Polishing Wisdom


TRACKING COMPASSION IN AN UNRAVLED WORLD

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Comments on the Book





Please add your comments on the story. Click the hot 'Comments' button at the bottom of this posting.





"This magnificent book is a modern "Homeric epic" written on several levels . . . designs within designs within designs. While it is a highly plausible vision of the post-"Unraveling", it also propels the reader into a deep search for better alternatives."
Paul

The story draws you in with subtlety and nuance. . . a great mixing of beauty and terror. The humanity and tenderness of the main characters is highlighted and tested by horrible events that unfold as they make their way overland across the world. The book is a quest to follow the open--often broken--heart in a world that has fallen apart. For me, the "unraveling" seems all too possible in our unstable world! It's important to think about what I would sacrifice for the greater good of others. Highly recommended!
JamesA

"I found this book to be heartfelt, well-written, and beautifully drawn. It reminded me of some post-apocalyptical works of Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson and Margaret Atwood, and like those books, resonated with plausability, which make the story all the more poignant.I'm a tough and sometimes critical customer, but I thoroughly enjoyed this read."
Matt S.

"Simply reading the opening paragragh had me fully engaged! Thanks so much for such a special treat. Your language painted powerful images in my mind that I have carried around for days. I can usually anticipate the end of most books by about a third of the way through. This was a delightful surprise."
C Tower




I found this a compelling read, which held my interest on at least three levels. One - a great story: imaginative yet believable, very will written. Two - human values and attitudes: you can't go wrong living your beliefs or by accepting the 'happening' of life. Three - community governance: through interesting stories and situations, we see how some structures work well and some definitely don't.
Should be on the best seller's list! 
Hart Jansson

I struggled at first to understand the violence in the book, but I began to see Zhampa's struggles as trying to live non-violently in a violent world. As a complex character, he didn't have "the answer" and tried a variety of ways to accomplish this task. That resonated strongly with me, as I feel a similar need - and indeed, believe that is a primary task that all must face if we are not to annihilate ourselves. I really appreciated this facet of the book! 
Anonymous

The story describes all of us who share the desire to make sense of and make right this existence. It hit a vein personally for me as I'm sure it will with all readers. Thanks, Tom, for putting it into words we all can understand.
Stan O

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Unraveling

     Investigation shows that humanity is intricately wedded to all of the natural world systems that both science and indigenous knowledge can name. One of the consequences of human success ‘appearing’ to control nature is a blind confidence that systems are stable and that we are up to the task of making the future resemble the present. But systems are always subject to change and our blindness is perpetuated at great cost . . . There is a wind for every house of cards.

            The term ‘unraveling’ is used to convey the spiraling demise of this interconnectedness when it’s complexity reaches a critical mass, with one problem leading to another too quickly to remedy. This spiral can be set off by insignificant events in a little understood corner of the connected world . . . say, a disease that spreads without discernible logic, or the invention of a new weapon, or a drought in the wrong place at the right time, or the collapse of pollenating bee colonies, leading to crop failures, or peak oil, or a national psyche needing to divest itself of a prior humiliation through seizing territory. We can invent viable causes like this all day. But most likely the spiral will begin through some synchronistic confluence of these things—climate events, territorial threats, disease, resource limits. . . History shows that some people push small causes into wider trauma by attributing blame to others for things NO LONGER in control. And why is this world more subject to unraveling than in the past? Because of the sheer global scale of interconnection, with information moving at the speed of light. This means that misunderstanding, deception and prejudice can also move at the speed of light.

            In the Trouble with Wisdom, the causes and stages of the Unraveling are left unspecified, to allow readers to see for themselves the myriad possibilities. There is mention of a previous Globalliance that made incursions onto U.S. soil. And of a new type of weapon that had the nickname of White Lighters. It, too, is left unspecified in its characteristics, and different versions of its results are left to lie unclarified.

            The cause of the ‘unraveling’ is not important. The story is not about those particulars, though some will really want to know what they are. The premise here is that the earth itself is not going to be consumed in fire. The result, though, is that suffering will descend on the unsuspecting many as the gossamer threads that hold normalcy snap. This story begins after that time. . . and examines ‘what then?’

Hand to Hand Books

            What good comes of a book residing on a shelf for thirty or a hundred years? Who is served? There are answers, but readers, authors and the earth are not among them.

            As soon as the manuscript for The Trouble with Wisdom was complete, while reflecting upon the issues of books and publishing described in these posts, this venture came softly into my mind. I realized that by taking the approach of seeking maximum profit for a book—whatever the market will bear—our capitalist model eliminates many excellent possibilities. Let’s examine some corollaries.

