Saturday, October 14, 2017

#FirstWorldProblems: Looking at THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY by Maggy Pollicino

“I hate when my phone charger won’t reach my bed”
“When I go to the bathroom and I forget my phone”
 “I hate it when my neighbors block their WiFi”
“When my mint gum makes my ice water taste too cold”
(“First World Problems Anthem)

How nice it must be to enjoy a nice glass of water, and have it taste cold, no less.  How nice it must be to have gum that comes in a brightly colored package made from ink that also makes crayons, school books, and coloring pages in the aisles preceding the checkout counter where the gum was purchased.  How nice it must be that the gum was probably placed next to a small red refrigerator containing the gloriously tasting bubbly cancer water that consumers can conveniently purchase in singles, six, and twelve packs for even more guzzling fun at a fraction of the price.  How nice it must be to be able to hear that satisfying *spritz* of carbonation and have the bottle additionally act as a cooling mechanism for foreheads suffering under the beating sun adjacent to the brightly lined swimming pool.  How nice it must to have the opportunity to casually throw that bottle out of a plane during a thrilling adventure through the sky, littering the ground below, without any consequences.  How nice it must be to be rid of that bottle since it was taking up the cup holder space where the next bottle will rest. 

How nice indeed it would be to be rid of that bottle, thought Xi, the protagonist of The Gods Must Be Crazy, a film directed by Jamie Uys (Baden, par. 1).  As a Bushman living the Kalahari Desert, the most advanced technology that Xi has ever experienced is two sticks coming together to make fire---up until this strange thing fell from the sky.  One would think that this thing, or as modern civilization calls it, a Coca Cola bottle, would be a great addition to his family’s life style.  It is hard and sturdy; it can act as a rolling pin; it can be used to store water or dried meat; they could even break it and use the sharp edges to more easily cut meat and wood.  But with all of the good that comes with the bottle, there is also evil that infiltrates Xi’s family.  Not only was it prone for fingers to get stuck in (Uys 9:44), but since there was only one, it could not be shared, so it brought about selfishness, envy, anger, hate, and even violence (Uys, 10:44-11:18).  Probably the most interesting feeling the bottle brought was the feeling of need for something the Bushmen never needed before.

A need for something they never needed before, even when the circumstances have not changed?  What an oxymoron! This is the reality of many modern civilizations. When a thing appears, or is invented for convenience, after a couple of generations, people cannot fathom getting by without it.  There is just absolutely no way that a person can function with a hairline crack in their iPhone, especially when the new edition has just come out.  It is preposterous to suggest that somebody should hang their clothes out on a fence to dry when the machine has broken down.  Oh dear, there is no WiFi or 4G LTE; without Google Maps getting lost is a definite.  A real map?  Made of paper and everything?  But if Siri is not there to tell one when to turn, then the map is useless.  This is the mind set of many modern civilizations.  While helpful in everyday life with communication, convenience, and creativity, the excessive use of ‘stuff’ has become the true first world problem. 

The trend #FirstWorldProblems was obviously meant to be a joke.  But what is the point of the joke?  Perhaps it is to make people feel better about themselves for not caring about the children and adults in Haiti who recited some of these ‘first world problems’ in the video “First World Problems Anthem.” The true problem is that new generations are not taking these as jokes anymore, but rather, conceiving them as real problems.  Children are so privileged now that the biggest problem in their lives is peeing without Fruit Ninja when there are some children who have never seen a piece of fresh fruit in their lives. What is worse is that the children are so privileged that they do not understand what is wrong with that picture. They do not understand how this dependence on ‘stuff’ impacts them, because they have never known a weekend without their cell phones.  They have never finished a magnificent 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a wild animal when they had to stay home from school because of a fever, or created blaring music with pots and pans to the beat of the thunder claps on a rainy day, and they certainly have never considered that these seemingly harmless tools are unconsciously making them unhappy. They cannot conceive living without this ‘stuff.’

Xi’s family however, knows that there is no way that they can live with ‘stuff’ without being unhappy.  The Bushman tribe sees that this simple tool, although helpful, also tore apart their family and their values.  Now, the rise of ‘stuff,’ specifically technology like smart phones and social media, is very beneficial in some ways.  Society can spread news and keep in touch with loved ones on the other side of the world.  That is nothing short of amazing. One woman says “…technology does keep me in touch with people I wouldn't necessarily have the time to meet with face-to-face on a regular basis” (Cafferty, par. 13) which is generally true for most people, as well.  But the same woman also says “I think that we need to have good technology etiquette while in public” (Cafferty, par. 13).  It seems that humans have lost the ability to effectively interact with other humans in person, with the exception of a few in close circles.

It has become a challenge amongst the species to not look at one’s phone for longer than five minutes instead of filling a silence with substantial conversation.  Children can hardly think of games to play with each other that do not involve iPads, let alone that involve being outside and getting their hands dirty.  It seems that the most substantial conversations some children are capable of is telling another how much they love another’s possessions, and how they wished their parents would buy them more gifts.  The Bushman children in the film have never had a case of the ‘gimmes’ because they have always shared and appreciated what Mother Nature has given them.  They are not bored to tears without a virtual bird to fling at a pig because “their games are cute and inventive” (Uys, 4:33).  It is clear to most people that technology, while extremely convenient and helpful, also has certain detrimental factors to the human race.   But being an extremely self-oriented species who refused to adapt himself to his environment, and instead he built his environment to suit him” (Uys, 6:15), what many people fail to notice is that the true first world problem is that all of this ‘stuff’ is killing the ‘first world’ that they live in.

The Story of Stuff is a twenty-minute film that was released in 2007 by humans who are green with love for Nature in attempt to educate other humans who are green with envy.  The initiative was to educate people about where this ‘stuff’ that they hold so near and dear comes from; how it is made, who is involved in making them, and the impact this ‘stuff’ has on the environment pre, during, and post-production.  Annie Leonard, writer and narrator of the film tells her audience that the system of production is in crisis because “…it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely” (par. 3).  Leonard explains the first step in this system of production: extraction.  Extraction of what?  Natural resources of course, but perhaps exploitation is a more fitting word.  Just one example would be an electronic device.  The inside of almost any battery powered item comes from the mountains that were blown to bits causing groundwater contamination, damage to the foundations of surrounding houses, and impacting local climates (Pachiolli, par. 15).  People justify the mountain blasting by having a mindset of ‘But this helps the world to go paperless, the trees will be saved!’ What many people do not realize is that there are thousands of non-paper products that come from trees.  Just a few of these things that humans use every day are toilet seats, rubber, and our own clothing (wisconsincountyforests par. 1, 3).

