Overweening Generalist

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Friday, April 29, 2016

World Book Day/Night 2016

[Apparently World Book Night came again this year, and I was busy doing other things, totally oblivious. Yesterday I logged on to "surf the Net" - which fogies like me still say, by the way - and kept noticing all these new articles about Shakespeare and wondered, "wha?" Then it hit me: World Book Day/Night was April 23rd, so here I am, a mere six days late.

Fore-Words: Set the Tone
Here's part of a dialogue between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell:

Moyers: Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are our shamans? Who interprets unseen things for us?

Campbell: It is the function of the artist to do this. The artist is the one who communicates myth for today. But he has to be an artist who understands mythology and humanity and isn't simply a sociologist with a program for you.

Moyers: What about those others who are ordinary, those who are not poets or artists, or who have not had a transcendent ecstasy? How do we know of these things?

Campbell: I'll tell you a way, a very nice way. Sit in a room and read - and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time. This realization of life can be a constant realization in your living. When you find an author who really grabs you, read everything he has done. Don't say, "Oh, I want to know what So-and-so did" - and don't bother at all with the best-seller list. Just read what this one author has to give you. And then you can go read what he had read. And the world opens up in a way that is consistent with a certain point of view. -  The Power of Myth, p.99
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Short Note on Books and Revolutions
My writing on the visceral thrill I get from reading "forbidden" or "dangerous" books, books with some purported "demonic" power, books linked to infamous crimes, etcetera, has appeared at this blog and in other places. Currently I've been reading in books about other books on the topic of what books can/might/did "do" to certain readers, and, oh, all kinds of fallout in human history. For those who want to look at some choice academic research quite readable about books and revolutions, two that I've recently found of surpassing interest are Robert Darnton's The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, and John V. Fleming's The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War.

Darnton - one of the great scholars of books in our time - breaks down the forbidden best-sellers during the 20 year period before the ancien regime turned to guillotine-time (a much different time than the time Joseph Campbell warned us about; I tend to agree with Campbell about best-sellers under the current dispensation); Darnton's sleuthing is marvelous, teasing out the many "underground" forbidden books from roughly 1769 or so to 1789. These books get classified into three categories: 1.) "Philosophical Pornography"; 2.) Utopian Fantasy; and 3.) Political Slander. Darnton writes a chapter on each. Later, Section 3 of Darnton is titled, "Do Books Cause Revolutions?" and this section constitutes a marvelous contribution to the sociology of knowledge.

Fleming writes at length about four books that influenced the Cold War: Koestler's Darkness At Noon (1940), which was the only one of the four I'd been familiar with. The others are Out of the Night (1941, but really only a few weeks after Koestler's book came out), by "Jan Valtin" AKA Richard Krebs, a supposed autobiography and the best-seller in Unistat by the end of the year; I Chose Freedom, by Victor Kravchenko (1944). The last anti-commie book for Fleming was one I'd known of, but that was the extent: Whittaker Chambers's Witness (1952), which Fleming calls "perhaps the greatest American masterpiece of literary anti-Communism," and a book which greatly benefited by the Cold War being now in full swing, and even more so by Chambers's nailing of Alger Hiss. At the end of last year I read a cracking good just-off-the-presses book about the history of today's Unistat right wing, Right Out of California, by UC Davis History professor Kathryn Olmstead. That book - which argues persuasively that the origin of the Unistat Right began in Depression Era California, where the migrant farmworkers were not considered under The New Deal, because FDR needed the South - foreshadowed a lot of the information in Fleming's book, and extended the boundaries of my own historical imagination vis a vis the refinement of propaganda techniques by Unistat spy agencies and the military/industrial/entertainment complex. Juxtaposing Fleming's book on mid-20th century political books that the State "likes" vs. the underground sales of books forbidden by the State in Darnton made me feel like 1789 was more like 500 years ago.

Darnton and Fleming and Olmstead (oh my!) also reminded me of Frances Stonor Saunders's must-read, The Cultural Cold War. Get a load of this:

"'Books differ from all other propaganda media,' wrote a chief of the CIA's Covert Action Staff, 'primarily because one single book can significantly change the reader's attitude and action to an extent unmatched by the impact of any other single medium [such as to] make books the most important weapon of strategic (long-range) propaganda.' The CIA's clandestine books programme was run, according to the same source, with the following aims in mind: 'Get books published or distributed abroad without revealing any US influence, by covertly subsidizing foreign publications or booksellers. Get books published which should not be 'contaminated' by any overt tie-in with the US government, especially if the position of the author is 'delicate.' Get books published for operational reasons, regardless of commercial viability. Initiate and subsidize indigenous national or international organizations for book publishing or distributing purposes. Stimulate the writing of politically significant books by unknown foreign authors - either by directly subsidizing the author, if covert contact is feasible, or indirectly, through literary agents or publishers." -p.245, Saunders, who is quoting from the Final Report of the Church Committee, 1976. Saunders quotes a NYT article published on Christmas Day, 1977, about the investigations into the CIA's history: "The New York Times alleged in 1977 that the CIA had been involved in the publication of at least a thousand books."

When I first read Saunders, I noted a CIA-backed book I had read that no one I personally knew had read. And I'd liked the book: The New Class, by Milovan Djilas. E. Howard Hunt, working for the CIA admitted he helped get that book published. Was I a dupe? I guess any one of us who reads books at this level will be reading "propaganda" at some point, unwittingly, or possibly quasi-wittingly. Chomsky has written many times that the intellectual class is most subject to this sort of thing, simply because they read so damned much...So there's another reason to embrace those rebel writers you love, the outre and declasse ones that never get reviewed by the New York intellectuals?

To return to our Big Q: do books cause revolutions? I'd like to think so. My oblivious reading of Djilas's CIA-backed book led me to read a wonderful book by the renegade "outlaw Marxist" Alvin Gouldner, and his The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. Gouldner turned Socrates and interrogated Marxism from within. I find the intellectual stimulation so bracing I return to this slim volume every few years. In it, he says that Marxism is a product of bookstores and libraries.
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Thirdly, and really a bald non-sequitur, I will state an esthetic preference for reading "dead tree" books over reading them on any digital gadget, and that replacing paper books with e-books is - and I'm not the first to float this analogy - like replacing real cut flowers with plastic ones.

Dead Tree Books, Despite the Peril of Paper
Oh, okay yes: the "real" cut flowers will wither in a week or so, while your plastic flowers look the same year after year, so there's gotta be something wrong with this analogy. But I will throw in a monkeywrench and say that with cannabis and hemp legalization more publishers will probably want to use hemp for paper because it last many, many, many times longer than pulped paper.

And our diminishing world forests get a break. Lousy quality paper: have you ever picked up an old paperback novel produced in the 1950s at a yard or library sale? I've bought ones where the paper is increasingly sort of brownish-rusty near the edges, the paper itself has a rough fuzzy feel to it, and the pages are likely to break if you bend them. Lamentable books like this - even if you read 'em and they're great - are not the ones you'd give to someone else, "You've got to read this! It's fantastic!" Then you hand them the book and a couple of pages fall out, having detached from the spine during the apparently rough drive over, when you hit that pothole. Sad. What an overall lugubrious-evoking state of affairs, indeed.

40 years after a book rolls off the presses ready for the bookstore, it's literally disintegrating in your hands! (I first noted these books in the 1990s.)

In the bargain basement pulp paper era (BBPPE), which lasted into the 1980s, according to one source I probably just made up, publishers of paperbacks sought to save money by buying the cheapest pulp paper they could find, then "extend" this pulp by throwing in some acid.

No, that's cutting corners. It's more like this: when you use wood to make paper there's this stuff called lignin, which went into making the cell walls of wood and bark and helped make up the vascular structures of a plant. This is odorless, mostly colorless, and I imagine fairly tasteless. (Ever get one of those old crappy paperbacks that actually have a big fleck of wood embedded in a page? This I count as one of those Things That Ought Not Be in my world.)

You get rid of the lignin when you're making the paper by adding acid, particularly something called peroxycetic acid. It's more complex than this (of course!), but adding the acid is part of the delignification process. We worry about old Ray Bradbury paperbacks - or at least I think we should -  but documents and artworks, if not delignified, will break down and deteriorate, and even faster if exposed to light and heat. And don't we do some of our best reading under light, with adequate heat? To get the pH level of your pulp back to something closer to the 7 of alkaline/acid balance, you need to go through another process or two, but that costs money. Just take the acid-riddled pulp and print that dimestore novel on that. Take the money and run...

