Synthesis: Reflections on the Journey

January 7, 2014 § 46 Comments

By: Tai CarmenCurtain-Call, site credit: www.millstonenews.com/2013/05/synthesis-ii-fibre-art-show-opens-may-9-2013

“We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” ~ Marcel Proust 

“The only journey is the one within”. ~ Rainer Marie Rilke

The turn of another year inspires reflection on what has come before.

When I first started Parallax three years ago, I didn’t know what the theme would be. I wasn’t sure if anyone would care about the topics that interested me, or indeed, if I had anything interesting to say. I had only a vague feeling—a multitude of disconnected puzzle pieces floating around inside me, like dots begging to be connected.

Damien Hirst, dots, site credit: www.thelmagazine.com/TheMeasure/archives/2011/08/08/damien-hirst-to-connect-his-dot-paintings-around-the-world

I had one focal point, and it became the source of my first entry: “The Role of the Dreamer & the Falseness of Civilization,” inspired by a stop light. I realized how automatic my response had been upon seeing the amber traffic light turn red: foot on break, like a trained animal. Then the light changed to green and without conscious thought my foot obediently pressed upon the gas.

In that moment, I wondered what else I had been conditioned to accept that had become automatic—even intimate—to my functioning, which was the product of some external system. I saw that my experience with the traffic light—my unconscious conditioning—was a metaphor for society at large.

"they live" still, site credit: www.streetdemocracy.wordpress.com/2013/11/25/the-signing-of-peaceful-protesting-laws-first-uk-then-spain-now-egypts-interim-president-adly-mansour-signs-anti-protest-law/

The blog soon became my shared in-process journey connecting the dots, many of which (of course!) remain unconnected. Yet, a picture emerges…

I began to see a coherence to the topics, which at first seemed merely a loose, eclectic collection of curiosity-driven investigations.

Connecting the Dots, site credit: www.artisautobiographical.blogspot.com/2012/03/connecting-dots-differently

A theme began to crystallize. I realized I was trying to mentally pan back—to accurately perceive a reality, which I had witnessed for so many years that I had ceased to truly see it. Familiarity seems to breed a kind of trance state of assumptions. I began to attempt to deconstruct society as I knew it—imagining what our world would like like to an alien observer (“The Mad Cult of the World”) with no preconceived notions. This excercise was a tremendous eye-opener for me.

What I saw was a well oiled machine. An (apparently) self-perpetuating system of control, with built-in reinforcements & viscous cycles so as to appear both inescapable & desirable.

john-kane-i-had-an-epiphany-new-yorker-cartoonI observed how conformity & consumer-based lifestyles that feed the system—and increase people’s wage-slave circumstance with debt & emotional dependence on external status—are marketed & reinforced constantly from every angle (“Invisible Architects,“The Engineering of Human Desire,“Mind Control in the Music Industry,” “The Perversion of the American Dream”)…

How our natural instinctual herd mentality & desire for acceptance (The Mythology of Conformity: Totem & Taboo) is exploited by marketing to create a climate of uniformity (The Politics of Normalcy), where independent thought that jeopardizes the status quo (“Polarity & Paradox”) is not given a widespread platform of expression.

I began to realize that my feelings of alienation within mainstream society were not necessarily indications of personal failing, but perhaps symptomatic of a larger imbalance within the system.

conformity

As Krishnamurti says, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (“The Outsider” ).

I became convinced that positive social change, in fact, could only come from an outsider, because only someone looking in from the outside could see the problems for what they were (“The Outsider As Visionary”, “The Art of Madness”).

looking-at-world, site credit: www.louisdietvorst.wordpress.com/tag/world/

 I became interested in the idea of personal authenticity (“Authenticity & The False Self”) as the path towards true self-knowledge, beyond social conditioning. For I believe we can only incite true social change—contribute positively to society— when we have processed our own shadows (“Navigating the Dark Night of the Soul,”) and begun to piece together our true selves, which have been fragmented by a compartmentalized system (“Soul Retrieval”). 

