Terebess Asia Online (tao)

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So he spent most of his time submerged in chaos, knowing that the longer he put off setting into a fixed organization the more difficult it would become. But he felt sure that sooner or later some sort of a format would have to emerge and it would be a better one for his having waited.

Eventually this belief was justified. Periods started to appear when he just sat there for hours and no slips came in - and this, he saw, was at last the time for organizing. He was pleased to discover that the slips themselves made this organizing much easier. Instead of asking 'Where does this metaphysics of the universe begin?' - which was a virtually impossible question -all he had to do was just hold up two slips and ask, 'Which comes first?' This was easy and he always seemed to get an answer. Then he would take a third slip, compare it with the first one, and ask again, 'Which comes first?' If the new slip came after the first one he compared it with the second. Then he had a three-slip organization. He kept repeating the process with slip after slip.

Before long he noticed certain categories emerging. The earlier slips began to merge about a common topic and later slips about a different topic. When enough slips merged about a single topic so that he got a feeling it would be permanent he took an index card of the same size as the slips, attached a transparent plastic index tab to it, wrote the name of the topic on a little cardboard insert that came with the tab, put it in the tab, and put the index card together with its related topic slips. The trays on the pilot berth now had about four or five hundred of these tabbed index cards.

At various times he'd tried all kinds of different things: colored plastic tabs to indicate subtopics and

sub-subtopics; stars to indicate relative importance; slips split with a line to indicate both emotive and rational aspects of their subject; but all of these had increased rather than decreased confusion and he'd found it clearer to include their information elsewhere.

It was fascinating to watch this thing grow. No one that he knew had ever written a whole metaphysics before and there were no rules for doing it and no way of predicting how it would progress.

In addition to the topic categories, five other categories had emerged. Phaedrus felt these were of great importance:

The first was UNASSIMILATED. This contained new ideas that interrupted what he was doing. They came in on the spur of the moment while he was organizing the other slips or sailing or working on the boat or doing something else that didn't want to be disturbed. Normally your mind says to these ideas, 'Go away, I'm busy,' but that attitude is deadly to Quality. The UNASSIMILATED pile helped solve the problem. He just stuck the slips there on hold until he had the time and desire to get to them.

The next non-topical category was called PROGRAM. PROGRAM slips were instructions for what to do with the rest of the slips. They kept track of the forest while he was busy thinking about individual trees. With more than ten-thousand trees that kept wanting to expand to one-hundred thousand, the PROGRAM slips were absolutely necessary to keep from getting lost.

What made them so powerful was that they too were on slips, one slip for each instruction. This meant the PROGRAM slips were random access too and could be changed and resequenced as the need arose without any difficulty. He remembered reading that John Von Neumann, an inventor of the computer, had said the single thing that makes a computer so powerful is that the program is data and can be treated like any other data. That seemed a little obscure when Phaedrus had read it but now it was making sense.

The next slips were the GRIT slips. These were for days when he woke up in a foul mood and could find nothing but fault everywhere. He knew from experience that if he threw stuff away on these days he would regret it later, so instead he satisfied his anger by just describing all the stuff he wanted to destroy and the reasons for destroying it. The GRIT slips would then wait for days or sometimes months for a calmer period when he could make a more dispassionate judgment.

The next to the last group was the TOUGH category. This contained slips that seemed to say something of importance but didn't fit into any topic he could think of. It prevented getting stuck on some slip whose place might become obvious later on.

The final category was JUNK. These were slips that seemed of high value when he wrote them down but which now seemed awful. Sometimes it included duplicates of slips he had forgotten he'd written. These duplicates were thrown away but nothing else was discarded. He'd found over and over again that the junk pile is a working category. Most slips died there but some reincarnated, and some of these reincarnated slips were the most important ones he had.

