Look

I’ve for the most part been sitting down, these last sixteen months. I’ve been writing a book, which partly explains it. I’m hardly going anywhere. No plan I make survives the news. All that sitting makes for numbness, here and there, now and then. Occasionally I try to mobilize. Maybe something comes in that’s upsetting, or disarming, or crazy. That’s when I find out which parts are numb, and unresponsive, or prone to spasm. I rise up, and begin falling over myself.

That, short and sweet, is a parable. I recognize these times in it. My times, too.

The other day I received a proviso in the mail, a petition of a kind and, ever so subtly, a warning. Someone was concerned about an interview I did in London, maybe three years ago. It wasn’t the interview per se that bothered the person. He seemed to like it, in a glancing sort of way. What bothered him was the fact that we had it up on the Orphan Wisdom site. More specifically, that we still had it up. The interviewer was Brian Rose, the programme was called London Real. In the petitioner’s view, Brian Rose had discredited himself pretty thoroughly in the time since he interviewed me, and this rendered the interview now degraded, despicable and unworthy of consideration. He said that Brian Rose had ‘hurt a lot of people’. He didn’t say how many, nor how he knew. Let’s say the number doesn’t matter much. Me having this interview up, he said, could easily lead people to Rose, and so to hurt and manipulation and I don’t know what all. So, by that reasoning, I am  (for the moment, until I received this note) an unwitting accomplice to the man’s chicanery, making it easier than it would be for people to be taken advantage of. Because of the history, and because the interview’s on our website, I’m abetting the larceny. I am a dupe of sorts, and I’m in on it. And wouldn’t it be an awful thing for my work to take on the whiff of the tainted Brian Rose. And what about my ‘followers’? 

Complicated stuff. Or is it? Not if you don’t want it to be.

Solution? Disappear the interview. Of course. Get it gone.

The p.s. that came with the warning: I should check out the Rose site myself, to see how egregious the whole thing is. Of course, if by some sleight of hand the good guys could wipe the web clean of Brian Rose, I wouldn’t be able to ‘check it out for myself’. I’d have to take it from them that he was one of the bad guys. What’s the plan?, I wonder.

So I’ve been weighing these things, wondering what my part is in this passion play, what my obligations are as someone with a website and (last time I was out on the road, at least) something of an audience.

The great victory song of advertising: Made You Look. By the time they make us look, we’re halfway to buying in. They’re sure of that. Well, the Internet is the biggest box store yet, taking our temperature when we enter and watching our every move while we’re there. The arrangement is body-cammed till Kingdom Come. Thanks to the me-phones and the credit cards, it’s all traceable. They can hear us think, and worry, and want. The fire hose of information and stuff sucks in more than it spews, as hard as that is to imagine. 

And in that box store, our attention has become our currency. By those metrics, we buy by clicking, by opening. We buy by looking. 

But there’s more: we approve by looking. It’s a devalued currency, to be sure, but it’s the bitcoin of the common man or woman, or adolescent or child or infant. The advertisers win, every time. The Internet, including the content, might be 95% advertising by now.

Now, if you’re a direct action opponent of the arrangement, what do you do? Well, you could try to cultivate and carry on public conversations about the merits and malfeasance of this crude and bizarre arrangement, and task people with the work of reconsidering their emotional and intellectual and spiritual buying habits. You could go with learning, in other words, which is slow moving, often disappointing, inefficient. Or you could make it hard or next to impossible for people to look. If you go for Door Number Two, you cancel the reprehensible till Kingdom Come. You leave dust and cinders, and a chilling cautionary tale.

I’m not an elected official. I’m not unelected, either. The bizarre accountability theatrics of that realm are not binding upon me. What does bind me is the clutch of responsibilities due of a devout citizen of a troubled place and time. My citizenship is short on rights, as things stand, long on dues. The spirit work of our time includes translating those responsibilities into a lucid action that prompts wakefulness, much more than it prompts doubling down on conviction.

When we wipe the smudged slate clean, what happens to our capacity for critical inquiry? It’s traded in for user-friendly opprobrium, which is wildly satisfying and a remarkable ally of the adrenal system. What happens to our memories? It’s Etcha Sketch all ’round. Just tip it upside down, and shake. Presto. A safe new start. 

                                    “Hey, whatever happened to that thing you didn’t like?” 

                                    “What thing?”

                                     “Yeah, right.”

So, for the sake of the record, and for the sake of anyone in the coming generations who’d pay it any mind, the Brian Rose interview is still up. I’m treating you with the respect due a grownup. This is a complicated business, the manipulation of image and nuance and medium and the rest. You need your wits. They’re not easy to muster and mobilize if you can’t see. They get numb. Have a look if you want. Don’t buy anything, or approve of anything, or join anything. Just have a look. There are two or more hours of me contending with the setting, the posture, the questions. Nobody got conned. I had a good sense of what I was up against. He wanted to talk about death, and he’d read Die Wise. I’ll give him his due. That doesn’t happen all the time.  

I don’t know where Brian Rose sits in the cathedral, the Big Box Store, of shady characters that haunt the shadows of the Internet and grope the clientele, if he’s in there at all. I appreciated the chance to wonder aloud. I acquitted myself respectfully, though there were a couple of questionable moments. I was a guest. I wasn’t lunch. We’re not that frail, not that easy to break, when we take up the work of citizenship in this, a strained and troubled time, when we treat each other like grownups.

Stephen Jenkinson
Founder of Orphan Wisdom