TIFF Notes Summary Part IV
The seed of thought and action, the sapience at root of identity can be found deep in the obscure reaches of our selves. In every way, it’s where we begin.
Underlying the events of our lives are the actions prompted by our experience and history. A bit circular as logic goes, but bear with me. A minor paradox rests in the center of any question of agency. Spiritual agency, the overall power we have over our own fate, is the response to a hidden question, a nudge, an impulse. It’s counterintuitive. In a sense, we arrive at our destination before we begin our journey. We are subject to forces and influence all around us, near and far.
The transmission and replication of ideas — as with the discipline of Memetics — works as a framework worth applying to questions of point-source thought and action. The discipline has been abandoned as a useful tool for analyzing human evolution, but retains value as a metaphor.
Limiting myself to the broadest possible interpretation of Memetics, I’ll focus on influence as the force which moves the world. It is influence which lurks behind agency, purpose, and action. The struggle, in a very real sense, is to get free of the hold influence has on your inner world.
When directed with intent, influence is a living creature. Ranging wildly across time and experience, it’s surprising and predictable in turn. We catch a brief glimpse of its form and then it’s gone again. Made visible by wake or shadow, it’s a beast we recognize, a force we sense rippling through our lives.
Harnessing and exerting influence is a predominant function of the systems ruling culture today. These are behaviours newly evolved, adapted from the wider, more traditional realm of authority and control. Representing an all-encompassing accretion and collation of data, these new modes of executive action are empowering business and political authority in ways previously unimaginable. This state of play requires we make judgments about power and its nature.
Legitimate power is accountable to the future it creates. Illegitimate power is accountable to the moment, the trend, the cresting wave of scarcity and demand. Legitimate power has substance only when founded in values focused on sustainability and longevity. Illegitimate power holds few meaningful values.
When at their best, our lives are full of choice and opportunity. Yet this does not come free from cost. Current circumstance begs we ask to what we owe resistance. What will we agree to, cope with, struggle against, and fight to achieve? In answer, we make decisions about routes and paths, time and passions as we follow our curiosity and our dreams. In this way we make a world for ourselves, those we care for and those we love. Inviting strangers and friends to live alongside us, we choose and shape the boundaries of our own private nations. We share our traditions and our lives. The borderlands of these territories can be volatile, the boundaries temporary. It isn’t easy, holding borders against the unknown. Even the vigilant are overrun. It is, nevertheless, vital we are mindful of the ground we’ve sown, the ideas we’ve developed, the future we imagine, and the dreams we chase. Absent thoughtful consideration and reasoning, we are little but mechanistic mobile objects, reacting, responding, subject to vagaries. Opportunity lives in a space without certainty, a no-man’s-land. It is in this tenuous middle where we are most at risk.
Polarization, bickering cultures and sub-cultures, radicalization; these are but the most visible examples of some dangerous trends. A constant companion, our technology functions to ensure we are tracked and assessed, quantified and analyzed. People have been reduced to units of economic resource for the use of forces unseen. Our biases and passions are whipped to frenzy. We’ve grown accustomed to the unthinking pursuit of a thread, an interest, a trail of breadcrumbs dropped for us by corporate interests or an algorithm. We’ve become pieces in a game played with sophistication and finesse as never before.
En masse and in the context of a social landscape, techniques of influence achieve startlingly powerful outcomes. At risk is the very basis of human values, the crucial product of hundreds and thousands of years. While values and beliefs are not inherently sacrosanct or unchanging, they are rooted in function, community, shared benefit and shared burden. These delicate forces are being compromised, though unevenly, all over the world. We are in the midst of an unravelling of human traditions and values, belief and spiritual agency. The weaving of those remnants into sackcloth is a terrifyingly real possible future for humankind.
Looking beyond the present day and into a future we may not view with optimism or hope, it is important we remember this world is one we are making. We create the world with our beliefs, our values, and our dreams. The challenge here, the trick, is to find a path to the future we desire in a way we truly define for ourselves. In the context of spiritual agency, we are in a fight to master that future, to write our own story, and live it, within the bounds of a world forever seeking to dominate our potential and turn it to purpose. We must, if we are to preserve our humanity, recognize the forces at play, query the influences riding our confidence, our fears, and our aspirations. As we move through time, those small questions and minor changes of mind can move us. In ways unnoticed, or drastically, as from one side of the world to the other, a persistent disregard for spiritual agency will drive us in ways unforeseen though not inconsequential.