            The wish of any writer is to communicate, to be read by as many people as possible. This is in direct conflict with a market that seeks the highest price. In this age of declining library support, the decision to purchase a book falls increasingly on the wealthier among us. (Digital press may come to reach less affluent readers.’)

            The cost of a book inspires ownership of it. One is a bit reluctant to part with something that costs so much. True, some people lend their books, but generally want them returned. So in the best scenario of capitalist cultures, a book may be read three times.

            These additional reads do not help the author, considering that she only gets paid once for the original sale and only in the range of $1 to $2.50. Writers routinely don't earn enough royalties to pay back their advances. So our current system pays all the other middle folk completely and tosses crumbs to the writer. It’s upside-down.

            Hand to Hand is an attempt to reconfigure the hierarchy. The artist should be compensated the most, so that she can carry on and write more. Particularly if no reader must shell out a substantial sum for a book, what could be wrong with the writer generating $25 (the normal hard-cover cost) from her work for each book? Or $40? Or even $60? This last figure is commensurate with sales of 20 to 30 copies in the existing paradigm and twelve ‘reads’ of The Trouble with Wisdom. The market will still bear on the process; the perfect culling mechanism for mediocre work will be poor sales. But publishers, agents and marketers do not figure in this hierarchy. Editors and printers who contribute actual work toward the art will be paid as always.

            By making books available, bookstores can also enter the action. When The Trouble with Wisdom is sold from a bookstore, the entire (first) sale of $5.00 goes to the store as profit. In this scheme, the store has no financial outlay; it has only offered shelf space. The writer is taking the risk that the purchaser will understand the instructions and pass the book on. . . and that as readers contribute, the account will be balanced. The purchasers and readers, in short, become deputies to help support, market and distribute the book. The Hand to Hand paradigm is betting that they will do it in a way that helps other readers down the line also rise to feel deputized. The real test will be if the third reader contributes and passes the book, because she will know neither the author nor the original purchaser. 

            Hand to Hand is a system of leasing the book for the sole purpose of taking the story and language into the mind-stream, which is what books are best at. And it is a system of having readers act as stewards of earth’s resources.

            Of course as the book moves from hand to hand, the copy will become worn. Some people might feel that they should not have to contribute money for a used book, as they are used to the notion that books handed to them are freebies. The paradigm shift will be underway when we begin to value content more than appearance.

            In working out this idea, cultivating the natural aspect of interaction with readers has begun to be accomplished through the sign-in page (the Readers List), through the readers becoming marketers and through this web site and its payment option. Many of you will have other and better ideas, and I look forward to them being designed into better systems for books and for every other kind of human endeavor that will thrive in this way in the hope of reinventing our society into a sustainable one.

            Readers in totalitarian countries honor printed words in any form. In that spirit, I ask that you take care of the book for others. It is very late in the history of a world perched on  the edge of unraveling that we are realizing we can’t just create wealth and ‘stuff’ ad infinitum. The earth IS the bank from which our wealth—real and imagined—is drawn. Money-wealth begins as natural resource, which has never been ours to own. We are transient here. We humans are, at best, guests. The next successful societies will be ones that understand and honor this reality.

Violence

         Why is there violence in a book whose characters yearn for non-violence? Well, non-violence is a meaningless term if there is no such thing as violence. One needs something in order to have a ‘non’ of it. The world in which enlightenment occurs is THIS world, not a realm in which the concept and actions of violence do not arise. That would render liberation meaningless. Liberation is a hallmark among progressive stages of clarifying the mind en route to enlightenment. What are clarified are the negative emotions that arise as ego’s response to suffering (8 Types) and change (3 Types.)

            Zhampa’s mission is two-fold: to burn out the consequences of the crime he has committed and to deliver the scepters, an action that he believes will help others. 

            Each of the main characters in the story has taken human life, though each killed with a different motive. Revenge, survival, under orders and for the good of others. Yes, this last is a possibility. Though Gabe’s inner motive is not pristine, his outer actions are good.

            The violence in the back story is ripped straight from history books and from the news. The violence during the trip came about as the characters interacted with their world and the kinds of governance that emerge during the rebuilding. 

Wisdom

           If wisdom could be eaten or anchored or purchased and owned, then there would be little trouble, with it. But not only is wisdom hard to come by, it is also hard to transmit. That would be a wise culture’s main task. But if history serves us well, pursuit of wisdom is rare even in times and in places of peace, which themselves are rare and impermanent. The norm is that other quests of the heart and head rush to the fore and the resulting melee—sometimes called ‘life as we know it’—often swamps those who pursue wisdom and the notion of wisdom itself.

