If you are human, you are vulnerable to one of the most pernicious traps and deadly diseases ever discovered: complacency leading to hubris. Hubris is the ancient Greek word for pride, cockiness, the belief that you have it made, that you have life figured out, that you are in control. This state of zombified arrogance is also known as the “High School Jock Syndrome,” because it is most clearly seen in a stereotype we are all familiar with: the handsome, smart, talented sixteen-year-old to whom friends, love, good grades, talent, and admiration come easily. He has it all made; he knows it, and the world tells him it’s true: he really does have it made.
The female version of this psychopathology is the Prom Queen, the beautiful, smart girl that can have any boy she wants, sings, plays an instrument, and is the lead in school plays. The teacher’s pet, in the class yearbook she gets awarded, “Most Likely to Succeed.” We may make snarky remarks about her, but the truth is that we envy her and wish we were like her. If we are guys, she is the one we want to be seen with.
Because these peacocks receive all the validation that they want in life by the time they learn to drive, they top out, they stop growing. They have the magic formula, and now they are on a glide path. All they have to do is keep doing what they are doing and the world will come to them. Like a Roman Candle, they have reached magnificence and peak performance fifty meters overhead. Then, like a drifting hot air balloon or a small prop plane trailing an advertisement for Sammy’s Pizza, they live out their lives on a horizontal glide path. They are done, cooked, like a shake and bake chicken or microwaved popcorn after three minutes. Now their charisma, good looks, smarts, connections, and family wealth get them high status careers on Easy Street while the rest of us are stuck on the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk. They will graduate into a Beaver Cleaver Military Base world of McMansions, gated communities, raising children headed for prep school, and societal sheep herding, as socially sanctioned shepherds and Lords of various corporate fiefdoms. For such royalty reality is a perpetually updated rerun of Ozzie and Harriet: pleasant, gratifying, successful, satisfying, and groaningly superficial.
We watch with envy, fixated behind a teenage wall of acne, thick glasses, bad hair, and general awkwardness, as these WonderKind move from success to success, making the honor role and aceing advanced placement classes without studying, while finding time to become a star athlete, musician, or actress. Of course they will make it into Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford on scholarship; of course they will marry into money; of course they will be rich and famous and widely admired – everything we are not but wish we were.
If these Jocks and Prom Queens are ambitious, they will keep playing the Popularity Rocks game of life but at higher levels of Big Dog, becoming a successful and famous lawyer like Johnnie Cochran, handing people like all star running back O.J. Simpson a “get out of jail free” card in a real world game of Monopoly, in which your wife gets stabbed to death; or a CEO, like Lloyd Bankfein, doing “God’s work” (no, I’m not making this up), or a socialite, New Age maven like Opra, or a politician, like “Audacity of Hope” Obama, feminista Hawk Hillary, or buffoon Donald. For this reason, Prom Queen psychopathology might as well be called “The Donald Trump Syndrome.”
We all love to hate “Agent Orange,” an easy target, whose endless absurd escapades reassure us that we are not so bad or lost after all, since by comparison, there is no way that we could be as destructive, cruel, ignorant, or demented as he is. We think the sort of thoughts that get Hillary rummaging for the Ambien at 2:45 AM: “How did such an insufferable asshole get to be President of the most powerful country in the world when I am so much nicer than he is?” Like the high school Jocks and Queens of our youth, we both envy and are repulsed by the Gargoyle Goyim of Greatness who serves the social function of keeping us entertained as we wait for the next horror, like endless reruns of “The Three Stooges Meet Frankenstein,” or a nightmarish version of Groundhog Day, produced by Tim Burton. The socio-cultural function of the Toupeed Tyrannosaur is to provide us with a contemporary version of Roman Bread and Circuses, but this time not contained to the Colosseum and played out not with swords, spears, lions, nets and Christians, but with live ammunition, drones, nuclear weapons and anonymous dead women and children. With such lively and dramatic entertainment, we are distracted from the looting of our infrastructure, the closing of our malls and chain stores, the evaporation of non-menial work, and the shrinking of our paychecks and standard of living by our friendly plutocratic overlords, who assure us that they only have our best interest at heart as they lower their taxes and raise ours while erecting a fascist police security state, stripping us of privacy and Constitutional rights in order to protect themselves from us.
