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Who’s got the power?

The Power of Choice

The Power of Choice: Simon Greening via Flickr

Way Back

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle defined power in a way that remarkably prefigures Sir Isaac Newton‘s three laws of motion.

Aristotle says power is

  1. The agent causing a change in something
  2. The ability or potential in an object enabling it to act
  3. The ability in an object to remain unchanged

Image – Wikipedia

Today

In the social sciences and political life power usually means the ability to make decisions that influence, regulate or coerce.¹

For democratic countries political power is limited to the extent that the next elected representative has the ability to change or modify a set of power relations, as we see with US President Trump trying to unravel or remedy, depending on how you look at it, many of former President Obama’s initiatives.

But power goes far beyond big politics and weighty issues. It is found in the doctor’s office, the workplace, the schools and our neighborhoods. And thinkers like R. D. Laing suggest that power manifests within family dynamics.

Oliver Twist – Wikipedia

A Little Theory

Different cultural critics hold diverse views of power and how it is best applied. From Machiavelli to Marx, power is always present. But just how it is interpreted is a uniquely human act.

Postmodern and other social thinkers often overlook the fact that power, as a noun, is ethically ambivalent. Both good and bad can things be modified by the adjective “powerful”—for example, powerful love and powerful hate.

The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that knowledge gained from philosophical understanding creates power. Hobbes added that such power should be applied in ways good for the Commonwealth. His argument is echoed in the G-8 countries’ rationale behind military strikes against the enemies of democracy and freedom. In Catholicism, this is called the “Just War.

Good and Evil – Wikipedia

Michel Foucault says power is embedded in our social relationships but he doesn’t emphasize an ethical dimension to power. Rather, Foucault sees power as an ongoing struggle of competing intentions.

To some observers, it is almost as if Foucault portrays ethics and morality as historically relative products of social power.

If true, good and evil are not absolute, timeless and universal truths. They are relative to a given social time and place. That is, good and evil are social constructions.

However, Jules Evans argues that Foucault’s later work, such as The Care of the Self (1984), reveals a developing interest in an ethic of wellness. As Foucault says:

Perhaps I’ve insisted too much on the technology of domination and power. I am more and more interested…in the mode of action that an individual exercises upon himself by means of the technologies of the self.²

Whether or not Foucault’s interest in wellness was purely intellectual or, perhaps, an emerging practical concern remains open to debate.

Anthropology, Depth Psychology and Religion

Supernatural – Juliana Coutinho via Flickr

Terms like mana, numinoustapas and orenda refer to a form of magical, mystical or spiritual power originating from beyond the realm of scientific predictability.

In keeping with Max Weber‘s idea of charisma, individuals with a lot of social power may possess, command or mediate a good deal of spiritual, otherworldly power.

I think Weber’s concept of charisma is important because, for some, it links spiritual and political power.

Science vs Religion

Power ON – Wikipedia

Another central question is whether or not a given set of otherworldly powers are good or evil. This issue was once of great importance. It is now pretty well passed over by the media and most everyone else.

In its place we have the popular mindset of “health” and “illness.” In a nutshell, science and technology have moved in where religion and ritual once held sway.

So the 21st century mass murderer is “mentally ill” and not “possessed by Satan.”

At least, this is how the courts see it. And they, to return to our initial topic, have the power

¹ See my highlights at LINER for some recent distinctions in the ongoing dialog about power:

Hard Power – http://lnr.li/C0mV7/

Soft Power – http://lnr.li/IQQXv/

Smart Power – http://lnr.li/0rJdk/

² Michel Foucault, lecture given in 1982 cited in Jules Evans, “Philosophy as a Way of Life,” Eurasian Home Analytical Resource, August 15, 2007.

³ Most traditional theologians would say the courts only hold as much power as God permits, God being the bearer of all power.

Related » Counter-discourse, Discourse, Poststructuralism

 Two Concepts of Polarization (3quarksdaily.com)

 The last sacred kings (aeon.co)

 What are your desert island philosophy essays? (ask.metafilter.com)

 If Time Is Money, They’re Both Lies (therooflesschurch.com)

 Porn stars go mainstream (foxnews.com)

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Participation Mystique – An alternative to secular materialism

Mystiques of malabar

Mystiques of malabar: Seema K K via Flickr

Participation Mystique is a psychological and spiritual idea proposed by the anthropologist Lucien Lévi-Bruhl. It concerns the alleged mystical relationship that so-called primitives had with objects in their environment.

In Lévi-Bruhl’s own words:

In the collective representations of primitive mentality objects can be…something other than themselves…they give forth and they receive mystic powers, virtues, qualities, influences which make themselves felt outside, without ceasing to remain where they are.¹

The depth psychiatrist Carl Jung used the term participation mystique to denote two arguably related ideas.

