Things Fall Apart (Part 4)

“As Above, So Below” is the central principle of the ancient philosophies known as hermeticism, philosophies that had an overwhelming impact on the ancient Greeks, early Christianity, the Renaissance, the Reformation … i.e., Western civilization. I know it’s weird to imagine, but this little phrase has been one of THE most influential ideas in all of history.

“As Above, So Below” means that our social lives are organized as a fractal, that when there is disorder in the heavens or the seats of worldly power, so is there disorder in our communities, our families, and our personal lives. It means that when Pharaoh hardens his heart, whether he lives in a marble palace on the Nile or a white house on the Potomac, so do OUR hearts harden, as well.

It means that the Widening Gyre, which we can see represented most clearly on a national scale and in national elections, is no less potent and no less present in our everyday lives. It means that Things Fall Apart in ways both large and small. Always and in all ways.

I see this fractal nature of alienation and polarization in my friend, Neb Tnuh, who I’ve written about before but will reintroduce here. I bet his story is familiar to you.

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  1. I was waiting for part 3 to come out, now that it’s hear it’s by far my favorite article. As I was reading it I was thinking the title should be changed to “A Manifesto” until I remembered it’s part of a series, and besides you already have a Manifesto (Second Foundation).

  2. Ben,
    I have a friend like yours too. Drawoh can easily get lost in his head and has become much less social as he’s gotten older and decathected from what he’s come to see as useless efforts. One step forward and two steps back is not for him. He has grand plans, plans that make it impossible for the little problems those earnest people spend their time on from happening. He sees that if we ever did take back our data, we would have taken back our money by definition. I know so many young people working to make Christine dream of telling us how to use our money impossible that it gives me hope for the future. I don’t really know what money is, except it’s what we say it is. But I do know this: it’s only Caesar’s money if Caesar runs the show. If we take back our data, I don’t see how he can.

  3. Avatar for bd1 bd1 says:

    This one was a punch to the gut

  4. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    This. Post. I will write more later, but this was incredibly profound.

  5. Avatar for ianfvr ianfvr says:

    Wow. Thanks so much Ben. So spot on. In so many ways. Happy Thanksgiving!! Giving thanks for this project and these notes this week. I want to share this with friends but it is interesting to see my inner hesitation which totally contradicts how on board with and passionate I am about what you have written.

  6. Avatar for Tanya Tanya says:

    Hope the commenting software can take it…

    What an amazing post. Wrapping up so many of my thoughts from the last 10+ years and more. The first “headline” (or “subline” as you were) “As Above, So Below” hit me hard right up front, as it’s a lyric I remembered from a beautiful song called “Follow” by one of the most brilliant guitarists and songwriters in the world, Gary Lucas (he was a member of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band!). I know the post is not about music per se, but if you’re interested in the version I was hearing in my head it’s here: The vocalist is Richard Barone, but the lyrics are all Gary. Another version that Gary sings himself is here:

    Anyway, whew!! Interesting image on the left up at the top there, I’m far too scared to experiment with psychedelics but it reminds me of this Todd Rundgren video!

    But to the heart of the matter…will attempt to comment in the order of the post. FRACTALS. Yes. When you look at something so beautiful as the golden ratio, and see it in everything in nature, it is so profound. But appparently some fractals are going to go negative.

    This is why I agree with the concept of the little kindnesses – I try to do this, as often and as personalized as possible. You never know when something will either add inspiration, or lift someone out of darkness.

    I adore your focus on comedy/comedians, that is a venue where TRUTH can be told. George Carlin. Bill Hicks. But in the current day, my #1 is Yamaneika Saunders. She is FEARLESS. Tells it like it is, always.

