Monday, February 20, 2017

YOUR LIFE IS ENTIRELY UNATTRACTIVE, AND I SHARE NONE OF YOUR VALUES

 Image result for wise woman

https://medium.com/@DaleBeran/4chan-the-skeleton-key-to-the-rise-of-trump-624e7cb798cb#.2wejyctrb

This is what our children are saying to us.

Your life is entirely unattractive to me, and I share none of your values. Look at you. You are exhausted and fat and you dress like shit. What you see as decades of service and caring, I see as a decaying mess of passive aggressive weak kneed liberal cowardice. You preach tolerance only because you're too tired to hate. You squandered the education you got for free. You sold the environment down the river and then you pretend to care by buying expensive laundry detergent. The cultural gulf between us is wider than that between that of the baby boomers and their parents. You invented post modernism and then you fail to understand the irony of our situation. You even mopped up all of the decent drugs. And you are only protesting now because you are in fact deeply conservative. You have nothing I want. The world gives me nothing. I will take what I want, even as I know I don't want it. You dare to be upset because I voted for Trump, or posted a Nazi meme, or parted my hair to the side? Don't even try. Don't talk to me, don't lecture me and don't make out you know anything. You need more than a weatherman to tell you how the wind blows.

And maybe we say in return, something like this.

When you come out of prison you will have a roof over your head, and the only reason you got half release last time was because of my support. You can spend your life in your room gaming because I work two jobs. You can do your umpteenth useless little course in web design because I paid the fees. You know why I will never drive through Paris with the warm wind in my hair? You, my darling. And yes, some things I do get, for a cultural diet rich in irony. Yeah, Pepe the Frog is not really a Fascist icon, except when he is. Clever. And suicide is heroic -  research the Suicide club in early nineteenth century London, and you will realize that entitled, idle angry young men have a long history of idiosyncratic protest. And your reclamation of terms - failing is winning, a basement dweller is a term of respect, fighting for social justice is wrong. We did that too, we took words like queer and fat and made them our own. I was there, remember.  I took you to demonstrations. I came out to you. I planted trees with you. I stayed awake for you and thanked the cops when they brought you home. But you were always angry and you always struggled and I grieved because I gave you a life that is sometimes too hard. I may be no great role model, but beneath the tiredness and ignorance, there is love. And love is always strong.

So, above, two images. The picture is roughly the model of the wise woman in medieval Germanic society. The link is for an article about the relationship between 4Chan and the rise of the 'alt right' among young people. It is worth a read, although I am sure the young people in my life would disagree fiercely with it. I continue to try to understand the world around me as it shifts. One day I may have a proper idea. For now, this will have to do.




Sunday, January 29, 2017

AN AGE WORTHY OF EXCLAMATION MARKS! THE HOMUNCULUS

 Image result for homunculus

In many of my blog posts I take disparate ideas and random facts and try to put them together in unusual ways. I see the world as glorious chaotic play. Any sense I make of it is mine for the hell of it. I draw the longest bows, quite unashamedly, linking the cake on my bedside table as a child to Mithraic bull sacrifices, for example. I have no real sense of scale, I'm afraid. I know there are the biggest ideas that humans are capable of, and I also know there are these tiny bursts of intuition, and for me both are valuable. Wisdom, which I primarily seek at this stage of my life, is everywhere. In order to be at all productive, I need to stop it flooding me as I stand in the stream of all that humans have thought, and felt, and dreamed, and feared.