As I became more conscious of my personal journey (“The Modern Vision Quest,” “The Question of Reality, “The Human Soul & The Floating Man,” “The Art of Seeing,”) I began to explore my own thoughts, feelings & direct experiences with reality. The further down the rabbit hole I went, the more the dots seemed to connect. And it felt different to come to these ideas in a visceral way—through personal gnosis—than through reading the ideas of other minds. I only used their works to substantiate my own discoveries, and offer what I hoped would be interesting background to the topics which most compelled me.

connect-the-dots

As I wrote on these subjects, I received—wonder of wonders!—a positive response from readers (you guys!), which reflected back to me that I was actually speaking to subjects which were not just in my heart, on my mind, alone, but were also meaningful to others. I actually acquired readers at all, which itself is both humbling & thrilling.

Your feedback is what keeps this blog going. To know I am not dropping letters into a well but actually contributing to the collective conversation has shown me that these subjects, which at first seemed so disconnected, are truly on our collective mind—and truly form a cohesive picture.

Global connection, site credit: www.thebrooklynscribbler.blogspot.com/2011/12/meet-your-creative-needs-with.html

The idea put forth by British Zen philosopher Alan Watts in the 60s that “[We] are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself,” later re-popularized in the 80s by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan—“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”—was actually first developed in its modern form by 18th century German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Hegel contended that Spirit was at first unconscious of Itself. (Hegel’s use of “Spirit” is a translation of the German word “Geist,” a nonreligious term, not comparable to our English word for “God,” but a neutral term, mingled with the idea of “transpersonal mind” & “essence”.) He called this stage of unconscious Spirit the Thesis stage.

Cosmic Man, site credit: www.tsgarp-mysticlight.blogspot.com/2012_02_05_archive.html

At one point,  Spirit-exploring-itself-through-Man became conscious of existing.

The self-aware man looked around (or Spirit looked around through Man’s eyes) seeing himself and others—others who might be similar to him, but were not him. And the newly self-aware man defined himself through this negation. In short, he knew himself in part by what he wasn’t: the other. He looked at the world and saw many, a multi-facetted prism. He saw division. Those who were not him were perceived as foreign, alien, other—often, too, inevitably, as “enemy.”

This was Antithesis stage.

by: Francisco_de_Goya, "Two Men Fighting with Clubs"

Eventually, as man’s time on the planet progressed, a few, rare introspective humans—specifically, for Hegel, the philosopher—became aware of the interconnectivity of all life-forms (“Connectivity Through Form”), at which point he perceived Self in Other (a hallmark throughout all mystical literature of enlightenment) and became self-realized. The prism revealed itself to be—while multi-faceted in appearance—in essence, a single diamond.

This was the Synthesis stage—where thesis & antithesis, two apparent opposites, merged & integrated to form a more complete truth.

Polarity by Jair Rhuÿs, site credit: www.absolutearts.com/cgi-bin/portfolio/art/your-art.cgi?login=rhuys&title=Polarity-1118522979t.jpg

I believe we are currently experiencing the growing pains of collectively & individually moving—shifting—into a Thesis stage of existence (“Transformation, Destruction & The Inner Apocalypse“). That is where my studies thus far have lead me.  (“Starseeds, Cosmic Consciousness & The Galactic Generations,” “Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination”).

There are many fighting this emerging connectivity. But there are an increasing number straining towards it. Some, only half-consciously, as I was when I first began this blog—driven only by a vague sense of discontent & yearning. As Morpheus tells Neo in The Matrix: “Something is wrong with this world, you’ve known it all your life, you don’t know what it is. It’s like a splinter in your mind … driving you mad.”

Still others, aware & awake through their own process of trail, error & self-discovery, are fighting for the cause: of reverence for life & planetary harmony.

The Fear Culture of the media news may tell you otherwise, but I—perhaps you, and so many others—are beginning to tear down the facade like a paper sky and see it for what it is: the attempts of a system under threat to maintain control through division, traumatization & uncertainty.

