Tag Archives: 1984

Sunshine Doe!!!!

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The past couple days have been terribly exciting, whatever that means relative to how I usually spend my time these days. It was completely clear for almost 24 straight hours, meaning I got wonderfully blue and sunny skies during the day, as well as the waning moon, endless stars, and the Milky Way at night. After so much rain the good weather definitely invigorated me to get out and do something.

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Yesterday I went to Norbulinka, the Tibetan center for the arts in lower Dharamsala. It was started in order to preserve Tibetan arts in exile. I don’t have all that much to say about it but really just wanted an opportunity to put up some of the pictures I took there. It was awesome to get to see the thanka painters at all different phases in their work. After spending so much time reading about how intense thanka painting was in feudal Tibet it was amusing to see a bunch of Tibetans in their early 20’s listening to their ipods and wearing backwards hats while painting these incredible pieces of religious art. I also found a way to get on the roof of the gompa just as it got clear so I had a perfect view of the snow on the mountains. Then I hopped around to a bunch of places between Bhagsu and Dharamkot for the rest of the night and ended up on my roof looking at the stars while a jam session was going on next door with solos from all sorts of Indian instruments.

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Today I went to get registered to go see the Dalai Lama speak on Monday and Tuesday. It was kinda a pain because I couldn’t find the place for the longest time and it turned out I needed some things I didn’t have. It was so nice out today that I was happy to walk up and down the hill a bunch of times. In the end it only cost 20 cents to go see the Dalai Lama so my trouble was probably worth it.

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This afternoon I finally succeeded in finding the best Malai Kofta in the area. I had to have tried it at a least a dozen other places but today I finally had one that was by far the best food I’ve had since I’ve been here. I posted up there for awhile reading Heart of Darkness and the Wizard of Oz.

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I started going to a yoga class too, which I plan on doing on a daily basis until I leave here. It’s in the late afternoon so it’s a nice way to segway from reading for most of the day into my evenings (since I’ve really been raging a lot here,) and it’s only $2 for 2 hours so it’s hard for me to justify not going.

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Having so much time to read has been killer. Over the past 4 days I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Heart of Darkness, and 2 of the Oz books. Going over past visions of a dystopian future has been really interesting. One of the most standout commonalities across all 3 visions is the necessity of eliminating anything that encapsulates the ethos of the past. In 1984 this is taken the furthest by falsifying data on a daily basis in order to keep the past perfectly in line with what the government dictates is happening in the present. But even in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 the government takes the destruction of books as seriously of possible. Knowledge found in books makes people feel inferior in relation to their more well-read peers, confuses them with their foreign concepts and ideologies, and, worst of all, prevents the gradual shrinking of language in order to limit the capacity for critical thinking. As Orwell puts it, “he who controls the past controls the present. He who controls the present controls the future.”

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I find Huxley’s view the most convincing, though I generally hold a high opinion of Huxley so I’m biased. The society he envisions is guided by two fundamental concepts drawn from Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud: mass-production and the equalizing of the pleasure principle and the reality principle. Through mastering mass production of people by cloning and accelerating their growth process and conditioning them through hyponopedia (teaching people while they sleep) the government creates a remarkably efficient and stable caste system. Carnal desires are no longer stigmatized and monogamy breaks down, eliminating any possible discontent from repressed sexuality. And if a basic sensory need isn’t being meet, one can simply take some soma to go on a reality-disassociating psychedelic trip. If all basic sensory pleasures are no longer restricted in any way by society, and if people are naturally conditioned towards certain psychological dispositions, it’s very hard for anyone to ever become unhappy.

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This stands in opposition to Orwell’s vision of a society built by restricting any and every form of pleasure. 1984 is a society built almost exclusively on control by punishment and the fear of punishment. Furthermore, society is permanently at war, functioning both as a way of dumping all of society’s labor into an endeavor that doesn’t improve standard of living, as well as a method of justifying authoritarian behavior since permanent crisis can be said to justify permanent control of everybody and everything by the government. I can understand how Orwell might have conjured up this vision for the future based on the behavior of Hitler and Stalin’s governments, though Huxley’s portrayal strikes me as more in line with our present day situation. I actually was reminded a lot of my experience in China while reading Brave New World. At the end of the day, even if the government is infringing on what I (as an American) would consider ‘basic liberties’, if standard of living is high enough and sensory demands are being sufficiently met, it’s very hard to imagine people rebelling. Obviously this is a vast oversimplification of the situation and far more could be written on the topic, but, frankly, I’m enjoying a Kingfisher right now and don’t feel like writing any more right now.

