The Great Paradox of Socrates

In an interview, the philosopher Jacob Needleman states, “That wisdom comes pouring in when you really see you don’t understand. That was the great paradox of Socrates.”

We must let our guard down and let the guest in: this is what Socrates is saying. We mustn’t go around making assertions but must listen to the words of the other, first making sense of their opinions, their views, their arguments, inviting them into our thoughts, our blessed and most gracious considerations.

But there is so much that blocks us from letting the guest, that alien thought or hinterland suggestion, that fierce stranger in. I must know, I must know, I must know. It, he, that is not welcome. And what I must know is what, basically, what identity I have and cling to, what I believe in, which position I hold, what allegiances are mine. With the most violent and the coldest gesture do I resist you, refuse you, you dangerous, nasty guest.

I need a teacher: this is what Socrates said first. If we find a wise man, don’t let him go but let’s become his pupils. My sense is that this teacher would break us in two, probably with a few words, showing us what, and how much, we don’t understand. And it would be nasty and generous of him to offer this to us.

Do you know what the hope for us would be? To really see that we don’t understand. That is not a mere release like a relaxed muscle after a massage. That is liberation. And that liberation is just what is experienced when “that wisdom comes pouring in,” pouring in, pouring over us, pouring out of us.

The wrap on Socrates is that he is just a shrewd “all-destroyer.” He can only attack verities, pull down idols, tear into shreds common sense. His is the power of the negative and that is all. And after the demolition (if such it be), then what? What for us? 

The charge against Socrates is unjustified. Only in pure receptivity can one be opened up to see a new clearingWe must burst ourselves openWhatever is most cherished must first perish; we must let it; I must let it. So must you.

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Being God-Open: A Series of Letters

Over the coming months, I’ll be writing a series of letters entitled “Being God-Open.” They will constitute an inquiry, inspired by mysticism, into the possibility of God’s existence and into the implications for my life. I anticipate sending out such letters–more personal, more searching, ever-open–on a bimonthly basis.

If you would like to subscribe, you can do so by following the link to Tiny Letters.

In the Gardens, I Found You

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The way our necks turned. The way our hair was pulled back and fell. The way our shoulders bent. The way our second arms folded around behind us. The way our hands were held. We were looking at something.

The sleeve of your shirt curled while I, pinching, curled up the back of mine.

And what, dear love, did we see among the gigantic cat tails and the spiky, drying fronds?

Unaware just then, we are still learning about each other. In the gardens, I found you again.

Two Cons: “Institutional Education” and “Meaningful Work”

You fell into the trap: you got an institutional education.  You funded that education with loans. Those loans, you still believe, will have to be repaid. Also, there’s all the consumer debt you slowly accumulated while looking for “a career,” that silly, stupid beast. Ah, now all the loans will be repaid by working them off. That’s why you work now, that’s why you have that bullshit job you have.

The hook went deep and it’s still got you. Can you feel it jerk its way into your gut?

Had you known, many years ago when you were young and stupid, that the goal of institutional education was to coerce you to work each day for the rest of your life on the grounds that you now had to pay off that debt you got, then you would have avoided the trap. Where were all the grown-ups, then? Huh? But you didn’t know and there weren’t any grown-ups (or they were out to exploit you) and you didn’t say no to that moron Common Sense: that education is “obviously” funded by taking out loans and that the point of education is to make you into a total worker.

Man is this shitty. But it gets worse.

Because since then you’ve deceived yourself into believing that old song and dance, which is really a new song and not much of a dance, about doing “meaningful work.” Bleck! You’re gonna work–you bought this lie too–most of your waking hours; you’re gonna work largely to pay off the debts you wouldn’t have had had you not be so “educated” (can it even be called education, or shall we better call it by its name: a nasty, ugly, rotten con?); and you trick yourself daily into believing that you’re doing meaningful work when in truth it’s a bullshit job. But all this is what the early Marx sniffed it out as: it’s ideology, that is, false consciousness, false beliefs, continually reinforced, about what is actually the case.

Oh but you know you’re not alone. Because everyone around you is working and working each day, all day because they too believe they have to pay off debts and because they too believe (i.e., make themselves believe) that they’re doing “something meaningful” with their lives. Stick first, carrot second. Indistinguishable actually because the carrot was always attached to the stick. That was the magic trick.

The world of total work, meanwhile, casts its ever longer, ever larger shadow over the totality of life. Is there anything else? Huh, Amazon.com?

Now, maybe, maybe, you get the joke. The world of total work is a world of actual enslavement. Only this time each person has enslaved himself. Damn if that dead asshole Foucault wasn’t right about that. How about that for an absurdly new turn of events? Self-enslavement: perhaps, at such scale, a novel form of folly.

What other great inventions can we humans come up with? Come on now: something to outdo the Anthropocene.