Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Undomestication of Being: An Introduction

What does it mean to say that our modern being is domesticated? To say, "our modern being is, has become, is in a state of being domesticated."

How does that sound? What do those sounds mean? If, indeed we have been changed--exchanged our gods for troughs, and our wilds for fences--what of us is wolf, what pekingese ?

“The strong, the supremely intelligent domesticate the things beneath them.” I hear you say. “We are wolf.” You say, hoping that it's true.

What is lost is that there is an iteration that exists between us and the world around us. Even if that were true as you so mistakenly say, hoping that you are strong, that you are the domesticator not the domesticated, it would not change the fact that when the strong among us have domesticated the weak, they have succeeded in domesticating even themselves--the strongest among them suffering the most from their domesticating prowess. Great Gilgamesh, great Eve, and Socrates and all his philosophic ilk. Kings have built walls, fences I call them. Priests have written holy books at which we have all drunk deep, forgetting the thirst we have for divine waters. We baptize no longer with spirit, but hydrogen and oxygen; for gods are wild, and have no place in our domesticated bodies.

How has our being become domesticated? The same way anything has suffered estrangement from self-same identity: having one myopic eye on the future, the other on the past, having senses that can genuinely lie, and a mind that can spin that lie into coherent dogma, then pass it down through the generations as culture--we have been taught to swaddle the world and the self with it. Thusly we have been told, fear the wild. Wild brings death. We don’t like death. So what does any creative, adaptive, creature do? It mitigates its discomfort. Thus we have said domesticate--no, we have shouted it from the roof tops.

“Domesticate up, domesticate down, domesticate all around,” dialogue captured by Raphael, relaying with all the skill of the Renaissance the forms of Plato and Aristotle on those famous steps. Great blasphemer, Plato, deigning to domesticate even the heavens. And Aristotle codifying the means to domesticate the world. Would they have stopped the domesticating iteration if they could? Putting aside for a moment the impossibility of that question, let us assume a stance of optimism. How else could we have known the silliness of the distance between pekingese and wolf? How else could we have said undomesticate--no, rather shouted it from the roof tops?

It is necessary to realize that by fearing death (dying), our great ancestors feared life (living). It should be feared, but not abandoned as it has been. For I have seen life, whole and unified, and beheld its bifurcated source: order and chaos. And all its manifestations have presented themselves to our minds in untold number and symbol: insight and concealedness, conscious and unconscious, yang and yin, individual and collective, Apollo and Dionysis.

Tame the world? God forbid it! But that is what Eve and Adam did. Tame, tame, tame. It is what we would have done coming into consciousness like they did, knowing good and evil in a flash--with god-like minds in this creature-like flesh--instantly knowing death as concept. What else is there but to tame the killer? To domesticate the wild world, to domesticate the mirrored wildness that was found inside as well as out. To muzzle our unconscious being and steal its vital power. This has been the object of our fear, to order and tame world and self, and so to be immortal. But in our myopic haste we have failed to see that our fear of wild is a misappropriated fear of death, and this misappropriated, domesticating fear tragically creates a fear of life.

Still, how has this domesticating iteration changed us? What does it mean to say that we have exchanged gods for troughs? Simply this, that our life denying culture has precluded divinities. We have learned to equate gods with death, because gods are far too wild for our domesticated flesh. Again, to say it simply, we prefer comfort to truth. YHWH is violent and jealous, give us Augustine instead, a City of God. We prefer fences to open fields, and houses to our natural habitat.

Thus we meet the domus of our domesticate. For these three things we have built taming houses: mind, body, world. Everything from our psyche to our culture, religion to DNA, architecture to narrative, has been tamed--has suffered from the taming that domestication brings. It would seem that hope is lost.

But the pulse, the barest rush of life, still flows. In the wiliest of dreams, the hint of seemingly impossible heights of being have been felt by each of us. And ever so keenly, we feel also the loss of something we can’t even name, the hope for the re-integration of self with self, situated so far from what we think of as mind that we almost can’t think of it at all. Up till now, its substance has remained nameless, but we know the lack of it. Yet I have learned its name, and its name is wild, and at the same time, self. Abandon the de-natured halls of Dante’s forested paradise. For, what he called trees, we have better names; we have built the city of god, brick by domesticated brick, and it has left us wanting the real wilderness of real gods.

