Pushing Back the Vertical Frontier of Cosmic Slack
To put it conversely, if there is no surplus, then all our time is spent attending to our most basic and primitive needs. No matter how much spiritual or intellectual potential you possess, you need protein and fat to maintain the brain and glucose to run it. Therefore, the realm of biological necessity is in one sense at odds with the realm of slack, but in another sense, the foundation or boundary condition for its emergence.
Analogously, an automobile relies on necessity in order to facilitate freedom. The engine, steering, and brakes all work because of the laws of physics, which we then transcend by using the car to take us where we want to go. Obviously, our free choices are not conditioned in the same manner as the internal workings of the automobile.
But as we've discussed in the past, that mysterious space between the laws of nature and the interior world of man is everything. Without it, there is no space of contemplation, no distance between impulse and expression, no possibility of introspection. So naturally -- or so it seems to me -- as that space becomes more expansive or available to more people, it's going to have profound consequences, both individually and collectively.
Again, the post-World War II generation -- the boomers -- were born into a world of unprecedented slack. This may sound exaggerated or maybe even funny, but it is absolutely true. There is simply no comparison between, say, my father's childhood and my own. He grew up on a small farm in rural England with no indoor plumbing or central heating, and had an 8th grade education before he was expected to join the anonymous ranks of hard labor.
His own father no doubt had even less slack, in that he worked for the British railway, which I'm guessing involved six days a week, twelve hours a day, until they hand you the watch and you have your heart attack.
But the unique economic circumstances of the post World War II US economy opened up a huge vein of cosmic slack. It is precisely because so many people were no longer tied down to the world of necessity that we see the sudden appearance of various countercultural movements that have culminated in a truly worthless person such as Obama making it to the top of the heap.
He is worthless because instead of using his slack in spiritually, intellectually or economically productive ways, he has used it to attack the very conditions that made it possible, while pursuing every policy that will directly diminish our slack-freedom. In short, he has used his slack to diminish the slack of others, which is an unforgivable cosmic crime for which he will have to answer in the postbiological world.
What is slack? Slack is what I am doing right now: just relaxing in the comfort of my own mental space, with no interior or exterior persecutors telling me what to do. It is Nothing, and yet Everything, depending upon what you do with it.
Lindsey suggests that the Fall of Man was a "descent into necessity." And this is indeed one way to look at it, since in our prelapsarian state we lived off whatever nature provided, but afterwards had to toil by the sweat of our brow to earn our bread. It says that this situation will prevail until we "return to the ground," which I suppose can be taken in two ways: until we are dead and buried, or until we return to Eckhart's primordial ground of slack.
This morning, while driving the boy to school, he asked how much money one has to have in order to be rich. I said that it all depends on the person, which means that wealth is a quality, even a state of mind, not a mere quantity. For a person with few needs, it isn't hard to be wealthy, but the more desires one has, the more money one requires in order to satisfy them.
I added that there are people who spend their lives trying to become wealthy, under the assumption that it wall make them happy. But since they spent their lives in the pursuit of wealth instead of cultivating the habit of happiness, it ends up backfiring.
Even a middle class person in America lives "on the far side of a great fault line, in what prior ages would have considered a dreamscape of miraculous extravagance" (Lindsey). Accompanying this shift was the change "from a scarcity-based mentality of self-restraint to an abundance-based mentality of self-expression."
Lindsey relates this to Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs, which ranges from basic physiological needs at the bottom to things like creativity and spontaneity at the top. However, the pyramid has a number of flaws that I would revise. The first thing I'd do is turn it the other way around to form a V-shape, in order to emphasize that as we ascend, the space becomes wider and more expansive. In other words, slack increases as we push back the vertical horizon.
Also, you will no doubt have noticed that many if not most people use their abundance not to ascend, but in order to try to widen out the narrow base of the pyramid. In other words, imagine someone who merely uses their wealth to satisfy more elaborate physiological needs. But there's nothing one can really do to make that world any roomier.
I mean, you can push back the margins a little, but the best way to do this is via discipline and physical fitness vs. mere indulgence. If one is physically fit, one feels "well" or "content" in that psychophysiological space, and can then use it as a more effective vertical launch pad.
You will also have noticed that when this space opened up in the 1950s, there was indeed a kind of bifurcation in horizontal and vertical directions. Horizontally we had the "sexual revolution," various liberation movements, public defecation masquerading as art, etc. But there was also a legitimate unleashing of spiritual energies.
For example, I have no doubt that this blog can be traced back to those liberating energies. Although there have been detours along the way, the overall thrust of my life has been using this extraordinarily rare gift of slack for vertical exploration and colonization. If you have slack you should try to give it back, not waste it, let alone steal it from others.