To cut to a less technical aspect of this spiel, hemp has lower lignin content. If treated just right, it's fairly inexpensive to produce paper for books from hemp that will last 500 to 1000 years before it noticeably starts to deteriorate. Robert Anton Wilson cited an article in a February, 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics about a hemp harvesting machine that would make farmers rich and allow us all to have the most fantastic paper in our books, no cutting down forests either. The male (you don't get high off it) cannabis plant: hemp. Easy to grow. Here's RAW's bit:

"Well, kiddies, the wonderful invention was a device that made it possible to harvest hemp more cheaply than ever before. Hemp was the chief ingredient in paper throughout most of history (our Declaration of Independence was written on it, for instance) and paper made of hemp lasted a good long time compared to paper made of wood pulp. Ever notice how 19th or 18th century books, or even 17th century books like the original folio of Shakespeare's plays, printed on hemp, are still around, while modern books printed on wood pulp fall apart in only decades?"
-p.178, "Deforestation," Email To The Universe

Wilson then goes on to link this to the War on Drugs, including pot. The Unistat gummint found out people were getting high, so sorry: millions of lives must be ruined, forests chopped down, and books must fall apart. I wish I believed in "hell" so I could imagine someone like Harry Anslinger paying for his part in all this, but he's probably just food for worms.

The Good News: we have good reason to believe we'll get lots of hemp in our paper in our books, soon, the cultural winds finally having shifted. And I'm sorry, but we cannot extend the life of our cut flowers indefinitely, and I'm sure someone's working on it. (Then where will the florists be? Uber drivers? Oy!)

I love the story about Ts'ai Lun, who made paper out of hemp and mulberry bark and tried to convince the Chinese bureaucracy to adopt his invention, paper, in 105 CE. The stuffed shirts wouldn't give Ts'ai a decent hearing, so he pulled the old shamanic stunt of burying himself alive and then returning to the living. He used a hollow reed to breathe, and his friends burned a bunch of his hemp-paper over his grave, which caused Ts'ai Lun to miraculously come back to life. Quite a trick! The bureaucrats were impressed (jeez, the shit The Suits put you through before they'll listen to a new idea!), and his paper was adopted, and Ts'ai became a palace favorite. But political winds shifted after a spell, and Ts'ai faced a trial, which he wasn't up for. So, as Dale Pendell writes, Ts'ai Lun "dressed in his best robes and drank poison." - PharmakoPoeia, p.183

Coda: A Future?
So, we're all used to the print/dead tree/dead hemp plant "codex" book vs. the book read on some electronic gadget argument. Well, Google is working on a combination of the two, but as I read about it, I had mind's eye trouble: an "augmented reality" pop-up book that adds sound, lighting elements, and video projection? And it interacts with other personal information you had stored on your other e-gizmos? You can add content? I'm not sure if I understand what these visionaries want to do, but I guess there are some areas in all our lives and - I'll speak for myself here - I think I already add that stuff to my reading of the plain old paper-bound book. I do it in exercising my imagination. For what the wizards at Google and Apple want to do, I'll just watch a fucking movie, your mileage may vary. See the article I'm getting all reactionary over HERE. What am I missing?

On second thought: this could become the next great art medium, and you know what? I hope it does...

Adieu
I wish you all a Joseph Campbell-ian "nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time" in your reading, chums.

                                          fantasztikus grafikus Bob Campbell


Friday, April 22, 2016

Critical Mass (2012 Mike Freedman): Interview with the Filmmaker

In mid-July 2012 I blogged on John B. Calhoun and his experiments with rats and overpopulation. A documentary filmmaker read the post and contacted me, because he I was addressing Calhoun and he'd just made a film about him, but the main topic was the world human population. He sent me a password so I could watch his as-yet unreleased film. And I was impressed.

This interview was conducted at the end of 2012; I was waiting for an alert from Freedman about the official release date, and I must have missed it. I've been meaning to get this out, and Earth Day seems like as good a day as any. The film has done very well so far. (HERE's the trailer.)



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OG: Where were you born and raised, what are/were your parent's occupations, and were intellectual ideas discussed around the dinner table?

Mike Freedman: I was born in New York City and raised in London.  My father is a playwright and director of theatre and my mother was in banking.  Family dinners were a fixture, and ideas were very much discussed - questions were answered, words were defined and looked up in the dictionary.  More broadly, although my parents weren't lavish spenders on "things", they were always of the belief that money spent on books was never wasted, so visits to book stores always yielded prizes.  We were also a family that attended theatre, concerts and films and then discussed them afterwards, and as children we were allowed to have an opinion and encouraged to frame it and defend it intelligently.  Disagreement was not discouraged, so I grew up in quite an aggressive environment intellectually speaking - if you had an idea, you had to be prepared to defend it and clarify it, and taking offence at being called out on something was looked down upon.

OG: When did you first get interested in sustainability, and human survival on the planet? I saw EF Schumacher's name near the end credits of special thanks, which listed your family first, if I remember correctly. Schumacher's books on "buddhist economics" were a big deal for me along these lines, way back when I was 18 or so.

Freedman: In terms of how I viewed the genesis of environmental crises or human conflicts, I recall always seeing them as byproducts of humans competing with one another or being crowded together.  I never thought of myself as an activist, but I suppose my intellectual curiosity about the complexity of these issues simply led me to the rational view of our planet as a holistic system of which we are a part, albeit a part currently engaged in some rather systemically disruptive behaviour.  There were three books in particular that gave me the vocabulary and intellectual framework with which to navigate and share this view: The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris, The Soul of the Ape by Eugene Marais and Small is Beautiful by EF Schumacher.  Honourable mention must also go to Our Inner Ape by Frans de Waal, a fantastic book.  As an aside, I should say that my interest in human survival on this planet is the same as everyone else's really - I suppose I was just raised and educated in a way that helps me to filter out the cultural programming and status-seeking noise of our social and economic structures sufficiently that I can see where this road leads if we continue down it.

OG: The footage of Calhoun was mindblowing, and you and your editor inserted the clips in very effective points in the narrative. I was reminded of something William Gibson said about narrative, that it was about the "controlled release of information." Your film does this masterfully. Say a little something about how you found the Calhoun footage and the process in which you chose to use it: simple story-boarding? 

Freedman: Calhoun's work was done using public funding, and as such the law places the films of his experiments in the public domain.  This was a very big help for us.  John Rees, the head archivist at the National Library of Medicine, was an absolute angel in terms of tracking down his boxes and tapes, and then of course finding a way to get me copies of the footage.  Without that man's help, this film would still be in my head for sure.  In terms of how we use the footage, it was always intended that we tell Calhoun's story as the main arc of the film, but with almost 200 hours of interviews, cut-aways and archive I got bogged down pretty badly.  I ended up at one point with a pretty lumpen chapter structure which the editor discarded and then strung the information out along the length of the film in a much more dramatically effective manner.  No story-boarding - after I'd logged the footage and snipped out all the tidbits I knew I wanted (which resulted in a ridiculously self-indulgent 3 hour cut), the editor and I sat down and spent our first day together discussing the structure of the film. After that, we just worked to the plan and kept grinding it out until we had it done.  The key was to allow visual breaks that still delivered information even if the audience felt that they were getting a rest.

OG: The main reason I think you have a winner here - beside the fact it's so well-put-together - is that Al Gore's power point An Inconvenient Truth film was so well-received. Now, that may have something to do with the power of Al Gore, but your issues encompass his. We shouldn't denigrate global warming, obviously, but the issues your film discusses a much larger set of pressing concerns. Gore covered global warming, and it seems you've covered everything else! The problem with films like yours, for some viewers, may be that the information is so scary and overwhelming (and this issue is addressed in your film, I know), that viewers may react with a sort of paralyzed anxious passivity, which Calhoun himself foresaw. But the film isn't all doom and gloom. There are rays of hope, a way out. What are some of the things that you have done to personally now that you have such a high level of awareness? What do you think the viewers can start doing the moment they walk out of the theater? What are some of the best organizations they may want to pay attention to? I LOVED the link to the books on the website; I've read about 60% of those and want to read the rest now.

