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“Then make it fair, you sadist!”

August 15, 2012

Barbara Mann: (Seneca, Ohio) – Listen to Your Mother — the first 11 (of about 20) minutes is available here on YouTube

The full video on the conference site, which I can’t embed here. Very annoying.

Transcript I put together.

This is a video I’ve been meaning to share for a while; shame the actual file name was hidden so that I couldn’t embed the full version here. It’s well worth a click to watch/listen to, however.

There are a lot of things going on in this talk, and I am still pretty low on language spoons after scrambling my brain yesterday transcribing a 20-minute talk with my crappy auditory processing.  Just going to add a few comments, which are liable to be choppy and even more rambly than usual. (In part because there are so many things going on here…) There was a lot of yelling at the television for similar reasons in our house, BTW.

I see the disconnect here as being philosophical as much as spiritual, difficult as the two things can be to separate at times. (Especially when you’re dealing with a system that has more similarities to Taoist thought than to what most Westerners associate with religion. One application of the Iroquoian Twinship principle–” the heavy medicine of chaos”, indeed. 😉 )  I actually hesitated to post this, to avoid confict–with her scathing take on monotheism, slanted toward the focus of this particular conference.  The criticism has more to do with the way certain assumptions about the way the world work perpetuate abusive behavior and institutions–and how these memes have tended to be perpetuated through abusive means–than with any individual whatsoever.  It’s all in how you treat other people and the rest of the world around you. Progressive pragmatism: it’s not just for dealing with terrorists ;), and the Good Mind of which she speaks operates on all kinds of different levels, all connected. Mann has simplified her arguments for the purpose of time and clarity, based on what I’ve read of her works.

Also, slanted to this particular conference’s focus, she is not using “patriarchy” as shorthand for “everything that is wrong in the world”, but as part of the observation that hierarchical, patriarchal social setups and authoritarian monotheism tend to go together and kinda feed off one another in one destructive wétiko package. (Also, it would be a mistake to go all simplistic oppositional binary here, with BAD patriarchy vs. GOOD matriarchal setups. Though, In defence of the radicals does offer some good points.)  This, BTW, is one of the major problems I have with single-issue atheists who have very little interest in anything related to social justice. (Even if I’m not so fond of that term. “How about we try treating everyone with respect?” is pretty clunky, though.) “[S]ecular Christian dominance”, anyone? If you’re so enmeshed in it that you can’t even see how your own attitudes have formed, you’re not doing anybody any favors–including yourself. 😐 That, indeed, includes dismissing things you haven’t even made an effort to understand as woo, and the people talking about these things as irrational: another reason I hesitated to post this, frankly. See also the sarky “drummed out of the academic corps” observation  in the video itself.

I just don’t have the spoons to go into any depth now on how this relates to the common (often secularized) perception that things are, haha, going immediately to Hell in a handbasket if there isn’t some central authority telling people what to do, and enforcing their doing The Right Thing. With the pessimistic ideas about human nature that involves. But, yeah.

A quote from Frederick Martin’s Binary Opposition, Hierarchy, and God’s Power in Early Christian Writing. (03/21/2001) He has written more on the general subject, looking at other philosophical works, but this offers a pretty good summary I have been meaning to work in somewhere (bolding added):

In the early history of the church a complex of interrelated ideas arose, quite naturally as it were, that has persisted in its ability to define, as well as anyone could hope, the most basic and fundamental aspects of Western ideology. These ideas have persisted, furthermore, for so long in an unchanging articulation that they have taken on an appearance of authority which tends to elevate them to the position of immutable truth. In other words, because of their long, even popular, history, as an ideological methodology, few thinkers, even perhaps no one at all, have ever bothered to question their essential validity. One might even be able to argue that it has become impossible for anyone schooled in Western thought to conceive of any rational discourse that does not depend on concepts grounded in binary opposition, hierarchical structures, and the omnipotent presence of some force or another that first sanctioned the complex into being, whether one calls it “God” or something else, and continues to sustain it now in the face of any criticism that might be voiced against its claim to validity…

