October 16, 2016 § 10 Comments
“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
“We try to fix the outside so much, but our control of the outer world is limited, temporary, and often, illusory…achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill. It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
On top of an already fraught, fearful & divided world, the approaching presidential election of 2016 has ramped up feelings of rage, alienation & despair across America.
In part, because social issues—race relations & sexual politics—are at the forefront of the debates between Clinton & Trump, this election season has invoked a truly personal, emotional response in us.
The advent of smartphones has given us the means to monitor our monitors, and footage of police abuse of power against black male bodies surfaces constantly, raising pleas for social justice to a fever pitch.
While many are listening to these raised voices of protest, large swaths of the conservative demographic are reacting with mistrust and shutting down. And so the #blacklivesmatter movement gives way to responses of #allivesmatter and #bluelives (meaning officers) matter.
Yes. We all matter. That is the point of the “black lives matter” hashtag—a reminder that a swath of our “all” is struggling and needs attention.
As if this issue weren’t fraught enough, it has become politicized. The left, being the party of social progress, has taken up this and other causes, attempting to “explain it” to the right; which has largely been perceived by conservatives as a buzzword-fueled lecture and accusation.
Although it may be difficult to understand why anyone with such superior social power would deign to listen to the struggling underdog, this reaction itself is framed in a certain view with specific assumptions. The people who aren’t hearing the message behind #blacklivesmatter, for instance, aren’t filtering it through the same set of reference points. The right perceives itself as the underdog under attack.
The “us” vs. “them” mentality is in full effect, raging across America like a wild fire. We seem to be in a Chinese Finger Cuff situation—the harder we pull, the more stuck we become; if the goal is ultimately peace and human unity. Which, come on, if we are to survive as a nation and a species, it logically has to be.
One important fact to remember is that the “us” vs. “them” mentality is literally hardwired into our neurology; the second we identify with a certain group, it has been proven in experiment after experiment that the brain begins filtering facts to skew the data towards the perceived “us.”
“Our tendency toward partisanship is likely the result of evolution—forming groups is how prehistoric humans survived,” remarks Brian Resnic (“How Politics Breaks Our Brains.”) “That’s helpful when trying to master an unforgiving environment with Stone Age technology. It’s less so when trying to foster a functional democracy.”
“Studies have shown,” adds Steven Handel, “that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions, for example: eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin.
This tells us that we can potentially separate ourselves from a certain group of people on any random and arbitrary characteristic. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to be a perpetrator and/or victims of social prejudice and ostracism.” (“The Us Vs. Them Mentality.”)
Although it feels like things are getting worse, this very well may be a time of national exorcism; the rock we didn’t want to look under has been overturned and we are staring directly at its maggoty underside. At least now we are facing it directly; the dank hidden pocket of darkness is being aired. And we are looking at it, talking about it.
A hundred years ago, only white men could vote in America. Today we have a black president and a female candidate. We have progressed! But we are still healing from historically recent wounds. Sociological blindspots, unconscious prejudice, glass ceilings and abuse of power still remain as a result of that past. The specters of oppression can not be banished so easily or quickly.
With emotions running high and so much dissonance in the air, empaths and highly sensitive people are particularly vulnerable to depression & anxiety—it is essential that we combat this by practicing steady, systematic, daily routines of self-care. We must stoke our own light in order to better illuminate this darkness.
As we all navigate these stormy times of controversy, misunderstanding, anger, alienation and above all the tendency to break off into warring factions, let us try to outsmart our biology.
When politics breaks our brains, let us turn to the heart. For our goal logically must be harmonious co-existence, and we are united by more than divides us.
May 17, 2016 § 20 Comments
“The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.”
“Technology is a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.”
Are smartphones making us stupid? They have certainly made us their slaves. Social media addiction is on the rise—compulsive internet checking has become the norm.
It’s crept up on us. It’s been less than a decade since smartphones were introduced to the main arteries of culture, and now it is flooding our collective bloodstream like a drug. The idea of opting out—unplugging permanently—no longer seems like a viable option for most people. But even as we willingly engage our pint-sized prison, we are increasingly, uncomfortably aware of its bars.
Sure, it’s great to be able to stay in touch with friends, have mobile up-to-the-minute map access, the ability to document digitally and look a fact up on the spot! But the sword cuts both ways.
We are also far less likely to experience a grounded sense of being present in the moment when, the second there is some space or silence, we have the option & impulse to check our email, text inbox, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It’s become like a tic for most people. We no longer have to face ourselves or others in those in-between-moments, we can just dive into our phones.
75% of people between 18 & 25 respond “yes” to the question “when nothing else is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” (Time.com.)
According to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, one second less than the attention span of the notoriously ill-focused goldfish.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard (and uttered) the phrase, “I just haven’t been able to get into any good books lately” in the last year.
A recent study, 45% of people tested said they feel “worried or uncomfortable” when email and Facebook are inaccessible.
While 60 % stated “they felt the need to switch off” their phones and computers to secure a full-fledged break from technology.
“In other words, it’s not being on social networks that makes people anxious. It’s being away from them.” (Huffington Post.)
Charlie Brooker’s British television series “Black Mirror” (which I recommend watching, though it’s not for the faint of heart) sums up the situation expertly in the second episode: the opening scene depicts its lead character waking up in a room surrounded by wall-to-wall digital screens.
Instantly bombarded with advertisements, he proceeds to shuffle glumly through his morning routines. One’s first response is invariably: “Oh! How awful! What a way to live!” Uncomfortable calibration moment. “Oh shit. That’s us.”
