Metaphor and Empathy

Sweetness and strangeness
by Heather Altfeld and Rebecca Diggs

In thinking through some of the ways that our relationship to metaphor might be changing, especially in educational settings, we consulted a study by Emily Weinstein and her research team at Harvard, published in 2014. They set out to study a possible decline in creativity among high-school students by comparing both visual artworks and creative writing collected between 1990-95, and again between 2006-11. Examining the style, content and form of adolescent art-making, the team hoped to understand the potential ‘generational shift’ between pre- and post-internet creativity. It turned out that there were observable gains in the sophistication and complexity of visual artwork, but when it came to the creative-writing endeavours of the two groups, the researchers found a ‘significant increase in young authors’ adherence to conventional writing practices related to genre, and a trend toward more formulaic narrative style’.

The team cited standardised testing as a likely source of this lack of creativity, as well as changing modes of written communication that create ‘a multitude of opportunities for casual, text-based communication’ – in other words, for literalism, abbreviation and emojis standing in for words and feelings. With visual arts, by contrast, greater exposure to visual media, and the ‘expansive mental repositories of visual imagery’ informed and inspired student work.

Of course, quantifying creativity is problematic, even with thoughtfully constructed controls, but it is provocative to consider what the authors saw as ‘a significant increase in and adherence to strict realism’, and how this might relate to a turn away from metaphoric thinking. […]

In a long-term project focusing on elementary school and the early years of high school, the psychologists Thalia Goldstein and Ellen Winner at Boston College studied the relationship between empathy and experience. In particular, they wanted to understand how empathy and theories of mind might be enhanced. Looking at children who spent a year or more engaged in acting training, they found significant gains in empathy scores. This isn’t surprising, perhaps. Acting and role-play, after all, involve a metaphoric entering-into another person’s shoes via the emotional lives and sensory experiences of the characters that one embodies. ‘The tendency to become absorbed by fictional characters and feel their emotions may make it more likely that experience in acting will lead to enhanced empathy off stage,’ the authors conclude.

For one semester, I taught the Greek tragedy Hecuba to college students in Ancient Humanities. The first part of Hecuba centres on the violence toward women during war; the second half offers a reversal whereby, in order to avenge the deaths of her children, Hecuba kills Polymestor – the king of Thrace – and his two sons, just as he killed her son, whose safety he had explicitly guaranteed. The play is an instruction in lament, in sorrow, rage and vengeance, loyalty and betrayal. To see it is to feel the agony of a woman betrayed, who has lost all her children to war and murder. To act in it – as students do, when we read it, much to their horror – is to feel the grief and rage of a woman far removed from our present world, but Hecuba’s themes of betrayal and revenge resonate still: the #MeToo movement, for example, would find common ground with Hecuba’s pain.

Eva Maria Koopman at Erasmus University in Rotterdam has studied the ‘literariness’ of literature and its relationship to emotion, empathy and reflection. Koopman gave undergraduates (and for sample size, some parents as well) passages of the novel Counterpoint (2008) by the Dutch writer Anna Enquist, in which the main character, a mother, grieves the loss of her child. Thus, Koopman attempted to test age-old claims about the power of literature. For some of the readers, she stripped passages of their imagery and removed foregrounding from others, while a third group read the passages as originally written by Enquist.

Koopman’s team found that: ‘Literariness may indeed be partly responsible for empathetic reactions.’ Interestingly, the group who missed the foregrounding showed less empathetic understanding. It isn’t just empathy, however, that foregrounding triggers, it’s also what Koopman identifies as ‘ambivalent emotions: people commenting both on the beauty or hope and on the pain or sorrow of a certain passage’. Foregrounding, then, can elicit a ‘more complex emotional experience’. Reading, alone, is not sufficient for building empathy; it needs the image, and essential foreground, for us to forge connections, which is why textbooks filled with information but devoid of narrative fail to engage us; why facts and dates and events rarely stick without story.

Alternative Visions, Radical Imagination

When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future
by Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic

Over here is Le Guin, taking a stand for science fiction on the grounds that “we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.” And over here is Star Wars, showing you more pictures of the Millennium Falcon. So much for Le Guin’s call to elevate creators who know “the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art.”

writing & reading, democracy & despotism 
by Kenan Malik, Pandaemonium

Ursula Le Guin
‘Resistance and change often begin in art’

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers, in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an e-book six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience, and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, who write the books and make the books, accepting this – letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish, what to write.

Books aren’t just commodities; the profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

The full text of the talk was published in the Guardian; there is also a video of the talk.

Science Fiction and the Post-Ferguson World: “There Are as Many Ways to Exist as We Can Imagine”
by Mary Hansen, YES!

Again, this is why we need science fiction. We often can’t imagine that things could be different because we can’t imagine alternative systems. Ursula LeGuin just gave an incredible speech at the National Book Awards, where she talked about this and said people can’t imagine a world without capitalism. Well, there was a time when people couldn’t imagine a world without the divine right of kings.

But the writers, the visionaries, those folks who are able to imagine freedom are absolutely necessary to opening up enough space for folks to imagine that there’s a possibility to exist outside of the current system.

I think it’s been a concerted effort to erase those possibilities. These systems that we live under are incredibly unnatural. This is not the way we’re supposed to live. It takes indoctrination to get us to a point where we believe that this is the way things should be. When we take a small step outside that, we are able to break that indoctrination and see that this is not the only way, and in fact there are as many ways to exist as we can imagine.



Horror vs Violence/Torture Porn

I just read this from Matt Cardin’s The Teeming Brain:

The meaning of horror and “that dark sorcerer” Cormac McCarthy (with nods to Ligotti)

He quotes the following from Benjamin Percy:

I feel that violence needs to be earned somehow — or it needs to earn out. You need to pipe the oxygen in before lighting the flame — or, in the wake of some violent act, there needs to be repercussions: a period in which the characters suffer and soak up what has occurred. Making it part of the causal structure and making it emotionally resonant, too. I would hope that any narrative that wrestles with this sort of thing is meant to horrify, and not excite. To discourage, instead of encourage, violence. And that’s the problem with movies like Saw and Hostel: They make a bloodbath into a kind of joyous exercise.

I’ve been practicing for these kind of scares my whole life. I grew up on genre: Westerns, sci-fi, fantasy novels, mysteries and spy thrillers — but especially on horror. Horror’s always gripped me in its bony fist. So I read everything by Shirley Jackson, and Anne Rice, and Stephen King, and Peter Straub and Robert Aikman [sic], John Saul, and Dean Koontz, and H. P. Lovecraft, and Poe. There’s something about me that’s drawn to darkness and to the theater of fear. I can’t quite put a finger on why that is — it’s the same reason some people like romance stories while others like action movies. But my greatest pleasure growing up was terrifying my sister by leaping out of closets with my hands made into claws, or scratching at her bedroom window. She slept with the light on until she was 27. I guess that was training ground for the novelist I’ve become.