Actually, these last two piles, JUNK and TOUGH, were the piles that gave him the most concern. The whole thrust of the organizing effort was to have as few of these as possible. When they appeared he had to fight the tendency to slight them, shove them under the carpet, throw them out the window, belittle them, and forget them. These were the underdogs, the outsiders, the pariahs, the sinners of his system. But the reason he was so concerned about them was that he felt the quality and strength of his entire system of organization depended on how he treated them. If he treated the pariahs well he would have a good system. If he treated them badly he would have a weak one. They could not be allowed to destroy all efforts at organization but he couldn't allow himself to forget them either. They just stood there, accusing, and he had to listen.

The hundreds of topics had organized themselves into larger sections, the sections into chapters, and chapters into parts; so that what the slips had organized themselves into finally was the contents of a book; but it was a book whose organization was from the bottom up rather than from the top down. He hadn't started with a master idea and then selected in joe-fashion only those slips that would fit. In this case, 'Joe,' the organizing principle, had been democratically elected by the slips themselves. The JUNK and TOUGH slips didn't participate in this election, and that created an underlying dissatisfaction. But he felt that you can't expect a perfect system of organization of anything. He'd kept the JUNK pile as small as possible without deliberately suppressing it and that was the most anyone could ask.

A description of this system makes it all sound a lot easier than it actually was. Often he got into a situation where incoming TOUGH slips and the JUNK slips would indicate his whole system of making topics was wrong. Some slips would fit in two or three categories and other slips would fit into no categories at all and he began to see that he would have to tear the whole system of organization apart and begin to reorganize it differently, because if he didn't, the JUNK pile and the TOUGH pile and the GRIT pile would start howling at him louder and louder until he had to do it.

Those were bad days, but sometimes the new reorganization would leave the JUNK piles and the TOUGH piles bigger than they were when he started. Slips that had fit the old organization now didn't fit the new one, and he began to see that what he had to do now was go back and redo it all over again the old way. Those were the really bad days.

Sometimes he would start to make a PROGRAM procedure that would allow him to go back where he started, but in the process of making it he saw that the PROGRAM procedure needed modification so he started to modify that, but in the process of modification he saw that the modification needed modification, so he started to modify that, but then he saw that even that was no good, and then just about at this time the phone would ring and it would be someone wanting to sell him something or congratulate him on the previous book he had written or invite him to some conference or get him to lecture somewhere. They were usually well-intended callers, but when he was done with them he would just sit there, blocked.

He began to think that if he just got away from people on this boat and had enough time it would come to him, but it hadn't worked out as well as he'd hoped. You just get other kinds of interruptions. A storm comes up and you worry about the anchor. Or another yacht pulls up and they come over and want to socialize. Or there's a drunken party down on the dock . . . on and on . . .

He got up, went over to the pilot berth, got some more charcoal briquets and put them on the coal stove. It was getting nice and warm now.

He picked up one of the trays and looked at it. The front of it showed rust through the paint. You couldn't keep anything of steel from rusting on a boat, even stainless, and these boxes were ordinary mild-steel sheet metal. He would have to make some new ones out of marine plywood and glue when he had the time. Maybe when he got South.

This tray was the oldest one. It had slips he hadn't looked at for more than a year now.

He brought it over to the table with him.

The first topic, at the very front of the tray, was DUSENBERRY. He looked at it nostalgically. At one time he had thought DUSENBERRY was going to be at the center of the whole book.

After a while he took a blank pad from the back of the tray and wrote on the top slip, 'PROGRAM,' and then under it, 'Hang up everything until Lila gone.' Then he tore the slip off the note pad and put the slip in the front of the PROGRAM pile and put the note pad in the back of the tray. It was important, he'd found, to write a PROGRAM slip for what you are currently doing. It seems unnecessary at the time you are writing it but later when interruptions have interrupted interruptions which have interrupted interruptions you're glad you did it.

