Recommended Reading 18

This week’s links, reading, and viewings encompass America’s apocalyptic obsession, the troubled future of America’s electricity situation, the continued rehabilitation of psychedelic research in academic and governmental contexts, the rise of America’s internal surveillance state, a worried critique of art’s monetization, the hijacking of social media by megacorporate interests, a warning from by-God Silicon Valley itself about the dangers of digital addiction, and a fascinating preview of an upcoming conference in Australia that will explore the origins of consciousness.



America’s fascination with the apocalypse
BBC News, July 18, 2012

The end of the world is nigh. Or so you might think if you immersed yourself in American popular culture. From TV adverts to Hollywood movies, depictions of post-apocalyptic worlds are everywhere. There is a long tradition of such apocalyptic thinking in the US. But as Matthew Barrett Gross and Mel Giles argue in their book The Last Myth, it has now moved beyond religious prophecies into the secular world. The authors also claim that activists from both the political left and right have embraced apocalypse thinking, issuing dramatic warnings that everything from the traditional American way of life to the very existence of the planet is under threat. Barrett Gross spoke to the BBC in Utah to explain why he believes the rise of apocalyptic thinking prevents some people from trying to reach more pragmatic solutions to 21st Century problems.



Electric Forecast Calls for Increasing Blackouts
Lisa Margonelli, Pacific Standard, July 13, 2012

Teaser: From falling investment to falling deer, America’s power grid is falling down. A lack of political will and willingness to rely on Band-Aids may doom efforts to improve the nation’s power infrastructure.

It’s not just a feeling: Power outages have become normal in the United States. Last month’s heat and derecho storms that left more than 300,000 people in the Mid-Atlantic states without power (some for as long as a week) are part of a larger trend. In 2008, according to the Eaton Blackout Tracker, there were 2,169 power outages in the U.S. affecting 25 million people. In 2011, there were more than 3,000 outages affecting 41.8 million people … Since the early 1990s, according to data gathered by Massoud Amin, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, the number of power outages affecting more than 50,000 people a year has more than doubled, and blackouts now drain between $80 billion and $188 billion from the U.S. economy every year. The power grid is slipping backwards to a time when infrastructure was unreliable, and more and more people are talking about going “off the grid” with solar, batteries, and generators as a result. Will this doom the greater grid, and by extension the greater good? … Two scary things stand out about America’s failure to shore up its grid over the last 15 years. The first is that the grid’s frailties are getting worse as our weather is getting weirder. The second is that the U.S.’s inability to sort out the right mix of public and private investment and get on with the process of building the grid we need reflects that we no longer quite believe in the common good. It’s not just a power failure, it’s also an optimism failure.



Latest Word on the Campaign Trail? I Take It Back
Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times, July 15, 2012

The push and pull over what is on the record is one of journalism’s perennial battles. But those negotiations typically took place case by case, free from the red pens of press minders. Now, with a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture, politicians and their advisers are routinely demanding that reporters allow them final editing power over any published quotations … From Capitol Hill to the Treasury Department, interviews granted only with quote approval have become the default position. Those officials who dare to speak out of school, but fearful of making the slightest off-message remark, shroud even the most innocuous and anodyne quotations in anonymity by insisting they be referred to as a “top Democrat”” or a “Republican strategist” … Quote approval is standard practice for the Obama campaign … It is also commonplace throughout Washington and on the campaign trail. The Romney campaign insists that journalists interviewing any of Mitt Romney’s five sons agree to use only quotations that are approved by the press office. And Romney advisers almost always require that reporters ask them for the green light on anything from a conversation that they would like to include in an article … Under President Obama, the insistence on blanket anonymity has grown to new levels. The White House’s latest innovation is a variation of the background briefing called the “deep-background briefing,” which it holds for groups of reporters, sometimes several dozen at a time. Reporters may paraphrase what senior administration officials say, but they are forbidden to put anything in quotation marks or identify the speakers.



