Letters from the Other Side (Sleepwreck blog)

Rituals Create Reality

June 1, 2017

Societies and civilizations are concrete manifestations of worldview, realized through the actions and efforts of their citizens. Worldview is an insanely complex map of Reality that we hold in our heads, but that we also share with others in our culture. Often Worldview, being more complicated than can easily be talked about, is expressed through a culture’s mythology. So it’s possible to say that societies are built on foundations of Myth (or the deep seated stories that we tell to one another), and that Rituals bring those Myths into daily life, imprinting them onto Reality.

That might be a lot to digest right off the bat, but hear me out.

Ancient societies such as the Sumerians or the Maya or what have you, were founded on Myths about various Gods. This rendered a World in which human beings occupied a lower rung on the cosmological ladder than they do today. Whereas, our Scientific Materialist civilization rests on the Mythic (read ontological) assumption that only objective reality (that which can be measured) is real. This has generated a World in which human beings have seemingly infinite power. We extract resources from the Land at will and create machines that allow us to zip across the surface of the planet at high speeds, we smash tiny particles together and investigate the properties of the creation of the Universe, we manipulate the very building blocks of Life and design organisms to suit our needs. It’s pretty amazing really.

Our tendency is to look back at ancient cultures and dismiss their Myths as superstitious nonsense. Those people couldn’t build solar panels, so what they believed about the nature of reality must have been bogus. However, it bares noting that these societies lasted for thousands of years, whereas our Rationalist worldview is only about 500 years old. Anyone who’s paying attention will likely agree that chances are slim for our technological civilization to have anywhere near the longevity that these more “primitive” cultures could boast.

You might say that our way of life is teetering on the verge of global collapse (see catastrophic ecological decline, destruction of topsoil, massive wealth inequality, etc.), because the mythological underpinnings of our society are hollow and empty. The Rationalist worldview states that God Is Dead… There is no “Spirit World”… Everything out there, rocks, trees, rivers, even other people, are just a bunch of stuff, with no deeper Soul… “You” are an individual immersed in an indifferent reality, who must fight to gain control over that reality in order to survive. It’s a story based on a fundamental assumption of Self and Other, which manifests itself in every facet of life… from our two party political systems (WE are right, and THEY are wrong) to our action movies (in which a HERO fights to destroy a VILLAIN). One might say that our belief in the need to dominate and control the world is creating a world that is spiralling rapidly out of control.

SO… again, the Materialist worldview states that only Objective Reality is real. Only that which can be measured is a valid means of interpreting the universe. Perhaps though, this assumption is totally arbitrary. Could we not just as easily state that Subjective Reality holds the more validity? Isn’t it easy to recognize that the most important things in Life are those that can’t be measured? How ridiculous to tell your spouse “I have eighteen units of love for you”. Indeed if there is anything that we can say we really know about Reality, it’s that we are experiencing it… Subjectively.

Now then… Societies are based on Mythologies, and Myths are imprinted onto the real world through the enactment of Rituals. Imagine an Indigenous tribe who re-enacts their creation myth every year when the rains come in the spring. They believe that if they were ever to stop this practice the world would end. Our Rationalist response may be “That’s ridiculous, that tribe could lose it’s language and every member be assimilated into Industrial Society, and the world would continue to exist.” But subjectively the world that this tribe existed in would have been destroyed. From their perspective, their Rituals literally keep the universe together.

From the outside we can easily identify the Rituals of that Indigenous tribe, but the Rituals that spring from and maintain our Materialist worldview are largely invisible to us, like water to a fish. They are simply, “The Way Things Are” and it rarely occurs to us to question them. A particularly shining example could be the Ritual System of money. We go to the grocery store and wave a plastic card around with the faith that some disembodied numbers are flitting across an invisible world, and that we’ll be allowed to take our bunch of bananas home. We don’t really understand how the system works, but we trust that the elite priesthood who maintains it through the manipulation of complex symbols and arcane language will keep things going on our behalf. We recognize on a deep level that if anything catastrophic were to happen to the financial system, the world as we know it would cease to exist.

However… aren’t we also starting to lose faith in that system? Aren’t we starting to taste the metallic ring of it’s hollowness? Don’t we see the traders on Wall Street accumulating vast sums of money without creating anything of value? Don’t we wonder how an economy can grow infinitely on a finite planet?

