Can’t retreat no more (Prologue)
To continue a policy of escape, retreat and regression is mutually assured destruction. We need to face, and learn from, our difficulties.
Transmuting the Trumpocalypse emerges in the world as more than just a multi-part publication, but as a collaborative inquiry and conversation about how human life forms, independently and mutually, can more effectively access, channel, and apply their powers for beneficial results. In a mutual dialogue, it is helpful to define one’s assumptions and definitions at the outset so a common understanding becomes possible. Before proceeding, I would like to share my definitions and my thinking about power, about the so-called “Trumpocalypse,” and about our prospects for a genuine transmutation of today’s perilous prevailing forces into more conducive, life-affirming configurations.
Creative Strategies for Change defines power as “the access to internal and external resources, decision-makers, and institutions in order to meet individual and collective needs.” A root idea of power in this definition is “access to resources.” I envision power in a slightly different way: the ability to coordinate and move energy. Energy encompasses both manifest forms (aka “resources”) and unmanifest or potential energy (such as thoughts concerning an action you want to take in the future). Coordinating suggests channeling and concentrating energies into a more highly organized capacity to act on, or move through, the world.
In the following set of essays I deal with principally two types of power: life power and meme power—and a kind of third character: the strange realm of emergent effects where the two intersect.
Life coordinates energy into biological constructs (meaning, organisms) that seek their survival and reproduction. Unlike most everything else in existence, life has an agenda: it seeks its own perpetuation. This necessitates that the organism have some bodily movement or sufficient genetic drift (like pollen riding a breeze or a bumblebee). Genetic furtherance can even be seen occurring across time, over generations of selective evolutionary forces, whereby the organism takes an appropriate shape to fit a niche in the environment.
This implies that there is responsive action or agency as a built-in quality of living things. A being may be animate to lesser or greater degree, but even if seemingly unconscious or unmoving, a living organism is acting on the world. In fact, this is one of life’s defining features: life is negentropic (meaning, it captures energy and creates forms of higher orders out of chaos). One could describe a life form’s innate power as its animate aspect, or: its activities of consciousness. Even if a species’ collective “intelligence” primarily takes the shape of genetic evolution over multiple generations, the agenda to survive and reproduce persists, giving life movement, and thus, the power to act on its environment.
Memes are packets of information. As such, they find a biological analogue in DNA, viruses or genes, which function like the “code” informing the biological construction of bodies. Memes interact with human consciousness through various media, such as story, speech, writing, song, and video. This is why the notion of ideas as living (or appearing-to-live) entities was dubbed “memes” by Richard Dawkins. Memes—in the form of concepts, ideas, symbols or myths—can become absorbed by a biological mind-body and then obtain the power to coordinate energy: typically, memes coordinate the actions of humans and/or give shape to the technologies that humans develop. Social organization of any kind is entirely dependent on the process of establishing and “calcifying” certain memes, in fact.So what do these abstract terms have to do with our damning, pressing sociopolitical situation? To “transmute the Trumpocalypse,” we must ascertain the real possibilities of bringing our collective intelligence to bear in a more meaningful and coordinated a way than we’ve so far been able to. Many see Trump’s election as representative of a social regression, heralding a descent into international disarray and the rise of military rule and fascism. How could the people of a planetary interdependent society develop resilience, so history’s lessons need not repeat in vicious loops, with ever more costly consequences? With our depleted resources and compromised environment, we cannot afford to regress, and must make humane sense of our situation in order to innovate solutions. This will require some mental effort and spiritual legwork to develop ourselves. Accelerating the process of human collective evolution—our minds and our memes—by applying our intelligence, by acting from what we’ve learned so far, we can develop new structures (inner and outer) adapted to our current and impending survival pressures.
Though the title of this series might appear flippant, I’d define a “Trumpocalypse” as “a disaster of far-reaching harmful consequences, predicated on the slimmest of egocentric pretenses and the grossest distortions of inappropriate access to power.” In short, it is allowing a dangerously imbalanced situation to deteriorate into a highly undesirable outcome. As we have seen on a daily basis since the dawn of his term, President Trump is a volatile cocktail—a fragile ego plus an uninformed and isolated mind, combined with access to tremendous, even existentially threatening, powers.
Could we access, harness and wield our collective powers in alternate ways that transform these seeds of Trumpocalypse? Every day we feel “on the brink” of an irreversible Trumpocalypse coming to pass. Every day Trump as president is doing damage, or intending to do damage, to people or environments falling outside of his millionaire peer group—which is nearly everyone and everywhere. Together, the people, on the whole, are surely more intelligent and more “leaderful” than rule by President Trump.
We got to “President Trump” through the sophisticated manipulation of “egoically bruised” Americans (white, male, evangelical, and lower and middle class Americans) through propaganda, lies, fearmongering, bullying, and the precipitous “echo chamber” effect of social media spaces. Humans are notoriously dependent on memes—and vulnerable to being colonized by emotionally-gratifying memes. From early childhood, Americans are groomed to absorb a constant, aggressive stream of advertising messages that are not in our best interests. Consumerist culture, corporate-political consolidation, and our increasingly “anti-social society” (in the words of Rajani Kanth) all depend on our susceptibility to control by memes. Therefore, the stories that we subscribe to seem designed to control our behaviors, and we are simply the puppets. It might appear, horribly, that there is no way to stop people from developing more and more powerful memetic weapons—and that humans will forever serve as the shattered battleground.
