Sunday, July 08, 2012

How Did I Get Here?
Originally published in Vyzygoth's
"Inside The Grassy Knoll" Issue 2, Summer/Fall 2009
By John Bonanno

Gauguin, d'ou venons nous que sommes nous ou allons nous

"Who am I? Why am I here?" said Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale, a truly great American whose record as a prisoner of war in Vietnam must make Senator John McCain feel regret and shame. Stockdale was set up to fail by Ross Perot in that debate, but that is another tale.

So did Paul Gauguin name his masterpiece now on display in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts “D'où venons nous? Que sommes nous? Où allons nous?” [Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?]

Francis Galton was a brilliant polymath who developed (among many other things) the concept of correlation in statistics and the scientific classification of fingerprints, which allowed them to be used in a court of law; he coined the term eugenics, and floated the concept of “nature versus nurture”(he tended to favor nature); he introduced the use questionnaires and surveys to study human populations; this great traveler founded the science of psychometrics to measure mental ability. How useful he was to the reigning powers! He also asked this question and answered it this way:

“Individuals appear to me as finite detachments from an infinite ocean of being, temporarily endowed with executive powers. This is the only answer I can give to myself in reply to the perpetually recurring questions of 'Why? whence? and whither? ' The immediate ‘whither?' does not seem wholly dark, as some little information may be gleaned concerning the direction in which Nature, so far as we know of it, is now moving. Namely towards the evolution of mind, body, and character in increasing energy and co-adaptation.”

-Francis Galton, 1905 essay, “Probability, The Foundation of Eugenics”

In other words, he suggested that the best of us may end up as intelligent and able as Galton himself.

But these basic questions impel and motivate free human beings. If we do not ask ourselves these questions we will fall under the sway of those who do ask them. Rulers through history have known this and tried to insure that most people have neither the time nor the energy to contemplate such existential issues. Plato knew that wise rulers must keep the common people in the allegorical cave, taking the illusion of shadows for reality and given as little information as required to perform the tasks allotted to them:

"The Cave" John Bonanno illustration

Plato, The Allegory of the Cave: " And now, I said , let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. 

- I see. 

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent. 

- You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

- True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

- Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

- Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

-No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” 

Overly literal schematic of "The Cave" found on the internets.

Plato, a true proponent of the elitist rational if there ever was one, goes on to state that these miserable humans, ultimately at home in their shadow reality, would reject the truth of the greater world as too painful, bizarre and unbelievable. The few who have dominated man through history are absolutely certain that the average man is not only unworthy of the truth but, by now, has become incapable of handling the truth. Despite the popularity of Jack Nicholson's famous scene as Col. Nathan R. Jessup in “A Few Good Men” few viewers actually “got it” and most happily applauded this megalomaniac character as if he truly fought for their interests as opposed to their masters' interests. The masses who cheered this monster were getting the truth thrown in their face. Getting the common man to reverse-project his masters' interests into his mind as his own and negating or retarding his own free will is the essence of controlling the mob. It is an essential tool of black magick. It is at its simplest called the power of suggestion. Aleister Crowley said “the slaves shall serve” and these words are true even taken out of Crowley's cynical almost Calvinistic context in The Book of the Law, Liber CCXX:

Yea! deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, & not other. Therefore the kings of the earth shall be Kings for ever: the slaves shall serve. There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up: all is ever as it was. Yet there are masked ones my servants: it may be that yonder beggar is a King. A King may choose his garment as he will: there is no certain test: but a beggar cannot hide his poverty. Chapter II Line 58

Crowley was saying that the human being who does not exercise his free will is a slave. One who considers himself a King will inevitably come and direct such a mindless being. People who are unable to determine who has directed them in their actions fall into this category. Hence, mindful contemplation of one's actions is a first step to freedom.

We like to believe we are free. And it is no easy task to be free. I like to believe my mind is free. But it is impossible in this world to be totally free. I assure you that exercising freedom makes other people and one's self uncomfortable more often than you might imagine. We have necessary obligations that constrain absolute freedom but we often assume obligations that are unnecessary. Some obligations are inflicted on a person by others or groups for their own selfish purposes, usually through the mode of fear; other obligations we take on out of love and faith. The first leads to Crowley's status of slavery, the second to freedom. Our difficult task is to separate the two.

