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robertogreco : sacredness   4

The Art of Resistance | Commonweal Magazine
"Writing in the aftermath of the fall of communism, John Berger, the world’s preeminent Marxist (patience, dear readers) writer on art, faced the apparently decisive and irreversible victory of capitalism. Rather than concede defeat and join in the triumphal chorus heralding the end of history, Berger drew an unlikely lesson from the ostensible cessation of the old hostilities. In the conclusion of Keeping a Rendezvous (1991), he studied a photograph of people assembled in recently liberated Prague and discerned in their faces both elation and a dread that an even more primordial conflict was in the offing. The class struggle, he now suggested, partakes of a broader and deeper contest over ways of being in the world. “The soul and the operator have come out of hiding together.”

For two centuries, Berger explained, the soul’s longings had been perverted or marginalized in both capitalist and socialist societies, identified with or subordinated to the imperatives of material progress. Yet humanity “has great difficulty in living strictly within the confines of a materialist practice or philosophy. It dreams, like a dog in its basket, of hares in the open.” Heir, for many, to the hope once contained in religion, Marxism had been the secular abode for the soul; but with the dialectic of “historical materialism” now discredited by history, “the spiritual,” Berger observed, aimed “to reclaim its lost terrain,” surging through fundamentalist and nationalist movements. At the same time, the poor were being “written off as trash” by the soul’s implacable adversary, “the operator,” the forces of pecuniary and technological utility united under the aegis of capital. For Berger, art remained not only a potent weapon against injustice but also an enclave for the qualities of the soul. In a powerful letter to the miners who unsuccessfully resisted Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to close down mines in 1984, Berger wrote:
I can’t tell you what art does and how it does it, but I know that art has often judged the judges, pleaded revenge to the innocent and shown to the future what the past has suffered, so that it has never been forgotten. I know too that the powerful fear art, whatever its form, when it does this, and that amongst the people such art sometimes runs like a rumor or a legend because it makes sense of what life’s brutalities cannot, a sense that unites us, for it is inseparable from a justice at last. Art, when it functions like this, becomes a meeting-place of the invisible, the irreducible, the enduring, guts and honor.

Characterized by the lack of a credible alternative to the glittering imperium of capital, the ensuing twenty-five years have been the Age of the Operator: neoliberal economics, a hustling ethos, the divinization of markets and technology, the hegemony of a consumer society given over to spectacle and fueled by debt. As Berger writes in his latest book, Portraits (Verso, $44.95, 544 pp.), “the future has been downsized,” restricted to the mercenary parameters of finance capital and digital technocracy. Neoliberal capitalism fulfills the “strange prophecy” depicted in the hellish right-hand panel of Hieronymus Bosch’s Millennium Triptych: “no glimpse of an elsewhere or an otherwise.” The poor—and increasingly anyone outside the gilded circle of “the 1 percent”—are indeed “written off as trash,” detritus of the quest for efficiency, human refuse piling up not only in Calcutta, Mumbai, or Mexico City, but also in Palo Alto and San Francisco, where the technocrats of Silicon Valley dispossess workers from their homes to build mansions scaled to their colossal self-regard.

The Operator remains in the saddle, riding humankind; but with anger and dissent on the rise—Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter here at home—the Soul may be gathering strength to embark on another, more enduring reclamation of terrain, and, if it does, John Berger will deserve our attention as one of its greatest contemporary prophets. Renowned and even beloved as both novelist and art critic, Berger has also become an unlikely moral and metaphysical sage. “You can’t talk about aesthetics without talking about the principle of hope and the existence of evil,” he declared in The Sense of Sight (1985). Not that his revolutionary spirit has withered; that flame is lower but remains incandescent. But Portraits, a miscellany from his career as a writer, records the evolution of this “principle of hope”—a reference, no doubt, to Ernst Bloch, the closest thing to a theologian ever produced by the Marxist tradition. Like the other two panels of Bosch’s triptych—The Garden of Eden and The Garden of Earthly Delights—Portraits offers “a torchlight in the dark,” a glimpse of an elsewhere or an otherwise, a way of seeing the visible world that Berger might agree to call sacramental.



BERGER WAS BORN in 1926 in London, the son of a middle-class Hungarian immigrant from Trieste and an English working-class suffragette. As a youth growing up in Oxford, he drew and painted for relief from his “monstrous and brutal” education at a local private school. He also read anarchist literature and ardently embraced the radical left; yet unlike most anarchists, Berger felt no visceral hostility to religion. As he told the Guardian in 2011, since his teenage years two convictions have “coexisted” within him: “a kind of materialism,” as he put it, along with “a sense of the sacred, the religious if you like.” This coexistence has never felt anomalous to him, even when “most other people thought it was.” Indeed, the philosopher of whom Berger has been most fond is not Marx but Baruch Spinoza, whose monist ontology sought to overcome the Cartesian dualism of matter and spirit.

