Ruminations on the Draft and Gay Marriage, 3/29/2013
Generally, I am a liberal--one like the Nobel economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who is to the Left of Obama—but on two issues I find myself closer to the Right of the Libertarians; and these two issues are a universal military draft and Gay marriage.
In the first case of a universal military draft, I think the State has no right to compel people to fight and die in wars to “protect American national interests.” Whether it was the nineteenth-century case of the United States protecting the interests of the railroad companies in using the army to suppress and massacre the Native American peoples, or the twentieth-century case of FDR seeking to transform the Pacific Ocean into “Mare Nostrum” by checking the Empire of Japan, it was a case of the rich sending the children of the poor to die in the protection of their assets and investments.
I have lived in Switzerland for many years, so I can accept the case for a universal military service to protect a country from being taken over, but I can’t accept the case for a Switzerland trying to conquer and colonize Western Europe. The argument for the draft is usually one concerned with protecting democracy by calling upon all classes to make a shared sacrifice to protect the homeland. This policy generally works out to be one in which the rich are officers and the poor are canon fodder--as was the case in the British Empire when Irish soldiers were used to defend the British Raj in India. In World War II, Yale’s George H. W. Bush was a naval pilot and Harvard’s John Kennedy was a patrol torpedo boat officer.
But World War II, in defending our nation, actually spelled out the end of the nation-state. Breton Woods, the Marshall Plan, and the doctrines of containment or roll-back of Soviet and Chinese communisms’ threats to international capitalism were designed to protect corporations and not populations. Now that the Supreme Court has recognized corporations as individuals with individual rights, this policy of corporate protectionism is clearly visible to all.
But corporations are now multinational corporations, and for the interests of the management and shareholders no particular attention is paid to securing the interests of the workers and clerks in the lower and middle classes. Thus it was that Steve Jobs moved his factories from Cupertino to China, Walmart forced its suppliers to lower the prices of their products by moving their factories to China and Indonesia, and financial managers like Mitt Romney bought up American companies, sold off their assets, closed the factories in small town America, and shifted his profits to banks in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland to avoid U.S. federal taxation.
The financial industry’s neo-Victorian pauperization of the factory workers and salaried office-working classes is clearly in the interest of people whose wealth is based upon holdings and investments. These free-market Liberals may like to quote the sociopath Ayn Rand, but their interests are not truly Libertarian; they are authoritarian and oligarchic. By deconstructing the universal middle class of the post World War II period—a time when politicians referred to the working class as the middle class—the one percent that owns ninety percent of American resources hopes to gain a cheap labor force and a new servant class. When wages go down, the stock market goes up.
In today’s world GI Joes are no longer needed. To protect natural resources and pipelines, elite troops like SWAT teams, Navy Seals, and drones are more useful than “boots on the ground” that only tend to create popular unrest and political demonstrations against large and TV-visible wars. And so middle class wars are disappearing along with the disappearance of the middle class.
When Obama celebrated his bringing the first of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan home for Christmas last year, he was being duplicitous and hiding the fact that US troops will actually remain in Afghanistan until 2024 and that he and NATO had just extended the strategic definition of the North Atlantic to include Central Asia. To send the poor to die in Central Asia to protect mining interests in Afghanistan and pipelines and natural gas assets in Kazakhstan is obscene. And it is equally pornographic for the owners of the media to stimulate the working and salaried classes to get them all roused and excited about “supporting our troops” while they wave the flag of a long-vanished republic.
Now just as middle class society is disappearing, the suburban vision of a nuclear family with one working father, one stay-at-home mother buying lots of GE appliances, a Detroit station wagon, one son, one, daughter, and one dog is also disappearing. This 1950s suburban fantasy was built up out of ads and TV commercials that served as camouflage for what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex” of the Cold War. California’s Defense of Marriage Act is a similar consensual delusion brought to us by the land of movie sets. The American reality is one of a Detroit that is a ruin, and of suburbs filled with illegal immigrants living in cheap tract houses turned into dormitories. In an overpopulated world of shifting populations and porous national borders, basing marriage on ideas of suburban reproduction is absurdly anachronistic.
Marriage is not a right, it is simply one surface expression of the deeper individual right of free association. The individual has the right to choose whom he or she wishes to love as a friend, lover, or spouse. If the individual wishes to share his or her property with another as an expression of love, then that is no concern of the State. And if the individual wishes that partner to visit them in the hospital when he or she is sick, then that is also not the concern of the State. And it is an equal infringement of individual rights for hospitals to determine who shall visit a patient or comfort the dying.
So I find myself leaning to the Right with the Libertarians. I believe that the State really has no business in interfering with the right of free association by issuing marriage licenses in the first place. The State can grant or recognize the wishes of individuals to own property or protect individuals from exploitation by insurance companies that seek to define who is or is not a family member.
Part of the right of free association is not just to choose whom one wishes to love, but also to choose what group or religion one wishes to join. As someone raised a Roman Catholic, I was taught as a child that marriage was a sacrament. Thus I am inclined to think that the definition of marriage—as opposed to civil unions—is really a matter for religions to determine, much as they determine their theologies. After one has secured the State’s recognition of a civil union, then it should be the choice of the individual to have a religious confirmation of that union if he or she so chooses. If the individual chooses to belong to a cockamamie religion that says that he or she cannot love whom he or she chooses, then he or she is free to obey in order to maintain the commitment to that theology, or change religions, or cease to belong to any religion. For the State to intervene in this freedom of association to say which religion you can belong to or which person you can marry is absurd. It is none of its business.
Gay people, in order to gain social recognition and acceptance, have chosen to buy into and shore up normality by supporting the questionable patriarchal institution of marriage. And in much the same way, women have chosen to prop up the decaying patriarchal institution of the priesthood by seeking to become priests. I find this sad and a conceptual mistake, but, hey, culture is a sloppy process of fads and funny clothes and often crappy pop music. The cultural path had been chosen, so I accepted the public decision and voted for Gay marriage in Maine, and it happily passed into law. So now I say, “OK, let’s have Gay marriage and women Catholic priests,” even though I am not Gay and decidedly not any longer a Roman Catholic.
One reason I support our Founding Fathers’ separation of Church and State is to insure that my neighbor does not inflict his cockamamie religion on me. The Defense of Marriage Act is basically the Evangelicals’ efforts to enforce their world-view on the rest of us--as they did once before in passing laws in which rural Southerners and Midwesterners tried to legislate against the cultured Mediterranean diet of having a glass of wine with a meal. Prohibition failed, and now DOMA deserves to fail, but I have little confidence in our politicized Supreme Court that has recognized corporations as individuals to now be able to define the family. The Court can confirm the legislature’s definition of a citizen, but it cannot define the family anymore than it can define theology. It is literally none of its business.