I’ve become so attuned to craft that it’s sometimes difficult for me to get lost in a story. When I grew up reading, the only thing that concerned me was the question of what happens next — and the pages turned so fast they made a breeze across my face. The Road, for the first time in a very long time, owned me emotionally in that same fashion. I was able to turn off my craft radar and be swept away. I felt true terror. The kind of terror that used it [sic] make me, when I was a kid, wrap the sheets around my face and breathe through a little blowhole in fear of the shadow that seemed at the edges of my room. Cormac McCarthy, that dark sorcerer, makes me feel that way again.


Here is the comment I left at The Teeming Brain:

My judgment on whether a movie is torture porn would be to imagine myself as a sociopath and consider whether or not a particular movie would appeal to my sociopathic sensibilities and worldview. A deep thinking non-sociopath could possibly sense a profound existential dread in almost anything, but that doesn’t mean that was necessarily the intention of the makers of the film or the received experience of most viewers.

I’m not dismissive of portrayals of violence when used for a deeper expression of human reality. My opinion, though, is that violence can only achieve this when used sparingly. Otherwise, it more likely numbs one to possibility of existential dread. A better use of violence for this purpose is a movie such as Requiem for a Dream. Another movie that achieves this without any overt bloody gore is the less well known Kids.

As someone prone to depression, I’m more wary of the impact of torture porn and violence porn. I can’t shake the feeling that artists truly do have a moral responsibility to their viewers and to society as a whole, whether or not they want to accept this. It’s the fact that art can inspire people to great deeds and horrific acts that makes art so worthy. What we put out into the world is what we help to manifest. That is such a fundamental truth that too many people blindly and ignorantly dismiss.

That said, I would never want to forbid the use of extreme violence in movies. Like anything else, it is part of life. But art should inspire people to see beyond the violence toward compassion and understanding, toward existential insight or mortal wonder at our finitude. I personally don’t see movies like Saw achieving this, but maybe for a very small minority they might gain something worthy from such films. The question is whether what is gained by a small minority is great enough to offset the damage caused to the psyches of so many others, the moral numbing and societal disregard.

Enough preaching for now.

On another note, I woke up earlier today and a dream was lingering in my mind. All I could remember was being on a very long walk, an endlessly long walk. That was all there was to the dream. Going on and on and on. Then I remembered I had fell asleep listening to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I have read several other books by McCarthy and the adaptations thereof. My friend is an even bigger fan of McCarthy which is how I discovered him back in the mid 1990s. I find his writing interesting, although I’m not as big of a fan of that description-laden style.

The Road seemed very different in style. McCarthy was holding back by leaving a lot out. There was a hyper-focus on the man and his son with the apocalyptic world a mere backdrop. There was a slogging repetitiveness to it which would have utterly failed if attempted by a lesser writer. I’ll have to read the book sometime to get the full sense of it.

Trinity In Mind: Rhetoric & Metaphor, Imaginal & Archetypal

Story. Culture. Knowledge.

Two elements: pattern and communication. What are the patterns of our communications along with the patterns of cognition and experience underlying them? How do we communicate these patterns when our very attempt is enmeshed in them?

It’s not just an issue of rhetoric and metaphor. It’s a stepping back and looking for a pathway to higher ground. A meta-language maybe is needed, but not meta in a way of making language abstract and detached. Death can’t speak for life.

I’ve never been in love with language. This could be seen as a flaw of mine as a self-identified writer. Admittedly, language is sort of important to writing. What I appreciate is communication, the essence and the impetus thereof, the desire to express, to be heard and possibly understood.

I have nothing against language. It just is what it is. My lack of love isn’t a hate; it’s a wariness. I’ve often found too superficial writers who’ve fallen in love with language. There can be a trap in linguistic narcissism. Even great writers can get caught up in their own cleverness. In these cases, it’s not always clear they’ve fallen in love with language itself or just the sound of their own voices.

Compelling language takes more than catchy phrasing and aesthetic sensibility. A writer or any other user of language has to first and foremost have something worthy of being shared and to be given voice. Language, however rarely, can touch something deeper. Then language isn’t just language.

It’s not the writer that matters, but the Other that is speaking through the writer. This deeper level is the imaginal and archetypal, the creative source.

Along with my lack of verbal romance, I have other ‘failings’ as well.

I’m prone to anti-climactic conclusions. This is because most of life feels anticlimactic to me. What can I say, I write what I know. The anti-climactic relates to another ‘failing’.

I’m also prone to a passive voice. Every writing manual I’ve read warns against this, but good advice never stopped me. It seems to me that a passive voice communicates something an active voice can’t, and that something obviously isn’t readily accepted by modern mainstream society or at least the English-speaking portions.

An active voice requires someone or something that takes action, but as I see it not all or even most of life involves action that is willed, directed or otherwise caused by actors. Still, the active voice is rooted in traditional storytelling. The question is: Are there other stories to tell and/or other ways to tell stories?

Our language determines our reality. So, what consensus reality is being reinforced by writing manuals? I’m not arguing against standard English writing. Certainly, I’m not arguing against compelling language and the active voice is more compelling; rather, I’m considering what we are being compelled by and toward.

The standard of compelling shouldn’t be its own justification. A soap opera is compelling. In fact, the average soap opera is more compelling to the average person than the greatest of art. Most people are compelled, usually mindlessly, by ideas and beliefs, metaphors and narratives that aren’t necessarily of much worthiness.

How do we judge worthiness? What is good writing versus what is great art? Does ‘good’ writing imply communication that is moral and true, whatever that might mean? What exactly is good and bad about the active versus the passive voices?

The most dangerous part about rhetoric is that we forget it’s rhetoric and mistake it for reality.

Talent and Inspiration Posted on Sep 1st, 2008 by Marmalade

Talent and Inspiration

Posted on Sep 1st, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
I realized that I don’t work tonight and so I stopped by the coffeehouse.  I thought I’d do a simple blog entry.  I was downtown and the students are back in town.  I noticed a hack circle and I hadn’t hacked all summer.  I normally hackysack quite a bit when the weather is nice, but haven’t felt in the mood this year.

