by Ray Jason
The sky was as dark and nasty as the soul of a Dostoyevsky villain. Huge, powerful clouds that looked like charcoal dipped in molten lead, were blasting down the mountainside towards AVENTURA. I let out more anchor chain and checked the deck for any loose items. Then I went below to await the tempest. It did not disappoint! Fierce wind ushered in rain as strong as a tropical waterfall. After 20 minutes the worst of it passed and the sky lightened to a sort of pewter gray. The rain decreased from torrential to steady.
This was the perfect accompaniment for my present task. I had just responded to a heartfelt email from an unknown teenager who found solace in my writing. He was struggling with the awareness that he was different from most of his classmates; and that he did not fit in. High school can be a very cruel environment for someone who does not conform. I sent him an encouraging email, but then realized that there are so many others in their formative years who are battling the same demons. And so I decided to write an essay dealing with their difficulties in the hopes of bolstering both their spirits and their resolve.
This is familiar psychological territory for me. A focal point of my own youth had been my recognition that I was unusual. It wasn’t so severe that I felt like an outcast; nor was it so ennobled that I viewed myself as a crusading rebel. Instead, I just knew - vaguely but with certainty - that I was different.
I tended to look at things more deeply – to analyze words and actions carefully in an attempt to see what was really going on. And my emotional sensitivity gave me a low tolerance for strife. Family arguments that might easily be laughed off by other temperaments, weighed very heavily on me.
On a less personal level, when I looked around the world I saw a planet of astonishing beauty and riches; and yet a human project that was plagued by poverty, injustice and senseless bloodshed. It puzzled and troubled me that a species with so much intelligence and ingenuity could not solve these problems.
The great blessing of those difficult years was my wonderful mother. Even though she only had a minimal education, she seemed to possess maximum Wisdom. She never belittled me for my non-conformist way of looking at life. In fact, she vigorously encouraged me to follow my own path - as long as it harmed no one. My mom was an extraordinary nurturer; and she remains a lifelong inspiration.
The reason for this little autobiographical profile is to assure you that as I address this topic it is not just from a theoretical position. I have been there … and I know your agony! So let me share with you the meandering path that I followed which allowed me to cherish my non-conformity rather than regret it.
Of the various definitions for “philosopher,” my favorite has always been “a lover of Wisdom.” Early in my search for a deeper understanding of the human condition, I discovered three powerful quotations that guided my explorations. They helped me navigate through many of life’s tribulations and they brought me soothing comfort in dark times. Perhaps they can do the same for you.
The first quote is from Socrates. “The unexamined Life is not worth living!” These seven words are so timeless and so illuminating that they have been passed along from generation to generation for over 2,000 years. For the non-conformist these are celebratory words. They empower you to resist just getting swept along by the tides of modern living. They implore you to scrutinize and evaluate those currents.
Most of your peers are addicted to their smartPhones or to the Mall or to the latest MileyJustinSelena scandal. They probably mock you for perceiving the shallowness of such pursuits and for not joining in. But take comfort in this – almost all human betterment has been empowered by people who were out of step with the herd. Those in the mainstream do not advance the river of human flourishing – they impede it. History is shaped by those on the fringes who disturb the waters with their uncomfortable and inconvenient insights.
The second indispensible quotation that has sculpted my life, comes from one of my great heroes, Henry David Thoreau. “A man is rich in direct proportion to the number of things that he can live without.” Not only do our possessions end up possessing us, they also suffocate us. If you embrace a life of voluntary simplicity you will not have to spend so much time in the pursuit of money. Instead, you can dedicate yourself to the quest for knowledge.
Too much stuff also robs us of our powers of perception. To truly examine the world, a certain slowness and tranquility is required. Look around you at your peers. Do they seem relaxed and introspective or do they appear frenzied and confused? I recommend that you minimize your desire for possessions which mostly nurture the ego; and maximize your love of philosophy which nourishes the soul.
The third quote that seared itself into my worldview comes from the great populist mystical poet, Walt Whitman: “Question much – obey little!” Not only are these extremely wise words, they have also proven to be exceedingly prophetic. Almost all of the over-arching elements of the so-called “civilized” world have been grossly corrupted. Government no longer serves the people – it serves the rich. Education doesn’t encourage critical thinking – it encourages “hivemind.” Capitalism does not “raise all boats” – it drowns the poor people living on the shore. The media does not report the truth – it distorts the truth in order to serve the ruling elites.
It is the non-conformists who have the courage to question the status quo and challenge the dominant paradigm. And with the increasing cleverness and ruthlessness of the Powers That Rule – a far more accurate term than the Powers That Be – in manipulating public perception, the need for alert and brave people of conscious is greater than ever.
Those three wise adages from Socrates, Thoreau and Whitman were immensely valuable in helping me adhere to my own personal path of non-conformity – my own road less traveled. I suspect that they will be equally helpful to you as well. But because the writing of this piece has forced me to visit the misery of my own teenage years, and because I wish for you to experience as little of that as possible, I am now going to share with you some of the contemporary writers who have had a transformative impact on me. None of these sources were available to me when I was your age; and so it is gratifying to be able to acquaint you with their work. There are many more that I could include, but this list will be an excellent primer to get you started. Enjoy!
· THE REAL AMERICA – Howard Zinn, Chalmers Johnson, William Blum, Morris Berman, Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts
· THE ILLS OF CIVILIZATION – Daniel Quinn, Chellis Glendinning, Derrick Jensen and John Zerzan
· THE PROBLEMS WITH CAPITALISM – Michael Parenti, David Korten, John Perkins and Jerry Mander
· DEEP POLITICS – Charles Hugh Smith and Peter Dale Scott
· THE POSSIBILITY OF COLLAPSE – Dmitry Orlov, Carolyn Baker, Guy McPherson, James Howard Kunstler, Chris Martenson and Richard Heinberg
When I had completed the longhand version of this essay, I put down my clipboard and headed topside to see if the sky had cleared. To my astonishment I discovered three little birds skittering happily around my self-steering vane. Had they been up there cavorting for the entire time that I had been writing? I smiled at the image of these three tiny, joy-filled birds playing the role of miniature muses for this often inept philosopher.