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OCCULTURE: 67. Carl Abrahamsson & Mitch Horowitz in “Occulture (Meta)” // Anton LaVey, Real Magic & the Nature of the Mind
"Look, I’m not gonna lie to you - we have a pretty badass show this time around. Carl Abrahamsson and Mitch Horowitz are in the house.

Carl Abrahamsson is a Swedish freelance writer, lecturer, filmmaker and photographer specializing in material about the arts & entertainment, esoteric history and occulture. Carl is the author of several books, including a forthcoming title from Inner Traditions called Occulture: The Unseen Forces That Drive Culture Forward.

Mitch Horowitz is the author of One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life; Occult America, which received the 2010 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence; and Mind As Builder: The Positive-Mind Metaphysics of Edgar Cayce. Mitch has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Salon, Time.com, and Politico. Mitch is currently in the midst of publishing a series of articles on Medium called "Real Magic".

And it is that series paired with Carl’s book that lays the foundation for our conversation here."
carlabrahamsson  mitchhorowitz  occult  culture  occulture  magic  belief  mind  ouijaboard  astrology  mindfulness  buddhism  religion  academia  antonlavey  materialism  mainstream  intellectualism  elitism  mindbodyspirit  2018  esotericism  authority  norms  nuance  change  enlightenment  popculture  science  humanities  socialsciences  medicine  conservatism  churches  newage  cosmology  migration  california  hippies  meaning  psychology  siliconvalley  ingenuity  human  humans  humannature  spirituality  openmindedness  nature  urbanization  urban  nyc  us  society  santería  vodou  voodoo  voudoun  climate  light  davidlynch  innovation  population  environment  meaningmaking  mikenesmith  californianideology  thought  thinking  philosophy  hoodoo  blackmetal  norway  beauty  survival  wholeperson  churchofsatan  satanism  agency  ambition  mysticism  self  stories  storytelling  mythology  humanism  beinghuman  surrealism  cv  repetition  radicalism  myths  history  renaissance  fiction  fantasy  reenchantment  counterculture  consciousness  highered  highereducation  cynicism  inquiry  realitytele 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Negative Capability - Keats' Kingdom
"A term used many times on this website...

'The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.'

Keats was a romantic poet, full of intense passion and desire, yet shy and reserved. He was a young man with all the determination and melancholy of a teenager on a romantic quest to be among the English poets when he died.

He is an inspiration to all of us, full of colourful language and imagination. He battled through tuberculosis and only lived to be 25. He wanted to be famous, and he has well and truly lived up to his dream.

Keats longed to find beauty in what was often an ugly and terrible world. He was an admirer of Shakespeare, and his reading of the Bard is insightful and intriguing, illustrating the genius of Shakespeare's creativity. In a letter to his brothers, Keats describes this genius as 'Negative Capability':

'At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'

This description can be compared to a definition of conflict:

'An emotional state characterized by indecision, restlessness, uncertainty and tension resulting from incompatible inner needs or drives of comparable intensity.'

These two definitions are very similar; the meaning of conflict sounds very negative and hopeless. However, Keats' creative concept seems positive and full of potential by leaving out 'restlessness' by avoiding an 'irritable reaching after fact and reason'

In another letter, Keats says that the 'poetical character... has no self- it is everything and nothing- it has no character and enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated- it has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the camelion Poet... A Poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no identity, he is continually filling some other body'

In order for Keats to be able to create true poetry, one had to be able to remain in what may be states of conflict without 'irritably' reaching after facts or reasons. By not imposing one self upon the doubts and uncertainties which make up a conflict, Keats would rather we were open to the Imagination.

The word 'doubt' it from the Latin, 'dubitare' and comes from 'two' as in two minds. In most conflicts, two people (i.e. two minds) oppose each other. Yet instead of fighting the other, Keats finds the situation to be one that is open for creativity.

In this sense, Negative Capability is a sublime expression of supreme empathy.

And empathy, is the capacity for participating in, experiencing and understanding another's feelings or ideas. It's a creative tool to help us understand each other, understand different points of views or different cultures so that we might be able to express them.

Being able to see thing from another's point of view, and to apply an open, imaginative creativity, are both critical, poetical methods to resolve conflicts creatively.

This phrase must confuse many people, who think it means 'being capable'. It actually means 'being capable of eliminating one's own personality, in order imaginatively to enter into that of another person, or, in extreme cases, an animal or an object'. The phrase was coined by Keats, in a letter- 22nd Dec 1817, to his brothers George and Thomas: 'it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievment, especially in literature and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when Man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after facts and reason'.