I’m pretty decent at hackysack, and I know some interesting tricks.  I’ve been playing soccer since I was a little kid and picked up hackysack in highschool.  I enjoy it in some ways, but it brings out a side of me that I don’t entirely like.  Hackysack isn’t exactly a competitive sport (although there are competitions).  Even so, it allows for ample showing off.  I can show off because I’m usually better than those I’m hacking with which doesn’t mean much since most people don’t attempt to be very good at it.  Most people just sort of kick back and forth.  I love the challenge of figuring out a trick, but I dislike the feeling of showing off.  I don’t know why that is.

Anyways, it got me thinking about talents.  I have many talents, but I don’t do much with most of them.  If I had taken hackysack more seriously when younger and had met more talented hackysackers to learn from, I could’ve been really great at it… but to what end?  In the past, I’ve spent endless hours simply repeating a trick to get it down just right… but its not a highly valued ability in our society.  🙂

I quit soccer in 11th grade because I didn’t see the point.  I was a very fast runner when a kid, but I was never great at soccer.  I had some natural talent, but never practiced much.  In order to be really good at something, you have to spend enormous amounts of time doing it.  And I’m not that competitive and I can’t say I’ve ever been a driven sort of person.  I was always a team player, but I didn’t really care if my team won.  And maybe that was a good thing as I was always on losing teams.  When a little kid, soccer was the game everyone played and I just enjoyed running around as kids do.  But sports become more serious as you grow older, especially in highschool.

Overall, I’ve never been a motivated person and partly that has to do with my not liking school.  Only once in my life did I have an inspiring teacher that actually brought out the best in me.  He was an art teacher.  I had always taken art classes and enjoyed them, but this teacher was a really great teacher that encouraged innovation.  He was the first person who taught me to think outside of the box.  I took art classes later on in college, but I never did as good of work as I did in that highschool class.  Unfortunately, I never felt inspired when not in the presence of that teacher.  Art was something I was good at, but it just didn’t capture my attention.  Just too much work and for whatever reason I never envisioned myself as an artist.

The talent I ended up focusing on is writing which isn’t something I cared about when younger.  I liked reading fiction somewhat growing up, but I was never obsessed with reading.  There was one thing that foretold my future.  My childhood bestfriend and I would tell collaborative stories.  In highschool, I started journalling very seriously and in later highschool became very interested in reading books with deep themes, both fiction and non-fiction.  But I can’t say I thought of being a writer at that time.  I really had no ambitions other than to understand life… which I’m still working on.

At this time, I had fallen into severe depression but hadn’t yet recognized it as such.  My truly obsessive nature began to show itself at this point.  I just wouldn’t let these questions go.  There had to be some kind of answer somewhere, but apparently older people were as clueless as me.  I found that a bit disheartening.  Back then, I actually still held the belief that with age came wisdom, but I came to realize most adults were even ignorant of the questions.  At least, my dad was always very honest about the limits of his understanding.  I like honesty.

I definitely had become more obsessed with non-fiction than with fiction, but I found few writers who actually inspired me.  Inspiration is a big thing for me.  I’ve always sought inspiration to counteract my apathetic nature.  By looking for inspiration, I was looking for my own inner motivation that tends to get lost with the years of conformity training that one gets in school.  I’m still looking for this inner motivation thingie, and I occasionally hit upon an ephemeral essence that feels true.  Give me another few decades and I think I’ll have it figured out.

Anyways, I’ve slowly realized that non-fiction for the most part isn’t what inspires me.  I’m inspired by imagination which is most often found in fiction.  On the other hand, fiction often lacks the depth of ideas that can be found in non-fiction.  What is a boy to do?  (Read Philip K. Dick is what. lol)

Okay, back to my life story.  I returned to my childhood home after highschool and reconnected with the aforementioned childhood bestfriend.  He also had become interested in writing, and so two aspiring writers were we.  This is when I started to take writing seriously and specifically writing fiction (because my friend was mostly into fiction).

So, after 20 years of my life, I finally found a talent that I cared about.  Unfortunately, it may seem, I found this talent at a time of my deepest depression…. not exactly a time of consistent motivation.

Over the last 10 or so years, I’ve slowly become more focused but its a struggle.  The internet has helped me to gain focus as online communities such as this give me the opportunity to play around with my writing.  I’m presently trying to get my mind back into fiction.  I even have a story I’m working on right now.

There ya go.  I could’ve been many things…
 …but a writer is what I became.

Access_public Access: Public 11 Comments Print Post this!views (166)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 2 hours later

Nicole said

Ben, I learned some important things about you tonight. Thank you. I really look forward to seeing your fiction when you’re ready to start unveiling it. It’s great to see you again! I’d missed you. Big hugs.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

about 8 hours later

1Vector3 said

Hey Ben, thanks for sharing your story. Never thought about the inspiration thingy and all the aspects of it you mentioned. New perspectives for me, goody.

I didn’t become a writer, I always was. It’s not something I do, but what I am. Breathe, write. No-write, like suffocating, or being strait-jacketed. Not to say this is better or worse than becoming a writer. Just noting a different life experience.

However, despite maybe 3 forays into fiction in my whole life, which weren’t totally lousy, I really have NO talent for it. Just can’t think up anything [my forays were school assignments.] So I really admire the heck out of you folks who have that kind of creativity. Really beyond me.More power to ya for contributing fiction to the world !
Finding the “inner motivation thingy” is crucial. If I were a praying person, I would pray for you that you find yours. I do “know” it is there, everyone has it. But sometimes it takes awhile in life to emerge, although often it get suppressed or repressed, and is actually visible if one knows where and how to look. Like: what feels like breathing? what did you do naturally as a kid? what would you pay to keep from being prohibited from doing? what gives you a feeling of elation, exhilaration? (even under the depression.)

Gee, idea-fiction, no dearth that I can see. Hesse? Ayn Rand? Colin Wilson (The Philosopher’s Stone, The Mind Parasites, etc.)? Theodore Sturgeon (e.g. Godbody, one of my top fave books.)? Ursula LeGuin? Just for starters. Maybe some don’t qualify for you, for some reason…..

Lots of depression is I think possibly basically biochemical, but I also go with those who say many depressions are really actual sadness about an actual something –a something which is kept outside of awareness –  and I also go with those who say many depressions result from giving up on having or being or experiencing what one most deeply and profoundly wants in life. And of course there is the inward-turned aggression theory. Do you know anything useful about your own depression?

I just don’t believe anyone has an “apathetic nature.” I believe a lot of folks got squashed, I have seen a 6-year old totally bored with life, it broke my heart, and I could see how the parents had done it. OTOH some young children are more exuberant and enthused than others who appear less interested in the world, the external world. And an introvert might get labelled “apathetic” and accept the label, but it wouldn’t be true.

Well, forgive my ramblings, and I don’t mean to pry for info, just offering my perspectives on matters you mentioned. No need to respond.