We are in a time of transition. The Old Stories about Us vs. Them are no longer feeding us. We see the destruction wrought by these ways of being and we long for a better way. There is another story (Eisenstein calls it a New and Ancient Story) brooding inside of us, waiting to be enacted and to birth a New World… But for the time being we are stepping into the space between. Every transition includes a period of disorientation, the caterpillar dissolves inside the chrysalis before it re-forms into a butterfly. This time of doubt and uncertainty is a necessary part of the process. As the Old World crumbles we have a brief taste of primordial Chaos before the next one can begin.

What will the Myths of the New World look like? What Rituals will we perform to bring them into our daily lives? What sort of Society will anchor itself in their depths? Will asking a bunch of questions at the end of a blog post make me seem deep and unfathomable? It’s hard to say…

These ideas have been a mishmash of the thoughts of Charles Eisenstein, Jimi Eisenstein, and Jordan B. Peterson, all of whom I highly recommend checking out if you feel so inclined.

Ideologies and Identities

April 1, 2017

The world is a horrendously complex place, an infinite web of conditions rising from conditions and giving rise to other conditions, a chaotic maelstrom of beauty and pain and mundanity and transcendence. In rare moments of openness to the intensity of it all, I quickly realize that Reality is too much for any human being to bear. A big part of making music for me is an attempt to express that intensity… But that’s a different story. Right now I really want to talk about Ideologies and Identities.

That mind nullifying complexity is pretty damned uncomfortable, so many (perhaps all?) of us tend to spend our time relating to a simplified version of Reality that we build in our minds. We create a map of the terrain, and we say “OK, that’s good enough”, and go on about our daily lives. We tuck the shrieking demons behind the couch, and get to making sure the dishes are washed and the dogs are fed. Unfortunately however, those maps tend to only be of so much use, and they become particularly problematic when they conflict with Reality, which they inevitably do, the world being an infinitely complex place and all. These simplistic maps of Reality are otherwise known as Ideologies, and they warrant taking a good look at.

An ideology is a simplified lens through which to view and relate to the world. It takes the Vast Unknowable and reduces it down to a simple, black and white equation. Here’s The Problem (Capitalism, Radical Islam, Patriarchy, The Homosexual Agenda, Colonialism, etc.), and here’s The Solution… which generally involves Struggling Against The Forces Of Evil Until They Are Unequivocally Vanquished. Ideologies very quickly divide the world into an “Us” and a “Them”, leaving very little room for grey areas, for nuance, and for dialogue. Which again is problematic, because Reality is composed entirely of grey areas. Ideology becomes the basis for demonizing and dehumanizing the Other, and coming up with rationalizations for attacking them. Ironically however, it is this projected demonization (What’s that shrieking sound coming from behind the couch? I didn’t hear anything…) which causes us to act in exactly the same ways that we accuse “Them” of acting. PETA euthanize 90% of the animals that come to their shelters because owning pets is evil. The United States military drops drone bombs on Yemen because Islamic Terrorists are evil. “Pro Life” activists murder doctors because performing an abortion is evil.

When we are in the grips of an ideology we become that which we vilify.

This is true in our relationship with the external world, and it is true in our relationship with ourselves. Just as an ideology is a simplistic way of viewing and relating to the outside world, so an Identity is a 2 dimensional map of our internal Reality. We as human beings are so vastly complex that we will never be able to understand ourselves from the inside out. So rather than confronting the impossible depth of our genuine felt-in-the-moment experience with all of its attendant traumas, joys, losses, and triumphs, we create a mental image of ourselves (as a Mother, an Entrepreneur, a Vegan, a Christian, a Rockstar) and relate to that instead. We spend our time slaving to live up to this narcissistic, two dimensional image, and forget that life is happening to us in every moment we ignore. So, in the same way that an Ideology creates a sharply delineated “Us” and “Them”, the Western Materialist Individual Identity also creates a sharp divide between “Me” and “Everything Else”. We experience ourselves as a separate self in an indifferent or even hostile world and we compulsively seek to control and dominate that world in order to feel secure. Our Identities compel us to “Win at Life” in exactly the same way Ideologies urge us to Vanquish The Enemy. It’s a hopeless proposition. Ideologies and Identities lead to pain and suffering for all involved.

So what do we do? Ultimately the question is ironic, because Knowing The Right Answer is an inherently ideological proposition. But perhaps the right way to move forward is not to come up with the right answer, but to ask more questions. Perhaps the thing that can save us from the calamity hurtling at us from every direction is not more solar panels, or better screening at the airports, or reducing carbon emissions by 50%, but a better relationship with the Vast Unknowable. Perhaps if we could divest from our Identities and our Ideologies, and come to experience ourselves – in a visceral, embodied way – as a tiny blip in that cosmic web of chaotic causality… If we could settle in to that discomfort, lay down in the fire, perhaps things would work out in a way that we never could have planned, but was always going to happen anyway.

