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.

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.


Thanks go to Jasmina and Goran of Mediaartes (www.mediaartes.info) for being such perfect hosts of the Joker Training in Ohrid, Macedonia last week.

It’s been a while since my last Joker training and it was wonderful to revisit all those wonderful opportunities for teaching and in the process re-learning for myself the art of the Joker.

Thanks also go to those brave new Jokers whose mistakes allowed me to make the teaching points, and who one day will return the favour and give me a few tips on how to improve my own Jokering.

Two realizations I made in the week were firstly a kind of hypothesis that when a spect-actor makes an intervention in forum theatre the change they propose falls into three or four frames of reference; and the frame of reference that the joker is using in his/her approach to Theatre of the Oppressed heavily influences which of these proposed changes are engaged or even permitted.

The second realization was recognising that a joker is ‘ordained’ or ‘blooded’ as such only when they experience the invasion of the stage by a public passionate to change the world depicted on it. This demands that a joker training includes within it a performance to the public, rather than just to the other workshop participants. I knew this already, but had somehow managed to forget that it is precisely at this point that TO enters the blood and infects the host with that thirst for revolution. It is this thirst to ferment revolution that drives the true joker, not self-aggrandisement, academic dilettantism or an opportunity to push a political agenda.

This last statement might seem contradictory since seeking revolution is usually associated with a particular political agenda. But this is where the first realization, the hypothesis mentioned earlier, is useful in deconstructing the different kinds or change or revolution we are talking about here.

A Forum Theatre play, which depicts an oppression of some kind is performed twice. During the second performance the audience (called spect-actors rather than spectators) and invited to intervene by replacing the person who is oppressed and show what they would do to relieve the oppression.

The action that they take will, I suggest, fall into three frames of reference, and will be interpreted by the Joker (who ‘chairs’ the proceedings) according to the frame of reference he/she is using in their understanding of the Theatre of the Oppressed.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post how, for some jokers an intervention where the spect-actor changes the character of the protagonist (the oppressed person) is considered invalid because it doesn’t confront the socio/political circumstances of the oppression. Frankly, I find this notion farcical.

Any action which involves change must include in it a change of behaviour – a way of doing things, of relating to the other. However, the behaviour is just the visible manifestation, the explication of an implicit desire. It is the Joker’s role with the help of the actors to unfold the action into the wider frames of reference, to explicate the implicit desire…What we REALLY want.

Here’s a rough diagram, that suggest one way of cutting the cake, or of depicting the frames of reference.



By asking questions such as ‘What is the root of the problem?’ or “What does the protagonist REALLY want?” the joker starts to unfold on stage the source of the feelings that brought about the behaviour that led to the action of the intervention. This will sometimes be thoughts relating to the values on which our society is built, which are manifest as laws or political movements.

Further questioning, not just by the joker but ideally by the spect-actors on stage confronting the oppressor/s might reveal a belief system which is inherently flawed due to incorrect perception (or ignorance for short). This can indeed have implications for the culture within which the depicted oppression occurs, requiring a cultural shift in order for the oppression to be stopped…equal rights for women is a simple example.

Once in a while something remarkable happens. Sometimes from the places you least expect, an intervention occurs which just ‘bottoms out’ all these frames of reference. It is an action that comes directly from an awareness which is the absence of a frame of reference. A person might step on the stage and just by his or her very being dissolves like salt in a broth all our perceptions, thoughts and feelings about a particular issue. The oppressor is overcome, not by being outwitted but by an action that is not an adaptive behaviour but a force of compassion that reminds us of our common humanity. The oppressor cannot sustain their behavioural mask …they cannot perform the oppression anymore but are also rendered human.

The thing is that the Joker cannot make this happen, but they can stop it happening by sticking to what they know, and steering or even reducing the possible interventions to their frame of reference. In a Context Oriented Theatre approach this does not happen, because this revolution of ‘consciousness’ of which I have just spoken (where there is a ‘knowing together’) is considered the ‘only’ revolution that will bring about what we really want. This does not discount the other levels of revolution but they are enfolded within awareness, and the awareness of their partial effectiveness.




“Joker Training 1 – Forum Theatre and the Aesthetics of the Oppressed” brought together European operators who have been working with Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) with young people, and young people who they are mentoring to become Jokers. 29 participants coming from Wales, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia were involved in the 7-days training that took place in Ohrid, in hotel Belvedere between 13-21.03.2010.

Being part of the TO armory, Forum Theatre (FT) is a specific body of techniques designed to teach people how to take an active role in their community through finding solutions to a problem in their particular community, whether it be environmental, social, political, economic. The training focused on the role of the Joker (a TO facilitator) in creating and jokering effective Forum Theatre within the context of the latest developments in ‘the aesthetics of the oppressed’.

