I draw the line

I would like to write about this paper and pen problem.  It’s a curious sensation to write that sentence. In writing about the implements that allow me to draw these lines, I am rendering them abstract. Of course, I’m actually reading the original sentence from my notebook and typing it into the computer, a further abstraction.  And the whole thing feels like an artifice and a paradox, like the sentence  ‘I always lie and that’s the truth’.  Such artifice succeeds to make sense only through the act of ‘unasking’ and it feels like we have become masters of it.

Robert Crumb is America’s most famous contemporary cartoonist and he has lived in Paris for 25 years.  The day after the assassination of (among others) satirical cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, Celia Farber from the New York Observer called him for his comments.  She remarked that there must have been many such calls from journalists from his native country. Crumb replied –

“No, you’re the only one. You don’t have journalists over there anymore, what they have is public relations people. That’s what they have over in America now. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.”

Back to this pen and paper. I could describe them in great detail or I could take a photo of them to go with this article. Still, it wouldn’t be this pen and this paper. What is an object in my hand has already become a subject: a subject of your imagination.

Perhaps conservative Muslims feel the same about their Prophet. That by depicting him, by personifying him, you depersonalize him to them.

Many people feel the same way about fictional characters, such as James Bond and Jack Reacher.  Though I don’t think there were death threats made when Tom Cruise was cast as the the six foot four, built like a shit brick house Reacher of the novels.  And I doubt that the Broccoli family will need 24 hour police protection if they cast Idris Elba as the next 007.

But such comparisons are facetious, aren’t they.  I mean this pen is in my hand.  I can feel it against my fingers.  I feel and hear the contact with the paper through its nib as I write and the muscles working to transcribe the mind’s activity, drawing letters, words and sentences. Perhaps Mohamed is that present in the mind of Muslims, guiding their hand.  Can it be the same Mohamed that guides the hand that beheads a hostage that also guides Jewish hostages in a supermarket to hide in a cold store?  Of course, it can’t be. But where do we draw the line?

Let us continue to unask.  Here is a couple of paragraphs my hand is guided to write –

A paradigm that subjugates women to function primarily as child bearers has an evolutionary advantage over those that value women as equal to men.  Such a paradigm, if hosted and tolerated within a society that values human rights would thrive.  Because such progressive societies have lower child mortality rates, welfare states and mitigate against prejudice in accessing state resources or employment in the public sector.  Meanwhile, in the private sector, large and extended family ties are advantageous in building networks of mutual support that legitimately exclude outsiders and enable economic prosperity without the necessity of integration.  Such a paradigm would, like a parasite, take over and then consume the body of the tolerant host society.

Can you see how with paper and pen I can activate neural networks in your brain which might very well be causing your body to secret hormones and give rise to  emotions that are preparing your body to take action.  Please bear with me.  Let me continue…

Of course, the paradigm of which I am talking could be a religion such as Judaism or Catholicism but in this context let us rest on Islam.  If statistics are correct, Muslims need do nothing different to what they are doing now for Europe to become a theocracy in the next century.

Notice again how by drawing these lines I am forcing you to draw yours.  That is always the action of thought – to draw lines.  Lines between what you can accept and what you can’t; who you are and who you are not; where the pen ends and the hand starts; between the inner and the outer; between you and me.

Let’s not unask for a moment.  Let’s ask.  What if there are no lines?…Anywhere!  I understand the huge resistance to this, those of us who are under the poverty line, kettled by a police line or forced daily to tow the line.  But right now, in this moment, relax completely and try and find lines anywhere that aren’t just in your imagination.  It might help if you close your eyes also.

Of course, if you are anything like me there were lines everywhere: lines of thought streaming down like the credits for the Matrix movies..  Slowed down, the thoughts are seeking, drawing definitions, distinguishing what is and what isn’t.   But such lines only appear to us because of a meta-paradigm, a pernicious parasite to which we are all hosts, and which like the cursor of this computer, compiles a linear narrative. This is the mother of all lines, the line to end all lines…Here it is….I….

I draw I like an Escher drawing. When this line disappears all the others do too. So stop drawing conclusions. Stop drawing distinctions. Simply ask where are those lines, really.

9/11 was a Psych-Ops Coming of Age Party

This is the only post about 9/11.  I promise.

So by now you might already suspect that I’m wearing a hat made of tinfoil and about to tell you that ‘That’s just what they want.  They want you to think I am a paranoid freak.’

Perhaps it will placate your fears if I tell you that this post is really about mindfulness. That means the art of simply being aware of the present moment and what is unfolding within us at each moment without judging it.  And context, which mindfulness leads towards like the river leads to the sea.

Now put the tinfoil hats back on because only with mindfulness can we even begin to  inoculate ourselves from  the tampering with our subconscious that has become the art form of the modern state. I’m not just talking about propaganda here, but the infinite and varied, the subtle and often very unsubtle ways that governments and media sustain a Faustian pact with its people. “We’ll help you maintain the illusion of democracy and human rights, and therefore the conceit of a safe and certain world to which you are adding value through your labour and into which you can proudly raise your children; as long as you don’t question too closely the reality”.

