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Postmodernism – Not necessarily absurd or without wings

Inside My Secret Cloning Chamber

Inside My Secret Cloning Chamber: Stuck in Customs / Trey Ratcliff

The term postmodernism became popular in the 1970s and 80s but has roots reaching back through the centuries.

Social theorists usually try to define concepts through a key set of ideas and parameters. Postmodernism challenges conventional perceptions of “the definition” and few seem to clearly agree on its meaning. This is partly because postmoderns questions the very act of defining, labeling and signifying.

If postmodernism has a core idea, it might be that it paradoxically has no core idea upon which to stand. Some say that makes postmodernism absurd. But that stance seems intellectually childish.  Questioning something doesn’t render the process meaningless, as amorphous as outcomes may be. Truth isn’t always black and white and only conceptual control freaks reject uncertainty.

In one sense, postmodernism is a reaction against the kind of scientific certainty associated with the enlightenment and (some definitions of) modernism. It is also a reaction against the proclaimed truths and teachings of religion.

Garry Knight – Post-Modern Architecture – An example of the post-modern style of building seen increasingly along the Thames riverside via Flickr

With regard to scientific truth claims, postmoderns challenge the idea of natural laws that accurately predict future events. They also dispute the assumption that these laws don’t change over space and time. These challenges are especially prevalent in the social sciences but also crop up in physics.

In psychology, postmodernism questions the notion of a stable, unchanging and eternal aspect of the self, such as a soul. Perhaps the ironically enduring truth of many (but not all) postmoderns is the conviction that truth claims are relative to a given culture or subculture.

Michel Foucault, for instance, says power is the creative agency that generates social truth. For Foucault, power not only represses individuals and certain types of belief, knowledge and practice. Power also has the ability to create discourses of truth. These created truths bear tangible effects on persons and their bodies.

Because power constructs truth, postmoderns are concerned to “deconstruct” taken for granted truth claims that have consciously or unconsciously slipped into public use and practice.

By way of example, a few popular areas of deconstruction are notions of the natural, the sane, and social progress. What do we really mean by using these terms? Are we implying a social truth instead of an absolute truth? Who benefits from this dynamic? And who gets the short end of the stick?

In the arts, postmoderns combine different elements from various styles and genres. And the notion of the ‘fragment’ is accepted in postmodern art, literature and philosophy. A good example of valorizing the fragment is found in rap, hiphop and club music where digital tech easily reproduces and mixes past musical and non-musical samples within a new artistic production.

versionz – postmodernism via Flickr

The postmodern scene has become somewhat holistic, even spiritual, particularly with figures like Jacques Derrida who talks about a ‘metaphysical space’ between links in endless chains of connotation. Likewise, Stuart Hall‘s cross-cultural perspective points to new avenues of inquiry once closed off critical theory.

Historia painting by Nikolaos Gyzis (1892)

Additionally, the contemporary discipline of postmodern theology shifts the meaning once again as to what it means to be postmodern.

Daniel J. Adams’ “Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism” (Cross Currents, Winter 1997-98, Vol. 47 Issue 4 ) might be taking postmodernism in the opposite direction from which it came. Adams says postmodernism is restoring the sacred in an age turned off by religious dogma and yet ironically blinded by the new dogmas of scientific materialism.

These latest postmodern trends suggest that a responsible view of the individual in society integrates biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. So postmodern thinkers may try to separate the spiritual from the cultural in any belief system, be it religious or nationalistic.

Funnily enough, I found from direct experience that even a basic Catholic RCIA course, geared toward the general public, deconstructed the cultural from the spiritual within the Bible. So to say that postmodernism kills spirituality or leads to absurdity simply shows the ignorance of those upholding that belief.

Postmodern theology combines the best of Pontius Pilate – “What is Truth?” – and Christ – “I am…the Truth” – as portrayed in the New Testament.¹ And because we live in an imperfect world with lots of spin, this just makes sense.

¹ John 18:38, John 14:6

Related » Discourse, Language, Karl Marx, Poststructuralism, Susan Sontag, The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (PDF)

Postmodernism – Wikipedia

Oct 10 2017  Highlights with LINER

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Postmodernism describes a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture and criticism which marked a departure from modernism.

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The term postmodern was first used around the 1880s.

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In 1921 and 1925, postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music.

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In 1949 the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with modern architecture

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In 1971, in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, Mel Bochner described “post-modernism” in art as having started with Jasper Johns

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Post-structuralism resulted similarly to postmodernism by following a time of structuralism.

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Martin Heidegger rejected the philosophical basis of the concepts of “subjectivity” and “objectivity” and asserted that similar grounding oppositions in logic ultimately refer to one another. Instead of resisting the admission of this paradox in the search for understanding, Heidegger requires that we embrace it through an active process of elucidation he called the “hermeneutic circle”.

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Jacques Derrida re-examined the fundamentals of writing and its consequences on philosophy

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Michel Foucault introduced concepts such as ‘discursive regime’

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Jean-François Lyotard identified in The Postmodern Condition a crisis in the “discourses of the human sciences” latent in modernism but catapulted to the fore by the advent of the “computerized” or “telematic” era (see information revolution).

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Richard Rorty argues in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature that contemporary analytic philosophy mistakenly imitates scientific methods.

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Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, introduced the concept that reality or the principle of “The Real” is short-circuited by the interchangeability of signs in an era whose communicative and semantic acts are dominated by electronic media and digital technologies.

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One of the most well-known postmodernist concerns is “deconstruction,” a theory for philosophy, literary criticism, and textual analysis developed by Jacques Derrida. The notion of a “deconstructive” approach implies an analysis that questions the already evident understanding of a text in terms of presuppositions, ideological underpinnings, hierarchical values, and frames of reference.

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Structuralism was a philosophical movement developed by French academics in the 1950s, partly in response to French Existentialism. It has been seen variously as an expression of Modernism, High modernism, or postmodernism[by whom?]. “Post-structuralists” were thinkers who moved away from the strict interpretations and applications of structuralist ideas.

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The idea of Postmodernism in architecture began as a response to the perceived blandness and failed Utopianism of the Modern movement.

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Postmodernism is a rejection of ‘totality’, of the notion that planning could be ‘comprehensive’, widely applied regardless of context, and rational. In this sense, Postmodernism is a rejection of its predecessor: Modernism.

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Literary postmodernism was officially inaugurated in the United States with the first issue of boundary 2, subtitled “Journal of Postmodern Literature and Culture”, which appeared in 1972.

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Jorge Luis Borges’ (1939) short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, is often considered as predicting postmodernism

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Samuel Beckett is sometimes seen as an important precursor and influence.

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The postmodern impulse in classical music arose in the 1960s with the advent of musical minimalism.

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Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, including the assertions that postmodernism is meaningless and promotes obscurantism.

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Freud’s Pleasure Principle – Missing the point of spiritual healing?

Sky Diving Sigmund Freud

Archie McPhee Sky Diving Sigmund Freud via Flickr

Sigmund Freud believed that human beings begin life by seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. This “pleasure principle” initially takes the form of relieving instinctual tensions generated by the id through activity or hallucination.

When one grows older and the ego matures, one normally advances to the reality principle, where gratification through childish activity or hallucination is replaced by socially acceptable behaviors.

This new behavioral repertoire is, ideally, appropriate to the various demands of the entire inner and outer environment.

But for Freud it’s not a happy solution. Freud had a pessimistic outlook, seeing mankind as the “walking wounded”—that is, forever saddled with psychological complexes never fully resolved nor surpassed.

Had his model included the idea of grace, Freud might have appreciated how God can touch us and heal our wounds. But as an atheist, Freud’s model is severely limited and limiting.

Elton John was probably talking about romantic love in his classic song, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” But even so, God doesn’t always beam us directly from above. God’s love often comes through other people, by way of friendliness, physicality, intercession or some combination of thereof.

