Overweening Generalist

Friday, November 25, 2011

More Disseminations on Paideuma

[Previous impervious periphrastic maunderings in the mire of paideuma can be found HERE and HERE, not that you'd asked. - the OG]

The Berkeley Anthropology Dept never wrote me back on the pronunciation; if the Reader thinks s/he has an authoritative source, please go ahead and chime in the comment below...

For generalists, some geeks, and many weirdo thinkers of other stripe, it seems inevitable that we will come to "see" and then ponder quizzically about some What-If notions at the root (i.e, radical) of Things: What if we weren't hung up on sex as some taboo-like Entity? What if, as I wrote about recently, we never accepted that Land could be owned by anyone? What if, instead of alcohol, sugar, caffeine and TV as our main drugs (I know I'm sounding awfully ethnocentric here, but play along?), we had no prohibitions on drugs, but our main ones were cannabis, ceremonial use of psilocybin/DMT/LSD and meditation? What if a main focus in all education for children was a constant, year-after-year study of how language and all media work in our own nervous systems, our interpersonal relationships, and society? What if our banking system was decentralized and we held fast to Aristotle's basic idea about money and economics: that trading one thing for another via the medium of money is economics, but the making of money out of money with no other goods involved in a transaction was considered debased and almost vile "Art" of chrematistics?, id est, speculation and usury? What if, after WWII, the North American countries worked hand-in-hand with the Europeans in a massive project of constant innovation into solar energy?

Pick any one of those scenarios (and any other ones you can think of) and...go ahead: just try and imagine how different our world would be.

But it's not any of those worlds. We look at what's at the end of our fork, right? It's a naked lunch. What are we gonna do about it?

                            The prolific Rushkoff, here in an old photo with Mad Ol' Uncle Timothy Leary

Douglas Rushkoff as (one of) the New (Non) Prophet(s)
Douglas Rushkoff has written one of the more important works of our time, and when it came out I read it and chatted it up to anyone that would would listen, but I couldn't find anyone who'd read it or seemed genuinely interested. It's called Life, Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back. Interestingly, now I've seen it referred to as the "bible of the Occupy movement" in more than one place.   Corporations have so thoroughly colonized our modern consciousness that we probably have only the slightest idea the extent. The corporation has become deeply internalized and almost invisible in some ways. If you "ain't got the time" to read a book like this, just read pp.xxiii-xxv. (Rushkoff's book has been released in a 2nd edition with a different subtitle.)

Automation and Its Discontents
When I discussed Philippe Van Parijs's idea of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in other posts on Missing Public Discussions (and this is one that remains "missing"), one of the reasons I did so was because of my lifelong fascination with the radical implications of technology on culture, and in particular for our purposes here, automation. The idea of automation, if we go back and read books from the late 1940s through the 1970s (maybe later), was usually, "How wonderful! Automation will free us from drudgery! We will have more free time to do what our creative imaginations guide us to do! Many more of us will be able to self-actualize!" Etc.

Well, yes, we now have automation like a runaway train, and yet the Ruling Class doesn't care: the given Machine, invented by the collected creativities, intelligences, and energies of perhaps a few million people, put 73,000 people out of work? Well, go get Another Job! I own this Machine! I make the rules! What are ya, one dem commies?

And we/they did. Get another job. And again. And some of us, again. And the jobs left the country due to Neo-Liberal "free trade" agreements, just like (sorry, but I have to say this 'cuz it's true) Nikolai Lenin said would happen as capitalism progressed. "It must always be need in search of new markets." Yep, including labor markets.

But what does it mean to have a job nowadays? Almost everyone will think you're insane if you ask them this question. Or the ones that don't think you're insane will give some wry line about a Dog's Life, or something along the lines of Megadeth's "If there's a new way/I'll be the first in line/But it better work this time." ("Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?") But I'm serious: Is life about having a job? How is a job different than working? What does the Protestant Work Ethic and the spirit of capitalism mean in times like this? Were we sold a bill of defective goods when we read about the marvels of automation as a kid? (Kinda like most of the people around me thought NAFTA was just great when they heard the political language from the TV?)

The "work ethic," I will assert but not argue, no longer "works." Oh, feel free to take issue with me, cite some special cases and counterfactuals. But I still say: it's now bunk. The thing is: what to do? What is value? What is today's "make-work"? How long can this last? What happens when a new Epoch seems to tap you on the shoulder and say, "Sorry we got here a bit early...the traffic was great!"?

Wittgenstein Got This Stuff, Too
"The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something - because it is always before one's eyes.) The real foundations of his inquiry do not strike a man at all. Unless that fact has at some time struck him. ---And this means: we fail to be struck by what, once seen, is most striking and most powerful."
-Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed., fragment #129 in Part 1, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (What is up with the $45 price tag at Amazon? Go to a used bookstore, and I bet you can get it for under $8. Or better yet, be the first person in the last nine years to check it out from your local public library? I include the Amazon links mostly due to the extra info on book and author, and reviews that diverge from my POV.)

