Friday, November 17, 2017

Dear Friends

I've been thankful for your kind response to the work I've published on my blog. I had prepared a note for many of you individually but I was hospitalized last weekend and I'm still recovering, and when I posted those notes something went wrong. Anyway, I'd like to offer all of you my books for free - my two novels, The Broken World and Ode to Belladonna - and my new release, Inner Demons and other essays. I'm making them available in an electronic version on Amazon Kindle, on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of November for free. You may simply go to Amazon and download them.

My heartfelt plea is that if these books interest you, and you decide to download them free, you'll write a brief review on for me, or on Goodreads, and perhaps recommend them to others. I need to get reviews on Amazon. In my so humble opinion these books are entertaining and literary. Moreover, they represent my small attempt to address the current crisis in American values, and present a new outlook on those problems based on fresh insights. Because Inner Demons and other essays is my new release, and is more directly, I believe, of philosophical value, my priority is to get it reviewed, but I feel all these books to be worthy of more reviews, so if you choose to read and review any one of my them I would be equally grateful.

I have several versions of the Broken World on Amazon. The one I need reviewed id The Broken World, second revised edition, in the Purple cover, ISBN 10: 1539167518.

Thanks so much for your time,


P.S. I have several versions of the Broken World on Amazon. The one I need reviewed is The Broken World, second revised edition, in the Purple cover... ISBN 10: 1539167518.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Personal Note On Publishing Inner Demons

Eighteen years after deciding to pursue serious writing - that is, writing not just intended to entertain, but also to express some ideas of higher importance - I find myself in a quandary, the nature of which is somewhat surprising to me. When I set out to write, I wasn't at all sure I was capable of it. It was an act of faith. So, surprisingly to me, it isn't my own failure at that rather audacious ambition that poses me with the quandary I now find myself in.

With the publication of my third book, Inner Demons and other essays, I can fairly say that I haven't failed myself as a writer. Inner Demons, for all its faults, lives up to my expectations. If successful, I think I can write wore on the subjects involved, and more that I think is worthwhile. Where I've failed however - miserably - has been in finding an audience for those ideas.

I frankly don't understand the age we live in now. It's common knowlegde the world's in desperate need or regeneration. Yet in presenting new ideas it seems there's often very little interest taken in them. Yet...

One thing I know. If humanity is to emerge from the next century, it will do so with practically every moral and intellectual value that we currently act upon in the conduct of modern life discredited. The world is not veering toward the precipice because of its own inertia, it's doing so because of us, and the essential failure of our fundamental outlook on life and its meaning.

I think Inner Demons opens a serious debate regarding the validity of that outlook and points toward the possibility of new directions. To have spent such a great part of life in the development of these ideas, and to see them largely ignored, would be enough to make anyone succumb to the strange current state of torpor, or mesmerism that seems to grip the entire world today. Have we run out of ideas, or just the courage to confront our own inner demons?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Inner Demons

Inner Demons is a collection of essays that briefly describes a mode of thought I came upon in marveling at the inexplicable contradictions in humanity, at the gulf between our great capacity for love and wonder, and our equally great tendency toward violence and suffering.

In 1995, at a point of great stress in my life, I had a sea change in outlook regarding the nature of life, leading to a belief in a possible new outlook on our myriad number of problems, derived from a synthesis of current scientific and psychological thought, that might help us transcend our current condition.

The major essays in Inner Demons represent my attempt to relate, as succinctly as possible, the nature of that change in outlook.

Following are the introduction, and the introductory essays, from my collection, Inner Demons and other essays. If the ideas expressed in the essay are of interest to the reader, the book is now available from internet booksellers.

Inner Demons
and other essays

Published by Brent Hightower
Through CreateSpace Books
©2017 Brent Hightower

All Rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author, Brent Hightower, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review in a newspaper, magazine, or electronic publication; nor may any part of this book be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other, Without permission from the author, Brent Hightower.

Cover art by Edouard Duval-Carrie, oil on board

If everything you think you know
makes your life unbearable, would you change?
-Tracy Chapman

Men lived under the tyranny of things. Their every action determined by the orders of mere matter, by money, and by the tools of their trade and the un-thinking laws of habit and convention.
- Aldous Huxley


For those who aren't familiar with me, I'm the author of two novels, The Broken World, and Ode to Belladonna. In late 2014 I created a blog entitled Riding on the Storm, comprised of essays, poems, and book reviews. It's been successful for a literary blog of its kind, receiving about 300,000 hits so far between the blog itself and articles from the blog I've posted on my Google profile. So I decided to compile the best of these essays (written between 2014 and 2017) into a book. With them, by way of introduction, I've also included an essay I wrote in 1995 because it provides necessary background and context for some of the more fully realized ideas that follow. Also included are some reviews of under-appreciated literary classics I thought might be of interest; and finally there's some revised work I originally published on the Occupy Wall Street website, under the user-name GypsyKing, much of which has been since redacted. A few of these essays are topical, so I've affixed the dates of first publication. They, along with the rest of this work, have been edited for the sake of clarity and certain elements of style, but never to alter the original meaning, or intent.
This is my first book of non-fiction, and it addresses, among other things, the realization that little progress can be made against humanity's problems until we fully come to understand the nature of our divided psyches, and the consequences of that division in the larger scheme of things. I believe failing to see the importance and urgency of these issues, and not exploring them with sufficient intensity, is the main reason for the dire situation of humanity. They are the main reason we don't follow the path of reason. They are why our society is irrational and largely ungovernable.
These essays also represent ideas attempting to bridge the rift between science and spirituality through the prediction that spiritual immortality may soon be inferred through a synthesis of existing scientific evidence. I also write on various other topics, and I include a few reviews of under-appreciated classics. Lastly, some of these essays simply reflect a continuing fascination with my native country, the United States of America, the first government founded upon the ideals of the Enlightenment, and the first great experiment with self-government in modern times.
Some pretty lofty topics are introduced here, so one might very well ask: "Who the hell is he, and what makes him think he can write about such things?" Well, the answer is I don't claim to be more qualified than anyone else, really, and I certainly don't profess expertise in the broad variety of topics I've covered here. I'm merely a private person writing about subjects that I think matter, because I believe private citizens should occasionally write about the subjects they think matter. We've heard from the experts and just look at the predicament we're in! There's no need to enumerate the grave problems facing humanity as of this writing. They're our common burden. It's as if we're all just waiting for the bell to toll our collective fate. So, as common citizens we may as well see if we can't invoke a different perspective on those problems, and conceivably even on their solutions. It seems unlikely we could make circumstances any worse!
Of course we do need the experts, or at least some of them. They're people who've devoted their lives to understanding subjects of importance, and we would do well to heed their advice, in their areas of expertise. Their limitation lies in that they can only shed light on problems within the limited scope of their expertise – while our world is beset by a Gordian knot of problems that clearly defy any conceivable remedy offered through specialization. The inescapable conclusion is that for humanity to have a future we have to seek a vastly broader and more integrated understanding of existence than can be offered by the specialists and the disjointed hodge-podge of officials in a society with no consistent underlying spiritual, psychic, or moral center. So again, it appears that if we want to find a coherent outlook, one capable of dealing with the great complexity of modern problems, it is up to us. There is no one else
It appears to me that we must begin the process of syn-thesizing knowledge from specialized areas of expertise into a unified vision, into what the ancient Greeks called cosmos: a worldview incorporating both spiritual and physical existence, guided by reason. In order to survive and progress toward a more inspired earthly vision, it's essential we be guided by a scheme of understanding broad enough to encompass the entirety of human experience. This may seem to be an aspiration that's unattainably complex, but I will attempt to demonstrate in these essays that it is not. At this point, for reasons pertaining to human psychology and the Darwinian laws governing competition for wealth and power, modern society is stifling that most necessary and conclusive of all intellectual processes – synthesis. Synthesis is what rational thought is intended to lead to. It allows us to reach conclusions guided by wisdom that can then be put into action, thus enabling us to create change. Without it there is a limited purpose to knowledge itself. Yet it is the process most desperately called for in our times.
Hilo, Hawaii
(9 September 2017)

A Word About Controversy

When I originally published some of these essays in my blog, a few people found them too controversial, especially when I touched on the subjects of religion, politics, or philosophy. I've even heard this about some of my book reviews, which is strange because it's hard to see how a book review can be that controversial! Some time ago now I reviewed a novel by Camus (included in this book) challenging the established interpretation of that work, and though I got a few irate responses from those upholding the established view, I was contacted by BBC/Worldbook, and was asked by them to pose questions for their author seminars. I mention this to demonstrate that at least some of my ideas have been appreciated by some people in the literary establishment. I'm sorry some people find that my views make them uncomfortable. Partly that's because I'm a person who values harmony, and who finds that discord produces anxiety, yet nevertheless I won't censor my views to make them more widely acceptable.
Since I write relatively few essays directly devoted to current events, those I do write must be controversial to one degree or another, or they have no purpose. Reality, as we are taught to conceive it, to a greater degree than we realize, is a mutually shared delusion fostered for the sake of cohesion, rather than an objective understanding that arises from the genuine search for truth. That search, the search for highest possible objective truth, must be undertaken by those outside the establishment, unswayed by conflicts of interest. That's why so often the most important advances in thought haven't come from the experts, but from those outside the establishment. To that end, some of these essays attempt to explore ideas on the margins of widely accepted thought.
I hope the reader finds they offer some new insight, or at least some new perspective on the world. Journeys of the mind are often the most lonely and laborious, so it can be a solace to meet a fellow traveler on the road.