It looks, on the face of it, as if the kind of genius Keats is thinking about, simply cannot make up his mind, and that is partly the case; but the reason he cannot make up his mind is because his own identity is precarious, and he is continually being invaded by the identies of other people. The person of fixed opinion, such as Wordsworth, enjoys, or perhaps suffer from, 'egotistic sublime'.

In an earlier letter, of the 22nd November 1817, Keats had affirmed that 'Men of Genius' do not have 'any individuality' or 'determined character'. Another letter (27th October 1818) defines 'the poetic character' as taking 'as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen', adding 'what shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the camelion poet'. We see 'Negative Capability' in operation in Keats as he contemplates a bird on a gravel path, and he told Richard Woodhouse that he could even conceive of a billiard ball taking a sense of delight in 'its own roundness, smoothness, volubility and the rapidity of its motion'. When in a room with the dangerous, leopardess-like woman Jane Cox, he felt her identity pressing in upon him: 'I forget myself entirely because I live in her' (letter of October 1818).

Many writers have identified themselves as having 'Negative Capability', even if they have not always used the phrase. Coleridge speaks in a letter of November 1819 of 'a sort of transfusion and transmission of my consciousness to identify myself with the object'. Byron says, in a letter to Thomas Moore (4th March 1822) that he embodies himself 'with the character' while he is drawing it. Browning claims to be able imaginatively to enter other beings. Clough's main character in Amours de Voyage says '...I walk, I behold.../That I can be and become anything that I meet with or look at'. T.S.Elliot in Tradition and the Individual Talent writes that 'the progress of the artist is a continual self sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.' Mrs Ramsey, in Virginia Woolfe's 'To the Lighthouse', looks intently 'until she became the things she looked at'. Certainly it is a pervasive characteristic of the creative faculty. Margaret Atwood writes in Second Words (1982) of the writers desire to be teleported into somebody else's mind, but retaining one's own perceptions and memories.

Many artists long for such freedom of movement, but a central philosophical problem remains in all this: if other beings take over the artist's mind, how can the artist present them in a decisive, descriminating way; on the other hand, if the artist enters other beings with his or her own personality, perceptions and memories intact (like Satan entering the body of the serpent), how can it be claimed that they remain other beings?"
johnkeats  negativecapability  messiness  uncertainty  lordbyron  samueltaylorcoleridge  conflict  doubt  truth  restlessness  empathy  canon  cv  gray  grey  mystery  openmindedness  openminded  via:mattcallahan 
february 2017 by robertogreco
The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’ - NYTimes.com
"Most newly stylish coinages carry with them some evidence of grammatical trauma. Consider “affluencer,” “selfie,” “impactful.” Notes of cynicism and cutesiness come through. But every now and then a bright exception to this dispiriting routine appears. A rookie word makes its big-league debut, a stadium of pedants prepares to peg it with tomatoes and — nothing. A halfhearted heckle. The new word looks only passably pathetic. Maddeningly, it has heft.

“Mindfulness” may be that hefty word now, one that can’t readily be dismissed as trivia or propaganda. Yes, it’s current among jaw-grinding Fortune 500 executives who take sleeping pills and have “leadership coaches,” as well as with the moneyed earnest, who shop at Whole Foods, where Mindful magazine is on the newsstand alongside glossies about woodworking and the environment. It looks like nothing more than the noun form of “mindful” — the proper attitude toward the London subway’s gaps — but “mindfulness” has more exotic origins. In the late 19th century, the heyday of both the British Empire and Victorian Orientalism, a British magistrate in Galle, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), with the formidable name of Thomas William Rhys Davids, found himself charged with adjudicating Buddhist ecclesiastical disputes. He set out to learn Pali, a Middle Indo-Aryan tongue and the liturgical language of Theravada, an early branch of Buddhism. In 1881, he thus pulled out “mindfulness” — a synonym for “attention” from 1530 — as an approximate translation of the Buddhist concept of sati.

The translation was indeed rough. Sati, which Buddhists consider the first of seven factors of enlightenment, means, more nearly, “memory of the present,” which didn’t track in tense-preoccupied English. “Mindfulness” stuck — but may have saddled the subtle sati with false-note connotations of Victorian caution, or even obedience. (“Mind your manners!”)

“Mindfulness” finally became an American brand, however, a hundred years later, when the be-here-now, Eastern-inflected explorations of the ’60s came to dovetail with self-improvement regimes. In the 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist in New England and a longtime meditator in the Zen Buddhist tradition, saw in Rhys Davids’s word a chance to scrub meditation of its religious origins. Kabat-Zinn believed that many of the secular people who could most benefit from meditation were being turned off by the whiffs of reincarnation and other religious esoterica that clung to it. So he devised a new and pleasing definition of “mindfulness,” one that now makes no mention of enlightenment: “The awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”"



"If it’s a revolution, it’s not a grass-roots one. Although mindfulness teachers regularly offer the practice in disenfranchised communities in the United States and abroad, the powerful have really made mindfulness their own, exacting from the delicate idea concrete promises of longer lives and greater productivity. In January, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kabat-Zinn led executives and 1 percenters in a mindfulness meditation meant to promote general well-being. Many in pinstripes and conference lanyards also took time away from panels on Bitcoin and cybersecurity to communally breathe, and to attend a packed session called The Human Brain: Deconstructing Mindfulness, led by Thomas R. Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health."



"Mindfulness as “keeping in tune” has a nice ring to it. But it’s “focused on the task at hand” that appeals to managers, like Jackson, who are conscious of performance goals. Might workplace mindfulness — in the cubicle or on the court — be just another way to keep employees undistracted and to get them to work harder for nothing but airy rewards? In this context of performance enhancement, “mindfulness” seems perilously close to doggerel from the same playbook that brought us corny affirmations, inner children and vision boards.

Maybe the word “mindfulness” is like the Prius emblem, a badge of enlightened and self-satisfied consumerism, and of success and achievement. If so, not deploying mindfulness — taking pills or naps for anxiety, say, or going out to church or cocktails — makes you look sort of backward or classless. Like driving a Hummer.

As usual with modish and ideologically freighted words, this one has also come to inform high-minded prescriptions for raising children. Evidently they’re no longer expected to mind their manners; we are expected instead to mind their emotional states. Recently, Hanna Rosin, in Slate, argued that mindful parenting might be a Trojan horse: Though the mindful mother claims to stay open-minded about her child’s every action and communication, she ends up being hospitable to only the kid’s hippie, peacenik side — the side she comes to prefer.

In Rosin’s example, a mother supposedly mindful of her son’s capacity for violence nonetheless doesn’t rest until he gives a peaceable, sympathetic explanation for it — that he was hurt and overreacted. “I was mad, and he had it coming,” which might be the lad’s own truth, doesn’t fly. The mother’s “mindful attention,” rather than representing freedom from judgment, puts a thumb on the scale.

It’s profoundly tempting to dismiss as cant any word current with Davos, the N.B.A. and the motherhood guilt complex. Mindful fracking: Could that be next? Putting a neuroscience halo around a byword for both uppers (“productivity”) and downers (“relaxation”) — to ensure a more compliant work force and a more prosperous C-suite — also seems twisted. No one word, however shiny, however intriguingly Eastern, however bolstered by science, can ever fix the human condition. And that’s what commercial mindfulness may have lost from the most rigorous Buddhist tenets it replaced: the implication that suffering cannot be escaped but must be faced. Of that shift in meaning — in the Westernization of sati — we should be especially mindful."
mindfulness  2015  productivity  labor  words  virginiaheffernan  sati  buddhism  jonkabat-zinn  rhysdavid  meditiation  posturing  trends  openmindedness  parenting  davos  mentalhealth  awareness  via:ablerism 
april 2015 by robertogreco
If everyone’s an idiot, guess who’s a jerk? – Eric Schwitzgebel – Aeon
"Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude"



"The opposite of the jerk is the sweetheart. The sweetheart sees others around him, even strangers, as individually distinctive people with valuable perspectives, whose desires and opinions, interests and goals are worthy of attention and respect. The sweetheart yields his place in line to the hurried shopper, stops to help the person who dropped her papers, calls an acquaintance with an embarrassed apology after having been unintentionally rude. In a debate, the sweetheart sees how he might be wrong and the other person right.

The moral and emotional failure of the jerk is obvious. The intellectual failure is obvious, too: no one is as right about everything as the jerk thinks he is. He would learn by listening. And one of the things he might learn is the true scope of his jerkitude – a fact about which, as I will explain shortly, the all-out jerk is inevitably ignorant. Which brings me to the other great benefit of a theory of jerks: it might help you figure out if you yourself are one."



"How can you know your own moral character? You can try a label on for size: ‘lazy’, ‘jerk’, ‘unreliable’ – is that really me? As the work of Vazire and other personality psychologists suggests, this might not be a very illuminating approach. More effective, I suspect, is to shift from first-person reflection (what am I like?) to second-person description (tell me, what am I like?). Instead of introspection, try listening. Ideally, you will have a few people in your life who know you intimately, have integrity, and are concerned about your character. They can frankly and lovingly hold your flaws up to the light and insist that you look at them. Give them the space to do this, and prepare to be disappointed in yourself.