And so, if we are to understand the undomestication of being, it is necessary to understand the domestication of being. That story begins with the concept death, and the fear of it, and extends to the irony that the pursuit of immortality only increases death and its anxiety. Such is the domesticating story, namely the human story, the story of human being played out through symbol and poetry in the lines of Genesis three, and the Gilgamesh epic. It is there that we begin to unravel the threads of domestication, and hopefully follow them out of the labrynth.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Obey Your Thirst

When I was in Africa a few years back I saw a billboard that reminded me why I need to carry my camera with me more often. It looked like your everyday Sprite advertisement--green bottle, slogan, all larger than life--but, underneath the green bottle wasn't a picture of Kobe Bryant, or Lebron James, just these words.

"Want to succeed in life? Drink Sprite." I didn't know if I should laugh, or borrow an axe and chop it to pieces. I didn't do either, in fact, I didn't do anything. Really, what can you do when marketing hijacks art?

"But a picture of a Sprite bottle is hardly art," I can hear you say to me. And you'd be right. It's not art. "Then why bring it up?" I hear you ask. I bring it up because revealed in that billboard is the essence of marketing. We have learned to have so much fun with marketing--as many of us watch the superbowl for commercials as to see the game--we forget that its essence is deceit. The slogan on the billboard had nothing to do with the product being sold. It was meant to take advantage of the anxiety we feel. Don't get me wrong. It's not a bad thing to obey your thirst, it will often lead you to meaning. But even when we buy their product, even if we drink it, we find it doesn't really satisfy. Not the way we wish it would.

So, what do we do with that anxiety? If we can't buy our way out of it, how do we exchange it for meaning? For starters, you can put down your remote, stop channel surfing and pick up your paintbrush, or camera, or microphone. Art has the power to save us from that anxiety, marketing only has the power to make us spend.

"You really think art has power?" I hear you ask. Well, art is a bottomless well, always has been. It has been there in every generation, in every period of history to help bring us back from the brink, to quench the deepest thirst. When we create, we reveal a divine playfulness that draws us toward something more deeply human. That is the power of art. It re-humanizes us, it reawakens meaning in our lives. And the beauty of art is that there is even more re-humanizing power when we share it.

Often when we think of art, it's as a painting or a poem, but art is so much more than just works of art. It's a way of life, a way of living. When we reawaken the parts of us that play and create, not only do we produce works of art, but our everyday, mundane existence becomes art--we become living works of art. Art has this power because the essence of art is the revealing of truth, and it is that revealing that gives art the power to save.

So, back to the earlier questions. What can we do when art is hijacked? And what do we do with the anxiety we feel? Same answer to both questions. Ultimately, I'm glad I didn't chop down that billboard. Since then I've learned that creating is a more powerful form of change than destroying. But, on to the answer. I've got just two words for you. Create. Share.

There's power in art, there's even more when we share it.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Rise and Fall of the American Republic Part. 2

Habeas Corpus, just legal mumbo jumbo right? No reason to think about it, stress about its suspension, bother about translating it. You might also think there's no reason to be paranoid about the government tapping our phones, accessing our private records, right? Except that's already happened. It continues to happen .

There is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty as long as we are engaged in a war on terror. As if one can wage physcial wars on ideals. Didn't work so well for Nero, or Hitler, or Reagan. Wars tend to force people to hold on to ideals. But I'll come back to this. Right now we're talking about HC. I'll say again so that it will stick with you, "Habeas Corpus."

That short Latin phrase is the thin line that stands between us as citizens of America and the threat of crooked government judges, closed tribunals, international torture prisons; in short, HC assures us protection should our government turn authoritarian. Yes, I understand the irony there. An authoritarian government doesn't follow laws that protect its citizens, it doesn't have to, it's above the law. The scary thing is that rhetoric sounds all too familiar these days. Regardless, the fact remains, we are not yet suffering under authoritarian regime. I can still publish this blog, you can still read it, and we still have the power to do something about it. But the tide is shifting, and if we're not careful, it could take more than a bloodless revolution to regain our lost freedom. I hope it never comes to that. And it won't have to if we remember the worth of the rights we were born into, rights we are so willing to give up because we are afraid of terrorism. Yet an authoritarian America, with its military arsenal, its technology, its current neocon agenda is far more terrifying than Islamic jihad.

Again, I get ahead of myself. A little history of HC in America would be helpful. Now you may have already read the link at the top of page, but you may not. So here it is in short. Meet Abraham Lincoln, champion of slaves, stoic leader, and though I applaud him for ending slavery, must chasitse him. He was responsible, through his policies, for snagging that first thread that began to unravel this young republic. This young republic whose threads we are now responsible for weaving together into an altogether new tapestry of governing. It was the height of the Civil War, a war that though it was supposed to be about slavery, was more about control of the Southern States. That's the tricky thing about wars against ideas, they're almost never about what they're about. It was here that Lincoln first suspended HC, where he told the citezens who had elected him, that they no longer held the rights to their bodies, that in times of great crisis, the rights that we had held inalienable, were in fact, alienable.

The Supreme court declared his actions unconstitutional, but Lincoln had a nation to save; he ignored the court. At that point, the precedence was set, the balance in goverment shattered, the president, when he deemed necessary, was the governing authority.

That thin line has been broken once again by a Republican on a mission. When I first heard that Bush had suspended HC, I thought to myself, "he can't do that." But he can, and more importantly, he did. The line is broken. What do I mean when I say the line has been broken? It means that once again, we have no right to our body. They do. To put it into words that all the little internet pirates will understand, they may not own our bodies, but now, they own the rights to them.

Literally, Habeas Corpus means that we, "should have the body," that, as an accused, we have the right not to disappear into Git-mo, that we cannot be held without representation, or denied a trial by jury. What a concept. And yet, HC has become second nature to us. We don't know what it means to lose the rights to our bodies. I hope we never have to learn what it means to lose our inalienable rights. The truths, we are told, are self evident. But they have been forgotten by the people charged with remembering them; they have been cast down by the ones who have sworn to uphold them.

Though they have forgotten, let us not forget. This nation derives its identity from its people. Right now we afraid, and we have placed the power of many in the hands of
a few. They have wreaked havoc in the international community with that mandate, and they are undermining the very truths for which we came into existence as a sovreign nation. It is time to take that mandate back, to once again own the rights to our bodies, to tell our government who we are, instead of waiting to reflect the identity they spin for us.

The American public has untapped inertia. That inertia has largely been spent generating and sustaining our capitalist way of life: marketing, commerce, etc. But just as the tide is shifting in government, it is shifting in us as well. Where it shifts we decide. Unless of course, we would rather let the few decide who we are, what we believe, what we can say, who we can marry, who we can worship or not worship, what wars our nation declares, whether or not we treat our planet with respect.

So, I'm nearly off the soap box, but before I go, there are unanswered questions. Where do we go from here? Should the president, congress, anyone, have the right to suspend HC? If so, how can our rights be guaranteed? Will Bush and his neocon cronies give us our rights back like Lincoln did? If not, what do we do? What can we do? As this nation grows in population and diversity, how can we ensure the rights of the individual?

But these are questions for later date. Right now, it is important we remember that once we had the rights to our body, and now we don't. And that there remains a solution to this problem that encompasses more than just public inertia. We may be able to generate enough critical mass to overcome this suspension, that doesn't change the fact that they should never have the rights to our bodies in the first place. Amongst all the good, there is something terribly wrong in this country. We all know it. If we talk, and keep talking, and learn from our dialogue, and act on what we learn, there is hope for us yet. There is hope for this nation.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Rise and Fall of the American Republic Part. 1

Republics function under very similar restrictions to cells. Any given cell has a terminal limiting ratio: surface area to volume. What this means is that if the cell gets too big, if the volume increases past a certain point, the cell no longer has the necessary surface area needed to supply the cell's volume with the nutrients it needs to survive. This is metaphorically true for republics literally and figuratively. As Adam pointed out to me the other day, Rome had no capability to feed itself. The whole of North Africa was farmed into a desert over decades of effort trying to keep the republic supplied with bread. But this ratio has more pressing figurative implications.

The original colonies started the fight for independence over a simple notion, "no taxation without representation." This was perhaps not the singular impetus for the Revolutionary War, but it was the rhetoric that catalyzed the colonies into action. Republics are of the people. That's their shtick. And after the war we rose in power, having great resources both natural and theoretical from which the cell of our nation was born.

