TWENTY EIGHTEEN: IN REVIEW


 

Thinking cuts furrows into the soil of being.  (Heidegger)

Where can I find a man who has forgotten words, so I can talk with him?  (Zhuangzi)

 

Preface

To say we have gone further down the rabbit hole the past few years is to measure the present against some vision of normality.  It certainly seems as though there is some level of absurdity underpinning events within the modern global culture.  Metrics tell us we have never been better off, whilst other metrics tell us we are on the brink of catastrophe.  It is within this context that I have been trying to make some sense of what the hell is going on, for some time now but with an earnest over the past few years.  This has lead me down several rabbit holes, forcing me to confront my own vision of normality.  This year I have read several profound books which have helped me further clarify what I think might describe how things have come to be the way they are.  It is not a case of what we think, but how.  This is such a simple statement to make, but a  much harder one to fully comprehend the significance of.

I started this year by reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary and everything fell into place.  Building on and clarifying an intuition that had been growing, this book set the tone for what I would read and think about this year.  McGilchrist says, “certainty is the greatest of all illusions: whatever kind of fundamentalism it may underwrite, that of religion or of science, it is what the ancients meant by hubris. The only certainty, it seems to me, is that those who believe they are certainly right are certainly wrong,” adding that, “none of us actually lives as though there were no truth. Our problem is more with the notion of a single, unchanging truth.”  And this, it seems to me, is where we are at today.  Politics aside, no one seems to have illustrated this global predicament more this year than Jordan Peterson.  I read Maps of Meaning after The Master and his Emissary, at the suggestion that Peterson’s ideas mapped somewhat onto McGilchrist’s.  It is perhaps this that has occupied my academic enquiry the most this year.

The other two books that most occupied me this year were Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Philosophy in the Flesh.  Whilst quite different to McGilchrist and Peterson, I have found a common thread underpinning these four books, illuminated along the way by returning to Heraclitus, and a new (to me) philosophical translation of the Daodejing by Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall.  The implications of this leave no aspect of ourselves and our relationships with each other and our environment untouched, and an appreciation of which could lead the way to a more harmonious way of life.  Eisenstein says:

 

Under the sway of dualism, we have essentially sought to divide the world into two parts, one infinite and the other finite, and then to live wholly in the latter which, because it is finite, is amenable to control.  Our lordship over nature is at heart an egregious self-deception, because its first step is to attempt nature’s precipitous reduction, which is equally a reduction of life, a reduction of experience, a reduction of feeling, and a reduction of being: a true Faustian exchange of the infinite for the finite.  This reduction comes in many guises and goes by many names. It is the domestication of the wild; it is the measuring and quantification of nature; it is the conversion of cultural, natural, social, and spiritual wealth into money. Because it is a reduction of life, violence is its inevitable accompaniment; hence the rising crescendo of violence that has bled our civilisation for thousands of years and approaches its feverish apogee as we conclude the present wholesale destruction of entire species, oceans, ecosystems, languages, cultures, and peoples.

 

What follows is my analysis of a way of thinking that has been influenced this year by these books.  A few disclaimers:  I have done my best to eschew the ‘poeticism’ of my previous years in review and write as clearly and succinctly as possible.  It is of course impossible and pointless for me to summarise large academic texts, so I would refer you to the books themselves for the full extrapolation.  Rather, I have taken sections from each to build up a picture of how various seemingly different ideas are implicitly interlinked.  Despite my intentions, this is not an academic essay and therefore I am well aware that, whilst I have tried hard not to, I may seem to contradict myself in places and to use some terminology confusingly.  My hope is that, if you are interested in thinking about the world, you may want to engage with these ideas in constructive discussion.  I certainly would not confess to having things figured out, but I feel comfortable, perhaps for the first time in my life, with my narrative.

 

Adam John Miller
20th December 2018


Continue reading “TWENTY EIGHTEEN: IN REVIEW”

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DREAMS OF FLYING

I have recently been reading a most enjoyable novel called The Dream Illuminati by Wayne Saalman (Falcon Press, Santa Monica, 1988). Mr. Saalman has found an epic theme – dreams of flight, and the achievement of flight.

Historically, dreams of flying appeared in the collective unconscious before the reality of flight existed in technology, and it seems plausible that if we understood our dreams better we would use our technology more wisely. Our machines manifest our dreams in matter crafted to coherence, and a psychoanalysis of our culture could easily derive from an examination of how we use science to materialize our fantasies and nightmares.

Mr. Saalman’s science-fantasy made me wonder: Why have we always dreamed of flying, and why have we built flying machines? This question seems “eminently” worth pondering in a world where 200,000,000 people pass through Kennedy International Airport every year, flying the Atlantic in one direction or the other.

