Monday, August 9, 2010

Historical background to court ruling on marriage equality (Prop 8)

Even though opposition to gay marriage has been a primary outlet for fear of change and fear of The Other for some years now, this is an issue on which the traditional relationship between marriage and homosexuality was indefensible from the start.
Historically, homosexual sex and the organization of one's life around a socially visible identity as gay were two quite separate phenomena. I believe that the opposition to marriage equality is really opposition to the final acceptance of gayness as a valid destigmatized way of life. But the opponents of marriage equality were maneuvered onto a battle field in which 99% of their forces were wiped out before the battle even started.
That process started by the middle to late 1800s.
In America in the 1800s, bachelors had lower status than married men. Heterosexual marriage for the purpose of social control and reproduction was de facto mandatory. So was active membership in some Christian church or other. Marriage partners were selected for practical, economic reasons and family, relatives, fellow church members, and the community at large had much influence on the selection of marriage partners. In particular, as long as most people lived in villages and small towns, social freedom was far more constrained. Also, there was far less understanding of identity in those days long before Freud. People were much more seen as whatever roles they publicly played. They also saw themselves more that way.
In this context, there was far less concern about actual homosexual sex. The active seeking out of those engaging in homosexual acts for persecution is more a later phenomenon. But most all homosexuals entered heterosexual marriages, followed accepted heterosexual norms (for example, supported their wives or husbands and had children).
Also, because heterosexual activity was more restricted, there were probably more people whose sexual orientation was actually heterosexual but who engaged in homosexual acts. This would also have impeded the formation of identification as gay by mixing together those for whom homosexuality was their second choice with those for whom it was their first choice.
As far as I know, homosexuality (publicly renamed gay around 1970; not sure how much earlier that term took hold within the gay community itself) as an identity and lifestyle only starts to arise in Europe and America in the 1800s. With more and more people living in larger cities and with more and more people working in non-agricultural jobs that provided greater separation of private life from work life, lives were freed from local control and more anonymous. This made it possible for all manner of non-conformities to take cultural shape. These appear first in small urban pockets of various bohemian lifestyles and arts. There were a few periods during which such pockets became more visible and influential. One is just before WW1. Another in the 1960s. (Perhaps 1848 would be another.) The impact of such communities is most visible in the arts and the humanities. Least visible in corporations.
Meanwhile, the changes foreshadowed by these exceptional communities were gradually taking hold in the broader society, with ups and downs and contradictions. A good example of one of the contradictions was that the 1950s were both a high point of freedom and support for love-based heterosexual marriages between freely chosen partners but also a high point for witch hunting of political and sexual non-conformists.
Nowadays, marriages are entered into as matters of personal choice and for primarily psychological and sexual reasons and left easily and frequently in the same manner. The right to believe or not believe whatever we want is taken for granted. The right to create whatever identity we want is taken for granted (born again, gay, Red Sox nation, marathon runner, bass fisherman, NASCAR fan, lover of fine wines, American idol fan, rock or country music fan) and actively used. This means that 99% of what used to enforce conformity to traditional behavior has been swept away. Few of those fighting against marriage equality challenge that sweeping away. Most of them are not even aware how much of it has happened.
That is why singling out of gays for exclusion from marriage rights was overthrown by a Republican judge. Although it is impossible to predict what a Supreme Court with so many right-wing ideologues will do.
By the way, the choice of marriage as the arena in which to contest the right of gay culture to full acceptance was tactically brilliant. Remember that before this battle began, gay culture was largely associated (and for gay men, not unfairly) with the heightened sexual freedoms common to much of 60s culture. With the backlash against sexual freedom even for heterosexuals and the rise of new sexually transmitted diseases, starting with genital herpes, this would have been a very difficult fight to win. But the demand for marriage equality was, in effect, a demand for gays to be allowed to be more like everyone else. And the reframing from "gay marriage" to "marriage equality" was also a nice touch. For myself, I am mentally filing this away under "how one wins cultural battles".