The training participants publicly shared their group-work by making 2 cultural events for the local community, in the afternoon and evening of March 18th in which the audience took an active part. These events were Social Action and Forum Theatre performance.

The project was realized with the support of Youth in Action program of the European Commission.

Brain Salad Surgery

Many thanks to GAIAC and AE2O in Porto for organizing Rainbow of Desires workshops in Portugal last month.

There are times in workshops where I find myself rambling on about the newest discoveries in cognitive neuroscience and have to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole and get on with the ‘processes’ which are so much better a learning tool than stumbling around in a desert of words. Nevertheless, the findings of eminent Portuguese neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and others are I think very relevant to Theatre of the Oppressed, and to our understanding of perception, will and action (amongst other things).

In approaching the subject I related two stories which help me to think about some of these discoveries. The first concerns the making of a salad.

I was making a salad and was rummaging in the salad container at the bottom of the fridge to find out what ingredients I had to hand. There was a lot of lettuce and spinach and under that a small plastic tray of radishes. As you do, I squeezed one to test for freshness. This radish was mushy. Yuk! There was an instant physical and emotional reaction of disgust and revulsion. I dont recall having tasted a rotten radish but my imagination, nevertheless, conjured from my memory of a sensory image of ‘radish’ and combined this with experiential knowledge of food at the appropriate state of decomposition. This sensory image even before I was conscious of it, had initiated a physical reaction in the mouth and on the tongue to simulate what would happen if I put this radish in my mouth.

Curious to justify my reaction with a closer look, I removed the tray from the salad compartment and to my surprise found that the radish was in fact a small tomato, among the radishes. Its slight squishiness was completely acceptable for such a vegetable. It was edible and non-threatening to my homeostasis and my physiology returned from amber to green alert. My brain, or I had made a category error and it got me thinking what other errors could I be making, ones that one day, in a flash, I might discover.

What assumptions am I making? What phenomenon do I take for granted without even considering the possibility of challenging their veracity? In a way, through the Rainbow of Desires techniques we are reaching deep into the salad compartment of the psyche and pulling out the various vegetable personages to sort out which are passed their use by date and which are fresh and taste good. Brain Salad Surgery anyone!

My second story relates to a time when my ex-partner would prod me in bed at night and tell me I was snoring. It became such a custom that I was able on some level of consciousness to study this procedure and noticed something very strange.

I wouldnt fully wake up from the prod and the announcement of the snoring, but my mind would trace sluggishly through a lexicon of words similar to snoring snorting, stroking, snorkelling, smoking; tying to make sense not of what it meant so much as what I should do in relation to this solemn word that was piercing the dark night. What was the appropriate action to take? What function did I have in relation to the expectation enfolded in the word? One after the other, in serial processing, word sounds would present themselves as possible matches to the sound I was hearing&skiing, snooker, soldering,

The curious thing is that I never arrived at a match, or an understanding of the word. I would either fall back asleep or turn over and go back to sleep. The second response being the correct action because apparently then I stopped snoring. In the case of the second response I acted before I knew why I was acting, in fact without knowing why I was acting even after having acted.

My theory is that in my semi-conscious state my social self had not been awakened so no context and therefore no meaning could be constructed for the sound or was even sought for the sound, however my core self was awake and in the interest of preserving equilibrium, much like Pavlovs dog, was presenting a conditioned response (occasionally). My social self did not wake up because that would have meant fully being awake so the core self was delegated the role like an electronic device on standby.

That the social self did not wake at all meant that there was no ascribing of cause and effect to an individual who chose to turn on his side. There was no centre of narrative gravity that reasoned and justified after the act. Brain imaging has revealed that something called top-down processing is happening all the time in our brain. There is a mechanism that transposes the order of events to make it appear as if the self had sanctioned or premeditated an action that had already been enacted by the body before any reasoning had been engaged.

How much of our actions in the waking day is a conditioned response which we play back to ourselves as an act of our heroic will? Is this a category error which we can verify? How do we squeeze that radish?

Im not saying we are zombies, although to some extent we are asleep. But, as mentioned in previous posts, we do have the capacity to bring awareness to these mechanisms and catch top down processing in the act. To catch the Wizard of Oz controlling the handles that operate the pyrotechnics of consciousness, even as he insists that we pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Rainbow of Desires, by embodying our mental images is in some way deconstructing the conditioning, decoding the enigma of our behaviour, and in its way making a revolution of sorts in the psyche by exposing the top down processing and making a case for bottom up processing&to listen to the body more.

Belgrade masterclass

Last week I was in Belgrade, Serbia at the request of Cynefin project officer Aleksandra Markovic, to give a masterclass to Theatre of the Oppressed Jokers. During conversation before the training about where the emphasis should lie there was an interest in Cop in the Head techniques. These are Augusto Boals methods for addressing internal oppressions those spectres within us that inhibit our ability to achieve what we desire.

