Saturday, January 20, 2007

Buddhism 101

A request for my Buddhist readers out there: Ryan's comments on my earlier post from this morning brought to stark clarity my ignorance about the overall development of Buddhism. Can someone, anyone, recommend a good book or books on the history of Buddhism, including the major vehicles, schools, sects, and lineages and their core beliefs?


Experiment: Projection as Creating Intention

In psychology, projection is generally defined as the attribution of unconscious impulses or conflicts onto other people or objects. This is seen as a negative aspect of the shadow, a sign that we have not integrated something and that we need to reclaim our projections.

This is the Wikipedia definition:
In psychology, psychological projection (or projection bias) is a defense mechanism in which one attributes ("projects") to others, one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or/and emotions. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted subconscious impulses/desires without letting the ego recognize them.
Clearly this is something all of us do in one way or another. Many of us who are on any kind of spiritual path recognize the need to reclaim and own our projections. I have no problem with any of this.

BUT, and you knew there was going to be a but, I've been toying with the idea that projection need not be a totally negative thing, and that it need not be fully unconscious. Freud always looked at things from a pathological point of view, and since projection (in the modern sense) is his baby, it has been narrowly defined as a negative trait.

But what if projection was a neutral term that could mean either unconscious and pathological shadow material was being projected or that, conversely, unconscious but healthy needs, desires, or intentions (which may also be seen as shadow material) were being projected? The Jungians, more so than the Freudians, have realized that not all that is shadow is negative -- we also relegate to shadow healthy parts of the psyche that have been repressed or otherwise forced out of consciousness.

What if we tried to access those positive elements in the shadow? What if we were to try to create conscious projections, or at least semi-conscious? What if we could "shape" our projections into intentions?

This is the experiment I have been conducting: I want to try to create daydreams, which are by nature only semi-conscious and are, to a degree, somewhat like dreams, derived from the unconscious mind. In creating these daydreams, or at least trying to shape them, I want to generate intentions for my life -- loose guidelines for where I want to go or what I want to manifest. I guess you could call this a form of visualization.

I've talked before about how I am not much for planning my future, so this is all kind of new to me, even though it isn't really planning in the traditional sense.

Yesterday's poem (Daydream) came out of one of these attempts at creating intention (and no, to those who have asked, I am not seeing anyone -- it was just a poem). Other efforts have focused on generating more writing opportunities and on becoming more compassionate, but they didn't have the visuals that make a decent poem.

I don't know if any of this will produce results. And even if it did, how can I quantify that into something rational?

Further, am I just reinventing the wheel?

Image source: Reclaiming the Shadows

Barack Obama and "The Vision Thing"

Tom Bevan at RealClearPolitics was less than bowled over by Obama's announcement of his intention to think about the possibility that he might run for president.

So the skinny kid with the funny name has taken the first step toward trying to become president of the United States. Sen. Barack Obama has already demonstrated he's loaded with traits that make him a formidable challenger for the Democratic nomination: incredible charisma, plenty of smarts, excellent rhetorical skills. Just as importantly, there's little doubt Obama has the ability to raise the insane gobs of money over the next 12 months -- $100 million or more -- that it will take to make him competitive.

What Obama doesn't have right now, however, and what he must find quickly, is "the vision thing" -- a rationale that will sustain support for his candidacy through the long, grueling primary process after the novelty and initial euphoria of his bid inevitably wears away.

Those who were hoping to catch a glimpse of "the vision thing" in Obama's announcement earlier this week came away disappointed, because the senator didn't offer one.

He has a point, I think, that he fleshes out in the rest of the article.

Still, I think this is a minor thing in presidential politics. What was GWB's vision? The first time around he lost the election, and the second time he used fear and lies to win.

I tend to agree with my POLYSEMY colleague, Jean Rivard:
Obama is charismatic, and he can speak and he's smart. But George W. as we all know can't speak, his intelligence is questionable, and he still won. Why? Because he appealed to people's hearts and to their guts. All you political wonkers can wonk 'till the cows come home about real issues, experience, and so on, but when the basic populace go to the polls they will be voting from their hearts, and there's not one other contender out there who's even playing in the same league as Obama when it comes to that appeal.
The rest of Jean's post is also interesting.

So, is it vision or heart?

I'm thinking that most American's don't need a vision -- they want to feel good about being Americans again. One of the things that carried Clinton a long way, despite all his other issues, was the fact that he could make us feel good about ourselves and hopeful about our nation.

Bush has made us feel that we are on the wrong path, and by consolidating power in unprecedented ways he has made many of us feel helpless to correct that path.

The Democratic Congress can go a long way in restoring our power to determine our own fate by undoing some of what Bush has done. But we still need a leader who inspires us.

It might be that Obama's vision is to reclaim the heart of America, whatever that might mean. A lot of people on both sides of the fence can support that agenda.

Beyond the Self

Tricycle's Daily Dharma: January 20, 2007:
Beyond the Self

The way we define and delimit the self is arbitrary. We can place it between our ears and have it looking out from our eyes, or we can widen it to include the air we breathe, or at other moments we can cast its boundaries farther to include the oxygen-giving trees and plankton, our external lungs, and beyond them the web of life in which they are sustained.

~ Joanna Macy, World As Lover, World As Self from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Scavenging to Live [Updated]

[This post got some passionate opposition over at my Zaadz blog. I've posted my response at the end of this post.]