Understanding the current sociopolitical situation is tough going and I feel a sense of urgency. Of course my social media feeds are full of it and some of it is pretty disturbing. I want to add some ideas that sound a bit random, but I believe are quite principled. Like this:

- 'We' in this case means most people I associate with, those of the liberal left. These are generally educated older, 'white' people who value democracy, and support human and civil rights, and consider themselves to have an inclusive, caring approach to others around them.
-  We watch celebrities (political and spiritual celebrities as well as media ones)  'nailing' 'destroying' and 'ripping into' (watch the language!) Trump and his allies, and we make great cartoons, and we argue ad hominem. Social networks do what they do best. The sheer volume of it makes real thinking more difficult. We react and react and react. Hells, there is enough to react to.
- Just because someone dislikes Trump and didn't vote for him does not mean they voted for Hillary Clinton. It doesn't make them a Democrat. It doesn't make them anything.  Disliking pork does not make me a vegetarian.  Nor does it make me Muslim, or Jewish. *
- No it's not normal. It shouldn't be normalised because it's not normal. Not only is it not normal but it may well be illegal and unconstitutional. And what is worse, it is Not How We Do Things Around Here. Of course breaking norms and mores is far worse than breaking laws.
- Those of us who are alarmed about the breakdown of these systemic norms are speaking from both the right and the left, and it is worth looking at who is speaking. There are some strange bedfellows emerging blinking and disheveled from darkened rooms. My enemy's enemy may be my friend for now, but we must never be unprincipled.
- There are many people who do not give a monkey's fuck about 'normal'. If they had wanted normal they would have voted for Clinton. Or just about anyone else. These people are truly disenfranchised and whether for sensible reasons or not they are galactically angry. Saying to them 'We Can't Have This! This Isn't How It's Meant To Be!' is like trying to ban rock and roll. These people might not being joining the big marches, but they might just be the true rebels, and they have a lot less to lose than those on the liberal left. Plus they are armed for bear.
- There are many people who are genuinely afraid and with good reason. They are scared that they will be deported, or that their marriages will be annulled, or that they will be victims of violence even if they aren't already. These social and legal gains may look like identity politics to those who don't care for such things, (and who are armed for bear), but they are hard won and the resulting social truces have always been fragile things. Social issues are as important as economic ones when it comes to voting, surely.
- the Whole Trump Business was at least forty years in the making, possibly since the war between labour and capital was won, possibly since the rise of neoliberalism. I think I understand this, and if I have a fundamental critique it is of the system that made him (and us). Now, I do get that blaming systems can abrogate myself of the responsibility of owning my own privilege, and can end up with victim shaming and it doesn't take into account the lived experience of victims of oppression.  And no I am not being sarcastic, so stop rolling your eyes. I think these are valid concerns. But I want to think about this in the most sophisticated way I can, because simple thinking here may well destroy us. It just means we can't just dismantle it. Trump could even be impeached, but it doesn't stop what made him.
- I want to play with the idea that Trump is nothing important in himself. Trump is a kind of badly made homunculus. Alchemists and more modern occultists have tried to make homunculi - small artificial humans created in flasks. Guess what, they never work. The stories say they never last long.  I would like to say that Trump is made from something simple, such as stupidity, venality and hatred. But I suspect he is made from some more arcane material. He cannot now be put back in his flask.

I always come back to this, in my writing. I declare the Enlightenment dead! This is the age of wonders, the age of the non-rational! An age worthy of exclamation marks! No, it's not normal. Sorry guys.

Above I have talked about the importance of principles and of trying to think clearly. There are very few situations in life that are so urgent we can't take ten seconds and breathe. Whether in the end we go high or low, fight or pray, reach out or retrench, we need to be still and steady and principled.

Pause for effect...........


* I don't eat pork because it's too close to human. You can put a pig's valve in your heart. Then if you eat pork you are almost a cannibal. 



Saturday, January 14, 2017

TRIGGER WARNING -DISCUSSES DONALD TRUMP'S SEXUAL PRACTICES



Image result for showers of goldThe title is a joke of course - the news that Donald rump President Elect has received golden showers from prostitutes is all over the show, and humorous GIFs etc abound. Stop it, I say, stop it.

There are many good reasons to vilify this man. His sexual preferences are not one of them.

