Sunday, June 17, 2018

Spiritual Practice and Trump

Some years ago when Bush II was President a spiritual friend and healer told me to stop hating Bush and put a picture of him on my altar. This was a tough assignment. I understood what he meant bu.t didn't like doing it. Jesus said to love our enemies and here I was put to the test. Over time I this idea has matured and sprouted as a spiritual practice a kind of spiritual puzzle like a Zen Koan. I found it very hard to develop positive feelings towards Bush. I thought not only was he doing highly toxic things but he was a phony--he was a rich a-hole who pretended to be a redneck and a born-again Christian when he was neither. He might have wanted to be but he just wasn't.

Eventually I came to understand that there is something magical about the Presidency of the United States. In person the President is both the Head of State (like a King or Queen) and the Prime Minister. Thus not only does he have an executive function but he is the National Symbol of our country. He or she is us--and no matter how ugly our real face in the mirror is the only way to make that face beautiful (makeup won't work in the mirror of truth) is to love that face. Thus when it comes to someone like the President no matter how ugly he or she may appear loving that person is the answer--any real Christian would tell you this (those that follow Jesus' teachings). George Bush represented everything I despised so hating him would only add to the negative energy of fear, lying, killing, and destroying countries. Bush was my enemy but hating him means he wins or the force of evil within me wins--loving Bush, wanting the best for him was the surest way of actually opposing his policies as a citizen. I could still tell the truth, I could still witness and demonstrate for peace and compassion but hate has no place in that.

Trump is hated even more vehemently by people on the cultural left (most of them are not leftists in the political sense) because they seem him as crude, rude, and a person unable to tell the truth. I think it's funny that people continue to post on Facebook Trump's inaccurate statements--haven't we learned that Trump has a very different understanding of "truth" that most of us have? Don't we understand that we live in a post-rational society? Just look at our cultural artifacts! Look at the consistent dumbing down of our people over several decades. Only by loving our Great White Father in Washington can we surely understand him and oppose his policies effectively. Love and compassion allows us to expand our consciousness about him and why he is in the position he is in. Only by looking into the mirror and seeing our own simple-minded attitudes, our own narcissism which may not be as graphic as Trump's but I can assure you it's there because we live inside what Christopher Lasch dubbed many decades ago "the culture of narcissism." Compassion also allows us to see deeper--maybe Trump isn't all bad--maybe he has some interest in our well-being but doesn't see it or sees it dimly just as we often see the paths to our own well-being dimly.

The essential element of real spirituality is to understand that we are all connected and that we are all responsible for all the ills of the world as well as the beauty. We can't, as spiritual aspirants, point the finger at others for their faults particularly because we cannot alleviate those faults unless and until we face and work on those very same faults in ourselves--I don't mean we have to do one or the other--we do them at the same time. When I see the selfishness of the President I have to, at the same, see my own selfishness, and not see myself as better than the President or anyone else. Jesus said that we should love our enemies--but implicit in that is the fact we will have enemies, i.e., those we oppose and must oppose. I must oppose Trump's environmental policies, for example, and I can be more effective if I don't hate him and others who seem unable to develop enough compassion for their progeny who will have to live in a planet seriously degraded environmentally and perhaps a planet that may be very hard to live in (there are very specific disaster scenarios that could occur).

The same goes for hating the oligarchy who actually controls most government policies.  Yes, they are greedy, yes they are nasty and cruel by nature, yes they see us mainly as food--but when you look deeper into the human beings that make up this informal network they aren't all bad--it's the system that has evolved over time or you might say the culture that made them collectively act as they do and that system and culture has our face on it. We are selfish, we act selfishly, we are alienated, we do see the world made up of good guys (us) and bad guys (them). We live lives of emotional and physical isolation. We spend our time in cars and houses in front of screens--the rich just spend time in better cars and houses and with more toys and amusements--but their interests are the same as ours. This is why Americans unconsciously defer to the rich and powerful. They know that if they had the means they would act in the same way. Buy a big house and a 200k car, and have the most desirable sexual partners, a boat, an airplane, the best clothes and waste energy, dump plastic in the ocean and "live large" to show the world how much more worthy they are. As long as we admire that kind of lifestyle, as long as we yearn for money to burn, we will continue to ignore and hate the poor, defile the environment, so that our company can make a few percentage points more of money. Let's face it "we have met the enemy and he is us" as Walt Kelly through his character "Pogo" quipped.