The Integrated Spirit

It is an essential dilemma of the modem age that in spite of our tremendous scientific and technical advances, and our greatly enhanced understanding of the physical universe, we still live lives of what Henry David Thoreau deemed "quiet desperation." In my own life, and in that of those around me, I've known this state of unrest, of simmering spiritual crisis. I doubt that anyone in this era hasn't sensed this void to at least to some degree. It reflects the central artistic, literary, and philosophical current of our age. I would like to say a few words about that state of mind in my own life, and about the recent, unexpected event that gave me some insight into its nature. First, however, I must say a little about my own life, so the reader may have a framework in which to put my discussion.
I was born in 1962 in New Mexico, the home of the atomic bomb. My grandfather and two of my uncles worked at Sandia National Laboratories. During my childhood my extended family was torn apart by the moral conflict surrounding the Vietnam War. My parents strongly op-posed the war, and with relatives working at the laboratory, the bitterness separating my extended family should be easily imagined; the heated arguments are still a vivid memory. But aside from my parents' rejection of our country's course at that time, I was raised to believe in the fundamental greatness, even the supremacy, of Western culture.
My father owned a large private library and I was taught to believe in the life of the mind. The same culture that built the atomic bomb had also created Plato's dialogues, Einstein's almost unfathomable penetration into the mysteries of the physical world, the transcendent power of Beethoven's symphonies. The wonder of the culture was evident in its creations. Western achievements in reason and science were held to be, in the light of their accomplishments, essentially beyond criticism. Yet, even as a child I sensed that something was profoundly wrong. Occasionally my father would read aloud, and I can still hear his ironic laughter as he read the famous passage from Shelley's Ozymandias: "Look on my works, ye mighty and despair."
Beneath the surface of liberal educations, and living in the most affluent society in history, my family was extremely unhappy – more so even than could be explained by the very real decline in American Society in the course of my lifetime. Throughout my childhood I felt an almost tangible futility, one that was by no means unique to my own family. Everywhere I looked I saw psychic trauma hidden by a thin veneer of normality. It could be observed most objectively in the ever increasing social problems engulfing our nation like a tide. Amid America's declining, yet still great, affluence, there was a palpable, simmering unrest. Yet to me, this profound unrest, this spiritual crisis, manifested itself most plainly in the mental climate of those around me.
Try as I might, I could find no explanation of its funda-mental nature. So, unable to resolve the problem, I ended up burying it in frustration. There was nothing to do but carry on, even though the most important question of my life remained a mystery. Why all this inexplicable anguish all around me? In spite of every effort I made toward a meaningful existence, I found myself growing weary. I worked for progressive causes, hoping to be part of the solution to a problem I didn't really understand. I managed a natural food cooperative for six years, and built an organic farm where I lived with my wife in Upper Michigan. But I still felt a void, as if some central element of existence were missing.
Let me sum up briefly by saying that I was building to-wards a spiritual crisis, and recently that crisis came in a very unexpected way. I was sitting with my wife in our car on a warm fall afternoon, helping her study for a psychology exam. I was reading aloud a passage explaining that human eyes focus on an inverted image cast upon the visual cortex of the brain, in the same way a camera lens focuses an inverted image upon the film. It went on to say it isn't known whether our brains compensate neurologically to right the image, or whether we compensate perceptually, the result being the same. What, I asked myself, would be the difference between these two concepts? The question reminded me of the relativity theory, in which the speed of an object may be known only relative only to the position of the observer. Perhaps our interpretation of the nature of our own consciousness is subject to a similar perceptual relativity, based on preconceived assumptions about the functioning of our own minds.
Then I read about a woman who, after suffering a stroke which damaged the region of her brain responsible for conscious perception, was shown two photographs. Both were photographs of the same house, but in one picture the house was on fire. When asked which house she would rather live in the woman always chose the one that wasn't burning. Surprisingly, she could make a distinction. The following is taken from the text:
"... this uncanny ability to respond to something not con-sciously perceived, called blindsight, which reminds us once again of the startling truth: our brains are doing many thing at once, automatically and without our awareness."
The point is that there are parts of ourselves engaged in interpretation, of which our conscious (rational) mind is unaware. As I sat there my mind brought together these two concepts: that of the inherent relativity of our perception of our own consciousness, and the apparent fact that "other" parts of our consciousness are involved in perception. At that moment my mind made a series of associations so vivid and startling that it would be difficult to overstate my feeling of shock. It amounted to a sudden sea change in my world view. At last I had an insight into the nature of that "quiet desperation."