Done well enough, this second-person approach could work fairly well for traits such as laziness and unreliability, especially if their scope is restricted: laziness-about-X, unreliability-about-Y. But as I suggested above, jerkitude is not so tractable, since if one is far enough gone, one can’t listen in the right way. Your critics are fools, at least on this particular topic (their critique of you). They can’t appreciate your perspective, you think – though really it’s that you can’t appreciate theirs.

To discover one’s degree of jerkitude, the best approach might be neither (first-person) direct reflection upon yourself nor (second-person) conversation with intimate critics, but rather something more third-person: looking in general at other people. Everywhere you turn, are you surrounded by fools, by boring nonentities, by faceless masses and foes and suckers and, indeed, jerks? Are you the only competent, reasonable person to be found? In other words, how familiar was the vision of the world I described at the beginning of this essay?

If your self-rationalising defences are low enough to feel a little pang of shame at the familiarity of that vision of the world, then you probably aren’t pure diamond-grade jerk. But who is? We’re all somewhere in the middle. That’s what makes the jerk’s vision of the world so instantly recognisable. It’s our own vision. But, thankfully, only sometimes."
listening  knowitalls  via:ayjay  2014  jerks  ericschwitzgebel  behavior  morality  ethics  openmindedness  integrity  laziness  unreliability 
january 2015 by robertogreco
6, 31: Nixtamalization
"Broadly, you’re getting three things here:

First, reminiscences, because “I saw an unusual thing once and, on reflection, here’s what I think of it” is one of my favorite things to read.

Second, criticism of cultural criticism, especially of the tech industry. From the fact that I work in this industry, you can guess that I think there are at least a few beautiful, wholly worthwhile things here. From the fact that I’m not a complete psychopath, you can guess that I think the industry as a whole is enormously broken. My ideas about this are not very lucid, but I try to clarify them using actual experiences and numbers and introspection. One opinion you’ll see a lot is that complaining about epiphenomena – the taste of Soylent, creepy wording choices in Facebook press releases, the fact that some tech workers are rude – is fine or whatever, but it doesn’t replace serious inquiries into cultural and economic problems like systemic sexism or child labor.

What I fear is a cultural framework around technology like the one around pro sports, where a merry enterprise has grown an industry based on “a subtle but insidious form of child abuse”, but popular criticism is stuck on the level of nitpicking stars’ public behavior. To take high technology’s potential for good seriously is to take its potential for bad seriously, and to take its potential for bad seriously is to get beyond the “they call us users, which is also what drug addicts are called!!!” horseshit.

The tech industry, or its subculture, or the network itself, is neither independent of nor a seamless part of the society around it. It has its own potentials, its own points of rigidity and articulation, that are not understood in one glance. Studying it is like studying anything else. You need sweat and rigor: to build a ship that floats, that catches the wind, that can be sailed and improved by other people. You also need enchantment and humility: to have been out of sight of land and imagine, involuntarily, the abyssal plains and mountains far under you, and realize that your mind will never encompass everything as it is at once.

In this decade we have a lot of loud commentators who are very keen on certain conclusions about the network – that it’s good or bad, shaped like this or that – but don’t show the rigor or the humility. The commentators themselves are not a bad blight, as blights go. Better to have reflexive Luddites and unreflective transhumanists selling tweet-sized answers to Wikipedia-sized questions on the lecture circuit than to have locusts, or bears, or superflus, or gray goo, or dictators, or weevils.

But we can do better, I hope. We will apply more of what we already know about people to technology made and used by people. It’s a very slippery thing to talk about people, personhood itself, at the scale where experience happens. People speaking for themselves can do it. Good fiction does it, and very good narrative history. Nonfiction tends to be terrible at it. There is a big exception. It’s the structure that’s been home to a sizable plurality, maybe even a majority, of the most serious intellectual work of the last three or four generations: feminism. (Other fields have been able to talk about lived personhood, obvs, but it’s feminism that’s coordinated all these insights into productive mosaics. Third-wave feminism is the single most useful collection of ideas of what people are like. So it is that if in 2014 you read something generally about humanness that doesn’t feel like it was written by Howard Hughes on DMT, it’s likely using a hundred years feminist scholarship as a foundation.) The first of many problems, of course, is that a lot of the tech culture shares the larger culture’s suspicion that feminism is just patriarchy through a mirror, and we all know patriarchy is for crap, so.