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The Sad Tale of Slug

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I just spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get the Internet working so I could post this. Every day at this place they change the wi-fi so you can’t come mooch if you aren’t buying anything (though I’ve been here enough times already I can get away with it.) I was told today’s password was ‘sugar’ but it just wasn’t working. Finally, I tried ‘suger’ and it worked. Wonderful.

The worst thing that’s happened to me today was that I accidently stepped on a slug this morning. I was walking downhill to get some masala chai before breakfast and was looking at my phone so I didn’t see the slug, but I could feel it squelch the instant I put my foot down. I felt awful. I’d actually gotten into the habit of actively moving slugs off the path if it was somewhere that somebody might step on it.
So, considering that was the worst part of my day, it’s been a pretty okay.

I thought it would be nice to include photos in my posts but I’m afraid there isn’t much to be taking pictures of. I think tis beautiful here but it doesn’t really come across in photos as anything more than standard mountains and sky. The moon has been astonishingly bright, even as early as 6, but my iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice. I’ll bring my real camera up to Triund for the supermoon but that’s not much better than my iPhone. Oh well. All I can do is encourage everyone else to get to as high a point as possible to see it.

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Woke up around 7, did some meditation and set motivations for the day, and then rushed out to try and find someplace to watch a stream of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. That was obviously a ridiculously unrealistic expectation, so I contented myself with constantly refreshing the ESPN homepage until the Internet crashed. I headed off to meditation, getting updates on the game via text the whole way, but had to start meditation with 30 seconds still left in the game. There was a split second when I debated bailing on meditation so I could find out the result, but I realized how absurd that was so I went in.

I’m glad I did since it was a really good session. Over 45 minutes we worked on dissolving each of the elements in the body in turn (earth, water, fire, wind, space) until nothing remains but consciousness, basking in the clear light of its own awareness. Despite a mentally scattered morning I found focus and clarity quite easily today. Even if clear light isn’t actually experienced by anyone but the advanced meditators and individuals at the moment of death and orgasm, sufficient concentration and imagination definitely produced an incredibly clear, alert, and blissful feeling. I actually totally forgot about the basketball game until I was out of meditation and turned my phone on again. I’ve also realized that I can now sit for 45 minutes straight with nearly no pain in my lower back or knees, which was unthinkable even 2 weeks ago. I’m sure it’s the type of thing that will disappear if I don’t keep up it so it’s a strong incentive to maintain a daily practice.

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I had been planning on going to the Tushita library to do some research on mandalas after meditation but the hours were changed today so I ended up getting breakfast with a handful of people from my retreat that are still in the area and have been coming to morning meditation. It was the first time in 4 days that I’ve had a face-to-face conversation with someone for more than 30 seconds so it was incredibly enjoyable. That being said, I’m finding it remarkable how absent any feelings of loneliness have been. Before coming to Dharamsala I was anticipating enduring a couple weeks of existential crises as I adjusted to living by myself without any regular contact with the people around me. I think the retreat helped me become a lot more comfortable in my own body and accepting of the idea of living contentedly with myself, so it accelerated the whole process and crunched it into a week and a half long period. The more time I spend around people at cafes and restaurants the more I become with not really engaging with them. It’s usually a group of people sitting around smoking chillum, talking about nothing in particular. I certainly met a lot of fascinating people the first few nights I was here but I think a lot of that was through my group from retreat, so it was a rather particular crowd. A lot of the people hanging around here just wanted to kill some time someplace relaxed and cheap for the summer, so Dharamsala is pretty ideal. Having a particular purpose here has been nice, though, and all of my projects have essentially been collapsing into one.