It is not just trees however, that industry exploits; in the last thirty years alone, the world has consumed one third of Earth’s natural resources (Leonard, par. 11).  One third in thirty years.  The first humans began to evolve from apes between four and eight million years ago (Wikipedia, par.9), modern humans evolved 200,000 years ago, and civilization came about between six and seven thousand years ago (Howell, par. 1), but somehow, our species has managed to suck up almost half of the Mother Earth’s resources in less than a lifetime.  And just in the United States alone, Leonard tells us “we have less than 4% of our original forests left. Forty percent of waterways have become undrinkable… We [The U.S.] has 5% of the world’s population but we’re consuming 30% of the world’s resources and creating 30% of the world’s waste” (par. 13, 14). Many countries, especially the United States, exploit third world countries for their resources in order to effectively take more than their share of Earth’s gifts.  The result?  Poverty, disease, famine, dirty water, no water, and of course, no natural resources.  No plants to clean the air.  No trees to prevent mudslides.  No mountains to maintain the rainforests and deserts.  Land so barren that nothing can grow.  Far less animals to balance out the ecosystem.  There are even far less animals for food, so to solve that problem, humans choose to tear down forests, killing millions of more animals, to make room for the factories that will breed millions of other animals who will be inhumanely killed for their meat and who’s skin will be tossed away or be processed with bleach, glue, and other poisons to trick pet owners into thinking that it is a great treat for a dog.  If only people were more like Xi, who humanely tranquilizes his deer, apologizes to it, and slaughters it after it is asleep so that it does not feel pain (Uys, 5:00).  He even uses the skin and carcass for water pouches, shelter, tools, and clothing.

Developed countries have been living in such an advanced way for so long that it is unrealistic to attempt to live like the Bushmen.  However, minimalizing consumerism on items that a person is capable of living without or can have access to right in their own backyard is a great way to simplify their everyday life.  Growing one’s own vegetables for example is a fantastic way to get fresh and tasty food while also purifying the air around one’s house.  Cleaning out one’s closet for donations monthly or bi-monthly is a good way to give back to the community while slowly but surely allowing one to realize that they do not need a wardrobe that is bursting at the seams to get by.  Allotting a 15-minute period each day that will be ‘technology free’ is a simple way to allow a person to relax and focus on themselves, be more productive domestically, or have a face to face conversation with someone.  This can even become a goal oriented activity for a person, working their way up to an hour or two a day of no technology. Though none of these changes appear to significantly counter the mass destruction of the planet, it is important that life style alterations are made, no matter how big or small.

In Xi’s family, “they believe the gods put only good and useful things on the Earth for them to use” (Uys, 3:09).  There is no need for them to exploit certain resources, because everything has a good use.  They do not have problems of one person having more than another because there is plenty of what Mother Nature provides for everyone.  They do not need to make new discoveries or new ways of doing things because they are perfectly content with what they have.  Nobody in their family suffers, nobody is lacking, and nobody is unsatisfied because they have the respect for one another and the Earth to be able to live fruitfully without living excessively.  There is no distinction of first and third worlds because they recognize that they are all children of the same Earth, the same gods, and that there is no need for such a separation of their brothers and sisters. Xi’s family even briefly experienced what it was like to live “excessively”, and it did not take long for them to choose to go back to their traditional lifestyle.  The Bushmen live in a harsh and dry world, but yet their Earth is bright blue and lush green.  Modern society lives in an abundant and plenty world, but yet our Earth is an oily black and barren brown. It is apparent in the film how one single piece of technology destroys a family, so how come modern societies are blind to how endless pieces of technology are destroying their very own ‘first world?’ 

Works Cited

Cafferty, Jack. "Technology Replacing Personal Interactions at What Cost?" CNN. Cable News        Network, 3 Jan. 2011. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

Howell, Elizabeth. "How Long Have Humans Been On Earth?" Universe Today. N.p., 23 Dec. 2015. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
"Human." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 Apr. 2017.
Leonard, Annie (director). The Story of Stuff. Free Range Studios. Dec. 2007. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Pacchioli, David. "Assesing the Human Impacts of Mountaintop Removal." N.p., n.d. Web.
"Products Made From Trees - Wisconsin County Forest Association." Wisconsin County Forests         Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.
Uys, Jamie (director). The Gods Must Be Crazy. Dir. Jamie Uys. New Realm, 1980. Film.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Devil Hates Russia Plus He’s Bringing Brimstone Back

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” –Ephesians 6:12

[This essay has appeared previously at Counterpunch and The Pennsylvania Review often in radically different forms]

Invisible, non-material forces wear the pants on this planet while all that appears before our eyes is a dogged and compelling illusion. Cold clinical stares are diversionary accomplices to the dark powers that employ materialism to conceal their best behind-the-scenes work. The implications are inescapable: Plato is the spiritual forebear of the conspiracy narrative. 

Occasionally, a professional onlooker, a journalist, will ally his powers of observation with a sympathetic inward compass. A dialectical third narrative is forged from what our eyes would have us believe and what our hearts know to be true

Asia Times correspondent Pepe Escobar seemed to have his x-ray specs on recently as he plumbed the murky realms of Oppenheimer regret, the covert alchemy behind rocket science and the CIA’s demonically-laced appetite for destruction. (See ‘How Twin Peaks Unveils Our World’, Asia Times, September 7th, 2017).

Speaking to the occult’s deep involvement in the military industrial apparatus, Escobar implicitly furnishes his own rationale for a pen that oscillates between adroit commentator on global realpolitik and globetrotting Bhagavad Gita-man.

First of all, Pepe’s not cracking up. He’s coalescing. The world needs more intrepid piercings of the veil. This is the dot-connecting our divide-and-conquer overlords take great pains to obscure lest the ulterior source of their power be laid bare. Some excerpts:

  • “Enter the critical connection between ritual magic and modern science”
  • “the US deep state tapped into occult, uncontrollable forces as it opened unknown time-space portals” 
  • “the cryptic, autocratic US deep state/industrial-military complex, via the first atomic bomb explosion in July 1945, opened a “crack”, a vacuum, a chasm (“between two worlds”) that allowed infernal/ metaphysical forces to enter our sphere of existence”

Meanwhile, Perpetuators of the Rift promulgate fear in order to forestall a broad-based and comprehensive understanding. With the onset of alt-media this is becoming a tougher diversion to sustain, at least among a key and potentially decisive vanguard.

When it isn’t cobbling war consensus, the MSM proffers a diversionary parade of Godot-esque Groundhog Days propped up with whispers of Big News to Come. Interwar periods (to the extent they exist anymore) call for little more than mass distraction and broad consumption. Until the war drums beat again. Which they are so clearly doing now.

Hence the Russian obsession, as cheerleaders for the Bernaysian mono-narrative –the Blitzers and Tappers of Tele-Pharisaic CNN-world– struggle to install the Next Clear and Present Danger via talismanic repetition: Russian influence! Russian influence!

The forces of Perdition are probably right to demonize what many regard as the advent of the ‘Third Rome’ (Moscow). Having weathered the ravages of Bolshevism, a re-Christianized Russia presents a counter-cyclical phenomenon that casts molten lead in the Devil’s one good eye; counter-cyclical because Babylon must first consolidate power on earth before giving it all back again at the end of history.

Might the Russia of Dostoevsky’s imagination be on the cusp of its special Christian mission, retaking perhaps the spiritual void left in the wake of a ‘multi-acculturated’ Europe, i.e. as a counterforce to Islamic jihadism? That would displease many dark princelings of this world. Acting as an agent of restraint on the spirit of Antichrist (a phenomenon Paul in Thessalonians calls katechon), Russia can influence—and work to brake–a world hellbent on godless chaos. Oswald Spengler spoke of the Russian soul coming of age at some future propitious time. [In ‘Spiritual Roots of Russo-American Conflict’, Kerry R. Bolton offers an authoritative and fascinating examination of this subject matter.]

The virulence pointed at Russia is commensurate (‘suitable’) only in the context of its game-changing spiritual mission and the threat it poses to the Principalities of darkness. Russophobia expresses a spiritual aversion to which geopolitics acts merely as frontispiece. The stakes are existentially high, transcending empires and ideologies. Is it any wonder our Controllers sputter and fuss? Armed with the most tepid forensic evidence of Russian influence, they are charged nonetheless with pressing a spiritual war on ostensible geopolitical grounds, loath (for tactical, demonic reasons) to expose their first-order spiritual affiliations. Invisibility indeed!

If, as Nicolas Berdyaev claimed, “independent Russian thought was awakened by the problem of the philosophy of history”, America’s purveyors of wickedness glossed our version of the history problem by vexing us to the restive sleep of irresolvable terror.

Certainly our Cold War synthesis was attenuated into a false proposition such that Bolshevism must be reengaged, this time on domestic soil. (Commentator Ben Shapiro likens America’s current schism to a reenactment of the Weimar’s Brown Shirts versus Reds; though in fairness, the latter is well-evidenced, the former less so.)

Charlottesville is but an early skirmish against an ideology that might easily have remained consigned to the ashcan of history –-had history been allowed to wash up onto American shores. Had history been allowed to happen. Contrast this avoidance strategy with the Russian experience, an authentically suffered-through and digested historical chapter which delivered that nation, by dialectical necessity, to a more advanced version of itself.

[So, what then of America? Christian evangelist Chuck Missler has postulated that our nation’s striking under-representation in biblical prophesy could stem from God’s ‘abandonment judgement’. No American Christian, including myself, can relish this interpretation. Our love of country notwithstanding, one must ask, Has God responded to our vacating Him by vacating us?]

In a climate hostile to authentic resolution, historical synthesis becomes an impossibility. PNAC’s 1997 Statement of Principles serves as apt blueprint to our nation’s conceptual paralysis. Ripe with hubris and devoid of introspection, it forced a triumphalism upon the natural course of the dialectic. As surely as Peter the Great deflected Russia’s historical arc centuries before (Spengler called this artificial overlay Petrinism), Straussianism (with its revolving-door dependency on an enemy) imposed an inorganic trajectory here at home. Vestiges of Petrinism are traceable today in the Russian domestic scene, namely neo-liberal attempts to integrate Russia into the West’s global institutions (a faction known as Euro-Atlanticists). This of course would be yet another imitative and historically inauthentic path for Russia to embark upon.

Thus at Cold War’s end, Americans were presented with the preposterous Neocon invocation to beat their swords into larger swords. The interminable loop of permawar (itself an indigestible bit of ahistorical mischief) became America’s ‘way forward’. As for our supposed adversary, ‘terror’, it offers an inexhaustible emotional response to perils of the real, imagined and endlessly manipulated kinds. The ensuing Neocon catastrophe is a matter now of global record. The peace dividend was purloined by a unipolar will-to-power that metastasized into a monomania worthy of Ahab himself.

International Relations pioneer Kenneth Waltz barely considered unipolarity, thinking it a practical impossibility. Earthly power must lever against one dialectical nemesis or another else it enters a Fukuyama la-la land of static complacency. The Grail-like quest for Full Spectrum Dominance is nothing less than a Babelian, One-World assault on God’s infinite dominion.

Perhaps it’s no irony then that the propaganda onslaught may be reaching a cognitive saturation point as the Russiaphobia narrative founders for lack of anything other than pathological teeth-gnashing. As for the transformational power of the Alt counter-movements in America, that remains still to be seen.