Now, some sticklers may say the OG has gone on parole with "paideuma;" if so I confess that to the best of my knowledge the definitions - whether Frobenius's "soul of a culture" or Pound's "tangle of complex inrooted ideas of the time" (I paraphrase from memory, not seeking at this time to re-read my previous warblings from August) or something like a rhizome that runs like ivy up and down the walls of any given culture in place and time...nonetheless, you get the Idea?


BrentQ said...

I'll let good ol' Terence McKenna weigh in on this one.

"My notion of what the psychedelic experience is for, is that we each must become like fishermen, and go out onto the dark ocean of mind, and let your nets down into that sea. And what you’re after is not some behemoth, that will tear through your nets, foul them, and drag you and your little boat into the abyss. Nor are what we looking for a bunch of sardines, that can slip through your net and disappear, ideas like “have you ever noticed that your little finger exactly fits your nostril” and stuff like that. What we are looking for, are middle-sized ideas, that are not so small that they are trivial, and not so large that they are incomprehensible, but middle-sized ideas that we can wrestle into our boat and take back to the folks on shore, and have fish dinner.

And everyone of us, when we go into the psychedelic state, this is what we should be looking for. It’s not for your elucidation, it’s not part of your self-directed psychotherapy, you are an explorer, and you represent our species. And the greatest good you can do is to bring back a new idea, because our world is endangered by the absence of good ideas. Our world is in crisis because of the absence of consciousness. And so, to what ever degree, any one of us can bring back a small piece of the picture, and contribute it to the building of the new paradigm, then we participate in the redemption of the human spirit.

And that, after all, is what it’s really all about."

Annabel Lee said...

I think on of the books that really is the most interesting, particularly in the context of the Occupy movements, was Robert Reich's "Aftershock". I've read this book probably 20 times since it was released, and he addressed many of the problems with the environment of politics and finance in America, long before the movements sprang up. He talked about the original ideas and the hard work that went into the regulations, as well as the social covenant between wealthy and poor in America, and how working together created an America that was working for all people.

He then delve into the deregulation movements, and how each minor piece of the puzzle removed turned the world into a financial jenga. He even looked at how between WWII and the birth of the deregulation movement, there was constant prosperity. Even coming out of the 70s stagflation, which was a political event, not a financial event, the United States was better than at any time in the past.

The birth of the Reagan administration, and subsequent presidents, including Reich's boss Bill Clinton, each took a bite out of the pieces of the puzzle, creating deeper, longer and more devastating recessions. In fact, he stated that there was more volatility and we became a bubble economy, while the proponents of deregulation chirped on about stability and reduced likelihood of bubbles and recessions.

He said that the 2008 recession was the result of the final pieces of the jenga puzzle falling down, and we were left to somehow try and build the tower again, with pieces missing and few people willing to help.

I really enjoy reading that book, and if Rushkoff wrote the "Bible of Occupy" then Reich wrote the "hymnal".

michael said...

@Satori Guy: I had Terence on my mind as I wrote the stuff about drugs. He's still speaking from beyond the grave to a cognoscenti that is in the vast minority, and the REAL story about persecution of entheogens in our culture is still obscure to most people.

I was reading in Sasha Shulgin's PIHKAL recently, and in the intro or preface he addresses the idea of untapped genomic libraries, psychedelics, and the unconscious. How that fits in with paideuma I'm not sure, but it SEEMS to fit.

There's an interesting few pages on investment banker Gordon Wasson and his wife Valentina in Geo. Hudler's Magic Mushrooms, MIschievous Molds. About the idea that deep-seated emotional traits one acquires in earliest years permeate the rest of a person's life, "The Wassons expanded this general notion to conclude that when these deep-seated emotional traits permeate an entire tribe or other group and when they differ from one group to another, neighboring group, 'then,' as they put it, 'you are face to face with a phenomenon of the deepest cultural implications whose primal cause is to be discovered only in the weelsprings fo cultural history.'" p.174

Richard Rudgley, in his Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances, writes about the history of China and ancient Confucian/later China and their cultural changing attitudes to cannabis, alcohol and opium vis a vis China's total historical political Mind. So, we're not the only ones thinking about these ideas; we're not drilling in a dry hole.

Again: what general level of consciousness and Knowledge do you see in our world, vis a vis why some drugs are just fine and others can get you 10 years for a having a tiny speck on your person? I see almost zilch. Paideuma...