A while back, Utne Reader ran a story about urban activists who have taken up "dumpster diving" as an act of protest against a wastefully extravagant culture. Some of them refer to their movement as "freeganism."
But freeganism -- the moniker combines "free" with "veganism" -- isn't just a strategy to acquire goods without cracking open your wallet. According to the website, freeganism developed as a backlash against "egregious corporations" that violate human rights, devastate the environment, and abuse animals. When environmentalists realized they couldn't escape supporting these harmful actions every time they made a purchase, they decided to boycott the entire economic system.
Pardon me while I hurl.

While this is a perfectly sensible "sensitive self" approach to a problem much too big to be impacted by a bunch of middle class people diving into dumpsters, it wreaks of ego and self-involvement. How does this help the millions of people on the planet who MUST scavenge for their survival?

To their credit, Utne recently posted a story from The Montreal Mirror that looks at an exhibit of photographs from Senegal -- and other places -- that seeks to bring awareness to just how poor some people on this planet really are. It's appalling.

Here is the intro to the article:

In a disposable culture, trash is out of sight and, for the most part, out of mind. Our mountains of refuse, from plastic bags to stale food to discarded cell phones, are trucked away to dumps, hopefully far from human settlement where residents won’t be affected by the noxious stench or the toxic leachate making its way into the water supply. But for millions of people living in the developing world, these piles of garbage are a source of life and sustenance—indeed, the only one. In shantytowns the world over, generations of families scrape out a living sifting through mountains of filth to find anything that could possibly be recycled for money.

French photographer Paul-Antoine Pichard spent almost a decade documenting the lives of the people known as “recycleurs.” From Dakar, Senegal, to the Philippine capital of Manila and its notorious Payatas dump, the scavengers share a single-minded pursuit: surviving the only way they can. His exhibit, Mines d’ordures (Garbage mines), will show at the TOHU until March 10.
Please read the rest of the article. Here are some of the pictures that appeared with the article.

UPDATE: My response to comments at Zaadz:

I suspected this might touch a nerve for some people. I used to feel the same way. In fact, over the last 20 years, I've owned more second hand cars, clothes, furniture, and kitchen supplies than new – by a large margin. So I applaud the recycle urge and do it myself.

I don't, however, applaud the decision “to boycott the entire economic system.” That seems, to me, like a refusal to own what we have created. Boycotting the system does nothing to help those who are being victimized by it here or abroad. This is why kids like those make me want to hurl.

I knew plenty of these people in Seattle, and strangely enough some of them really pissed me off because they didn't need to dumpster dive, so they were in essence “stealing” from those who did need to live that way.

I think there are far better ways to make a difference than to boycott that which you don't like.

I abhor the American wastefulness that creates huge landfills, in which everything is disposable, in which people are as disposable as is trash. Just because I do not think the freegans are making a real difference or doing it in a productive way does not mean I am indifferent. Far from it.

I have almost a zero carbon footprint, and the footprint I do leave is not within my power – at this time – to control. I believe that we all need to own the system that is failing, otherwise it can never be fixed – and it certainly can never be fixed by those who refuse to participate. Only those who own the system can have any power to affect change.

The Dalai Lama on the Origins of the Universe

This was the weekly quote from the Dalai Lama that Snow Lion Publications sent:
Dalai Lama Quote of the Week

...when we ask, what is the substantial cause of the material universe way back in the early history of the universe, we trace it back to the space particles which transform into the elements of this manifest universe. And then we can ask whether those space particles have an ultimate beginning. The answer is no. They are beginningless. Where other philosophical systems maintain that the original cause was God, Buddha suggested the alternative that there aren't any ultimate causes. The world is beginningless. Then the question would be: Why is it beginningless? And the answer is, it is just nature. There is no reason. Matter is just matter.

Now we have a problem: What accounts for the evolution of the universe as we know it? What accounts for the loose particles in space forming into the universe that is apparent to us? Why did it go through orderly processes of change? Buddhists would say there is a condition which makes it possible, and we speak of that condition as the awareness of sentient beings.

~ From Consciousness at the Crossroads: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Brain Science and Buddhism edited by Zara Houshmand, Robert B. Livingston, and B. Alan Wallace, published by Snow Lion Publications.

There is some seriously flawed logic and physics at the end of this passage. Unless one believes in sentient beings who exist outside of time and space, which is little more than mythic thinking, this is gibberish.

We also have the issue of relying on the observer effect to explain the evolution of the universe, which is impossible because no one was there to observe it, and because reality arises without my observation or your observation or any observation.

This is an example of the Buddhism that Sam Harris wants to get rid of when he suggests that we kill the Buddha. Harris argues, and here I agree with him:
For the fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence.
Believing that the universe arose through the awareness of sentient beings falls into the category of belief without sufficient evidence.

But there are a lot of Buddhists in the world who hold these views, educated men and women with highly developed rational thinking capabilities. How do we account for this willingness to accept illogical premises for the entire existence of the universe?

I'm thinking that the traditional Spiral Dynamics and AQAL approach is missing something. There is a developmental line -- or something -- that has to do with the ability to live with ambiguity, and not just on a small level in our day-to-day lives, but on a grand scale.

Otherwise educated and intelligent people operating at what must be considered a rational or higher level of consciousness and holding a predominantly rational worldview can still attribute existence to mythical-magical forces -- and not in a trans-rational way. This is true in many other religions outside of Buddhism.