After breakfast I went to my usual lunch spot and posted up there for a few hours with a book on the dialogue between psychotherapy and Buddhism. It rained for about 4 hours so I didn’t have anything to do besides hang out and read, which was pretty great. The book hones in on two of the areas I’m most interested in, so reading detailed analyses of crossover between the them was fascinating, though I ended up taking so many notes that I barely finished 40 pages over the course of the whole afternoon. Still, it’s not like I had anything else to do or anywhere to go so it’s hard to complain. This is really the first time in my life when I don’t feel any need to rush through reading. It’s nice to be able to take as long as I want to digest something. As I found out with Siddhartha, reading like that drastically increases the amount of enjoyment to be found in any reading endeavor. Even in the past when I’ve been reading for fun I’ve felt the need to rush through to get onto another book, for no real reason besides to say that I’d read it and catalogue it in my mind. It’s a pretty useless way to read and it’s shocking how little I end up digesting unless I’m responsibility for the material for school so it’s been a nice change in practice. Reading mindfully I guess.

When I got back to my room I found some 25 lb dumbbells lying in the courtyard of the guesthouse and was told I could hold onto them while I’m here if I want. I don’t plan on developing a particularly extensive workout plan while I’m here but I’m finding with all the time I spend sitting around reading and writing it would be nice to get some exercise in addition to my self-guided yoga sessions. No matter how much clarity and peacefulness come about through meditation, there’s something immensely pleasurable about the satisfaction and soreness that can only come from a good workout. Plus, it would be nice to be completely flabby by the time I get back to school in the fall. My ego isn’t so transparent at this point that I’m entirely indifferent to my physical appearance, though my beard is coming in nicely. I brought a bunch of razors but I like the idea of growing a beard for 2 months or so. It’s not quite worth the work of maintaining any sort of special facial hair when I interact with others so infrequently and the bathroom mirror is so tiny I can’t barely see myself in it.

A enourmous wasp just fell into my drink and is struggling and I don’t know what to do. I’m cringing washing it but am certain if I pluck it out it’ll sting my hand, and I can’t just pour out my drink onto the floor. It’s a shade of orange and I’ve never seen a wasp so big, so I’m wary of getting stung. I wonder if this is bad karma. I guess I’m intentionally allowing another being to die because I’m overly concerned with my well-being. On 2nd thought, it’s definitely bad karma.

Probably to make matters worse, I didn’t take any precepts today so I’m seriously looking forward to getting a big dinner and a Kingfisher later. After the rain lets up the night is usually pretty clear so I’m hoping I can get a good view of the moon as I eat. Last night it was so bright that I was able to read outside by nothing more than the moonlight. Counting the days until supermoon!

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On an unrelated note, I’ve been enjoying reading 1984 again and have nothing in particular to say about it at the moment but wanted to keep hold onto this quote and this seemed as good a place as any to put it:
“By 2050-earlier, probably-all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bryon-they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like, ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

The Religion of Inevitable Progress Part 3: Is our Progress Really Progress?

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All this discussion of moral, political, and technological worship leads, albeit somewhat longwindedly, into my main point: all of these forms of idolatry ultimately fall under the encompassing Religion of Inevitable Progress. The creed of the devotees to this apocalyptic religion is that the Kingdom of Heaven (as Huxley refers to it. I prefer sustainable, genuine happiness and peace but it really depends on your personal perspective on the end goal of all of this) is outside of ourselves, and in the future. As I stated in my previous post, people tend to believe that if we can make our political and economic systems more effective and our technology more powerful, we will eventually reach a Utopian society. Heaven on Earth will be achieved through the human effort and ingenuity that has proved so effective in the past as we further our ability to manipulate and control the world around us. However, in our attempts to achieve the best possible future situation for ourselves we often neglect the serious acts of imperialism that we commit against Nature.

