Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lincoln (2013): The Scapegoating of a President - A Film Review

Prefatory Note: 

Although I think this evaluation of the 2013 film, Lincoln, makes a worthwhile read, in some sense I regard this as a failed essay.  I set out to express an analytical perspective on this film, but got tangled in my thinking and failed to complete the essay. I have not returned to the essay to see if I could work out my stumbling blocks. I'm deciding to publish it, for now, as it is.

My view was that the film's purpose was basically the cathartic one of letting audiences off the hook for comprising with crime and injustice. In the end, sentimentalizing a hero's tragic demise, the film distances us from our present responsibilities by blurring the clear line between strategical indirection and moral compromise. I'm open to a re-reading and re-evaluation, of course as I always hope to be in all cases, and especially in this case, given my failure to make my argument in a way that satisfied me. 

The Assassination of Lincoln - Expiation for Our Sins through the Scapegoating of a President

Lincoln, the 2013 film, depicts a moral dilemma that might be characterized in this way: How do we take right action in a wrong world? A classic case of catharsis, the film seeks to cleanse us of the worldly pollution of which we partake. Perhaps like all works of of art, it provides us a structure to organize our thoughts and feelings in a satisfying way. As we shall see, the film justifies the compromise of high ideals, or at least of egotistical attachment to such, in the ultimate service of high ideals. Does the end of the film attain to a true spiritual cleansing, or a soap scum film remain after the final shower?

To summarize the plot: Lincoln, the President and Chief Executive, pushes the historic 13th Amendment through Congress, making vigorous use of half-truths and bribes to do so. He wins the necessary votes needed to get the measure passed, primarily by offering government appointments to lame-duck Representatives. Though this behavior doesn't square with the predominant mythical view of "Honest Abe," the backroom political huckstering appears petty and justifiable, excusable one might say, relative to the noble historical objective: The chance to abolish slavery forever from the land. This is an opportunity that cannot be lost.

Through determination and dogged effort, and against the odds, Lincoln and the henchman-like accomplices he hires to do his dirty work, buy off the minimum number of Congressmen and the vote is won. The Amendment passes. The better course prevails. History is made.

Yet, of course, the story does not end here -- we have another few minutes to go before the credits  roll. In the wake of the great legal victory, the President is tragically assassinated. Although we feel  great sadness, yet our hearts have been lifted high. Here the film ends.

Classic catharsis.

We can identify two great halves to this film, psychologically speaking and politically or socially speaking: One half of the story is the story of the President's achievement, and the presumed underlying noble ideals that drive it. The other part is the depiction of the unsavory socio-political environment in which he succeeds. The "system," the general public, the elected Representatives of the people, the principles by which the economy operates -- none of these are idealized, all are shown to be deeply tainted. In this environment, the soldiers of the ideal lift their heads from the trenches at great risk.

The film's narrative seems constructed to tells us that not even the President -- nor any of us committed to the moral improvement of the nation --  can rely on free and open discussion, nor any presumed general goodness of the People or its elected representatives for right principles and ideals to prevail. 

To the contrary, the film makes an effort to convey that high commitments to noble, but unpopular and  "radical" ideals -- like Thaddeus Stevens' counter-cultural commitment to enfranchising the blacks (not to mention his own interracial love relationship, revealed only at the film's very end) -- must be toned down and hidden from the world in order not to inflame the conservative fundamentalist temper, and thereby risk backlash and possibly overturn the whole applecart. Stevens is something like a stand-in for today's conspiracy theorists or whistleblowers who, dare they impugn  the status quo, risk ridicule and banishment, along with anyone who associates with them.

Hence, in the end, the paragon of principle, Mr. Stevens, is ironically lionized for suppressing his beliefs that blacks should be entitled to vote. And thanks to his strategic silence about his inner convictions, the right-wingers' plan -- to portray the Amendment as part of an agenda to enfranchise blacks and to deem them political equals to the whites -- gets no wind for its sails. Had Stevens admitted his support for black enfranchisement, the Amendment would have failed to win the necessary support.  Not standing up for what he believes in, not speaking his heart, in this case, earns the man a halo.

This paradoxical compromise seems to be the core tension of the film. While the film simultaneously elevates Lincoln for his high commitments, and justifies his backroom dealing, it depicts a world that is deeply morally compromised. Idealists must be practical and sneaky, and not tell the whole truth to dirty ears. 

Now to realize any value in this film whatsoever, we need to understand that, through the lens of 1865, the film of course is speaking to who and where we are today.

[what the psychologists call splitting - we kill Lincoln to justify the world, and we deify him to cleanse our souls. in the end, have we changed the status quo? ]

Evolutionary Love II - We are Generating Past and Future in the Now

Prefatory Note: 
Here are two epiphanies, tentatively and roughly expressed. They are not honed into elegant statements. For now, this is what I've got. Thanks!

I claim that right here and right Now, “we,” each and all of us, on all the many levels from personal, to group and communal and simultaneously with all levels extending from our highest inspirational visions down to our very cells and dna -- and to the very atoms within them that are presently containing the original Chaos through the subatomic attractive-erotic forces of subparticle physics -- that we are always in an ongoing way generating the Cosmos, including our past and our future:

I've come up with various versions of the statement below. These ought to be consolidated, pending increased clarity.

1. Creation in the Now:
Evolutionary Time occurs through the progressive Containing of Chaos [1][2] and the corresponding progressive Expansion of the Cosmic Horizon through the ongoing Structural Development of the Evolutionary Process at every level of being. The Human Cosmos, the container that opens between  Heaven and Earth, evolves [3] in the ever-present Now from which we generate the ever-extending  past and the ever-extending future.[4] Proliferations of distinctions from multiple levels of being, multiple intelligences, at their points of congruence discover a Common Path through the Integral Heart (where all the levels of feeling in the body, along the spectrum of darkness to light, matter to spirit, intersect in the feelings conveyed by bodies and the feelings conveyed by thoughts – even thoughts have subtle feelings) and are brought into the circle or choir of Universal Care, and higher ascendancies of the Concert of Being in which all beings are destined to have a voice.

1. (Chaos=the Big Bang, and Chaos' epiphenomenal presence at each level of Being, driven with each ascension to a deeper interior)
2. (progressive containing occurs in the time dimension of going deeper into the past, from now-to-past as we realize the story of who we are)
3. (evolution of the container between Earth-and-Heaven)(occurs in the time-dimension of now-to-future)
4. ever extending and ever expanding ... ever diversified and deeper

1B. Another Version
Evolutionary Time occurs through the progressive Containing of Chaos (the Big Bang) and the increasing loving intimacy of levels of Beings within the Cosmic feminine container, womb and matrix of all earthly life and activity, of Heaven and Earth.  Evolutionary Time moves forward through spiraling cycles that are led forth through masculine bidirectional extensions in the domains of Past and Future, Unity and Difference, and Energy and Matter. Through the Intergral Heart of the Now, the Nexus reciprocally joining Masculine and Feminine, the masculine distinguishings/extendings/polar directionings, seek their harmonious resonances within the Circular Systemic cyclings of the Feminine, which is the point at which the Axes of being join the Matrix of Love, and generate Evolutionary Time and Movement.  Through discovery of congruences between the workings of the masculine and feminine, the world arises to like a road to meet us, opening the path forward into a new, higher and more beautiful Cosmic architecture, on the road to the Celestial City.

1C. Another
Evolutionary Time occurs through the progressive Containing of Chaos [1][2] and the corresponding progressive Expansion of the Cosmic Horizon through the ongoing Structural Development of the Evolutionary Process

2. The Ankh = The Crucifix joined to the Madonna & Child Matrix, joining the Womb to the cross.

I am seeng the Egyptian Ankh as a symbolic representation of the insights I'm attempting to articulate above. The Ankh is a kind of cross, with a Circle joined atop three "arms."

A. The Circle (Feminine, dimensions of inner deepening and outer expansion -- spiraling out from the center, drawn forth by the masculine axes, I intuit)
The womb-container-matrix of the ever-cycling Heart of Care

B. The Intersecting Bidirectional Linearities (Masculine)
  1. Past-Future  (Front-Back, Stories, Principles and Plots)
  2. Unity-Difference (Left-Right, Multiplication of qualities in distinguishing differences)
  3. Form-Spirit, or Energy-Matter (Below-Above, Successive Operational Levels in a Founding Relation, ascending, and a Containing Relation, descending)

Evolutionary Growth 
Proceeds as the feminine matrix deepens and expands in the dimensions of inner (within) and outer (horizonal sky).  Follows the evolutionary path within the womb-container-matrix of the cycling heart. With the extension of the (at least) three masculine bidirectional axes, realized at the heart nexus where masculine meets feminine, evolution proceeds.

Lively Commentary - My Dialogue with Antoine:

The following is derived from my correspondence with my friend Antoine about an earlier version of the above (I've lightly edited our original correspondence).