An object of tantric yoga is to break free of the shackles that bind the mind through partaking in activities that are forbidden or bizarre. Tantric practices may involve free sex, eating taboo foods, or undergoing frightening initiations in graveyards involving corpses. This exposure to the unusual may or may not achieve the desired result (desire always muddies the waters). Often the individuals involved get addicted to these acts and they become just more afficionados of fetishes that bind the souls of those who originally desired spiritual freedom.

I was asked to write about the path that got me where I am today. Each of us takes different paths and each of us finds ourself in different places that afford varied points of view. I try to take advantage of those places.

The first mind-bending experience I can remember happened when I was five years old. I had been warned by my Italian grandmother that I should not go upstairs into a vacant apartment on the third floor of her three-decker house in Dorchester, Massachusetts. If I did go into the forbidden zone a ghost named Mumuni would definitely snatch me up. This was as strong an attractant to a little boy as fresh bloody meat would be to a lion. I ascended the stairs the first time I was alone in the house for a few moments and thought I could get away with it. As I turned the corner of the flight of stairs, I saw a motley form at the top landing and I heard a low moan “Muuuumuuuuniiii.” I ran down the stairs and called for someone, anyone. No one was around. I went back up the stairs thinking it was someone playing a joke on me. No one was there. It could have been imagination; it could have been someone trying to frighten a child; it could have been something else.

Soon after that I was brought to the dentist for the first time. I had heard about the dentist from others and I was probably in a little fear. This was not yet the era of painless dentistry, but I was mostly fascinated by the scary prospect. As I was led into the dentist’s chair, I noticed a huge jug next to me almost full of pulled teeth still retaining blotches of dried blood. There were other similar jugs in the room. The man in the white coat, with a long mustache, seemed to leer at me expecting to smell fear. But I laughed at the absurdity of it all. I knew at that moment that the world was a very curious place. Years later, when I read Hamlet, these lines of Shakespeare vividly returned the memory to mind:

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The first two stories told of things that happened; the next will be about a thing that did not happen. Two years later at the age of seven, I was in the midst of preparing as a Roman Catholic for first communion. I attended Catholic school and the nuns were very strict in those days. They inculcated in our brains a dreadful fear of the host and the necessity of treating it with the utmost respect. We were told stories of those who were struck dead by God for blaspheming the communion wafer. Only a priest was allowed to handle the consecrated host with his two specially blessed fingers. It was a Sunday morning mass and I was sitting in church next to another boy who was known as a hooligan. Neither of us had received first communion yet and it was that endless time during the mass when the sacrament was being distributed to the packed congregation [well it was in those days] and we had to remain on our knees for the duration. My friend suddenly turned to me and stated firmly, “Watch this.” Perhaps it was boredom or perhaps it was the devil that led him to the line of parishioners going for communion. No one noticed he was coming from the section reserved for the younger children. But he went and he received the wafer from the priest. He returned to the pew and I watched in fascination as he sat down and spit out the bread into his hand. He rolled it up in a ball and flicked it on the floor. I half expected a lightning bolt from the Lord to strike us both down: he for his sin and I for failing to inform the nuns. But nothing of the sort happened. From that time forward I never automatically believed anyone in authority again. [Even 'though, as it turned out, my friend had real criminal potential and met an early violent end.]

By the age of seven I learned that I could be influenced by others’ passionate stories. I determined that everyone has secret, ulterior motives for telling these stories. I understood that these secrets could be learned by paying more attention to the emotional and physical environments from which words emanate than the words themselves. I began to guess that most people secretly want you to learn their secrets, even, or especially, when their secrets are unknown to themselves. I later discovered that the most effective storytellers were perfectly aware they were using fictions.

Ransom Stoddard: “You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?”
Maxwell Scott: "No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." 

from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Screenplay by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck, based on a story by Dorothy M. Johnson

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