Wednesday, August 31, 2011

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop.”

Cornfield near Sewells Falls, 8/12/11.     Jean Stimmell ©2011

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop–”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Forgotten Prophets Predicting the Dawning of a New Day

Long Sands Beach, York ME: 8/12/11   Jean Stimmell ©2011

It’s funny. I have written a lot in my blog about how the old ways are not just fraying but on the verge of collapse, spelling the demise not just of the modernist age but, perhaps, the human race. Recently I wrote a long essay analyzing what is wrong with Democrats and Republicans and, indeed, the whole modernist paradigm, while promoting Jeremy Rifkin’s visionary work on a new way forward.

No one seems interested or expressed interest in publishing my essay. I’ll take much of the blame for not writing succinctly and clearly but, beyond that, I think it is another example of our whole society behaving like an addict looking for another fossil fuel fix. Like an ostrich in denial, we are trying to come to terms with diminishing oil reserves by either burying our collective heads in the tar sands of Canada or underground in land being fracked for natural gas.

Needing a break, I looked through some books by two of my heroes. I not only got the relief I was looking for, I got re-energized – and I hope they will do the same for you, too! 

The first book I consulted was Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan where he first presented his thesis, elaborated years later in The Media is the Message, that printing technology (moveable type and the invention of the printing press) was the catalyst to creating major trends – individualism, capitalism, nationalism, and Protestantism – that resulted in the Age of Enlightenment: modernity.

In this book, published in the early 1960’s, thirty years before the internet was the gleam in any geek’s eyes, McLuhan wrote that the print culture would soon collapse to be replaced by “electronic interdependence.”⁠1 In this new age, humankind would move from individualism to a collective society with a tribal base.

McLuhan not  only made this uncanny prediction about a return to tribal society but issued the following warning which, unfortunately, has come to pass, especially after 9/11:
“Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library (the old print culture), the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless [we are] aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terror, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drum, total interdependence, and super-imposed co-existence.”⁠2 

While The Gutenberg Galaxy foresaw the mess we would find ourselves in, it doesn’t offer a solution – or much hope – as far as I can tell.

The second book I consulted was The Courage to Create by Rollo May, who, also writing in the 1960’s, again predicted the collapse of the modern age: “We are living at a time when one age is dying and the new age is not yet born”

But he offers us a choice: “Shall we, as we feel our foundations shaking, withdraw in anxiety and panic? Frightened by the loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy?  Which appears to be exactly what is happening today.

Or will we self-actualize and take responsibility for creating our future: to “ consciously participate, on however small the scale, in the forming of the new society?..

As opposed to today’s  politicians and  commentators, Rollo May exposes not only the incalculable difficulty of the task ahead and the  immense courage it will take to pursue it but the heroic moment it presents to us: an exciting opportunity to access our higher selves to build a new, more humane and sustainable society from the wreckage of the old.
“We are called upon to do something new, to confront a no man’s land, to push into a forest where there are no well-worn paths and from which no one has returned to guide us. This is what the existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness. To live into the future means to leap into the nothingness…to leap into the unknown, and this requires a degree of courage for which there is no immediate precedent and which few people realize.⁠3

2 Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy.University of Toronto Press.P. 32.
3 Rollo May, The Courage to Create. W.W. Norton & Company: New York. 1975. pp. 11-12.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Republicans and Democrats – and The Social Construction of Reality

Taken at Green Gulch Zen Center, Russet Jennings ©2011

Part I
Republicans, both in Concord and Washington D.C., have bulldozed through budget cuts on the backs of the poor, the old, and the infirm, rather than dealing with our debt problems by increasing shared burdens.
Inquiring minds might ask: Why do Republicans lack empathy for the weakest and frailest among us?
Many Republicans would argue it is not their responsibility. Instead it is ‘big government’ which is causing the problem by stifling initiative and coddling those who do not try.  This viewpoint is best represented by Grover Norquist, architect of the current Republican pledge to not raise any taxes, who once famously said, “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
However, if that’s the case, Republicans don’t practice what they preach. Government has continued to grow bigger, not just in Democrat administrations but in each Republican administration, especially the last one under George W. Bush.
A better answer to Republican’s apparent callousness can be found by examining their underlying values. According to George Lakoff, well-known cognitive linguist, conservatives are more likely to believe in the metaphor of the ‘strict father’ who must discipline his children (citizens), while liberals, on the other hand, believe in the metaphor of the ‘nurturant parent’ where both parents work to keep their basically good children (citizens) away from corrupting influences.
Lakoff’s theory has merit but only carries us so far. Our values are embedded in something deeper, our worldview or weltanschauung: the underlying way we perceive the world so basic to who we are that we are not aware it exists–in the same way that a fish is not aware that it is swimming through water.

What we think is rock-solid reality is, in fact, socially constructed!  I first ran across this concept shortly after returning from Vietnam when I happened across a book in the UNH bookstore, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. It was a paradigm shifting event for me changing in an instant how I viewed my world.

More to come in Part II when I discuss how Jeremy Rifkin, great social thinker, takes this concept as the starting point to present a positive alternative reality for our future that is both sustainable and doable.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Postmodernism exposes modernism's conceit

Boston Skyscrapers 9/7/07   Jean Stimmell©2011
“With all that reflection and refraction, modernism creates the illusion that there is an illusion when in fact it is a straightforward statement of money and power" – Phillip Johnson, Architect 

Monday, August 15, 2011

That first day of school!

Enveloped in a certain sultry haze
A pungent ripeness fills the air
I’ve got that old end-of-summer sad feeling
As my wife goes off to teach today:
It’s the first day of the new school year.

It takes me back in time
To a vivid image I have of my son:
Dressed and ready to start first grade,
Waiting anxiously, pencil box in hand,
One hour before the school bus was due.

And farther back yet to when I was a boy:
Dreading the end of summer vacation,
Haunted by the obnoxious back-to-school refrain
 Played nonstop by our first clothing store chain
Penetrating my denial like a dentist’s drill:
“It’s back to Robert Hall Again.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Animals, humans included, use pollution to appropriate territory through defiling it

Posterized photo: Boston Industrial Sunset by Jean Stimmell ©2011
"Michel Serres, an eccentric French philosopher, has written the first truly philosophical work of the mental environmentalist movement, a radical re-conception of pollution that hones the Adbusters critique. The big idea of his book, Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution?, is that animals, humans included, use pollution to mark, claim, and appropriate territory through defiling it and that over time this appropriative act has evolved away from primitive pollution, urine and feces, to "hard pollution", industrial chemicals, and "soft pollution", the many forms of advertising."*
* See Adbusters:
A Tumor on Tradition     Jean Stimmell ©2011
"Let us define two things and clearly distinguish them from one another," Michel Serres writes, "first the hard [pollutants], and second the soft. By the first I mean on the one hand solid residues, liquid gases, emitted throughout the atmosphere by big industrial companies or gigantic garbage dumps, the shameful signature of big cities. By the second, tsunamis of writings, signs, images, and logos flooding rural, civic, public and natural spaces as well as landscapes with their advertising. Even though different in terms of energy, garbage and marks nevertheless result from the same soiling gesture, from the same intention to appropriate, and are of animal origin."
To check out Michel Serres landmark book, click here: Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution?