Monday, August 30, 2010

OK ... so ... Greed is Bad?

These are the robber barons that represent the Age of Mammon. The greed, avarice, gluttony and acute materialism of these American traitors has not been seen in this country since the 1920′s. The hedge fund managers and Wall Street bank executives that occupy the mansions and penthouses evidently don’t find much time to read the bible in their downtime from raping and pillaging the wealth of the middle class. There are cocktail parties and $5,000 a plate political “fundraisers” to attend. You can’t be cheap when buying off your protection in Washington DC. The Age of Mammon

(A very short post because my right shoulder is gored.)

There's more and more articles like the one I quote from here which are disgusted by those greedy criminal bankers. What amazes the bejeesus out of this crippled blogger is why we should expect anything else from capitalism; from a survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed, maximizing self-interest, selfish-gene culture that directly equates material acquisition with success; from a river-bed sediment that flooded our thinking some centuries ago with the meme of 'enlightened' self-interest, independent and autonomous selfhood, the primacy of the I, of liberty to do as I damn well please the world be damned; from this fodder we are to expect some different beast!? HOW CAN IT BE ANY DIFFERENT!? How can that gaggle of ignorant platitudes about humanity and 'life out there' yield any other outcome!? Has it ever? Even once?

I'm a fan of Peanuts (Charlie Brown). One of my favourite sketches involves Sally (Charlie Brown's sister) asking her brother — who is preparing for a baseball game — why he always puts his left sock on first. Charlie patiently informs his sister that baseball players have these superstitions. Were he not to put on the left sock first, he might lose a game.

"Have you ever won?" asks Sally.

Cut to the baseball mound where Linus and Lucy are wondering where Charlie Brown is. He's still in his room flummoxed by his sister's innocent question.

Time to ask ourselves why we expect outcomes other than the inevitable from a system designed to yield outcomes that benefit the few at the direct expense of the many.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Metaphysics of Cleaning

