17 November 2014

Drugs for Thought

Why Do So Many People Get Lost in Drugs Instead of Making a Life That You Don't Need to Escape From?

By Tim Hjersted
Many of us, perhaps most of us, all do some form of drug. When our drug of choice isn’t marijuana it’s usually alcohol. And when it’s not either of those the national standard for our consumer society is, of course, shopping. More than likely it’s probably both or all of the above.

"I believe, inherently, that the structures of society are driving us mad. Though most of us believe ourselves to be fairly well-adjusted, healthy individuals, we are all patients in the asylum together now."

But for most in the West, shopping fills the void and thrills the would-be thrilled. Several research studies have revealed the similar effects shared by shopping and other drugs. When people go shopping, a brain chemical known as Dopamine is released into the body, the same chemical that’s released when people drink alcohol, sniff cocaine or fall in love. Dopamine acts on the brain’s reward center, and is what gives people a “shoppers high” when looking for new things to buy.

I’ve experienced this subtle euphoria many times while standing in the checkout isle at that final moment of purchase. It reminds me of the quick-cut shots in Requiem For A Dream: pupils dilating, chemicals hitting the bloodstream, eyes dimming as the drug washes over the user. Not surprisingly, shopping provides a much more safe (though far more expensive) fix. Indeed, for the well-adjusted and law-abiding, shopping is one of America’s favorite past-times.

Not to say buying things or smoking pot or drinking alcohol is bad in and of itself. They’re not. It’s our habit of getting addicted to them that’s cause for the question: why do we do drugs? Doesn’t matter if your personal drug is socially acceptable or not. Television, gambling, sex, video games, sports, eating, prescription drugs, work, Facebook, wealth accumulation, relationships – the point is that culturally, socially, very few of us are not addicted to something.

If you want to be cynical you could say that what you’re addicted to is what makes you – you. Truthfully though, most people are addicted to the same things. From a social perspective, it’s what makes these addictions okay. It’s what makes them not seem like addictions.

But why do so many people get addicted to things in the first place? The benefit of getting addicted to something is, in essence: escape. We get so narrowly and compulsively focused on something that we block out the rest of reality. Now, why would be want to insulate ourselves from reality so fully that our behavior is destructive to other aspects of our lives?

I believe, inherently, that the structures of society are driving us mad. Though most of us believe ourselves to be fairly well-adjusted, healthy individuals, we are all patients in the asylum together now. Besides anthropologists, most of us don’t have the kind of broad cultural perspective necessary to see our society objectively. If a hunter-gatherer saw how we behave towards each other (at work, at school, in politics, with strangers), he’d think we’d all gone nuts. We lack the perspective to even question the sanity of things like banks, schools, bosses, employees, capitalist economics, and needing money in our society simply so we won’t starve. Modern life has become a frenzied, stressful, and overwhelming place. Our mental environment is polluted with advertisements and commercial intrusions of every kind.

Most of us do not think there is a connection between the basic structure of our capitalist society and the increasing social and mental problems that we in the affluent West have become affected by. If you’re depressed, for example, the problem isn’t the environment that made you depressed. If you suddenly flip out and want to shoot up a school or fly a plane into a government building, the problem isn’t society. The problem is you. Fortunately, we have a capitalist solution for that, too, of course. It’s called Prozac. So please let us know when you’re back to enjoying the work-and-spend cycle like the rest of us. :)

Now, beyond the more visible examples, there is a much more subtle neurosis at play here that affects all of us. To get a handle on this, I believe we need to seriously question the fundamental insecurity that is caused by needing to “get a job” simply to survive. It is the basis of our entire civilized paradigm. We’re kicked out on our own when we’re 18. Our parents do this as a sort of “tough love” – to build character, of course, though really it only causes the adolescent anxiety and insecurity. Regardless, they’re forced to get a low-paying job to pay rent every month, sucking away monthly income that never allows them to get ahead. They get in to debt so they can go to school (a requirement now to get any decent-paying job). After graduating, they’ll hopefully have good enough credit and be able to to make enough money to buy a house (which means more debt). A mortgage on a house usually won’t be paid off for twenty years, keeping them in debt to the banks for half of their adult lives. And all of this, all of this just so they can have a stable roof over their head – to fulfill the second most basic necessity in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

One of the most endearing memes in our society is that if you just work hard enough, anyone can make it. But despite how many people work earnestly in this system, it’s still not enough. We get in to debt with the hopes of graduating college and getting a good job. We keep paying rents or mortgages, but millions of people still find themselves devastated by the loss of their home or their job or both.

When you add it all up, I just have to ask what kind of psychological harm this is doing us. With all the anxiety, stress, isolation and insecurity that stems from this basic fact of civilized life, it is no wonder so many of us become addicted to one form of drug or another.

So, here’s what I would really like to ask: would we feel the desire to use our drug of choice so much if the world was different? If there were fewer problems, both on a personal and global level, would we keep looking for happiness at the bottom of a bottle or in the halls of the shopping mall?

If there were new mediums for our society to derive meaning and happiness, and less social oppressions conforming our lives into little boxes of paying rent and toilsome work – would we hold onto these drugs in our free time?

It may not be easy to imagine a world so amazing that smoking a joint or having a drink would somehow lessen the experience. For a moment though, let me argue that if we were to live in communities with radically different social and cultural structures, many of us, though not all I think, would have far less desire to take these consumer opiates, or at least not as much. If you are high from the excitement of a more spontaneous, authentic life – pot, alcohol, consumerism, TV and all the rest do, truly, make you “stoned” and more numb in the long run to more genuine forms of happiness.

Now, you might be saying, that’s great and all, but it doesn’t change the fact that we all have to work to live, the society around us is still mad and that’s not changing anytime soon. True. But here’s the problem: every time we use a synthetic or commercial means to produce a good time for us– whenever we want to relax or escape for a while– we give up the possibility of a radically more positive and saner future – if not for us, then for our grand kids. Beyond that, on simply a personal level, we are giving up the means to find happiness from within ourselves. If we chose not to watch TV, drink, or go shopping when we wanted to have fun, we would have to think of some other activity, like going biking, or going to the lake with friends, or drawing, or countless other activities that require our participation to create the experience. Whatever it is that we like to do, they would be activities that would rely on ourselves to find contentment and fun, and I think there is a certain worth in being able to create happiness independent of external forces. Substances that do most of the work of creating happiness for us create dependencies. Granted, it’s certainly a lot less work, but I don’t think these solutions are very healthy.

It’s like when a person only feeds their body fast food. Because most fast food contains partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a fat that is synthetically manufactured and not found in nature, your body doesn’t know how to process the fat and convert it into energy. But if you eat fast food long enough your body will manage to process it, however inefficient, just the way we are learning to process the low-protein high-fat entertainment we take in everyday. Because it doesn’t really work that well, we just need more of it to satisfy us, more to find that moment of immersion. More infotainment, more intoxication, more personal Hollywood scandals, more absurd and violent TV shows, more shopping – more visual and physical stimulus.

Amazingly, the way these partially hydrogenated fats work, they also block the processing of healthy fats, making us more dependent on the bad ones. We are reaching this crisis in society today: where real hearty forms of joy and happiness are becoming more and more scarce. The beauty and joy once appreciated and gained from connecting with nature, for example: getting out into the wilderness and enjoying the intrinsic quality of a local place is becoming a rare and misunderstood outlet to finding more joy in life.