Boal is always careful to make clear that the cop might be in the head but its headquarters are outside. In other words, these psychological obstacles originate from what has happened to us, what people have told us in the past in social conditioning. The workshop activities under this heading help manifest these oppressions in the aesthetic space of the stage in order to rehearse and witness from others (who intervene in the action just like Forum Theatre) better approaches to dealing with them.

There is always a lot of curiosity about these methods from those who have been trained in the external methods of TO. Often they will have facilitated a workshop where a group come up with an oppression that is patently internal often depicted by scenes where actors represent thoughts going around the head of the protagonist; and will not be sure how to progress with this model.

The interesting thing for me with Cops in the Head work is that there is very few contexts in which it can be applied legitimately in our society and I think that is a terrible shame. I remember while doing the training with Augusto and Adrian Jackson back in the early 90s, there would always be a Dramatherapist in the group complaining that it wasnt safe. Boal would sometimes retort

You want to be safe, go and lie down in a dark quiet place and do nothing. With every action there is risk involved. One of the most dangerous things that can happen to you is to fall in love.

I might be wrong but the feeling I have is that fear has won and those occasions where you can explore this work outside of the therapist/patient power dynamic of the clinical setting is rare indeed, and precisely because of that dynamic any Cop in the Head that happens in a clinical setting is in my opinion suspect, integrated as it is with a whole theoretical model that is antithetical to the precepts of TO. I would include psychodrama in this category as well, which has a passing resemblance to Cops in the Head.

Perhaps what is needed is some kind of common ground practices which segue between the internal and external aspect of oppression and this is what I explored with the jokers in Belgrade. Something that inspired me to do this was a line in a poem by Rumi I happened to remember the week before.
You must ask for what you really want

It occurred to me that perhaps our oppressions, by keeping us from what we desire, relieve us from having to articulate precisely what we really really want. So immediately while there is a will to overcome oppression there is a counter-will which might be a bit worried that becoming liberated might lead to feeling very lost indeed! Im reminded here of a friend who made a living as a journalist rallying weekly in a column against the ultra-right governor of the county. When the governor died in a car crash he was made bereft of that which had earned him a steady income.

That is why I am coming to wonder whether rather than first articulating our oppression in TO workshops we should articulate what we really want and map out the obstacles between where we are now and where we want to be. By doing this, the oppression that was most obvious the stock oppression that helps us identify who we are, might not be the one to address. But the more subtle conditioning that is manifest as a relationship between cops in the head and the continuous reinforcement from outside of those cops from circumstances we attract precisely because we have those cops.

In the fantastic book Rainbow of Desires which for my money best articulates the theoretical basis for TO, Boal proposes three hypothesis on which lie the effectiveness of TO as a social and personal intervention. Ill paraphrase these three in order so that I can add another three hypothesis which I believe also relevant and which direct the way I apply TO.

The first hypothesis Boal calls Osmosis how conditioning permeates society and the individual; the second is Metaxis, which is that truly wonderful capacity that humans have of being in two places at the same time, the stage and wherever the shared imagination dictates a moor in ancient Scotland, the Parthenon or the living room of a dysfunctional family; and the third is Analogical Induction, which distinguishes TO from Therapy by the action facilitated by the Joker of moving from the particular or personal to the general or social – finding the generic mechanisms of oppression or what Zizek calls implicate laws, rather than delving into the addictive and distracting narrative of an individuals suffering.

The hypothesis which I would add are –

Multi-Valence Boal hints at this when under the hypothesis of Analogical Induction he says that TO is not about interpretation but about offering multiple points of reference, but I think this only scrapes the surface of the underlying hypothesis or paradigm which TO promotes through this pluralistic stance. That is that perception is participative. Just like ancient Hebrew and Islamic text omitted vowels&so reading was an act of interpretation depending on where you placed the vowels and which vowels you placed in effect where and how you breathed. In this same way the language of TO is a divergent rather than convergent signifier. It opens up multiple possible interpretations rather than closing them down into something conclusive, and what is more all interpretations are simultaneously true. In this way TO is a celebration of subjectivity and inter-subjectivity. The simple action of making it permissible for participants to project creatively with the proviso that everyone is aware that it is only a projection can liberate different ways of perceiving our human condition: a meta-cognition if you like that thoughts are not facts, that we make the world we live in first my the act of perception.

Proprioception Again, Boal hints at the idea that in TO the protagonist is observing and being observed. Through Analogical Induction there is this essential distancing or alienation effect from your own predicament, enough to be not too emotionally caught up that you are able to seek the underlying social cause of the personal difficulty. But I think again this is only hinting at an underlying paradigm which lightly held allows one to access a more fundamental activity going on in a TO workshop.

