An obligation met too easily loses its moral lustre. Of course it is mandated by conscious that you speak out – but then you are also gifted the more challenging task of knowing what you’re talking about. Those who never even grasp the former concept likely do less harm than those who, in the name of conscious, speak against it.
To perceive wrong is to know wrong, and this requires much more effort than a lifetime’s worth of moving lips can muster. Let, then, the first symptom of intellectual cowardice be a position held too comfortably – oh, but how the privileged afflict themselves with imagined consensus! Every thought is at once polling well and yet unpopular! Every revolutionary a man of the people and an outcast! How will you paint your struggle today? What populist box will you pretend contains you? What misunderstanding keeps you exiled? What imposed shackles slow your march? What lie validates the notion that you have struggled at all?
Ideologies are brand-name shoes for free: they provide comfort for the wearer and a false promise to the under-privileged. Everyone will know what shoes you wear – and what price you pay to wear them! – but never the human cost. How is the dreaded consumerist, blind to worldly atrocities, any worse than he who wears the suffering of others to protect the soles of idle feet?
Not just consumption panders the ego and its sense of uniqueness, but production, too. How much art is not at all political while pretending to be cultured? And how much feigns a politics, a passion, while engaging mercilessly in solipsism? Is this not the art of empty souls in an empty world? Whose purpose does your aesthetics serve? The conceptualist painter, the slam poet, the punk musician? Only your own! Get on with it, then! On to the stage! A winding-sheet accompanies the corpse – all you have done is make it pleasing to the eyes of the living! Children scream and the caterwaul of your guitar is not an echo but a false flag! A life is brought to halt and serenaded by trite rhythms, tired metaphor, and cheap applause!
I do not present these thoughts from any moral high-horse – but I do keep her closely-tethered and am trying hard to start a journey somewhere. A near-24-years I spent of my life trapped in solipsism: in the idea that my struggle against my suffering was somehow the greatest thing, and would produce greatness. Or in the wicked fetish that only through some tragedy, or violation of my will, could I be free to revel in the kind of misery necessary for art, for struggle, for triumph. Why, when all around this Earth there is the cause of some poor other to take arms for?
Yet I look now at the jihadists in Syria, moving east through Iraq and to the borders of Kurdistan, imposing theocracy with every step. Do the anti-war protesters of the West ever even wonder in these moments whether their steps cleared the path for fascism? They have fulfilled their seamless first duty of speaking out, but have they begun to consider the consequence? In the wake of a war they have no part in, and want no part in, do they question what their obligations truly are, and pause at the thought of marching in peaceful cities, through peaceful crowds, to false intent?
I let the privilege of 21st century, suburban America trick me into thinking, in a world without pain, that I had to find something evil in myself to rebel against; I had to create my own pain and overcome it. Is Western masochism an extension of this delusion? Can it be overcome? In the past 14 months I have experienced ego death as well as true love and the world has opened up to me as it never did before. My eyes are wide and my mind is more awake than ever. Perhaps, in struggling with delusion, I have destroyed that evil in myself that sees the self at all. Perhaps I have emerged a better human being by learning that the answer is in others: in the realization of others, in the existence of others, in the abolition of the self. Let my aesthetics serve their cause! Suffering is everywhere and very real – so let their overcoming be a gift that I am never cursed to enjoy, but may have a hand in earning! And let us all not simply speak our minds, but know for whom we speak!