 I can see why an investigation into a man's sexual proclivities might shed light on his performance as President of the United States, but this is not the place to do it. Problematic sexual practices might exist because they exploit others, display unworthy traits such as narcissism, and are not safe, sane and consensual. Cheating on your wife is generally considered a bad thing in Western society, (but not in places like Japan or Vietnam, where among wealthy men of influence it is a way of displaying status). US presidents have been known for cheating, for sexual licentiousness as youths, and generally being testosterone-laden and entitled, and it has not necessarily lost them votes. The best question is surely, how does it affect the job? Does it evince the kind of immorality that could spill over into their public lives and policy making? Does it make them 'bad' people or harm the country's reputation? Does it make them psychologically vulnerable, or open to blackmail? Are they breaking the law? Are they poor role models? Should they be role models, or should they just be good at the job? Do we expect the President (or any other major public figure) to be any better at being human than we are? Should they be?

Maybe these are private, family issues that are best kept out of the gaze of the baying public. Maybe they are personal tragedies. Maybe they are just what happens in heavily negotiated marriages, in the manner of the great families of the past, such as the Borgias or the Roman imperial families. Maybe it's none of our goddamn business.

I also want to say something about golden showers. Of course Pornhub reports a sudden increase in online searches for golden showers, and I wonder if more people are trying them out. Thing is, they are not uncommon. Of all the sexual practices people do, and there are many, many of those, water sports or piss play is common. You may not do it yourself and you may think it's icky, but chances are you know someone who does it, as you probably also know a man who wears silk stockings and a woman with a clitoral hood piercing and so on. This stuff goes on out there and the thing I want to say is, it may well happen more than you think, and - get this - it's Mostly Harmless. When done in a safe, sane and consensual manner among adults, it is harmless. Rape, exploitation, sexism, and cruelty are not harmless.

Personally, my body fluids are sacred, and I would not piss on Donald Trump for a million squillion dollars. Well, I might if it guaranteed a Bernie Sanders presidency. But that is only a 'might'.

The image above is Danae and the Showers of Gold, a Lacanian krater. Very tasteful.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

ON BEING WOKE - AND PROBLEMS WITH SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE



Image result for wokeThe first person I knew who had special knowledge was my father. He strongly believed that his view of the world was vitally correct, that it was hard won, and was shared by a very few. In his case, it stemmed from moving to a large city in his late teens, and being newly exposed to different races, cultures and ideologies. What he learned stayed with him, fully formed, for the rest of his life. His resulting political stance was resolutely conservative and ultra right wing. He had brief involvement with ultra rightist groups, but found them too liberal. He wrote many letters to the local newspaper on matters of race, and developed a small following among other older white men of similar ilk.

He found his special knowledge burdensome. He would talk at times about how he was on the losing side, that the world was being taken over by women and members of inferior races and how the weak and politically correct system enabled them to do this, despite their obvious lack of ability. He feared for the future, where the Anglo Saxon race would decline and ignorance would take over. He felt it was his duty to point these things out, but he was also doomed to remain unheard. He felt he had come to his understandings himself, over time, after careful thought, without influence, and the fact that it was manifestly true made up for the fact that it made him unhappy.

In other words, in the parlance of 2017, he stayed woke.

I disagreed with him on all counts, and I worried that his ideas hurt him and made him afraid. He died after a short illness, during which he was delirious. He believed he had been kidnapped by some sort of Maori cabal, who were secretly running the world, and that they were experimenting on him in a laboratory. It was painful to watch.

Staying woke is a phrase that came in part out of the Black Lives Matter movement and it's a great expression because it conveys independence of thought, passion and commitment. You can say 'she is woke, of course', or 'she isn't woke yet', or 'these woke guys have made some awesome music' or whatever.  You can say 'stay woke, bro'. But really, it is about having special knowledge, or an understanding about social justice, culture and the future not shared by most people.

I doubt if I'm woke.

I have always had problems with special knowledge and what to do about it.

In my late teens, I belonged to a faith community where we were big on eschatology. We believed that the old world would end, not physically, but spiritually, and there would be a new era of world peace. We also knew that most people didn't believe this, and we felt sorry for them and wanted to help. At the time, I also hung out with people who had different and opposing eschatologies, and also people who belonged to other small groups, all of whom had the truth, and felt sorry for those who didn't, and wanted to help. Then there were the occultists and psychics who felt they had special knowledge too, but on a more personal level. They knew things no one else could possibly understand. And alongside, the activists, who knew about secret politics and dirty tricks, and also tried to help others grasp the real situation. All of these groups had special knowledge, and all of them saw this knowledge as radically true, and poorly understood or ignored by the general population.