We encounter the same enemy in a slightly different context in Sheldon Wolin’s inverted totalitarianism –furtive, featureless and ubiquitous– that ‘wants everything’. Only a totalism that encapsulates soul, spirit and consciousness can truly be said to have eradicated dissent, as opposed to merely stifling it. Again, static inescapable monism is the quest, nothing less than Orwell’s “boot stamping on a human face – forever” wherein the dreaded boot possesses the repressive kickback of an uninterruptible kiss. Love your Master with all the weight of his sole!

A divided perspective is the Devil’s playground. Escobar with Lynch underscores how we contend with Science, no less than Geopolitics, in this world’s shadow-play. Oppenheimer’s dark underpinnings betray his true mistress, CERN’s threshold-greeter, Shiva. Science is in fact an egregoric pact the Enlightenment Lucifer hatched with Man allowing the latter to collaborate, with empirical detachment, in his own destruction. It’s not enough simply to destroy Man. Lucifer will only be satiated when God’s most prized creation actively destroys itself.

Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Better to say perhaps that technology remains a province of magic in both its disclosed and undisclosed forms. Indeed Science’s greatest trick may have been making us believe magic doesn’t exist.

As our eyes were seduced away from the luminous shell, superstition was repealed, souls became Freud’s appetitive egos and haunted eyes were made wards of the Pharma-State. The secular world seeks to steal the spirit world’s singular fire, to anesthetize it into Bolshevist collectivist pap. That old windbag Crowley and his whiz-kid Parsons may indeed have finagled a hole in the firmament. However the Devil wins battles, never wars. Firewalk with that.

Escobar’s cross-pollination project is an attempt to paint the Biggest Picture where inky blackness plays a pivotal role. The Devil it seems made Oppenheimer do it. In fact the former foreshadowed his subtle, new role in Baudelaire’s The Generous Gambler (1864). Hinting at his imminent misdirectional ploy, Lucifer aspires to transcend superstition by destroying it.

For a time, the blustery brimstone and tacky red capes of Dante and Milton are to be suspended. Pressed white lab coats make today’s Man of Wealth and Taste, don’t cha know? The Enlightenment relegates lurid displays to the back burner in favor of the progressive flame of Bunsen burners.

Brian Reis has another name for this sly costume change: ‘satanic indifference’ or if one prefers the official euphemistic parlance, secular humanism. Scientists, oblivious to the dark underwriter of their work, insist their paymaster doesn’t exist. Yet Hiroshima (next stop, Pyongyang?) shows us how the wages of science yield a scalable, dissociative sin that one-on-one fornication could never equal for aggregated iniquity.

Oddly, Russia inserts itself here. Of Orthodox Christianity, Berdyaev noted, “it remained apart from passionate religious battles for hundreds of years…and preserved its eternal truth from the destructive processes of world history.” Thus the Luciferean entreaties (concealed within Science and Reason) that Baudelaire rightly predicts will whittle further away at Western Christianity do not work nearly the same abrasive effects on the Eastern forms. Instead, Russia is held in abeyance in a Spenglerian ‘primitive’ state, that is, with its cultural vigor looming still ahead. Until such time as its spiritual calling comes of age. Until such time as now?

Here’s Baudelaire’s early scoop on the urbane gent soon to become Mick Jagger’s Patron Saint and Jean Luc Godard’s Docu-Marxo-Daemon:

“[Lucifer] complained in no way of the evil reputation under which he lived, indeed, all over the world, and he assured me that he himself was of all living beings the most interested in the destruction of Superstition, and he avowed to me that he had been afraid, relatively as to his proper power, once only, and that was on the day when he had heard a preacher, more subtle than the rest of the human herd, cry in his pulpit: “My dear brethren, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist!"

"The memory of this famous orator brought us naturally on the subject of academies, and my strange host declared to me that he didn’t disdain, in many cases, to inspire the pens, the words, and the conscience of pedagogues, and that he almost always assisted in person, in spite of being invisible, at all the scientific meetings.” –from The Generous Gambler [my bold]

At first Lucifer signals wariness at the prospect of invisibility (obsolescence) in the glare of ‘progressive lights’. That’s an affected pose. He knows better. Yet contemporary evidence shows him embracing the Enlightenment for the Deep Cover it affords his ever-constricting grasp. Yes of course David Lynch, it’s the same ole BOB (it’s ALWAYS the same ole BOB) this time under cover of the Scientific Method as his apprentices work to refine the latest spiritual setback invariably cloaked as ‘a technological breakthrough’ but never much more than the latest new and improved invisibility cloak.

And so it was that, in furtive increments, Hell crept upon us, substituting itself for our native surroundings. Absent a telltale imprimatur of arrival, it exemplified the slinking serpent, enfolding us in slow, deadly coils that soon acclimated into ubiquitous atmosphere. The latest generation of frogs love hot tubs and can’t understand why.

Heidegger too saw the tangible yields of science (technology) enveloping us with irresistible convenience. Such solicitousness plays well to our innate laziness and hubris. The agenda was always to beguile and then surpass us once techne could stand unassisted on its own transhuman feet. (Transhumanism is Ray Kurzweil’s rhetorical avoidance for post-humanism. What deep wellsprings of self-loathing compel a man to perfect his artilect executioners?) The plan is for the superstition of soul to evaporate with the advent of the precocious silicon chip.

As evil adopts the stealth of dreary rationalism and consolidates the final lap in an orgy of mushroom clouds and fabric-splitting CERN colliders, many will die thinking it was the Dull March of Science –and Science alone– that killed them. But the Damned know better.

The low-order functionaries of the demon world, unlike Man, intuit the future. In Matthew 8 they ask presciently of Jesus, ‘art thou come hither to torment us before the time?‘ It is a facet of angels, fallen and otherwise, that they are keen readers of the eschatological clock. Even for us, today, the narrowing path is becoming harder to ignore. The hour is late.

Only by acknowledging the renewed fever-pitch of the spiritual plane as it unfolds in earnest behind the geopolitical, scientific and technological presentations can a unified comprehension be achieved. During the walk’s final mile, careful travelers will do well like Escobar and Lynch to keep one foot in the fire of Spirit, the other in the ice of facticity.

