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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)

Sunday, September 28

wyrd up

The word "worth" is related -- via its Indo-European root -- to "weird."
  • weird, from Old English wyrd, fate, destiny (< "that which befalls one")

I like that. It seems grounded in some unadorned baseline reality. But of course, unadorned baseline realities are rare as hen's teeth these latter days, and "worth" -- like just about everything else -- has morphed into a form of what Marx called exchange value. As in...

businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth.
none of them along the line know what any of it is worth.

Or, maybe more to whatever point may be emerging here, as in Worth magazine. Or as in, what's it worth to you? Or as in, it ain't worth a plug nickel, your while, their salt, a hill of beans, its weight in gold, two in the bush, or the paper it's printed on.

But beans and birds and salt aside, worth has come to mean monetary value. Nowadays it is generally people, not fish, that are weighed in terms of their net worth. And me, out here on Highway 61, all I got's a thousand telephones that don't ring. Do you know where I can get rid of these things?

Never mind that. Rhetorical question. But listen, every time I see this book cover...

...I'm reminded of a slogan once popular in Germany...

Literally, it means "life unworthy of life," a phrase that was popularized by Nazi "eugenics theorists" to characterize the physically weak, the mentally ill -- and of course, the Jews.

Now, whoa! Hold the phone. That's an awfully extreme reading of Positive Psychology, doncha think? Well... consider this: "humanistic" psychologist Abraham Maslow once wrote...

The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.

Motivation and Personality, 1987

Maslow is credited as a source of the "positive psychology" meme (craze is more like it). For instance (quoting myself here, since we're on a Dylan run already, from Positively Fourth Street), in Positive Psychology in Practice, the authors of a paper called "Positive Psychology: Historical, Philosophical, and Epistemological Perspectives" say (p. 17):
...the human being should, as Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi maintain, be conceptualized and understood as a being with inherent potentials for developing positive character traits or virtues. This idea is the core of the actualizing tendency as described by Rogers and self-actualization as described by Maslow. For positive psychology, the concept of good character thus becomes the central concept.
Now it seems to me that when you start out with an aversion to "cripple psychology," then catalog Character Strengths and Virtues in "A Handbook and Classification," as Martin Seligman has done, the time may not be long until those who fall outside such a taxonomy of vibrant smiling health are also catalogued and, who knows, maybe even rounded up. But of course, that can't happen here.

The caption on that site reads:
This poster is from the 1930's, and promotes the Nazi monthly Neues Volk (New People), the organ of the party's racial office. The text reads: "This genetically ill person will cost our people's community 60,000 marks over his lifetime. Citizens, that is your money. Read Neues Volk, the monthly of the racial policy office of the NSDAP."
It is so easy for fate and destiny (if you recall the first graf here) to be recalculated as faults and deficits -- and for the worth of lives thus deemed unworthy to be measured in tax dollars. But of course, that can't happen here either, not in this Culture of Life [caution: not for the squeamish].

Just to recap before pressing on: Seligman is the guy who invented Positive Psychology (and oh yeah, helped design the torture methods used at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib), Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chokin-yer-chicken) is the guy who wrote A Life Worth Living, and Maslow is the guy whose primary mentor was Edward L. Thorndike -- one of the most prominent boosters of eugenics in the United States.

Eugenics... had the support of leaders in academia. E.L. Thorndike and Leta Hollingworth popularized eugenics to generations of prospective classroom teachers.
That quote, by the way, is from an excellent stash of historical background on American eugenics, developed by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This is significant for two reasons:
  1. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, NY, was once the home of the infamous Eugenics Records Office.
  2. The Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Lab -- and not so incidentally, co-discoverer of DNA, for which he shared a Nobel Prize -- was summarily booted from that institution last Fall for his offhand comments about... well, let's quote from the 25 October 2007 New York Times story, James Watson Retires After Racial Remarks...
James D. Watson, the eminent biologist who ignited an uproar last week with remarks about the intelligence of people of African descent, retired today as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island and from its board.
Whoops.

But of course, it would border on conspiracy theory to see all these oddly connected things as any more than wyrd coincidences.



Thursday, September 25

yet another brief slam on traditionalism

The publisher's description of Harry Oldmeadow's The Betrayal of Tradition says in part...
The title of this anthology alerts us to the spiritual crisis of modernity and to its root cause: the betrayal of tradition. That there is indeed a spiritual crisis will hardly be denied by anyone who has pondered the condition of the contemporary world.
Well hey, I myself have pondered the condition of the contemporary world and have to agree that, yes, I see there is indeed a spiritual crisis. Of sorts. However, the crisis I see is that so many people are having so many spiritual fucking crises that it's become a regular cottage industry. And generally speaking, the people having them are hardly living in cottages.

