Topics this week include imperial and economic collapse, the true value of a college education, our troubled shift from physical to digital media, the nature of consciousness, a mysterious marine mammal die-off, the nature and quirks of the human religious instinct, and a new UFO documentary.
Teaser: Author and social critic Morris Berman says the fact that we’re a nation of hustlers lies at the root of our decline.
NP: What do you think can be done to reverse the situation? Is there any hope for the American Dream?
MB: At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values [i.e., the values of the hustling culture of greed, consumerism, hyper-individualism, etc.], then change would require a different people, a different country. In dialectical fashion, it is precisely those factors that made this nation materially great that are now working against us, and that thus need to be jettisoned.
The broken display cases at Greece’s Museum of Olympia, the site where the first Olympic Games were held thousand of years ago, have stunned members of the Archaeological Service who have been registering a stream of missing cultural artifacts. Despina Koutsouba, president of the Association of Greek Archaeologists (SEA), says treasure dating back to the Classical, Hellenistic and Byzantine periods has disappeared from the museum, including “a golden ring stamp, copper sculptures from the eighth century BC, coins and clay vases”. The burglaries in the National and Municipal Galleries during February, as well as the armed robbery at the Museum in Olympia on Mar. 5, have exposed weaknesses in the protection of cultural heritage sites around the country, made worse by the so-called austerity programme that is slashing all national public service budgets. To add insult to injury, the Greek Minister of Culture has decided to cut funding for museum security by 20 percent. According to a new law, the Greek government is also planning personnel cuts of 30-50 percent at the Ministry of Culture.
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College at Risk
Andrew Delbanco, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 26, 2012
[The] view of teaching and learning as an economic driver is also a limited one, which puts at risk America’s most distinctive contribution to the history and, we should hope, to the future of higher education. That distinctiveness is embodied, above all, in the American college, whose mission goes far beyond creating a competent work force through training brains for this or that functional task…[T]he distinctive contribution of the United States to the history of liberal education has been to deploy it on behalf of the cardinal American principle that all persons have the right to pursue happiness, and that “getting to know,” in Matthew Arnold’s much-quoted phrase, “the best which has been thought and said in the world” is helpful to that pursuit…These ideals and achievements are among the glories of our civilization, and all Americans should be alarmed as they come to be regarded as luxuries unaffordable for all but the wealthy few.
To say that the current state of public discourse is abysmal seems self-evident. Toxic rhetoric has become a fact of everyday life, a form of entertainment, and a corporate product…Given the forces of money and the power that support such discourse, it would easy to conclude that there is no remedy for toxic rhetoric and no credible opposing forces working to counteract it. Such a view, however, would be mistaken. In fact, there is a well-organized, systematic, and dedicated effort taking place each day to promote an ethical public discourse grounded in the virtues of honesty, accountability, and generosity. The site of this effort is largely hidden from public view, taking place in the classrooms of universities and colleges across the United States. Even in academe, the movement for an ethical public discourse is largely overlooked. Indeed, it has been historically underfunded, inadequately staffed, and generally marginalized. I refer, of course, to first-year composition, the introductory writing course required at many public and private institutions…[T]he first-year writing course is the closest thing we have in American public life to a National Academy of Reasoned Rhetoric, a venue in which students can rehearse the virtues of argument so conspicuously lacking in our current political debates.
When I teach freshman writing, my first job is to destroy my students’ illusions. TV shows and films give them the dangerous idea that great authors just wait to get inspired, and then genius pours out of their pens in an unstoppable flood. The reality is different. Writers—especially the great ones—mostly sit at desks feeling rotten, struggling to write crumpled sentences that they can smooth into something acceptable. . . . So the next time you are struggling with your own writing — if only in an important email or Facebook post — recall this selection of pages from the drafts of great novels. Take solace in the fact that almost all the stories you love began as bad first drafts. And ask yourself, “If writing is a struggle for immortals like Proust and Dickens, why should it be different for me?”