My thinking is that some of us need for the universe to make sense in a way that allows us to derive meaning from existence. One way to do that is to hold onto these mythical beliefs that explain why and how we came to be here. And we will often hold onto these beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

So I propose as an explanation -- and, of course, I have no evidence for this -- that the ability to live with ambiguity is an incredibly powerful determinant in how we view the world and how we explain our place in it. I would go so far as to say that it is one of the primary developmental lines upon which the evolution of other lines is contingent.

But, of course, I could be all wrong.

Friday, January 19, 2007

New Poem: Daydream

It's been a while since I have written anything new, so even though this feels mediocre at best, it's nice to be writing again.


There were windows disillusioned by rain
and the growing familiarity of her voice,
a reminder that I am still flesh, a bruised
heart still pumping blood through this maze
of loss, that fear is the depth beneath longing

Within my cells the quiet Sarabandes of Satie,
melody without destination, a surrender to moments,
savoring the scent of fresh rain, craving her
touch, the way skin learns a new dance, and
how my uneasy eyes trace the smile on her lips

Viral Video: Cubism

This silly little video appeals to the six-year-old inside me.

Poem: Mary Oliver

Poem (The spirit likes to dress up...)

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is --

so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

How Public Will You Be in the Future?

Yesterday I mentioned a link to a post at the collision detection blog about an author seeking input for an article he is writing for Wired about radical transparency -- the idea that our lives will be more open and public, a process already underway:
Sure, "radical transparency" includes the obvious stuff, like Linux and Wikipedia and MySpace other well-known "open" projects. But I'm also talking about the curiously quotidian, everyday ways that life is being tweaked -- and improved -- by people voluntarily becoming more open. That includes: Clubhoppers hooking up with each other by listing their locations in real-time on Dodgeball; mining company CEOs making billions (billions!) by posting their geologic data online and getting strangers to help them find gold; Dan Rather's audience fact-checking his work and discovering that crucial parts of his reporting evidence are faked; sci-fi author Cory Doctorow selling more of his print books by giving e-copies away for free; bloggers Google-hacking their way to the #1 position on a search for their name by posting regularly about their lives; open APIs turbocharging remixes of Google and Amazon's services; Second Life turning into one of the planet's fastest-growing economies by allowing users to create their own stuff inside the game; US spy agencies using wikis to do massive groupthink to predict future terrorist attacks; old college buddies hooking up with one another years later after stumbling upon one another's blogs; Microsoft's engineers blogging madly about the development of Vista, warts and all, to help sysadmins prepare for what the operating system would -- and wouldn't -- be able to do.
The author is seeking input from the web masses to create his article.

I think this is an interesting idea. Not simply the thought that people want to expose themselves in strange and often uncomfortable ways at MySpace or YouTube, but that it might create a culture in meatspace where people are more open with each other.

Certainly, to a degree I would not have envisioned five years ago, I am on board with that idea. I have made my life very public through this blog, while still maintaining a certain degree of privacy (i.e., no one is stalking me or anything). In doing so, people I see in meatspace know me better and there is more openness -- this is good, especially for someone who is as much a loner as I am.

But there is another side to all this -- some people feel the hot new thing in the future will be anonymity, to be Googled and have nothing come up. This is from Kathleen Parker at RealClearPolitics:

Prediction: The new hot thing in our future will be anonymity.

To be un-famous.

To be Googled -- and to not be there. No link. No Wiki. No tube, space or face. No nothing.

It's too late for most adults -- anyone with a job, a driver's license or a signature on a public document. But in a world where anyone can be known, what could be cooler than not being known? In a celebrity-saturated culture, what could be hotter than not being a celebrity?

You may have noticed that celebrity ain't what it used to be. Where there was once hard work and accomplishment behind one's being awarded celebrity status, today one need only wake up, plug in the video cam and hit a button.

Voila! Insta-fame.

Time was, one had to do something to earn fame. Write a best-seller; break a world record; find a cure. Now, one can be famous for being famous. Think Paris Hilton, the most Googled person of 2006.

Read the rest.

From the Buddhist point of view, it seems we are turning the self into a god and worshiping at its shrine: YouTube and the rest. This seems destructive in some, but it also seems that it might be a developmental stage. It might be something our culture is passing through, a pathological (?) variation on the "achievement self." Anonymity might be a healthy turning away from that drive to worship the self.

It seems that these two ideas are probably in conflict within a lot of bloggers. After all, how many people out here are blogging under an assumed name, a mask that prevents complete exposure? While many of us crave the community that blogging creates and not so much the celebrity (though, to be honest, there is some of that in me), there is still a drive to maintain some privacy.

What do you all think? Which way lies the future?

Daily Dharma: Not-Self

["No Self" by Peter Powning, found here]

Tricycle's Daily Dharma: January 19, 2007:


Central to the Buddha's teaching is the doctrine of anatman: "not-self." This does not deny that the notion of an "I" works in the everyday world. In fact, we need a solid, stable ego to function in society. However, "I" is not real in an ultimate sense. It is a "name": a fictional construct that bears no correspondence to what is really the case. Because of this disjunction all kinds of problems ensue.

Once our minds have constructed the notion of "I," it becomes our central reference point. We attach to it and identify with it totally. We attempt to advance what appears to be its interests, to defend it against real or apparent threats and menaces. And we look for ego-affirmation at every turn: confirmation that we exist and are valued. The Gordian Knot of preoccupations arising from all this absorbs us exclusively, at times to the point of obsession. This is, however, a narrow and constricted way of being. Though we cannot see it when caught in the convolutions of ego, there is something in us that is larger and deeper: a wholly other way of being.

