At a time when the media speaks loudly the language of sex, money and power, the zeitgeist is whispering through the chaos and creativity of the World Wide Web. Like some creative new art form, alive with hope and excitement, the significance and creative stir of possibility taking shape on the Internet has yet to fully reveal itself. Admittedly, much of what is coming through is sorely lacking in substance and direction, yet, more than any other social venue, it remains the powerful voice and individual expression of the collective. This stir of cyber-possibility is the raw ore that will inevitably become the steel armature for an unimaginable, new societal structure.
Not unlike the significance of an oral tradition in a small village, there is a story emerging on the Internet that is bringing the world together as a village in conversation. The Internet has allowed our thoughts, culture and ideas to be known, which inevitably has made us all more accountable for our positions. Bidden or unbidden, the primitive expressions and chatter coming through Cyberspace — reveal everything for "all the world to see." In this context, even gossip serves to reveal elements of the whole.
I heard an interview recently with a Japanese man who talked about the differences between the Japanese and American justice systems and the reasons for the low crime rate in Japan. The point he was making was that there were fewer prisons in Japan than there were in America because individuals, communities and Japanese culture, in general, held those who violated society's laws accountable in a very personal way. People in a community affected by a crime spoke extensively among themselves about the violation, took the problem personally, as they would if a family member had been involved, and acted individually and collectively to confront the violators. The person who committed the crime was approached and treated as someone necessary and important to the natural order of the community. This is unlike our treatment of those who commit a crime in the West, where a person breaking the law is labeled a "criminal", tried and locked away with other "criminals", which only breeds and supports further criminal behavior.
In a Japanese community, the person who breaks the law is informed that they have disappointed the community as a whole by falling out of service and behaving selfishly. Gossip and social dialogue served this end by making everyone's business public. Through general conversation the informed community would collectively judge the crimes. Through social pressure the violators were held in check and brought back into the fold of socially responsible behavior. This gave would-be career criminals the impetus to act responsibly and offered them a place in the community with an ongoing sense of meaning and purpose. This larger sense of shared purpose, responsibility and personal value is not just a good idea; these are the conditions of a healthy, functioning community. There is a saying, "There is no other God but all of us together." Functioning communities create the possibility of a functioning world.
This collective sensibility is unique to Asian culture, and perhaps it is the reason for the longevity of their dynasties, and their current economic success in the world. This larger sense of service to the collective is generally absent in the "self-determination" of Western culture. Perhaps this is the reason we lost the auto industry to the Japanese, who willingly work and hold their vision together as efficiently as the well-functioning components of a finely tuned Toyota. It may also be why we may deserve to lose our current economic status in the world to the up-and-coming industry and workforce of the Chinese.
Perhaps what Asian culture has modeled, with its ability to dialogue and work together as a collective, applies to the reality of a borderless Internet. Standing in the powerful light of the World-Wide Web, with its potential for open, honest dialogue and working together for the good of the whole, may be the perfect way to apply the Asian's sense of community cooperation and responsibility.
If however, we choose to restrict open web conversation for economic/political reasons and live in the shadows of secrecy away from the eyes of the world where we can more easily create illusions for and about ourselves, then we do so at our own peril.
Everyone has the potential to be seen and heard on the Internet. Clearly, by the many personal venues such as MySpace, YouTube and a variety of others available on the web, many people (especially young people) feel empowered by their ability to be seen and heard in the world, like never before. I cannot help but feel an incredible innocence at the core of the many expressions coming through the personal web pages of the Internet. There is an opportunity for people to be present with each other in a different kind of way. Interestingly enough, there are many people who, on the surface, appear to have little to say; yet they quickly emerge as Internet celebrities and receive tens of thousands of hits on their web pages. They often achieve this status simply with the charming, vulnerable presence they project. It is curious to see what exactly emerges and how it does so in the current Internet free-for-all of activity! What is it we are so hungry for, as a collective, which seems to have been discovered in our interactions on the Internet? By looking at the personalities who emerge, it appears to be something so very simple, subtle and human — something I would define as community.
