“Stop Consuming Culture, Start Creating Your Own Culture”

Terence McKenna: “Stop Consuming Culture, Start Creating Your Own Culture”:

Really appreciate that brief clip.

“Erich Fromm: The Automaton Citizen and Human Rights”

A 1966 speech by social psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm.

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Part 3:

The neurotic and the artist — another excerpt from Ernest Becker’s book “The Denial of Death”

Continuing on where we left off on page 181 in Ernest Becker’s book The Denial of Death:

Another way of approaching neurosis is from the opposite end of the problem. There is a type of person who has difficulty fetishizing and narrowing-down; he has a vivid imagination, takes in too much experience, too large a chunk of the world—and this too must be called neurotic. We introduced this type in the last chapter where we talked about the creative person. We saw that these people feel their isolation, their individuality. They stick out, are less built-into normal society, less securely programmed for automatic cultural action. To have difficulty partializing experience is to have difficulty living. Not to be able to fetishize makes one susceptible to the world as a total problem—with all the living hell that this exposure raises. We said that partializing the world is biting off what an animal can chew. Not to have this talent means constantly biting off more than one can chew. Rank puts it this way:

The neurotic type . . . makes the reality surrounding him a part of his ego, which explains his painful relation to it. For all outside processes, however unmeaningful they may be in themselves, finally concern him . . . he is bound up in a kind of magic unity with the wholeness of life around him much more than the adjusted type who can be satisfied with the role of a part within the whole. The neurotic type has taken into himself potentially the whole of reality.

Now we can see how the problem of neurosis can be laid out along the lines of the twin ontological motives: on the one hand, one merges with the world around him and becomes too much a part of it and so loses his own claim to life. On the other hand, one cuts oneself off from the world in order to make one’s own complete claim and so loses the ability to live and act in the world on its terms. As Rank put it, some individuals are unable to separate and others are unable to unite. The ideal of course is to find some balance between the two motives, such as characterize the better adjusted person; he is at ease with both. The neurotic represents precisely “an extreme at one end or the other”; he feels that one or the other is a burden.

The question for a characterology is why some people cannot balance their ontological urges, why they hug at the extremes. The answer must obviously go back to the personal life history. There are those who shrink back from experience out of greater life-and-death anxieties. They grow up not giving themselves freely to the cultural roles available to them. They can’t lose themselves thoughtlessly in the games that others play. One reason is that they have trouble relating to others; they haven’t been able to develop the necessary interpersonal skills. Playing the game of society with automatic ease means playing with others without anxiety. If you are not involved in what others take for granted as the nourishment of their lives, then your own life becomes a total problem. At its extreme this describes the schizoid type par excellence. Classically this state was called the “narcissistic neurosis” or psychosis. The psychotic is the one who cannot shut out the world, whose repressions are all on the surface, whose defenses no longer work; and so he withdraws from the world and into himself and his fantasies. He fences himself off and becomes his own world (narcissism).

It may seem courageous to take in the whole world, instead of just biting off pieces and acting on them, but as Rank points out, this is also precisely a defense against engagement in it:

. . . this apparent egocentricity originally is just a defense mechanism against the danger of reality. . . . [The neurotic] seeks to complete his ego constantly . . . without paying for it.

To live is to engage in experience at least partly on the terms of the experience itself. One has to stick his neck out in the action without any guarantees about satisfaction or safety. One never knows how it will come out or how silly he will look, but the neurotic type wants these guarantees. He doesn’t want to risk his self-image. Rank calls this very aptly the “self-willed over-valuation of self” whereby the neurotic tries to cheat nature. He won’t pay the price that nature wants of him: to age, fall ill or be injured, and die. Instead of living experience he ideates it; instead of arranging it in action he works it all out in his head.

We can see that neurosis is par excellence the danger of a symbolic animal whose body is a problem to him. Instead of living biologically, then, he lives symbolically. Instead of living in the partway that nature provided for he lives in the total way made possible by symbols. One substitutes the magical, all-inclusive world of the self for the real, fragmentary world of experience. Again, in this sense, everyone is neurotic, as everyone holds back from life in some ways and lets his symbolic world-view arrange things: this is what cultural morality is for. In this sense, too, the artist is the most neurotic because he too takes the world as a totality and makes a largely symbolic problem out of it.

If this neurosis characterizes everyone to a certain extent and the artist most of all, where do we cross the line into “neurosis” as a clinical problem? One way, as we saw, is by the production of crippling symptom or a too-constricting life style. The person has tried to cheat nature by restricting his experience, but he remains sensitive to the terror of life at some level of his awareness. Besides, he can’t arrange his triumph over life and death in his mind or in his narrow heroics without paying some price: the symptom or a bogging down in guilt and futility because of an unlived life.