Practical Paranoia, by Mike Elko, site credit: www.blog.lib.umn.edu/peza0001/arts1001wednesdays/2008/11/millions_of_innocent_accidents

I perceive this as a time—intense & trying as it may be—of integration for many. We are all connecting the dots. Feeling more connected to one another, across space & time, even while we may still experience major bouts of isolation…we see that we are not alone in our strange (or not so strange) thoughts & visions. If through the advancement of technology alone.

We are a mere Google search away from learning, for example, that the long-dead Hegel’s complete life philosophy beautifully articulates that intuition we could not quite put to words; or perhaps that blogger you’ve never met, but read sometimes, has been mulling over the same insights you’ve been contemplating on your journey.

And it is a journey. (“Alchemy: An Allegorical Map for the Transmutation of Consciousness.“) No doubt about it. Complete with dragons to slay, puzzles to solve & dark forests in which we must, by virtue of necessity, learn to generate our own inner light to illuminate the path ahead.

site credit: www.awesomedigitalart.tumblr.com/post/60796504639/polarity-in-art-fraility-of-memory-and

We are heroes and heroines scaling Dark Nights of the Soul like mountains … swimming rivers of sorrow, where we reach dry land of revelation & new strength. Each trial, an initiation, each passage, a threshold into new insight, if we continue to search for the lesson, for the center, for the truth. Nothing is wasted. We can use it all.

Happy 2014, fellow journeyers! I would love to know what you think about all this! All comments on this first post of the new year—as has become Parallax tradition!—will be entered into a drawing, the winner of which will receive my current heart-compass book-companion,  “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…And It’s All Small Stuff,” By Richard Carlson, Ph. D: a slim inspirational little easy-read manual for transcending postmodern angst and tapping into inner peace.

Here’s to the journey, fellow travelers.

On on!

TC

Spaceships over Jerusalem

February 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.” ~ Stephen Hawking

Although NASA’s recent discovery of a new kind of life (a bacteria that survives in conditions previously thought uninhabitable) was somewhat less “alien-life-y” than the rumors prefacing the announcement, talk of UFOs has been in the news lately, to an almost eerie degree, starting with Stephen Hawking’s recent announcement that we should not go looking for (or trying to contact) alien races, because:

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach. If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

By: Liza Phoenix, site credit: http://the-mound-of-sound.blogspot.com/2010/04/stephen-hawking-stay-away-from-aliens.html

Then, this January 28th [2011], some remarkable footage emerged — extremely convincing, if you ask me, and yet to be debunked — videotaped by four separate witnesses.

The footage captures a light hovering oddly for some minutes over Jerusalem’s sacred Mount Zion & The Dome of the Rock, then quickly descending in a vertical drop, disappearing from sight & exiting in a shock of light. (In watching the video, the action starts after the first 55 seconds, so watch it for at least a minute plus, it’s worth it, I promise; very odd.)

According to RevelationMount Zion is where, at the end of time, the Second Coming of Jesus begins —and where the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be established as “The New Jerusalem” comes down out of the heavens onto the earth.

The Dome of the Rock is an ancient Islamic shrine, the significance of which stems from The Foundation Stone within its walls.

Also known as the “Pierced Stone,” this ancient enshrined rock has a small hole on the Southeastern corner that enters a cavern beneath the rock, known as the Well of Souls.

It is believed by some to have been the location of the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and is the holiest site in Judaism. Jewish tradition views it as the spiritual centerpoint of heaven and earth, and Jews, currently and historically, traditionally face the stone while praying.

Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad ascended heavenward from the Foundation Stone, and Jewish legends has it that the Ark of the Covenant is being stored there.

A veritable feast of conspiracy material! Substantive of theories connecting yesterday’s religious gods with today’s UFO sightings.

The place is charged & significant for the world’s most dominant religions. Quite a fancy place to make a show. And the question arises, since the place is so steeped in spiritual/paranormal legend: is it the first time?

“…As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.” Ezekiel 1:4 – 1:24

In a weird twist, Chinese National television Xinhua reported on January 4th 2011 that the Obama administration may be preparing to disclose government contact with extraterrestrials, on the eve of China President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States.

