Archive for culture

Musings On History: Goths, the Fall of Rome, and the Future of Humanity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2020 by jtoddring

 

I love a good mystery. Who were the Goths? Where did they come from? How did they manage to sack Rome and defeat the most powerful empire the world had ever seen? What is their true cultural, mythological, spiritual, philosophical and ideological history? 

(Genetic history means little, since we are all close family, in reality; and there is more genetic variation in a single family line than between supposed “races”. But cultural history diverges widely, and that is significant, to say the least. It is as significant as it is open-ended, and it is completely open-ended. Racism, xenophobia, eugenics and Social Darwinism can all end here, should end here, if we are sane. They have no valid basis in reality, but are based only in delusion.)

How was a supposed Gothic-Germanic-Scandinavian mythology used and abused by fascists and Nazis, and corrupted and perverted into a dark poison? (There’s a good question for my anthropology and history scholar friends.) How are they really related to the Germanic peoples, and possibly to Scandinavia, or to Germanic and Norse mythology? To the Vikings and other raiders? 

A bigger mystery is this…

Every nation was a raider nation, from pre-Hellenic, Homeric Greece, through the “great” Roman Empire, the Spanish, Portuguese, French and English empires, etc., to the US empire, and the new global corporate empire, which at present, and for the moment, rules the world. 

But five thousand years of conquest mentality, empires, raiders, looting, rape and pillage, narcissistic egomania and infantile grandiosity, slaughter and slavery, is enough. We can do better.

The bigger mystery is this. Why do the people settle for so little?

Dream big. A better world is entirely possible, if we want it.

This could be the last empire, if we want it to be. We can be free, if we choose it.

All empires fall. What we need now, is an end to empire itself.

JTR,

May 18, 2020

Covid-1984: The Worst Of Both Worlds

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 15, 2020 by jtoddring

With covid-1984, which is a virus that is statistically as dangerous as the common flu, we have taken extreme, draconian, authoritarian measures. In short, we have dangerously and vastly over-reacted, and in doing so, we have combined the worst of both worlds: medieval and modern.

If we’re going to go medieval, let’s do it intelligently, at least. We can have freedom, democracy, constitutional rights, plus culture & charm. Instead, we have a gulag and police state, corporate monoculture, and the Inquisition. Brilliant.

So, we’re taking the worst of the medieval period, and combining it with the worst of the modern period. Isn’t that kind of backward from what any sane person should want? I’d say so.

Time for a change.

JTR,

May15, 2020

The Bridge of Montaigne; and The Roots of Our 21st Century Crisis

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2020 by jtoddring

What a delightful bridge Montaigne has been, and is: not only between the present modern world and the Renaissance, which is stupendous treasure enough, but also, in another short span, to the ancients. And he takes us over the bridge with such immediacy that in an instant we are there!

(Modernity has forgotten more, and more important things, than it has learned. Talk about hubris! And blinders! Mind-forged manacles, and mental prisons and chains!)

And even if he was only a bridge to himself and his own thought, that would be treasure enough to make him more than worthwhile to read. He speaks to us with relevance and timeliness that the internet-addicted, cell phone glued and media-addled can scarcely imagine.

Moreover, he pricks the bubbles of our delusions with such deftness – and lightness, and wit, and charm – that I almost feel I am reading Thoreau, Emerson, Blake, or Chuang Tzu. And he is as refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable as they, as well. Read him and weep – with joy!

*

The political class today, and for a long time, like the majority of academics, the major media, the senior bureaucrats and the technocrats, and the business elite which rule them all, is steeped in a quagmire of the mind – a veritable rotting bog.

That bog is a strange mixture of post-modernist/existentialist/Nietzschian nihilism; combined and conjoined and bizarrely fused, like the dead parts of Frankenstein’s monster, with a kind of modernist secular fundamentalism, which is neoliberal corporatism, which should be recognized as the rationalization and justification of the corporate take-over of the democratic process, the society and the state: which means, the full merger of business and the state; which, as Mussolini defined it himself, is the proper term for fascism.