This thread pulls itself through time and today I associate with activists, occultists, conspiracy theorists, light workers, healers and members of small religious orders, and they all have special knowledge.

So what are the problems with special knowledge?

The first problem is that it can make you an asshole. This is by no means inevitable, and for some, it is desirable in fact, because for them special knowledge makes it just plain hard to deal with idiots. And the world is full of idiots. However, if having special knowledge makes you cruel or worse, indifferent, then I think that is a problem. It is mean spirited to be pleased when others suffer, just because you know that the world will end in catastrophe any minute and only you and the rest of the chosen few will escape to heaven. It doesn't make for compassion. It makes your world smaller.

Special knowledge can also be hard to live with. It can exhaust you with activism, and splinter large groups into smaller ones as identity politics takes its prisoners. It can sadden and stress you as you acknowledge that your views are so marginalized. Knowing you are up against mighty and ignorant forces can make you feel alone and scared.  It doesn't make you happy. It may be the price you pay, and you may pay it willingly, but that does not mean it's always easy.

The other, closely related problem, is what to do about everyone else. That is, the general hoi polloi, the masses, the sheeple, the unconverted, the non-woke. You can worry about them and try to help them, by proselytizing or social care. You can despise them and expect them to die. You can fear them. But because you are by definition in a minority, you can't ignore them, unless you live completely off grid, or in the ultimate echo chamber of only your own head.

I have never observed a group coming to grips with these problems. I have associated with groups that value unity and have hierarchical structures, and those that value free expression and conflict. They can be kind and inclusive, or they can make you earn your stripes before they will even talk to you. Same thing, though. These problems of what to do with special knowledge are just intractable, part of the dynamic of having ideas with other people.

The word 'woke' is interesting in itself. The idea of waking from sleep into truth goes back to Plato. I was asleep and then I awoke....I was blind and now I can see.... ignorance is like sleep, it may be comforting, but it is not reality.....reality is brave, clear and mature....yes, it is a good word, a quasi-religious word. Its antithesis I think, is SJW, or Social Justice Warrior, which is a pejorative. So what Woke is to passion, commitment, love and ferocity, SJW is to mawkish earnestness, following the fashion, picking fights about terminology, and splintering. 

Of course it all seems pretty indulgent when you face real despair, as you would if you were in the snow at Standing Rock, or if police were likely to shoot you if you went out. Perhaps people like me can never really be woke. We can experience our own lives with as much honesty, bravery and class as we can, whoever we are, however, and I can say this. Anyone calling me and mine sheeple or sleepy hobbits can go - well, just go, just live their lives, and I will do the best with mine. 





Sunday, December 18, 2016

LUNGS

If trees are the lungs of the world, we breathe them. I have a great and abiding need for trees. I think if you have trees, rocks and rivers you have everything.

Here are photos from the West Coast of Aotearoa/New Zealand. None are filtered or shopped in any way.

The first two are of the Londonderry Rock. This rock is famous for the fact that nineteenth century gold miners could not blast it or shift it. This fact indicates that the environment around the rock has been heavily mined; it looks natural but it isn't. The third photo is of the track to the rock. It is lovely, all mossy and shaggy and rocky and how a track ought to be - in other words, entirely artificial, made by miners. Pretty as hell though.

The next three photos are of tunnel walks, where tracks took me through tunnels hewn in rock. I liked these walks immensely as they were mysterious.

After that comes a photo of light through trees, and then there is one of trees flooded in Lake Brunner, seen through the usual veil of West Coast rain. (It is, after all, a rain forest). I was lucky; this was only slight drizzle and actually looks quite bright.

The mountain photo is just that - just great sere vistas of rock and slope and layered land.

