Thursday, 29 December 2011

Towards a new economics of Time

'Things which are alike
In nature grow to look alike' - Nobody, Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch

“Nonhuman species obey only the law of vitality, but humanity in its distinctive features is through and through necrocratic.” — Robert Pogue Harrison, The Dominion of the Dead

Creation and consciousness are analogous to multiplication and division. Why? Because roughly speaking things are created or reproduce by multiplying themselves and when we are conscious of something we are aware of it as a thing as separate from other things - we are able to tell one thing from another and thus can divide each from each.

 The biosphere creates more out of less by multiplication and the economy of this is that very little is wasted. Benjamin Smythe says: walk through a forest sometime and try and separate the living and the dead. They are intertwined all around you. Nothing is wasted. The fungi make sure of that. We eat and eventually we are eaten.

The very real emptiness that is at the centre of many people's lives come from a dislocation with this kind of experience. The need to create feelings of elation or pleasure are all natural needs. Only when we fixate on creating them do they become addictions. Why do we do this? We need to see what is underneath the needs to feel elation, pleasure, being high and so on - it is a lack of these things in our lives - you get high because you feel low, but the sense of lack or absence or void or emptiness that we try to fill  has deeper roots.

No matter how much we try and fill ourselves with pleasurable feelings, the emptiness is a bottomless pit and will swallow them all up. It is because at the heart of the emptiness is the absurdity of ego. You are getting in your own way. Stand aside for a minute and let the light in. Every culture has understood this except modern man. His peculiar disease of thinking with the head instead of the heart makes him mad. And it's catching. Jung says that to believe you are born anew every day without any reference to the time and place you inhabit (as most of the grand projects of the twentieth century did) is a mental disorder. We are only whole inasmuch as we relate to the particular history and place within which we find ourselves. This network of stories and meanings is for our psyche like the soil the plant lives in. Our mind grows out of this matrix - this is the very meaning of humility, and it is a very great gift to be shown how fragile you really are and how dependent you are on this bed out of which you grow. Because then you can never be in your own way. You can't block out the sky with your self, you can't create darkness all around and live in a prison of your own making because you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

And that truth is so simple and yet we need a lifetime to learn it: there are others! You are one of many, all interconnected in a whole. And don't think the whole is limited to what you can see - there are invisible others too! And your actions affect them! Learn this word: reciprocity. Then live by it. You will never be empty again.

So we arrive at a natural principle: there is enough for us all. The Celtic myth-cycle had a cauldron of plenty which never ran out of food and fed everyone with abundance. It is a story common to many cultures. It represents the theme of bounty and generosity and multiplication - the story of the loaves and fishes is its Christian counterpart. This endless self-giving and never running dry is a miraculous story but I repeat; it is a principle of faith. The early Irish saints who set sail in their coracles and let the wind and the sea take them where it would or the wandering saddhus of India show what happens when self-reliance is abandoned - the universe befriends you and provides for you.

What has happened though in modern economics is we have created a system where the opposite to this has happened. Instead of making the most out of the least, and leaving little wasted, which is the law of love and creation in the universe, we have created a system dedicated to making the least out of the most, and causing waste on a massive scale. In this system, there are no others, only self. Suspicion and control and fear keep this system going. At its centre is the supermassive black hole of egoic absurdity which draws everything into it. It will eat everything and then it will eat itself. We are all propping it up. We are all its creators. We must take responsibility for it, because it has its genesis in us. This is why I wonder whether the talk of the 99% and the 1% is useful - because it takes away our responsibility - it's those bad bankers who are ruining our good world. We are all good - it's just a few bad people that are doing it. This is a philosophically naive world view. We must all seek and recognise within our own lives the things we look down on, the things we despise or believe are inferior - because it is in this that we will find our own negative traits, and you cannot start doing any good in the world until you have faced what is bad in yourself.

One of the conversations going on in the Occupy movement relates to time and the way people spend it. I think this is a very important area. Our conception of time relates to the second of the themes I mentioned at the beginning of this post - that of consciousness and division. For most of us, our time is packaged up, served out in little parcels that we use. We even talk about spending time, saving time and wasting time, like it was a commodity like money.  This comes about because of the divisive nature of consciousness. Time is a phenomenon related to the observer, and because as observers we see in discrete segments, time becomes segmented.