Psychedemia: Integrating Psychedelics into Academia
Neşe Lisa Şenol, Reality Sandwich, July 25, 2012

Teaser: Psychedemia is an interdisciplinary conference on psychedelic art, culture, and science that will take place in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania over the weekend of September 27-30, 2012. The name is a reflection of its mission: integrating psychedelics into academia. It’s a conversation that’s a long time overdue.

[P]sychedelic science and culture are returning to the mainstream after a decades-long moratorium. In recent years, the locus of psychedelic research has been shifting from the peripheral laboratories of clandestine chemists to eminent research institutions like NYU, UCLA, Harvard and Johns Hopkins. In recent months, successful studies have been enthusiastically reported by the international new [sic] media, including the likes of the New York Times, the Guardian, NPR, The Economist, Fox News, Nature, and Time Magazine. As the psychedelic renaissance exponentially increases momentum, it is vital to consider the impact of altered states of consciousness and the means by which they are produced from interdisciplinary perspectives. Psychedelics are not a threat to reasoned discourse and critical self-reflection. Nor are they incompatible with existing institutions and human productivity. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that people with intellectual interests in psychedelics exist in every rank of mainstream society, as Terence McKenna stated so many years ago: “We pay our taxes. We hold down top jobs in advertising, publishing, media, entertainment, science, software writing, so forth and so on, and we should have the same respect.” Psychedemia will coalesce decades of interdisciplinary research, millennia of human history, and the cutting edges of visionary arts and ideas to illuminate the place of psychedelics in human evolution and formal academic exploration. The organizers and supporters of this conference seek to promote a progressive and informed conversation about psychedelics and how they can be integrated into the human experience.



Psychedelic drugs can unlock mysteries of brain — former government advisor
Alok Jha, The Guardian, June 28, 2012

Teaser: David Nutt says research into mental illness is hampered by the prohibition of drugs such as psilocybin and LSD.

Scientists should have access to illegal psychedelic drugs such as LSD and psilocybin to aid them in brain research, according to the government’s former drug adviser Professor David Nutt. He said that research into the deepest mysteries of the brain, including consciousness and mental illness, had been curtailed by the prohibition of the drugs. Prof Nutt said that scientists might find treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia by using modern techniques to study the effects of psychedelic drugs on the brain.
“Neuroscience should be trying to understand how the brain works,” said Nutt, who is professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London. “Psychedelics change the brain in, perhaps, the most profound way of any drug, at least in terms of understanding consciousness and connectivity. Therefore we should be doing a lot more of this research. It’s extraordinary that 40 years of advances in brain imaging technology and there’s never been a study about this before. I think it’s a scandal, I think it’s outrageous the fact these studies have not been done. And they’ve not been done simply because the drugs were illegal” … Nutt’s views will challenge governments around the world which, largely, classify psychedelic drugs as harmful and illegal … Hundreds of clinical trials of psychedelic drugs such as LSD were carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, and successful treatments, including one for alcohol addiction, came out of the work. Since LSD was banned around the world, however, the number of scientific studies has dropped to virtually zero, and there have been no studies using modern imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at what parts of the brain are affected by it.



NSA whistle blowers allege data being collected on every American
Eric W. Dolan, The Raw Story, July 23, 2012

Three National Security Agency whistle blowers told Viewpoint host Eliot Spitzer on Monday that the agency was gathering information on every person in the United States. The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008 gave the NSA broad powers to monitor international phone calls and emails, and granted legal immunity to telecommunication companies that had participated in the Bush administration’s wiretapping program prior to 2008. But former senior official Thomas Drake, former senior analyst Kirk Wiebe, and former technical director William Binney said the NSA was not only monitoring international communications — the agency had been spying on “the entire country.” Drake said there was a “key decision made shortly after 9/11, which began to rapidly turn the United States of America into the equivalent of a foreign nation for dragnet blanket electronic surveillance” … “When you open up the Pandora’s Box of just getting access to incredible amounts of data, for people that have no reason to be put under suspicion, no reason to have done anything wrong, and just collect all that for potential future use or even current use, it opens up a real danger — and to what else what they could use that data for, particularly when it’s all being hidden behind the mantle of national security,” Drake said.