The last two are of the Carew Falls. I especially liked the bottom one. Much of my life I have looked at beautiful distances and thought 'I wish I was there'. In this photo you can see the road I came on. Instead of wishing I was 'there' and traveling hopefully to 'there,' I am actually 'there'! I am in a place of great beauty, and 'there' is now 'here'. With trees and rocks and river, I have all I need.

Monday, December 5, 2016

WHERE THE WILD THINGS REALLY ARE - THE SERIAL KILLER, HIS VICTIM, AND THE NIGHT FOREST



 Image result for night forest sinister

WHERE THE WILD THINGS REALLY ARE – THE SERIAL KILLER, HIS VICTIM AND THE NIGHT FOREST

Here is a joke:

A serial killer and his female victim walk into the forest at night. After a while she says she’s scared. He replies ‘What do you mean you’re scared? I’m the one who has to walk out of here alone’.

When I heard this my first reaction was against its obvious tastelessness. Then, the whole thing unravelled into something as strange and complex as the forest itself.

The joke plays on the idea that the forest is more frightening to both the killer and the victim than the implied murder that is about to take place there. When the victim says she is scared, it is of the forest, because she doesn’t know her companion is a serial killer. We know because we are privy to the joke.  We know the real threat is the killer, not the forest. The killer is also afraid of the forest. He is more afraid of the forest than of the terrible act he is about to commit.  In fact we suspect from what he says that while he may be under some imperative to murder this victim, he doesn’t want to. Once he does, he will have to walk out of the night forest alone. We have an image here of a man who is subjected to an archaic and atavistic terror, at odds with the terror he himself is about to unleash. Murder is a superficial thing in comparison.

Wild places at night have always been frightening, even to those of us who are urban through and through and have never been there. Think of the Disney version of Snow White, or the forest around Hogwarts. Forests are inhabited by sinister or marginal people, dangerous and rare beasts, and supernatural beings which are usually hostile. Forests are our pasts – much of the world was thickly forested before humans entered and changed the land for ever. They feel pre-human to us. Forests are dark, and we humans evolved on the sunlit savannah, loving the parklands and the broad rivers where we can find game and watch for predators from afar. Forests are both repellent and romantic. We are not at home there.

 Even serial killers are not at home there. You would think that there really ought to be some murders in the night forest, along with the unicorns and the gingerbread cottages. This makes the fear of the serial killer the punch line of the joke. It makes rational sense to be scared of the forest. The serial killer is one of us after all. He has asked for our sympathy by revealing his very human fears.
If the forest at night represents the murky and tangled darkness of our secret and ‘worst’ selves, we would expect the serial killer to be unafraid. Serial killers are a well explored trope and we think we understand them from cop shows and the news media. We think of them as damaged, for sure, but functionally fearless. A man accustomed to plumbing the ghastly depths of inhumanity should simply do what he has to do, and go hard and go home. After all, he has already faced the worst of himself. What is more frightening than his own depths and his own deeds? What can possibly be out there? The reason the joke is a joke, is because it violates our ideas about serial killers. This one is a wimp, afraid of a few trees! He is no wild dark thing, he is domesticated. Thus he is diminished in our eyes, and so he should be.

While the serial killer has domesticated himself by revealing his fears, he has also revealed himself by telling his victim he will walk out alone. We know nothing about her, apart from the fact that she is scared of the wrong thing and that she will probably be murdered very soon after she realizes her mistake. She is a notional character, and strangely we identify less with her than with her killer. Unless she turns and fights or runs away, but we suspect she won’t, because the joke has effectively foretold her future.

There is a lot to consider in a joke. This is in fact a very good joke, because it can be used as a probe to investigate our culture and our collective psyche, as well as explore our individual reactions. Jokes are like dreams – almost endless. Carl Jung talks about the skill of circumnambulating the dream. The problem is almost always knowing where to stop. Regardless of how far we go in our analysis, a good joke is never just a laugh. The one above educates us because it is above all else, transgressive. It violates our ideas about serial killers, and about human fear and strangeness.