~ John Snelling, Elements of Buddhism, from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book.

Stephen Colbert and Bill O'Reilly: "The greatest TV crossover since the Flintstones met the Jetsons."

I mentioned a while back that Stephen Colbert was going to be on Bill O'Reilly's show and O'Reilly was going to visit The Colbert Report. Well, it happened last night and I have the video to prove it.

And to top it off, CBS wrote a story about it.
NEW YORK, Jan. 19, 2007
By JAKE COYLE AP Entertainment Writer

(AP) Parody met its inspiration Thursday when Stephen Colbert and Bill O'Reilly traded guest appearances on each other's shows in an exchange that Colbert called "a meeting of the guts."

Colbert has molded his tough-talking, America-defending persona as host of the satirical "Colbert Report" largely on the Fox News pundit. On his Comedy Central program, Colbert has often spoken reverently of O'Reilly _ or as he affectionately calls him, "Papa Bear."

"The Colbert Report" and "The O'Reilly Factor," the top-rated program in cable news, were taped one after another early Thursday evening, with "The Factor" airing at 8 p.m. EST and "The Report" at 11:30 p.m. EST.

Once inside Colbert's studio _ decorated for the occasion with a large "Mission Accomplished" banner and a portrait of O'Reilly placed fireside _ O'Reilly seemed to be regretting the decision.

"This was a huge mistake, me coming on here," he muttered.

It may have been a greater error allowing Colbert into the Fox News headquarters, located near the "Colbert Report" studios in Manhattan. There, Colbert smuggled a microwave out of the green room, a bounty which he proudly displayed at the conclusion of his show.

A spokesman for Fox News confirmed that Colbert stole the microwave, but said it was all in good fun.

Appearing in the "No Spin Zone" of "The O'Reilly Factor," Colbert remained in character _ though it wasn't always easy to tell.

"Who are you? Are you Colbert or Colbert?" prodded O'Reilly, pronouncing the "T" in one case, leaving it silent in the other (as Colbert does on his program).

"Bill, I'm whoever you want me to be," answered the comedian.

O'Reilly interviewed Colbert with a generally bemused attitude: "Don't you owe me an enormous amount of money?" he wondered. The interview was followed by a discussion with several analysts on why "The Colbert Report" and its sister fake newscast "The Daily Show" are popular.
Read the rest, or just watch these videos.

Colbert on O'Reilly's show:

O'Reilly on Colbert's show:

Speedlinking 1/19/07

Quote of the day:

"Love is not blind - it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less."
~ Rabbi Julius Gordon

Image of the day:

~ Nearly One-Third Of Children Having Surgery Are Overweight Or Obese, Study Finds.
~ BONUS ARTICLE: "Building-On" . . . For Greater Training Efficiency Whenever you can make a workout more time-efficient, you're stacking the odds heavily in your favor."
~ Maintaining Healthy Weight -- The Key To Avoiding Chronic Disease -- "The study -- also known as Women's Health Australia -- is the largest of its kind ever conducted in Australia."
~ Plus Size Fitness Clothes -- Clothes that look good and are functional -- but don't buy too many that you get comfortable at that size.
~ TFS Review: Boiron Arnica Gel -- I'm a fan of arnica for muscle pain.
~ Eating trans fats may increase infertility risk -- "Women who want to get pregnant may want to stay away from fast food French fries not just to avoid putting on some extra pounds, a new study shows."
~ Companies Swapping Trans Fats for a Different, but Also Dangerous, Fat -- "A study has found that a new method of modifying fat in commercial products to replace trans fats raises blood glucose and depresses insulin, both precursors to diabetes. Meanwhile, like trans fat, the new fat also lowers good “HDL” cholesterol."
~ Estrogens and Overweight -- "When Estrogens predominate, it causes accretion of fats in different body parts, and you can see for yourself when you compare the changes occurring in the body contours of a girl at puberty, and compare it with the body of a boy at the same age."

~ Health Tip: Warning Signs of Child Abuse -- "Many children who are being abused are afraid or unable to talk to someone about what's happening to them."
~ 'On Track' For Staying Free Of Depression -- "Professor Kavanagh said the program, which has been running for over a year, was an ideal way of communicating with people who experience depression, as there was "something personal" about receiving a letter. 'The series of letters that our recruits receive will let them know when depression may happen in the future and help them to pick up early signs,' he said."
~ Examining the Bereavement Event -- "This week we had the opportunity to sit down and speak with an expert in the area of bereavement, Anita Sacks, LCSW and clinical instructor of psychiatry at NYU's School of Medicine."
~ Our Aversion to the Unfamiliar -- A review of Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change. Bruce E. Wexler.
~ Swallow Your Fear -- "Taking physical risks is good for you." Are You a Risk Taker?
~ A review of cognitive enhancement technologies.
~ Soccer as Therapy for Mental Illness -- "How sports therapy has helped patients with severe mental illnesses." Cool.
~ Daydreamers: Scientists Find Our Bored Baseline -- "Bored out of your mind is a reality. During mundane tasks, your brain shifts into a default mode of daydreaming, a recent study concludes."