Star Trek’s “The Next Generation” tapped into the dystopian future we are currently experiencing way back in 1991—an episode called “The Game,” in which a mysterious game is introduced on board the starship. The device engages the player’s brain, specifically their pleasure centers.
Before long, the entire ship’s crew is playing the game, peer pressuring everyone else to try it. Eventually, just two un-addicted crew members remain, then only one. (It’s really worth a watch for the eerie allegorical chill factor.)
“The Game” was prophetic: a release of pleasurable chemicals (specifically dopamine) is exactly what’s responsible for our growing collective addiction to nuggets of electronically derived information.
In her article “Seeking,” journalist Emily Yoffe details how the seeking instinct is a primordial vestige of biological necessity. Hardwired into our brains, it drives impulses like checking texts or Googling.
Yoffe refers to an experiment carried out in 1954 by a team of scientists involving a control group of rats.
“They would stick an electrode in a rat’s brain and, whenever the rat went to a particular corner of its cage, would give it a small shock and note the reaction. One day they unknowingly inserted the probe in the wrong place, and the rat kept returning over and over to the corner where it received the shock.
“They eventually discovered that if the probe was put in the brain’s lateral hypothalamus and the rats were allowed to press a lever and stimulate their own electrodes, they would press until they collapsed.”
The scientists assumed they had discovered the rats’ pleasure centers, but to neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, “those self-stimulating rats, and the humans [who participated in later experiments] did not exhibit the euphoric satisfaction of creatures eating Double Stuf Oreos or repeatedly having orgasms. The animals were excessively excited, even crazed….in a constant state of sniffing and foraging,” notes Yoffe.
“Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn’t experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy.'”
(Cue the Smashing Pumpkins: “Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage.”)
“Seeking needs to be turned off,” concludes Yoffe, “if even for a little while, so that the system does not run in an endless loop. When we get the object of our desire (be it a Twinkie or a sexual partner), we engage in consummatory acts [which] reduce arousal in the brain and temporarily, at least, inhibit our urge to seek.
“But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. If humans are seeking machines, we’ve now created the perfect machines to allow us to seek endlessly.” (“Seeking,” By Emily Yoffe.)
We are navigating a Brave New World. As with everything, the first step is awareness. We have to admit we have a problem before we can get better. The point of power is choice.
The next time you find yourself going for your phone, don’t. Instead, look around. Observe the details of your surroundings, feel into the moment of being alive. The solution is simple; it’s just a matter of doing it, and in many cases, retraining ourselves, re-patterning compulsive, unconscious behavior.
There’s still time to allow our humanity to catch up to our technology.
December 1, 2014 § 9 Comments
“Race is there & it is a constant. You’re tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it.” ~ Jon Stuart
“I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists. Could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?” ~ Ellen Page
“We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.” ~ Will Rogers
The disputed circumstances of the shooting of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer—and the resultant civil unrest—have received considerable attention in the U.S. & abroad over the past few months. The death has sparked emotional debate about law enforcement’s relationship with African-Americans & police use of force doctrine.
Jesse Williams, best known for his role on the Grey’s Anatomy TV series, asserted the importance of talking about the narrative—i.e., the context of race-relations in America—surrounding this story, to make sure we’re starting at what he calls “the beginning.” The biracial actor continues:
“You will find the people who are doing the oppressing often want to start the narrative at a convenient point, they always want to start the story in the middle [of what comprises a longer narrative.] There’s a lot of bizarre behavior going on & that is the story.”
He laments the idea that because Brown stole a five dollar packet of cigarillos before the shooting, in the eyes of much of the world he “automatically becomes a thug worthy of his own death.”
The dialogue on both sides—those who believe racial context is relevant & those who believe it’s being unfairly projected onto the case—has continued to rise in emotional pitch, including reactions like the ones Williams described.
While a lot of people have voiced compassion for the situation in Ferguson, there has been a lot of insensitive commentary as well:
If you can’t read the caption on the main image above, it says: “Looting: because nothing says you care about a dead kid and the community more than stealing 50 pair of Air Jordans and then burning the store to the ground.”
While the point itself is undeniably logical, comments like this deflect the significance of the larger story by focusing on one small aspect of the situation & creating a false dichotomy:
“Because people looted in the riots, the riots are obviously absurd.” If A, then B. In classic false dichotomy style, this doesn’t give room for a simultaneous option: that the riots are a noteworthy expression of cultural pain triggered by a symbolic tragedy which has destabilized a community; and throughout that destabilization looting has occurred.
“I’m seeing a lot of …’Well, he punched a cop,'” writes Chuck Windeg. “Or it attempts some kind of equivalency (‘Both sides are really to blame, here,’ as if one side doesn’t have a whole lot of power compared to the other side).
“Where is the empathy?
“I want you to think about it. I want you to imagine being a family who lost their unarmed son in a police shooting. I want you to imagine being in a town full of such families — families who know that they are without power, that at any time one of their own could get shot by a cop a half-a-dozen times and nobody will even send that to trial.” (On The Subject of Cultivating Empathy.)
Journalist David Brooks notes: “We all have to have a new social compact on this.
“Whites especially have to acknowledge the legacy of racism and have to go the extra yard to show respect and understand how differently whites and blacks see police issues. So whites can’t just say ‘Does this look right to me,’ but ‘Does this look trustworthy to the black community.’ That has to be the standard.”
The New York Times columnist adds:
“Racial inequality has become entangled in all sorts of domestic problems of disappearing jobs, family structure. This is mostly a question of good intentioned people trying to do the best they can with very knotty social problems, which now overlap with racial problems.”