The great scientist David Bohm talked of how while we have physical proprioception, that is that we know what our body is doing, we do not have psychological proprioception. We are not aware that we are indeed creating the world in which we live: that it is not something that is just happening to us. Psychological proprioception happens when we catch sight of the whole mechanism by which we are perpetuating our suffering and this happens when we observe the observer; that is when we witness the primary mechanism of oppression which is the illusion of the separation between what I observe and is observing.

Communitas This concept, borrowed from anthropology and coined by Victor Turner to describe a property or quality brought about by people sharing an experience of liminality that is where the osmosis Boal mentions is disrupted and conditioning falls away to reveal basic presence. Put simply concepts of having and doing are overwhelmed by just being. Communitas is the resulting quality of relationship between people experiencing this together, this shared space-less timelessness: and this is the glue which makes community.

It is my contention that TO can and does create Communitas through the actions of Multi-valence and Proprioception and this has an intrinsic value which augments the political, social or personal development ambitions of TO and alone is worth the price of the ticket.

The Hills are Alive with Football Fans

You can fly here for a penny before tax, baggage costs, booking fee etc. It’s in the European Union and its capital was one of the cultural powerhouses of the 18th Century Enlightenment. And yet the papers here are advising half its population to either leave or stay indoors for fear of violence from invading hordes. The police predict high casualties in this section of its society, and the hospitals are on full alert and reassure in the press that they are prepared for the onslaught. The country is Austria, the invading army are football fans from across Europe and the group being warned that they will be targeted are women.

Already the global focus of psychoanalysis as a nation, after a discovery made in a cellar, Freuds and Hitlers fatherland is in the throes of a healing crisis as it prepares to co-host Euro 2008 with its wealthier neighbour, Switzerland. All manner of strange and revealing home truths are emerging in media pronouncements and in decisions made by the state: in particular in the deep south province of Carinthia (Kaernten) governed by Joerg Haider.

Klagenfurt, the provinces capital, is to host three games in its purpose built 70 million euro stadium: (the first is Germany vs Poland on June 8th) before reducing the stadium capacity at a cost of another 20 million euro . The city has remained largely unchanged from becoming a Ryanair destination. Most tourists hotfoot to Trieste on the Mediterranean coast, an hours journey to the south west, or to lakeside resorts dotted along the banks of the Woerthersee: the nearby 19km long lake surrounded by pine forested peaks.

It is in forested peaks to the south of here, that mark the border with Slovenia, that partisans supported by allied forces controlled an autonomous region until the winter of 1942: a small island of resistance right in the middle of the Third Reich. A minority of Slovene speaking Austrians remain here, quietly simmering from 53 years of what a shrink might call classic displacement behaviour by those who embraced fascism: some being members of their own families. The past is best not talked about here, and a generation plead the proverbial Fifth Amendment under the guise of moving forward. Whether forward is the direction Austria is heading is severely in question this week as preparations for hosting the Euro 2008 reveal deep seated attitudes towards women that would shock the most misogynist midfielder.

If at all possible women should go on vacation is the advice of the security experts, reported in Kleine Zeitung on 29th May. In a related article the paper reports that police expect about 20 women to be raped and more than a 100 assaulted every day of the tournament. Further recommendations include carrying rape alarms at all times for women living near the stadiums. On the same page an article explains how the mayor has banned a local womens group from distributing leaflets during the tournament about the trafficking of women and children into prostitution. The region is one of the most lucrative destinations for traffickers in Europe, and prostitution is openly advertised. While the mayor has banned an advert against domestic abuse he has sanctioned a huge hoarding that welcomes arrivals at the airport advertising a thinly disguised brothel.

The Fritzel case is becoming emblematic for many Austrians of this disconnect between how people present themselves here and how they actually are. The Catholic Bishop of Klagenfurt lives with four women. Joerg Haider is photographed clubbing with underage boys or with someone wearing a neo-Nazi t-shirt. No one resigns and nothing changes. Impunity is assured as it was for the war generation: when Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill meeting in Moscow in 1943 declared Austria to be a victim of the war, not a perpetrator.

For Gudrun Blohberger from the group the Catholic Womens Movement this is predictable. This is why, sitting on thousands of printed flyers she has not been allowed to distribute, she is encouraging women to mount their own resistance to this campaign by police and state to frighten them into staying indoors. Do not be surprised, should you bother to follow the tournament sans UK team, to see groups of women mingling in the crowd wearing t-shirts with I am not for sale written on them and holding placards with &but a hug is for free, or I’ll take a vacation when I fucking want to and placards with and welcome to MY city or even I will not stay in the cellar and placards with &the sunshine is for all of us.

Perhaps Austria, in the end, is a victim of Germany in the same way younger or weaker siblings often carry the suppressed emotions of the family unit. Here the wounds from fascist crimes, without airing, still seep a deep undercurrent of fetid ideology that is hinted at by the flags that flutter together from car windows, German and Austrian together. Oh what could have been!