Antoine's suggested rewordings of my original formulations of the above. Antoine's suggested changes are boldfaced. He also suggested some emphases, which are represented by underlines.

I am loving your musings, Marc.   Riffing off of your work I came up with these alternatives:

1. Creation in the Now
Evolutionary Space-Time is contained within the successive ordering of Chaos (the Big Bang) and  the progressive Expanding of Cosmos (continuity unfolding) through the bidirectional dimension of time (Past and Future), connected through the nexus of the Spiraling of Spirit through the Integral Heart of Now.

2. The Ankh? (tentatively)

Growth (within the womb-matrix of the cycling  heart) proceeds along three (four?) bidirectional axes (or dialectical poles?):
Form-Spirit   (or structure-energy)
Masculine-Feminine   (or action and embrace / outer and inner)

On your suggested edits:

#2.  I thought about adding the masculine/feminine to my list of the bidirectional axes; for me, though, the masculine seems to be associated to the three axes which I named, while the feminine is  associated with the “circle” or matrix. The nuclear generative power of masculine directiveness appreciates and deepens the circle, spiraling out from the center of care to extend its loving domain and embrace.
Hence, interestingly, I also, with you, associated depth and expansion (your inner and outer) with   the feminine principle. Yet I locate this depth and expansion in a circular domain that is in connected vital relation to, and yet somehow distinct from, the masculine domain of intersecting linearly extending bi-directionalities. Anyhow, that’s how I am seeing it.
By the way I like your pairing, “structure-energy” as an alternative to my "form-spirit." I myself also saw a kind of equivalence between spirit and energy, form and structure. I'm not sure which I prefer, and welcome your thoughts.
In support of all this reasoning and intuition, the symbol of the Egyptian Ankh came up for me: the Circle atop the three “arms” of a cross. I see the Ankh as a symbolic expression of the Circle-Matrix over the three bidirectional linearities.
Very interestingly, it also occurs to me that:
The Ankh can be seen as the joining of the “Mother and Child” (Madonna and Child) Matrix to the Crucifixional linearities, which pass into the Heart of Care (the Feminine Circle) at the integrative nexus of the intersection.
Also interestingly, I notice that, historically speaking, with the introduction of the Christian cross, the circle on top is removed and transformed into a fourth straight line!  This may suggest that the Christian tradition, as symbolized in the crucifix, effectively attempts to replace or effaceme Feminine circularity with masculine linearity. Could this transformation of the cross signify the world event that instituted engendered domination and submission, what we call patriarchy?
Your idea of "dialectical poles” sounds interesting and generative. After thinking about it a bit, I think it might work, but I'm not sure what nuances you intend to introduce. I notice that, in my thinking, the masculine work of humanity is to extend the poles in both directions, developing opposites in the related distinction to one another.  Is this a dialectic? Maybe so?  Some symbolic images come up for me in thinking about these poles or directions: Moses parting the Red Sea (horizontal pole). Atlas holding up the Earth (ascending/descending pole).

My own view was showing me that the axis of past-generating, which I associate with the containing of Chaos, is an ongoing active happening in the now. So, in a subsequent edit, I intentionally chose not to say “contained” (past sense, completed) but “containing” (actively ongoing).
Furthermore, I am also saying (by my choice of "containing" over "contained") that an epiphenomenal aura of chaos and randomness remains with the move to each successive level, so that at every level of being a new quality and sphere of liberation, of spontaneity and freedom and unpredictableness is also opened, which also introduces new dangers — and it is the work of this level to, as you say, bring the new variables and inheritances into a new order. The chaos is never fully contained; the work of containing goes on, and remains energetically active even where it has been achieved.
Speaking of order, I like your re-ordering of my phrase into “Integral Heart of Now.”
I also like your emphasis on my "successive ordering," which, it occurs to me, also implies the accessive ordering in the other direction: up and down the bidirectional axis (or dialectical pole, in your words).
Responding on your emphasis of connected through the nexus,” I like that and for me it illuminates a  question that I had not focused on, which is the mysterious and magical “pipeline” or “transformative passageway,” as I am now seeing it, from the linear domain of the masculine bidirectional axes (or or d-poles) and the cycles of the feminine matrix.
I intuit that the masculine directionality, driving back and delineating the past as it projects and clarifies the future, is what leads the feminine cycularity into an evolutionary spiraling forth, a repetition and recurrence that, in its caring spinning sustaining, brings something forth from the past, as it also, in moving forward, brings something forth from the future, and therefore launches a lineage of evolutionary growth in the present moment, ever connected with evolving past and future, so that the present is always structurally coupled with its context of past and future. The generative matrix is then something like the seed that draws energy from the heavens and nourishment from the earth, and in its cyclical nexusing-joining-integrating, it brings forth the tree, a new structuring of earth, sky, water and fire-sun, into a living organic unity.

I am saying that, in the Now, right now, “we,” each and all of us (at levels from personal, to group, to communal, etc.) — on many simultaneous levels from our highest inspirational visions down to our very cells and dna and the very atoms within the cells and dna that are presently containing the original Chaos through the subatomic attractive-erotic forces of physics -- are actively generating the Cosmos, including the past and the future. Can we take responsibility for what we are doing, for whatever path we are generating, for our relationship to the ancestors, the children of the future, the earth and the sky, and to our fellow living beings in the theater of our existence? This comes back to my thoughts on developing, and ascending into, our Respons-ability, which also means coming into our own as who we are, Owning our selving and stepping into our Freedoming.

Wow! Thank you Antoine!  What new beauty of being with you shines forth for me!

Evolutionary Love : A Creation Story

Prefatory Note:

The following streaming-consciousness outpouring on Evolutionary Love is only a rough scaffolding to hold some voluminous ideas. Yet I'm posting it in the interest of finding whom these thoughts might attract. I invite your resonances, insights, collaborating thoughts.
The title? I think Evolutionary Love works. I am tempted to add "and its cash value” to provoke curiousity, but I don’t get far enough in my line of thinking here to work my way back to my ultimate goal of explaining that! 

Evolutionary Love

   "My use of all my gains includes
     Continual further gain." -- Harvey Jackins

I expect some to feel surprise on hearing the claim that “money,” rightly instituted, will one day  liberate self-regenerating, reciprocally-energizing love for people and natural places all around the world. Rightly realized, money increases freely — without debt and without usury or interest, and as a true sign of real, underlying value — when human beings achieve congruence with one another and with the earth and cosmos, thereby increasing the human capacity to collaborate with others and with the biological and physical beings of the gifted creation, thereby walking together purposively in to adorn the world with beauty. The only backing that money ever really has is the collaborative capacity of the community to satisfy its shared dreams and desire, including the desire that all individiduals enjoy the liberty of their own self-development in a supportive human and natural context. I view this principle and ideal of congruence as defining the ever-attracting bountiful, inexhaustible horizon of our liberation.

The generation of freedom, value and love or Eros begins at the Beginning.

Even at the moment of the Big Bang, just prior to the time explored by subquantum and quantum physics, prior, that is, to the miraculous emergence of subquantum strings and then subatomic particles composed of those strings, the original Chaos was without law or form, and the first Great Dancings then began, when the diverse subquanta and their quanta children of various qualities and frequencies began to stabilize their interplay into regular dancing patterns, settling into recurring, recognizable rhythms and beats, which were one with their unnamed identities. These dances began because the strings and particles were attracted to one another. They were mysteriously attracted from out of the mysterious preferences that showed up in the grand initial utterly timeless and unpredictably random and shapeless spontaneity of Chaos. This Great Attraction, Eros, was therefore from the Beginning the generator of Law, and destined to be refined into ever more subtle patterns through the Great Chain of Being.

These mysterious First Preferences were the first inklings of what much later, at higher meta-levels of being and in human times, would be experienced and named as the Erotic principle: the principle by which dancing partners — on whatever level of ontology, physical, chemical, biological, mammalian, human or spiritual, down and up the chain — find each other and come together into mutually pleasing grooves that the attracted partners then keep grooving on, and which they willingly sustain and conserve into the future, a form of proto-commitment to action.

These “stabilizations,” Dances, or grooves were the first laws or principles — indeed from the much later emergent human perspective they were proto-institutions -- and they resolved, after some time, into regularities. But this resolution into regularities that could later be relied upon by the other higher orders of being that would later emerge, just as a man relies upon the earth, did not signify the complete disappearance of Chaos and Randomness. They did not signify the banishment of the Original Spontaneous Unpredictable Energy, neither in its terror nor in its creative potential. 

Instead, while through the dancing the particles there gradually resolved within the compass of the All the  relatively stable world of Newtonian mechanics, Chaos and Randomness gave up none of their explosive potential — instead, they remain at the two horizons, dangerously accessible to the finest titrations.

