Saturday, 12 July 2014

Luke 18:10-13

Yesterday I read a very interesting interview by Matt Sledge on Huffington Post with author Max Blumenthal on the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/10/max-blumenthal-israel-palestine_n_5574082.html?utm_hp_ref=world). Blumenthal has been labelled an "Israel-basher" but I think he has some important things to say about the social engineering efforts of the extreme right whose strand may be traced back to the rise of the so-called, New Christian Right movement, which emerged in the 1970s in America and Australia (google: Televangelism as Pedagogy and Cultural Politics, written by Peter McLaren and Richard Smith).

It is not hard to see why this movement has been such an insidious and aggressive movement by the list of well-funded Superpacs: The Moral Majority, Christian Voice, Religious Roundtable and the Institute of Religion and Democracy (in America); The Festival of Light, The League of Rights, The Queensland National Party, STOP and CARE (in Australia) (McLaren and Smith, p. 153), and in Canada, to a lesser degree, off-shoots of these movements that have taken root especially in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan that Harper has been able to exploit to achieve a majority government.

The ultimate aim of these funding agencies is to bring about the "new" Jerusalem culminating (up to this point) in the re-election of Netanyahu ("...with Netanyahu determined to reverse the damage that had been done to him and shatter the unity agreement."):

I noticed in 2009 that Israel had undergone a massive societal transition, and that new voices were moving into the mainstream from the extreme right. That the peace process had completely collapsed and failed to accomplish what it supposedly set out to do, and that the most right-wing government in Israel's history had been elected by a comprehensively indoctrinated and militarized public, whose youngest members were its most extreme, and that this was going to spell serious trouble on the ground. 
....
They're the direct result of an education system that promotes militarization, that seeks to delegitimize the other in the minds of Israelis, and to cultivate Israelis as good soldiers, not good citizens.
To help them accomplish the psychological feat, which is not normal, of joining an occupation army at age 18, they have to be processed through a prolonged program of indoctrination which convinces them that they are in existential peril at all times, and that Palestinians could throw them off their land if they don't join the army.
(Abu Khdeir's killers) are a common product of Israel's education system and its comprehensively militarized culture. (Blumenthal interview on Huffington Post)

As a Judeophile I see the ruthlessness of Netanyahu and the largely invisible Christian Right as pure hubris, as sinful arrogance assuming the role of a mid-wife, not because of some great and external evil but because of the misguided belief that this is what G*d wants. Armageddon and the rising internecine strife benefit who? It is the multi-billion dollar funding complex that preys on and perverts the core belief systems of the invalids, the misfits, the angry, the mean, the greedy, the mentally- and ideologically- seiged, etc. spoken of in Depeche Mode's song, "Personal Jesus".


Jay

Friday, 11 July 2014

Halakha

The term, halakha, is a Hebrew word meaning "the way to go" which is taken to mean the "overall system of religious law" which is contrasted with another term, aggadah, meaning "to draw out" which is taken to mean the diverse corpus of rabbinic commentaries and philosophical and mystical interpretations of the Holy Scriptures and other important works of Jewish literature and thought.

I was given a book recently called, How Forests Think: toward an anthropology beyond the human (2013), by the author, Eduardo Kohn, a husband of an old friend and whom I now consider a new friend. In much the same way that original intellectual works of achievement draw together seemingly disparate insights from seemingly unrelated fields of study,Einstein's theories of relativity drew from ideas and findings that had been bandied about for many years before he came up with a consistent frameworkEduardo's work on, and applications of semiotics is profoundly insightful.

I read an article today on the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/10/torah-robot-berlin-jewish-museum_n_5574936.html?utm_hp_ref=science&ir=Canada) that got me thinking about the Kohn book, or more precisely, helped expand the notion of transcending dualism as Kohn speaks of it in his book.

The inventors of the robot arm that writes Hebrew calligraphy takes pains to make clear: "The finished scroll, to be complete in January 2015, will not be considered halakhic, or meeting the requirements for use for religious purposes. The installation is part of the exhibition 'The Creation of the World' ('Die Erschaffung der Welt' in German), predominantly a collection of Hebrew manuscripts."