Among the several "symptoms" the editor lists for this dire state of affairs (the big crisis) is "the loss of any sense of the sacred, even among those who remain committed to religious forms." It all seems a tad tautological to me, but OK, if you say so, Harry. (Though I am heartlessly harshing on him here, I actually respect Oldmeadow's work. His Journeys East: 20th Century Western Encounters with Eastern Religious Traditions is excellent.)

One the concepts these capital-T Traditionalists find fascinating, even attractive, is "caste." Now, rather than just clicking on the book in the right sidebar (I know you don't actually do that, but humor me), you can search it directly right here. Try a query for "caste" below. The quotation marks are unnecessary.

OK, that's all, that's it. The end. If you're thinking that this post was just an excuse to figure out (and mostly rip off) enough javascript to get book embedding working here, well, you're right. But remember...

(now also available as a t-shirt)



Wednesday, September 24

Hail Atlantis!

And now, here's Donovan to play us out. Or in. Or, wait... There's no words there, what does that mean, to PLAY US OUT? I can't do it! WE'LL DO IT LIVE! WE'LL DO IT LIVE!

OK, calm down, Bill. It's true, there are no words there, but if you click on the little triangle thingie at the top of the right column -- see it over there? -- music will come out of your speakers. In this case, the still incredible, near pathological grandiosity of Donovan, telling us, in a breathy voice-over prelude, all about "Fair Atlantis." It would be nice to think that this sort of nutso self-delusion went out with Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Cayce. But no.

Most of the books listed in the right column are by one John Michell. That Wikipedia page begins...

Michell is best known for his books on earth mysteries, pseudoscientific metrology, ley lines, sacred geometry, sacred sites, geomancy, gematria, archaeoastronomy, and Fortean phenomena...
Need I say more? But you know I will. Just to be clear, I can't abide this smarmy elitist son of a bitch. Like Blavatsky, Cayce and Donovan, he had plenty to say about Atlantis (see sidebar), but the following is from his Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist, specifically, from the chapter titled "A Rad-Trad Englishman and an Italian" (pp. 146-148). Here, he is initially talking about William Cobbett, another lard-assed patrician snob (pictured below), of whom he thinks a great deal.
As a traditionalist, Cobbett detested socialism, materialism, moralism and schemes to improve the mentalities of the masses. His idea of progress was to look backwards to the days of Merrie England under the spell of Catholic religion -- when every village had its dynastic farmers and craftsmen, its sporting heroes, beauty queens and aged wiseacres, its own customs, stories, music, style of dancing and way of speaking. In its ancient manor house a dimly noble family upheld the local economy and culture. Long summer days passed happily, uneventfully; mid-winter was a time of fun and festival; and there was plenty of the best for all. No one had ever heard of Darwin, Freud or van Gogh [WTF?], and no one was so clever as to have a nervous breakdown.
As someone who was so clever as to have a nervous breakdown, I'd like to briefly interrupt here to say: fuck you, Johnny.

But hold on, the money shot is yet to come. In what follows, I've added some links and emphasized some people and ideas that have previously concerned us on Mystic Bourgeoisie. Also, note Michell's repeated tendency to protest too much.

It comes as a shock to be reminded how closely this picture resembles the ideal images of fascism. But there is a world of difference between the gross literalism and inhumanity of a totalitarian system and the high idealism of a radical traditionalist. That difference was emphasised by Julius Evola (1898-1974), the Italian rad-trad philosopher. Though idolised by Mussolini, he was fiercely critical of the Fascist system -- and of man-made systems generally. He rejected Darwin, and the entirety of modern, secular thinking, in favor of the traditional, classical world-view. Like Socrates, he perceived a divine order in Creation, and he acknowledged a tradition, based upon that order and passed down from the great civilizations of antiquity. The old tradition, and the virtues of honesty, justice, courage, piety and noble conduct associated with it, were the main elements in Evola's reactionary revolution.

In 1951 he was arrested and brought to trial in Rome for "glorifying Fascism." The prosecutor made a farce of the proceedings by refusing to specify objectionable passages in Evola's writings, saying it was a question of his tone or "general spirit." The trial collapsed and Evola was fully acquitted.