The current political state of our nation is that of a representative democracy,--those two words being loaded with meaning.
Democracy, because the founders recognized that the "right" of self governing arose from the people, and that there was no such thing as America without those people. Representative, because they understood that as a nation increases in size no one citizen can know enough to be informed adequately to vote in a meaningful way on every conceivable thing that a nation would face.

Here's the catch. Though there are some interesting parallels between Rome's dependence on imported wheat, and our dependence on imported oil, there is a larger issue at stake. Our republic has grown to such enormous girth and diversity that the notion of representative democracy is just that, a notion, it's no longer a reality. This has created an instability in our nation, having a system that was designed to work with limited population over limited geographical area. Now, this instability can be solved in one of two ways. Radical centralization or radical decentralization. Either the Federal government needs to have more power, or the states need to become the real seat of power.

The current administation is trying desperately to centralize. But the situation that centralization creates is too similar to the original impetus the colonies used for war. Given the diversity and size of our nation centralization precludes representation.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Double click

If you could push a button and make it all go away: pollution, industrialization, atomic power, oil derricks, the moderinized world, would you? I had this conversation with a good friend a few months ago, we stumbled around trying to get to a conclusion that just didn't seem to be there. At the heart of this issue is the question--will we ever learn self control? If we learn that we are currently living the antithesis of a sustainable lifestyle, can we change?

But before we go on and try to tackle that question, I want to deal with the notion of sustainability. There are a lot of assumptions when it comes to sustainability. First of all, that life should be sustained. Second, that it is possible to sustain. And finally, that if life is worth sustaining, and that it is possible to sustain it that we could actually realize that possibility. I was attracted to sustainability precisely because I think life is a good thing. And the way we live, we are running out of life as fast as we can. But, here's the kicker--sustainability is an illusion. We know about entropy, we learn about it in highschool physics. The energy of an organized system always tends toward disorder. There is no sustainability with the physics we have,--there is however conservation. And because life is good, we have the responsibility to offer its gift to as many we can.

But back to the question of button pushing. My friend was ready to push the button. He was also a little upset at the conversation because it was a moot. We don't have a button,--short of nuclear armegedon. And as I have thought about that hypothetical button I've realized that I think we need to fail. We need it so desperately that I hope against hope that we do. As a civilization, a global civilization, we need to fail at this modern endeavor so that we don't repeat the same mistakes in the future. So that our children's children can learn self control before they get this apparently limitless power of modern technology. So that when we build up again, we can do it with an eye for the fragility of our little biosphere, and the dramatically limited resources that we actually have.

So in essence we do have a button we can push. Not to make this go away, but to make sure that when this comes again, we understand its mercurial nature and use its powers not to spend harder, but to live better.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Email Me About The Future

As I was doing my daily perusal of news websites, and sports, I saw an interactive story. A writer at CNN wanted to know what we think the future will be like. Since I've been wanting to start a blog for some time now, and have recently fallen in love with the two headed Greek god, Janus. I decided this would be a good place to start. Looking forward and looking back.

What will the future be like? I have a sneaking feeling that we have peaked as a civilization, more precisely our method of living has peaked. The capitalist machine marketed the industrialized world and made it profitable never realizing that what we drive, fly, wear, type on, and on and on and on, is not replacable, and hardly reusable. So, what will the future be like? I'm not sure, but I think that we will once again get booted from the garden, because even inspite of our insatiable curiousity we don't learn. Even when we eat the knowledge--we don't learn it. And instead of angels guarding the entrance there will only be our poverty, our lack of resources that we have been so prodigal with.

What I hope is that we can save just enough of what we know now to avoid the darkness that the western world experienced after the fall of Rome. That we can lose our technology and still manage to keep the good of our western democracy. Innoncence until proven otherwise; the freedom of speech, and hopefully the continued freedom of ideas; the equality of races. I would even include a few religious ideas: loving our neighbor; respecting life.

All said, my own interests are not nearly so doom related. I really do believe that there is good in people and in this world. I think that we just delved too deep too fast to reference Tolkien. Not that we shouldn't delve. It just needs to be done with intention, with a pair of eyes on the past and a pair of eyes on the future. That is what I think we need to pass on, that kind of bifurcated vision. If we can learn to weigh our decisions in the future, we can learn to balance.