It is  a self-serving philosophy, which is essentially a bastard philosophy justifying Machiavellian power-lust, deceit, thievery on a mass scale, and grandiose delusions supporting elist fantasies of a self-justifying class rule of the new oligarchs. Caligula might be proud of their accomplishments – we should reasonably take a different view.

Worse, the 99.9% who are not among the ruling elite, and who do not typically or in general share such convenient delusions and rationalizations, are wedded to illusions of powerlessness and fatalism. (They have the psychology of peasants; and if they don’t snap out of it, they soon will be slaves.)

It is the illusions of the many, who always hold the greater power – the illusion of powerlessness above all – which are more the root of our problems; not the shared delusions of the elite few, heinous and hideous as they may be, and are.

All of the writers and thinkers mentioned here, along with Montaigne, and the beautiful bridge that he provides, could help us greatly now, at this, our darkest hour.

I suggest we have ears to hear, and eyes to see.

The money changers have taken over; and the Sophists are defending them. This is as old as time. But it is more dangerous than ever. It is time for the people to wake up. They are in great danger, yet they remain passive, divided and distracted. This must change, and now.

If we want treasures, ideas, tools to work if, we need only lift our heads. Step away from the internet, the newspapers and TV. Go to the library – when the fascist mass house arrest ends, if it does.

We have 5,000 years of history, knowledge, experience and acquired wisdom to work with. If that is not enough, then we truly are destitute – of spirit and mind – and we are the blind following the blind. A ditch will be the least of our worries if we don’t lift our heads and look around, and look up to see where we are going.

We must pause briefly, to find our bearings. Clearly, we have lost them entirely.

JTR,

April 18, 2020

Rules For Good Communication – Both In Writing, and Verbally, and In The Arts (Along with core points on the philosophy of language, knowledge, perception, consciousness, ontology and epistemology, and the nature of being and reality – and lessons on how not to be long-winded!)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2020 by jtoddring

Here are a few thoughts on writing and verbal communication, and all forms of communication. As an author, writer, reader, lover of books, and philosopher, I believe I have some potentially helpful thoughts to share on the subject, though my own communications are not without faults themselves. I am no great orator, such as Martin Luther King Jr., nor am I Shakespeare, Dickens, or Dostoevsky. But I think there are some valuable points here, for any who may be interested. And since communication is something that we all do, and something which is essential to being human, then I would say that it is something that we should all be interested in – and something we should be interested in life-long pursuit of improving. Why stop our learning at See Spot Run – or the level of the newspapers and major media, which is scarcely higher?

Learning is for life. Communicating clearly, and effectively, and well, is important – in all areas of life; and it is something which we should all aim to continuously improve. Why not? It can only benefit us, never harm us.

Why sound like an idiot? Put another way, why should our reading, writing, communicating or thinking, our lives or our minds, be on a low level?

Moreover, if the purpose of communication is to communicate – and not to obfuscate, sow illusion, deceive, evade, create separation or division, or to increase or maintain or consolidate one’s power or ego status, which, sadly, it frequently is – then we should learn how to communicate: a) clearly; and b) effectively (which is something beyond mere clarity). This requires learning and skill development, which requires both time and also practice. We should not be afraid to admit that we are not yet omniscient, nor infallible. Hubris is not helpful; but a balance of confidence and humility are always to our advantage.

1. Rule number one of good communication is: There are no rules of good communication. Use whatever works. Sometimes holding up a flower is the best way to communicate. Sometimes a finger pointing, for example at the moon, is the best way to communicate. A genuine smile of genuine friendliness, compassion, respect, cheerfulness, reassurance, or warmth, may be the most effective form of communication possible – and generally is. Keep it simple, and do not be hide bound by rules or an excessive complexity.

Remember what my great Swiss aunt was fond of saying, “Complicated works too.”

2. Rule two: All communication based in language, concepts or words are symbolic, and hence dualistic in nature, comparing this to that; therefore, no words, language, concepts or texts are capable of conveying the nature of reality, which is non-dual. (See Shankara) The best physicists have begun to realize the sages were right: reality is non-dual – and 400 years of Cartesian dualism have been based upon nothing more than a shared delusion; a delusion now crumbling in light of recent science. We are thus confined by the very nature of language and conceptual, discursive thought, to the realm of images and appearances, not reality in itself. We are discussing shadows on the cave wall.