It’s a pact we make every time we consume a mass produced product from an international corporation. There’s the illusion of choice; the slight of hand that makes consuming something made in the millions appear to confirm our individuality.  And through purchasing a particular product we find comfort in belonging to a certain economic or social group without the commitment or solidarity a true sense of belonging engenders.

So our brains are well programmed at eating shit and tasting wholesomeness, just to enable us to swallow. And when we gag on the lies that underpin our society it’s often labelled a mental health issue. That we have this gag reflex at all is surely a sign that there is a basic sanity which we can imagine, even if we have never experienced it.

Watching the trial of psychopathic killer Anders Breivik I recognised how his cold logic has an internal consistency which without context could be a form of sanity. And don’t we do the same every day in small ways? When we stand back and notice the basic insanity of the prevailing operating paradigm of our modern world isn’t there a desperate willingness to forsake context in order to continue the pretence of sanity?  For how long will people stop buying prawns from Asda now they know they are processed by slaves? Well, they’re not labelled fair trade are they, so that’s OK.

We might chastise our sorry conscience for not doing more, but the brain’s function is to create a cohesive picture of reality in which to live – a master story, if you like. We do the same as Breivik.  We incorporate atrocities committed in our name into a structure of logic around which we can comfortably manoeuvre and balance our sense of morality and normality in order to function. Justification is ALWAYS after the act and we are either busy justifying to ourselves our place in the world, or escaping from it through the ubiquitous drugs both chemical and electronic.

A perfect and significant example of this mass self-delusion is what happened on the 11th of September 2001. Having been standing on the top of World Trade Centre 1 in June of 2001 I had a pretty good notion of how big these structures were. So when I witnessed their collapse on the TV screen three months later, which on the small screen could not give an adequate impression of their vast scale, it just looked wrong. Like a seven foot quarterback falling dead from someone blowing smoke in their eyes.

The perpetrators are acutely aware of the neurological loopholes in the human brain of which they can take advantage. The brain links the most easily available, not the most probable cause to an effect – i.e. the jets striking the towers. This is a cognitive illusion created by what economist Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 – the fast intuitive automatic processes of the subconscious mind, outpacing System 2, the reasoning slow thinking mind. This System 2 operates in the more recently evolved parts of the brain which seek to find the ‘why’ of invisible causes. This faculty is what makes us human and which has led to our supremacy on the planet by leading us to develop science, technology and advanced language processing to communicate the ‘why’ of everything.

As Naomi Wolf has written, shock and awe suppresses or disables System 2, so for those who were most aware of the size of WTO and who were present to their destruction, System 1 would have naturally taken over and constructed the most available cause, a cause that became more and more available as the media fed us the master story over the following hours and days and months and years.

Primo Levi reported that in Auschwitz the prevailing attitude of those who sought to retain their humanity was not horror but curiosity. The Why? of System 2 was struggling to contextualise the horror. This project continued for survivors like Levi after the war, and he eventually took his own life perhaps because in the end such a task was too enormous in a post-modernist world.

The ‘Why’ of 9/11 is a continuing project with scientists, pilots, architects and engineers as well as whistleblowers from the security apparatus of America fighting for the truth of what really happen, or at least making clear that the Bush administration and all governments since have lied to  everyone. That it is framed as a marginal and insignificant project – at best an academic exercise at worst the preserve of lunatic conspiracy theory fringe, indicates how successful a pschy-ops operation it was and continues to be. And this is what convinces me that the oppressors at the moment have the winning hand and why governments everywhere realise that they can write the script as long as it has enough gripping drama to seduce us from participating in any other way but vicariously.

This is politics as soap opera and while the literati  in previous times would have led the charge of outrage and uproar, now they dither in the maze of post-modernism, where everything is just a theory.  It is simply not good enough to label the ashes of 9/11 a site of critical discourse.  The truth here is too important.

The other factor that gives governments the upper hand is the scale of the lie.  What would it mean to integrate a new reality into our master story about 9/11?  Would we care to recognise ourselves as a people kept dumb and under the control of a morally corrupt global corporate oligarchy that is bent on destroying civil liberties, the environment and anything that stands between them and the power to produce a short term profit.  Or would we prefer to continue to believe in ourselves as free agents in a world governed for the most part by institutions, companies and governments who have our interests at heart? Of course the convenient, comfortable most available conclusion is the latter, in particular because it demands nothing from us but our freedom and, for our own personal sanity, a safe distance from stopping a moment and letting ourselves be pulled towards context.

RD Laing showed that our belief in the infallibility of our parents, tragically so when they are abusive, is what leads to insanity, and writ large the same chemistry constructs our society. Only in society we can all concur to be insane together and dance our way into oblivion rather than risk being the ones consigned to the various caricatures of the outsider and eliminated or ridiculed.

We simply can’t imagine that such a large amount of people could conceive and execute such an evil plan as to kill thousands of their own people in order justify killing hundreds of thousands more and enslaving billions. Ironically, it is empathy thanks to our mirror neurones that sustains this self-delusion. Our ability to believe that two 111 story buildings can collapse into their own footprint at free fall speed 45 minutes after they are hit by a planes, and a 42 story building (WTO 7) can collapse 7 hours later by itself, just because it is in the vicinity of those building  is the same flight of fantasy, the same suspension of disbelief that requires us to believe that we might win the lottery when there is a 14 million to 1 chance that we will.

Our brain thinks of such large numbers in abstract forms, it cannot actually grasp the size of this number, or the scale of these building. But then someone has to win the lottery, and that someone could be me…and I see people who look just like me winning…mirror neurones…so I can feel how it could be. By the same token, I cannot conceive of so many people being so evil and corrupt as to commit such crimes or want to enslave people just for money and power…it just sounds too much like fiction…some crazy conspiracy theory…or something from history!

Perhaps it would be useful to deconstruct the psychology that would make it possible for a large amount of people to be part of such a heinous crime. Psychologist Dan Ariely has found that the flexibility in our  ethical room to manoeuvre…the extent to which we are willing to be dishonest, is related to how much we think we can get away with it both in society and in our own conscience.  Now imagine a triangle at the base of which minor corruption, incompetence and self-service is culturally acceptable in order to achieve the goals of the organisation. Those in the management layer above can justify to themselves a larger area of acceptable infringement of conventional mores. The higher you go up the triangle the more flexible the morality.   Until at the very top the masters can move in whichever direction they want without disturbing their conscience. Power in such structures is denoted by an inversely proportionate formula between your capacity for wrongdoing and accountability. Under such circumstances those with a conscience are whittled out by default because reporting misdoings up the line of management leads not to correction but to threats or eventual expulsion to the whistleblower, precisely because they are not the right material to work in the organisation. See Sibel Edmonds book Classified Woman for a vivid description of how this works.

I took the Staten Island Ferry in 2001.  And as the distance from the dock increased the scale of the twin towers became awesomely clearer.  Likewise, when you orient towards context the scale of our society’s insanity and the lie that allows it to survive can be overwhelming.

The Edge of Tomorrow

I’ve a confession to make. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a huge influence on my life. It convinced me as a teenager that life is an adventure and that I should be fearless in my pursuit of um…adventure.

Another action movie that has now inspired new insight for me is the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, The Edge of Tomorrow. It a sci-fi movie that steals the Groundhog Day premise of a character having to live the same day over and over again. Cruise plays a cowardly soldier who is reborn every time he is killed on the battlefield, back to the start of the same day. He becomes an uber-soldier able to predict everything that is going to happen.

Waking up this morning it dawned on me that the emphasis in the mindfulness courses I teach about each moment being unique is not entirely true. It became clear to me that I was going to live pretty much the same day that I had yesterday. The same dramas, the same anxieties, the same relationships.  And with the film fresh in my mind it occurred to me that perhaps it is the same day, relived until I master its challenges. Just as our soul is reborn according to Buddhism and Hinduism and lives are constantly being relived until we are liberated from Samsara – the wheel of suffering.

But it is not a wheel, otherwise we would be aware quite soon that the ride was going round and round. Consciousness (manifest in most of us as a self that knows that it exists) is as Hofstadter describes a strange loop.

Working on the development project Calon Cerebellium with neuroscientist Prof Guillaume Thierry, I came to suspect that this strange loop is a möbius strip. This figure of eight loop used as a symbol for infinity is only the illusion of eternity and is what in our mind gives us the illusion of change, progress and a new day dawning.

Like a Scalectrix car, mind is canalised by our brains in a race around this figure of eight. The back of the brain intercepts sensory stimuli and the front brain verifies and makes decisions to act on its basis. However the sensory apparatus is severely limited and gives incorrect information about the nature of reality so the decisions are consistently wrong, but they are also wrong in a consistent way. So this consistency gives a sense of continuity to this flawed perception of reality.

But where the real magic occurs is the twist in the middle of the loop, the axis between these two functions of the brain. We race so quickly around the loop that we meet ourselves coming the other way but on the reverse side. So this is where we see ourselves and where, every three seconds we are reminded that we exist.

In this way we are deceived into perceiving ourselves eternal, and so the concept of soul arises, and the feeling that everything is changing every day. Of course change is continuous, but our perceptions, our patterns, our habits renew the moment we wake up..the same as before. So we do live the same day over and over again and we can predict pretty well which monsters will arise in our psyche. In this way life is a play, a practice and occasionally a battlefield.

Forum Theatre gives us a window into this process, a place apart, called the aesthetic space or stage, where we can externalise this strange loop.  When Jokered (facilitated) to be context oriented this incredibly private and familiar mechanism is made public, and in that sharing, that ‘multiple regard of the other’; the nature of how we limit consciousness with this illusion of a self travelling in time, in a process of  psychological evolution, can be exposed for what it is.  Theatre.

Revolution Road

revolution-road-logoThe smartphone app for creative citizens*

(*people who want to change the world by being the change they seek)

The next revolution will not be violent.  There won’t be protests and riots or the oppressive rulers up against a wall.  They won’t notice it has happened until it is too late.