The GRIT slips had been saying for months that DUSENBERRY had to go but he never seemed to be able to get rid of it. It just stayed there for what seemed to be sentimental reasons. Now it had been shoved into lesser and lesser importance by incoming slips and was just hanging on, teetering on the edge of the JUNK pile.

He took the whole DUSENBERRY topic section out. The slips were getting brown around the edges and the ink was turning brown too, on the first slip.

It said: 'Verne Dusenberry, Assoc. Prof., English Dept., Montana State College. Died, brain tumor, 1966, Calgary, Alberta.'

He'd made the slip, probably, so he'd remember the year.


Nineteen-sixty-six. My God, how the years had sped up.

He wondered what Dusenberry'd be like now if he'd lived. Not much, maybe. There were signs before he died that he was going downhill, that he'd been at the peak of his powers at about the time Phaedrus knew him in Bozeman, Montana, where they both were members of the English department.

Dusenberry was born in Bozeman and had graduated from the college there, but after twenty-three years on the faculty his assignment was just three sections of freshman composition; no literature courses, no advanced composition courses of any kind. Academically he had long before been placed on the TOUGH pile of scholars whom the department would just as soon have gotten rid of. Tenure was all that saved him from the JUNK pile. He had little to do with the rest of the department socially. Other members seemed to be in various degrees of alienation from him.

This seemed odd to Phaedrus because in his own conversations with him Dusenberry was not at all unsociable. He sometimes looked unsociable with his arched eyebrows and downturned mouth, but when Phaedrus had gotten to know him, Dusenberry was actually gabby in a high-spirited, gleeful, maiden-auntish sort of way. It was a slightly 'gay' style; tart, and somewhat backbiting; and at first Phaedrus thought this was why they were so down on him. Montanans in those days were supposed to look and act like Marlboro ads, but in time Phaedrus saw that wasn't what caused the alienation. It was just Dusenberry's general overall eccentricity. Over the years small eccentric differences in a small college department can grow into big differences, and Dusenberry's differences were not so small. The biggest difference was revealed in a line Phaedrus heard a number of times, a disdainful: 'Oh, yes, Dusenberry . . . Dusenberry and his Indians.'

When Dusenberry spoke of other faculties it was with equal disdain: 'Oh yes, the English department.' But he seldom spoke of them at all. The only subject he spoke about with any sincere enthusiasm was Indians, and particularly the Rocky Boy Indians, the Chippewa-Cree on the Canadian border about whom he was writing his Ph.D. thesis in anthropology. He let it be known that except for the Indians he had befriended for twenty-one of his twenty-three years as a teacher he regarded all these years as a waste of his life.

He was the advisor for all the Indian students at the college and had held this post for as long as anyone could remember. The students were a connecting link. He'd made a point to know their families and visit them and use this as an entry point into their lives. He spent all the weekend and vacation time he could on the reservations, participating in their ceremonies, running errands for them, driving their kids to the hospital when they were sick, speaking to state officials when they got in trouble, and beyond that, completely losing himself into the ways and personalities and secrets and mysteries of these people he loved a hundred times better than his own.

Within a few years when his degree was completed he would be leaving English teaching forever and teaching anthropology instead. One would guess that this would be a happy solution for him, but from what Phaedrus heard it was already apparent that it would not be. He was not only an eccentric in the field of English he was an eccentric in anthropology as well.

The main part of his eccentricity seemed to be his refusal to accept 'objectivity' as an anthropological criterion. He didn't think objectivity had any place in the proper conduct of anthropological study.

This is like saying the Pope has no place in the Catholic Church. In American anthropology that is the worst possible apostasy and Dusenberry was quickly informed of it. Of all the American universities he had applied to for Ph.D. study, every one had turned him down. But rather than change his beliefs he had gone around the whole American university system to Prof. Åke Hultkranz in Uppsala, Sweden's oldest university, and was about to receive his Ph.D. there. Whenever Dusenberry talked about this, a cat-who-ate-the-canary smile would come over his face. An American taking a Ph.D. in Sweden on the Anthropology of American Indians? It was ludicrous!

