It’s near sunset on Christmas as I head out on the bike. The shopping is over and all the stuff has been opened. There isn’t a soul in sight. One is immediately struck by the atmosphere of palpable stillness of the earth alongside the deadness of the world.
Where is everyone? It looks like a neutron bomb went off. I don’t see a vehicle for miles. The normally busy 4-lane trunk road is empty as I sit on a utility box to watch the sunset.
The true gift—an intensifying magenta above the ridgeline of the Coastal Range—is apparently completely missed, except by one. The color grows into an intense flame, becoming a concentrated glow along the ridge, and ending in a single spot of reddish-orange at a pass in the mountains.
Aliveness is our natural condition, our state as children and wellspring throughout life unless we deaden our hearts, or allow this godforsaken culture to turn them to stone or sentiment.
Therefore it’s absurd to believe, as academic philosophers apparently do, that “The goal of life is not happiness, peace, or fulfillment, but aliveness.”
That incomprehensible obtuseness is from a purported philosopher at America’s most prestigious university in the nation’s newspaper of record. Sean D. Kelly equates aliveness with “when you see in your students the sense that what is happening now will stay with them, will remain alive as a future memory that can sustain them in some other moment.”
That misses the mark by a mile. Aliveness is not a memory of a mentor, or a class, or staring into your lover’s face. It is the capacity to be present, and feel sadness without being caught in sorrow; to perceive beauty without interpretation; to know the sting of compassion without identification.
Good people and deep insights are imprinted on the living heart. They remain alive not in memory, but in understanding. Psychological memory precludes understanding and destroys aliveness.
The intelligentsia is willfully blind to the deadness of this culture, and the American people as a whole. Pundits, editors and academics believe it’s their job to sugarcoat reality, if they perceive the truth of things at all. The truth is not going away however, even if those who dare to speak it shut up.
Referring to his beloved mentor, Kelly says, “I don’t believe I ever heard him talk about aliveness.” Setting aside that contradiction (after quoting him as saying, “the goal of life is…aliveness”), the reason his mentor didn’t often refer to aliveness is that it used to be a given.
Before 1990, the people and the polity had not died in America. Anyone over the age of 50 can remember when at least one ventricle still beat in the body politic of America. The straw that broke the Spirit’s back came in the early 1990’s, when the
United States declared itself “the indispensible nation,” and celebrated its glorious victory in a set-up war against Saddam’s Iraq.
The spiritual dimension matters most. By rejoicing at killing a quarter million Iraqis vs. less than 200 Americans in 1991, the intelligence that imbues the universe withdrew. Deadness took hold. There’s a direct line from Bush Senior’s CIA machinations, to the wasted Clinton years, to Bush Junior opening the gates of hell globally, to the Obama con and loss of hope, to the blatant authoritarianism of Donald Trump. And that’s just the last 30 years.
People have to take active measures to kill aliveness within them. Its moronic to say that deadness is the natural result of routine—the product of repetitious “rise, commute, work, lunch, work some more, maybe have a beer or go to the gym, watch TV.”
The ruling elites are incapable of telling the truth because their positions and power depend on perpetuating underlying lies. Even Paul Krugman, who tells it like it is up to a point, foolishly says, “If U.S. democracy survives this terrible episode, I vote that we make pink pussy hats the symbol of our delivery from evil.”
To understand the deadness that pervades America, one has to understand the darkness that people are “numbing out” to in reaction. Most people consciously or subconsciously think it’s too painful to see and feel.
An epidemic of depression and opioids is the result, not the despair to which Kelly glibly refers. If you feel despair, at least you feel something. There can only be a rebirth of aliveness in America if the deadness of the people is fully acknowledged by enough of the people.
All life is intensely alive, except man, and Americans may be the deadest people of all. This is the source of the present danger, and its denial insures fascism will grow.
The goal of life is not aliveness, since aliveness is our birthright. The goal of life, where creatures like humans with brains that have the capacity for self-knowing are concerned, is direct awareness of timeless numinousness.