    Which leads me to the only part of the post that I don’t agree with, at least not in whole. Yamaneika is a black woman. Me sitting out, or voting third party, or writing in, can result in what happened in 2016. But, that can have real and present consequences for people that I care about. I understand about the long game, but it would be extremely hard to potentially sacrifice others’ (or my own) freedoms in the short term. Maybe short-sighted, and I agree that the paradigm needs to change and it won’t be easy, but…let me say it this way. I’ve lived in NYC (suposedly diverse???) since 1993, but it was only in those last 5+ years I really understood what black people experience in America. Listen to “The Black Guy Who Tips” podcast or the “Three Guys On” podcast. Those are just two of many. The point that really drove it home for me was hearing from many different sources that as black people, they need to give “the talk” to their children as young as five years old. “The talk” being, “be respectful to police officers, be respectful to white people, don’t act out in public”, etc. Now, this may be seen as common sense, but the truth is white kids can act out and not be seen as a threat, whereas black kids exhibiting the exact same behavior can be arrested or worse.

    Didn’t mean to make this so much about race, but one last point and then I’ll continue on – on the point of white privilege – I know, I know, these things seem so contrived, but I believe this to be true. On “Three Guys On” recently, one of the hosts said a woman he knows said her white husband was disputing white privilege. He replied, “The next time your husband says that, you ask him if when he leaves his house, if he’s afraid that the police are going to kill him.” This may sound extreme, but I hear this over and over. Not from people in ‘the hood’. From ‘regular’ black men (AND women) just trying to live through a regular day. And it’s the bigger more muscular guys that are MORE fearful because they are seen as more of a threat by police.

    Ok, back to the the main points of the post. Distance…I still love living in NYC. But the beauty of this city is getting into a niche in your neighborhood, with like-minded people. (BTW, “adjunct professor of Self-Hatred Studies” is priceless.) But yes, self-censorship is a huge problem, and the hysterical culture that pervades all manner of society right now is definitely an issue.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your proposal to support/build/renew public libraries/public spaces/maker spaces. What a great way to cultivate creativity!

    The next section reminds me of Jaron Lanier, who has long advocated against big data, but pragmatically has suggested that if we are being subjected to data collection anyway, we should at least get paid for it. I recommend any of his books if you’re not familiar. But it sounds a bit more like what Dave Winer, the RSS, blogging, and podcasting pioneer has been saying – get away from silos! Try to stick with open source.

    This post made me cry. Thank you Ben.

  7. The first topic - participation in the political process - and the third - controlling our own data - are very good, though the third is not immediately implementable by individuals as are the other two. It is the second topic, and specifically the library bit, that woke me up. We are by no measure wealthy, nor are we younger than old, but this section suggests something that we, that anyone, can begin - to locate areas in need of proper library facilities, including spaces for quiet reading, for creative research and thinking, for small-scale brief discussions to stimulate creativity, and especially for children. My little branch library is a hub of activity by families, featuring kids of all ages with happy eyes. But we are in the heart of Silicon Valley, with a county library system giving access to a huge super-library of books, magazines, and audio and video resources. Smaller communities and rural areas are not so fortunate, but that need not be. Small branches with adequate space for both books and people can be connected via mobile resource sharing (physical and electronic), with programs for children and resources for adults. Step 1 is to identify areas nearby that need help; then to determine what might work best in each area and who might be the best people to participate; then to find financial resources to make it happen. Our expense would be just the travel, and we wouldn’t need to go far; time is not a problem for us. The billionaires can be invoked later - but maybe that’s a little too top-down, so mere millionaires in our general area with a desire to improve the world would suffice, would be better.
    This isn’t well thought-out yet but it is starting to simmer so I thank you for this piece. Inspiring for sure.

    Larry and Joyce

  8. Ben, I will read this beautiful piece again and may have some additional comments, but right out of the gate:

    He who gave us “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17) and “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) is He who also gave us this portion of the prayer to be used as the standard by which to communicate with Him:

    “Thy Kingdom come; Thy Will be done; on earth as it is in Heaven” - in other words, “As Above, So Below”.

