2019-09-30

Ivan Illich and the end of transportation as we know it


The computer solves the problems we didn’t have without it, they say – not to mention a growing number of problems it created, like the surveillance state, cyber addiction, and the possibility of fully-automated warfare, to which there is no solution other than abandoning the use of electronic processing.
Similarly, high-speed transportation saves us time on trips we wouldn’t have taken before the advent of the respective transportation technology, says Austrian social philosopher Ivan Illich in his book Energy & Equity (1974).

This became especially apparent around 1900 when the mileage of passengers had increased by a factor of one hundred within just fifty years after the introduction of railroads. People picked up business at greater and greater distances, to the disadvantage of the places they lived. Beyond a certain average amount of energy per capita put into transportation, means of moving shift from metabolic energy driven to mineral fuels driven locomotion. Next thing we know is, we abandon our innate freedom of moving on our own feet, to any place and in any direction that is not legally of physically barred, in exchange for pre-fabricated routes, to approved destinations and at a price.
From the moment its machines could put more than a certain horsepower behind any one passenger, this industry has reduced equality among men, restricted their mobility to a system of industrially defined routes and created time scarcity of unprecedented severity. As the speed of their vehicles crosses the threshold, citizens become transportation consumers. – Ivan Illich, Energy & Equity, p29
As with other factors of society – wealth, power, privilege – the results of industrialization of traffic are not shared equally among its participants:
Extremes of privilege are created at the cost of universal enslavement. An elite packs unlimited distance into a lifetime of pampered travel, while the majority spend a bigger slice of their existence on unwanted trips. The few mount their magic carpets to travel between distant points that their ephemeral presence renders both scarce and seductive, while the many are compelled to trip further and faster and to spend more time preparing for and recovering from their trips. (p29)
Ivan Illich, by Wikimedia user Adrift Animal (cc 4.0 intl)
People in industrialized countries spend four to seven times more time “on the road” than their fellow men in more traditional cultures. They travel up to one hundred times longer distances per day, using up to one third of their income for commuting to the job that pays their trips to the job. The product of the transportation industry, Illich says, is the habitual passenger, a person uprooted from her place of origin. She is rushed in a closed cabin behind the windows of which untouchable landscapes pass by. Her time is scarce, her feeling of autonomy low, and life without means of transportation provided by remote powers such as governments, automobile industry and railroad services, has become unthinkable to her. Without external help she feels immobilized.
The habitual passenger must adopt a new set of beliefs and expectations if he is to feel secure in the strange world where both liaisons and loneliness are products of conveyance. To ‘gather’ for him means to be brought together by vehicles […] He takes freedom of movement to be the same as one’s claim on propulsion […] As a result, what he wants is not more liberty as a citizen but better service as a client. He does not insist on his freedom to move and to speak to people but on his claim to be shipped and to be informed by the media. He wants a better product rather than freedom from servitude to it. (p37f)
Could it get any worse? Yes it can. From Illich’s view, the whole setup is foolishly self-defeating because not only does this set of living arrangements affect the individual, eating away on her freedom, leisure, connectedness, and wealth, it also widens the gap between privileged and burdened members of society continuously, thus putting tremendous stress on the integrity of society as a whole.

Beyond a certain threshold, further energy input makes a society’s compounded time expenditure on transportation rise significantly. In other words, speed increases for those who can pay for it while everyone else spends more time inbetween places.
In Germany, for instance, more than 16% of mostly rural railroad lines have been closed since the inception of the first inter-city express connections (ICE) in 1991, the rate of train delays rose, and people spend more time waiting for connecting trains due to a thinned out railway schedule.
Within cities, inequity leads to visibly slower traffic on average. Illich compared Bombay in the early seventies (where the very few cars already began to impair the flow of pedestrians and bicycles) with Western megacities like Paris, London, or New York. He found that the rate of locomotion in India was superior to that in fully industrialized countries.
Beyond a critical speed [around 25 mph], no one can save time without forcing another to lose it. The man who claims a seat in a faster vehicle insists that his time is worth more than that of the passenger in a slower one. Beyond a certain velocity, passengers become consumers of other people’s time, and accelerating vehicles becomes the means for effecting a net transfer of life-time. The degree of transfer is measured in quanta of speed. This time-grab despoils those who are left behind, and since they are the majority, it raises ethical issues of a more general nature than kidney dialysis or organ transplants. (p42)
So growing energy comes at the expense of equity – a mechanism that should ring alarm bells with anyone concerned about people’s participation in decision-making. If ecologists are right to assert that non-metabolic power creates pollution, it is also true that it corrupts the citizens, processes and institutions of society. 
 
Looking back at fourty-five years of ‘progress’ since Illich’s essay the brilliance of his analysis has not faded in the face of ‘new’ – more-of-the-same – developments. If anything, the manifestations of high-speed transportation have become more pointed in the places I have visited in my lifetime, be it in the United States, the European Union, Japan, or in India. Speaking up at the time of the Oil Crisis of the early-seventies when OPEC’s policies wreaked havoc on the transportation-intense – or should I say, transportation-addicted – economies of the West Illich took traffic as an example for pinpointing how the dominant culture phrases its problems in all the wrong terms. There is no “energy crisis”, he said, just a crisis of ever-increasing demand, and that’s as true today as it was back then. Instead of replacing fossil fuels (as the promise went, and still goes), so-called alternative energy sources help with covering the still-increasing demand for more, topping up the stagnating fossil fuels. The price both humans and the community of life must pay for our trips – habitat destruction, pollution, breakdown of social cohesion, human alienation from landbase, waste of lifetime on commuting etc pp – has accumulated to the point where civilization stands at the brink of collapse while a sixth mass extinction begins to denude the Earth of species diversity. Therefore it is only logical of Extinction Rebellion to seriously consider cuts on transportation. 
 
From understanding how addicted most of us seem to speedy transportation we can just as easily understand why both the current establishment and most of the citizenry alike resist the idea that aviation, private automobiles, container and cruise ships get restricted for the sake of life on Earth. Given the choice between death and unemployment, they opt for their sources of income.
The cure that Illich saw lies in the limitation of energy use. Speaking of traffic he meant lowering the maximum speed of vehicles to around 15 mph, which implicitly translates into less distance covered per day, closer-knit communities rather than urban sprawls, fewer roads with less space and materials used etc.
High speed is the critical factor which makes transportation socially destructive. A true choice among political systems and of desirable social relations is possible only where speed is restrained. Participatory democracy demands low energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle. (p23f)



Post scriptum
Ivan Illich (1926-2002) was a philosopher and catholic theologian.
I have first come across Illich’s work ten years ago when I happened to see a funny yet disquieting clip quoting from his book Deschooling Society. While he did not question civilization as such his revolutionary ponderings certainly deposited explosives close to its foundations. Unsurprisingly enough his name has almost vanished from public awareness. His findings, though, stood the test of time, so far, and his written legacy found its way into libraries all over the world. Many of his manuscripts and notes have been collected in the Illich Archive in Wiesbaden, co-founded and co-maintained by professors Reimer and Marianne Gronemeyer who base their work on Illich’s philosopy. In upholding the origial spirit, they apply those teachings to our times.

