I think it says something that most of these posts have begun with some variation on, “Here’s where I fucked up” or “What people don’t seem to get is…” What I think it says is that I am still learning how to have an opinion without being convinced that the world would work a lot better if everybody did exactly what I say at all times. On the other hand, I firmly believe that if everybody operated that way — acting in accordance with their own values, making sure those values work for everybody — things actually would be better. Not exactly a new concept.
Having said that, What people don’t seem to get is that noticing the Matrix does not equal evil intent on the part of the Matrix. Whether it’s understanding how manipulative advertising can be — or understanding that God is irrelevant/doesn’t exist, or that men have an unfair advantage in a lot of ways and that’s been true for the entire existence of people — there’s a fairly heroic shout in uncovering that truth for yourself. A feeling of having broken through: What was hidden is revealed!
Now, my own religious stuff is complicated and boring and personal, but I wouldn’t go so far as to disavow atheism. For the purposes of this context, I am confident that the theist concept of God is ridiculous and nonexistent: I am an atheist. (The very loud existentialist asterisk here, where I am also not one at all, is something I’d have to be drunk to bore you with.)
But the revelation of God’s absence feels, like in the examples to follow, like a pressure has been lifted. That’s because a very real pressure has very really been lifted. A spark from the heavens has come to illuminate the world, the shadows are just bedroom furniture, nobody is watching you, and those niggling feelings of trying to go along with the herd simply vanish. A tremendous feeling.
And the revelation of institutionalized misogyny and patriarchal control — you are not crazy, they just want you to think you’re crazy — has a personal meaning for all of us, because all of us are trapped in that system. Queers and women live inside a system that’s working against them, and has been, for eternity. And honestly, that’s a pressure lifted.
The revelation of one’s own queer sexuality, my God, it cured my GERD within a week and I can only barely remember how bad my ongoing digestive distress had been in those pre-teen years. The exuberance of the newborn queer, the newborn atheist are lovely; the exuberance of a newborn feminist is loveliest of all.
And then we stop.
Having discovered The Answer, we retreat to our corners and our online collectives and our like-minded compatriots, and we start making lists. Stupid Christian Conservatives being led around by corporations. Stupid anorexic supermodels being led around by the Male Gaze. Stupid heterosexuals getting up in our business.
Lists and examples and horror stories and monster actions and monster reactions, and the whole time your audience is getting smaller and smaller and angrier and angrier and you’re preaching to a rapidly vanishing choir, to the point where we can agree that our little kaffeeklatch of Fellow Geniuses is, simply by yelling at each other — or worse, playing Mean Girl games about who gets to be more outraged, outraged first, outraged with the most novelty — somehow making a difference to a culture that doesn’t even know we’re having this conversation.
We go looking, like junkies, for the diminishing returns of that first feeling of revelation. Every mutilated photoshoot, every pronouncement by Rick Santorum, every exciting protest march or speech, becomes another chance, another hit of that beautiful feeling of freedom: Another attempt to level up toward transcendence. This looks to me like a lot like complacency.
Revelation isn’t a state, it’s a moment. Revolution isn’t a particle, it’s a wave. They are tools in your toolbox, not laurels or garlands. One does not become a feminist, one begins the project of feminism. One doesn’t simply join the cargo cult of modern homosexuality, or kink, or childfree-dom, or whatever the thing is: One steps outside conventional ideas of gender and relationships, and then finds out what’s next.
OR WHATEVER AMAZING THING YOU DID
I’m finding it hard to get to the end without relying on spiritually tainted language, because it’s my belief that — though the human mind wasn’t “designed” — we were designed to keep moving. And I believe that God — even though there isn’t one, and I always get yelled at for substituting “grace” so I can’t say that either — is a wave that never breaks. What I really want to do is quote Hegel (and some very basic Jung) but that would just piss you off, so I’ll leave their names out of it.
The way of all thought is thus: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. You think of a thing, you think of the opposite thing, you take the best stuff from both, you keep going. Every Synthesis is a new Thesis. It doesn’t stop. It just gets bigger. You just get bigger. You go higher. you get better.
For the rest of your life, The Answer will continue to stop being the Answer the second you find it. It goes into your utility belt to make locating the next Answer easier and your journey less terrifying, but it doesn’t ever describe you completely. The second you rest on the thought you’ve just thought is the very second it dies all around you: You got lost in the loop of trying for the same revelation over and over again.