~ The Ideological Animal -- " We think our political stance is the product of reason, but we're easily manipulated and surprisingly malleable. Our essential political self is more a stew of childhood temperament, education, and fear of death. Call it the 9/11 effect."
~ Culture and Near-Death Experiences -- This is some fun stuff from the Mental Floss blog.
~ Book review: “Mind Wars”, by Jonathan D. Moreno -- "In the battlefield of the future, cognitively and physically enhanced super soldiers will act as interactive ‘nodes’ in the battlefield. They will be equipped with neural implants which enable the highly efficient gathering of information about their surroundings, and instant transmission of the data to a central command post."
~ 'Half-animal' woman found in Cambodian jungle may be long-missing girl -- "She is like half-human and half-animal," said Mao San, police chief of Oyadao district in Rattanakiri province. "She's weird. She sleeps during the day and stays up at night."
~ Former Terrorists Take Seats in New Nepal Legislature -- "Observers hailed the inclusion of "Maoist rebels, once branded terrorists, into the country's interim parliament and the declaration of January 16 as a public holiday to celebrate the new nation that put behind it a decade of conflict," reported the Ecumenical News service in Switzerland."
~ Report: 34,452 Iraqis killed in '06 -- Nuf said.
~ Ten Democracy Projects in Seventy Minutes -- "In these sessions, people give quick demos of their products at stations scattered throughout a room, and other groups move from station to station, hearing a pitch for a few minutes at a time. It's kinda like all the bad aspects of speed dating combined with all the bad aspects of a venture capital conference. But the presentations were extremely strong, the projects were interesting, and my fellow travellers asked good questions of the ten groups we met with."
~ Scientists and evangelical leaders form new climate alliance.

~ Reports tally high cost of birth defects -- "Birth defects lead to more than $2.5 billion a year in hospital costs alone, according to the first national studies to estimate their financial burden on U.S. families." This is a tough topic, no matter how you look at it.
~ Vaccine strategy saves seven million children from measles death (AFP) -- "A goal to halve deaths from measles by 2005 compared with their 1999 levels has been exceeded, thanks to a massive effort to immunize children in poor countries, according to a new study."
~ Rising Nicotine in Cigarettes Could Lead to Litigation -- "Experts Say 11 Percent Increase Deliberate; Many Smokers Remain Unfazed." So why aren't these things illegal?
~ The distribution of world income -- "One of the most profound questions in economics is why are some countries rich and others poor?"
~ Hawking Warns: We Must Recognize the Dangers of Climate Change.
~ Transforming Philanthropy -- "Giving well -- giving money which provokes positive transformation over the long haul -- can be like juggling porcupines: things can easily end in tears, and everything keeps moving quickly. But the time has come to think about philanthropy in a new way: it's time for us to invent some new porcupine juggling moves."
~ Aurora-Investigating Probes Set to Launch -- "A quintet of NASA probes will study what triggers the strong magnetic storms that make the northern lights dance and will help improve space weather predictions."
~ Jerome: A ghost town that never gave up the ghost -- A fun article about a strange little town here in Arizona.

~ BLOG: Integral Spirituality Typos? -- S/he who reports the most typos wins a signed copy of the book.
~ Rejecting simplistic linear interpretations from Alan Kazlev.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On Art and Market Forces

The Village Voice has an interesting article on the state of the art scene, as determined by the art market. The title says it all: Seeing Dollar Signs -- Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid?

Here is the crux of the matter:

Is the art market making us stupid? Or are we making it stupid? Consider the lame-brained claim made by Sotheby's worldwide head of contemporary art, Tobias Meyer, who recently effused "The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart." This is exactly wrong. The market isn't "smart;" it's like a camera—so dumb it'll believe anything you put in front of it. Essentially, the art market is a self-replicating organism that, when it tracks one artist's work selling well, craves more work by the same artist. Although everyone says the market is "about quality," the market merely assigns values, fetishizes desire, charts hits, and creates ambience. These days the market is also too good to be true.

Still, the slap-happy assertions keep coming. Last season, Amy Cappellazzo, international co-head of Christie's post-war and contemporary art, crowed that auction houses were "the big-box retailers putting the mom-and-pops out of business." Then she gushed of her clients, "After you have a fourth home and a G5 jet, what else is there?" After wondering, "What's a G5 jet?", you may well ask how the current super-heated art market is changing the ways we see and think about art.

The market is now so pervasive that it is simply a condition—as much a part of the art world as galleries and museums. Even if you're not making money—as is the case with most of us—that's your relationship to the market. To say you won't participate in the market is like saying you refuse to breathe the air because it's polluted.

The current market feeds the bullshit machine, provides cover for a lot of vacuous behavior, revs us up while wearing us down, breeds complacency, and is so invasive that it forces artists to regularly consider issues of celebrity, status, and money in their studios. Yet, it also allows more artists to make more money without having to work full-time soul-crushing jobs and provides most of us with what Mel Brooks called "our phony-baloney jobs."
You'll still need to read the whole article to get the full argument and the full context, but that quote is a starter. As a poet, there are no market forces shaping my life or my art -- in fact, there is no market. The few people making any money as poets can't live on that money, so they teach in the university -- talk about soul-crushing jobs.

But there is some carry over of movements from one field to the next. There is a perception among the masses that post-modern art is not so much art as crap -- this carries over into poetry, as well, where the post-modern efforts at difficulty have turned off readers to the point that they would rather buy a book of "poems" by Jewel (the annoying fem-folk wanna be) than by Charles Bernstein or Rae Armantrout.

Robert Godwin, a self-styled integral blogger and author, finds the current aesthetic scene to be disturbing. As an integralist, he supports the thesis that human are in a process of continual development -- that we never stopped evolving. But he wonders why our aesthetic evolution seems to have been derailed (he actually blames leftist politics, but that's a whole other post).