And we have weird ideas about the future. We think that technology is more about the future than other things are. We think that to make people work for a better future, we have to convince them that things are getting worse. (The evidence is that the most important things are getting better for most people.) We think that we can make climate change not come true after it’s already come true. On the whole of course I suspect the future of people is less determined by its being the future than by their being people.

And a special note on meritocracy. The following is pandering to most readers, but occasionally someone thanks me for my “newsletter about how the tech industry isn’t really that bad” or something, so I’d like to draw a line. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of several institutions that people could move in under their own power. I’ve appreciated them partly because they’re so rare, especially in tech. The idea that the economy is an objective sorting of people according to innate virtue onto a scale of income is on a level with the idea that our fates are woven by the Norns. Maybe a bit below, in that the Norns were fictional but describable, while merit is both fictional and circularly defined. Smartness is a concept that I try to avoid, but if I had to choose someone as the smartest I know, with the best ability to analyze and construct complex and subtle ideas, she’s in training as a mid-level social worker and can expect to “““““earn”””””, at her career peak, somewhat less than a middling third-year code monkey making trick websites in SF. I know two different brilliant people stuck in subsistence retail jobs to take care of their sick relatives. I know two different eldercare nurses who are made to take extra work hours. You can take your meritocracy and shove it so far up your ass it chips your teeth."



"By request, though in some consternation about acting as if I have the answers, I suggest two rules of thumb:

1. When you meet someone, examine your first impression carefully. Consider what kind of person you reflexively think they are, and start interacting with them from the assumption that they’re sick of being treated like that kind of person. Defer to basic sensitivities and to common sense, of course. The idea is to actively negate biases rather than trying to ignore them, and it seems to land me in more interesting conversations.

2. Think of times you’ve changed your mind about something important. Think especially of the ways that people tried to talk you out of it that failed before you did come around. Then, when debating, use ways of arguing that have worked on you. Maybe more importantly, don’t use ways of arguing that only entrenched you."
2014  charlieloyd  firstimpressions  listening  assumptions  conversation  mindchanging  openmindedness  iterestedness  debate  debating  arguing  argument  meritocracy  technology  siliconvalley  fiction  patriarchy  feminism  humility  rigor  criticism  nuance  complexity  systemsthinking  epiphenomena  internet  web  mindchanges 
november 2014 by robertogreco
Library as Church, Bookshelf as Altar — Or: Why I Gave Up Praying, but Carried On Reading — Medium
"I used to pray. But I also used to read. Actually, I used to read quite a bit. Brought up in a book-loving family, a naturally dutiful child, a hard worker, I threw myself at it. A set time each day…

The difference: I still read. A lot. In fact, I’ve been reflecting recently that reading has become a form of prayer, a form that pretends less, and — perhaps — achieves more.

Reading, just like prayer, is a deliberate act of focus, a form of meditation almost. It takes time. Not economically productive, it can be easily mocked as ‘useless,’ — and in the modern age it is hard to find space to get deep into it without being yanked away by the ping of notifications or other noises from the jungle of digital distractions.

Yes, like prayer, reading can be hard. But, most importantly, just like a prayer, the act of reading a novel, or a work of thoughtful non-fiction, is about sensitizing oneself to others and to the plight of the world outside of your everyday experience.

Studies show that this is the case: those who read literary fiction have more empathy than those who don’t. Why? Because, as the leader of one project put it, ‘in literary fiction, the incompleteness of the characters turns your mind to trying to understand the minds of others.’ Films and video games don’t work in the same way: the full visual experience lends itself to ‘completing’ characters, leaving little room for the imagination.

To read widely, and often, is thus to hope to be changed, to still believe that change is possible. It is never, ever a waste of time. Be it an essay or short story or novel or article, a good read never goes unanswered because a good read opens up a world that requires our attention. That might be the inner world of the self, it might be the domestic world of a family relationship, or it could be the plight of a whole people."



"Some of my friends think I’ve lost my faith by giving up on prayer. I disagree. Yes, I now refuse the easy inaction of intercession — and there’s nothing like cancer to bring that up short — but, through constant, deliberate, mindful reading I hope to be daily opening myself wider to being sensitive to the world around me, and allowing the words and stories of writers and protagonists from the furthest reaches of experience to both challenge me to act, and inspire me with hope that change remains possible.