The Price of Everything
Frank Bures,, July 20, 2012

[NOTE: This is by the same author who wrote the recent essay “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which we included in Recommended Reading 13. That one sparked a lot of online debate, and here he writes compellingly about a further problem with the “creative class” meme.]

[There has been] a shift in our attitude toward art and its place in our lives over the last decade or so — namely, the idea that if something is worth doing, it should also make money. Intrinsic value — in virtually every sphere — has given way to the metrics of financial return … Obviously, I’m all for making a living, but this shift is something about which I’ve felt a growing unease, and it is part of the problem I have with Florida’s Creative Class theory. The fact that Florida launched his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class into this new market society was one of the primary reasons his theory that a vibrant cultural scene was the key to economic growth became so popular.  We were all happy to be told that the things we loved also happened to be profitable. This is the assumption that underlies a current movement based on Florida’s theory, known as “creative placemaking,” which holds that public art and creatively “activated” spaces can help jumpstart a local economy.  Perhaps they can, perhaps they can’t.  Either way, I sense a trap. I’m afraid there’s a category mistake here: The arts were never intended to be good business, as any artist who goes into it can tell you … How does art become money?  How do vibrant creative spaces become vibrant economic ones?  The Creative Class Group doesn’t seem to know.  I don’t know.  No one knows, yet everyone seems to assume that one must lead to the other … My fear is this:  Once people realize that art may not be stoking a secret gravy train, they will simply want to get off it. If creative placemaking schemes don’t pan out, the false hope they engendered might do more damage to arts funding in the long run, because they will have shifted the focus away from our most compelling reason for support of the arts. We should fund art because it makes the space around us the kind of place we want to live … I’ll breathe more easily when we can return to the idea that such things need to be created, simply because they should be brought into the world. I will be glad when we can stop cheapening art by expecting to monetize its practice. And I will be happier when we can go back to loving (and funding) art because it adds value to our lives, not just our livelihoods.



The Social Media Revolution Betrayed
Dominic Basulto, Big Think, July 25, 2012

After years of hearing about the Social Media Revolution, many of the rebellious, counter-culture figures are starting to disappear to the sidelines as the big money Wall Street investors and traditional media guys take over. The companies that we thought were going to completely topple traditional media are starting to look a lot like the companies they once scorned as they embrace new strategies that emphasize the value of the almighty advertising dollar. Nearly every day, social media darlings like Facebook and Twitter and Foursquare announce new ways they are becoming “real companies” with “revenues” and “business models” and “exit strategies.” But, in the process, are we seeing a betrayal of the original promise of the Social Media Revolution? … We had a social media revolution in this country, and now it seems to have run its course. Call it Web 2.0 or the Social Web or whatever trendy name your favorite marketing agency can dream up, but the social media revolution feels a lot these days like a warmed-over ideology. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare — heck, even Pinterest — they’ve all been co-opted by the Big Media establishment. As a result, all the top social media sites are copying the strategies of the old media sites (lots of ads and lots of pandering to brands). New entrepreneurs are dreaming up new ways to monetize social media, leaving the original revolutionaries to feel like they’re somehow being forgotten.



Silicon Valley Says Step Away from the Device
Matt Richtel, The New York Times, July 23, 2012

[NOTE: Be sure to observe and absorb the import here. Leaders in the Internet world are now warning about the dangers of Internet/digital addiction.]

In a place where technology is seen as an all-powerful answer, it is increasingly being seen as too powerful, even addictive. The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions. “If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll boil to death — it’s a nice analogy,” said [Stuart] Crabb, who oversees learning and development at Facebook. People “need to notice the effect that time online has on your performance and relationships.” The insight may not sound revelatory to anyone who has joked about the “crackberry” lifestyle or followed the work of researchers who are exploring whether interactive technology has addictive properties. But hearing it from leaders at many of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, who profit from people spending more time online, can sound like auto executives selling muscle cars while warning about the dangers of fast acceleration … At the Wisdom 2.0 conference in February, founders from Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Zynga and PayPal, and executives and managers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Cisco and others listened to or participated in conversations with experts in yoga and mindfulness. In at least one session, they debated whether technology firms had a responsibility to consider their collective power to lure consumers to games or activities that waste time or distract them.