See Plato’s parable of the cave. Or read the first line of the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao.” Read the Lankavatara Sutra: “All of the scriptures are like a finger pointing at the moon. If you mistake the finger for the moon, you will understand nothing.”

Language, words, texts, spoken and written communication, are not definitely not meaningless; nor do they capture or convey reality. They are tools of communication, and they are also tools of perception, knowledge and understanding. They are very valuable tools – but they are also profoundly limited tools. If you expect them to tell you what reality is, you are mistaken – they cannot. That, you will have to see for yourself.

And in order to see, you must first cut through all illusion. Therefore, the via negativa, as the Western mystic tradition  calls it, is the only possible avenue – if, that is, we are at all interested in reality (most people are not).

We must proceed by stripping away all illusions, until the naked truth stands self-evident. Language, words, concepts, texts, spoken and written words, can all be immeasurably helpful. But they cannot take us to the final destination.

They can bring us close enough to jump into the ocean. But we must decide to dive in. Standing on the shore is like reading the menu outside the restaurant door, and being content with that, thinking you have sated yourself fully, when in fact you have not tasted a single thing.

Use language, concepts and texts; but understand that they can never convey the fullness of experience, or even, the nature of reality itself.

3. As every good musician knows, you must first learn the rules before you can bend or break them. Rule three, therefore, is to disregard rule one (which, you will remember, said there are no rules).

We must learn to think in paradoxes. As Sun Tzu said, you should be able to use conventional means or unconventional means, and to shift between, and blend the two, as needed, as the situation calls for.

No, there are no rules. But do learn the rules; for while there are no strict or universal rules for good communication, there are certainly useful guidelines available. (You’re not going to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix or Andres Segovia if you don’t first learn a few chords, at least.)

There are times for either/or thinking, and there are times for both/and thinking. For example, “free” universal education, including unlimited higher education, along with universal public health care, and a universal basic income (as even Milton Friedman recommended, and is advocated by both the left and the right), along with a Green New Deal, which is to say, a bold infrastructure building project to transition our society to one that is not driving us over a cliff of self-destruction, and which, in the process, would create millions of jobs, and launch the economy out of the recession which it has been in since the economic crisis of began in 2007, are all affordable and achievable, separately or together, so long as we do the other things which must be done in any case, and urgently so, for reasons of social justice and the preservation of liberty and democracy, and the defeat of the neo-feudal corporatism, aka fascism, which we have now. If we tax the richest 1% and the biggest corporations, in terms of income and profits (at 90% and 40% top bracket rate, respectively, for example); and further, tax the wealth of the richest 1% and the fortune 500 corporations (at even 5% or 10%, much less what is both needed and justified, which is 90%); put a tax on currency speculation; and de-fund the military industrial complex and the global surveillance and police state apparatus; then there would be – excuse me…will be – more than enough money and real world resources available for these things, which every just society, or sane society, should consider basic necessities to its integrity as well as to its wisdom.

But while these things are both attainable and also urgently needed, for reasons of justice, democracy, freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and sheer survival, this is the case, and there are also bolder actions yet which are also urgently needed, and for the same urgent reasons: such as, serious anti-trust action to break up the big banks, along with the Big Pharma, Big Tech, Big Oil, media and military industrial corporate empires. It is not an either/or scenario. We need the bold yet moderate actions described above – universal education and health care, UBI and a Green New Deal; and we need more radical action – such as breaking up the big banks, and making all central banks publicly owned and democratically controlled. Either/or thinking only harms us, and puts us into what Blake described so vividly and so well: “the mind-forged manacles”.

This is an injection of political philosophy into the philosophy of language and communication, yes. It is also a fact: yes, there are no hard and fast rules to good communication; and yes, there are rules, in the sense of general guidelines, which are quite helpful.