In fact, what worries me far more than any erosion of the time people spend in prayer are the statistics about the chronic reduction in time people spend reading. Really reading, deeply and thoughtfully. Because without this, with only short bursts of tweets and YouTube, from which well will empathy and care be drawn from?"
kesterbrewin  prayer  reading  books  libraries  empathy  perspective  change  openmindedness  openmind  mindopening  mindfulness  concentration  attention  2014  religion  christianity 
october 2014 by robertogreco
Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 198, Marilynne Robinson
"ROBINSON
I don’t like categories like religious and not religious. As soon as religion draws a line around itself it becomes falsified. It seems to me that anything that is written compassionately and perceptively probably satisfies every definition of religious whether a writer intends it to be religious or not."



"INTERVIEWER
Ames says that in our everyday world there is “more beauty than our eyes can bear.” He’s living in America in the late 1950s. Would he say that today?

ROBINSON
You have to have a certain detachment in order to see beauty for yourself rather than something that has been put in quotation marks to be understood as “beauty.” Think about Dutch painting, where sunlight is falling on a basin of water and a woman is standing there in the clothes that she would wear when she wakes up in the morning—that beauty is a casual glimpse of something very ordinary. Or a painting like Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef, where a simple piece of meat caught his eye because there was something mysterious about it. You also get that in Edward Hopper: Look at the sunlight! or Look at the human being! These are instances of genius. Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.

At the same time, there has always been a basic human tendency toward a dubious notion of beauty. Think about cultures that rarify themselves into courts in which people paint themselves with lead paint and get dumber by the day, or women have ribs removed to have their waists cinched tighter. There’s no question that we have our versions of that now. The most destructive thing we can do is act as though this is some sign of cultural, spiritual decay rather than humans just acting human, which is what we’re doing most of the time.

INTERVIEWER
Ames believes that one of the benefits of religion is “it helps you concentrate. It gives you a good basic sense of what is being asked of you and also what you might as well ignore.” Is this something that your faith and religious practice has done for you?

ROBINSON
Religion is a framing mechanism. It is a language of orientation that presents itself as a series of questions. It talks about the arc of life and the quality of experience in ways that I’ve found fruitful to think about. Religion has been profoundly effective in enlarging human imagination and expression. It’s only very recently that you couldn’t see how the high arts are intimately connected to religion.

INTERVIEWER
Is this frame of religion something we’ve lost?

ROBINSON
There was a time when people felt as if structure in most forms were a constraint and they attacked it, which in a culture is like an autoimmune problem: the organism is not allowing itself the conditions of its own existence. We’re cultural creatures and meaning doesn’t simply generate itself out of thin air; it’s sustained by a cultural framework. It’s like deciding how much more interesting it would be if you had no skeleton: you could just slide under the door.

INTERVIEWER
How does science fit into this framework?

ROBINSON
I read as much as I can of contemporary cosmology because reality itself is profoundly mysterious. Quantum theory and classical physics, for instance, are both lovely within their own limits and yet at present they cannot be reconciled with each other. If different systems don’t merge in a comprehensible way, that’s a flaw in our comprehension and not a flaw in one system or the other.

INTERVIEWER
Are religion and science simply two systems that don’t merge?

ROBINSON
The debate seems to be between a naive understanding of religion and a naive understanding of science. When people try to debunk religion, it seems to me they are referring to an eighteenth-century notion of what science is. I’m talking about Richard Dawkins here, who has a status that I can’t quite understand. He acts as if the physical world that is manifest to us describes reality exhaustively. On the other side, many of the people who articulate and form religious expression have not acted in good faith. The us-versus-them mentality is a terrible corruption of the whole culture.

INTERVIEWER
You’ve written critically about Dawkins and the other New Atheists. Is it their disdain for religion and championing of pure science that troubles you?

ROBINSON
No, I read as much pure science as I can take in. It’s a fact that their thinking does not feel scientific. The whole excitement of science is that it’s always pushing toward the discovery of something that it cannot account for or did not anticipate. The New Atheist types, like Dawkins, act as if science had revealed the world as a closed system. That simply is not what contemporary science is about. A lot of scientists are atheists, but they don’t talk about reality in the same way that Dawkins does. And they would not assume that there is a simple-as-that kind of response to everything in question. Certainly not on the grounds of anything that science has discovered in the last hundred years.

The science that I prefer tends toward cosmology, theories of quantum reality, things that are finer-textured than classical physics in terms of their powers of description. Science is amazing. On a mote of celestial dust, we have figured out how to look to the edge of our universe. I feel instructed by everything I have read. Science has a lot of the satisfactions for me that good theology has.

INTERVIEWER
But doesn’t science address an objective notion of reality while religion addresses how we conceive of ourselves?