And what is it with "us" that is the enemy? Well, here's a clue--unless you face that enemy and love it you cannot master him/her.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

We Are OK and the World is Ok -- But We Have To Meet Our Challenges

All of us are ok--we are inheritors of a civilization that has given us, today, all the tools (with some modification) to create whatever sort of world we want. Certainly we can have a world free of poverty, war, and ignorance if that is what we want. We're in a perfect place to do that. Unfortunately, we don't want a peaceful an convivial world. We want a world where the environment is continually degraded by plastic in the stomach of sea creatures, herbicides, insecticides, depleted forests and choral reefs, massive species die-offs, rapid increase in greenhouse gases. We want a world continually at war and believe the government when they claim there are "threats" around the world. Here's news for you--there are no real threats. Nobody other than the corporate elite want to conquer your country and your community and, to be blunt, your family.

No one wants to send troops to the our country and conquer it. There is only one country that seeks to conquer, invade, murder leaders, start "revolutions" and civil wars--only one country with a national "security" budget of over a trillion dollars a year. Which, by the way, has 20 trillion in unaccounted expenditures much of which is sitting in secret bank accounts around the world. Who stole that money? And how much of that could have educated our children? Created marvelous infrastructure projects like the Chinese are doing all over the world (you don't know that because your media won't report it).

Now for most of you these problems I listed seem removed--but what about really serious family issues we all face? What about the outbreak of depression and anxiety? What about drug addiction and the lower life-expectancy? What about our gradual drift into being the first truly poor rich country where nearly half the population can't come up with $500 for an emergency? What about so many of us being just a couple of crises away from not paying our mortgage or other bills? What about the fact we can't rely on a steady job--we might still be working in a year or maybe not as automation sets in, as jobs are farmed out to other countries, as we have to accept lower-paying jobs with our steadily decreasing minimum-wage.

Few Americans know that Western civilization has moved on from punishing it's poor and now try to better them--most European countries don't believe poverty = immorality because that is simply illogical unless your values are ONLY based on materialism and the cult of "winning" and "losing"; a cult based on degrading compassion and community despite the findings of science that show human beings as being deeply hard-wired for sociability. Other countries make education, health-care, housing, food, and other necessities available to citizens because they understand that if more people are healthy and less stressed then that makes each of us less stressed even rich assholes.

But we consistently choose misery, fear, and loathing over conviviality, joy, and compassion. In a word this is deeply, deeply perverse and has no basis in our collective knowledge and our science.

Each of us is ok, each of us has feelings of love (unless we are seriously abused) and other virtues right here at our fingertips. We can respect ourselves, our humanity and our link to the divine through accepting our lives and, also, accepting the broad possibilities available. Even if society blocks us from realizing our potential we can begin to heal our society by healing ourselves. We have all the information, the methods, the styles of therapy (stay away from psychiatrists and other pill pushers), the insights of scores of people who have accepted themselves, their abusive childhoods, their addictions, and moved on to live full lives through a variety of techniques and insights. We also have the knowledge from social- and neuro-science that shows us what sort of lives we can live to be happy. There's no reason to be confused--just study the field of happiness studies--they provide some clear roads--why not use these findings?

Instead our information media obscures and/or ignores important findings that could help each of us to navigate our lives. If we start to pursue more knowledge we will be rewarded as individuals. But it is by re-invigorating society itself which, in turn, will begin to heal the corruption in our political-economy dominated by a ruling class that seeks all benefits for themselves and nothing for the rest of us. Only by changing social mores and broadcasting possibilities that we can easily solve all problems we think are unsolvable--but only because it is to the advantage of the rich and powerful to keep their power by taking from the system and giving little back (there are rich people who are somewhat interested in society but only if it doesn't interfere with their profits).

We are ok, just as we are warts and problems. Our society is ok the way it is--we have to fully understand ourselves and our world and the only way to do that is to accept who we are. Accept that we are selfish and that we live in a culture that encourages selfishness. We have to accept that this is all part of processes that are hard to see. Morality has broken down because it needed to break down so that appropriate values to our real situation in life emerge. There is no rational reason, for example, to say that homosexual sex is immoral because there is no need to expand the human population. We no longer live in an agrarian culture or a herding culture like the ancient Hebrews thus their moral codes, while interesting and something to build on, make no sense in a world that is as far away as we could imagine from the world of two to three thousand years ago. So the process of family disintegration, social isolation and alienation are necessary for us to reorganize our social lives along different lines than the old habits that are obsolete.