                                  documentarian Mike Freedman


Freedman: Well, when we were making the film we knew that there was a very fine line between scaring people enough that they feel they must do something and scaring them so much that they feel there's nothing they can do.  In terms of what can be done, I would suggest three main levels of action: the individual, the community and the political.  As an individual, you have a certain range of choices that you can make, and by making certain changes you not only show others by your actions what it is that you would like them also to be doing, you show yourself that you are capable of change and capable of exerting will over your own life and actions.  The latter cannot be overstated - so many of us feel either powerless, or entrenched, calcified, not only knowing what we can do but not even feeling that we can do it.  Doing something, no matter how minor, is a step, and as the saying goes, a single step is where the journey begins.  The more you work on yourself, the more you prove to yourself that you are capable of will, of change, the more will power you gain and the more changes you can make.  The individual level of action is not only the primary but ultimately, in this wild and mysterious world, the only level of true action.  At the community level, you can work to know your neighbours, to source your food and energy not only sustainably but locally, to build genuine resilience and democracy.  I'm fond of saying that democracy functions best at the local level, municipal and at most state.  Much further than state democracy and the people who are governed are too far removed from their leaders and vice versa.  How many people from Nebraska can or will go all the way to DC to protest or deliver a petition?  So how can a Nebraska representative at the federal level truly represent his people if he never sees the majority of them, or speaks with them or lives among them.  That's why federal officials serve the interests they serve - they work with the people who are there.  In a sense, everyone else simply isn't real to them in any meaningful way.  Which brings me to the political level - certain changes can only be made structurally to our system as a whole.  Personally, I believe that we have certain flaws in the system itself that absolutely must be addressed if we are going to collectively do anything about these issues.  The money creation mechanism, the economic imperative of growth because of the debt-based nature of our financial system, the gutting of education to extract creativity and critical thinking (and also to focus purely on the intellect at the expense of the emotions and intuition of the child), the crushing ubiquity of consumer marketing and PR pablum which makes genuine civic discourse nearly impossible, the corrosive effect of money on politics, the rise of multi-nationals operating beyond the realm of national law, the Bretton Woods institutions, the homogenisation and monopoly of media production through mergers and acquisitions...the list goes on and on.  Second verse, same as the first.  These issues can't be addressed only with community gardens and blue-sky thinking - it's wrong to suggest otherwise.  But it is also true that the political level is the furthest removed from the individual's sphere of influence, and yet exerts an undue impact on the range of decisions that individual is able to make.  So if I were to recommend organisations to your readers, I would suggest looking into Positive Money in the UK (www.positivemoney.org.uk) and the American Monetary Institute in the US (www.monetary.org). Ultimately, without a complete redesign of our monetary system and economic priorities, no other structural factors will really change.  So as I said earlier, the best and most immediate thing you can do is change yourself.

OG: One things that's very impressive is the sheer number of knowers you have in the film, and how articulate and animated, interesting and passionate they are. For some people - like Desmond Morris, Jon Adams, and John Michael Greer - I imagine they were ready to give you good stuff from the start, for their varying reasons. But is there anything you do to work up an interview subject so that they become as animated as they were? What I mean is: there are a lot of "talking heads" here, but they're never boring. 


Freedman: First of all, thank you.  That was always a concern and luckily, the passion and charisma of the people we interviewed shines through.  Those people are just like that - I can't take any credit for their engagement and their excitement about their subject matter.  If I did anything, it was only preparing for the interview by familiarising myself with their work so that they could speak freely without feeling that they were dealing with someone who didn't know who they were or what they really did.

OG: Tell us about your previous work, and how long it took from gestation to finish this film. Were there any particular films that influenced you to make Critical Mass?


Freedman: Critical Mass is my first feature documentary, and also my first feature-length project.  Previously, I'd made some short films, music videos, the usual.  Although I obviously was interested in the subject for a long time, we shot the first interviews for this film in June 2010, so it's been almost exactly two years in the making.  As far as influence goes...when I was about 13, we watched excerpts from Koyaanisqatsi in a poetry class and I later tracked the full film down and it is still one of my absolute favourites.  I watch it about once a year, and it's the gold standard of pure cinema - music, montage, technique, framing, social observation, political statement, environmentalism, poetry, history...like Network, it's even more powerful now than it was then because all of those things are still happening.  The Corporation is another documentary I have a lot of respect for, and the work of Adam Curtis at the BBC is also a pretty big deal for me.  And of course Peter Watkins - I actually tracked down the editor of The War Game, Michael Bradsell, and he came and sat with me a few times to discuss cutting and structure for the trailer and for the film.

OG: When I finished watching, I thought, "Finally! The Exponential Function has its film!" I just want to thank you for this. But why isn't this stuff better-known? Why can't we think from a systems view better than we do? How come my educated friends have never heard of John B. Calhoun? 

Freedman: Okay, so one question at a time.  First, the exponential function isn't better known because it's actually very difficult to internalise.  Even making an animation of it was nearly impossible, because the numbers of little people got so big so quickly that the animator was freaking out trying to make it look good instead of just confusing.  There's a theory about human evolution that because we developed in small hunter-gatherer bands with small family units, we actually can't really picture numbers much higher than three.  There's one - me, two - me and my mate, and three - me, my mate and our baby.  Much above that is just fog to the mind since there's no corollary to latch onto. So up front it's important to say that the exponential function is very hard to get your head around. 

As to our lack of a holistic system-view, I suppose there are many reasons for that. The impact of economists in lending academic legitimacy to the destructive growth narrative we are programmed to believe in cannot be overstated.  Counteracting a dominant establishment belief will always take a lot of time and effort, and come at a great cost - if you want to know how receptive the academic establishment can be to new information about the world, look up a man called Ignaz Semmelweiss. He tried to tell doctors that they should wash their hands before delivering babies in the late 19th century and their response was to tell him he was crazy. He died in an asylum and a few decades later, Pasteur and Lister proved him right. Nowadays I can't eat an apple without my wife yelling at me to wash it first. Economics is only really now, and barely at that, starting to acknowledge the existence of the natural world as an important limiting factor on growth.  Our planet doesn't come with a manual telling us what the thresholds and limits are, so as long as the prevailing mindset is one of 'progress', i.e. growth of human numbers and material throughput, the lack of a line in the sand allows for the excuse that since we don't know what the limits are we can get away without worrying about them. That argument obviously is as attractive to politicians as it is to economists, and that helps dictate the narrative structure of our society and therefore what we grow up knowing about the world around us and our role in it.  The overtly non-holistic nature of Western thinking also has a lot to do with it. Our educational and financial systems, our industrial capitalist ideology, our advertising and creative landscapes are worlds of components, of isolates. Factor in the denigration of emotion and instinct in favour of the intellect and you have a recipe for a society that does not see a world of intimately connected life-spirit-matter-energy engaged in a constant feedback from all parts to all parts.

Why haven't your friends heard of Calhoun? Calhoun retired from NIMH in the early 1980s; a new director was appointed who changed the focus of their work from understanding behaviour to medicating behaviour. Calhoun saw the writing on the wall - it was clear that NIMH was focused on targeting behaviour with drugs rather than understanding and working with behaviour in a more organic way. His work, which is all about complexity and nuance, didn't fit with the new idea that there should be a pill that solved the symptoms and therefore there would no longer be a problem. That might explain why his behavioural studies were de-emphasised in academia from that time on. There's also the over-simplified interpretation of his work, i.e. crowding causes violence, which when put in those bald terms is not a defensible assertion; that reduction of his work was used to 'debunk' him in the minds of some sociologists, such as Claude Strauss-Fischer, with whom I exchanged a spirited series of emails during my research on the film. His experiments and his broader viewpoint on where humanity might be headed and what we could do about it kind of fell in the memory hole. This was a man who predicted the internet as we know it today, including tablet and handheld devices (which he called 'new information prostheses'), in 1970. His ideas on evolution and the future of our species were and remain to this day not only remarkable but unique. I suppose it's inevitable that he's largely unknown. He didn't invent anything of immediate potential for commercial exploitation by the establishment and as such he remains less famous than the guy that came up with the Pet Rock. Go figure.