Because these Jocks, Queens, Snake Oil Salesmen, and political charlatans stand for and celebrate the Good Old Days and the tired rituals of the social guilds that put them where they are, they are sugar in the gas tank of societal progress, skunks with Uzis at our 4th of July picnic, or 5th Avenue Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man floats that turn into Gozer the Gozerian, the Destructor of Worlds, out of Ghostbusters. Admired by nerds and rednecks alike, these people, proud to be narcissistic, are magnificent Kiluea volcanoes mindlessly destroying everything in their paths. No longer silent termites behind the walls of our trillion dollar social McMansion, they are Israeli bulldozers destroying our collective cultural village, plutocratic dementors sucking the soul out of society, snipers openly killing our children with crushing educational debt bondage, long line fishing out our ecosystems to feed us inedible, tasteless, shark-fin soup.
The sequel to this story might be called “Revenge of the Nerds,” a title right out of a B-rated drive-in movie, which is what most of what “culture” and “society” turn out to be, once you look beneath the veneer, pastiche, and Potokim Village personas gladly provided by mainstream media and mindlessly enabled by our hopes, fears and insouciance. While we do our best to ignore and avoid the silent nerds and ugly ducklings creeping through the halls with their mismatched clothes, hyena-like laughs, bad cafeteria manners, and bizarre, off-topic references to stuff no one has ever heard of, much less care about, like the Ramone’s second album, or varieties of grapefruit, our taunts and ridicule tell us the unspeakable truth: they remind us so much of who we desperately don’t want to be, but know that we are, that we don’t want to be seen with them. Social outcasts, these wandering wraiths either know it and don’t care, or know they will never be accepted into the Winner’s Circle, and so have long since given up trying. Awkward and vulnerable, they are easy prey for the social climbers, who reassure themselves that they are on the road to Social Acceptance and Success if they can just tell each other that they are Not Like Them, the goths, skaters, and dweebs of the hive mind.
These high school social pariahs are what we might call “late bloomers,” like squash, raspberries, and Springkraut in autumn. Specialized food for specialized tastes, these people don’t come into their own until most of the early bloomers have long since been put out to pasture at fat farms, or have gone to seed, pigging out at the endless trough on Caribbean cruises or whiling away their days at the Wall St. casino. These strange vegetables, fruits, and nuts are the nerds who the Prom Queens and Jocks, after their second marriage and several rounds of psychotherapy for mid-life crises, start contemplating with curiosity and even interest. These are the gangly marathon runners and angular cat ladies who the forty-something sprinters with shin splints and beer guts now look at with envy. These are the not-so-fashionable or attractive tortoises that smoke Aesop’s hares, given enough time. They are the ugly, shy, strange kids in class we wish we had been wise enough to get to know when we were fifteen.
Up to this point, this story sounds like solace for those of us who didn’t make it onto the varsity team or didn’t even try out, or never got a role in that play. We didn’t qualify for Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. But this is not a tale of reassurance for those of us who were anything but Too Big To Fail. The problem is that nerds, geeks, marathoners, and organic gardeners peak too. While having the advantage of running their own race instead of that dictated by societal, teacher, and peer approval, to be self-directed is not the same as being directed by your life compass, a transcendent gyroscope that keeps shifting as you do. Most of us have no idea what it is or how to find it, having confused it with “conscience,” “intuition,” our “heart,” or the “still small voice” that tells us to eat chocolate at 3 AM. We can have a very clear sense of what is and is not good for us and be absolutely wrong. If you doubt this, just question anyone’s intuition or conscience and see what happens. They will take it as a personal insult, because these words are shorthand for, “I know I am right and don’t question me or my decisions.”
So while nerds and ugly ducklings may be marching to the beat of a different drummer, and while their judgment may indeed prove superior to those who surf the prevailing cultural winds, there is nothing that indicates that being true to yourself, or doing what you think is right, as Thoreau counseled, is going to keep you out of trouble or bring you happiness. Expanding your “consciousness,” with New Age positive thinking flam-flam may make you feel like you are morally superior, but it’s not likely to impress the check-out lady at your local Wal-Mart. What is required is some objective guide for the self that can keep it from putting too much trust in its own judgment. Just because our geeky, nerdy selves have learned that common sense and the voice of experience are generally superior to the echo chamber of consumer society, with its fickle and discriminatory, sleepwalking mass culture lost in groupthink, does not mean it has discovered the Keys to Heaven, or even the washroom. But hold on to your wallets as I tell you the Good News: amazingly, such a source exists. Equally amazingly, it is almost universally ignored due to assumptions of irrelevance, untrustworthiness, and misunderstanding. If your curiosity is piqued, you are about to be disappointed. It is merely the world of your mundane nightly dreams.