Nation states without exception owe their foundation to an act of theft. Theft of all our basic needs – land, food, water, culture, thought, movement, vocation, health, communication – which is then sold back to us as scarce commodities.  Democracy is a smoke screen to the tyranny of an economic monoculture that allows money and the flow of money to dictate our lives in every detail. But the screen is lifting, the smoke is clearing, the scales are falling from our eyes.  The monster is out in the open for all to see. What is not so clear is our mode of escape.

All the doors marked exit from this crazy world have been taken but none have led to what we really want. Various political philosophies lead to the same dilemma of ownership. What is mine and what is yours.  And even shared ownership, when imposed, leads to inevitable state tyranny.  This is because no matter what the intention, power corrupts. The three properties of the universe – mater, meaning and energy flow continuously through each other and within each of us manifest as body/embodiment, mind/mindfulness and voice/vocation. We each manifest these properties in different and unique ways, the expression of which is our life purpose. When that expression is limited or inhibited by power structures, a systemic violence pervades our whole existence. We call it society! This is a prevailing infrastructure which, in return for the perceived convenience, comfort and security it provides takes away our capacity to provide this to ourselves through community, sharing and basic human relationship with each other outside of the institutionalised roles.

We need a parallel infrastructure. One based on communitas, that is focused on what each of us has to give, and which enables us to give it freely in a network of relationships that takes care of all our needs. This includes the need in all of us to find out what it is that we have to give.

In the past such communities have existed in small pockets, bubbles which in themselves become isolated and cut off from the world.  But now we have, through the world wide web, smartphone technology and gps, the capacity to create a gift economy infrastructure parallel to the prevailing one.  A gps map of all the creative citizens who are living the change they seek and are giving what they have to give freely.

The app invites membership from those who desire to give freely their skills, capacities and produce. By liberating energy, meaning emerges from new relationships not only with each other but with the environment, urban or rural.  With time and a growing army of creative citizens a map will emerge that overlays that which has dictated our movements previously.  This map, this parallel infrastructure, this revolution road will manifest as mater, as pathways by which we traverse the prevailing infrastructure but untouched by its systemic violence. In time, as more people download the app, join the network and live by the growing map of this new world it becomes the prevailing infrastructure and heaven will have prevailed on earth.

Reality check

The prevailing infrastructure not only steals and controls our natural inheritance. In order to squeeze as much capital from our fecund earth it is poisoning the well from which we all drink.

Slavery, of women in patriarchal societies, of children in sweatshops of us all in neuro-marketing propaganda and education designed to condition us to tolerate fear and mediocracy.  So that we are not even aware that we are indeed slaves.

The military and police power in which states have invested to protect property and territory that belongs to no one, but in which through nationalism and the narcissism of petty differences, we all take pride.

The corruption of spirituality so that truth has become a commodity.  When meaning becomes fixed and stagnant as it is in organised religion, energy cannot flow freely and is channeled towards the inhibition of our natural and playful creativity, what manifests is the shadow of creativity – destruction. Esoteric and gnostic religions of which there are branches in every religion recognise this, and they are usually the first to be attacked by the fundamentalists in their own religion e.g the cathars by catholics during the inquisition, the sufi in the present day by islamism.

The massive mental health problems in society due to our learned helplessness.  We take upon ourselves the shame and guilt of not being all that we can be. We hide in the insatiable satiation of 24 hour stimulation, superficial realities and addictions that eat our souls so that we become hollow and without feeling.  We promulgate the psychopathy of society, devaluing empathy and compassion and according status to a spectrum of neural activity which feeds fear and distrust.  We consume drama and thrive on disfunction. For some pain becomes the only thing that makes them feel alive.

Poverty excludes the belief that a parallel infrastructure is possible. And yet poverty is the gateway to giving freely.  It is the state through which we pass through the eye of the needle.  In the gift economy not having money means money is not a problem.  What the problem is is the inhibition of vocation, the obstacles to expressing the reason for our existence. The main obstacles are mindlessness – we are distracted by baubles and comforts and accept without question a mediocre life of habitual conditioned responses that we pass on to our children. And the oppression of materialism – the belief that there is something lacking in our lives the answer to which is out there in the material world, or in spiritual materialism.

Reality unchecked

The aim of the parallel infrastructure is to coexist alongside the prevailing infrastructure, to sail alongside this supertanker aimed for the rocks, like a lifeboat.  And to attract people to jump ship, to make a lifestyle choice, to join the gift economy. There will be places where the maps integrate and the aim is always to find the path of least resistance around obstructions to change. But there will be sites of resistance, for instance, the necessity to stop fracking from poisoning our groundwater.  The nature of the prevailing infrastructure means that communities of creative citizens will have more integral resilience, less dependency on the prevailing infrastructure and therefore more freedom to mobilise effective protest.

Taking money out of the equation means that energy will flow more freely and materialise workable alternatives in every area of life.  Instead of, “I can’t do that, I don’t have the funding.” will be “Who can help me make this happen?” Since the aim of invention and creativity will not be profit but the better functioning of the parallel infrastructure, ownership will belong to the community and the urge to control will be dispelled by the urge and the enjoyment to co-create workable solutions that save the planet and our sanity.