Dreams, as Sri Aurobindo has noted, are memoires of “spiritual” experiences. Now we know from cognitive science that memories are more constructive and creative than we realize: witness Dr. Oliver Sack’s recent article in the New York Review of Books in which he describes a memory of a childhood experience during the Blitz in England in which he remembered seeing an unexploded bomb on his street that his older brother had described to him but that he never actually saw. Memories can be constructed from images in the family photo album or from stories our parents and siblings tell. In other words, memoires are not recorded facts laser-inscribed on a CD ROM. As one cognitive science wag once said (I forget who!) “If it is a memory, it is a fiction.”
Second point: a dream image is also a construct, and a garbled or very creative one at that. Often the dream image is a transform of a physiological condition, as, for example, having a full bladder in the morning and dreaming you are in an airport looking for the restroom. Both myths and dreams can be transforms, as in the myth that Eve was taken from Adam’s side--which is a myth as an Akashic reading of the moon being taken from the earth in the collision of Thea with earth.
Third point: when one “reads” the Akashic record, one is not reading a CD ROM; one is engaged in using the imagination in a hermeneutic circle of participatory perception in which the elements one perceives are interpreted in the terms of one’s personal knowledge. In other words, it is possible to make mistakes, and deep trance mystics do this all the time because they are simply picking up collective thought-forms. If a billion people believe in the Tooth Fairy, a deep trance mystic can perceive her.
But a shared consensual delusion is not a fact. And even a fact is not a fact, as Ludwig Fleck pointed out in his seminal book, The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. A fact requires a theory in much the same way that a flame requires an atmosphere. Rudolf Steiner made mistakes in his reading of the astral and Akashic records. He made dismissive remarks about Buddhism, because many of the sutras were not published in his lifetime. He knew nothing of the Hua Yen Sutra with its complex, almost Whiteheadian, cosmology. Steiner also said flat out that the ancient Mexican did not rip out the heart in human sacrifice, but the stomach. Here Steiner is confusing the Olmecs with the Aztecs, and over 2000 years separate these Mesoamerican peoples. The Olmec shamans would cut out the foetus of a pregnant woman with their obsidian knives and through the process of etheric body projection that they also used in states of animal possession, they would project into the foetus and make it dance in the tribal circle to the terrified amazement of the peasantry. This foetus was the jaguar baby one sees in Olmec jade carvings. How do I know this? I am reading the Akash and am not just your standard model cultural historian doing research in a library. I am also a poet and a novelist and observe the images that arise in my mind as I write. Can I be wrong in my perceptions and interpretations? Absolutely! Edgar Cayce was wrong about his dates for the great earthquakes of LA and New York, and James Cottrell was wrong about December 21, 2012. They were prophets who made the mistake of making predictions, which is a “category mistake” of turning a cultural transformation into an event. But this imaginative process is how the human mind works. We construct narratives, but the Neolithic Revolution or the Hominization of the Primates was never experienced by anybody in 24 frames per second in historical time. Most people living in the fifteenth century in Renaissance Florence would not be aware they were living in the Italian Renaissance, because they would still be living in the Middle Ages. Cultural transformations are not events of history, but performances of narrative, much in the way Dr. Oliver Sacks as a child constructed a narrative about seeing an unexploded bomb that he never saw.
So when we read the Akash or perceive past lives, we are interpreting image transforms through dreams and imaginative constructions of narrative. In other words, we are writing fiction, as I did in my novel about Atlantis, Islands out of Time: a Memoir of the Last Days of Atlantis (Dial/Doubleday Press: New York, 1985). So it is complete nonsense to say things like: “In my last life, I was Napoleon.”
When I was an adolescent and student at L.A. High, Wesley LaViolette, a mystic and prestigious musical composer who taught classical counterpoint to the jazz musicians Shorty Rogers and Jimmy Giuffre, read my poetry and told me that I was the reincarnation of Keats. David Spangler’s Spiritual Guide, “John” has said that “great souls leave traces in the ether” and that incarnating souls can be attracted to these traces and incorporate them as part of the descent into historical space and time we call incarnation. The Sufi Master Hazrat Inayat Khan said that souls descending to earth meet souls ascending from earth and exchange “psychic genes”—which strikes me as an almost bacterial form of genetic transfer. So in the matter of past lives, humans, for the most part (Tulkus excepted) are prokaryotes and not eukaryotes.
If you put it all together, a past life is a dream interpretation of another dream located in a large collective dream we concretize as the Astral Plane or Jung’s collective unconscious. To take on an incarnation is to enter into a body of time, space, and culture. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as a discrete soul, hard and corpuscular, taking on a new incarnation. The process is more wave than particle. A baker in nineteenth century Paris and a supporter of Napoleon might now dream and say things like: “In my past life I was Napoleon.” But this claim is garbled, more noise than information in the signal--in Claude Shannon’s terms of Information Theory.
If you ever visit the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan you will enter the atrium of the Foundation’s headquarters and come upon a room filled with all the busts of Old Man Fetzer’s past lives. And, of course, the busts are all of famous men—Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, and so on. No one ever claims to have been Sam Schwartz a kosher butcher from Berlin. So all of these occult narratives about reincarnation are just “California Dreaming,” and Southern California at that.
The human soul is more like a laminar flow that periodically encounters a resistance in space-time that cause a kink that we could call an incarnation. After a while that kink snaps back into laminar flow again. But if you imagine the image I am presenting and color the lamina, let us say with colors of the spectrum, then only the infrared lamina kink up in an incarnation. The higher flows of the ultraviolet do not enter into historical time, or as David Spangler has expressed it, the soul cannot entirely fit into a human incarnation. Thus we end up with the traditional religious models of soul and body, ego and Daimon, or personal being and Nahual in the myths of Quetzalcoatl as expressed in the Anales de Cuauhtitlan. And, of course, we need to remember that all these traditional models are narratives constructed out of and within specific historically limited cultures. So caveat emptor serves as a warning to people about to join a cult as much as to consumers about to obey an impulse from advertizing to buy a product.
Thinking Otherwise on Religion, March 5, 2013
Sometimes I think what religion is really all about is wearing funny clothes. Whether you are a Catholic priest in a soutane, a nun in a wimple, an Amish farmer in a black suit and a horse-drawn buggy, a Muslim woman in a burka in Paris, a Hasidic Jew with a shtreimel in Jerusalem, a Sikh in a turban in Toronto, or a Hare Krishna sect Hindu wearing a dhoti in winter at JFK airport, funny clothes declare your commitment to your group. Like fraternity hazing, the more absurd the group demand, the more obedience proves commitment.
Churchgoers interviewed by journalists about why they attend Sunday services, often admit their attendance is more about a sense of belonging to a community and a culture than a belief in doctrines. Religion is comfort food for the emotions and we humans are fundamentally emotional beings. So intellectuals who no longer go to church have to accept the fact that religion is basic to human nature and will not disappear anytime soon.
Humans are animals, if not always with a conscience, at least always with a consciousness. It doesn’t matter what the content of that consciousness is—the old man in robe and sandals walking on a cloud in The New Yorker cartoon depictions of God or the invisible tooth fairy. Filling the container of consciousness with a cosmology is what is important for us humans, and not the veracity of any particular content. Kids know that their parents are fibbing about the tooth fairy, and grownups know their priests are fibbing about virgin birth.