Conscripted at the age of eighteen, Berger spent World War II stationed in Belfast. After the war he enrolled in the Chelsea School of Art and exhibited in London galleries. While working as a teacher, he began writing reviews for the New Statesman, Britain’s flagship left periodical. In the early years of the Cold War, Berger embraced Marxism (despite his aversion to Joseph Stalin). He even maintained that, until the Soviet Union gained nuclear parity with the United States, left writers and artists should support Moscow. In the late 1940s, Berger made a deliberate decision to set aside his painting and embark on a career as a writer.

Although the New Statesman published his essays for more than a decade (some of which he collected in 1960 as Permanent Red), Berger was its most beleaguered contributor. Adamantly pro-Soviet, he wrote for a magazine that opposed Stalinism. (In his controversial 1958 novel A Painter of Our Time, Berger hinted his support for the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution.) Where the New Statesman reflected the broad sympathy toward literary and artistic modernism characteristic of liberal and social-democratic intellectuals, Berger championed realism and called for art that would “help or encourage men to know and claim their social rights.” His profoundly ambivalent view of abstract expressionism challenged its celebration by most Western intellectuals as a token of “free expression.” Although he marveled at Jackson Pollock’s formal skills, Berger argued that the drip paintings registered a collapse of “faith” in the visible world that heralded “the disintegration of our culture.” Berger asked strikingly traditionalist questions for an enfant terrible of Marxist criticism. “How far can talent exempt an artist,” he asked, who “does not think beyond or question the decadence of the cultural situation to which he belongs?”

With judgments and questions like these, Berger found himself “fighting for every sentence,” not only against his editors and skeptical readers but also against curators, gallery owners, and art critics. (One less-than-enthusiastic review of Henry Moore earned him the everlasting enmity of Sir Herbert Read, then Britain’s most respected critic.) Berger railed helplessly as the London cultural establishment—like that of New York—transformed modernism into an aesthetic for corporate suites and an emblem of Western individualism.

Weary of his travails among the London intelligentsia, Berger left England in 1962 and lived an itinerant but productive life on the continent for the next fifteen years. He published studies of Picasso and cubism as well as several other volumes of essays on painting, sculpture, photography, and politics; chronicled, in collaboration with the photographer Jean Mohr, the life of a country doctor in A Fortunate Man (1967); wrote several screenplays, including Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976), a wise and sympathetic story about disappointed radicals; and authored three novels, including G. (1972), a political and erotic bildungsroman that won him the Booker Prize. Berger promptly caused an uproar when he donated half of his prize money to the British Black Panthers (the Booker fortune having been amassed, he pointed out, through the exploitation of Caribbean slaves) and used the other half to fund a project on the condition of migrant workers that became A Seventh Man (1975). Whatever one thinks of his politics, there can be no denying that Berger is a writer who acts on his convictions.

But Berger’s most enduring achievement from this period was his landmark BBC television series Ways of Seeing (1972), notable if only because it disseminated a radical perspective to a mass audience. Published in book form in the same year, Ways of Seeing was a response to another television milestone, Civilisation (1969), hosted by Sir Kenneth Clark, doyen of the British art establishment. Loftily indifferent to social and political context, Clark’s parade-of-masterpieces approach to the history of Western art epitomized the patrician didacticism that Berger loathed. Focusing … [more]
johnberger  resistance  eugenemccarraher  2017  communism  capitalism  marxism  spirituality  anarchism  religion  materialism  sacredness  neoliberalism  mutualaid  craftsmanship  materiality  pleasure  convivilaity  soul  revolution  waysofseeing  art  artists  peasants  biography 
january 2017 by robertogreco
The Creation and Destruction of Habits
"1/ There are two kinds of stories: about forming habits, and about preserving them. Superhero movies and Christmas movies.

2/ While you have room to grow in your life, forming habits is much easier than breaking habits. Neither is easy, however.

3/ A habit, once formed, demands use. This is because it exists as a sunk cost. Disuse would imply depreciating value.

4/ A living habit generates returns and grows more complex over time. This is growth. Growing habits occupy more room over time.

5/ A dying habit generates losses and grows simpler over time. This is decay. Dying habits decay to occupy less room over time.