Godwin observes:
The one thing that does puzzle me, however . . . is the aesthetic ugliness that accompanies modernity. Why is our aesthetic sense not evolving too? Indeed, we seem to be regressing aesthetically. How to explain the appalling regression of, say, Vanity Fair magazine, from the heights of P.G. Wodehouse and T.S. Eliot to the post-literate depths of a James Wolcott? Why are we producing better humans, but at the same time, making a world that is aesthetically unfit for them? This is a very important concern, for beauty is one of the portals to the Divine. A beautiful world is the occasion for constant remembrance of the Divine, whereas an ugly environs can cause us to forget our divinity and regress to barbarism (is this perhaps why leftism is primarily a phenomenon of big cities?). Perhaps contemporary art is simply the Evil One's strategy for undoing and canceling out the progress made in other human domains. It keeps his hand in the game. The other strategy would be the secular detachment of the mind from the divine intellect, so that our IQs increase even as we become metaphysically more and more blind and stupid.
Okay, there's some crap with the gold in this passage (and more than a little tongue-in-cheekiness), but he makes a valid point, I think, with which others might agree. Jerry Saltz, author of the Village Voice article above, might argue that market forces have shaped contemporary aesthetics, which is democracy in action.

If we really want to talk about art and market forces, the most successful painter in the history of the world is Thomas Kinkade, "the painter of light." This guy is a walking cliche of bad art, and yet people collect his work fanatically. There is a huge disconnect between the art described in the Village Voice article and the art that most Americans would buy for their homes.

Has contemporary art -- at the highest levels -- become too insular and disconnected from the populace? Has making art for the market destroyed the art scene? It seems that it's been thirty or more years since any fine art has been culturally relevant when it was first shown.

I have always thought that art should be challenging to a certain degree -- that art should lead people to new ideas or ways of seeing and not reflect what people are already comfortable with. But people seem to have stopped looking at art in this way. It no longer has the power to shape perception because no one can relate to it. All of which makes me ask: Has art stopped being relevant to the culture at large?

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, so I'm eager to hear from others who might have more informed opinions on these topics. What do you all think?

Practice in Patience

I am not a patient man. I hate to wait. And when my schedule gets messed up it usually makes me crazy.

So this morning I have been getting some practice in breathing through the anxiety that comes up when my routine gets thrown out and in not being in control of circumstances.

It appears I left my car lights on last night and so this morning my battery was dead. Okay, I thought, it's early and AAA isn't too far away, I'll just miss one client. So I made the calls and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Did I mention I was waiting? After a few calls to see why it was taking so long, and two more canceled clients, and a whole lot of deep breaths, I am sitting here blogging this in real time, while it is happening.

In the past I would generally have been really on edge and about to break things. But not today. For whatever reason, and I'm going to credit meditation and subpersonality work (mostly shadow work), I am frustrated but not insanely out of control as I have been in the past. This is good.

Sometimes it's hard to see the benefits of sitting, of journaling, of doing all the inner work that so many of us do on a regular basis. But then it all seems so clear. This stuff works -- a little voice inside my head is saying -- and the next time I don't want to do the work, that voice will remind me that it does pay off.

Ann Coulter Gets Spanked on Faux News

News Hounds provides the play by play analysis, with details from the Iraq Study Group to highlight Coulter's ignorance.

On Art and Dharma

Tricycle's Daily Dharma: January 18, 2007:

Great Art and Great Dharma The artist's dilemma and the meditator's are, in a deep sense, equivalent. Both are repeatedly willing to confront an unknown and to risk a response that they cannot predict or control. Both are disciplined in skills that allow them to remain focused on their task and to express their response in a way that will illuminate the dilemma they share with others. And both are liable to similar outcomes. The artist's work is prone to be derivative, a variation on the style of a great master or established school. The meditator's response might tend to be dogmatic, a variation on the words of a hallowed tradition or revered teacher. There is nothing wrong with such responses. But we recognize their secondary nature, their failure to reach the peaks of primary imaginative creation. Great Art and Great Dharma both give rise to something that has never quite been imagined before. Artist and meditator alike ultimately aspire to an original act.

~ Stephen Batchelor, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Vol. IV, #2

Thoughts on My Education

I just passed through my yearly revision of my financial aid payments. Still paying on that debt after all these years started me wondering just what I got out of my degrees. Yes, I have the pieces of paper that say I went to college, earned an undergraduate and a graduate degree, but what else? Did I get an education? And isn't that why we go to college?

Well, the answer to that last question is NO, that isn't why we go to college. Sometime in the last 50 to 75 years, colleges quit being about education and started being about producing workers, white collar workers with often limited skills, but workers nonetheless. This has most obviously been the case in producing doctors and lawyers, accountants and computer engineers.

When I finally got my head cleared of all the drug-induced cobwebs and other messiness clouding my mind (from my lost years as a teenager), I didn't have a goal with my education. I first listed my major as business administration because that seemed like what people might expect. Then I took some business classes, and damn, that shit was boring. So I switched my major to psychology because I remembered that one of the few classes I actually attended and liked in high school (other than home economics -- making cookies was always good for the inevitable afternoon munchies, if you know what I mean), was psychology.

So that was my major for the better part of 3.5 years. All the while I was taking as many literature and writing classes as I could -- for no other reason than I enjoyed them. I also took sociology, criminology (a professor almost had me talked into switching majors, then I saw the Stanford Prison Experiments in one of my psych classes and that put an end to that), anthropology, and whatever else seemed interesting.