The trouble with the objective approach,' Dusenberry said, 'is that you don't learn much that way . . . The only way to find out about Indians is to care for them and win their love and respect . . . then they'll do almost anything for you . . . But if you don't do that ..." He would shake his head and his thoughts would go trailing off.

'I've seen these "objective" workers come on the reservations,' he said, 'and get absolutely nowhere . . .

There's this pseudo-science myth that when you're "objective" you just disappear from the face of the earth and see everything undistorted, as it really is, like God from heaven. But that's rubbish. When a person's objective his attitude is remote. He gets a sort of stony, distant look on his face.

The Indians see that. They see it better than we do. And when they see it they don't like it. They don't know where in hell these "objective" anthros are at and it makes them suspicious, so they clam up and don't say anything . . .

'Or they'll just tell them nonsense ... which of course a lot of the anthros believe at first because they got it "objectively" . . . and the Indians sometimes laugh at them behind their backs.

'Some of these anthropologists make big names for themselves in their departments,' Dusenberry said,

'because they know all that jargon. But they really don't know as much as they think they do. And they especially don't like people who tell them so ... which I do ..." He laughed.

'So that's why I'm not objective about Indians,' he said. 'I believe in them and they believe in me and that makes all the difference. They've told me things they've said they never told any other white man because they know I'll never use it against them. It's a whole different way of relating to them. Indians first, anthropology second . . .

'That limits me in a lot of ways. There's so much I can't say. But it's better to know a lot and say little, I think, than know little and say a lot ... don't you agree?"

Because Phaedrus was new to the English department Dusenberry took a curious interest in him. Dusenberry was curious about everything, and as he got to know Phaedrus better the curiosity grew. Here to Dusenberry's surprise was someone who seemed even more alienated than he was, someone who had done graduate work in Hindu philosophy at Benares, India, for God's sake, and knew something about cultural differences. Most important, Phaedrus seemed to have a very analytic mind.

That's what I don't have,' Dusenberry had said. 'I know volumes about these people but I can't structure it. I just don't have that kind of mind.'

So every chance he got he poured hours and hours of information about American Indians into Phaedrus' ears, hoping to get back from him some overall structure, some picture of what it all meant in larger terms. Phaedrus listened but he never had any answers.

Dusenberry was particularly concerned about Indian religion. He was sure it explained why the Indians were so slow in integrating into the surrounding white culture. He'd noticed that tribes with the strongest religious practices were the most 'backward' by white standards and he wanted Phaedrus to provide some theoretical support for this. Phaedrus thought Dusenberry was probably right but couldn't think of any theoretical support and thought the whole thesis was somewhat dull and academic. For more than a year Dusenberry never tried to correct this impression. He just kept on feeding information about Indians to Phaedrus and getting back Phaedrus' lack of ideas. But then, a few months before Phaedrus was to leave Bozeman for another teaching job, Dusenberry said to him, 'There's something I think I have to show you.'

'Where?' Phasdrus asked.

'On the Northern Cheyenne reservation, down in Busby. Have you been there?'

'No,' Phaedrus said.

'Well, it's a wretched place but I've promised to take some students down and you should come along too. I want you to see a meeting of the Native American Church. The students won't be going to it, but you should.'

'You're going to convert me?' Phaedrus said facetiously.

'Maybe,' Dusenberry said.

Dusenberry explained that they would be sitting in a teepee all night long until sun-up. After midnight Phaedrus could leave if he wanted, but before that no one was permitted to leave.

'What do we do all night?' Phaedrus asked.

'In the center of the teepee there will be a fire, and there will be ceremonies connected to it, and a lot of singing and drumming. Not much talking. After the meeting is over in the morning there'll be a ceremonial meal.'

Phaedrus thought about it and then agreed and asked what the meal was like.