Virgin birth is a Near Eastern myth that antedates Christianity; it found a new relevance in helping the Church Fathers fight Gnostic sects like the Borborites who sought to make sex into a magical sacrament by putting menstrual blood and semen on the communion pita bread. Fall-awful!
By lifting Jesus out of the muck of sexuality, and elevating Mary with an Immaculate Conception, the men of the new Christian Church sought to create an idealized Woman that could help them keep actual women in their place--and that was out of the priesthood.
Historical facts are not really what religious storytelling is all about. Folks will believe in anything as long as it makes them feel better. The universe is too big and scary—with crashing galaxies, bombarding asteroids, catastrophic tsunamis and floods, disease, and menacing bad guys everywhere for the individual to want to go it alone.
In the Pliocene Era we began the long process of hominization by coming down out of the tree canopy—a move the hominins did not choose but was forced on them by weather change and forest desiccation--to get together on the ground. This emigration required new skills for a new world: such as recognizing many faces, organizing in protective hierarchies of dominance, developing a culture around sexuality and child-rearing, and learning how to communicate through language. To manage all these new cultural skills, our brains responded over time by growing larger and more complex. In a good Buddhist fashion, there was no such entity as an isolated self; we became human through a process of dependant co-origination in which an I was an expression of an Us.
If religion is an expression of the evolution of consciousness and the growth of the animal into the human mind, then fundamentalism is the metastatic cancer of consciousness—a malignant growth of mind that displaces a healthy sense of humor, ambiguity, compassion and tolerance, for a violent commitment to a literal reading of a sacred text. In the theory of “cognitive dissonance,” when you are asked to believe something patently absurd, it generates a need to proselytize, for if you can convince others that your religion is acceptable, it stills your own inner doubts and the ontological terror they generate.
Fundamentalists degrade metaphor into code. Here one needs to remember that fundamentalism comes in many forms and domains of culture: religion, politics, and even science. In politics we have the shouting sects of the extreme Right, and in science we have the linear reductionists of the sociobiologists and eliminativists. The literalism of Richard Dawkins’s selfish genes is another way of reducing the complexity of the cell into a genetic code. The cognitive science of Patricia and Paul Churchland that eliminates the self in favor of an information-processing machine called the brain is another example of culture reduced to a binary code.
Religion is not a static thing; like everything else, it is time-bound. The funny clothes are chosen because they come from a storied past—like the nineteenth-century Polish fur hats and coats the Hasids wear in hot Jerusalem, the burka Islamic women tried to wear in fashionable Paris, or the starched linen Breton wimples the nuns of my childhood wore in hot, sweaty, pre-air conditioned Los Angeles.
Foreword to Beyond Religion to be published by Lindisfarne Books (Great Barrington, MA, 2013) in September.
Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a Man's Head, 1914
William Irwin Thompson
THINKING OTHERWISE: Cancer of Consciousness, February 9, 2013
When humans started living in close association with animals—and this happened in Africa long before the domestication of goats in Neolithic Iran--two things happened. One was positive and helped humanity to survive, the other was negative and deadly and would take the lives of millions over the centuries. The positive change was a mutation that allowed for lactose tolerance in adult humans’ ability to drink milk or eat cheese; the other was the transfer of the influenza virus from animals to humans.
Post-Glacial Pre-Neolithic Humanity slowly wandered, first following the cattle then herding them, and one group migrated out of Africa into Anatolia. At Gobekli Tepe, the tribes that came together for pan-tribal rituals at that ceremonial center forked again in migration, with one tribe of humans and cattle moving east into Afghanistan and India, and the other moving west into Hungary and the Balkans. At the Balkans, migrating humanity branched again, with one branch moving by land with their large herds into Hungary and Austria, and the other megalithic culture moving by sea to Malta and the coastlines of France and Spain, Denmark, and the British Isles of Orkney and over into the Ireland of Newgrange in the fourth millennium B.C.E. These people of cattle and cattle raids—attested by the Irish epic The Cattle Raid of Cooley, or Tain Bo Cuailgne, carried with them the first universal religion, the ancient religion of the Great Goddess.
What the influenza virus teaches us is that with every form of communication there is a shadow side. McLuhan called media “the extensions of man” and said that with every extension came an amputation. When we have cars we drive but do not walk to the store. (It was the fifties and sixties then, so, Yes, McLuhan did say ”man.”)
When domestication of animals emerged, influenza appeared. When the weather changed and the grasslands of the Asian steppes flourished and horses and cattle increased, so did the hordes of Asia, and Hun, Mongol, and Turk spread from Central Asia into the Hungarian Plain. When transcontinental trade appeared, so did the appearance of sacred and portable texts, creating universal religions from Buddhism to Judaism and its heretical variants, Christianity and Islam. But trans-continental trade also brought the plague, and when trans-oceanic contact emerged, so did small pox and syphilis. Small pox wiped out almost eighty percent of the Native American peoples and caused its complex ecology of cultures and civilizations to collapse. When printed books and “the Gutenberg Galaxy” appeared, so did violent revolutions and mass revolutionary ideologies like capitalism, fascism, and communism, and these over the centuries caused the deaths of billions of people. Stalin and Mao caused the death of at least 140 million people, and the Shock Disaster Capitalism explicated by Naomi Klein is presently causing the death of uncounted numbers in South America, the Middle East, and Central Asia, so the books of this ”Liberal” ideology have yet to be audited.
Many post McLuhan scholars of media from me to Frank Zingrone to Douglas Rushkoff and John David Ebert have recognized that we are now “at the edge of history” in a post-literary electronic culture that is not simply a single planetary civilization, but a “planetary culture” composed of an ecology of various “noetic polities” of Al Qaeda, West Bank Zionist Jewish settlers, and New Kingdom Evangelical Christians.
If you want to know what an ecosystem of noetic polities looks like, just surf YouTube. There you will find deep trance mediums with maps of a sunken world that was to happen with the reversal of the earth’s magnetic field, and the sinking of tectonic plates on December 21, 2012. You will also find hundreds of videos talking about the Illuminati, the Rockefellers, and a secret cabal that is trying to introduce a New World Order. And, of course, there are hundreds and thousands more that I have not bothered to visit or whose viral files I have not bothered to open. Pornography, which is not allowed on YouTube, owned as it is by the large corporation, Google, is another vast oceanic ecology of a devolving body consciousness, one that is not erotic, but completely obsessional.
What pornography teaches us is another proof of the McLuhan axiom that “The sloughed off environment becomes a work of art [or artifact] in the new invisible environment." The pornographic body is no longer the instrument of sexual reproduction and Natural Selection, but a compost heap of bodies dissolving into Satyric phalluses and Bukkake orgies of women dripping with semen, not from their vaginas, but from all over their faces and entire bodies. These seizures of obsession show that pornography is neither biological nor culturally erotic. It is not about lust or love. It is about the disintegration of the body in a metastatic cancer of consciousness.