ROBINSON
As an achievement, science is itself a spectacular argument for the singularity of human beings among all things that exist. It has a prestige that comes with unambiguous changes in people’s experience—space travel, immunizations. It has an authority that’s based on its demonstrable power. But in discussions of human beings it tends to compare downwards: we’re intelligent because hyenas are intelligent and we just took a few more leaps.

The first obligation of religion is to maintain the sense of the value of human beings. If you had to summarize the Old Testament, the summary would be: stop doing this to yourselves. But it is not in our nature to stop harming ourselves. We don’t behave consistently with our own dignity or with the dignity of other people. The Bible reiterates this endlessly.

INTERVIEWER
Did you ever have a religious awakening?

ROBINSON
No, a mystical experience would be wasted on me. Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me. One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that there are two sides to your encounter with the world. You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision.

INTERVIEWER
How would one learn to see ordinary things this way?

ROBINSON
It’s not an acquired skill. It’s a skill that we’re born with that we lose. We learn not to do it."



"INTERVIEWER
Does your faith ever conflict with your “regular life”?

ROBINSON
When I’m teaching, sometimes issues come up. I might read a scene in a student’s story that seems—by my standards—pornographic. I don’t believe in exploiting or treating with disrespect even an imagined person. But at the same time, I realize that I can’t universalize my standards. In instances like that, I feel I have to hold my religious reaction at bay. It is important to let people live out their experience of the world without censorious interference, except in very extreme cases."



"INTERVIEWER
Most people know you as a novelist, but you spend a lot of your time writing nonfiction. What led you to start writing essays?

ROBINSON
To change my own mind. I try to create a new vocabulary or terrain for myself, so that I open out—I always think of the Dutch claiming land from the sea—or open up something that would have been closed to me before. That’s the point and the pleasure of it. I continuously scrutinize my own thinking. I write something and think, How do I know that that’s true? If I wrote what I thought I knew from the outset, then I wouldn’t be learning anything new.

In this culture, essays are often written for the sake of writing the essay. Someone finds a quibble of potential interest and quibbles about it. This doesn’t mean the writer isn’t capable of doing something of greater interest, but we generate a lot of prose that’s not vital. The best essays come from the moment in which people really need to work something out."



"ROBINSON
People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege."



"ROBINSON
Faith always sounds like an act of will. Frankly, I don’t know what faith in God means. For me, the experience is much more a sense of God. Nothing could be more miraculous than the fact that we have a consciousness that makes the world intelligible to us and are moved by what is beautiful."
marilynnerobinson  religion  sarahfay  2008  science  structure  atheism  belief  christianity  richarddawkins  newatheists  ordinary  everyday  perception  vision  seeing  noticing  observing  dignity  grace  faith  standards  mindchanging  openmindedness  thinking  writing  howwewrite  humanism  interviews  beauty  ordinariness  mindchanges 
august 2014 by robertogreco
Fotos de la biografía - Christopher Glazek | Facebook
"I can't be the first to point this out, Fiona Duncan, but doesn't your NYMag piece confuse #Normcore with #ActingBasic, a separate K-Hole concept? Dressing neutral and normy so you don't stand out is #ActingBasic. #Normcore means you pursue every activity like you're a fanatic of the form. It doesn't really make sense to identify Normcore as a fashion trend--the point of normcore is that you could dress like a NASCAR mascot for a big race and then switch to raver-wear for a long druggy night at the club. It's about infinitely flexible, sunny appropriation. As K-hole puts it, “You might not understand the rules of football, but you can still get a thrill from the roar of the crowd at the World Cup. Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts in to sameness. BUT INSTEAD OF APPROPRIATING AN AESTHETICIZED VERSION OF THE MAINSTREAM [i.e. Acting Basic], IT JUST COPS TO THE SITUATION AT HAND." I'm raising this because Acting Basic, while certainly a recognizable trend, isn't that new or exciting of a concept. Normcore, on the other hand--the real version--is genuinely new and consequential. Normcore describes personalities, not clothes. Its icon is not Preston Chaunsumlit, it's James Franco.