[NOTE: In the original article, the text above is followed by actual images of draft pages -- completely mangled, one and all, by an ink factory’s worth of notes and crossouts -- from Proust, Dickens, Updike, J.G. Ballard, and Shirley Hazzard.]
We don’t normally think of it that way, but we’re not just coming off paper as a technology. We’re coming off paper as an information culture. Big Paper. Paper as a universal foundation for anything to do with information. An empire comparable to Rome that created a century-long Pax Papyra that is now breaking apart and being replaced by a bunch of squabbling smaller kingdoms, vying for a piece of the declining empire…Paper will remain a large market for the majors to harvest for quite a while yet, but basically the important event horizon has been crossed: paper is no longer culturally central to the world. Even digital technology, which for decades relied on paper-based metaphors to ground its user experience is slowly weaning itself off conceptual dependence on paper-based mental models. No longer do we talk primarily in terms of Web “pages.” We talk of streams, apps and interactive media. We talk of “content” as an abstract category that is separate from presentation media. We talk about how we can explicitly design the content-medium coupling that was natural with paper, in order to combat piracy. The most interesting impact will not be at the level of paper-like substitute technologies. It will be at the level of organizational and political life, as an entire world architecture based on paper is slowly replaced. The shift marks the end of the very idea of canonicity in cultural life. Blogs replacing paper newspapers isn’t just a technology shift, it is a culture shift from canonicity and “newspapers of record” to a much more uncertain world.
There is a war raging in Hollywood: a war between formats. In one corner, standing with Nolan, are defenders of 35mm film. Elegant in its economy, for more than 100 years film has been the dominant medium with which movies are shot, edited and viewed. In the other corner are backers of digital technology — a cheaper, faster, democratizing medium, a boon to both creator and distributor…This year, for the first time in history, celluloid ceases to be the world’s prevailing movie-projector technology. By the end of 2012, according to IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service, the majority of theaters will be showing movies digitally. By 2013, film will slip to niche status, shown in only a third of theaters. By 2015, used in a paltry 17 percent of global cinemas, venerable old 35 mm film will be mostly gone. The repercussions will be vast — and felt down the entire length of the movie-industry food chain…John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, drove the point home at the association’s annual convention last year in Las Vegas. “Simply put,” he said, “If you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business.” [Hadrian] Belove, of Cinefamily, believes many theaters will choose just that. “Hundreds of art houses will go out of business,” he says. “Already some theaters are shoving under”…The mood in the post-production sector is pervasively grim. “Everybody’s nervous,” says Ross Lipman, a film restorationist who regularly encounters a wide cross-section of industry types, from curators to technicians. “Everybody’s kind of looking around to see if somebody’s found a way to survive this transition. Because it’s like you’re walking around a field of battle, and people are just dropping right and left around you.” As one projectionist at a large multiplex put it, “It’s spooky.”
[NOTE: This article, which is an excerpted portion from the Dalai Lama's 2005 book The Universe in a Single Atom, is basically quotable on a line-for-line basis. In both its content and its prose presentation, it is the epitome of clarity and insight.]
Teaser: While scientific methods are useful, says His Holiness the Dalai Lama, mind should also be studied through rigorous observation of our own subjective experience.
The problem of describing the subjective experiences of consciousness is complex indeed. For we risk objectivizing what is essentially an internal set of experiences and excluding the necessary presence of the experiencer. We cannot remove ourselves from the equation…We have a unique case of inquiry: the object of our study is mental, that which examines it is mental, and the very medium by which the study is undertaken is mental. The question is whether the problems posed by this situation for a scientiﬁc study of consciousness are insurmountable — are they so damaging as to throw serious doubt on the validity of the inquiry?…Western philosophy and science have, on the whole, attempted to understand consciousness solely in terms of the functions of the brain. This approach effectively grounds the nature and existence of the mind in matter, in an ontologically reductionist manner…The view that all mental processes are necessarily physical processes is a metaphysical assumption, not a scientiﬁc fact. I feel that, in the spirit of scientiﬁc inquiry, it is critical that we allow the question to remain open, and not conflate our assumptions with empirical fact.