It is both/and, not either/or. Secular and religious fundamentalists, and others who prefer mental straight-jackets and prisons, to living, and thinking, in the real world, are overly fond of either/or thinking. It is either this or it is that. But that thinking, while sometimes useful, is seldom appropriate, and often confusing, misleading, or simply, delusional.

So, the short answer is, yes, there are rules, or guidelines, for good communication, be it verbal, written, or otherwise (art, music, dance, theatre, film or architecture, for example). We should learn them and use them. Then be certain not to be bound and gagged by them.

4. Don’t be a name-dropper or otherwise pretentious. Communication, if it is good, is both clear and also effective (moving, emotive, or persuasive, for example). Parading one’s ego is not only childish, is also taints the communication, making it less effective. Showing one’s social connections by dropping names, or showing one’s erudition or good training or education, by dropping names, that is, by being showy about the use of names, only shows immaturity and insecurity, lack of confidence and lack of self-dignity, a readiness to debase oneself and lick boots for ego gratification, praise, fame, career advancement, power, wealth, status, or some other personal gain. By showing a lack of integrity, maturity, confidence and also wisdom, or discernment, the effectiveness of the communication is thereby, always, damaged and undermined. As the I Ching says, “He who shows himself does not shine.”

5. The corollary is this. Don’t be afraid to use big words, uncommon words, quotations, allusions, references, personal stories or histories, when using them will enhance either the clarity or the effectiveness of the communication. To argue passionately for liberty and democracy while quoting Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther King Jr. is not only acceptable, it is a matter of simple intelligence. You use whatever powers you have in order to communicate clearly and effectively. You don’t fend off barbarians at the gate by using your letter opener alone, thinking it modest and therefore best. You draw your sword, naturally, and use the best tools you can find at hand. If that means calling forth Daniel or Dumas, Dickens or Dostoevsky, then you do it, and without hesitation, of course.

6. Be concise, but do not be hide bound by concision.

Martin Heidegger spent 700 pages to tell us that the question of the nature of being is one that is worth asking. All he accomplished by that tome of utterly long-winded but hollow verbiage was to get his name listed in the pantheon of Western philosophers – by proving that he could be as much of an addle-minded windbag as the best of them, and that he had absolutely nothing of value to say.

Western philosophy has perfected the art of needlessly obscure, needlessly long-winded, needlessly difficult and cryptic writing. That is, in general, an unconscious habit arising due to: a) the need to conform to arbitrary and foolish norms which accomplish nothing, but do a disservice to the entire field; b) the need to conform to an academic fashion which likewise does more harm to the field than it does any good; c) the need to be perceived as writing something profound, and profoundly important, simply because the writer cannot write clearly or concisely, but, again, can only utter needlessly obscure and long-winded verbiage, as if the lower the quality and greater the length of the writing is proof of the importance of the thought – which of course, is absurd; and d) to hide the fact that the writer really has little or nothing of value to say. (And yes, there is that value word. Post-modernism is a revival of long-dead ancient Sophism, and should be treated as the rotting corpse that it is – and buried.)

Someone once said of physics, and it is generally true in most fields, though admittedly more difficult in some than others, that if you cannot express your ideas in ways that an intelligent lay person can understand, then you probably don’t understand your subject.

Keep it simple. Keep it short and concise – when and where appropriate, of course! Don’t be unnecessarily obscure. Don’t make a virtue out of being arcane or esoteric. Don’t fetishize jingo. (My good Lord how I hate that pervasive trait.) And don’t be long-winded. Use enough words – not too many, nor too few. And who decides that? You do, of course. Not convention. Not literary fashion. Not social custom. You.

If Western philosophy is renown for being needlessly obscure, arcane and long-winded, then the rest of Western culture (sic) is obsessed with speaking at an eigth-grade level, to match the general “dumbing-down” of the culture and the people, and obsessed with concision: to the point of reducing all thought and communication, with few exceptions, to the status of sound bites.

The modern journalistic style of writing and speaking has been useful, but it is far too bound by rules of concision (among other systemic problems which are even more dire in implications, such as nearly universal deceit) – and worse, the rule of concision for journalism has bled into the general culture, such that everyone feels they have to be hyper-concise at all times.