Acting Basic, a temptation to which the best of us sometimes succumb, is snotty and superseded--the bad old days of downtown cool. Normcore is what comes after: fresh, pozzy, net-native, living every day as a tourist, unbothered by the politics of appropriation--and probably a little naive about politics in general. It really is a profound and illuminating concept, but it's sad to think that during its viral moment it's been reinterpreted into something pedestrian and regressive."
normcore  2014  tourism  adaptability  assimilation  appropriation  netnative  authenticity  coolness  sameness  culture  christopherglazek  k-hole  openmindedness 
july 2014 by robertogreco
I Drank a Cup of Hot Coffee That Was Overnighted Across the Country - Robinson Meyer - The Atlantic
"Normcore moves away from a coolness that relies on difference to a post-authenticity coolness that opts in to sameness. But instead of appropriating an aestheticized version of the mainstream, it just cops to the situation at hand. To be truly Normcore, you need to understand that there’s no such thing as normal. […]

Normcore seeks the freedom that comes with non-exclusivity. It finds liberation in being nothing special, and realizes that adaptability leads to belonging."

[quote from: http://khole.net/issues/youth-mode/ ]
k-hole  normcore  liberation  freedom  adaptability  flexibility  nomadism  nomads  appropriation  codeswitching  authenticity  mainstream  exclusivity  youth  generations  internet  specialness  openmindedness 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Playing the Odds | Easily Distracted
[via: http://tinyletter.com/audreywatters/letters/hack-education-weekly-newsletter-no-70 ]

"No academic (I hope) would say that education is required to achieve wisdom. In fact, it is sometimes the opposite: knowing more about the world can be, in the short-term, an impediment to understanding it. I think all of us have known people who are terrifically wise, who understand other people or the universe or the social world beautifully without ever having studied anything in a formal setting. Some of the wise get that way through experiencing the world, others through deliberate self-guided inquiry.

What I would be prepared to claim is something close to something Wellmon says, that perhaps college might “might alert students to an awareness of what is missing, not only in their own colleges but in themselves and the larger society as well”.

But my “might” is a bit different. My might is literally a question of probabilities. A well-designed liberal arts education doesn’t guarantee wisdom (though I think it can guarantee greater concrete knowledge about subject matter and greater skills for expression and inquiry). But it could perhaps be designed so that it consistently improves the odds of a well-considered and well-lived life. Not in the years that the education is on-going, not in the year after graduation, but over the years that follow. Four years of a liberal arts undergraduate experience could be far more likely to produce not just a better quality of life in the economic sense but a better quality of being alive than four years spent doing anything else.

I think I can argue that the disciplinary study of history can potentially contribute to the development of a capacity for empathy, or emotional intelligence, an understanding of why things happen the way that they do and how they might happen differently, and many other crafts and arts that I would associate as much with wisdom as I do with knowledge, with what I think informs a well-lived life. But potential is all I’m going to give out. I can’t guarantee that I’ll make someone more empathetic, not the least because I’m not sure how to quantify such a thing, but also because that’s not something everybody can be or should be counted upon to get from the study of history. It’s just, well, more likely that you might get that than if you didn’t study history.

This sense of “might” even justifies rather nicely the programmatic hostility to instrumentally-driven approaches to education among many humanists. Yes, we’re cultivating humanity, it’s just that we’re not very sure what will grow from any given combination of nutrients and seeds. In our students or ourselves.

This style of feeling through the labyrinth gives me absolutely no title to complacency, however. First, it’s still a problem that increased disciplinary knowledge and skills do not give us proportionately increased probability of incorporating that knowledge into our own lives and institutions. At some point, more rigorous philosophical analyses about when to pull the lever on a trolley or more focused historical research into the genesis of social movements doesn’t consistently improve the odds of making better moral decisions or participating usefully in the formation of social movements.

Second, I don’t think most curricular designs in contemporary academic institutions actually recognize the non-instrumental portion of a liberal-arts education as probabilistic. If we did see it that way, I think we’d organize curricula that had much less regularity, predictability and structure–in effect, much less disciplinarity.

This is really the problem we’re up against: to contest the idea that education is just about return-on-investment, just about getting jobs, we need to offer an education whose structural character and feeling is substantially other than what it is. Right now, many faculty want to have their cake and eat it too, to have rigorous programs of disciplinary study that are essentially instrumental in that they primarily encourage students to do the discipline as if it were a career, justified in a tautological loop where the value of the discipline is discovered by testing students on how they demonstrate that the discipline is, in its own preferred terms, valuable.

If we want people to take seriously that non-instrumental “dark side of the moon” that many faculty claim defines what college has been, is and should remain, we have to take it far more seriously ourselves, both in how we try to live what it is that we study and in how we design institutions that increase the probabilities that our students will not just know specific things and have specific skills but achieve wisdoms that they otherwise could not have found."
education  2014  via:audreywatters  liberalarts  timothyburke  highereducation  wisdom  empathy  openmindedness  ethics  morality  philosophy  history  learning  purpose  humanism  humanities  fiction  literature  society  generalists 
july 2014 by robertogreco

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