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Nutty folk…and the invisible world

We all predict the future all the time, for better or for worse. Mostly we use the tried and tested method of assuming the future will pretty much resemble the present. We might take note of a rising trend and extrapolate a little- and that looks like a cleverer thing to do than saying nothing will change. 


By ‘predict’ I don’t really mean in the Nostradamus sense, I mean ‘act as if such a prediction were made’. So when we plan our holidays in Croatia we are acting as if we have predicted Croatia will be trouble free and holiday friendly in six months or so. 


The greatest acts of prediction must be with relationships and property. When we get married we are predicting spending a lifetime with someone. Through thick and thin. When we buy a house on a mortgage we are predicting the house will still be worth something in thirty years time. And that we will be able to pay for it. Quite a prediction!


But what if we want to extend our predictive powers and try and compete with such master predicters as Marshall McLuhan and Herman Kahn (who, though nutty, was very spot on about many things). In fact both of them were nutty. In fact maybe being nutty is a precondition of being good at predicting.


Though I want to like everything McLuhan writes some of it- maybe 20% is plain unintelligible without very close reading and an investigation of his special use of homemade terminology. He coins or adopts words then uses them in telegraphic sentences to build a sweeping arcing projection of the future which sometimes is uncannily accurate and sometimes plain bonkers. His predictions in The Global Village of data harvesting and internet shopping were thirty years ahead of the game. If you can successfully predict 30 years on you must be doing something right.


Nuttiness. Which means in this context neither academically acceptable nor artistically licensed. A strange hinterland is occupied. A place where the mind can soar and no one will laugh, well they WILL laugh but that mustn’t put you off. The role of tribal seer is attractive to many- note the rise of this post in the postmodern age and the movement towards what McLuhan identified as the re-tribalising of the West. For him that explained the move from political leader to tribal chieftain figure (you know who they are), the rise of drum based music, pop festivals and the increasing influence of non-whitebread culture.


Tribal seer. Oracle. The consultant as witchdoctor- influence without responsibility. It is less about predicting the future than WANTING to be seen to be predicting the future. Is there any difference between a futurist and a man who says he knows when it will rain?


What other tribal roles are emerging in the re-tribalising West? The chieftain, the seer, the master of ceremonies or leader of revels perhaps? The purpose of the Tribe is to celebrate being in the tribe. Ritual wars, or more likely raids, are staged on neighboring tribes to diversify and entertain the youth. Also to supply young men with a rite of passage- which is itself a substitute for the very real knowledge needed to survive in a world of large and dangerous predators. Or more likely we have a conflation of two necessities- survival skills plus the secret knowledge of the tribe’s evolutionary path.


By which I mean, a gang or loose affiliation of angry young men can for a while coalesce around rites of passage but they can in no way sustain a community unless there is some defined path to enlightenment of various kinds. A knowledge path that sees only its barest parallel in the advanced degrees of the left-brain world. These degrees, which proliferate now in a desperate way to differentiate people in a world where the real is elsewhere, serve only to take us further from the invisible. The tribe, in contrast, provides men and women with ways to advance in the invisible world.


In a way you could say the whole problem of living is how we conceptualise, and make peace with, the invisible world. I think the haunting power of David Sylvian’s song Ghosts is a recognition that we in the developed West have but a paltry knowledge of how to manage the invisible, once mainstream religion was forced into massive retreat. 


Science of course, with its visual probing and measuring seeks to make the invisible visible – but that just extends the problem rather than solving it. The invisible, that which we cannot see and barely conceptualise, given its best though equally damaging metaphor in Freud’s notion of the unconscious, is something we can only approach through the tribal gateway. Notice the proliferation of gate forms in the ancient world- and in places like Japan with its Mon gates even today- the right way to approach is seen as almost the most important thing.


The tribal mindset or angle of approach starts from an assumption of wholeness and connection between all aspects of the situation. Progress is one of breaking and reforming existing and known relationships. The spiral rather than the arrow is the image of progress. Circling a situation, following the seasons and yet moving in and out to get a slightly different focus. The labyrinth, the cup and ring gravure are all variations on the spiral that also appears in carvings and ayahuasca and other shamanic dreams the world over. The holographic notion of progress, of adding intensity rather than detail, a thing known is known better. It is known in greater and greater significance. In the often analagous world of martial arts a top teacher can express something as simple as saying ‘you must attack with no thought of defence, defence will take care of itself’ and those words can have a huge significance to some owing to years of training and reflection but mean nothing to a new recruit- who will only learn to parrot them (with the fond hope they will later remember them and connect the dots). Many mystical traditions insist on learning things, informing oneself sufficiently well that when the time comes the true significance of a sentence or two in terms of its connections and importance will cause a synaptic circle to be joined.


Man moves towards hope and towards zones of greater meaning. If the extant official world rather excitingly denies these things owing to the speed of the current changes and disruptions in the orderly nature of living then we must dive off the highway and take to our all terrain vehicles, so to speak. There is some rough living ahead and yet by embracing the tribal perspective and letting go of orderly lettered and automated left brain man we have only our chains (of logical reasoning) to lose.

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