Review of "The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture"

Brink Lindesy’s book The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture is an excellent narrative of the some of the cycles of American thought and politics and masterfully shows how it is that quantitative shifts in general material well-being can create significant qualitative shifts in thought. Brink writes through a lens that applies several of Karl Marx’s materialist and historical categories, but does so in the vein of Max Weber. While this does at times preclude consideration of the economic factors that inform the development of various personal and social agency, I did not find it to be something that was generally overly problematic. I say this as Lindsay writes from the position of an expositor rather than an academic demagogue – something that’d I’d first been concerned about given his relationship to the Cato Institute. The clear breadth of his research into the subject, the warm, friendly tone of his commentary and the analysis which never falls too long into excessive details and the framing of his tale into a form matching Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy makes the book for a compelling read on how it is that America’s transition from a fundamentalist, frontier, material culture to an affluent, post-materialist one. For Lindsay, these reactions presage and inform all of our contemporary Culture Wars and furthermore hint at the possibility for a greater reconciliation based upon the libertarian aspirations engendered by a post-scarcity context of material abundance.

Scarcity, technological crudity and cultural under-development was a defining feature of 19th and early 20th century America. As America shifted from a society whose production still predominantly consisted of craftsmanship to industrial production there were many significant cultural, social, and economic changes. Agriculture was the primary avocation of many American up until the beginning of the second world war, the number of American’s graduating from high school, going on vacation, with an income that they could dispose on novel consumer goods was all quite small. Prior to World War II, America was still, in phrasing that we would use today, largely a second world country. World War II changed all of that and created such great reserves of wealth among the elite and militancy amongst the workers demanding a portion of it that the government could not overly resist their demands and it was shared. As I hinted at in the above, Lindsay sees the two major responses to such wealth to be Dionysian and an Apollonian, or as he puts it in his words libertarian and conservative. Increased purchasing power and advances in technology, be it in the realm of transportation or in family planning, radically shifted the realm of potential social forms. It became easier than ever for children to leave their homes and the support structures which once kept them in check. The symbolic possibilities for self and group identification multiplied exponentially which, combined with the real threat of potential nuclear annihilation helped engender new forms of “counter culture”.

These counter cultures were in many ways a conscious refutation of the staid, puritanical bourgeoisie order that had previously encouraged thriftiness, delayed gratification, industriousness, etc. Now that people no longer had to annually carry tons of wood to light their homes but could simply turn on a switch, now that people could go to a doctor instead of pray to get better, now that people were increasingly literature and could take part in the cultural wealth made available to them by previous generations captains of industry and robber-barons who sought to immortalize themselves through public arts bequests the shift of American’s concern was not on the immediate needs to replicate life but on more abstract notions like happiness and self-actualization. These were not the sole preoccupations of Americans, many still sought to accumulate wealth and status and found the disruptive activities of the counter-cultures to be upsetting. Affluence was thus not a balm upon the soul of Americans but a new battleground manifested by all the varieties of life-styles that it enabled. It is as a response to this outgrowth of New Age morality predicated on epicureanism, sensualism and a resistance to engage in banal forms of labor that Lindsey sees the development of the evangelist movement in the United States. While pulling intellectually from the fundamentalist tradition, a term now unfashionable and thus in need of re-branding, it sought to provide an avenue to channel the anxieties created by such worldly affluence. These fears over the new parent-child, racial, gender, labor-management and religious relations helped engender a politically conservative backlash that divided states into reds and blues. Funding for minor arts programs became hot-button issues and as the ownership class increasingly supported the leaders of these religious revivalist movements. Additionally, with the increased awareness of political issues and disposable money able to support NGOs, a new era in political consciousness and activism emerged.

Such a wholly antagonistic relationship was bound not to last, Lindsey points out, as there is an essential difference between the Christian gospel which seeks to ameliorate the sufferings of poor and deny the exploitative rich man into heaven with the capitalist one that seeks to personally benefit from others labor as cheaply as possible. Additionally, the failed New Left movement of the 60 has increasingly sought accommodation with the state rather than a total overthrow of all hierarchies. Because of these two developments Lindsay points out how currently there is an increasing convergence of the values advocated by modern politicos. The liberal and conservative positions have merged in many ways and this, he states, has opened up the field for increasingly libertarian policy promotion. While the form of the community may not have been settled, mutual recognition and respect of a yearning for it has been. The recognition that workers immiseration is something to be resisted has not been completely reconciled but is no longer solely recognized as the cause of individual failings except by the most intractable ideologues. Increasingly the command and control regulatory structures designed to promote economic growth was dismantled and reformulated way due the realization that it promoted inefficiencies and engendered perverse incentives. These re-regulations have not always been perfect and are still a battlefield, however many of the core values informing debate on them are agreed upon if not the form they take in operationalization. This along with the increasing fractionalization of group identities had made it more difficult for one cultural group to excerpt hegemonic control over another – though recent data on public policy suggests that this is not true and that the economic elites actually do – and that the time of polarization is mostly over due to the realization that compromise is necessary. I greatly enjoyed this book and would assign it for freshman survey courses in American history.