Keep ’em coming, I like the way you mix the personal and the abstract in your writing. Trying to think of other writers who have that combo. Lewis Thomas? Don’t remember him well enough.

Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 21 hours later

Marmalade said

*Hugs* to Nicole.  I suppose fiction is a different side of me, but you’ve seen some of that side of me with my discussion of PKD.  When it comes to fiction, I lean towards the imaginative which can take two forms: serious imagination or outright weird.

Now, to OM.  You gave me a lot to respond to.  I’ll respond in the order you wrote.

Becoming a writer.  Its an interesting thing.  I wasn’t raised with parents who were writers, but I was raised with parents who were thinkers and talkers.  So, I was raised with language, my mom is a speech pathologist afterall.  I also had a word-retrieval problem as a child and so I learned to compensate by having a large vocabulary.  As I said in the blog, I liked stories even though my parents weren’t all that into reading stories to me.  Reading books was one of my favorite escapes early on.  I was an imaginative kid and my bestfriend was very imaginative.  Still, I only started writing on my own in 8th grade.

There was one teacher who set my direction in life towards writing.  He was a decent teacher and I suppose I enjoyed his class fine, but he didn’t inspire me.  What he did do was challenge me with difficult texts.  He had us read many classics such as Jude the Obscure which is heavy reading for a highschooler.  It was also from the bookcase in his classroom, that I discovered Hesse.

I’ve at times felt envious of people who were raised by parents who read to them and encouraged them (or had teachers who inspired them or otherwise discovered writing early on).  My dad is a professor and so he helped me out with writing non-fiction papers for class assignments.  He taught me to communicate clearly and in an organized manner, but that is a long way off from fiction.  Being raised by parents who have absolutely no sense of fiction has been a challenge for me as an aspiring fiction writer.  My parents taught me how to think and to write clearly, but my imagination apparently was a gift of God or otherwise a genetic mutation.

Writing is something that slowly became more and more my identity.  Basically, writing is secondary to my most basic motivation.  I desire imagination, wonder, and understanding… but I also desire to express those things, to give them form.  I’m not a person who writes just to write.  I always have a purpose for my writing even if its just entertainment value sometimes.  I’m not a poet who just loves language for the sound of it.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

OM Part 2:

I must admit that I sorta do know what my inner motivation thingie is.  The single running theme of my entire life is curiosity.  I’ve been asking questions and wondering about life longer than I can remember… meaning my mom tells me I was asking deep questions as soon as I could speak.

I realize that idea-fiction in a general sense is not lacking.  I have many similar authors I could mention, but I definitely agree with you on Hesse.  Beyond exaggerating for effect, I was meaning a specific type of idea-fiction.  I have a wide-ranging curiosity which isn’t easily satisfied.  Too many fiction writers are narrowly focused or else there ideas aren’t grounded in a deep sense of subjective experience.  For instance, one can find enormous amounts of ideas in SF and one can find enormous amounts of terrible writing.  It takes a special talent to combine fiction and non-fiction, the personal and the philosophical.

Partly, I’m just a picky person.  I know what I like and I have no desire to spend my time on anything else.  I doubt I’m actually communicating to you what I’m meaning about my perception of a particular kind of lack, but it will have to do for the time being.

Do I know anything useful about my depression?  That is an interesting question.  I know a lot about my depression and depression in general, but I won’t be so presumptuous as to claim any of it useful.  lol

Any number of theories may apply to my depression including the ones you mentioned.   One thing I’m sure is that it isn’t a single factor.

As for the apathetic nature statement, I didn’t intend any grand significance to it.  I mostly see my occasional apathy as a side effect of my depression.  As depression seems to run in both sides of my family, I have a strong suspicion that there is a genetic component.  In that sense, apathy is a side effect of my natural predisposition which doesn’t mean its absolutely determined… just a tendency is all.  Opposite of apathy, some people use depression as a way of driving themselves harder and accomplish much that way.

I don’t worry too much about depression.  Its just what it is.  I feel no need to make a value judgment about it or try to get rid of it.  Personally, I don’t think its a disease nor a personal failing.  Ultimately, its just a label given to a pattern of behaviors.  Its just a word.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

I had a few more things I wanted to share about my talents. 

The hackysack is an odd example because its not as if one can make a career out of being a professional hackysacker.  However, my talent for physical tricks actually started with learning juggling as a kid.  I dated a girl who was going into juggling as a career and I went to a convention of professional jugglers.  It was very interesting, but I don’t have an interest in being a performer… back to not liking to show off.

Another talent I didn’t think of earlier is massage which is another odd talent.  I always liked giving people massages.  Eventually, I decided to go to massage school.  I liked learning about it, but I quickly realized I had near zero desire to do it as a profession.  Maybe its the same thing about not wanting to perform.

As a strong introvert, writing is more my style.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 22 hours later

Nicole said

dear ben,

i think you have a very healthy approach to your depression. you seem to have a really good way of coping with it from the many conversations we have had around it.

it’s interesting what a rich environment you had at home, though it lacked some elements for which you long. it does help to explain a lot about how you got to where you are now, a very unique person. yes, i know we are all unique, but i think you know what i mean.

serious imagination or outwright weird – well, they both can be good 🙂

i think you have a lot of important qualities which are helpful to you as a writer, for example, your intense ability to focus and do research for a long time; your ability to organise your thoughts and ideas, even when they represent a huge range; your amazing, zany sense of humour; and your astonishing flexibility in points of view.

Of course, that’s only the beginning of your qualities.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

I so appreciate your elaborating based on my comments !!! I enjoyed all you said. I have nothing particular to say in response right now, nothing has formulated – yet….

Well, perhaps two things I can begin to word:

Ultimately, depression IS just a word, but I guess I would be motivated to do something to make it less. I have noticed certain limitations I have accepted with the passing years, based on things not working out, and I can see that sense of limitations is kinda like a depression, and I am working to get back the sense of open possibilities that younger folks have.

BTW I underline that I too perceive the four qualities Nicole nailed so well just above !!! Your research ability is SO amazing it almost looks so prodigious that it seems to me only the manic folks I know could do something like that. Strange to say !!!!

Asking deep questions, wide-ranging curiosity, “I desire imagination, wonder, and understanding… but I also desire to express those things, to give them form.”

Are those what is partly captured by the labels INFP?

I have a friend who has discovered 35 SOUL archetypes (beyond personality) and I think this fits one of them. I will ask him, and perhaps get a description for you, so you can see whether the other aspects fit you too. Just as an expansion of self-knowledge. Just a label, from one perspective, but it’s nice when things that seem separate somehow cohere, or can be seen to be various manifestations of/from a single source, I think.