The insight is that of a totality of existence, incorporating both the conscious and unconscious human psyche, and by extension our actions in the physical world. The sub-conscious mind then is not the stuff of dreams and sym-bolism and veiled mystery, but a co-creator of our actions and behaviors, a significant ongoing aspect of ourselves we are little aware of, if at all. This understanding cannot be arrived at through science because the part of us that can engage in scientific speculation is simply cut off, bio-logically, from the part of us capable of comprehending this in its full implications. It is in part an intuitive understanding that can only come about through a sort of collaboration of the right and left sides of the brain, through a totality, through the integrated spirit. It can't be seen in the same way as one might see, for example, a biological fact that is arrived at through a process of induction or reduction.
It isn't possible for me to delve into all the implications raised here in the scope of this already extensive essay. I can, however, further outline the idea, and touch briefly on some of its more central interconnections. Summed up simply, in modem society we have been laboring under a misconception of the nature of our own consciousness. Inductive and reductive reasoning, the tools of the mind, and their outgrowths, utility of purpose and efficiency, have simply been emphasized to a degree inconsistent with the complexity of our true being. People consist of powers and potentials greater than our rational capacities, and greater than our rational capacities can comprehend, or that the modem social order can accommodate. Over the ages we have evolved psychic complexities, emotional, creative, and spiritual facets of ourselves, at once irrational and essential to our healthy being.
These parts of the self make up the lion's share of our total being, and this totality is intrinsically tied to the natural world from which we evolved. Thus, we are more influenced by evolutionary impulses than our rational side is able to see. To understand how this relates to difficulties in society, we must see that we have systemically suppressed this essential side of ourselves, under the misguided view that it is primitive, bestial and frightening. In fact, it is more in its suppression that we create the fragmented self we most fear. Our socialization is here certainly more responsible than our rational mind. It's just that the rational mind and our social conditioning seem inextricable tied. We are the victims of a self-induced and culturally-reinforced dissociation. In the sought for, perfectly rational, utilitarian world order, the needs of the integrated spirit have been subjugated to the pursuit of a fallacious and spiritually malnourished vision of order. The result is a state of misery pitting our reason, and our socialization, against the fact of our evolved nature.
The above is a brief summary of the insight which came to me that day, one that has proven invaluable to me over the years through broadening my understanding of life. So what is the evidence for what I might call this "cultural dissociation," by which I mean a psychic dissociation of individuals in modern societies due to a separation from our place in the natural order and a suppression of our psychic and spiritual totality. In order to explain this insight I'd like to outline five broad areas of evidence for such a view, and then engage in a more general discussion of related subjects to further clarify my meaning .
As mentioned earlier, there is first the evidence of inex-plicable, widespread, psychic suffering. Thoreau's "quiet desperation" is a condition pervasive in modern society, and it seems reasonable to assume, based on Darwinian theory, that psychic pain in the most mentally advanced creature in nature is a clue that something is fundamentally wrong. Little exists in nature for no purpose, and we are, after all, part of nature. Pain is a signal of injury in living organisms. It serves no other function.
Secondly, our discovery of what has been called the "subconscious" mind, and our views concerning psychology generally, arose from an era when European colonial power was at its zenith. It therefore also seems reasonable to assume our understanding of the human psyche did not entirely escape a suffusion with certain erroneous suppositions of that era, suppositions concerning the su-periority of Western rationality, and its perceived place at the top of human social order. (I will deal with this subject in more detail below.)
Thirdly, for ages the human mind has evolved in intimate connection to the living processes on Earth in close-knit, mutually-supportive human communities very different from modern industrial and post-industrial societies in which independence and alienation are the general lot of mankind. It would seem strange if severance from supportive extended communities, imposed by modem society, didn't result in widespread psychological effects.
Fourthly, we might consider the result when "primitive" tribes first encounter modem culture. Initially these tribes are often so overwhelmed that they abandon their traditions in a short period of time. Yet, typically after first contact, these people often begin to deteriorate. They slide into depression, and alcoholism, go into physical decline, and sometimes die out altogether over time. When we think about this situation, something (significantly) that we rarely seem to do, we may attribute it to some vague, inherent weakness on their part, despite that they are often of ancient cultures and have endured great trials in the course of their existence. Or we may simply throw our hands up in bafflement, perhaps at times in sorrow, but with an overall sense of helplessness to affect the situation. We very rarely, it seems, think that this reaction may be a reaction to something deeply abnormal in our own culture, although there is significant evidence to support such a conjecture.
At the very foundation of Western culture has lain the debate over what course to take to realize full human po-tential. This question was articulated clearly in Plato's dialogues. The "atomists," represented in Plato's time by the person of Democritus, had their roots in the Ionian scientific tradition. This tradition was rigidly materialistic, in the sense that it held all phenomena explainable through the interplay of material forces. Therefore, according to the atomists, humanity would best be served through observing and coming to understand the workings of the physical universe, learning nature's secrets, and applying that knowledge for our material betterment. Socrates rejected this view, arguing that such knowledge would be useless to address what seemed to him man's chief and proper concern – knowledge of oneself and of the right way to live. That is, Socrates believed that, until we come to understand our inner motivations, no amount of material improvement would ultimately improve the human condition. Thus, the famous Socratic injunction, "Know thyself."
It is the former, materialistic view, which has unques-tionably held sway in Western thought since the industrial revolution. Although modern scientists wouldn't articulate the claim that science is a spiritual philosophy, it has become the fundamental value system of our age. In the effort toward a unified field theory, in physics, for example, we see that struggle for a scientific explanation of all existence. This effort is being made even as the foundation of scientific objectivity is being undermined by the results of that very effort on the part of the scientists themselves. Both Heisenberg and Einstein have shown that, due to the complexities of our sensory perception, we can never have an "objective" standpoint from which to know the truth of the material universe. Thus, although it is practically never admitted, the Western world view has reached a crisis and a turning point.
Signs of this turning point have come in the quiet retreat of science from the once tenaciously held concept of absolute determinism. It can be felt in the profound spiritual and ethical restlessness of the later twentieth-century. Interestingly, science itself has brought us several areas of thought unknown in Plato's day that serve to strengthen the Socratic view (although to date I don't see them being interpreted in that framework). Among them are the modern theory of the subconscious mind and modem psychology in general, recent findings in the study of the brain, the concept of natural selection, and the acquiescence to a degree of subjectivity in modern particle physics. When redirected toward Socratic self-inquiry, these relatively recent discoveries may alter the course of thought.
As I have touched on before, Freud's concept of the sub-conscious was that of a primitive and separate dimension of the self, a sort of repressed "animal" inside us. The rational mind was seen as the advanced, dominant mind. The idea of a dual nature has, I believe, been the most lasting legacy of Freud's work, and it's interesting to see how that assumption fit precisely within broader assumptions of the Colonial Era. Europeans were seen as holding a position at the apex of humanity due to the superiority of their reason. This view was born out in "material" philosophy and its outgrowth – technological progress. The colonized peoples were seen as "primitive" and in need of the "advancement" provided by their more advanced, rational "benefactors." (Regarding this last point, I had something rather interesting happen to me recently that led me to a related insight, but that will have to wait for another essay.)
Returning to the question at hand: recent discoveries in psychology call into serious question this dualistic view of the brain and point to a much more fluid and integrated process. This fact, in turn, calls into question some fundamental beliefs about the nature of our own being. Our tradition is steeped in the vision of primitive as evil; yet in all of nature humans possess the greatest disposition toward calculated cruelty. Rather than seeing the primitive as evil, there is much evidence to believe modern man is more so.
What's the reason for the abhorrent behavior we so fear? The events of this century alone should be enough to dispel the myth of scientific advancement as panacea. Civilized man is responsible for horrors in the last fifty years alone which would most likely stagger any group of indigenous people with shock and disbelief. Obviously, something other than reason is at play in "civilized" society, and yet we cannot call it primitive without promulgating a fallacy.
If one accepts natural selection one must accept the mind, as well as the body, to be the outcome of that process. If we've evolved for eons to be such multifaceted creatures there is a reason. Our need for bonding, our creative instinct, our capacity for spirituality, and on and on are the result of our evolution. What would we logically expect to be the outcome of subjugating such a vital totality for lives devoted to banal acquisition and routine necessity? Because for better or worse, that 's the life we've made for ourselves in modern times. And given such conditions of psychic stress, we might lose our caring about issues such as starvation, mass extinction, and potential ecological collapse? Under such circumstances, we may on some unarticulated level even develop a stake in our own destruction.
Not just the rational elements of our minds, but the entirety of our natures, must have a place in existence in order for life to be worth the struggle. This is the essence of the enigma in which we find ourselves. To exist we must deny the totality of our evolved nature, and deny our need for a quality of life that goes beyond the material and the utilitarian. The thrust of Western culture is toward ever increasing efficiency, with a focus on hard sciences and technology. Such an outlook leaves no place for the total human being, a fact evident in the alienation of young people in our culture – an alienation that is likely to become more acute as time goes on.
It's interesting to note that many of the most influential thinkers in Western culture, from Socrates to Beethoven, from Darwin to Einstein, have been social outcasts. The creative spirit arises through the integrated being. Without this integration, reason may produce craft, but never art. Thus, society has benefited most from those incapable of accepting its underlying axioms. It is a tremendous paradox that we most esteem those who've been held in the greatest contempt during their own lifetimes. Those in tune with the totality of their being increasingly lie outside orthodox conceptions regarding the nature of existence.