Online sources speculate that a cold war may be developing between leading nations in regards to who will disclose alien contact first, detailing that, while no leader wants to admit ET knowledge, they also may not want another nation to beat them to the punch.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Technology of the Gods!

The Question of Reality

January 19, 2011 § 9 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” — Chuang Tzu

From Plato’s Cave to The Matrix, thoughtful humans throughout the ages have found different ways to ask the same question: Are we fully cognizant of the true nature of the reality that surrounds us?

There is a basic unease to the human condition, the vague and gnawing sense that there must be something we are missing, something we have not been told; a feeling rooted, no doubt, in the fact that we are born into a world where the most burning questions have only theoretical, subjective answers.

Religion has attempted to fill this void with meaning, but even in its answers, more questions arise.

How solid is our reality? Science, so often pitted against the mystical, has the most mystically fraught of answers: not solid at all. On an atomic and subatomic level — as we all learned in school, though most likely didn’t grasp the full implication of at the time — there is space and movement between atoms. The so-called solid wall is teeming, pulsing, dancing — molecules full of wide open space.

If I put my hand on the wall, the sensation I experience as touch is the interaction between the molecules of my hand and the molecules of the wall; on an atomic level, there is a point where the difference between my hand and the wall become indistinguishable.

In other words, it has been scientifically proven in our lifetime that the reality we behold is — to some degree, anyway — illusory.

The idea that the nature of form is misleading and ultimately unreal, of course, has been in existence for centuries — perhaps most famously put forth in the Eastern concept of Maya, (found in Buddhism and Hinduism,) a word derived form the ancient Sanskritma, meaning “not,” and ya, meaning “that.” Though the details differ, Judeo-Christian philosophy reiterates the same basic idea: that things are not as they appear, and this world is but a pale echo of a brighter, truer place.

There are more sinister shades, more paranoid potential, to this question of reality. The possibility that, as in The Matrix — where humans are grown by sentient machines, imprisoned in a virtual computer-generated world —we are living in an unperceived prison of sorts. As the character Morpheus says:

“What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

Of course, we can clearly see that there are many things wrong with the world — war, hunger, violence, hatred. Easily, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-feeling of unease can find its root in quite tangible phenomena. Perhaps it is a form of escapism to look elsewhere than the obvious issues — wishful thinking that there is some explanation which would make the world’s horrors somehow more comprehensible. And yet, true though this may be, it doesn’t hurt to probe, to dig, to question consensus reality.

The Matrix premise borrows heavily from the Gnostic tradition, wherein the world was created by imperfect gods (though within the spectrum a perfect one exists.)

These flawed creators are described as a race of inorganic beings local to our solar system, called Archons. Agents of error, they feed off human misery and hence work to deceive the mind towards darkness. Pretty trippy stuff, considering the ancient texts date back to the 3rd and 4th century.

The fact that our experience of stimuli in the world is actually an experience of our brain’s interpretation of that stimuli (rather than the thing itself) does make a Matrix-like gap between reality and perceived reality plausible.

After all, the smell of a rose is simply information recognized through sensory organs and registered as “rose.”

The light waves we see when we perceive the rose are in our eyes, not the thing seen; the molecules we smell are in our nose, not the thing smelled. They are not the thing itself, but a relayed message or impression of the thing.

In the language of philosophy, this is known as the “brain in a vat” thought experiment. Theoretically, if it were scientifically possible to place a brain in a life-sustaining liquid environment (or “vat”) & hook its neurons up to a supercomputer—generating electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives—the brain would perceive the simulated reality as experiential reality.

This concept is used as a  basic argument for philosophical skepticism; as theoretically it is impossible to know, from the brain’s perspective, whether it exists in a scull or a vat.

Brain in a vat

Surrealist artist Rene Margitte plays with this concept in his famous painting, The Treachery of Images, which displays a pipe, underneath which is written in French: “This is not a pipe”

For, indeed, it is not a pipe, but a representation of one. Yet our first thought upon reading the painting’s caption is to object—certainly this is a pipe. 