How's that for a catchy title ?? ;-)
I've just spent an hour or so washing my husband's office's windows downstairs.
Hard physical labor. Gets a sweat up. (By the way, Madame Clean says, crack out the white alcohol vinegar, and plain water, and use a little elbow grease, instead of all those... hydrocarbon derivatives that have mushroomed like little Hiroshima clouds since we got hooked on the hydrocarbon addiction. White vinegar (CHEAP, CHEAP !!!) does the job every bit as well ; I shall go into this maybe later in yet ANOTHER post on the metaphysics of cleaning, with a special mention for the politics of "the cleaning lady and money". It is one of my favorite subjects...)
While rubbing away (scientifically) methodically, I got to musing on one of Sigmund Freud's pronouncements, somewhere back there in his magnum opi (can't give you a quote... maybe it's in "Results, Ideas, Problems", HIS musings about anything and everything that came to HIS mind, and he was a very curious man, in every sense of the word.)
He speculated on a form of "psychosis" of the housewife, one whose primary symptom was monomanic devotion to housecleaning.
I love Sigmund. He is one of my favorite authors. He allows me to indulge the sin of incestual attitudes -- he can be in turn, lover, father, son, and with no guilt (on my part), because, of course... death (his..) has taken us out of the realm where we need to worry about any consequences of THIS KIND of incest... Tout bénéf, as we say in French...
As much as I enjoy being led down the primrose path by Sigmund, on occasion, THIS is ONE primrose path that I will not go down.
Cut back to window washing.
As I was washing, I NOTICED... all the areas of the room that I was NOT cleaning (and that were dirty, inevitably).
There is one thing about cleaning. If you really do it conscientiously, you can get depressed NOTICING ALL THOSE SURFACES that escape a cursory inspection. Those surfaces that you have to be down on your hands and your knees ALREADY CLEANING in order to see. There is nothing... ABSTRACT or THEORETICAL about those surfaces when you are cleaning them, I assure you.
One right after the other. The idea of infinity pops up and starts boggling your mind. When the sweat breaks, you realize just how REAL MATTER is, and HOW MUCH it is AGAINST your cleaning it. (Think carefully about the word "against". It is very interesting.)
Once you start noticing those surfaces, well, you come FACE TO FACE with that metaphysical question... JUST HOW FAR AM I GOING TO GO BEFORE I DECIDE THAT THE JOB IS DONE ??
What is... "clean" to you ?
This is a very... difficult question.
Because, in order for your place to be really clean, you would have to WORK FULL TIME AT IT (AND THIS, EVEN WITH THE MACHINES, MY FRIEND).
Obviously YOUR idea of what clean is, is probably NOT my idea.
And the dictionary will be of NO HELP deciding this question, will it ?
Back to Freud.
I suspect that Freud's diagnosis was motivated by 1) the fact that he never saw his mother, or the household help devote their full time attention to the cleaning problem. 2) the evolving position of women at the time had gone far to dissociate women from household work in the social body. 3) at ALL periods in time, household cleaning is a denigrated activity with negative connotations for everybody involved (almost...).
After musing on the question "how far will I go ?", you might consider the other questions :
WHO will clean what i don't ? (Ahem... THE CLEANING LADY WON'T, and you and I know it. She... isn't paid to clean what you WON'T or DON'T clean.)
And WHEN will it get done ?
The European Union has added an unexpected twist to this metaphysical problem.
In fussbudget, no risk fashion, it has decreed that cleaning ladies, for example ARE NOT ALLOWED TO climb onto footstools or whatever, to wash windows, or anything that might be a little difficult to access.
Too dangerous. In typical European Union fashion, it has laid REGULATORY legislation. (We say "pondre" ; it's not nice, but then the legislation is not particularly nice, and many people in European countries are getting fed up with the European Union's legalistic solutions to every problem that crops up in daily life, including cleaning...)
Kafka, anybody ?
This gives me a good belly laugh.
ANYBODY who could ever have thought that WE OR OUR SOCIAL BODY were rational, well...
Tintin, as we say in French.
Occasionally I talk to the people on my loony forum, and try to dispel their illusion that there is a... NORMAL attitude about the metaphysics of cleaning.
Like... they seem to think that normal people have clean houses..
What does THAT mean ??
i know that if I get down on my hands and knees, and start looking at those surfaces, well...
When is the job done for YOU, dear reader ?