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jessica's Lighthouse Theory of Economics

The global economy is like an old-fashioned light house that turns around and around, shining its light now here and now there. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the lighthouse was shining in the direction of where Japan had been standing for about 100 years for deep cultural reasons. These were the days of Japan As Number One and everyone rushed to learn the Japanese way. Right about when many were convinced that Japan was unstoppable, their economy crashed and more than 20 years later has still not recovered. Because the beam of light from the lighthouse had moved on. Now it was shining on America.
Japan had done well because their extremely conformist culture made them the nation best suited for large-scale manufacturing of fairly complex devices, for example Sony Walkmans and video recorders. But when even higher-level manufacturing began to migrate to lower cost countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan and Mexico and eastern Europe, Japan's insularity made it unsuited. Also, the new products that started to emerge at that time had to be evolved with a large amount of feedback from consumers. Engineers knew what a VCR needed to do before consumers had even heard of them. Google only learned what its product needed to do from how its consumers used it. Japanese society makes for a poor test bed because of the dominance of top-down information flow and passive consumers. What was needed was a nation with the flexibility to adjust quickly to changing conditions (for example as first PCs, then networks and cellphones became more and more powerful) and with spoiled demanding consumers. So the lighthouse was shining right where America had been standing all along. America was much more nimble than other nations because our sense of solidarity, our consciousness of We, is so much less. In other words, America became the model economy because we are much more willing to throw each other to the wolves and because of our greater loyalty to our one true religion, making money.
Imagine a tall ladder. One guy is working at the top and a second guy is holding the ladder steady. A beautiful woman walks by. Most countries have enough solidarity that the guy holding the ladder steady looks whistfully at the woman but stays at his post. America means that the guy holding
the ladder chases after the woman. So more sex and more broken necks.
And my metaphor is actually backwards because it was the folks at the top who got to play and the ones at the bottom who were hurt by it.
With the economic crash, the lighthouse has moved on again. I suspect that America's lesser solidarity and greater reverence for making money will serve us very poorly in this new age. It already is. That is the reason why our only political choices are between a rational hypocritical party of money (the Democrats) and a bat-shit insane honest party of money (the Republicans).
It always takes a little while to figure out where the beam of light from the lighthouse has moved on to. I see two possibilities. One is societies that have the right combination of solidarity and brightness to adjust to the new times cooperatively. What will be needed is the cooperation and trust so that large numbers of jobs can be eliminated and replaced smoothly because those losing their jobs can trust that they will be given the training and help needed to find new places. In America, even if a sincere attempt was made to do this, those whose jobs were under threat would assume that the promise of retraining and new jobs was just a scam. And they would be right. It probably would be. And even if the original intent was sincere, by the time the political and corporate system implemented it, it would have been turned into a scam.
Nations that are bright but lack solidarity will tear themselves apart fighting over competing solutions (ie fighting over who plunders and who is plundered). Nations that have solidarity but are not bright will stagnate in a pleasantly funky kind of way. The Arabs have been doing this for nearly 800 years and the Japanese may be headed that way. The nations most likely to hit the right balance are the Scandinavians, the Netherlands, and the German speaking nations and perhaps some of their Eastern European neighbors.
The other possibility is that the lighthouse is pointing at authoritarian hyper-capitalist states, from China at the poorest and more corrupt to Singapore at the richest and cleanest. Personally, I think that the Asian production-centered economies can not function without some place to export their surpluses. Because if you rig the rules to make it too easy to produce stuff and too hard to afford to consume it, then you will make more stuff than you can sell to your own people. And America can't buy all these exports any more and Europe won't.
in any case, you will know where the lighthouse is pointing when once again we are being told that a certain nation or nations have figured it all out. Just remember when this happens that the new model nation just happens to have already been standing there. And for all their supposed superiority, they will still be standing there after the beam of light has moved on.
In fact, the experience of how well things worked while the light was shining on them makes it even more likely that they will stay stuck in that same spot even after it goes dark, wondering what to get back to doing what they did in the glory days. Even though their problem is not that they changed but that they haven't.
By the way, the deep American reverence for making money goes back to the early 1600s and the origins of the Protestant Reformation and will not be changed easily.