First, Jung describes cases where his clients believe they have some kind of mystical connection with another person. This may involve a love affair, real or imagined or, more disturbingly, a kind of paranoid, fear relationship.

Over the years Jung modifies his thinking on this. Early on, he seems to say that participation mystique mostly involves a distorted understanding of the collective unconscious. That is, one mistakenly assumes a two-way mystical connection and that the other feels what they feel.

But later in his career Jung seems to open up to the notion that real, two-way relationships can occur through the matrix of the collective unconscious. These may be mutually conscious, conscious on the part of one person, or mutually unconscious.

Second, Jung talks about participation mystique in terms of the numinous power of the archetypes spilling over into ego consciousness. This doesn’t necessarily involve a relationship with another person, per se. The power of the archetypes can be experienced internally like the power of, as Jung suggests, the old gods. As such, they can be helpful or harmful, depending on how the ego relates to this power.

Lévi-Bruhl and Jung’s theories suggest that so-called primitives had an intimate relation with spiritual powers, good and bad.

For Jung, the ego is a high point of modern civilization. But the ego can also obscure the process of participation mystique. The psychological development of the ego gives mankind planes, trains and automobiles but robs us of an inner psycho-wealth apparently enjoyed by our ancestors.

This scenario has been questioned by Michel Foucault and others who say it is a romantic reconstruction of the past based on little or no fact. Foucault studies different understandings – in postmodern terms, constructions – of the self throughout Western history. He touches on themes like dream analysis and the sacrament of confession. But it seems he never really experiences the numinous in a mature way. Like many intelligent but overtly conceptual thinkers, his only understanding of spirituality comes from experimenting with mind-altering drugs.

The American mythographer Joseph Campbell builds on Jung’s work, suggesting that moderns can enjoy a sense of the numinous and feel spiritually connected to all of creation through archetypal films like Star Wars

Campbell implies that, contrary to what some might say, Europeans do not have a monopoly on deep culture. Culture is alive and well in North America—not so much through majestic old buildings and the classical arts but through the staggering achievements of Hollywood, the media, technology, and a higher standard of living. However, Campbell also appreciates the great cultural riches of European and most other civilizations.³

Darth Vader as a dark archetypal image – Vader has insight but uses it to destroy and conquer rather than to build up and share

Participation mystique is a pivotal idea because it links the individual to something greater than secular materialism. It opens the door to inner exploration and social dialog, both important and best kept in balance. Inner exploration without sincere dialog could lead to madness or charismatic authoritarianism. And social dialog without inner exploration might contribute to the same old worldly ideas being tossed around without any real insight, inspiration or meaningful innovation.

¹ Lucien Lévi-Bruhl, How Natives Think, trans. Lilian A. Clare, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966 [1910],  p. 61.

² The Romanian scholar, Mircea Eliade, says much the same thing in his own critique of modern culture. In Myth and Reality Eliade claims that mid-20th century comics like Superman “present the modern version of mythological or folklore Heroes” (New York: Harper & Row 1963, pp. 184-185).

³ These observations refer to about 1949-1987, when Campbell’s influence was at its peak. Everything has changed since then. I once knew a professor who came to Canada from a European country while it was under the grip of communism. Unlike Campbell, this professor implied that European culture was vastly superior to North American culture, the unanswered question being: If the professor likes the old country so much, why is he still in North America?

Johann Heinrich Füssli, Le Cauchemar (The Nightmare), 1781 via Wikipedia

Related » Representation, Transference, Vampires

 Why I Crave a Life of Disorder. (elephantjournal.com)

 Macbeth Buxton International Festival, review (telegraph.co.uk)


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Representation – A subtle power for good or ill

Radar is a unique type of representation that helps in war and peace

Radar is a unique type of representation used in war and peace

In the literary and artistic sense, representation refers to depicting a psychological, social, natural, political or spiritual idea or condition through language, music, visual art, multimedia, CGI or dance.

In the sciences, abstract ideas like numbers and their interrelationships are represented through numerals and other symbols.¹

In psychology, Carl Jung argues that representation is essential to the healthy growth of the psyche. For him, the conscious ego is like a control center that, through representation, must express and manage the formidable powers of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung believes it is potentially dangerous to not express unconscious attitudes, tendencies and desires in some socially acceptable way.

One of the classic examples of this danger in today’s news would be pedophile priests. These are mostly gay men, not too spiritually aware nor advanced, who have taken a vow of celibacy. They’ve also pledged themselves to God in an organization that says homosexuality is disordered. For Jung, this would be double trouble, involving

  • the harsh repression of physiological impulses for sex
  • a strange, twisted hypocrisy concerning one’s sexual orientation²

No wonder the US Church, alone, has paid out several billions of dollars in sex abuse lawsuits to victims over the past 65 years.

Postmodern thinkers question to what degree representation actually represents and to what degree it creates or colors something. For them, social power comes into play in describing and defining. Representation does not only denote something. It also connotes meanings. Compare the following two sentences:

He had a distinguished career with an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford.

He read and wrote a lot of stuff that people at a British school for continued learning liked, so they added more letters to his name.

These may denote the same thing but they connote very different meanings. Thus we see the power of representation.

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

Sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu say that elites use certain terms, ways of speaking and manners to separate themselves from others, and to remind the “lower classes” of their apparent vulgarity and powerlessness. Choice of clothing has the same effect. And funnily enough, the lower classics often buy cheaper, less fine versions of that expensive “look” in a failed attempt to measure up to their apparently elite superiors. Bourdieu calls these non-economic assets that elites possess cultural capital. From head to toe, inside and out, elites have a lot while the lower classes have far less.³

In anthropology, philosophy and theology, the idea of representation has been broken down into

  • first-order sense data, where human beings create an internal representation of something seemingly “out there”4
  • second-order conceptualizations and images

Within Platonic philosophy and the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages, different questions are raised about the possibility of eternal, unchanging essences or ideas that are imperfectly represented in our everyday, impermanent world of change and decay.

With abstract art, some argue that the personality and personal message of the artist may be entirely absent in the representational message of an artwork. Others say this is impossible—that is, the artist, artwork and viewer always exist in some kind of relationship.

To sum, representation is a fascinating phenomenon. In junior high school I once wrote a paper differentiating mankind from animals on the basis of our ability to make tools. But when I hit university I was introduced to the power of language, symbols and signs. And many argue that this representational aspect of mankind is what makes us truly human. For better or for worse, we live in a largely symbolic universe with diverse meanings.5

¹ Most of us don’t think about it too much. But the concept of number as a discrete, definite unit is not as simple as it might seem. See https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/what-are-numbers and https://welovephilosophy.com/2012/12/17/do-numbers-exist/

² I have no idea about the causes of hetero- and homosexuality. I am just reporting Jung’s view. Non-abusive instances of gay religious may involve a bewildering confusion or secret dual life concerning one’s sexual orientation. Concerning the first bulleted item, some Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit gives brothers, nuns and priests a supernatural gift of celibacy, lifting them to a higher level of operation and giving them power over their natural desires. In reality, though, I don’t think it’s always that clear cut.

³ This is not to say that the economically poor cannot be highly intelligent nor spiritually rich. But I think some religious people create a stereotype about this based on Luke 6:20. Just because someone is poor does not, imo, mean they always have a rich inner life and good ethics. And by the same token, just because someone is rich does not mean they are always cruel, superficial snobs. This is a silly, superficial view in itself, I think based on a particular interpretation of the New Testament.

I say seemingly “out there” because solipsism suggests we cannot prove the reality of anything beyond our own internal experience. I don’t agree with taking this view but thought I should mention it.

5 I say largely symbolic because some sociologists fall short by saying that we live in a mere symbolic universe. I’m not convinced that religious experience, before the interpretive stage, is symbolic. I believe the Holy Spirit can touch us directly. So part of our experience, provided we’re open to religious experience, can be direct and non-representational.

Related » Active Imagination, Archetypal Image, Roland Barthes, Rudolf Bultmann, Bruce Cockburn, Emile Durkheim, Emic-Etic, Icon, Object, Participation Mystique, Surrealism, Wittgenstein, Yoni


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Status (from classical sociologist Max Weber)

Weber family: ca. 1888. Max Weber (Jr.) on the...

Weber family: ca. 1888. Max Weber (Jr.) on the right. To the left, possibly: Max Weber. Sr, Helene Weber, Max. Jr. two out of three brothers (Alfred, Arthur, Karl), then possibly sisters? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When translated from the work of German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), status refers to a type of social honor or prestige associated with positions held by, for instance, an esteemed professor, a judge or member of the clergy.

Weber’s account of status belongs within a three part analysis of culture—class, status and party. For Weber, social stratification does not just depend on money. One may enjoy status but not class (economic wealth). Similarly, one may enjoy belonging to a party (having political power) but not necessarily be wealthy (class) or respected (status).

French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu supports unemployed workers in Paris, France on January 16, 1998.

Weber wrote well before Pierre Bourdieu articulated his idea of “cultural capital.” So his triparate analysis was, at the time, quite innovative. Weber also wrote prior to allegations about Roman Catholic pedophile, pornography and money laundering activities that have tainted public perception of the clergy and the Vatican in general. Not to say that illegal/unethical sex and money laundering allegations are specific to Catholicism. But investigations into the possibility that this most hallowed of institutions would repeatedly sully itself in this way has alerted many.