So I suggest we stop feeling guilty, understand that "there's beauty in the breakdown" and start to think more holistically and along the lines of Systems Theory which depends on understanding whole systems. We have to move away from what we imagine to be certain and be open to new experience, new states of consciousness, new perspectives. And yes, that's all dangerous and yes, it can lead to all kinds of pain and disaster but that was also the case when our civilization faced the Age of Exploration to find new sea-routes to India when the Ottomans blocked off trade. We now face a different kind of exploration that will, if we continue to engage in it transform the world by transforming ourselves so we can begin to use the technique and technology to create a more pleasant and healthy life for all of us. The amazing explorations in science and technology was accomplished at great effort and creativity by past generations. We hold all this inheritance in our hands--are we going to squander it on pointless waste. Or are we going to take up the challenge and run with it. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Why We Hate Foreign Affairs and Other Important Matters

The answer to my question for most Americans is that the vast, vast, vast majority of both "educated" and uneducated Americans know next to nothing about the outside world--nor do they know much about our own country. The mental space in most people's minds are occupied by family, work, social circles, and cultural tribe as one would expect. But just as much as these are important it is occupied with mass entertainments usually carefully engineered to particular demographics. "News" which I define as enforcement of the grand Narrative that provides some kind of framework for people to hang their lives on makes up much of this "entertainment" because its value as an information source is almost comically poor.

We don't have room in our lives to look at other countries and our cultural tendencies have always been towards isolationism. That's why it's easy for people to not know that problems think are unsolvable whether it's creating an efficient and high-quality health-are system, or having family-friendly policies like five weeks paid vacations, maternity leave and so on are normal in nearly all developed countries yet I don't think more than 1% of American people know about any of this nor, sadly, want to know. Look at it this way. If you know that people in the next neighborhood get free health-care and you don't and, furthermore, you know that no matter what you or anyone thinks that there is no way that will change, which is btw true, you will stop thinking about it to avoid beings stressed when it comes to writing that check for $1200 to cover your family with a policy that doesn't cover everything and has a relatively high deductible. And for those of you conservatives that talk about higher taxes in these countries know that their systems are cheaper (on average OECD countries pay about half of what we pay and cover everyone), more efficient and higher quality and no other developed country has a falling life expectancy like we do.

We also lack a conceptual framework to think about things that are painful. We don't want to think about the growth of suicide, depression, anxiety, poverty, drug addiction, autism and so on. We are actually becoming a culture not only of narcissists (that has been emerging for many decades) but we are becoming autistic in our life-styles as we entertain ourselves to death. Anyone like me who presents ideas and perspectives that provide facts and figures that go against the contemporary cultural myths is almost always met with a cold silence or a shrug of the shoulders (metaphocially speaking) almost no one, even those agreeing with me, wish to dwell on any of this because it is "negative." But within that negativity there is always a positive side and that's where we could go if we actually faced reality. We simply don't have conversations about any issues let alone foreign affairs other that throw out tribal propaganda at each other. If I post the fact, for example, the facts on health-care I cited above I get, in response from those in the "conservative" tribe, a rant on free-enterprise which doesn't address the data I cited. Maybe universal health-care is not a good idea but those who oppose it don't make a rational argument in favor of their position other than chant slogans and wave flags. I can understand why the politicians oppose any reform of the health-care system because they are bribed to do so (and I have some personal insight into how this works) and the mass-media won't report the facts about health-care or anything else that will upset parts of the coalition of oligarchs that control the media.

This willful ignorance and denial extends to climate-change. Few Americans know that Germany gets most of its energy from renewable sources and many other countries are leading the way including China in renewables while the USA is going backwards. Not only are we in denial about the problem but also about the solutions. We would rather take a chance with climate-change and endanger our children's and our grandchildren's lives than begin to explore the science and the risks. I've had numerous conversations about it with people who simply call it a "fraud" without evidence--opponents of climate science simply call it a name and that's the end of the discussions--they believe there is simply not even a remote possibility that there may be any truth to the possibility that large amounts of greenhouse gases could have ANY effect or that the effect will be good. None of them seem to have a clue about how systems in nature work and I mean NO CLUE.

Our permanent wars go on with no opposition by anyone. People simply support the military as a heroic institution that guarantee our "liberty" (almost gone as a practical matter unless we are rich) and security. Bombing peasants in Afghanistan somehow makes us safer--this notion is accepted without argument by most Americans and never questioned in any mainstream media account. Killing for peace and other Orwellian notions are routine in today's culture. At one time this idea met with a lot of resistance during the 60s but is nowhere present today. No one knows the history of the Middle East, for example, but most people imagine that the region has "always" experienced constant warfare for thousands of years which is utter fantasy but these statements can be made by people who have no idea what they are talking about but say this to justify the slaughter and displacements of tens of millions of people and the destruction of civil society as if we had nothing to do with any of it.