But these cuts I have they need love to help them heal¹

When I was young and just beginning university I found Freud liberating. Here was a guy who had seemingly opened the door to the unconscious. To my youthful self, Freud had given us a map to make sense of our anxiety, shame and pain. But soon after, upon discovering Carl Jung, and having experiences better explained – at that time – within a Jungian framework, Freud’s model suddenly seemed sort of small and dark.²

Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt via Wikipedia

I remember talking with a guy in a New Age bookstore about the two theorists as I was purchasing books by Jung for my PhD studies, upon which I was just embarking. The bookstore guy summed up my feelings nicely:

Freud will drive you crazy. Jung won’t.

I laughed and went my merry way.

Now, many years later, I’ve come to appreciate Freud again, but within the context of acknowledging a pioneer who, for whatever reasons, could only go so far.³

And Jung, well, as I’ve said elsewhere, to me he seems like a kind of kindergarten mystic. But this is not the place to elaborate on that!

¹ https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/eltonjohn/dontletthesungodownonme.html

² I’ve taken several courses dealing with Freud. The best one-volume summary I’ve encountered is Charles Rycroft’s A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1977. This entry owes much to that, especially p. 121.

³ For more, here are a few highlights I made with LINER.

Pleasure principle (psychology) – Wikipedia

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Epicurus in the ancient world, and Jeremy Bentham in the modern, laid stress upon the role of pleasure in directing human life, the latter stating: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure”. Freud’s most immediate predecessor and guide however was Gustav Theodor Fechner and his psychophysics.

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Freud contrasted the pleasure principle with the counterpart concept of the reality principle

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Maturity is learning to endure the pain of deferred gratification.

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Freud argued that “an ego thus educated has become ‘reasonable’

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In his book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, published in 1921, Freud considered the possibility of “the operation of tendencies beyond the pleasure principle, that is, of tendencies more primitive than it and independent of it”. Through an examination the role of repetition compulsion in potentially over-riding the pleasure principle, Freud ultimately developed his opposition between Libido, the life instinct, and the death drive.

 


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Phrenology – A case of science overextending itself

Self-portrait as phrenology illustration

Self-portrait as phrenology illustration by obscure allusion / Jason Priem

Phrenology is a word popularized by Johann Caspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) to describe a pseudo-scientific theory developed by Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828).

Gall hypothesized that different brain regions are responsible for specific functions. Today, the details are debated but this model is generally accepted.¹

So for Gall, a stronger trait or ability allegedly corresponded with more developed brain regions, while weaker traits or abilities coincided with less developed brain regions.

From there, he proposed that different abilities and tendencies are linked to the size and shape of the human skull.

Gall believed the skull would exhibit measurable bumps over larger, well developed brain regions, making his theory not only scientific but practical. Heads can be measured. And from those measurements, different treatments could be implemented.

This theory fell into disrepute around the 1900’s. Contemporary researchers highlight the importance of learning, stimulation, nutrition, attitudes, beliefs, as well as the density and differentiation of neural pathways in relation to brain performance and abilities.
Embed from Getty Images
Colour etching by W Taylor satirising the work of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Spurzheim, proponents of phrenology, showing a doctor examining a patient’s head, whilst other patients with variously-shaped craniums await inspection.

Much like modern computer processors, bulk size doesn’t necessarily matter. Complexity does. Also, recent concepts like plasticity and epigenetics further discredit older, fully deterministic brain theories. In other words, genes matter but other factors come into play.

Perhaps because phrenology could easily be abused, it’s not well-known today. Hitler and the Nazis, for instance, used something similar to phrenology to try to separate Jews from non-Jews.²

Today, phrenology is sometimes upheld by sociologists and historians as an example of all that can go wrong when scientism (pseudoscience) masquerades as science.

“Raoul Hausmann was one of the leading members of the Berlin Dada movement… [his] most well known [work} is Spirit of Our Time. Finished in 1921.” – via Utopia/Dystopia

Wikipedia puts it well:

Phrenology is…based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules. Although both of those ideas have a basis in reality, phrenology extrapolated beyond empirical knowledge in a way that departed from science.