This point is clearly illustrated in the dilemma posed by the computer. If human status in society is based upon our rational and related pragmatic abilities, what is our place when we create machines better at these things than we are ourselves? Many may scoff at this idea, but the day is clearly on the horizon when artificial intelligence will be a reality. If we don't assert our totality of being and again cultivate a place for ourselves in the natural order, we risk creating more alienation and desperation than we can endure. So it's an open question whether technology will serve us, or whether we will serve it. Some of the clearest insights into this dilemma come from perspectives outside our culture. The following words by Native Americans speak for themselves:
"My young men shall never work. Men who work cannot dream; and wisdom comes to us in dreams. You ask me to plough the ground. Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's breast? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest. You ask me to dig for stone. Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again. You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like white men. But how dare I cut off my mother's hair?"
"They (the white men) spoke very loudly when they said their laws were made for everybody; but we learned that although they expected us to keep them, they thought nothing of breaking them themselves. They told us not to drink whisky, yet they made it themselves and traded it to us for furs and robes until both were nearly gone. Their wise ones said that we might have their religion, but when we tried to understand it we found that there were too many kinds of religion among the white man for us to understand, and that scarcely any two white men agreed which was the right one to learn. This bothered us a great deal until we saw that the white man did not take his religion any more seriously then he did his laws, and that he kept both of them just behind him like helpers, to use when they might do him good in his dealings with strangers. These were not our ways. We kept the laws we made and lived our religion. We have never been able to understand the white man, who fools nobody but himself." 
"I had learned many English words and could recite part of the ten commandments. . . I had also learned (from the white man) that a person thinks with his head instead of his heart." 
Many similar criticisms were made by other Native Americans. They saw in our culture a lack of internal constancy, a vortex in which material advancement and rationalization had supplanted spirituality, had often supplanted even love. The degree of this may be glimpsed in the denial of internal truth, the repression of internal honesty which underlies our daily lives, and perhaps reaches its zenith in our socialization of young men. In modern culture, the more a young man denies his instinct for compassion toward all living things, the more he is deemed to be a man. The true self is systematically repressed beneath an artificial facade. The more one follows this path of socialization, the more remote one becomes from the true self, until at last the true self becomes truncated or even destroyed, and all that is left is the facade.
Everyone knows that none of us feel at liberty to express the true substance of our thoughts and feelings. This voluntary repression is the central and untouchable axiom of our lives. When as children we ask why we cannot say what we truly think, we're told it's impolite, and that it will hurt peoples' feelings. This courtesy seems a trifling nicety to exchange for making our whole lives a lie and miring us in perpetual misunderstanding, but what can be done? The code is universal. We accept it or pay the price. Personally, I've never heard a child utter in honesty anything half so objectionable as those mostly repressed beliefs and resentments underlying much of the adult world. If we're honest with ourselves, we will see that our socialization of children has less to do with elevating them than it has to do with perpetuating a culture of denial and deceit for reasons we don't ourselves clearly understand. We hyper-accentuate the rational to rationalize our responsibility for crimes against the spirit.
One might interpret this as an argument against reason, against scientific inquiry, or even as an argument for something as abhorrent as theocracy. It is none of those. Without reason, humanity is crippled. The sheer success of science and reason as tools in the material world has led to their elevation above all other aspects of human nature. But no matter how we wish it so, reason will never be the determining factor in human actions. To have a future we must accept that people act out of the state of their emotional being. The essential health of the spirit determines if those actions are beneficial or destructive, and no amount of rational argument will alter that fact.
To address the increasingly complicated problems facing mankind in the coming century we must address the dis-order in our individual souls, the denial of our totality, which lies at the root of our self-destruction. We must see that our perception of collective sanity and normality are just as relative as is our perception of physical motion, and that the approach we learned and that we have taken in the past isn't necessarily the best course.
We, and not nature, are now the most potent force of this planet influencing our destiny. Therefore it seems imperative that we must turn the focus of our inquiry away from the physical world and toward the inner world of the mind and spirit. Because conscious awareness resides primarily in the part of us linked to speech and reason, the underlying emotional forces that drive us to do what we do remain largely a mystery. No amount of political or scientific effort focused on the external world can solve problems that arise first and foremost in we ourselves. And so we are thrown again back to the time of Socrates, and his injunction "know thyself" – only now the stakes are nothing less than human survival itself.

