Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Taboo: Mind Control

March 29, 2009

The internet can make it look like you’ve got some wicked memory. For instance, I know someone once said something like “if you feel in control you’re not going fast enough.” And I want to comment on that.  Voila:

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” Mario Andretti (Italian born American Race driver. b.1940) (site)

What I’m talking about in this post is revolutionary thought, or thought itself. In the years that I’ve been around critical thinkers, I’ve seen a number lose mental control. It happens and it’s just happened to another friend, so I wanted to say a few things about revolutionary thinking.

Following Threads

Here’s a story. It’s not well documented. It’s a singular case; an amateur archeological find that I interpreted  quite quickly. The story could go in any direction, but the way I tell it fits with what I’ve seen, what I’m seeing. I found a small library of books in a paper recycling dumpster. And the books, at least to me, told a story. The older books, from the 60s and 70s, were all about social organizing, socialism, union issues (this paper dumpster was in Windsor, Ontario) and other radical works. It’s where I got my totally used copies of Rules for Radicals and The Human Use of Human Beings. But the fresher books, the books from the 80s and 90s (this was the 90s) we more mystical. There were books on angels and conspiracy theories. And some more right-wing writers. I don’t know why the books were being recycled. But I guessed the owner had died, or was taken to a home. But that movement to the mystical right interested me, maybe scared me. If you’re a thinker you probably find yourself freely following lines of thought, it’s almost as though you’re out of control. I’m not advocating control. That’s why the Andretti quote. You should feel out of control as a free thinker. Andretti had a track. Thinkers need friends, someone to say, “come back to us.” If only to keep us in the habit of communicating our thoughts. There is always the danger when going out too far alone, of not coming back.

Sure I’ve been actively following my interests as a reader, but the lines I’ve taken from the Beats and William S. Burroughs, to Nietzsche and Julian Jaynes aren’t really completely controlled by an “I.” What I’m saying is, our minds form in a way that can’t be rock-solidly linked to a directing self. What I mean is that it’s not an “I” forming thought. You don’t believe in God because you’ve chosen to believe. And I didn’t choose the opposite. There is no “I” involved, no agency, we could argue this, but to ask me to believe, is like asking you to accept the opposite. It’s not going to happen. In this round about way, I’m thinking through the necessary conditions for a turn, development, even the stasis, of thought.

Here’s another story. I remember the exact moment my world became godless. As a child, I’d see ghosts, dead people, and maybe once, at the foot of my bed, Jesus. But I’d also heard sleigh bells on Christmas Eve. My very-real-to-me-at-the-time experiences with the spectral world weren’t limited to a consistent plane of the cultural imaginary. Santa and God were aware of my every move. The Devil was there. For whatever reason, I imagined him in the breaker box in our mudroom. If Santa could make it down the chimney of our wood burning stove, Satan could sure as hell wait in the power lines to nab my eternal soul.

When I was ten, my grandfather died. It was a turning point. He’d been eaten away by cancer. A bed had been set up in his living room, because he wanted to die at home. Seeing him skeletal, on the terminal edge of life, the world became very real for me. Looking back now, I started to see and feel things differently. After his death, my family made the move from Catholicism to a more fundamentalist sect of the lightbulb turning, tongue speaking and wailing reborn. I didn’t make the move with them. They questioned Catholicism, and I questioned the existence of God. It’s not something a kid talks about with his parents. Even friends and relatives don’t go there too easily. I still dreamed of ghosts, and demons, but slowly the spiritual world became less real.

So the godless world moment: I was in my last year of high school in a history class, the teacher was talking about World War II, and as an aside he said, “This is the one event that confirms my belief that God has an active hand in history.” He was talking about the race to build the Atomic Bomb. And for him the Americans winning that race, confirmed the hand of God. And this is what I was talking about earlier, the moment he said this, I didn’t think about it, it was instant, I had no control over what happened in my head, but right there my consciousness of a spiritual dimension vanished. It was like I was immediately snapped into this world. I was all in. I am not arguing that it’s worked out well for me, what I’m arguing is that “I” didn’t think it. “I” didn’t reason it. My own consciousness is out of my control, this consciousness is not my own.

So when a radical union activist who I used to know, would go off at local meetings about the government’s plan to launch a mind reading satellite into orbit… I’ll say this in his defense, he was waving a book that laid out all the details, and he was offering it to anyone willing to read it. From my own experience, from what I’ve seen, or at least what I think I’ve seen, there is a question of control. And if we’re not in control, who is?

Waves of Consciousness

March 1, 2009

Murray Bookchin on the 1960s. In The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy .

Almost intuitively, new values of sensuousness, new forms of communal lifestyle, change in dress, language, music, all borne on the wave of a deep sense of impending social change, infused a sizable section of an entire generation. We still do not know in what sense this wave began to ebb: whether as a historic retreat or as a transformation into a serious project for inner and social development.