Monday, August 23, 2010


I love inventing new words, the kind you won't find in the dictionary.
You won't find this one in the dictionary.
But... YOU TOO, dear anonymous (and not so anonymous) reader, can understand this word, if you dig up your memory of etymology, for example.
"Pisci". Like the astrological sign. Like pisciculture, for example.
And "cide", like... homicide, genocide, liberticide, etc etc.
There, you know what the word means now, don't you ?
Kinda zarbi as we say here, isn't it, dear reader, that we have the word "genocide", for example, BUT WE DON'T HAVE THE WORD "piscicide" ?
On Edwardo's blog, there is a link to a story where locals in the Gulf of Mexico area have observed large congregations of marine life near the coastal waters, at the surface of the ocean.
A LITTLE SCIENTIFIC DEDUCTION (or induction) leads the observers to conclude that the marine life does not have enough oxygen in deeper water TO BREATHE, so that it is congregating in the only areas where limited oxygen still exists.
(Now, THAT'S what I call INTELLIGENT use of observation and the scientific method and REASON....)
JUST LIKE WE CAN'T UNDERSTAND babies who are suffering (up until relatively recently we operated on "infans" (he who does not speak) WITHOUT anesthetic...YOU think about the implications of that one), we can't understand the language of the marine life which is suffering either.
We can't hear it scream. "It" (!!!!) can't tell us that it is suffocating with words, or cries that we can hear.
But... THAT SCIENTIFIC METHOD should be able to tell us that it is suffocating IF WE BOTHER TO PAY ATTENTION, that is.
And once the scientific method has enabled us to understand that it is suffocating, well, what then ??
THAT is when our empathy SHOULD kick in, my friends. Like, it takes only a little imagination in order to conjure up the sensation of what it would be like to go outside and not be able to breathe, to suffocate outdoors. To not be able to go ANYWHERE to be able to breathe...
When I told my daughter this story at lunch, she became extremely upset, and picked a fight with me over an insignificant matter immediately afterwards.
Like so many of us, she feels that empathy for the living animals, AS ANOTHER LIVING ANIMAL. She suffers FOR and WITH the fish, like me. And she feels powerless to do anything about it, like, I suspect, many of us out there.
SOME PEOPLE, if I talk this way, will immediately retort... "well, what about all the starving children in Ethiopia ? Don't you feel upset about them ?"
Yes, I do. But... and this may shock you, perhaps not quite in the same way as the fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
Life isn't fair, is it ? Those children in Ethiopia are "innocent", but human. I feel deeply sad at their plight, and feel horror at the idea of being a mother watching her child die of starvation.
The fish in the Gulf of Mexico ? They are innocent and NOT human...
They are "infans". They are outside our language, and our symbolic systems. They will NEVER participate in our symbolic systems either, unlike our children.
That makes them... CONSUMMATELY INNOCENT, dear reader.
(And besides, you can tell anybody who formulates this problem in terms of having to choose between the fish and the children to PISS OFF, because this is not an either/or problem, this is a both/and one.)
So... what can YOU do ?
What I'm trying to do to the best of my ability, and besides. Whatever strikes your imagination. Be inventive. (And remember that GUILT in any and all forms is counterproductive.)
You can... REDUCE YOUR CONSUMPTION OF HYDROCARBONS IN ALL AREAS OF YOUR LIFE, and encourage your family and friends to do the same.
Oh ? And you can tell them about the fish, too... can use my word, or any other word that you want to invent.
That helps, too.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Black Sun

Credit to Julia Kristeva for the brilliant title to her book on the melancolic world experience.
Here I will take her title for MY purposes...
This morning I lay in bed THINKING, one of my favorite occupations now that I have lots of (unemployed) time in front of me.
Incidentally, I get lots of flak for the somewhat stream of consciousness way I think, and write, swallowing OCEANS of philosophical water, covering lots of varied terrain in my musings.
A lot of readers want to be able to... PREDICT ?? just exactly WHERE a writer will take them.
Apparently, a lot of readers want to read with a life jacket on at all times.
Rather logical, in our extremely scaredy cat society, right ?
So... if you feel like you need a life jacket, don't waste your time with me, because we're heading out into deep sea, FAST.
End of parentheses.
This morning I was thinking about the difference between wisdom and knowledge, and wishing that our political and economic leaders had MORE WISDOM, at least WITH their knowledge.
Come to think of it, it wouldn't be such a bad thing for ALL of us to have a little more wisdom, right ??
WHERE and HOW do you get wise ?
If you take a look at the treasure house of human wisdom, which can be glimpsed in a society's proverbs, (and its great literature, too...) for example, you will notice that having a university degree may give you knowledge but it will NOT make you wise.
What do I think wisdom is ?
I think that wisdom is the capacity to know the human HEART, and act accordingly.
That's right. HEART and NOT MIND. (not JUST mind, in any case). Heart AND mind, if you prefer.
While our social body has been concentrating EXCLUSIVELY on advancing its (book) knowledge, it has SERIOUSLY neglected the FACT that wisdom is not "acquired" in the same WAY, using the same method, as knowledge is.
And while our social body has been concentrating on the mindless (!!!) glorification of abstract knowledge, it has been engaged in subtley and not so subtley denigrating and disqualifying what wisdom is, and WHERE it comes from.
Building an enormous tower of Babel, the way all towers of Babel are built : by mindlessly applying the formula "more of a good thing is always better".
So... more abstract knowledge is always better, right ??
Since the last Romantic revivalist attempt to pull us away from the tyranny of an indiscriminate application of the scientific method as the ONLY ACCEPTABLE manner of experiencing the world, ourselves, and learning about it/us, we seem determined to shoot up ever higher in the clouds, while losing sight of our feet, and the earth, below us.
And the MORE we lean in this direction, the more we neglect other sources of experience, other WAYS of looking at the world, and of BEING IN IT.
We lose sight of wisdom.
I wrote on my loony forum this morning that our desire to be "objective" has led us to DESERT ourselves, our bodies, our HEARTS, the places where we could learn to become WISE, while chasing after the Holy Grail of Objectivity.
And.. deserting ourselves has dire consequences for us. As a society, and as individuals, because what we CAN and WILL become as individuals will always remain very dependant on the possibilities and the opportunities that the social body will give us to express ourselves. No man is an island, remember ??
Black Sun. Despair. Hopelessness. Melancoly.
We need to stop assenting to our own alienation to "objectivity".
We need to... wise up.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