    I write this not to combat what you have posited, but simply to suggest that those who would change a family/friend/town/state/country/world via a “As Below, So Above” groundswell by loving truth, beauty and goodness and recognizing that “small good works on small stages” are the means so to do, must stand upon the Ground which acknowledges that what we do here is done in service to a King above us all.

    Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
    Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. *** There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil.*** Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.

    “And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

    If we understand and believe that this world is NOT all there is, we will work without ceasing to save it - For the King has decreed for us to do so. As Above, So Below/As Below, So Above.


  9. Avatar for alpha2 alpha2 says:

    Hi Ben, an extraordinary piece that echoes so powerfully here in Britain. The turmoil around Brexit is a fine example of things falling apart in the widening gyre.

    There are still plenty of us members of the British tribes fighting our subjugation by the European empire.

    All the while, our own leaders, their retirements guaranteed by the empire, supported by the self haters of academe, connive in our deception and encourage the providers of bread and circuses to distract us from truth.

    I was fortunate enough to be defrocked a few times before I started my own business so have always maintained my distance. Blockchain may enable me to take back my data, but taking back my vote? The ongoing defeat of Brexit by the raccoons over here has me wondering if it is not too late.


  10. My girlfriend is a huge advocate of random acts of kindness - something we share, but she’s much better at than I am. Your note made me think of that and also what follows.

    The thing with white privileged is that it’s a truth with a small “t.” Does it exist in some form - absolutely. Is it all defining - no. That and the idea that there’s some nirvana out there where the playing field is perfectly fair are two corrosive ideas that, IMO, are tearing this country apart.

    Did Jesse Jackson’s kids (and many other black kids from wealthy, successful black families in the '70s and, in much greater numbers, today) have many advantages that I - and most white kids didn’t/don’t - yes. Does any black kid who has two college-educated parents whose house is packed with books have advantages over many working-class white kids? Why do Asians out perform whites in many measure of success - is there a greater Asian-privilege construct at work (hiding) in America? It wasn’t always this way with Asians in America - what caused the change? When I was growing up - at least in my school and neighborhood - boys were made fun of if they wanted to be actors or nurses or artists - yet some did.

    Since the late '80s, every single company I’ve worked at has had programs, policies and efforts in place to advance women and minorities versus white men. They might have been pitched as just opportunity, but the reality is less-qualified candidates got openings and promotions - and were also passed over for layoffs (hence, more white men got laid off) - to advance these goals. That’s three decades of diversity privilege - an institutionalized structure to advance some races and genders at the expense of white men. This blatant racism and sexist should offend all.

    Life is unfair is not an answer. We should fight to make society better and less biased - like, IMO, we’ve been doing the in US - quite imperfectly - since it began. But the white privilege argument - as a trump card - is wrong as it isn’t the singular defining driver of success in America and it is corrosive as it takes a small “t” and turns it into a big “t” that says everything is unfair, that says all white success is tainted and that all the failures of others is someone else’s fault. It - as identity politics does - keeps race and gender grievances at a boil by advancing the (IMO not true) argument that those grievances are the, all but, total definers of opportunity and success in America. Those ideas - white privileged and identity politics - are the single largest driver of the political gyre Ben discusses.

    Yes, let’s fight white privilege, let’s fight political privilege (try getting a job in Detroit Government as a white woman, as my girlfriend’s mother did in the '80s, and, then, consider black privilege, political privilege and white privileged), connection privilege, diversity privilege, access-to-education privilege, good-looks privileged, height privilege, legacy-college privilege and on and on.

    Let’s fight them all while realizing there is no total victory just degrees of improvement. But if we continue on the path of singling out white privileged as the defining social ill and gender and race issues as the defining problem of our time and, then, measuring it all against some never-existed standard of perfection, we will tear down all the real-world advances against those biases that this country has made in its 200+ year history. When everyone’s shoulder is pushing hard on the racism-sexism-blind wheel, we’ll be moving again in the right direction.

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