[NOTE: This conference, scheduled for Australia in October, looks fascinating beyond words. Literally. Just look at the lineup of speakers and listen to what they’ll be exploring. If any Teeming Brainers happen to attend, any and all personal reports will be appreciated, and we’ll be happily publish them!]

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About Matt Cardin


Posted on July 27, 2012, in Teeming Links and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Matt, in light of your being very conscious lately of your tendency to gravitate toward the apocalyptic, I read this today and wondered what you’d think, coming from the position of a story maker and one drawn to a certain story:

    “Sometimes an entire culture colludes in the gradual destruction of its own panoramic spirit and breadth of its teaching stories…by focusing almost exclusively only on one or two story themes, inhibiting or forbidding all others, or only excessively touting a favorite one or two… Such flattened out stories, with only one or two themes, are far different from heroic stories, which have hundreds of themes and twists and turns. Though heroic stories may also contain sexual themes and other motifs of death, evil, and extinction, they are also only one part of a larger universal rondo of stories, which includes themes of spirit overriding matter, of entropy, of glory in rebirth, and more. Sex, death, and extinction stories are useful in order for the psyche to be taught about the deeper life. But to be taught the full spectrum of stories, there must be a plethora of mythic components and episodes that progress and resolve in many different ways.

    Would you agree that “end of the world” story we keep repeating in various guises is limited/limiting and indicative of a loss of something more whole? What might this imply about our ability to imagine and thus create paths that end differently than apocalypse?

    (The quote is from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ intro to the 2004 edition of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.)

    • That’s a wondeful quote, Wendy. Thanks for sharing it.

      My response is that the type of apocalypticism I’m gravitating toward, and that I think a lot of other people are being drawn to as well, encompasses the popular meaning of the word “apocalypse” as “the end of the world” but goes far beyond it and is not limited by it. The narrative of apocalypse in its wider, deeper, and truer sense (both etymologically and philosophically/spiritually) speaks of a great “unveiling” that reveals the heart of things, the true powers and principles by which the world works and from which the superstructure of the world system — including societies, governments, and human ways of living, seeing, and being — can become alienated. Apocalypse in this sense is in fact an iteration of, or perhaps a very close cousin to, Campbell’s grand hero myth, for it is in fact a myth or metanarrative of “panoramic spirit and breadth,” a “teaching story” encompassing “sexual themes and other motifs of death, evil, and extinction” as well as “themes of spirit overriding matter, of entropy, of glory in rebirth, and more.” One only has to look to the figure of Jesus, one of the great apocalyptic teachers of history and a figure whose endlessly retold mythic story is a full-on instantiation of Campbell’s monomyth, to see the richness of the real, deep apocalypticism that goes well beyond our current trend of “doomerism.”

      To say all of that more concisely: Yes, I think the quote about the flattening of the full field of mythic possibilities definitely hits the nail on the head as far as what doomerism itself is doing, but apocalypticism is distinct from doomerism (despite the hijacking of the term “apocalypse” by some doomer-oriented types), and in fact is a spiritual and philosophical worldview of awesome mythic scope and depth.

  2. Thanks Matt, for explaining that.

    I wonder if such an envisioned apocalypse-as-meta-narrative has room for a reality that doesn’t require Christianity. The term itself has become so conflated with “the end is nigh” types of Christianity (which already has strands that emphasize denial of the validity of this reality in favor of the hereafter). I admit that I come from a perspective not particularly interested in monotheism, so I dislike feeling like my life experience and the way I should understand it have been hijacked by a mythos I don’t… enjoy.

    Being steeped in US, 1970s-present culture, apocalypticism has influenced me greatly though I sometimes wish it were otherwise. I wouldn’t mind an external view of the whole thing because I find it tragic that we’re cognizant on a deep enough level to know that our world (as we’ve created it) is fatally flawed and we think the only way out is for everything to crash and burn so we can start over.

