Tag Archives: tribalism

The Adventure of Life

“Life is an adventure,” so they say.  It is a commonplace that is almost banal, ranking right up there with “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  But, I find it really is an adventure which takes place when one begins to venture beyond the narrow confines of the way one was taught to see…and feel…the world.  But the real challenge lies in the very difficult task of becoming aware of this narrow prism through which one views the world, how the tyranny of assumptions shapes our fundamental perceptions of the world.  And to ask one to see these premises that shapes this world view is like asking a fish to see water.

It must be noted by those of us who swim in the aether of cerebral thought that most people in the world cannot ever make this meta-cognitive leap; and for them to do so would be catastrophic for human culture.  The day-to-day grind of reality depends on people who “mindlessly” go through the motions of their daily life without questioning the “basic assumptions” that I am putting on the table here.  And furthermore, for me to use the term “mindless” here merits caution as I do have a contempt gene which is too often near the surface!

We are tribal creatures and the tribal rituals are easily analyzed by people like myself who have lived their whole life “off the grid” in some fashion.  (I think one term for people like me is “pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals” or perhaps more accurately “alienated.”)   But we are a tribe, a global tribe composed of smaller tribes who must somehow find a way to live together with a modicum of harmony.  But each tribe has an innate tendency to not see beyond the safe confines of its basic assumptions and each member of that tribe learns to drink the same “kool-aid.”  That is what makes it a tribe.

But the adventure of life starts when we realize that we have “drank the kool-aid” in some fashion and are shaped by basic assumptions given to us by our culture.  Then we can begin to find a bit of freedom and can begin to play with reality.  Yes, we can even begin to “play with our self” (wink, wink) and with the beautiful human and natural world that we find ourselves in, a beautiful “Garden of Eden” in some sense.

However, it is scary!  We are hard-wired to live within those “safe confines” and to suddenly realize we are “off the reservation” can easily be a Pyrrhic victory.  To take a quantum leap here, it will ultimately bring us to the Shakespearean issue of “to be, or not to be” and can even bring one to the point of suicide.  For it is gut-wrenchingly painful to realize that one does not belong to the tribe, to be deprived of that “fig-leaf,” and to stand there on that heath like King Lear, pelted by that pitiless storm, naked as a jay-bird.

This is where faith comes in for me.  But the temptation here is to take one’s tribal faith, make a fanatical investment or re-investment in it, and hold on “come hell or high water.”  And all fanaticism (i.e., “addiction) has its roots with this deep-seated existential loneliness.  The tribal religion that my culture offered me was the Judeo-Christian tradition and I have certainly allowed it to be in my life the “opiate” that Karl Marx described.  But opiate does not work for me anymore…or at least that one does not! (I do drink too much!)  I find that my “tribal religion” offers symbols, stories, traditions that are very valuable as I stand here on this heath with King Lear and others and find that there is hope and even purpose.  This “adventure” I am discovering now beyond those aforementioned “confines” involves death, for pushing limits always involves a death-wish of some sort but the Christian tradition teaches that death and live are intertwined and that to “die” is to “live.”  To put it succinctly, there is no “life” without “death.”  Oh yes, there is existence but there is no experience of human-ness, being a live body and soul for this brief moment we have in this time-space continuum.  This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples who wanted to delay going with him for to help with a burial party, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

However, here is an important point that I’ve already touched on.  It is easy to interpret that quip from Jesus to mean that everyone else in the world who did not follow him was “dead” and therefore would “burn in hell one day.”  That is how I was taught!  But I don’t think so.  Jesus was playing with words, telling his disciples that they needed to follow him and let the burial party take care of its business, that it did not need them.  Jesus was saying that the rest of the world was okay and “dead” was only a metaphor to say they were not amenable to his teachings, that their role in life was to see things differently and to live different lives within “safe confines.”  Jesus realized that the “adventure” I’ve described here was not for everybody but that their life also was “ok”. 

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The Privilege of the Few

Institutions that maintain soothing contact between men under unexpressed conditions and within unadmitted limits are certainly indispensable for communal existence; but beyond that they are pernicious because they veil the truth in the manifestation of the human existence in illusory contentment. (probably Walter Kauffman)

Culture was a pyrrhic victory for mankind. This “fig leaf” did accomplish its original purpose in that it covered our existential nakedness and allowed the development of what I often call this “dog and pony show” that we live and breath in each day. And without this contrivance we could not live together even as well as we do. We would still be a bunch of even smaller tribes always warring with each other as opposed to the present arrangement in which the number of tribes is actually quite limited though the violence and potential violence is lethal.

But our “illusory contentment”, satisfying as it might be, always comes at the price of excluding someone that we might describe as “the other” or “them.” Our smug satisfaction always rests on the backs of those who have been denied admission into the club.

There are many dimensions to this problem but let me focus on merely one, the often discussed “haves” versus the “have nots.” And technically, this poses a personal problem for, relatively speaking, I am one of the “haves” though that is the case only in comparison with the human tribe as a whole. Relative to the hordes who live in poverty, my middle class existence would have to be described as “plenty” and I would have to be considered one of the “haves.” But trust me, I am not wealthy! Everything is relative.

So, how do we solve this problem? I understand that we could solve the world hunger problem, for example, if we wanted to so why not? Part of me remembers the admonishment to “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor” and I’ve heard of those who have done so. Well, I’m not inclined to do this and do not feel it would be the appropriate thing for me to do. But I do think solving this particular part of the “have not” problem would cost me something and I can honestly say I would be willing to incur that “something” even to the point of discomfort. How could I insist on maintaining my level of comfort when millions and millions of people in the world live in squalor? But the same question needs to be considered collectively, not just with my country, but with the world and all of us would have to begin to think in terms of the human collective instead of our local tribe. We would have to begin to answer affirmatively the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

But this would require a profound paradigm shift in world consciousness. It would require that we create some space around our tribal identity and begin to see that the “other” is human also and deserves a quality of life that we could probably help bring about. And, I’m not saying that we would have to, or even could, give up our “tribal identity” but only loosen its grip on ourselves just a little, just enough to see that other people, and other tribes, are human also. A tribal identity is just another way of saying an “ego identity” and these dimensions of reality are imperative. But another dimension of reality is also imperative, that one of “space” which unites us all, an inclusive “space” or “field” which many have termed “Spirit.” Rumi put this so eloquently when he noted, “Out beyond the distinctions of right doing and wrong doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” He was noting that beyond the distinctions that we draw with our ego or tribal identity there is a “space” and if we are willing to embrace this space…or allow it to embrace us…we can make connection with other people.

Let me close with the wisdom of a kindred spirit, my brother in Spirit, W. H. Auden, who noted:

What except despair
Can shape the hero who will dare
The desperate catabasis
Into the snarl of the abyss
That always lies just underneath
Our jolly picnic on the heath
Of the agreeable, where we bask
Agreed on what we will not ask,
Bland, sunny, and adjusted by
The light of the accepted lie?