Indeed, it would be better, like Faux News watchers, if most people forgot everything they thought they "knew" and instead sat on the couch and drank gin straight from the bottle. The...mass brainwashing is humdrum, normal, rampant...and that's what horrifies me. I find very few people - even "educated" ones - have anything like a nuanced view of entheogens.

michael said...

@Annabel: I read Reich's blogs and articles regularly, and he receives media attention. He was the only real Old Left type in the Clinton Admin, and got out after awhile. I haven't read his Aftershock, but after reading what you say about it I feel compelled.

I found out, researching the OWS library, that the fist book their librarians catalogued was Hakim Bey's TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone/Ontological Anarchy and Poetic Terrorism (some of my readers know this book very well), and I thought it poetic that that was the first book (now probably destroyed...have my Readers written Bloomberg on this yet? I have) catalogued, another fitting title to fit in as part of an Occupy canon.

Annabel Lee said...

I would lend you my paperback copy of the book, but you're too far away and I cannot part with it. It's one of the few books that I've read over and over again. Most of the books that I read multiple times tend to be classics - Dante's "Inferno", Voltaire's "Candide", Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front", and Heller's "Catch-22". The more modern books that seem to be reread over and over again in my library include Jennifer Finney Boyle's "She's Not There", Reich's "Aftershock", King's "The Stand" and Vaitin's "Out of the Night".

It is true that I don't have the extensive library of recall and works of philosophy that you do, but my bookshelf contains nearly 2500 books, mostly nonfiction, and my Kindle is currently filled with 1800 books, many of which are backlogged, waiting for me to finally get to reading through them.

michael said...

I'm sure there are multiple copies of every Rbt Reich book in my local public library. I read part of The Work Of Nations right after it came out, c.1998?

You bring up a hot point for me regarding re-reading: I think it's underrated that we ought to have OUR books that we re-read multiple times over our lifetimes. And I also like that others have their megafavorites that are not mine. Let us all re-re-re-re-read our favorite books!

BrentQ said...

Michael: On psychedelics, I do think that young people are gradually becoming more nuanced on the subject of psychedelics. It seems like there is vast amounts of information online that people never had access to 15 years ago and maybe we're coming up on a tipping point where these things will be less taboo. Even UFC commentator Joe Rogan has a podcast where he regularly pontificates on his use of psychedlics.

But I think especially in the years to come, with the sheer amount of information bombardment facing us, we have a greater need to open our minds to incoming stimuli in order to make and understand new maps of reality. It seems like what these substance are especially good at is assisting people in opening those sensory floodgates and rewiring one's brain for greater creativity and intelligence.

On Hakim Bey: I haven't had the chance to read TAZ or any other books by Hakim Bey. But I have seen a couple interviews with him and read some articles online.

I do find the idea of a temporary autonomous zone to be super fascinating and will probably pick up the book. However, I came across a few articles saying that he is a proponent of pedophilia and has written for NAMBLA in the past. That kind of threw me through a loop.

While I usually have no problem of judging someones ideas seperate from their personality. It seems like his personal life almost invalidates his philosophy on personal freedoms, TAZ's etc.

Or am I completely off base on this?

michael said...

@ Satori Guy: I don't think you're completely off base, no. I remember when the NAMBLA/Bey stuff trickled out...but I'm hazy on it. I remember following up on it and IIRC this stuff broke around Bey's stint at Naropa...Whenever I've read about Naropa I have fallen into odd dramas, the most famous being Trungpa's treatment of WS Merwin and his girlfriend. See Tom Clark's book on Naropa and the great poetry wars. Ginsberg also stood up for NAMBLA...Naropa at one time acknowledged that some of the most interesting writing in America had come from fascists and antisemites...It's really weird when you get into these wild poets and their enclaves...Hakim Bey is the alter ego of a more sober counterculch savant named Peter Lamborn Wilson, who was friends with RAW, and PLW wrote one of my favorite obits for RAW..."Hakim Bey" seems quite the guerrilla ontologist, if you read him, and who knows if he really wants man-boy love legalized or he's just bomb-throwing ideas? I personally do not know.

I agree with everything you said about psychedelics and info on the Net and a possible tipping pt.

Who knows how fascistic Big Brother will get the more this stuff approaches posited tipping? Obama cracking down on med pot in CA? Arrests for pot WAY up lately. The deep structure of this stuff is exceedingly fascinating to me, albeit lots of it is maddening also.

Thanks for your always weighty comments!

Eric Wagner said...

I have made "a constant, year-after-year study of how language and all media work in our own nervous systems, our interpersonal relationships, and society" a focus of my teaching over the past 23 years. Of course, I have not had a very successful career.

I commented to a friend that I had so many books I wanted to read. He replied, "You should stop rereading the same books over and over again." He has a point, but I did just start rereading "A" by Zukofsky.