Here’s to transgression. Here’s to the night forest, and the strange creatures who seek comfort there. Here’s to the cultural probe, to weird-ass humour and to our capacity to find learning everywhere. Ex tenebris lux indeed!

Friday, November 11, 2016

The veil.





So,clearly, Trump is a bad and stupid man and Clinton is a reptilian shape shifter. I want neither of them anywhere near anything I care about. From where I stand, which is somewhere between my Facebook location of Standing Rock and the toilet I clean for a living, it feels all care and toil. I want none of it. The Earth groans under our weight, and we groan with her.

Media wise, I watched the Democrats talking about going high where the Trump supporters went low. Very broadly, they appealed to reason and civility, those cornerstones of liberal thinking that go back to the founding parents of the USA and the whole Enlightenment project from which sprang the Constitution. I suspect they assumed that reason and civility was built into the bones of Americans - that the truths really were self evident.

They weren't, of course. I won't go into the many reasons people voted Trump because they are well canvassed almost everywhere among the chattering classes. But I will say this.

Over the last two years I have learned by very personal means the shocking truth that we are not rational beings. Even if we see ourselves as rational actors, we are also creatures of instinct and drive. I know this is tiresomely Freudian and Weberian and really rather trivial, but I am not sure we can escape it. In part this is not our fault. We can only be truly rational actors if we are in possession of all the facts, and we never are. We have largely bought a world view that goes back to the idea of enlightened self interest, and yet even if we are educated and thoughtful we often have no idea how it all works. We want our views vindicated. We gravitate to people who are like us. We want to be loved. We would rather save one named child than a thousand children. We want to be fed. We want to be free. We want the world to be unified, kind and safe. We want the world to be vibrant, diverse and progressive. And all we get is one tiny vote.

Liberal and left wing commentators were disappointed with Brexit and the Trump win because they saw it as irrational. I say we, the voting public, always were. It doesn't take a lot of pressure for rationality to collapse, and especially it collapses when the rational options seem oppressive and opaque and cruel. Remember how bemused we were when we saw interviews with people who had voted for Brexit and then regretted it, as if they had no idea what the consequences were.  Well gosh, I stand here as a person who has often felt I was on the wrong side of history.  I have in fact often made decisions I have not only regretted but poorly understood even after reflecting on them.  Rationality is a luxury for the safe and the well. There is no point in being told to eat your greens when there is no food at all.

Here in Aotearoa/New Zealand I know no one who states they would have voted for Trump, and many who would see themselves as natural Democrats even if they disliked Clinton's hawkishness. This goes across the strata. For example, I was with a group of intellectually disabled people when Michelle Obama came on the radio, and announced that Hilary was ready for the presidency. All the intellectually disabled people spontaneously clapped and cheered. Natural Democrats, natural rationalists.

To explain our fraught relationship with rationality, I want to reference those great heroes of ancient times, those Colossi who bestrode  our cultural straits and inspire us even today. I am talking about Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Mel Gibson. There have been others as well, perhaps Chris Rock and Samuel L Jackson, although as actors they are not so culturally bound to types. These guys taught my and subsequent generations all we need to know about the power of the irrational. They didn't exactly think. They followed their unerring instincts and their guts and their sense of the sentimental, and even if the details went a bit runny at times they were always right. Or even Right. While more reasonable heads around them planned and considered, they would just act from their noble hearts. They were genuine individuals who had no time for systems or social context or theory or eve much self reflection. Their motivations were often on the personal scale - to save one boy or find their ex wife or seek personal revenge. And in doing so, they saved the whole world again and again.

Mostly it doesn't bother us that we are irrational. It's too bloody hard and we have no attractive role models.

For the educated and liberal, never make Trump voters the repository for the dark, the primitive and the childlike. Especially women must remember that under active patriarchy we have often been the repository for just those things. Never judge or scoff until we ourselves have fully understood all that is dark, primitive and childlike in ourselves. And remember we can never be truly rational actors until we are in possession of all the facts, and we never are.

Instead, I want to listen, share what I have, fight for principles, keep awake, and stay away from the oncoming headlights.