Clearly, the reaction is so strong because the implications of the Brown case hits a profoundly charged collective nerve. As Jesse Williams says: “We’re not making this up.”
I’d like to take the conversation out of the case-specific back-and-forth (which is un-constructive, since none of us were on the jury) into a wider examination of difference, social power & rankism.
The specters of oppression have been rising, as of late.
In August, UC Santa Barbara student Elliot Rodger went on a college town killing spree after posting an anti-woman rant on youtube. Before driving to the sorority house where he would kill two women, he uploaded a video entitled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution.”
The manifesto specifically mentions a “War on Women” for “starving him of sex,” in which he states:
“I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you for it. I am going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB & I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, you will finally see that I am in truth the superior one. The true alpha male.”
As with the Michael Brown case, many argued the killings were politicized; in this case, mental illness recast, rather than, as Arthur Chu poetically phrased it: “The fruits of our culture’s ingrained misogyny laid bare for all to see.”
But again, there’s a false dichotomy: just because Rodgers may have had mental health issues, doesn’t mean the culture that fed his hate & gave it a language—the larger narrative—isn’t meaningful for us to examine.
As with Brown, the story became a symbol of what is broken in our country & the world.
“Yes All Women started as a response to the deeply ingrained misogyny that fueled Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage at Santa Barbara University. It is also, in rhetorical structure, a response to “Not all men,” a [deflective] response by certain men to stories of violence men commit against women (“not all men rape” – typical #notallmen reply). #Yesallwomen overflowed with female voices sharing personal stories of the rampant harassment and objectification they face in daily life.” (Think Progress.) Examples include:
“Because women have to avoid eye-contact with men in public in order not to ‘lead them on…'” (Sophia Bush.)
“Because every single woman I know has a story about a man feeling entitled to access to her body. Every. Single. One.” (Kaylee Anna.)
“I shouldn’t have to hold my car keys in hand like a weapon & check over my shoulder every few seconds when I walk at night.” (Cara Parish.)
Yet at the same time, this month TIME magazine published its annual poll of “cringe-worthy memes,” asking readers which word they would “ban” in an ideal world from 2015: alongside popular/over-used words like “literally” & “obvi” appeared the word “feminist.”
Of course the article received an outcry of objection for reducing one of the most significant social movements in history to an “annoying” social meme. The article now appears with a note from the editor, apologizing for inclusion of the word.
But the message remains: people are tired of hearing the word feminist. Mostly, it would seem, people not affected by sexism, and women who are confused about the word’s meaning because of negative stereotype.
“I am not a feminist,” actress Selma Hayeck recently asserted as she received her (instantly a little ironic) award from Equality Now.
“If men were going through the things women are going through today, I would be fighting for them with just as much passion. I believe in equality.”
Just a quick review:
“fem·i·nism; the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” ~ Merrium-Webster Dictionary
It’s important to note, there have been three distinct waves of feminist thought.
The first, in the late 18th & early 19th century, was the suffragette movement, which focused on removing basic legal obstacles to equality: the right of women to vote & to own property. (American women did not receive the right to vote until the 1920s; Saudi Arabian women, as recently as 2011.) (Check out this interesting timeline.)
The second wave, which took place primarily from the 1960s to the 1990s, focused on further breaking down the limits placed on women, based on society’s construct of gender roles. This included reproductive rights, sexuality, workplace & family issues.
Because women were breaking new ground, the feminism of this era had a more extreme face—just as a rocket leaving the atmosphere must use the maximum amount of energy during the moment it pushes through the atmosphere, known as “escape velocity.”
But in pushing social comfort zones in order to forge new ground, 60s era feminism also made a lot of enemies; women were told they “could be so much more” than mothers & wives; a sentiment liberating for those who had not dared imagine it, insulting to those who authentically desired it.
Still evolving, second wave feminism was spending so much energy on the “escape velocity” needed to push equality into its next phase, it lost sight of its original motivation: supporting female agency.
This outdated impression—of feminism excluding significant spheres to the detriment of its intention—is unfortunately one still held by most people today.
Modern feminism, known as third wave feminism, is a course corrected entity. The whole third wave of writers & activists—from the 90s to present day—saw the problem exactly: it wasn’t for feminist leaders to tell women who they should be or what constituted an “empowered woman.” Feminism was, is, and always has been about choice. Which included the choice to be a full-time mom, stripper or. However. They wanted. That was the point.
Are there lone extremists who say stupid things in the name of feminism? Of course. Just like every other movement. But if we throw out the feminism with the bathwater, we’re throwing out an important emblem of human liberation.
Feminism is what moved women from a position of being legally powerless, sub-human commodities to legally autonomous persons with a right to human dignity.
And that’s what I’m building up to: the idea of human dignity.
Imbalance of social status based on intrinsic unchangeable characteristics is not only the definition of oppression, it is the hallmark of a broken collective; humanity divided. Which is how we fall & have fallen.
A simple look at the composition of Congress serves as a snapshot for the state of the nation: in the House of Representatives, there are currently 362 men & 76 women. In the Senate, 17 women compared with 83 men. 361 whites representing in the House, compared with a meager 44 African-American; 96 whites, with zero blacks currently in the Senate. 25 Hispanic in the House & 2 in the senate.
That is not equality.
I’d love for feminism to be embraced for the equality signifier it is, for more men to join the movement & proclaim that they are feminists, like actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt in this awesome video….
Because in supporting one another’s social justice causes, we acknowledge both that we all have the same cause—a better world—and the fact that incidents of oppression are interwoven with the same social fabric.