            So what might wisdom even be? What does the word wisdom mean? We have and use many words as synonyms (we think) of wisdom. Knowledge, knowing, insight, clarity, brilliance, grasping. . .  Through this, the understanding of wisdom is damaged. Why so? Because wisdom is the godhead of all the others, which are diluted by concept, opinion, experience, agenda and ordinary passions, all of which fall under the category of wanting. Wisdom is free of wanting. It is realization of the essence or nature of things. It is the basis of compassion, which is the activity of enlightenment.

            The layers of wisdom in this story run the gamut from the conventional to the ultimate and even tilt into the manifestation of the nominal. Enjoy the digging. 

Atonement

         When an action is undertaken, the trace or seed of it enters the mind stream and its consequences appear when the seed ripens. Furthermore, if, for example, you give yourself permission to kill one mosquito, you will hardly pause when the opportunity arises to kill another. If that is the case, is atonement a fool’s errand? Don’t we just have to wait and endure the consequences later? Is the die cast for both consequences and future behavior?

            Perhaps this discussion is getting ahead of the curve. Many people don’t consider or agree that actions even have consequences. But to counter, as a manifestation of will (mind), whether conscious or not, an action is a cause and all causes have effects. To explain further, the arising in the mind of an intention moves to create an action. Intention causes action. So an action is both an effect and a cause.  That is the simplest presentation of the Law of Karma. The effects come after, though for beginners which effect is the result of which action is hard to discern.

Atonement, too, is a mindset. Following this logic, if intention is a cause of action, then taking the mindset of atoning for past actions leads to new kinds of actions, and potentially actions that uncouple the linkage between previous actions and their results, though this clearly is in the realm of spiritual discipline. Deciding not to eat Twinkies does not necessarily purify ones past.

Art vs. Business

         With its penchant for viewing all activity through a monetary (read: the profit) lens, American capitalist culture treats artists as menial workers—like miners, who dig for the important resource, which others sell to make fortunes without personal bodily risk. In fact, the experience of creating something (from nothing) is often described by those so engaged in terms of digging deep into unpleasant (inner) territory and extracting raw material that needs still much work to become valuable. It seems artists accomplish all the labor, and any others in the business are not much more than marketers and critics. This is close to a parasitic relationship. It is particularly painful, when one realizes that the artist is the lowest paid in the chain of wealth for her own product. Just $1 to $2 per book. Publishers, agents, distributors, marketers, and the like make the lion’s share of the money.

            Oh, you say, but what about all the luminary artists—the stars—and their extravagant lifestyles? The schizophrenia of capitalism occasionally hands an artist immeasurable success. Though  she almost always has something to offer, the relationship between talent and remuneration is rarely one-to-one. All artists have something to offer. This bizarre imbalance demeans the efforts of other artists yet more. And it contributes to the blinding of society to the fallacy of its premises and machinations.

            Creativity is the jewel arising from the intelligence of our species. It should be the object of our devotion. A few societies still honor the artist. It used to be and may still be that in Sweden, I think it was, young artists were solicited to audition their work to a national board. And promising artists were given stipends for life. For life! That’s commitment to the arts through supporting artists. Of course, like all human interactions, their system too, is never free from politics, but the cultural vision is more properly directed. This contrasts to the all-or-nothing version of capitalist art that we foster here. In this country, we limit our efforts to subsidizing agribusiness and oil companies. Message: “You are talented if you make money for others.”

            I remember meeting the mother of a girlfriend when I was starting out as a songwriter, during which she responded to the news of my artistic stirrings with rolled eyes and a cryptic, “Lots of luck.” She did not need to express the hope that her daughter would not proceed in relationship with me. Perhaps if I had said, “I plan to be an international arms dealer,” we could have set a wedding date.

Justice

         Justice is the application of fairness, the integrity in a social order arising from a natural sense of decency. Passions of particular individuals, tribes, races and nations lead them to pull, distort and even dispense with fairness in their approach to governing. Zhampa’s criminal vulnerability sensitizes him to the combination of wisdom and confusion of each of the twenty social groups he encounters.

What are the signs of true justice and of feigned justice?

Teachers

            The presence of a spiritual teacher in Zhampa’s life is not the norm for those of us in the twenty-first century. In fact, we‘re reared to not rely on others with regard to life lessons and, as adults, we pride ourselves on being self-made. A corollary to this in the western mode is that no one really has a grasp of knowledge or wisdom. That all things are relative and that we should seek our solace in the marketplace. Zhampa doesn’t know what to make of the old Tibetan lama Rinpo, or of his magic and commands. And yet the signs he was given as a child and as an adult stir in him the inspiration to give up his private concerns to do one thing to help others before he dies. This is a world of East/West collided sensibilities, a world through which Zhampa pulls a cart. He gives up needing to know the result of his journey before he sets out and in so doing unlocks a pivotal point in his learning.