Ego, conscious individuals, and conscious society

To see the ego (or whatever we choose to call the aspects of the self seen as less true) as any kind of obstacle or obstruction needing to be let go of is only true up to a certain point of development. Beyond that, struggling with the ego or working on the ego is not the best place to focus one's energy and attention. That struggle itself can even become the primary obstruction. It is better for the focus to shift toward the larger, the truer. That might mean a truer self that is still individuated or it might be something that is beyond all individuality or perhaps both. (It might also be a collective true self that is beyond individual but is also a smaller part of some other larger universal.)
I think a lot of people see the desirability of such a shift in attention. There are many ways to phrase this and many different ways to understand it.
In order to aid that shift in attention, I have found it helpful to conceive of the ego as an approximation that is one step in the process of the arrival of that which the ego is approximating. In other words, the ego is a natural phase in the development of conscious individuals. It is just that until now in human history, almost everyone stopped at that level (if they even fully reached it) instead of continuing on.
Furthermore, this social pattern in which most everyone stops at or before the level of ego development is itself a natural phase in the evolution of conscious society. I believe that we are arriving at the next phase in social development as well. The society that is trying to emerge now will come to see growth beyond ego as natural, just as we see it as natural to grow beyond adolescence into adulthood. Of course, natural is not the same as automatic or easy.
For myself, I examine all teachings about development beyond ego in light of this broader possibility.

Harry Potter and how the next society emerges

The transition into the conscious human society is unlikely to look like any classical revolution. Frontal, confrontational social battles are more the way of unconscious national or tribal societies. During the transition, when both unconscious national (or partially globalized) societies and the conscious human society co-exist, it may look a lot like the world of Harry Potter. Something like Diagon Ally, which is in the middle of muggle London, but unseen by muggle London and not in conflict with it. This is actually similar to how modern market societies rose in the middle of medieval self-sufficient agrarian societies.
If you think about it, the entire Harry Potter series revolves around the question of the right relationship between the wizard world and the muggle world. Lord Valdemor and his allies want an elitist, predatory relationship to the muggles. Harry and his allies want a humane, friendly relationship with muggles. I would go a step farther. The ultimate witch/wizard world is one that can enable muggles to become wizards and witches.
But in the meanwhile, we will need our Diagon Alleys. Not barricades or storm the Winter Palace. The revolution will not be televised. Not even on Oprah.

Waits for No One

He is sitting in the waiting room. He feels like he has been sitting there forever. It is strange that there is no one else there. He looks around at the almost bare, deliberately neutral walls, the plain colors as though picked to be unobtrusive and unmemorable.
"Why is this taking so long," he wonders.
He goes over to the "receptionist" again. "Funny," he thinks, "how this pattern of having a "receptionist" is maintained. Even though it has long been just an AI system. He is surprised to realize that the "receptionist area" is not even the usual counter with a very shallow space behind and a holograph of a young woman to serve as the face for the AI. There is no area at all. It is just a blank wall with the receptionist area projected on it. "Funny that I didn't notice that." It makes him uneasy that they put one over on him.
He goes back to his seat. Wonders why they are taking so long to get back to him with the report.
He thinks back. He can remember arriving at the building, reaching the door into the Verichamber. He remembers being escorted to the check-chair, the electrodes and catheters attached. There was the slight whirring noise as some blood was withdrawn. Everyone knows what happens.
They check the blood and all his body patterns. They use various scanning systems built unobtrusively, undetectably actually, into the walls and floor and ceiling, the chair too. Any genetic mutations are noted and fixed. Any normal breakdown from aging is reversed. Any upgrades or repairs - repairs to damage incurred before the invention of iGene of course, nothing left to repair since then - are verified. Any unverified upgrades or repairs are automatically charged against his OneAccount. If his balance were to go below zero. No, there is neither any reason nor need to think about that. Of course, everyone knows that happens if you go below zero. But they say it is very merciful. Especially since gene culling was replaced with a reputation downgrade for all genetic relates.
What is taking so long?
Finally, he gives up. Gets up, walks out the door. Doesn't really need the report after all. Can look it up later.
Out on the street, decides to justwalk a little ways. It is a busy time of day and the bubbles swirl all around him. None come too close of course, so why should he feel a little claustrophobic, even threatened. He closes down that line of inquiry. But not until he has made a mental note using his special mnemonic. A note to follow that line of inquiry the next time he is out of range.
As always, he is amused by those who exercise while they ride in their bubbles. What not justwalk? Too boring probably.
Looks up from his thoughts to see a bubble coming straight at him. Can't help himself from being scared. Reflexes built for the African savanna. Can't help himself from being surprised as the bubble rushes straight at him. Or being stunned when it moves straight through him. Or being relieved that it did him no harm. Had no noticeable affect on him at all.
He is shaking a bit now. Not like them not to announce a new technology like that. At least put it in the morning auto feed, the broadwave stuff that doesn't even need you to touch in.