Some writers at web sites like Mad In America zealously argue that all of contemporary psychiatry is pseudoscience and profit mongering. I think this is an extreme, polarizing view and not really helpful toward better integrating good science and good spirituality.

Quick Historical Outline

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Among the first to identify the brain as the major controlling center for the body were Hippocrates and his followers, inaugurating a major change in thinking from Egyptian, biblical and early Greek views, which based bodily primacy of control on the heart.

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This belief was supported by the Greek physician Galen, who concluded that mental activity occurred in the brain rather than the heart, contending that the brain, a cold, moist organ formed of sperm, was the seat of the animal soul—one of three “souls” found in the body, each associated with a principal organ.

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Phrenology came about at a time when scientific procedures and standards for acceptable evidence were still being codified. In the context of Victorian society, phrenology was a respectable scientific theory.

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Phrenology was mostly discredited as a scientific theory by the 1840s.

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In Belgium, Paul Bouts (1900–1999) began studying phrenology from a pedagogical background, using the phrenological analysis to define an individual pedagogy. Combining phrenology with typology and graphology, he coined a global approach known as psychognomy. Bouts, a Roman Catholic priest, became the main promoter of renewed 20th-century interest in phrenology and psychognomy in Belgium.

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During the 1930s Belgian colonial authorities in Rwanda used phrenology to explain the so-called superiority of Tutsis over Hutus.

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Phrenology was one of the first to bring about the idea of rehabilitation of criminals instead of vindictive punishments…

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In psychiatry phrenology was proposed as a viable model in order to reform the disciplinary field.

¹ Neurologists differ on how:

  • different combinations of the brain occur and affect functioning
  • much of the brain we use
  • the brain is linked to the rest of the nervous system, surrounding organs and microorganisms (e.g. bacteria).
  • sex differences affect brain functioning

² Josef Mengele, a sadistic and cruel doctor at Auschwitz, wrote a dissertation on “differing Lower Jaw formations and Racial differences.” See http://www.shoaheducation.judahsglory.com/philosophies.html.

Related » Face Reading, Social Darwinism

 Russia’s Duma Begs TV Stations Not To Encourage End of the World Hysteria (davidicke.com)

 From the Bookshelves: States of Delinquency: Race and Science in the Making of California’s Juvenile Justice System by Miroslava Chávez-García (lawprofessors.typepad.com)

 The Many Ways Science Has (Wrongly) Assessed Your Personality (io9.com)

 Use your head when buying a conversation piece (observer-reporter.com)


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Phenomenology – Mystical or mystifying?

Day 302. Phenomenology. David Mulder via Flickr

Phenomenology is one of those words that crops up in undergrad sociology and philosophy courses. Whenever I heard it I felt sort of dumb, like when you hear a big word and don’t know what it means. And I think some people just used it to appear smart.

Academe games…

Edmund Husserl 1910s via Wikipedia

So early on I made a quick fix. Phenomenology is about personal experience. How a person sees it, I told myself, burning that simple definition into memory so I wouldn’t be caught off guard in seminars and the like. (Sometimes those seminars were really nasty).

When I need to force myself to remember something with a little trick, it usually means the concept doesn’t resonate with me.

I know pretty much all of Freud and especially Jung’s concepts by heart because they seem to have more relevance and richness than the simple, slightly mystifying word phenomenology.

But that’s just me. I’m sure many philosophy majors would love that word, which opens many doors for them.

Turns out the term is a bit more complicated and varied than my youthful quick fix would suggest (the top image is only one of many meanings). But that fix did get me through school okay. I never pursued the term much further because, as I say, it just didn’t personally connect.

Philosophers tend to get tangled up in their own concepts. Many seem to lack genuine insight and miss their own blind spots.

That’s how I see it. A huge generalization, it’s true. But overall, I much preferred the depth psychologists and mystics (I say preferred past tense because I’m always moving into new areas).

Edmund Husserl is usually mentioned when the word phenomenology comes up. Husserl wanted to study ‘structures’ of consciousness (whatever that means) and also phenomena that come into consciousness. At least, that’s how I understand it.