Teaser: Thousands of dead or dying dolphins have washed ashore in Peru since January, a marine mystery potentially caused by a combination of stress, pollution and disease
When a retired fisherman called to report that about 1,500 dolphins had washed up dead on Peru’s northern coast, veterinarian Carlos Yaipén’s first reaction was, “That’s impossible.” But when Yaipén traveled up the coast last week, he counted 615 dead dolphins along a 135-kilometer stretch of coastline. Now, the death toll could be as high as 2,800, based on volunteers’ counts. Peru’s massive dolphin die-off is among the largest ever reported worldwide. The strandings, which began in January, are a marine mystery that may never be unraveled…Most of the dolphins apparently were alive when they beached, or had died very recently. “The animal would become disoriented, would have intense pain, and would have to make a great effort to breathe,” he said of the injuries… Since it’s ongoing, it may wind up being the largest dolphin die-off ever reported.
Teaser: We are naturally but not necessarily religious.
Are human beings naturally religious? Should we take religion to be in some way an innate, instinctive, or otherwise inevitable aspect of human life? Or is religion a historically contingent, nonessential aspect of basic human being?…These are not questions of merely academic curiosity. The answers have big implications for how human personal and social life should be properly ordered. They often imply positions about the truth value of religious and secular claims about reality. Answers and arguments about them are also bound up with massive historical projects that seek to shape social orders. These include the neo-Enlightenment project to create a rational, secular modernity and various religious projects to create a modernity that socially accommodates religious worldviews if not place them at the center. The futures of world civilizations around the globe are today being contested by movements that are affected by different answers to the questions posed above. The stakes of the answers are therefore high for implications in public policy, institutional practices, and deep cultural formation over time.
In 1969, the murders committed by Charles Manson and his “family” convinced many that just under the surface of the hippie counterculture lurked a network of criminal Satanism…Mexico may have experienced its own “Manson moment” last month when eight devotees of “Santa Muerte” were arrested for the murder of three people, allegedly as human sacrifices. While the media has been fairly restrained in covering this event, these murders will likely have lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America…In Mexican folk tradition, Santa Muerte or “Saint Death” is portrayed as a skeletal woman, often wearing a white cloak or a wedding dress. She claims devotees among all walks of life, but her help is especially sought by the very poor as well as narcos or drug cartels…All three victims were allegedly killed as offerings to Santa Muerte in exchange for supernatural aid and protection. The family has no apparent ties to drug cartels and it is unclear if anyone acted as the leader in organizing the murders.
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Trailer for the forthcoming feature length documentary Mirage Men by John Lundberg, Mark Pilkington, Roland Denning and Kypros Kyprianou. “A journey into paranoia, disinformation and UFOs.”
[NOTE: If this isn't the coolest looking documentary about the UFO phenomenon to come down the pipeline in years, then I'll eat my hat.]
Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER'S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He writes about the apocalyptic intersection of religion, horror, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, and culture.
The Teeming Brain explores news, trends, and developments in religion, horror, science fiction, fantasy, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, and culture. It also tracks apocalyptic and dystopian trends in technology, politics, ecology, economics, the arts, education, and society at large.
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"[Dark Awakenings is] a thinking-man's book of the macabre...Cardin's tales are rich with references to Lovecraft, Nietzsche, and other writers whose work gives them unusual philosophic depth." – Publishers Weekly
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FOR STUART YOUNG:
"No one can accuse Stuart Young of avoiding the big issues -- with insight and verve, he tackles head-on the existence of God, the mystery of human consciousness and the transformative effects of psychedelic drugs." – Mark Chadbourne
"Wow, what an impressive story ... [The Mask Behind the Face is] ambitious, in fact downright audacious." – T.E.D. Klein