(N.B.: These explosive forces were at one point in later history to be tapped by human beings, a team of physicists, who in the 20th century unleashed nuclear forces into the living earthly environment, an environment which had been constructed on the foundation of the containment of these forces; that this earthly containment did not signify the elimination or complete abeyance of these great encompassing and underlying forces of Chaos, but only – i’m inspired to say – their relegation beyond the most distant horizons of immensity and smallness, is indicated by the fact that these physicists themselves, the nuclear scientists,  spoke of the remote possibility that any nuclear explosion might unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction into the earthly environment).

But back to our story. In time, the subatomic and atomic dancers locked into their seemingly-eternal dances, creating the Newtonian universe on the foundation of the quantum universe. Their dance became sure, strong and linear — at least speaking from the practical human perspective -- and led to a point of stabilization that gave realm to a very, very, very slow dimension of time, calculated in eons. So slow is this physical dimension of Being and Time, so stable and steady its grooving, that Newton and his successors deemed these dances “the Eternal Laws of Nature.” For all human intents and purposes, the universe and its laws are eternal, of another order of time altogether than we can comprehend.

Now, in turned out that this logical and operational domain of Newtonian physics, a domain of great material and mechanical activity, would constitute the operational floor, at a later time, of a new dimension: the biological universe, or better, the domain of biological ecosystems, as we shall soon discuss.

For now, we are speaking of the Uni-Verse, the Grand Systemic singular (uni-) and cycling-upon-itself (-versing) of the seemingly infinite, centerless and random Newtonian space, deathless and without biological life. The human phenomenal cosmos, as distinct from this eternal universe (or at least eternal from any practical human standpoint), is yet a long way from appearing on the scene. The Universe is as distinct from the Cosmos, our Home, as eternity is from mortality.

The constituting principle of this domain of the physical universe — of the dancing that we named above —  is the ongoing sustained consensual coordination of insentient matter in such a way as to reproduce the conditions of its ongoing self-reproduction. In a word, the ongoing dancing of mutually attracting particles.

This underlying dynamic, a wordless (infant) drama, is what determines the soundness of all that humans, in the  iterative adaptations of their theories of mechanical physics, attempt to name and represent as Newtonian Law, as the representable truths of science. Yet it is not science that gives the Law to the Universe; instead, it is the Universe that holds sway over all human models and representations. (The tacit, unspeakable dynamics of the physical universe under-stand human representation, and not the other way around.)

At a later time, as we anticipated above, a new major epoch in the history of the world’s ontology was built on this physical foundation, this basis, this floor — which only became a floor when their emerged new actors to walk upon it.

We are speaking of the epoch that begins with the astounding emergence of biological life, an event that was nothing short of miraculous, especially from within the perspective of the physical universe, because it is nowhere com-prehensible, but unfathomable and ungraspable, in physical terms. In other words, upon the foundational logic (or -ology) of Newtonian physics, biology eventually emerged, a new order of logic, a new dimension of dynamic relations among a new order of entities, which entities and relational dynamics could not be reduced to or understood according to the principles of physics. [Note: I say “biological” life because I am holding to a distinction that permits the physical universe also to be understood as “living,” as may be clear from my languagings.]

Every new higher-order or meta-level domain emerges upon the opaque floor of the domain before it, a floor upon which the entities within the new domain blindly rely as they interact within their own theater.
Atoms are totalities formed upon the floor of their subatomic components, and these subatomic components, on their own level, themselves interact on the floor supported by the sub-quantum string-level components. From the dance of atoms, molecules are born. These new totalities, dancing together with their kind, discover new, relatively-stable dancing grooves.  The subatomic level, the atomic level, and, now, the chemical interactions at the molecular level forming a new lively, interactive domain*: The theater of molecular dynamics. In Chemistry, the  dancers find an entirely new attractive chemistry, so to speak. That is, Eros expands into a new sphere. Important to understand: the domain of the newly emergent totalities above the floor of their subcomponents, does not intersect with the domain of the subcomponents. As Wittgenstein once noted, it is impossible through observations of the brain and/or nervous system and/or other biological subsystems for us to ever perceive the fundamentally higher order of being in which thoughts and perceptions arise. At best, what can be found are resonant correlations. [*N.B.: The development from atomic to molecular interaction is perhaps better described as a maturation within the same domain.]

Let us recount the story of the miraculous emergence of life. Within the new theater built upon the stage floor of atomic physics, a drama was set into motion among nonbiological entities, the molecules. These  molecules began to interact and play with one another in their own physical and chemical dances and rituals of attraction, and repulsion, finding the most pleasing grooves and those most enchanting and stabilizing recurring rhythms that win strong commitments. The molecules are the new totalities, or higher-level entities, whose interactions as totalities (in dance and play) constitute the new domain or theater and, with it, a unique and unprecedented kind of dancing. A new level or subworld, really, of new song, movement and story-making comes into its own, creating, in the self-created theater, the dancing through the dancing.

At this higher level of dancing a new domain of Free Play emerges. New dance steps and grooves, of an entirely different order and quality, first become possible. The new tricks are all the rage. In amazing contrast, for instance, to the slower eonic (long-time) rhythms of the relatively-stabilized quantum and atomic dancings, the new dances of these molecules are much more Free, more Playful and Faster, relative to the dances now hidden in the subdomain, beneath the floor — a new range of diversity of Rhythms has emerged on the new layer of being: upon the slow, slow rhythms of silent immobile rock are heard new fast-stepping molecular ecologies, new instruments with utterly new qualities; the range of rhythms, timbres and colors grows; new plots and dramas unique to the lives of molecules begin to unfold with great drama.  Each successive order of Being emerges as a space of new liberation founded upon the dance-floor of the prior ontological epoch. The world becomes more musical all the time.

All the while, it is important to understand that, even with the emergence of new theaters, each prior ontological epoch continues its dancing, its grooving, as before, and continues active below each floor.

The new molecular dancers of which we are speaking emerge as totalities, as entities in their own right witin their own unique domain, only within the field that opens up through their relation to the other molecular entities that interact with them on the same molecular  level. Each molecular totality is thus by definition necessarily blind and insentient  to the subdomain within which its  components, the atoms and subatomic particles, interact. This is coherent with the metaphor of the floor as foundational basis: the floor limits, and is coincident with, the horizon of the theater of the actors in question. (It’s not just the floor, but both the near and far horizons, in fact, of the entire new theater of play.) But the actors play upon the material floor without being able to enter within its, to them, dark and closed domain, and they play within the compass of a horizon whose limits, likewise they can never reach. [Aside: This is analogous to the human experience of “phenomena,” the “surfaces” that appear to uninstrumentally-aided sense experience; when Kant spoke of the impossibility of knowing the underlying noumena, he was speaking of this same principle of the limit-horizon, at least with regard to the underlying foundational preconditions of experience; at this moment it is not apparent to me whether Kant considered the role of the outer horizonal preconditions of human experience. More about this to come below. ]

Just so, underneath or within the floor upon which the new molecular dancing happens, as it were, the components of the molecules (the “interior” of the molecules) continue to do their dancing as atoms and subatomic particles (and below that, perhaps, “strings,” the primordial violin strings of the Universe). 

Here it is also critical to understand that each prior ontological epoch, while continuing with its dancing and grooving — thereby supporting the higher-orde entities dancing on the floor above them, in a non-intersecting, higher domain — also itself, and despite its titanic stability relative to the upper floors — remains open to the possibility of improvisation in its dancing. Each understanding floor retains some opening, even,  to influence from the new dancing above, for as the container transforms -- even thought the domains of container-agents (totalities) and contained agents (subcomponents) remain non-intersecting — so does the environment of what is contained; that is, as the totalities refashion their dynamic with one another, they simultaneously refashion the upper context or wider horizon which partly defines the operational subdomain of the subcomponents.  Maturana describes the same logic when he points out that, for example, when human beings conserve the newly emergent human relations of love in consensual coordinations of consensual coordinations that produce the conditions for the self-regeneration of the conditions of love, or, to simplify, when human beings conserve, or institutionalize in their practice, a particular dynamic, they create the possibility for everything around them to change in relation to that conserved dynamic or practice as a center and guide. (In the human domain, this is the outer horizon of ideals and our shared commitment to them.)

In other words, the newly discovered preferences of the dancers, if the dancers groove to them in the right key, become as spiritual guides to the underfloor entities, even though these guides are intangible and unreachable by them due to their being beyond the horizon, and these guides can lead or entice the lower entities into new rhythms, and towards those new possibilities of delicate adaptation, new orders of micro-harmonization, that are congruent (mutually harmonized) with the new rhythms of the dancers above.  Hence, to give an example, a community that stabilizes its commitments to reciprocal love and develops institutions and rituals that stabilize and proliferate the genuine experience of love, building its collaborative capacity, creates an environment which favors evolutionary adaptations in the biology and in the physical landscape that are congruent with those institutions, practices and commitments.