6/ You are grown up when you run out of room to grow and are forced to break old habits in order to form new ones.

7/ The alternative to growing up is to preserve existing habits against decay through mummification. This is ritualization.

8/ To ritualize a habit is to decide to sustain steady losses for the indefinite future. This means feeding it with make-work.

9/ Living habits are ugly. Constant growth and increasing complexity means they always appear as an unrefined work-in-progress.

10/ The reward of a ritual is comforting, relived memories of once-profitable habits. These can be passed on for generations.

11/ Rituals are beautiful. Mummification is the process of aestheticizing a behavior to produce comfort instead of profit.

12/ Comforts must be paid for. But it is an easy decision to rob the ugly to pay the beautiful. Growth must pay for decay.

13/ Living habits can be valued in terms of expected future returns. Comforts cannot because they are being sustained despite losses.

14/ Living habits have a price. Rituals are price-less. They represent comforts worth preserving at indeterminate cost.

15/ Price-less comforts evolve from things-that-cannot-be-priced to things-that-must-not-be-priced. This is sacralization.

16/ The sacred price-less is the economic priceless. We drop the hyphen and add a notional price of infinity. This is a sacred value.

17/ The ritualized habit associated with a sacred value becomes a virtue: a behavior that serves as is its own justification.

18/ Virtues are behaviors that are recognized as their own justification by their unchanging beauty. The sacred is beautiful.

19/ Vice is that which cannot visibly co-exist with virtue: it is behavior that justifies its own suppression or marginalization.

20/ Profanity is an inchoate mixture of virtue and vice. Experimentation separates ugly profanity into future virtues and vices.

21/ When your living habits cannot pay for their own growth, and you sacrifice beauty for experimentation, you get innovation.

22/ When your living habits can pay for their own growth and your comforting rituals, you have a beautiful life. This is individualism.

23/ When living habits can pay for themselves but not for comforts, you have a problem. This is failed individualism: depression.

24/ If you try to strip away comforts and retain only growth, you have cognitive-behavioral cancer. This is being manic.

25/ You can pretend that comforts are profits. To do this you deny new data and restate old justifications. This is called derping.

26/ You can also strip away rituals, deliberately making your life uglier by unburdening living habits. This is called empiricism.

27/ You can strip away enough ritual to keep your life ugly at work and beautiful at home. This is called being a loser.

28/ You can confuse the beautiful with the living and the ugly with dying and strip away the wrong things. This is called cluelessness.

29/ You can consciously develop your ability to contemplate both ugliness and beauty with equanimity. This is called mindfulness.

30/ You can strip away rituals up to the limit of your mindfulness, staying on the edge of manic-depression. This is being a sociopath.

31/ The most common response to failed individualism, however, is to get others to pay for your comforts. This is called culture.

32/ A culture that cannot pay for its own comforts overall is a called a tradition. One that has no comforts to pay for is called a frontier.

33/ Tradition is beautiful, frontiers are ugly. To mistake one for the other is the defining characteristic of the clueless middle class.

33/ A culture that is more tradition than frontier is a loser culture. Sincere partisan conservatism and liberalism are both for losers.

34/ A culture that is more frontier than tradition is sociopath culture. It offers few comforts and fewer sacred ones.

35/ A compassionate culture is one that drives each member to the limit of their mindfulness. It is inclusive by definition.

36/ A beautiful culture is one that highlights comforting tradition and hides profit and profanity. It is extractive by definition.

37/ A culture cannot be both compassionate and beautiful at once without ceasing to grow. To be a sociopath is to recognize this.

38/ A culture that ceases to grow is a culture that increasingly trades compassion for beauty, paying more for its priceless elements.

39/ A culture that chooses to grow is one that systematically devalues beauty and resists the allure and comfort of pricelessness.

40/ Civilization is the mortal tension between the imperative to keep growing and the imperative to remain beautiful.

41/ Those who choose beauty tell one kind of story, about a relatively shrinking set of beautiful things that define the human.

42/ Those who choose growth tell another kind of story, about an expanding zone of mindfulness that defines the superhuman."
culture  humans  ideology  venkateshrao  2014  habits  growth  frontiers  balance  tradition  ritual  sociopathy  conservatism  liberalism  individualism  mindfulness  cluelessness  comforts  empiricism  derping  depression  experimentation  beauty  marginalization  pricelessness  comfort  complexity  ritualization  makework  mummification  sacralization  sacredness  virtue  justification  life  living  behavior  manicdepression  civilization  rituals 
february 2015 by robertogreco
The Deliberate Practice of Disruption
"This model is an accurate one in descriptive terms, but a terrible one in normative terms. So let me propose a highly prejudiced contrarian reading of what Csikszentmihalyi is describing.

