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latest (master)

culture of perfection, culture of fear: the importance of sucking openly

“Have no fear of perfection - you’ll never reach it.” ~ Salvador Dalí

Everyone is so afraid of sucking. Everyone. We are all so afraid of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, speaking up or putting ourselves out there that most of us never do. The average person is so afraid of breaking the role of ‘having it all together’ that they will spend their entire life taking no risks and becoming nothing. Why? Because the culture as a whole has become infected with the idea of perfection. 

Most of us live in the heads of other people, and there is no greater or more delusional prison than this. None of us are mind-readers. When we worry what someone else thinks, we are actually worried about what we think they’re thinking, so in reality we haven’t left our heads at all, just fallen into another level of projection, another layer of the strange insanity we all suffer from. 

Worse yet, there is an overriding tendency to base our self-worth on the reaction of others, as if this is capable, somehow, of determining the quality of our hearts. The modern world has gotten this formula down to a science. It has wrapped this primal tendency, as it always does, in a gleaming package presented to the masses with a bow on it and a million-dollar prize just behind the curtain. Reality TV tells us talent is a one-shot deal. You have it or you don’t. The judges are appointed and anointed by the Big Money that runs everything — the real winners, in the eyes of the world — and they have the final say. If not, it’s the viewers themselves — fans of the culture that created such a spectacle in the first place — voting you in or out, cool or uncool. The whole thing is completely ass-backwards. As that dude who played drums for Nirvana once put it:

Pretty straight forward. And also profound. What he’s riffing on here is one of the backbones of zen: being OK with sucking is the only way you can ever truly rule. Just let go. Give in and go for it, even if your voice trembles and your hands shake. Even if your blood pounds in your ears and your knees threaten to give you up. Fuck it. Live.

Yet for anyone born into first world culture, or even heavily influenced by it from the time they’re little — and these days, that’s most of the world — this seems an impossible task. And the people that have done it — the ones who’ve made it to what the world calls the ‘top’ — got there simply because their desire was stronger than their fear. (And, of course, they had the talent to back it up.) They got over defining themselves through what others might be thinking of them, or even how those others were reacting to them a lot of the time. They chose a particular state of being, and persisted in it. This is what success is made of.

But there is a catch-22 here. In the dulling of those sensitivities, has the successful artist also dulled their greatest gifts? What finer edges got burned off in the passage through the fire? 

Along those same lines, how many truly exceptional talents couldn’t even approach the fire? How many people have come and gone who held the potential for true greatness inside of them but saw it burned away before it ever even had a chance to sprout? We’ll never know, but my guess is that the number is exceptionally high. Why? Because true talent is already inherently sensitive. Of course it is. That’s what makes good art: feeling. And this is a world too afraid to feel, and therefore starved for it. This is why artists and performers, after they reach a certain level, make so much money. They do the feeling for millions of people who cannot do it for themselves. And as wonderful as many of them are, how often is there any level of transcendence displayed among this upper artistic echelon? The moments are so rare you can count them on your fingers. 

But what else is art for, if not transcendence? Art and music are supposed to be mind-blowing. They’re supposed to transport you to other worlds. Yet the only people capable of taking you there, it stands to reason, are incredibly sensitive. And that type of personality needs to be nurtured, appreciated, approved of, and allowed to suck if they are to ever have any hope of unlocking the beautiful gifts they carry for the world.

Of course, there’s an issue of quality control here. If we lived in a culture where that type of general acceptance and encouragement was the norm, it stands to reason that a lot of people who are not good, and show no promise of getting any better — even after a significant amount of trying — may persist in flooding the world with their unpleasant brand of noise. 

Unless we were telling the truth. 

A radical notion, I know, but not one without merit. In a way this brings us cycling right back into the intertwining problems of what others are thinking and killing sensitivity. How this would work, exactly, is something I can't wrap my head around. Try as I might, it is too complex for me to put a finger on. Or too simple— I’m not sure.  

Yet if we were, somehow, simply able to do this — to tell the truth to one another, without fear of offence or negative repercussion — I think we would hone a world of masters in no time. First, of course, there would undoubtedly be a period of massive upheaval and insanity to contend with as all of the pretension built into every encounter was irrevocably smashed, but through this destruction we would come to understand that perfection is a cultural facade — an ideal that can’t be reached, but one that creates some of the most profound beauty in the fearless seeking of it.

But how do we get to such a place? The whole thing seems totally unfathomable. Given where we currently are as a society it is impossible to imagine any scenario that ends in something other than chaos. And, really, most of us simply don't have the time to even experiment with such notions. Instead, we set about living as we always have, and end up inevitably falling for the opposite, succumbing to a culture that demands perfection and destroys any chance of attaining anything even close to it, because of the immense fear it creates in us. 

If only we had the courage to suck.