Today in America many people like to levy criticism against the empires of the past for their acts of colonial imperialism, but altogether neglect the war that we rage against Nature today, producing increasingly deadly tools that destroy the planet and the natural systems that provide for us. Instead of trying to cooperate with the Tao or the Logos of the world around us “we try to dominate and exploit, we waste the earth’s mineral resources, ruin its soil, ravage its forests, pour filth into its rivers and poisonous fumes into its air” (Huxley, 93).  We look on our technological advances with tremendous pride and yet ignore the consequences of these material strides. This comes back to a point made earlier that we seem to have a tremendous hope and faith (“in the teeth of all human experience” (Huxley, 79)) that one can get something for nothing. Modern man no longer has the appropriate reverence for the planet and, as such, finds it perfectly acceptable to act as an overweening conqueror and tyrant. Our hubris has grown to a cosmically unsustainable size and yet we refuse to acknowledge that our nemesis is coming.

As it is said in the Bible (boy, never thought I would ever write/say that), “the tree is known by its fruit; fruit will discover what a tree is, and accordingly judgment may be made” (Matthew 12:33). This judgment need not necessarily come from some sort of divine force, but can merely be the reaction of the natural systems of the planet toward our actions, or, often even more harsh, our own evaluations of ourselves when all the external noise we surround ourselves with dies down. “At least to some extent, the collective conduct of a nation is a test of the religion prevailing within it, a criterion by which we may legitimately judge the doctrinal validity of that religion and its practical efficiency in helping individuals to advance towards the goal of human existence” (Huxley, 242). It is through the boons that technology has provided us, as well as the afflictions that we receive as compensation for these advancements, that we may judge the success of RIP.

However, we face the insurmountable problem that it is impossible to accurately weigh the costs and benefits of our technological advances at the planet’s expense. As Huxley puts it (with some slight modification by me to account for the further increase in the power of our gadgets since Huxley originally wrote this): “Has the ability to travel in 6 hours from New York to Los Angeles given more pleasure to the human race than the dropping of bombs and fire has given pain? There is no known method of computing the amount of felicity or goodness in the world at large” (Huxley, 79). We can never truly judge whether or not the benefits outweigh the costs until we get to the point (as it seems we might soon be) at which it is impossible to ignore our nemesis as it is right in our face destroying the planet.

It is because the reality of this progress can never be truly determined that modern man must take it as an article of religious faith. We can surely posit that we must be happier than our ancestors were, but can never know for sure: “Because technology advances, we fancy that we are making corresponding progress all along the line; because we have considerable power over inanimate nature, we are convinced that we are the self-sufficient masters of our fate and captains of our souls; and because cleverness has given us technology and power, we believe, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that we have only to go on being yet cleverer in a more systematic way to achieve social order, international peace, and personal happiness” (Huxley, 142). The more time we need to spend convincing ourselves of such, the greater the possibility that much of our society’s progress towards happiness is no more than a self-induced illusion, a charade reminiscent of the vision Orwell paints in 1984:

“It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grams a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it” (Orwell, 59)

Obviously this example is a bit extreme and is not meant to suggest any sort of Big Brother-esque conspiracy theory that runs throughout the history of mankind, but is does point to what I find to be a far more fearful scenario: this can all happen without Big Brother. In many cases, self-delusion is often immediately beneficial and desirable for maintaining a semi-contented state of mind, leading us into a self-perpetuating system. There need not be any single person or group of people directing this sort of behavior when the necessary impersonal forces are constantly at work (an idea that I explore in a consideration of the Western will to omniscience). It is a method of control in which the ruled give their consent to be controlled to the controller in the belief that it is in one’s own best interest to do. A totalitarian government is unnecessary, and ultimately ineffective, when the prevailing culture manages to convince people that they are tremendously free when, in actuality, they are psychologically restricted and deluded to the point that an individual’s own interests can seemingly be best served through continual self-delusion. It is a situation in which the ruled will actually love their slavery. This type of system can be created through drugs, various forms of societal segmentation, and advertising/propaganda (an idea I’ll come back to in a later post.)

We cannot possibly know whether or not our technological advances will lead us to a Utopia or a man-made apocalypse, so we take the former to be true as a matter of faith, largely because it is most convenient for us to keep on moving the direction in which we are going. Huxley captures this idea beautifully in noting that, “People always get what they ask for; the only trouble is that they never know, until they get it, what it actually is that they have asked for…If we don’t know it is because we find I more convenient not to know. Original ignorance is the same thing as original sin” (Huxley, 250).