buzzards is the pretense of reality.
It is not the pretense (nor reality) upon which we misguide our actions. It is the mistrust that any and all reality is pretense.
We have been transfixed with the sick feeling that we are prisoner’s in Plato’s Cave. We forget in our delirium that we are in the cave by our own choice.
It is not good enough anymore–nor was it ever good enough–to insist, “Cogito ergo sum.” I can convince myself I am as I am because I am a thinking mind. Unfortunately that does not rid me of other people who insist on the same thing.
“Cogito ergo sum” varies from one person to another. It separates all others from me. It also does not value one person’s “cogito” over another’s, unless there is, as always, power involved. In this sense, it is simultaneously anti-collective and anti-individualistic.
I go into my dreaded office job and boldly tell my boss, “I have realized, it is okay to be myself.” I have been saying it all morning as a mantra just so I can preserve myself when I step into the monkey cage. (This is my latest metaphor for work: A monkey cage, where you willingly go and lock yourself in for most of your day so that the monkeys, as monkeys do, throw shit on you. At the end of the day, you leave and try to convince yourself that despite this company of monkeys you have subjected yourself to, you are not a monkey at all.) I tell my boss (I am not a monkey; I am a man), “I decided today it’s okay to be myself.” He leans back in his chair. “That’s great to hear. I think other people will like you much more if you can just do that.” But of course he misses the point. I don’t want to depend on whether or not others like me, and being myself is not some holy grail for which I must vainly quest. I am myself all the time. I can’t help it. But this begs the question, why is it important to verbally assert, “It’s okay to be myself,” if I can’t be any other thing but myself? Can I really separate myself from these monkeys?
“Can I separate myself from monkeys?” is actually (for the purpose of this foray) two questions: 1. Can I define myself apart from others? 2. Can I overcome my primal instincts to throw shit at the people around me, especially when they are throwing shit at me? For me, this leads back to the first question about whether it is possible to have a solipsistic definition of individuality.
If I start at the beginning, I am in fact made of two: mother and father. It takes sexual intercourse between two different people to produce me. And it hardly matters whether they get along, as long as they agree to set aside their differences long enough to conceive me and push me out into the world. In my case, I am made from two people who professed love but, as a matter of daily survival, hated each other.
Now it usually happens that these two strange people known as parents want to seal themselves together (in vain) through the child. If the child can believe everything, think everything, all that the parents together would like to believe and think as one, this child might unite them. Unfortunately the attempt fails as the parents realize any union is a pipe dream and is aborted as the child grows into an idea of becoming self-aware.
This is the first reality of mistrust: parents can’t be trusted.
The parents have used the child in a power play to regain what they originally lost upon their own self-awareness, the trust that we can ever truly trust anyone.
If the child goes to college, he will then transfer that need to be known, the need to trust that it is possible to be accepted as oneself–which he has mistaken until now as the role of his parents to fulfill–onto his teachers. Teachers are under the illusion that it pays to be magnanimous, and happen to have large egos out of which flows their magnanimity, so they willingly accept the role. Well, at least till graduation. At which point, the child is completely on his own.
So what does the child do? He marries. He desperately has to believe the union his parents promised him his whole life is real.
He finds out with his first child it isn’t any truer for him as it was for his parents. If he’s any good, he’ll realize it a lot sooner.
But his quest is not over. He goes to work. There are many father and mother figures he can imagine in any manager. Managers are much worse than teachers. Probably because we pay teachers so that one day managers can have the luxury of paying us. Managers are narcissistic sociopaths waiting to explode. Yet they eagerly devour our unwavering trust so they can sleep at night. Work isn’t so important. Why else are we really there? Work is merely a means to feeding a frustrated id. Woe unto him he confuses a boss for a parent. Woe unto him who confuses a parent for a boss. Woe unto him who confuses a boss for a boss. Clearly, a boss is an infant.
This is the second reality of mistrust: Nobody can be trusted.
Now life becomes unbearable. If you can’t trust anyone, how can you be sure you can trust yourself? Other people don’t trust you. Why should you? What if they’re right? What if you’re wrong like they say? And what if you’re really responsible for their mistrust?
This is the third reality of mistrust: You can’t trust yourself. It’s maddening.
In such an environment it is easy to see how in a totalitarian regime a child might give up his parent, a neighbor a fellow neighbor, etc.–all this in the name of self-preservation–all the while you hate even yourself as a possible dissenter.
So let’s go back to Plato’s Cave. It’s much less confusing.
But the cave is simply prefatory. Nowadays we go to the movies. Or stay home for TV. A good crime drama. A political thriller. Government conspiracies. Corporate conspiracies. The lies of J. Edgar Hoover. The lies of Kissinger. The lies of all women and men in love. The boss who is really head of a mafia organization. The coworker or neighbor who turns out to be a cold-blooded killer. The famous line: “Don’t trust anyone.” The implication: “Of course, not even me.” Not even yourself: The Parallax View.
What great calamity would befall us if instead we decided to trust each other?
If I trust that you will do what you say you will do and you do exactly what you said, then I am better off than if, because of mistrust, I never gave you the chance, except to mistrust me in return. If I trust you and you break my trust, then I am hurt, but it is a relatively swift blow compared to the daily torture of unnecessary mistrust. In betting terms, I’d bet on better results and less heartache with trust. If I operate in trust, than it is easier to trust myself that I did the right thing for myself even if I am hurt or taken advantage of.
Now it is the nature of the world that trust engenders trust and mistrust, mistrust. The irony is we mistrust this concept.
The flaw with mistrust is that suffering is constantly prolonged. How many deaths do I die each day out of suspicion that someone is waiting to kill me? Others are not waiting to kill me. They kill me without hesitation or remorse because they mistrust how long they have before I eventually kill them. It is not our intention to kill, but to survive. We kill from our misconception of survival.
Why do we kill our prophets–Jesus (one parent), Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Malcolm X, John Lennon (no parents)–if it is not that they preach what we above all do not trust: unity and peace? Above all, peace with oneself. Unity may never be attainable, but the only thing that stands in the way of peace is mistrust. Our prophets of peace are beautiful. But as Hannah Arendt remarked, “By its very nature beauty is isolated from everything else. From beauty no road leads to reality.”
It is hard to say that there is any reality but mistrust. It is equally difficult to say whether mistrust leads to any sort of firm reality.
If trust is a dream, mistrust is a nightmare. People will gladly die for a dream. Nightmares do not give people the choice to live.
So now maybe our parents were right after all, at least in the beginning. Sex is the physical symbol of inviolable trust. It is in the interconnection of pure physicality that we can set aside our clothes of “rational fears” about one “cogito” usurping the other and possibly only in the physical realm live without fears. Consensual sex may be our purest form of trust; the simultaneous orgasm, our purest form of ecstasy. This is why it is so rare.
Public acknowledgment of sex is forbidden because it violates the realities of mistrust. We have therefore traditionally guarded sex as sacred.
The Fall of Adam and Eve is a story of original mistrust. They are convinced they cannot trust God about the apple. God then is convinced he cannot trust them. Fear enters and Adam and Eve hide and try to find clothes to cover their nakedness, because they don’t trust God will be merciful to them and they feel too exposed. With the bite of the apple of knowledge, rationality has usurped corporeal intuition (“Mens agitat molem”). The couple doesn’t trust each other anymore and they blame each other when God questions them. God no longer walks with them in the Garden in the cool of the evening. He kicks them out. All of this is based on mistrust. “Fine,” God says, “you don’t trust me to take care of you, then take care of yourselves. See how easy it is now.” The first thing they do to find any relief is to bear children. But we find out with Cain and Able, mistrust is here to stay. Cain kills his brother out of mistrust and is then marked (indelibly as a sex-offender) and doomed to a life of fear and mistrust of the entire globe–a punishment greater than death.
Sex is dwindling as the tyranny of rationality overtakes us. Under such tyranny, it is only in its perversions (sadomasochism, fetishism, pornographic substitution, etc.) that we feel we can we approach sex safely. Sex is trust, and by its nature is extremely risky. But it is in risking ourselves when mistrust beleaguers us that we are most free and at peace with ourselves.
The realities of mistrust are such that there is no firm ground. We can so easily lose footing and fall into some unforeseen pit–often of our own making. Mistrust is hell. Trust is the kingdom of heaven, it’s gate narrow, and few enter but as children.