But what if we learnt to see in a different way? What if we trained ourselves to see things as they stand in relation to each other in a system of correspondences? In other words what if we learnt to see the whole instead of the part? Isn't that what Jung really meant when he talked of thinking with the heart? A different sense of time as something all can share in. Not my time and your time, but our time.

I think this would need a radical change in the way we all live. We are ruled at the moment by the formula Time = Money. For most of us this means we are doomed to experience most of our time as mere duration - a dead waste which we must endure so that we can live. But time is not just duration. It is also intensity. We must create a system where we are not shackled to this dead machinery and made to work for it, but where the machinery is working for us, where we can keep the intensity of our experience of time at the heart of our existence - where our sense of connectedness and satisfaction and joy are central.

 These are all things that can be found when people work in communities where every member is able to participate in the life of the organisation, where a sense of caring and fairness is found, where the business has at its heart, not the principle of making as much money as possible, but is rooted in the lives of the people that make it up. Such organisations are not pipe-dreams. Here is one example:
Such places should become far more common if we don't all want to be sucked down the gullet of the vampire-squid of modern finance.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Spirit of the Age

In our most private and most subjective lives
We are not only the passive witnesses of our age,
and its sufferers, but also its makers.
We make our own epoch.

Carl Jung, 1934

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Fate, Necessity and Providence

I was thinking about Robert Zoller's work on fate, an astrologer involved in Project Hindsight, which aims to rediscover medieval astrological thinking.  Zoller said that modern man chooses to ignore fate as irreconcilable with freedom.
What he has to say comes from one of the Hermetic fragments of Stobaeus, and it echoes this: "God should have lordship over reason and reason over sensuality and sensuality over the body of man".
You can find the fragment here:
"Reason [comes] under Providence; unreason [falls] under Necessity; the things that happen in the corporal [fall] under Fate." So the body is ruled by fate, the soul by necessity, ie. inasmuch as it chooses ignorance and the body it will be caught in the lower streams of fate, and the spirit is ruled by providence.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Coleridge and the imagination

"The imagination is the power by which we indwell our environment: which includes both the created and the uncreated. Through imagination we find ourselves imaged and anticipated in nature and through imagination we know ourselves as made in the image of God."

From 'Coleridge and the conservative imagination' by Alan P R Gregory.

Narnia and the inner worlds

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The most important thing to realise is that the worlds will find ways of making contact with each other. By this two things are implied - firstly - Narnia is one of many worlds, we know this because in the actual earliest Chronicle of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew, the children gain access to a place called ‘the wood between the worlds’, from where they choose one of many portals to enter Narnia. Secondly, if the worlds of Narnia and this world have found a way of making contact with each other, it is because there is a need for it, and it is the right time. This involves ideas of fate, but also of what is called Kairos, or sacred time. We will explore these ideas in greater depth later. We should note now the great need for the children to discover Narnia in TLTWTW was that it was locked into a state of eternal winter. So Narnia needed the children, but the children also needed Narnia - Edmund’s journey provided the great trial he needed in order for redemption of himself as a sinner.

Sometimes it is not very easy for contact to be made between the worlds - witness the older children’s difficulty in getting into Narnia - but the way is open through guided imagination to those who still exercise this faculty by virtue of their childhood. The state of childhood is here, as with the Romantics, one in which the imagination permeates all activities, it is therefore capable of turning the mundane (the wardrobe) into the magical.

The books are thus initiatory for the children who read them. In using their imaginations they can inhabit Narnia along with the children. In TLTWTW it is at first not a case of using imagination, but simply an ‘accidental’ stumbling into Narnia by Lucy. In later books paintings and other things will be a kind of springboard for imagination to open the portal into the other world.

The particular method that is used to get to Narnia in this book is obviously through the wardrobe, but it is only Lucy who goes through first - youngest and thus closest to the pre-birth paradise - we come into the world ‘trailing clouds of glory’ in Wordsworth’s phrase. There is a Platonic and Romantic metaphysical structure to the chronicles of Narnia, which is often overlooked in a particular modern reading of the books as flat Christian allegories (and therefore in some atheist’s eyes pernicious brain-washing propaganda for God-botherers). Never mind that some of the greatest literature has been allegorical and Christian - Dante’s Divine Comedy or Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress for example - people such as Polly Toynbee here see only a repugnant morality tale inflicting guilt and shame.