There is a system to copying the Holy Scriptures—a halakha—that is considered, by some sects of Judaism, as a partnership between the people and G*d, and not to be taken lightly at all:

"'In order for the Torah to be holy, it has to be written with a goose feather on parchment, the process has to be filled with meaning and I'm saying prayers while I'm writing it,' said Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov."

This brings me to Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)—and Kohn's comprehensive critique of dualism. Baudrillard, in his later years, increasingly became obsessed with virtual reality, and, in effect, gave up on trying to transcend dualism and sided with materialism in the extreme having seen his children (his theories) either cut down by history or by the very developments in technology and human knowledge he said would happen a certain way with certain results. -Here's to Baudrillard: a tragic hero of post-modernism.

Kohn, on the other hand, uses the very terror and angst that brought down Baudrillard to gain an original perspective on the nature and ontology (and perhaps a way out) of dualism. In reference to a personal experience that brought about an "aha!" moment, he writes:

Panic provides us with intimations of what radical dualism might feel like, and why for us humans dualism seems so compelling. In tracing its untenable effects panic also provides its own visceral critique of dualism and the skepticism that so often accompanies it. In panic's dissolution we can also get a sense for how a particular human propensity for dualism is dissolved into something else. One might say that dualism, wherever it is found, is a way of seeing emergent novelty as if it were severed from that from which it emerged. (Kohn, p. 57)

In my rather crude interpretation of Kohn, I'd say that the interplay between the halakha and aggadah (ie, the historical being that is Rabbi Yaacobov) is what distinguishes the Rabbi from the robot arm, but the distinction is ultimately superficial because it is not a matter of choice but a symbiosis between the goose feather, the parchment and the Rabbi that creates the religious act (the partnership between G*d and man, if you will). This symbiosis negates the utility of the robot arm but simply because the cycle of relations is complete.

It is these cycles of relations within cycles of relations that Eduardo Kohn studies:

An emergentist approach can provide a theoretical and empirical account of how the symbolic is in continuity with matter at the same time that it can come to be a novel casual locus of possibility. This continuity allows us to recognize how something so unique and separate is never fully cut off from the rest of the world. (Kohn, P. 56-57)

Jay

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Striving for simplicity

One of my closest and beloved friends has been on a program to simplify her home, to take away the superfluous and the unnecessary and to find satisfaction in a simple home. I think it's very cool because the notion of accumulation seems to be our default setting while the taking away seems a torturous task of sacrifice and self-denial.

In the Taoist philosophy the concept of the "uncarved block" goes hand-in-hand with the concept of "non-action" (simplicity and humility). And, along with these, Lao Tsu says that to attain wisdom one has to subtract things everyday.

The distillation of these spiritual truths—believe it or not—achieve a personal perfection in the Christ who had not even a pillow to lie on (Matthew 8:20).

Like most people who grew up being forced to go to church I was really put off by the presentation of the Christ as an arbitrarily judgmental, petty and spiteful figure, and for many years I wanted nothing to do with religion: some people were going to heaven and some people were going to hell, and I had a natural affinity for the latter. Why even try...said I.

Then I kind of lost my mind and shrank into Jewish mysticism called the Kabbalah. This is where I found the notion of "divine simplicity" that holds the transcendence of G*d from His creation is because He is absolutely simple with no element, no part, not structure that should be attributed to Him even—and especially—for the purposes of worship. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7)

A literal, concrete reading suggests that we should not worship idols (very little chance of that in the modern world), but a more nuanced (esoteric) reading says that:

He who obeys his inclination is like an idolator. "There shall be no strange god in thee" [psalm 81:10] means, Make not the stranger in you your ruler! (Yannai. Talmud J: nedarim 9.1)

The surrounding commentaries say that without the Yetzer Hara (evil inclination) no illumination is possible: In every evil thought there is a spark of divinity, which has sunk to a very low degree, and begs to be elevated (Joseph Opatoshu, In Polish Woods, 1921)

This is in line with the Book of Genesis: The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Gen. 1:12)

In essence and fact, the Yetzer Hara (vanity and pride) is a superfluous addition to what is already perfected and deemed "good" by our Creator. "The lamb of G*d who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us sinners" There is no trick, no secret divulged only to the privileged few, there is only the taking away. Our duty and responsibility as disciples is only to strive for simplicity.

Andrew Murray was given to me by a fellow Christian at the beginning of my re-animation:

There are three things that should motivate me to be humble. Humility is the only normal way for me to live as a man. This healthy desire to take a rightful place under God moves the angels in heaven, just as it did Adam and Eve when they were freshly created and Jesus when he lived as the carpenter from Galilee. Humility also gives me hope as a sinner. It appeals to us humans in our fallen condition and points out the only way to return to our right place in God’s creation. Finally, humility strengthens me as a saint. Grace teaches us that as we lose ourselves in the overwhelming greatness of God’s love, humility before Him is caught up in everlasting blessedness and worship. (http://www.cec-sd.org/materials/Humility_by_Andrew_Murray.pdf)

I freely give as am encouraged by the author and the publishers of his divinely-inspired commentary on the Humility of Christ.

I close with a series of quotes from Lao Tsu (which I maintain are also in correspondence with the best of spiritual insights of Inuit Knowledge):

"When goodness is lost, it is replaced by morality."

"The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness."

"The best people are like water, which benefits all things and does not compete with them. It stays in lowly places that others reject. This is why it is so similar to the Way."

"When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad."

“Try to change it and you will ruin it. Try to hold it and you will lose it.”

"The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be."

Jay

Sunday, 29 June 2014

All is beautiful

In the 2011 movie, Immortals, John Hurt's Zeus tells the Theseus to mind his rhythm when he fights. The concept of rhythm or periodicity—everything from cadence to static repeating patterns, mutating or regular—is fundamental aesthetics that is hard-wired to the human brain, and most of it is subconscious. It is truly the final arbiter in our acceptance of nature, and the "natural". It is, to me, manna from heaven dividing the insane from the mystical.

Pythagoras is famous for his willingness to kill to try and quell "irrational" numbers where non-repeating, endless expansion of numbers follow a decimal point is the definition, though it is not the psychological "irrationality" but the fact that a given number defies a whole numbers ratio representation. However simply because a number is irrational doesn't mean it has no inner beauty—the analytic and geometric proofs of the square root of 2, the number π, etc. have something of a divinely inspired beauty about them much akin to a landscape that only the mind's eye can perceive.

I personally have spent now literally years exploring the abstract structures of language and am ever on the look out for "new" ways of perceiving—I put quotation marks around the word new because sometimes the old (old English, or reconstructed proto-languages) provide insights not obvious in synchronic analysis alone.

For eg, taking cue from the Gematria (a numerological analysis of Hebrew letters in Jewish mysticism) I came up with a way of numeral coding of morpheme types allowable in Inuit language grammar and I saw beauty never before seen but was always there (a four number sequence, a genetic code of language if you will). -Sounds pretty "far out", doesn't it?

It is nothing less than a pons asinorum of linguistic analysis: impassive, inscrutable without a proper frame of mind, like the monolith in Arthur C Clarke's 2001: a space odyssey.

Having seen and tasted fruit not intended for the vulgar (and I say this in all humility) I join the author of psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

Jay

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Is the "Christian Right" finally subsiding?

“Nobody is capable of of free speech unless he knows how to use language, and such knowledge is not a gift: it has to learned and worked at.”
-Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination, p. 93

When I was working as a policy analyst for a Regional Inuit Association I was invited to take part in a series of workshops organized and held by the Curriculum Development Office in Arviat, Nunavut. In one of them I made mention of the need to incorporate the experiences of the students—I think it was after having read Northrop Frye—by way of their favourite music, artists and movies, and was given a book called, Popular Culture: schooling and everyday life (OISE Press, Critical Studies in Education Series, 1989)—an anthology of scholarly essays.

After perceiving a recent series of stunning push-backs against North American right-wing nuttery—in the US and Canada—I went back to the book in hopes of gaining a better understanding of this mass movement that seems to be losing steam rather quickly. A cybernetic interpretation says that it'll resist dying out completely and may mutate into either something resembling vicious Islamic fundamentalism or fracture into cult-like closed communities (a la David Koresh)—we are after all dealing with belief systems of people already prone to and/or inured into conspiracy theories blended with an imperative for ideological "purity".

There is an essay in the book called, Televangelism as Pedagogy and Cultural Politics, by Peter McLaren and Richard Smith (Ch. 8):

The resurgence of the Christian Right in America and Australia and the emergence of of fundamentalist-evangelical television ministers can be seen as a sociohistorical changes in the post-1960s era. Alberoni (1984: 41), in his discussion of social movements, describes the experience which enables people to recognize themselves as having consciousness of kind, and "alternative interpretation of reality" or the "nascent state":

The nascent state is an exploration of the limits of the possible within a given type of social system, in order to maximize the portion of experiences and solidarity which is realizable for oneself and for others at a specific historical moment...[here the authors are quoting Alberoni]

Alberoni argues that the nascent state emerges because of the coincidence of certain structural preconditions and the deliberate intervention of "missionaries, agents, or agitators." The former are those circumstances where single persons and collectivities experience sui generis authentic contradictions between what they desire in everyday and institutional life and what is, so the latter becomes intolerable. (pp. 149-150)

The authors of the essay continue citing Alberoni's contention that the "traditional" middle class ("whose social location lies between the privileged and the exploited") with already "religious" proclivities and disillusioned by the "loss of (positive) traditions"—attributing that "loss" to permissive left-wing progressives—manifests as a(n exclusive) mass social movement. I say it evidences itself as "prosperity" Christianity with branches (within a larger, single "ministry") that cater to different hues of skin colour less denominational affinities. One can see the same stage and back drop behind black-American preachers with black audiences, white-American preachers with white audiences, but under the same corporate logo and uniformity.

Like much of the easy-going, low-key tradition of Canada—fortunately far from centers of change and flash-points that spawn these vicious and destructive feedback loops—the Christian Right here is decidedly ersatz. This is a good thing; the institutions and the larger society in which these are embedded has been graciously afforded the time to reflect upon and learn from the inevitable fallout. Not that Harper and the reformists haven't given the old college try.

Pathetic, really.

The theatrics Harper and his minions pathetically try and employ here are comical at best for the simple fact that they're already obvious and obsolete by the time they hit our shores. Canada is unintentionally cool that way.

At the time of this writing the Mississippi electorate has chosen sanity over militancy and the inappropriately shrill outrages of Harper in his attempts at attacking the long-standing institutions like the Supreme Court of Canada have only resulted in him being put in his place time and again. Canadians are apparently just plain getting tired of and angry with Harper embarrassing himself in every front he's tried to open his ignorant mouth in. The "Christian Right" has lost its initiative.

Jay

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Mistaking the forest for the trees

I had a very interesting dinner conversation with Amaruq yesterday. She brought up something from my blog entry yesterday and alluded to the image of an old adage of mistaking the forest for the trees which I thought was really insightful and helpful and expansive of what I was trying to say.

Our institutions (including the education system) seem especially prone to mistaking the forest for the trees, she said. People are less people than numbers—molded and overflow filed down and edited out by way of neat boiler-plated language that fit "clients" into an arbitrary taxonomic criteria, come hell or high water. In fact, a bureaucracy is a taxonomic scheme gone haywire, apparently in a double-bind by confusing the act of naming and classifying for purpose; the thing-in-itself confused for a means (...to what end? -it dare not answer).

