Archive for the culture shifts Category

the door

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on March 3, 2017 by Christy Rodgers

This is the story arc of our species: we have traveled, although with many meanderings, a single traceable path from wild to domesticated to mechanized beings. We still carry our past with us – sometimes it is expressed, sometimes only potential, but it is not entirely (never, thus far, entirely) lost; it is embodied in us. So there are still groups of human beings who have more wilderness in them, many more who are fully domesticated but not (yet) mechanized, and some – in fact, considered the most privileged in contemporary civilization – who are being positioned for, and now, like good domesticated creatures, actually trotting faithfully towards, machine-life. Clutching essential contrivances to which they have outsourced their memory, sociability, wealth, intellect, and imagination. The next step on this path is to further incorporate (embody) our machines: first to wear them, then to implant them, and finally to become them.

Robert Macfarlane’s book Landmarks made me realize children are the throwbacks. Domesticated children held the wild in them, released when they went outside to play; machine children will probably still hold the domestic, creating farms and households and schools on their virtual reality playgrounds. All children have held the body, the physical, preeminent – a physicality in constant motion, irreducible because it is alive at all levels, seen and unseen. What adults abstract to a separate and imaginary realm, the metaphysical, is merely a single reality that is alive throughout. This is the world of children.

It was the children who perceived, as Macfarlane says, doors everywhere in the landscape, the children who could slip between worlds without difficulty, just as they can speak in different languages without interposing translation, or express paradoxical ideas without a sense of contradiction.

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complexity theory

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on May 8, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

There really is a butterfly effect at work in the Homo sapiens sapiens story: Imagine, tiny genetic anomalies reverberating into distinguishable types of physicality and cognitive processing, expanding into historical acts in the world altering aspects of large-scale material reality – the climate of a planet! (the largest if not the happiest example) leading to concatenating unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences through great spans of time.

Missing from what we call complex civilization today: the ethic of humility, attentiveness, and care that a real understanding of the nature of this effect would seem to demand.

That civilization looks like our last best hope for comfort, sophistication, and abundance – until you visit its sacrifice zones. Then, like Shevek in The Dispossessed, all you want to do is run.

But Shevek has a home outside of the murderous, gleaming, extractive civilization of Urras to which to flee. We don’t. For now, our stories are the only door to the sky.

another may day’s come and gone

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on May 2, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

Against the dream of a universal human family that haunted the last century: “all things in common/ all people one,” the times have given us a strange array of nearly disembodied tribes scattered about the globe, who rise up here or there in fearful ecstasy against the extermination of unprofitable difference by capital, and its establishment of a venal, phony meritocracy with the rentiers at the tiptop and the rest (numbering in the billions, mind you!) to blame for their own misery. Then these stirrings fade – under bombs, tear gas, buy-offs, internal divisions, media defamation, political accommodations – leaving capital reeling on, largely indifferent to anything but its own increasingly unmoored manic-depressive cycles, in its happier moments blithely ecumenical, calling anyone with cash, no matter what color or creed, to come on in and buy. And its gloomier ones, of course, all chilly premonitions of the inevitable and yet unpredictable Armageddon that shadows all its busy-ness.

How strange, in a small, dim, sparsely populated hall in Berkeley, California, amid determined voices singing the stirring and lilting songs of failed struggles for the universal goal: venga, jaleo, jaleo… a ragged band they called the Diggers… arise, ye prisoners of starvation… to see again with mournful clarity that the Old White Left in the US is another such tribe: the tribe of internationalists, people who want no tribe, people who fervently believe in The People, now one of the smallest tribes of all. (For whom, I should add, the Senator from Vermont is to be taken at his word as an Eisenhower Republican). As fragile and yet tenacious as the old ones still clinging to an Amazonian riverbank or a depopulated Mediterranean village.

Oh the decades that have crawled by, and we get older, ghostlier; we keep saying the same things because they are still true and yet the words are without agency. Like the chiefs of a landless people who can’t call the rain anymore. Like Ghost Dancers.

What will it be like, the time of fulfillment, the time of transformation? We will die without seeing it, as have all the rest before us. Instead, imperfect wonders and horrors unpredicted by those who will experience them will unfold, as they always have, and those people will keep finding ways to trap them in dull retrospective chronicles as we always have.

Until such time as people become something entirely unrecognizable to us as we are now, or else vanish from the earth.

ah, wilderness!

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on April 8, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

I once took a wilderness and transformed it into a garden. But along the way I killed or evicted anything I didn’t want, I radically reduced the biodiversity in whole areas, by poor soil management I created tiny deserts where almost nothing grew. I practiced a kind of ethnic cleansing as I weeded, uprooting and forcibly removing many things that had long established themselves and were happy and thriving – often for no purpose but an aesthetic one. I set up borders where once there were none. I made roads – paths, that is – nothing was allowed to grow where I walked.

As I learned better how to garden, I began to let things back in that I hadn’t planted, as long as I liked the way they looked, and they didn’t compete with my colony of plants, the ones that were for my exclusive use, slaves of my need for food and beauty.

Years went by, and I could relax, now that I was in control and knew how to get what I wanted from the land. I interfered less and less. The plants that had survived my scourges were supple and forgiving. The animals were unobtrusive – they had learned to stay away, to haunt less tended spaces. The more aggressive birds chased the others away, and took advantage of the insects and seeds that were on offer when I disturbed the soil. It all seemed to be in proper equilibrium.