OG:  What do you anticipate will be the main lines of negative criticism from Big Biz reviewers who would feel threatened by the ideas in Critical Mass? I think you have massive Truth on your side, but I'm scared/disappointed by how Monsanto et.al. were able to sway Californians from saying yes to the labeling of modified foods...as merely a minor example.


Freedman: Criticisms:

1. Environmentalists in general and population concern in particular is really just misanthropy - they don't like people, they don't want them to have nice things and they're wrong.
2. Any talk about the subject of population is really just an undercover attempt to encourage eugenics, sterilisation, genocide and coercive population control.
3. People aren't just a mouth to feed, they have two hands to work, innovate and create, so net production is higher than consumption.
4. Everyone on the planet could fit into [insert name of small country] shoulder to shoulder, so there's plenty of space.
5. Tertullian thought the planet was overpopulated almost two thousand years ago and he was wrong, so any assumptions about carrying capacity are pointless.
6. Everything is fine now and therefore always will be, and Chicken Littles always make plenty of noise about whatever.
7. We've always managed to produce more food than we need.
8. I'm an agent of the Illuminati hellbent on the eradication of 80% of the world's population in line with the suggestions made on the Georgia Guidestones by our lizard overlords.

Responses:

1. It isn't and we're not. I like people and I want them to have nice things like clean air, drinkable water, healthy food, personal space and mental/emotional wellbeing.
2. Population concern did originate in its modern form out of some rather unsavoury eugenics movements during the early 20th, and terrible things have been done in the name of eugenics and coercive population control. I am not in favour of coercive population control, I think that the manner in which current coercive policies are enforced is barbaric and as an asthmatic bespectacled Jew with allergies whose wife has scoliosis and had a full blood transfusion at birth, I can assure you that I am not remotely advancing a eugenic argument in any shape or form.
3. Physically true, arguably specious but largely irrelevant since the theme of the film is crowding and its impact on us in a qualitative sense.
4. I've heard this many times and all I can ask is: if we're standing shoulder to shoulder, what do we do if we want to sleep or poop? Another semantic point which ignores the truth of our situation.
5. Tertullian did think that, and for the record the empire he was living in collapsed, but let's leave that aside for now. I don't use the word "overpopulation" if I can help it, and I personally don't argue about 'too many people' - what matters to me is the quality of the individual human life experience and a kinship to other living things. We are not talking about carrying capacity per se, but what limits (crowding included) can or will do to us and our life on this planet. I don't think that's a pointless conversation.
6. Someone will always be convinced that the world is about to end. However, it's equally true that someone will always be convinced that it won't. Watch the sinking of Hy-Brazil from Erik the Viking and you'll see what I mean - http://youtu.be/d8IBnfkcrsM.
7. So far that's been true, and don't get me started on the inequity of food distribution in the world, which is a serious problem of economic and political power rather than genuine supply.  However, the uptick in food production in the 20th century was largely due to the work of Norman Borlaug, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work - he's credited with being instrumental in feeding over a billion people. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Borlaug said (and you can check Nobel's website if you want) that no advances in food production would make a difference in the long run if we didn't also look at population. In fact, if you took that excerpt from his speech and sent it to your average 'concern debunker', they'd probably write him off as a hardcore Malthusian rather than the guy that saved a billion people from starvation.
8. I'm nobody's agent and I'm not hellbent on anything, least of all eradication of anyone. I can't even stand up without grunting these days. Georgia is a lovely state (and also a very cool country), but I've never been to nor read firsthand the inscription on the Guidestones. I receive no endorsement, funding or creative input from reptilian extraterrestrial or extradimensional beings. Fact.

OG: When is the film due for release?

Freedman: Good question! I'm talking with distributors now, and our best case scenario is looking like six to nine months for securing broadcast/theatrical/DVD. No date fixed as yet.

OG: Are you showing it at any festivals or special showings in large cities?

Freedman: We've been invited to a festival in Canada in May which I can't disclose yet as we're still talking with them, and we've submitted to several festivals throughout the world that, if we were accepted, would be happening over the next four to six months.

OG: What's the distribution looking like right now?

Freedman: At the moment our strategy is looking like educational only for six months, then commercial release once we've placed it with a theatre chain or broadcaster, followed by DVD and online. Nothing fixed yet.

The earlier the better, or just before it comes out and generates a buzz? What are your ideas?

I think that at present, anything we put out there would be buried in the Yuletide snowdrift. Best to wait until there is some sort of event or announcement, either a distribution date or festival appearance. If that's alright with you.

OG: "New Documentary Film Critical Mass Will Do For Human Population What Al Gore Did For Global Warming"

Freedman: I like the ring of it and the sentiment, but two concerns occur to me, both of which might very well be me being over-cautious.

1. Al Gore is a dreadful hypocrite.
2. Al Gore showed that global warming was bad, so would that mean we're saying people are bad? Or can we be confident people will understand that you mean raising awareness?

OG: When you approach financial backers, what's the short explanation when they ask, "What's it about?"

Freedman: "Critical Mass is a feature documentary about the impact of human population growth and consumption on our planet and on our psychology." 

That's the elevator pitch. I've got it down to the point where I can reel it off in one breath.

OG: How do you feel about being compared to Al Gore?

Freedman: Well, on the one hand it's encouraging that people feel the film does for population what he did for climate change, but on the other, as I said above, he's a dreadful hypocrite, so hopefully they mean the comparison in relation to his film and not to his behaviour.

OG: I loved the stuff about the empowerment of women, near the end of the film; it reminded me of Bucky Fuller. 

Freedman: Thank you. Interestingly, when we showed the film in the US there were cheers at that part. In the UK and Europe, not so much. So perhaps Americans need to hear it said out loud, or perhaps Europeans are more numb. Who knows?

I'm a fan of Bucky Fuller - I actually was reading Critical Path in the run-up to making the film. And I tried to have a prototype of his fog gun shower built as part of the 'solutions' section at the end, but there weren't any available working blueprints for it.

OG: I saw that you interviewed Derrick Jensen and and Aubrey de Grey, but they apparently got cut. With Aubrey, I imagined it was because the problem of living to 200 and the environment was too much for a film already brimming with ideas and possible future scenarios? How was Jensen? What do you think of the life extension people like Aubrey?

Freedman: Derrick and Aubrey didn't make the film for two different reasons.  Derrick was actually interviewed over the phone for what was meant to be a podcast, but the line was bad and the sound was unusable. However, the conversation gave me so much food for thought that I felt he deserved a credit. Aubrey was interviewed on camera, but our conversation was much more future-oriented and the film deals mainly with how we got to this point and what the present situation is, meaning there wasn't room for adding in his particular brand of futurism. Both Aubrey's and Derrick's conversations with me are now chapters in a book that I'm putting together which (fingers crossed) may be available soon. I just need to transcribe two more conversations, write the conclusion and do the endnotes.

Derrick was inspirational to put it mildly. He's not a man everyone will agree with, but he speaks with straightforward honesty and passion (and compassion) and that is truly inspiring.

Aubrey would say that he's a rejuvenation biotechnologist, not a life extension guy. I'd say that consequence and mechanism are not that easily separable in his field. I think that if he (or one of the other labs working on it) is successful, the timeline of how things unfold will be much less egalitarian than the way he perceives it. 

OG: Do you have an opinion on Jared Diamond's book Collapse

Freedman: Jared Diamond is the only person I contacted who declined to be interviewed for the film. Two others, Mike Ruppert and Robin Dunbar, simply never got back to me, but Diamond said no all three times that I asked him. That moved his book off my immediate list of reading because I had to read the work of the people I was meeting, and because of that I haven't read it. What I do know is that I interviewed Joe Tainter who wrote The Collapse Of Complex Societies and he is quite unequivocal about the fact that he finds Diamond's scholarship in Collapse to be dubious. The way he put it is that Diamond's thesis is the basis of the book rather than the evidence of how collapses actually unfolded. I couldn't possibly comment as I haven't read it.

OG: Are there any others that have come along recently that you'd like to share with my readers?