To approach this from another perspective: In sum, each level remains actively nested within the higher orders, and each order continues to have its unique kind of influence on all of the others. The congruence of the orders with one another, the congruence of their music, is likely what has been referred to in times past as “the music of the spheres”; this music finds one expression, on the principle of the isomorphism of each of the nested systems with one another, in the Indian system of the ascending Chakras, which track the evolutionary growth of the spine, from the sacrum, or residual tail, into the abode of the gut and parasympathetic nervous system, up through heart and the sympathetic nervous system, and upwards again to the voice, to the speaking, conceptualizing and spiritual bodies or levels associated with the throat, forehead and crown/aura or outer horizon. [N.B.: I have not studied the Chakras, so my application of  this analogy may be somewhat loose and imprecise]

We are still preparing to discuss the emergence of living beings within the theater of Newtonian physical space. Here, I borrow from Humberto Maturana his explanation of the constitutional principle of biological organisms. Maturana states that the living organism, on a molecular level, is constituted as a self-reproducing coordination of molecules that together keep reproducing the conditions of their own ongoing self-regeneration. [N.B.: [N.B.: I should check Maturana's exact wording, which I am here reproducing inexactly and inelegantly.]

Note: Initially, I suspected that this Maturanan principle describing the constitution and operation of biological entities on the molecular level did not apply to the underlying non-biological, physical entities (under the floor). However, I now seem to see that Maturana’s thesis describes is a more universal principle that applies at all levels through the principle of isomporphy of nested systems. [Note: However, this raises the question of what distinguishes living organisms from lower-order entities;  in living organisms an autonomous automotive and emotive principle first appears; but I will address this elsewhere.]

Each ontological domain finds its stabilizing, organizing principle in the emergence of consensual coordinations (dancing grooves that reciprocally satisfy the inherent preferences of the autonomous subcomponents) that generate the ongoing conditions of their continued consensual coordination: this means reality can become reliable at each level in preparation to support the next. After enough dancing, the domain enters into a period of ongoing stabilization, permitting the emergence of higher level entitites on ints floor.  So this principle of consensual coordination can apply not only to the biological level, where we are more used to speaking of “preferences,” but also to molecular, atomic and subatomic levels. “Inertia,” for example, can be described as the preference of a stationary object to stay at rest. An planetary orbit describes the “preference” of the planet to sustain its cyclical orbital trajectory. Etc. When we open to our hearts desires, our preferences will lead us where we want to go: “I learn by going where I have to go.” - Theodore Roethke.

To repeat: Consensual coordinations that produce their own ongoing self reproduction. [Note: This could be deemed a principle of “Agreement." When C.S. Peirce claimed that the purpose of Reason was to achieve Agreement, and in particular when he expanded this idea to his notion of Evolutionary Love, he more or less arrived to a very similar place to that which I am elucidating now.]

So to get back to the dancing of molecules — within the grand theater of molecular dynamics — from which, eventually, life emerges: a living organism emerges when a circle or collective of molecules joins together in such a way as to generate their own self-reproduction as a unity. This achievement (or musical discovery or unexpected type of agreement) gives birth to the conditions of emergence of an ongoing, autonomous self-motivating complex being with its own unique motive preferences, i.e. tastes and emotions, that guide it in its interactions withing the new environment, a "container" that emerges simultaneously with the emergence of the organism. The new organism exists in a new domain along with the other organisms that, as totalities or actors on the new stage floor (the earth), coinhabit the domain, giving rise to a new world or (if the term world is to be reserved for languaging organisms) or ecosystem. 

By following its preferences within the limitations and peculiarities of its unique environment (preferences for the newly sensible and meaningful qualities, for example, of hotter, drier, colder or wetter, darker or lighter, etc., depending on the locality within which the organism finds itself) every organism is launched into an evolutionary lineage, itself developing in complex interactions with the developing evolutionary lineages of the other organisms within its growing ecological system. The organism subsequently develops in conjunction with its environment, and the environment and the organism favor (or prefer) adaptations that most reciprocally support the ecosystem. As all organisms happily conserve (sustain in ongoing repetition) those mutually-agreeable congruences (dances) that, in their play, they discover between themselves and their physical and creatural environment (the theater or ecosystem), a layered building up occurs, in which the evolutionary path of speciation tracks together with evolutionary changes in the ecosystem. Organisms and ecosystem co-constitute one another.

Now to jump way back, for a moment, to the thesis with which I began, that the invention of True Money (not the counterfeit that we currently call money, which now conserves a relational dynamic of deceit, theft, exploitation and domination/submission in our socio-bio-cultural ecosystem), True money (interest and debt free) will in the future represent (as it has briefly at times in the past) the discovery of a new order and potential for the development of cosmically-beneficial congruences — capable of reaching to and uniting ever-wider geographical regions and populations while simultaneuosly nourishing individuals and their local environments everywhere, linking local and global planetary health for the first time. True money, through the aforesaid principle of structural isomorphy, extends and participates in the same logic of value- generation and evolution that we are seeing in the evolutionary world architecture that we have been discussing.

Language is the human capacity for human beings to consensually coordinate their consensual coordinations— this capacity is acted out within the theater of languaging on the immediate floor of the long-developed and stabilized consensual coordinations of our not-yet-speaking animal ancestors, that is, made possible by and built upon  the preferences of our animal ancestors (underbeings) to be social with one another and to live in communities in which they developed and made instincural certain practices of gentleness, kindness and love that ensured not only their survival, but more importantly, the pleasure of their being in community, by which actions they brought Eros into yet another and higher domain of accomplishment and institutionalization. On the floor of our emotional-relational instinctual-biologically encoded patterns of interaction, to which we remain nearly blind because we live in language and because these biological interactions go on at the very limit of our conceptual-linguistic experience, human beings emerge as languaging beings. As we know, emotions, when they enter the world of languaging where we as higher-order entities acknowledge them (even though they often determine what we are doing while they are unacknoweldged), become feelings; as we know, emotions when they are named become feelings, and then they become available to our coordinations with one another through reflection on what we are doing and through dialogue. In this way dialogue opens the domain of what C.S. Peirce called Evolutionary Love.

Some Possible Subtitle(s) for this Post: 
  • A Creation Story
  • A Scientistic-Spiritualistic Creation Story
  • Integrally evolving consensual coordinations at all the levels of our intelligence. 
  • Building on the congruences: From the deep singings of subquantum violins, to the overarching Hosannahs of the gilded heavenly sphere. 


Alas, my friends who've made it this far: I’m running out of steam and haven’t made it back up to my starting place: the level of money and beyond.

Here are some early notes which may or may not contain substance not included above:

Then, of organisms with each other and with the environment: ecosystems, species differentiation - dynamically discovering new consensual (mutually pleasing) coordinations (recurring, "institutionalized", conserved practices) OF the totalities  (higher level entities, at this level organisms structurally coupled with their environments) constituted by recursively consensually coordinating molecules. Each level generates its own domain and the diversity of its agency entities towards fulfillment of its sphere: subquantum diversity, atomic diversity, molecular diversity, biodiversity, cultural diversity, etc. The extension of diversity within each theater simultaneously develops and deepens connecting intimacy through increasing sensitivity and differentiation at both the level of the ground/floor and the sky/horizon, sensually and spiritually. Individuation and community grow each other. Oneness and difference move towards convergence.

Humans seeking to coordinate (integrally) all the many levels into mutual congruence (coordination). The heart is said to be the organ of integration of upper with lower levels.

Forgot to add image of the womb/matrix. The theater of humanness, the matrix of humanness, is the context of love.
Also, the masculine principle brings the mother-child cycle forward from circular to forward-moving spiral (?)

Esoteric Perambulations - Cosmic Evolution & Human Responsibility

 Nature - the larger ecosystem, Gaia, and it's many subecosystems, is the original gift economy,  infant (non-speaking) and alive, sentient and vigorous with driving energy to grow and multiply.

Money (true money, not this usurious counterfeit that masquerades as money today, and which yet  sometimes glints with the light of something higher), the exchange of true money ascended to its higher potential attains to conscious, humanly experience of the gift economy, happy and humanly munificent.

True money is not a commodity, nor is its exchange the exchange of commodities -- the deprivation  of things from their sacred cosmicity. Such exchange is instead the experience of living collaboration, of trusting, streaming, reciprocal generosity in the growing of our collective gifts.

Interpersonal exchange will then be experienced in the context of the loving community which itself appreciates with every act of interpersonal appreciation. Every appreciation re-multiplies in mirroring reflections of self with self, with other and with community, with creatures and with earth and air. In this circular, recursive dynamic, gifting equals receiving in a self-regenerating, self-perpeting, accelerating cycles.