The virtual sandbox, crowd in a cloud approach to development and propagation of ideas, initiatives and tools for transformation are useless while merely notional.  Essential is the application of these proposals on the ground.  In the gift economy they will touch down in reality in a gentle and unforced way that, rather than being a mass produced one size fits all solution, will be ‘fitting’ for each unique circumstance.  This reflects the inherent respect of gifting rather than the selling and purchasing paradigm to which we are accustomed.

An unbridled feedback loop and the kind of sharing and open access that hierarchical systems and the secrecy of capitalism prohibits will ensure that ideas evolve to practical use in a way that is impossible in the prevailing infrastructure.  This is because the constant worry about money is like driving the car with the hand-break on.  Without this worry, the application of solutions will be fast but precise; flexible but smooth; effective but personable – creating a natural efficiency that no amount of top-down management could achieve.

Human inventiveness being what it is, parallel infrastructures have always existed as ways of surviving wars and economic turmoil.  They are usually called the black market, and can be seen in small ways in all societies in boot sales and local lets schemes, or even on ebay and gumtree. However, going down the revolution road is a far more radical proposal.

Some anthropologists equate agriculture as the beginning of our downfall as a species because harvested crops created a surplus and structures of hierarchy were generated to control what happened to that surplus:  while previously hunter gatherers took only what was needed. The revolution road app will flag up on a searchable map these surpluses so that they can be redistributed according to need.  This surplus needn’t be just food, tools or material objects, they are the surplus of our energy, our vocation – our specialist skills or simply our helping hands.

Such networks already exist.  The couch surfing network offers travellers a place to stay; the greeters network a local guide to show you around and volunteering networks of all kind are a cornerstone of civic society. Revolution Road will be an open source or wikimap into which all these networks can be mapped and added to,  allowing information that is time and location sensitive to be accessed on a smartphone.  Just as this technology has made it easy to find a date or a lover for the night wherever you are, it can also facilitate a long term shift into a gift economy that reflects better the fact society seems to want to obscure – our fundamental interdependence.


The Black and White of Grey Matter

stairsPut yourself in a position of power.  The kind of power – wealth, political or religious office or public adoration, that gives you influence over very many people.  For most of us it is difficult to make the imaginative leap to do this, so distant is the prospect.  A crude analogy might be to imagine you are playing poker against a table of players and you have in front of you an inexhaustible mountain of chips; or you are about to play a game of chess against an opponent who has one king and only pawns on his side of the board while you also have one king and the rest are queens.  It can be a very pleasing sensation, a kind of blessed spaciousness – having this expansiveness to maneuver, to obliterate any opposition, and to offer your largess in whichever way that humours you.

How will you behave?  Will you share your power or protect it at any cost?  Will you relate to those around you as equals only less fortunate as you at this particular moment in time or see yourself as somehow special and deserving and others as weaklings?  Will you use your power to inspire or oppress?  It appears from recent scientific research that this will partly be decided by the structure of your brain!

Neuroscience research is discovering that people with right and left leaning political affiliations have different brains! Neuroimaging has found that  ‘greater liberalism was associated with stronger conflict-related anterior cingulate activity, suggesting greater neurocognitive sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern’. It seems patently obvious that ‘Conservatives’ are neurologically less capable of assimilating change or accommodating diversity. Now it seems that this is because their brains are structured to recognize and react to threat, rather than to initiate empathetic response. If further evidence is needed look how Republicans consider a Democratic government as much a threat to America as its foreign enemies and will go to any length to unseat them from power; and how Cameron’s government lead with a natural arrogance and unashamed abuse of protocol or mandate in order to feed our common resources piece by piece to their plutocratic backers.

Biological determinism is a traditionally right wing response to justify its attitude to immigration and to social problems and it would be a justice poetic in the extreme if they were able to apply it to themselves so that those who were missing the necessary gray matter to deal with ambivalence and contrasting views should be disqualified from positions of power in democratic society – because obviously these brains are a hardware incompatible with the software of true democracy.   Luckily, there is more and more evidence for neural plasticity, so all is not lost.  Nurture can rewire the brain if society lets it.  And this is the crunch.

Evolution teaches us that biology shapes destiny, and more than any other species humans have developed a sophisticated and strange feedback loop called self-consciousness (a theatre in the mind) which can try things out in an imaginary space before committing to action.  In the Theatre of the Oppressed, instead of this feedback loop being a private affair, we can expand and externalize the loop to a group of people – maximizing the learning potential and if conducted within an ethical dimension, hotthousing evolution in a way that can bring about a society with far more equality, justice and peace than the one we have currently.  It is the capacity for theatre which allows us to simulate several possible scenarios and choose the most auspicious.  When we do this alone, the auspiciousness is individualistic, when we do it as a group it is not only communitarian but, I hypothesize, stimulates the anterior cingulate generating more mirror neurons and creating a brain thet is more likely to ensure the future of the human species.

But counter to this movement is the entrenched locus of world control that demonstrates almost unanimously a behaviour moderated more by their reptilian brain – a hair trigger amygdala.  It is this brain model throughout history that has wrestled power from those who truly care about others and who have continuously failed to react to the threat from others because their nature is to accommodate, negotiate differences and with hopeless optimism, compromise their ideals for the greater good.  David Icke is right in one way – the reptiles have taken over the world!

We are therefore confronted with a dilemma which is not new and has been faced with most grace in the last century by Gandhi, Mandela and Luther King.  Like Penrose Stairs the regressive force of the right seem truly insurmountable and our memories are too short to remember we have been this way before many many times.  The liberal optimism that, despite everything, we are making progress is a symptom of this forgetfulness and a sop to our conscience.  Democracy, women’s rights, free speech, workers rights, universal free health care and education are diminishing in front of our eyes in the supposedly most civilized societies.

We need to start asking what are the specialized adaptive properties that advantages the left wing brain over the right wing brain?  I’m not talking here about more sensitivity to others and the environment, more caring, more networking capacity, more intelligent information processing.  These factors are harnessed and manipulated so readily by the ‘reptile brain’ whom we try to integrate into our society and end up creating the ‘feeling tone’ of threat and insecurity that necessitates their rule.  I’m talking about theatre – it is the natural domain of neural plasticity and left brain dynamics.  We need to appropriate the theatre of operations and expose the comedy and tragedy of right brain thinking on a massive scale, not in some academic way, not on some fringe but with an army of artists and activists leading a revolution of the imagination.  We have the tools, now we just need to cut the strings to our amygdala which reptilian society uses to control us and start rewiring society in accordance with the pluralistic, equanimous and empathetic properties of the evolved brain.

Context Oriented Theatre and Muybridge

muybridge_race_horseWhen Muybridge strung together photographs of a horse taken at different intervals of a gallop his aim was to settle a bet about whether all four legs of the horse at any point leave the ground. What he discovered, apart from proof that the horse was indeed suspended for a fleeting moment, was the medium that has become known as film. Separate images moving so fast in front of the eye as to deceive the mind into interpreting it as a continuous, unbroken movement.

The function of Context Oriented Theatre is to use theatre to suspend the continuous movement of thought that gives us the illusion of an unbroken identity called the self. To capture our thought in full flight, red handed, creating a fictional character that struts and frets it’s time upon the stage, and once unmasked find our true face – the place where we are looking from. The purpose of films developed through this method is therefore not escape but inscape. To capture the process of characters suspended in the place between fiction and reality, and to be witness to and resonate with the humanity of this struggle and suffering.

Therefore it is necessary to work without script and with a balance of actors and non-actors, the later having first person experience of the themes and situations depicted in the film. The story is filmed in sequence and is revealed to non-actors on a need to know basis. Actors and non-actors are placed in a series of situations which provoke natural responses and reaction and the camera captures these moments. This is with the fundamental proviso that the process does no harm, but helps unfold new awareness in the actors and everyone involved, which are transformative experiences…and it’s these moments of transformation that the film captures, presents and seeks to bring about in the audience.

Capitalism Hits the Fan

shit_fanMy grandmother used to say ‘everything bad comes from America’.  I didn’t agree with her, of course.  But then I was young and foolish at the time.

America then was just a few years ahead of us in the great capitalist experiment,  given its natural resources and the devastation the world wars wreaked on Europe and Russia.  Now,  just like the great communist experiment that came to an end in the USSR in 1989, the Capitalist experiment is  coming to an end.

Only where here are the walls to be breached, the iron curtain to be torn down, the governments to overthrow.  Capitalism so infuses our society, it’s control so embedded in echelons outside of government control, that smashing up banks and big business interests is just about as effective as shooting ourselves in the foot.  So indivisible is capitalism from everything that has given us a sense of self worth that we are not quite able to identify what it is that we are protesting against, what it is that we want changed.  The media offers us up executive pay levels or bank profits as straw dogs, but they are just symptoms of systematic abuse that has been going on for some years. We all have Stockhausen syndrome for this idea, this meme, this shiny promise of insatiable consumption which has kidnapped the whole world  Who are we without it?

Islamism is a kind of monstrous antigen which has perfected the kind of destructive capacity capable of killing the kidnapper and most of the hostages too, returning us to a level of barbarity from which the illusion of civilization had veiled our eyes. Medievalism is within all of us given the right desperate circumstances and the right ideology to legitimize the barbarity.  Like Soviet communism before it, or the organized crime that uses brute force not to have to pretend to be other that what it is, Islamism is the alternative that makes capitalism so appealing.  Of course, capitalism is the organized crime that does not need to use brute force because we have all been programmed with its ideology through advertising and media manipulation.

What is to be done? Wolff below suggest a quiet revolution through the democratization of the economy…companies becoming co-operatives, the workers becoming the board members.  This could only work if it were a mass grass-roots movement that had within it not an ideology to topple the government and come to power, but a desire born of disillusion with political solutions to explore creatively ‘the art of living’ and the discipline to recognize the personal responsibility of all of us to practice this art.  Luckily, we are all born artists in the art of living, so its practice takes no practice at all.  ‘Being’ is really our default, but it has no meaning to our doing and having brains.  It sounds non-sensicle to say that meaning can flow from just being, so lost in our troubled psyche is the joy from the simple feeling of being alive.

