Teeming Links – August 16, 2013

FireHeadImage courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s (rather extended) opening word goes to Morris Berman, who was recently interviewed for The Atlantic online in connection with his new book Spinning Straw into Gold: Straight Talk for Troubled Times. Morris first rose to prominence as the author of several books about the evolution of human consciousness, with a focus that included depth psychology, religion, spirituality, and the way the nature of civilization necessarily leads humans to experience a “disenchanted” world. Then he turned to writing books about the decline and collapse of American culture. Now he has turned to the work of integrating these two strands. The result is a dire and fascinating diagnosis and prognosis for American and Americanized cultures, along with an invigorating prescription for how each of us might consider responding life-fully to the inevitable long-form breakdown that will characterize the indefinite future, and that already characterizes the present.

Your message of detachment from materially measurable pursuits and your encouragement of leisure, creativity, and relaxed living is un-American (I mean this as a compliment). Why is American culture so addicted to speed, movement, action, and “progress”?

This is, in some ways, the subject of my book Why America Failed. America is essentially about hustling, and that goes back more than 400 years. It’s practically genetic, in the U.S., by now; the programming is so deep, and so much out of conscious awareness, that very few Americans can break free of it. They’re really sleepwalking through life, living out a narrative that is not of their own making, while thinking they are in the driver’s seat. It’s also especially hard to break free of that mesmerization when everyone else is similarly hypnotized. Groupthink is enormously powerful. Even if it occurs to you to stop following the herd, it seems crazy or terrifying to attempt it. This is Sartre’s “bad faith,” the phenomenon whereby a human being adopts false values because of social pressure, and is thus living a charade, an inauthentic life. It’s also what happens to Ivan Illych in the Tolstoy story, where Ivan is dying, and reviews his life during his last three days, and concludes that it was all a waste, because he lived only for social approval.

. . . You write that the “road to redemption is a solitary one.” That’s a tough challenge, especially in highly religious and nationalistic culture. Is redemption tied to your notion of authenticity? Norman Mailer said that the first and most important virtue is courage, because it is a prerequisite for all other virtues. How do people cultivate the courage to live real, independent, and authentic lives?

I suspect courage is something that is handed down from within the family, something you learn viscerally, by example. Unfortunately, the American family is now in pretty bad shape, and there aren’t that many positive role models around in a dying culture. Literature can help, however; not the lit of heroic stories of derring-do, but just the opposite: literature that depicts difficult decisions and quiet acts of integrity, stuff that’s out of the limelight, and which can add up over time.

The sociologist Robert Bellah, who just died a few days ago, once wrote: “Great literature speaks to the deepest level of our humanity; it helps us better understand who we are.” So I would say that that’s a good place to start. But ultimately, if you are open to it, courage will find you; you don’t have to go looking for it (which I don’t think will work anyway). What was that line from Augustine? “Love God and do what thou wilt.” For “God” I substitute “Truth.”

– David Masciotra, “How America’s ‘Culture of Hustling’ is Dark and Empty” (interview with Morris Berman), The Atlantic, August 13, 2013

* * *

The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership (Bruce Schneier for Bloomberg)
“The primary business model of the Internet is built on mass surveillance, and our government’s intelligence-gathering agencies have become addicted to that data. Understanding how we got here is critical to understanding how we undo the damage.”

The End of Forgetting and “Administrative Rights” to Our Online Personas (IP Theory Vol. 2, Issue 2, 2012, PDF)
An excellent consideration of “what it would take to have enforceable ‘administrative rights’ to one’s personal information — the ability to edit or modify one’s online persona just as a webmaster would be able to edit or modify on an individual.” The author was explicitly motivated by Google’s audacious and troubling new move of constructing massive uber-profiles of users from information that was formerly kept discrete and separate.

The Trauma of Being Alive (Mark Epstein for The New York Times)
“Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence. I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder. There is no way to be alive without being conscious of the potential for disaster. . . . Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.”

Is Superman a Superman? (Smart Pop Books)
“The association of [Nietzsche's] superman with [the comic book] Superman, far from demeaning philosophy, gloriously elevates it. In an important sense, Siegel and Shuster are closer to the heart of Nietzsche’s ideas than most philosophical commentaries.”

Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities beyond Normal Limits (Scientific American)
Better vision, stronger muscles — expectations can have surprising effects, research finds. “There is accumulating evidence that suggests that our thoughts are often capable of extending our cognitive and physical limits.”

Horror’s New Golden Age? Probably Not (Scott Poole at Monsters in America)
“I’m afraid the interest we see in producing horror series and films based on the success of classic tales will produce more eye rolling than chills. Let’s hope one or two gems come out of horror’s new heyday.”

The Incubus in Film, Experience, and Folklore (Southern Folklore Vol. 52, No. 1, 1996, PDF)
Interesting academic study about the incubus tradition of nocturnal supernatural-sexual assault. It “tests a hypothesis derived from the theory that media images govern the incidence and content of such anomalous accounts.” The authors apply David Hufford’s “experiential-source hypothesis” from The Terror That Comes in the Night and conclude that “sleep paralysis coupled with sexual arousal spawns memorates which provide a basis for incubus folklore.”

Portrait of the Artist as a Caveman (The New Atlantis)
A sharp and elegant critique of attempts to “explain” all art in evolutionary biological terms. “The reductive form of inquiry in the natural sciences will always have a limited ability to account for the symbolic, moral, and religious significance of art. Brain scans and other cognitive experiments on human beings alive today can tell us something about the neurological correlates of aesthetic experience, but they cannot tell us how, when, why, or whether our aesthetic preferences evolved.”

The Nitrous Oxide Philosopher (The Atlantic, 1996)
“Do drugs make religious experience possible? They did for William James and for other philosopher-mystics of his day. James’s experiments with psychoactive drugs raise difficult questions about belief and its conditions.”

About Matt Cardin

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 is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD and GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES.

Posted on August 16, 2013, in Arts & Entertainment, Paranormal, Religion & Philosophy, Society & Culture, Teeming Links and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.

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