Thursday, December 28, 2017
The most important question it is possible for a human being to ask
The decision to live is a political decision. Raoul Vaneighem said it in 1967 and half a century later, let us think about it one more time. Actually no, let’s think about it every day, several times a day, as we put food in our mouths. Putting food in your mouth is also a political decision.
OK. I’ve decided to live. Now what?
One of the highlights of 2017 was doing the talk in Folkestone. At the end of the talk someone, it was Madeline, who hears voices, and asks questions - and she asked: How do we work out what’s important?
Something happened then. I am still not exactly sure what. As I recall it, I suddenly became aware of tears forming in my eyes. I walked over to the chair and sat down. I said nothing. The room was silent. I said, give me a minute. Diane who was standing at the back, came over to see what was happening and I think she said something like, for those who can’t see, Johannes is crying.
When a minute had passed I stood up again and said:
Thank you for that question. I am so very glad that you asked it. Because it is the most important question that it’s possible for a human being to ask. And it is also the most difficult question — difficult, one, because it takes such a long time to work it out. It took me the best part of 60 years - but then I’m not very smart and I kept getting distracted. I began thinking about it as a child and I haven’t really stopped.
And two, it’s difficult because the world is full of people, institutions, authorities, experts, all trying to tell you what is important and that you must believe them, and not someone else. And everyone is saying listen to me listen to me, click here, watch this.
And difficult because there are so many distractions. And the world keeps inventing more distractions. And then there are all the things that prevent you from being able to think clearly, chief amongst them and especially relevant in my own case at this moment, is lack of sleep. And then there is alcohol and drugs and all the other substances and attention sucking, brain chemistry altering traps.
And then there are all the brain loops that we get caught up in, chief amongst them is the biggest brain loop of all, the ego - the Ich, as it is called in the original. I do wonder whether Ego is the best translation for ‘Ich’ which is simply the German word for ‘I’. Calling it ‘The Ego’ makes it seem as if it’s something seperate from what I think of as ‘my self’. And this is why Freud, at the same time as doing something very important in identifying it (not to mention the unconscious and narcissism! which are also extremely useful ideas) also made a grave error, just as Descartes did when he said ‘I think therefore I am…’
Or that’s what I would have said, if there had been time and I’d had the wherewithal. I think the nature of that question at that moment meant that at least one person present had followed what I’d been saying. And this is what you do it for.
So what do we do about the ‘Ich’? Interestingly I read somewhere that in AA’s twelve steps literature addiction is accorded a status like a person, it is described as “cunning, baffling, and powerful.” I am struck here by two things. One is, that’s exactly what the ego is like - and two, is the ego like an addiction then? Are we all addicted to feeding our cunning, baffling and powerful egos, both collectively as humans and individually, as beings?
What do we do about that?