2019-09-07

Forest planet


Millions of trees, billions of trees, trillions of trees to be planted. This is what recent headlines ask of governments. After nuke plants built to replace coal power, after desert ecologies falling victim to solar panels, river valleys drowning in catchment lakes and hill tops getting plastered with windmills, now it's savannas becoming destroyed by artificial forests – all in the name of the CO2 narrative.

What's wrong with renewables and carbon sequestration? Nothing with those things as such. The problem lies with the notion of man-the-engineer, man-the-saviour, man-molding-the-future-of-planet-Earth. Man who is God; an idiot god which is afraid to die, that is. We're obsessed with numbers, with mass, and we tend to forget the space inbetween, the relationships, the immaterial matters; such as the longing of living beings to build their own community.

Not lonely, autonomous, sovereign beings populate the world. Rather, it consists of a constantly oscillating web of dynamic interactions in which one is transformed by the other. The relationship counts, not the substance.

[Andreas Weber: Matter and Desire. An Erotic Ecology]

Every ecosystem has its own value. Rather than a system it is a community of beings organizing themselves in a way that works for them and for the world. So even when we attempt restoration of wetlands or forests we need to honour these beings' better knowledge in bringing their place back to life. Even with the best of intentions behind our attempts to help, we think too often in economic terms. The lumber friendly arboricultures of central Europe, for example, are not forests; they are impoverished monocultural deserts ridden with bark beetles and troubled by Waldsterben 2.0 . In Lusatia, on the other hand, a region in Germany heavily reshaped by lignite strip mining, nature is quickly and steadily recovering all on its own. A succession of plants and animals reconquers the moonscape shaped by giant excavators. We've also heard of Pripyat's growing forest ecologies, wild boars conquering Fukushima, or the revival of coastal waters after the trawlers have left the scene.

Photo by Lou Levit on Unsplash
Humankind has got a role in restoring a balance that resembles the Holocene, preventing the planet from slipping into a new hothouse Earth. We better not try to decide what is best for the planet, though. We got enough to do with removing dams and fences and heavy weaponry and chemical factories and nuclear power plants, with turning industrial agriculture into permaculture gardens, with breaking down our lifeless societies into living communities, and – first and foremost – with challenging and changing our unquestioned assumptions on how the world works and what our role in the Universe is.

Some of us may plant trees in places where there once have been forests. Some of us may plant sea grass where there have been meadows before. Some of us may reintroduce locally extinct species or restore swamps and wetlands and savannas. But in my humble opinion, all of this would happen in homoeopathic doses, guided by local savants of ecology, and in an unobtrusive manner.

2019-08-20

In proximity with a neurosis


S. Freud & C. G. Jung 1909 (pd)

"Freud considers a neurosis to be a substitute for a direct means of gratification. For him it is something inauthentic--a mistake, a subterfuge, an excuse, a refusal to face facts; in short, something essentially negative that should never have been. One hardly dares to put in a good word for a neurosis, since it is apparently nothing but a meaningless and therefore irritating disturbance. By treating a work of art as something that can be analyzed in terms of the artist's repressions we bring it into questionable proximity with a neurosis, where, in a sense, it finds itself in good company, for the Freudian method treats religion and philosophy in the same way."  ~~ C.G. Jung – The Spirit of Man, Art, and Literature

In the case of arts I rather tend to be with Freud than with Jung (who usually talks greater wisdom) and I'd say that arts, religion, and philosophy (like science, politics writing, and a ...hrm... few other things) belong into the realm of civilized neuroses and psychoses. Ridiculous, isn't it, when we have the common image of a nutcase in mind, a person that we cannot identify with, especially as an artist. We don't feel sick.

But I don't mean to say that artists were just loonies or that I weren't affected and couldn't create arts myself, or that pieces of art can't be beautiful. I just begin to let go of the idea that mental disturbances were "something essentially negative that should never have been." To me, they rather represent a healthy reaction of the mind to an overwhelming challenge, and that overwhelming challenge is civilization. As you may have guessed already I hold that a percentage in the high nineties among us is mentally disturbed by the dominant culture; the more so the more actively a person believes in separation.
From this point of view, regarding any issue or topic, I ask the question, Does this exist among wild peoples, does it exist with animals, does it exist anywhere else? And if so, how does it manifest? What could be the underlying notion there?

Kali mata (N Dhar, Pexels licence)
Interestingly enough, prehistoric artifacts, cave paintings, and tribal totems often find themselves depticted in tomes about 'primitive arts' but that's a complete misrepresentation of what they are to their (physical) creators, I believe. They are not even 'sacred objects' (Wikipedia), and they don't represent the Sacred; they are sacred subjects – beings in their own right. So art is not involved here. The 'artist' neither depicts reality, nor does she interpret it her way, nor does she express herself. The Sacred is expressing through her. To some degree we find this even in modern times, where the sculpture of a Hindu goddess – say, Kali – becomes the goddess herself at the moment when the sculptor finishes his work. The sculpture is Kali in person, neither a piece of art, nor a representation of the goddess, nor a ritual object. That's why she doesn't bear the name of the sculptor on her back.

Compare this to what arts have historically been or what they mean to us today, and what the driving motivations for creating art were/are.
Again, this is not to diminish the artist's perception, creativity and craftsmanship, or to deny artistic beauty, but to put it into another perspective. Arts, despite modern individualistic views, isn't merely personal, it has a collective dimension. And the collective is... impaired.


2019-08-12

Lt. Doolittle strikes again


Those who harbour a knack for science fiction books and films might have enjoyed John Carpenter's Dark Star, a grade-B comedy on the crew of a cosmic ice breaker removing unstable planets across the galaxy to blaze a safe trail for future colonists. One day, after twenty years of deterioration, the ship has a serious malfunction: one of the intelligent planet busters gets stuck in its brackets, threatening to blow up right at the side of the ship.

Due to the damage to the ship's computer, the crew members cannot activate the release mechanism and attempt to abort the drop. After two prior accidental deployments, Bomb #20 refuses to disarm or abort the countdown sequence. The computer activates dampers to confine the blast to a diameter of one mile, but that is all it can do at the moment. As Pinback and Boiler try to talk the bomb out of blowing up underneath the ship, Doolittle revives Commander Powell, who advises him to teach the bomb the rudiments of phenomenology. After donning a space suit and exiting the ship to approach the bomb directly, Doolittle engages in a philosophical conversation with Bomb #20 until it decides to abort its countdown and retreat to the bomb bay for further contemplation. [Wikipedia: Dark Star]
Bomb #20 & Lt. Doolittle, scene from John Carpenter's 'Dark Star'
Doolittle's conversation with the bomb counts among the funniest moments in science fiction. The lieutenant attempts to convince Bomb #20 that it cannot know for sure that it has received a real detonation order, as that order has arrived by way of electrical impulses only – mediated. Without immediate knowledge of the outside world there is a significant probability the impulses have transmitted false data. Would the bomb shed its existence, once and forever, based on a – perhaps false – perception?