As I have already argued elsewhere in this document (AnshenBlochDionysiusFreedomHarmonics), the concepts of binary opposition and hierarchical structure have their natural and inevitable origin and existence in the idea that the universe was created by an omnipotent, everlasting God. Since that view of reality does not stand as particularly credible in the face of scientific analysis, even if the ideas of science are novel ones in comparison to scriptural values, it still matters that creationism is the dominant ideology in the Western world…

The point to be taken here is that statements like these clearly express the notion that God exists on an exalted plane of pure being and power that necessarily transcends the world that He has created. That transcendence necessarily creates a disparity between the Creator and His creation that establishes the first, and only, step necessary in the fabrication of hierarchical structure. Hence, the ground is well established for the rise of the ideology of binary opposition and hierarchy in the single “fact” that God, as an All-Powerful entity, created the universe. There is need for nothing else to establish the existence of these two ideas as the only legitimate way to comprehend any aspect of the created world and everything that exists in it. What is most obvious here as well is that power plays the dominant role in understanding how binary opposition and hierarchy are meant to function as aspects of all social relationships that evolve on the ground of these primary and immutable concepts.

What is fair to say in this context, since any new or novel idea was treated as a capital crime against orthodoxy, is that these ideas have enjoyed longevity in human consciousness not because they are necessarily true and valid, not because they describe the actual condition of the world, but because to say or think otherwise, as long as the church maintained a judicial power over individuals, which it did throughout the Middle Ages and even well into the Enlightenment, was the same as committing a crime punishable by death. In an ideology where power is defined by, if not derived from, the habit of thinking in terms of binary opposites and hierarchical structures, reinforced by compliance to that rule punishable by death for anyone who varies from it, there is virtually no chance at all that any other way of perceiving the reality of social and political relationships is ever likely to arise, much less take hold, in a culture that embraces such notions. No one in such a culture gives up the will to power, no one gives up the quest to become like God. That quest instead becomes the defining characteristic of what it means to be human.

And, as Barbara Mann points out, it’s all a con game. And a self-reinforcing one, based in surplus powerlessness, which is very difficult to break out of. This also ties back in, and expands upon, some earlier musings on perceived locus of control. In short: feel like you have very little power to affect your life and the world around you, that’s unlikely to end well. Again, for you or for anybody else or the world around you.

John Mohawk (also coming from a Seneca background, surname aside 🙂 ) traced some of these themes back further, to the Greek philosophies which went into developing later Christian ones–and the rest of Western philosophy, pretty much by definition. I can’t say he was wrong:

Utopian ideals — Christianity early, materialistic notions of progress late — have justified uniformly dystopian results, particularly from the point of view of those on the receiving end….

It started, he says, as do all historians, with the Greeks. But where the standard mythology sees in Socrates and his successors an admirable devotion to reason, Mohawk sees a more pernicious trend. He argues that the central tenet of classical Greek thought was belief in the ideal and in an ability to discover ultimate truth.

Harmless as those tenets may sound, admirable as we are taught they are, Mohawk demonstrates that, as applied in the real world, they have been consistently dangerous to everyone. Everyone, that is, except those who hold the combination of knowledge of the truth and the power to impose it.

The truly dangerous manifestation of Western culture results when the Greek belief in ultimate truth is mated with the other two early major strands of thought: Christianity and Roman imperialism.

And we’re right back around to power, and the hoarding/scarcity model thereof. And also the difficulties of changing systems and institutions which are so entrenched that many people raised in them just think it’s the natural way the world works, basic as gravity. Overt monotheism totally optional by now.

All of this looks a bit far off what snagged my attention to post the video now: the straightforward emphasis on Making Things Right, and the idea that you don’t leave anyone out. Anyone. But, it’s all part of the same thing, with the same “spiritual underpinnings” as Mann phrases it.

I’ll get back to that point before too long, with any luck, continuing to talk my way around some still-developing ideas about how xenophobic nastiness is a totally learned/ideologically justified thing, which, therefore, can be unlearned. A big part of the problem? Having learned to see these dynamics as the natural way of things, in a way that feeds right back into the ideologies. More patterns that are hard to describe in words.

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