I will not be seeking to answer such a ‘critique’ in this book as it is based on profound ignorance of Lewis’s own method and it is foolish to reply to fools. I will let Lewis do the job:
“Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images...” In other words Lewis followed the promptings of his inner imagination by following the images that arose spontaneously in his mind.

In The Magical World of the Inklings Gareth Knight shows that the works of Lewis and Tolkein both sprang from this willingness to follow these images where they led. In both cases strange creatures appeared and led the authors into Narnia and Middle-Earth. In Lewis’s case he had carried the image of ‘a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood’ in his head since he was a teenager, and in Tolkein’s case the image of the hobbit popped into his mind while he was marking papers and led him on quite a journey! We will look later at the role of ‘spirit-animals’ or totems that serve as psychopomps in Narnia.

My aim here is to show that the Chronicles of Narnia are guidebooks to the inner worlds, gramaryes of the method of practical sacred magic, part of the Christian Hermetic tradition and thus texts which aim at a solution to the ills of modernity. They are therefore about morality because they are about the spiritual world - the spiritual world is essentially moral - but they are not mere fables.

Lucy finds herself in a world of mystery, back in the forest, meeting creatures half-human, half-animal. The only mark of civilisation is the lamp-post. We seem to be here in the twilight realm of paganism, with the satyrs and fauns, friendly enough at first, but not particularly in accord with the world of humans. Indeed, by the literary device of Mr Tumnus saying of humans exactly what we might expect Lucy to say of fauns ("I've heard of them, but never seen a real one myself"), we are made to realise in a basic sense the reality of the inner worlds - that 'creatures of the imagination' may have independent existence apart from us.

It may be worth talking about some of the keys to the imagination provided for us by the Romantics. Keats' 'negative capability' and Coleridge's guided imagination. I will start the next post by exploring Romantic theories of the imagination.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Thinking things through

"Contrary to popular belief, the brain is not designed for thinking. It’s designed to save you from having to think, because the brain is actually not very good at thinking. Thinking is slow and unreliable. People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid
Dan Willingham - 'Why Don't Students Like School?'
When I first read this, a lot of things fell into place for me as a teacher. We spend hours of our time moaning to each other about how we have to spoon-feed the students everything, how surprised we are that they never seem to think for themselves, but of course this is just what should be expected. Thinking is hard work, and there is little incentive for it, even from exam boards.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Old Crooked Track

Poor naked wretches, whereso'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.

King Lear, Act 3 Scene iv

Every night recently I have been leaving my house when it gets dark and walking to the top of my road where I go under a railway bridge into a park. From there I ascend the 200 hundred or so feet chalk escarpment and look out across the network of main roads and railways, floodlit football pitches and tiny houses that squat together in the valley. On each side of the main road the hills rise up, quiet dark animals rising out of the sulphur pools of light and noise, and my own hill, my own vantage a hushed animal back too, a place of refuge, a spine of chalk, a highway unlike those other highways of rage beneath, be they pathways fibre-optic or car-clogged. My highway I both walk on and inhabit with my imagination, (the chalk ridge a conductor of millennia of human activity across the downland of Southern Britain) feeding myself with its history and secrets.

 I go amongst the trees and sit on my haunches, squat down close to the mud and grass and feel that increasingly there is only this which heals, there is only this real connection with the earth to let me know that I am a body, not a disembodied disconnected ghost in the machine, not a consumer waiting to be sold to, not a user of products or technologies, a passive and aggressive participator in a game manipulated by others, themselves also manipulated in a grand project of disenchantment dreamed up by modernity. Just this person, now at this time, aware.  And the creation of this space itself a daily necessity, an act of honesty without which the riches of the day might make me bloated, filled up with others plans, unknowing of my own, distracted from distraction by distraction. But kept open to the skies outside, this space must not be one in which my own plans start to be made, or ideas hatched. It should be a place for listening, attending to the unheard.

And when they started to put tents up in the cities of the world, outside the temples of money and power, the eternal temples of stone of this age, and many laughed and said how pathetic and pointless the tents were, and how flimsy and confused were the ideas of those people, they missed the point. Those people who put up tents were creating a space for listening, for attending to the unheard, the still, small voices of the forgotten and forsaken. A prophecy here. These weak voices, these powerless and broken, if space is continued to be made for them, then the roar of the great machine of greed and disenchantment will not drown them out. Their humanity, unveiled, shocking, like a memory once buried but now remembered, will prevent the circle from closing in upon itself.