As for those with an unambiguous Christian calling—spiritually dispossessed White Anglo-Saxon Americans (such as myself) included—Russia may well be a nation writ indispensably large. So be it. The Eurasian Century beckons and no amount of Western denialism or affronted exceptionalism will stop history’s inexorable advance.

Even if it doesn’t stop at Heaven’s Gate, patriotism should take reverential pause before traversing that threshold. God’s country of souls brooks no earthly borders. Dostoevsky again: “Reduce God to the attribute of nationality?…On the contrary, I elevate the nation to God.”


As well as being an American loyal to the notion of same, author Norman Ball is a Founding Principal of Giant Steps Press. More of his Baudelarian musings can be found at Another of his blogs is Full Spectrum Domino. His Youtube channel is working towards 1.3 million views here. Please pitch in with a click and a like. 

Speaking of views, the ones expressed herein are the author's alone and could not possibly reflect the views of GSP, a press that seeks and extols diverse voices, even if Norm wanted them to, which he doesn't. Need more reasons to come to GSP for all your book publishing and design needs? See here and here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

“It Is the Little Things That Make Life Big” by Ariana Farajollah

Many films act as messages urging viewers to take action against the atrocities in humanity whereas others communicate that, at their core, humans are basically good. Beginning with Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, advancing onto Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy, and ultimately scrutinizing Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, our class concluded our “Art of Interpretation” with Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. Set in Berlin, the film follows two angels as they comfort mortals. Although Damiel and Cassiel offer sympathy to humans, they lack true human emotion. Inspired by trapeze artist Marion and her beauty, Damiel’s desire is to transform into a human being. The initial three movies that depict the harm done by Western Civilization strategically serve as a set-up for this last film that displays the good that can be found in humanity.

Walkabout is a tale of two city-bred siblings who, following their father’s suicide, are forced to trudge along the scorching desert in search of home. Every detail in Roeg’s film is carefully considered and decided upon. More specifically, costume choices are deliberately made, as they tell a story in themselves. The director spends a generous amount of time focusing on those who are clothed versus those who are naked. Despite the soaring temperatures of the Australian Outback, the female protagonist refuses to remove a single article of clothing. She opts to restrict the heat from escaping her body in her classic schoolgirl plaid skirt and crisp white button down. However, once she finds a break in the auburn, ashy desert at a secluded flowing stream, the teenage girl strips off the oppressive clothing to bear only skin. She lets out a sigh of relief as her arms aid her in floating across a pond. Critic Patrick Gibbs recalls this scene as “memorable for its lyrical quality when the girl’s inhibitions seem finally to be dispersed by the force of nature and she swims nude” (par. 2) and alludes to her fear of judgment. Her discomfort with nudity plays to her apprehension of revealing her true self. The only place the girl finds serenity is when she has the freedom to be exposed in the comfort of privacy.  

The protagonist’s anxiety reflects society’s own, grander-scale angst. One frequently puts forward a mask to avoid judgment from his peers. Western civilization encourages this behavior by labeling certain identities as superior to others. For instance, one may lie about his or her sexual orientation or personal interests to conceal one’s true qualities and quirky characteristics. In the process, the colorful individuals that comprise our society lose just that: their individuality, their distinctiveness, and their rarity. Through the inclusion of scenes depicting the girl both clothed and nude, Roeg draws on our society’s need to eschew our fear of judgment, let down our façades, and express what makes us unique. Walkabout is suitable for interpreting our first film as it poses the dangers of judgment and the extremes that some must go to in order to feel truly and completely comfortable.

Similar to the close scrutiny of Nicolas Roeg’s work, many of us slid Jamie Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy under a microscope. The movie depicts Bushman Xi’s journey to the end of the Earth, clumsy scientist Andrew’s developing crush on Kate, a South African transplant, and belligerent guerillas causing mischief in the jungle. Although at first glance the film appears to be nothing short of a comedy, Uys embeds deeper messages about ownership for his audience to consider. When a Coke bottle is dropped into the Kalahari Desert and found by the Bushman’s hands, the indigenous people question the motives of the “gods” (Uys, 0:06:57). What was originally an object of many usages quickly has become a weapon to their society. Uys alternates scenes of children taking blows to the head, playing rough games of tug-of-war with the glass bottle, and even the adults getting in on some of the action (Uys, 0:10:16). Critic Vincent Canby comments on the situation, “…the bottle also introduces the Bushmen to feelings of envy and ideas of ownership, thus threatening their idyllic society that, until then, has existed without poverty, greed or crime” (par. 6). 

The homeostatic upset in the Bushmen’s community speaks to the danger of possession. Although the people had never owned anything before, as soon as the bottle entered the picture, the Bushmen became animal-like and unwilling to share. Similarly, those in Western society are so focused on gaining that lusted-after competitive edge that they often forget to help a neighbor out. They wildly climb the ladder to success at the expense of their equals until they are no longer equal. In reality, the results lack any hint of success, but, rather, the human condition suffers. The Gods Must Be Crazy is fitting for a second film as it introduces the barbarism that results from ownership.

Swept Away acts as an additional interrogation of what it means to be civilized. Wertmüller’s film follows capitalistic yacht-cruiser Rafaella and communistic crewmember Gennarino as they seek to escape their isolation on a stranded island. In the process, these two characters undergo personality changes. The director uses the protagonists’ roles to explore the notion of gender and sexism. Gennarino, normally a passive young man, endures a complete one-eighty as he transforms into a disturbingly dominant version of himself. Rafaella, once a snooty, reliant woman becomes docile and obedient to Gennarino. Blogger Samantha Storms writes, “Wertmüller’s violent scenes of abuse and manipulation serve…as representations of the issues that the female gender must face in daily life…” (par. 6). As soon as the two protagonists undergo these extreme changes in personality, they slip into classic gender roles of dominant male and submissive female. This situation speaks to modern day sexist stereotype of men as physically and mentally superior to women. Ladies are often belittled for trying to independently secure a steady income, choosing to go through life without a husband, and engaging in traditional “male” pastimes, such as sports. Simply put, sexism is yet another symptom of a civilization out of balance. Swept Away powerfully addresses the misogynistic challenges within Western society.