It has been days now. No one answers his calls. No one responds to his psychpings. He sits at restaurants. Food he does not remember ordering appears. After a while he leaves. No sense of having eaten but not getting hungry either.
He goes down to the lake shore to watch the sunset. It is a spectacular display of colors, as always. He wonders how much is real and how much is projected, but the function for turning off the overlay doesn't seem to work anymore.
Another thing he would have expected a notice about. He feels the weight of all these odd things piling up, growing heavier. Hemming him in. He feels at times as though he can not breath. As though the desire to breath is leaking out somewhere. He looks up and sees the evening sky brighten red, almost maroon, then fade into darkness. Then too quickly start to lighten again. Becoming very bright.
And understands where he is.

Brief Glimpses of A Conscious We

I saw something flicker on a few years back during Big Mind Month sessions, but it flickered off again. I don't know if anyone else noticed it, but I think it was the most important breakthrough I have witnessed this millennium.

It happened a number of times, but one time remains most clearly in my memory. We had started in on some relative voice. I wish I remember all the details, but I don't. Things moved so fast that I could not participate and take notes at the same time, not even mental notes.
In those days, many of the voices were not fully defined yet. We were exploring more. Even Roshi often didn't know where the voice was meant to go.
So it was common for the first speakers to present what were really quite different visions of the voice. Part of this was because the distinction between the immature and mature aspects of a voice had not yet been articulated. Part of it was that the words used to name certain voices allowed very different interpretations.
Another difference in those days was that for parts of the session, people would just speak out without the facilitator calling on anyone. A majority of the participants then had decades of experience sitting with Roshi and knew each other, so this was easier to do. Even in those days, it would only work for a while before some unnamed protocol broke down and someone went on too long. (The spontaneous calling out only worked when everyone spoke very briefly.) Or people would start trying to talk over each other or a near debate would break out. Then the facilitator would step in. This more free-form process was always on the edge of chaos but sometimes it worked.
The session I remember was one such day. Having just started to speak the voice, the participants were speaking very briefly. It is my nature to try to keep track of not only how I experienced myself as the voice but how the room as a whole seemed to be experiencing the voice. The two could be different. That time, around the 7th or 8th speaker or so, what was being said seemed to me to go offtrack. 2 or 3 participants said things that didn't make much sense and that also didn't seem to recognize the flow of previous speakers. Perhaps they hadn't been listening too clearly.
It was right at that point that things got interesting. The thread of the voice picked up on something in the, to be honest, foolish comments that had just been spoken, a few more participants spoke up and suddenly what was being spoken was a new teaching. Not a new recognition of the unity of a current teaching and an ancient Zen work. Not the room reaching the place that the facilitator had intended all along. But a new teaching.
I wish I remembered the content. If only there had been recording in those days. It would be fascinating to go back and review that session. But two things struck me immediately (and helped me forget everything else). First, the teaching had not emerged from some pearl of wisdom by one of the brighter or more articulate participants. The teaching had not emerged from any one speaker. Rather, in the course of a few comparatively silly statements, the room as a whole had somehow come upon the teaching. Second, the room as a whole had created the teaching. Some "We" had acted in a way that was beyond anything any one "I" had done.
After the session was over, we walked down the stairs and over to the other building to eat. Many of the participants were in awe of what had just happened. Over dinner, a discussion arose as to how Roshi had come up with the new teaching. It was intriguing that so many participants assumed that the teacher had created the teaching even when it was pretty clear that this time it had been the group as a whole that had done so.
This time, I am sure that is what had actually happened because at the start of the afternoon session the next day (in those days, Diane facilitated the morning sessions), someone asked Roshi where he got the teaching from. Roshi said that he hadn't known that teaching until he heard it during the previous day's Big Mind session.