Dark Star has amused me ten years ago; it has me chuckling even today, 300+ philosophical essays after first watching the film. The problem Doolittle puts before the bomb cannot be solved by rational means. Cartesian rationality has reduced selfhood to mind, and mind located in the brain or in a micro-chip of an individual. The brain in a jar scenario Doolittle sells the bomb as nature-of-reality keeps us caught stewing in our own juice, with no means of knowing whether there is an outside world at all – unless we allow irrational knowledge in. Despite heavily building on Descartes' emphasis on the mind as the core of what we call 'me' (the subject), modern science admits the sensory perception of an observer for determining what is objectively true and real. Insisting on just one reality existing 'out there', well knowing that different observers see different realities, science has outsourced perception to supposedly unbiased machines, thus adding another layer of perception between the observer and the observed.

Despite everything that is wrong with the general notion of modern science, let's just assume for the sake of argument that it has a good grip on reality, and let's try and solve some exemplary questions.


What is Time?
So there we delve right into the 'matter' of time. What is time?
Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change... [Wikipedia: Time]
Wikipedia's definition of time as a measurable process might be just as good as any definition, weren't it for the fact that numerous philosophers, whole cultures even, have denied its existence altogether, for good reasons I won't get into with this article. So what are we left with?

The above definition negates itself by saying that time is indefinite, literally not defined, i.e. without an end. We might also say it pervades everything in its way, informs everything, or even is everything. So it cannot be a separate thing; rather a no-thing. Following the above formulation it could be an aspect of existence, a 'component quantity', as Wikipedia put it, a quality, or just a mental concept.

Apart from this not-merely linguistic observation, considering that time is not a thing we can touch, smell, taste, feel, hear, i.e. perceive physically, how do we perceive time scientifically? How to we measure time?
We don't.

As opposed to the above definition, time is not getting used for sequencing events, comparing durations, or quantifying change – time's existence is assumed on the basis of our perception of changes. A snail creeps through our visual field from left to right; we think that this takes time during which the clock has moved from displaying one-quarter past the hour to one-half past the hour; we think that the clock has measured time. But the clock doesn't react to something timy. It has not observed an external process or thing, it just follows a mechanical or electronic program: the movement of the sun past a sundial, the falling of crystals through the neck of an hourglass, the releasing of a spring, the movement of electrons. A mechanical clock not fully wound or a digital watch whose battery is mostly empty give different figures. So clocks don't measure time. If anything they measure 'energy' discharged from celestial bodies, Earth's gravity, a spring, a battery, or decaying atoms.
Sgt Pinback & Lt. Doolittle, scene from John Carpenter's 'Dark Star'
What is Energy?
So what is energy? Can you see it, touch it, hear it...? Again, there is no way by which we could safely state that energy is a thing in the usual sense of English vernacular. Energy is a concept encompassing a broad range of different manifestations, from gravity to heat, electricity, velocity, or light. Again, like with time, we cannot measure the essence of it; its mere presence cannot be perceived, only effects that we attribute to its discharge. That means it is hardly different from black holes, dark matter, and dark energy, all of which cannot be perceived; they exist merely within mathematical formulae that describe concepts in physics.


What is Matter?
So what is matter, then? This is the stuff of perception... we believe. We can smell and taste the sweat on our skin, yet those molecules which reach our sensory organs represent only a tiny fraction of the diverse stuff a human being consists of. We can hear the clap of a hand or the sigh of a breath; another fraction of reality. We can see the shape and colour and movement of an animal, yet more fractions. And we may touch its body. (We'll come to this in a minute).

What happens when we see something? Rays (another imperceptible concept) of light approach a body, then get reflected by it and enter the eye of the observer. On passing the cornea they are getting refracted and inverted, then they hit the retina which reacts by sending electric signals to the brain. The brain interprets the signals into an image which the observer may use for orienting herself in 3D space. The rays, the reflector, the retina image, the signals and the brain's image are not the same thing, and certainly they are not the thing as such.

Rays of light are invisible until they hit an object and reflect into the observer's eye. The light particles that hit my eye are not the same which hit yours. The light changes its brightness and colour in interaction with the reflector. That thing we think we both see is invisible as long as there is no light reflecting from it. Its shape and colour come into existence only in interaction with light, and each light reflection is unique. So we don't see the same thing: each of us is taking in a different set of altered light rays. Fascinating, isn't it?

Eye sight has become the most important sense of civilized humans, but it provides perception only at a distance. According to the latest science visible matter is the smallest part of the stuff that makes the Universe. Less than one half percent can be seen. Not sure whether that includes other sources of radiation like micro-waves or infra-red, but the overwhelming amount of what the Universe supposedly consists of cannot be perceived or measured; it is getting deduced from formulae. A person who hears poltergeists or sees demons and ghosts, or someone having lucid dreams does have a less-distanced grasp on reality, you could say. At least they see something meaningful to their lives.

Now let's get closer. Let's touch that thing we've seen, say, a cow's horn. What happens here? Molecules emitted from the surfaces of hand and horn, some of which can be smelled, begin to mix when we approach the animal. The closer we get the more homogenous the mix, while at the same time it gets displaced by the very mechanism that will eventually stop the moving-closer of the hand. From what science believes, the space between atoms is huge. In a way it is empty, filled only with something science calls 'forces' – energy which, again, cannot be seen or otherwise perceived directly. The atomic charges of human skin and cow horn keep the actual atoms within each surface at a distance. They never really touch, though the repelling forces are taken up by our nerve ends, transmitted to the brain and then interpreted as a feeling of hard resistance, of pressure. We think we touch a cow when actually we're not. Amazing.

Perhaps it helps to rid ourselves of the idea that matter is made of atoms alone. Perhaps the 'forces' are part of matter as well. Even so, we still have the problem of not being able to directly perceive or measure it. We can't get to the thing-as-such. So far, it's all myths and stories, and they work only within a certain range. It's like with the Sun revolving around the observer – a good-enough story for a farmer, not for space exploration.


The thing as such, what is it?
Bombed out in space with a spaced-out bomb!
As all rational information comes pre-selected and mediated by our senses and interpreted by our brains only, direct contact and immediate knowledge seem impossible to achieve under the rationalist-materialist paradigm. The realm of numbers and hard facts are but an illusion. Which is not to say we cannot learn something here, or that there weren't other ways of knowing. Wild people have told white people how to learn about the beneficial effects of herbs: by asking the plants. It is not known to us how the Dogon acquired their knowledge about the stars but we may assume they have their way, and it's not by making it up. Just two examples of how perception might be quite different from how we think it works and/or how the substance of existence might be quite different from what we think it is.

