The overarching idea which is being written of here is meaning. It has been one of the buzzwords of the alternative scene since the very beginning of Modernity. A phase of history I would argue begins roughly at the end of the 19th century, that is when the clear technological lineages to the distractions which are ruining are daily lives were born: Transport, mass-media, mass-produced food, state education, standardization etc. In part, Modernity is the era in which all of our spontaneous attitudes, creative passions and imaginative weirdness is constricted – usually covertly – due to the fact its very nature is unpredictable. The reason Modernity is against anything (usually) is because that thing is unpredictable, and that which is unpredictable is far more difficult to control, because ultimately if you have no idea what something or more importantly someone is going to do, how can you possibly make preparations to control it/them.
Meaning has now turned into this mythical entity, held up in reverence by the disillusioned, lost and young as that which is to be sought after for its own sake. But meaning has a two-fold existence which is often overlooked, and its between these two meanings of meaning where we can begin to understand that it is actually ourselves who hold the key to our own cage. The first meaning (of meaning) is the one employed by your mind quite literally every second of existence. The screen you’re reading this on has a meaning to you in a nostalgic, technological and knowledgeable sense, a meaning which works in relation to a whole host of other meanings you have placed onto other things within your world. To a certain extent these forms of meaning are useful, very useful in fact, we wouldn’t be able to traverse the world in any coherent sense without a complex circuitry of meaning. However, within modernity meaning is haunted, haunted be the toxic wills of headless ideas, ideologies and groups.
The property that you’re within is just that (now), a property. Which means something entirely different to a home, a house, a building or simply a place to sleep. Whether or not you believe these meanings have infiltrated your subconscious understanding of your surroundings needn’t matter, because the ideas/meanings themselves have already infiltrated the communally accepted language so well that such stresses, anxieties and depressions that come with such linguistic baggage as ‘property’ are already affecting you. Think of a space, any space, or space at all. I imagine you are either thinking of some empty white room, or a space which has a name: School, park, house, shop, road, path etc. The horrid fact is that not only do we abide be these constrictions constantly, but we in fact adore them, they bring us comfort. What is more comforting than knowing your place, constantly. However loud you shout that you’re free, however many ‘meetings’ you attend to discuss freedom, or whatever steps you take to actualize further freedom are always thwarted if you have yet to understand your own internalized patterns of restriction.
If you are to take the time to think of contemporary ‘free’ spaces, the conclusion is usually areas/spaces such as parks, fields or routes – it is not coincidental that all of these revolve around nature. Except these spaces are not in themselves free, for the park has its gates, the routes have their edges and the fields have their presumed purpose. This is where we walk, this is where we play and this is where food is grown, that is how it is, that is how it is, that is how your mind speaks to you subconsciously.
This leads me to the second meaning of meaning, the one we’re sold everyday in some form or other. The meaning of life, what does your life mean, what does it all mean!? We ponder, ponder, ponder and get no closer to any real answer, but we push forward anyway. The unfortunate reality here is that the first and second meaning are very slowly being combined, and for a large majority of the population (speaking primarily of the West here) have already been combined. That is, one’s meaning in life is built upon notions of restriction. If only I could just get that job, then I would be someone/somewhere. If only I could purchase that car, then I’d be seen as X. If I only could go to that country, then I’d be X. You have allowed the meaning in your life to be constricted by meanings imposed by others. Those others include: peer groups, corporations, ideologies, politicians, events, followings, the media and more. You have allowed the socially presumed meanings of the herd to construct the faux-meaning of your own life. Ask yourself why you never questioned any of this? Why did you never take the time to sit down and think on whether or not you agree with these things? You thought you were free, but you were only free within the confines of other’s meanings.
Many state, often which quite loud certainty, that they are indeed free, and lead innovative, playful and joyous lives. Yet these people never take more than a second to question the most basic assumptions of their supposedly free activities. It is a cliche that begs repetition, but what accounts for the large amount of play today – both for adult and child – is simply their parents giving them the technology they believe to be fun, a belief which possessed them via advertisements, media, magazines, music etc. People don’t seem to enjoy, play or create that which they are naturally predisposed to, but they wait, in a state of boredom for something to fill the void of their lives. Usually this means sitting watching TV until work begins again, scrolling through an App or social media feed until work begins again, or finding another method of escape (Drugs, alcohol, porn etc.) until work begins again. Man’s idea of play and enjoyment has been replaced with escapist hedonism, of course this is nothing new, but it begs repetition. Fear not, there is more to life, and it’s found in…going backwards.
“The words ‘we can’t go back’ are just another religious invocation of the great god Progress.” – John Michael Greer
Very few people within modernity will admit it, but deep down they’re virulently against the idea of going backwards, in any way. Whether it’s politically, culturally or materially. Our assumptions surrounding technology are as follows: New technology is better than old technology, more technology is better than less technology, those that promote older ways of doing things are doing so out of nostalgia or some archaic form of conservatism. We believe that Progress is good in all cases. Rarely do we look at the results of progress and assess them based on their own merit, and even more rare is a comparison between the new and old ways in relation to meaning or happiness.
It seems almost impossible to many that they could now exist without a smart-phone, games console or a TV. It is assumed that we can never go back, why is this? Well, it is because everyone else does it, and – quite depressingly – normalcy is extremely comfortable. It’s nice to know you’re ‘in on it’, in on the thing that everyone else is doing/taking part in. No one wants to feel left out, and yet we still do? Smart phones have allowed us to connect to every piece of information ever recorded at an instant, but we retain none of it. They have allowed us to ‘connect’ to all of our ‘friends’ in an instant, and yet when we meet up with our friends they all stare at their phones…texting other friends. We were warned about TVs rotting our brains back in the 70s, “I’m the slime coming out of your TV set!” (Zappa). We didn’t listen, we were too busy focusing on the gimmicks, explosions and crack-like programming of the TV set. There was a time when most of you reading this didn’t have a smart-phone, a fact that has been all but erased from our memories.