My garden was beautiful, and I was happy. But the wilderness was gone for good. As long as I lived, it would not return.

listening to the radio in the garden

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on January 24, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

The neuroscientist is talking about the difference between default perception – a kind of cognitive shorthand, a convenient fiction provided by the brain, using a mental construct built from previous experience (on a sunny day the sky is [fill in blank]) in order to deal efficiently with the constant stream of sensory information the brain is receiving without having to analyze each element individually – and the enhanced perception experienced at moments when a fuller awareness is required. In such enhanced perception, moments seem to extend beyond the constraints of measurable time, and minute details are revealed to have previously unperceived levels of complexity and connection to other elements of perception. Perception acquires capabilities of recognition that are almost incommensurable to the default mode. There is clearly a survival benefit to having both types of awareness.

And as i am working in the garden, i am thinking of the people who know plants well enough, after many instances of enhanced perception perhaps, to understand them as sentient beings. And therefore move through a garden or grove as you or i would move through a room crowded with people we recognized and knew intimately, most of whom we truly loved, all of whom we respected (i suppose most people’s rooms today would be quite small) hearing each one speaking to you of its current condition of life in its very particular voice.

And for just a moment – but it feels capacious – in the spangled sunlight of the quiet green space, enriched by all the beneficent molecules these speechless, unambulatory but not immobile beings are releasing invisibly but not imperceptibly into the air around me, i feel as if it might be possible to be who and what we are only and yet come to know a thing worth knowing.

the idea of order at key west or elsewhere

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on January 14, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

If we try to use language transparently, are we doing ourselves a disservice? Perhaps Wallace Stevens was right: if we can’t experience reality directly, and if there is no transcendent level to experience anyway, why not just revel in our own invention? Those fantastical filigrees of forked lightning flashing inside the crystal sphere at the center of our heads. That lovely Blue Guitar plucking out the tune; that jolly Emperor of Ice Cream leading the dance. But Stevens might have been wrong about a couple of things: one is that there is in fact already order in nature, elegant, fiendishly complex order that we have nothing to do with creating – the more science advances, the more it confirms this. Poetry – since Stevens, anyway – seems rather slack-jawed by comparison.

Humans are not the sole artists of creation, the unique imposers or creators of elegant and sophisticated order out of nature’s slovenly, fanged chaos – at Key West or elsewhere, by placing jars in Tennessee or elsewise. In fact, we are the generators of a uniquely inordinate amount of entropy by comparison with other species or systems in the unbuilt, living world.

We can love our words, as Narcissus loved his rippling image in the silken pool, but the world can still reach up to drown us with a single, silent wave.

dispatches from the island of knowledge

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on November 8, 2015 by Christy Rodgers

Mandelbrot’s fractal set is an abstraction; still the nature of our experience is fractalesque. For there are invisible patterns that do seem to repeat at ever-larger scales: individual consciousness, human history, the cosmos.

For example there is the fact that our personal experience is not any kind of a straight line but rather a series of waves and when we are in one, we think it is all and all, and accurately represents the largest and most enduring picture – and then we pass to another and must acknowledge that the whole pattern shifts, that it is always shifting. But not randomly – those layers of unexamined past experience are always solidifying, hardening into the cruel shape of the present, as real as mountains. Proust understood this, more than any other writer I have read. And so described habit as a monster. He knew that most of what shapes us we do not, and cannot control, at least as the fundamentally isolate little beings he felt us to be.

And so praised art, because it could make of the insubstantial kaleidoscopic evanescent debilities of an individual consciousness something that took manifest form and persisted in the material world far beyond the duration of that or any single consciousness, regaining and vindicating unique experience – time – that was otherwise lost: forgotten, irretrievable, pointless.

Physicist Lee Smolin wrote Time Reborn, not Time Regained. He looks at it another way, and sees, instead of ironclad timeless laws guiding the physical universe, a kind of evolution at work that echoes (or is echoed by) biological evolution. A “principle of precedence” that starts out randomly, developing, down the eons of repetition with alteration, what his outrider colleague in biology Rupert Sheldrake calls “habits, rather than laws” for the physical universe. For this to be true, though, flowing time must be fundamental to material reality, not an illusion or a property that emerges out of other phenomena.

Most of his fellow physicists and mathematicians scoff at this. After all, Einstein! Time is (hypothetically) just an extra dimension in a spatial continuum; it is not a universal standard; its passage is relative to an observer: slowed by accelerating mass, limited by the speed of light, and all that. After all, (somewhat against Einstein) time is (theoretically) reversible or even non-existent at the quantum level. Anyway, once the equals sign has been established in an equation, it doesn’t just evolve into greater- or less-than over time, they say.

Science is always looking for what is fundamental in material reality, but the scientific method is one that with regard to this question may be, as Sheldrake says, “like burning down a cathedral and sifting the ashes to understand the architecture.” Or perhaps building a lovely thing out of mathematical symbols that one then decides is just as real as Chartres – more so, because it is permanent, independent! (That is, isolated. It stands alone, disdainful of all context, as Chartres cannot.)

But what if, after all, temporal flow might be fundamental – but flowing has simply become inimical to our thinking and thus our way of acting in the world? The scientific method needs to isolate bits of reality in order to analyze them, but nothing actually exists in isolation. Flow is also practically impossibilized (a word of Joyce’s, lover of rivers and infinite recirculations, co-inventor of the “stream of consciousness” in fiction, who evidently did understand something about flow) by our language itself, its hardened tenses, its isolation of two elements that are likewise inseparable in the time-bound, living world: entities (nouns) and actions (verbs). Cf. the wise words of quantum physicist David Bohm, often channeled through the wise spirit of Jeff Shampnois’ Negative Geography.

None of this is to argue against the need for evidence and reason as tools for understanding. It is to argue for a scientific principle of humility: like physicist Marcelo Gleiser’s “island of knowledge.” The island of knowledge as it grows in size never diminishes the sea of ignorance out of which it emerges; instead its lengthening borders come in contact with an ever greater area of ignorance; its growing height merely allows us to see a larger portion of that infinite sea…