The story of the six blind and the elephant describes perfectly how the thing-as-such cannot be grasped fully by perceiving (or measuring) it. One organ of perception alone captures one slice of that thing, and each further organ and each further technical measurement capture further aspects of reality, but neither the essence (if there is such a thing) nor the totality of it (if there is a separate existence to it) can be grasped by sensory perception alone. And perhaps even matter is not everything there is to existence. Hardly news to anybody not buying into the culture of utilitarianism, rationalism, materialism or scientism.

It's quite interesting what those notions have taught us. Yet we better not fall into the trap that those were the only ways by which perception can be interpreted into cosmological knowledge; nor do they provide the full truth about existence. The linearity and directedness of the dominant world view is limited by definition: things must have a beginning and an end, and we move from the first to the second. The civilized worldview breaks down with the infinitesimally small and the immeasurably huge because mathematics use to break down when Zero or Infinity enter the equation. What was before the Big Bang? It's a pointless question. There was no time before time has emerged through the imagined singularity.

By its non-understanding of circularity, diversity, unity, emptiness, or quality, the materialist world of the separate and discrete me-the-mind creates threats to its own existence. Based on the Cartesian worldview Doolittle has taught it, Bomb #20 believes that, as there is nothing outside of it that can safely be called real, it has to orient by what it knows about itself. Being a bomb and therefore being destined to explode it utters, “Let there be light,” before blowing itself up – a perfect mirror of the myth of the technological Golden Age and the reality of a world in collapse.

2019-07-30

Separation from Emptiness


Returning from Friesenheim once more, where I participated, for the third time [2017][2018], in the summer university's discussion on a given topic, I feel a bit at loss how to summarize what we have found. We were talking about 'being weak' – this was the event's topic at least – which, to a certain extent, we did. But the subgroup I was with immersed itself deeply in the meme of separation central to a text excerpt from Charles Eisenstein's book The Ascent of Humanity we used, and we were also grappling with the near-term demise of global industrial civilization, another meme which popped up all over the place. People seemed to unanimously expect it to happen, and often imagined it to come about in a kind of crash, because it was hard to see for them, us, how our culture would change voluntarily. 'People' means, academics mainly from sciences like sociology, psychology, or religion, but also biologists, therapists, engineers, ministry officials, self-employeds, craftsmen, book authors and a range of other professions.
the conception of ourselves as discrete and separate subjects in a world of other. This is the ideology of separation. The ideology that has created the human realm we know is the same ideology that has us despair we can ever change it ~~Charles Eisenstein's website
it is separation that has generated the converging crises of today's world. People of a religious persuasion might attribute the fundamental crisis to a separation from God; people of an ecological persuasion, to a separation from nature; people engaged in social activism might focus on the dissolution of community (which is a separation from each other); we might also investigate the psychological dimension, of separation from lost parts of ourselves. For good or ill, it is separation that has made us what we are […]
No, I'm not going to blame it all on "capitalism", for our economic system too is more a symptom than a cause of separation. ~~Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity, Introduction
'By chance,' on the very day after my return from Friesenheim, separation also played a role in an online discussion on the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Being asked whether I knew something that would clarify the meaning of Nirvana, I said something to the tunes of:
I'm not sure about 'knowing' more, but I would add some more delusion and confusion, if you allow me to ;) I'm not closely familiar with the Buddha's original teachings but I think we'll be getting close enough.
Marianne Gronemeyer, professor emeritus, social scientist, philosopher, book author, and one of the Friesenheim hosts strongly suggested in a verbal exchange that “understanding” another person is impossible to achieve. We will never know what someone truly felt or meant to say, and it is a sign of arrogance to claim otherwise. This is not to invite sloppiness into our communication, but humbleness and deep listening. Nevertheless, in general, I find it nourishing and useful to develop our own understanding from even the most superficial take on other people's concepts. Even false or decontextualized quotes may help with this (as long as we don't use the originator's name in an authoritative way, claiming that she'd agree with us).
So, diving into the Nirvana discussion with my online discussion mate, she quoted from Joseph Campbell.
“The verb nirva (Sanskrit) is, literally, ‘to blow out,’ not transitively, but as a fire ceases to draw… Deprived of fuel, the fire of life is ‘pacified’ i.e. quenched, when the mind has been curbed, one attains to the ‘peace of Nirvana,’ ‘despiration in God.’ … It is by ceasing to feed our fires that the peace is reached, of which it is well said in another tradition that ‘it passeth understanding’ […] The word “de-spiration” is contrived from a literal Latinization of the Sanskrit nirvana, nir = “out, forth, outward, out of, out from, away, away from”; nirvana = “blow out, gone out, extinguished.” ~~Joseph Campbell, Hero with A Thousand Faces, p. 139
The etymological meaning of Nirvana adds an interesting new angle for me, as I have learned the word as describing Emptiness, the liberation from attachment to the material world, and the end point of the cycle of rebirth.

The void is the fifth element known to Asian cultures. The void is obviously the dominant, most abundant element. It is not empty in the European sense of emptiness or nothingness but holds the relationships between things, so it's actually very full. Many regard it as the real substance of existence. Life, for Asians (and also wild peoples), is relatedness, as opposed to the European sense of separate selves and discrete objects.

Adyashanti, a modern teacher with Zen and Christian roots, describes Emptiness as the matrix from which form (matter, thought, emotion etc) emerges. Sound rises from silence which is always there. Thought arises from stillness which is always there. Existence arises from non-existence which is always there. Enlightenment is our mode of existence; that's why we cannot attain it, but only awaken to it. Enlightenment is realizing Emptiness, Nirvana, in which no thing exists, which means there are no distinctions, which means this is 'where' Oneness lies. So Emptiness is both empty and not-empty. Important to note, here, are the different concepts of Emptiness: Oneness (formlessness) in Buddha's sense, relatedness (which requires forms) in Asian folk religion/culture, as well as in Eisenstein's philosophy, of course.

My conversation partner developed an interesting thought:
This may sound strange, but I wonder if releasing all the delusions that the mind creates and then holds so dear is not a lot like peeing... and the relief of emptiness once all the stuff the body can no longer use is gotten rid of... maybe the mind needs to get rid of all the stuff it can not longer use.
Yes, it feels exactly like this when I'm writing. It's like pee seeking release from its narrow confines, collecting, releasing, and collecting once more.
As for getting rid of 'stuff,' by which we usually mean thought and its contents – that's not necessary in an extinguishing way in order to enter Nirvana. All it takes is being with it. Imagine that like sitting in a car with the motor running idle, when the motor doesn't force the car into motion. There's a funny moment in one of Krishnamurti's talks (The Real Revolution #1, 16:00 –19:25) where he 'explains' that issue to somebody asking, How?

