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Those Bonfires of Taboo

One of the most persistent triumphs of our modern way of life is the fostered impression that there is really no other successful way to thrive, and that our proud skyscrapers, impersonal healthcare systems, bland paved roads, lonely office cubicles, glitzy shopping malls, genetically modified foods, heavily standardized school tests, arbitrary taxes, and electrified state borders truly represent an advanced way to organize our experiences – an inevitably superior model of being.

Consequently, we grow up knowing everything we need to know about life in our first few years at school. We learn first that we must go to school, and that in school we must do well in order to get to a bigger school – and that if we do well in that bigger school, we will earn a gate pass into a very organized world of ties, memos and ticking clocks; however, during this time, for reasons not exactly well articulated in our school notebooks, we will fall in love, get married, settle down into heteronormativity, and then try to master the elusive art of relating with another human being in ways decidedly proper to a job system that would rather do without relationships altogether. Of course, as we climb this steep pyramid, we – in an unequivocally miraculous sabotage of all those years of conditioning – sometimes entertain secret dreams of living wild and free, of exploring our queerness, of running away with our loved one, of screaming at our bosses and tossing away the rude alarm clock by our bedside, of dancing naked with feet unshod on a wet street, of writing a book, of baking a cake, of traveling around the world and remembering the strange feeling of surprise, of ingesting that much-talked-about indigenous psychedelic plant, of tenderly nurturing a seed and watching it grow, of knowing the stories our ancestors once told by a flowing river. We fan these bonfires of taboo in our dark places and caress these paramours when no one is looking.

But everyone is looking. Everyone knows about these hidden festivals of mutiny because what we conveniently call the system is every one of us. Yet, those who decide they have a world to gain from our compliance contrive a masterful scheme to get us to focus on maintaining these realities. They do this not by blowing out our flames – they cannot; they do this – oftentimes inadvertently – by igniting new plastic flames of spectacle and mystery’s sway, wherein lies enticing new prospects. Soon, we decide that what we really want is a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger office, a holiday, loads of money, a promotion, a PhD, insurance, protection, the body of a celebrity, or the power of a politician. We tell ourselves, gazing into these flames – with our backs facing our little bonfires – that this is what we really want. And so the system propagates itself, tames our wildness, conditions our expectations, criminalizes our hopes, and desacralizes our stories – and promises a mass-produced, all-too-familiar heaven for those who abide faithfully within its hell.

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And yet, in spite of the fact that our wildness is moralized in childhood, adjusted in school, interdicted in the world of work, and recalled only on our deathbeds and in obituary pamphlets, we breathe: though, drunken with disenchantment, repressed by endless routine, caged by the assumed inevitability of a single story, educated into the politics of adulthood, trained to see our relationships as second place to the oh-so-fantastic utopia we are supposedly inventing together, and told that the world we have summoned is ‘necessary’ and only needing a few minor adjustments, we still manage to smile occasionally at the forlorn stranger. We manage to look away from the protocols and control measures of the workplace to perform one act of bureaucratic kindness for the lady who doesn’t qualify. We manage to see – once in a while – through the eyes of the crazy lunatic prancing up and down the street; we manage to sit through class copying endless notes of ideas that are easily obtained on the internet for free; we manage to hold a loved one with the embrace of warmth that eclipses the chill of being in this world.

That’s how I know we will thrive. It’s because our human experiences are fantastically resilient – burning bright even in the midst of artificial light…burning strong, like a taboo at night. It’s because we recognize that life is not to be prepared for as such, but to be improvised – an invitation to experiment with the wonderful, fleeting transience of aliveness, an invitation to taste disappointment and bliss, insignificance and sadness, love tempered by shadows, darkness sprinkled with stars. It’s because we are always more than the stories we invent – splinters of awareness from playgrounds of multidimensionality; it’s because we are conspirers with the unknown, creators of our own origins, and children of the moments beyond us. Most importantly, it’s because the systems that occupy us demand it: and one day, against all odds, we will find ourselves and feel our bodies again in the prison houses we furnished with our own lives; then we will discover the hidden scripts that shaped us, and – in a gesture of transcendence – we will save ‘the system’…by turning it off.