But pornography is simply the caricature that allows us to see the character; it is the political cartoon that reveals the more subtly invisible politics.
In the cultural shift from the print media to electronics with the Internet and the World Wide Web we are seeing a new disease being transmitted along the channels of communication. People no longer speak to one another and listen, anymore than pornography addicts love and make love to another person. People scream at one another and they rant in their chosen obsessional fixation--whether it is Rush Limbaugh attacking women’s freedom, or the Taliban killing girls going to school.
In short, we are experiencing a globally metastatic cancer of consciousness. Just at about the time science is getting close to understanding the biochemistry of oncologies, humanity is beginning to experience the complex dynamical adaptive system of the evolution of consciousness, with its new signals and boundaries. Some of humanity has made the spiritual transition into Teilhard de Chardin’s Mystical Body of Christ evolving toward the Omega Point, while others are stuck in the sicknesses of religions rotting in the stinking compost heap of the disintegrations of civilizations. If you work to imagine the future, you just might see the present.
Francis Bacon, Head VI, 1948
February 1, 2013
February: a month of thaws and sudden returns to winter, a midpoint soon to become a point of no return in the passage to spring. It is also a month of pagan festivals that survive in our world in which we have forgotten what these times of Celtic Imbolc, Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Roman Lupercalia and Christian St. Valentines Day once meant.
Because it is still cold and midwinter it feels right to immerse ourselves in the dopamine rush of chocolate and celebrate love with gifts of jewelry, and think of our Valentine as we watch the red Amyrils near the double-glazed window proudly trumpeting its vulvar extravagance and calling out for pollination. All the gorgeously outrageous reds of the Valentine’s Day packages and the flowers engorge the extended glans and trigger embacing arms. February is not a good time not to be in love.
When I was a child in Catholic school in the sixth grade, everyone in my class exchanged Valentine’s cards, and the nuns did their very best to turn this pagan celebration into a story of sainthood and martyrdom. But as I looked at the girl I had a crush on, I did not think of sanctity, but rather of the mysteries of her body and the revelation of the new strap across her back of the bra that she was not wearing last semester.
How utterly awful it was to be eleven and to have to wait years before one could learn how to release that strap and rejoice in the fullness of the uncontained.
And how many years would come and go as the girls became women, and lover by lover, the years passed and one found oneself on another Valentine’s Day in the winter of life.
Long ago Gautama looked at his wife and child in the palace, saw that the wheel of life turned, but did not spiral up to another level, and decided he wanted off. He became a mendicant, overcame Mara the temptress, and was hailed as Buddha, the Enlightened one.
But Mara had her revenge by turning Buddha into Buddhism--a new and more enticing form in which the followers could be caught on the wheel again with the temptations of religion with all its worldly possessions of temples and monasteries and all its attractive ornaments of incense and robes and the arrogance and pride that stick to the hierarchies of the spiritually perfected as barnacles to a great whale.
So I shall not celebrate Saint Brigid’s Day or Saint Valentine’s Day. Instead I shall honor Brigid the pagan goddess of enlightenment and patroness of poets, and as an aged Celtic bard honor Valentine’s Day as a good day for reflecting on love and all the women I love and have ever loved.
William Irwin Thompson
THINKING OTHERWISE: Sexual Cultural Evolution, January 6, 2013
Frieda Kahlo, Roots, 1943, Collection of Marilyn O. Lubetkin
In today’s Huffington Post there is an article that states that women in middle age are increasingly reporting that they are bored with their husbands, no longer in love with them, and consequently bored with and in their marriages.
Once the kids have been educated and the nest is empty, the prospect of spending another forty years with a man who has lost his physical and cultural attractiveness and prefers to watch the game with his buddies than talking to her is profoundly unsettling. The wife becomes restless and wonders if there is more to life than marriage.
In a traditional society--say rural Italy or Greece-- women in menopause would signal their abandonment of the biological marketplace by not trying to be attractive but instead allowing themselves to grow fat, become nonnein la cucina, start wearing black and drab smocks, hanging out with other women to discuss grandchildren and the marriages and affairs of others, or become the only ones still going to church.
Old Greek Woman
The men, if they could, arranged to have have mistresses and nooners in the city, or if they were retired, took to the village square to play boules (Pétanque) or toss their worry beads, sip coffee or Ouzo, and watch the female tourists in their shorts, tee shirts or sport halters pass them by.
In the United States, and especially in LA, the Eleventh Commandment is “Thou shalt not look old.” So women, and increasingly men as well, resort to cosmetic surgery and face life with the German Expressionist rictus smile of a Joan Rivers, Faye Dunaway, or Sharon Stone. The new poster boy for masculine facelifts would appear to be Vladimir Putin, shirtless on a horse.
If one has the social misfortune to be invited for dinner at the home of an immured married middle-aged or elderly couple, one notices that they really don’t seem to like one another and are constantly carping, nagging, and criticizing each other. Sacramental marriage has glued them together, and if there is no lover around who wishes to put in a sunder, the woman trapped in the tract house can appear truly desperate and take to tranquilizers or drink.
Most often the forces that seem to hold the aging couple together are real estate and the fear of death. They both own the house or expensive city apartment, and they both are afraid of dying alone.
But is it natural to live afraid of death for another forty years, for thanks to medical science, we all can count on living much longer than we thought we would? Could there not be more to life than courtship and marriage or affairs based on loveless coupling?
The sixties and the pill opened up European and American culture to sexual experimentation, to moving off the postwar suburban tracts into communes of sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll. America seems ripe for another wave of sexual exploration beyond Sixties communes or Seventies suburban wife-swapping. To be more precise, I would say that America, in spite of the little blue pill, is ripe for a wave of post-sexual exploration.
There is more to the sexually dimorphic biology of incarnation than courtship and marriage. We need to accept that there are more forms of human love than that of lover and spouse. Men and women are starting to explore more polymorphous forms of sexual relationships than just gay marriage, gender-bending, and Trans-sexual forms of medical reincarnation.
“What exactly do you have in mind, Dr. Thompson?” you ask. And I would answer Love and Creativity. Just for starters, think of the gay Nureyev with Dame Margot Fonteyn in London, the elderly Balanchine with the young Suzanne Farrell in New York, and Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in Pondicherry, India.
The Mother and Sri Aurobindo
Suzanne Farrell and George Ballanchine
Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev
Think of Tantra Yoga, in which--contrary to popular misconceptions—the Maithuna is not about a Kama Sutra catalogue of positions, but about a mystical transcendence--an artistic pas de deux. The Tantric Sutra that states “The woman you love you must not possess” is there in the literature to open up new dimensions of male and female coupling beyond copulation. If one rushes ahead into a premature conceptualization to ask in gossip: “Are they or are they not sleeping together?” one misses the mystery, excitement, and transcendent manifestation that may actually be taking place without benefit of clergy or societal conventions.