Adyashanti says, the idea of control over one's life
is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It is based on an understanding that you are a separate individual person, human being, separate from the whole, separate from others and separate from life, and you need to make sure that your life and your car get where you want it to get. If there is a prescription for suffering, I'd say, that's about as accurate as you can get. Funny thing is that the very prescription for suffering is the very thing that we think is the prescription for happiness. ~~Surrender or suffer
Mel Weitsman put the matter of getting rid of thought like this: “When thoughts come, you can invite them in but don't serve them tea.” There is a time and place for the application of thought; just don't let thought run your car.

Words rest in thought; thought creates illusion which veils the reality of Emptiness, Non-Existence. That's why we may enter Nirvana by being still and detaching ourselves from delusion. When you chip away everything that is not true in your life you end up with nothing to hold on to: Emptiness.

Language (especially European languages) acts like an obstacle in the way of understanding here because it only inaccurately translates Asian / Zen reality into the concepts and the basic assumptions of (our) culture. Words create paradoxies where there are none, eg. if Non-existence is that which does not exist, Non-existence does not exist; what does that mean for a (no-) thing like 'Emptiness'? These things are better seen than spoken about.
On a side note, those paradoxies are powerful tools for shocking people out of unquestioned assumptions and help opening them up to the reality of Emptiness. Having clear concepts of Nirvana does not help with either understanding or awakening to it; so I'm not sure whether my words do you any favour :D

PS
see also: Deepak Chopra - The nature of reality
Thanks to Rob de Laet.

2019-07-22

Pulling the plug (Yurugu series #9)


The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior," is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration. This is the last blog herein.

pic: Bijay Chaurasia (cc 3.0 by-sa)


[previous article]
Adyashanti, a teacher with Christian and Zen Buddhist roots, once described awakening as a process of chipping away everything that is not true or real. The many concepts, beliefs and material things our culture has accumulated over thousands of years require a lot of chipping before glimpses at its underlying drives and axioms become possible. Still far from having reached ultimate reality the work for us, then, becomes the disempowerment of the power-seeking asili, first and foremost the meme of separation. We'll see in a moment why that is so.
Members of Western civilization perceive themselves to be fundamentally separate and alone and therefore constantly under threat; they – we – lack balance and completeness. Consequently,
Material accumulation becomes the tool of an assurance against the hostilities and attacks of others. The individual becomes obsessed with the negative and threatening possibilities of the future – with accident and with death. He lives in a culture diseased with thanatophobia and one that provides him with insurances “against” every kind of physical or material possibility imaginable, yet knowing that no amount of financial gain can redeem his soul. He is truly Faustian man – but he did not choose to be so. The “choice” is already implicit in the asili of the culture: the bio-cultural, ideological core.
European culture, then, fails in the primary function of a cultural construct, i.e., to provide the human being with the emotional security brought by spiritual communion. This sense of security, which the European fails to achieve, in majority cultures [“non-European” peoples] is created out of the spirituality of human interrelatedness and a concept of shared human value; an arena that transcends the material. (Yurugu, p380)
What is true for the culture as a whole does not fail to affect its members. The lack of true community goes hand in hand with a lack of deeply-felt love:
While the conception of love as the desire and ability to merge or unite with “other” may be accurate, “expansion” of the self is not the same as unification of self and other. And this is crucial to understanding the problems that beset, not “humankind,” but the European specifically. If the ability to love is predicated on the capacity of identifying “self” with “other,” then it is clear from this discussion that European culture does not provide a basis for the love-experience; instead it imposes an utamawazo [culturally structured thought, philosophy] that inhibits (devalues) identification and emotional participation and an ethic that complements and is consistent with this cognitive structure. We have come full circle to Plato. For him “knowing” was more important than “loving,” and “to know” meant knowing as “object,” something separate and distinct from self. Europeans, perhaps, do not love themselves and have no basis from which to love “others,” Norman Brown says. (Yurugu, p394)
Marimba Ani 2008
In other words, within European culture as expressed by its cultural core, it is impossible to create healthy relationships to the world in general, other living beings, other countries, other members of our culture, to our “loved” ones, or even – and especially – to ourselves (our Selves). If we are ever to overcome the many difficulties and life-threatening crises we are faced with, this is where the root causes lie, and this is where we need to work for change. Yet,
Intra-culturally, there is no basis for morality. Instead, there is merely a competitive ethic. The well-being and “success” of each disparate “self” (or ego) is threatened by that of others. Instead of being dependent on their well-being, European social structures depend, for their proper, efficient functioning, on mutual aggression, distrust, and competitiveness; i.e., fundamentally hostile relationships. If love were to enter into these micro-systems they would break down. But they are ensured against this occurrence, since they breed for cold calculation and reward competitiveness and aggression. (p 559)
This is what “love is the answer” means. While some may understand it in a fluffy sense, a woo-woo notion of irrational elevation from physical reality, love's power to soften the stranglehold of civilized life from the inside is truly immense. It is both the force that weakens our culture's foundations, and the result of its progressive inability to exert power over us. In the case of citizens of civilization, to love means to revolutionize what-is.
The only way of negating (short of destroying the culture from without) the inherently paternalistic nature of European interaction with other peoples would be to alter the European self-image, and that would mean changing the character of the utamaroho [collective personality] and the values dictated by the ideology: The ideology is, of course, embedded in the nature of the asili. That is a frightening truth for the European “humanist”; it's neither pleasurable nor rewarding in any immediate sense. Moreover, it is the most morally difficult task Europeans could undertake. The call for a world culture is an escape from such an unpleasant prospect. It has been, in the main, a way of procrastinating – of putting off a painful, but necessary, ordeal – much as one puts off tooth extraction, knowing full well that the tooth will eventually have to come out. The issues are how long it will take the decay to cause untenable pain and how extensively it will be allowed to spread. There can be no viable process of European self-criticism, because this goes against the nature of their utamaroho. The decay will spread until the infection is expunged by the world's majority (those external to the culture), otherwise the culture will simply rot. (Yurugu, p539f)
As a human of German descent I shouldn't begin to criticize my culture, some may think. But what Marimba Ani is talking about in her eye-opening book Yurugu is not the eternal condemnation, or the eradication, of the Caucasian race. While the lack of melanin, as some authors speculate, may have played a role in developing our obsession with power, the psychological condition can be healed fully after it becomes conscious and the person – or culture – is sincerely willing to overcome her condition. My own awakening has been triggered, and my awareness has been sharpened by Buddhism and other wisdom traditions whose roots are based in non-European soil. I can see the culture I have grown up with from a different perspective today. The words of a Native American like Jack D. Forbes, or of an ethnic African like Marimba Ani, do make sense in a very deep way. How deep I have reached in my search for truth is, of course, unfathomable to myself; but I can sincerely say that I have been chipping away quite a lot of substance from the asilii's manifestation within me; which means to say, change is possible.