Few people read books anymore, and when they do, it is generally pop psychology or cookbooks, not philosophy or political-economy, for example. (There is nothing wrong with popular psychology books, in principle, nor with cookbooks. We should simply not limit our reading to that.) Attention spans had been shrunken to seven seconds, by the 1980’s. With the invention of cell phones, “smart phones”, texting, instant messages, emails, and “social media”, attention spans are now commonly at two seconds. A single long sentence loses most audiences now. But if people cannot concentrate for longer than two seconds, then nothing of significance can be communicated, or discussed, or even thought; and hence, we are doomed.

We must recover the ability to concentrate. That means that we cannot be afraid of long, in-depth conversations – that actually focus on something, or even several things, but not a thousand things, in an endless stream of hyperactive, scattered, unfocused sound-bites, which is now the norm. We (the people generally, that is) must learn again to read an entire book, and not just consume a never-ending stream of disjointed and largely superficial sound bites.

7. While we should not be pretentious or showy, we should also not “dumb it down”. If everyone speaks, writes or otherwise communicates at the lowest common denominator, we will find that no one is left who can speak, write, communicate, or think, beyond an eight grade level. If that happens, then, again, we are doomed.

We must refuse the impulse, or the implicit order, to dumb it down at all costs and at all times. We must refuse to write solely in short sentences, and short paragraphs, using small, commonly used words.

We must be willing to use long sentences, long paragraphs, and a vocabulary that goes beyond what is contained in See Spot Run. At least, some of us must continue to speak and write for adults.

Not all of us can follow the downward arc of a “civilization” in moral, spiritual, cultural and intellectual decline and decay, writing only for the infantile and the childish, as the mass narcissistic regression continues, and continues to accelerate.

Some few, at least, must stand strong, and remind us all that higher aspirations are still possible, and are never wasted, and not ever futile.

What goes down must also, sooner or later, go up again. Every collapse is followed by a rebirth – and a renaissance; assuming of course, we don’t annihilate ourselves, by, for example, refusing to rise above a childish and infantile, narcissistic culture of common and mutual degradation.

Choose your audience. Is it academia? Is it intellectual culture more broadly? Is it an intelligent, wide audience? Or is it more narrow than that? There is room for popularization, and that is not a style of writing or communication which should be disparaged. But not everyone must write for the collective of 8-12 year olds which our techno-entranced, hyper-disconnected, reality-avoidant, functionally illiterate, largely lobotomized, modern 21st century “culture” represents.

8. Use a dictionary – and a thesaurus; at least until the need diminishes to minimal use. Keep a hard copy next to you, or keep a browser tab open, of/with the Oxford dictionary, or the Oxford Canadian dictionary, or Miriam-Webster, if you prefer – and use it constantly, for decades, until you rarely need it, and can refer to it only occasionally.

Better yet, spend an hour here and there just reading the dictionary. Start with a word you have heard or read but may know only roughly. Then carry on. The more language you have, the more words you have, the more tools you have for both communication and also for understanding. Use them, expand the collection; then use the ever-enlarging collection, so they are retained and incorporated.

Don’t make the speaker or writer feel he or she has to dumb it down for you. Instead, rise up to his or her level. We are all equal in worth; but different in skill sets and knowledge. There is nothing wrong with that. And yet, there is no excuse for being lazy, either. We can learn for life, and we should.

9. If writing is important to you, or is something that you want to do, then you have to do it. If you say it’s important but you make no time for it, then clearly it’s not important at all. How you spend your time is your decision. Stop making excuses. If writing or communicating in one form or another is important to you – be it non-fiction books, essays or articles, novels, short stories, poems, or art, music, dance, theatre, film, or some other medium of communication – then you have to make it a priority. Don’t let your death bed be a place of sad regret. If something is important to you, do it now. Life is fleeting, and the hour of death is definitely uncertain. Do it now. Never hesitate, never rush. Make your priorities your priorities – not simply a set of routines that you do because you’ve drifted into them, or out of habit. Choose your life consciously and deliberately, and live it!