Most of us are familiar with that sort of accusation -- against one's tone, attitude or general spirit. Bullies and witch-hunters are always on the lookout for fascism, racism, sexism, elitism, loyalism, religious sentiments or whatever is considered most incorrect at the time. In Evola they find their ideal victim. In his most powerful book, Revolt Against the Modern World, he spoke of manliness, mystical sovereignty and legitimate authority. He spoke also about occult politics and the collusions between democrats and demagogues to effeminise society and dumb it down. Inevitably [???], he brought in the Jews, associating the Jewish mentality with materialism. That makes him, if you like, an anti-Semite. But he was not speaking racially, or against the Jewish tradition which he respected. His reference was to a state of mind, occurring in Jews and Gentiles alike: the state of mind that is reflected in the chaos of the modern world.

Uh-huh, that makes him very much an anti-Semite. Well, count me among the bullies and witch-hunters, dude, for in Evola, I do indeed find my ideal "victim." For a very different view of the man, scan this page of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity.

Michell's Confessions is glowingly reviewed in TYR: Myth-Culture-Tradition Vol. 3, a very cultivated collection of neo-fascist, neo-pagan blatherskite. (Wikipedia once again surprises with an amazingly thorough entry on the journal.) Interestingly, that review is followed by an, inevitably, not-so-glowing review of New Religions and the Nazis by Karla Poewe. Here's part of the critique...

...she hopes to draw parallels between the völkish subculture in pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany and the "cultic milieu" of the postmodern West. The intent is to construct a highly questionable slippery slope. Today: Goddess worship, crystals, Tibetan singing bowls, and handfasting ceremonies. Tomorrow: gas chambers and secret police. This may sound a bit far-fetched to the average reader...
Ah, but then, we are not your "average readers," are we, class?

Hey, I know. Let's all be pagans!

It's not too late to get started!


walk like an Egyptian
~bangles



Saturday, September 13

happiness is a warm gun II

Previous posts on this subject include Happiness Is a Warm Gun (I) back on the 4th of July, and Positively Fourth Street, posted in March, 2006. It's a theme that never ceases to amaze and infuriate me. If you're perfectly happy being Happy, this one's going to really piss you off. Ready or not, here I come. Anybody around my base is it.

The following passage is from John Donne's Meditation XIII:

We say the elements of man are misery and happiness, as though he had an equal proportion of both, and the days of man vicissitudinary, as though he had as many good days as ill, and that he lived under a perpetual equinoctial, night and day equal, good and ill fortune in the same measure. But it is far from that; he drinks misery, and he tastes happiness; he mows misery, and he gleans happiness; he journeys in misery, he does but walk in happiness; and, which is worst, his misery is positive and dogmatical, his happiness is but disputable and problematical: all men call misery misery, but happiness changes the name by the taste of man.
Whether Donne's "positive misery" is any match for contemporary "positive psychology," his dates -- 1572 to 1631 -- demonstrate that people have been thinking about this sort of thing for a long time, never mind Chaucer or whoever wrote Beowulf. What led me to this meditation was meditating, myself, on a Washington Post review of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, which (the review, that is) I thought quite hilarious. The bits that cracked me up are duplicated below.
Melancholia, by contrast, is "the profane ground out of which springs the sacred." To prove his point, Wilson takes us on a private survey course, retreading the lonely paths of Beethoven and Coleridge and Rothko and even Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon and Joni Mitchell. In each case, he finds the same equation of melancholy and creation. "Our sadness," suggests Wilson, "is not aberrant or unseemly or weakness but instead a call to interior depths, to cauldrons out of which will bubble new solutions, crimson and sweet and unforgettable."

As you may have guessed, Wilson's idea of melancholia is thoroughly Romantic and more than a little romantic. He's the kind of guy who likes to wander through solitary landscapes, thinking sad and beautiful thoughts. Unfortunately, once he's refracted his thoughts through the prism of his prose, they sound pretty goofy: "What is existence if not an enduring polarity, an endless dance of limping dogs and lilting crocuses, starlings that are spangled and frustrated worms?"

Even laughter, I'm afraid, eventually falters beneath the weight of Wilson's inflated sentences. "I'm trying to imagine poems more beautiful than the quiet cruising of devious sharks and symphonies more sonorous than those songs of the aloof birds of summer. I'm attempting to concoct a cosmos out of chaos." He's also attempting to repeat every consonant he hears. The hard "c" is a particular favorite -- "the crepuscular continuum between clarity and clarity" -- but there's also "mulling over moons" and "solipsistic silos" and "bizarre breathings" and "grimaced grin." If you weren't depressed before you started reading, a sentence like "Invisible potencies would actualize in the palpable" might just do the trick.