But memes need us, as we need memes. Consider that a human mind can develop techniques and skills to dismiss and mute ideas, to distill some parts and discard other parts of an idea, to choose the channels by which it engages with memes, to be a soil for only ideas of integrity to take root. Mentally, emotionally and socially depleted people are especially susceptible to exploitation by malicious memes. By contrast, people with mental development, training, and resources, who know the workings of memes and can navigate them skillfully, become far more resilient to malicious memes and mindfully attuned to harbor beneficial, appropriate memes.Perhaps our last line of defense against a Trumpocalypse is the distributed, autonomous seizing and wielding of our life power—that is, the power to direct our attention. These essays provide avenues and techniques for reclaiming such power, from individual up to collective levels. We will explore ways that human individuals and communities can themselves have agency and move amidst the marketplace of memes—strolling the aisles, curating what they select, recombine, and cultivate of the available ideas. Our intelligence is more powerful than our reactive conditioning; we are more powerful than we realize. Understanding and working with our inborn, participatory powers of intelligence will increase our resilience to being colonized by ideas with deleterious intentions or results.
Trump’s power is illusory—it is predicated on the compliance of millions of other people. If Trump was facing down millions of people 1) who saw him as their equal, 2) who do not accept his claims to authority over them, 3) who mindfully respond in a mode of dialogue, and 4) who want to help him heal, then probably none of his destructive deviant aspirations could ever come to pass: neutralized, instead, on the precipice between thoughtform and consensual action.
If people committed to developing their power to see through to the roots of how meme and life power plays out in their lives, and to consciously practice their power to say “yes” or “no” to participating in or perpetuating certain patterns, we’d develop the capacity to enact much more elegant and consensual social structures. Dream with me, if you will, of a re-orchestration of all power latent or active in this present moment, whereby memes and people lived symbiotically, cooperatively, in mutual respect and consent, toward the purpose of fulfilling one another’s most life-affirming potentials.
How likely or attainable this future is, doesn’t really matter. If we want to see it come to pass, there’s only one thing to do: give it our attention.
Will you join me on a journey to see where this vision might lead?
We need to penetrate and peel back the lies, distortions and omissions aimed at assuaging our anxieties through a narrative of our inadequacy and our need to submit to a superior power. Continuing a tack of retreat and regression, embodied by Donald Trump’s toddler-like self-absorption and denial of difficulties, is a dead end.Our only hope for navigating out of this conundrum is by turning directly to face ourselves and our difficulties—like a grownup would demonstrate the courage to turn back into a burning building, because an infant remained, helpless, within. To face the situation, with “radical acceptance and dialectical thinking,” as therapist Robin Chancer writes, is needed. It’ll be potentially the most painful thing we go through besides dying. We might be scarred for what we’ve borne witness to, but we will persist, because we will have chosen to embrace the depths of what life offers. If we view our lives as a sacred source of energy, insight, wisdom and problem-solving capability, from which we could glean everything we need to develop the best ways to be together, then we will have the power to transform the world with our consensual, respectful engagement. Further, if we begin treating our incredible technological tools—like the Internet—and all of our lived human history as the ultimate infinite storehouse or library for memes, from which we can draw potential energy for any purpose we mindfully select to act upon, we will bring our technological and ethical/mental development into closer alignment, and enable the attainment of more holistically appropriate and beautiful endeavors.
In no way, then, is Transmuting the Trumpocalypse your standard political pontification: it does not construct an elaborate factual array, it seeks not to debate points into fatigue (and if there is an impassioned diatribe here, it centers on empathy and humanity). That’s because this is not an attempt to persuade you about reality, or to sway you to adopting a particular political viewpoint. My aim is to invite you into a dialogue: with yourself, with my ideas, with me, and with one another, really. I attempt to use evident phenomena to point to deep patterns about power (the essays are organized in terms of the pattern they express). About Trump, this ain’t.
To begin our journey with integrity, we should prepare the soil of the mind. Let us pause and set aside for a moment the convoluted echo chamber of distorted sound-bites-and-notification-blips-turned-harassing-noise, and sit in the shock of silence. Don’t follow any thoughts that arise. When they arise, let them go by gently re-attaching your attention to the present moment. Seep your attention into the body and the breath.
How long can you last in the quiet space of assessing the actual, present reality? Can you bear to look at it? You might be tempted to retreat. But there is nowhere to go when the whole world has been polluted, used up, paved over, fenced off, chained up and beaten into paralysis. As hard and as painful as it is, the worst thing you can do right now is run into the arms of false saviors and illegitimate authorities. The best thing you can do is hold onto your seat and throw open the shades of your cloistered heart to embrace the hardships and the hope, together.