Those who see their lives as spoiled and wasted crave equality and fraternity more than they do freedom. If they clamor for freedom, it is but freedom to establish equality and uniformity. The passion for equality is partly a passion for anonymity: to be one thread of the man which make up a tunic; one thread not distinguishable from the others. No one can then point us out, measure us against others and expose our inferiority.
They who clamor loudest for freedom are often the ones least likely to be happy in a free society. They frustrated, oppressed by their shortcomings, blame their failure on existing restraints. Actually their innermost desire is for an end to the “free for all.” They want to eliminate free competition and the ruthless testing to which the individual is continually subjected in a free society.
Where freedom is real, equality is the passion of the masses. Where equality is real, freedom is the passion of a small minority.
All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.
You cannot find peace by avoiding life.
He whose desires have been throttled,
who is independent of root,
whose pasture is emptiness—
signless and free—
his path is as unknowable
as that of birds across the heavens.
You air that serves me breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings
and give them shape!
You that wraps me and all things in delicate equible
You paths worn in irregular hollows by the road-
I believe you are latent with unseen existences,
you are so dear to me…
— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
You have not died yet. Instead,
you are walking down Thirteenth Avenue
drinking your coffee,
thinking about death, all the different ways,
all the opportunities glimmering
ahead of you, thinking about the woman
who poured your coffee. The woman
at the cafe who asked if you needed
a receipt, rang you up
and took your credit card,
is a love you will never have
though somewhere in your brain
her long hair is living out
a dream of wheat, her dress,
how it must feel
around her, snug and slippery, is falling
behind you, almost forgotten,
so now you can get back to it, death,
your little love, your hot nipple-action
of fear, a train
in the dark before it breaks, rising up as you
cross the food carts on Alder
and head for the park. There’s a garbage can
near the west entrance where you throw away
your empty cup. Maybe,
because you are wearing your new shoes,
you are not heading east
toward a ceiling fan and pills,
toward a six-pack and medicated patches.
I lost you to a bar
and an all-night record store. Lost you
to an old Beastie Boys T-shirt and shredding
punk rock guitar. I found you in a tin can
of cigarette butts
beside the door to the AA meeting
where our sister is standing up and walking
to the back of the room
for more coffee. I found you in my kitchen,
in the handle of a knife, I found you
sitting on my bed, right in the middle, a shadow
made of air and dust. The galaxy’s
lifting me across the street. You
should come back from this deep-sea dive, rise
up in your turn-of-the-century scuba gear
while I stand on the prow
of the ship, making sure the oxygen is flowing
down the black rubber tube into the black
of where you are. You should come back
from the fields with your pockets
full of grain, your feet covered in hardened clay, back
from the planet
you discovered but never had the time
to name, you should land
in my backyard at night, an earth landing, a triumph
of science and engineering, the rockets
cooling as the door of your spaceship
makes a great sucking sound
and begins to lower, the lights
from inside the vessel
lighting up the back porch and fence and you
walking out in your silver uniform
or in the green and gray body, the silky wet skin
of an alien. I will take you back
anyway you want, I will look into your diamond-
shaped face, into your glowing
egg-large eyes and still recognize you, still
open a beer and sit close
in the yard while you pick at the grass,
staring up at the sky, and cry and scream for missing it.
Today all of these mysteries have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche. The notion of a cosmic law, which all existence serves and to which man himself must bend, has long since passed through the preliminary mystical stages represented in the old astrology and is now simply accepted in mechanical terms as a matter of course. The descent of the Occidental sciences from the heavens to the earth (from seventeenth-century astronomy to nineteenth-century biology), and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in twentieth-century anthropology and psychology), mark the path of a prodigious transfer of the focal point of human wonder. Not the animal world, not the plant world, not the miracle of the spheres, but man himself is now the crucial mystery. Man is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed. Man, understood however not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us.
The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding. “Live,” Nietzsche says, “as though the day were here.” It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal—carries the cross of the redeemer—not in the bright moments of his tribe’s victories, but in the silences of his personal despair.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces
When asked about our current technological age, I think of these stunning words by Campbell, and am sure that we create the Internet, we create machines and avenues of communication, we create databases and clouds, and we do all of this in the hope that they might somehow tell us a story of ourselves that we can once again believe in.
I speak in the mask of the first person
Not as myself, not in the glory
of action, of experience
when time and dying stop
but as anyone in the in-between hours
the hours alone, or traveling, or waking in a strange room
or the moment when friends fall silent, and each
gazes into his own past and his own end
That is what I meant, the way things look then