Midway through my fourth year, I switched majors again, this time to English. I had no vision of how I would make a living with an English degree, I just knew that I enjoyed those classes and that there was more psychology in Dostoevsky than there was in Skinner. Some people even paid for my fifth year in exchange for a thesis on a topic I had submitted, so it seemed I might be good at this stuff. By this time, I was also publishing some poetry and literary criticism, but I knew that no one really gets paid to write that stuff.

All along the way, the point of declaring a major seemed to be so that someone could tell me how I might be gainfully employed with my chosen degree. But that never happened -- I blew off all the appointments to see job counselors. I really didn't care to think much beyond the next paper I had due (this has always proven to be a problem, especially in relationships when my girlfriends would ask me where I saw us in five years and I had no answer -- that didn't go over well).

The problem with my education was that I didn't do the career path. I took all the classes I needed to graduate, but I took a lot that I didn't need just because I wanted to know that subject. My small, liberal arts college was designed to turn out teachers of various sorts, in addition to actors and musicians (Ashland, OR, is home to the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival), some science folks, and a few MBAs. It was designed to create workers.

One thing was clear about me -- I didn't want to be a worker. So I stayed after graduation (for a variety of bad reasons which seemed very good at the time -- which means, yes, you guessed it, a girl, but not just any girl, THE girl, or so I thought) and started the master's program, this time in humanities.

This is where my education gets all wonky. I chose a thesis topic that no one faculty member was qualified to supervise (the poet's role as shaman in contemporary culture, taking a Jungian approach). I put together an outstanding committee of people who never saw each other or talked to each other (most in different departments: one in English, one in psych, the director of the humanities program, and the Dean of Academic affairs, who just so happened to have studied with Mircea Eliade, one of the dominant figures in shamanic studies).

In addition, I helped edit the school lit mag, wrote for the newspaper, worked in the bookstore, read poetry around town, and drank my weight in red wine as often as possible -- oh yeah, and I wore a lot of black to make my many earrings seem more shiny. Life was good. But I wasn't doing anything that would eventually earn me a living.

In many respects, my school failed me. It did not prepare me for a job -- unless somebody was hiring for professional drunken poet/philosopher and I missed the ad. It did not give me a good, classically rounded education (as much as I unconsciously tried to create that on my own). And it didn't seem to notice that I was running my own renegade form of education to which they were only accessories. It's fair to say that I am essentially self-educated -- an accomplishment for which I will be paying a considerable amount of money for many years into the future.

If I could design my own program, it would probably look like the Basic Program that Matthew Dallman has been taking (and blogging about). It would essentially be a great books approach that might offer a grounding in the major works of Western civilization, with enough grounding in others cultures and disciplines to make me an educated person. It would emphasize the ability to read and comprehend a text, any text, and to write intelligently and coherently about it. It would include the trivium approach to education as the foundation upon which everything else was built.

It would not be about producing a worker -- it would be about producing a human being. But at least I would have known that was what I was signing up for -- I wouldn't have had expectations about being employable. And yet, with that well-rounded education, I would be very employable in a variety of fields.

There are some flaws with this classical approach. It may have fallen out of favor because the world became more specialized and needed specialized people. The classical approach mostly produced artists, aristocrats, and leaders of various sorts. With the Enlightenment, things became more specialized and education began a slow shift to keep pace, culminating in the 20th century version of university. Still, I am drawn to the arts in various ways, so it would have been the right education for me.

As I look back, what I generally see is that I got very little from my college degrees. In almost every way, during school and after, I educated myself -- and I continue to do so. Maybe, if nothing else, what I learned in college is that my education is up to me.

Satire: Cheney Invites Libby on Hunting Trip

From Andy Borowitz:

Cheney Invites Libby on Hunting Trip

Nothing to Do With Perjury Trial, Veep Insists

Vice President Dick Cheney raised eyebrows in Washington today by announcing that he was inviting his former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to join him on a hunting trip in Texas.

Coming as it did during the first week of Mr. Libby’s trial for perjury relating to the CIA leak case, the vice president’s invitation to hunt for quail seemed certain to arouse suspicions.

But in a press conference at the White House today, Mr. Cheney insisted that the hunting trip had been in the works “for months” and had nothing to do with Mr. Libby’s trial.

“I just thought that this would give Scooter a chance to get a little fresh air,” Mr. Cheney said. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing more relaxing than hunting – especially when you bag something.”

Aides to Mr. Libby were less than enthusiastic about Mr. Cheney’s invitation, however, with one of his lawyers saying that his client “should under no circumstances go anywhere near Cheney, a gun, and the woods.”

“He should stay here and stand trial,” Mr. Libby’s lawyer said. “Worst case scenario, he’ll have to do some prison time, but at least he’ll be alive.”

For his part, Mr. Cheney said that Mr. Libby’s lawyers were being “worry warts,” adding that his former aide had his “full support.”

“I’m behind Scooter,” Mr. Cheney said, loading his rifle. “Right behind him.”

Elsewhere, President Bush said that the American people should not be concerned that he has given himself the right to read their mail, because “everybody knows how much I hate to read.”