To understand the profound, it often appears helpful to begin with clues that seem trivial. I suggest that we contemplate what our children look at every Saturday morning on TV. One of the most popular jokes in animated cartoons shows the protagonist walking off a cliff, without noticing what he has done. Sublimely ignorant, he continues to walk-on air-until he notices that he has been doing the impossible,” and then he falls. I doubt very much that there will be any reader of Magical Blend who has not seen that routine at least onec; most of us have seen it a few hundred times.

It might seem pretentious to see a Jungian archetype adumbrated in crude form in this Hollywood cliché, but follow me for a moment.

When Hollywood wishes to offer us the overtly mythic, it presents Superman, who can “leap over tall buildings in a single bound,” and a more recent hero named Luke Skywalker. Continue reading “DREAMS OF FLYING”

MODELS

Many people have been asked to explain quantum physics over the years, but Robert Anton Wilson had perhaps the best answer.  He dexcribed how, after he left LA, he moved into a little apartement in Santa Cruz.  After something was stolen from his car he called the police, and they told him that he didn’t live in Santa Cruz after all, but in a place called Capitola.  The post office disagreed, and assured him that he did live in Santa Cruz.  Wilson then spoke to a reporter on the local paper to see if he could shed any light on this, and the reporter explained that he did not live in either Santa Cruz or Capitola, but in an unincorporated area known as Live Oak.

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THIRTEEN CHORUSES FOR THE DIVINE MARQUIS

FIRST CHORUS
“You are afraid of the people unrestrained—how ridiculous!”
— Sade

I dreamed I called Rita Hayworth on the phone and asked her if she hears the babies of Hiroshima screaming in the night.

“No,” she said, “I useta have kinda kooky problems like that but my analyst cleared them all up.”

But — I insisted — after all, it was your picture that was painted on the Bomb. Not Harry Truman, or Einstein, or even Marilyn Monroe. You.

“Well, yeah, if you wanna look at it that way,” she said. “But, Christ, they was sticking my picture on everything those days.”

But, but — I shouted — don’t you feel any sense of responsibility?

“Waita-minit, Mac,” she said, “what are ya, some kinda nut? Nobody ever asked me nothing about it. They just went ahead and dropped it.”

But, but, but  — I screamed — all those people — 550,000 of them, according to one estimate I read  — blown apart by a picture of you —

“Look, Clyde,” she said firmly. “My analyst told me it don’t do no good to brood over such things.”

And the line went dead with a hollow click, like a coffin closing snugly on Dracula as the morning sun throws its white and ghastly nuclear radiations into the cool darkness of dream.

++Continue reading…
Or read the original Realist article from 1966 here.
Or read the same article on a website here.

Continue reading “THIRTEEN CHORUSES FOR THE DIVINE MARQUIS”

STUPIDYNAMICS

Evolutionary perspective suggests the following propositions may be true or may serve as plausible working principles until we understand the brain better.

1. Stupidity is partly genetic and partly acquired.

2. The genetic portion of stupidity is programmed into all of us and consists of “typical mammalian behavior.” That is, a great deal of the human nervous system is on autopilot, like the closely related chimpanzee nervous system and the more distantly related cow nervous system. The programs of territoriality, pack hierarchy, etc., are evolutionarily stable strategies and hence work mechanically, without conscious thought. These evolutionary relative successes became genetic programs because they work well enough for the ordinary mammal in ordinary mammalian affairs.

They only become stupidities in human beings, where the higher cortical centers have been developed as a monitoring system to feed back more sophisticated survival techniques and correct these stereotyped programs with more flexible ones.

In short, to the extent that a human follows the genetic primate-pack patterns, without feedback from the cortex, that human is still acting like an ape, and hasn’t acquired facility in using the New Brain.

Continue reading “STUPIDYNAMICS”

CULTIC TWIGHLIGHT

“…Conspiracy theories therefore flourish in times and places of anxiety and  uncertainty; but they come to full flower in those times when the government also fears conspiracies, i.e., does not trust the people. We here enter a truly murky area, where many people are presently under surveillance precisely because they once thought and said that the government might spy on them.

“If the government doesn’t trust the people, why doesn’t it dissolve them and elect a new people?” playwright Bert Brecht once asked. A government afraid of its people cannot “dissolve” them so easily, or replace them with a people seized and imported from somewhere else, so it simply spies on the people it has and probes into their privacy even more than usual.

“Superstitions like bats fly most at twilight,” Sir Francis Bacon wrote. Similarly, after studying conspiracy theory for nearly 30 years, I think that I have found that batty conspiracy theories and modern folklore in general thrive best in an environment of un-certainty and anxiety. When people do not know what will happen next, any wild yarn will travel very rapidly through the population; it appears humans need any narrative, even a nonsense narrative, rather than having no explanation at all about their predicament. And the essence of any good story is, as in conspiracy theory, the plot.

If the people do not trust the government, it does not trust them. If the government does not trust the people, they do not trust it. This merry-go-round is almost a perpetual motion machine…”

Robert Anton Wilson, Everything Is Under Control.