Art vs Magic

March 3, 2017

Perhaps what we call Art and what we think of as Magic are not actually so different from one another.

I’ve watched a number of interviews with graphic novelist Alan Moore (V For Vendetta, The Watchment, etc.), and he’s got some really interesting ideas. In one interview, he posits that the capacity for metaphor could actually be considered the defining trait of human beings. Some might argue for tool use or language as characteristics that delineate us from other animals, but recent research (fascinating in it’s own right) makes a good case that language and the use of tools are actually a lot more common in the animal kingdom than was previously assumed by the scientific establishment. Heck they’re even more common in the plant kingdom than a lot of people would want to acknowledge! Moore makes a case for considering the human capacity to say “This thing represents another thing” as a primary way that we diverge from other animals. Particularly interesting to me is our ability to use symbols to deal with phenomena which are too complex or nuanced to be conceptualized with words.

Another of Moore’s ideas that I find compelling is that both Magic and Art are concerned with impacting the real world through the manipulation of such symbols. He cites ancient cave drawings as an interesting place to start looking at this intersection between Art and Magic. Were the artists who created these images of animals attempting to affect the outcome of their next hunt? It is very likely so. Then once you start looking for Art as Magic you can see it everywhere, in myths and faerie tales, allegorical novels, concept albums, or even the Mona Lisa. One particularly concrete example of art having an impact on the real world can be seen in the sexually charged metaphors of early Rockn’Roll music. Some of the original lyrics for the song Shake Rattle and Roll were “I’m a one eyed tomcat peeping in a seafood store” … Like, how great is that? This kind of undercover discussion of taboo topics seems tame by today’s standards, but at the time it was revolutionary. When Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock was first released it caused riots, as teenagers rebelled against the cloistered society that they inhabited. Could the massive social upheaval of the 1960’s have taken place without Rock to get the ball rolling? One could argue likely not.

Another thinker that I’ve really been digging into lately is Charles Eisenstein (check him out if you haven’t yet, he’s gold). His ideas around economics, ritual, society, and the myriad changes that the world is currently going through are deeply hopeful and inspiring. He talks about both the financial system, and the scientific establishment as essentially magical/ritual systems. Both science and money could be said to be administered by an elite priesthood which uses arcane language and symbols to successfully manipulate reality. Even something as simple writing a cheque could be framed ritualistically in a “religion of money”.

Sadly, in the modern day many of our rituals have lost their power and meaning, becoming hollow shadows of what they perhaps once were. We blow out candles on birthday cakes. We set out plastic light-up pumpkins at Halloween. We binge on Christmas treats with no real appreciation of the scarcity of winter and what it means to hold a feast with our community in spite of it. Many are even losing faith in our long cherished financial rituals. How many millions of dollars now change hands on the stock market every day, without any actual work being accomplished? We can see how these once powerful monetary symbols now bare little relationship to Reality.

In many ways, the artistic aesthetic of Sleepwreck is a response to this cultural vacuum. The facepaint, the drums, the audience participation percussion, the singalongs, and many artistic exploits not yet fully realized… I see all of these things as ways for us to re-connect with our primal, ritualistic roots. I know that I personally have a deep yearning for this kind of communal experience, and I’m fairly certain that if I feel it a lot of other people must as well. It’s been deeply fascinating to watch this aesthetic unfolding organically. None of it has been overly planned, it has all just kind of happened. I think that means we’re doing something right, and I’m really excited to see where things go next.

Morgan Facepaint

The Parable of The Termites

February 1, 2017

I lay awake thinking quite a bit. The name Sleepwreck is somewhat derived from that fact, as a lot of the time I’m thinking about music. It can get pretty annoying at times, but then at others I end up having some of my best ideas. So I can’t really complain too much about it.

The other night, I was thinking something along these lines…

Our world is beset by “problems”. Climate change, exploitive economic systems, dysfunctional relationships between races and genders, etc. etc. etc. I could go on forever. It really is enough to drive a person crazy to look at all of the issues that we’re facing as a species and to feel like you need to DO SOMETHING about all of it.