Yet upon reflection we must admit that the clever artist’s pronouncement is absolutely accurate and, indeed, our tendency to associate the-thing-itself with its representation has been illustrated.

How can we assume this world is as it seems, when nightly dreams themselves can seem so real? What deeper, truer, more expansive identity and truth might be revealed to us about the cosmos and our place in it upon leaving or waking from this reality?

I’m not in any hurry to get there, and as Tom Hanks says in Joe vs. The Volcano, “Some things take care of themselves,” but I do — after many a dark night of the soul wrestling with doubt — have a good feeling about it. After all, the world minus man’s debacles, is a place brimming with potential and inspirational phenomena.


I’ve heard the life-as-dream/world-as-illusion theory described as angst-producing, proof of pointlessness. I don’t see it that way. Does an inspiring nocturnal dream enrich our spirit any less because it gives way to a deeper, fuller reality upon waking? Is a great novel any less meaningful because it didn’t really happen? When you start subdividing it, the word “real” itself begins to lose meaning.

We can knock on a table and feel reassured by its bright, solid sound. But even the table is like Magritte’s pipe — both what it seems to be and also not at all. Reality ripe with paradox and potential, lots of wide open space for us to take a tip from the molecules and dance, even in the smallest spaces.

The Art of Madness

January 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

By Tai Carmen

By Minjai Lee; site credit: www.hdw.eweb4.com/search/surrealism/

“Madness is to think too many things in succession too fast, or one thing too exclusively.” ~ Voltaire

“A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” ~ Robin Williams

In his seminal work, “Madness and Civilization,” French philosopher Michael Faucault posits that psychiatry uses labeling language (known as positive science) to camouflage the bourgeois values imposed on social deviancy.

In other words, the mental health system acts as a kind of suppressive goon against nonconformity.

site credit: http://floatinginthebellyofawhale.tumblr.com/post/69345544932

Vincent Van Gogh, famous for his sunflowers, wheat fields and ear-chopping, acknowledged that:

“It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill — it’s a life which, to put it mildly, makes one an outsider. I’m all right when I completely immerse myself in work, but I’ll always remain half crazy.”

From an evolutionary perspective, survival depends on some kind of social acceptance. So it’s natural that we attempt to avoid stigmatization. Yet, the seeker-dreamer feels compelled towards living authentically and will often sacrifice herd acceptance for the satisfaction of true self-expression.

Still, there is the ever-present, if subconscious, awareness that if you go too far, you could lose liberty. If you act too differently, you could be institutionalized.

Once deemed clinically insane, the individual’s rights become blurry, as with criminals.

The incarceration of psychological dissidents acts as a kind of warning to wayward thinkers; a cautionary tale to not let one’s mind run too far into the fanciful woods. 

unknown source

Edgar Allen Poe observed:

“Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” 

In the Renaissance,  the mentally ill were considered to have gotten too close to “the Reason of God.”

Tribal cultures throughout the world consider madness the first sign of a shaman’s birth into his power, marking him as one who can communicate between the physical and the invisible worlds.

Dr Adele Juda, researcher at the Institute for Psychiatry of Munich, interviewed over 5,000 people between 1927 –1943. She found what was considered neurosis and personality disorder in 27% of the artists & 19% of the scientists and statesmen studied, against the general rate of 10-12%.

The highest rates of psychic disruption were seen among poets (50%).

As French poet Arthur Rimbaud writes:

“A poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization of all the senses. All forms of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he exhausts within himself all poisons, and preserves their quintessences. Unspeakable torment, where he will need the greatest faith, a superhuman strength, where he becomes all men… Because he has cultivated his soul, already rich, more than anyone, he attains the unknown.”

The lowest rates of neurosis were found among architects (17%).

A good friend of mine once worked as a personal assistant for an Oscar-winning talent who shall remain nameless. She has shared moments with me wherein the successful entertainer barreled through the living room in boxer shorts, a newsboy hat and cowboy boots, a manuscript of papers clutched to his chest, saying, “I’m going mad!”—after dumping his papers in a pile to play a beautiful fit of piano music & jumping up to scribble in a notebook.