Even these stylistic horrors wouldn't matter so much if there weren't, lying beneath them, an unseemly preening. Sadness, in Wilson's eyes, isn't just good philosophy, it's good living. Not for him the gated suburb. "We melancholy souls," he writes, "love the beautiful ruins of aged buildings. We love the intricate architectural designs, the carvings and the mosaics and the rough stones. We love high ceilings and crown moldings. We love worn-down hardwood floors. We love the smell of rusting radiators. We love rickety windows that rattle in the wind. We also adore those ancient and lovely woodlands where we can walk alone and hear geese honking over the horizon." I see nothing here to distinguish melancholics from Martha Stewart.

The perspective represented here -- that of the book's author, not the reviewer's -- is typical of a certain "Liberal" turn of mind that I cannot stomach. It reeks of the Thoreauvian Waldenesque, an above-it-all arrogance that wallows in self-absorption got up to look like a love of Nature -- always capitalized, and most likely sentient, in the manner of some Gaia-induced faux-Hindoo pantheism. In short, it is the favored world view of the mystic bourgeois. Feh!

And of course (hyperlinkage and intertextuality being what they are), I was led to that book, in turn, by another reference somewhere entirely else. To wit: an article on Salon titled "Don't be happy, worry," wherein the writer cites, in the same breath as the above-mentioned Against Happiness, another book in a similar vein titled Artificial Happiness: The Dark Side of the New Happy Class.

If I find the "Liberal" view of Happiness odious, even less appealing is the "Conservative" position, one part of which (at least) is represented by this screed on the "Dark Side" of happiness. Interesting choice of words, as another recent book -- The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals -- looks at the problem from another perspective altogether. But we'll return to that momentarily.

In the meantime, how do I know -- not having read Word One of Artificial Happiness -- that it belongs in the (so-called) Conservative camp? Well, here's a clue from the author bio accompanying the book...

His essays on religion, medical science, and healthcare have appeared in The Weekly Standard, Commentary, Public Interest, and Policy Review. In 2000, Dr. Dworkin joined the Hudson Institute as a Senior Fellow...
Guilt by association? You bet! And well deserved. In refreshing my memory of precisely which species of snakes inhabit which of our major <koff> "policy research organizations," I learned the following...
The Hudson Institute is an American, non-profit, neo-conservative think tank founded in 1961 in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, by futurist, military strategist, and systems theorist Herman Kahn and his colleagues at the RAND Corporation.

Ah yes, Herman Kahn, great9th grandson of Genghis, who gave us the essential calculus of the Balance of Terror in his 1960 treatise On Thermonuclear War. His Hudson Institute page includes this gem...

Herman Kahn was a giant. He boldly confronted public issues with creativity and the conviction, in his case correct, that thought and analysis could help make ours a better world.

~Donald Rumsfeld

And of course the RAND Corporation needs no introduction. Or shouldn't. If it does, try Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire. Short form, think DOD, think CIA. Think: your tax dollars at work!

Hmmm, it seems we're getting a bit far-afield here (hyperlinkage and intertextuality being what they are). But instead of pulling back, let's press on, driving, like Rommel, deep into Egypt, or its contemporary symbolic equivalent. Let's look at another Rand, as seen by a guy whose work was funded by both the CIA and the Department of Defense (see my May 2007 post Noetic License). This is "remote-viewer" Russell Targ from his new book Do You See What I See?: Memoirs of a Blind Biker (no kidding). I have colorized some of the salient keywords...

At the the time of our marriage, I was deeply engrossed in the mid-Manhattan salon of the Russian-born novelist and libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand, which was held in her luxurious apartment. Alan Greenspan was also a regular -- and cranky -- attendee, already clad in his ubiquitous pinstriped suit. In a letter to the editor of the New York Times about her just-published, mammoth novel of capitalism, he wrote, "Atlas Shrugged is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals of undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should." Rand and I quarreled over physics. As an "objectivist" she felt that she could not accept Einstein's theory of general relativity! (If you're an objectivist, nothing is relative.) Since physicists don't consider this a matter of belief, it became what is called an irreconcilable difference, of which Rand tolerated none.

At Ms. Rand's we were also taught to love and appreciate Tchaikovsky in all his shapes and forms. And the young women all learned to smoke cigarettes in long holders like their teacher. We had two other teachers besides Rand. There was the tall, charismatic psychologist Nathaniel Branden, and his beautiful slim, blonde wife, Barbara. Nathaniel was an outstanding teacher, but we were all in love with Barbara. Meanwhile he, according to his autobiography, My Years with Ayn Rand, was off having a secret love affair with our objectivist leader, while her husband dozed quietly in the corner of our large meeting room. Nathaniel tells us that he eventually figured out that this was not exactly rational behavior and separated himself from our little clan, going on to be an important teacher in the self-esteem movement, which Rand had pioneered. But such is the kingdom of libertarian heaven.