That happened any number of times during Big Mind Months a few years back. I loved that and thought that it was a crucial breakthrough for modern Westerners. Almost all meditators and Big Mind participants have levels of education, factual knowledge, and intellectual skills and discipline far beyond what even the elite had in ancient days. When intellectual development and the opportunity for spiritual development were much rarer than now, the best way to do spiritual work was to maximize the impact of the tiny handful of people with education and meditative training. That meant to sit that person at the front of the room or forest clearing and have everyone else sit and listen. But in the modern age, where even students who are new to meditation or Big Mind or Zen have already spent thousands of hours sitting and listening and training their minds, other ways of working become possible.
And in an age in which humanity needs to develop wider identifications, for example to move from ethno-centric to world-centric perspectives, a process that can allow voices to speak that do not fit into anyone's previous understanding would be a precious gift.
This process of group awareness creating new teachings flickered back out again years ago. I never heard anyone else who was there specifically mention it so I don't know how many people noticed it. I think of it as a group peak experience: a brief flash of a state that will take years more training to make easily accessible, then consolidate and make enduring. In my opinion, contemporary spiritual communities are strongly influenced by traditional Asian models of how to organize practice (ie forms centered on a guru, lama, or zen master) and by contemporary models of marketing (ie forms centered on a media star). Both those models have vital strengths. The guru/lama/Zen master model taps into deep psychological patterns (established with our parents) and is very powerful at transmitting the spiritual development of the teacher. The contemporary media star model is very powerful at reaching large numbers of people very quickly. But both models are constrained by the level of development of the societies that created them. The collective creating that flickered on briefly will be a useful addition to our spiritual toolbox. And a very necessary one. Some day.
Our cultures have greatly liberated us from the limitations of artificial social constructs that bound our ancestors as tightly as the bound feet of Chinese women in olden days. "You were born into the caste of leather workers, so you are a leather worker". That kind of thing. But we are just starting the processing of reweaving freer, more individuated persons into new forms of community and society that work with individual character rather than against it.
I had a peak experience in 1977, near the beginning of my spiritual journey, that was so far beyond anything I was capable of in my ordinary state, that when it finished, I had literally no idea whatsoever how to find it again, what to do to become a person capable of sustaining that in day-to-day life. All I could do was follow the path that was in front of me (in those days, being a sannyassin of Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh, later known as Osho) and trust that eventually what I was learning at the base of the mountain would connect to what I had seen at the peak. Even though there were certain elements in that peak experience that I did not see or hear in any of the teachings I explored.
I feel that way with the aware creative "We" I witnessed and was part of in Big Mind sessions. I don't know anyone working with this. I haven't heard anyone talking about it. So I continue with my work and trust that eventually that will lead back to it.
One last thing. I only remember this happening when Roshi faciliated and only when he facilitated with a very light touch, just holding the space and bringing us back to the process if one or more of us went too much against the overall flow or there was just too much chaos. He was not trying to control where that that process went. He was not being the enlightened Zen Master transmitting the dharma. It was the most impressive way of teaching I have ever witnessed.