Dreams With Sharp Teeth – documentary on Harlan Ellison
Tag Archives: critical culture
There’s so much I could blather on about the delicious presidential battle shaping up between old school neo-liberal plutocrats of the centerist left vs “personal responsibility” Ayn Randian tea party plutocrats. Once again, as I mostly rediscover every four years, I find myself leaning on Melanie Klein, and so I very much prefer the mature depressive as against the volatile dynamics of the paranoid schizoid.
Which is to say: Obama’s Quixotic aspiration to realize a bi-partisan governing muddle is far superior than Mitt’s hope to galvanize the hating shards of resentful anti-cosmopolitan aging boys, and, crony ‘paper economy’ capitalists.
I do grant that Mitt Romney is a fascinating political figure as a matter of his elevated, nubby peculiarities. He is the oddest major party nominee in my adult political experience of forty years. But, I’ll save arm chair amateur psychoanalysis for a later presentation. Nevertheless, that Republican have nominated an actual plutocrat four years after the speculators, rent seekers and Randian nihilistas brought down the economy is both impressive and precious–all at once.
Werner Herzog’s new film, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, joins my favorite filmmaker to a subject that has fascinated me since I was a kid. Herzog, as he puts it, “talked his way into the Chauvet Cave” in France. With a three man crew and a lightweight 3D camera, the documentarian, shot his film about the beginning of human graphical artistry. Trailer at bottom of page for film on Herzog’s web site. For a Herzog film, significant buzz.
Another documentary has just gone into very limited release, and I guess I’m going to have to be patient. An Ecology of the Mind is about the great systems thinker, anthropologist, and, multi-disciplinary investigator Gregory Bateson. He was, and his thinking is, second-to-none as a main source of my own outlook and ingredient for my own undisciplined poking around, and, research. His daughter Nora is the filmmaker…and it’s about time.
From the same page where I purloined this photo is a review and the trailer.
The hardest saying in the Bible is that of St. Paul, addressing the Galatians: “God is not mocked,” and this saying applies to the relationship between man and his ecology. It is of no use to plead that a particular sin of pollution or exploitation was only a little one or that it was unintentional or that it was committed with the best intentions. Or that “If I didn’t, somebody else would have.” The processes of ecology are not mocked.
On the other hand, surely the mountain lion when he kills the deer is not acting to protect the grass from overgrazing.
In fact, the problem of how to transmit our ecological reasoning to those whom we wish to influence in what seems to us to be an ecologically “good” direction is itself an ecological problem. We are not outside the ecology for which we plan—we are always and inevitably a part of it.
Herein lies the charm and the terror of ecology—that the ideas of this science are irreversibly becoming a part of our own ecosocial system.
We live then in a world different from that of the mountain lion—he is neither bothered nor blessed by having ideas about ecology. We are.
I believe that these ideas are not evil and that our greatest (ecological) need is the propagation of these ideas as they develop—and as they are developed by the (ecological) process of their propagation.
If this estimate is correct, then the ecological ideas implicit in our plans are more important than the plans them-selves, and it would be foolish to sacrifice these ideas on the altar of pragmatism. It will not in the long run pay to “sell” the plans by superficial ad hominem arguments which will conceal or contradict the deeper insight.
The closing page from Bateson’s Steps to An Ecology of the Mind; my emphasis.
Interview with Scientist Richard Dawkins
‘Religion? Reality Has a Grander Magic of its Own’
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The American geneticist Dean Hamer postulated the God Gene hypothesis, proposing that humans are genetically hardwired for religious faith.
Dawkins: I’d prefer to say that we have a lot of genetic predispositions for a lot of psychological attributes, which can under the right circumstances add up to religion. But I’m also thinking of things like a predisposition to be obedient towards authority, which might even be useful under certain circumstances. Or a predisposition to be afraid of death or, when frightened, to run to a parental figure. These are all separate psychological predispositions which under the right cultural circumstances end up pushing one into a religion, whichever the religion of one’s cultural upbringing. I wouldn’t call it a God Gene.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Has religion not been very successful in an evolutionary sense?
Dawkins: The thought that human societies gained strength from religious memes in their competition with others is true to a certain extent. But it is more like an ecological struggle: It reminds me of the replacement of the red by the gray squirrel in Britain. That is not a natural selection process at all, it is an ecological succession. So when a tribe has a war-like god, when the young men are brought up with the thought that their destiny is to go out and fight as warriors and that a martyr’s death brings you straight to heaven, you see a set of powerful, mutually reinforcing memes at work. If the rival tribe has a peaceful god who believes in turning the other cheek, that might not prevail.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But following a religion that does not promote the chances for survival seems to contradict evolutionary logic…
Dawkins: Oh yes, clearly there is a conflict between meme and gene survival. We are familiar with such conflicts. They sometimes work out one way, sometimes the other.
The other day it occurred to me–while I was sticking wet laundry in the dryer–that the religious impulse, viewed as artifactual event and acquisition, could have done duty as a buffer against the fragile web of contingency human life is entangled within. But, then I recognized by confirmation bias at work, because the human awareness of contingency, chanciness, and interdependency is itself acquired.
Fred Phelps, the hateful and hate-mongering ‘pastor’ of infamousWestboro Baptist Church, Topeka, brought his tiny insane mob to a sidewalk across the street of Gunn High School, Palo Alto, California. Phelps is well beyond the pale, and, for example, has stated that military casualties in the current combat zones are the singular result of ‘his’ God’s hatred of America.
Gunn students and the community came up with an enlightened response.
Not In Our Town, working together for safe and inclusive communities, produced the video.
Perfect. Salon picked up the story.
The Shadow that the Future Throws
Text based on a conversation between Nathan Gardels and Ivan Illich in 1989
Now, nearly two decades [after 1969] later, a woeful sense of imbalance has dawned on the common sense.
The destruction of the ozone layer, the heating up of the earth’s atmosphere, the non-reversible and progressive depletion of genetic variety, the ability to discuss what shall be a human being through genetic intervention – all these things bring to consciousness, even to a non-philosophically inclined intelligent official of the World Bank, that we now face the banquet of consequences of our Promethean transgression.
There is a generalized sense now that the future we expected does not work and that we are in front of what Michel Foucault called an “epistemic break”: a sudden image-shift in consciousness in which the once unthinkable becomes thinkable. For example, it was simply not thinkable that a king could be beheaded up until the French Revolution. Then, suddenly, there was a new way of seeing, a new form of language that could speak about such things.
For most of the Cold War, atomic bombs were commonly considered as weapons. People like myself were little understood in our arguments that such bombs were literally unspeakable; that, epistemically, they are not within the realm of speech because they are not weapons, but acts of self- annihilation.
It is no longer tolerable to the common sense to think of nuclear bombs as weapons, or of pollution as the price of development. The disintegrating ozone layer and warming atmosphere are making it intolerable to think of more development and industrial growth as progress, but rather as aggression against the human condition. It is now imaginable to the common mind that, as Samuel Beckett once said, “this earth could be uninhabited.”
So, what is different than when I first wrote about Nemesis is that the common sense is also searching for a language to speak about the shadow which the future throws. What is new is not the magnitude, nor even the quality, but the very essence of the coming shift in consciousness. It is not a break in the line of progress to a new stage; it is not even the passage from one dimension to another. Mathematically, we can only describe it as a catastrophic break with industrial man’s image of himself.
Now, nearly four decades later…
I’ve been feeling my way around vampires because the Jung-Fire group has also been doing so.
Whilst descriptions of vampires varied widely, certain traits now accepted as universal were created by the film industry. Where did vampires originate? Well, nearly every culture has its own undead cretures which feed off of the life essence of the living but ancient Persian pottery shards specifically depict creatures drinking blood from the living in what may be the earliest representations of vampires. In the 1100s English historians and chroniclers Walter Map and William of Newburgh recorded accounts of various undead fauna. By the 1700s, an era often known as the Age of Enlightenment, fear of vampires reached it’s apex following a spate of vampire attacks in East Prussia in 1721 and the Hapsburg Monarchy from 1725 to 1734. Government positions were created for vampire hunters to once-and-for-all rid man of this unholy scourge.
Even Enlightenment writer Voltaire wrote about the vampire plague in his Philosophical Dictionary, “These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer.” Movie Myths 101 – Vampires (Amoeblog)
Vampires occupy a class of folkloric beings termed revenant. In this class are all the varieties of beings believed to have returned from being dead. (Ghosts are revenants.) Revenants, as mythologem, have ancient origins. Their genealogy, (given by anthropology and literary history,) is woven in the folklore of almost every culture.
I was moved to do a little digging, in the phenomenological moonlight.
The vampire is one of the representatives of a phenomena part-and-parcel with any ‘folk’ skepticism a person would have when is believed the soul persists beyond bodily death. In Christian terms, a revenant is a work-around. The piper is paid, yet the rules are different than the normative rules for succession into the next life. Revenants are outliers in relation to the normal redemptive scheme. It’s important to understand the revenant is not a formalization, is not part of the strict cast of characters. The revenant–as work-around–is a strain of necessary superstition, is in a sense an archaic adjunct in the folk scheme of life and death.
A vampire lives forever under particular conditions, but our human night is their day. This inversion suggests also an inversion of the christological mythologem.
Yet, this can go beyond a Christian antithesis. It is possible, maybe likely, that wonderment over the finality of death. goes back beyond paganism, penetrates beyond proto-religion, goes back even before the organization of a spirit world. And, maybe even is among the most primitive of all social-existential phenomena; expressing as it does the base quandry, “Is Bubba really dead?”
I take this up in this way to highlight the archaic of a (kind of) archetype. Buried in this quasi-archetype is a very primitive, primeval layer.
From this, I wonder about the brute opposition in these same primal terms: here today, gone tomorrow, yet gone where? I can imagine how mysterious both would be if we, with modest imagination, consider how death was dealt with intrapsychically, long before the mystery was organized and concretized by proto-pagan artifice.
This development would suppose the development of a chain of being as a response to the mystery of mortality. Moreover, this would be a response given by skepticism: ‘is Bubba gone-where did Bubba go?’ This is all prior to the conceptions of salvation, purgatorial penance, damnation. Also, in supposing that the dead could manifest a near semblance of ‘the living,’ or otherwise manifest a phantasmal form, the particulars of types of revenants fit in culturally distinct ways into Preternatural–worlds behind worlds–cosmic, vertical schemes.
Edvard Munch – Vampire
The pagan layer is persistent. Belief in the work-around of the revenant is inflected with the revenant’s mercurial nature, and this seems to be an important aspect of their alternative myth of resurrection. Vampires are worrisome, unpredictable, and, the vampire’s activities could be glossed as: bugging, tormenting, fooling, tricking, gaming, messing around with, the living. After all, vampire and ghost and spectral phantasm, are also kin.
The revenant provides a kind of gnawing reminder: the ‘vertical’ world itself isn’t in the thrall of the light-bearing beings, ‘the angels.’ Revenants are profane. They exemplify in different ways, negative models.
Archetype is darkened, manifest in human enactment of a particular feeling tone, in precise ways, from specific contexts. Vampire, in the imagination, is an archetype of evil, but only from specific perspectives. The Benedictine Calmet sharpened his axe in antipathy to revenant denizens in accordance with his Catholic perspective. Three centuries earlier, the infections of plague, came to be understood in terms committed to explain the spread of death to be a damnation. At that time, the idea was: the dead were able to cause havoc even though ‘they appeared dead.’ Again, in the context of communities dealing with vast contagion, this response is in accordance with the timely intrapsychic ground. The contagion’s agents of punishment were the ubiquitous dead.
Archaic prototypes may infuse attempts at explaining what had befallen the community. Calmet leaned on, railed against(!) the archaic precedent.
So, why the fascination with vampires today? I don’t know anything about the cultural details. I enjoy the tv serial, True Blood, but this isn’t because I get a charge from vampires. I can’t analyze the trend in any Jungian way because I’m not a proponent of Jung’s collective unconscious.
I do note several rough features of today’s, in effect, multi-media vampire. One, he or she is often a very energized erotic figure. Two, often vampires are sorted out into good vampires, bad vampires, and ‘tweener’ vampires. Taking True Blood as an example, it seems to offer ambiguous morality tales. These take place within a decidedly supernatural cosmos, but much of the primitive vampire is not appropriated.
However, the focal point of the ongoing narrative seems to be how living and undead refract one another’s light and dark. Supernatural conceits don’t matter. In this drama, human and vampire are much closer to being two sides of the same coin. There is then, in at least this example, a humanization of the vampire. This would stand against demonization. Humanity inflects profanity.
The contemporary vampire may even be–all too human. This vampire is often a libertine, with sex* subsuming blood lust. Sometimes, as is the case with Bill from True Blood, he is ambivalent, conflicted, a tweener vampire between worlds, yet not able to transcend the vampire rules. Here is the post-modern turn: vampire as loose, identity mashup, This vamp reflects the chancy play of cosmopolitan identity. And, he or she may be more at home in the intoxicating nights’ cape, than in the tightening days’ cape.
Short of any fascination with vampires, the most common way the idea is entertained is when people speak of having their energy glommed onto and sucked by vampire-like pests. In this what’s left of either the token of the irredeemably fallen or the magical explanation for contagion, is: energy-sapping neediness.
The mercurial-work around able to defeat bodily death and enlightened eternal being is a more subtle layer of the undead.
Dr. Jung wrotes in the chapter Paracelsus as a Spiritual Phenomenon, (in Alchemical Studies.)
Paracelsus, like many others, was unable to make use of Christian symbolism because the Christian formula inevitably suggested the Christian solution and would have conduced to the very thing that had to be avoided. It was nature and her particular “light” that had to be acknowledged and lived with in the face of an attitude that assiduously avoided them.
(Jung earlier in the chapter speaks of the limits of the adept’s “daymind.”)
Archetype possesses the mechanics of refraction in the splitting of dominants and subordinate into further aspects. I’m going to recombine my rough intuitions and suggest the vampire is a subaltern figure–so the contemporary vampire imago stands “outside,” even when the currency of our day’s edgy, camp Vamp, is more the lip-sucking idol, is more sensitive, is more bourgeois. Remember, the contrast between primitive instrumentality and modern character is as stark as that between night and day.
As a practical matter, the attraction to the vampire at least seems to be a worthwhile anecdote to religious neuroticism; does not, as Jung put it, ‘conduce to the very thing that has to be avoided.’
It was nature and her particular NIGHT that had to be acknowledged and lived with in the face of an attitude that assiduously avoided them.
*Most psychoanalytic criticism related to vampires focuses on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Maurice Richardson, in “The Psychoanalysis of Ghost Stories,” says: “From a Freudian standpoint—and from no other does the story really make any sense—it is seen as a kind of incestuous, necrophilous, oral-anal-sadistic all-in wrestling match”. Phyllis A. Roth finds Bram Stoker’s neurotic fear of sex and women to be the clue to his novel’s popularity; it allows readers “to act out” their own “essentially threatening, even horrifying wishes,” based in the “lustful anticipation of an oral fusion with the mother”. Judith Weissman concurs: “The vampire, an ancient figure of horror in folk tales, undoubtedly represents in any story some kind of sexual terror . . .”. Others, like Christopher Craft and Andrew Schopp, regard vampire literature as a disguised opportunity, as Schopp says, “for acting out socially prohibited roles, and for reconfiguring desire”. p54:Vampire God. The Allure of the Undead in Western Culture, Mary Y. Hallab, SUNY Press 2009 Amazon
The God In the Machine, Lewis H. Lapham, Lapham’s Quarterly, V.II,No.3
President Barack Obama during his first months in office seldom has missed a chance to liken the country’s healthcare system to an unburied corpse, which, if left lying around in the sun by the 111th Congress, threatens to foul the sweet summer air of the American dream. The prognosis doesn’t admit of a second or third opinion. Whether on call to the Democratic left or the Republican right, the attending politicians and consulting economists concur in their assessment of the risk posed by the morbid emissions. The country now pays an annual fee of $2.4 trillion for its medical treatments (16 percent of GDP); the costs continue to lead nowhere but up. Fail to embalm or entomb the putrefying debt, and it’s only a matter of time—ten years, maybe twenty—before the pulse disappears from the monitors tracking the heartbeat on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
So say the clinicians in Washington, and I don’t quarrel with the consensus. If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people. The symptoms present as vividly as the manifestations of plague listed in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, but they show up as an infection of the body politic caused by the referral of the country’s medical care to the empathy of accountants and the wisdom of drug dealers.
If I can’t make sense of some of the diagnoses or most of the prescriptions, at least I can understand that what is being discussed is the health of America’s money, not the well-being of its people.
This is the most cogent comment about the current debate over reform of the health care system I’ve encountered.
Thank goodness for Lewis Lapham. More:
The medieval church marketed its healthcare product as the forgiveness of sin, in the form of Papal indulgences intended to preserve the vitality of the immortal soul. In an age that places a higher value on the flesh than it does on the spirit, the guarantees on the label promise to restore the blooms of eternal youth. To the extent that we construe physical well-being as the most cherished commodity sold in the supermarkets of human happiness, we stand willing to spend more money on the warrants of longevity than we spend on lottery tickets and cocaine. Our consumption of medical goods and services constitutes the performance of what Thorstein Veblen in The Theory of the Leisure Class characterized as a devout observance—the futility and superfluous expense of the exercise testifying to its value as an act of worship. The more health product that we conspicuously consume, the more of us feel conspicuously ill. To express our devotion we magnify every “riddling distemper” the flesh is heir to, deprive ourselves of food and blood, discover diseases where none exist, incise ourselves with liposuction and the angiogram. The pharmaceutical companies step up the dosages of terror in their print and television advertising; volunteer committees of vigilance gather in city parks to keep a sharp watch for obese wastrels who neglect their aerobic exercises, smoke cigarettes, fail to ingest their antioxidants, refuse to drink their pomegranate juice. We learn to think, as do the characters in a Woody Allen movie, that we become commendable, or at least interesting, by virtue of the stigmata verifying our status as victims and attesting to our worth as patients.
My only gripe with the Medicine issue is that for whatever reason, Ivan Illich, (author of the classic Medical Nemesis,) wasn’t included.
The Lapham Quarterly is the single most edifying and provocative publication now being produced in the sphere of the ‘public intellect.’ Of course, Lapham himself is a terrific essayist. As it turns out he’s also a visionary assembler of ideas, given the brilliant collections organized around themes he’s issued in the form of his journal. Above all, The Lapham Quarterly honors the intellect of the reader by juxtaposing classical and modern thinking around the themes, and then allowing the reader to reason through a robust clash of historical and contemporary perspectives. It’s not all words. Each edition includes graphic evidence and images aimed to do what 1,000 words cannot.
The web site for The Lapham Quarterly has evolved to offer content not in the journal. Highly recommended. At the web site are Lapham’s introductions for each issue and its centering theme. Right now, Lapham is second-to-none as a commentator on current events.
Scary, but also worth a read: For Some Seeking Rebirth, Sweat Lodge Was End John Doughtery – New York Times: October 21, 2009
The story summarizes the horrific manslaughter that resulted from a sweat lodge conducted by new age con man James Arthur Ray in Sedona, October 8. Three died, eighteen were hospitalized, and, Ray has yet to be charged. Ray herded paying customers into a dangerous environment and then—literally—allowed three to perish. His state of consciousness can easily be characterized: oblivious. On the website for the deadly new age huckster Ray, he offers bona-fides.
Throughout his life, James Arthur Ray has studied and been exposed to a wide diversity of teachings and teachers – from his collegiate learning and the schools of the corporate world, to the ancient cultures of Peru, Egypt and the Amazon. Armed with this comprehensive and diverse background in behavioral sciences, coupled with his experience as a successful, entrepreneur, and an avid thirst for spiritual knowledge, James boasts the unique and powerful ability to blend the practical and mystical into a usable and easy-to-access formula for achieving true wealth across all aspects of life.
I’ll return to this shortly.
Speaking of hucksters, here’s some excerpts of a pitch received from Ken Wilber, October 15.
This is Ken Wilber, and I wanted to take a moment to write you and tell you of the first and only organization that is the exclusive outlet of my Integral work and all projects connected with it. The organization is called Integral Life, co-founded by myself and my CEO, Robb Smith.
I’m truly excited by this organization and its development, because for the first time in history, although there are hundreds of projects and organizations and websites inspired by my work, this is the first one that has my personal seal of approval. The projects, partner organizations, academic journals and books, blogs and forums all have a quality checked by me to personally guarantee that my Integral model is being used accurately. That’s the problem with these hundreds of other applications of my work. As much as I truly appreciate the inspired use of my model by them, there are often misinterpretations of its leading ideas, resulting in less than truly Integral results.
What is an ‘integral result?’
Here’s what it looks like, symbolically speaking:
In today’s New York Times, in the magazine, Paul Krugman asks, How Did Economists Get It So Wrong? In the article he recounts how it happened that the world’s finest experts in macroeconomics were unable to adapt their models and, in doing so, develop better models able to predict the housing market implosion.
In my earlier post, the Second Order position vis a vis belief was explored. There are many ways to describe a Second Order belief. One way says: such a belief is a knee jerk reaction. Another option says: such a belief automatically follows from a specific predisposition. Enter an internalized model of any kind into the fundamentals of a predisposition, then where there is Second Order belief derived from the model, it follows inevitably from the model.
In other words, the model, in effect, programs the belief. Idealized programs very often generate idealized, absolute beliefs about the model.
But the self-described New Keynesian economists weren’t immune to the charms of rational individuals and perfect markets. They tried to keep their deviations from neoclassical orthodoxy as limited as possible.
But there was something else going on: a general belief that bubbles just don’t happen. What’s striking, when you reread Greenspan’s assurances, is that they weren’t based on evidence — they were based on the a priori assertion that there simply can’t be a bubble in housing.
In short, the belief in efficient financial markets blinded many if not most economists to the emergence of the biggest financial bubble in history.
What would you say about a model purported to model macroeconomic actuality, where total belief in the model itself causes the model user to be blinded to particular actualities? What would you say about the nature of total belief in any blinded model. Apparently, best and brightest economic experts can come to be irrationally exhuberant about their own models.
There are times when I compel myself to withhold an astringent critique. If I’m on the ball, I can figure out how to render a sweeter critique delicately, when the circumstances call for this. Tonight presented such an occasion.
After a roundtable, leaning toward my very close friend Holly, leader of the fine local sustainability organization E4S, I posed the following thought problem:
“What if it turns out ten years from now that sustainability activists came to realize that more thinking and less activism would have been more effective than the opposite?”
The roundtable was about Sustainable Business Development and Poverty. Almost since the inception of E4S I have been making suggestions to Holly about the human (and social,) system that any business system is but a part. Now E4S has widened its context to consider the how sustainability might be positively related to poverty. This is very exciting, but having contemplated something of these relations for almost 30 years, I’ll admit there a number of astringent critiques that lay close at hand.
The above thought problem is really a type of meta-thought problem. It doesn’t regard specifics, it just provides an inversion of the current normative tendencies ‘here on the ground’ which favor instrumental activism over robust and studious “social-critical” contextualizing.
In the background, there may be lots of collaborative thinking time given over to consideration of critiques and practical system factors such as leverage points, dependencies, interdependencies, and, to more foundational aspects such as core assumptions, and, certain operational conceptions/suppositions. However, if this is going on, not much of this bubbles up into the publicized open source. And, the public dialogs are almost entirely about what needs to be done and doing.
As a movement, is sustainability often one-sided in this way?
If so, there likely are a number of reasons for this, yet the most practical reason would be that, by definition, implementation, (those activities which are manifestations of instrumentalism,) always begin in real world actualities. At least in this, the instrumentalist, so-to-speak, keenly appreciates what the current, actual social system is able to provide for, produce, and support.
However, as my thought problem proposes, there’s no self-evident reasoning that supports the bias in favor of doing, (and the bias disfavoring more cogent understanding of systems,) as being, per force, optimal. In fact, there is a strong argument able to be made that a cogent understanding of systems may turn out to be mission-critical.
Let’s suppose this kind of awareness of systems, knowledge of context, and understanding could be a high value requisite of high leverage point activism and instrumentalism.
[Liberalism] knows that an individual is nothing fixed, given ready-made. [Individuality] is something achieved, and achieved not in isolation but with the aid and support of conditions, cultural and physical–including in “cultural,” economic, legal and political institutions as well as science and art. Liberalism knows that social conditions may restrict, distort and almost prevent the development of individuality. It therefore takes an active interest in the working of social institutions that have a bearing, positive or negative, upon the growth of individuals who shall be rugged in fact and not merely in abstract theory. It is as much interested in the positive construction of favorable institutions, legal, political and economic, as it is in removing abuses and overt oppressions. John Dewey – The Future of Liberalism (1934) *
Until now, capitalism has always seemed to be inextricably linked with democracy; it’s true there were, from time to time, episodes of direct dictatorship, but, after a decade or two, democracy again imposed itself (in South Korea, for example, or Chile). Now, however, the link between democracy and capitalism has been broken.
This doesn’t mean, needless to say, that we should renounce democracy in favour of capitalist progress, but that we should confront the limitations of parliamentary representative democracy. The American journalist Walter Lippmann coined the term ‘manufacturing consent’, later made famous by Chomsky, but Lippmann intended it in a positive way. Like Plato, he saw the public as a great beast or a bewildered herd, floundering in the ‘chaos of local opinions’. The herd, he wrote in Public Opinion (1922), must be governed by ‘a specialised class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality’: an elite class acting to circumvent the primary defect of democracy, which is its inability to bring about the ideal of the ‘omni-competent citizen’. There is no mystery in what Lippmann was saying, it is manifestly true; the mystery is that, knowing it, we continue to play the game. We act as though we were free, not only accepting but even demanding that an invisible injunction tell us what to do and think.
In this sense, in a democracy, the ordinary citizen is effectively a king, but a king in a constitutional democracy, a king whose decisions are merely formal, whose function is to sign measures proposed by the executive. The problem of democratic legitimacy is homologous to the problem of constitutional democracy: how to protect the dignity of the king? How to make it seem that the king effectively decides, when we all know this is not true? What we call the ‘crisis of democracy’ isn’t something that happens when people stop believing in their own power but, on the contrary, when they stop trusting the elites, when they perceive that the throne is empty, that the decision is now theirs. ‘Free elections’ involve a minimal show of politeness when those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them. Alain Badiou has proposed a distinction between two types (or rather levels) of corruption in democracy: the first, empirical corruption, is what we usually understand by the term, but the second pertains to the form of democracy per se, and the way it reduces politics to the negotiation of private interests. This distinction becomes visible in the (rare) case of an honest ‘democratic’ politician who, while fighting empirical corruption, nonetheless sustains the formal space of the other sort. (There is, of course, also the opposite case of the empirically corrupted politician who acts on behalf of the dictatorship of Virtue.)
‘If democracy means representation,’ Badiou writes in De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom?, ‘it is first of all the representation of the general system that bears its forms. In other words: electoral democracy is only representative in so far as it is first of all the consensual representation of capitalism, or of what today has been renamed the “market economy”. This is its underlying corruption.'[*] At the empirical level multi-party liberal democracy ‘represents’ – mirrors, registers, measures – the quantitative dispersal of people’s opinions, what they think about the parties’ proposed programmes and about their candidates etc. However, in a more radical, ‘transcendental’ sense, multi-party liberal democracy ‘represents’ – instantiates – a certain vision of society, politics and the role of the individuals in it. Multi-party liberal democracy ‘represents’ a precise vision of social life in which politics is organised so that parties compete in elections to exert control over the state legislative and executive apparatus. This transcendental frame is never neutral – it privileges certain values and practices – and this becomes palpable in moments of crisis or indifference, when we experience the inability of the democratic system to register what people want or think.
Slavoj Žižek – Berlusconi in Tehran, London Review of Books,July 23, 2009
Žižek’s article bores deeply into the contradictions triangulated between democratic participation, the manipulations of ideology and the hegemonic turn of the profit motivation. It is a measure of social consequences of acting out and through those contradictions, that somebody such as Sarah Palin can be promoted to any consideration at all.
But, given the case that Palin actually presents, and too the instance of her celebration, it is enough to suggest that there exists a shared sense among some–if not many–of her celebrants that freedom might better be secured via a theocratic design rather than a democratic one. This isn’t to say Plain is a theocrat, its to say that she captures something of the theocratic projection, and of the countervailing current that poses idealized order against the sparking chaos of modernity and markets.
*hat tip to George Scialabba, who presented this excerpt in his article, Only Words, The Nation, May 11, 2009
Allow me to briefly sing the praises of the Integral model. Not in its pseudo-formalization given by Mr. Wilber (et.al.) but in its idiosyncratic and the decidedly ‘informalization,’ given by me.
First, it is necessary to locate my move here via admission about my prejudices. De-capitalize the ‘I.’ The integral model, and Spiral Dynamics as well, is, in this guise, an informal sociology tending to employ folk psychologizing for the purpose of supporting intuitive navigation of the entangled systems from the scale of personal reflection all the way to the scale of group relations. This latter scale is limited to identifiable groups further described by their centering array of interests. Hmmm, this could include groups whose centering interest is decentering; but I digress in noting this.
From this position, certain qualities of my idiosyncratic re-deployment of the integral model are resolved. This model is: informal, not formal; subjective, not objective; reflexive-intersubjective, neither scientific or scientistic. No metaphysical or post-metaphysical warrants are implied in any of this. This wild version of the integral/SD model is aimed to merely be a pragmatic tool for the self-organization of an intuitive and phenomenological inquiry–conducted by daring investigators. The hallmark of the result of this application is–necessarily–extreme provisionality.
My hypothesis is the model is a good candidate for generating autopoietic data enabled to support transformational learning. This will not in any way require the learner to know the model very well. Thank you Pandit KW.
A book co-authored by Ken Wilber sits before me. Integral Life Practice. I guess I couldn’t help myself (in taking it out of the library,) but also I won’t be dealing with it. So: caveat emptor. This I will say: Wilber’s integral philosophy sometime ago fed a movement with adherents, and this book showcases the industrialization of the integral self-development technology aimed to extract smolians from true believers.
Back in the eighties, I was working the front, retail, lines of the record business, managing a record department in the back of a book store in Middlebury, Vermont, home to Middlebury College. I was a long haired jazzer, whose musical boat had departed the mainstream currents in the early seventies. Even then, I marveled at how easily mobs of college kids marched to the beat of the mass culture drums.
I more than witnessed the Michael Jackson phenomena as it first broke in 1979, and crested with Thriller in 1982. What I know of his music came from incidental exposure. At the peak of his musical popularity, his music was not considered hip. However, even then, his artistry was praiseworthy even in my aficionado’s biased terms simply because it was Jacko who seemingly single-handedly turned back soul music’s disco infection.
In many respects, Jackson’s musical revolution was exhausted by 1987, the year of his LP/CD Bad. By then he was the most successful entertainer in the world. He wasn’t finished entertaining, but his second career of serial re-creation and lurid lifestylin’ eventually overwhelmed his musical bona fides as the centering force of his persona. He became cultural cannon fodder; his genius reduced to ferocious chapters of topping the previous chapter of strange.
It is the distressing norm should any celebrated figure morph into iconic stature, that its basis is the hook for massive magical participation of both fan and anti-fan, of sympathy and antipathy. There is no right mind able to support willfully doing this consciously. So, when it is said that the icon reflects something of this participation, it would be most accurate to say that the icon reflects cultural unconsciousness without any mercy whatsoever. Alas, in such a phenomenology of ‘cultural activity’ the evident whipsaw cuts both way, and never to a satisfying, terminal, abreaction for the iconic subject or his or her minions.
And minions is the right term: the king of pop mightily favored his loyal subjects. To unglue the cultural mass from Jackson simply brings into relief shared symptoms. It seems no episodic detail of his life was not a comment on symptoms writ large: in the bubble, neverlands, shapeshifting, carving away bodily features, dangling infants, comforting sleep partners, unlimited discretionary income, and, forcing a family out of surrogates and sexual compulsion. It matters not that Jackson’s own compulsions were chaste, its the compulsion. Above all there was our golden wish: to turn back the clock and never grow old.
When asked what I thought, last week I said, “Michael Jackson was one of the strangest people ever peopled,” (to use Alan Watt’s trope.) I have credible people I can ask, but no one has nailed where Jackson’s psychological makeup vectors in any armchair diagnostic take.
Given my archetypal prejudices, it is certainly obvious that no conventional or generic character-logical version of the psychology of the Puer Aeturnus fits Jackson very well. Except, it must fit someway!
Nevertheless, the Puer facets offer clues. It’s easy enough to place provisionality in the terrain of his complex. This feature is always a hallmark of persons who strive, and sometimes realize, their own world. It’s never a perfect world, yet its a better world. But, this world can scarcely be inhabited. It, then, also may be the case that the ‘other’ world fortune and magnification buys is a solitary, barren, and finally, tiny world.
We don’t really wish to be left alone on throne or cross or couch. I read today that Michael deeply wished to be royalty. How revealing. For what is the King but the loneliest creature in the kingdom? Our culture, with its harsh and fickle and always unconscious loyalties, only appoints figure heads–only crowns with a thorny embrace the gilded imago personified by charismatic celebrity. Short of royalty, those so elevated are our figure heads, literally left alone but to our own cruel devices. In the austere mythologem, the consequence of christological aspiration in this context of our collective complex is necessarily tragic.
Then it struck me: the last narrative chapter of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Beside the well there was the ruin of an old stone wall. When I came back
from my work, the next evening, I saw from some distance away my little price
sitting on top of a wall, with his feet dangling. And I heard him say:
“Then you don’t remember. This is not the exact spot.”
Another voice must have answered him, for he replied to it:
“Yes, yes! It is the right day, but this is not the place.”
I continued my walk toward the wall. At no time did I see or hear anyone. The
little prince, however, replied once again:
“–Exactly. You will see where my track begins, in the sand. You have nothing
to do but wait for me there. I shall be there tonight.”
I was only twenty metres from the wall, and I still saw nothing.
After a silence the little prince spoke again:
“You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too
I stopped in my tracks, my heart torn asunder; but still I did not understand.
“Now go away,” said the little prince. “I want to get down from the wall.”
“It is not the incarnate Sophia’s role to bind or connect us to the earth, but to help us recognize that our understanding of ourselves as separate from the earth is a delusion.” Henri Corbin
discovered in the article, SOPHIA AND SUSTAINABILITY; Bernice H. Hill; CG Jung Page
Ms. Hill writes in the closing paragraph,
Our way through the present environmental crisis requires that we mature; that we free ourselves from too local, too self-serving a perspective; that we move beyond our fear of life’s cycles to become “citizens of the world.”
This dovetails much with my own reflections about how to conceive of larger human systems which I would pose as ‘parents’ to the ‘child’ systems given by perspectival framings of sustainability.
Last night Entrepreneurs For Sustainability sponsored a daring program, in their monthly series. Titled Sustainability and Poverty, it was the first program over 12 years of the series, that primarily focused on the larger political-economic and social ‘human system.’
I’d count myself as a student of the network-centric development aesthetic that grounds E4S’s vision in a truly humane and feminine (in the archetypal sense,) view about connecting and supporting the empowerment of idealistic and committed entrepreneurial activists. Each in their way, is focused on decreasing the resource and waste footprint of northeast Ohio’s material and energy consumption. E4S does a phenomenal job, and its leader, one of my closest friends Holly, is a masterful maven.
At the same time, I cannot endorse the so-called Triple Bottom Line, (planet-people-profits.) Nor do I engage easily with activism overwhelmingly disposed toward instrumentalism, i.e. doing, when this is severed from any critical culture whatsoever. To me, the wedding of idealism and instrumentalism, can’t help but be often yoked to a refusal to understand the larger scale systems. This lack of a critical culture comes with the territory of doers and doing. This makes sense as a concomitant to so much action: why bother with perilous contradictions found in, and at the scale of, the larger system(s)?
The program, when announced, surprised me, because its implicit reach into the zones of economic devastation, potentially contextualize sustainability in complicated and contradictory ways.
This reach begs intense questions.
And, with one exception, those freighted questions did not get raised. One surfaced in the Q&A. This question, about how large institutions geared primarily toward profits could come to the ‘page’ of sustainability, was circumvented by an astonishingly disingenuous answer by a panelist.
This is okay. E4S isn’t configured to bring critical consciousness to bear upon contradictions and challenges implicit in the larger system that its business development mission takes place within. Still, the excitement generated at the program likely had something to do with its moment of opening up to the larger system and its big questions.
If you’re wondering what those questions are, I’ll pose them as equivalent to elephants in the room.
1st elephant: People in poverty most often represent the failure of the political-economic system, and predatory–if you will–bottom lines.
2nd elephant: People in poverty in Cleveland live lifestyles unimaginable to the 1 billion people who live on $3/day or less. The point here is not the relative well-being of Cleveland’s economically disadvantaged, but that elephant #1, much more abject poverty elsewhere, is due to the most horrific consequences of profit motive, resource inequity and failures of sustainability.
3rd elephant: The stand alone “truth” of sustainability is different at the different and enlarged scales of socio-economics.
(If one is to regard and analyze the sociological/economic system that encompasses the elongated cycles of development and degradation, dynamicism of structural opportunities, disinvestment and mobility of capital, and the literal classes of longitudinal outcome at the level of household and neighborhood, city and region, one will be compelled to turn an unsparing critical eye toward the problem, or shadow of, profitable instrumentalities, these too merged with the voracious onslaught given by capitalism and consumerism.)
4th elephant: A world-wide consumer middle class, the implication of ending poverty granted by a commitment to a hyper-materialistic finance-capitalized economics, is not sustainable.
Which brings us to:
5th elephant: the resource inequities given by the furious consumerism of the 1st world and, nowadays, by the economic growth of asia and latin america. The economic devastation in NEO is not due to other causes. Follow the gold over long cycles of expansion and contraction!
This last elephant presents the problem of unsustainable growth in its starkest terms, even as the trend toward greater poverty, has been largely reversed. (Except on the continent of Africa.)
Implication of elephant #5: It’s hard to valorize the triple bottom line, AND, not run the damn numbers. But, to run the numbers is to realize how nonsensical the triple bottom line is in the first place, and at the scale of the system where the ill consequences smack in the face.
I don’t see how the problem of poverty can be dragged very far into the perspective given by the current sustainable business system, and its blinded triple bottom line. After all, that same business system is not structured to not drive people into poverty. So it is also: the triple bottom line is rendered uncritically as a development model with basically zero regard (in its instrumental scheme,) for its being also an implicate feature of predatory finance capitalism.
Ironically, there is a long tradition of thought leading, predating the sustainability movement, that zeroes in on these contradictions. Schumacher, Bookchin, nowadays Bill Mckibbon, others, and especially Ivan Illich, unpacked the weighty contradictions of capital, consumerism, resource equity, wastefulness, and the institutionalization, (and for Illich, professionalization,) of the materialistic trance.
Although E4S is hardly configured to deal with any of this, and the fascinating monthly meeting didn’t approach elephant or contradiction, nevertheless, this was the first time in 12+ years that this fine and important local collaborative experiment dared to step toward its own Ivan Illich moment.
I have no idea how sustainability advocates who aren’t aware of aging, albeit sophisticated social critiques, might either reckon with or begin to reconcile the contradictions found in the larger system. Hopefully, turning a blind eye toward the bigger system will become more and more untenable.
Free time is tending towards its own opposite, and is becoming a parody of itself. Thus unfreedom is gradually annexing ‘free time,’ and the majority of unfree people are as unaware of this as they are of the unfreedom itself. –Theodore Adorno
On December 16, The Uncertain Future of News, (WCPN Stream,) joined host Dan Malthrop with Lauren Rich Fine ContentNext, Kent State University and Ted Gup Case Western Reserve University to discuss the imploding old print newspaper media. The discussion was interesting but it didn’t really capture the confluence of trends, one of which is most germane: that people increasingly are reading less. This trend is a generational trend. This noted, if you’re interested in the business of news and newspapers’ role in providing information, it’s a worthwhile 45 minutes.
At about 11 minutes in Ms. Fine responds to the host’s mention of the example of local free newspapers The Lakewood Observer, (the ‘mothership,’) and The Heights Observer, (spawned by the mothership.) Both exemplify the mostly volunteer ethos of amateur community journalism. However, after praising their ability to “develop community consciousness” Professor Gup comments from the perspective of the old school professional model, that such community newspapers don’t have the resources to pursue “real” investigative journalism.
And then the discussion turned back toward analysis of the faltering old print news. Listening to this segment, I chuckled to myself. What a missed opportunity! Then, as the discussion returns to what might be new models for news delivery, the panel never circles back to the vital local model of the Observer, which, in Lakewood’s case, has been thriving for three-and-a-half years.
In an organic discussion focused on the old media it is not surprising that an active new model gets short shrift. But, Mr. Gup’s acute point about community journalism, that it can develop community consciousness, could have been deployed to ask why the old media doesn’t do this, and why community journalism can do this. The criticism of community journalism from the perspective of old media can be inverted: what advantages The Lakewood Observer and disadvantages, for example, The Plain Dealer from the perspective of the model of the new volunteer, “post-professional,” community media?
Scrolling back to the genesis of The Lakewood Observer offers a crucial clue. I was there and nobody talked about emulating conventional newspapers. The Observer model was not born of thinking about news provision as much as it was born of thinking about community consciousness and its revitalization. My guess is that old newspapers don’t think about this at all.
Although Gup’s point about community newspapers not having resources to, as it were, drag resistant institutions into court, is true, he never discusses the type of investigation community journalists can unleash. From the perspective of the efficiency of resources, it’s obvious that the work product of free correspondents is much more efficient than the million dollar model of conventional newspapers.
But, there’s more.
Community newspapers can really raise a high velocity and high volume ruckus. The key point here is that–what I’ll term–the community consciousness model is itself the product of local journalists really having a stake in the community, of their direct engagement, and subjectivity rather than objectivity. This is contrasted with The Plain Dealer’s stake being quite different, more professional, more detached, and resulting in ‘just another story’ at a scale oriented toward a wide readership as opposed to a local, (or micro,) readership.
Gup mentioned, later, how local powers can gauge and probably ignore this ruckus. This caused me to say to myself that the professor needs to do his homework on this point, and do it in Lakewood. The community consciousness model doesn’t aspire to implement an ephemeral, objective, string of investigative stories. It’s model is much better disposed to sustain a point of inquiry and, sometimes, attack. In Lakewood, the paper instigates, and the community sustains, much of this unfolding in the continuing discussions on the paper’s online forum. By the way, the forum is itself an interpersonal form of community journalism. The forum focuses and sustains community concerns. The genius of the Observer’s model is that it’s aggregation has to do with aggregating consciousness.
Circling back, although Professor Gup’s later point about opinion being cheap to produce, facts expensive to produce, is true enough, at the beginning of the Lakewood Observer project, we discussed how a certain type of journalist, by virtue of their engagement, and intensity, and–indeed–subjectivity, would be in a good ‘affectual’ position to loosen facts from resistant institutions and personages. This personality factor elevates emotional commitment to a community to be a key component of tenacity. This recognizes that subjectivity, in a rich social psychological context, is pragmatic and very useful.
The Lakewood Observer, since its beginning, is in the position to always hash out, re-hash, reconfigure, its model and analyze anew the system it’s a part of. This nimbleness is also a crucial feature of its ability to shape-shift and redeploy volunteer journalists in real time. After all, the unpaid journalist many times will only pursue what interests them; another point of ‘affect’ and ‘energetics.’
My uninformed guess is that old model newspapers aren’t likely to engage their own human resources in ongoing meta-discussions and pragmatic discussions, both enabled to deeply reflect on their predicament. There’s too much money at stake and the stakes are driven too deeply. If this is true, it could be hard to have a deep dialogue about one’s model, especially one that can address the question of community consciousness, and its ‘raising’ in a profound and post-professional manner!
I’ll urge Professor Gup, if he hasn’t already, and Mr. Malthrop, to investigate the Observer model closely. The Observer may observe the same terrain as the big city newspaper, but it does it with different eyes and a bigger ‘unpaid’ consciousness.