At the same time, I acknowledge that compartmentalized movements are, sadly, part of what is keeping us divided.
In this spirit, I think the conversation might benefit from being steered towards what writer & physicist Robert W. Fuller has identified as “rankism”:
“Rankism occurs when those with authority use the power of their position to secure unwarranted advantages or benefits for themselves at the expense of others. It is the illegitimate use of rank and, equally, the use of rank illegitimately acquired or held. The familiar isms are all examples of this latter form.” (Breaking Rank, The Dignitarian Manifesto.)
“In addition to its universality,” continues Fuller, “rankism differs from the familiar trait-based abuses because rank is not fixed. Rather, it changes depending on context. Someone holds high rank at home and is lowest on the totem pole at work.
“Likewise, we feel powerful at one time and powerless at another, as when we move from childhood to adulthood and from our ‘prime’ into old age, or when we experience the loss of a job, a partner, or our health. As a result, most of us have been both victims and perpetrators of discrimination based on rank.”
He adds that the trouble is not with rank itself—there are many functions of society, such as student & teacher, where rank makes sense—but rather when abuse of power accompanies it.
This means focusing on human dignity.
One way we can do this is by staying aware of the subjecthood of others. Remembering that everyone is the protagonists of their own personal story; with a narrative, of which we may be unable to conceive…until we ask.
One of the key traits of narcissistic personality disorder is treating others as objects, rather than subjects—and it has been said more than once that the Western world lives in an intensely, and increasingly, narcissistic age. We think of “objectifying” as relating to the body & sexism, but, psychologically speaking, it relates any time we don’t consider the human experience of The Other—seeing them only so much as they relate to our experience of them.
December 21, 2012 § 10 Comments
“Apocalypse does not point to a fiery Armageddon but to the fact that our ignorance and our complacency are coming to an end. Our divided, schizophrenic worldview, with no mythology adequate to coordinate our conscious and unconscious — that is what is coming to an end.” ~ Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That
“If there is an Armegeddon it is within each of us.” ~ Robert Ghost Wolf
I write on the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse, Dec 21st 2012 — a date they are calling “the most anticipated date in history,” which has been gaining power and momentum in the collective mythic imagination for literally decades.
2012 has become a cultural phenomenon, far exceeding any basis in Mayan history, expressing, rather, our own collective sense of dread — that we are heading for destruction, and change of a radical nature is needed if we are to survive.
Archeologist, anthropologist and author Michael D. Coe was perhaps the first to put forth an apocalyptic interpretations of the ancient Mayan codices, writing in his 1966 book The Maya:
“There is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th [b’ak’tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.”
Since then, apocalyptic prophecies have proliferated exponentially, leading up to the fervor of the 2012 phenomenon. The film industry has capitalized off this fear/trend with a mounting plethora of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. Post-apocalyptic video games like Fallout abound. New Age bookstores are exploding with 2012 material. Youtube features a veritable frenzy of 2012 videos…
Yet actual modern day Maya and Mayan scholars insist that the end of the ancient calender simply signifies the end of an era, known as the thirteen ba’kt’un (each ba’kt’un being equivalent to 394.26 years.) It is the end of an age of man, what the Maya called the fourth world.
Ricardo Cajas, president of the Colectivo de Organizaciones Indígenas de Guatemala, states that the date does not represent an end of humanity, but of a new cycle, which “supposes changes in human consciousness.”
According to a diverse group of indigenous peoples’ creation myths, from Mexico to New Zealand, there have been three failed worlds before our current age (could these legends refer to lost continents such as Plato’s Atlantis?).
The Hindus believe that earth goes through four world cycles, or ages of man, which repeat indefinitely. Most interpreters of Hindu scriptures believe that earth is currently in a Kali Yuga cycle, a dark time marked by destruction and degeneration in human values, known as “the age of the demon” or the “age of vice.” Eventually, the Kali Yuga will evolve into three more cycles, each one improving, until we reach a Golden Age.
“We Hopi believe that the human race has passed through three different worlds and life ways since the beginning,” details Hopi Elder Dan Evehema. “At the end of each prior world, human life has been purified or punished by the Great Spirit, or Massau, due mainly to corruption, greed and turning away from the Great Spirit’s teachings. The last great destruction was the flood which destroyed all but a few faithful ones who asked and received a permission from the Great Spirit to live with Him in this new land.”
According to Chief Evehema, the famous rock inscribed with Hopi hieroglyphs (Hopi Prophecy Rock) foretold both world wars and indicates an upcoming time of choice, where humankind will be offered a choice between the path of the heart and the path of the intellect and materialism.
“Modern man is out of balance because he lives in a left-brain dominated society,” asserts the Hopi elder, “leading to imbalance and conflict, and ultimately to destruction.”
We find ourselves in a runaway culture of technological advancement, where authentic human connection –to the earth and one another — threatens to be left behind. Isolation and distraction abound. As Daniel Pinchbeck, author of Breaking Open the Head, says, “We live in a culture where everything tastes good but nothing satisfies.”
Violent outbursts, like the recent tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the stabbing of 20 school children in China — bizarrely, on the same day — create a disquieting atmosphere of building tension and mounting darkness. It’s as though we are experiencing a dark night of the world soul.
“A dark night of the soul,” writes Erin Reese in her post of the same name, “primarily occurs when the old self-image is ready to go. This is the outdated identification of who you think you are – the ego structure. When the self-image becomes calcified in any way, a dark night of the soul comes rumbling in like storm clouds.” (For more, check out Parallax’s Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul.)