Well there, I did manage to say something !! 

Yes, Lord keep us from those who write to be writing, ditto those who talk to be talking. Myself, I think I write to improve things/people/life/the world/systems/institutions/methods, etc etc. To be useful, a resource, for improving things. (Not so great at motivating improvements, but really good at facilitating improvements folks have already decided to make.)

The world needs more picky people. Go for it. LOL !!!!

Blessings, OM Bastet 


Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

Nicole, thanks for the kind words.

I don’t know if I have a good way of coping with my depression.  How I think of it is that its good enough.

OTOH, OM, I understand what you mean by how we can tend to accept limitations as we age.  I don’t know if this is necessarily problematic as aging does bring real limitations.  But, even within any set of limitations, there are always possibilities.  I guess that is where my sense of curiosity and wonder comes in… keeping me from feeling stuck.

Was my self-description related to the INFP type?  I’d say that it fits many INFPs.  The latter part of wanting to express would depend on how well they had developed their auxiliary Extraverted Intuition (and other social factors of course).

Type is a strange thing when considering family.  My parents are very different types than I am.  Research seems to show that some personality traits are genetically passed on.  I’m sure I get my Intuition (N) from  my dad and my Introversion (I) from my mom.  From what I understand of my grandmother’s personality, the genetics for the Feeling (F) and Perceiving (P) maybe came from her and skipped over my dad.  That is strange to consider how we carry genetics that will manifest in later generations even though they don’t manifest in us.  My grandmother died when I was around 6 and lived far away.  She wouldn’t have had much psychological influence on me and so I assume that it must be genetics (excluding any paranormal influences).

I unfairly downplayed the ways in which my imagination has been influenced by my parents. 

My dad’s family has a very strange sense of humor.  My grandfather was and my uncle is the kind of person who is constantly playing around and getting in trouble… a combination of physical and intellectual humor.  So, there is an immense creativity that I get from that side of the family, but they aren’t specifically artistic types and my dad has almost no interest in fiction.  My mom does like stories (ie movies) and she likes thinking about human behavior.  She does have some aesthetic sense when it comes to practical activities such as decorating a house, but definitely not an artistic type.

Another aspect is how my parents’ minds work.  My parents are people who constantly think but in very different ways.  My dad is constantly doing things or planning to do things, constantly reading and learning, constantly questioning.  From my dad, I learned that no question is taboo and curiosity is a very good thing.  My dad is very thorough when researching something, and is a very innovative thinker.  My mom has a mind that is even more active than my dad but not as much in an intellectual way.  Her mind is a wandering mind that runs very fast.  When my mom and I are having a conversation, we can talk very quickly.  Our minds resonate.  Even though our minds wander, we also can ruminate on the same thing for hours.

I think that I’m a product of combining the innovative creativity and silly humor of my dad with the wandering focus and interest in people of my mom.  Somehow that all adds up to an interest in the imagination conveyed in fiction. 

Plus, it seems my grandmother may have been more of an artistic type.  I suspect that she might have been an INFP.   She was a person of creative chaos and was lazy/apathetic in that she wouldn’t do anymore than absolutely had to be done.  She was always looking for meaning and was impractical in her idealism.  If that ain’t an INFP, then I don’t know what type she might’ve been.

BTW, OM, I’d love to hear about the SOUL archetypes.  I’m always curious about different systems, different ways of understanding people.  Because of Nicole, I was looking at the Enneagram recently.  I hadn’t looked at it in a while, but remembered myself to have been a 4w5.  I took a test that Nicole linked to and I came up as a definite 4 with some leanings towards 5.  The 4w5 description fits me as well as INFP.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

Yes, same here, OM, as Ben says, I found the Enneagram very helpful recently in understanding more about myself and my friends, always looking for more grist for the mill.

It’s wonderful, Ben, that you and your mom can connect like that, and to see so clearly the influence of your family on who you are… I am fascinated.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

2 days later

1Vector3 said

I’ll see what I can do about getting info on the soul archetypes to you, Ben. The technological challenge is considerable…..

yeah, the Enneagram is IMO one of the top 3 or 4 typologies of real value in understanding self and others. Knowing my own type has been of major major major help in my own healing/wholing process. I do plan to post sometime my paper on the Enneagram One, The Healing Thereof, but it’s sooooo long, about 15 pages… But, I think, an easy read, at least structually if not in content !

Much as I have tried to study the Enneagram, and taken many workshops from a variety of teachers, and read several books, I can’t seem to retain the info about the points other than mine with a few exceptions like the 8, 3, and 5. Oh well.

And BTW I do not care for the Enneagram as it is commonly presented and taught, as a personality classification system; there it is IMO not much more useful than astrology. It doesn’t hang together. It only hangs together if you study it as a spiritual typology [which it was originally, apparently, in the Sufi origins] much more basic than personality.

Sandra Maitri’s book The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram is the only good book I know of re that approach, but it kinda buries the crucial foundational info. She learned it from A.H. Almaas, and I have a friend who also studied with him and wrote a much more clearly fundamental and lasered paper, which I have ambitions to make available on the Internet, am moving toward that. Almaas himself did write, and I have – I blush to say – yet to read anything he wrote.

I agree, Nicole, I am very impressed, Ben, with the eloquence and clarity you have around your parents’ characteristics and how these have interacted with your own.

Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

2 days later

Marmalade said

Nicole – Yeah, the way I can connect with my mom is odd.  We are very different types, and yet our minds completely resonate.  Its kind of funny because my mom is super practical but also kinda spacey.  I apparently only inherited the spacey part.  lol

OM – I’d appreciate any info you’d like to share about the Enneagram.  I have yet to study it thoroughly.  For some reason, I’ve never really connected to it… and, like you, I can’t seem to retain the info.  OTOH, the MBTI immediately made sense to me and I found it easy to remember, but it took a while to understand the more complex aspects.

Avatar: Imagination & Culture

I finally went to see the movie Avatar.  It took me a while to convince my friend to go with me. He doesn’t usually like SciFi, but I think he enjoyed it.  I can understand why this movie has made so much money.  I’m glad I saw it and I’d be happy to watch it again.

I want to say something about the larger meaning and impact of this movie, but first I’ll point out my immediate response to it as entertainment.  Even though it was mostly what I expected, I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of its production.  It was a truly immersive experience.  It did, however, take me a while to get into. 

First, I don’t often watch 3D movies and it was initially odd trying to get forget the rectangular screen framing the 3D effects.  In a normal movie, it’s easier to forget the shape of the screen itself.  That wasn’t really an annoyance per se… just something I was aware of.