The complex bind that we’ve got ourselves in is as follows. We were fine. Perhaps a little bored, but then there’s nothing wrong with boredom, it is in fact helpful in the journey towards finding yourself, if you’re never bored, you’re constantly entertaining yourself with distractions. Anyways, as we grew up and hit the age of 3-7, when we could begin to construct and verbalize what is was we supposedly needed/wanted we began to do so. However, as previously stated, the large majority of these wants were really micro-possessions taking control of our thoughts via the airways of modernity (adverts, media etc.) and so we began to be programmed to want things we never really wanted, or even thought of in the first place! Our desires were constructed. If you never saw or heard of an advert for a waterpark would you want to go on a waterslide? Not only were our desires – such as to-be-entertained, to-be-happy, to-be-fulfilled – but the same channels and circuitry that constructed our desires simultaneously gave us the answer to that desire…what a strange coincidence.
Such constructions of course always fit into the standardized system of time that we’ve been funneled into, and lead to believe is time itself. We go on about the ol’ 9-5, which allows us the ‘free’ time afterwards to watch the same TV show as everyone else, the one we’ve always wanted to see…apparently. The very idea of travel and holidays fits into the allocated holiday time our workplace allows us. Standardized time, the destroyer of spontaneity. Many talk of ‘getting away’, but rarely ever do. Their idea of a break is merely to do the same thing they usually do on the weekends in a different climate. At the bottom of the of ‘getting away’ is the idea of escaping ‘all this’, meaning the meaningless, unfulfilling trap of modernity. Unfortunately it’s restriction all the way down. This next paragraph is going to be long and extremely repetitive, but it’s meant as an exercise in all the assumptions of modernity you take part it on a daily basis, usually without knowing it.
You wake up in your home, it’s yours and you feel secure there. You never really thought about whether you needed security, of course a secure place to sleep is needed, but why did you need all those rooms, were you ever intent on acquiring all the possessions you now own, or did you simply feel obliged to do so? Your neighborhood is called that, but you’ve never really seen or experienced any event which correlates with the notion of neighborly you were sold. A ‘nice neighborhood’ is one where everyone stays inside, and causes no trouble. You get out of your bed which is full to the brim with blankets and pillows, the mattress is so soft you never want to leave. Some people sleep on the floor, did you know that? That’s something you can do if you want. I did for a while and it made it easier for me to get up in the morning. Stop assuming comfort and niceness is your endgame, you were sold that lie and you can dismiss it if you like. You take a nice warm shower and cover yourself in 2-3 products to impress other people, people you rarely get the chance to properly speak to anyway. Many people take cold showers. You go downstairs, prepare your breakfast and sit on the sofa, switching on the TV, because why wouldn’t you? What else are you going to do? Just sit there and enjoy food you have no clue as to how it’s made? How preposterous! You get ready for work, putting on clothes which you’d never want to wear nor purchase for the sake of making a good impression. You get in your car and take the 10-40 minute commute to work. ‘This is normal’ you think to yourself ‘everyone has a commute’, you never think on the amount of your wage that is going towards commuting or car maintenance. You can get a lower paying job closer to home and save money if you like, that is a choice you are free to make. You arrive at work and say the basics to those who you frequently work with. No conversation, you realize, has much merit to it.
“How are you?”
“Pretty good, you?”
“Yeah good thanks.”
“Have you seen [insert new superhero film here]?”
“Yeah man, it’s wicked!”
“Yeah I know right.”
No one ever really talks to each other properly except in rare bouts of unavoidable emotional duress. You eat your lunch and everyone looks at their phones. You go back to work and do some random stuff on a computer. Your job is obedience and little more. Unless you’re in a job which directly effects people’s lives in some manner, your job is probably complete bullshit, and you know it. Clicking random things on a screen to create the outcome desired by your superiors isn’t a job, it’s willing slavery. ‘That’s life’ you say to yourself, followed with an internal sigh. Well here’s the news, it’s only life if you want/will it to be. You finish up your day and begin the commute home. You can’t wait to get home and watch TV, zone-out, you deserve it you tell yourself, knowing deep down that you really don’t. You don’t feel anywhere near as alive, exhausted or worked as you could, but it doesn’t matter, the monotony has drained your mental abilities to the point where you need a TV to think for you…apparently. You get home, order takeout and eat that in front of the TV, you don’t even focus on the show itself because you’re too busy scrolling on your phone, too busy getting jealous at other’s lives for no reason, too busy distracting yourself from the miserable reality you have willingly walked into. Time for bed, you don’t sleep well. You know why, but wont admit it to yourself. You doze off. You wake up and start it all again.
Practice: There’s a way out, but you need to dwell on this for a while, or at least until your frustrations reach maximum level and you literally cannot take it anymore. Dwell on each and every assumption you make. Channel that energy, when it comes, into the practice of exiting. Which is what exactly, well, for now something quite simple. List 100 things you do everyday – I would just mentally go through your day and write each thing down – and then list next to each one an the primary assumption relation to that activity from the list below (or devise your own list):
Once you’ve completed the list of 100, yes, all 100, note which assumptions you abide to the most. If a clear assumption comes up outside of those 5, which you’re partaking in routinely, feel free to add in your own category. Once you’ve completed all that, meditate for just 5-8 minutes of why you feel obliged to bow down to that category, why do you assume so much around money, health, status etc. Enjoy.
 Even though these are all electronic and screen-based this isn’t the specific area I’m targeting, they’re just the clearest examples of our pressured attachments.