Where have all the shamans gone?

Here's a link to the most unbelievably depressing article I've read in a long time. I'm now convinced that if a civilization aspires to match the dignity that inheres (even when it's latent) in all human beings, it needs to involve a dynamic mix of a moral culture and a "reasonable" government order.

By moral order I mean a culture that shares a priori assumptions about interpersonal obligations. From a secular/academic perspective, that means a moral culture not based in "reason," but in a kind of shared trust or confidence or faith. Think "mythology," in the era when the myth was still believed.

By "reasonable" government order I mean a commitment to an ideological system so that individuals operating within the system can base future-oriented decisions on the expectation that the system will essentially remain in place across time.

Frankly, I'm pissed. What we're seeing now is a mix of a moral culture of nihilism and a political system so unpredictable to the average citizen as to make it altogether "un-level."

But forget what I think -- go read that article about algorithmic millisecond stock-trading, and judge for yourself.


Re: Bored Students

When I can sneak off for ten minutes, I'm going to do a video essay on the subject of student reactions and responses to various pedagogical strategies. Needless to say, I will frame the question in obscure terms borrowing from 18th century theology. But seriously, something like this: "What is the ontological status of- and our ethical obligation to- bored students in our classrooms?" Also, do we accept Locke's metaphor for the mind--the tabula rasa model?--which allows us to "pour" information into students' minds as fluid into an empty vessel? Or do we believe... well, something else (start either with Kant or Chomsky here)? If the latter, shouldn't we be trying to "draw-out," rather than to "pour-in?"

UPDATE --here's the video:


Healthcare talk

The other day I read a really interesting article arguing that "rationing healthcare" is an unavoidable fact of life. It included interesting mad-libs like, "Public health insurance should pay up to $_______ for a treatment that would extend a patient's life for one year." And if you like that, here's an interesting hit-documentary against Obama's healthcare plan... sort of in the style of Michael Moore, only walking the other side. Check it out:


I had not power to tell --

I think I was enchanted
When first a sombre Girl --
I read that Foreign Lady --
The Dark -- felt beautiful --

And whether it was noon at night --
Or only Heaven -- at Noon --
For very Lunacy of Light
I had not power to tell --

The Bees -- became as Butterflies --
The Butterflies -- as Swans --
Approached -- and spurned the narrow Grass --
And just the meanest Tunes

That Nature murmured to herself
To keep herself in Cheer --
I took for Giants -- practising
Titanic Opera --

The Days -- to Mighty Metres stept --
The Homeliest -- adorned
As if unto a Jubilee
'Twere suddenly confirmed --

I could not have defined the change --
Conversion of the Mind
Like Sanctifying in the Soul --
Is witnessed -- not explained --

'Twas a Divine Insanity --
The Danger to be Sane
Should I again experience --
'Tis Antidote to turn --

To Tomes of solid Witchcraft --
Magicians be asleep --
But Magic -- hath an Element
Like Deity -- to keep --

Watch this one first:

Then, if you must, watch this one for explanatory commentary:


Where to Start (it's not too late!)

If you want to get on board (as I was saying in the video below), here's a great place to start: you might have seen Wade Davis' great talk at TED Talks about endangered cultures. Now he's hosted a NatGeo special -- it aired tonight at 10:00, but I'm sure they'll re-air it. Here's a link to the program's website, which offers three 5-minute-ish videos.*

*Cf., on participatory anthropology, Michael Harner's The Way of the Shaman, Jeremy Narby's The Cosmic Serpent, and Carlos Castaneda's A Separate Reality.

It Shadows Forth

"...by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe." (from Moby-Dick)
So, it dawned on me that I could say a lot more--and maybe say it better--if I tried another medium. Maybe I'll continue posting some shady-mysterious lecture-essays for a while. We'll see how it goes.

Good Question

Is Monotheism ethically superior to Polytheism? Good ground for discussion... I'm not sure that, under the right circumstances, ya'll couldn't do better. Especially since I would start the conversation by answering, "Yes." Nevertheless:


This is OK

Today's NY Times features an article asking the question, "When do they need a fig leaf?" Less cryptically, it's about parents who let their children hang out naked all day, even when guests come over. I guess I just want to go on record saying "I'm for that."

I live in North Carolina now, where it's HOT 6 months out of the year. That's too many months for me to be sweating-out the inside of my khakis. I'm mystified by the fact that many of my colleagues wear sport coats and ties to work. It seems almost unbelievably impractical, evidence of a pervasive inability to adapt or something.

My working theory starts with the fact that, as everyone knows, sperm-counts don't like hot temperature. From there, people in the north decided that if they could convince people in the south that America's-uniform was a sport coat, tie, and khakis, with dress shoes, that Southerners would be infertile within a generation. The infertility doesn't seem to have caught on, but the dress code, inexplicably, sort of has.

I'm for shorts and a t-shirt when it's over 75 (which is, again, from April through October). And nakedness at home. Now who's coming with me!?!


"...obliged to understand rather than to judge."

Tired of blogging (again) for a while, I will leave off where I feel I began. Albert Camus remains perhaps my favorite writer. And I think he currently holds that place that many of the greatest thinkers in history probably held in the half-century or so after their death--they are remembered, but usually compared unfavorably to other, supposedly better intellectuals (Sartre, Beauvoir, Heidegger, etc.). But the passing of time seems to bring Camus' unmatched honesty into relief while it dulls the reputation of the others. Even if that is wishful thinking, I can say very candidly that there is no name from the 20th century more closely associated in my imagination with the idea of "Justice" than Camus.

Since I won't be offering my own thoughts for a while, I can think of no better offering than this excerpt, which makes the difference between the artist and the critic so clear that it may cut the critic deeply (from his Nobel Prize banquet speech, 1957):
For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them. It is a means of stirring the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common joys and sufferings. It obliges the artist not to keep himself apart; it subjects him to the most humble and the most universal truth. And often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche's great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.
There's a pretty interesting interview regarding Camus with Jean-Marie Apostolid├Ęs available on iTunes for free -- just find the Philosophy course (by way of the "arts and humanities" button) at Stanford.


Dignity -- apparently not returning soon

On one of my Buddhist podcasts recently I heard about the way many practitioners work hard to attain proper posture, right speaking, focused eyes, etc. It's not exactly an effort to "mortify the flesh," though--it's based on the idea that the body is the closest approximation of the soul that we have. It follows that making an effort to become a graceful physical creature, even if it does not necessarily produce a graceful inner life, may teach a person about the difficulties of attaining or achieving such an inner state.

All of that to preface the following recommended article by, of all people, David Brooks (who usually bores me without mercy). Anyway, here's a link. The op-ed is titled, "In Search of Dignity."