The measure cannot be words alone; talk is cheap. We need to understand the workings of our culture on such a level that we cannot help but to translate our understandings into consequent tangible actions and coherent behaviour. There are things we would, and some we wouldn't do from then on. As the place which those actions get motivation from is just as important, a to-do list – starting with, 1.) change lightbulbs – cannot be the answer to the question of what is required from an aspiring revolutionary. We need to work this out with our local community. It is in the process of reconnecting with others and with our true Self that we must discover what our new culture will look like. One cannot know its specifics from before the paradigm shift. It would likely not resemble any of the habits currently lived by any of the world's cultures; but it would, for the first time in ten thousand years, be compatible with the continuation of life on Earth.

2019-07-01

The World as a stage (Yurugu series #8)


The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior," is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]


In my book, Mach was!?, i.e., Do Something!?, I entered a chapter by the headline “Empire of Loneliness.” This refers to the enormity of the edifice erected by civilized philosophy; an edifice according to which you are a flesh-encapsulated separate mind in a world of meaningless material objects, of Otherness. There is no beingness and subjectivity other than human beingness and subjectivity, no intelligence but human intelligence, no meaning but human meaning, no purpose other than human purpose, no art and beauty other than human art and beauty, no importance other than self-importance. Others, be it other (especially non-civilized) humans, be it animals, plants, or the "inanimate" world, become hindering or even threatening objects at worst; at best resources valuable only for their usefulness to ourselves.

What's more, no matter which philosophical direction you choose, its teachings are completely hollow and devoid of meaning. You may pick any phrase you like, and what you find is shallow concepts and lip service. “Freedom” is indeed a kind of slavery, the war abroad guarantees “peace” in our homeland, and ignorance of the illusory nature of civilized life means “strength” in our efforts to survive as Yurugu souls. There is no spirit within our religions – be it Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or Scientism – and our “social networks” are the opposite of what community once meant. Marimba Ani writes,
The symptomatic and severe loneliness characteristic of Europeans is an effect of the lack of communal function of their culture. Europeans are bound to each other by virtue of a shared utamaroho [collective personality] of power, domination, world supremacy, and expansion. The inner cultural dynamics of aggressiveness, competition, and mutual distrust are all separating, not binding. The outer-directed drives bind them into a tremendously efficient machine of aggression. The culture is supremely successful in this regard. European culture is not based on a vision of the essentially human. It does not serve human needs because it is not “designed” to do so. (Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p390)
It is really important to understand that the culture is not meant to benefit its people. When institutions do us wrong, when taxes are unjustly waived or imposed, when our friends let us down for profit, when laws impair our wiggle room, when weapons are delivered to those who wage war – all that is not happening incidentally, out of sheer incompetence or ignorance or without relation to all the other instances of wrongness.
European culture is an arena in which separate selves agree to compete without destroying the system and agree to cooperate in the destruction and consumption of other systems (e.g. cultures). One of the signs of the breakdown of the European system is that more and more Europeans begin to treat each other as they have heretofore only “ethically” treated the “cultural other.” (Yurugu, p400)
Ariadne's thread leads straight into the heart of the matter, which is the asili, the cultural core of globalized European civilization. What makes this culture different from every other culture on Earth is its uniquely single-minded strife for power. It is Marimba Ani's merit that she developed the concept of asili and applied it to European cultural thought and behaviour. Others before her did point out significant features, such as the meme of separation and its workings which modern Spirituality inspired by Asian religions clearly described, but none managed to explain why Christian values, or Humanism, never stopped structural and physical violence. Yurugu, the book, enables us to understand the power drive behind seemingly benign movements. The values purported serve to deceive Europe's victims. “To bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan / El Salvador / Guatemala / Haiti / Iran / Iraq / Libya / Mali / Nicaragua / North Korea / Somalia / Sudan / Syria / Venezuela / Vietnam / Yemen” etc pp, ad infinitum, belongs into the realm of “Rhetorical ethics.” At a closer look we discover geopolitical considerations and greed behind a moral hypocrisy:
Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels
To begin with the Platonic-influenced utamawazo [culturally structured thought] provides the theoretical basis for a conceptual ethics; an ethical system, the themes of which are considered to be valid, as long as they are consistent in terms of the logic of that system. What is “ethical” becomes what is “rational” and “logical.” The most “ethical” statement is the purest abstraction. As Havelock correctly observes, the individual “thinking” psyche becomes the seat of morality and the individual's ability to act ethically is based on his ability to think “rationally”; i.e., “abstractly.” The result, again, is “talk.” The European idea is that words divorced from action, feeling, commitment, from human involvement can themselves be relevant to (and properly inform) human interaction – as long as they are part of a consistent syntax; an approved semantical system. This pursuit itself is an exercise in self-deception. Primary cultures are characterized by an “existential ethic” (Stanley Diamond) that is based on and refers to actual behaviour. European culture gives rise to semantical systems and instead of being concerned with the inconsistency between “word” and “deed” (which could conceivably be the determinant of ethical behavior), the moral philosophers are merely concerned with verbal and what they call “logical” inconsistency. One result of this characteristic of the culture is a tendency to make philosophers the most irrelevant of people and to effectively divorce their work from any decision-making capacity or role that in any way influences the ethical behavior of European peoples. What this tradition has done instead is to support the culture in its ability to use words without meaning, and to support Europeans in their quest to deceive others and themselves as well. The body of literature known as “ethical theory” has to a large degree been conducive to the growth of moral hypocrisy in European culture. (Yurugu, p328)
When the World is portrayed as a “stage,” it's not just meant as a metaphor. One only has to watch or read the news, to see how empty words define the relationship between governments and populations, and between nation and nation.
Joel Kovel writes,
We have noted that power has accrued to the West through the yoking of energy and reason within one cultural ego. Other cultures had the energy, still others had the control, and some even combined the two; but no culture carried the combination to such extremes. The very passion expressed by the western drive to power is representative, on a cultural level, of the tapping of deep infantile desires. This culture, at once the most advanced, is also the most infantile... The deeper one returns into infancy, the more profound and limitless becomes desire. (Joel Kovel: White Racism. A psychohistory, 1971, p130)
No surprise, then, that the drive to power is present in interpersonal relationships even, right down to the level of families. Rhetorical ethics lead to insincere expressions of emotions, thoughts, or solidarity, in which a sentence like “I love animals” is enough to mark a person as an animal lover, despite the fact that she is eating meat from industrial production. This magical relationship to words corresponds to the immature stage European culture is stuck in.