If that sounds like a cosy platitude, it isn’t. Try sitting with a total acceptance of ‘what is’ for more than a few moments, and without expecting the next moment to be better. If a mass movement were to practice just being with what is as a way of life, resistance would not be necessary.  Government would become irrelevant as we developed global networks of mutual support led by compassion rather than profit.  Easy?  No, almost impossible but frankly the only revolution that will really change anything and it will be so quiet we won’t hear it happening.

A Thneed is a fine something that Everyone Needs


There’s an old Sufi saying that Hell is where you receive everything you want. Well how about the prospect of a shiny new, sweet smelling hell where you receive everything you think you want, because that thought has been implanted in your unconscious by the neuroscientists who have been paid to market the product that’s suddenly caught your eye. It’s a closed loop and a done deal for the market driven world in which we live and it’s already happening –

Why Marketing minds have turned their heads to mind-reading by Hannah Kuchler in the Financial Times 12th April 2010

Hmm…I feel like I want to eat bread…woo…that thing there looks a bit like bread…or like my favourite thing…I don’t know…it’s just talking to me somehow…in fact, I must have it. What’s it called?…a thneed! Nice name…what’s it for? Doesn’t matter, I have the strangest intuition that it’s going to solve all my problems. I feel it in my bones, this thneed is so me. And, wow, it’s so much cheaper than I expected. How on earth do they make it for that price? They must be so good and honest and beneficent in heart and mind these people who make thneeds, they are practically giving them away. Such God like charity. Oh! Look at that, I’ve bought it already in some kind of swoon. Ah! Well, I trust my impulse.

Of course, subliminal marketing and manipulation of mass desires has been with us for some time. Sigmund Fraud’s nephew, Edward Bernays developed what we now call public relations in the 20’s using his uncle’s theories of subliminal desires. He commented once that he would have called it Propaganda but the Russians had a trademark on that name. Check out Adam Curtis’ excellent documentary – ‘The Century of the Self’ about Bernays. In fact, check out any Adam Curtis documentary. They expose the thinkers and their theories behind the world views of our world leaders.

Only now, with the recent advances in neuroscience brought about in part by the technology that allows us to see the brain as it is thinking, the brainwashers are really getting a handle on their art. Take, for instance, the selective awareness test, that video on youtube that catches us out and makes us laugh with surprise at how stupid we are…well, I met one of the scientist behind it and he’s funded very well to explore how to place product adverts not moon-walking bears in the edge of our attention, so that it slips through to our unconscious from where it can sow the seeds of our innermost desires.

Like I said, this is not a new front. We who are involved in Theatre of the Oppressed have been fighting the oppression of implanted desires through social conditioning but the enemy have a new armoury and if we are not to become salivating zombie consumers then we need to advance our technology of resistance. The irony is that the technology exists and is at least 2500 years old. It is Mindfulness – the core component of Buddhism, and it is a resistance through acceptance…only by accepting unconditionally and without judgement what is happening at the moment, in our bodies and in our environment can we sensitise our awareness of ourselves to catch the moment before the impulse turns to action. But it will demand continual practice because those thneeds have us surrounded.

The Best Lack All Conviction and the Worst are Full of Passionate Intensity

This line from the WB Yeats poem The Second Coming kept popping in my mind last week while I was in Graz for the World Forum Theatre conference. OK, not exactly this line, it was more the version Joni Mitchell sings in her song of the poem, which goes like this The best lack conviction, Given some time to think, And the worst are full of passion, Without mercy.

Certainly Augusto Boal’s death has left the people who knew and worked with him feeling bereft, but I dont get the sense that things are falling apart, now the centre has gone. In fact, it’s the opposite. Several conferences, which were perhaps arranged to make the most of Boals bright burning twilight; in Pula, Croatia in June; in Rio in July and this one in Austria this October, have had to do without it. But continuing anyway they have brought together some of the family of organizations and peoples practicing his amazing legacy to the world -The Theatre of the Oppressed (TO). The range of uses for TO demonstrated at these events, their worldwide use and the vast experience of its diverse delegates is encouraging. What to me is most encouraging is the desire between jokers (TO practitioners), to engage in dialogue in an atmosphere of friendship and mutual respect. That is not to deny that there are serious differences in how TO and with whom TO is practiced and in particular how we can maintain the ethical basis to the work which is essential if we are to have any hope of bringing about equality and justice.

Epitomising this difference is where people stand about working with the Theatre of the Oppressed within the business sector. This is a very complex issue because the idea of benign or even beneficial business is quite a foreign concept in some countries. In the developing world corporations get away with injustices they are less able to inflict in the developed world since slavery was abolished. Of course, slavery was’nt abolished; it was exported, to countries where workers have no rights. What a perfect solution; you don’t have to clothe, house and feed these slaves. You don’t even have to control them because their governments will do that if you control the government and what’s more they won’t even realize they’re slaves because it’s a free market.