Astrologically Pluto and Uranus have been, and continue to be, influential.
“The effect of Uranus is to shatter old outworn forms so as to allow new life to be born. Pluto is the Lord of the Underworld in the Roman archetypal pantheon. In traditional astrology Pluto represents the eternal cycle of death and rebirth. In the Egyptian pantheon Pluto is Osiris, the God of Regeneration; Uranus is Wadjet, the Great Awakener. The long lasting square between these two astrological giants [during 2012 and for the next few years] suggests that we have only just begun our journey of incredible transformation and change.”(Astrological Insights.)
“Uranus represents change, invention, revolution, and higher awareness,” details astrologer Jamie Partridge. “It’s effect is shocking, unpredictable, and erratic. Pluto represents globalization, destruction, transformation, and renewal. It’s effect is grinding, ruthless and extreme. Both of these planets are distinctly non-personal and emotionless, yet their effect is dramatic and deeply felt. The square is the most challenging of the planetary aspects, representing tests and challenges. It’s effect is stressful and frustrating.”
I wouldn’t include an astrological analysis if I hadn’t felt the truth of these interpretations in my own life. So many people in my life tell me they feel it too: that 2012 was one of their most intense, full years. Many have had very hard years, while others have had intensely wonderful years. Most of us have had a mixed bag of extreme highs and lows. Few people found 2012 to be “just another year.”
For many, a pressure is building. The need to burn away all that is false (a trait associated with Pluto.) Many I speak with seem to be going through an emotional-spiritual purge or some kind of shadow work at the moment. I think many of us feel innately that it’s a good time to purify and detoxify (look for tips on this in future posts!). Many feel pushed to their limit and filled with a desire to restructure their life. Old behaviors which no longer serve us are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I realize this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it strikes me as significant that so many people I know are experiencing one or all of these things right now — more than usual, it seems.
And so the 2012 phenomenon, the so-called Mayan Apocalypse, can be seen as an expression of our personal and collective discomfort with old existing structures and outmoded patterns of behavior. When Dec. 21st comes and goes and the world remains in all it’s chaos, we will be left with the anti-climatic but significant realization that there is no escaping ourselves.
Let’s die to the past through this inner apocalypse — harness the intense energy of this time and use it for personal rebirth and transformation. We are collectively craving it. But it can only start with each of us, individually, and it can only take place in the present, right now.
May 12, 2012 § 28 Comments
“The warm, the richly colored, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was! […] Swallowing half an hour before closing time, that second dose of soma had raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds.”
You may soon be able to get a prescription for falling in love.
A team of Oxford researchers are working on a pill to recreate the feeling of being in the honeymoon stage. They aim to accomplish this by combining pheromones, testosterone (to up sex drive,) Oxytocin and Vasopressin — naturally occurring “bonding chemicals” produced by the body at the early stages of a relationship — CRH (a hormone that induces the fear of separation) and Entactogens, a “feel good” drug similar to MDMA.
There you have it folks, the recipe for love: one part sex, another part bonding, mix in the fear of separation and some ecstasy. Or so the Oxford research team is hoping.
While the love pill might seem to many like the absurd and even chilling culmination of a cultural trajectory best left to science fiction, others wonder if perhaps it might not have some therapeutic effect.
Take for instance the success researchers have had with treating Post Traumatic Shock with MDMA (known for its street name, ecstasy.) According to Science Daily, “participants treated with a combination of MDMA and psychotherapy saw clinically and statistically significant improvements in their PTSD — over 80% of the trial group no longer met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, stipulated in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV-TR) following the trial, compared to only 25% of the placebo group. In addition, all three subjects who reported being unable to work due to PTSD were able to return to work following treatment with MDMA.”
Likewise, psychologists like Harvard researcher Richard Doblin have long been interested in the empathy enhancing effects of MDMA for possible use in marriage counseling. Though the 1986 criminalization of the drug has hampered such investigation, there has been renewed interest on this front in the past few years.
The theory goes that breakthroughs in communication and emotional vulnerability could be stimulated by this kind of neurochemical enhancement in a therapy situation.
But where do we draw the line when tinkering with brain chemistry? Is happiness more important than authenticity? Judging from the statistics — one in ten Americans is currently taking antidepressants — it would appear the answer for many is yes.
In their paper, Neuroenhancement of Love and Marriage: The Chemicals Between Us, the scientists researching the new love pill suggest:
“Even if love were not authentic, authenticity is not an overriding or exclusive value. People can trade a degree of authenticity for other values in their lives.”
And somewhere Aldous Huxley is rolling over in his grave.
Huxley penned the classic and increasingly prophetic dystopian novel, Brave New World, in 1931, about a future society imprisoned by their own addiction to escapism. A key medium of escape: soma, a drug of the future masses.
Huxley creates the vision of an overmedicated society, wherein, as author Neil Postman puts it: people have “come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”
The propagandized phrase “A gram is better than a damn” floats around Huxley’s world and people routinely check out for “holidays” via pharmaceutical enhancement:
“I don’t understand anything,” she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. “Nothing. Least of all,” she continued in another tone “why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly.” (Brave New World.)
Of course, people have been hawking love potions for time immemorial, and it hasn’t worked yet. But with science on their side, today’s researchers might be the first to create a true love drug.
There is something about seeing the same thing — the face of your beloved, for instance — over and over again, which creates a kind of automatic pilot of the mind. It seems that often the more we see something, the less we see it. Consciously grounding oneself in the moment can help. But to create a way to see our partners with fresh eyes could indeed have a revitalizing effect on stalled relationships.