Wenders’ Wings of Desire directly responds to the impact of judgment, ownership, and sexism in our contemporary lives. The film thrives off of uncertainty in order to delve deeper into what it means to be human and to provoke its audience to question its conventions. Wings of Desire assures viewers that the concerns raised by the former three films are minor compared to life’s inherent beauty. For instance, the commuters on the train are too jaded by the anxieties of daily life to see the angels around them paying witness to their woes. In contrast, the children, not yet corrupted by the limits of the rational mind, easily sense the comfort emitted by Damiel and Cassiel. Moreover, trapeze artist Marion, although an adult, is conscious of the angel’s presence because she has maintained passion in her art. The juxtaposition between characters who are aware of Damiel and Cassiel’s angelic presence and those who are not is analogous to the characters who can appreciate life’s beauty and those who cannot.

The all-too-human struggles in Roeg’s Walkabout, Uys’ The Gods Must Be Crazy, and Wertmüller’s Swept Away are but a prelude to the transformation into mortality celebrated in Wings of Desire. Wenders focuses on Damiel’s yearning to exchange his status as an angel for a chance at experiencing life as a human. He has quieted the violent thoughts of a Holocaust survivor, eavesdropped on the concerns of commuters, and solaced the escort struggling to meet ends. Reviewer Jessica Winter discusses his desire for mortality, “The angel wants to live ‘not forever but now,’ to trade the unbearable lightness of being for the heft and dirt of the mortal coil. He rhapsodizes about being able to feel his own bones, to let the newspaper blacken his fingers, to ‘feed the cat like Philip Marlowe’" (par. 4). Damiel has seen all the tragedies that life can unexpectedly throw at its members, yet still wants to experience what it means to be human. The angel appreciates the little things in life that Walkabout’s female character, the Bushmen, and Rafaella are too consumed by life’s evils to see. Damiel minimizes the concerns, looking beyond them to discover a world swelling with affection, beauty, and gratitude. Blogger Ariel Hannanian puts it best, “…his urge to live among these flawed individuals suggests there is an innate beauty in being human” (par. 1). Wings of Desire is an intriguing film to wrap up our investigations because it resolves any loose or alarming thoughts that the audience may have experienced concerning our lack of humanity to one another. It portrays civilization in an optimistic light and asks us to see that, although society is tainted with tragic moments, it has its good ones, too. 

Yes, no doubt our humanity is flawed, but only in so far as we choose to bury the flaw and not address it. Nicolas Roeg, Jamie Uys, and Lina Wertmüller communicate the brutalities of our judgments, the struggles we encounter with ownership, and the nagging stereotype of sexist behaviors. However, I suggest that the sequence of films is methodically ordered to conclude with a film that transcends those atrocities. Through Damiel’s journey into true human feeling, Wings of Desire explores the intrinsic good in our humanity. Wim Wenders calls on viewers to take action, improve humanity, and make Damiel’s perspective of the world a little less difficult to see. After all, it is the little things that make life big.

Works Cited

Canby, Vincent. "Is 'The Gods Must Be Crazy' Only a Comedy?" The New York Times,

27 Oct. 1984. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Gibbs, Patrick. "Walkabout, original 1971 review: 'beautiful'" The Telegraph, 08 Nov.

2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Hannanian, Ariel. "Awakenings into Adulthood via Wim Wenders." Taking Giant

Steps, 16 Apr. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

Storms, Samantha. "Passion’s Dark Side: Roeg’s Walkabout vs Wertmüller’s Swept

            Away by Samantha Storms." Taking Giant Steps, 08 Dec. 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

Winter, Jessica. "Revisiting Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire." Slate Magazine, 12 Jan.

2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.


Sunday, September 17, 2017

“Walt Whitman, Alan Watts, and We” by DaisyMae VanValkenburgh

The most fascinating thing about a young adult’s life is that it is always changing. There is so much room for improvement, for seeing things differently, and for trying to understand the inner self. American poet Walt Whitman and British philosopher Alan Watts demonstrate in their writing how the world around us is in constant flux, how we learn to absorb information and then decide how we will allow it to change us. When I began my first college writing class, I felt as if I was quite the cultured person, but I soon caught on that the people around me and the forum style of the class would allow me to grow a lot more than I imagined. Our many discussions of texts, especially in regard to our identity, gave me an opportunity to reach a higher level of understanding. The variety of my peers’ responses to both Asian and Western appreciations of the spiritual side of life has made me open my eyes to just how much I was unaware of. These glimpses into other lifestyles, priorities and “techniques of the sacred” have allowed me to see things much differently.

Walt Whitman in Section One of “Song of Myself” writes, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume” (Whitman 1.1.1-2).  By Whitman saying I, he speaks about his own person, but he also insinuates a cosmic (or Vedic) self that is not higher or lower than anyone else; rather he asks us to see the self as universal, something we are all a part of: “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman 1.1.3). I view this as a brilliant escape from the demanding trap of the ego in which I must create, denounce, and defend a position or a personal identity in order to be comfortable or taken seriously. Whitman knows that we as individuals understand each other better when we are all involved, and that is a huge motivation for young, susceptible individuals trying to make sense of who they are. In Section 24 he calls himself “a kosmos” and adds this moral dimension, “Whoever degrades another, degrades me / And whatever is done or said returns at last to me” (Whitman 1.24. 1; 8-9).  

Indeed, the motive of “Song of Myself” strikes me as an appeal to the reader to think beyond the either/or of our perceptions. As fellow Taking Giant Steps blogger Emily Baksic astutely writes on Leaves of Grass and its relation to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, “The yin and yang accept the flow between one’s life and the universe counteracting together. The yin and yang represent the integration of opposites not merely as polarities, but as complements” (Baksic, Par. 5). Though we may split the universe into good and bad, we need to see how opposites attract and create a larger whole in and of itself. Whitman caused me to recognize that we are all individual entities sharing space in the same universe. No one is anything more, and no one is anything less. To insist otherwise feels like an unnecessary defense against our own urge to grow our souls. When one works with another, dates another, or speaks to a stranger, one can gain so much by putting oneself on the same level as the other. It is not worth putting oneself above or below another, just because one is speaking to an individual of a certain status. One must find oneself in others to truly grasp all the dimensions of one’s identity. As Alan Watts would say, regarding our need to make all these distinctions in status, we are “putting legs on a snake” (Watts, 11). 

After reading Chapter One of his The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, I observed that Watts and Whitman are essentially singing the same song, each for their own generation. Watts’s reading of Vedanta, the end of the Vedas (knowledge), makes us as humans wonder if what we know is not what we actually need to know in order to be “in the know” (Watts, 9). Watts suggests that we must dig down deeper---beyond the masks of our personalities and the social conventions we obey without a second thought---into the taboo of the world, search a little in the unknown, and work on figuring out what the others refuse to tell us. Maybe there is “some inside information, some special taboo, some real lowdown on life and existence that most parents and teachers either don't know or won't tell” (Watts, 9).

Watts caused me to consider that life has more meaning than what we just see on the outer surface. We have to interrogate the taboos of our society and run with what the world does not want us to know. Watts states that we are “flesh or plastic, intelligence or mechanism, nerve or wire, biology or physics” (Watts, 39), a “human race leaving no more trace of itself in the universe than a system of electronic patterns” (Watts, 37). Watts asks us to look at each occurrence that happens in life differently. As he puts it, “Taboos lie within taboos” (Watts, 9), and that is where we need to search in order to find what we are missing. These hush-hush, inflammatory, unpopular, or alternative readings of the world are what students need to learn for themselves. I gratefully entertain the notion that I am not merely a separate self, alienated from others, alone and afraid, but part of the greater whole in which my individual soul (Atman) is none other than the universal soul (Brahman).

Fortunately, I first encountered these two iconoclastic writers in my middle school and high school years. Growing up a sheltered child with a mother who perennially fought health problems, I was not able to explore as much as the other children were, nor was I able to go spend time with friends as much at a young age, due to the fear of contracting an ordinary illness and getting my mother more ill. With chronic illnesses, even the simplest of colds can have severe effects on the immune system. If I did have playdates growing up, I do not remember them clearly. In second grade my thirst for knowledge wound up distancing me from my peers. However, this solitude gave me a kind of freedom. I picked up an encyclopedia in my house one day and began reading it, one book at a time. Reading led to writing, and I learned to analyze material to find deeper meanings, but also to find a larger understanding in every circumstance. I am thankful for the chance to grow my interpretive antennae at such an early age. Fellow blogger Kelsey Picciano was not so lucky: “I learned only that of the history the school chose for me to learn; I read only the literature of which the school wished for me to read; I knew only of the environment that the school wished for me to be in” (Picciano, Par. 3).

In middle school, my English teacher realized I had a knack for seeing things differently, so she introduced me to the 52 sections of “Song of Myself.” Whitman’s way of expressing how we as humans are comprised of experiences, ideas, and mental states, as well as a personal spiritual understanding, demonstrated so clearly that each person is part of one universal self in the world. From a young age this point of view is something that I have sought to celebrate. Likewise, in high school, my English teacher, seeing that I needed a challenge, invited me to spend my sophomore year reading Alan Watts. Once again, I found myself in the company of a real seeker willing to question everything around him to get to the bottom of things. With this inside knowledge, I realized that I was no longer going to let anyone dictate who I was becoming. I took the chances I wanted and have never looked back. Because of these self-discoveries in middle and high school, “I no longer find myself with a void sitting inside of me; I no longer solely feel my physical being; I feel my existence as my own unique individual” (Picciano, Par. 7). 

In my first semester of college, I have further realized that in order to continue my path towards a career in journalism, I need to allow my mind to wander into the unknowns of the world, as Watts teaches us, and that I must find myself within others, as Whitman illustrates. My past is no longer going to define my future; rather, my present self is going to be the guide to find out who I will become. As someone who considered herself well cultured, I found that Watts and Whitman truly challenged my homeostasis. Whitman showed me how we are all a part of the same whole, working to figure out what truly works for each of us. Watts opened my eyes to see that what we already know is not all that we need to know. We must be in constant search of what we do not know to acquire what we still need to. I realized that my best strategy as a learner, thinker and evolving writer is to break out of my comfort zone in order to challenge what it is I have yet to learn. 

Works Cited

Baksic, Emily. "Corresponding Ideas of Nature in Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass & Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching." Taking Giant Steps, 05 May 2016. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Picciano, Kelsey. "Forging a Whitmanic, Post-Traditional, Bisexual Identity." Taking Giant Steps. N.p., 28 Jan. 2016. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.

Watts, Alan. “Chapter 1,” The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Share and Discover Knowledge on LinkedIn SlideShare. N.p., 25 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself” (1892 Version)| Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wim Wenders’ WINGS OF DESIRE: A Reason to Believe by Monica Boretsky

To persevere: to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly (Bastida). 

The films presented in our writing class provide one with reasons to become indignant with the outcome Western civilization has on the lifestyle of its citizens. In Walkabout Nicolas Roeg exposes the ignorance and self-centeredness it instills in a person; in The Gods Must Be Crazy Jamie Uys shows that the desire for possessions can consume one’s life; in Swept Away Lina Wertmuller demonstrates the inability for one to love another outside the predetermined qualities defined by society. Viewers become witnesses to the destruction caused by these traits and habits of life in Western civilization. Wim Wenders, however, provides a different approach, in Wings of Desire. Although he, too, reveals the defeating aspects of our over-civilized society by focusing on Berlin divided by a wall, he provides a reason to believe in civilization as well. Through Damiel’s experience of becoming human, one is reminded of the beauty of life that one may experience through love. 

As a living inheritor of Western culture, I was appalled at how the characters in these films take things for granted.  The older sister of Walkabout and Raffaella of Swept Away both live in the luxury of a wealthy lifestyle. In this life, they do not bear the weight of personally putting in any labor to obtain what they want in life. Both of them lack the appreciation for those who do put in the effort.  In Walkabout, the older sister says condescendingly to the Aborigine, We want water to drink. You must understand! Anyone can understand that. We want to drink. I can't make it any simpler” (Roeg, 27:18). Her ignorance is mirrored in Raffaella when she speaks to those serving her on the yacht in a demeaning tone. One morning she says, “I like having my coffee fresh if you could understand that. The bad habits of a typical grubby southern slob” (Wertmuller, 00:08:32). While these characters expect the world to rotate around them, Wings of Desire reminds us of life’s small pleasures that have become so second nature to us that we forget to appreciate them. When angel Damiel becomes human and smokes a cigarette for the first time, he has a visible reaction of joy and contentment. His face eases up and clearly experiences the full sensation that many people have overlooked (Wenders, 1:42:00).  This little moment of the film is greatly representational of our own dilemmas. Not only do we shut down these small pleasures, but Wings of Desire also shows us the possibilities available when we break down the divides set up by Western civilization.      

Walkabout and Swept Away display two relationships in which the partners come from different sides of the money and power equation. According to societal standards, the two women are the most prized in society. The men who attempt to have a loving connection with them ultimately face self-destruction. The Aborigine commits suicide (Roeg, 1:52:34) and Gennarino leaves his family for a life of loneliness and shame. In a monotone voice, with the sense of defeat he says to his wife, “Don’t worry about it, I’m not ever going home again” (Wertmuller, 1:51:12).  Both of these relationships were halted and ended due to the stigma that society set in place.  The English older sister of Walkabout could not accept the offer of the Aborigine through his mating dance (Roeg, 1:48:25).  Raffaella, despite confessing her love to Gennarino on the island, did not leave her wealthy capitalist husband ooce she returned to the mainland(1:38:00). These two films prove that the social constructs of society are a plague to the value of love. The divides are strongly built and could not be broken down in these films to allow a loving connection to exist.  Wenders, however, shows a more optimistic approach to love---one in which the divide set by society between the two partners did not keep them apart. 

Wings of Desire demonstrates the many divides that are embedded deeply in society.  Set in Germany, there is the line separating West and East Berlin. There is another line separating circus people (traveling performers) and village people (average citizens). The most distinct difference found in this film is the divide created between angels and humans. While this may be called fanciful, Wenders makes the case that love is bigger than the social rules that divide us. Angel Damiel confronts the fact that he is in love with human Marion. Unlike the older sister and Raffaella, however, Damiel does not give into abiding by the divide, and pursues a relationship with her.  Their connection is successful and meaningful.  As Michael Sexson states in his review of the film, Marion, “Indeed… is teaching Damiel what he needs to know. Here the child's puddle is becoming the sea” (Sexson, para. 17).  Their relationship is one of true love and, “the fact that she meets the person literally from her dreams gives hope to the viewer of how the joining of two individual to make both their dreams come true” (Hannanian para. 7).  They return each other back to the childhood innocence that Wenders warns his viewers not to lose.

It is clear throughout the film that only the children in society are able to witness the presence of Damiel and his fellow angels; the adults cannot. Angels are representative of innocence, and so Wenders is making a strong point about the innocence of one’s childhood.  This sense of innocence is lost through the progression of existing in Western civilization.  This mirrors the idea present in Walkabout:

It is particularly eye opening to see the six-year-old boy begin speaking the Aborigine language, clearly embracing what his older sister cannot.  Both of them have grown up in civilization, however the sister has been living in it a full eight years longer than the boy…Roeg warns his viewers that the older one becomes and the more time one spends in Western civilization, the less apt they will be to understand the whole picture: an individual is larger than the society they grew up in and a difference in cultures does not make someone lesser than another (Boretsky). 

As one progresses through Western civilization, one loses one’s childhood innocence. Wenders delivers to viewers the harsh reality that is present in the world, depicted in the opening scenes of the film: passengers on a train bombarded by their anxious thoughts, fearful responsibilities and of a man committing suicide. Despite demonstrating this, Wenders presents Damiel as an example of staying strong through the bad to experience and embrace the good that life has to offer. This angel has seen these evil pressures of society that sometimes get the best of us, but he continues to pursue becoming a human. When rationalizing his desire, he claims, “To conquer a history for myself.  What my timeless downward look has taught me… I want to transmute, I want to sustain a glance… a short shout, a sour smell.  I’ve been outside long enough.  Loving enough out of the world. Let me enter the history of the world.  Or just hold an apple in my hand” (Wenders, 1:14).  He understands and appreciates the value of Western civilization and sees the opportunities it provides its citizens.  For him, it gave him the experience of sensations like taste and pain, as well as the gift of love. 

In the end, Damiel is each of us stuck in a limiting version of Western civilization. Like him, we must not be afraid to transform ourselves and must persevere in order to find love, success and happiness. We must not let obstacles constructed by society keep us from obtaining what we want.  Unlike the other characters in previous films viewed this semester, he transcended the divide keeping him from what he desired. Breaking through resulted in the realization of experiencing all the good Western civilization has to offer, things that many often overlook. Wim Wenders reminds his audience to never stop appreciating the small things in life and to not give up when there is an obstacle in our path to obtaining what we want.  In short, we should strive to embody the spirit of Damiel, who encompasses appreciation and optimism, when living within Western civilization. 

                                             Works Cited

Bastida, Maria. "Top 60 Perseverance Quotes." LoveQuotesMessages. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Boretsky, Monica.  “Blinded by the Status Quo.”  06 March 2017.

Hannanian, Ariel. "Awakenings into Adulthood Via Wim Wenders." Awakenings into Adulthood Via Wim Wenders’ "Wings of Desire". Taking Giant Steps. Web. 03 May 2017.

Jamie Uys.  The Gods Must Be Crazy. New Realm, 1980. Youtube.

Lina Wertmüller.  Swept Away--by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August. Perf. Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini. Medusa Distribuzione S.R.L., 1974. Youtube.

Nicolas Roeg.  Walkabout. Twentieth Century Fox, 1971. Youtube.

Sexson, Michael. "The Storyteller and Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire (The Cresset, March 1993)." Header. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

Wim Wenders.  Wings of Desire. Perf. Bruno Ganz and Solveig Dommartin. Road Movies, 1987