Echolocation, also called bio sonar, is the biological sonar used by several kinds of animals. Echolocating animals emit calls out to the environment and listen to the echoes of those calls that return from various objects near them. They use these echoes to locate and identify the objects. – from Wikipedia
“Hey, Tim. How was your weekend?”
“Good! Too short!”
“Ha ha! I hear ya!”
How many times on an average day would you guess that you engage in seemingly obligatory but wholly pointless noise making similar to the hypothetical exchange above?
The opening question masquerades as genuine interest in the specifics of Tim’s weekend. It is actually an example of human echolocation – releasing sound into the atmosphere in the hopes that it might find a recipient who will confirm the questioner’s existence by replying to the rhetorical query. Tim’s reply, which consisted of a nondescript monosyllabic answer, followed by the most stereotypical and painfully un-funny verbal garnish he could possibly have pulled from his ass, served two purposes: 1) maintaining his social status by reacting to speech with speech, as is culturally expected; and 2) seizing on an opportunity for Tim to perform his own act of echolocation which was successful immediately upon his acquaintance’s insincere laughter reaching his ears. Not a whit of useful information – or any information, for that matter – was exchanged in the brief conversation, but its real motivation was fulfilled. Two insecure people just reinforced their own sense of self by using each other as literal sounding boards. If you’ve ever been awoken in the middle of the night by the incessant barking of several neighborhood dogs, then you’ve witnessed the exact same behavior from our canine friends. If a dog bark can be translated into English, I suspect the closest word we possess to convey its meaning is “hey!” For whatever reason, dog #1 shouts “hey!” into the night air and quickly receives a response from the dog next door. “Hey!” says the dog next door, causing the dog three doors down to assert its own existence: “Hey!” Before you know it, a canine cacophony befalls the neighborhood and your sleep is ruined. So you grab your phone, call a friend and say, “Hey.”
One might reasonably suspect by now that I harbor an out-sized distaste for most human communication. And that person would be right. But my real inspiration for writing about this topic with such frequency is not simply to express my feelings about it – or perform typewritten feats of curiously verbose echolocation, if you will – but to hopefully make the reader take a microscope to their own utilization of speech (or text) as an ego reinforcement tool.
Despite the increased levels of noise that we make, I’ve noticed that what can actually be called “conversation” is a rarity to hear. We utilize language to compose self-serving monologues that we speak to each other ignorant of the fact that our dueling cross-purposes make it impossible for either person to hear the other. When there is no one present at whom we can speak, our internal monologues kick in. Digitally, we increasingly search for the perfect “meme” to send to everyone in our contacts list so that we can continue to assert our existence without having to say anything at all. “Look at this funny thing that someone else wrote! Ha ha – doesn’t that just perfectly describe ME?” Unless the meme addresses a pathetic lack of originality and creativity, the answer to that question is no. But I digress.
On the surface, this human tendency towards pointless loquacity might seem somewhat innocuous. In truth, it is the very thing that keeps our species mired in ignorance of its true nature and interdependent relation to everyone and everything that exists.
If humanity were to have a sudden collective epiphany about the ways it refuses to face reality through verbal distraction, the first important steps toward the eradication of war, injustice, poverty and hatred will have been taken. Did that sound over the top? Melodramatic? Hopelessly simplistic? If so, that’s just because you haven’t been listening. Behind these words is a profound silence, something that my typewritten communication is woefully inadequate to impart. Simultaneous internal and external silence is the only state in which one can hear another. Our increasing refusal to cease expressing ourselves even for an instant ensures that we no longer internalize the suffering or joy of anyone else. Our capacity for empathy is diminished with every needless sound that we make. A lack of empathy is synonymous with a lack of humanity. War, injustice, poverty and hatred can only exist when sufficiently nourished by inhumanity.
Becoming intimately and fearlessly acquainted with one’s own mind is only daunting because it demands an unforgiving silencing of your ego voice – the voice that constantly expresses the belief in its own intrinsic worth and indispensability. I assure you – you will not disappear if you release your iron grip on identity and control. But you might just learn that your identity is false and you never had any control over anything in the first place, at which time, you will be on the doorstep to freedom.
I do not have any instruction to impart. Instruction is the purview of belief systems and belief systems are just another example of our imagined importance or even imagined fucking divinity. When no two people share the exact same views or experience of phenomenality, how can a preconceived, self-conscious system of beliefs possibly apply to anyone, let alone everyone? As soon as you grace an idea with the suffix “ism”, it becomes its own imagined authority that will allow for no deviation from its stated doctrine. And yet no two people think alike, even if their self-expression is nearly identical. There are as many conceptions of Christ as there are Christians. As many of Buddha as there are Buddhists. And to make things even more convoluted, no one has yet provided irrefutable proof of the existence of either of those alleged men of old other than as central figures in scriptural prose. If you have the courage, abandon adopted views and beliefs by simply understanding them as such. Take an honest assessment of the things you hold dear and ask yourself why without fearing the answer you may receive. You might just find (god forbid!) that you can think of almost no activity as motherfucking self-consciously arrogant and proudly boring as meditation. Or that you’ve been secretly aware, all along, that formal prayer is the spiritual equivalent of talking to the toaster. Admittedly, these realizations are initially scary. But if you can manage to sit with them long enough without struggle, you might just find that they are the very stuff of liberation. Enlightenment. Holiness. Divinity. Whatever your preferred “ism” mistakenly calls that ineffable thing constituting our true nature-less nature. But be very, very still. You can only hear it in utter silence.