Through money, the ever-reciprocally-evolving dynamic of living organisms with one another and the environment (earth, water, air and fire-light), which drives the rich abundant increase of the biodiversity of nature, ascends on the basis of human languaging and symbol-making, into a higher sphere of potential.  Within this sphere, the human ability to consensually coordinate the consensual coordinations of mutually beneficial interacting and exchanging -- the dynamics of the economic systems and underlying ecosystems in which we are embedded -- enters into a higher level of possibility, growing the potential domain of love to larger geographies and populations. Even today's debt-money, which has organized nations and armies to accomplish great feats of technology and culture, has shown, in twisted forth, a hint of true money's potential.

This potential has been historically diverted through private counterfeiting, manipulative masquerade, traitorious theft and dynamics of domination-submission. Yet the underlying potential remains alive and true, and we will find it and it will find us in the end.

We are speaking of the potential for congruence among all the levels of the Great System with one another, in the great Chain of Being, the Cosmic Chakra, the Spine of Creation, connecting and aligning in right health the earth, the living bodies (tooth, nail, gut, heart, breath, nerve, flesh, breath, arm, leg, voice and wing), with Sky and Sun and Stars and Cosmic Divinity.

We are at every level of our being, from the atoms within our cells and DNA, to our highest inspiring visions, generating both the past and the future from the everlasting Now, and our path rises up before us in the choices that emerge as we expand our awareness. The choices that we see and do not see condition our ability to respond, and liberate us into our own respons-ability.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Heart Attack World - A New Theory of What Causes Heart Attacks

Alternate title:  How heart attack science is related to love. 

I was drawn to this article, "The Real Cause of Heart Attacks" (full url below in the notes*), and its accompanying video, even though it first looked to be rather scientific and technical. As I read it, I soon discovered that, at bottom, it's anything but.**

The article starts to show why and how the true human heart — understood in a way that embraces  but radically recontextualizes everything science has to offer — is best  understood, not as the biological “aorta,” the isolated organism, but instead as the larger social-relational context (community, friendships, loves) in which the heart itself, within the complex organism of the human being, is embedded and out of which it has evolved over the course of a few million years.

Our bodies of course respond to our experiences in the world. To the extent that we experience love, our paraympathetic nervous system is supported and engaged, and this produces within us chemicals that help to nourish and develop that nervous system and its associated organs, including the heart and brain and everything else, and how they are connected and communicate with each other.

But to the extent that the world we create and experience is stressful, threatening and anxiety-producing, then we primarily engage and develop our defensive, aggressive nervous system -- the sympathetic nervous system. We experience stress because our organisms evolved in adaptation to an environment that favored the development of the parasympathetic nervous system, and gave rise to human beings as loving, playful creatures. Our experience of stress suggests that the current environment -- the socio-cultural milieu of modern life and its particular underlying assumptions -- does not suit us, the creatures we had evolved to be.

One response to a stressful environment is adaptation. A stressful environment supports the increased development of the sympathetic nervous system and the suppression of the parasympathetic. We become more aggressive, and we seek to become more capable of tolerating stress. Given enough  time, biological adaptation will favor the survival and propagation of more aggressive human beings to the extent of developing a new human species, with new and distinct traits that are more suited to the environment. This eventuality can be reinforced by a reciprocity between human beings and the environment: the human being in reaction to a hostile, threatening environment develops and enthrones assumptions, beliefs and expectations of competitiveness, aggressiveness, distrust, etc., and therefore develops and conserves habits, practices, tools and institutions that promote thriving and functioning within such an environment. These activities help to establish the undesirable environment as the basis of a way of living, i.e. establish a particular world and culture, with its assumptions and activities, as normal for  human living. It's the logic of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our western medicine (and our other institutions) are now behaving precisely in this way.  The assumption of western medicine that the body is separate from and isolatable from its environment, even though the environment is obviously a kind of extension of the organism, having co-evolved with it, is itself precisely one such reactive assumption, a response to some kind of perceived threat. In the response, the image of the threat is conserved. Western medicine is generally organized on a kind of militaristic attack model: we attack viruses, bacteria, disease on an allopathic model. Alternative medicines are arising that instead seek to promote sources of health. For instance, homeopathic medicines.

At this moment, I want to say, simply, that we have the power to shape our environment. The environment is not objectively fixed. It is partly shaped by our own assumptions and choices. Our world, our environment, is largely an artifact of human choice, and we can change it. We do not have to adapt to it. We can take leadership and influence it to create the world we want to create. We carry within us a desire for love and cooperation which can become the platform for a new kind of healing medicine.

A wise medicine would seek to treat the environment as well as the organism since the two reciprocally condition each other.  Thoughts and emotions — the health of the psyche — are primarily generated through our interactions, as biologically-whole totalities (i.e., individuals) in our social context, but medicine routinely claims, for instance, that “chemical imbalances” originating in the isolated organism at the level of the brain generate disturbed moods, thoughts and behaviors. This is upside down. The institutions, being reactive and sensitive to threat, and also infused with a dim guilt, are defensive and organized in denial.  We can develop understanding and resolute cheerfullness to speak healing words to those in denial, to those who have turned against their own loving natures in reaction to threat and in adoption to the belief in hierarhical competitive culture.

I've now strayed far from the above-named article, and many of the specifics about it that interested me. Now I would like for a moment to return to the article itself and how it brought together several strands of thinking that are of interest to me – historical, dietary, economic, philosophical. The article:

1. Suggests that diets low in fats and high in grains (starchy carbohydrates) favor aggressive human behavior (medulla, reptile-brain activating behavior) - in part because they are heart unhealthy, even though the medical establishment prescribes this high-grain diet under the claim that it is the most healthy for the heart!

2. Indirectly associates aggressive behavior with the rise of agriculture and grains, which itself has been associated with the rise of patriarchy and hierarchical socio-political patterns (in brief, with the rise of farming 10,000 years ago came the rise of fenced private fields and agricultural harvests -- a premonition of of the enclosures of the early modern period and today’s private real estate system -- and the micro-beginnings of political subsidies for the products of large-scale agriculture. The products of industrial monoculture are mostly starchy grains — perhaps not coincidentally, or at least reinforcing the system in yet another way, these starchy grains happen to be the best, cheapest fuel for keeping large-scale heavy-laboring populations alive

3. Begins to suggest how the human species could morph into a new, more aggressive strain, homo aggressans, through constant, progressively self-reinforcing environmental conditioning — bolstered by  theories and approaches favoring aggressive behavior and assuming innate aggressiveness over the loving behavior that is our heritage (a theme articulated by Humberto Maturana & Pille Bunnell)

4. Suggests that current medical practices and approach, together with industrial and dietary practices, heavily favor the development of homo aggressans — Hence the establishment promotes a high-carbohydrate, low fat diet as the most heart-healthy, even though this diet is precisely the most heart unhealthy. (A classic example of why Ivan Illich called western medicine iatrogenic.) Furthermore along these same lines, the article claims that the medicine/drug/hormone that most supports the parasympathetic nervous system (the loving, resting, imagining, creative part of the nervous system) is oubain, which while present in the environment is also produced by the body itself, in the kidneys (aside: thank you, Chinese medicine), and the production of oubain is inhibited by the #1 prescribed medication for the supposed prevention of heart-disease, statin drugs, which also inhibit sexual functioning and libido (drive towards sexual loving). 

Many pieces seem to come together here, perhaps revealing the deeply interconnected and mutually self-reinforcing spokes of the larger world system -- including the spokes of agricultural and pharmacological economics, property law, medical diagnosis, diet, moral psychology, social institutions, politics ….

I’m getting this sense that industry, technology, diet, labor, socio-political patterns, science, psychology, etc. are all being shaped by and delicately influencing one another in support of this larger “world system” that seems to have been set on its trajectory by some terrible experience in human history — one that seems roughly coincident with the rise of agriculture. Perhaps it was some “wave” rather than a single experience, and perhaps it had multiple simultaneous origins -- an experience of a threat, of aggression, of competition, to which humanity responded reactively, defensively-aggressively, in a way that has been manifesting in self-propagating and self-reinforcing socio-industrial patterns for a long time, into the present.

The bad experience I'm conjecturing about may well have been very simple and gradual, rather than any sudden apocalypse. Perhaps as agricultural societies arose on the planet, and different communities each started to expand outward looking for more land to privately cultivate -- a farm being set apart and managed within the environment very much in the way that a scientific laboratory creates a controlled space for experimenation -- human beings quite naturally reacted in a push and pull way: Drawn to new possibilities of security and wealth (and patriarchal dependency) that agriculture made possible and/or supported, but also set into competition with one another because land is finite and widening agricultural empires started to encroach on each other's territories. Accustomed to living in small face-to-face village communities deeply attached to their individual cultural heritages, speaking different languages, villages may have started to come into competitive contact. These things are new and confusing and people try to adapt and invent new practices. TPerhaps this is the story we are still working out.