10. Immerse yourself in communication – especially good communication. That means, read voraciously. It also means, read the best books first. It means, read widely. It means, reflect on what you read. It means, see art, films, theatre, architecture, live music, dance. The more you immerse yourself in reading and literature, and in other forms of communication, the more you absorb of the means and methods of communication, as well as culture and understanding. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain!

JTR,
April 15, 2020

Reading History And Social Theory As If People, The Planet, Or The Future Mattered

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2020 by jtoddring

 

A Review of Stephen Toulmin’s Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda Of Modernity, and, A Reading List For Thoughtful People

Slow to get going, then increasingly fascinating, Toulmin’s Cosmopolis is a genuine must-read. As a history of culture and consciousness it is stellar. I’d give it four out of five stars, in that realm. However, as a work of philosophy, I’d have to give it a failing grade, because it ends with a regression to ancient Skepticism (echoed in that rotting bog which is contemporary post-modernism). Two out of five as a work of philosophy. And as a history of political-economy, again, it fails: leading us into an uncritical passive acceptance of a clearly anti-democratic, technocratic, increasingly crypto-fascist neoliberal corporate globalization, as the inevitable and naturally superior gift of “progress”. Two out of five stars as a book on politics.

For a vastly better critique of modernity, and far more insightful views on our ever-unfolding history, see:

Noam Chomsky, Year 501: The Conquest Continues, along with: Class Warfare, Requiem For The American Dream, Profit Over People, and Necessary Illusions

Ronald Wright, Stolen Continents, and, A Short History of Progress

EF Schumacher, A Guide For The Perplexed

John Michael Greer, Retrotopia

James Howard Kunstler, A History Of The Future

Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures

Wade Davis, The Wayfinders

David Maybury-Lewis, Millennium

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

David Suzuki, Wisdom of the Elders

Allan Wallace, Choosing Reality

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism

Erich Fromm, The Pathology Of Normalcy, The Sane Society, and Escape From Freedom

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisted

George Orwell, 1984

Arthur Kroker, Data Trash

Chris Brazier, The No-Nonsense Guide To World History

Ken Wilber, A Brief History Of Everything

John Perkins, A Game As Old As Empire

Christopher Simpson, Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis

Susan George, Shadow Sovereigns

John Pilger, The New Rulers Of The World

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

Sarah Anderson, Views From The South

C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite

Peter Phillips, Giants: The Global Power Elite

Bertrand Russell, Roads To Freedom

Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid

Rianne Eisler, The Chalice and The Blade

Murray Bookchin, The Ecology Of Freedom

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, and On Civil Disobedience

Happy reading!

JTR,
April 7, 2020

Will Ferrell does a mock music video of gangster rap – and it’s a scathingly hilarious critique of the genre

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by jtoddring

A musical commentary, followed by social and political analysis, followed by hilarious spoof rap videos, and more

This is scathingly funny. Will Ferrell does a mock music video of macho gangster rap.

Man, how I despise that music. As Rage Against the Machine said, “So-called rap’s a fraud.” Worse, most of it is disgustingly offensive, as well as hollow and noxious.

The majority of it is macho, sexist, hate-filled, poser pablum that screams insecure, status-seeking, pre-teen angst and a desire to be “big” – in all the wrong ways, and with nothing to say and nowhere to go but down.

Bob Marley would roll in his grave. Angry and misguided, emotionally disturbed twelve-year-olds with an attitude problem could be forgiven for liking this music, but that’s about all. Only new country and death metal can compete with such sleazy, aggressive, pretentious garbage for the “first into the sewer” rankings.

At least new country is simply vacant, vacuous and vapid, overly commercialized twaddle and wallpaper music, worthy only of playing in elevators, and for a maximum of fifteen seconds, but as unoffensive as it is bland and banal, like a harmless old shoe – death metal and gangster rap are psychologically disturbed and disturbing, and morally bankrupt.

Give me old-school R&B, jazz, blues, soul, reggae, classic rock or classic country, gospel, classical, funk, punk, scat, ska, swing, big band, folk, Latin, electronica, chant or even opera, but spare me that macho rap crap shite!