Before you yawn and doze off, consider for a moment why you either forget or dismiss out of hand those dreams you do remember. Is it because you are sure they are unimportant, irrelevant, irrational, or inscrutable? How do you know? How do you know? What is it that causes you to trust your judgment about something you know precious little about?
The truth is that you don’t care. You don’t want to know because of hubris. You have your problems, but basically you are on track, and dreams are either a meaningless distraction or will lead you away from your priorities into this or that wild goose chase. You remember that time you trusted your dream that told you that hottie was your soul mate, but then they turned out to be lazy, thoughtless, and fart in public. So much for dreams. Besides, you look at the lives of people who listen to their dreams. Aren’t they just weirdos massaging their preferences while retreating from the real world of earning a living and making a difference in the lives of people?
While you don’t know any of this to be fact, this may be what you like to think, because such ideas validate you staying stuck in the cocoon of your prejudices and the ignorance of your own biases. Your problem is that you want to run your life based on your own priorities; you want to be the one who determines what you do and who you will become. You have discovered that giving power to passing cultural fashion, like Jocks and Prom Queens do, is a dead end, but you are hardly convinced that power sharing with dream monsters and various delusional night time mindless wanderings is anything other than irrational.
Consequently, most people are today heading toward various like-minded collective decision-making structures, like participatory democracy, the Emerging Network Governance Initiative, or the University Network for Collaborative Governance, based on the assumptions that multiple heads are better than one, that decentralized power is more accountable and transparent, and local solutions are more likely to better respond to personal, individual needs. Such logic is behind the creative problem solving of Jeremy Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution and Steven Pinker’s contemporary reinterpretation of enlightenment humanism. These are approaches that I highly recommend and support, but I do not consider them enough. Humanity also requires interior, or intrasocial, sources of collective, multi-perspectival, objectivity. Dependency on the beehive of mass mind, or collective intelligence, assumes that collective dreams are superior to individual ones. While there is some comfort in being another rat in the crowd, you are still following the Pied Piper over the cliff, even if the Pied Piper is vegan and all the rats only eat organic and use locally sourced, fair labor products. Collective decision-making is supported by improved individual decision-making. Dreams provide a way forward between the clashing, ship-crushing Kyanean cliffs of life’s dualisms, the Gates of Ivory and Horn that tell true from false dreams, cultural groupthink, and personal hubris. Why?
Dreams are not controlled or directed by you; they are autonomous and more creative than you are. The word for spontaneous negentropic higher order integration is “autopoietic,” or “self-created.” Every night, your dreams generate possibilities independent of your priorities. Some of these possibilities can be and will prove themselves to be superior to yours. This is because they represent contexts that transcend but include your own. They include your priorities, because after all, dreams are self-creations, which means they are privy to your knowledge, experience, limitations, and priorities. However, in addition, they transcend you, because dreams refuse to follow either your rules of appropriate behavior or those laid down by society, and all the wise men of history combined. As such, dreams access novel, emerging potentials, unborn, unthought-of, possibilities that take into account conditions and factors that have come together at this point in time in ways that have never existed before. Many of these are too complicated for us to understand or navigate, like predicting weather patterns, or the future. As the New York police woman famously said, “I never met a fortune teller that told me that I was about to arrest her.” The self is blind to contexts in which it is subjectively enmeshed; collective intelligence is deaf, and dumb to the contexts in which it is enmeshed. While subjective sources of objectivity, such as dreaming, are not cure-alls, they are a poorly understood and largely unrecognized source of cybernetic feedback that both can and should used to improve individual and collective decision-making. This has been shown to work by Integral Deep Listening, and methodologies have been developed to test this hypothesis yourself so that you can validate it in your own life and unique circumstances.
Therefore, we have options other than secretly envying the success of repulsive narcissists like Donald Trump or retreating into a life based on our own self-directed priorities. We do not have to choose between the collective and the individual, nor do we have to believe that the combination of the two will miraculously turn us into avatars. We can honor, learn from, and participate in the meat grinder of collective culture while staying true to our own ideals, yet subordinating both to our life compass. We do so when we practice deep listening, in an integral way, to the priorities of various interviewed dream characters and personifications of life issues that are important to us.This approach is called “triangulation,” and it is a personal adaptation of the system of checks and balances devised by Montesquieu and adopted by the American framers of the Constitutions and parliamentary democracies world-wide.
I know there is nothing that I can say that will make you leave the security and warm comfort of your familiar psychological geocentrism, in which reality revolves around your sense of who you are, your world view, your priorities, and your own common sense. I’m not asking you to. All I am suggesting is that you supplement your present strategies with a new one that sounds illogical and even irrational, but may not prove to be so once you try it. There is one qualification, however. You have to be willing to temporarily suspend your identification with your precious priorities in order to empathize with an entirely different set, a perspective that you may not have anything in common with. Here is a test that will allow you to see if you possess entry-level competencies. Imagine you are a duckbill platypus. Look out of the world through its platypussian eyes and answer these questions to yourself: Platypus, where are you? What are you doing? What does your world look like from your perspective? Did you answer? If not, you do not pass Go; you do not collect $200.00. Go back and answer them. Seriously. Next question: Platypus, do you have any strengths? If so, what are they? Next and final question: Platypus, do you have any weaknesses? If so, what are they?
So, how did you do? Could you let yourself become the platypus? Of course it was ridiculous, but staying stuck in your own ptolemaic world view is pretty ridiculous too, isn’t it? If you qualified, you’re ready to interview a dream character or life issue of your choice and take a major step out of chronic human hubris. Just follow the Yellow Brick Road of the following instructions and questions.
What are three fundamental life issues that you are dealing with now in your life?
If a dream or a nightmare is the subject of the interview, continue as follows. If not, skip to the bold, below:
Tell me a dream you remember. It can be an old one, a repetitive dream, a nightmare, or one that you’re sure you understand.
Why do you think that you had this dream?
These are the characters in the dream, beside yourself…
If one character had something especially important to tell you, what would it be?
If a life issue is being interviewed instead of a dream, skip the above after naming three life issues and begin here:
Which issue brings up the strongest feelings for you?
What feelings does this issue bring up for you?
If those feelings had a color (or colors), what would it be?
Imagine that color filling the space in front of you so that it has depth, height, width, and aliveness.
Now watch that color swirl, congeal, and condense into a shape. Don’t make it take a shape, just watch it and say the first thing that you see or that comes to your mind: An animal? Object? Plant? What?
Now remember how as a child you liked to pretend you were a teacher or a doctor? It’s easy and fun for you to imagine that you are the shape that took form from your color and answer the following questions, saying the first thing that comes to your mind. If you wait too long to answer, that’s not the character answering – that’s YOU trying to figure out the right thing to say!
(Character), would you please tell me about yourself and what you are doing?
(Character), what do you like most about yourself? What are your strengths?
(Character), what do you dislike most about yourself? Do you have weaknesses? What are they?
(Character), what aspect of _____ do you represent or most closely personify?
(Character), if you could be anywhere you wanted to be and take any form you desired, would you change? If so, how?
(Continue, answering as the transformed object, if it chose to change.)
(Character), how would you score yourself 0-10, in each of the following six qualities: confidence, compassion, wisdom, acceptance, inner peace, and witnessing? Why?
Confidence, 0-10. Why?
Empathy, 0-10. Why?
Wisdom, 0-10. Why?
Acceptance, 0-10. Why?
Inner Peace, 0-10. Why?
Witnessing, 0-10. Why?
(Character), how would _______’s life be different if he/she naturally scored like you do in all six of these qualities all the time?
(Character), if you could live _____’s life for him/her, how would you live it differently?
(Character),if you could live _____’s waking life for him/her today, would you handle ____’s three life issues differently? If so, how?
(Character), what life issues would you focus on if you were in charge of ______’s life?
(Character), in what life situations would it be most beneficial for ____ to imagine that he/she is you and act as you would?
If interviewing a dream character:
(Character), if you were in a dream, what do you think your function was in it?
(Character), if you were in a dream, what do you think about the part with _____?
Continuing, for dream characters and life issues:
(Character), do you do drama? Do you get into playing the Victim, Persecutor, or Rescuer? If not, why not?
(Character), What is your secret for staying out of drama?
(Character), you are imaginary. Why should ______ pay attention to anything you say?
(Character), how is _______ most likely to ignore what you are saying to him/her?
(Character), what would you recommend that he/she do about that?
Thank you, (Character!) Now here are a couple of questions for _______:
If this experience were a wake-up call from your life compass, what do you think
it would be saying to you?
Look back over the interview and list the specific recommendations that were made:
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