Democracy in the ancient and prehistoric worlds was mostly local village or tribal democracy, where people's everyday life and activity was lived with the whole community.  Perhaps we are still trying to figure out a way to preserve all that is best of local democracy as we invent larger-scale systems.  That is something like what the Romans were trying to conceive in a Republican Empire that preserved the autonomy of confederated localities. But the Republic fell and tyranny took over.  That is what the Iroquois seemed to be working out with their democratic federal constitution that unified many tribes over a great extent of territory for hundreds of years, and influenced the American colonies. That is something like what inspired the New England village democracies to join together into a larger confederated democracy that would enhance and preserve, and not tyrannize, local individual and community and state freedoms. We are still trying to figure out how to have the benefits of widening technological-economic power while fostering and not eliminating the integrity, autonomy, respect and love among all individuals in and for their local environments.

* Here is the full URL of the article,   The Real Cause of Heart Attacks: )
Originary website for the article and video: 

**A note on our aptitude to be put off by "technical" literature, be it in economics, medicine, politics, or other fields of activity. This somnorific effect of technical jargon, which takes the very energy out of our muscles and places us in a state of passivity and uninterest, is an important thing to notice. It is not trivial! Our modern-day development of so many diverse technical specialties each with their own jargons tends to disguise the underlying human, non-technical assumptions -- always very simple and open to ordinary human understanding, but obscured by technical details -- which give to each specialty its fated direction of activity and determine its meaning for humanity and the planet.  Hence our specializations themselves tend to keep us from reflecting on what is most fundamental and what ties our various special activities together, determining the course and consequences of our civilization.)

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hannah Arendt (A film directed by Margaretha von Trotta, 2013)

I saw the film Hannah Arendt last August and recently rediscoved an email I wrote to a friend about my response to the film. Here it is: 

The focus is on Arendt's analysis of the Eichmann trial, what became the book subtitled "The Banality of Evil," and the outrage her analysis triggered among those who saw her as defending Eichmann and/or blaming the victims. One source for the outrage was her criticism, in a small part of her analysis, of certain highly-placed Jews for their complicity in what happened. Beyond this, Arendt in fact extends the scope of responsibility for the holocaust to the entire technological world system. 

I was interested in the portrayal of Arendt as a chain smoker with an almost film-noir style tough exterior and comportment. I found myself wondering what it might have been like had she been able to muster something different, i.e. without losing composure, to show tenderness and vulnerability in public.

There is something about the confident, hardened, arrogant intellectual that has become an unquestioned cliche, a model to emulate even — the brilliant defender of ideas, parrying all  criticisms. For a woman intellectual in a world much more male-dominated than now, where respect must have been very hard-earned, emotional toughness and defensive alacrity were no doubt  indispensable strengths. The dismissive stereotype of the emotional woman, culturally close at hand, was no doubt important to steer clear of. These norms no doubt made it nearly unthinkable for her to show publicly any grief or sadness in response to the rejection of her ideas, to the failure of her words, at least in some prominent quarters, to create connection and spontaneous transformation.  

Yet I wanted to see her throw away her self-soothing cigarettes, drop her defenses and — while preserving all her conviction and rigor of thought — openly cry tears of sadness and speak her desire for a loving world.

Hannah Arendt (film) on Wikipedia

Review by J. Hoberman

Friday, March 14, 2014

Continuing the conversation about the shift

Hi Marc,

I'm finding much of your writing at the beginning of your letter too abstract for me to comprehend.
It seems that you're saying that our adherence to a "common" language is basically a tacit agreement, within which human beings are indirectly acknowledging their "common context" or "inherent interdependence" on each other to live.  So we "create" reality, then, when we "act together," in accordance with our common context. 


Maybe you’re on the right track. I can’t totally tell for sure.  

Let me try this. 

Two dogs meet at a corner. They engage in all kinds of reciprocal behaviors.  I sniff you while you sniff me.  Let’s chase each other. Etc. They can have a great time together, communicating and interacting. When this interaction falls into patterns that the dogs repeat together, when they develop “back and forth rhythms” and fall into enjoyment of those rhythms, they are finding a kind of “agreement” that I am calling consensual coordination. A lot of these rhythms, patterns of interaction with each other and the environment, are part of the evolutionary biology of the dog.

What dogs can’t do is plan to “do this again next week.”  They aren’t able to jump to the meta-level in which they start relating their ways of relating with each other.  That’s what language is: the consensual coordination of consensual coordination. 

Our interactions as human beings at the dog level, the level of reciprocal interactions that are not languaged, makes the second level, the human level of languaging, possible. If human beings had not spent many generations hanging out together and developing a deep historical experience of such interaction, they never would have been able to develop language. Language is rooted in, and is a way of learning from and organizing and structuring these behavioral dynamics.  Maturana writes that humanness has its origins in the biology of love, which is epitomized in the loving relationship between mother and child; this relationship is seen as the original matrix through which humans, and human languaging, is born -- mother and infant (non-speaking) child engage in reciprocal behaviors, creating a strong bond and shared experiences, i.e. consensual coordinations, which create a foundation for later consensual coordination of such consensual coordinations.

This is a very different view of language from the mainstream view, which says that language “represents” things: the view that the  word “tree” simply represents or signifies a “tree.”   Such representing is a very small part of language, rooted in a particular human relationship to things, but for a long time we’ve thought that it was the essence of it. This made us very good at developing a certain kind of knowledge, but it has left us with poor skills when it comes to developing healthy relationships with all peoples and our natural environment. 

When we talk with each other, our language presupposes a cultural context, which consists of all the regular patterns of behavior, consensual coordinations of behavior, that our bodies are enmeshed in. We are enmeshed in these behaviors, not conceptually, but muscularly and emotionally. You say “close the window” and I move.  You say “I love you,” and my body responds.  Language is above all about behavioral coordinations, doings, not mere “representings” that can be judged as accurate or inaccurate, correct or incorrect. Representing is only one potential function of language, and it is always embedded in a context of doing from which the action of representing draws any meaning that it has, where meaning refers to purpose and consequences for the world. Much of our knowing in the technological age has been driven by the purpose of representing -- and increasing the means of control of what is represented. Yet as is becoming increasingly evident, our technology lacks direction. We aren't sure where we are going. We don't know how to attend to the negative consequences. 

Our cultural context, all the tacit, foundational reciprocal “doings” that are going on that make up the human world that we are a part of, is historical and potentially changeable. It's malleable, because its all based on historically created behaviors.  But it’s also what we rely on for our sense of reality.  Imagine you want to throw a ball. You focus on the target and throw.  All you are aware of in your mind is the target. But in order to focus on the target, you are relying on the backs of your eyeballs — however, you don’t notice this.  What you “attend to” tacitly relies on what you “attend from” (to borrow from Michael Polanyi).  

When someone says something that seems to “threaten” what we rely on, our instinctual response is denial and defensiveness.  I.e., if someone starts to pull out from under our feet whatever we are standing on, we immediately react with fright and the attempt to shore up the platform.  For this reason, humans standing tacitly on different platforms into arguments and talk past one another; they don’t know how to construct a way of conversing where both feel secure they are working together on making a stronger happier platform. (This is what the field of understanding group dynamics is all about; how dynamics are rooted in an underlying context or level different from the presenting issues and topics of discussion or "content.")

Of course, they can’t even get into the argument unless they already share a common cultural context that allows them to converse with one another in the first place. But this common cultural context that enables them to talk with one another is tacit and in their arguing with one another they lose sight of the commonalities that they might be “working on” together. 

We construct a shared world through our interactions. Most language relies on this tacit (hidden) world without being aware of it.  Language brings forth what is visible and acknowledged on the basis of something that can’t be made visible, but is only felt in very murky ways and is hard to discover.  In most of our languaging, we never look at or question this underlying context of tacitly constructed consensual behaviors.  

The common world is constructed on two levels: tacit consensual coordination in action, and consensual coordination of these consensual coordinations through languaging.  The difficult thing to do is to change the tacit level.  Language by itself — without action that is perceived as risk because it threatens the tacit dimension we rely upon — can’t do it.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Local and in Person, Represented and Global - From a Conversation with my Friend Louis

The sacred is one thing that interests me increasingly. The sacred is in one sense something very ordinary--something that all indigenous peoples seem to have a direct relationship with. Yet it is something that we moderns have lost touch with. At the fork in the road between older, indigenous ways of living and modern western rationalist ones, the west left the sacred behind.  Sacredness is a key issue that comes up in the recurrent face-offs between western development and indigenous peoples attempting to preserve their lands and ancient ways of doing things. The sacred, I believe, comes into appearance when people can embrace a certain type of “human limitation” that the west believes it escaped with the invention of writing and the technologies that this invention made possible. 