The second thing was that the indigenous people of Pandora were essentially just very large blue Native Americans.  Their language and facial features all had elements of the Native American people (along with bows and arrows and weird large horse-like creatures).    I eventually just had to accept that large blue Native Americans could actually exist on other planets and just go with the story.

I’ve noticed that other reviewers have pointed out that the story isn’t all that original.  That is true to an extent.  White soldier goes native and helps the natives fight the evil invading military.  There are many other movies with a more original vision of an alternative world, but the central conceit of the movie (the avatar bodies) was an original twist.  I don’t care if a story is all that original as long as it is told well.  Most stories aren’t original.  Even the story of Jesus isn’t an original story and that has never lessened its popularity.

So, was the story of Avatar told well?  I think so.  I was immersed in the world.  The character development was limited, but I genuinely cared for the fate of the characters and I was saddened when the large tree was destroyed.  The movie probably would’ve been better if done as a trilogy.   But, even as is, I was more than satisfied.

The real reason I wanted to write a review is because of thoughts I had of its larger cultural context.  I have heard that conservatives really don’t like this movie.  Even the Vatican made an official statement of criticism.  I’m not surprised.  I don’t think it’s an overestimation to say that this movie will have some impact on the collective attitude of our society.  It is a movie that is full of messages and conveyed in a very entertaining and compelling way.

As an adult, this movie is impressive even if only for the special effects… but, to a child or young adult, this movie is the type of experience that could help shape the mindset of an entire generation.  The youth today are already very liberal in most ways because of various demographic shifts.  Conservatives dominated most of the twentieth century with their formulation of the cultural war.  Conservatives have been very good at controlling the cultural narrative and the group that controls the narrative controls all social and political dialogue. 

Liberals have been challenged in recent decades.  The conservatives managed to reframe progressivism as socialism and communism, as big government, as intellectual elitism.  But liberalism was never entirely limited to progressivism or not any simple notion of progressivism.  The liberal vision was never solely or centrally about creating a new society.  Rather, the liberal vision was about basic human rights, about empowering the common person.

Avatar has deep resonance with struggles that have been going on throughout US history and world history.  I’m just about finished with my second reading of The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.  If you want to understand why this movie matters, read some of Jensen’s writings.  Avatar is, in some ways, a simple story but it is also a story that is communicating some basic truths about our culture.  The evil military guy may seem like an exaggerated stereotype.  However, I would argue that he is a fairly realistic portrayal of a certain kind of person.  Jensen goes into great detail about US history and there have been plenty of military (and non-military) people who have had the same basic attitude and who have said very similar things.  Sadly, this character isn’t an exaggeration.  There really have been (and still are) people like him and they really did try to get rid of any culture that got in the way of their ideology or profits.  For certain, the US government’s treatment of Native Americans wasn’t an isolated event(s). 

In the early 20th century, the workers union movement was connected with the beginnings of the civil rights movement.  These progressive movements were led by working class people.  For example, the Wobblies fought against unfair pay and immoral working conditions.  What was interesting about the Wobblies is that they didn’t refuse blacks and women from joining.  It was a truly egalitarian progressive movement that happened decades prior to Martin Luther King, jr.  And, yes, the Wobblies were violently put down by the government.

The first World War undermined this movement even further because patriotism has a way of redirecting public outrage to convenient foreign enemies.  In place of these progressive movements, arose the renewed KKK.  The KKK was different in that its membership was mostly middle and upper class.  The KKK was a gentlemen’s club and not an organization defending the common man… although it did play off the dissatisfaction and anger of the common man.  This was the beginning of the conservative movement as we now know it.  The beliefs of the KKK are essentially the same as the beliefs of present rightwingers (patriotic nationalism, anti-immigrant sentiments, traditional family, white culture/supremacy, and Christian fundamentalism; it was the KKK that was behind the early attempt in getting Creationism taught in public science classes).  The story of the conservative movement has been that of true Americans fighting for the American Way, the American Dream.  This “America”, of course, was a bit exclusionary toward a large portion of the population, but it appealed to all the people who mattered (i.e., those with power). 

Even the moving speeches of MLK had a hard time of challenging the conservative narrative.  Because MLK couldn’t change the popular narrative, the popularity of the civil rights movement mostly died with him.  Ever since, liberals have been trying to communicate their message.  Obama has been somewhat successful in awakening the progressive sense of hope, but he too hasn’t been able to find the narrative to empower this hope beyond speechmaking.  Conservatives are just better at creating and controlling the political attitudes of the general public.

Still, not all is lost.  Liberals seem more successful in using entertainment as a mode of communication.  This is where conservatives have failed.   The conservative ideology doesn’t fully appreciate the power (and the potential merits) of imagination, and the conservative movement did successfully limit creative freedom during the 20th century (Hollywood blacklists, Comic Book Code, etc).  The conservative response to imagination is simply to fear it.  Both conservatives and liberals understand the liberating potential of the arts and of popular entertainment. 

In the late 20th century, the conservative oppression of the Cold War started to lessen.  There was a tremendous explosion of cultural creativity that was combined with technological innovation.  The liberals found the media for their message in movies, and special effects allowed them to communicate their message in ever more compelling ways.  Star Wars was the first great use of movies to express the liberal vision.  Following that, Blade Runner and the Matrix began to remind Americans of the true power of the liberal vision.  The Boomers set the stage for all of this, but it took the GenXers to instill this liberal ethos into the very structures of our culture (e.g., the internet).

That brings us to the last decade when a new generation was coming of age.  This new generation is the largest generation in US history and probably the most liberal generation in US history.  The Millennials have grown up with liberal vision.  Harry Potter has become central to their identity, and the message of Harry Potter is very liberal.  Fantasy/SciFi in general is very liberal.  Our culture has been slowly shifting towards liberalism, but I think Avatar might be a tipping point of sorts. 

The improvement of special effects has unleashed the collective sense of imagination.  Movies may seem like mindless entertainment, but the power of imagination shouldn’t be underestimated.

All of this reminds me of an incident from a several years ago.  I went to hear a lady speak at the University of Iowa.  It wasn’t exactly what I expected.  The lady turned out to be a conservative Christian.  She discussed popular culture and the entertainment industry from the view of conservative Christianity.  She thought conservatives needed to use popular culture to communicate their ideology.  There isn’t anything necessarily wrong about this attitude, but my sense was that this lady’s view (and the conservative view in general) had an extremely superficial comprehension of the value of imagination and creativity.  Conservatives want to control entertainment for their purposes.  The best example is how the Mormons like to spend money making movies with good Christian values, but these movies of course are never very popular.