Freedman: After a hardcore two years on a non-fiction diet, locking the picture on the film drove me to seek refuge in fiction, ironically dystopian sci-fi to be precise. In the past year I read (among others) The Space Merchants by Pohl and Kornbluth and The Death of Grass by John Christopher, a book that I now desperately want to make into a film (although it was adapted - in a typically 70s hack manner - by Cornel Wilde). I've also been reading material for research on two other docs I'm developing, as well as quite a bit of Ferlinghetti's poetry recently. I also read Black Elk Speaks (the annotated anniversary edition) last year - there's a passage in there where Black Elk describes his people as an ever-eroding island in a sea of white men which I found quite affecting. Next on my list of dystopian fiction is Paolo Bacigalupi - several of my friends have gotten religion about his work, so I'm going to check it out. 

As an aside, you reminded me that I only put non-fiction on the reading list on our website, and there are two fiction books (not admitted by the authors to have been influenced by Calhoun, but nonetheless thematically consistent and from the same time period) called Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison and Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner that I need to add. I got in touch with Harry (who lives here in the UK) about interviewing him for the film - he's still very much of an opinion on population, but we never found a place to put it in the structure so we never shot it.

Regarding The Great Bay, I'll look it up - it reminds me of the Bill Hicks routine about Arizona Bay, the coastline formed when California falls into the sea. If I'm not mistaken, that was also an Edgar Cayce prediction?

Again, thank you so much for your passion for the film. It's very encouraging and I'm proud to have you as an ally.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

420: A Few Anecdotes About My Favorite Artists and Cannabis

I'll try to make this short, 'cuz I've been taking up too much of your time lately and I don't want ya to feel I ripped you off. Besides, I reward myself for doing a blog post by getting a tad baked. But then again I reward myself with weed after peeing, too...

George Carlin
"Carlin had been smoking 'shit' habitually since he was thirteen years old. 'I'd wake up in the morning and if I couldn't decide whether I wanted to smoke a joint or not, I'd smoke a joint to figure it out,' he once admitted. 'And I stayed high all day long. When people asked me, 'Do you get high to go onstage?' I could never understand the question. I mean, I'd been high since eight that morning. Going onstage had nothing to do with it'"
7 Dirty Words: The Life and Crimes of George Carlin, James Sullivan, p.107

David Bowie
"According to an interview David Bowie gave to Playboy in the mid-seventies, he only got stoned on pot once, when he was turned on by Ronnie Wood and he spent hours staring at the sidewalk having visions. A couple of years later, Bowie was busted, along with Iggy Pop, in Rochester, New York, for possessing several ounces of marijuana...blame it on Iggy."
Everybody Must Get Stoned: Rock Stars On Drugs, R.U. Sirius, p.91



Steve Almond
"I was pushing forty and had smoked the equivalent of a large marijuana tree the previous decade."
Not That You Asked, Almond, p.252

                                      Allen Ginsberg, 1963, 64, or 65. Photo by Benedict 
                                       J. Fernandez

Ezra Pound and Allen Ginsberg
Ginsberg visited Pound in Rapallo, Italy, in the late 1960s. Pound had been profoundly depressed, realizing he'd been an idiot with his antisemitism, and that he'd hurt everyone he loved. Ginsberg told Pound, basically, So you fucked up...you influenced everyone with your aesthetic ideas. At one point Ginsberg talked to Pound about "modern use of drugs as distinct from Twenties opium romanticism." Pound replied, "You know a great deal about the subject."
What Thou Lovest Well Remains: 100 Years of Ezra Pound, ed. Richard Ardinger, p.37

Robert Anton Wilson
"The 'funniest' experiences I've ever had with drugs all involved pot, and none of them seem comic when I try to write them down. Apparently words, which cannot convey 'mystical' experiences, also fail to communicate hilarious drug experiences.

"For instance, a friend and I took a little too much hash one night and both got lost in stoned space. We knew who we were and where we were, but we couldn't remember the last 30 seconds. We spent what seemed like an hour saying things like:

"Jesus, I can't remember what we were talking about."
"What did you just say?"
(Interlude of spasmodic laughter by both of us.)
"I think I'm having a...what? What did you say?"
"I can't remember...What were we trying to remember?"
(More spasms of laughter)
"We're trying to...What are we trying to do?"
As the effect modified with time, we understood what was happening, and one of us described it as "a visit to the islands of micro-amnesia."
Pot Stories For The Soul, edited by Paul Krassner, p.68

Aleister Crowley
"The action of Hashish is as varied as life itself, and seems to be determined almost entirely by the will or the mood of the 'assassin' and that within the hedges of his mental and moral form."
-originally in The Equinox, 1909, found in Orgies of the Hemp Eaters, Hakim Bey and Abel Zug, editors, p.444

William S. Burroughs
"Hashish affects the sense of time so that events, instead of appearing in an orderly structure of past, present and future, take on a simultaneous quality, the past and future contained in the present the moment."
-found in Writing on Drugs, by Sadie Plant, p.152

"Mezz" Mezzrow
"It's a funny thing about marihuana - when you first begin smoking it you see things in a wonderful soothing, easygoing new light. All of a sudden the world is stripped bare of its dirty gray shrouds and becomes one big bellyful of giggles, a spherical laugh, bathed in brilliant, sparkling colours that hit you like a heatwave. Nothing leaves you cold any more; there's a humorous tickle and great meaning in the least little thing, the twitch of somebody's little finger or the click of a beer glass. All your pores open like funnels, your nerve ends stretch their mouths wide, hungry and thirsty for new sights and sounds and sensations; and every sensation, when it comes, is the most exciting one you've ever had. You can't get enough of anything - you want to gobble up the whole goddamned universe just for an appetizer. Them first kicks are a killer, Jim."
-from Really The Blues, 1946, found in Artificial Paradises, ed. by Mike Jay, p.152

Bonus Tracks
1 Minute excerpt from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, "Cheating Death": sun overexposure and pot

"Weed Snobs"

Nancy Grace saying the most idiotic Reefer Madness-level crap about pot

weed porn

                  from Sean Tejaratchi's LiarTown USA site, which always makes me laff 
                  until I have a side-ache

Sunday, April 17, 2016

George Lakoff and Robert Anton Wilson and the Primacy of Metaphors

I've just finished re-re (and maybe even re-?) reading Brian Dean's fascinating article RAW resurgence, comparing these two thinkers, Lakoff and RAW. I highly recommend it for your edification, in case you think you might need some. (Or, as a princely or princess-like act, you might read it for Confirmation Bias that you once again indeed are "above all that"?)

But first, two asides:

I was recently reading about the incredible new tool in genetics called CRISPR, in which we can now edit the human genome like we do an email. And it's cheap. So, like, whoa! Anyway, in the discovery of these clustered, regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats found in sequences of genes, it was found that bacteria in dairy products had been invaded by viruses and had developed a way to fight off viral infections. And these viral attacks left a trace. It turns out they leave a trace in our genes too, so one researcher said these genetic read-outs are a biological vaccination card. (Do kids still have these? Or is it all by computer these days? I remember I had a cardboard piece of paper that listed all my vaccinations.)

But Lakoff and RAW (and Vico and Nietzsche and a few others) have conditioned me to spot metaphors. And here was another "reading" of a "text" in the natural world. If you get your genome sequenced - to see what genes will lead to some abominable disease so that CRISPR can go in, snip it out and replace it with something far less nefarious (remember? CRISPR works like editing some text in a digital gizmo?), medical geneticists will not be "reading" your genes in the same way you're reading this right where you are sitting now. It's "like" that, but not the same. What they "see" will not look like the vaccination card I was told to keep with me in case I had to go to the doctor. (I believe I'm dating myself here. Oh, well.) The "vaccination card" in your genes is a metaphor. Cute one, too.

Secondly, I've been trying to get a line on David Bohm's interpretation of quantum mechanics, so I was up way too late in bed recently re-reading in his Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980), one of those books many might find to be "dry" non-fiction, but it's psychedelic to me. In his chapter on language, "The Rheomode: An Experiment With Language and Thought" I happened upon this:

"The subject-verb-object structure of language, along with its worldview, tends to impose itself very strongly in our speech, even in those cases in which some attention would reveal its evident inappropriateness. For example, consider the sentence, 'It is raining.' Where is the 'It' that would, according to the sentence, be 'the rainer who is doing the raining'?" - (37)

If this seems familiar, perhaps you just read it in the article by Brian Dean I linked to in the first paragraph above. (Skip down to "Multiple Model/Frame Semantics") But Brian was quoting Robert Anton Wilson from a 1986 book, The New Inquisition. Did RAW steal from Bohm? I was guessing we'd find the "It is raining" in Benjamin Lee Whorf's Language, Thought and Reality, but after spending a couple hours in that text, I didn't find it. I couldn't find it in Korzybski, either.

Online, I found the "It" in "It is raining" is now referred to by grammarians as a "dummy pronoun." (Chomsky is in line with this idea, which seems like yet another of his epicycles.) I also found some interesting stuff online about "it" "raining" in Wittgenstein and J.L. Austin and then a bunch of semanticists influenced by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf (who both Lakoff and Wilson cite as influences), but no "smoking gun."

However, both Bohm's line and RAW's had such a strong whiff of Whorf I push all my chips onto the Whorf number and say let it ride. Why? Well, Bohm is no help at all. In his notes on language he gives no citations. Wilson frequently cited Whorf with regard to how the structure of Indo-European languages - which has the subject-predicate structure in which some subject/noun must be "doing" (verb) the whatever - as conditioning our thought in a way that's not consciously available to us unless we read people like Whorf, or Fenollosa, or Nietzsche or certain Modern poets, or a few others. Or maybe just have some rare intuition and suspicion about ideas that have language somehow mapping onto "reality" in some neat way...

If you've never read Whorf, here's some flavor, from his paper "Science and Linguistics," (1940):

"In English we divide most of our words into two classes, which have different grammatical and logical properties. Class 1 we call nouns, e.g., 'house', 'man'; class 2, verbs, e.g., 'hit', 'run.' Many words of one class can act secondarily as of the other class, e.g., 'a hit, a run' or 'to man (the boat),' but on the primary level, the division between classes is absolute. Our language thus gives us a bipolar division of nature. But nature herself is not thus polarized. If it be said that 'strike, turn, run,' are verbs because they denote temporary or short-lasting effects, i.e., actions, why then is 'fist' a noun? It is also a temporary event. Why are 'lightning, spark, wave, eddy, pulsation, flame, storm, phase, cycle, spasm, noise, emotion' nouns? They are temporary events. If 'man' and 'house' are nouns because they are long-lasting and stable events, i.e., things, what then are 'keep, adhere, extend, project, continue, persist, grow, dwell,' and so on doing among the verbs?"

"On the other hand, in Noontka, a language of Vancouver Island, all words seem to us to be verbs, but really there are no classes 1 and 2; we have, as it were, a monistic view of nature that gives us only one class of word for all kinds of events. 'A house occurs' or 'it houses' is the way of saying 'house,' exactly like 'a flame occurs' or 'it burns.' These terms seem to us like verbs because they are inflected for durational and temporal nuances, so that the suffixes of the word for house event make it mean long-lasting house, temporary house, future house, house that used to be, what started out to be a house, and so on."
-Language, Thought and Reality, Whorf, (215-216)

(note to self: every time I return home, let me see it like this: "a house occurs." then note effects on perception of the atomic swirl of the tao)

I suspect Bohm read Whorf, but he didn't let on in the footnotes or citations or the bibliography.

                                                Robert Anton Wilson

In Wilson's detective novel, Masks of the Illuminati, in which James Joyce and Albert Einstein team up to solve a strange young man's strange problem, we read:

"Much of the universe, alas, is loveless, " Einstein said. "But no aspect of it is lawless."

"So it seems to logic," Joyce said argumentatively. "But logic is only Aristotle's generalizations of the laws of Greek grammar. Which is part, but only part, of the great wordriver of consciousness. Chinese logic is not Aristotelian, you know. Other parts of the mindriver of human thought are totally illogical and irrational. You have shown mathematically, Professor, that space and time cannot be separated. The psychoanalytic study of consciousness is rapidly proving what Sir John and I have discovered in different ways, introspectively: namely, that reason and unreason are also seamlessly welded together - like your two Tar Babies after a prolonged fight...." (229-230)

Wilson has Joyce use Finnegans Wake-ean portmanteaus "wordriver" and "mindriver," which function as poetic metaphors, but not in the foundational sense of ordinary thought that Lakoff is concerned with. "Mindriver" and "wordriver" do give the reader the sense of the dynamic, flowing nature of minds and language, however, no? However, the riffs about Chinese logic and the every-day-ness of the "illogical and irrational" seem quite in keeping with current cognitive science. For example, here's Lakoff on basic cognitive science and our own political views:

(Lakoff says there are two broad "common misunderstandings" about our reality tunnels, only he uses the term "worldviews," because he's an esteemed and tenured academic at Berkeley. We are only concerned with the first misunderstanding here):

"The first is that many people believe that they are consciously aware of their own worldviews and that all one has to do to find out about people's views of the world is to ask them. Perhaps the most fundamental result of cognitive science is that this is not true. What people will tell you about their worldview does not necessarily accurately reflect how they reason, how they categorize, how they speak, and how they act. For this reason, someone studying political worldviews must establish adequacy conditions for an analysis, just as we have done. As we shall see, the kinds of things that conservatives and liberals say about their political worldviews do not meet these conditions of adequacy. If you ask a liberal about his political worldview, he will almost certainly talk about liberty and equality, rather than a nurturant parent model of the family." - Moral Politics (36)

                                                  Prof. George Lakoff

As Brian Dean suggested, readers of both Wilson and Lakoff could compare and contrast Lakoff's very deep metaphors that govern political thought: the liberal "nurturant parent model" vs. the conservative "strict father" model, with Wilson's liberal values as "oral-matrist" and conservative values as "anal-patrist." (See Ishtar Rising) Both thinkers emphasized these were Idealized Types and most of us swing more toward one of the other, but we all "have" or deeply understand aspects of the other type.

I remember Lakoff talking in a packed-to-the-rafters space in Berkeley about these models; we liberal types have the circuitry for understanding the Strict Father moral system because we've lived in a world where this commonly exists. As he put it, if you didn't have these neural pathways you'd watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger film and go, "What did any of that mean?" 

Lakoff's basic metaphors for morality and politics stem from our embodiment as certain types of beings, and from what feels good to us, forms of biological well-being being nonmetaphorical morality. I find his ideas - scattered through a number of books, but here I'm mostly thinking of Moral Politics, The Political Mind, and the seminal (yet another "dry" academic non-fiction book that puts me in a psychedelic head-space), Metaphors We Live By. This last was considered in its time (1979-80) to be "experiential linguistics" according to Randy Allen Harris in his book The Linguistics Wars. Slowly, this school of cognitive neurosemantics has, in my view, supplanted Noam Chomsky's overly formal and far-too-Cartesianly "rational" school of linguistics (which Lakoff eviscerates in The Political Mind), mainly because Chomsky was never able to account for semantics. This is my opinion, of course, but I think history will show this view not inaccurate.

Brian Dean found, as far as I can see, the best example in Wilson's writings - in the first chapter of The New Inquisition - to compare RAW's ideas about metaphor as essential and basic to everyday human thought, to Lakoff's. As far as I know, Brian Dean is the first to contrast and elucidate these two disparate writers.

RAW saw "framing" as basic to learning. Where the passages Dean cites seem more about pointing out the unconscious ("hypocognitive"?) aspects metaphors and the structure of language have on what we take to be "reality," Wilson also sees the potential of new media (as of 1991) to force us into new "reality tunnels" and see them for what they are, so we can consciously and selectively switch from one to another. Dean uses the term "metaphorical pluralism" as isomorphic to Wilson's "model agnosticism" which in turn looks as the same genus as Lakoff's "frame semantics." I see this too. Any way we "frame" it, practice of these meta-modes of thought can, as Dean writes, possibly depolarize political debate and invigorate media critiques. But because metaphors are to us something like water is to fish, we must first "see" these metaphors for what they are, then, as Wilson puts it in Buddhistic terms, detach ourselves from fixed beliefs:

"The most important discovery of modern neuroscience, I think, consists in the discovery that every 'reality' we perceive/create has emerged from an ocean of more of less random signals, which our brain has edited, organized and orchestrated into what social scientists call 'glosses' or 'frames' - reality tunnels, in Leary's language. As Korzybski noted over and over, it is only due to the speed of conditioned reflexes that we do not even notice our role as co-creators of these reality-tunnels [...] Learning a new art or science requires what psychologists call 'reframing.' Abandoning a fallacious dogma and accepting new facts requires 'reframing.' The cure of any neuroses or compulsion requires 'reframing.' To grow means to reframe, or to change reality-tunnels. But we cannot do this if we have a conditioned attachment to conditioned perceptions and conditioned frames or glosses. We all want 'liberation' but we rarely notice how conditioned reflexes make us our own jailers." - Cosmic Trigger vol II: Down To Earth, (258-259)(italics in original), excerpted from the chapter, "Cyber-Space and Techno-Zen."