The “fork” in the road, I'm theorizing, occured when we went down the path of thinking that written language could fully capture “reality,” that the real could be “represented.” This fork in the road, according to the story I am piecing together from many different authors and personal experiences, can be located with Plato and the invention of the modern alphabet (see W. Ong, E. Havelock and I. Illich). The modern alphabet, invented around the time when Plato emerged, made it possible to de-localize or detemporalize language from in-the-moment oral speech through lasting representations; and this, in turn, made it possible at a whole new level to set up agreements, laws, models and representations as "truths"guiding or shaping how people related to their actual in-the-moment experiences over wide expanses of distance. This occurred in many forms: laws and policies could be promulgated across larger expanses of terrain much more readily and with much greater "standardization" than before possible.  Thinkers and scientists, as well as engineers and artisans, could now across great expanses of distance develop and work on the same problems together, etc. 

Writing is probably what made it possible for Plato to imagine an “ideal” conceptual realm that existed outside of time.  It is what made it possible for science and technology to set up a domain for thinking that is outside of in-the-moment experience, and instead located in a lonely Cartesian three-dimensional “space,” void of everything, and where everything can be generated by mathematics — leading to computer modeling (representation) of everything. This "space" of the represented, including prominently “computer modeling,” is the space we have been increasingly living in for a very long time. Our world is becoming more “virtual" by the minute. 

The great shift that is happening with the end of Western metaphysics, as it was announced by Nietzsche, can on one level be seen as our loss of total commitment to the Platonic divide between ideal-real and temporal experience, which I am equating with the divide between what can be “represented” and shared independently of local time and place, and what cannot.  

One thing that has happened today is that this “shift,” talked about by more thinkers everywhere, has become “news” -- which means that everywhere there is talk about a shift that is really all pseudo-shift. That is an unfortunate complication. (It's also related to the very topic we are discussing. Two people who are using the same "language" -- i.e. the same words -- seem to be talking about the same "thing"; but a little direct experience can soon show that in fact they are not.) 

If the fork in the road of which I'm speaking involved both a cultural commitment to truth as certainty of representation, and if going down this path at the same time involved a leaving behind of the sacred, then how does a re-contextualization of the representational within a larger picture include a new relationship to the sacred? That’s one way of posing the question.  Heidegger’s claim that modernity was characterized by a “withdrawal of the gods” speaks to the same thing, I believe. And I think it’s in line with Heidegger’s thinking to say that, with the west's reconceptualization of truth as “certainty of representation,” the west put human beings -- as the ones who make the (artificial) representations -- in the center in a new way. We set up the human subject as the ground and arbiter of Being, Heidegger might say. We took the "path of objectivity," in Maturana's terms. 

Once consequence of taking this path is that it gave rise to a class of expert "scientifically trained" professionals in the world, the masters (or priests) of representation, who have lorded it over all the “uneducated” of the world, usually put on a pedestal by the "uneducated" themselves. (These professinals include the economists and bankers who control economics based on their expert representations; money itself is a token, although not a representation – and this is probably one of the reasons that modern economists can’t “think” what money really is — they can only describe its current functioning in highly-sophisticated ways, because they are kind of like journalists and scientists who are limited to depicting what is "objectively," and so can’t generally tap the font of creativity that requires going into the imaginal realm, or that comes only when we can think of things in terms of dynamics and consequences and goals. Anyhow, this is going off track.) 

So what happens when we go beyond truth as certainty of representation as the only or the primary way of creating human consensus? 

We start to step off the platform of the representing subject. (For Arendt, this is the platform of homo faber.) And we start to valorize the platform of the vulnerable, experiencing subject.  We start to open ourselves to the unknown and to the mysterious, instead of only validating our (aggressive) procedures for knowing. 

When we open up like this, it’s like extending our arms and letting in the sky. All experience becomes legitimated, and our capacity to relate grows hugely. (We honor even the "uneducated for the capacity that they possess, a capacity that escapes the narrow criteria of valuation that the west has held to for centuries.) All of this opening up, letting in a wider expanse of experience, can have its scary components. What I expect we may discover: What will most hold us together in the overwhelming expanse is our proximity to one another and to local place. I.e., in some sense what will come to matter to us much more once again is our local community. And we will discover that our capacity for healthy local relations -- to our neighbors, to our friends, to local flora and fauna and geography, to our local civic experience -- will be the grounding source for health across wider expanses.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Paradigm Shift - A Letter to My Sister - Thoughts in Progress

Western thinking has long been based on the belief that reality could be represented conceptually. Plato, an acknowledged founder of the western rational tradition, proposed that concepts (ideas) were the ultimate reality, located in the heavenly realm of Truth, in opposition to the realm of matter, error and illusion: mere earth. 

Our commitment to this paradigm is shifting. Perhaps starting with the Pragmatists in the U.S. (R.W. Emerson, C.S. Peirce and the culture that produced them) and Heidegger in Europe (who, through Nietzsche, was influenced by the Americans), a widening wave of thinkers is realizing that “reality” cannot be reduced to concepts. This is because any thing that we distinguish in words can only emerge as a thing or concept against a larger background that itself in its essence remains unwordable, a background that yet preexists as a condition for the possibility of forming any such concept or words. 

For example, if I point out a “tree,” if I distinguish the concept “tree,” I imply and presuppose the whole world  in which the tree is embedded, although all of that wider context remains in the background when I foreground the concept or object “Tree” in my languaging. We can "chase" the background by talking about it, but we can only do so through words that themselves always function only through their relation to an ever-tacit background. (This background has been called the "tacit dimension" by Polanyi, the "implicate order" by Bohm; I believe Heidegger may have called this context "world" on some occasions, although I'll have to check up on that.) 

Aside: In naming this “background” (tacit dimension, implicate order, world, context), I do not mean to refer to an external reality independent from our experience. The background refers to the wider experiential context from out of which and against which we generate words and thoughts — while the notion of experience may imply some reality “external" to our experience, we have no access to such. Instead, we as human beings are able to explain any of our experiences only through other experiences, i.e. through the coherences that we discover among our diverse experiences (as Humberto Maturana has put it). So it does not make sense to refer to an objective “external reality." 

Instead, rather than through an objective external reality, we create a common world -- i.e. a world that we can communicate in and act in together -- by coordinating our behaviors with one another in our daily living together through the coherences that we discover in our experiences with one another, which means by discovering “agreements" both through establishing habitual patterns of non-verbalized consensually-coordinated interaction, and in also developing -- on the foundation of this non-verbalized world of consensual coordinations -- express shared agreements and understandings through our conversations or languaging. This accounts for our sense that "reality" is something we rely upon, rely upon together, have a feel and sensitivity for, experience on the level of shared culture, and not as something we simply "think." 

However, under the longstanding belief that, with sufficient (scientific-technological) rigour, reality could be captured in words and representations (models and the like), the west has created a complex array of specialized disciplines, each more and more isolated from each other and removed from common sense and from ordinary understanding. 

What we are starting to realize is that what is omitted from the thinking and languaging of each of these specialized disciplines — the wider context from which they have distinguished themselves — is in fact the radically common world, the common context from which they developed and that holds them all together! And it is this common world that our specialized forms of discourse, all the professions and university departments are unable to think! As a result, common sense has been decaying precipitously in the world, and, because we are unable to think what we are doing relative to our common context, human harmony, scientific, political, economic and cultural, is threatened. 

What the world needs to do is to rediscover the portal through which we can approach the future together, which portal I sometimes refer to as the generation of the commons (where I mean "commons" in a very broad sense). This means that our expert professionals in every discipline need to rediscover their link to the commons, and through that alone, to one another. By and large, we have trained our experts and leaders to pride themselves for the very distance they have achieved from the "merely common," the ordinary, the lay mind. "Progress" has been conceived, partly, as progress away from pejoratively "common" ignorance. "Educated" people have been valued over the supposed "uneducated" commoner. "High tech" excites more peole than low or no tech. And so on. But to rediscover the commons is to rediscover and re-experience our universal commonality as ordinary human beings, and it is only in this rediscovery that we can give meaning and direction, and collectively benefit from, the insights and learnings of all our separate disciplines. 

We are starting to move out of an age that believed “truth” was the “correct or incorrect” representation  of an external reality, a notion of truth that makes us very judgmental beings, too often acting under the supposition that there are right and wrong answers to everything and often pitting us against one another and ourselves. 

A shift is happening as we begin to reconceive the purpose of “reason” and thought as that of bringing people into harmony with one another and nature (our common context), not merely through writing and other forms of representation (media, books, ideologies, sacred texts, etc.), but in actual in-person acting and living together. All thinking is doing.

As Hannah Arendt once said: There is a sense in which the brilliant expert physicists who created the nuclear bomb knew what they were doing in order to create an unimaginably destructive weapon, an extraordinary feat of engineering; but there is a deeper and wider sense in which they did not realize what they were doing.  The essence of science is not scientific. The essence of technology, as Heidegger said, is nothing technological.  Scientific-technological thinking that is committed to the notion of truth as certainty-of-representation is itself a doing, but what science and technology are really doing remains unthinkable to science and technology; this comes into appearance only when we consider science/technology within the wider context in which they are embedded, as are considering it here: One thing scientific-technological thinking is doing, as presently instituted, is fragmenting the world ever more while delegitimating what most fundamentally gives coherence to a beloved and fully human world embedded in a beloved nature. 