(October 1995)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Riding on the Storm

Having completed my volume of collected essays, 2014 to 2017, I determined I needed to re-access my original purpose in writing this blog. I first conceived it as a place where I, along with others, could post writing in progress, and contributors could offer each other constructive criticism in a friendly atmosphere. Yet it didn't evolve along those lines. Rather, it evolved into a place where I alone have posted work in progress (along with some finished work), and though I've received a lot of interest in the blog, I've received relatively little criticism, and no submissions from other writers. So on the one hand it's been successful in attracting a readership, while on the other it hasn't worked out as I first intended.

As a result I've decided to change the format to one more logical, and I hope more enjoyable for the reader. I've decided to publish my books here one chapter (or essay, or poem, respectively) at a time, and delete the old when I post the new. I'll post the new work every week, on Thursday evening whenever possible. Otherwise, I 'll post as close to that time as I can.

I'm changing the format primarily so people can read my completed works without having to buy them. I believe the novels are worthy of more exposure than they've received, and in serializing the new work of essays, when it comes out, I hope to interest people in that book as well. I believe a writer must focus on writing in order to produce work of real value, and in making that attempt I've been unable to devote significant time to promotion. Thus, the books have had only limited exposure. All I hope is that readers will enjoy the work enough to buy a copy for themselves, and/or recommend it to others.

Those who do find these works of interest can buy them from Amazon, as well as from many other online booksellers in paperback, or on Amazon Kindle, at the very reasonable price of $3.00

Thank you all for your continuing interest.