The thing is though, that a lot of what we run around *doing* to try to solve the problem simply ends up perpetuating it when we act without fully understanding it in the first place. Here’s a story…

***

Once there was a man who’s front door was jamming, and when he investigated he found that the upper left corner of the door was rubbing against it’s frame. So he took his wood planer, and shaved off a little of the door so that it wouldn’t stick. Pleased with his ingenuity he went back to his game of crocket and thought no more about it.

A month later however, he found that his door was sticking again. Investigating further he found that the screws holding the hinge on the *right* side of the door were loose, which is what had caused the *left* side of the door to rub against the frame in the first place. Again pleased with his ingenuity, he fetched his electric screw driver and attempted to tighten the screws. He found however that they had lost purchase in the wooden frame of the door. With his half finished game of crocket fading from his mind, he removed the hinges from the door to investigate why the screws were no longer biting into the wood. With mounting horror he saw a single termite scurrying away from the spot the hinge had left uncovered. He knew from experience that one termite meant many termites.

“Not these god damned termites again!” He thought. His last house had been consumed by the creatures. He had finally resorted to burning the old house to the ground and had spent a year felling timber in the forest to build a second house. What was he going to tell his wife?

It was a disaster. The man spent days feeling dejected. He could barely concentrate on his game of crocket. Finally he decided to seek out a wise elder for advice. He was at his wits’ end.

Sitting down in the elder’s kitchen the man related his predicament. After explaining the details he shook his head in exasperation.

“I tried everything I could think of the last time and now they’re back. How am I going to kill these termites?”

The elder was silent for a few minutes. She drank her tea, and looked out the window at the forest. The man began to fidget uncomfortably.

Finally she spoke.

“The trees that you used to build your house were also the termite’s home. The more of the trees you fell in the forest, the fewer trees the termites have to live in. The fewer trees the termites have in which to make their homes, the more the termites will come to inhabit yours. If you continue in this way, eventually all of the trees will be gone and neither you nor the termites will have a place to live.”

She paused for a few moments.

“If you would have a home free of termites, then you must ensure that the termites have a home of their own. You must go and plant a tree for each one that you felled to build your house.”

So often my tendency is to look at a “problem” and try to operate directly on it to find a solution. But I forget that this problem doesn’t have an existence of it’s own. It is a property of a mind-numbingly complex web of chaotic causality that is largely invisible to me. If I could take the time to slow down, and really deeply *understand* the roots of the problem, I might be capable of effecting real change. It usually seems a lot harder and like a lot more work to approach things this way, BUT if it’s actually effective when more superficial approaches aren’t, then maybe it’s not as much work as it seems.

3-2-1 Launch! The Sleepwreck Mailing List is a go!

January 2, 2017

OK! It’s been a winding road, but here we are ready to finally launch the mailing list that I’ve been talking/dreaming about forever! I’ve pretty much come to accept that I will usually end up sitting on an idea for about 2 years before I implement it (for notable exceptions related to effective partnerships with highly decisive humans see here and here), but by this time in my career as an adult I’ve actually completed enough projects that I have a fair degree of trust in myself to get things done. Even when it takes forever. So for all of you that I’ve been telling about this idea, thanks for hanging in there until it finally manifested into corporeal reality.

2016 was a monumental year in many many ways, but one of the biggest was the very deep realization that I don’t want to take part in the “music industry” as it currently exists. In days of yore, music was something that you did with your friends and your neighbours and your family. It was an integral part of everyday life, and it belonged to *everyone*. I believe that the creeping commodification of music that has taken place in our culture over the last number of decades has robbed us of something that is deeply important to our humanity. Our over-arching cultural tendency is now to “leave music to the experts”, to think that making music is reserved only for those gifted with “talent” at birth, who live in an un-accessible golden realm, and dispense their wonderful sounds through the mass media to all of us slobs back on Earth.

Well fuck that. Music is an innate part of being alive as a human being, and it belongs to everyone.

My man Charles Eisenstein talks a lot about how the giving of gifts engenders relationship, and that idea has been rippling though my life in very profound ways. The mailing list is a tool for me to give my music to the people who like it without mediating that connection through commerce, and I hope for it to be a way to continually build that connection in a non-commodified, participatory way. I’ve got a lot of really cool ideas for how to do that in 2017, but you’ll just need to stay tuned to find out exactly what that will look like 😉

In the meantime I invite you to sign up for the mailing list if you haven’t done so already, and I invite you to invite your friends along for the ride if you think they’d enjoy all of this facepainting, drum smashing, bass throbbing weirdness that we do 🙂

sleepwreck
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