Between & Beyond: Control

My travels this week brought me to Richmond, VA and Baltimore, MD. In both places, I encountered a shocking police presence. I’m sure each city has its pretext. Baltimore is infamous for being crime ridden of course, and Richmond is host to VCU, and the cops there indeed bore that moniker. Regardless, the nature of each presence was something out of my ordinary scope. In Richmond, cop cars prowled down what seemed like every street while officers on bicycles slinked in and out of alleyways and cruised through parking lots. In Baltimore, in spite of being in what seemed like the reasonably safe and calm downtown area, a police helicopter circled above the city, Blade Runner style, shining its spotlight down on various surrounding rooftops.

My thoughts turned to the idea of control. It’s a very dubious concept. We can start with the idea of logic and reason being the effort exerted in order to control one’s assumptions and emotions. This is control on the personal scale. This form of control is woven deep into the Western identity. By and large, it’s the best thing we’ve got. Certainly reason alleviates from such nightmarish scenarios of the past like the Salem witch trials or even such all encompassing blanket terms like sin. In our personal lives, we can curb reactionary outbursts that might hurt those we care about, either emotionally or physically, when we keep raw emotion at the length of reason’s arm. On the larger social/cultural scale, reason and logic are of course tied to the scientific method and many great advancements of Western medicine and technology follow.

But a strange thing happens when we step outside the Western paradigm. Schools of mysticism from around the world ask us to abandon this idea of logic and control. By this, I mean to point out that logic and control are inexorably linked to the Western idea of sanity. As Aldous Huxley pointed out in The Doors Of Perception, it seems more likely that the mind works like a faucet rather than a net. Meaning, it doesn’t necessarily gather sensory impression as much as it filters out the important from the unimportant in a survival kind of way. It allows a certain level of flow through the doors. On psychedelic drugs, like in Huxley’s case, the faucet is opened and more comes through, and in many cases, more than we are ready to deal with. It seems, as many researches and psychologists believed in the early days of LSD, that the psychedelic experience mimics the boundless flow of sensory perception akin to what we’ve deemed insanity. When one experiences it temporarily, it is a mystic experience. When one experiences it constantly, it is madness.

Why? Well, the ability to rationalize seems to be the key: the ability to take from the limitless and then come back and change the boundaries of the cultural operating system. Terence McKenna invited us to think of culture as an operating system, as in, an interface we use to navigate reality. The problem remains that there are those among us that buy it as reality and not just an interface. Interfaces must be updated and maintained. The contributions to the interface by those of the past may not be applicable to us in the present. We need those mystical experiences to see beyond our confines and decide what belongs, what needs tweaking, and what needs to be thrown right out. The ability to take a sip of the infinite and translate it into something practical and useful, to harness it for survival and wellbeing here on Earth, is the kind of control we really need.

The kind of control we don’t need is evident in the growing police and surveillance state of the West. Why? Because it’s out of control. Even control needs to be controlled. Unchecked control could be called dominance. This kind is always an illusion. In the end, Death trumps all and before He even arrives, the Earth will make Her supremacy known. Ironically, the quest for dominance is a quest based in fear, a fear of the loss of power. And ironic still: the desire to be dominated is also rooted in fear, a fear of the unknown. An old friend of mine used to break down the world in the following way: 80-15-5. Meaning, 80 percent of a given demographic is of the average mindset and will basically do as they are told. 15 percent are smarter than average and will use their intelligence to control the 80 percent. The remaining five percent try their damndest to enlighten and free the 80 percent but they are always outnumbered.

And that’s the real difference between negative dominance and positive rationalization. Those who seek to dominate seek to obfuscate and hide truth from the masses while hording it, and their adversaries are those others who wish to educate, elucidate, and enlighten. Without grace and trust and compassion, control becomes dominance. We must ask ourselves how these lines are drawn in the policy of our elected leaders otherwise America, the greatest experiment in reason to date, will be lost.