A friend requested I read Jed McKenna, so picked up a Dutch copy of Enlightenment – the Darndest Thing! Unfortunately, this friend has a high hat of Jed, whereas I, after reading the book, concluded that Jed McKenna is a pretentious piece of shit. So part of me feels bad to pour out a bloggal takedown, but, in all honesty, another part of me will enjoy this.
Let’s start at the beginning. Who is Jed McKenna?
Well, nobody knows! There’s a couple of pictures on the internet of people of who one is likely to be Jed, but he avoids the spotlight enough for us to call him anonymous. A white middle-to-old aged man is all we know.
What’s Jed’s deal?
Well, Jed says he is enlightened. He’s very down to earth about the whole thing. It’s like, he’s just a dude who likes video games and skydiving, but, y’know, he’s also enlightened. He lives in a charming countryside house in Iowa where visitors seek his wisdom and guidance.
What is enlightenment according to Jed?
Jed explains that enlightenment is merely a state of permanent non-dualistic consciousness. Of course, getting that into the thick skulls of his pupils is easier said than done. People have all this ego bagage, people think that achieving enlightenment is supposed to be fun, and don’t even get Jed started about all the fake teachers out there selling snake oil! As Jed explains, gotta ask for results, and Jed has at least ten enlightened pupils to show for it (none of them live with him).
Is Jed crazy?
No. Jed is very perceptive, in the book at least. He knows how to treat his guests, they all have a good time. For instance, one night, they all sit around a spontaneous bonfire. Rain trickles down, and amid murmurs Jed talks about religion and meaning and consciousness. You must’ve felt the electricity in the air if you were there, and even as a reader you had the sense that something special was happening, perhaps some kind of spiritual revolution lurking behind the corner. I’d say that, as far spiritual teachers go, Jed McKenna is in a similar ballpark as our friend Baghwan.
What did I think of Jed McKenna?
Well I gave it away in the title. Thing is, I was bamboozled by the book’s title, which translated to Dutch as: ‘Spiritual enlightenment? Forget it!’ So I thought: oh, it’s a book by a dude who tells us all this spiritual New Age stuff is nonsense. Sounds interesting. But then it turned out to be a book by a dude who totally believes all this spiritual New Age stuff, only he believes everyone else gets it wrong. Dear lord!
Jed is a laid-back guy by all accounts. He is good in his role as teacher; a very Socratic feel to his conversations. Lots of metaphors, surprise twists, intriguing questions… You can tell he impresses people who are into this kind of stuff. And truth is, there is something to Jed’s way of life. He is a free flowing individual who goes with the flow and pretty much does whatever he feels like. Kind of like Feynman. That sort of lifestyle attracts adventures. One day Jed goes mountain biking by himself, when he runs into a teenage girl who knows him, since he’s a bit of a local celebrity. She likes him, so they go biking together and have a picnic. That’s just nice. No one can say that isn’t nice. Who wouldn’t want to bike and picnic with a cute fan?
Then, what’s the problem?
So I thought about this. I dislike his teachings, but what exactly do I dislike? Why?
Well, here’s a picture. I am too lazy to look up the exact quotes, but paraphrasing, the book goes like this:
pg 14: ‘… I am of course enlightened, so I do not care…’
pg 35: ‘… Being an enlightened being, I saw the events play out quite differently…’
pg 83: ‘… She did not see it, but then again, she was not enlightened..’
pg 142: ‘… I achieved enlightenment after years of searching…’
pg 241: ‘… I really don’t want to press the point, but did you know I am enlightened?’
At first, I gave him the benefit of doubt, and thought: well maybe he is simply taking the red pill metaphor very serious. I mean, everyone can get behind a red pill metaphor no? But I was not able to trust him. It felt like conceding frame to something… childish.
I mean, c’mon. For a grown man to say: ‘I am enlightened’. It’s just gay. It’s not cool. Everybody thinks they are enlightened! And those who do not secretly still believe they are enlightened, just that the universe for some strange reason has not acknowledged their enlightenment yet.
Enlightenment, if you get down to brass tax, is just optimized human experience. It’s a mechanical thing, where you do the things that your genetic code incentivizes you to do. Like, just the stuff men do and like. Build things, spend time with family and friends, have hobbies whether it’s gaming or watching birds or having a boat. Just… stuff that makes you enjoy life. That’s all there is to ‘enlightenment’. It’s really not rocket science.
So the real answer is: enlightenment is just fetishizing the experience of having a good day.
So I started to ignore what Jed said and looked at what he did.
The answer is: not so much. He was just chilling. Flirting with cute girls, playing video games, enjoying the sound of his own voice. That’s all there is to Jed. He talks about this deep and eternal truth, but quite frankly, I find more truth in a single comment over at Jim’s blog than I found in McKenna’s entire book.
I could leave it at that, but let’s go one level deeper still.
The problem is that a guy like Jed bases his teachings on enlightenment thought that reaches back two hundred years. Jed draws from the actual Enlightenment movement, by 18th century American/European intellectuals. This is not trivial: no man can reinvent the universe by himself. We build our knowledge on top of our forefathers, using their generations of experience to expand our own.
Now, in these spheres, we pat ourselves on the back because we draw upon more than eight thousand years of thought. We have very little respect for the enlightenment forefathers – guys like Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire. Basically, we think they were scum. A bunch of lying charlatans. We reject the Enlightenment, which is why we are also known as the Dark Enlightenment.
Jed is not scum. I’d say Jed has two central strands of teaching: one is Western individualism (his teaching that two enlightened beings have no reason to stick together), the other is Eastern zen. The problem with the first is that it is entirely derived out of the Enlightenment. Perhaps Jed made some modifications, but from barren grounds no fruit shall bear. The problem with the second one is, and forgive me for sounding like an asshole, that it is the philosophy of losers. Look at the historic track record of Buddhism: where are the successful Buddhists? Where are the successful Buddhist countries? South East Asia? You mean the South East Asia we colonized for centuries? I mean, if we really want to look at Asian civilizations that stood up to whites, how about we look at Chinese philosophy. Oh, they have a God of money? How un-zen…
Jed does not turn to zen because it is the best thought in the history of man, he does so because he has to. Buddhism is innocent in the eyes of 18th century Enlightenment, whereas Christianity was official enemy from day one. Jed is peddling a watered down version of reality because that is the only thing he is allowed to sell.
Which, in all fairness, is completely understandable. Talking the capital T truth has been illegal for quite some years now. Like, you could probably only pull that off if you’d get off the grid completely, with fake passports and everything. But what madman would possibly do that.
So, short answer concerning consciousness and enlightenment: turns you never needed Jed’s path to enlightenment – the enlightenment was in you the whole time! Wow. Mind blown.
At the end of the book, Jed helps a pretty female interviewer on her way to permanent non-dualistic consciousness. Want to know how he does it? Well, being a journalist for a new age magazine, she was elbow deep into the vegan meditation new age spirit crystal scene. Jed made her realize that this scene is full of fake and pretentious people. My God! Is there anything this man can’t do?