Listening in Cyberspace
Recently, I’ve become addicted the sermons of various YouTube pundits, some famous, others completely unknown. Like so many people, I get a lot of my editorial ‘news’ or novel ideas through such people. Today we can chose who we listen to, even chose our own ‘news’— which is a odd postmodern reality. Moreover, we could, hypothetically, create our own news station quite easily, diffuse our own interpretation of events — we could even invent our own virtual cult or quasi-religion online.
The trouble is we yet don’t know what the psychological or spiritual consequences of this revolution are? Is this ‘diversity’ of voices for good or ill? How to measure what it means to be exposed to so many minds running amok on the internet, or gage their influence on us. It’s nice have access to voices that were more or less hidden or inaccessible in the past, but I wonder: what is the effect of exposure to all this wisdom and garbage wily-nily, and are we building a capsizing Tower of Babel?
Furthermore, who should we listen to online? Personally, I look for voices that move the soul in some way, that reveal something, that have some vitality. It doesn’t always matter if I agree with whoever I am listening to much. In fact, listening to those who are terribly wrong can be instructive and enlightening too, just as listening to those who are too ‘correct’ in some obvious sense, can feel like a waste of time. I think it’s best not to stay too long in echo-chambers, and that its good to expose ourselves to a lot of different voices, even to listen to the ones who might make our skin crawl—it makes us more resilent and better fighters.
There are quite a few demonic genious out there, or just those who are very smart but leave me cold. There are killer debaters who can shred one too pieces with their intellect — I think of Sam Harris here — but they don’t take me too far. The problem is that they are merely ‘intellectual’, not deeply intelligent. I can be impressed but rarely moved by such people, and on an instinctual level I feel that such geniouses are strangely empty, without a soul. As the poem by ee cummings goes: since feeling is first/who pays any attention/to the syntax of things/will never wholly kiss you.
The point is: we have to listen with the whole body, and not divide ourselves from bodies intelligence, which is not easy online. The ones really worth listening to, who actually give us something other than mere information, are those who we can feel viscerally, with the whole body; they transmit something essential to the soul.But people don’t really talk about ‘soul’ today mostly. Soul has been subordinate to utility and function since Descartes apparently, and scientific truth separate from spiritual truth. These days we worship empiricism and degrade the soul.
Empiricists too have blind spots, when it comes to the soul. They are like scavengers in the alleyways, choosing facts to suit some preferred narrative, and masking a blind and irrational belief: that the world is only made of objects, for instance.They live in concepts, rather than ideas. What’s the difference? Concepts are empty, ideas are generative and embodied. Those who idolize conceptual reality and reason, are so often unreasonable; they will not venture into areas that they are afraid of, such as mysticism. They create cults of reason, religions of anti-religion, and reason themselves out of all reason. Their logical systems swallow up the body and the soul; they have neglected a whole world of sensual information.
Anyway, there are so many new gurus. In the past few years some kind of massive genie bottle has been opened — every body can be a guru in one way or another. But who is the real ‘enlightened’ person or genius, and who is a fraud? It’s not always easy to tell. Traditionally enlightened people remained mostly hidden, for a good reason: exposure their truths could be risky without preparation. Today much wisdom is exposed, but also juxtaposed with all kinds of pseudo wisdom, or cultish message of membership, phoney Gnosticism, or just cosmic garbage. How to tell the difference?
It may be a question of the collapsing education system and the fact that many of us are educating ourselves on You Tube and on social networks. How does this alternative world of education affect our development? Online learning could go both ways: it could illuminate or destroy our minds. Our ability to assimilate truth depends on maturity, and we have to take measures to guard our sanity, in order to live in this world where ‘nothing is real and everything is permitted’.
Why are people not going mad everywhere on this brave new online world? Or are they? Better not think too much about it. We have to be smart, we have to be careful. There are some people we should stay away from, and there are others who we can benefit from obviously. When we watch videos, we are keeping company with different souls. We need to keep good company, and protect our treasures from being psychically looted.
Personally, I have become more reticent about exposing a new song or poem online these days because of the dangers of premature ejaculation, so to speak. A creative act needs time for gestation, requires solitary reflection. When you expose yourself online, you become open to all kinds of vampires: those who have nothing to offer but negative criticims or who get off sucking the blood of your inspiration. If your constructions are not solid before you set your boat afloat, you might end up dead in the water. Sure, it’s good sometimes to get feedback, negative or positive, it keeps us honest, but, in liy view, it’s best to avoid the ‘perpetual argument’ and move on to subjects which are fruitful . It’s also important to give up apologizing or defending ourselves in front of the ‘group’ or mob.
We develop or grow, we become who we are, in relationship — and we are making relationship with people all the time. What does it mean though to make a lot of relationships with a lot people who can cannot see or smell or touch? There is often no hello or goodbye online, only impulsive opinioning — with any sense of consequence. To illustrate how disembodied we have become, we can look at primitive cultures where people still say hello by actually smelling each other — I have a theory that the French bisous, or kiss on each cheek, is all about this. The point is that we know people, not merely by their words, but by other signals, including facial expressions, smell, pupil dilution, touch, etc.
So what do we do to become more embodied and real? Well, there has to be a certain spiritual hygiene to deal with this new mode of being. We have to turn off the noise at times, and relate to our local world. Spiritual hygiene means above all immersing oneself in silence and solitude, in meditation and contemplation; becoming refreshed so that can really be with people more fully. In many ways, despite the material comforts, we are more helpless and vulnerable, more easily lead astray. Many of us don’t have traditions or the extended families to support us, are we get very easily isolated and lost, in all that online cacophony —we look for addictive substitute for real connection.
We need to learn to protect ourselves from these vampire-like spirits which haunt our ethereal, cybernetic reality. Personally, I do different rituals and practices to protect my mind; still, I get sucked in, devoured. One should be devoured by love and passion, rather than triviality, opinions, political idealism. One should not be devoured meaning, rather than by triviality.
It is very easy to lose our souls online. The distant, apparently safe, convenient world, weakens us. We come less adapted to struggle, less aware of the fact that we need to protect ourselves; we forgetful both our vulnerability and our strenght, as well as our need for transcendence.
We have constantly renew ourselves in dreams and gestation, to remember our highest and most holy hope, as Nietzsche put it. Or become virtual, like ghosts.