Still, the Huxlian implications have this author wondering what kind of pain could be repressed, what kind of problems ignored, with the help of such a pill. We touch fire, it hurts, we withdraw our hand. What would happen if we anesthetized that hand? We might wind up playing with fire until our hand fell off.
Take this metaphor to the emotional level. Pain is our body’s natural warning mechanism, telling us that something is wrong, indicating a need for change. If we simply synthetically engineer our chemicals to send us messages that everything is wonderful when, in reality, it is not, the danger of losing touch with one’s natural sense of truth — for choosing self-deception over needed change — seems great.
And if a feeling of connection can be artificially induced, what true breakthroughs — which would require, perhaps, facing unpleasant truths — could remain unplumbed in a relationship? To me, it seems like a recipe for arresting growth, both in the individual and the relationship.
But in a society where many people would rather be happy than authentic, and most women would rather look young than real — there could be a true market for the love pill.
My authenticity, and all the feelings which go along with it, is important to me. My feelings, both good and bad, guide me like a compass, and tell me when I’m languishing in some un-constructive headspace or circumstance by increasing emotional pain, like a warning. Like most artists — and I’d wager to guess, most people — I have my ups and downs. But my “downs” mean something to me, as much as my “ups.” Coming through a bad time, I always feel like I have managed to change something awry in myself or my life. Something I wouldn’t have been forced to address if I had synthetically induced the sensation of feeling better.
I know these statements are considered controversial by some. When I suggested in The Politics of Normalcy that the dominance and commonplace usage of anti-anxiety medication in today’s culture was perhaps depriving us of the important philosophical journey of facing our existential angst head-on, I received a deluge of comments — some hostile — suggesting that I simply didn’t understand what it was like for those seriously crippled by anxiety.
It’s a personal choice for each, certainly. But my (admittedly self-assigned) job here at Parallax is to investigate cultural trends and their implication across the wider historical backdrop of mankind’s journey, and the truth is, these pharmaceutical developments are incredibly new. It’s only prudent to discuss all angles.
I don’t mean to imply that taking medication is equivalent to a lobotomy. Obviously, a slight boost in serotonin doesn’t change a person’s essential values. But the whole idea that we are chemically “fixing” a problem when we “normalize” a person’s neurochemistry contains language which, to me, is a red flag. What is normal? Someone who is happy working nine hours a day? Interesting. Who does that equation benefit?
Could it be the machine of society? That Prozac makes for happy worker bees, while discontent citizens brew rebellion?
My concern is that in a future where love and happiness can both be artificially induced, we make ourselves incredibly vulnerable to becoming a society like Huxley’s Brave New World. The subliminal message seems to be: Why change your life when you can just change your chemistry? Why change the world when you can just change how you feel about it?
What do you think?
February 22, 2012 § 38 Comments
“As an artist, I think delusion is the greatest gift that you can bear.” ~ Lady Gaga
You’re not supposed to take pop music seriously. By definition, it is fluff; pure sugar. But sugar, sweet and insubstantial as it is, can be a dangerous thing.
Music is a powerful force. And pop music holds great influence over the masses. It’s worth noticing, then, what kind of messages are being broadcast to our minds via the pop music industry.
As the slew of buzzing conspiracy sites can attest to, there has been a distinct and disturbing trend in the pop music imagery of the past several years, which propagates the glamorization of mind control themes.
Whether it’s Lady Gaga portraying an insane asylum through a high fashion lens in “Marry the Night,” or Britney Spears posing as a laboratory marionette with tubes coming out of her bandaged fingers in “Hold it Against Me,” pop stars are all pumping out the same recycled slew of mind control themes.
Many people may not realize that the practice of trauma-based mind control has a very real and chilling history in the US: in the 1950s and 60s the CIA conducted covert and illegal experiments on unwitting citizens, now declassified and known as project MK ULTRA.
If you’re not familiar with this subject, be prepared to discover a disturbing facet of American history. The image below is shocking—it’s the only photographic image online from the MK Ultra files, most of which have been destroyed—but I offer it under due consideration to substantiate the argument that conspiracy theories of trauma-based mind control are not so far fetched.
The published evidence indicates that Project MK ULTRA was a government-funded operation created with the goal of studying various methods of mind control, using the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.
Project MK ULTRA was first brought to public attention in 1975 by the U.S. Congress, through investigations by the Church Committee, and by a presidential commission known as the Rockefeller Commission.
Although the CIA insists that MK ULTRA-type experiments have been abandoned, 14-year CIA veteran Victor Marchetti has stated in various interviews that the CIA routinely conducts disinformation campaigns and that CIA mind control research continues. In a 1977 interview, Marchetti called the CIA claim that MK ULTRA was abandoned “a cover story.” (Project MK-ULTRA.)
So why does the fashion and music industry glamorize these atrocities? The question, complete with spooky implication, remains. But that such themes recur with bizarre and increasing regularity, should be of interest, not just to conspiracy buffs, but to every thinking citizen.
According to experts, one of the consequences of trauma-based mind control is the creation of several different personalities, called alter egos. This deliberate compartmentalization and fragmentation of the whole person allows for more control over the subject/victim: one alter ego, for instance, could hide something from another. So, in theory, a “dark” alter ego could be created to carry out actions distasteful to the dominant personality.