Perhaps it all boils down to the above-mentioned presence and community. This whisper coming through Cyberspace may be expressing our deepest cultural and societal longing. Perhaps it is a longing to simply be more present — present with ourselves, present with our children, present with each other, and present with and to the mystery of our world.
I cannot help but think of the many sculptures that have been created of the Buddha Walking, and the tale that spurred these creations. It is a story of how the Buddha is recognized simply by the presence he holds as he walks through a crowd. Has our world so sped up that we can no longer achieve this kind of presence in the world or, more importantly, with each other? If the Internet expresses and inspires a level of presence that draws others in and invites them to be more present themselves, then it would have to serve our humanity in a beneficial way.
I realize there is a shadow to all of this Internet activity, especially with young people, where the excesses of body image and the desire for "fame" for its own sake come into play. However, I believe it is healthy for our young people to explore their unique, personal mythos through the web, or through any other form of creative communication, for that matter. It is creativity and communication that brings the world closer together. When a country has a creatively inspiring "face" that opens our hearts, it becomes more difficult to project evil onto them and call them the enemy.
There was an interesting phenomenon that came into play on the Internet after the 2000 election and the war with Iraq began. Young people from around the world photographed themselves with hand written signs expressing their sorrow and forgiveness to and from Americans who did not vote for Bush or support the war. I was inspired to see there was this voice to the world which let it see that we did not all fit into the projection of aggressive and/or war mongering Americans www.sorryeverybody.com
For many, the Internet has become an important arena to establish one's passion and individuality in the world. This is especially true for many young people.
A deeper mythos is alive and well in all of us, and it longs to be clothed in form. To access and express the form of our own personal mythology, we must be willing to courageously take risks, which often means making complete fools of ourselves. Anyone who spent any time browsing the web would agree — there is no shortage of foolish attempts at being "creative" on the Internet.
The dynamic nature of our own true story, once it has been realized and expressed, resonates in the hearts of others and serves as a reminder to those who may have lost sight of the significance of their own personal mythos. Sadly, most of us are not willing to venture far enough from our calcified, known reality to actually realize the full expression of our own stories. We duplicate or add insignificant details to the homogeneous story already being told by our generation. This tendency may actually be the Internet's greatest drawback. However, any emerging movement has this same shortcoming when there is a frenzy of excitement around some newly creative form.
Exciting, generational trends have the potential to become the building blocks of a society's future. As time goes on however, trends tend to lose the heat and light of their molten, formless beginning. From there, the calcified form transmutes into a "comfortable," conservative point of view that we define and defend as our reality.
The dynamic, changeable nature of the Internet, however, offers the opportunity to hammer-out, in an ongoing way, the essence of who we are as a people. It brings through the wild and alive spirit of our times as an organic, creative force. Not only does it have the potential to bring forth the unique presence of the individual; it also articulates the celebratory expression of our collective world soul.
Something born in me
Something very old
like the gray stone or the gray cloud
Something that put light in my eyes
Something that sees light in yours
Something older than myself
But born anew inside me
Something very old
Like the brown earth
Or the blue heavens
Like rain upon the earth
In the season when colored leaves
rain upon the earth
And now this —
As my heart trembles
I am laughing out loud
— Poem by Mud
At the age of 29, artist Jerry Wennstrom destroyed all of his work, gave away all of his possessions, and set about living a deliberately simple and profoundly spiritual life. He practiced celibacy for 15 years until choosing to marry his life partner, singer Marilyn Strong. He is the author of The Inspired Heart: An Artist's Journey of Transformation. He has published over 50 essays and interviews, and his life's work has been the subject of Holy Personal by Laura Chester. In 2001, Parabola produced a documentary film called In the Hands of Alchemy: The Art and Life of Jerry Wennstrom. Sentient Publications is distributing a new 3-feature DVD, which includes In the Hands of Alchemy, the new film Studio Dialogue, and The Life and Works of Jerry Wennstrom (1979).
To read more of Jerry Wennstrom
and view his paintings and sculpture please visit his website handsofalchemy.com