C. S. Peirce, the founder of pragmatism, held that the “truth” of any proposition is in its consequences (not merely in its presumed correctness or incorrectness).  Hence, for example, if the consequence of some people being republicans and some being democratics is constant fighting and failure to take shared responsibility for the world, then the “truth” of the republican and democratic propositions is not in the ideological “correctness” of either side, but in the dynamic of fighting that they are producing.  

One dream of science was to harmonize the world by establishing objective truth that would compel everyone to agree (this is arguably the underlying non-scientific rationale that provided a context for science).  To carry out this purpose, science put all its hope in truth understood as certainty of representation, and counted as “real” only what could be objectified through representation. This led not only to the fragmentation of the world into specialized professions and jargons as described above, but also to the rigorous exclusion of emotion, so-called "subjectivity," the felt experience of “the now,” etc., from the domain of scientific thinking -- except to the degree that could be objectified and captured in representations. This exclusion was concomitant to the exclusion of the wider, always inherently uncapturable context within which we live, whose relational richness and complexity will always by definition exceed the capacity of human beings to think it, rationalize it, capture it in representation, from the thoughts that we accredit.  

As humanity wakens again to its dream and opens again to this wider, uncapturable context in which we are embedded, the great mystery in which we find ourselves and which exceeds us, we will hopefully adopt anew — in new ways and old — a common quest.  

As humanity opens in this way, we open again to the incomparable gift that has been given us, wider than the sky, greater beyond all comparison to the things of our own making. 

In completely unexpected ways, we open to the quest of harmonizing with one another and with nature.
We open again to what is called the spiritual, the domain of consensual resonance from which being-together in harmony emerges. In completely unexpected ways, we open again to the sacred. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Antichrist (2009), a film by Lars von Trier

After my favorable experience watching Lars von Trier's Melancholia (see here), I decided to watch  another von Trier film, Antichrist (or, as represented in the title cards, Anti Chris♀). 

The film includes some very intense and disturbing sexual violence, very graphically depicted, including excrutiating genital mutilation shown up close. It's not for the faint of heart. I found myself on several occasions averting or wanting to avert my eyes. It’s unusual to see a director willing to go this far. The graphic intensity makes it hard for me to recommend the film to anyone except certain select friends. I can't imagine anything more opposite to your generic "date film." 

I’m trying to assess what the film overall means for me.

I'm intrigued on many levels, not least because of the medieval sensibility the film seems to achieve in its present-day refiguring of the Adam and Eve allegory.  

The plot is simple: A husband and wife, the unnamed characters "He" and "She," travel to a remote, isolated cabin deep in the woods -- a place they call Eden. There the husband, a trained psychotherapist, intends to heal his wife of the disabling grief and pain from which she suffers due to the death of their young child. 

Through the interactions between the couple and the mysterious surrounding natural environment, in an atmosphere evocative of horror films, the story explores and intensifies a deepening divide or conflict between He and She. The conflict variously manifests as one between intellect and emotion, control and chaos, human and nature, "normality" (to choose an intentionally ambiguous term) and incomprehensible evil. The dramatic exploration leads to ever darker places, and eventually brings the conflict to a horrific head. 

In the end, there is a kind of resolution to the threat (I'm being vague here only because, in this instance, I'm choosing not to give away the ending). More precisely, the circumstances come to an apparent end through terrible means, but the deeper conflict, I believe, remains unresolved, with no solution evident. Indeed, the film arguably figures our Judaeo-Christian civilization as trapped within a repeating cycle of sin, dramatizing western humanity's failure to escape a profround historical, and possibly ineluctable, entanglement with evil.

As I have construed it, the film and its ambiguous epilogue leave us with several daunting questions: e.g., Will this cycle continue? Is the conflict depicted absolute, rooted in nature, or of our own making? Where is the locus of the evil? of patriarchy? of misogyny?  What comes next in the human story?  Can we rewrite, not just in words but through redeeming historical transformation, the tale of what happened in the Garden of Eden?

In AntiChrist, I think, von Trier dramatizes a dark human conflict with deep roots in our culture, going back at least as far as the stories told in our most sacred western text. It finally leaves its viewers in the excruciating position either of finding a resolution, despite no apparent way forward, or of remaining in its condemning grip and conceding its unbearable irresolvability.

In Melancholia, as I see it, and as I suggested in my earlier review, von Trier explores related and analogous conflicts, albeit differently, and ultimately locates and valorizes forces of potential renewal.

The films are coherent with one another. Only, the emergence of hope and a provisional new way forward came later.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Happy-Go-Lucky (2009), a film by Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky is an unusual film that I have grown increasingly fond of in these several days after watching it. 

You might call it a character study of a woman who may appear to some a "silly airhead" (I'm quoting a family member's critical reaction 20 minutes into the film), but who proves over the course of the story, I believe, to be a portrait of psychological health: a person with strong boundaries, who is non-judgmental, non-reactive, compassionate, courageous, appropriately assertive, modest, unpretentious and just happy being herself. She keeps balanced and cheerful in the face of all the dysfunctional cultural dynamics around her. Her good cheer is not merely passive and adaptive: even if in modest ways, at critical moments, she takes a stand and proactively confronts others around her. Childlike and playful whenever she can, but a mature and forceful adult when circumstances require.

Need I say what an important achievement this is in our world today? One of the actors, giving his commentary on the film, calls the main character a living example of the laughing Buddha. I think that captures it well. 

A special something about the film quite intrigues me, and I'm not sure that I can articulate what it is. What's coming up for me is an analogy to the curious fact that our mainstream news media today is so rarely able to report "good news." If it bleeds, it leads, goes the saying about our contemporary journalism. 

This characteristic of our news media reflects, I think, something deeply characteristic about our culture's almost addicted focus on problems, on "what's wrong," on everything unhealthy and pathological. 

Why do we seem to find health so boring? 

Why does happiness in our world seem like something always out of reach -- most likely something that we haven't saved up enough money to buy yet, or something enjoyed by other people who unjustly have more wealth, privilege and power than we.  But happiness as something already present, free, available to all? Boring, or perhaps not believable. 

Are we an eternally-disgruntled, blaming, protesting people, perversely finding some self-validation, perhaps even some joy, in the calamity that happens to others?  Why do stories of murder, war and bad behavior by celebrities sell so many newspapers? 

To our negatively-oriented spirits, the central character in Happy-Go-Lucky may seem to have nothing of interest to offer. No spiky textures to chafe our excitement. 

Nothing spiky, that is, unless we find her continual laughter and good humor something quite annoying. The first thing out of many a viewer's mouth after watching this film may be something like this: "The main character laughed too much. She was really annoying. She got on my nerves. She acts like a child, not an adult." The attitude behind such a statements, I think, will bring relief to such viewers -- because they have found a way to insert the character back into the mainstream negative framework, thus making her unthreatening and easily dismissed.

Yet that annoying tapping on our nerves may represent a suppressed, inner, more happy self that's trying to emerge, if only we weren't so fearful of the consequences of letting ourselves be happy, of breaking from social norms, of being okay and compassionate with ourselves and with others -- much like the character in question. Have you considered this: Why does the word "childish" have such negative connotations in our language? Perhaps we disgruntled adults would do well to bring more of the spirit of children back into our lives.

The main character in Happy-Go-Lucky might be perceived as a sort of "nothing" from one perspective (I say, intending to invoke the ideal state of "nothingness" as preached by the Zen Buddhists). She is nothing but resilient and adaptive poise, a model of composure and unfailingly generous good humor relative to all that life brings her way.  

The world as it is currently structured and oriented, I grant, is deeply unjust. How do we respond to that? Can justice grow out of a negative and bitter reaction to injustice? (At least one character in the film models such a response.)  Yet flowers need healthy soil to grow. How can we become happy and spread health in an unjust world, among dysfunctional social relations, exploitative economics and corrupt politics, where assaults are coming at us constantly from all directions? 

For I believe that we can. All the shadows we see in our lives are only visible because of a surplus of illuminating light. The given abundance supersedes all human-generated scarcity. 

A few lines of poetry come into my mind: 

"The light for all time shall outspeed the thunder crack."   
              - William Carlos Williams

"when you consider 
the abundance of such resource as illuminates the glow-blue
 bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies swarming the dumped
 guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit and in no
 way winces from its storms of generosity ... " 
             - A. A. Ammons

Perhaps the emergence of such a film indicates that our culture is finding new models of psychic and spiritual health in the face of social dysfunction, new exemplars of the kind of individual poise we must learn to join together in building a new world.