What we have here is a closed boundary defined by a symbolic domain (rather than raw, unmediated reality), within which there are awestruck beginners and awe-inspiring experts. Expert performance is primarily a beautiful feeling that is derived not from the effects of the performance itself, but from the integration of metacognition and cognition into an internal superego. An inner [Tiger-] parental spectator that supervises performance according to an external standard of error-free perfection, and rewards you psychologically to the extent that you meet that standard. The performance is necessarily an incremental push beyond the edge, where received standards of performance and aesthetics can be reliably extrapolated. You cannot apply standards of violin performance if you suddenly decide to use your violin as a bat in an improvised game of softball (a profane use of a violin that is nevertheless physically possible).

In short, this is sustaining innovation driven by groupthink, divorced from reality by an internal language of symbols, and limited to what doesn’t violate sacred standards of quality or prevailing aesthetic sensibilities. As determined by honored retirees whose expertise is beyond doubt.

The reward for such metacognition is in fact the subjective state of flow: a regime of behavioral sacredness that is valued for its own sake rather than for its effects, and which is rewarded in social ways.

Disruptive Metacognition: Finding Ugly Awkwardness

It’s easy to get to the broader notion of deliberate practice. The base layer is still the same. You’re still practicing the skill for 10,000 hours.

It’s the metacognition that is different. Instead of finding creative flow, you seek out ugly awkwardness that nevertheless intrigues and tempts you. You figure out what feels uncomfortable and “wrong” in some sense, but also alluring, and figure out why. There are no judges to tell you if you’re right. There are no aesthetic standards to internalize. There are no performance standards other than what you’ve yourself done before or the behaviors of people you choose to imitate because you can’t think of anything yourself.

And most importantly, there is no clear understanding of whether variation from your own past behavior or others’ behaviors should be considered error or innovation."



"So disruptive metacognition is irreverent and transgressive. It does not respect received sacred/profane distinctions. It does not justify extended practice on the basis of “pay your dues” but as a means of exploration. It does not seek flow as an end in itself, divorced from the effects of performance. While sustaining metacognition can be whimsical in an approved way, it cannot be offensively playful in the sense of irreverently crossing the boundary separating sacred and profane. Only disruptive metacognition can do that.

If the reward for effective sustaining metacognition is a sense of your own inner sacredness, experienced as flow, the reward for effective disruptive metacognition is a sense of snowballing absurdity and paradox that miraculously does not unravel. Effective awkwardness that inspires irreverent laughter rather than reverent awe. Instead of approval from honored figures, you get the slightly vicious pleasures of desecration.

While it is possible to do this all this in closed worlds of performance, it takes a kind of sociopathy to ignore expert tastes (or refined customer/audience tastes) and willingness to suffer being punished for being genuinely innovative (customers of cultural products punish straying performers much more than other kinds of customers). This is why early rockers shocked classical musical purists by burning or smashing guitars. Of course, you can also shock aging rockers’ sense of the sacred by not being outrageous (“kids today, they have no rebellion in them!”)."



"The bad news is that success still depends on repeating some skilled behavior in roughly the 10,000 hour range, at “good enough” levels, before you’ll start stumbling across mutations that are both good and haven’t been spotted and explored before. This is why “good ideas” that beginners come up with, even if actually good, aren’t worth much. They lack the behavioral base to actually go down the bunny trail opened up by the idea. The have the idea, but not the idea maze. The genetic mutation without the protein synthesis machinery.

But if you do have the disruptive deliberate practice under your belt you can, well, be disruptive.

If you know the basics of disruption theory, you know it involves attacking a market from a marginal niche. I won’t rehash that. But I will state what might be a new point. What’s disruptive about disruption is that it violates a prevailing sense of the sacred with irreverent profanity.

A disruptor attacks a saintly mindset rather than a market. A mindset that holds certain performance standards and aesthetic considerations to be sacred, and is blind to the potential of what it considers profane. The disruptor wins by being mediocre where it is a sacred duty to be exceptional, and embracing profanity where saints are blinded by their own taboos."
venkateshrao  flow  disruption  2014  metacognition  conservatism  establishment  closedworlds  disciplines  practice  taboos  mindset  change  mutations  openworlds  gatekeepers  cv  aekwardness  mavericks  sociopathy  rewards  motivation  social  groupthink  sacredness  performance 
june 2014 by robertogreco

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