The "ocean of more or less random signals": Lakoff would emphasize that yes, but within the constraints of human embodiment, which is no small thing. EX: When we describe someone as "warm," it has to do with being held by mom or dad, way back: this was how we first knew "warmth." Warm is good, because it felt good, and my friend is "warm" because it feels good to be around her.

Obviously, RAW sounds a lot like Lakoff here with the emphasis on "framing," but there seem to me some crucial differences.

Cosmic Trigger II came out in 1991, but I doubt he'd read much of Lakoff. When he cites "frames" he's probably thinking of the circles around wonderful sociologist Erving Goffman, who started using the term in the late 1960s/early 1970s, as Lakoff points out. Lakoff also says the AI pioneer Marvin Minsky used "frames" by 1974. Wilson was interested in AI too. The late Berkeley linguist Charles Fillmore, a Lakoff mentor who perhaps did more to help Lakoff break away from Chomsky than any other thinker (my guess, I will ask Lakoff about this for confirmation), is "the founder of frame semantics, and has studied frames in more detail than anyone else." - Political Mind (250). Wilson's audience seems to be the stoned intelligentsia; Lakoff's seems to be other academics or the intelligent lay public. Lakoff goes into very fine detail about the neurobiological basis of our frames and has read an enormous amount of the literature by and for people whose politics he disagrees with, in order to fully understand them. Wilson advocated doing this too, but as an exercise for the mind/body in order to see how many reality tunnels are out there. Wilson was a freelance writer and developed a very entertaining style and was one of the last truly great generalist intellectuals. Lakoff is a tenured academic at the top public university in Unistat; Lakoff seems, for an academic cognitive scientist, profoundly generalistic, but whether he's writing books on math, anthropology, poetry, politics, or embodied cognition, it's always grounded solidly in his cognitive science framework. (Lakoff might be considered an academic generalist? This fits well with cognitive science's original goals: for specialists in one of these to be well-versed in the others: Anthropology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence, and Psychology.)

The passage I quote from Cosmic Trigger vol II seems to be about learning though, learning to decondition ourselves from one "true" fixed belief in a Buddhistic move towards detachment and therefore liberation; and Lakoff's political work is an extension of his own political values and he wants those of us who have progressive and liberal views to be able to able to articulate them well in the political sphere. He's written popular manuals on how to do this. He said at a talk I attended in Berkeley in mid-2007 that Obama had at least one of his books on his desk. However, this work of making our reality tunnels into reality labyrinths, articulating our frames to activate the neural pathways in our listeners that will want less violence and more empathy in our politics? It's not easy. As Wilson says:

"The known techniques for curing the problem - reframing, deconditioning, getting rid of the spooks, detaching from fixed ideas - have all had major drawbacks that notoriously prevent popularizing them. Most of the effective techniques take hard work." (italics in original: CT2, 259)

Notes
1. Brian Dean's engaging blog is NewsFrames. I thank him for inspiring my above blogspew. (This one.) Certain readers of Lakoff might have a blast giving a close reading to Wilson's The New Inquisition, pp.3-29; if still interested/amused, see Prometheus Rising pp.99-100, on metaphors and Euclidean space; a Wilson historical novel, The Earth Will Shake, p.207, for Vico-based ideas on metaphor, myth, and The Keys of Solomon; and actually: Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy, pp.513-521. (Wilson was very open about discussing his influences. If he had read Lakoff, I think we'd know, yet he never mentioned him that I know of.) If you read these 8 pages you'll think he HAD to have read Lakoff. But the truth is, 90%, if not all of this was written before Lakoff and Johnson released Metaphors We Live By; I do think the potent ideas brewing around frame semantics at Berkeley filtered into the nearby neighborhoods and percolated into the general intelligentsia there, c.1975-79. I think RAW got his Lakoff second or even thirdhand, and of course he'd be receptive, being thoroughly steeped in Whorf, Fenollosa, Korzybski, Nietzsche, and Vico.

2. Although Lakoff cites Charles Fillmore, Erving Goffman and Marvin Minsky for the "frame" meta-metaphor, I note from Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, p.130, that Fillmore himself noted that Goffman derived his idea of "frame" in 1974's Frame Analysis (see p.7 there) in which Goffman says he derived the term from Gregory Bateson.

3. It seems a commonplace, at least in Unistat, to look at Lakoff's work on politics and assert he's the Left wing version of the Right's Frank Luntz. Which is fatuous. The profound scholarly robustness of Lakoff's total body of work makes this claim embarrassing to he who utters it. Lakoff works with a vast community of scientists and scholars, and his work is embedded down to the neuronal level. See his Berkeley colleague Jerome Feldman's From Molecule To Metaphor and/or How We Think, by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner.

4. If a reader of this blog knows of a pre-1980 use of the example of "It is raining" and the lack of referent for "It" as an example of how the Indo-European structure of language can condition thought, please chime in in the comments! Wilson had joked that possibly "It" referred to Zeus, which would be yet another example of Wilson riffing off his reading of Vico, or as just another example of how archaic patterns of thought can reside in our language habits.

5. Re: the "vaccination card" read in our genes: for archeological, linguistic, geological and DNA traces as "texts" to be "read," see an amusing take in On Deep History and the Brain, by Daniel Lord Smail, pp.46-48

6. The monistic view of nature among the Noontka of Vancouver Island I quote from Whorf? That seems to be what David Bohm wants, all the while - I guess - we humans would be in full realization that our human world - the Explicate Order - emanates, or is constantly unfolding, from the truly unified quantum realm, the Implicate Order, which demands capitalization, by my view.

7. AN UPDATE: I asked Prof. Lakoff via email, and he claims he'd broken with Chomsky by 1963. So, I was off by 12 years. I believe the main reason I was off by so much was my reading of the marvelous book by Randy Allen Harris, The Linguistics Wars.

                                           graphic by Bob Campbell

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Drug Report: Life Extension, LSD, Oddities, Sundries

I didn't do a drug report last month, so you might say I've been "clean" for at least a month. Add to that: I haven't smoked any pot for at least 20 minutes, as of this writing. Sooo: two and a half cheers for moi?

On with it...

Possible Life Extension Drug: Metformin
If you're the sorta dreamer I am, you long for the day when you swallow one or what the hell: a handful of pills and they:

  1. Stop your telomeres from fraying while continuing to do what they did when you were 15
  2. Wipe out any and all cancers forming while not throwing your hardy-yet-delicate immunological systems out of orbit
  3. Erase all plaques that gum up your aorta and arteries and that crap that leads to Alzheimer's
  4. Level the playing fields of life by making you really pretty and attractive to possible sex partners
  5. Laughs: life will be full of 'em with this/these new drugs
Those of you trained in cryptanalysis and steganography might notice the first letters of my five here spell out SWELL. Yea, it would be real swell if we had drugs that did this stuff, but no matter how optimistic/hedonistic/giddy or just plain stoned we are, let's get real.

As I handicap a bevy of life extension drugs over the past three years, a diabetes drug called Metformin looks fairly promising. And I confess the older I get and the more I accumulate readings of articles about the Possible Miracle Drug For Everything, the less sanguine I've become. But Metformin has about 60 years of safety. For Type 2 diabetics it suppresses the liver's glucose production and increases sensitivity to insulin. It's increased the lifespan in worms and mice. Researchers think there's a physiological basis in this diabetes drug that delays the aging that gives rise to diseases. Ones even worse than diabetes, like dementia, cancer and heart disease.

