Flashback: Miami, 1992 (Spring)
I’d just graduated at Duke and back in Miami to visit my parents (and experience Hurricane Andrew) before my upcoming trip to India. I met with a gorgeous and sexy hippie chick that I’d melted with in 1989, my second Summer of Love, and she took me to a tech-savvy holistic alternative medicine healer.
It was a glorious experience because I encountered the greatest computer ever made. All my favorite ideas from Theosophy, hypnosis, animal magnetism, and Orgone were all rolled up into a single machine that looked like it was just teleported from the Gernsback continuum.
According to animal magnetism and early models of hypnosis, consciousness is a substance that can be mechanically influenced. And according to post-Theosophy and Indophilic metaphysics, the body is sheathed in “subtle energies”—the American rehash of the five Koshas and three Bodies.
Her healing technology combined just the best of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science. For only $240 I could have my body and my very soul analyzed by The Analyzer.
The Analyzer was a giant computer—a box of chrome and white plastic—and the centerpiece of her office. It looked like what a 1960s Japanese sci-fi movie would use to represent “a computer.” It had a hole for a test tube on one end, a printer at the other, and a monitor and keyboard on top. The insides were filled with Tootsie rolls and piano wires.
A tube of blood goes in one end, and everything about you comes out the other. And it worked—in the sense that it contained a random number generator and a library of pre-written results, so different serum inputs really did produce different printouts. Above it was a shelf holding twelve volumes of handsomely bound instructions.
The woman was pushing the machine very hard. She really believed in it. Why? Because she spent $10,000 on it. She had a library of manuals telling her how to use the machine and—most importantly—explaining why it was valid. Like a medieval theologian, she was thoroughly learned expert about a vast realm of pure metaphor. She was in deep—it had to work.
As always, I played along as she explained how the machine gathered information from the prana in your blood and “provided a complete analysis of the whole person at all levels—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.” I asked her to explain in detail how it worked and … that was the end of the conversation.
If you ever feel discouraged about your position in life, remember this: You could have been a placebo zombie. You could have been a crusader of the worst kind of bad faith—knowingly believing a lie. The comfort of belonging to a cult of placeboic optimism, and of identifying-with its hope-inspiring shortcuts, is a short-lived. Worse, it also fucks up other areas of your life. (As when the cancer patient gets psychic surgery in the Philippines instead of chemo and later dies because the cancer remained untreated.)
Aside from being short-lived and debilitating to our other struggles, believing what one knows to be a lie has another price: integrity. The price of bad faith is a kind of high-level insanity, because you are affirming a logical impossibility (A and not-A). The price of loving truth is existential angst, which is painful in a different way.
We have a duty to reject the truth of the placebo and embrace the absence of shortcuts. Existential angst is painful, but it is the good Kantian pain that comes from prioritizing the deontological. You know it is right because it hurts volitionally even as it soothes logically. And that pain is your reward. The existential angst of non-identification with comforting lies is the feeling of accuracy. Angst is a reward-signal that arises when you affirm with your will what you know with your reason.