The Age of Aquarius dawned two generations ago, the old Mayan cycle of culture has passed, and a new cycle begins to spin. Faites vos jeux.
Mythic Time, Historic Time, Part Two, 12/23/2012
Hieronynus Bosch The Temptation of St. Anthrony
I used to visit the Findhorn Community in Scotland so often in the 1970s and 1980s that I became good friends with Peter and Eileen Caddy, Dorothy Maclean, and David Spangler. Although the Findhorn Community became famous for its secret life of plants in the Seventies--thanks to books by Peter Tompkins, Paul Hawken, and me--it was in its origins really a flying saucer contactee group, as has been pointed out by David Spangler in his lectures. At more than one Findhorn Onearth Conference, I remember Sir George Trevelyan saying that “our Space Brothers and the Ascended High Masters” were going to materialize on Findhorn’s Pine Ridge very soon. I imagined St. Germain coming on stage in a magenta jumpsuit.
Sir George’s sense of “very soon” is profoundly characteristic of messianic groups, and their sense of dramatic imminence and transcendental materializations can be traced back to the Essenes and the apocalyptic vision of St. John the Divine in which he felt the Second Coming was close on the horizon. “Surely, I come quickly.”
Consequently, expecting the transcendental to materialize in the day-to-day world of events is a category mistake. It is an effort to perceive myth as history, which is something like trying to pack a tesseract into a cube.
Let’s say that humans perceive time at 28 frames per second and experience time as a linear sequence of events. But cultural transformations are not events that happen in the time-frame of a lifetime. Transformations like the Hominization of the Primates, the Neolithic or Industrial Revolutions do not occur in time, they are a narrative device that renders the slow and invisible fast and visible. In other words, cultural transformations are an expression of the imagination and not the perceptual system. Sometimes shamanic people--whether they are prophets like St. John the Divine or artists like Bosch or Blake--can dream in the waking state and experience their thoughts as visions. The world did not end in 1500 for Bosch, but his vision of flying vessels dropping fire on burning settlements was certainly prophetic of World War II, so in the turn of the historical spiral 1500 was closer to 1944 than to 1660. And as the historian Eric Hobsbawm has pointed out, Blake saw and understood the Industrial Revolution better than many Parliamentarian experts and even before there were many factories around London for him to study.
I myself have had many visionary experiences from childhood to now, so I am familiar with this hypnagogic state of mind in which one sees one’s thoughts, or experiences them as a revelatory “Other.” This Irish trait that I jocularly refer to as “my Druid radar” comes naturally to me, and I have never taken psychedelic drugs because I felt I was already sensitive enough to this visionary realm and that drugs would just drive me over the edge and turn me into a deluded psychotic. In the seventies I had many personal arguments with leaders of the psychedelic approach like José Argüelles and Terrence McKenna.
When José claimed that extraterrestrials had planted a galactic communication device in his mind, or when Terrence claimed that December 21, 2012 would be the End of the World, they both slipped into literalizing myth and trying to turn it into history. In other words, they were making a category mistake.
In the Seventies when I was living in Manhattan I had a vision of New York under water. I transformed this hypnopompic vision into a poem. See “Proem: Manhattan Morning” from my long poem “Hyperborean Passages” in Still Travels: Three Long Poems (Wild River Books: Princeton, NJ, 2009). Writing poetry, painting, or making films is the right way to deal with visionary experiences. Taking them literally, and waiting for the flying saucers to land at Findhorn is not. After the founders of Findhorn passed on, the Weberian “routinization of charisma” took over, and now the Findhorn Foundation is an eco-village and a co-housing settlement for people with private incomes who do not need to work.
Here too I can claim to have had something to do with this because I brought environmentalists like Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Sim Van der Ryn, and John Todd to Findhorn for a Lindisfarne Fellows Conference, and I myself lectured on “the meta-industrial village” at Findhorn’s Onearth conferences and introduced the concept of “the planetary village” to Findhorn and Manhattan by bringing Findhorn and Auroville in India together for a conference at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1974. Laurance Rockefeller attended my introductory lecture and subsequently gave donations to many environmental groups in Massachusetts, Colorado, and California.
My point in all this is that when we experience lucid dreaming in the hypnagoic state, have dreams in the hypnopompic state, or have visions in the waking mind, we are perceiving the realm of myth through the faculty of the imagination. In this mode long term transformations like the breaking up of the California coast are experienced as historical events. When I was at Esalen in Big Sur in 1967, one hippie VW Van was painted on its side with the sign “Earthquake Evader.” Edgar Cayce, a famous deep trance mystic turned prophecy into predictions and said that Manhattan would be destroyed by earthquake in the nineties and Los Angeles would also be destroyed soon after that.
But as we have learned from December 21, 2012 coming and going without all the volcanoes going off at once and shutting out the sun for years to starve most of the people on our planet, prophets should never make predictions. Myth is a horizon, not a place.
Douce Apocalypse, Circa 1230, Bodleian Library, Oxford University
THINKING OTHERWISE: Mythic Time, Historical Time, December 19, 2012
I am listening to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, specifically the sublime Trio, “Ach wann wird die Zeit erscheinen? It is still a good question: When will the Time appear? As some Mayan calendar enthusiasts wait for the world to end the day after tomorrow, and others of an equally fundamentalist mentality look to the skies for the Messiah, the Twelfth Iman, or Jesus to appear on a cloud to damn the unbelievers in the sophisticated and secular cities where more people go to universities than churches.
I confess that I am willfully of the numbers of the damned, for I would rather listen to the B Minor Mass than go to Mass. Bach is more important to me than Buddha. When the Reverends Huckabee and Robertson capitalized on the recent massacre of the innocents to hustle back the sheep into the slaughter houses of their churches where their minds will be offered up in human sacrifice, I do turn the other cheek but only to avert mine eyes from these clerical opportunists and whited sepulchers hiding their inner stench.
Imagine for a moment the horror of the Newtown elementary school massacre. Listen to the teachers and the children all praying in terror and hysteria: “Oh, Please, God, Please!” If you were a personal God walking on the clouds and looking in on his creatures, would you not save the teachers and the children and smite this religiously named Adam down with a thunderbolt of your righteous wrath? I certainly would.
Or would you piously intone that God’s ways are not for humans to understand. If you are more to literature inclined, would you say: ‘Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardoner.’? Today’s web tabloid, The Huffington Post, says that Adam Lanza feared that his mother was about to commit him to an asylum and that he felt that she loved the children at her school more than she loved him. If this report is true, you might then take comfort from the presence of love spurned generating such intense hate. The spurned Romantic lover, like Goethe’s Werther, takes his own life. The spurned psychotic kills himself with others--like some megalomaniacal king from ancient China or Ur burying himself with his entire retinue of surviving wives and servants.
