Return (after T’ao Yuan-ming)

•July 21, 2016 • 2 Comments

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[Hot off the press, a very free ‘translation’ or rather Australian ‘version’ of an ancient Chinese poem by T’ao Yuan-ming aka T’ao Chi’en aka Tao Chi who lived 372-427 CE and created the Chinese genre of ‘field and garden poems’. Photo taken from the house shows our small apple orchard in the mist, honey locust leaves framing the photo at top, roses and then trellised grapes in foreground, large farm dam to the right, old eucalypts along the intermittent creek in the background struck by light.]

Return (after T’ao Yuan Ming 372-427 CE)

Always been a bit of a loner but
took that government job, secure,
boring, and then it’s forty years
among the herd in the Big Smoke.
The caged bird longs for sky and
wind, the fish in the tank: ocean.
Now back where I belong:
twenty acres of average soil
and a swampy bit down the middle.
Cleared a patch of brambles
to the north, a good spot
for some she-oak coppice, willow,
a few angophoras for the bees.
Peach, plum, apricot on the drier
slope, honey locusts shade the house.
A few chickens roost in the mulberry,
dogs bark far off, neighbours’ smoke
wreaths curl faint and distant.
Inside, five rooms with books and
a silence you can cut with a knife
or kookaburra laugh. Too long
inside a cage, a screen, now back
where nature, freedom, makes itself.

How to Set Up a Police State in Four Easy Steps

•July 18, 2016 • 3 Comments

Riot police France tear gas 07Riot police Baton Rouge 090716

[Erdogan in Turkey, just the latest example happening in post-liberal ‘democracies’ all over the world at least since 9/11 and the ‘war on terror’. Readers can fill in the specific details in their countries. Old as the hills, the state protection racket. Works like a charm unless enough people jump up and down, dissent and resist.]

How to Set Up a Police State in Four Easy Steps

1. Use any violent attacks on public institutions as pretexts for increasing the powers of your executive and decreasing the powers and freedoms of civil society, the legislative, the judiciary.

2. Designate an internal and/or external Enemy and demonise that Enemy.

3. Pour fuel on the flames: increase the likelihood of attacks by the Designated Enemy by violently repressing and attacking them, waging all-out war on them.

4. Cultivate a fear and siege mentality (stay ‘alert and alarmed’, watch for the ‘unnormal’) in your populace so that they accept all limitations on their freedoms for the sake of ‘security’.

Some things that get me through

•July 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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[Older poem. Photo of trees from near here in the southern highlands: life and death, together.]

Some Things That Get Me Through

the man with The End Is Nigh sign near the ice cream van at Speakers’ Corner London

the water mark on the ceiling in fourth class

Whitman’s ‘Song Of Myself’ in Leaves Of Grass

a hot shower followed by a cold shower

the Indian women dancers film in the church hall on my first night out at age four

my mother’s wounds

the two hundred year old messmate trees on our property

the game of shuttlecock with my father at Collaroy beach when I was eleven

Schumann’s piano piece Kinderspielen

Jimmy Hendrix’ rendition of Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock

Barbara’s sourdough bread

the old gnome with the hairy toes and self-made maps mumble-lecturing his theory of evolution at the base of the Moreton Bay fig in the Sydney Domain c. 1964

T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets

planting a tree, especially a heritage fruit variety

our dog Billy

seeing Arthur Stace’s Eternity chalked on the footpath at the corner of Haberfield Road and Parramatta Road c. 1963

a dream of body surfing a star wave in space

tending bees

my father’s giving a stunned magpie water and releasing it out the window when I was five or six

the smell of the skin of the women and child I have loved

the life and works of mystic anarchist Gustav Landauer, murdered in Munich in 1919

discovering a previously unknown plant, bird or insect on our property

the grumpy self-encapsulated old guy my age at the pre-war anti-war rally in Belmore Park with the sign saying Capitalism means war – get used to it! who had obviously been attending such rallies to no avail since around 1914

Meister Eckhardt, Hölderlin, Marx, Adorno, Bloch and Rilke in German

the first organic raspberry I tasted in a holiday garden near Hobart when I was ten

the goodness of most people I meet

Louis McNeice’s Autumn Journal

the ocean

Cartier Bresson’s photo of a man leaping a puddle at Gare St Lazare in 1932

my son’s eyes after his birth

small children, small birds

The Wisdom of Proverbs

•July 9, 2016 • 6 Comments

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[Simple proverbs, always at the risk of becoming cliches of course, nevertheless seem to often embody a lot of wisdom. I wonder if they are dying out? Took the photo on the south coast last year, basalt rocks by the sea: depending on the light, beautiful Henri Moore-type sculptural effects.]

Commentaries on the Wisdom of Common Proverbs

Can’t see the forest for the trees.

Comment: Too much focus on empirical detail obscures the larger pattern or whole (or ‘holon’: a whole that is a part of another whole etc.). Just feeling the abnormal heat of the day won’t ever give you a notion of climate change. Just seeing that homeless beggar or the underpaid worker won’t ever give you a notion of capitalism. Step back and up. You cannot see a forest, a society, a planet, a system, a structure, you can only imagine or think it. Conceptual thinking includes seeing and sensing like a forest includes trees, but it is a higher and deeper faculty, a more evolved whole or holon. And conceptual thinking, necessarily dual in nature, in turn is included and transcended by a higher and deeper faculty, that of non-dual cognition or contemplation/meditation.

Can’t see for looking.

Comment: Who is looking? Why the strain? Can the eye see itself? You only really ‘see’ when you don’t look too hard, with strained, egoic intention, the look of potential domination, instrumentalisation, manipulation. Analysis of parts has its very necessary place, but as in contemplating a painting or landscape, in order to see the whole pattern, relax the eye, soft-focus, allow and receive rather than seek and pierce.

You can’t step in the same river twice. (Heraclitus, c. 500 BCE)

Comment: All is flow (anatta, panta rhei). But who is doing the stepping? A river stepping into a river? Can ‘you’ even step into a river once? And does a wave need to do anything to realize it is water?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Comment: All is change and flow, and flow is apparent or ‘empty’: it depends on something stable and fixed to flow past, and the apparently stable and fixed is in fact also changing and flowing. Although the current and river constantly change, the current and river also stay Current and River, ‘watercourse way’, Tao. This flow is the furious action of appearing/disappearing and of non-action (wu wei). On a social level: the more capitalist society changes, the more it furiously creates and destroys things and relationships in search of profit, the more it stays capitalism (self-accumulating money, domination, heteronomy, elite power). Many revolutions have ended up the same way.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Comment: Instrumental, ego-centred intention and goal, egoic cause and effect, just set up more unintended causes and effects, and so on. Vicious circles ad infinitum, samsara, karma. Like bad intentions, good intentions get in the spontaneous way of The Way (Tao). Rather than willing the good, simply get out of your own Way, and all will be Good (if not always good).

If you meet a Buddha on the path, kill him.

Comment: Every Ism means schism. Even the dogma of no-dogma can be a dogma preventing self-realization. ‘No more grand narratives’ is itself a grand narrative. Use Wittgenstein’s ladder to meaning, then kick it away. Use the raft of words, then leave them at the shore. All else is word idolatry, word magic that entrances minds, that people often even kill for, and the core reason for existential human suffering.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Comment: No attachment, no-mind rolling with the Flow of Tao gathers no fixations, opinions, dogmas. Keep mentally on the move, nomadic, flexible. Yet ‘rolling’, loosely held opinions can also be necessary, can be pretty little green growths after the rains of thinking, helping to fix and build soil on which forests of wisdom may grow, each idea-tree singing a different tune in the wind that blows where it will. So:

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Comment: Don’t totally reject the old or bad, rather sift through its self-contradictions and partial truths, lift up and integrate them into the new and better. This latter process is Hegel’s ‘Aufhebung’ or supercession: negate, preserve, lift up. This three-step waltz also defines human growth: differentiate, dis-identify, integrate. Then do the same for the new integration all over again. Never-ending development to ever higher levels. Never let thought stand still in some static position, some binary, cocksure of itself, dogmatic, complacent, stagnant, dead.

Jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Comment: This often happens when the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and then the more things change, the more they stay the same. This may describe the trajectory of many failed political revolutions. The usual solution to this danger of the binary non-alternative is: a pox on both your houses, choose neither frying pan nor fire but a qualitative leap upwards from both into a completely new field of perception, enquiry and action.

To understand everything is to forgive everything.(Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner)

Comment: This blows open everyday mind. Against our habitual narrow moralizing and hasty judgementalism, this is the proverb both of all great art and of the Buddhist Boddhisattva: compassion (karuna) comes from standing back and seeing sub specie aeternitatis all the infinite web of causes-and-effects that form deeds and behaviour we might not like, i.e. seeing everything from the perspective of eternity, of awareness, insight, wisdom, enlightenment (prajna), and from the heart.

Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

Comment: Chanting this one, even children here realise the essence of both nominalism and Buddhism. Names, insults, are, objectively, just hot air, word magic, voodoo. Words can only hurt the other-directed, i.e. those who live by them, take them in, identify with them, are dependent on, and see themselves as no more than functions of, other people’s words and opinions. When there is no such heteronomous, crowd- and other-directed self, there is nothing to be hurt.

Solstice

•June 28, 2016 • 2 Comments

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[Poem from a week ago, i.e. winter solstice here down under. Cloud photo I took from our house three years ago.]

Solstice

The eye, exhilarated,
rises to the roar
in the tree mast tops
as a billowing canvas
of white cockatoos
screeches and soars
cold waves of wind,
all picky and choosy
about the perfect roost,
crickets still loudly
ticking their calming
bombs down in the bilge
ditch as the last light glitch
of the disappeared sun
sails frozen clouds
of gale-grey marble
over the reeling ridge
to Reedy Creek.

The Many Moods of Mr Mojo

•June 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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[Maybe also an ode to the Trickster, as muse, the so-called unconscious. Photo I took in a Melbourne city lane six years ago. Enjoy.]

The Many Moods of Mr Mojo

I’m easy to lose. You
don’t find me, I find you.
I’m the darkness you’re in
when you switch on the light.

I’m absent when you’re
full of yourself.
Sometimes I find you
absent so I sit at your hole
till it rains & your pond fills
with images, lines, frogs,
a cadence birthing a thought
that sets in train the rhythmic
rails of a life or poem.

I like sitting backwards
on donkeys, crosier in hand,
plodding the maze at Chartres
or flipping burgers, mouth
cornered by a ciggie, down
on the ocean’s cluttered floor.

You might catch me at the corner
of 34th and Vine with my
spray can or little bottle
of Love Potion No. 9,
but I wouldn’t bank on it.

I dislike bright light
& its uptight apostles
of either/or nail-gunning
you down on their cocksure
crucifixes at least
till my night’s welcome
dream waves whittle them
into kindling & I
can start new fires
of desire pulling
forward the wheeling
universe another inch
towards its end & origin.

The gods hate me.

Slip your tongue,
& I am there. Stumble,
doodle, daydream,
& I am there.

I shine in every pair
of mismatched socks
useless lottery ticket
crushed first draft

that delirious moment
before you, bungee-free,
leap to die down deep
into life’s lovely ravines.

Thirty One Theses on Right-wing Populism

•June 11, 2016 • 4 Comments

poverty wrapped in a flag

[An attempt to clarify some very general aspects, psycho-social contexts and motifs of right-wing populism as it has manifested across the advanced industrialised world for several decades starting with the end of the post-war boom in the mid-70s and now increasing again after the global financial crisis since 2008. Australian Hansonism, French National Front to US Trumpism. This one’s for Dave in Montana].

Powerlessness, Resentment, Longing: Thirty One Theses on Right-wing Populism

1. The fertile soil of all right-wing populism (RWP) and fascism everywhere is powerlessness.

2. RWP is the revolt of the marginalised and powerless ‘ordinary or little man’ (and woman) which, although it has the potential, has not yet become militant fascism.

3. RWP and its fascist potential always increase under worsening economic conditions when material standards of living decline and reasons and solutions are being sought.

4. The RWP revolt is ambiguous. Like fascism, it is an unstable amalgam of revolt and conformity, rebelliousness and belief in leaders/authority, left and right policies and resentments.

5. Like fascism, RWP is primarily about conscious and unconscious emotions rather than rational arguments and facts.

6. The core conscious emotion driving RWP and fascism is resentment, a chronic, oblique, clingy form of anger or rage.

7. Behind the resentment lie more painful, mostly suppressed and thus unconscious complexes of emotions like fear, status anxiety, a sense of injury, powerlessness, inferiority, a longing for recognition and dignity.

8. The resentment is a natural response to objective injury: the manual working class and lower middle class have seen their jobs, real incomes, lives and communities decimated by the unchained capitalist logic of free trade globalisation and rationalisation (neoliberalism).

9. Even before the neoliberal phase, this objective injury to the lives and identities of the working classes has always been a basic feature of industrial capitalism and its structural violence: powerlessness, non-recognition, ascribed inferiority and lower social status, others always calling the shots and thus a lack of real freedom to fulfil one’s potentials– all these have always been part of the ‘hidden injuries of class’ (Richard Sennett).

10. Post-war growth and affluence, the welfare state and the centrality of industrial production and unions compensated materially for this core psycho-spiritual injury, and now that these have gone too, the inherent resentment and anger have re-surfaced with a vengeance.

11. Resenting or hating the powerful elites who call the shots and do not fully recognise one as equal is thus also an attempt to preserve some dignity, sometimes the ‘only way to keep from committing psychological or spiritual suicide’, the mark of ‘inner potentialities for standing against his oppressors’ (Rollo May).

12. RWP however is a channelling of the natural resentment away from those responsible, i.e. the decision-making wealth and power elites, and towards powerless internal scapegoats or designated external enemies.

13. RWP is an emotional unwillingness and/or cognitive inability to face the truth of social power relationships. In the end, it is a mass affirmation of subservience and voluntary slavery.

14. RWP and fascist leaders are demagogues skilled at channelling and deflecting theses popular resentments, fears and prejudices towards various minority scapegoats, labour market competitors and designated external enemies. Stereotyping is the key technique.

15. RWP and fascist leaders can only be successful when their personality structures are the same as those of their mass followers: lower middle-class/parvenu, authoritarian, sado-masochist, narcissist. The spirit of a culture is set by that of the most powerful social groups (Wilhelm Reich).

16. RWP embeds left-wing social policies and criticisms (banks, free trade, globalisation, social welfare state, solidarity) in right-wing cultural framings (xenophobia and ethnic stereotyping, in-group nationalism, latent or overt racism, misogyny, homophobia). This is its strength and weakness.

17. Due to this inherent ambiguity, RWP, like fascism (and indeed all parliamentary politics), is radical opportunism. In opposition, the rebellious and left-wing aspect is sometimes predominant. In power, the naïve ‘leftish’ promises are never (and can never be) fulfilled, and the right-wing, more fascist, side inevitably becomes predominant.

18. This ambiguity is thus also a very modern combination of cynicism and naïveté (Erich Fromm) in both leaders and followers of RWP and fascism: one simultaneously believes both in nothing and in leaders and fairy tales.

19. The cynical/naïve average consciousness is also a result of the totalised ‘spectacle’ (Guy Debord), i.e. total media bombardment and ‘news’ or ‘politics’ as infotainment. Torrents of fragmented images and sound bites interspersed with ads help hinder any connecting-of-dots or structuring of meaning and this in turn leads to a cognitive and affective turning off or numbing, a loss of meaningful, active relationship to words and realities, a sense of increased powerlessness, to both a world-weary cynicism or indifference and a frightful naïveté. ‘Apathy and lack of feeling are also defences against anxiety’ (Rollo May).

20. The more helpless and powerless the individual feels, the more like a child, and thus the more he or she regresses and identifies with apparently strong leaders as father or mother figures and with the in-group or ersatz-family of their own ‘great’ nation, often as an ersatz-parental ‘father- or motherland’. The more traditional families and homes become insecure or dissolve, the more isolation and loneliness, perhaps the more need for the imaginary family of the nation and ‘secure homeland’, the more need to belong.

21. When the nation is seen in RWP fashion as ‘homeland’ or in-group ersatz-family, it automatically needs the foreigner and the out-group, the dark alien and ‘illegal other’, the mythic ‘bad guy’ to define itself. It needs exclusion, literal or figurative walls to keep them out, it needs violence of speech and deed.

22. The more powerless and inferior a person feels, the more he or she may compensate this weakness by striving for power over others to ‘prove’ his or her superiority. This may happen directly by becoming a bully or authoritarian leader, or vicariously by identifying with the ‘greatness’ of the in-group or nation (national narcissism). This ‘greatness’ may be perceived as having been lost or ‘insulted’ and in need of renewal by a strong leader.

23. Narcissism, whether individual or collective, is, paradoxically, an unconscious, admiration-seeking over-compensation for a sense of emptiness, inferiority, low self-esteem or even self-dislike, non-validation, fear of not really being loved, accepted, significant, for a sense of powerlessness. Modern celebrity culture and popular Facebook culture mirror each other, and both scream lack of individual autonomy, lack of strong identity, lack of love.

24. Narcissism and potential or actual violence are closely related: both express powerlessness, impotence, both are unconscious attempts to express that one is not inferior or marginal but significant and worthy of admiration, recognition, acceptance, dignity. This is the common subterranean psychological link between all sorts of public vandalism, mob violence, terrorism both right and left, male violence against women, pub brawls, the frequent working class male enthusiasm for joining the military or armed struggle and becoming an admired ‘warrior’.

25. Since RWP and the fascist threat are primarily not about facts and arguments but about conscious and unconscious emotions, fixations and deep unmet needs, neither mere rational talk about facts nor aggressive ‘anti-fa’ confrontation are solutions since both ignore these underlying emotions (often due to unconscious emotions of their own).

26. RWP and fascism cannot be overcome until their undergirding emotions (powerlessness, resentment, narcissism) and unmet needs (for recognition, significance, dignity, belonging) are accepted and validated. As in any psychotherapeutic process, only such validation can release anxious fixations and open up the possibility of more rational reflection and dialogue.

27. The best validation would be the overcoming of powerlessness and heteronomy in a ‘good society’: i.e. participatory democracy, worker self-management, generalized autonomy, a society in which there are no power elites but everyone is heard and everyone calls the shots.

28. ‘Not all live in the same Now’ (Ernst Bloch): RWP and fascism are expressions of older, pre-modern, pre-rational ways of thinking and identity-formation, namely tribal-national, ‘magic-mythic’ (Ken Wilber).

29. This magic-mythic, tribal-national stage of consciousness was totally adequate and thus valid as socially average consciousness in its pre-industrial/industrial time. It now, however, lags behind the objective development towards one globalised, ‘post-industrial’ world and the concomitant need for a rational, world-centric level of consciousness to become predominant average consciousness within the next world-civilisation stage of human evolution (or risk total collapse).

30. A ‘lifting’, developing and deepening of socially average consciousness does not mean the denial, dis-validation or suppressing of older forms of consciousness by higher, wider forms. That way lies elitist domination and authoritarian social pathology.

31. The way to the now needed, rational and world-centric One World consciousness also proceeds by preserving the positive aspects of all previous, pre-modern forms of consciousness, including that of RWP. Previously predominant, they now just become secondary to, and integrated within, the newly predominant stage of One World consciousness.

Literature

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (3rd edn 1942)
Erich Fromm, The Fear of Freedom (1943)
Ernst Bloch, Erbschaft dieser Zeit (1935)
Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself (1953)
T.W. Adorno and M. Horkheimer, Soziologische Exkurse (1956)
Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967)
Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, The Hidden Injuries of Class (1972)
Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995)

 
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