Talking About Self-Generation: Reframing Self-Talk to Increase Autopoiesis

In the Mishlei the author of Proverbs states: “As a man thinketh, so is he.” This sentiment is also found across many other world religions, is a basic presupposition of psychoanalysis and is being verified by research in the neurosciences. Indeed, how we use language, logos, to understand ourselves, others and the world helps create the parameters for how we define ourselves. History sets an additional set of limits, often out of our direct control, however from the vantage point of the self, the individual has incredible, almost magical power – for logos is not just words but an entire way of perceiving oneself within the world.

Too often our self-identifications and familial or culturally inherited assumptions can result in the creation of behavioral symptoms that, while recognized and seen as inhibitive to our heart-felt desires, seem outside of our control. In such contexts, people will refuse their own agency in the causal chain of such maladaptive behaviors by claiming “That’s just how I am” or “I can’t help it.”, totally unaware that in classical Greek and Roman times, someone might have similarly said that they were possessed by a god or goddess.

In a journal, divide a piece of paper into two with a line and write down some of the aspects of your self that you wish to improve on the left hand side. After spending some time to examine some of the values that you currently hold which play a role in the manifestation of these reaction and habits, write down their opposite. Try to be as general as possible. For example, say you find your happiness and ability to enjoy situations limited by other people’s lack of adherence to your standards of behavior, fashion, or some other aspect. The inverse of this generalized would be to not be judgmental, to simply accept others as they are.

After you have completed this you now have a general outline of the ways in which you can start creating yourself into being a happier, healthier person. However, do not feel the need now to wholly reform/rephrase your self over night. Attempting to do so will overwhelm you and very quickly the past habits, behaviors and internal language will return. Freud called this the repetition compulsion. Instead, pick one and make a commitment to stick with it for a period of time. Doing so not only gives you an easy win, something which should be embraced if one wants to alter habits of thought as from these it’ll be easier to scaffold on larger changes, but as this small change will begin to affect other in ways you can not immediately foresee. As you begin to become comfortable with this, commit yourself to another self-edit. What you will soon begin to notice is that your consciousness will begin to spend less time correcting itself in situations that once caused upset or anxiety and the re-organization of your self-assemblage will result in your feeling increased satisfaction. The journal you keep to write down these transformations, regardless of how banal the outside appearance is, inside will begin to give the impression of a magic tome. After all, with only your intent, a few words and their voicing through your mind and body, you can enact sorcery on your self.

Review of "The Untethered Soul"

Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself is basically old wine in a new skin. It offers up various aspects of Vedic philosophies without the terminology so that this old knowledge on how to live a life liberated from needless suffering can be easily digested and propagated for a new generation. These relatively simple answers on how to live a better life by gaining increased control over your thoughts, releasing the identities that have latched onto you and were mistaken for immutable truths and gives practical advice on how to achieve such freedom. Singer uses metaphors that are often quite compelling and while at times redundant, this does the effect of really driving the material home to the reader.

Singer first encourages us to examine our the manner in which our thoughts and emotions affect the structure of our inner energy. The are in a near constant state of vacillation, moving around from one thing to another depending upon what it is that we decide to lay our attention on at that moment. Some of the effects of this lack of disciplined thinking include fear, jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, and a sense of disconnection from one’s self and one’s environment. By putting faith into the illusion that we can have control over the events of our lives, we become disillusioned with the world.

One of the practices that Singer promotes is the immediate release of any sort of energy caused that may be evoked by other people’s words or actions. Such energy patterns, which might also be called reactive emotional states, which fail to process themselves within and stay rather than flowing through will create inner conflict. An analogy of the denial of it’s flowing through via resistance can be found in the plugging of a dam. The force continues to push, leading to increased stress upon the structure, which will cause it to eventually burst. Instead, after recognizing the energy that is created, one should immediately let it go through and if there are still traces of resistance return to the position of Watcher. Once there these impressions, called Samskara in the Vedic tradition, will dissipate. If we are able to choose and successfully practice staying always open to our experiences then we will, in essence, never be closed off from a limitless source of enthusiasm and high energy. No longer having to maintain the extreme physical and psychic state of judgment and fear of a situation, out happiness, joy and presence increases markedly.