Kids today living in urban jungles are increasingly growing up without this fundamental connection. Nature is something “out there,” read about in textbooks and more and more seems boring and uninteresting in comparison to the frenetic entertainment of TV, video-games, and the cellphone-shopping mall life of today’s kids. Kids are fed a constant data-stream of media representations that are constantly addressing them, putting them at the center of attention. In the world of media representations, it’s all about You You You. Naturally, when a mediated child has their rare encounter with an umediated experience, out in the wilderness where nothing was created specifically for them, and things just are – the child may find themselves at a loss to know what to do with themselves. What’s the point of being out here again? The fun kids perceive they want to have nowadays is almost always commercialized, packaged, and purchased at a store.

Of course, this is true for all of us grown-up kids as well. The myriad forms of entertainment produced for us has become remarkably proficient at its task. A glossy shine packages all of the promises that the consumer/work/spend paradigm offers. Billion dollar ad agencies and the brightest young minds straight out of school have meticulously studied the art and science of stimulating our desires. The older we get, the more natural this mad society becomes, and the more content we are with what it has to offer. Conditioned to accept this culture’s escape routes for long enough, it’s possible we wouldn’t even recognize a better life if we saw it. And if we could see it, I’m wondering if it would appear so alien to us that we would choose the comfortable and familiar over the less known, even though we secretly hate it. What if we have gone too far, and lived so long this way that we now identify with our addictive habits so much that we see them as a part of ourselves? Toxic as our culture may be to our health – with all its drugs and distractions – if these drugs have become our comforting friend, could we let them go?

Ladies and gentlemen!: Has our bread become baked?

Well, maybe. But if we were to wean ourselves from the fast-food opiates of our culture, I think it’s possible we could begin to discover new mediums for creating meaning in our lives, and possibly a source of joy that is far more valuable than any transient satisfaction.

Now if we want to dream big, let’s dream big. In the future, I see a society where the basic needs of every human being are guaranteed: food, shelter, health care – cradle to grave security. I see a future without the need for toilsome work, without nation-states, without rulers and ruled, hierarchy or war. You think this sounds like a fantasy, but it is possible now. The problem is not technical, nor creative. It is a problem of cultural lag – of the outdated institutions and values of our time not being able to keep pace with technological advancement.

But to realize this kind of future, however impossible – to imagine anything better than what we presently have – it means we must wake up to the problems that our generation must deal with.

Part of the apathetic nature of our generation lies in our awareness of large problems and our in-action to do anything about them. Indeed, this behavior, this conflict of mental awareness and physical inaction is in large-part what creates apathy. When one has ideals but doesn’t live by them, it creates a subtle but long-term conflict of self, because it’s not authentic living. Apathy is a coping mechanism for this conflict. Either you have to take action or you have to stop caring. One has to happen for your inner psychology to not go nuts. To suppress that empathy and anger in the face of or awareness of oppression is usually the path of least resistance.

Yes, if we do seek the other path, we will get angry. Yes, there will be difficulties and we will be face to face with the true injustices of the world as they exist today. But ultimately, this anger can be a good thing. If we can channel it into creating new systems of living and cultivating the positive values we believe in it will be a hell of a good thing. So trust your instincts. Tap into the feelings you have in your gut, because an amazing thing happens when you do start to take action – your cynicism dissolves. Suddenly, everything isn’t hopeless, and you realize we can change the world. Suddenly, you have the power to choose for yourself. We can do it if we just work on doing it.

Now, let’s skip ahead a few years. You’ve gotten engaged. You’re reading alternative news. You’re involved in at least one local activist group and are working on projects that will affect change on multiple levels of society. You’re a damn awesome person! …in other words, and probably better in bed, too.

But, there’s a danger here. After a while, drugs can pose another potential problem. When we get fired up to change things and have begun to do the work that it’s going to take to make it happen, the changes we seek will still not come to fruition for some time. The large paradigm-shifting change we envision may be more than a generation away. What we will experience until then will be many small, sometimes large, but often immediately intangible differences that won’t be noticed until they have begun to stack up.

I noticed that after I had begun to do some of this work, it seemed like partaking in some of my old favorite hobbies was okay, now that it was accompanied by some more substance. I’d do the work, but a week later, many months later, now a couple years later, the big problems are still all there, so in the mean time it made sense to go out and party.

The danger is, when going out to “find release” from our Monday morning problems, or our global-local problems, we risk depleting the energies we could otherwise give to solving the problem. We need energy to solve issues or think creatively, and partying like a rock-star will very well make us energized for the night, but likely burnt out in the morning.

What is required for us to be successful is a sustained effort. Major powers have so far always won out because of their sheer momentum to keep on churning – it’s what led the hippie generation to burn out and finally pick up day jobs and it’s what has led the rave generation to become equally jaded and apathetic, among other sub-cultures.

What was once a groundswell of potential creative energy and fresh thinking has again been diminished to what looked to be a passing fad of idealistic youngsters. Again, I think because we did not have the sustained, patient effort to turn our ideals into reality, and because these sub-cultures spent more time on drugs than working on solving root causes.

By doing drugs, we have potentially committed a gigantic fraud upon ourselves. Like our parents of the last generation, we are close to subduing the vibrant and powerful spirit of our bodies to the point of quiet bickering, to complaining quietly until it may have almost found solace in the only mediums it has been offered. We may now have almost accepted small pleasures and transient moments of commercial entertainment as enough – as if this was all there ever was.

Our generation, whether they subscribe to higher ideals or not, is quickly and dangerously reaching the point where it is enough to “just get by”: to get a job, watch movies, have sex and buy more stuff. We can leave these problems to someone else. Content with the barrage of entertainment that consumer culture has to offer, and overwhelmed by the daunting challenge our generation faces, there are enough distractions to keep us comfortably numb well after we’ve forgotten what real life is all about.

Now, it’s true. Even eco-minded activists like to watch movies or get engrossed in the occasional videogame, go out for a few beers – whatever it is. It’s certainly fine to enjoy these things. It’s just important to keep these forms in balance with everything else in life.

For me, activism, drawing, making music, dancing, biking, photography, culture jamming, writing and other creative arts are forms of enjoyment that will resonate with me long after the activity itself. And more specifically, these are cyclical activities that rise like a spiral towards some goal unnecessary to define. That is the problem for me with ingestible or entertainment drugs. They lead only back to themselves. Taking the drugs, finding the escape and release we find temporary solace. Then Monday morning comes; we turn on the TV, and we are confronted with the same problems. We have not grown wiser. We have not sought progress towards any alternative. The only recourse is another drug, to find oblivion once again the next weekend and do it all over again, week after week after week.

This cycle is likely filled with inspirational moments, rousing declarative moments to change and wrestle away the bouts of apathy. The moment reading this may be another one. But affirmations are not useful by themselves. They must be followed by focused, practical action – action that reinforces our beliefs of who we are. To be aware of the traps that lead back to the same looping cycles is a good start. From there, we can choose what step we want to take next.

12 November 2014

Hustlers

AlterNet / By Nomi Prins

Why the American Empire Was Destined to Collapse

November 10, 2014

Several years after the Wall Street-ignited crisis, the nation’s top bank CEOs (who far out-accumulated their European and other international counterparts) continue to hobnob with the president at campaign dinners where each plate costs more than one out of four US households make in a year. Financial bigwigs lead their affluent lives, unaffected, unremorseful, and unindicted for wreaking havoc on the nation. Why? Because they won. They hustled better. They are living the American Dream.

This is not the American Dream that says if you work hard you can be more comfortable than your parents; but rather, if you connive well, game the rules, and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm, human empathy, caring, compassion, and connection have been devalued from the get-go. This is the flaw in the entire premise of the American Dream: if we can have it all, it must by definition be at someone else’s expense.

In Why America Failed [3], noted historian and cultural critic Morris Berman’s brilliant, raw and unflinchingly accurate postmortem of America, he concludes that this hustling model, literally woven into the American DNA, doomed the country from the start, and led us inevitably to this dysfunctional point. It is not just the American Dream that has failed, but America itself, because the dream was a mistake in the first place. We are at our core a nation of hustlers; not recently, not sometimes, but always. Conventional wisdom has it that America was predicated on the republican desire to break free from monarchical tyranny, and that was certainly a factor in the War of Independence; but in practical terms, it came down to a drive for "more" -- for individual accumulation of wealth.

So where does that leave us as a country? I caught up with Berman to find out.

Nomi Prins: Why America Failed is the third book in a trilogy you wrote on the decline of the American Empire. How did this trilogy evolve?

Morris Berman: The first book in the series, The Twilight of American Culture (2000), is a structural analysis, or internal comparison, of the contemporary US and the late Roman Empire. In it, I identified factors that were central to the fall of Rome and showed that they were present in the US today. I said that if we didn’t address these, we were doomed. I didn’t believe for a moment we would, of course, and now the results are obvious.

After 9/11, I realized that my comparison with Rome lacked one crucial component: like Rome, we were attacked from the outside. Dark Ages America (2006), the sequel to Twilight, is an analysis of US foreign policy and its relationship to domestic policy, once again arguing that there had to be a serious reevaluation of both if we were to arrest the disintegration of the nation. Of course, no such reevaluation took place, and we are now in huge economic trouble with no hope of recovery, and stuck in two wars in the Middle East that we cannot seem to win.

By the time I sat down to write the third volume, Why America Failed, I was past the point of issuing warnings. The book is basically a postmortem for a dying nation. The argument is that we failed for reasons that go back more than 400 years. As a result, the historical momentum to not undertake a reassessment, and just continue on with business as usual, is very powerful. At this point we can no more reverse our downward trajectory than we can turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub.

NP: So you’ve been analyzing America’s decline for over a decade. Was there a particular, specific inspiration for Why America Failed?

MB: I was originally inspired by the historian Walter McDougall (Freedom Just Around the Corner) and his argument about America being a nation of hustlers. The original working title was Capitalism and Its Discontents, the point being that those who dissented from the dominant ideology never had a chance. The crux of the problem remains the American Dream: even “progressives” see it as the solution -- including, I have the impression, the Wall Street protesters -- when it’s actually the problem.

In my essay collection, A Question of Values, I talk about how we are driven by a number of unconscious assumptions, including the notions of our being the “chosen people” and the availability of an endless frontier (once geographical, now economic and technological). For a while I had The Roots of American Failure as the title, but more to the point would be The Failure of American Roots -- for even our success was a failure, because it was purely material. This is really what the American Dream is about, in its essence, as Douglas Dowd argued years ago in The Twisted Dream.

There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a Native American scouting expedition that came across the starving members of the Donner Party in 1847, who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. The expedition, which had never seen white people before, observed the Donner Party from a distance, then returned to base camp to report what they had seen. The report consisted of four words: “They eat each other.” Frankly, if I could summarize the argument of Why America Failed in a single phrase, this would be it. Unless Occupy Wall Street (or some other sociopolitical movement) manages to turn things around in a fundamental way, “They ate each other” will be our epitaph.

I should add that Why America Failed is actually part of a lineage, following the path initially staked out by Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward and Louis Hartz. Between 1948 and 1955 they all argued something similar; I just updated the argument.

NP: What do you say to people who don’t believe America has failed; who may just see the country as going through a bad patch, so to speak? What evidence have you compiled for the argument that the United States has failed?

MB: The major evidence is, of course, economic, and there is by now a slew of books showing that this time around recovery is not really possible and that we are going to be eclipsed by China or even Europe. These are books by very respected economists, I might add; and even a US Intelligence report of two yrs ago, “Global Trends 2025,” says pretty much the same thing, although it adds cultural and political decline into the mix. The statistics here are massive, but just consider a single one: in terms of collective wealth, the top 1 percent of the nation owns more than the bottom 90 percent. If we have a future, it’s that of a banana republic. And there will be no New Deal this time around to save us; just the opposite, in fact, as we are busy shredding any social safety net we once had.

NP: How does this relate to the rise of the Tea Party, or the Occupy Wall Street movement?

MB: Americans may be very vocal in claiming we’ll eventually recover, or that the US is still number-one, but I believe that on some level they know that this is whistling in the dark. They suspect their lives will get worse as time goes on, and that the lives of their children will be even worse than that. They feel the American Dream betrayed them, and this has left them bitter and resentful. The Wall Street protests are, as during the Depression, a demand for restoring the American Dream; for letting more people into it. The Tea Party seeks a solution in returning to original American principles of hustling, i.e. of a laissez-faire economy and society, in which the government plays an extremely small role. Thus they see Obama as a socialist, which is absurd; even FDR doesn’t fit that description. There are great differences between the two movements, of course, but both are grounded in a deep malaise, a fear that someone or something has absconded with America.

NP: Most political analysts place the blame for our current situation on major institutions, whether it is Wall Street, Congress, the Bush or Obama administrations, and so on. You agree with them to a great extent, but you also seem to place a lot of emphasis on the American people themselves—on individual values and behavior. Why is that? How do you see that as a factor?

MB: The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.

In addition, all of the data over the last 20 years show that Americans are not very bright, and not even the bright ones are very bright—it’s not merely a question of IQ. A Marist poll released on July 4, 2011 showed that 42 percent of American adults are unaware that the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, and this figure increases to 69 percent for the under-30 age group. Twenty-five percent of Americans don’t know from which country the United States seceded. A poll taken in the Oklahoma public school system turned up the fact that 77 percent of the students didn’t know who George Washington was, and the Texas Board of Education recently voted to include a unit on Estee Lauder in the history curriculum, when they don’t have one on the first president. Nearly 30 percent of the American population thinks the sun revolves around the earth or is unsure of which revolves around which. Etc. etc. How can such a population grasp a structural analysis of American history or politics? They simply aren’t capable of it.

NP: So, basically it’s only a matter of time before students are taking courses in the historical significance of Kim Kardashian? What are the deeper, structural obstacles, in your opinion, to the American public accepting your general argument?

MB: It seems to me that it would involve a complete reversal of consciousness. I remember after the publication of the German edition of Dark Ages America, a major Berlin newspaper, the TAZ, or Tageszeitung, ran a review of the book called “Hopes of a Patriot.” One of the things the reviewer said was that America might be able to save itself if it decided to pay attention to its more serious critics. What would it take for most Americans to regard someone like myself as a patriot, and someone like Dick Cheney as a traitor? Or Ronald Reagan as a simpleton who did the country enormous damage, and Jimmy Carter as a visionary who was trying to rescue it? As I said, this is not a matter of intelligence as IQ, because in America even the bright are brainwashed—just check out the New York Times. It’s more of an “ontological” problem, if you will.

Let me give you a concrete example. A friend of mine who is a dean at one of the nation’s major medical schools was very taken by my discussion of Joyce Appleby’s work, in my book Dark Ages America. He went out and bought her essay, "Capitalism and a New Social Order," in which she describes how the definition of “virtue” underwent a complete reversal in the 1790s—from putting your private interests aside for the sake of the greater good, to achieving individual material success in an opportunistic environment.

As a dean, my friend interacts with faculty a lot, at department meetings, cocktail parties, or whatever. He took these opportunities to raise the topic of the rapid redefinition of virtue in colonial America, only to discover that within 30 seconds, the eyes of whomever he was talking to glazed over and they would change the subject. Tocqueville said it in 1831, and it is even more true today: Americans simply cannot tolerate, cannot even hear, fundamental critiques of America. IQ has very little to do with it. In an ontological sense, they simply cannot bear it. And if this is true for the “best and the brightest,” then what does this say for the rest of us?

NP: What do you think can be done to reverse the situation? Is there any hope for the American Dream?

MB: At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values, then change would require a different people, a different country. In dialectical fashion, it is precisely those factors that made this nation materially great that are now working against us, and that thus need to be jettisoned. What we need now is a large-scale rejection of the American Dream, and an embracing of the alternative tradition I talk about in Why American Failed. These are the “hopes of a patriot,” and they are simply not going to be realized.

NP: Can you mention briefly what some of those alternative traditions are ? You have a chapter that’s attracted some controversy regarding the Civil War – how does that relate?

MB: As I mentioned earlier, the working title of the book was Capitalism and Its Discontents. The reason I liked it (for various reasons, my publisher didn’t) is that it does reflect the thesis of the book: that although there was always an alternative tradition to hustling, with one exception America never took it, and instead it marginalized those alternative voices. The exception was the antebellum South, which raises real questions as to the origins of the Civil War, which were not about slavery as a moral issue, no matter how much we like to believe that. As Robin Blackburn writes in his recent book, The American Crucible, antislavery ideas were far more about notions of progress than about ones of racial equality. That’s a whole other discussion, however, and I have it out in the book for an entire chapter.

But the main narrative here is that from Captain John Smith and the Puritan divines through Thoreau and Emerson to Lewis Mumford and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith to Jimmy Carter, this tradition of capitalism’s discontents never really stood a chance. It never amounted to anything more than spiritual exhortation. Reaganomics, also known as “greedism,” was not born in 1981; more like 1584. The result is that for more than four centuries now, America has had one value system, and it is finally showing itself to be extremely lopsided and self-destructive. Our political and cultural system never let fresh air in; it squelched the alternatives as quaint or feeble-minded. Appearances to the contrary, this is what “democracy” always meant in America—the freedom to become rich. The alternative tradition, in the work of the figures mentioned above, sought to question the definition of “wealth.” If the dominant culture was following the template of “they eat each other,” the alternative tradition can be encapsulated in that famous line from John Ruskin: “There is no wealth but life.”

NP: Speaking of wars, having just undergone Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration, and actually the Republican candidates as well, have begun to vilify China, and have amped up the volume regarding Iran. You talk about our need as a country to have an external enemy. In what way do you believe that need will manifest itself in any coming military actions?

MB: I deal with this issue in A Question of Values. America was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something—the British and the Native Americans, to begin with—and it never abandoned that framework. It doesn’t really have a clear idea of what it is in a positive sense, and that has generated a kind of national neurosis. I mean, we were in real trouble when the Soviet Union collapsed; in terms of identity, we were completely adrift until the attacks of 9/11 (just think of how frivolous and meaningless the Clinton years were, in retrospect). War is our drug of choice, and without an enemy we enter a kind of nervous breakdown mode.

Hence the saber rattling against Iran now, or the foolish decision to set up an army base in Australia to “watch” China. What bothers me is that we are doing all of this unconsciously, and we always have. Mr. Obama, like most of his predecessors, is little more than a marionette on strings (Mr. Carter being the only postwar exception to this pattern, in a number of significant ways). Once again, true intelligence is ontological, and as a nation, we are sorely lacking in that department.

NP: But haven’t we heard all this before? After all, there is a long history of the so-called “declinist” argument, that the country is in permanent decline and has no future. Such books come and go; meanwhile, the country goes on. What makes your book, or books, different from previous assertions that “it’s all over”?

MB: Decline takes time; an empire doesn’t come to an end on August 4, A.D. 476, at two in the afternoon. Similarly, declinist analysis also takes time: the books you are referring to form a continuous argument, from Andrew Hacker’s The End of the American Era in 1970 to George Modelski’s Long Cycles in World Politics in 1987 to Why America Failed in 2011. And there have been a good number of declinist works in between. These books are not wrong; rather, they are part of an ongoing recognition that the American experiment is finished. Even then, we can go back to before Professor Hacker to Richard Hofstadter (1948), who called the US a “democracy of cupidity”; or to C. Vann Woodward (1953), who wrote that we were probably doomed because we had put all of our eggs in one ideological basket, namely laissez-faire economics. During these years the country hasn’t just “gone on”; what it has done is progressively fallen apart, and these writers have made it their business to document the process.

NP: Finally, you moved to Mexico a number of years ago. Is all this why? Do you ever see yourself coming back to America?

MB: There are a lot of answers to that question, and yes, some of the reasons can be found in the above dialogue. You know, the air is really “thin” in the United States, because the value-system is one-dimensional. It’s basically about economic and technological expansion, not much else; the “else” exists at the margins, if it exists at all. I first discovered this when I traveled around Europe in my mid-20s. I saw that the citizens of those countries talked about lots of things, not just about material success. Money is of course important to the citizens of other countries, Mexico included, but it’s not necessarily the center of their lives.

Here’s what the US lacks, which I believe Mexico has: community, friendship, appreciation of beauty, craftsmanship as opposed to obsessive technology, and—despite what you read in the American newspapers—huge graciousness; a large, beating heart. I never found very much of those things in the US; certainly, I never found much heart. American cities and suburbs have to be the most soulless places in the world. In a word, America has its priorities upside down, and after decades of living there, I was simply tired of being a stranger in a strange land. In A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues conclude that happiness is achieved only by those who manage to escape the American value-system. Well, the easiest way to escape from that value-system, is to escape from America.

27 March 2014

Moar Stuff 2014...just rambling

Okay okay so it's been four years since I've posted to this blog. With the advent of Facebook and Tumblr, there isn't really any need anymore...I get people that compliment me on the rubber Tumblr blog now than I do the Blogger one; to which I want to retort, "but you realize how much more work it is to actually create content on a blog than it is just to re-blog a picture, right? Be careful what you say, a**shole!"

Just kidding. I'll take any compliments I can, anywhere anytime.

So once again I'm thrown into a frenzy with my life the past six months. Most of you know that I've been happily with my partner Paul for almost four years now, had a bit of a tryst with sexy Anthony for six months last year additionally while travelling to Victoria and having some fun together with some others semi-regularly for the past six months or so too. Sue me, I'm horny!

So, some of you also know that Paul hasn't been well for awhile. I went into this relationship knowing that he had the condition lymphedema in his left leg and had had it for six years before meeting me. It wasn't a show-stopper for me; I just find him so damn sexy and was ga-ga for him ever since Murad introduced him to me.

We've been living together since (officially) May 2012 and I basically sold everything or put everything into storage that I had hauled out here from Calgary in 2009, so some of the stuff I only had for a couple years before getting rid of it again. Luckily most of it was second hand and I've managed to repurpose some of the stuff I bought new, but a lot of my stuff and some of the stuff I inherited from Murad has been in storage for almost two years now....what a stupid waste of money.

I had had full intention to just let go of enough stuff to get rid of the high priced storage locker this winter, then the unthinkable happened...Paul started getting what looked like scabs on his lymphedemic leg which progressively got worse, until he was diagnosed with a angiosarcomic tumour on his lymphedemic leg in mid-December 2013. The doctors had high suspicion of what it was in late November however it wasn't official until December 23rd...nice Christmas present eh?

Anyways, the surgeons decided a full left leg disarticulation was the only way to ensure the highest chances of survival for Paul, so on January 9, 2014 they amputed his leg left right to the hip socket.

Those three weeks between December 23rd and January 9 were probably the worst and longest three weeks of my life...four years to the day that Murad died. It was a crazy couple of days, waiting for him in the Surgery Wing waiting room, waiting the days it took for him to get off the anesthetics. It was a terrible terrible situation and to have to face an obvious, visual, aggressive cancer tumour right in your face every day was one of the worst things I've ever had to deal with. Paul was an absolute wreck and initially wasn't on any painkillers so in addition to the pain neither of us was sleeping, trying to keep everything together, and basically having the worst Christmas imaginable.

I was honestly relieved after January 9. Despite having to now life with an amputee partner, at least that fucking cancer was gone. The last three months have been recovery, stabilization, adjustment. Paul seems to be adjusting to his new reality fairly well. I am trying to keep us afloat financially; already saying goodbye to a chunk of my retirement plan to keep the mortgage paid...it's probably going to be at least another year before he works again. I've been busy with Rubbout the past month and feel bad that I haven't been focusing enough time on getting Paul's paperwork done; filing insurance claims, submitting tax credits to provincial and federal governments, gas tax credits, transit and transportation option applications, entertainment card options, amputee benefits, on and on and on...oh yeah, and now 2013 Income Tax is rearing its ugly head. I will get at that stuff soon enough, but now Paul is being asked to start chemotherapy and now that we're reading up a bit more on angiosarcoma, he is freaking out and figuring he's going to die within the next couple years and frankly freaking me the fuck out again.

I typically have to go through a week of worst case scenario imagery in my head before getting a grip again and moving on. I do worry about him a lot and I pray (if that's the right word) that the chemotherapy isn't going to be overly horrible for him. He's been through enough already...I wish this would end but if you talk to anyone who has had cancer, it never really does end. I just feel exhausted just thinking about it. I can't even fathom losing another boyfriend. I can't even fathom having to go through another cancer situation again. I've told him I move forward with the belief that the cancer was all contained within the leg and none has made it into the rest of his body, and even if a few of the cancer cells did, the rest of his body has the immune system to keep the cancer at bay, something his leg didn't have a chance with.

I've been handling things okay, I think. I know for a fact I've been channelling my stress and frustration into epic situations in the bedroom with our lovers or solo sessions, rubber or not. I haven't been particularly overboard with partying or drinking or anything and I try to involve Paul as much as he wants to get involved. We have a great relationship that way.

I don't know where things are going or how much I'm going to have to sacrifice to help Paul get through this but I love my man and will stay with him as long as I'm needed. I know he appreciates it and I don't want anything in return though I do find I have to vent my frustrations on him sometimes which isn't good but he expects it from me so it's not that bad if he knows to expect it, perhaps? I am learning to be more careful what I say.

I'm riding my bike every day, slowly getting back into running again, Rubbout 23 is going to be amazing, the summer is looking up so long as Paul is going to be okay. I'm going to Seattle with friends at Easter and Chicago for IML in May. Lovely.

06 March 2013

Confessions of An Economic Hitman

from Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins p xii

“Some would blame our current problems on an organized conspiracy. I wish it were so simple. Members of a conspiracy can be rooted out and brought to justice. This system, however, is fueled by something far more dangerous than conspiracy. It is driven not by a small band of men but by a concept that has become accepted as gospel: the idea that all economic growth benefits humankind and that the greater the growth, the more widespread the benefits. This belief also has a corollary: that those people who excel at stoking the fires of economic growth should be exalted and rewarded, while those born at the fringes are available for exploitation.

“The concept is of course, erroneous. We know that in many countries economic growth benefits only a small portion of the population and may in fact result in increasingly desperate circumstances for the majority. This effect is reinforced by the corollary belief that the captains of industry who drive this system should enjoy a special status, a belief that is the root of many of our current problems and is perhaps also the reason why conspiracy theories abound. When men and women are rewarded for greed, greed becomes a corrupting motivator. When we equate the gluttonous consumption of the earth's resources with a status approaching sainthood, when we teach our children to emulate people who live unbalanced lives, and when we define huge sections of the population as subservient to an elite minority, we ask for trouble. And we get it.”

26 November 2012

“I am a sick man…” – The Depravity of Collapse

by Sandy Kulturcritic

“I am a sick man… I am a wicked man.” So opens Dostoyevsky’s small literary offering, Notes From Underground. It is, in significant respects, a profound critique of modern rationality, our perverse preoccupation with self-interest, and the crisis currently facing our global community.

In a world that is already bracing for cataclysmic failure, the political and military elites of the most advanced nations on earth are making a mad – that is to say, a sick and wicked – dash to the finish line. As world economies teeter on collapse, and more primitive polities fall prey to greedy and over-reaching imperial aggressors, the Western hegemony drives full speed ahead, hastening planetary failure through global looting and pillaging of any and all appropriately objectified ‘resources’– natural or human. It is a game of capture the flag like none the world has ever seen before.

In the face of stark climatic disruption, urban-industrial-induced global warming, and run away resource depletion, the captains of Western industry and political economy are competing for the final bits of increasingly rare, but once plentiful earthly treasures. The visceral reactions of mother earth, along with the cries of indigenous populations, be damned! And commercializing our circumstance only exacerbates the real problem when, for example, the climate news blog ThinkProgress awards cover of the year to Bloomberg Businessweek for its Monday morning quarterbacking diagnosis that “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.” We all then dutifully salute, applaud, and go on our merry way living the high life. It is the same strategy exercised by all the new green companies now peopling our airwaves, including those clean-coal and other energy strategies touting safe ways of extending the parade.

Let super storms wash away the continental shorelines, let tidal waves engulf our cities as well as the placid island holdouts, let fault lines cringe and crack against our drilling and horizontal fracking, let the indigenous and the poor vanish into the black-hole of rapacious commerce; as long as we civilized ones get our stuff! Let the glaciers melt, the oceans rise, homes disappear, and fires rage – so long as we have our way! There seems to be nothing to deflect us from the current path of planetary annihilation. In a world now peopled with purely profane ‘objects’ for manipulation and control, nothing sacred remains to be cherished except acquisitiveness. All is expendable in the incessant drive for progress and prosperity in the refined atmosphere of the elite first world.

Yet, this project of constant advancement and the unrestrained expansion of our Western hegemony has become a farce – a fantastical caricature of itself. The clowns in business suits have taken control of the bus and are driving it straight into oblivion with all of us onboard. Why, even the latest “terrorist” plots are seeming rather farcical, like cartoon characters cobbled together by the hands of our own militaristic propaganda machine. Even an old and pathetic Osama, gunned down by a crew of professional military SEALS, was memorialized in a fantastic story told by one of the fools, and then sold as a book for self-enriching profit while the going was good. But what good does such a spectacle achieve? Of course we had to do it, because the only just alternative was unacceptable – get out of the Middle East. So, we kill, and we stay, and we kill some more so we can keep up our lifestyle with more oil, markets and commercial successes. A chicken in every pot has now become a McDonalds, a Subway, or a Cinnabon shop in every city and village across the globe, and armed drones to protect their profit margins and labor costs.

Meanwhile, the mass of the industrialized West stands idly by, even cheering the militarists on, as the aggressive and apparently psychotic Israeli’s decimate the more traditional populations of Palestine, unwittingly accepting as purely objectified ‘collateral damage’ the lives of innocents. Yet, we continue to justify our own acts of aggression and death-dealing among the innocents in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, while severely chastising the similar fate of innocents in Syria. Will the hypocrisy of this empire never cease? Our policies would be comical if they were not so very tragic. Somebody should consider placing Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama together in a rubber-padded cell to contemplate the depth of their own depravity and inhumanity. Why not try members of the Israeli government for crimes against humanity… along with Obama, Clinton, Petraeus, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and the rest of the cadre? And we have not even touched on the crimes of the corporate elite, the 0.1%

The dissimulation, the sickness, indeed, the wickedness of this charade – this race to the bottom – is as frightening as it is demonic; destructive to the earth and its diverse inhabitants, including ourselves. OK! So, we are lost in this labyrinth, my friends. And what are we to do? As Derrick Jensen once pronounced: taking shorter showers is not the solution. Nor is implementation of new salvific technologies. This will only serve to extend the reign of terror loosed by our Western curriculum. As long as the politics of salvation, the myth of infinite progress, and a futuristic vision of global expansion continue to permeate our souls, the endgame is already lost amidst the propaganda and the promises.

The only “hope” is to hope-against-hope that the intellectual scaffolding and epistemological underpinning of the system will implode from greed-laden-overload and overly enlightened self-interest. I understand that my position may seem irrational, indeed inhuman from a certain majority perspective, but majority rule is not equivalent to egalitarian democracy. The irrationality and inhumanity of the system itself dictates that reason may only be the crutch enabling us to forge ahead blindly and happily into the future. On this view, un-reason may be a fundamental requirement to correcting our fatal and fateful course. But, of this, I am uncertain. Why? Because it is a fundamentally irrational position. And I, too, am Homo sapiens sapiens, a twice wise and hyper-rational animal.

I am a sick man… I am a wicked man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased. However, I don’t know beans about my disease, and I am not sure what is bothering me. I don’t treat it and never have, though I respect medicine and doctors. Besides, I am extremely superstitious, let’s say sufficiently so to respect medicine. (I am educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, I refuse to treat it out of spite. You probably will not understand that. Well, but I understand it. Of course I can’t explain to you just whom I am annoying in this case by my spite. I am perfectly well aware that I cannot “get even” with the doctors by not consulting them. I know better than anyone that I thereby injure only myself and no one else. But still, if I don’t treat it, its is out of spite. My liver is bad, well then — let it get even worse!
Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

13 February 2012

R.I.P. Whitney

I know everyone's consoling and opinionating, but Whitney Houston's death has hit me hard. All negativities, problems, tragedy, and criticisms aside, Whitney was one of my five divas (along with Madonna, Olivia, Sheena, and Kylie) who helped me cope through my challenging 80s and 90s until I came out of the closet, then remained steadfastly there belting out the amazing songs off My Love Is Your Love as I was coming out and testing the waters. So many memories, so many chills up my spine and big smiles whenever I felt her power. I grew up with you, and it pained me to see you struggle so much. I will miss your magic, Whitney, and the world has less shine to it now that you're gone. I hope you are at peace.

27 October 2011

03 October 2011

The Occupation of Wall Street

Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Posted on September 30, 2011 by NYCGA

This document was accepted by the NYC General Assembly on September 29, 2011
Translations: French, Slovak, Spanish

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

23 September 2011

Disturbing...


“What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here?” Williams asked. “The mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?”

“I think Americans understand justice,” Perry replied.

I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of — of cases, supportive of capital punishment. When you have committed heinous crimes against our citizens — and it’s a state-by-state issue, but in the state of Texas, our citizens have made that decision, and they made it clear, and they don’t want you to commit those crimes against our citizens. And if you do, you will face the ultimate justice.

Rick Santorum answered the question, and said that the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers was granting them special rights. From the debate transcript:

I would say any type of sexual activity has no place in the military. The fact they are making a point to include it as a provision within the military that we are going to recognize a group of people and give them a special privilege to and removing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell I think tries to inject social policy into the military. And the military’s job is to do one thing to defend our the military, wh I all-volunteer the ability to do so in a way that is [Inaudible]

Holy crap. It seems all anyone in the Library heard was 'gay', not 'soldier'. No respect from any of the candidates for this particular individual serving in the American Armed Forces in the Middle East. Unbelievable.

The last two Republican presidential debates have been some of the most macabre on record. Last time around, at the Reagan Library, the crowd gave the biggest applause of the night to the 234 executions that have occurred in Texas while Rick Perry was governor.

In Tampa, Florida at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate Monday night, the tea party-filled audience literally cheered aloud for the uninsured to be allowed to die.

The moment came during an exchange between moderator Wolf Blitzer and Ron Paul, whose libertarian views often make for good theater at Republican debates.

Blitzer asked if under Paul’s libertarian philosophy, a sick man without insurance should be allowed to die in the hospital rather than have the state pay his medical bills. Before Paul could answer that question, shouts of “yes!” and cheering bubbled up from the audience.

Who are these monsters in the crowds (and sometimes on the stage), seriously? Things are going bat-shit crazy south of the border...

03 August 2011

10 Things I Have Learned

Ten Things I Have Learned
www.miltonglaser.com
Part of AIGA Talk in London
November 22, 2001

1. YOU CAN ONLY WORK FOR PEOPLE THAT YOU LIKE.
This is a curious rule and it took me a long time to learn because in fact at the beginning of my practice I felt the opposite. Professionalism required that you didn’t particularly like the people that you worked for or at least maintained an arms length relationship to them, which meant that I never had lunch with a client or saw them socially. Then some years ago I realised that the opposite was true. I discovered that all the work I had done that was meaningful and significant came out of an affectionate relationship with a client. And I am not talking about professionalism; I am talking about affection. I am talking about a client and you sharing some common ground. That in fact your view of life is someway congruent with the client, otherwise it is a bitter and hopeless struggle.


2. IF YOU HAVE A CHOICE NEVER HAVE A JOB.

One night I was sitting in my car outside Columbia University where my wife Shirley was studying Anthropology. While I was waiting I was listening to the radio and heard an interviewer ask ‘Now that you have reached 75 have you any advice for our audience about how to prepare for your old age?’ An irritated voice said ‘Why is everyone asking me about old age these days?’ I recognised the voice as John Cage. I am sure that many of you know who he was – the composer and philosopher who influenced people like Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham as well as the music world in general. I knew him slightly and admired his contribution to our times. ‘You know, I do know how to prepare for old age’ he said. ‘Never have a job, because if you have a job someday someone will take it away from you and then you will be unprepared for your old age. For me, it has always been the same every since the age of 12. I wake up in the morning and I try to figure out how am I going to put bread on the table today? It is the same at 75, I wake up every morning and I think how am I going to put bread on the table today? I am exceedingly well prepared for my old age’ he said.

3. SOME PEOPLE ARE TOXIC AVOID THEM.

This is a subtext of number one. There was in the sixties a man named Fritz Perls who was a gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy derives from art history, it proposes you must understand the ‘whole’ before you can understand the details. What you have to look at is the entire culture, the entire family and community and so on. Perls proposed that in all relationships people could be either toxic or nourishing towards one another. It is not necessarily true that the same person will be toxic or nourishing in every relationship, but the combination of any two people in a relationship produces toxic or nourishing consequences. And the important thing that I can tell you is that there is a test to determine whether someone is toxic or nourishing in your relationship with them. Here is the test: You have spent some time with this person, either you have a drink or go for dinner or you go to a ball game. It doesn’t matter very much but at the end of that time you observe whether you are more energised or less energised. Whether you are tired or whether you are exhilarated. If you are more tired then you have been poisoned. If you have more energy you have been nourished. The test is almost infallible and I suggest that you use it for the rest of your life.

4. PROFESSIONALISM IS NOT ENOUGH or THE GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF THE GREAT.

Early in my career I wanted to be professional, that was my complete aspiration in my early life because professionals seemed to know everything - not to mention they got paid for it. Later I discovered after working for a while that professionalism itself was a limitation. After all, what professionalism means in most cases is diminishing risks. So if you want to get your car fixed you go to a mechanic who knows how to deal with transmission problems in the same way each time. I suppose if you needed brain surgery you wouldn’t want the doctor to fool around and invent a new way of connecting your nerve endings. Please do it in the way that has worked in the past.
Unfortunately in our field, in the so-called creative – I hate that word because it is misused so often. I also hate the fact that it is used as a noun. Can you imagine calling someone a creative? Anyhow, when you are doing something in a recurring way to diminish risk or doing it in the same way as you have done it before, it is clear why professionalism is not enough. After all, what is required in our field, more than anything else, is the continuous transgression. Professionalism does not allow for that because transgression has to encompass the possibility of failure and if you are professional your instinct is not to fail, it is to repeat success. So professionalism as a lifetime aspiration is a limited goal.


5. LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE.

Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’


6. STYLE IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED.

I think this idea first occurred to me when I was looking at a marvellous etching of a bull by Picasso. It was an illustration for a story by Balzac called The Hidden Masterpiece. I am sure that you all know it. It is a bull that is expressed in 12 different styles going from very naturalistic version of a bull to an absolutely reductive single line abstraction and everything else along the way. What is clear just from looking at this single print is that style is irrelevant. In every one of these cases, from extreme abstraction to acute naturalism they are extraordinary regardless of the style. It’s absurd to be loyal to a style. It does not deserve your loyalty. I must say that for old design professionals it is a problem because the field is driven by economic consideration more than anything else. Style change is usually linked to economic factors, as all of you know who have read Marx. Also fatigue occurs when people see too much of the same thing too often. So every ten years or so there is a stylistic shift and things are made to look different. Typefaces go in and out of style and the visual system shifts a little bit. If you are around for a long time as a designer, you have an essential problem of what to do. I mean, after all, you have developed a vocabulary, a form that is your own. It is one of the ways that you distinguish yourself from your peers, and establish your identity in the field. How you maintain your own belief system and preferences becomes a real balancing act. The question of whether you pursue change or whether you maintain your own distinct form becomes difficult. We have all seen the work of illustrious practitioners that suddenly look old-fashioned or, more precisely, belonging to another moment in time. And there are sad stories such as the one about Cassandre, arguably the greatest graphic designer of the twentieth century, who couldn’t make a living at the end of his life and committed suicide.
But the point is that anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn’t want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn’t change your sense of integrity and purpose.

7. HOW YOU LIVE CHANGES YOUR BRAIN.

The brain is the most responsive organ of the body. Actually it is the organ that is most susceptible to change and regeneration of all the organs in the body. I have a friend named Gerald Edelman who was a great scholar of brain studies and he says that the analogy of the brain to a computer is pathetic. The brain is actually more like an overgrown garden that is constantly growing and throwing off seeds, regenerating and so on. And he believes that the brain is susceptible, in a way that we are not fully conscious of, to almost every experience of our life and every encounter we have. I was fascinated by a story in a newspaper a few years ago about the search for perfect pitch. A group of scientists decided that they were going to find out why certain people have perfect pitch. You know certain people hear a note precisely and are able to replicate it at exactly the right pitch. Some people have relevant pitch; perfect pitch is rare even among musicians. The scientists discovered – I don’t know how - that among people with perfect pitch the brain was different. Certain lobes of the brain had undergone some change or deformation that was always present with those who had perfect pitch. This was interesting enough in itself. But then they discovered something even more fascinating. If you took a bunch of kids and taught them to play the violin at the age of 4 or 5 after a couple of years some of them developed perfect pitch, and in all of those cases their brain structure had changed. Well what could that mean for the rest of us? We tend to believe that the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind, although we do not generally believe that everything we do affects the brain. I am convinced that if someone was to yell at me from across the street my brain could be affected and my life might changed. That is why your mother always said, ‘Don’t hang out with those bad kids.’ Mama was right. Thought changes our life and our behaviour. I also believe that drawing works in the same way. I am a great advocate of drawing, not in order to become an illustrator, but because I believe drawing changes the brain in the same way as the search to create the right note changes the brain of a violinist. Drawing also makes you attentive. It makes you pay attention to what you are looking at, which is not so easy.

8. DOUBT IS BETTER THAN CERTAINTY.

Everyone always talks about confidence in believing what you do. I remember once going to a class in yoga where the teacher said that, spirituality speaking, if you believed that you had achieved enlightenment you have merely arrived at your limitation. I think that is also true in a practical sense. Deeply held beliefs of any kind prevent you from being open to experience, which is why I find all firmly held ideological positions questionable. It makes me nervous when someone believes too deeply or too much. I think that being sceptical and questioning all deeply held beliefs is essential. Of course we must know the difference between scepticism and cynicism because cynicism is as much a restriction of one’s openness to the world as passionate belief is. They are sort of twins. And then in a very real way, solving any problem is more important than being right. There is a significant sense of self-righteousness in both the art and design world. Perhaps it begins at school. Art school often begins with the Ayn Rand model of the single personality resisting the ideas of the surrounding culture. The theory of the avant garde is that as an individual you can transform the world, which is true up to a point. One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty.
Schools encourage the idea of not compromising and defending your work at all costs. Well, the issue at work is usually all about the nature of compromise. You just have to know what to compromise. Blind pursuit of your own ends which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact that in design we are always dealing with a triad – the client, the audience and you.
Ideally, making everyone win through acts of accommodation is desirable. But self-righteousness is often the enemy. Self-righteousness and narcissism generally come out of some sort of childhood trauma, which we do not have to go into. It is a consistently difficult thing in human affairs. Some years ago I read a most remarkable thing about love, that also applies to the nature of co-existing with others. It was a quotation from Iris Murdoch in her obituary. It read ‘ Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’ Isn’t that fantastic! The best insight on the subject of love that one can imagine.