[next article in the series]

2019-06-17

Everything


On leaving the village shop I pay my purchase with fiat currency. Fiat currency is the kind of money that comes into existence through debt, which means, an interest was attached to it that was owed to the central bank issuing the money. Someone had to work for it, to create a value that enabled them to pay this interest; it is the reason why civilized humans of this time and age pillage the planet. I don’t know what they did for the money I just spent. Perhaps they strip-mined the Deccan, or they razed some old-growth forest in Assam. I will never know. I understand, though, that the form in which the shop keeper receives my dough – as bits and bites via an online network connected to a bank – required massive infrastructure investments, from rare earths for computer parts, to copper in the wires, to cement for the buildings the bank and the network components are housed in – just to name a few of incredibly many raw materials needed to enable me to go shopping in this place or any other. One key component in our deal is electricity, the energy required to run the shop computer, the network hubs, and the bank computer; electricity is also needed for the transmission of the transaction signals. Think of nuclear reactors (uranium strip-mines, forever-radiating waste), coal-powered plants (more strip-mines, carbon dioxide), or “renewable” energy plants (yet more mines for silicates and rare earths, petroleum for the plastic parts, plastering of hillsides and plains with rotors and solar panels, ruining of river valleys with dams). And, on a side note, I know that,
if there were no computers, the process of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only because computers do exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. [Jerry Mander: In the Absence of the Sacred]
Being constantly aware of details like these, I sigh as I walk out through the shop’s front door. I used to buy a lot of sweets and crunchy stuff before I decided to reduce my dependence on money and to prevent the production of plastic garbage. I buy only bread and spreads. The bread comes in a compostable paper wrapping, which is a rather revolutionary feat in a world gone crazy for petroleum-containing plastic packaging. But paper has issues of its own, from the consumption of forest ecologies to the poisonous chemicals needed to produce the stuff, and a lot of those chemicals end up in rivers and aquifers – or in your compost pile. Perhaps the paper is
made of 150-year-old Engelmann spruce and Cariboo fir from British Columbia. Cooked into pulp in a stew of sodium sulfide. Bleached with chlorine dioxides that exhale deadly dioxins. Printed with petroleum-based resins from California, carbon-black from oil drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, colored inks produced in the industrial suburbs of Seattle. Delivered in a van fueled by gasoline from Saudi Arabia. Bound by a petroleum-based rubber band made in Hong Kong. Sheathed in a polyethylene bag from New Jersey. [Chellis Glendinning: Off the Map]
by Maggie's Camera on flickr.com (cc by-nd 2.0 generic)
The spreads – peanut butter, mixed fruits jam, and chocolate cream – come in glass jars. The glass itself is recyclable, but its production and recycling requires high amounts of fossil fuels. The lids are made of composite layers of rubber, tin, and paint; hard to separate, if at all possible. The peanuts have been harvested from a degraded landscape denuded from all kind of vegetation but hectares of monocrops. They are local, though, meaning, I save pollution from transportation, and receive only the poisonous industrial chemicals residing in soil, air, and water just about everywhere on the planet. Same goes for the jam and the chocolate spread. The latter is nagging my conscience a little more, since I don’t know what the fatty ingredients consist of, the chocolate comes from one or two far-away continents, and has likely been produced by grossly underpaid wage slaves and children. Let’s also not talk about the sugar in there, a legal drug that I have become addicted to already when drinking my first sweetened tea as a baby.

Anyway, one has to eat. When I was born I have been one of about 3.7 billion hungry mouths. Today I share the planet with more than double this amount, 99.99% of which belong to the same culture: global industrial civilization.

So I cycle home, carrying my purchase in a certified-organic cotton bag. That the shop doesn’t provide plastic carriers any longer helps them cater to the image of ‘green’ business. Yet, as a matter of fact, you cannot trust the certificate because the providing agency needs to create surplus which means, they need to satisfy their customers… and you can’t keep your customers happy when you ruin their businesses by attesting them bad practice. One lesson from AAA ratings for defaulting crap papers could have been, to take a closer look at all kinds of certificates, from safety guarantees for electric devices to organic labels for food. The more convenient path, though, is to confide in the neat-looking logo on the package, lest you would inspect the global supply chain leading from resources extraction through materials processing to assembly, packaging, transportation, and sales systems. I prefer to have a life. That means, I buy as little as possible, and when I do I don’t give a bleeding damn about what the label says; it’s a lie anyway. Which brings me back to the cotton bag I carried along: at least part of the cotton is genetically modified, Glyphosate-treated stuff, with a high likeliness of having been grown in a place where one or more farmers have killed themselves because they couldn’t repay their loans after the chemically annihilated fields refused to produce as much as the Frankenseed company promised. But at least I may reuse the bag a few more times before its weak seams sloppily tailored in a Bangladeshi sweatshop disintegrate and I have to buy a new one.

Once you start looking a little closer at how you live, what you use and who you interact with, you will notice without effort that exactly everything contributes to polluting the planet, to the destruction of habitat for all life forms including humans, and to causing the disintegration of communities, violence, death, extreme injustice, spiritual impoverishment, and decrease in human capacities. This is not because you were especially focusing on negative aspects, or that I was a defeatist, nihilistic, miserable-minded cynic. What you see is real. Do not, for one second, believe in human ingenuity being able to create a techno-fix for it. The “Digital age,” for instance, will not result in a well-informed unified activists front prevailing over the destructive power of the Megamachine. Jerry Mander writes,
This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case scenarios of the sort described above. We maintain this idealism despite the fact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal level, or even being sensibly controlled. This is certainly true of automobiles, which have virtually destroyed the natural world; and of television, which creates a common mental denominator; and of electrical energy generation, which is vastly overdeveloped to the detriment of the planet.
and:
What is romantic is to believe that technological evolution will ever live up to its own advertising, or that technology itself can liberate us from the problems it has created. [Jerry Mander: In the Absence of the Sacred]
I find both Mander’s and my own considerations echoed in another paragraph from Glendinning’s book “Off the Map” in which she reflects,
This white linen shirt. Constructed in a sweatshop in Indonesia. Or Lithuania. Or Saipan. Everything of this world. Shoes made of Brazilian cattle whose grazing lands were once rain forest. Eggs on the plate: they come courtesy of hens buckling in boxes not twice the size of their bodies, shot up with antibiotics and hormones. These petrochemical lawn chairs. Earl Grey tea. Everything. The raw materials of our lives mean one thing as we obtain them glistening at the mall, via the Internet, in mail-order catalogs, as gifts from friends. They mean something else in the naked sober world of their origin. They are literally made of the oppression, pain, grief, sacrifice imposed by the global economy.
Or I could have opened Derrick Jensen's "The Myth of Human Supremacy" at pages 178/9 where I find a similar notion expressed by an author who is "just" sitting in a wooden house, on a winter day, with a computer on, snacking from a plastic bag of cashews. I trust you to play through the implications of that by yourself.