The history of the word is fairly interesting. I’ve used Highly highlighter to outline part of a Wikipedia summary. I could have rewritten this, but as I say, it’s not really my direct interest:

So looking at the above it seems that Kant believes there is a unknowable aspect to reality, whereas Hegel believes we can gradually come to know spiritual truth.

The problem with this Wikipedia comparison, as I see it, is that knowing (or not knowing) the “thing-in-itself” aspect of an object (noumena) is not the same as learning about spiritual presences (numinous).¹ The above quote doesn’t recognize the difference. But elsewhere Wikipedia does recognize it:

Numinous is an English adjective, derived in the 17th century from the Latin numen, that is (especially in ancient Roman religion) a “deity or spirit presiding over a thing or space”. Meaning “denoting or relating to a numen”, it describes the power or presence or realisation of a divinity. It is etymologically unrelated to Immanuel Kant’s noumenon, a Greek term referring to an unknowable reality underlying all things [emphasis added].²

Bottom line?

Don’t read anything uncritically. Even the venerable Wikipedia can be misleading if you don’t do a little digging.

PortalPhilosophers

PortalPhilosophers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ A similar distinction can be made, I think, between matter/energy on the one hand, and spirit, on the other hand. Some New Age writers confuse these two ideas, which to me says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Or to put it more nicely, they’re sort of like newborns who have yet to learn how to differentiate among different types of spiritual experience.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numinous

Related » David Hume, Science


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Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie – Eccentric, Genius, Innovator

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) was a groundbreaking archaeologist. He was the first to precisely measure the Egyptian pyramids.

Pink Tutu by Chris Millett via Flickr

Historians love telling the fact that he wore a pink ballerina’s tutu while surveying the Great Pyramid. Some say he donned the tutu to avoid being stoned by “local religious fanatics.”¹

Appearing insane might have put the hostiles off guard. Others think he might have been a little bit touched.

There is no record of Petrie being gay so it seems dubious that he was trying to come out.²

In the Holy Land Petrie recognized the significance of earthen mounds which, due to his work, are now known as tells.

Unlike his plodding contemporaries, Petrie saw the mounds as records of successive settlements because each layer contained a distinctive style of ceramics.

Other conventional archaeologists had assumed the tells were natural phenomena.

From his keen observations Petrie developed a method of historical dating called sequence dating. The method is to dig down into layers of earth, thus reconstructing ancient chronology not from fable and abstracted history but from hands-on evidence.

This new dating technique earned him the title ‘Father’ of Palestinian archaeology.

Petrie’s unusual story doesn’t end with his wearing a pink tutu at the job site. He clearly had a very positive self-image. He arranged to have his head removed at death, hoping that his brain and all that it contained would be inherited by posterity.

Apparently the head was preserved in a jar and stored in a basement at the Royal College of Surgeons of London. The jar’s label fell off during WW-II, making it anonymous for a while. Later the head was identified and is currently stored but not on display at the Royal College.³

English: Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1...

Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1903 via Wikipedia

While his preserved brain might not be his most important legacy, Petrie trained a whole generation of “new style” archaeologists, to include Howard Carter. And his son went on to become a remarkable mathematician, discovering the Petrie Polygon.

Bottom line?

Sometimes genius and eccentricity go hand in hand.

¹ 1.1. Introduction to Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), 2007.

² Also: https://www.google.ca/search?q=petrie+pink+tutu&oq=petrie+pink+tutu&aqs=chrome..69i57.2660j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flinders_Petrie

 Egypt archaeologists unearth 3,500-year-old tomb in Luxor(telegraph.co.uk)

 Well-Aged: Oldest Traces of Italian Wine Discovered(livescience.com)

 A student found an ancient Canadian village that’s 10,000 years older than the Pyramids(businessinsider.com)

 Henry VIII’s lost palace found (foxnews.com)

 Egypt announces discovery of 3,500-years old tomb in Luxor (stripes.com)

 Turkey bones may help trace fate of ancient cliff dwellers (bostonherald.com)

 Finally, a tantalising YA book (for adults too) that uses archaeology to recount Indian history (scroll.in)

 Italians Have Been Getting Blitzed on Wine for a Very Long Time (gizmodo.co.uk)

 Egyptologists go high tech to unlock ancient mysteries (rappler.com)

 Stone Age Cannibals Decorated Human Bones While Butchering Them (ibtimes.com)


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Politics, Political and Politically Correct

Politics

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first English use of the word politics can be traced back to 1450:

Aristotle..componede..the book of Etiques and of Polettiques.

