11 July 2010
Savagery is a concept with which I am thoroughly obsessed. To clarify: when I use the terms “savage” and “savagery,” I do not mean to do so in a pejorative sense. My Western/American/White upbringing would have me stigmatize cultures that resist the “upward mobility” of civilization, and choose to remain in close ties with the land and with nature, and with their own internal nature. I do not; in a sense, I perhaps romanticize these peoples, and it is undeniable that I envy them to some degree. One could say that I subscribe to a starry-eyed “noble savage” conception, but I would argue with this as well. I do not fancy myself merely an anthropological sympathizer. It is my belief that I share something fundamental at the core with those whom Westerners have traditionally called “savages.” I completely and honestly believe that I possess a living spirit within me, who imputes me toward a closer connection with the Earth, with my own physiological rhythms, with the cosmos and the greater community of Life. On the inside, I, too, feel like I am a savage.
But, of course, I see myself as stuck within a Western would-be “civilized” lifeway, and hence the obsession. I have spent a good deal of my contemplative energy visualizing and imagining the life for which my spirit longs, and then applying that knowledge to my present, in the hopes of identifying the fundamental cultural differences that could perhaps be addressed such that more of us who wish to be savages get to live our truest lives. Paying no further mind to the political correctness brigade, for whom I must admit I have next-to-no respect, I will continue writing with the assumption that my audience feels a likeness to the sentiments I have hitherto expressed, and will therefore choose not to censor the language into which my thoughts most naturally manifest themselves.
The reason why I envy savages is because I believe that they get to live in a ceaseless state of pure love. Meaning, that the force and the feeling which we have come to refer to as “love” is the very same as that which guides and pervades every aspect of their life. They are perfectly balanced with respect to their environment, each other, and their internal needs; they do not know as we do the persistent longing for something more. They have everything they need, and do not want for that which they do not have or know of. They just are. And in simply being, they are love. They have, implicit within themselves, that which we Westerners make our highest art in pursuit of obtaining.
“How does he figure that?” someone is bound to be asking by now. I admit: I have not within this lifetime been a savage, and so the present I, Sean Michael Barker, cannot lay claim to an immediate experience of the state which I am describing. Perhaps I used to be a savage, in a past life? Or maybe I carry within me a genetic link to a savage ancestor? (Don't we all?) But, allow me to philosophize for a moment, in order to fill the gaps that lived-experience leaves.
We have this notion of the savage, meaning, “one who lives completely within Nature; one who has not known the fruits of civilization, of stationary living, of societal organization, of the quest for the transformation of Man into a Higher Being (as sought through social stratification).” We, the Westerners, define ourselves in opposition to this figure. We judge him as our abject-Other, that which we most wish not to be, and pity, and regard as lower than we are and as an animal/object, something to be owned, ignored, controlled or slaughtered.
What lies at the core of this conceptual distancing from our brother, the savage? I would argue that, if it were to be boiled down to a singular idea—forgoing discussion of the possibility of aesthetically determined aversions created by the phonemic expression of genetic difference—that the main point of contention between savage cultures and those within the Western paradigm is their respective understandings of the human's relationship to life and death. We the Westerners are defined as those whose mainstream and implicit cultural assumption is that life and death are forces to be controlled and directed toward the service of our identified objectives. We are the great manipulators, those who paradoxically seek immortality through murder. Savages, on the other hand, are always-already submitted to the realities of Life and Death as forces greater than themselves. They are the ones who live under no illusion of personal immortality, but rather find their connection to the eternal through their consummated position within the endless cycle of existence and nonexistence. Westerners, in their neurotic fear of a death that is not subject to any degree of human control, condemn the savage for his subjugation to nature, for his refusal to think himself into a condition more separated from his origin. Savages, I imagine, would laugh off the Westerner's concern/judgment as ignorant to the inescapable reality of the ultimate supremacy of the natural world. In case it is not obvious, I favor the savage position here. (It is one that I have imagined and created, so why wouldn't I favor it?)
So, then, what does any of this have to do with love? Well, to put it bluntly, from what little I know of love, I am totally convinced of one thing: that it cannot exist—in the experiential sense—without the immediate realities of life and death. Love is the singularizing force which unites both life and death, and everything therein. Love is, itself, a force of nature. It is that which binds all things to one another.
And so, it seems to me that the savage, just by virtue of being himself, necessarily inhabits a life that is profuse with love. He is continually confronted by the natural realities of life and death. He lives in close harmony with nature, and has intimate knowledge of his immediate world. He must depend upon his family, his tribe, his landscape for his survival, and he therefore has an indestructible connection with all of these. He never has the luxury to be ignorant of the realities of life and death, and therefore experiences no distance—conceptual or otherwise—from the real world that exists all around him. His life is nothing but love.