It happened on the way back, waiting for the shuttle bus that would take me back to my home city after three weeks abroad.
I was standing in line, reading an English newspaper (what luck...), and looked up to see a seven year old Maghrebin girl in a pleated white sleeveless tunic, shiny silver embroidery around the neck and sleeve openings, silver sandals on her feet, flash by, twirling and chasing her younger brother.
She looked up and our eyes met.
I looked down and offered : "tu es très belle dans ta robe blanche" (you are very beautiful in your white dress), and she looked up and answered... "toi aussi"...
When for an ephemeral instant the Kingdom of God shines through, or.. the Holy Grail, if you prefer, or any other divine that strikes your fancy, anonymous reader.
What did I see as she spun through the crowd ? Ah... the dance...
The white pleated tunic was of our time, probably polyester, not very expensive, something anybody could buy in Wal Mart or the equivalent all over the planet.
And she is of our time too...
But not just of our time.
Three days ago, I was in the British Museum, looking at the marble friezes of procession on Athena's temple on the Parthenon.
Among the ephemeral instants captured forever in stone are a few mostly faceless (now) imprints of white tunics on the bodies of the paideia (?), the young girls who move in spatial rhythms through the frieze, in counterpoint to the horsemen, charioteers, and men on foot.
Herself momentarily suspended, she is at once who she is, and... who she will be in just a few short years, a graceful young woman.
She commands all eyes.
Young men's eyes, old men's eyes, surreptiously greedy watching her like a ripe and unripe fruit. (When they are not too emasculated to allow themselves this pleasure...)
She holds them fast and captive with her promise. And her power.
It is NOT... an innocent promise, because there is no innocence.
She already knows and feels in her body who she is and who she will become.
She may not know that she knows. But she does.
The women watch her with more mixed sentiments, mostly.
Some supercilious. Some envious. Some indifferent. Some amused. Some nostalgic, and regretful. A few Arsinoes to Molière's Célimène.
And why did she say "toi aussi" to me ?
I, over 50, who was wearing old dirty jeans, with a tank top, with spurs that keep me from twirling these days ?
It wasn't a conventional backhand return of a compliment. Didn't sound like that, at least.
Was it my hat ?
Did she see in me some trace of who i was ? (but not at her age...)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Opting Out Softly With Your Song

Yesterday, after a tip from Charles Eisenstein, I watched the documentary "Ancient Futures" by Helena Norberg-Hodge on Google Video. It is fascinating because it shows in highly speeded up form how easily non-monetary, egalitarian societies can be corrupted. A brief example is how Helena Norberg-Hodge, charmed by the large and elegant self-made houses of Ladakh, asks someone which is the poorest house. The man takes some time to think about it and answers that there are no poor people in Ladakh. Eight years later, after the arrival of tourists, a large amount of Western glitter and bling, the young of Ladakh being forced into state education etc., she sees him complaining to visitors about how poor Ladakhis are. (Also of note is that there was no crime there. This seems a common theme amongst people who share and cooperate. It was true of the peoples of Tuamotu, and of St Kilda, until money came along.)