*

And for the more serious-minded, here is some social commentary to accompany the musical commentary.

Musical tastes aside, there is something to be said about the influence of music – and particularly, music that expresses and generates a violent, aggressive attitude – and how such messages are likely to affect human behaviour, with the result of increasing violence in society.

Violent crime has been declining for decades, but fear and hysteria are at record levels. The media has a great deal to do with this. But in any case, violence in society is still, of course, a very serious concern; and violence in the United States, in particular, is far above the level of other major nations, and needs to be addressed. And violent music, media and video games are likely to have far more to do with this than guns.

In the US there is great hew and cry about gun control, but the obvious facts, or what should be obvious facts, are either overlooked or simply ignored. The fact is that Switzerland and the US have the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, along with Yemen; but while the US has one of the highest rates of violent crime and murder, Switzerland, with similar levels of gun ownership, has one of the lowest rates of violent crime and murder. Clearly guns are not the cause of violence. Something in the culture of the United States is causing high levels of violence.

Getting rid of guns, even if that was possible, would not end the violence. The US government tried to ban and prohibit alcohol, but that did not stop the flow of alcohol – it simply caused organized crime explode, and caused violent crime to explode as a result.

The US government has tried for decades to eliminate drugs, with its infamous, “War On Drugs”. But that has not stopped the flow of drugs. All it has done is to repeat the patterns of prohibition, causing gang activity and organized crime to soar, and with it, the violence that comes in its wake.

A war on guns would be as utterly ineffective as the prohibition of alcohol or the war on drugs, in terms of stopping the flow of guns. And aside from that most critical point, guns are not the cause of the violence – a culture of violence is the cause of the violence.

Evidence links the decline in exposure to lead poisoning with the decline in violent crime in the United States, and this should give us a major clue: when people’s brains, bodies, hormonal systems and nervous systems are being disrupted and poisoned by toxic chemicals in our food, air, water and environment, serious psychological problems, from mild depression to violent, homicidal impulses, are one part of the result. So a war on pollution would be far more effective, more rational and more sane, from all the available evidence, than a war on guns.

More people are murdered with kitchen knives, blunt objects or bare hands than by guns – people will find ways to harm or to kill, whether or not guns are available. What must be addressed are the causes of violent impulses, not the manner or form of their expression. This should be obvious, but the obvious is routinely being missed at present.

What is causing violence in society, and high levels of violence in American society? Could soaring poverty and inequality, frustration, desperation, and a resulting and very understandable and predictable rage, be a large part of the answer? Of course it is.

“We are sitting on a powder keg of inequality, injustice and insecurity,
and it is about to explode.”

– Amnesty International

The problems are sociological, and cannot be fixed through technocratic means. The “law and order” ideology will not solve it. In fact, it is making things worse, as prison populations soar, repression and militarization of the culture becomes normalized, brutality becomes accepted as necessary, and the cycle of a culture of violence perpetuating itself, continues. The culture is severely out of balance, and it is causing a small minority of people to do desperate and terrible things. Repeating and intensifying the same failed methods and responses is a recipe for continued failure, and escalating social disaster.

But people are only now beginning to be willing to look at the underlying, deeper issues; and most are still focused on the mere surface of things, and are utterly distracted, beguiled and bewildered, propagandized and deeply indoctrinated. This has to change. Inequality must be addressed, or violence will rise beyond its already high levels. Band-aid solutions will not work, and will not do.

As Bob Marley said,

“Everyone is crying out for peace,
None are crying out for justice.
But there will be no peace,
‘Till there is equal rights, and justice.”

Senator Bernie Sanders and many others understand this. If we want peace, then we must sow justice and equality. And if we are to succeed in that effort, then we must make war on Wall Street; and peacefully, but boldly and firmly, transform the system which benefits the richest few, at the expense and tremendous suffering of the great majority; end the reign of the corporate oligarchy of the billionaire class, and restore and reclaim democracy, and return the power to the people.