A second way of crossing the line into clinical neurosis follows naturally from everything we have said. Rank asked why the artist so often avoids clinical neurosis when he is so much a candidate for it because of his vivid imagination, his openness to the finest and broadest aspects of experience, his isolation from the cultural world-view that satisfies everyone else. The answer is that he takes in the world, but instead of being oppressed by it he reworks it in his own personality and recreates it in the work of art. The neurotic is precisely the one who cannot create—the “artiste-manqué,” as Rank so aptly called him. We might say that both the artist and the neurotic bite off more than they can chew, but the artist spews it back out again and chews it over in an objectified way, as an external, active, work project. The neurotic can’t marshal this creative response embodied in a specific work, and so he chokes on his introversions. The artist has similar large-scale introversions, but he uses them as material. In Rank’s inspired conceptualization, the difference is put like this:

. . . it is this very fact of the ideologization of purely psychical conflicts that makes the difference between the productive and the unproductive types, the artist and the neurotic; for the neurotic’s create power, like the most primitive artist’s, is always tied to his own self and exhausts itself in it, whereas the productive type succeeds in changing this purely subjective creative process into an objective one, which means that through ideologizing it he transfers it from his own self to his work.

The neurotic exhausts himself not only in self-preoccupations like hypochondriacal fears and all sorts of fantasies, but also in others: those around him on whom he is dependent become his therapeutic work project; he takes out his subjective problems on them. But people are not clay to be molded; they have needs and counter-wills of their own. The neurotic’s frustration as a failed artist can’t be remedied by anything but an objective creative work of his own. Another way of looking at it is to say that the more totally one takes in the world as a problem, the more inferior or “bad” one is going to feel inside oneself. He can try to work out his “badness” by striving for perfection, and then the neurotic symptom becomes his “creative” work; or he can try to make himself perfect by means of his partner. But it is obvious to us that the only way to work on perfection is in the form of an objective work that is fully under your control and is perfectible in some real ways. Either you eat up yourself and others around you, trying for perfection; or you objectify that imperfection in a work, on which you then unleash your creative powers. In this sense, some kind of objective creativity is the only answer man has to the problem of life. In this way he satisfies nature, which asks that he live and act objectively as a vital animal plunging into the world; but he also satisfies his own distinctive human nature because he plunges in on his own symbolic terms and not as a reflex of the world as given to mere physical sense experience. He takes in the world, makes a total problem out of it, and then gives out a fashioned human answer to that problem. This, as Goethe saw in Faust, is the highest that man can achieve.

[All emphases his]

Let’s stop there on page 185.

My Dream: 10,000 clans going their own way (the Intro)

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Shifts Happen

A recording from June 2013 that explains a bit more on my current outlook:

Carter, Eisenhower, and my neo-agrarian vision

Pres. Jimmy Carter – (1979):

Don’t know much about Jimmy Carter aside from him being a Southern peanut farmer and later in life volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in building homes. His isn’t a popular name within my wider family — all are Republicans so far as I’m aware. So forgive my ignorance about the man. Not sure I’ve ever really listened to him speak before. And that speech was amazing. Much more honesty than we’ve heard out of a president in … how long?

Eisenhower’s farewell address is the only other speech of its kind that springs to mind:

I appreciate what both men had to say. Both are warning future Americans (us) of the gravity of the choices and possibilities we’re faced with — on one hand the formation of the military-industrial complex, on the other the energy crisis. Both pointed to the social and ‘spiritual’ crises that would accompany these radically-changing times, and their words ring true.

What Jimmy Carter said up above speaks to this idea I’m continuing to play around with involving intentional communities branching off and reclaiming power in the hands of common people by producing more for our own selves and the communities we belong to and/or trade with, particularly in terms of the necessities (namely, food generation). Let me very briefly outline the benefits of the setup I envision:

  1. Providing for our own necessities within our own homes and communities to the greatest extent possible, particularly when it comes to sustaining foods, reduces our dependence on the Corporate State (that is, major corporations being backed by government).
  2. By implementing this form of neo-agrarianism and making better use of the land we have access to, we can reduce the amount of petrol otherwise required in Big Ag’s pesticide-laden monoculture megafarms (as well as the transportation costs typically involved). Through the use of new technologies surely modern farming of this nature can be made very productive with little or no harmful chemicals and big-brand fertilizers needed and while utilizing knowledge of biodiversity and the introduction of animals and insects useful in the process. (Farmer Joel Salatin could surely be of help in explaining this aspect in better detail to those who are curious — he’s mentioned in a few agriculture-related books and documentaries.)
  3. Our current dependence on Big Ag to supply us with food unfortunately is made possible through its heavy use of petrol in various stages of the food production process. It is said that at least 45% of oil used in the U.S. is imported, and we’re well aware where much of it comes from. The military has had a hand in gaining us access to the oil needed to fuel our economy, and this is having disastrous effects throughout the globe, injuring our relations with peoples in other countries to the point where our government stands on high alert, nonstop, ready to defend against probable attacks from foreigners. We as a nation are coming to be reviled, and this will have repercussions eventually. Whether we’ve hit peak oil already or will someday, the fact remains that the competition over oil is harming us, yet is currently needed to prop up the lifestyles we’ve grown accustomed to as well as to make the foods many of us otherwise would starve without. If we somehow lose out on procuring enough oil, it won’t only result in a social reset in this country (and others that wind up affected as well), but rather complete chaos and competition on a savage level. People will starve. And all because we rely too heavily on fossil fuels to maintain our modern ways of life. If we can reduce this dependency by providing for ourselves and take back a big measure of control over our own lives in the process, why not aim in that direction?
  4. Through learning modern farming and urban gardening techniques, we will likely become better acquainted with sciences and technologies, further broadening our awareness and enhancing our own power as individuals. The skills needed there calls for all kinds of creativity and innovation, particularly of the jerry-rigged variety, and this opens us up to so many possibilities and learning experiences. Atheists and others frustrated by others’ lack of scientific understanding should be pleased by this likely outcome.
  5. People desiring simpler lives with more straight-forward expectations (like myself) may find solace in this saner way of living. But it’s all in how each community and each individual therein chooses to bring it about. As always, we can pave the way to hell if we’re not careful.
  6. It’s come to my mind that slavery will always exist. And what I mean by this is we humans will either wind up slaves to one another or ‘slaves’ to the earth in terms of living within nature’s parameters (or possibly both if we’re as unlucky once again). The castle made of sand that we’re working and living within today is not sustainable — not ecologically but also not socially and psychologically. Debt slavery has a long history, but it is a human construct, not a condition imposed on us by the natural world itself. For as much drudgery that may be involved in farming and directly utilizing our own labor to provide for our own needs, it at least comes with the benefit of tuckering us out enough to where we, with any luck, will use what energy we have remaining more wisely and not waste so much of it bickering over our differences. The intentional communities going their own ways also helps reduce tensions by allowing groups of people breathing room who otherwise stay locked in irreconcilable arguments.
  7. The gender issue can be abated because, again, people are kept busy with creating something they do want instead of arguing nonstop with one another over what they do not want. Furthermore, men and women would need to contribute to the extent their capable, and this competitive environment can be put to productive use through struggling to prove themselves as able-bodied and relatively independent (and to admit where one or the other may generally be better-suited to certain tasks, however that may shake out).
  8. It is my belief that a greater peace than many of us experience today can be found through engaging in productive work that serves a real and necessary purpose. When we pull our own weight, so to speak, this boosts our sense of pride and satisfaction with living. And through observing the dedication in others, we may kindle respect and admiration for one another and go a step further toward solidifying community bonds. Because the notion of community exists only when it revolves around some sort of commonality, like shared life experiences and working toward common goals. Through working together we may also learn the importance of charity, as well as why shame deservedly accompanies abusing charities provided. Because people then see how, up-close and personally, that charity was brought about through the labors of others. Those who lack empathy in this manner should be noted and never promoted to positions involving much power.
  9. Love matters. And love involves respect, knowledge, responsibility, and care. Reacquainting ourselves with the land may go a long way toward healing our social wounds as we learn to see one another in the context of individuals we see and come to know rather than mere statistics printed somewhere. We need to bond, just as we also have a need for a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, something greater. It is not about stepping back into the past so much as it is inquiring into what life has taught us thus far and see how we, individually and collectively, might do better. But it starts in the hearts and minds of individual people and spreads from there. The connections forged along the way may make the entire process worthwhile, even if humankind winds up beset by obstacles we prove ultimately unable to overcome. To genuinely become friends and loved ones and neighbors — is that not what gives living so much of its meaning and authenticity?
  10. If we are indeed facing “end times” or the emergence of a new Dark Age, self-reliant communities will likely have a better chance of surviving or at least winding out their days striving to make amends internally and get right with our creator. I do not envision a God as any that have been described so far, but something beyond that, the unknowable yet the intuitively felt. Everyone understands this in their own way, and I won’t elaborate further. If that creator is viewed simply as nature itself, that works too. The point is that it may help mitigate the suffering that may befall us and give what lives we have remaining greater quality. Maybe. Depends on a lot of variables, sure. But maybe.

I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” He also said: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” As well as this: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”