Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Advantages of Associating with Riffraff

     Throughout most of his life my father preferred associating with riffraff to associating with "respectable society." He could hobnob with an academic crowd wearing suits and ties and sipping expensive wine, but he felt more at home with tumultuous, chaotic misfits on the fringe of society, quite beyond the range of "respectability." He preferred fighting, rutting, guzzling, and general anarchy to the "sanity" of a formal cocktail party. Even after he stopped drinking and settled down in his old age he still preferred the company of misfits. My main girlfriend in college also went through a longish phase of preferring the companionship of riffraff. I went through such a delinquent phase too, especially when I was sixteen years old, and was just beginning my open rebellion against "the system."
     Association with riffraff definitely has its advantages. For starters, anyone with outstanding qualities is much more likely to receive recognition for those qualities among riffraff than among, say, a snobbish elite, and to be respected for them. A person with intelligence and some strength of character can quickly rise in the ranks and become a prince or princess…of riffraff. This was a privilege enjoyed by my father and my girlfriend, both of whom had a strong, "alpha" personality type. They liked to be leaders and the center of attention, and among the "dregs of society" they got what they liked much more easily. I enjoyed this sort of status to some degree also: In high school I originally had a foot in the door to become a minor member of the "soshes," or social elite, but eventually took the course of becoming a feral, long-haired drug enthusiast and party animal; and I was honored and respected by many of the other "burnouts," as they were derogatorily called, largely because I was the only party animal in school who was in Honors classes, and even got straight A's when I wanted to. Also I could drink most of them under the table, and experimented with chemical substances that many of my friends had only heard about. I was viewed as somewhat of a cool cat, or even a mystic. (This applies only to certain circles in school, though—the jocks considered me to be pathetic, since I was the kind of kid who was picked third-to-last when teams were being chosen for PE. And a lot of the girls simply thought I was weird.)
     But a much more valuable advantage of association with social misfits in a semi-criminal counterculture was that with them one could be oneself; phoniness and dishonesty were entirely optional. By choosing such friends one was much more likely to get into trouble, and to have, for example, one's car stereo stolen, but one was accepted (or rejected) for who one was, without having the need to live up to some ridiculous and largely arbitrary code of acceptability. At a party among the rebellious party animals there might be a drunken brawl or two, although there usually wasn't; but at least people were candid, and if they acted like they liked you, it meant that they really liked you. If they didn't like you, they let you know about that too, often openly offering their various reasons for not liking you. I was shocked when I first attended a party at the University of Washington, probably the most prestigious university in the state of Washington: young elitists in their most stylish leisure wear stood around stiffly posturing, more interested, apparently, in projecting an image than in actually having a good time. They had transformed college keggers into the forerunners of business class cocktail parties. I didn't see the point of it—what the hell is a party for, anyway, if it isn't to party! Needless to say, I didn't attend many University of Washington keggers. 
     I have reflected upon my delinquent past to myself recently, and now here on this blog, because it has occurred to me what benefit I have derived from associating with social barbarians. The main benefit from it after all these years, naturally, is that it reminds me that if others accept us as we are without requiring us to live up to (or pretend to live up to) some code of political correctness or whatever, then we naturally appreciate this and accept them as they are—or reject them as they are, if they are just too obnoxious—but we don't insist that they become different, which essentially amounts to insisting that they become hypocrites. In other words, one learns to accept the faults of others. If one can accept riffraff, then one can accept just about anybody. Eventually one might even realize that everybody on this planet is messed up somehow or other, possibly including enlightened beings. The Buddha himself was despised by many, and possibly some of them hated him for personality traits that have not been recorded in the Buddhist literature. According to the "experts," the Buddha was nowhere near to being the most popular or most respected teacher in his day. Neem Karoli Baba of India was also intensely disliked and disapproved of by many (largely due to his unorthodox behavior and outspokenness), although I consider him to have been, very possibly, a fully enlightened being. From a samsaric point of view, everybody is messed up. It helps to bear that in mind, because it helps us not to be so hard on others and, even more importantly, it helps us not to be so hard on ourselves.
     We don't really become enlightened by purifying ourselves. We become enlightened by detaching from who we think and feel that we are. And if we are able to detach from an impure personality, without purifying that personality to help it see more clearly, then purity is completely unnecessary. Pure or impure, it isn't us anyway. (I will add, though, that this detachment results in a transmutation of energy, of one's "vibe," which is better than mere purification.)
     So what capacity I have for accepting the quirks and limitations of my companions in this world nowadays has been enhanced by my past associations with druggies, drunks, and crooks, not to mention wild lunatics. I'm not OK and you're not OK, and that's OK. Others may not always return this favor of tolerance, but that's OK too. I'm not perfect at it myself.
     Some may say that association with unruly rabble is never a good thing. For example the Mangala Sutta, in its list of the 38 greatest blessings in life, begins the list with asevanā ca bālāna, or "non-association with fools." But this assumption of some seems to imply that the average person is not a fool, or at least is necessarily wiser than a drunken party animal. As I mentioned above, in all actuality honesty and "authenticity" are more of a viable option among the riffraff than among respectable society. They may be more accepting and appreciative of what one has to offer too. And they have their own barbarian code of honor. And in addition to this, and more importantly, being more natural, they might even allow their innate human wisdom more freedom. For instance I mentioned in a previous post how morally unrestrained women tend to have greater psychic talent than their more inhibited sisters.
     They say that Dostoevsky's great compassion for the human race, and his profound faith in the innate wisdom of human beings (let alone his profound understanding of the criminal mind, and of the criminal elements of the non-criminal mind), resulted from his years living in a prison camp in Siberia among hardened criminals. He saw their strength and courage, their force of character, as well as their violent psychological aberrations.
     Here is another example of barbarian wisdom which I saw on a television documentary years ago while visiting my family in America. A police officer had infiltrated a notorious motorcycle gang under cover, and was collecting evidence of their many crimes against society. Then, while he was living among them, his mother died, and he was obligated to return home to attend to her funeral. He figured that the best way to explain his absence to the other bikers was simply to tell the truth, that his mother had died, and that he had to see to her final requirements, so that's what he did. While back home he also took advantage of the opportunity to visit his police station and make reports, do paperwork, etc. He said on the documentary that while he was at the police station not one person expressed any condolences over the death of his mother; but when he returned to the motorcycle gang, a group of very rough, criminal barbarians, a number of them came up to him, patted him on the shoulder, and said things to the effect of, "Hey man, sorry to hear about your mom." If a savage doesn't immediately kill you, he may treat you like his dearest brother. (Suddenly I'm reminded of Queequeg the cannibal in Moby Dick.)
     It just goes to show that not only is everybody messed up, in a way, and thus worthy of compassion and "Christian charity," but that everybody—absolutely everybody—also has innate goodness and wisdom, and we can learn from that, and from them. If the world isn't perfect now, it never will be; and the only way to see its perfection now is through unconditional acceptance. 

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