Liberals don’t need to use imagination and creativity to express their ideology… or at least not in the way that conservatives try to do this.  For liberals, imagination and creativity isn’t just a medium for their message.  It is their message.  The very act of imagining is inherent to the liberal attitude, the liberal view of reality.  This can be understood in terms of Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types.  Liberalism corresponds to the thin boundary type.  Thin boundary means that a person’s experience demonstrates less distinction between dreaming and waking, between subjectivity and objectivity, between imagination and perception.  Liberals don’t use imagination.  Liberals live in imagination.

After listening to the conservative Christian lady speak, I went into the University library where there was a showing of William Blake’s art and writing.  There couldn’t have been a better contrast between the conservative and liberal understanding of imagination.  In Blake’s vision, imagination was something with the power to liberate.  I don’t know if Blake was a visionary, but he was most definitely touching upon the visionary potential of imagination.  It was imagination as self-expression, as celebration, as defiance of all oppressive forces.

Avatar isn’t on the same level as Blake.  Even so, Avatar expresses the same liberal impulse.  There is ideology in Avatar, but it’s ideology as a vision of reality.   With liberals, ideology is expanded through imagination.  With conservatives, imagination is constrained by ideology.  Both may start with ideology, but go in different directions.  The liberal impulse wants to escape or transform ideology into something greater.  It’s not that conservatives don’t have a sense of something greater.  It’s just that to conservatives ideology itself is an expression of that sense of something greater.  Maybe it’s a difference between ideology as means vs ends.

Imagination has so much influence because it’s so easily dismissed.  Entertainment beguiles our conscious mind and sneaks past our rational and ideological defenses.  The most powerful stories are those that alter our very perception of reality.  We don’t see imagination.  We see through imagination.  And it’s liberals who understand this best. 

As such, Avatar is a vision of what imagination means in the world.  Imagination is potential.  We live in and embody imagination.  The world is alive with the imaginal.  To see this planet or any planet as an inanimate chunk of rock is a failure of imagination.  Killing life for profit can only be accomplished if imagination is first killed.  But imagination is an ever-present potential that can be reborn in any person.  That would seem to be the message of Avatar.

JFK: Assassination of a Nation’s Soul

Here is an awesome JFK quote from Matt Cardin’s In serving his vision of truth, the artist best serves his nation:

These may be my favorite words ever spoken by an American President. They come from a speech delivered by John F. Kennedy on October 26, 1963 — less than a month before his death — at Amherst College, in honor of the late Robert Frost. The speech was published the following February in The Atlantic under the title “Poetry and Power,” while the nation was still in shock and mourning.

John F Kennedy

[A]rt establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet, in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeigh once remarked of poets, “There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.”

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man — the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”

 – – –

I was just listening to the actual speech that JFK gave that day at Amherst College (also, here is the poem spoken by Robert Frost along with the poem he was going to speak).  I’m not someone who cries easily or often, but listening to JFK brought tears to my eyes.  I’m a Gen-Xer born more than a decade after JFK’s assassination and more important born after Nixon’s demoralizing presidency.  With the CIA’s illegal activities abroad and the FBI’s attack on civil rights through COINTELPRO, everything that was good about America seemed long gone.  Gen-Xers are cynical for a very good reason.  Between the assassinations of JFK (15 yrs after Ghandi’s assassination) and MLK (and RFK on top of that), it feels like the soul of America (the hope of liberal idealism in the entire world) itself had been assassinated. 

The Wikipedia article on the reaction to the JFK assassination:

Around the world, there was a stunned reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

The first hour after the shooting, before his death was announced, was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the U.S., and whether Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.

The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car.[citation needed] Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early.[1] Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having “killed the President”.[citation needed]

The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking “Where were you when you heard about Kennedy’s assassination” would become a common topic of discussion.

The reaction

In the United States, the assassination dissolved differences among all people as they were brought together in one common theme: shock and sorrow after the assassination. It was seen in statements by the former presidents and members of Congress, etc. The news was so shocking and hit with such impact, it was later reported that 99% of the U.S. population knew about his murder within three hours afterwards, an amazing speed of a news item before round-the-clock cable television networks.

Around the world

After the assassination, many world leaders expressed shock and sorrow, some going on television and radio to address their countrymen. In countries around the world, state premiers and governors and mayors also issued messages expressing shock over the assassination. Governments ordered flags to half-staff and days of mourning. Many of them wondered if the new president, Lyndon Johnson, would carry on Kennedy’s policies or not.

In many countries radio and television networks, after breaking the news, either went off the air except for funeral music or broke schedules to carry uninterrupted news of the assassination, and if Kennedy had made a visit to that country, recalled that visit in detail. In several nations, monarchs ordered the royal family into days of mourning. The government of Iraq declared three days of national mourning.

At U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, switchboards lit up and were flooded with phone calls. At many of them, shocked personnel often let telephones go unanswered. They also opened up books of condolences for people to sign. In Europe, the assassination tempered Cold War sentiment, as people on both sides expressed shock and sorrow.

News of the assassination reached Asia during the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, because of the time difference, as people there were sleeping. In Japan, the news became the first television broadcast from the United States to Japan via the Relay 1 satellite instead of a prerecorded message from Kennedy to the Japanese people.

Unofficial mourning

Hastily organized memorial services for Kennedy were held throughout the world, allowing many to express their grief. Governments lowered flags to half-staff and declared days of mourning, and church bells tolled. A day of national mourning and sorrow was declared in the U.S. for Monday, November 25, the day of the state funeral. Many other countries did the same. Throughout the United States, many states declared the day of the funeral a legal holiday.

There has hardly been any kind of positive international response to a US president since that time… that is until Barack Obama.  I’m not saying that Obam is the new JFK, but it sure has been a long while since America has genuinely believed in its own idealism… believed it to the extent that the rest of the world was actually convinced.  (The only killed political leader that has touched the world’s heart since JFK is Princess Diana.)

And out of the ashes JFK’s assassination was born the white supremacy evangelical right.  It saddens me to my bones.  Look at what America has become: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  Should I kill myself now or hold onto the hope that America can actually live up to its own idealism?

President Kennedy wasn’t perfect, but it was we Americans who failed him.  That is how I feel.  In listening to JFK shortly before his death, all I can say is, “I’m sorry” (and repeat those words again and again and again).  I feel that somehow I personally failed his dream (and MLK’s dream… not to mention Gandhi’s dream… and John Lennon’s dream… please, let the list end here).  and it feels like America (and the world) has been in a downward descent ever since… with the cynical vision of the Republican party ruling America.  It’s completely understandable that the conspiracy theorists disbelieve the official story (for example, watch these videos and feel the outrage at the deepest level of your heart and soul).  How could a fluke, a random event assassinate the very soul of America (the supposedly greatest nation in the world)?