Considering this, it’s odd to note how many celebrity recording artists have publicly discussed their “alters” as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
“This alter ego takes over when I am on stage. She is really wild and daring and a much more impulsive performer than I am. Her name is Britannia. When I am her I feel I can take on the world, normally I am pretty shy.” ~ Britney Spears
“Slim Shady is just the evil thoughts that come into my head, things I shouldn’t be thinking about.” ~ Eminem
“I had to separate the two because Mary is nice, you know, intelligent. Brook-Lynn is crazy and ignorant and she don’t care.” ~ Mary J. Blithe
“I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage, this alter ego that I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am. When I’m onstage I’m aggressive and strong and not afraid of my sexuality. The tone of my voice gets different, and I’m fearless. I’m just a different person.” ~ Beyonce
Notice the two Beyonces are quite obviously divided into “pure/innocent/good-in-a-boring-way” Beyonce and “sexy/corrupt/dark/bad-in-a-good-way” Beyonce. The coin symbolism is quite clear as well: two sides of the same coin; black & white polarization. Obviously, the former is portrayed as a goody-two-shoes and a wimp, and the vixen wins our favor with her superior, fierce fashion and high-powered queenly self-possession. We can hardly help but feel our sympathies allied with the dark Beyonce, aka Sasha Fierce. But who is Sasha Fierce?
“Many years ago,” Beyonce explained to the press, “I named my alter ego Sasha and it’s something that stuck. So when I was trying to decide the title of my album… I realized it had two different sounds. One represented who I really am and one sounded like my alter ego, so I decided to split it into two. Because I feel like Sasha is a big treat for my fans. It’s definitely exciting being able to have an excuse to be so over the top.”
Anyone with knowledge of psychology knows that splitting the personality into “good” and “bad” is an unhealthy coping mechanism.
“Splitting can be seen as a developmental stage and as a defense mechanism. In psychoanalysis, there are the concepts of splitting of the self as well as splitting of the ego. This stems from existential insecurity, or instability of one’s self-concept. The borderline personality is not able to integrate the good and bad images of both self and others, so that people who suffer from borderline personality disorder have a bad representation which dominates the good representation.” (Splitting.)
As humans we have both positive and negative impulses. We should foster self-acceptance and positive action, not internal division. To promote compartmentalizing, rather than integrating, these conflicting inner aspects is to advocate a problematic road.
“What I feel onstage,” says Beyonce, “I don’t feel anywhere else. It’s an out-of-body experience. I created my stage persona … so that when I go home, I don’t have to think about what it is I do. Sasha isn’t me. The people around me know who I really am.”
It seems odd for the singer to describe wanting to “forget what it is she does,” as if it were something dirty. And the description of feeling outside of her body, while channeling a personality she has described in interviews as “someone I wouldn’t want to meet on the street,” sounds notably dissociative.
It’s understandable why so many demonic possession threads surround the singer. Beyonce went from the girl next door to a vixen sporting satanic goat skull imagery overnight. Now she has told press: “Sasha is done. I killed her.”
These sound more like the words of a troubled teen than a world-renowned performer in her thirties. And troubled teens everywhere are hanging on her every word.
Nicki Minaj, known for her brash style, multiple wigs and personalities, describes her alter ego “Roman Zolanksi” as a “crazy boy who lives in me and says the things that I don’t want to say. He was born just a few months ago. I think he was born out of rage. He was conceived in rage. So he bashes everyone. He threatens to beat people and he’s violent.”
The interviewer, of course, treats all of this like it’s perfectly normal and even funny, despite Nicki’s strangely expressionless delivery: “That must be nice,” he says off camera, “to have, like, an ignorent loud mouth so you can just sort of blame every–” Nicki Interjects: “He wants to be blamed. I don’t want to blame him. I ask him to leave. But he can’t. He’s here for a reason. People have brought him out. People conjured him up and now he won’t leave.”
The fact that she concludes another interview by snarling demonically and proclaiming that “anybody who ever doubted Roman is going down in a coffin” is seen by the world as harmless theatre. More recently she has been quoted as saying that Roman is her favorite of all her different personalities because “everybody else started to like Roman, so he became my favorite.”
In a recent interview with Ryan Seacrest, Minaj details creepily: “He wanted to show that not only is he amazing, but he’s never going to be exorcised, even when they throw holy water on him, he still rises above.”
That the scratchy-voiced singer chanting “Take your medication, Roman! Take a long vacation, Roman!” while handcuffed to an upright table, electroshock -style, and surrounded by hooded figures has been touted by the press as a “show stealer” at the recent Grammy Awards ceremony shows the sad state of pop music today. (She has called the performance “Roman’s coming out party.”) That she is shouting “Stop! Get me out of here!” in the beginning of the performance is emblematic of a troubling trend.
Electroshock therapy imagery is everywhere these days. It’s hard to find a Lady Gaga video without it. She skirts the issue in “Yoü and I,” a video fraught with mind control imagery and multiple selves, including Gaga’s recent alter ego, a greasy Italian dude she calls “Jo Calterdone.” In interviews she says the video is about “the crazy things people will do for love.” She explains the weird scenes in the barn, when her lover straps her down by the wrists and ankles to an upright table, as being about her “mad scientist boyfriend turning her into a mermaid.”
But throwing in fanciful ideas like mermaids doesn’t change the undeniably disturbing nature of being strapped down in a barn and experimented on; adding the fact that the mad scientist is supposed to be her character’s boyfriend only ups the creep factor.
And why is the version of Gaga narrating the conclusion wearing weird straps and wires on her jaw like it’s the latest trend?
You might recognize this look from the earlier MK ULTRA image (echoed quite directly in the image of Gaga at the top of this post.) But this video is about the crazy things we do for love, right?
The shock pop star’s video “Marry the Night” starts out in a Girl Interrupted-style insane asylum, where Lady Gaga is being wheeled in on a gurney in post-surgical garb after apparently having had her spine removed. The voiceover notes:
“When I look back on my life, it’s not that I don’t want to see things exactly as they happened. It’s just that I prefer to remember them in an artistic way. And truthfully, the lie of it all is much more honest because I invented it. Clinical psychology tells us arguably that trauma is the ultimate killer. Memories are not recycled like atoms and particles in quantum physics. They can be lost forever. It’s sort of like my past is an unfinished painting and as the artist of that painting I must fill in all the ugly holes and make it beautiful again. It’s not that I’ve been dishonest, it’s just that I loath reality.”
Later, looking wearily up at her nurse, a traumatized-looking Gaga says she is going to be a star, because she has “nothing left to lose.”
“See the girl to your left?” she asks the viewer as the nurses wheel her into a spooky psychiatric ward of half-naked, tranced out, trouble women…”She ordered gummy bears and a knife a couple hours ago. They only gave her the gummy bears. I wish they’d only given me the gummy bears.”
Gaga has told press that the video is intended for ‘art to imitate life’ and depict her journey to stardom. For those wondering what left Gaga so traumatized on that journey, MTV.com has the artist’s official answer: “The video is a metaphor for how she felt when she was dropped from her first record label, Island Def Jam, before landing at her current home at Interscope.”
A statement that leaves us wondering exactly what that transition from Def Jam to Interscope entailed!
November 26, 2011 § 35 Comments
“It is advertising and the logic of consumerism that governs the depiction of reality in the mass media.” ~ Christopher Lasch
“Who covets more, is evermore a slave.” ~ Robert Herrick
So named to imply the state of profit for retailers known as being “in the black,” Black Friday, which should perhaps be renamed Bloody Friday, is getting darker every year.
in 2008 a 34-year-old Long Island Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by a crowd of product-and-savings-crazed customers who pushed the door off its hinges before the store was open, chanting, “Push the doors in.”
“She was competitive shopping,” quipped Los Angeles Fire Captain, James Carson. But it has apparently become a bloody sport.
In San Leandro, California, a family was accosted by two men demanding their recently purchased products in a park. In what could be called misguided attachment, the family refused to fork over the loot, and the assailant opened gunfire. The victim was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
In a less bloody but equally poignant example of the madness, a grandpa in Phoenix, Arizona, was slammed to the ground by amped up police for putting a game in his waistband to lift his grandson up over the crowd.
People are blaming the economy, but in this author’s opinion that’s a flimsy excuse. We’re not talking about food here. We’re talking about stuff. Gadgets, games, flat screen TVs. These are luxury items. And yet the madness is being framed increasingly in the light of class.
A conspiracy theorist might point out how much more convenient it is for us to turn on each other than to recognize the problem of our blatant overconsumption.
Yesterday, The New York Times, for instance, commented that,”Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home.”
The rich, and also the wise, not willing to suffer the bloody sport of “competitive shopping” in the name of material acquisition.
In an article for Business Week elaborating on the class angle, Dan Beucke discusses the subject with Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, which studies consumers and retailing:
“Time and again, Cohen saw consumers whose shopping reach had exceeded their spending grasp. A credit card maxes out and a member of the shopping party is sent outside to collect another card from the waiting car. Or the cashier offers up a sub-total and the shopper starts striking items until the bill fits the cash on hand.”
The story is supposed to illustrate the budget-strained struggles of a pressured working class. But is there a deeper story going on?
It seems more symptomatic of a mentality that people are willing to spend their last dollar on, go into debt for, “stuff.”
Again, these are luxury items people are buying. They are not necessities. The perversion of the American dream has resulted in a bloated, yet ever-hungry consumeristic monster.
The only difference between the Black Friday people pinning sales clerks against the wall in their rush to snatch their plastic prize and the consumers who stay home and buy their shiny toys another day is spectacle.
To call this simply an issue of recession is to read the situation on a very superficial level. Rather, we must assume it is indicative of a gross misplacement of priority. What else can we call it when people become so crazed for things that a fellow human being becomes just one more obstacle between themselves and an XBox?
As economist Paul Heyne notes, “The gap in our economy is between what we have and what we think we ought to have – and that is a moral problem, not an economic one.”
“Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will. At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.”
And so we, as conscientious dreamers, must ask ourselves, as the crazed shoppers of Black Friday do not, what are we really hungry for? And what should we truly be feeding that hunger inside?
I say feed it experience, feed it human relationship, feed it books (you don’t have to buy them, go to the library!) feed it art (every museum has a free admission day!) feed it good music (in the city weekly papers, there are always free music events!) Feed it the sound of the wind in the trees, and rivers running. Feed it campfire stories, the sky and the stars. Feed it significance through reading, thinking, dreaming. Feed it love. Feed it beauty. Feed it knowledge.
We are hungry, but as a nation we are stuffing ourselves with metaphorical and literal junk food. If you’re reading this, you already know this. So what can we do?
In the bracing and vitalizing words of fellow journeyer Terrence McKenna:
“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y.
This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
What form does this take? You decide.
For me it takes the form of writing this blog and informs the direction of my work. It takes the form of conversations with fellow journeyers and conscious decisions to identify, and sometimes curtail, the buying urge that’s been implanted in my brain via psychological programming. Of recognizing and celebrating my difference from mainstream consumer-based culture and its distorted value system, and in further investigating how I can be part of creating something better.
For George Carlin, it took the form of fantastically searing philosophical comedic diatribes: