April 10th, 2014

Observing Life Beyond the Screen

bird_mirror

Human beings don’t observe each other enough. When you observe other people you’re observing directly the precise mystery of what life is.

It’s human nature to be both attracted to people and also shy and unsettled by people. We consider someone psychologically healthy who can navigate between the two poles.

It’s true that there are other ways to access a sense of wonder in life, say, through nature, art, spiritual devotion or simply staring at the night sky (if you live in a place where you can actually observe a night sky).

But there’s nothing like another human being to amplify the questions that should be primary in each of our lives: Who am I? Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going?

If these questions are not a priority in your life I can guarantee that you’re living a half life. And that’s a shame.

The wonder and awe and beauty and majesty of the human being, the very mystery of how we have a self-reflecting consciousness and our own unique window into reality — a window that phenomenologists call first-person givenness — is why in places like India when people meet each other they put their hands together and bow to the person across from them. That gesture acknowledges the indefinable mystery that is the other individual’s being, his or her divinity. Read more



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April 04th, 2014

Farm Animal Activist Gene Baur: Cheap Food, Agonizing Deaths & Sexless Turkeys

cow

I’ve toggled in and out of vegetarianism for years. There were points in my life where the necessity to eat meat (or the belief that it was a necessity) felt crucial. But as I’ve matured I’ve come to see that most of what I thought about meat was inaccurate, not relevant, and based on whim, ease and, well, self-interest — rather than the ‘bigger picture.’

Everything eats and is eaten. Life eats life. This is a fact. But as our consciousness shifts, evolves, can we take life (to consume it) more consciously? Be that organic gardening, non-GMO food stuffs, humane slaughter houses (what an oxymoron that is)? Or become intelligently aware (not obsessive) with our nutritional needs so that there is balance and sanity amidst our consumption. And awareness of how those needs impact the world and the creatures that live in the world with us.

Presently I live on coffee, wine, salmon, vegetables, nuts and protein from egg whites. No gluten (or very little). Also some kind of treat: Cookies, muffins or an 18-pound box of See’s candy [I'm kidding.] But I do keep the treats gluten free.

But with meat. Oy. Watching one too many Youtubes showing the horrific, often deliberately cruel condition that chickens and cows must live through with what little they even have of a lifespan, tipped the tipping point for me. And then too, what of the workers in these plants and the impact of endless slaughtering on their psyches?

I had to stop and consider what I was aiding and abetting for the sake of convenience while shopping with a budget in mind. Meaning: Everything chopped, washed, wrapped and put on gleaming display in the meat section with an affordable price tag attached. Yes, all the necessities in place to make me not have to think about what I would have to experience if I were finding or raising my own animals and then murdering them.

No more.

Watch this interview with activist Gene Baur where he discusses cheap food, annoying protestors and the rise of giant sexless turkeys and let me know what you think and if this makes any impression on your dietary choices. I’d like to hear from you.

Hat tip to Godfrey Hamilton for pointing this Time interview out to me.



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March 17th, 2014

“Like” My Death and Chicken Scratchin’

hamlet_death_facebook

Another friend dead.

Another Facebook page still active.

I understand the deceased’s family has to involve the Attorney General to get FB to remove a dead person’s profile. Why?

But then — hell — still living, I tried to delete my Vine account last week and it was impossible to do it. I needed to contact the president of the company or equivalent and get his permission.

Vines. How entwined, how enmeshed are we into these cross-connects of social networks? And why do the corps that run them need me so desperately to stay? Alive…or dead?

Five friends have died since I joined Facebook about 7 years ago. And it’s weird and now doubly voyeuristic to visit their pages when curiosity overcomes me. And it does. I click in and trawl around. It’s kind of awful.

Friends and family continue to scrawl comments — especially around holidays and anniversaries — as if the dead person can ‘read’ them. Nothing says disconnected from reality like: “Love you babe, I know you’re reading this somewhere. Here’s a picture of Tammy’s new baby.” Shit like that.

But then how ‘real’ is any of the interacting that occurs here, now, with the ‘living’.

I could have dropped dead after typing this post and a handful of you would be commenting, liking, and I might be writhing on the ground alongside my desk, savoring my last breath and getting the strangest download:

I’m imagining Hamlet at the grave and he’s turning the skull ’round and there’s a Facebook ‘LIKE’ logo etched into the dome-top. And for a soundtrack there’s that line from Joni Mitchell‘s Hejira:

‘Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tributes to finality, to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality’

I guess that’s part of the big unconscious draw to leaving trails on FB — be ye alive or dead — ‘chicken scratching’ for our immortality. And of those that have already flown the coop? They’re liking this in heaven.
 
Painting by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix, 1939, Louvre Museum



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March 06th, 2014

What I’ll be Reading This Month

reading

Bumbling around the web tonight, drinking tea and trying not to disturb the cat while she teetered on one of my thighs, while the laptop teetered on the other, I encountered a slew of articles that irritated the shit out of me.

The first one was over on Salon, where it discussed how tech corporations are attempting to co-opt the practice of Buddhist meditation to up the well-being and job performance of their employees. Reading that felt like chewing on a piece of tin foil. I recoiled and started doing a bit more research and discovered this statement from Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute website:

“Developed at Google and based on the latest in neuroscience research, our programs offer attention and mindfulness training that build the core emotional intelligence skills needed for peak performance and effective leadership. We help professionals at all levels adapt, management teams evolve, and leaders optimize their impact and influence.”

Uhm…OK…

So now mindfulness is enabling corporations to “optimize impact”?

That’s just what I want more of in my life — corporate optimization.

And I echo culture critic Curtis White‘s response, when he noted:

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“In this view of things, mindfulness can be extracted from a context of Buddhist meanings, values, and purposes. Meditation and mindfulness are not part of a whole way of life but only a spiritual technology, a mental app that is the same regardless of how it is used and what it is used for.”

Having read that quote I went on a search for the interview the quote was lifted from, and I found it here, titled The Science Delusion, over on Tricycle.

You need to read it to understand the particular gulf we live in today. Especially if you are a young person contemplating your future. The implications for the arts and humanities are disturbing, unless of course your only aim is to have a tremendous amount of followers on YouTube because you’re able to shill Doritos to your followers and then Frito-lay cuts you a check (depending on the number of video views, of course). See Frontline’s Generation Like for more insights into that nightmare.

And then Consider White’s ideas here, from the same Tricycle interview. And then buy his book.

“For the moment, the idea that we are neural computers is in ascendancy. Currently, from a very early age our children are given to understand that if they want a decent standard of living, they’re going to have to make their peace (ideally, an enthusiastic peace) with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM. Universities are now in the business of training people to go out into a world that is understood to be one vast mechanism, and this includes nature or, as we now say, “the ecosystem.” But that’s okay because we’re computers too. I can’t emphasize enough how oppressive this feels to many young people. As one reviewer of my book wrote, rather bitterly, “Anyone who doesn’t want to be a graphic designer, or a techie, or a slavish Apple devotee—no jobs for you!” And, I’ll add, no way to pay off your huge student loans.”

“Anyone who doubts the seriousness of this vision should read David Brooks’s December 2013 column for The New York Times “Thinking for the Future,” in which he predicts that the economy of the future will depend upon “mechanized intelligence.” Fifteen percent of the working population will make up a mandarin class of computer geeks and the “bottom 85%” will serve them as “greeters” or by doing things like running food trucks. And yet, Brooks claims, this vast class of servants will have “rich lives” that will be provided for them by the “free bounty of the Internet.” “



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February 10th, 2014

Adam Curtis: Pop Culture’s Edgiest Truth-Teller

“Although we don’t realize it, the way we see everything in the
world today is through the eyes of the computers.” — Adam Curtis

 

curtis

I discovered documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis a couple of years ago when my friend, the writer John Calendo, forwarded me a link to Curtis’ 2011 film All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace with an ammendment: “This is weird, so you’ll like it.”

On the surface (not a good place to go for a description of Curtis’ work) this looked to be a documentary about how computers and people have come to co-exist. But no. This was a bold salvo that cracked open the notion of how computers have colonized the world by playing off of our inability to tolerate uncertainty and the unknown. Computers promise systems and control and people like control.

Remember in Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001, when HAL is slowly disassembled by Dave and the computer keeps moaning: “Stop. Don’t do that Dave. I can feel myself fading.” Well, that was a fine bit of prescience that Curtis’ film indirectly explores. Computers and feelings. Feelings as visions. Visions as the future. A ridiculous confluence? Not really when you consider the power of identification and what identification can wreak when wedded to machines.

Revisit the devastating economic crash that destroyed East Asia in 1997 or the ‘recovery’ we are still stuck in after the global economic meltdown of 2008 — all directly related to the manipulation of the markets via computers. Or doubly unimaginable, revisit the utopian visions of the counterculture movement in the 60s. Those dreamscapes of returning to the organic rhythms and glorious symmetry of nature?

Those were computer-based ideals that took hold like a fever as techno models more and more came to be considered the perfect matrix to build a new world upon. They do not exist in nature, as Curtis shows. Nature leans towards the chaotic. But not so, when framed in a computer-based template.

Even the title to Curtis’s film is taken from the hippie poet Richard Brautigan, who wandered through early 60s Haight-Ashbury, distributing xeroxed copies of his idyl to whomever would have them. Man and machine cohabiting in constant bliss. It seems a crazy conceit of the counterculture ethos, but, again, as Curtis shows, this concept was based on computer systems as matrixes for creating a better society.

His documentary, All Watched Over disconcertingly opens with Pizzicato Five‘s pop song Baby Love Child bouncing through the soundtrack while images of people jacked into computer screens stream by. The rapt computer users remind me of those “dairying ants” that milk aphids for honeydew, a juice that’s excreted from the aphid’s ass. Meaning, there is a constant, never-broken attention loop projected into the computer screen, as if nourishing forces are flowing from the screen’s glow, into its viewers’ brain-holes. It is weird.

And then, boom, a disruptive cut, a studio tech’s blaring announcement amidst the disintegrating soundtrack and we’ve jumped back 55 years to a Mike Wallace interview with the doyen of capitalism, Ayn Rand — her dark, darting bird eyes scanning the studio furtively. Read more



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