He smiled of course when he said it, because he had managed to play the most beautiful hoodwink upon society that a creative mind can play: he made money being slightly mad.

And that is the art of insanity: valuing creative chaos and giving it room to unfold without premature critique or analysis. Order and reason can come later. As Nietzsche says:

“You must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star.”

Creative process doesn’t have to make sense, and some of the world’s greatest visionaries have proven that it’s better if it doesn’t. Far-fetched processes yield unusual thoughts, and novel ideas garner more attention than pedestrian ones.

Am I suggesting that one can not be brilliant without being insane? Certainly not. But in order to have great thoughts, one’s mind must certainly be open to a broader scope than the average thinker, and when a mind is broad in expanse, the impressions therein will be unusually varied.

Madness and art are not mutually exclusive, but they do go well together, and often turn up as a pair to the same party. If you’re one of those who dreams awake and finds yourself an “outsider” like van Gogh, consider yourself lucky: you’re in good company and that much closer to doing something original.

So use your madness to your own advantage. Rather than stuffing it in a drawer, take it out to play.

“Imagination,” Einstein says, “is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

There is no genius free from some tincture of madness.Seneca

If you liked this post, you might also The Outsider, The Outsider As Visionary & The Mythology of Conformity 

Invisible Architects

January 3, 2011 § 10 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines, machines which have become the key to economic progress.” — President Herbert Hoover, (to a room full of public relations and ad men.)

Few things are creepier than the president of a country comparing its people to machines.

In the 1920s and 30s Freud popularized the idea that man, though perhaps appearing tame, has irrational, libidinous, uncontrollable animal desire raging just below the surface of his well-groomed exterior.

 

Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays—considered the father of modern commercialism—was the first to apply his uncle’s theories of the Unconscious Mind to advertising.

As a result, he revolutionized commercials from a plodding industry, reciting the practical virtues of products, to a psychologically savvy form of not-so-subtle brainwashing.

When cigarette companies approached Bernays in the late 1920s with the question of how to improve sales to women, Bernays paid top dollar to get leading New York psychoanalyst A.A. Brill ‘s opinion on the subject.

Brill opined that the cigarette was a phallic symbol and represented male sexual power. If Bernays could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke, because then they would “have their own penises.”

Using this dubious little psychological gem, Bernays staged a spectacle at the New York Easter parade when he hired a group of good-looking young women to walk together in the parade, each secretly holding a pack of cigarettes somewhere on her person. At his signal, the girls were to light up in unison. He informed the press that he’d heard a group of suffragettes were planning on attending the parade and lighting up their “torches of freedom.”

The girls lit up, the newspaper reporters snapped their picture—using Bernays’ catchphrase—and all over America, cigarettes were suddenly linked to independence, freedom and equality.

It had been considered socially taboo for a woman of good moral character to smoke in public. (In 1904 a woman named Jennie Lasher was sentenced to thirty days in jail for “putting her children’s morals at risk” by smoking in their presence!)

So the connection between women’s liberation & cigarettes was emotional, but not rational. For the first time, Bernays showed American corporations that irrelevant objects could become powerful emotional symbols—embodying how people wanted to feel and be seen.

During this time, leading political writer Walter Lippman spearheaded the idea that if, as Freud suggested, human beings were driven by irrational forces, then perhaps it was necessary to rethink democracy. What was needed, he said, was a new elite to manage “the bewildered herd.” This would be done through psychological techniques that would control the unconscious feelings of the masses. In Propaganda (1928), Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”


By stimulating people’s inner desires and then sating them with consumer products, Bernays argued, he was creating a new way to manage the irrational force of the masses. This way the masses remained docile, while the economy remained stimulated. Bernays called this marketing strategy,“The engineering of consent.”

If that term doesn’t give you the willies, the following quote by leading wall street banker, Paul Maizer, ought to do it:

“We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

These words were spoken the better half of a century ago in the 1930’s, and it appears the manifesto has become prophecy.

Clearly, these elite ad men succeeded in their task. The bewildered masses have been funneled into an endless conveyer belt of overstimulated consumeristic desire.

The inner emptiness created by our materialistic lifestyle only further feeds the need to fill the hole inside. And while we race on the wheel of our engineered desire, we power the system. The best prisons are invisible.

In an age when the industrial spirit of creativity has been overshadowed by the insatiable zeal to consume—when invisible architects burn the midnight oil while strategizing how best to engineer your consent—every act of independent thought is a small but meaningful triumph.

Read Part 2:  “The Engineering of Human Desire”

*For more  information on this subject, watch The Century of Self documentary series. 

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The Role of the Dreamer & The Falseness of Civilization

December 24, 2010 § 31 Comments

“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
~ Arthur O’Shaughnessy

We live in a world of dead men’s dreams. Our reality, the society that has been conditioning our perception from the day of our birth, is a construction built on a construction built on ideas from other minds, long dead. Their creations compose our world and make up the maps of our psyches, a collective human inheritance.

Today, staring at a lit red traffic signal in the shape of an arrow, waiting to get on the freeway, I was suddenly struck by my—and everyone’s—trance-like acceptance of the symbol. I noted how automatic my responses to the direction had been: I stopped calmly and waited until the light turned green; a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Except, in that moment, I felt unusually aware of the lab rat-like nature of my obedience. Stranger still, I realized I had never noticed the phenomenon before, because it had always been that way.

traffic light

Green light, go. Red light, stop. Yellow, slow. It’s as if we are on a motorized conveyor belt with an endless array of arrows telling us where to go. Apart from the occasional miscalculation, our roads, our cities, our skies, run like the inside of a well-oiled machine. Sitting there, waiting for the arrow to turn green, I imagined looking down from an airplane at the grid-work of cities, the straightness of sidewalks, the neat ribbons of car rooftops.

Stop. Go. Cogs and wheels. The machine of the city, like the inside of a clock.

Our education starts young. We are groomed for the world: sit quietly, yield to authority and accept the consensus reality. Anything that falls outside of this perimeter is systematically dismissed.

We aren’t taught to ask questions but to regurgitate articulately. We go to school and learn the rules. Then, when we’re of age, we get a job and try to play the learned rules as good as or better than our peers, to make money to survive.

In a very basic sense, this rule-playing to survive is the only option given us. The alternative is homelessness, insanity.

There are other options, of course, and many brave souls do live the unfettered life of the irrepressible spirit within these thinly populated margins. But it’s damn hard, against the grain, and the majority of people get funneled into the general conveyor belt of The System, spending all day at work in order to afford the house or apartment they leave empty five days a week to go to work.

joe jones, working class artJoe Jones

As we all know, but rarely stop to consider the wild absurdity of, part of the Education involves some very highly regarded paper notes printed by The System to represent worth. We are told that some of these notes are worth more than others. Some are worth enough to exchange for a yacht and others are worth enough for only a cup of coffee. The only difference between these two notes is the symbols on their faces.

Despite our Education, I think everyone has had the passing thought that we’ve been duped. As we all know, this Monopoly money isn’t even backed by its worth in gold anymore. Though gold has its own hollow ring—you can’t eat it and it provides no information, functioning solely as a signifier—at least it has a tangibility. But the System ran out of gold years ago, and just kept printing bills. So, after spending all day at work we are given a handful of Monopoly money for our trouble.

“Here ya go!” says The System, patting Its worker bee on the head. “Some nice, crisp, colored paper. Don’t spend it all at once! Or do…”

Once we are equipped with our colored paper symbols, we are bombarded by advertisers who seek to steal our image of ourselves as we exist without their product, and sell it back to us “upgraded” in exchange for the paper notes we have earned with our labor.

We are encouraged by media everywhere to overeat bad food and shop our cares away. It’s not personal, it’s marketing. And yet how many commercials does an average American watch in a lifetime? Billions. It would be impossible to be unaffected by such a bombardment.

MBG recently underwent some criticism for creating a commercial that literally burned the image of their logo onto the inside of movie-goers retinas. Utilizing the phenomenon that happens when you look at the sun and close your eyes, the effect left an after-image on the inside of the viewers’ eyelids for several moments after they had stopped viewing the advertisement.

But how different is this from what regular commercials are doing every day? In this world of advertisers who steal our images of ourselves, of speedy soundbites and cheap entertainment, a newer/bigger/faster culture of diversion has taken us hostage on its runaway train. Writer Nicholas Carr speculates that our constant Internet trolling is remodeling our brains, making it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing.

He wonders if modern humans’ addiction to technology is weakening our ability to engage in deep thought.


Tests show that internet perusal activates the “seeker” instinct in man left over from foraging days, so that when a quest for online information is initiated, the promise of obtaining a new nugget of social interaction or trivia sets the dopamine flowing in our brains.

But research suggest that, chemically, the payoff is less exciting than anticipated. In affect, an obsessive loop can be activated, leaving us continually pressing the lever for another crumb.

Modern entertainment culture creates a largely passive experience for the viewer or listener. While some films do generate spectacular visuals, and even, at their best, mental-emotional exploration, movie-viewing is a passive experience. The image is generated for us by other minds, and viewers become happily immersed in an alternate reality. With the rising popularity and marketing push behind 3D movies, today’s cinema experience is beginning to look more and more like a “feely” out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

“Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” inquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactile effects…”

In our tick-tock world we are encouraged to function like clockwork, prescribed medication when we aren’t integrating well with society [See “The Politics of Normalcy”] and given our jollies at the “feelies.” To quote Jim Morrison:

“We have been metamorphosised from a mad body dancing on hillsides to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.”

For centuries, the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures have utilized disassociative substances to step outside the hive mind & brush with other dimensions of reality. They have taken psychotropic plants to travel through inner space, bringing back dreams & stories to stimulate the imagination of the tribe.

It’s noteworthy and suspicious that substances which might open up new ways of thinking are illegal in our culture, but consumption of the cancer-causing distraction of cigarettes and the numbing agent of alcohol is legal and actively encouraged (shades of  “1984‘s” Victory Gin.)

What is to be done then, once it becomes clear that we are living in a reality inherited by long dead others? The first thing is to step outside of the consensus spell, as much as possible. Awareness is key.

And then what, after deconstruction? Endless analysis? What really can be done? Society will not disappear. Enter The Dreamer.

1-hannover-double-exposure“Hannover,” by Aneta Ivanova

The role of the dreamer is the same as the philosopher, the artist, the social critic, the wizard or shaman, and s/he has had the same noble destiny for all of time: to stimulate the imagination of society.

During times when philosophical complacency runs high and value for the arts and the humanities runs low, it is the moral and metaphysical obligation of every Dreamer to speak their truth as best they can in whatever medium most excites them. It is the destiny of every Dreamer to bring aliveness to the mechanized time, provocation to the complacent culture.

In order to engage in the original thinking necessary to provide the world with stimulating observations, The Dreamer must effectively step outside of the mental framework of society and perceive the world from a bird’s eye view.

We must question everything we have been taught and hereto assumed. We must seek new information of worth and be on a constant mission to set the imagination on fire.

There is so much beauty available, so many notes left behind by others before us who have questioned the way we live. To combat the mechanized, plastic, consumeristic worldview infiltrating our minds everyday from the outside, we must consciously seek experiences that feed the soul.

We must give ourselves time to dream, to exist in undisturbed silence and nature, to ruminate on our lives and question reality.

As the advertisement-driven Western World slowly succeeds in covering the globe with McDonald arches and brand name blurbs, as people become more and more addicted to the instant gratification of pop technology, we are increasingly in danger of losing the impulse to dream. Without vision, without self-questioning, we lose our way.

Dreamers are in high demand these days. This is a call to arms. Can you be a professional dreamer? I, for one, am certainly going to try.

Related posts

“The Outsider As Visionary”

“The Mad Cult Of The World”

“Creative Connections & The Science Of Inner Space”

“The Art Of Madness”

 

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