Kevin Annett: A Portrait at Sixty One

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So tell us, Kevin, are you a happy man?

The term is ambiguous. It’s like asking if the sun ever shines on me.

Let me put it another way: Are you satisfied with your life?

With my work, yes of course I am, but not because of the work; that’s merely an expression of my own essential being. Ask me about the seed, not the branches.

By that you mean your Essentialist philosophy, right?

Don’t do that. We don’t need another shrine to grovel before. Next you’ll be quoting me.

But people are curious about you, Kevin. What is it that keeps you going?

Does it really matter? Look, I’ve matured enough now to stop living vicariously. I refuse to give anybody an answer for themselves. Are people really that banal, to have to search for their own meaning through my example? Or through anybody’s? Can’t we grow beyond that infantile need for parental approval?

Well, speaking for myself, you’re an inspiration.

Why should you even need to be inspired? Are you that devoid of your own fire? And why I am worthy of emulation? Because I’ve done what you won’t do, or made it easier for the rest of you by showing you how the magic works? What does my example make you inspired to do: go out and copy me, or merely applaud? Or maybe, just maybe, acting from your own mind? You see, that’s what I mean about maturing past vicarious living. The applauding spectator is just an empty shell. The imitator never goes beyond the model. The times call for much more than that.

Like what?

Jean-Paul Sartre said it right when he described how modernity serializes human existence out of existence. The price of cooperation with the world is we must remain dead souls waiting to be born. We’re kept that way by a global corporatocracy that requires us to be components, thingified parts of institutions rather than free souls. But we are co-dependent in that process of “assimilation” – the word means “to be eaten”. We insist on keeping ourselves reliant on the very system that’s feeding off us. We are raised to desire slavery over inner freedom.

And what is freedom?

The capacity to die on our own terms.

Not live?

No. It’s not possible to live within the modern world, which is just a life-sucking machine. We can only operate in it as lifeless serialized units. But we can pull the plug. We can pull out of the machine.

How do we do that?

There you go again: always the how. Don’t you have an answer? But of course you don’t, or you wouldn’t have asked me – unless you’re just being rhetorical.

No I’m not. I don’t have the answer.

You mean, how does one pull out of Necropolis?

Yes.

You start by coming to life.

But you said you can’t live here; not in this system.

That’s right. So where does that leave you? Imagine.

Long pause

I think you’ve spent your whole life struggling with this.

Of course I have.

Have you always felt estranged from the world?

The word means to no longer be on friendly terms with something. But I never was friends with this world.

You mean you never fit in?

Well who the hell would want to? Going along out of habit is not the same thing as choosing to be part of this insane butchery we call civilization. That’s something the armchair critics of all those despised, so-called “sheeple” don’t understand. No-one raised in and confined to this world is capable of making a free and conscious decision, including the armchair experts.

But you have.

How would you know that?

Well, that’s how it …

Appears. Correct?

But what else can I go on?

Alright, fair enough. And the answer is yes. I deliberately chose very early on in my life not to fit myself in anywhere, much to the consternation of my so-called loved ones. No career prospects. No planned sinecure somewhere. Nothing to achieve, no personal empire to build on someone else’s back.

Then what did you live for?

To overturn everything. It was a natural reflex, a gut level imperative. Everything had to go.

How old were you when you realized that?

Sixteen.

Did something in your upbringing prompt your awareness?

If we’re going to tread the hackneyed garden path of pop psychoanalysis, son, excuse me while I sleep.

It’s a legitimate question.

Uh huh. (pause) Look, it wasn’t that a light switch suddenly went on for me. I always knew not to take anything here too seriously. One day, after having been ripped to pieces, I found out what was left of me, the part that couldn’t be wiped out, and I owned it. I owned my own experience and I let it guide me after that.

You conformed the world to yourself, and not yourself to the world.

So you’ve read George Bernard Shaw.

Of course I have. He’s Irish.

Only half Irish: the unacceptable half.

So what’s that been like for you Kevin, to always conform reality to your own understanding of things? I’d think that would be hard to sustain over time, just you against the world, up against even reality. Haven’t you ever identified with anything in the here and now?

Briefly, but I was always repulsed in the end.

Such as?

Well, I was married three times. Or was it four? And therein lies the biggest illusion of all.

You mean love?

Marcus Aurelius said to never to lie to ourselves by dressing up a simple thing in the rich garments of our own desires. He said that being in love essentially comes down to a mixing of bodily fluids.

Oh come on now, Kevin …

Essentially, he’s correct. Everything else is romantic fluff we add on to try to sustain forever what cannot be. And as for the heart and soul, well, Jesus apparently said that in the Kingdom of Heaven there is neither male nor female, no winners and losers. Everyone is married to everyone else. Total existential oneness. I guess lonely souls like to call that God.

So you’re not a fan of monogamy, I assume.

Well it’s all so trite. We are basically incapable of knowing ourselves, and yet somehow we’re able to know another person well enough to join up with them for life. That’s about as ridiculous as when God-believers and atheists both proclaim that they know with absolute certainty the nature of a cosmos of which they can only perceive or sense barely a fraction.

So we can never act on anything because of the basic uncertainty of everything?

Sure we can act, like a man walking around with a blindfold on. But act with complete knowledge or understanding? Of course we can’t. But why should that bother anyone? It’s quite humbling, actually.

Well of course it’s bothering! What you’re saying amounts to a recipe for complete apathy! How can you believe that? You, who’ve acted with such devotion your whole life, who’s changed so much in the world …

No, no, you’re not understanding me. You’re confusing realism with apathy. To know how incomplete everything and we are actually makes us even more determined to act. We have to act, to create meaning and purpose in a universe that’s ultimately empty of both. Nothing else will do that for us.