Monetary societies (aka Western Culture for this blogger) have powerful charisma, and I don't believe this is mere glamour. While glamour is something we do well, there is substance underneath it. Were there not, the West could not have been so 'successful.' (This is not a blog on what 'success' is.) As with all systems, even the monetary has a lifespan, has flaws, downsides, and I have written much on that already. It is my strong belief that we are transitioning to a post-scarcity, or gift economics, a new egalitarianism, as money's usefulness runs out. For those who want to help this difficult and disruptive transition along, to midwife its birth, the question is always: "What can I do?" My answer: Enter the spirit of the gift, opt out softly.

My wife was reading a Berlin magazine yesterday (Prinz) and came across a long article on street art here (in Berlin) and elsewhere. Her recounting of it excited me deeply. This is obviously no new thing, but the principle is, with the help of the internet, very powerful and quite quickly communicated. Give society of your gifts for free. It is non-rational (yeah, right!), brings a smile to strangers, defies society's expectations of us while breaking no law (yet), and sends a clear message which is also subtle and multi-layered. I'm pondering how to squeeze my talents into this format, and I think we all should. It needn't be pictorial art alone.

Some examples:


A note on the corkman: the artist who makes them is unknown. They appear randomly around Berlin on things like signposts, in various poses. They are glued in place so if some twit tries to steal one (some have tried) the art breaks. The artist has appealed with people to leave them there for everyone to enjoy.

In terms of human history this is a new (even though I'm late to this party) variant of gift-giving which flatly and humorously contradicts Adam Smith's rational economic man, and which cannot really make sense outside of large, anonymous cities. Things like this, and like free software, are an important part of the transition out of money into something new. As many of us as possible should join in!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Money Makes the World Go Around

I’m reading David Montgomery’s excellent “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” and it blows me away. The message is painfully simple; abuse your soil and you die. No civilization can survive depleted soil, yet almost all seem driven by growth to deplete theirs. Here are some quotes relevant to modern times:

“half a million square miles of West African forest were cleared in under a century.”

“Soil erosion rates in sub-Saharan Africa increased twentyfold in the past thirty years.”

“More than a tenth of Earth’s land area is desertifying—about a third of the planet’s dry lands.”

“In addition, the 1972 Russian grain purchase encouraged U.S. farmers to plow up marginal land, undermining decades of soil conservation efforts.”

“The 1977 Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act required the USDA to conduct an intensive appraisal of the nation’s soil. Four years in the making, the 1981 report concluded that American soil still eroded at [an] alarming rate more than four decades after the Dust Bowl. In the 1970s the nation lost four billion tons of soil each year—a billion tons a year more than in the 1930s.”

“Recent USDA estimates show soil erosion from U.S. cropland as dropping from about three billions tons in 1982 to just under two billion tons in 2001, substantial progress to be sure—but still far ahead of soil production.”

“In the mid-1990s, David Pimentel’s research group at Cornell University estimated the economic costs of soil erosion and the potential economic benefits of soil conservation measures. [snip] They estimated that undoing damage caused by soil erosion would cost the United States $44 billion a year, and about $400 billion a year worldwide, more than $70 per person on the planet—higher than the annual income for most people.”

The last quote really gets me. Aside from throwing into sharp and sickening relief the amounts of money tossed about to save the financial system that, arguably, is destroying itself by soil (and other reckless) abuse, what most stuns me is that we need to look at dollar values at all. What sort of a mindset are we trapped in that we need to justify conserving soil from a dollar perspective?

The deeper story is one of failing to be wise even while in possession of the skill and knowledge necessary to be so. We have known for millennia how to conserve soil (the Chinese and Japanese (and others) do a great job of it in their paddy fields), and yet we somehow manage to overlook sustainability, to demote its importance, or wilfully ignore it. Money makes the world go around, right? GDP growth matters above all else.

And while we destroy the ecosystems that gave rise to and sustain us, the thing our culture prizes above all else concentrates to the sociopathically wealthy, and stays there. They can’t get enough wealth or power, and are seemingly incapable of understanding or caring about consequences, and yet we insist on playing their game by their insane rules, chasing the American Dream and confusing it for success.