Milton’s Lucifer is said to have been just such a spurned lover of God. Broken hearted that the Christ was God the Father’s chosen emanation into historical time, and in a rage from the pain of rejection, he started a war in heaven. He lost, and fell from heaven to our planet and created his own kingdom founded on the hatred of God. Earth became a world of volcanic fire, a world where everything had to eat some other thing in order to live. We gods of Light (See John 10:34) who formerly had lived in heaven, but had been seduced by Lucifer, joined him in this fallen world of time to become the creatures we are, living life after life as the Wretched of the Earth. We pray to a personal God, not realizing that the universe is a mind composed of other fractal minds, and that only we can deliver ourselves from our self-inflicted misery. There is no personal God, and that superstitious notion is a peasant’s infantile folklore projection of a parent.
Do you hear that racket in the kitchen? The toaster is arguing with the waffle iron and insisting that God is a Great Toaster in the sky, while the waffle iron insists that God is of his kind. Meanwhile, the more smug and intellectual microwave looks down on them and knows that God is a field of microwave radiation. But at least the microwave has taken it up to the next level to envision God as an infinite field of electromagnetic radiation.
If you are so to science inclined, then think of the Christian Miltonic story of Paradise Lost as a mythologized narrative of the formation of the solar system. The Archangel Michael emerges as the sun and the Earth forms as a tortured planet, lurching from one catastrophe to another, waiting for the ultimate catastrophe when the sun expands and takes us back in forgiveness to its bosom.
But perhaps the believers in the Mayan Calendar have a point and that one cycle of cultural evolution is indeed coming to an end. When species perish--whether dinosaurs, mastodon, or men--they first flourish. Now our kind teems on the face of the Earth and is changing the skies. Jesus may not be on that cloud, but the hurricane and flood most certainly are, and Sandy will be back, every year, and each year greater than the year before.
But in the face of that menacing horizon, our political leaders do nothing, and the believers in religion who think all science is a hoax, offer contributions to our extinction. Notice after the Newtown massacre, and its copycat killings, that no one learned anything. Those who believed in guns before the massacre now use the occasion to argue that everyone should carry a gun, and those who thought along more Canadian and European lines before the event now continue to do so and call for the banning of all assault and automatic weapons. When a species is going extinct, it shifts into giantism and thinks bigger teeth or longer tusks will protect it.
The sound that all our politicians and preachers are making is the roar of our extinction--of the signal perishing in a field of noise. Homo Sapiens is simply not sapient enough, and the fears of the multitude will aid religion in snuffing out the brilliance of the last few centuries of science.
My CD of Bach’s Sacred Music has now progressed from the Christmas Oratorio to the Magnificat. So if the world does or does not end on the Day after Tomorrow, this seems to me the proper way to end a world—by going out singing:
Gloria Patri, gloria Filio,
gloria et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio
et nunc et semper
et in saecula saeculorum.
Thomas Cole, Desolation, 1836, New York Historical Society.
THINKING OTHERWISE: NOVEMBER 11, 2012 Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
The sun is out in Portland, the day is warm and gentle; gone are the terrors of the night when the Victorian wooden frame apartment house I live in shook in the wind, as it also did in this month’s earthquake--which was loud, as if the rocks had growled, letting me know that I had not escaped simply by moving off the San Andreas Fault.
My visible Lindisfarne colleague David Spangler has told me that his “invisible colleagues”--those child-like imaginary friends that prophets continue to play with, refusing to grow up to get a day job in business or industry—have informed him that the Mayan calendar year of 2012 will not have a single apocalyptic event of a giant asteroid striking the earth, or all the tectonic hot spots in Yellowstone and Hawaii blowing off at once. No, 2012 is to be a year of “rolling thunders” of many events: tectonic earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan, state-wide forest fires in the American South West, droughts and floods in the Midwest, and hurricanes and inundations along the East Coast.
A serial apocalypse has the advantage that one cannot run from it into the escapism of doing nothing except waiting for Jesus to come down on a cloud to judge the living and the dead. After the terrors of the night, one wakes to the sunshine and the fact that one is still alive and, therefore, must “compose a life”—in the words of another Lindisfarne colleague and WRR contributor, Mary Catherine Bateson.
Because my life is that of a poet and cultural historian, I live through a bardic store of knowledge of the past and an imagination of the future. So for me “composing a life” means writing a new narrative of self and civilization. My first step therefore is to post here on this WRR internet community bulletin board a Want Ad.
Wanted: A New Civilization.
Willing to trade-in old Industrial Civilization for a better one.
In this Presidential election of 2012, we have heard the business leaders like Romney claim that government and society itself are businesses and market-systems and should be run by businessmen. And even Obama has fallen into line to please industry by calling for more fracking, more coal, more nuclear, and more of the industrial activities that are gassing us to death. And lest we think that turning over government from businessmen to scientists would solve all our problems, we need to remember the likes of Professor Ewen Cameron of McGill University who in the 1950s, funded by the CIA, tortured unsuspecting patients in a hospital to see if he could erase their personalities to create a tabla rasa for reindoctrination. Naomi Klein’s chilling account of this work, and the work by the economists, the “Chicago Boys,” in her bestseller, The Shock Doctrine, proves just how right C. S. Lewis was in his fear of government by social scientists, as expressed in his science fiction novel, That Hideous Strength. So by trading in businessmen leaders for scientists and the likes of Ewen Cameron, Jose Delgado, and B. F. Skinner,[i] we will not deliver ourselves from evil. Dr. Obama was a professor of constitutional law, but that still not prevent him from shredding the Constitution by giving himself the power to execute U.S. Citizens without due process of law by virtue—or lack thereof—of the National Defense Authorization Act. Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and Jefferson must be turning over in their graves at the sight of just this sort of abuse of the Executive that they tried to prevent with their system of checks and balances.
But let us for the moment not pay attention to the man behind the curtain of our elected governments in the U.S. and Canada—or men in the case of the Koch brothers--and let us not think in terms of history to recall how corporations created mercury poisoning in the seawaters and fisheries of Japan, how mining companies declared bankruptcy after poisoning the water table with arsenic and giving the local children birth defects in Colorado and Indonesia, or how Tokyo Electric (TELCO) lied about the safety of its nuclear reactors. Do not think back to the days before Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and the USDA of poisoned meat, of unsafe workplaces, of polluted air and water, and a class of workers in coalmines who were no better off than nineteenth–century serfs in Czarist Russia bound to the land. No, let us not think in terms of history, because history, as every red-blooded God-fearing true American knows--is a European, socialist, and subversive fiction, and good Americans should just not believe in such pointy-headed, unpatriotic, and un-American Marxist stories. And, indeed, thanks to our public education curriculum, Americans know little history, and less geography. Ten years ago, your average high school student could not find Canada on a map; now he or she cannot even find Kansas.
The cultural historian, no matter how humble and discreet he wishes to be, is forced into becoming a prophet, as a historical narrative implicitly presents a better world in explicitly describing an awful one. My other Lindisfarne colleague Wendell Berry is a good example of an honest and humble man forced into prophecies of liberation by the chains of events.[ii]
So I shall throw caution to the winds of Sandy, and move from the cultural history of my youth, when I wrote about the role of imagination in history in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916,[iii] to use the narrative construction of a past to imagine a new civilization.