Here's a blurb for the book by someone you might recognize, from a place you might recognize (by now anyhow, if you've been reading this blog much)...
Russell Targ's autobiography stands as testament to the extraordinary capacities of human potential. From his role in the early development of the laser, to his systematic exploration of extrasensory perception, to the luminous insights of his spiritual vision.

~Michael Murphy
co-founder and chairman of the board, Esalen Institute

And here's the publisher's book description...
Russell Targ has been visually handicapped since childhood and yet he has performed groundbreaking research in lasers and optics. He is grounded in the world of science and yet co-created the Cold War spy program that became the real X-Files -- the CIA and NASA-sponsored work in "remote viewing" that has only recently been declassified.

OK, I admit it, I'm tripping here. But aside from attempting to demonstrate that nearly everyone in our recent cultural history has been totally fucking barking INSANE, note the above reference to Atlas Shrugged as "a celebration of life and happiness." Which statement, granted, is itself evidence of incurable dementia, but at least we're still (somewhat) on topic.

Now, I know this is hard, but remember that Salon article I mentioned up there some paragraphs ago? Yeah, the one called Don't be happy, worry. Here's another clip...

With the pills came books. Along with volumes about the new psychopharmacology like Peter Kramer's bestseller, "Listening to Prozac" (1993), there were Martin Seligman's "Learned Optimism" (1992) and "Authentic Happiness" (2002), which helped launch "positive psychology," a broader attempt to understand not illness but happiness.
Right, and before those there was Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control -- which is the one Jane Mayer talks about in The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (see, I didn't forget). In the July 14 issue of Harper's, Scott Horton poses Six Questions for Jane Mayer, Author of The Dark Side. This is Horton's second question...
You have patiently traced the torture techniques used by the CIA back to two psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen -- you describe them as "good looking, clean-cut, polite Mormons" -- who reverse-engineered their techniques out of the SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) program used to train U.S. pilots in self-defense. In Dark Side, you identify an approach called "Learned Helplessness" as the model they used, and you note that its author, Prof. Martin Seligman, made a visit to the SERE school and spoke with Mitchell and Jessen as the program was being formed. Seligman is a former president of the American Psychological Association (APA), which is the sole association of health care professionals to buck condemnation of "The Program" and to resist calls that its members not be involved in it. Do you believe that Seligman's proximity to the torture program helps explain the difficulty that APA has in rejecting it?

In answer, Mayer says, in part...

It was completely fascinating to me to learn that Martin Seligman, one of the most esteemed psychologists in the country, a former head of the APA, was connected to the CIA after 9/11. Seligman is known for work he did back in the 1960's at the University of Pennsylvania in a theory he called "Learned Helplessness." He and colleagues conducted experiments on caged dogs, in which they used electric charges to shock them randomly. He discovered that the random mistreatment destroyed the dogs emotionally to the point where they no longer had the will to escape, even when offered a way out. Seligman confirmed for me, by email, that in the spring of 2002, as the CIA was trying to figure out how to interrogate its first major high-value detainee, Abu Zubayda, he was brought in to speak about his theories to a high-level confab apparently organized by CIA officials, at the Navy's SERE School in San Diego. He said his talk lasted some three hours. Seligman said his talk was focused on how to help U.S. soldiers resist torture -- not on how to break down resistance in detainees.

But, according to numerous sources (who are quoted on the record in The Dark Side), Seligman's theories were cited admiringly soon after by James Mitchell, the psychologist whom the CIA put on contract to advise on its secret interrogation protocol. Eyewitnesses describe Mitchell as quoting Seligman's theories of "Learned Helplessness" as useful in showing how to break the resistance of detainees' to interrogation. One source recounts Mitchell specifically touting the experiments done on dogs in the context of how to treat detainees.

Authentic happiness, check.

  • NOTE: For more in depth, see the video Authors@Google: Jane Mayer, YouTube, 55 minutes. If you don't feel like watching the whole thing, start at minute 24 for the stuff most relevant to this post. (See also @GoogleTalks, for quite a lineup of other speakers.)

---

Next time, if I can get it (and keep it) together, I'll tell you what I've recently learned about "systems justification theory" -- exciting stuff indeed -- which I've been meaning to post about since before penning that thing about John Dean and Robert Altemeyer (see last week's Self-Esteem and Right-Wing Authoritarianism). And perhaps we'll start that next one off with this provocative paper titled Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals? (HINT: because, like that "conservatively" labeled Happiness Class, they're willfully blind, stupid, or in some cases, just outright evil.)



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