A distinction is often made between small-p and large-p politics.

Small-p politics is about competitive human interactions in the workplace, organization or home.

Large-p politics refers to dynamics within a government system—municipal, provincial, state, federal, hemispherical (NATO, NORAD) or global (UN).

Also, large-p politics usually influence small-p politics. In turn, small-p politics cooperates, develops or resists large-p politics.

Another distinction could be made concerning the ethics of politics. We have honorable and dishonorable politics, fair and unfair play, human decency and indecency.

With so many news articles cropping up about corruption, it’s hard to overlook this possibility in any kind of politics.

Political

When we say something is “political,” what are we really saying?

The dictionary says that political is an adjective meaning anything related to politics, but that doesn’t tell us much.

Theorists like Michael Parenti argue that the word political has become a euphemism. It obscures human choices that influence or determine outcomes in struggles for control, command or jurisdiction.

For Parenti, the term political often hides human indecencies appearing in competitive organizational behavior.

Similar power theorists say that political choices are rationalized as “unavoidable” in light of existing policies and the pursuit of the greater good.

However, policy is not always in the public interest. Policies may be created to ‘legitimize’ systems of exploitation, fear and totalitarian control. Adolf Hitler used this strategy when writing laws to ‘justify’ the cruel and barbaric actions of the Nazis during WW-II. And while politicians and their underlings may believe they act in accord with policy and for the greater good, sometimes policies are seen as dead wrong. Accordingly, their chief authors may be peacefully removed or violently deposed.

In our aggressive, competitive world, with so much to gain and to lose, using the word ‘political’ in everyday speech is a political act in itself. ‘Politics’ and ‘political’ can be euphemisms for all sorts of crimes and terrors that might go unnoticed by the public.

Corruption and bribery are relatively soft terms. Harder, organized crime stories do appear in the news but are often minimized – sometimes almost humorously – by countries wishing to appear squeaky clean. In Canadian news it’s always bikers like Hells Angels who profit from organized crime, not the ‘decent,’ white collar folks living in middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods.

To my mind this might be a form of scapegoating and an extension of the age-old class war.

Image via Vimeo

Image via Vimeo

Plain and simple, the upper classes – law abiding or not – tend to demonize, blame and punish the lower classes to a greater degree than those in their own social position. Thus it is hardly surprising that the lower classes tend to resent the upper classes.

Such a dysfunctional dynamic hardly makes for a better society or religious organization, no matter what the politicians or pastors preach.

So saying that a social environment is political can be a way of implying something quite different from mere politics. It might be a way of talking about the underbelly of 21st century society without really going there. In fact, it’s hard to know what people are really saying when they use the word ‘political.’ And that’s probably why it is so popular. Ambiguity is safe. After all, parents have kids to feed, mortgages to pay, dream vacations to pursue.

Browsing through visitor comments on major US and Canadian news sites shows that some pessimists hate politics because they believe it is hopelessly inefficient and corrupt.

Sometimes I feel that. Good examples in Canada would be the CBC News app or our Canada Revenue web site. One gets the impression that coders not good enough for genuine market competition get hired by government. Even when these online services work, they are mediocre at best. By way of contrast, the Best Buy (US tech company based in Minnesota) web site updates several times a week and is always fully functional. Capitalism either works or it doesn’t. No taxpayer supported gravy train to ride in business.

So that’s the pessimistic view. But one could also argue that politicians are just people, doing their best to make positive changes in a wildly imperfect world. I recall a former Toronto police chief once saying that he had to answer to the entire spectrum of humanity. In other words, one must be political if one wants to get anything done. This is an interesting perspective. Certainly not one for idealists.

Political Correctness is...

Political Correctness is… by Dave Kleinschmidt

Politically Correct

Using the phrase politically correct is one way of being political.

An idea or action is politically correct if believed to be true or acceptable because the majority – or a highly visible group – in a given society see it that way.

Political correctness can be a good thing. PC can protect the vulnerable, the marginalized and those who are simply different.

However, some might merely pretend to believe in PC ideas for fear of repercussions. What would happen if dissenters were to voice their politically incorrect beliefs?

Some dissenters do voice their opinions, of course—especially in the US which has always championed free speech. This can lead to thorny debates and violent clashes about free speech vs. political correctness.

The U of T academic Jordan Peterson, whom some applaud and others see as a rigid, old-school dinosaur, is catalyzing this discussion on a global scale. If he were a minor academic, chances are he would have lost his job a long time ago. But because he’s fairly well-read and articulate, Peterson hangs on, saying that he’s prepared to be fired at any moment.

Related » Corruption, The SystemPolitically Correct, Nineteen Eighty-Four


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Persona – Age old concept with a whole new twist

Roots of Persona

The idea of the persona has been around for ages, with roots stemming back to ancient Greek and Estruscan civilizations. Over the centuries the use of the term has shifted, evolved and, in response to new technologies, taken on new meanings.

The most common contemporary meaning of the persona is a role played by an actor. This developed from the original Latin meaning of “theatrical mask.”

In ancient Greece the persona (prósōpon) was a mask put on by stage actors, signifying either a character or a social role.¹ The masking effect was created by rubbing clay or dyes on the face or by wearing masks made of bark or similar natural elements.

Persona in Literature

The New Latin term dramatas personae refers to characters listed at the top of a play.

In literary theory the persona is the alter ego or alternate “I” who speaks in a poem or novel, often when some kind of issue is worked out through the narrative. This also happens in movies a lot, which of course, are based on a written script.

Persona in Religion and Society

David and Goliath (1919) via Wikipedia

Persona later referred to “person,” as in persona non grata (Latin: “person not appreciated”). This diplomatic usage means persons not wanted in a country. That is, bad apples.

This kind of persona is arguably semantically related to the New Testament phrase, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). That is, bad persons.

Theologians maintain that God wishes us to cooperate with the divine will. So striking out on our own, based on a personality fragment, whim or selfish desire, is not necessarily in line with God’s will.

“Person” in this theological sense means those whose thoughts, feelings and actions are based on self-centered personality traits instead arising from a living relationship with God.

The many psychological, sociological and spiritual applications of the term persona are often nuanced to fit various theories and agendas. Related ideas like Bad Faith, False Consciousness and The Divided Self run through the humanities and social sciences, with endless discussion and elaborations by different schools and their offshoots (e.g. existentialism, humanism, Marxism, neo-Marxism, postmodernism).

Persona and Carl Jung

For the Swiss psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the persona is a necessary social identity. Jung says the persona is a convenient or appropriate face we display to the outer world. The Jungian persona is not the true self nor the ego but it serves a crucial role in facilitating social interaction.

Jung and Jungians also say there is a danger in identifying with the persona after a social performance is over. This not only happens with ordinary people but sometimes with actual actors. Recall the tragedy of Heath Ledger (1979–2008), who apparently was haunted by the demonic Joker after completing the The Dark Night film.

The Jungian Shadow by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr

Aside from this, Jung makes a general distinction between the healthy and unhealthy persona. The healthy persona is connected with deeper aspects of the self and acts as a conduit for archetypal energy. The unhealthy persona is constricted or cut off from the self.

On this point Jung arguably doesn’t appreciate that a tight-fitting persona may be temporarily necessary for some religious people who normally enjoy the more expansive worldview that comes through a relationship with God.

Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good or reap outwardly visible rewards, as Jung’s model seems to advocate. Jung’s outlook is probably based on his own experience, which sometimes seems like that of a kindergarten mystic. He’s had some basic interior experience but nothing profound nor advanced.