Evolution moves by starts and fits. The starts are often invisible and so gradual that they only become visible with hindsight—as for example in the slow shift from women gathering grains to gardening and then agriculture—an accidental and unplanned transformation that took place over a thousand years. But when evolution throws a fit, it is a big, instantaneous, “catastrophe bifurcation”—such as a gigantic asteroid striking the earth, or a tectonic rift and colossal flood.
The gradual apocalypse we have been experiencing in this twenty-first century does seem to be accelerating, and we do seem about to experience one of those “tipping points” in which the Greenland ice sheet drops into the sea and New York and London go under water, taking the world economy with them in a reprise of Atlantis.
So let us imagine that by both a series of starts and fits, global industrial civilization collapses. Such a collapse would most likely be followed by a transitional Dark Age in which rural petty war lords and urban gangs fight with one another over the control of water and food sources. Global science, as prophesied by H. G. Wells a century ago, would be forced to compress into a hidden “freemasonry of science.”
The transitional Dark Age would be most likely followed by a new Axial Age in which prophets and visionary leaders sought to assert a new moral order.
To reflect on what a new moral order might look like we need to cast industrial civilization into the mirror and imagine its mirror opposite. Industrial civilization was characterized by a mental process of reification in which living processes were reduced to dead objects, ones moving in an empty space, and only meaningfully described by the mathematics of linear dynamics. So our new mirror-opposite civilization would see all objects, even rocks, as alive, and these living beings partaking of their existence in a plenum of interpenetrating vibratory phase-spaces. Rocks are not things, but states of deep dreamless sleep in which they are resonating with the music of the spheres and embodying the supernova that gave birth to the formation of our planet. Plants are not mindless, but are in the dreaming state in which they do not move, but sway with wind, darkness, and light. And animals move and see and are alive in the waking world.
In the new civilization, there would be no such thing as a “thing,” and no such a void as empty space. The lives of such vibratory occasions would be described—or rather performed—in a kind of hieroglyphic mathematics that was both musical and algorithmic. This hieroglyphic mathematics would be one string of development of the complex dynamical systems mathematics that appeared toward the end of industrial civilization through the genius of Poincaré.
Have I lost you yet? If not, then let us proceed. Industrial civilization was also characterized by a reduction of propriceptive awareness into an acquisitive personhood. People acquired things to know who and what they were, so a Rolex, a Mercedes Benz, a McMansion filled with envaluated objects called art provided these minimalist persons with an identity. “I am what I own” became the bourgeois capitalist development of Descartes’ reductionism of mind to “I think, therefore I am.”
But in the new proprioceptive awareness, there would not be persons or egohood, but entelechies, or processes of symbiotic consciousness in which the interpenetrating vibratory phase spaces took on a provisional identity or soul for the duration of a performative existence. For example, my late friend the biologist Lynn Margulis (another member of the Lindisfarne Association) liked to remind me that thirteen percent of my body weight was made of bacteria. I, in turn, in my love of the preindustrial forms of animism, responded: “Yes, and these bacteria are what we Irish would call ‘the little people.’ They are everywhere: in my gut, in the leaf mold at my feet, in the deep sea vents, the air, and the ice.” Lynn smiled, as she enjoyed nothing more than swapping cosmologies, and that was probably one reason she fell in love with the cosmologist Carl Sagan when they both were students at the University of Chicago—a couple soon destined to come together as parents of another member of our Lindisfarne Association and contributor to WRR, Dorion Sagan.
Through an act of cultural imagination, an entelchy would realize that it was not an isolated and discretely contained self, but that its personhood was a shared process of symbiotic consciousness. So the presence of bacteria in the gut would be experienced as a living being—a Djinn or elemental—a being that was an intimate partner to one’s existence, like a spouse. The skeletal system might present one such soul, the bacteria another, and the process of gaseous inhalation yet another. The Romantic German animist Rudolf Steiner, in his excessively dualistic system of black and white, liked to think of the respiratory system as a dynamic that was both Luciferic and Ahrimanic—the inflationary and exalted followed by the depresssed and dense.
In industrial civilization, mind was epiphenomenal to the body, and consciousness was to the brain what urine was to the kidneys. But in our new civilization, the universe is a Mind composed of other fractal minds, and their consorting is literally a concert of musical dynamics. Even now, if you have a talent for yoga nada, you can hear this Nadam, or cosmic music of the spheres, by listening in meditation. Every existent sounds its note; it is a grand chorus, sort of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus to the Nth power.
Since the universe is a Mind, then consciousness is a provisional performance of being, and the consciousness of a system can change its behavior. Werner Heisenberg, in the twentieth century with his Uncertainty Principle, foreshadowed this insight concerning the primacy of mind, when he proposed that the measurement of a system alters its behavior.
Since everything is alive to the sound of music—to honor Julie Andrews and the role of sentimental kitsch in intuiting truths for the laity—one would no more think of killing a whale or a dolphin than killing a Bach or a Mozart or smashing a Stradivarius in a fit of infantile rage. So for holidays in our future Hawaii’s, one will not simply observe the whales and the dolphins, but swim and communicate with them—as foreshadowed by John Lilly in the twentieth century.[iv] And since space would no longer be empty and separating, space itself would be a plenum of vibrating streams of energy that in the medieval lore of the Jewish Zohar in Spain and of the Muslim Sufis in Andalusia were known as angels. At the end of industrial civilization, through the popularity of science fiction, these beings were often re-presented as high-tech extra-terrestrials.
Thus in my new imaginary civilization, personhood would be a We and not an I. (This is, by the way, why the Lindisfarne Association has no leader or central ideology. It has no single ideology articulated by an alpha male leader but is instead an ecology of consciousness in which difference is accepted and I serve merely as the conductor of an intellectual chamber music ensemble.) In the entelechy there would be a consort of a human, Djinns and elementals, angels, and other cosmic evolutionary streams of mind in various forms or performances of being.
In such a condition of existence as a performative rather than an objective-descriptive being, the buildings and clutter of industrial civilization as misplaced concreteness--from CO2 to plastic bags and tall skyscraper buildings--would be obsolete. Buildings would become appliances that you turn off and on with a switch. In fact, civilization would so etherealize itself in this chreode of cultural development that it would become invisible.
Who knows? Perhaps these etherealized civilizations have existed before on Earth, but we did not recognize them because they left no Stonehenge or pyramids behind. Like good environmentalists on a picnic in a National Park, they cleaned up their mess and moved on and up in the musical scales of being. Since we environmentalists of the twentieth century were so ignored by the politicians in our time, I salute these, my imaginary friends, from a past that I as a poet and cultural historian wish to see again for our future, and so I have chosen not to wait but already live with and within just such an entelechy.