I have lived on this Earth for 69 years and I have seen great progress in many areas of life. People are less prejudiced against other races, even though this is beginning to be reversed, people are more tolerant of alternative lifestyles, women are far less repressed but still caught in the cultural assumptions of being female which seem to linger but that may be that we have reached a balance. But in the area of knowledge and critical thinking we are in steep collective nosedive. Most Americans know nothing about the outside world, want to know nothing and are primarily focused on very narrow personal concerns. I'm not blaming anyone--it is what it is and this is who we are. I do what I am called to do by alerting people to the sorts of things I write about--I don't have a particular interest on whether my thoughts have much of an effect--of course I'd like it but I still must do what I am called to do.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Emerging Reality is All Up Closes and Personal

One of the great problems of our time is that, collectively, we seem to lack the ability to do precisely what we must do at this time--look deeper! We live in a world of surfaces where going deep, understanding causes of events and states of being seems to be too time-confusing until there is a crisis and we have to go to therapy or AA, NA, or, Church or whatever gets us through the night.

In this time our collective survival depends not on some political agenda, not some new business. not on a humming economy. It depends on our ability to go to the heart of things--to dig deeply and to take the time to do so. And it's not like you have to make much of an effort. There is some kind of force that will plunge you into whatever it is you're into and demand that you look. On the other hand, you can avoid that force and simply make up a story where you are the star, once again maybe tragic, maybe comic, maybe just the way it is.

The new emerging reality is up close and personal. It is in the up close and personal that you must act. How do we act? The answer is simple. Through close observation of who you are and what you are doing. Looking deeply inside your inner life and also your outer life with the understanding that there really is no difference between inner and outer. We often imagine they are different and discrete but that is only because we like to put things in categories as per our cultural tendencies. The actual reality is that it's all connected and part of one continuum--but that's hard to grasp until you begin to observe it. This doesn't have to be about belief. We can "believe" something like "we are all one" but that's just a platitude--it's useful to keep in mind but not really a belief. A belief is an idea with power.

There is no way that we can grasp the "big picture" of what is generally going on because there are clearly dimensions we can't fully see or see at all. I don't "feel" the cell-phone transmissions at least not consciously yet there's all kinds of activity in that spectrum. Science has further explored how much we don't know. Science seems ready soon to move towards the idea that all matter is actually some form of consciousness and is alive. A living universe changes the way we look at things. We, in the West, were trained to think of ourselves as both alive and conscious and that the rest of nature is not. There may be life on earth but it is limited to animals, plants and so on. But all this has been put into doubt with the discovery of ideas surrounding complexity and the emergent intelligence of complex systems. Plus the "data" or information we have about the world around us is filled with contradictions, anomalies and just generally ridiculous--this is generally driving us crazy. We all share a need to have some workable framework to keep things simple and coherent. The problem is that Western civilization is very much focused on certainty, logic, simplicity and clarity. We love all-around simple ideas that make us feel good about ourselves and others around us.

For me, paradox and mystery are essential to understanding this life. We don't have to know exactly what is going on around us or in the world outside to understand "truth." Truth is not about accurate depictions of nature, ourselves, our society, or objects and systems in general. Truth originally meant faithfulness and something like being honorable, trustworthy and so on. Under this model a virtuous person is truthful because he or she is sincere and isn't running some hustle. I remember when I was trying to find some metaphysical foundation for morality I read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics where he defined a virtuous person as someone with a good reputation. In a world of public relations and easy hypocrisy, a deep menu of platitudes, and a culture that equates wealth with virtue this shocked me. Reputation in our world can be managed and bought--that's what we see in our world. But after thinking about it I knew that in the world of 4th century Athens people all kind of knew each other, had grown up together, known parents and relatives so hustlers and punks could be outed pretty quickly and genuine people, over time, achieved a reputation for honor and virtue. I never spent enough time in one place or any country or small town to have experienced a world where everyone know who I am and who my parents and ancestors were so I could not hide by moving to another neighborhood--and if I moved to another city--then I would always be on probation unless I was taken up by prominent and honorable people in that city who would vouch for me. I had not initially understood that a capitalist culture that featured alienation could not foster virtue and morality without some other addition. In the USA that was usually religion or, in some urban areas, it was culture as in literature, art, theater, music, the humanities, science and so on. But those things have seldom been able to compete with the cash-money society of capitalism.