"The Broken World," Part Three, Chapter Fifteen



But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

—John Keats


Gail at Home

The light of a pale November morning filtered through the parted curtains of Ryan’s living room in Albuquerque. Byrd’s cousin Gail sat in silence and looked through the window at an empty playground across the street. The scene added to her loneliness, and something about the way the frost lay on the still-green grass left her feeling forsaken. She pictured herself playing in the park with the other children, swinging on the swing set in the cold, but she knew that this would never happen. The other children in the neighborhood had never accepted her, and anyway, she was too old now to play in the playground.
She had pretended to be sick so she could stay home from school, or at least half pretended to be sick. For quite a while she had been having stomachaches, but they were no worse on this particular morning than usual. The doctor had said it was just nerves and had prescribed tranquilizers, but she had to stop taking them because they made her sleepy, and then her mother, Cora, wouldn’t let up on her for being lazy.
At school they teased her for her plain looks and the way she walked with her braces and for her slight stutter, which had been getting gradually worse. Sometimes they caught her in the hall or at recess and pulled her hair or tripped her when she wasn’t looking, and one day she had come home with blood on her dress because a boy in her class had shoved her into the gravel, and she cut her elbow. Cora was furious that she had stained her dress and made her stay in her room without dinner.
It had always been a mystery to her why her mother hated her so much. She knew that it was partly because she was crippled and that her mother hated the idea of her daughter being defective, and it was also partly because of Cora’s frightening sense of competitiveness. She simply couldn’t stand the thought that her daughter didn’t, in some way that she could see, excel. Because Gail reminded her mother of her first marriage, which Cora loathed to remember, Gail knew that she vented her anger on her; but even all of that, Gail thought couldn’t explain the intensity of her aversion.
The desertion of her mother filled her with deep shame, with the conviction that there was something irredeemably wrong with her that she could never atone for. Her single consolation was the fading memory of her father, whose resonant voice, with its peculiar, tremulous quality, was always a comfort to her. She hoped secretly that someday he would take her back, that there would be a phone call, and then she would be on her way to Alaska to be with him. But the phone call never came.
Taking off her glasses, she wiped tears out of her eyes. Little whirlwinds of fine, gritty snow had begun swirling outside in the park. They seemed to dance in choreographed patterns. Again, she was overwhelmed with loneliness, and yet it felt good to be alone—there was at least a certain peace in loneliness.
Everything in the house was both familiar and foreign to her because first there had been her own family, her father, mother, and herself; and then there was the new legitimate family. Her stepsisters tried to be as nice to her as the atmosphere allowed; and their things, scattered here and there, were reassuring. The fur hood she had worn as a toddler rested on a shelf in the living room, and her childhood toys still decorated her bedroom. Everything else was foreign: the utilitarian furniture which was so ugly to her, Ryan’s chemistry books, the plastic “china,” the kitchen gadgets that no one ever used. The house was filled with things cold, practical, and matter of fact devoid of anything that expressed the spirit.
“Oh, God, I’m lonely,” she said quietly.
The words came involuntarily; and the emptiness of the house, or at least the absence of her mother and father, a relief at first, revealed itself in its dead indifference.
She remembered the cabin on the lake in Alaska and her mother and father fighting; and she remembered the winter, the endless darkness, and a dog named Sasha that kept her company. The dog was a beautiful white husky with the most stunning blue-gray eyes. Once, she had gotten lost in the spruce forest that surrounded the lake. The trees seemed to go on endlessly, and she loved the fragrance of the air and the cold sweetness of the snow. Walking along on the little snowshoes her father had made for her, she felt both apprehensive and enchanted by the endless snow and the way the sun reflected from the frost on the needles of the trees, creating prisms of shimmering light. When her father finally found her, she told him that she wasn’t scared.
“You’re my brave girl!” he said, and she remembered feeling proud and wonderful. That was the last time she remembered feeling proud of anything, and the memory kept her going. She hoped that either he would take her back or, if that wasn’t possible, she might at least live with Amelia for a while.
Gradually, she came to equate the distant love of her father with the love of God. At first, it came out of a feeling of desperation and hopelessness; but later it became more conscious, part of her foundation. More and more, when she could escape for a while, she went to her room and read the Bible, an opening into a loving presence that she was otherwise deprived of. Cora ignored Gail’s reaching out to religion completely, and Ryan neither approved nor disapproved. He was an atheist, but anything that diverted responsibility away from him was not unwelcome. Although his feelings toward Gail were tinged with guilt, for the most part he was indifferent. She was not his daughter and didn’t reflect the things he admired in life. Clearly, she was not cut out to be one of the winners. Besides, he felt, his conscience should be free, because he was not completely unsympathetic. After all, he did offer her a place in his home and the very practical support of three square meals a day. There were millions of children in the world who didn’t know where their next meal was coming from—at least she was taken care of, and he could take pride in that. Occasionally, after having a few whiskeys on a pleasant evening, he even felt a warm glow in regard to his own generosity.
A man like me doesn’t neglect his responsibilities anyway! he thought to himself. A lot of men would say, “She’s not my daughter, so the hell with her!” Really, she’s lucky that I’m her stepfather and not some son of a bitch who doesn’t even have a job. This way she’s taken care of.
In light of this generosity, Ryan had started to reconsider attending church because he had begun to sense that atheism wasn’t a completely respectable stance in the community, and any form of deviation hurt one’s chances in life. No one was more acutely aware of this than he was, so paying a little deference to the church might not be a bad idea. Possibly he could even make some connections there that would be advantageous. He knew that a lot of people in Albuquerque had knowledge of military contracts that would affect stock prices, and the church was a good place to meet them.

For Gail, this vision of God was more and more necessary for her survival. In her mind, God’s love mingled with the memory of her father’s love when she was lost in the spruce trees, and she felt God coming to protect her the way her father had in the snow. At those moments the world seemed filled with infinite love.
Since spring, Gail had felt that something was going to change in her life. Her relationship with her mother was worse than ever, no matter how hard she tried to change, to improve, to be somebody other than herself.
Still looking out the window, her eyes filled with tears, and she wept without restraint.
“I try!” she said. “I try!”
Lately she had heard them talking about her, but the conversation would abruptly stop when she came into the room, and her half sisters seemed unusually sad and subdued. When she tried to draw them out, the girls looked nervous and left the room. They, also, were fearful of Ryan and Cora, and Gail worried about them. Any love in the house was contingent upon performance of one kind or another, and the other girls had to compete for it desperately.
As Gail thought about these things, again, the uncertainty about her life and her shame at her inadequacy came back to her again in a wave; and she cried out, “Oh, Daddy, Daddy, why don’t you come to get me? Don’t you care? Don’t you remember me? Don’t you love me? Doesn’t anybody want me? Oh, God! Oh, God!”
Outside, the snow fell harder, obscuring the empty world.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2008 Brent Hightower
Image* Zdzislaw Beksinski