Let me just say that I take the increase of death threats against Obama very seriously!

In the conclusion of the Wikipedia article about MLK’s assassination:

In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:

The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. …I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.[46][47]
Has anybody here, seen my old friend John –
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone.
After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, commenced an era of political showmanship symbolized by the Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan.
The last great speech of the last great politician…
God save us all!

Resurgence of Imagination

My response to Matt Cardin’s response to Damien G. Walter’s response about Arthur Machen:

Beyond just horror, all works of imagination have had an upsurge of popularity: movies, graphic novels; and, within fiction, speculative fiction in general. 

In movies, this can partly be explained by increasingly better special effects and graphic novels have been piggybacking on the superhero movie boom.  In general, I think movies have made accessible realms of imagination that were outside of the norm in the past.  I think the popularity of fantasy fiction is directly linked to the changes in movie-making.  Even someone like Machen probably wasn’t all that popular in the past except amongst the literati.

There are a couple of other reasons that imagination has been let loose. 

First, many of the censorship laws applied to the movie and comic book industries stifled creativity for many decades… or at least forced creativity outside of the mainstream and into the black market.  Comic books such as the Watchmen were direct commentary on this dark period of the American imagination.

Second, I think that imaginative and speculative art in all its forms captures the public attention during times of social upheaval and stress.  The American public has been under great stress this past decade, and it seems the fear-mongering has hit a high point recently.  People want to escape reality and also imagine new possibilities

And my response to Matt Cardin’s interview with Stephen Jones:

This shows a contrasting view to that of your blog post about Arthur Machen.

I generally disagree with the negative view here.  If I remember correctly, more books are being published in larger numbers than ever before in history.  I was peruzing Amazon the other day.  There were tons of books on a wide variety of intellectual topics and there was no lack of such books having been printed in recent years. 

With e-book readers, this book boom will only boom even further.  With an e-book, a person can easily carry around all of the volumes of the massive Oxford dictionary (which in physical form take up an entire bookshelf).  I think, in particular, small presses are going to get an increase of sales as e-book readers become more popular.  Books that have been out of print for decades will soon be available to anyone in the world at cheap costs.

Also, the internet helps the average writer.  The internet makes it easier for writers to interact with other writers and interact with their readers.  And the internet makes it easier for a writer just starting out to get their name and work out there by joining forums and starting their own website.  The internet has introduced me to many new writers including those in the genres of horror and weird fiction.

However, it’s possible my view of reality is too rosy.  I live in a liberal college town (Iowa City) which has the oldest writers workshop and supposedly has the highest per capita in the US of the well educated.  I’m surrounded by bookstores and book-lovers.

Mediating Your Own Reality

Saturday Night Live: High School Muical 4

Troy Bolton: “I’m here to talk about what happens after you leave East High.  Here’s the deal.  No one sings at college.  And from what I can tell this is America’s only singing high school.  I was as shocked as you are.  Let me tell you how my first day went.  I was nervous but excited.  So, I started singing a song called ‘nervous but excited’.  People just stared at me.  There was zero choreography.  Zero!”


That dance video is a publicity stunt (i.e, guerrilla communication used for marketing), but it’s become a viral video.  I think people like the idea that people in normal life could just start dancing together.  The next two videos are musical numbers that some people did which aren’t publicity stunts.  It’s just some people who wanted to dance and/or sing in front of an unsuspecting audience (the first video is by Improv Everywhere which is a very active group).

Here is an interview with Ryan Mackey about staging a guerilla musical.

All of this relates to flash mobs (and the more general smart mob; also related subjects – rave culture, subway party, mobile clubbingwifipicning and tempoary autonomous zones).  The basic idea originated before the internet with performance art and happenings, but new technology has brought such public activities to a new level.  Many flash mobs are just for fun.  Popular varieties of flash mobs include the flash mob bang, the pillow fight flash mob, the silent disco, and the time freeze.

But flash mobs do have practical application such as political demonstrations.  Even though political flash mobs have been used for a long time, technology has brought protesting to a new level.  The internet of course allows a flash mob to be publicized widely after the event, but more maybe importantly cellphones and twitter allows people to gather quickly and disperse again before authorities can interfere.  Also, it’s just an easy way to organize with minimal effort.  A flash mob could be organized well ahead of time, but it doesn’t need to be.  Just text or twitter some directions and those who aren’t busy can convene on the same location.  Here is an example of a political flash mob.

This reminds me of tactical frivolity and tactical media.  An example of the latter would be the Merry Pranksters who were the first culture jamming activists to gain mainstream media attention.  As for a contemporary example, the Yes Men have become well known for their media pranks.  It’s amazing how much the Yes Men can get away with.  I feel sorry for the audience/victims of their comedic activism.  The next video is one of their stunts and I find it quite impressive how straight-faced they can act while making an absurd presentation.  The video after that is an interview with one of the members of Yes Men.

Street art and art intervention comes in many forms and serves many purposes.  I like subvertizing, but I must say that yarn bombing and guerrilla gardening are quite amusing.

The space between media and everyday life has become very small.  On a more serious note, I once read an analysis of contemporary media where the author pointed out that the O.J. Simpson chase was one of the first national events in the U.S. where the public realized they were a part of a media event (the first live feed of a car chase was, according to this article,  in 1992).  People watched it live on tv and then went outside to watch it.  The people waved at the news helicopters (there were at least 7 of them) as it passed knowing they were being broadcast to the world.

This interactive aspect of media has become a normal part of reality.  News reporting often depends on the cellphone videos of people who happened to be on the scene and news agencies watch twitter closely to discover breaking news.  News is whatever is happening now and with the internet the news spreads very quickly (here is an article that discusses the tabloid nature of media sensationalism which ‘reports’ the news before it’s even been officially released).

This demand for immediacy disallows analysis or even vetting of sources.  News reporters are constantly swamped by new information that they want to be the first to report and so this is why they are easily fooled by hoaxers (here is an example involving major networks).  Groups like the Yes Men are able to accomplish their pranks because of how the internet has levelled the playing field.  It’s hard to tell an official website from a hoax website because outwardly they may look exactly like and no one has the time to look at every website in detail, no one has the time to research every single claimed fact.  Truly convincing hoaxes are rare.  People tend to trust sources that appear legitimate and it’s easy to miss details such as a single letter being off in the url.

It all comes down to control.  Those in authority, of course, want to be in control.  However, new media technology offers much opportunity for the average person to regain some control.  We’re saturated with media, but people are no longer content with one-way passively received reporting and advertising.  If you want to have a flash mob in the middle of your downtown, there is no way anyone can stop you.  If you want to express yourself through song and have choreographed dances at college, more power to you.