Sunday, October 27, 2013

Part II: Polytheistic Hunter-Gatherers Give Way to Monoculture

the ancient pictograph-petroglyph:
the resident guardian of aboriginal spirit on the Columbia River
Horsethief Lake State Park, WA

In my last blog post on Polytheism, I wrote about how it is high time for us as citizens of the world to reject the arid scientific paradigm we suffer under – a monoculture – a single viewpoint of bloodless rationality that separates us from our our instinctual energies and our souls; and separates us from our bodies, sense of place, and mother earth.

We need to make a paradigm shift from pretending that we are inhabited by only one way of being, one viewpoint, one god, to imagine the world as it really is, inhabited by many viewpoints, many ways of being, many gods. I tried to show that this shift is not as  as earth shattering as it seems: we are merely  reverting back to the worldview of our forebears who practiced  polytheistic psychology.

In this, Part II on the subject, I want to establish the connection showing how monocultures control our agriculture in the same way our monotheistic scientific myth controls society. And that this connection is no accident, but just two sides of the same coin. 

Craig Chalquist has written extensively about this connection: about how the rich tapestry of polytheistic psychology practiced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors first began to fray with the advent of agriculture.

“It could be argued that the first systematic psychological splits between self and world, inner and outer, conscious self and unconscious Other widened during the Agricultural Revolution, when the land was first thought of as a resource to exploit. Most of what we know as “civilization,” including centralized power, hierarchical management, urbanization and sprawl, institutionalized religion, organized warfare, and masculinist control sprouted along with those early mono-cropped fields.”⁠1

Mark Bittman has written an illuminating piece on the dangers of mono-crops recently in the New York Times.⁠2 He quotes Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute: “The plow has destroyed more options for future generations than the sword.”

Giant agribusiness corporations, using the latest science, have pushed hard to expand monoculture agriculture. It’s easier to make a profit growing vast fields of a single crop, each totally reliant, of course, on the latest technology to thwart enemy insects with pesticides and increase yields with more potent fertilizers and genetically modified seeds.

Wes Jackson exposes the folly of monocultures just as James Hillman (in my last blog post) exposes the folly of monotheism.  A single pest or disease can, out-of-the-blue, destroy an undiversified, single crop – leading, in some cases, to mass starvation as when the Irish potato blight struck. This susceptibility of monocultures to sudden wipe out is analogous, to my way of thinking, to the boom and bust cycles of the stock market.

Not only that, like unrestrained capitalism, monocultures are disastrous for the environment, causing massive soil erosion, depletion of vital microorganisms in the soil,  pollution of our water from overuse of fertilizers, and the poisoning of our entire ecosystem by overuse of pesticides and herbicides, to say nothing of the long term damage that will result from playing god by genetically modifying the seeds essential to our continued existence on earth.

Just as monotheism causes psychological splits – between self and world, inner and out, conscious self and unconscious – resulting in the psyche manifesting its shadow side in unintended dysfunctional behavior like violence and war, so does our over reliance on mono-crops lead to an unintended  war on nature – a fight to the death.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Part I: Our Monoculture Myth of Society and Farming

She Who Watches
Milkweed pod blowing in the chill winds after the 1st hard frost
CC Jean Stimmell: 10/26/13
We live utterly out of balance in a monoculture of rationality, bureaucracy, and corporate bean-counting.  If Uncle Sam were a person, he would be in desperate need of a chiropractor from walking bent-over-sideways, from favoring his rational side at the expense of his imaginative, instinctual and soulful parts.

We live and die today by only one myth: our god is science. As myths go, this one is as nourishing as a two-year-old Twinkie; it is a monoculture as dry and arid as a desert. Yet we go on staggering along like thirsty folks in Death Valley with no water in sight, blindly following this dead myth.

To work on behalf of society, myth must have certain key qualities that resonate with and give sustenance to the individual.  According to Joseph Campbell, myth is what makes human life “psychologically true, significant, and meaningful.”1We were not meant to dwell in the arid desert of scientific rationality, a monoculture of dried up theories and numbers. Campbell says that what humans seek is not more spreadsheets and cognitive therapy but “the rapture of being alive.”2

Monotheistic myths, no matter how expansive, can’t do justice to the human soul or psyche which is made up or many parts, each an essential part of the whole. What we need, according to James Hillman, is a polytheistic myth that can embrace all our various selves3.

Not only do our psyches have many directions and sources of meaning, these different parts are often in an ongoing conflict, according to Hillman. The question then becomes, if we take the polytheistic view, how do we make sense of our multiple parts that often are in conflict, how do we harness them to work together to move forward and create meaning in our lives.4

The way out of our “psychic turmoil” lies in reclaiming our imagination by having the courage to shift paradigms: To shift from viewing our lives through a single, limited viewpoint, governed by one god, to a polytheistic psychology inhabited by many gods. This is not as earth shattering as it seems: we are merely reactivating our imagination and reverting to the polytheistic worldview of our forebears.

For instance, according to Christine Downing, the classical Greeks viewed the world through the eyes of many gods, not just one; they saw the gods not as omnipotent and perfect but as energies that affect everyone; the gods were referred to “as theos, that is, as immortal, permanent, ineluctable aspects of the world.”5

No god in the ancient classical civilizations ever denied the existence of another god because as Downing says: “to deny even one of the pantheon diminishes the richness of individuals and of the world.6

No wonder our monoculture world of science is so diminished, artificial and plastic.

Throughout this essay, I have used monotheistic and monoculture interchangeably and I did that for a reason, making the connection in my mind after reading an excellent piece by Mark Bittman on agricultural monocultures; the article rails against annual monocultures controlling agriculture in the same manner that Hillman rails against monotheistic myths controlling society.7

I will writemore about this soon in the next entry in my blog, attempting to explain why the future of humanity depends on changing to a new paradigm based on perennial polysystems agriculture and polytheistic psychology –which, in reality, are two sides of the same coin.

Doing more research after writing this blog, I discovered that Craig Chalquist has already written extensively on the connection between how monocrops currently rule farming in the same manner that patriarchal monotheism rules society.8

2 Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of myth. New York: Doubleday p.5
3 Hillman, J. (1989). A blue fire: Selected writings by James Hillman. Thomas Moore (Ed.). New York: Harper Collins
4 Ibid. p. 41
5 Downing, C. (1993). Gods in our midst: Mythological images of the masculine: A woman’s view. New Orleans: Spring Journal Books p.9
6 Ibid., p. 10


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Banished Inner Voices

Untitled, oil on canvas*
Hannah Yata © 2012
(used with the artist's permission)

How we treat schizophrenia in America highlights two glaring deficiencies in our culture: The first centers on how we, as Americans, are loath to access or acknowledge our repressed, hidden parts and the second centers on the undeniable fact that we are the most violent people on earth.

By way of example, let us start by looking at how we treat schizophrenia in this country as opposed other countries around the world. First, we deny that such inner voices are “real” and, second, we are afraid of people who have them. We justify our fear because “schizophrenics are prone to violence” – although the vast majority are not – just as we fear people who are different because of skin color, religion, language or anything that feels foreign to us. 

Because we deny the reality of such voices and are petrified of them – fearing deep down that we might also have such voices lurking inside of us – we attempt to banish them with heavy duty drugs that may help some to gain a degree of control over their lives but at the expense of serious side effects. In the end, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy: By treating “schizophrenia” as a terrible disease – a lifetime incurable condition – that, indeed, is what happens!

Many indigenous societies use a different approach. They believe that the inner voices people hear are real, voices of spirits, and that when the spirit’s task is completed, the voices will go away. And they usually do, often with the help of the local shaman. In Europe there is a new patient-driven movement called Hearing Voices1 that uses a similar approach of treating the unseen voices with dignity and respect.

 Hearing Voices encourages people who hear distressing voices to identify them, to learn about them, and then to negotiate with them – just as the shaman does in indigenous societies. This approach so far has shown excellent results. Many of the people using the “Hearing Voices” approach have had “their voices diminish, become kinder and sometimes disappear altogether – independent of any use of drugs.”2

But the problem in American goes deeper than that.

Not only do we treat “schizophrenic” voices differently than other cultures, but the voices themselves are different: The inner voices Americans hear tend to be violent, often command hallucinations telling people to kill; whereas in other, more peaceful countries like India the images are more benign, telling folks to do domestic cores like cook or clean or rarely, at the worst, to do some disgusting act like drink out of a toilet bowl.

I firmly believe these two variables I have discussed are related on a society level as well as an individual one. The more our society denies its shadow side – the more we deny our negative inner voices – the more they mutate and metastasize, infecting us as individuals and as a society in pathological, and in our case, violent ways.

This topic extends far beyond how we treat schizophrenia. It offers a novel understanding into how we understand violence and war in our society. I wrote about this in two recent blogs.

A Terrible Love of War talks about, among other things, how we have increasingly normalized violence and war in Amerika, indeed, one can argue that WAR has become the leading metaphor of our times. Think how different our society would be if our leading metaphor was not war and survival-of-the-fittest but dancing?

A Terrible Loveof War: Another Loss, A Sequel makes the case for why we need to access and acknowledge our inner voices if we hope to live a conscious life of balance and harmony, When we start that journey, we find that the god of love and the god of war are both real and not mutually exclusive but in intimate relationship with one another.

2 The Violence in Our Heads by T. M. Luhrmann, 9/19/13, NYT

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Our shame for a lifetime of denial and forgetting

The Monarch by Hannah Yata ©2013
  This painting by Hanna Yata shocks my sensibilities, conjuring up in my imagination bipolar images of the best of times and the worse, of being and nothingness, of the beginning and the end.

The Monarch strikes me as an entrancing fantasy of stunning, evocative, erotic beauty and, at the same time, an apocalyptic nightmare of our planet’s last gasp, a final brilliant flash of orgasmic pyrotechnics as all life on earth – each species exquisite and irreplaceable – fades into extinction never to be seen again – all because of human greed and stupidity.

Yata writes, "The psychology of how women are portrayed in art and the media are amplified and exposed in my work. In turn, I’ve reinterpreted my experiences and how women are portrayed in today’s society to also extend to how it seems that we as individuals and as a race have objectified, commodified and exploited women, animals, and nature."

Her paintings are a striking rebuttal to most American historians who still promote the idea of “American Exceptionalism,"  which asserts we are qualitatively different from – and superior to – other countries and people around the world.

But the reality is, as her expressionistic paintings show, we are the opposite. Having built our American Empire on the backs of the oppressed – women, Native Americans, immigrants, animals, and Mother Nature – is not something for which we should feel proud.

Where is our shame?

Years ago, I wrote about becoming a vegetarian after reading Jonathan Foer's book, Eating Animals.[1] In his book, Foer tells a story about how Kafka was at a Berlin aquarium, after becoming a vegetarian, when he surprised his friends by turning to talk to the fish in an illuminated tank, saying: “Now at last I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.” [2] 

To Kafka, the fish was the poster child of oppression because, beyond all others, fish are the forgotten ones; their very existence beneath notice and unacknowledged. Foer goes on to say:

 “Shame is the work of memory against forgetting. Shame is what we feel when we almost entirely–yet not entirely–forget social expectations and our obligations to others in favor of our immediate gratification. Fish for Kafka must have been the very flesh of forgetting: their lives are forgotten in a radical manner;” [3]

Evoking that same moral clarity through her evocative paintings as Kafka did through his essays, Hanna Yata once again asks us to acknowledge our shame for a lifetime of denial and forgetting – hopefully before it is too late.

For those who might be interested: here are some 
of my own visions of apocalyptic climate change: 
 How to Have Hope in an Era Between No Longer and Not Yet
 In the Bible, God takes credit for the Great Flood – Who Will We Blame Now?
 Ecocide: The End of Eden

[1] Jonathan Safron Foer, Eating Animals, Little Brown & Company: New York.
[2] Ibid. p. 36
[3] Ibid. p. 37

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What did you do as a child that gave you a sense of timelessness?

Cannon Beach, Oregon: September 2013
CC Jean Stimmell

“Imagine that you were born with a particular seed, something that belongs to you. What are you here to do? And how do we find what calls us in the midst of the persistent pressures of time and the over load of information?...

We talk about not having time – but time can be taken by deciding what is important…Time can be expanded by making a space and dedicating it to what you are here to do. This is your sacred space…

Time is not a line – It is a circle of becoming, being, disappearing and becoming again...

At night in our dreams, we experience the elasticity of time – we are young, we are old; and space – we are on the ground, we can fly, the car can drive itself.

Joseph Campbell asks us: What did you do as a child that gave you a sense of timelessness?”

– Quotes above from Laurie Doctor’s book, Another Night in the Ruins.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

In order to know the human psyche, abandon experimental psychology and academia

Portland Oregon at Night: September 2013
CC Jean Stimmell
While in high school in the early 1960s – still part of the 1950's culture – I became fascinated with psychology, drinking in Sigmund Freud and particularly Otto Rank. I got accepted at Columbia University, which I didn’t expect, and agreed to attend immediately without knowing anything about their psychology department except, I figured, it must be great.

Imagine my surprise when I matriculated and found that the department was totally experimental psych: At my first class, I was issued 4 white rats and a Skinner box.

Disillusioned with psych and Columbia in general for not meeting my insane expectations that they could just hand me, pre-digested, all the answers to the big questions in life, I dropped out and ended up serving 18 months in Vietnam. When I got out of the service, I ended up getting a degree in radical sociology while supporting myself working union construction. I tried graduate school but found it too much like a bureaucratic corporation more concerned with winning turf battles and burnishing reputations by how many papers they could publish than in searching for truth and justice. Then I spent twenty years raising a family while working as a self-employed stonemason, freelance writer, and peace activist.

In a nutshell, I learned about psychology from the school of hard knocks. According to Carl Jung, that’s not a bad thing:

Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.[1]

[1] Carl Jung, The Psychology of the Unconscious. CW7: 409.