Primitivism is a State of Mind

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Long ago, I gave up regarding everything that comes out of a teacher or professor or parent or priest's mouth as truth. Only within the last year did I force myself to give up television - including the sound bites that pass for news - and radio altogether, and I rarely can force myself to open a newspaper. Now, I'm struggling to give up (or at least control) the last major vestiges of authority in my life: books and internet sources.

Why would I seek to basically cut myself off in such a way from what passes for larger society these days? Simply put, looking back on my life and my behavior patterns, I find very little independent thought, indeed very little thought at all. More often I coast from one authority to the next (based on whatever I think makes a reliable authority - once it was teachers, later news, more recently the internet, and of course all along books), and my little ejaculations of thought (say in expressing an opinion or explicating an idea face-to-face or on a message board) were more often than not just regurgitation of ideas or opinions I had heard elsewhere, stated by better writers than myself. When I attempted to express some more original idea (or combination of ideas), I found myself being vague. I've never been altogether happy with the productions of my writing, but I always convinced myself the vagueness was mainly due to a problem in communicating my ideas to others (that is, in translating raw ideas into a linguistic system). Upon recent reflection, I'm more and more convinced that the problem lay instead with the original process, that is with my thoughts in the first place.

I simply don't think very much. Sure, my brain functions, and I write things that at least make marginal sense in the English language. But it's been a long time - maybe all my life - since I've really had much in the way of deep, independent thoughts. In today's busy and complex life, we are all constantly assaulted with stimuli from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. We are always chasing after time, and what free time we manage to pry and shove into our schedules is more often spent on our personal choice of leisure activities than on slowing down to a stop and just thinking for a while. How could I possibly just sit and think when, e.g., my computer and broadband internet connection are calling out to me with a promise of countless links to interesting perspectives or profound mind-fucks?

Little do I consciously realize that just like I own more books than I get around to reading (perhaps because I'm almost as interested in the idea of having read those books as I am in actually reading them), I also bookmark more interesting pages than I ever take time to actually visit and read. To paraphrase Nietzsche from Daybreak, it is better to read one book well than to read an entire library badly. What he was trying to say, I think, is that we should be less obsessed with trying to dig up and absorb every raw bit of knowledge and data in existence, and more obsessed with seeking to truly understand and appreciate the knowledge or wisdom to be found in one or a few places. That is, perhaps we can gain a lot more wisdom and much fuller perspective on life by devoting our attention more carefully to fewer things than in trying to split our time and attention between an ever-growing, never-ending series of things. Perhaps the Zen monks had it right in seeking enlightenment not through study of all the myriad scriptures and dogmas and teachings of Buddhism, but in meditating on one simple thing until we become, like cats, beings that live in and experience the moment.

So with this in mind, I shall attempt to slowly remold myself. I remind myself that as horrible as the assault on freedom in the U.S. seems to me, e.g., perhaps it really is not of the sort of consequence I normally consider it. I think I need to take a breather from the news, from my internet news sources, because contrary to my habitual thinking these days, missing a few days of the news will not ruin my life. Nor will going without the internet discussions I spend so much time on (most of which end up as vague, rambling, unsupported non-sense). And unlike in my past, I'm not convinced my intellectual lot will improve by turning to books. I used to think books were the true path of the mind. And that's not necessarily untrue - there are some amazingly worthwhile books out there, depending on how receptive you are at a given point of life to their effects on you - assuming we keep Nietzsche in mind; but they become a crutch, I think, when we start to think that simply reading books will make us deep or independent thinkers. It, like all else in life, can only provide prompts, stimuli and raw data for us to use depending on the antecedent measure of freethought.

Thus, I aim for a radical change in behavior for the quieter and more personal (though the change will be one of evolution more than revolution, I think). I need to spend some time alone, truly alone with my thoughts, not prompted by books or discussions or news or the daily grind of day-to-day life.

Ah, but how?! Here I am with this lofty goal of seeking quietude and hermitage to be with my thoughts when I live in a busy college dorm full of rambunctious students playing popular music as loud as their speakers will go throughout the day. How can I escape from the stress and pressure of the daily grind when I'm attending classes and ever focusing (out of the corner of my eye) on paper deadlines and "tests" of my "knowledge"?

It's easy to tell myself: "well then, just quit. Get up, get out of this environment, and find a new situation where you can accomplish what you need to to free up your mind and develop yourself as a person." It's easy to tell myself this, but the particulars never come. Am I to move to a log cabin in the woods and eek out a self-subsistent life in the woods ala Walden Pond? It sounds great in theory, but I've neither the skills of self-subsistence nor the money that inevitably is required to live legally on some patch of land in even the remotest forests without breaking some ownership laws of the government and risking losing my home. And I'm not sure permanently living at a Walden Pond is for me, despite the draws of the quiet aspect that such a life promises. Yet certainly a vacation to some pithy "relaxation spa" would do me very little good - it's all so artificial. I could try moving to a smaller, quieter, simpler country without the infantile politics and the hellish consumerism and the hustle and bustle of "modern life", but again money gets in the way of such a major change.

And so even if these become inevitable goals (like my great desire to travel beyond my home country and see the world, and I don't mean stopping at tourist attractions in the capitals of foreign countries), it seems that to finance my dreams I need money, and thus I'm drawn back in to this silly situation where I need to attain this degree in order to get a job that pays more than my current minimum-wage one. But then the money has to go toward paying off those college debts (too bad I wasn't developed enough to think things through before being pressured into going to college just because I was "gifted" or did well academically growing up), and probably some car that's necessary to get to the job (the damned economy won't just give me the pick of the litter right next door to home), and of course there's the cost of shelter and food, however modest my living.

It's just so hard to escape this damned vortex of modern life and capitalist existence subsistence. And the world of quietude and nature are only growing smaller by the day in exchange for the growth of the wondrous progress (ha!) of industry and consumption. Pretty soon there will be few forests or mountains left to run to for those of us touched with the hermit-bug, and targeted advertisements will personally address us at every step we take.

Maybe the peace and calm which I seek in order to develop my own personal thoughts is less an external state (away from traffic and music and television and news and gossip and people and fashion and...) than a state of mind. Maybe it's all about finding a way to relax and foster personal thought even in the most obnoxious and busied of environments. Certainly that sounds delightful, if it could be achieved. I would like to think there's some promise there, and so long as I can't quite bring myself to escape from the bondage of my present situation, perhaps there's hope I'll make peace with it and come to be at peace with myself wherever I am.

It's an uphill battle though. As I said, there's just so much stimulus in modern life poking and prodding at us every moment of our waking lives that the chance of fostering the calm and introspective mind that I seek is minimal. But I plan to do my best for the time being, and meanwhile I'll continue to search for some reasonable and feasible escape from my present self-imposed prison into a life and lifestyle I can really live with.

Originally Written: 10-08-03
Last Updated: 12-14-03