I woke up in a cheap motel room with that most horrid of afflictions: an utterly positive conviction that, at its core, life is empty and meaningless. My friend Tina tells me this means I am a monk.
The emptiness is called different things in different cultures. When we scramble to make up a story and set out to convince ourselves of its reality, the emptiness is the hole in the donut. It is existential angst, the void, the chasm, the pit of hell, the absolute, the nothing beyond nothing, the vast empty reaches of space, the white space between words. When we accept it and use it’s truth to find our way back to the One, it is nirvana, enlightenment, spiritual awakening, transcendence, God-consciousness, cool as hell.
In order to stave off the horrid truth, people flock together under the banners of stories. When they do it on a mass scale, it’s called a “culture.” I forget who wrote it first, but culture can be defined as a group with a common interpretation of a myth. For example, American culture interprets the Adam and Eve myth as direct evidence that God wants us to use sex to sell products.
You never have to wonder “what is reality?” again. I’m gong to tell you right now. Humans cluster together under the banner of a common story to gain an iron-clad illusion of power. Within such a cluster, we become utterly convinced of the rules of a “reality,” we are absolutely certain about the “truth,” and we know without a shadow of a doubt what is “right” and what is “wrong.” In simpler terms, reality is a Front created by a clusterfuck.
The children of postmodernism resist this notion. They sidestep classification, avoid conceptual traps, and make it darn hard for advertising executives to concoct successful ad campaigns. But, heading into the home stretch – that place where we partner up, start popping out babies, and get real worried – they succumb to group-think. Selling-out is the ticket to the American Dream Show.
We are ushered into a clusterfuck at an early age, before we realize there is something beyond our own egocentric being, and, so, without question we adopt the rules of our culture and make them our own. The Gestalt guys pinpoint this as the beginning of psychosis. Don Miguel Ruiz calls it “False Agreements.” R.D. Laing illuminated the role of education in this process. “We start with the children. We must corrupt their innocent little minds, and make them think just like us a quickly as possible.” I’m painting a dark picture here because Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “The purpose of philosophy is to show the fly the way out of the fly bottle.” Apparently, several cultures outside of our own catch flies in bottle traps.
Forget the recession. Forget the dozen dirty little wars. This is Absolutely the Greatest Time to be Alive in the United States Ever. (AGTA-USE) Let me tell you why: Vibrant Subcultures. The Great American Sport has become re-creating ourselves. Sorry baseball, your time has come and gone, despite Don Delilo’s best efforts. We side-step the false agreements that kept us safe in our dysfunctional homes, affirm our bad-ass magnificence, and band together in subcultures. A decade ago, your granny looked over her glasses and said, “Well, isn’t that interesting.” Today, she jumps on her Harley, picks up her old man, and rides down to Hills Café to listen to Billy Joe Shaver sing Georgia on a Fast Train.
What defines a culture is the way it interprets a myth. Austin, Texas, especially South Austin, is a place where great value is placed upon personal interpretation. Most people here are media savvy, and they don't buy the Koch Brothers’ version of culture, nor do they secretly think Rupert Murdoch is God. As a result, several different sub-cultures permeate South Austin. Call them circles. I do not pretend to know them all. People here say it's a small town, and sooner or later all the circles intersect. There are cultural circles that center on places – cafes, clubs, yoga studios, motorcycle shops etc. Others center on concepts – Green, spirituality, bulging muscles, being cool as hell, bad-ass motherfuckedness, Art, Cuisine, Being Nice, being stoned, being real stoned, law and order…it does go on and on.
Austin is currently the Greatest Town in the United States of America. This is quite a claim during AGTA-USE. What makes it so is that we all have permission to roam through various sub-cultures, to sample their mythical splendor without getting shot. This is exactly the sort of thing that brings all human together. Austin, as a cultural phenomenon, is the model for the salvation of the human soul.