Going back to Amaruq's insightful comments: to a naive person the forest is a messy, chaotic profusion of brush and bramble in need of domesticating influence of a gardener. Forget for the moment that, in its pristine state, it is an indication of health and vitality of biota (plants and animals together); some plants need to be emphasized and exaggerated and some need to be suppressed and eliminated.

Gardening is no more science than bureaucracy is science. Neither can ever be scientific because both are prescriptive not descriptive, and neither are willing nor even capable of reflecting on what end they serve. Both only know the language of interference/disruption and death.

It is the same kind of difference between Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Piaget may be likened to the archetypal Victorian: prudish, hypocritical, stuffy and narrow-minded—as in the image the nouveau riche clumsily aspire to, as if "class" can be purchased. Vygotsky, on the other hand, is a real scientist: faithful to describing what he observes, reflective and authentic to his aha! moments.

At the time of this writing, CBS's Sunday Morning is featuring an essay on doodling, not as a folk art form but rather as a mechanism for memory retention and learning. I think they're on to something. I think you've met the type, the type that insists on being stared at (blankly, if need be) while they talk. Have you ever done that? The human face has many distracting aspects during speech; one can only focus on one eye at a time; the mouth is a sphincter; the nostrils flare and stretch and flex, blissfully unaware of how distracting they are to what is actually being said.

Better the speaker observe and gauge the reactions and receptivity of the listener. The human face is beautifully human and authentic when unforced by cultural "niceties" and allowed to focus solely on the social act of listening. The mark of a great teacher and speaker is their attention to the details of the facial and body language cues, not the other way around.

Jay

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Gumption: a missing ingredient in Aboriginal Education(?)

nec tibi quid liceat, sed quid fecisse decebit occurrat; mentemque domet respectus honesti
(consider not what you may do, but what you ought; and let your sense of what is right govern your conduct) - Claudian

Years ago, I read Robert Persig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). Despite its "new agey" title it is considered an American classic. In it, Persig coins a phrase "gumption trap" that sets the whole story of Phaedrus, a teacher of creative and technical writing who loses his mind, suffers through horrific therapies, but eventually finds his way back to sanity.

A gumption trap is complete loss of confidence brought about by outright "failure" in something where all subsequent inaction is further reinforced by fear of failure. It is a feedback loop that smothers any sense of initiative. Many of us are not unfamiliar with it but aboriginal children seem especially prone to its stultifying effects, especially if the child came into school speaking one language and is expected to learn and assume another to "achieve" some level of acceptance.

I remember one episode where I came in midway through a course on graphs (my attendance in school was rather intermittent, and I've only myself to blame), and I had no idea what I should be doing—to plot a pair of numbers onto the graph—so I just drew a curve as best as I could. The teacher was not amused.

I didn't really understand what he said in anger for the whole class to hear but the sting and embarrassment were real enough. I lost interest in numbers and thought for the longest time that when it came to mathematics I was a complete write-off: turns out there is a whole ocean of difference between arithmetic and mathematics, and where I'm almost completely useless in one I more than make up in the other. I'm no mathematician but I do have an intuitive feel for mathematical thinking. To contemplate mathematically-derived structures have a calming effect on my thinking. There is something spiritual in being able to say: It is thus and could not have been otherwise, and now I know (how and) why.

The apparent lack of achievement in Aboriginal Education is not attributable to the teachers nor the students but the blame lies in the system itself. It is in the very epistemology and teleology of the "iron cage" where the mindless (intentionally designed thus) checking off of its obligations in the process matter more than the actual imparting of knowledge and capability upon the students who are left largely to fend for themselves having acquired coping mechanisms that often puts them in direct conflict with the very people who may want to help them but aren't afforded the time and resources to address the short-falls of the system let alone the personal effects in which these young people find themselves.

A system-wide reset is impossible. But some (even short term) funding arrangements may allow for pockets of calm and thriving even for a short time—hopefully enough time for the teachers and students to transcend the "gumption trap" long enough get to the other side of righteousness.

Jay