Hunter S. Thompson. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Letter to Felix Guattari on Social Practice. in Antonio Negri. The Politics of Subversion: A Manifesto for the Twenty-First Century . Translated by James Newell. 1989 Polity Press. Cambridge.

We have been defeated. The culture and the struggles of the sixties were defeated in the seventies. The eighties have witnessed the consolation of the victory of capitalism.

Preface to The Wretched of the Earth

January 30, 2009

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote these bits in 1961:

The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western Culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed.

We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.

Darwin’s Finches

November 21, 2007

Last night I went to Evolution of Darwin’s Finches, a lecture by Rosemary and Peter Grant. Luckily I got to the lecture hall a little early, because the place completely filled up. Even the aisles were filled. There was a nice article about the lecture in the Georgia Straight (notice the comments are about God), but I think the popularity of the speakers, was simply a result of 35 years of work. The room was filled with birders, and biologist, academics both institutional and independent, students, teachers, children, teenagers and the very, very, old. I’m guessing the majority in the room were academics of some sort. This couple has got to be a kind of role model for anyone interested in this branch of science.

I’ve been reading Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. I’m working a number of ideas into some sort of theory for a project I’m proposing. The Grant’s work seems interesting. It’s interesting because it’s real hands-on science. The theory of evolution , I don’t know, but right now I’ve got a feeling it’s important in all its complexity to any theory of social change. The problem with any theory of social change is the theory of social stasis, which might be analogous to the confrontation between the theorists of evolution and the believers in God’s creation. (This is a little of what I’m talking about.) What I’ve just written sort of explains why I haven’t been writing lately.

The Grants observed evolution through natural selection. Changes in the environment (changes in weather patterns and the resulting changes in plant based food sources) produced measurable differences in beak and body sizes in the islands’ finch populations. And after 35 years of observing the birds behaviour, they could see the “cultural” differenced that grew up around inherited adaptation.

Ball of Confusion

June 11, 2007

I’ve been thinking about the coming blockade action, and am at a point where I’ve lost complete control. I have no answer, not that I expected to write one, but as well I have no convictions. That said my head isn’t all that empty. I’m not indigenous to this land, so my role can never be more than that of a spectator or at most a philosophical ally.

So why am I bothering to think the situation through? If nothing else just to answer that question. But somehow this situation will shed some light on Canadian education. The concepts of identity, nationality, culture and difference are alive in this situation, and education, any discussion of education needs to be shaped with these recently sharpened conceptual tools.

Technorati Tags:: conceptual tools culture difference education identity nationality


Focus on the Family and Michael Moore

March 27, 2007

All this is an attempted dialogue. There’s a possibility of dialogue. There is no dialogue. There original article is here. The comments are here. I post this here because I like the connections. The Michael Moore review is on some 666 site, and Focus on the Family says a very similar thing, plus the original article talks of the same phenomenon as Hold On To Your Kids. I like connections.

His is a rather sentimental and weak argument. Teenagers have been teenagers for decades; he does not adduce what, if anything, is different about today’s teenagerdom from yesterday’s teenagerdom.
Dave | Homepage

I’ll push your first claim further, and note that teenagers have been teenagers for centuries, at least.

I think the post was fairly clear in it’s contention that what’s different about today’s teenagers is that they spend much more time with one another, and only one another, and they are taught by less competent individuals.

There are plenty of ways to attack both arguments, but it seems false on the surface to assert that I did not adduce a difference between present and past.
Tony | Homepage | 02.26.07 – 10:25 am |

What derisive, prejudicial and ignorant commentary. Many teens are creative, insightful and have excellent work ethic. Of course, some reflect poorly on each other, but many help each other improve in the hours the spend together.

What you say is sort of like saying all bloggers offer only ridiculous, self-aggrandizing commentary, just because they spend a lot of time reading each other’s blogs.
Mark Barnes | Homepage | 03.04.07 – 9:31 am |

Or like saying that one commenter who has trouble spelling words correctly is proof that all commenters are poor spellers.

I think the qualifiers were clear enough: “a large portion of high-school seniors,” for example. Of course I wasn’t talking about all teenagers, or all teachers, for that matter. The fact that many teenagers are brilliant, and their teachers highly competent, doesn’t refute what I had to say.
Tony | Homepage | 03.05.07 – 12:19 pm |

This author/psychologist gives parents and teachers some advice for dealing with peer orientation. That teenagers prefer to keep company with themselves is having a “devastating impact in today’s society”, according to Neufeld, and parents actually spending time with their kids is his new and innovative solution.