[i] For a critique of Skinner and Delgado, see my essay, “Three Wise Men of Gotham” in my book, Evil and World Order (Harper & Row: New York, 1976), 20-32.
[ii] See Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community (Pantheon Books, New York and San Francisco, 1993).
[iii] William Irwin Thompson, The Imagination of an Insurrection: Dublin Easter 1916 (Oxford University Press: New York, 1967); reissued by Barnes and Noble Rediscovers, 2009.
[iv] See John Lilly, The Mind of the Dolphin: A Non-Human Intelligence (New York: Avon, 1969).
October 22, 2012 Debate
THINKING OTHERWISE: Thoughts on the Last Presidential Debate, 10/23/2012
In the last presidential debate it was interesting to see how often Romney had to agree with Obama's foreign policy. Presidents can't make that much of a difference because our foreign policy is determined by “American interests”—meaning corporate interests-- oil and gas pipelines, and so forth. Listening to Romney last night, I thought I was back in L.A. High in the 1950s and hearing some vacuous but good-looking white kid who was running for Student Body President saying "Vote for me and I will be a strong leader."
Basically, Romney just wants to be the first Mormon President for the sake of advancing his church and its Elders’ program, and he will say anything and adopt any policy to get elected, because positions and policies are not what his agenda is really about.
Most of what Romney says is a bold face lie, especially about the one that "Government doesn't create jobs." From the postal service in the 18th century and the elimination of individual state tolls and tarrifs, to the Louisiana Purchase in the 19th century, and then the railroads through which government gave sweet deals to businessmen to buy up lands along the route, to the GI Bill in the 20th century in the 1940s, and then the Red Scare in the 1950s that portrayed a weak and incompetent Soviet Union as stronger than it really was for the sake of contracts to our defense industries, the American economy has never been anything but government intervention into the private sector. The application of government to the task of stimulating the economy is the means through which both Japan and Germany recovered and became prosperous after the Second World War. And businessmen know this and that is why they spend so much money on lobbyists in order to buy Congressmen and own the government.
A Democratic Harry Truman gave us the CIA and the National Security State, and a Republican Eisenhower supported Social Security and put the Interstate Highway System on the budget as part of the National Defense Act. If private enterprise had had its way, there would be no highways but instead a system of Mom and Pop roads over private property with tolls every couple of miles. The post-industrial landscape of America in the 1950s would never have emerged and we would then still have been back in the depressed rural areas of the 1930s. But having trained a generation of young men how to kill, the Captains of Industry did not want millions of solders coming back to be unemployed and foment a social revolution against capitalism, so having learned how the Keynesian economics of World War II got us out of the Depression, the businessmen supported the GI Bill whose combination of highways, housing, and higher education brought forth post-industrial society and a prosperity based upon always having an enemy. The Republican partyline on private enterprise is complete historical bullshit.
Of course, no one discussed the real threat to human civilization--which is climate change. What do we do when the arctic melts, London and New York are flooded, and the Midwest is a Sahara?
In the Great Depression, Dupont bought up the controlling stock of General Motors. Depressions are good for the upper 0.01% because they get rid of the Great Pretenders to wealth and enable the real money to buy up everything on the cheap. The strategy of Bain and Co. types is to buy up companies, break them up, sell off the resources and make a profit, because the parts are worth more than the whole. Nation-states are now dinosaurs of economic evolution. The boards of multinationals may consist of an American, a Chinese, a German, a Brit, an Israeli, and a Saudi or Emirates Prince, and these chaps could care less about finding jobs for the American working class. So if the American working and middle classes are stupid enough to vote for their own extinction by going for Romney, then they will see Romney Ryan and Co. cut government spending to instigate a truly great depression so that Romney’s fellow board members can break up the American economy and buy up all the pieces to consolidate wealth in post-national elites. Jobs and factories will not simply be in China, they will be all over the map in India and Africa through globalization. In the shift to what Brian Arthur calls the new Digital Economy, the post World War II Detroit-style jobs are never coming back. As this second Great Depression cuts down government spending even further, standards of living will fall even further than they have in the last eight years. Personal identity is going to have to shift from one's job and consumptive display--"I am what I own!" to personal consciousness. (Personal disclosure: I am biased because I have already made this shift and do not own a car or a house, have lowered my standard of living and consumption, and spend several hours a day in yogic meditation or writing poetry.)
This cultural shift from territorial states to noetic polities or states of consciousness will be characterized by continued cultural polarization in which hysterical religions and noetic polities emerge at the same time. Notice that in the chaos of Islamic nation-states, Islamists are now trying to bring back the Ummah in a new post-national formation at the same time that sects and tribes are trying to reassert themselves as sources of identity in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Some folks will make the transition to a new culture of consuming less and enjoying life more--by boutique farming or building harpsichords by hand instead of working in a service economy office--and others will join cults and look for the Messiah or wait for the flying saucers to land. So return your banquet tables to their upright positions and fasten your seat belts, because we are in for severe turbulence and a bumpy landing—if we are lucky.
This Time, Let's Build a New Venice and Not Another New Orleans
A new and architecturally more beautiful London rose on the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666, and this allowed the genius of Wren and Hawksmoor to shine forth in stone, brighter in its human spirit than the flames of destruction that consumed the old Tudor wooden edifices. So let us imagine a truly "New" Orleans in which Cajun gondolas and Creole vaporettos, aloud with Dixieland and Zydeco, glide past buildings on high concrete foundations and decorated with balconies of iron with lace filigree. John Todd, of the University of Vermont's Institute of Natural Resources, has designed canals for Chinese cities which were formally filled with garbage and redolent of the stench of human waste, but now are filled with plants that cleanse the waters so that fish may safely swim. So there is a Green Architecture in America up to the challenge.
The Army Corps of Engineers with its national system of dams and levees has shown us what happens when the military-industrial approach in which Man dominates nature is put to work in eliminating wet lands where wild birds gather and sedimentary islands build up to break ocean surges. This form of engineering is the same kind of military-industrial thinking that salinates the soil with center-pivot agriculture and drains the Ogalala aquifer to replace biodiversity with monocrops held in place with the chemical warfare of pesticides. And the animal prisoners taken in this war are held in place in the concentration camps of feedlots and drugged with antibiotics and growth hormones to prepare them for mass slaughter. Their carcasses are then processed in fast food fuel stations along highway strips that are the same ugly clutter of signs and stops from Anchorage to Miami. Our President is comfortable with this mentality because for him nature is basically a golf course or a ranch--or a national park turned into a country club where folks can burn off stress by speeding over the snow while polluting the air of Yellowstone with gas-guzzling skidoos.
We have more than New Orleans to rebuild. We have to rebuild our whole idea of America. And while everyone is too afraid to mention it, it is now only too clear that we are not prepared for the earthquakes of California or the volcanoes of the Northwest. Only poets like Gary Snyder talk about living "more lightly on the Earth," but it is beginning to be time for the rest of us, if not to be hobbits in their ecologically embedded dwellings in the Shire, at least to be humans who can learn from their mistakes.