Suffice it to say that the perceived “status” of the Catholic clergy has taken a big hit since the days of Max Weber. Also, many non-Catholic preachers and politicians have been caught with their pants down, as it were.¹

Dr. Daniel Robinson notes that Weber wanted to be objective; but this, for all intents and purposes, is impossible and nobody today would see Weber as being objective.²

¹ Here’s an interesting site that lists how to recognize a fraud pastor » http://www.cultwatch.com/howpastorsgetrich.html

² See https://youtu.be/rfDyl58HEzM?list=PLiNgTF1S32ShMUlIYCiXsZ2zC168QH42u

Related » Caste


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Shakti

Angela Marie Henriette Dance of Shakti

Shakti is a Sanskrit term for female power, sometimes called “serpent power” because it is said to rise upwards like a serpent through the chakras of the meditating yogi or yogini.

Shakti also denotes a general principle of creative, cosmic energy. When personified it takes the form of a goddess, such as Siva‘s consort Parvati, or Krishna‘s playmate, Radha.

In New Age parlance the term arguably signifies the empowered, aware and holistic woman, as we find with figures like Shakti Gawain. Another meaning is the idea of the Cosmic, Divine or Great Mother.

Related » Kundalini, Tantra, Raja yoga

 


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Slamming (also Slammin, Slammin’)

SLAMMiN STRAPS: aJ GAZMEN ツ GucciBeaRs

SLAMMiN STRAPS: aJ GAZMEN ツ GucciBeaRs

Slamming (also Slammin, Slammin’) is a term used by rap artists and hipsters conveying several possibly interrelated meanings:

  • rhythmic verse and music of intense vitality or aggression—slammin’ vibes, slammin’ groove
  • something very good, hot, sexy, cool, happening, etc.
  • some form of power and, perhaps in some instances, spiritual power

The connection between music and power has been known since the dawn of mankind. Some anthropologists believe that the musical bow evolved from the ancient bow and arrow used for hunting and warfare.¹

Piano strings are struck with a “hammer.” And rock and jazz musicians often call the guitar an “axe.” A leading hip-hop artist was MC Hammer.

Serious Slammin'

Serious Slammin’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While the bow, arrow, hammer and axe are used for both aggressive and peaceful purposes, at bottom some notion of power is connoted by all of these terms.

Urban Dictionary adds:

1. adj. Something which is very good.
2. vt. to inject a drug intravenously
1. “Dude, this Lobster Bisque is SLAMMIN”
2. “SLAMMIN dope is not what it used to be.”²
.

Related » Shamanism, Song

 


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Symbols

Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to ...

Structure of psyche as a pyramid according to Carl Gustav Jung. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M. H. Abrams says that a symbol is anything that signifies something else. Abrams also notes the distinction between public and private symbols. The public symbol, such as the cross, is (apparently) understood by everyone in a given culture. The private symbol, such as an obscure poetic allusion, isn’t.

This distinction, however, is open to debate. Not everyone in a given culture interprets the cross in the same way.

In literature a symbol is

a word or phrase that signifies an object or event which in turn signifies something, or suggests a range of reference, beyond itself.¹

In Jungian depth psychology, the symbol is an image that mediates forces from the collective unconscious to ego consciousness. These forces can be healing (the cross image) or destructive (the serpent image).²

Jung believes that symbols arise from the unknowable archetypes but are understood through archetypal images. Archetypes apparently mingle among themselves; likewise, archetypal images are discrete but exhibit similarities. For Jung, psychic energy flows between the collective unconscious and the symbol in a two-way process.

Jungian Erich Neumann says the symbol acts as both as an “energy transformer” and as a “moulder of consciousness.” As an energy transformer the symbol facilitates the ego’s experience of the numinous, arising from the collective unconscious. As a moulder of consciousness, the symbol operates on the level of collective consciousness by contributing to a given culture’s ideology.

Jung believes that the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind are linked, so trying to ignore one in favor of the other is not a good idea. He’s widely quoted from The Undiscovered Self (1958):

You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zed...

Chinese Stamp, 1950. Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong are shaking hands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Along these lines, charismatic political leaders of the mass state cannot avoid being glorified or demonized. This happens through brute force, clever calculation and public fascination and projection. Jung believes, for example, that a placard of Joseph Stalin expresses an archetypal force articulated on the conscious level that both sways and oppresses individuals.

A more contemporary example would be the psychological effect that massive banking towers (symbolizing Big Business) have on the poor and disenfranchised. And in ancient cultures such as Greece, Rome and Egypt, impressive architecture probably had a similar effect on slaves, the exploited, the underprivileged and on less affluent visitors from foreign lands.

No discussion of the symbol would be complete without mentioning semiotics and poststructuralism. These contemporary paths of inquiry might not go into great detail about depth psychology, but they’re important for deconstructing cultural assumptions (see also sign, signifier, signified, denotation, connotation, Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, Bourdieu).

¹ A Glossary of Literary Terms, 2005, p. 320.

² Note, however, that for many the serpent is also healing (see Chakras, Tantra, Kundalini).