We must find a new basis for virtue and morality which can only come from a new metaphysical foundation that rejects alienation and capitalism as a dominant ethic--capitalism has a positive role to play but can only play a negative role if we reduce all values to commodity fetishism, i.e., making people, things, nature itself into commodities whose value is determined by markets (which are usually rigged or weighted by those that run the markets). 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Spirituality and Troubles

There are many troubles involved with whatever you want to call "spiritual development" which I will briefly describe as follows: to become more authentically who we are beyond culture, habit, conditioning and so on. Spirituality fully pursued demands shattering our illusions and our stories (about ourselves and life in general)--not by rejecting them but seeing them as not who we are. My biography or resume is not who I am and does not capture my being or my consciousness. We mainly live fragmented lives and create a fragmented self that reacts to conditions--and certainly that self, known as the ego, is necessary for our survival and orienting ourselves over time and space in this world but it is not who we are. Through socialization we "forget" that this is a veneer and does not reflect the deeper self which, since our culture (for a variety of reasons) is deeply hostile to. We tend to not be aware of our deeper self and we also tend to reject, usually unconsciously depth itself.

I remember reading Plato in my youth and being struck by one of his dialogues where he asserts that beauty actually is the stirring or a memory of when we were at one with God. Every bit of beauty whether it is seeing it in nature, a person, a situation, or in ourselves is, essentially, a connection with God or with absolute and pure consciousness. So Plato showed us that beauty itself is our link to the transcendent and divine.

Now here is the surprise. The good thing about trouble in our lives is that they fuel our awakening. They are the raw material in our lives that can move us off our narrow view of life. My most "spiritual" moments were during times of tribulation. So trouble and our experience of beauty both lead us to the divine or connection with a force that is very deep and essential.

I advise people spiritually and the greatest problem I see is that we can't seem to see the good inside of us due to all the negative judgments we have about ourselves. We get stuck on how fucked-up our lives are because we have failed ourselves and our loved ones. Yet, in many ways, it is the flaws within people that display some deeper more authentic self that may be the coolest thing about them.

To put it another way that freaks people out: maybe we are good just the way we are! Obviously this idea is very revolutionary and most people seem to have a hard time even entertaining the idea. The reason for this is that they would have to unpack all the socialization and conditioning of an entire lifetime. It appears essential that we are "damned" unless we are "saved" either through a religious conversion or working out more, or achieving more. This means something important. We are "schooled", in our culture, to judge ourselves and others. We don't have a "right" to be here--we have to "earn" our right. We have to fit into the highly chaotic and confusing social mores that ultimately seem to come down to status and money but are interwoven with old fragments of traditional virtues often obsolete or irrelevant as fragments whereas when taken as part of the entire set of cultural assumption of a long-past age they make sense. Strict patriarchal values made sense in the age of my youth but today work at cross-purposes with our strange transitional blend of feminism and patriarchy. What used to be sometimes obnoxious way we were taught to deal with attractive women in the past is now seen as "sexual harassment." If I make a comment on a woman on how nice her dress looks or her beautiful eyes, often the result of an artistic way or applying makeup, I risk being rude. So fragments of the old fashioned virtues of opening doors for a woman could be taken as rudeness, or not opening doors may also be taken as rudeness. Our social mores are replete with this sort of confusion so the best policy is just to avoid socialization.

Suppressing our pain, anger, anxiety can be a major problem when we decide, in whatever fashion, to begin a deeper spiritual life. Many will go around being "spiritual" and getting upset with themselves when they stray into negative emotions because most of the "feel good" New Age spiritual paths ignore negativity and want us to transcend this so we think "positive" thoughts all the time to overwhelm our negativity. Actually, we need to embrace our negativity and allow it to transform through the alchemy of love. Affirmations are good only if we are willing to face the internal resistance of negative attitudes and thoughts our egos are reluctant to acknowledge. I'm spiritual and have gone through decades of spiritual practises so after I become furious at something I feel embarrassed and feel I've failed. No, I have not failed--I have allowed anger to emerge and had the golden opportunity to carefully feel and accept my anger and, because I'm not suppressing it I can now more clearly see its origin and transform straw into gold. Feeling I have some image to uphold with not only other people but myself is precisely to be ruled by Satan (the enemy of wholeness). If we suppress that emotion it will come back to us again and again often in very different forms--one day it could be anger over some trivial thing, another day it could be an event or a person in our lives that pushes our buttons. This energy can manifest in any internal or external event until we accept it and delve deeper.