Often times when I talk to people, they use to respond, “O well, this means you cannot trust anybody, cannot believe anything written, cannot buy, eat, or touch anything.” And this is exactly my point. When it comes to our culture/ society/ economy, everything is tainted because everything has been created from matter violently ripped from the Earth, with no respect for ecosystems or living beings. Everything runs through a poisonous process of transportation, chemical treatment, packaging, insincere labeling, and finally trashing, all of which is performed by a planetary network of wage slaves who get alienated from the produce of their hands by division of labour, and who sell their lifetimes in exchange for fiat currency that creates more and more extreme social disparity. Everyone has become violently selfish from having to survive in a violent and greedy society, everyone’s traumatized, everyone has been turned into a zombie, or a jerk, or a victim.

Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom. [Michael Ellner]

"Don't hate your oppressors;
they need liberation, just like you."
 
In today’s world where every square inch of the Earth can feel the impact of our culture’s activity there is no escape from the Empire of Evil. There is no such thing as walking away, no such thing as dropping out. Our minds have been programmed for functioning in the context of this Empire. We are civilization, and civilization is who we are. You can’t walk away from yourself.


Does that mean we have to give up trying? I don’t believe so. Nature – and that includes humankind – possesses a tremendous capacity for self-healing. There is a real chance that once we brought down the physical manifestation of the system – or it collapsed on its own, which is more likely, given our current state of mind – the Planet, and humanity, will quickly bounce back to their former degree of aliveness. (Well, perhaps not.)
To unburden oneself from the acculturated need for things may not suffice to fully liberate the mind from its ties with our civilized upbringing. Independent of whether we'd be able to achieve anything tangible I see it as a morally necessary step, though, a step which also helps us reconnect with life how it truly was meant to be. We need to empathize with the sickness within ourselves, we also need to have patience with each other.

And maybe (just maybe) life still has a chance of blooming and spreading once again – after our sick culture has vanished from our minds and its practices are discontinued for good.

2019-05-30

The arts are no exception (Yurugu series #7)


The Yurugu blog series attempts to uncover some of the myths the dominant culture is based upon. As we have a hard time seeing the things we take for granted the view from outside, through the eyes of a different culture, may help with discovering our biases and enable us to act more consciously.
Marimba Ani, the author of the book "Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior," is not involved in putting up the series and does not necessarily agree to its contents. The series is also not meant to present the book's central thesis, or to agree one-hundred percent with it; rather the blogs are inspired by the deep thoughts Marimba Ani has put forward, and offer some of them for consideration.

[previous article]


As my readers, by now, may assume – and rightly so – that no part of European thought, life, and culture has escaped Yurugu’s influence, it is safe to say that the arts do have a role to play in exerting power over the “Other.” The forms of expression and the institutions of our civilization are thoroughly shaped in the image of Yurugu.

John Zerzan writes about the origins of art,
Art, like religion, arose from the original sense of disquiet, no doubt subtly but powerfully disturbing in its newness and its encroaching gradualness. In 1900 [Yrgo] Hirn wrote of an early dissatisfaction that motivated the artistic search for a "fuller and deeper expression" as "compensation for new deficiencies of life." Cultural solutions, however, do not address the deeper dislocations that cultural "solutions" are themselves part of. Conversely, as commentators as diverse as Henry Miller and Theodor Adorno have concluded, there would be no need of art in a disalienated world. What art has ineffectively striven to capture and express would once again be a reality, the false antidote of culture forgotten. – Running on Emptiness: the Failure of Symbolic Thought

As art must reflect the nature of the asili we can expect a society deeply split into the haves and have-nots, to produce an equally split-up arts scene. Indeed, observing developments over the millennia, we can see a clear division between an elitist “sophisticated” conception of arts on the one hand, and the “kitsch” items that ordinary folks create on the other. Of folk music, I once heard somebody say that, “Pigs can't help oinking.”
While professional forms of art historically often served to establish a certain story of people's nature and place in the (hostile) Universe, namely their position in a society's hierarchy, today's arts degrade the vast majority of people to consumers. The artist, though, cannot perceive herself as a pure dominator. She, in turn, is subject to the overarching power of economy, and she is, thanks to the strong premise of separation, fundamentally alone with herself. When she expresses her visions in her art she will help to proliferate that premise. Her expression is perceived as uniquely hers. Whether she can reach anybody else, and whether anybody else is able to deeply relate to what she expresses, cannot be made sure. Following the fashion of the day is the only way how she has a chance that she can make a living from her work. Marimba Ani writes,
European art becomes increasingly “a commodity manufactured for the market” tending toward the vulgar. We should point out that the interesting contradiction in European culture is that its art may be commercially inspired (“the artist must live, after all”), geared to consumption, inspired by the desire for recognition, and at the same time remain an elitist form, that is, essentially separated from the people, because the art, like culture, creates (controls) the people, rather than the reverse. According to Sorokin, in the artist's tendency to disregard religious and moral values, the art itself
“comes to be more and more divorced from truly cultural values and turns into an empty art known euphemistically as 'art for art's sake,' at once amoral, nonreligious, and nonsocial, and often antimoral, antireligious, and antisocial.” [Pitirim Sorokin, The Crisis of our Age, 1941, p56]
(Marimba Ani: Yurugu. An African-centered critique of European cultural thought and behavior, 1994, p205)
Strolling through Indian villages, the only obvious kind of art we can see consists of expressions of the religious. The notion that people, nature, and gods are closely interrelated, is still very strong in rural areas. Yet in the cities – the gates through which the floodwaters of Western civilization press into the lives of average Indians – the scenery has become overgrown by a jungle of industrial design – advertisements, economic buildings of concrete, steel and glass, and political monuments – to which the spectator is no one but a subject to power: the power to dictate order, and the power to trigger desire. Bearing only few reminiscences to India’s pre-colonial culture, the form which art, music and design take are dictated by international standards nowadays.
It sometimes seems impossible to escape the omnipresent public cacophony of such products, and I wonder why all these people here simply accept the violation of their mind space. Perhaps they cannot stand the emptiness of a plain surface, or the loudness of silence any longer. Perhaps the lack of attention-grabbing artifacts would make them aware of that other gaping, hurtful void – the one inside. So, “It’s got to be Rock’n’Roll to fill the hole in your soul.” (ABBA). When the flooding of the senses ceases to work, when one day it “doesn’t bring the same reaction from inside your brain” (Savatage), it’s time to end that specific kind of division of labour which condemns the majority of people to stay passive consumers of the arts.
Let music, fine arts, sculpture, architecture, theatrical play, and storytelling come into existence by using your own imagination. What are the values of your community, what are the stories that connect and empower people in your place, and what is the fertile ground on which humanity's purpose in the Universe can grow? Wouldn’t you like to express, for once, something that is truly important to you? What would art look like when it works towards the ending of the need for art?

[next article in the series]