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.

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!