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Sunni's Salon, May/June 2007

You know, the world is full of illusions. And I don’t mean just the interesting perceptual or artistic ones. In a sense, illusions are part of the warp and woof of human experience: we are so steeped into the cultural, scientific, and other contexts that shape us that in a very real sense we become blinded to other possibilities. Possibilities such as: corporatism not being the best mode of commerce; healing that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals or knives; successfully raising children without coercion; achieving cherished dreams; living as free individuals. We’re born into a family and zeitgeist that, for better and worse, shape us in substantial and enduring ways. Can we ever get completely free of those influences? I don’t think so (nor do I think it would be necessarily psychologically healthy to try), but we can fly freer of their constraints than we often think.

Sigmund Freud has apparently largely crossed from scientific revolutionary to misguided crackpot, at least in the mainstream, lay perspective of his work, but I think he was on to something big. That big idea is the role of unconscious influences in our choices, thoughts, and feelings. How many of us have had a thought, or done or said something and immediately wondered to ourselves, Where the hell did that come from? And I daresay I’m not alone in reporting that I often never get a satisfactory answer to that question, nor its cousins that frequently crowd in closely behind it. While some turn to mystical forces for explanations, I don’t think of myself as one of them. Despite the mostly reductionistic scientific progress in the neurosciences, I see tantalizing hints of insight in reports exploring the role of electrical forces in brain functioning. Might the “power of positive thinking” be as simple as that? I don’t know; but I have observed the differences in my childrens’ behavior—and accomplishments—when they have a positve versus negative attitude toward the thing being attempted. I’ve also seen it at work in my own life, in sometimes astonishing ways. It is shocking to see the huge difference such a seemingly small thing can make.

We speak very broadly of “chemisty” and “electricity” in certain interactions with others, but fundamentally, those are the forces that drive all our functioning. There’s instant attraction, as well as instant revulsion, in romantic as well as other contexts. Does that mean that a concept like karma may be more real than we now think? Again, I do not know; but it is a very intriguing possibility to contemplate. For me, right now, I am content to focus on simpler, but in some ways larger illusions. Perhaps the largest is the illusion-complex built up around the nation-state. Mankind muddled through for an awfully long time without that concept; and while there has been a long period that purports to show its beneficence, I believe that those who are willing to cast aside the illusion show advanced by the power-mongers and their media accomplices see that it hasn’t been skittles and beer. Look deep inside yourself, and encourage others to do likewise: are there really so many of us who think we need a perpetual boss figure?

Some individuals hold the human species as being somehow above the rest of the living things on this planet. But we are products of nature too; and I think we forget that at our peril. In trying to encourage greater powers of observation in my children, I hit upon the phrase “nature’s news”; from the first utterance, they loved the idea and became very good at observing the subtle shifts and messages in the life around us. Similarly, we carry a bit of nature’s news within ourselves. These bits might be better recognized as integrity, conscience, and intuition. Even when we can’t articulate the source, most of us can identify ideas and goals that resonate with us, and those that don’t. Perhaps the degree to which we depart from understanding our own selves is the degree to which we embrace or rely upon coercive or fraudulent forms of interaction.

I offer no specific answers, just ideas. I hope they are, at the least, intriguing to you.

This month in the Salon, I am very pleased to present my conversation with the indefatigable and charming Wally Conger. We romped over a fair amount of freedom-oriented territory, and although I am not ready to start using the five-dollar terminology, he did convince me that, in his perspective, I am indeed a left libertarian. I also review the book that prompted the deep thinking about illusions: Illusions by Richard Bach; I also review another Prometheus Award finalist, Glasshouse by Charles Stross. One of the artists in this month’s musical maunderings remains a great deflator of political and social illusions, some fifty years after he first started performing. The webby wanderings offers a couple of good resources for deep thinking (and some great music!), along with some fun finds.

The lovely scents of peony and rose waft through the Salon, thankfully absent the allergy-inducing material (I am spinning an illusion here, after all). The air varies from murmur to roar, and the plants nod or head-bangingly thrash in time accordingly. Tom and I are pleased that you’ve chosen to pull up a chaise lounge and sip iced tea (we offer regular and hi-test versions) or some other refreshing beverage, and munch on light snacks with us. If we can make your stay more pleasant in any way, please let us know.

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