9. ON AGING.

Last year someone gave me a charming book by Roger Rosenblatt called ‘Ageing Gracefully’ I got it on my birthday. I did not appreciate the title at the time but it contains a series of rules for ageing gracefully. The first rule is the best. Rule number one is that ‘it doesn’t matter.’ ‘It doesn’t matter that what you think. Follow this rule and it will add decades to your life. It does not matter if you are late or early, if you are here or there, if you said it or didn’t say it, if you are clever or if you were stupid. If you were having a bad hair day or a no hair day or if your boss looks at you cockeyed or your boyfriend or girlfriend looks at you cockeyed, if you are cockeyed. If you don’t get that promotion or prize or house or if you do – it doesn’t matter.’ Wisdom at last. Then I heard a marvellous joke that seemed related to rule number 10. A butcher was opening his market one morning and as he did a rabbit popped his head through the door. The butcher was surprised when the rabbit inquired ‘Got any cabbage?’ The butcher said ‘This is a meat market – we sell meat, not vegetables.’ The rabbit hopped off. The next day the butcher is opening the shop and sure enough the rabbit pops his head round and says ‘You got any cabbage?’ The butcher now irritated says ‘Listen you little rodent I told you yesterday we sell meat, we do not sell vegetables and the next time you come here I am going to grab you by the throat and nail those floppy ears to the floor.’ The rabbit disappeared hastily and nothing happened for a week. Then one morning the rabbit popped his head around the corner and said ‘Got any nails?’ The butcher said ‘No.’ The rabbit said ‘Ok. Got any cabbage?’

10. TELL THE TRUTH.

The rabbit joke is relevant because it occurred to me that looking for a cabbage in a butcher’s shop might be like looking for ethics in the design field. It may not be the most obvious place to find either. It’s interesting to observe that in the new AIGA’s code of ethics there is a significant amount of useful information about appropriate behaviour towards clients and other designers, but not a word about a designer’s relationship to the public. We expect a butcher to sell us eatable meat and that he doesn’t misrepresent his wares. I remember reading that during the Stalin years in Russia that everything labelled veal was actually chicken. I can’t imagine what everything labelled chicken was. We can accept certain kinds of misrepresentation, such as fudging about the amount of fat in his hamburger but once a butcher knowingly sells us spoiled meat we go elsewhere. As a designer, do we have less responsibility to our public than a butcher? Everyone interested in licensing our field might note that the reason licensing has been invented is to protect the public not designers or clients. ‘Do no harm’ is an admonition to doctors concerning their relationship to their patients, not to their fellow practitioners or the drug companies. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central to what we do.

15 July 2011

High To Low

Our Amazing Planet explores Earth from its peaks to it mysterious depths.
Source OurAmazingPlanet.com, Exploring the wonder and beauty of planet Earth through exclusive news, features and images.
I'm amazed how small the liveable zone is amongst all that scale of tall and deep.

27 May 2011

Kylie Aphrodite North American Tour 2011 Playlist

"The Carnival of the Animals" (Instrumental Introduction)
"Aphrodite"
"The One"
"Wow"
"Illusion"
"I Believe in You"
"Cupid Boy"
"Spinning Around"
"Get Outta My Way"
"What Do I Have to Do?"
"Everything Is Beautiful"
"Slow"
"Confide In Me"
"Can’t Get You Out of My Head"
"In My Arms"
"Looking For an Angel"
"There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)"
"Love at First Sight" (contains elements of "Can't Beat The Feeling")
"If You Don’t Love Me"
"Better the Devil You Know"
"Better Than Today"
"Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)"

Encore

"On a Night Like This"(contains elements of "Heaven")
"All the Lovers"

20 May 2011

WTF?!?!

It's a huge shallow pool, and there are definitely a lot of candidates to sift through without delving too deep into the parodies. There are a couple of parodies here (since there are some YouTube phenoms that have based their entire existence on gaying up hit songs) that are actually pretty good. And of course the gay porn stars trying to jump into a music career and the perennial gay faves like Ultra Nate. Enough flaming going on here to burn your body hair off.

Here are a few of the gayest videos produced EVA.

WTF from Matt Zarley on Vimeo







05 May 2011

The problem is....

- Christianity along with all other theistic belief systems is the fraud of the age.
- It serves to detach the species from the natural world, and likewise each other.
- It supports blind submission to authority.
- It reduces human responsibility to the effect that ‘god’ controls everything and in turn, awful crimes and great successes can all be justified in the name of the divine pursuit.
- most importantly, it empowers those who know the truth but use the myth to manipulate and control societies.
- The religious myth is the most powerful device ever created, and basically serves as the psychological soil upon which other myths can flourish.
- In the deeper sense, and the religious sense, a myth serves as an orienting and mobilizing story for the people. The focus is not on the stories relationship to reality, but on its function. A story cannot function unless it is believed to be true in the community or the nation. It is not a matter of debate, if some people have the bad taste to raise the question of the truth in the ‘sacred story’ the keepers of the faith do not enter into debate with them. They ignore them, or denounce them as blasphemous.

28 March 2011

My thoughts exactly

I love this comment from Clusterfuck Nation this morning. It's how I feel, EXACTLY. The comments were made on the topic of James Howard Kunstler's review of Charles Ferguson's documentary, Inside Job.

Jim, I tend to agree with you that our B-schools produce a lot of blinkered thinking:

"shameless academic mandarins caught on camera trying to weasel out of their greed-driven misdeeds"

On the other hand, last week I had lunch with a prominent academic economist. He shocked everyone at the table with his belief that our economic system, since long before the Crash, has been based on hallucinations and that the "recovery" is as fragile as a 100-year-old dowager with a bad cough.

He did not sleep the week after the Japan catastrophe. He also believes that it will only take one such event to lead to a new and deeper Crash, including an American default. It does not make the papers, he noted, that the Fed is quietly buying back Chinese-held US debt so keep America from collapsing. China has lost faith in the idea that American debt is worth a thing, he claimed. We just don't know it yet.

He says to watch two indicators: the value of the dollar vs. a market-basket of other currencies, and the price of oil, to see where the nation is going.

And yes, he understands and accepts the premises of Peak Oil. Maybe we'll get a new breed of economists in a future who understand scarcity and help others understand it. If we have universities.

Over lunch this guy stunned his listeners (but not me) by saying it's over, essentially. His students don't want to believe him when he tells them "the US will have to default on its debt. There is no way to repay it through either tax hikes or spending cuts. We are screwed."

Those Millennials had best learn some 19th century skills and stop texting on their smart phones.

I'll only disagree with you on one count: we may, in time, see Bernanke and his ilk less as cowards and shills and more as sad and doomed figures who knew the lumpenproletariat were not ready for the hard truth.

I think these financial kingpins in government will be recalled, in whatever histories we write in 200 years, as desperate men who tried to prop up a doomed system, based upon promises and emptiness, that took them down with it.