By contrast, the Westerner has the unfortunate ability to think himself out of reality. His society creates within itself a class of person whose material needs are all met with little effort on the part of those individuals. These people are allowed to exist apart from the immediate realities of life and death; indeed, they exist with little concept of either. Western society itself—arguably—necessitates some distancing from death in particular in order to sustain itself. Most Westerners engage in work that is by definition unnatural or contrary to that which is intrinsically rewarding to the internal self. The only conceivable incentive to do something such as this is that the activity will lead to some delayed experience of intrinsic pleasure or reward; we work toward a “better future.” This requires some degree of the denial of death. We must assume ourselves to be immortal, or to be able to die on our own terms, in order to structure a life such that we delay our full experiencing of being alive. This is, of course, counter to the reality of death, which is a force beyond our control. Even those who live luxuriously, who inhabit the uppermost strata of Western life must to some extent deny death as a reality. Simply to conceive of oneself as greater than any other living being—let along a fellow human—is to deny death as the great equalizer. The leisured subject must distance himself from the reality of death in order to continue being himself and conceiving of himself as deserving of more than his fellow man.
This inhabiting of a false, deathless reality renders many Westerners incapable of truly experiencing love. For, how can one love a life to which he is internally disconnected? How can man love himself or one another if he is operating under a working-assumption of immortality? When does the Westerner make time to love life? How can he experience the natural force of love, outside of the laws of nature? Westerners, it appears to me, are so caught up in their functional dejection from their immediate lives, so existing mostly within their minds, so afraid to feel the reality of imminent death that they cannot and do not pause to truly love their precious little time here. They remain shut-off to much of what surrounds them, emotionally distant and unavailable to themselves and one another, numbingly ignorant to the all-powerful forces at work within their lives—chief among these love. (I am, of course, speaking monolithically here. For what can be said that does not require generalization?)
Thus, I have spent/wasted a good deal of my time being jealous of the noble savages, who live as I imagine in a world of pure, perfect, warming love (I'm not as naïve as I ironically depict myself here, but there is no need to use precious space justifying that to the reader). But, my very reason for writing today is to nullify my jealousy and present to the reader a redemptive quality of Western life that he or she may not have realized. It has occurred to me many times that perhaps the very point of being Western is to forget the reality of love, as well how to experience and share love. Assuming love to be the perfect ideal for which all of us seek, why then would we want to forget it? Well, I think that the beginning of that last sentence answered the question at its end: so that we can seek, find, and (re-)discover love.
For, if love is the unifying force of everything, and we were harmoniously connected to everything through love, how would we be able to experience it with such intensity as to fuel all of the great passions that our culture has yielded? Indeed, within my imagined framework of savagery as delineated above, the question emerges: if the life of the savage is nothing but love, how can the savage himself know he is experiencing love? Must not love be lost in order to be fully appreciated upon its return? Would we not in fact rather forget it from time to time, in order to remember it in a more profoundly pleasurable and appreciative fashion at some later date?
Is that not the quintessence of our culture? To lose love only to regain it later? Are not all of our stories about that to some degree?
The discovery of love is a theme that has shaped my life, and I imagine that many of us who are experiencing the present would have to say the same thing, in all honesty. And part of my process of learning to love myself as a Westerner—with a savage spirit—is accepting that I once was removed from its embrace. I have come to terms with the unnaturalness of my coming-of-age apart from love, and in truth I am no longer jealous of those whose cultures and/or dispositions have never allowed them to forget or to leave love.
But, as I have discovered love and experienced the intensity that comes with its return, I must say that I am much in favor now of relinquishing the drama in favor of a more enlightened approach to loving. For me, I have found the return to love to be so intense that I can only absorb the transition in portions. Love, for me, yields a certain lightness for which I am not prepared, having been heavily burdened with Western neurosis for so long. Whenever I come across a moment of greater-than-average connectivity, I feel completely consumed within it, and the death-fearing/death-denying Westerner within compels me to retreat in order to preserve itself. I am having to learn to love, gradually, to acclimate myself such that I can experience it and submit to it without fear. It would be a lot simpler if I never have had to leave it at all, and could have just lived a life of love from start to finish. Do not mistake me: the “high” is absolutely amazing, indescribable even. But as we mature as a culture, as we all live our narratives of re-discovery, it is my hope that we get over love's drug-like effects, and instead incline ourselves to what I believe is love's own intrinsic purpose for existing.
And that purpose is to connect everything to everything, forever. I believe that love itself—the natural force—requires something very special of this generation of Westerners. I think that the time has come for us to return to a state of perfect loving harmony with the natural world. No longer should we selfishly experience the highs and lows that love offers us within the Western paradigm; rather, the time has come to apply our love toward the project of healing the world, ravaged by Westernization, and return our species to a greater stasis with the whole of life. With the rediscovery of love in our own lives comes the desire to share it with the entire world. As long as there are those who are existing in selfishness, in destruction, in Western arrogance, love will not have conquered all. Our task as young Westerners who understand both our cultures of origin and the yearnings of our savage, love-wrought spirits is to offer ourselves as a divine bridge that allows the force within us to reform the picture before us. In short, if we are committed to love, if we truly wish to experience it as a sustaining force within our lives—as opposed to an occasional fix—we must share it selflessly with the whole of life, such as to allow the healing transformation of our most beautiful and peaceful inner desires to take place.
The time has come for us to love ourselves and the world around us to revival again. And though that will require a relinquishing of the traditionally Western love-lost-regained drama, I promise that the project of creating a new world in love's image will itself present a cornucopia of rewarding experiences, yet to be discovered. Let us forgo the repetitions of experiences that are no longer truly novel, in favor of a completely new terrain. Let us become the conquistadors of an entirely different sort, and discover truly the power of our inner savage love.