As simple as this practice sounds, the ego has devised many a complex means of avoiding just such a practice. Instead of removing the source of their pain, people will often instead struggle to be the same. They don’t want to change, the just want the discomfort associated with their actions to be nullified. This can become quite a problem as the denial and avoidance of these samskaras will often lead you to use people as, places and things as protective shields from your awareness of this issue. Thus what was claimed to be done in order to avoid certain patterns of thoughts and behavior actually results in one devoting a constant aspect of their life to it. By letting our awareness alight onto something we find disquieting and then simply let it go back to whence it came we find a true freedom. Doing otherwise merely puts a veneer on our consciousness which hides the true inside that’s been made more fetid and abominable due to our false claims that these issues have been genuinely dealt with.

While I’m supportive of a majority of the analysis and proscriptions which Singer lays out in order to obtain increased peace of mind and spiritual wellbeing, I do find his chapter 15 and 16 to be problematic for reasons that I’ve written about in my response to Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. While it is eminently practicable to generally withhold from making judgements based upon preferences lest they upset your internal bearings on an individual level of abstraction and to refrain from resisting certain experiences outside of one’s control, on the societal level I find such a position to be criminally permissive. In quasi-democratic societies that allot for a certain amount of citizen’s input to social, economic and political policy proscriptions, such detachment from the political process disempowers the individual while claiming it to be a “higher” form of spiritual empowerment. A simple rejoinder to such a criticism that could have been pre-empted would have been that one can engage in action designed to fix perceived injustices as long as it does not upset one personally, however this seems to go against the spirit of Singer’s previous exposition that all non-currently existent in the world social relations that are held up as a source for comparison should be ejected from consciousness. Reality to Singer is just something that “is” and we should “Learn to stop resisting reality, and what used to look like stressful problems will begin to look like the stepping stones of your spiritual journey.” I say reality “to Singer” as, like Tolle in A New Earth, the book is seriously lacking any interlocution with materialist considerations and as he ends up conflating the Tao Te Ching, the Christian Bible, Freud, various Buddhist texts and Ramana Maharshi. This misprision of these texts ends up providing a false conception of those work and indeed of “reality”. Despite what Singer wants to convey, reality doesn’t go away because you stop believing in it and even the most cursory examinations of the Tao, the text which he grants the authority to close the book, shows that such the notions of categorical disconnection of individual action from the world is neither implicit or explicit within the text.

Bio-energetically Reterritorializing Psychosomatic Terrain for Optimum Operationality

An astute observer of human interaction will note the small number of authentically creative choices that people make in a typical day. Numerous scientific studies have recently been popularized in books such as The Power of Habit and relate the potentially problematic effects of our behaviorally coasting on automatic.

Habit loops not only inhibit our ability to deal with novel problem-solving needs in the workplace, but can also be deleterious to our inter- and intra- personal relationships as well. Emotional-reaction routines often direct us along well-trod terrain to a destination that, while comfortable due to its familiarity, is potentially not what we actually desire. Repetition compulsion and it’s obverse can lead to what Freud called endopsychic conflict. The reason for this is that formulating a novel response to a new and distinct set of circumstances that would likely better serve us requires reflection and commitment that, in the heat of the moment, can be difficult to consider and hold to. However, failure to adapt and relying instead upon the smoothness of habit can lead to feelings of fear, depression, isolation, anger, generalized anxiety or social discord.

One of the problems in addressing these disempowering habits on a personal level and in relation to other people is resistance to logical interrogation. Intra-personally our inchoate “others” advocating for a different path are often weak and quickly silenced. Inter-personally people often take offense when someone claims that the presuppositions under-girding our response-patterns may be faulty in some manner. Talk therapy seeks to surpass these limits through the transference of aspects of the therapist’s consciousness to the patient, but relying solely upon this dynamic to help engender change significantly limits the possibilities for positive affective adaptation. Another manner for creating the conditions for reterritorializing unwanted and undesired thoughts and behaviors involves something that you already know but have just not considered in the right light – your body.

Studies on the components of human interaction have definitively proven that the body’s placement and gestures compose the majority of any given communication. No wonder than that when you or someone else is literally embodying upset, anger, or depression that it can be difficult to get them to alter their emotional state. And yet to rid oneself of this feeling requires your to simply shift your attention, change your body’s position and engage in energetic cleansing.

To accomplish this, first take a deep breath and bring your attention to the sensation of your lungs filling with air and your feet pressing against the floor. As you continue to breath in and out slowly move your focus upward to your knees, your hips, your heart, your throat, the space just above the center of your eyeballs and then a few feet above your head. Doing this will give you increased control of your energetic state and thus make it more difficult for habit to control you. Chances are after doing this you will feel yourself standing taller and immediately feeling more at peace. The energy you felt before will still be present, but it will no longer have a specific label associated with it and you can thus direct it in a manner more appropriate to maintaining peace. This shift in breath and scanning of your body’s meridians, to use a clichéd phrase, breaks the mold. A fitting turn of phrase considering in many ways that’s precisely what the labels are, affective tropes which limit freedom. Engaging in this practice that shifts your body’s state will allow you to regain it.