My ancestors working in the slate quarries of North Wales suffered similar injustice to what might be experienced by a worker in India, China or Africa today; but in Europe, especially since the 80s, the idea of a benign capitalism has become sediment in our culture and marketed as the reason why we can all live like Pharaohs. Of course, this comfy arrangement is only achievable within the capitalist system because workers are exploited mercilessly elsewhere. And rather than struggle directly against the capitalist world view, the movement for justice and equality, which has always been present in the human potential, has tried to inveigle its way into the whole spectacle. In the UK we have businesses who are not for profit, or whose profit is put back into the community, and working within these businesses we have social entrepreneurs who use their skills and creativity in business to improve people’s day to day lives. The extent to which an enterprise can work for the oppressed when it is working within a system which is innately dehumanizing is a question that needs to be explored taking into account a global perspective. I wonder whether we in Europe are so embedded within our culture of consumption and convenience and in times of self-doubt compare ourselves to the poor souls struggling with the working conditions of our ancestors, that we are blind to our slavery within this system. A system within which everything is a commodity and our only function is to be consumed by consuming.

Personally, I dont recall ever having worked for an enterprise, and frankly don’t think they would have me, not because I am in some way a Marxist revolutionary who would turn up to a workshop in a beret waving a red book and talking about how the bosses would be the first up against the wall. Rather because I am profoundly unprofessional and admit readily that I don’t know what I’m doing until I’m doing it; which is a little against their grain. Everything about the business world is about ascertaining certainty, or exuding false confidence in the face of uncertainty. In the UK it is called the private sector and from a metaphysical point of view the two factors that come to mind when I think of the word private are greed and denial. Private is a word that comes from Roman times which described the walled area around a house. It means, in effect, the power to define and separate what is MINE and not YOURS and is the doctrine of those cultures which have predominated in our world: cultures where taking has more value than giving and where land is owned rather than land owning us. Of course, the cultures which valued giving more than taking have all but died out since people don’t kill in order to give. But they survive in isolated pockets where indigenous peoples remain and are celebrated in most cultures with occasional festivals and traditions that celebrate giving.

While greed and capitalism is almost acceptably synonymous the denial factor is less admitted. There is a fundamental denial at the heart of the capitalist paradigm which is not merely about the fact that resources are limited. More ingrained in the mentality is the idea that humans are resources that can be managed and at the epicentre of this denial is the construct of the company or the organization or the institution, an idea made fact and then used as a basis for the denial of the human dimension. John McKnight from Chicago University explains how institutions dont (cannot) care about people and this is precisely because the institution is just an idea to which people ascribe, a mask people wear so that they can fuck you over without feeling guilty or responsible e.g. because its company policy. And this is where the capitalism problem can be seen as just one manifestation of a problem that is at the core of the human condition and to which no one is immune. I would say the same thing about any ‘ism’ you care to select. Because any system of thought or any structure that is brought about by thought, even if that thought is to help people, cannot bring equality, justice and peace.

The reason for this is so simple that is sometimes escapes reason. Thought is implicitly divisive and reductive. It works through inclusion and exclusion, polarization and duality. That is not to say it is somehow inherently bad because by itself it denies us the possibility of peace. On the contrary, it is a wonderful facility. The problem occurs when we confuse what thought is and attach ultimate importance to our thoughts because they are our thoughts, and since we respond physically to our thoughts some of them sound so right we feel them to be true in our bones. To the point that everywhere people would rather be right than be happy All internal oppression occurs when thought thinks its a fact and this writ large in society is what legitimises the abuse of power, the domination of many by a few, the destruction of the environment, cultures and communities and just sometimes in a million ways doing the wrong thing because you got the wrong idea.

Why the Yeats quote kept coming into my head at the conference in Austria was because I felt a very real danger of TO becoming a fixed idea we defend at the expense of its effective application. In my opinion, those jokers who are most certain about things and the most passionately intense about oppression, are less effective jokers because they are also pretty certain what the problem is and therefore the solution. A common fault in jokering is assuming that there is agreement about what the problem is. Democracy is the lesser of evils because at least a majority agrees on what the problem is and it can therefore be addressed, so to go into a foruming phase without first even having a debate about what the audience perceive to be the problem presented is wholly undemocratic. Often, the forum theatre pieces I have seen recently are so loaded (setting out the problem in no uncertain terms) that it is more or less Agit Prop in which you are invited to participate as long as you toe the party line. A core understanding that every joker should recognize is that at the root of the problem lies the answer, so if you have come to the conclusion about what the problem is then you have also concluded what the answer is. The real power of Forum Theatre is its capacity to help communities travel to the root of the problem, and the role of the joker is not to let the audience come to a cosy conclusion or to impose his/her own but to be urgently passionate about the question; this is what I call context orientation and the more towards context you travel the more generic the solutions found. In my experience these ‘fundamental solutions are not some thought out strategy but actions that come from a transformation of the way we perceive ourselves and our world.

The point I’m trying to make is that TO can solve the problem presented by Yeats poem by dragging this rough beast into the aesthetic space, into the republic of the imagination. There we can explore the possibility of acting from a higher self. But we must start from a place without conviction, and from there with the passionate intensity born not from belief but from compassion travel to the root of the problem. Whether enterprise and compassion can coexist is another question.