And maybe while we are making war on poverty and inequality, we should also look at music, television, film and media which make it seem cool to be violently aggressive, narcissistic, egotistical and machismo.

I’m not saying censorship is the answer. Freedom of speech is essential to a free society. Censorship, like prohibition, is not only useless and ineffective, but also dangerous, and produces far more harm than good. But we do need to look at what kind of messages the media, and the music and film industries, are pushing out in mass production into the culture of modern society. And a great deal of it is simply toxic sludge.

We need to create a culture of peace, to replace the culture of violence which, to a large extent, exists now. Courage and strength are shown and measured by compassion: not selfish and narcissistic, puerile pretension, self-inflation, aggression, hate, and egotistical parading of infantile grandiosity – be it from Donald Trump or gangster rappers.

Who shows real strength, who deserves the greatest respect? Certainly not thugs or wanna-be thugs threatening to “cap your ass”, or baring their asses in some other adolescent show of macho bravado. It is people like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Rosa Parks and others, and musicians like Bob Marley, who show the courage of compassion and love, who deserve our greatest respect, and who show the greatest strength.

There is a time for ferocity, but if it does not come from compassion, and is not guided or channeled wisely, then it is hollow posturing at best, or worse, and far more common, a self-destructive flame that is blinding,  burns all it touches.

Music is powerful, as are films, TV, video games, the internet, and the media in general. We should think about what we subject our minds to, and our children’s minds as well.

And artists and media workers should think about what they are producing. Their role should be to inform, inspire, unite, uplift and empower; or if it is simply entertainment that is being produced, then it should at least not be mental poison. We would be infinitely better with silence, than with that.

But music is one thing – systemic injustice, violence, extreme and growing inequality, and clearly fascist tendencies among the presently ruling corporate elite, are quite another. And it is this second set of concerns that should trouble us. The music is more a symptom than a cause of the real problems we face, although it is sometimes a little of both. It may be of some concern, but the latter, second set of patterns, is simply disastrous and intolerable.

We can change the station, change the music. But far more importantly, we should be willing to change the system – because the system is broken, and it is corrupt, as everybody knows.

J. Todd Ring,
October 28, 2015

Warning: The following videos are not for little ears.

Will Ferrell: Step Brothers – Boats ‘N Hoes

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post/async/embed/dialog/?source=6&url=%2FWillFerrelll%2Fvideos%2Fvb.169242926568179%2F250702351755569%2F%3Ftype%3D3

And of course, Everyday Normal Crew – from the Live As Fuck Tour

And on a more serious note, here is some rap with a message – and a soul:

Wake Up – Rage Against the Machine: Lyrics

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rageagainstthemachine/wakeup.html

And the de-classified documents quoted in the song, Wake Up:

“Through counter-intelligence it should be possible to pin-point potential trouble-makers, and neutralize them” – National Security Archives

https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/mlk-document-friday-through-counter-intelligence-it-should-be-possible-to-pinpoint-potential-trouble-makers-and-neutralize-them/

The Hollow Men – Poem and Commentary, for All Hallow’s Eve

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by jtoddring

Want something spooky, even terrifying, for Halloween? Read this.

The Hollow Men: I think this truly epic poem (one place where the word is meaningfully used) should be read at least once a year, if not once a month, just to remind ourselves of what is actually going on. It speaks volumes, like few other pieces of writing have ever done, as to the nature of our modern society, and the challenges we face.

Life is what we make of it. But if we choose this path that T.S. Eliot so vividly describes, and which he like many others, have seen as the norm, that would surely be unwise, to say the least, and to make the greatest possible of understatements.

This poem is a masterpiece, like few others, and a great warning. The future is in our hands, as is our present. We should hope to not sleep through it. And if we do, tragedy will not be a strong enough word to describe it. But that is our choice, and the choice remains open.

JTR,
October 26, 2015

Here is the poem in full:

The Hollow Men

Mistah Kurtz-he dead
A penny for the Old Guy

I

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

II

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer-

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

IV

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

V

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

The Hollow Men, Read By Tom O’Bedlam

Marlon Brando Reads The Hollow Men

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