Here's the crux: doctors and researchers need to convince regulators and research funding agencies to give 'em the money to test this. What are they gonna test? How long will it take? Will I be dead by the time it hits the market? Probably not: under the TAME (Targeting Aging With Metformin) clinical trial they'll take over 3000 70-80 year old folks who have one or two of these lovely maladies: cancer, heart disease, or cognitive impairment, give them Metformin, then see if it forestalls these septuagenarians and octogenarians from getting those other brutal disease they don't already have.

It'll take five to seven years and cost $50 million.

I know, I know: this is not what you wanted to read about. But you tell me what's out there that's more robust and promises more in the way of longevity.

The horrible truth is, if you have dementia but don't already have cancer or heart disease, you're gonna get one or both of those others before you kick off for the Big Dirt Nap. Talk about a reality sandwich!

Researchers caution: this is not an "immortality" drug! (As if they needed to tell us, after what you've just read.) The big deal here seems to be: Metformin is a well-accepted drug for Type 2 diabetes. But: the TAME study, if it pans out, will establish Metformin as a drug that delays aging. And aging is statistically linked with nasty-ass degenerative diseases, which have already been named in this article, no need to give them more press here. The Unistat FDA says they are open to the study. Researchers want merely to "extend a person's healthy years by slowing down processes that underlie common diseases of aging."

So, in closing I must confess what I know about myself. I read this stuff and one part of my brain - the part that I associate with non-magical thinking and statistics, knowledge of inherent human biases, and appreciation of ever-changing information about the complexity of systems - this part thinks "this seems pretty realistic and at least it's something." But I also know I will wake up tomorrow, and sometime after lunch, catch myself dreaming of the True Wonder Pills, the ones that will do the SWELL stuff. Am I the only one?



Instead of Exercise, Take a Pill? (Just: Not Yet)
I confess I love exercise, sweating, stretching, getting all breathless, even if it has nothing to do with sex. I do yoga and cycle, love hiking, but Cross-Fit seems vaguely fascistic to me, but I digress...

So, a welter of exercise physiologists have determined that, when we're exercising - not doggin' it, but really working up a sweat and approaching oxygen debt - we experience over 1000 molecular changes in our skeletal muscles. And who knew? What's going on at that level rarely crosses my mind as I approach a 1500 foot uphill climb on my bike. My thinking's more along the lines of, "If my heart explodes and they find me dead and my bike in the middle of the road here, after a cement truck and school bus run my body over, it's good I brought my ID with me so they can notify next-of-kin, but at least I can say I wore a helmet if I wasn't already dead" or "this ascent looks like a mutha; just think of the endorphin buzz I'll cop about 40 minutes after I summit." Stuff like that.

But: if we know the 1000 molecular changes that happen, maybe we can just mimic those in a pill! It's all just biochemistry, isn't it? Hey yea: they're working on it. For reals! (Or they're fucking with science writers and the public, hoping for more funding to do far less romantic research, but I don't want to be a bummer, especially after that take on Metformin.)

There are a lot of people who can't exercise, so this would really help them. It would be a godsend for the obese, for people with diabetes, heart disease, etc. One article I read on this research said it would be really great for people who already exercise. That sounded gluttonous to me.

The sobering news here: it's gonna be at least ten years, as one researcher said, "before a pill could conceivably be available." Let's hope the Metformin we'll be able to take will get us there at a young enough state that...oh hell: I need a drink.


Maurice Mikkers: Microscopy and Drugs = Art
If you have the time, check out the gorgeous colors and lines in drugs. This link begins with what Mikkers calls "party drugs" but I really only think of GHB and MDMA/Ecstasy and maybe amphetamine as drugs to "party" with. DMT, 2C-B, and LSD should be used in the proper set and setting, which often is NOT a "party" in the sense most of us think of parties. But aside from that, who knew these drugs were so beautiful, under the microscope, enlarged 40x-400x?

The MDMA/Ecstasy was breathtaking to me. Of course Ecstasy would do that.

Check out Mikkers's website for tonnes of astonishing photography, especially if you need a contact high.

Also, nota bene: it's officially been declared, by the International Moral Credit League ("Oh yea, the IMCL? Great buncha people...") that if you just "take a languid gander" at an "exhibit" - that's the way I see how Mikkers has laid out his wares online here - then you get "credit" for not going to the actual brick and marble Museum this month. I mean, what it'll cost you here? 12 minutes? Think about it. This offer only good through April of 2016; after that you must feel vaguely guilty again on May 1st until you go to the museum or talk or poetry reading. Just floatin' that out there. Hey, facts are facts.

                                            Robin Cahart-Harris, PhD

Recent LSD Research
Just in time for April 19th/AKA "Bicycle Day" and I'm no doubt writing yet another Epistle to the Converts, but what the hell, I just have to mention it. The Beckley Institute crowd-funded a study on LSD and got some stellar drug researchers from Imperial College in London to conduct it. The eminent Dr. David Nutt was the study's lead author, and Robin Cahart-Harris led the study. These are not lightweights. What did they find?

After giving 20 healthy volunteers injections of 75 micrograms of LSD (and others got a lousy placebo, but it was FOR SCIENCE!), the trippers had their brains imaged three ways: with fMRI, something called "arterial spin labelling" (don't ask), and magnetoencephalography. The study said the LSD users tripped for "six hours."

Aside: every LSD trip I've done was at minimum 200 mikes, but always on blotter. And it always lasted at least 10 hours. This Imperial College London stuff Nutt got must have been really righteous! Moving on...

So: there are numerous reports on this study, but the finding that most intrigued me: neural networks in the adult brain normally "talk" to closely-connected networks nearby. It's about specialized function. To rehash basic developmental neuroscience, we have way more neurons as babies, but they get pruned away with experience in the world, which we can call "learning." The stuff that's not pruned gets reinforced and the connections get stronger. We develop neural pathways that "know" how to do millions of things. Neurons are use-it or lose it: what's not recruited in learning/experience in the world gets flushed, literally. Eventually, we develop a sense of our "self" and some sort of "ego," hopefully a relatively healthy one.

What this study did was show how LSD gets the brain to "talk" and connect to other areas it usually doesn't, and therefore it was likened to a return to a "childhood" sense of wonder and imagination. It also reduced the "normal" connectivity we usually experience. What it taketh away it more than giveth backeth in spadeths.

In the past 30 years, neuroscience has continually found more fascinating aspects of how "plastic" the brain can be, even in adults, in the right circumstances. This is termed "neuroplasticity" and is the main reason why even stodgy old farts can still learn a thing or two.

As I read the articles about this study, certain lines jumped out. LSD and presumably other psychedelics "might help some users return to a childlike sense of wonder and imagination." (Most of these quotes are from Cahart-Harris or David Nutt.) When I read this, I think my first reaction was, "I wonder how many church-goers privately think, "This ain't working for me, but it's what's expected...I need to show up at least..." Well, what you REALLY want is a return to a childlike sense of awe and wonder, where parts of your brain get to know other parts for the first time, then you'll know what true religion is. But here of course I'm biased.

In a repetition of research with psilocybin over the past five years (or more), it was observed that the users experienced "improvements in well-being" after the effects of the drug wore off. Psilocybin research showed that one trip significantly changed people towards more openness for the rest of their lives. I know it's an olde riff, but if we could only get this stuff in the punchbowl at the Republican National Convention, amirite?

Cahart-Harris: "This experience is sometimes framed in a religious or spiritual way, and seems to be associated with improvements in well-being after the drug's effects have subsided." Yes, and it's once again suggested by people with actual PhDs from high-ranking universities - actual scientists, not assholes like Ted Cruz or some raging right wing pastor who thinks Jesus needs more nuclear missiles so we get to live out the book Revelation.

But Cahart-Harris also addresses a point I blogged on a few weeks ago: why must psychedelic experience use religious language? I recently read Dennis McKenna's book Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss and here's a PhD psychonaut of impeccable credentials who has managed to develop a vocabulary to talk about psychedelic experience that's drawn from cosmology, phenomenological philosophy, science fiction, and the arcana of alchemy.

We have our work cut out for us, friends.

Once again, hard-core researchers are suggesting these drugs might or can or should be used for depression, addiction and - presumably if Metformin and the exercise pill never get here in time - for end-of-life anxiety.

I will close with a quote from the estimable British drug researcher, Dave Nutt, talking about this latest LSD research:

This is to neuroscience what the Higgs boson was to particle physics.

And with that, I bid you all a fondue.