I’m guessing the tone of your post was what the two previous commentors were really on about. I see the same phenomenon but well, there’s this: “But perhaps picking a fight with higher education, in the same post where I pick on high schoolers and their teachers and their parents and the rest of us who let news like this roll off our backs without changing our behavior one bit, is, well, just one fight too many.” It’s a mexican standoff, like that scene (50) in Reservoir Dogs, but you’re blaming the actors in our social drama. Doesn’t blaming the script writers ever cross your mind?

Society is changing, but so has the economy. Why are kids working as much as they do? Why are parents working as much as they do? Why are you “picking on” the little guy? I take for fact our responsibility to ourselves and our children. But by your own understanding (“If you study about ten times harder, and have an ounce of common sense, and work really long hours, then perhaps you can build yourself a plane, and then you can fly. Otherwise, get used to walking.”) citizens are being worked beyond socialization. Is it stupidity or the underclass that’s spreading?
Rodger Levesque| | 03.12.07 – 4:38 am |

Given that real income in the lowest quintile of American households more than doubled in the past half-century, I would say you’re barking up the wrong tree if you want to contend that economic need is the driving force here.

My goal isn’t to pick on the little guy. It is to pick on the big, fat slob of a parent who spends too much time in front of the tube, and not enough time engaging his children in the real work of becoming responsible adults.
Tony | Homepage | 03.12.07 – 4:30 pm |

The real income more than doubled for everyone else as well. But fifty years ago a household would have had one bread winner. Today, that’s not the case. Two people are now working per household.

And sure not every household has two incomes, but not every teenager has no adult contact.

What do you call this? A cultural shift? Can it be called an economic shift? If one earner were to devote himself to the kids, would the household earning then be nearer to what it was fifty years ago? And is that doubled household income going straight to a materialistic lifestyle? I read in the paper often about the average household credit card debt. Was this a problem 50 years ago when households were bringing in half what they do now? How are these real dollars calculated? If the dollars take into account only necessities, is cable included? How about these gas prices? Computers? Cell phones? insurance? Are all these things taken into account?

I’m not going to try to tell you that the fat guy picture you paint doesn’t exist, I’m sure he’s washing down pork rinds with a miller lite watching deal or no deal right now, but the problem of family socialization time has to be more complex than that. You’d know better than I if you can call it an economic shift, but definitely a cultural shift has occurred.

It doesn’t matter which side of the polemical divide your argument falls.

This is from Focus on the Family:

“Dr. Steve Farrar presents a message on how the spiritual virus of affluenza (the pursuit of material success) is sweeping the country and destroying the family. Affluenza causes good people to make unwise choices by distorting their thinking, their judgment, and eventually causes them to sacrifice their children on the altar of success.

He gives three components to success in America. Attaining these three components equals status, and if you have status in America, then your perceived importance goes up. Steve provides tremendous perspective from the Scriptures (1 Timothy 6:6-11) and expresses that contentment is destroyed by comparison.

On Day Two, Steve talks about the God-ordained family and lists the two things that every family needs, presenting God’s ideal plan for the father to be the primary provider and for the mother to be the primary caregiver.

He traces the course of affluenza beginning with the Industrial Revolution, when men were first taken out of the home and into the factories for work, followed by the feminist revolution in the past 25-30 years which has taken women out of the home, and Steve asks who is taking care of the children.

Dr. Dobson closes by assuring listeners that he knows that materialism and greed are not the reason all mothers work, some are working out of need.”

And this is about a Michael Moore documentary:

“Moore first shows us how the mother from the impoverished town of Flynt, Michigan was left without work following the closing of the local GM plant as jobs were given to cheap labor out of country. We then travel with Moore before sunrise on a two hour bus ride to the wealthy suburban mall where the state’s privatized work-for-welfare program sent her (the program, incidentally, was run by defense industry giant Lockheed Martin, who also builds nuclear missiles in Littleton Colorado, site of Columbine High School). We get quick tours of the Dick Clark fifties-theme restaurant and the fudge factory where she performed her minimum wage jobs before bussing home after sunset. Despite the two jobs, the woman still did not have enough to pay her rent. Consequently, she was evicted from her house and taken in by her brother. Soon after, while she was bussing to work, her young child found her brother’s handgun, carried it to school and killed another student.”

I’m not proposing a solution. Tony, you’ve written provocatively on a very real issue. I think it’s more complicated than your presentation, and I’m still wondering, what’s really happening? When I asked if it was stupidity or the underclass that was spreading, I meant is our culture becoming oppressive? The problem has spread well into what was once called the middle class and on into academia. Is all this work, creating poverty of the mind? I think Camus had something to say about this. I guess if there’s a question in here anymore, it’s: Don’t you think you’ve simplified the problem (a problem you had the ability to recognize and examine) a little too much?
Rodger Levesque |  | 03.12.07 – 11:40 pm |