    Actually, maybe what bothers me is the notion that we have to leave this world behind (either to go to heaven or be plucked up through alien portals or ??), as though our relationship with the planet is of no consequence. (Planet is an abstraction – what I really mean is biosphere, landbase, other species with whom we interact, etc.)

    I’m thinking of Emergence stories, such as that of the Fifth World, but maybe that’s more of a “we’ll be plucked from tribulation and deposited in a better place without having to die first” idea, rather than a “veil tearing” notion. Or maybe there’s a link with other types of Redemption stories (of which I’m not particularly knowledgeable).

    If an apocalypse is a truly a revealing of the way the world works, I still think that its conflation with utter destruction (for those in the wrong tradition, ie. “sinners”)in order that the chosen ones experience said revelation is… unfortunate and amounts to an extinction story. So no matter how it might be interpreted by a few, the deep current in contemporary culture still adheres to the strand that says, “this life is superficial, use up the world, it doesn’t matter what burning husk is left behind, you’re bound for glory when you shed the merely-material world for the coming eternal-life.”

    Maybe this is just semantics – you call it apocalypse, I *might* call it emergence, or awakening. (and we had a similar discussion once about your use of the term daemonic, so it might be a fair criticism of my nitpicking 🙂 ), but my questioning stems from the the fact that the notion of apocalypse as portrayed throughout our culture really disturbs me for I see that when it’s embraced, people close their minds to the need to heal the world we inhabit. If we didn’t believe in this myth we might do things differently.

  3. duh, I should’ve looked at the link you posted to the BBC video – obviously I’m not new here in what I’m thinking…

    • The fact that your thoughts and words track some of what others have already thought and said doesn’t lessen their value at all. In fact, and as I’ve rediscovered many times over the years to my continual edification and education, thinking something through for myself in great detail, and then later discovering that I’m echoing, pinging, and amplifying what others have already talked about, is one of the best means of appropriating true insight and understanding on a transformatively deep level.

      I share your concerns, by the way, regarding the apparently entrenched doomsdayish connotation of “apocalypse” in current public discourse. As you know, my own inclination is to work for a reclamation of the word’s deeper meaning, even if only for the illumination of myself and a circle of like-minded people, however large or small it might prove to be. But I certainly won’t deny the possibility that the word is too far gone, too polluted with or tilted toward a narrow and purely negative meaning, to be useful anymore. As you’ve pointed out, there really are people who deep life stance is, in essence, “Fuck it,” with “it” meaning everybody and everything, if an apocalypse-as-doomsday event really is bearing down on us all. I fear, for instance, that although some of the talk of the apocalyptic Christian millennialism that was supposedly guiding policy decisions inside the George W. Bush administration was a bit overblown and oversold, at least some of it was true, and is still true to some extent in various powerful pockets of the U.S. federal government today. And it’s certainly true in American society at large, where — for instance — the likes of John Hagee is tirelessly promoting a particularly nasty breed of fanatical fundamentalist Protestant apocalyptic doomsdayism to a large and receptive audience.

      To try and salvage instead of abandoning and replacing the word “apocalypse” with something like “emergence” — a term I like a lot, by the way — is simply a personal decision that’s partly tactical but mostly just preference. “Apocalypse,” when informed not just by a head knowledge but by an emotional and visceral response to its deeper and wider meanings, excites me, thrills me, and evokes a real sense of cosmic-spiritual-ontological depth and significance — probably owing (as I dutifully note) to my evangelical Protestant upbringing. Somebody without that particular psychological undergirding surely wouldn’t, and couldn’t, respond so deeply to the discovery of the word’s extended meanings.

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I just wanted to acknowledge that I read it – though I don’t really have much to add 🙂 I just felt funny letting your comment dangle, though.

    Maybe it’s true, that a certain “undergirding” is…assumed by use of particular words. I grew up in a loose church environment and my subsequent looking elsewhere makes me sensitive to vocabulary that assumes a judeo-christian starting/ending point.

    Anyway, I’m off to read recent Teem Work… it’s been a busy week so I’m sure you’ve got lots posted since I last visited.

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