Satire: Peyton Manning Looking Forward To Ninth Annual Super Bowl-Watching Party

No offense to Indianapolis Colts fans, but this is funny. From The Onion, of course:

Peyton Manning Looking Forward To Ninth Annual Super Bowl-Watching Party

INDIANAPOLIS, IN—Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said Monday he is looking forward to wrapping up his football season and relaxing with friends and family while watching the Super Bowl, a tradition that goes back nine years in Manning's house and far longer in his extended family. "I believe in working hard each and every Sunday, but when the Super Bowl rolls around, that's my day to relax," Manning told reporters during a break from preparing for the upcoming AFC championship matchup against the Patriots. "As far as I myself am concerned, it's never gotten any better than spending Super Bowl Sunday watching the big game on TV surrounded by family and friends, like I have ever since I can remember." Manning said that the experience of watching the game was his main source of enjoyment, but if he was forced to choose, he would probably be rooting for Tom Brady to "win another one."

Speedlinking 1/18/07

Quote of the day:

"Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise."
~ Bertrand Russell

Image of the day:

~ Two Weeks to Bigger Lats! --
~ BONUS ARTICLE - Hardgainer No More! -- Key Times for Muscle Growth Medical Mystery: Morbid Obesity -- "What Causes Morbid Obesity, and Can It Be Overcome?"
~ Cancer deaths drop for 2nd straight year (AP) -- "After a decline of 369 deaths from 2002 to 2003, the decrease from 2003 to 2004 was 3,014 — or more than eight times greater, according to a review of U.S. death certificates by the American Cancer Society."
~ Cross-training for maximum fitness -- "You can exercise hard on one day and easy on the next few days, or you can train in two sports. This is called cross-training, and it can make you very fit and help to prevent injuries."
~ Active and Dynamic Stretching -- "Stretching before and after running (and any physical activity) is an important aspect of preventing injuries. Stretching can also help with muscle recovery, optimizing muscle gains and increasing flexibility."
~ The Plague of High Fructose Corn Syrup in Processed Foods -- " While some health "experts" are still debating the nutritional value of high fructose corn syrup, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary, starting with the obesity epidemic largely fueled by sugary sweet drinks.

~ Eastern Philosophy Promises Hope For Western Women With Eating Disorders -- Buddhism to the rescue.
~ Layoffs hurts staff's mental health -- Gee, I can't see why -- maybe it's because they think they're next.
~ Refs choke on whistles when the home team commits a foul -- A look at home field advantage in English soccer.
~ Childhood Abuse Predicates Health Problems -- The impact lasts long after the bruises (and other wounds) are gone.
~ Mind Control and Severed Heads -- Fun stuff from Omni Brain.
~ "Hard-wired" for God [Gene Expression] -- Interesting post.
~ Beauty in the eye of other beholders -- But what other people think matters, too.

~ Give me your thoughts on an upcoming Wired feature: "Radical Transparency" -- Is privacy dead?
~ Age, education shape drinking patterns: UK study -- "Highly educated British women are more likely to binge drink in their 20s but curb the habit by the time they reach 40, researchers said on Thursday."
~ Romney Is on the Fast Track -- "Deafened by the media buzz for new Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama is the renewed chatter among top Republicans that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appears to be forming his campaign operation faster than planned."
~ Can Jews and Evangelicals Get Along? -- "Some Jewish leaders have declared war on the Christian right. In an age of jihad, argues Zev Chafets, that is perverse."
~ How Republicans handle a failing president -- "If you are a House or Senate Republican, how do you decide whether to join the dissidents or stick with Bush?"
~ Secret Court To Govern Wiretapping Plan -- Hmmm . . . I'm doubtful this was done with good intentions.
~ Grover Norquist, Christian Conservatives Fight Ethics Bill -- "As the US Senate debated an ethics bill last night, conservative Christian groups and 'Jack Abramoff's friend' Grover Norquist were unleashing a major cyber-lobbying effort in opposition to the bill."

~ World falling behind on 2015 education goal (Reuters) -- "Access to education increased dramatically over the past century but 323 million children worldwide are still not in school and efforts to achieve universal primary education by 2015 are likely to fail, a new study said on Wednesday."
~ Drug makers purposely stall release of generics -- "Drug companies increasingly are reaching legal settlements that delay the introduction of cheaper generic medicines and cheat Americans of billions of dollars a year in savings, federal regulators on Wednesday told lawmakers seeking to ban the agreements."
~ The Next Really Big Thing: Digital Billboards -- "Digital billboards are starting to sprout along highways near you. Some are visible for more than 2 miles. Expect distracting ads to include animations."
~ McKibben reports lots of early interest in April 2007 climate rallies -- "Have you started planning a climate-change rally in your community for April 14? Well, what's the holdup? In his second dispatch about the "Step It Up 2007" campaign, Bill McKibben reports that responses have started surging in from people all over the U.S. who want to organize local events and call for Congress to curb the emissions that are hotting up the planet."
~ Intersex Fish Linked to Human Activity -- "Male fish with female characteristics in the Potomac River Basin are linked to chemicals found in pesticides, flame retardants and personal-care products."
~ U.S. Interior Department knew about drilling loophole for years -- "We're beginning to detect a pattern among Bush administration responses to huge fusterclucks. It seems U.S. Interior Department officials who said they'd learned only last year that oil companies were avoiding billions of dollars in royalty payments have (surprise!) known about the problem for a while."
~ Megatrends 2010: The Seven Trends Changing the Landscape of Capitalism -- From ~C4Chaos.

~ MULTIPLEX: From ISC: States and Stages Sunday.
~ Wanna work for low wages, in a possibly sinking enterprise that will likely set you aflame with integral passion? BLOG: Integral Institute Careers
~ Ken Wilber, The Strange Case of Adi Da, and Ernest Becker -- Over at the Zaadz I-I pod.