The overall "new-age" idea of spirituality as something you "achieve" is not necessarily a bad thing. Effort is better than no effort when it comes to this sort of work. Creation is saying "yes" to what is--I think the "yes" is actually an act of creation. You create a structure for yourself where there is safety, acceptance--the whole world becomes yours. I say yes to my twisted parts and they slowly relax--shouldn't that be obvious? When a healthy person does something they think they've done wrong and you hug them and accept them--what happens? The person gets heart energy and courage emerges naturally. When we embrace each other unconditionally, when we listen to each other unconditionally that's a little bit of Heaven for both people involved in that moment. That doesn't preclude conflict and hard words but all this is done within the House of Yes which is actually the Kingdom of Heaven--it is Heaven because eternal life is the ultimate "Yes"! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Tyranny of Algorithms

It's hard to be a human in this culture. Nearly every truly powerful force is nudging us or shoving us in the direction of being mechanical beings who only seem able to deal directly with the surface of life. Data and algorithms rule. Data is the breakdown of reality into flatness--it takes the multiverse we live in and crushes it into an unrecognizable pancake--even if you don't believe in a multiverse you will agree that data and software cannot create the full-spectrum experience of life human beings are heirs to.

Through the use of algorithms a low-bandwidth reality out of multiple bits of data is being built. To put it another way, reality is recreated in a simpler more controllable way that enables the authorities to monitor and control every aspect of life and do its best to discourage high-bandwidth and more funky lives. Soon, as robots take over more of life we will have artificial programmable sex robots. The idea is that technology has become the medium that creates life out of ideas about life. Life itself is thus defeated.

We are now living in a society that has a highly detailed dossier on each individual in the USA and probably many more societies where none of us has anywhere to escape the bureaucracy--and, indeed, that's where we are headed--doesn't matter whether it's a government or corporate bureaucracy--it is now in the process of becoming all one. Google, Facebook, NSA, and all the security services all will soon have the same information and the same dossiers with some minor changes in meta-data and algorithms depending on the purpose of that bureau. I have no "solution" to this problem. If something is in a database, and this includes our medical files, it can be hacked or accessed by the security services because they are increasingly uninterested in the rule of law and appear, like their corporate comrades in arms, to worship power and have the muscle to enforce that power.

Creating a machine-oriented culture has as its main agenda to de-humanize culture by making machine virtues more important than human ones. Practicality, efficiency, materialism, predictability, conformity, and control, control, control are the final goal of all this. This certainly helps the ruling class but I'm guessing the machines will eat them in the end.

I'm not going to criticize the scientific revolution, the growth of a technological society and all the rest of it. It is what it is and it has gotten us to where we are and who we are. Indeed, this world we live in was pre-figured by, most famously, by Francis Bacon and later by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust. It was "in the cards" so to speak that we would arrive to this point in our history. Many of us and maybe, though it may be a stretch, most of us know that "something" is wrong with our current arrangements. Why? We are experiencing an epidemic of anxiety, depression, drug addiction and, in fact, addictions of all kinds whether gambling, sex, or binge-watching or binge-eating or just playing out some repeating family or personal drama. People of the past ritics on the left and right have, over the past few decades, warned us of the results of our tendency to be seduced by technology and consumerism which go hand-in-hand.

When we move our affections from people to consumer items a serious shift occurs inside of us. We give, in our minds and in the culture, a status to mechanical devices and objects that goes beyond the things in themselves. We move beyond using objects, tools, technology to solve particular problems and, instead, use the objects to simply to use them. I stay on my phone simply because its there, it's easy, it's there and I can accumulate images and information just to do it. I do sometimes use the internet for research but mostly I use it simply to try and justify, back-up my own beliefs or I use it to cover wars and political events much as I would watch a sporting event. Am I learning anything new? Not really--just passing the time. Technology is perfect for just passing the time without solidly engaging into something coherent--my involvement is almost necessarily incoherent, confused, and an escape from my own frustrating life. I also know, very well, that this tool COULD be used to accomplish quite a lot yet my will is so weak in the face of it that I lose sight of my purpose or purposes in life. We are floundering in an ocean of confusion and paradox and we don't care anymore because I can play a game, watch a video about almost anything I can imagine. I can find something that would meet any possible sexual fantasy and many that I didn't know even existed. I can find pictures and information on even minor celebrities and their dysfunctional lives. I can go find out trivia in almost any area of life. I can find magic spells, mantras to cast out demons, I can find out anything I want about religion, war, gaming cheats and so on fairly quickly. I am, in many ways,  a kind of magician with great powers yet, I feel powerless and adrift.

This is what the decline of humanity looks like until we learn to use machines, technology, algorithms and data for making human beings more aware and happier rather than control, control, control. 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beauty in the Breakdown.