Jung’s theory advocates a “doctrine of [psychological] integration,” as I’ve put it elsewhere, so Jung seems to devalue – or not fully understand² – anything that favors the afterlife over this world.

For Jung and many Jungians, being spiritual is tantamount to having a meaningful, productive and creative life. A worldly life informed by the archetypes. These folks may paint, dance, sculpt or even talk about ESP in dreams. But they tend to be somewhat indifferent to the idea of prayerful or contemplative intercession. Intercession involves upward mobility, as it were; whereas Jung’s theory is stuck on the ground.

Jungians would probably see personas displayed and sacrifices made for the attainment of heaven – instead of for visible, worldly achievements – as skewed, fake, or even pathological.³ That’s partly why I don’t spend much time with Jungians. It is also why not a few religious persons tend to view Jung’s work with suspicion.

Persona and Proselytizing 

Image via Wikipedia

Some uphold the persona to convey a particular belief system held dear. Missionary Christians, for instance, apply personas not just for social convenience, but to try to “fish” for souls—that is, to lead others to a spiritual relationship with Christ.

As a tool for facilitating religious conversion, the persona becomes a kind of well-intentioned lure. After all, the New Testament Christ says his disciples will become “fishers of persons” (Matthew 4:19).

Persona in Music

In music, performers weave entire identities and motifs into songs or albums. This is common in pop and seems to be creeping into classical performances, where performer and performed are a cohesive package. Nigel Kennedy comes to mind. Charlotte Church. And more subtly, Joshua Bell and Angela Hewitt, whose sublimated sensuality pervades their performances.

Some cynically say that pop and classical personas are just glib attempts to boost sales. But I think they are part of parcel of the entire message. Would Ziggy Stardust have been a hit if David Bowie did not dress in costume during live performance? And going back even further, would Sgt. Pepper’s have been a landmark if the Beatles hadn’t dressed up and played the roles on the album cover?

In pop music the persona is also a device where lyrics are spoken or rapped over music.

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway

Frank Zappa, Ekeberghallen, Oslo, Norway (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Examples are in Robbie Robertson’s song “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” and Frank Zappa’s “Camirillo Brillo”:

Is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho?

Hiphop, rap and acid jazz stars like Galliano, Guru, Kanye West and Drake make almost continuous use of this kind of persona.

Drake especially seems to effortlessly blend song and talk, so it’s hard to tell where the talking ends and the singing starts.

in Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 Guru raps in “Living in this World”:

What’s happening… check it out
It’s critical the situation is pitiful
Bear in mind you gotta find somethin spiritual
We never gain cause we blame it on the system
You oughta listen whether Muslim or Christian
or any other type religion or creed

Persona and Social Media

Social media gives us a whole new context for the persona. Also known as the avatar, gravatar, or buddy icon, the internet persona allows users to post with some degree of anonymity and creativity.5

This can be used for good or ill, depending on the user and arguably as legally construed by a host country. Spend some time in another country and you’ll soon find out that what is okay in one place is not necessarily okay in another—hopefully before you go to jail.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona

² Jung says that Origen castrated himself to immerse himself in his gnostic spirituality. But I find this odd. Most mystics assert that the retention – not the elimination – of seed (a poetic way of saying semen and sperm) is vital to spiritual functioning and wellness. Sperm is manufactured in the testes.

³ I’ve encountered some Christians who are pretty clumsy at this. One guy on a bus bent my ear for over an hour, trying to convert me without realizing that I had already chosen Christ.  He was a non-denominational or Protestant Christian – I can’t remember – but I’ve witnessed the same kind of clunky and irritating “fishing” among Catholics playing a self-aggrandized role of do-gooder or holy person instead of focusing on their own self-knowledge and ethical behavior.

A good discussion about the persona, personality and labels: https://upsidedownchronicles.com/2013/07/04/who-am-i-personality-vs-persona/ 

5 Because users have an identifiable IP address, they are not fully anonymous.

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