Dusenberry smiled with a kind of arch smile. He said, 'One time they were supposed to have the food, you know, from before the white men came. Blueberries and venison and all that and so what did they do? They broke out three cans of DelMonte corn and started opening all the cans with a can opener. I stood it as long as I could. Finally I told them "No! No! No! Not canned corn," and they laughed at me. They said, "Just like a white man. Has to have everything just right."

Then after that, all night long they did everything the way I said and they thought that was an even bigger joke because now they weren't only using white man's corn they were having a white man run the ceremony. And they were all laughing at me. They're always doing stuff like that. We just love each other. I just have the best time when I'm down there.'

'What's the purpose of staying up all night?' Phredrus asked.

Dusenberry looked at him meaningfully. 'Visions,' he said.

'From the fire?'

'There's a sacramental food that you take that induces them. It's called "peyote."'

That was the first time Phasdrus had ever heard the name. This was just before Leary and Alpert's notoriety and the great age of hippies, trippers and flower children that peyote and its synthetic equivalent, LSD, helped to produce. Peyote back then was all but unknown to almost everyone except anthropologists and other specialists in Indian affairs.

In the tray of slips, just back of the ones on Dusenberry, was a section of slips on how the Indians had quietly brought peyote up from Mexico in the late nineteenth century, eating it to induce an altered mental state that they considered a form of religious communion. Dusenberry had indicated that Indians who used it regarded it as a quicker and surer way of arriving at the condition reached in the traditional 'vision quest' where an Indian goes out into isolation and fasts and prays and meditates for days in the darkness of a sealed lodge until the Great Spirit reveals itself to him and takes over his life.

On one of his slips Phaedrus had copied a reference that showed the similarity of the peyote experience to the old vision quest descriptions. According to the description it produces 'light-headedness, a state of well-being, and increased attention to all perceptions, sensations, and inner mental events.'

Perceptual modifications follow, initially manifested by vivid and spontaneous visual imagery, which evolves to illusions and finally to visual hallucinations. Emotions are intensified, vary widely in content, and may include euphoria, apathy, serenity, or anxiety. The intellect is drawn to the analysis of complex realities or transcendental questions. Consciousness expands to include all these responses simultaneously. In later stages, following a large dose of a hallucinogen, a person may experience a feeling of union with nature associated with a dissolution of personal identity, engendering a state of beatitude or even ecstasy. A dissociative reaction, in which the subject loses contact with immediate reality, may also occur. A subject may experience abandonment of the body, may see elaborate visions, or feel the imminence of death, which could lead to terror and panic. The experience is determined by the person's mental state, the structure of his or her personality, the physical setting, and cultural influences.
The source Phaedrus had taken this material from concluded that 'current research and discussion are clouded by political and social issues,' which since the 1960s has certainly been true. One slip noted that Dusenberry had been asked to testify before the Montana legislature on the matter. The president of the college had told him not to say anything, presumably to avoid political repercussions. Dusenberry complied, and told Phaedrus later how guilty he felt about this.

After the sixties the whole issue of peyote became one of those no-win political contests between individual freedom on the one hand and democracy on the other. Clearly LSD was injuring some innocent people with hallucinations that led to their death, and clearly the majority of Americans wanted drugs such as LSD made illegal. But the majority of Americans were not Indians and certainly they were not members of the Native American Church. There was a persecution of a religious minority going on here, something that's not supposed to happen in America.

The majority opposition to peyote reflected a cultural bias, the belief, unsupported by scientific or historical evidence, that 'hallucinatory' experience is automatically bad. Since hallucinations are a form of insanity, the term 'hallucinogen' is clearly pejorative. Like early descriptions of Buddhism as a 'heathen' religion and Islam as 'barbaric,' it begs some metaphysical questions. The Indians who use it as part of their ceremony might with equal accuracy call it a 'de-hallucinogen,' since it's their claim that it removes the hallucinations of contemporary life and reveals the reality buried beneath them.

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