As I look around at our culture I see that we are in the middle of a collective nervous breakdown and many of us feel this but few of us will ever actually say so. Still, it is a good thing,
as the lyric goes "there's beauty in the breakdown." What do I mean? I see our collective issues, our desperate attempt to return to "normal" to reverse the 2016 election as mindless attempts to resist the inevitable. Donald Trump IS America! His qualities, his massive break with the values of Western Civilization our obvious. The human beings he's chosen to run our government are completely at odds with Western values of reason, science, and dialogue. Trump is a crude gangster who thumbs his nose at everyone because he has money and, now, theoretically, has at his disposal the power to throw a monkey wrench in the entire established world-system carefully crafted by fair means and foul to act as a collective structure for the emergent world culture. It appears we are going back to the mentality of the 1930s in Europe. And we Americans seem to like this. We want things to breakdown--we sense there's beauty in it but, at the same time, we have no idea what follows and we still resist change.

However, this is all completely unsustainable for our own country. The rest of the world can no more indulge the USA in its absurd fantasies that are at the heart of our national religion of "American Exceptionalism." The USA was once seen as the bastion of order and sobriety. While certain events were kind of scary things changed after the 2000 election. Brick after brick was dismantled by three Presidents until today we have a caricature of an Empire we don't even admit we have despite the fact we have troops in maybe 150+ countries and military bases in 79. In Germany, which is basically still under US occupation we have 179 bases currently an 109 in Japan. We are described in the media Narrative as a country with "interests" that span the globe but we have no pretension, they tell us, of ruling the globe. This despite the fact that ruling the globe is actually considered a "defense" of the "homeland." Without aggressive domination of the entire planet, they say in so many words, we are vulnerable to "threats" these threats are what exactly? Seldom are threats spelled out other than in vague language. But since I'm familiar with how people in the National Security State think (out of their own mouths) they say that either the US dominates the world or the Chinese do and the world is better off if we dominate. It never enters into the mind of people in the National Security State that we could live in a world where power is balanced and ruled by international law. The USA, of all the countries in the world, is the greatest scofflaw of international law. This is reality and I can point to treaties and laws that the USA has broken without apology over many decades. The US accepts the notion of international law but only if it applies to other countries who are not vassals states.

What does this have to do with a national breakdown? Our behavior towards the outside world is critical to understanding our culture. We can also look at the application of law within the USA. For many years the most obvious bit of "scofflawing" is our absurd immigration system. For decades the US has allowed "illegal" immigrants into the country in order to supply cheap labor for capitalists and oligarchs and undermine native born working class people. Both parties have been complicit in this and have been amply rewarded by the rich. The Republicans, at the end of the day, continued to not enforce immigration laws or enforce them only to the degree that immigrants would live in fear and therefore not complain when they are sexually harassed, not complain when employers short-changed them or stole their labor. At the same time, Republicans pretended to be outraged about illegal immigrants and wildly swung their arms about and did nothing. The Democrats used the issue to solidify their support among Hispanic Americans by showing they were "sensitive" and "caring" of immigrants in general including illegals. It was a lie and is a lie--Democrats didn't care and don't care now--they're only interested in the solid Hispanic vote just as Republicans are interested in the white working class vote and once they get in power they do little or nothing to change anything.

I've talked about the corruption of the System in education, the "justice system" (money=justice), the military industrial complex, health-care an so on. Each major sector is an example of rampant corruption and lies. None of these major systems has much interest (as systems) in the well-being of citizens only in the well-being of the rich. While this  has been the tendency in the USA there has been a balance between the needs of the rich and powerful and the needs of the rest of us. Well, that's no longer the case. The system exists only to make sure the most powerful get the most loot and the rest of us only get enough to keep us from rebelling. This began to change in 2016 when Trump was elected instead of Bernie Sanders who would have been elected had the Democratic Party not stolen the primaries from him through, frankly, fraud, deceit and manipulating ballots and counts. To put it simply, what the state says is real, is not real. What the media Narrative is today is almost completely false and intended to be false to mislead each of us so we don't trust our lying eyes.

All this filters down to our personal lives. This is something very few people seem to understand. There is "politics" and it has no connection to culture, our own personal lives, it is just a chaotic bunch of stuff most citizens flat out refuse to think clearly about because they feel unconnected with it all. And it is for this reason we are no longer a republic but an empire. That means we have stopped being citizens and are now subjects to the state and the major corporations who are, for all intents and purposes, part of the State apparatus. We don't even recognize that our lives spent at "work" is when we are "subject" to the direct rule of oligarchs. We have few freedoms at work. If they tell us to shut up, we have to shut up. They order us to do stuff and we  have no choice other than drag our feet or, as many of us do, actively sabotage the corporation we work for. Most people do not feel engaged in their job and actually believe that this is ok and "normal." It maybe normal but it is decidedly unhealthy and contributes to the epidemic of depression, anxiety and addiction which we now seem to accept as a matter of course--that too is "normal" now.

Now myth generates values and if our myths are confused and distorted and directly contradictory confusion and destructive behavior both personal and collective results. I believe the first toxic aspect of our framework is actually also our most positive. Americans tend to believe that we should always put a smile on our face and think positively no matter how dark appearances are. Yet when this is a clear value and combined with a lack of training in critical thinking, this results in a culture of denial. We pass over and don't think about matters that seem negative or out of our control. While this may have positive results in our daily life it also slowly dumbs us down. We stop catching the contradictions in what powerful people say and only hear what sounds positive. We stop looking at the consequences of our actions and expect other to do the same. We don't want to remedy injustice we just want people who suffer to shut up and are considered "cry-babies" for complaining about racism, sexual assault and so on. Yet, the data is clear--millions of women have been raped and millions of dark-skinned people have been assaulted and harmed by physically, emotionally and systematically (we only have to look at racial discrimination in loans).

The second toxic aspect of our lives is that we are focused on "success" and so anything about us that does not appear "successful" (whether it does or not)--being a "loser" is the worst possible insult in the USA. Lack of material success is considered a sign of immorality. People who have endured horrendous conditions are expected to "win" despite their horror. When one out of thousand seems to do well that is pointed to as proof that those who did not "make it" just didn't work "hard" enough. If a person who was born a millionaire makes a few million more by receiving the best food, education, and access to capital they are still praised for being "successful." There is almost no sense of collective success. You see this in sports. While team sports like basketball are clearly dependent on good teamwork the media lauds, mainly, individual success, lionizing "stars" in any league while underplaying their weaknesses. We have a star-system in movies, music, and all the arts. It's the same star system in corporations. While many professionals receive good salaries for being good at following orders and solving problems it is the CEO who makes the big bucks--on average about 350 times the salary of the average employee and that does not include perks and stock options so the number is much higher. This multiple times more than what other countries have as a normal practice. Success of an enterprise is seen as a collective effort.

The third toxic aspect is the aversion for community and refusal to consider actually reforming our system of government. The reaction to our increasingly corrupt government is not to try and fix it but to not only increase the corruption but limit its scope in favor of allowing private corporations to take over regulating themselves. The reasoning is always that the motivation of making money is the only valid motivation. Though social science and even neuro-science shows that we are deeply cooperative beings and money is only a prime motivator in periods of great scarcity the American cultural elite and, therefore, the average person refuses to believe it.

Finally, the fourth and perhaps most important toxic aspect of our culture is what has now become a militant anti-reason, anti-science, anti-intellectual and, even more dramatically, an anti-compassionate culture that has become tribal. This includes people on the left, right and center--in fact those classifications don't even make any sense as currently constructed yet they endure because we are confused and refuse to use the tools at our disposal to clarify our confusion. Even the sophisticated tools we have developed based, fundamentally, on advances made 50-80 years ago are not being used to solve our collective problems and, instead, are mainly used to increase the wealth of a couple of million people. In social situations bringing up ideas about life, meaning, philosophy the implications of events and discoveries and, above all, politics and religion, is considered rude. At times, men are tempted to start these conversations and you see women, who still see themselves as guardians of social mores, start darting their eyes about and try to signal to the guys to shut the fuck up. Women tend to do this, not because they are any more anti-intellectual (in fact the opposite if often the case) but because they know feelings will be hurt and they are right. Why? Because our social ability to engage in civilized (non-hostile) discussions has rapidly degenerated over the years whether people are college educated or not.

How do we remedy our situation? By waking up in every way that you know how to do and watch carefully what is actually going on that you fear looking at--and by following the song lyrics partially presented (by Frou-Frou):

"Let Go"

drink up baby doll
Are you in or are you out?
Leave your things behind
'Cause it's all going off without you
Excuse me too busy you're writing your tragedy
These mishaps
You bubble-wrap
When you've no idea what you're like

So, let go, let go
Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It's all right
'Cause there's beauty in the breakdown
So, let go, let go
Just get in
Oh, it's so amazing here
It's all right
'cause there's beauty in the breakdown

It gains the more it gives
And then it rises with the fall
So hand me that remote
Can't you see that all that stuff's a sideshow?
Such boundless pleasure
We've no time for later
Now you can't await
your own arrival
you've twenty seconds to comply

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