But we’re always incomplete …

Well of course we are. We’re not a machine but a thought in process. But as to how we actually go about fighting the evil around us: well, it took some hard knocks for me to get it. I started in blindness, like everyone. I set out with the illusion that reality was a jigsaw puzzle that could be seen as it really is and then reassembled. But when that didn’t work I realized that it was all beyond repair. I told you, I chose to pull out of my allegiance to the illusion. And the more I withdrew, well, I suppose that’s what’s responsible for the changes I’ve been able to make.

I don’t get it.

What happens to a balloon when we stop puffing into it?

It collapses.

Bingo.

So it’s that simple?

Sure. We stop giving away our life force to something else. But that’s only possible when we reclaim and learn to control that life force. That’s always the hard part, and something that’s effectively impossible for humanity, right now at least.

Why?

Because people are not themselves and they don’t want to be.

But it is possible for you.

Sometimes.

Pause

Let’s get back to love.

I thought you’d say that.

Some call love a mystery.

Here’s what I wrote about that one night in a Madrid airport: “What we carry inside ourselves is too spectacular to endure, so we flee from its flames. Later, safely distant, we call the simmering residue Love.”

You mean we substitute our own fabricated human desires for the divine love?

Well, that should be obvious. But it goes deeper than that.

How so?

First principles, son: the little matter of existence. (pause) Just go up to anyone on the street and ask them the reason they’re alive. Why are they here? Not about existence in general or in the abstract, but about their own life. Why did they come into being? If they’re honest in their responses, every single person you ask will be as confused and panicked as if you told them they’re about to die. (pause) So why is that?

You tell me.

Why is the most basic question of our existence unanswerable? Logically, it should be the easiest one to answer. And it would be, if we were actually alive.

You mean we don’t exist?

If we did, would there be such an enormous disconnect? Quantum physics and Taoism both say that the smallest particle contains within it the totality of everything. Well, if that’s true, then surely we, as a very tiny bit of the universe, would have within us the same sum of everything, including the answer to that question, Why are we here?

So in other words, we’re not conforming to the Laws of the Universe.

Again, that should be obvious.

Then who and what are we?

Maybe we’re somebody’s nightmare or some weird experiment. We’re definitely operating under another set of laws and forces outside of cause and effect, justice, reason or anything else we pretend is in operation.

Maybe our heart has the answer our mind can’t provide.

Heart or mind, it still bangs up against the same enormous paradox and the Great Cosmic Shrug. Can anyone ever really love an absentee God?

So from the sounds of it you don’t believe in God, is that right Kevin?

The cosmos doesn’t require my belief in it for it to be. But I’d say it needs my capacity to reason.

But you just said reason doesn’t apply here, that we’re outside the laws of nature! We’re simply caught in an irrational chaos!

Correct. But somehow, and don’t ask me how, the fog of chaos diminishes when I bring my own substance to bear. Put another way, some absolute truth is reasoning through my mind. Does that make sense at all to you?

No. I assume it does to you.

I’m not talking about habitual thinking, the kind of minimal functional intelligence granted to us stock yard animals until the big knife descends on us. I’m speaking of Reason, the creative light in the void that one of my ancestors described as the Divine Mind incarnated within us.

Peter Annett.

That’s him. He scared the shit out of the British establishment in the 1760’s because he publicly called on everyone to use their reason and bring it to bear on everything, starting with religious superstition and political tyranny.

Ouch. So no wonder the big knife fell on him, too.

Sure, but that didn’t change anything. Peter planted the germ of doubt in the monstrous Body Politic. He made the crack in the official House of Mirrors, just like I’ve done. Time does the rest.

So even in this irrational madness we’re in, we can create meaning?

That’s all we can do, and it’s the reason we’re here. We create meaning and it creates us by our mutual immersion in everything. The sunset outside my window just now set the huge oak tree ablaze with a shimmering and dying goldenness. That had meaning for a moment because it merged with everything that is me, the pulse of love in my breast, my seeking mind, my hall of memories and the roots of my integrity. Meanwhile, a child dies not a block away from me, and I’ll never know about it. So which is more true? It’s like examining sub-atomic particles: the closer they come, the more they disappear. All our tiny, separate moments aren’t what’s real. Only the big mosaic is.

Maybe the madness comes in trying to figure it all out.

No, that’s just a cop-out. What’s crazy is focusing on the particulars as if they had substance. Ever worked on a psychiatric ward? All the inmates there are totally absorbed in the meandering details of the moment because they are trapped within their own illusory subjective neurosis, which is like a stuck record playing over and over in their heads. That’s what makes them crazy: they can never see the big picture and step outside themselves and their own now. They devote themselves to trading their mealtime desserts with one another or squabbling over the TV channel as if it that’s the Alpha and Omega of their life.

Well, that’s not so unusual.

Exactly. Welcome to the nuthouse.

And it seems to be getting nuttier every day.

Well yes, and that’s the intriguing part, the chink in the illusion if you like. The collective fantasy we call civilization is unraveling and it can’t be sustained. In the latter days of the Roman Empire the coinage began to not only be devalued and worthless but the design on the coins became less clear, more impressionistic, almost like its meaning was fading out of time and space altogether. It was a symbol of their disintegrating matrix. That’s precisely what we’re in today, except our group neurosis is more extreme.

Why?

Because everyone knows everything instantly. We don’t have the buffer of space and quiet anymore. The infection spreads everywhere now and there are few, very few, spaces of retreat left to us. Whoever is plugged into the single electronic medium that runs our collective mind now is not capable of clarity or sanity.

So what do we do? Become latter day Luddites?

No need. It’s all coming down. At least, it had better be, for the alternative is unimaginably horrible.

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