madness and glory

A wallflower sits and sweats and watches the dance, all the pretty girls, the well socialized having fun.  There’s a mountain the size of life itself between the chairs ringing the hall and the throbbing boards and hearts in the center.  And any puny will that climbs it and makes it to the happy center is indeed triumphant.

Watching the religiously convicted is similar.  Something huge separates the ordinary person from the convicted.  Of course, the ordinary are convicted too, by rationality and superior processes.  Is it two camps staring with unbelief – and maybe contempt – across an unnavigable void?

Believing is an effort of the imagination; knowing is to directly experience, says Ehrenreich in her book Dancing in the Streets.  The rational believer apprehends the deity backing up and advancing in a flux of faith, doubt and negotiation.  The ritual dancer entwines with the deity in a profound and intimate embrace.

Objectivists, rationalists, inculcators of Calvanistic dread, 20th century ideologues, scientists, free marketeers, fundamentalists, social engineers, are the rational believers.  And the knowing dancers are sufis and dervishes, ritual dancers, Hindu kavadi, ascetics, mortificators of the flesh, peyote takers, speakers of tongues, the voudou possessed and Koolaid drinkers.

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a dream of New York
March 14, 2011, 1:03 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: ,

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Margaret Bursa, New Local New York,

The New Local in New York creates a Landscape of Movement that takes the form of a condensed urban playground on the west side of Manhattan, overhanging onto the River Hudson. The landscape responds to the principles of the New Local in Zlín, making a shift of small town social relationships to a neighbourhood in the metropolis. This shift responds to the needs of the work-propelled urban dweller. It is also inspired by the ongoing relocation of immigrants and cultures to America, in particular Sokol, a Czech mass-exercise movement, promoting togetherness, flocking, fresh air and cultural pride.

March 12, 2011, 11:24 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

My name is legion:  for we are many, said the possessed man from Gadara to Jesus in the first century AD as recorded in the gospel accounts of the Bible.  Many demons, one man.  He was resigned to them and to his split nature:  I am … we are, he confesses, a man divided against himself.

We are always suspicious of the truly creative among us.  We keep them on a short leash; patronize them for as long as we can get away with it; trot them out for the sake of appearance and public trust.  But really and effectively, we cast them out.  They are freaks, and that’s how freaks are treated.

The psychologist Csikszentmihalyi — quoted below — says that creative people are adaptable and complex, qualities that don’t seem extraordinary.  But, he also says they do special tricks.  They embody extreme contradictions, for instance.  They are able to combine things that most people can’t, like thinking and doing.  Most spectacularly – and curiously – a creative person is a multitude.  Legion.

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Does the partner in a corporation owe her staff information about career placement and advancement?  In a conversation with a partner in a large accounting firm, and a friend, I was told no.  The staff need to act to get what they want, including promotions and raises; the partner owes them no information unless asked, and the asking needs to be specific.

Credit card companies frequently add generic ‘fees’ to customer statements with no explanation.  A second friend explained how it works:  some people will complain, and the company will remove the fees if asked; for the rest who don’t bother asking, it’s pure company profit, and good business practice.

But is it?  Why should I have to ask my employer – who is a colleague after all – to make the machinations of my advancement in the business transparent?  Or ask why a company is billing me for nothing?  Advantage is the motivator for the accounting partner and credit card company:  more money, less accountability, more personal control and power.  And for the rest of us, the piling on of ignorance makes a culture of cynicism and deceit.

So, clearly ignorance isn’t only a matter of lack of education, as we see in the examples above.  It can also be manufactured in order to control people and gain advantage.  Furthermore, it’s pervasive in our lives say the editors of the new book Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance:  “We live in an age of ignorance and it is important to understand why this came to be and why,”  they say in their preface.

Indeed, we should not only study what we know – epistemology – but also try to learn about what we don’t – agnotology.  The love affair with dumb is white hot, but mostly unchallenged and unstudied; why not turn the lamp of scrutiny on it?

From press releases:

… ignorance is often more than just an absence of knowledge; it can also be the outcome of cultural and political struggles. Ignorance has a history and a political geography, but there are also things people don’t want you to know (“Doubt is our product” is the tobacco industry slogan). Individual chapters treat examples from the realms of global climate change, military secrecy, female orgasm, environmental denialism, Native American paleontology, theoretical archaeology, racial ignorance, and more. The goal of this volume is to better understand how and why various forms of knowing do not come to be, or have disappeared, or have become invisible.

Description, Agnotology:  The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance, Stanford University Press

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17 proofs

“Give me your tired, your poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, blah blah,” sings the Statue of Liberty from her celebrated place gate keeping the harbour entrance to the land of gold and happiness, New York city.  This is the iconic vision of a million immigrants processed through the hall at Ellis Island and then shipped past the grand lady herself, holding their collective breath for what joy and blessing would shower them in their new lives in America.

In the 1972, a young Francis Ford Coppola took a stale Hollywood script about the power of a mafia clan and radically personalized it.  In a way, the Godfather marked a shift away from film by studio consensus and into a new paradigm of film by talented director’s vision.  It electrified the culture.  It so effectively saturated American life that it arguably became the dominant narrative of American immigrant life.

America is almost exclusively populated by immigrants many of whom were poor and dispossessed in their countries of origin.  It makes sense that they brought their politics on the boat with them; and set up their gangs and parishes to give order to harsh new realities confronted in the new world.

In 1954, Edward Banfield took his wife and children to live in an impoverished town in southern Italy.  Why, he asked himself, are towns like this one poorer than Italy’s northern towns and cities?  And he wrote his findings in a book called The Moral Basis of a Backward Society.

In chapter 5, Banfield establishes a hypothesis, that the poor town folk are motivated by a stifling principle: get what you can now for sake of family survival and be sure that everyone else in the village is doing the same:

The hypothesis is that the Montegranesi act as if they were following this rule:  Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family; assume that all others will do likewise.

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