Thursday, March 31, 2005

The perception of beauty

When I see a beautiful woman (for I am a man, and that is how things go with me) - someone who is beautiful to me, rather than someone who is simply beautiful by virtue of consensus amongst a group of people - the effect upon me is singular. It does not happen a lot, and to be sure if it did I might live very long, but more likely I will die young (I have nevertheless done well, I am not exactly a teenager anymore).

This perception, which at first impression appears to be entirely superficial in addition to being entirely subjective, soon proves to be of consequence beyond its subjective origins. It is an experience that, if drawn to its conclusion - if one had the ability (and contrary to what any delusions of grandeur might suggest, that's usually not the case) to draw it to its conclusion before perishing one's persona - usually takes one beyond its original context in order to realise the associated ideation.

The resulting evolution is neither good or bad, that is to say one cannot guarantee that the effects of beauty, drawn to their conclusions, will be to everyone's liking. If one is able to survive the movement that it initiates, then the ripples of one's actions will go beyond subjective boundaries into other people's lives and may or may not be to everyone's liking.

But here is nothing new and the same can be said for countless other human actions. What makes it different is the experience of a certain absolute necessity in beauty - a compulsion and obligation that does not permit a failure to respond. The failure to respond ensures that there will be no second chance. Again, that cannot be evaluated in terms of good and bad - it should be seen as a call to respond, to behave differently than usual and yet with complete authenticity, because in the experience of beauty there is the opportunity to become. What person knows how he or she will act? Whoever says "I do" has either lived what can only be lived once at a time, which is impossible to predict, and therefore will be surprised. It is a strange law. Therefore, one can only say "I know how I will not act" by virtue of knowing how one is evolved at that point - and that is already an achievement.

What it is further possible to say, knowing that one's subjective perception is of more importance than any socially agreed upon criteria, is that even if there is reciprocation - as from another person, the beautiful woman, who may find you attractive in turn - it is possible to say, not unlike Sartre says of being (self-knowledge does not coincide with being), that eventually knowing the other person does not coincide with beauty.

That knowing the other person does not coincide with beauty.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Social Contract: 4

In Book II Rousseau's sovereign is explained in more detail - it is inalienable because what it consists of is, by definition, the common interest of all individuals; it is indivisible, because it is either the general will or it is not, and the general will is passed as law - authority that does not represent the general will is bollocks; the general will errs when society is divided into sections, so that sections collude in their vote and citizens do not make up their own minds; the general will has limits, eg. it cannot bear upon particular interests, which must be observed and treated individually.

The Social Contract is a covenant, between the general will - the body - with each of its members. Because of man's natural freedom it always comes back to this: people entered into an original covenant, because everyone living on their own strength became unfeasible. The sovereign provides strength and security to all, in equal measure.

Things become tricky when the question of the right over life and death arises. Rousseau argues that the state has the right to judge a citizen's life expedient:

Whoever wishes to preserve his own life at the expense of others must give his life for them when it is necessary ... his life is no longer the bounty of nature but a gift he has received conditionally from the state

Ahem, ok.

As for law in itself, as we have already seen it is nothing but acts of the general will. But following from the state's control over the individual's very life, it is easy to see why Rousseau's little book can have been used to justify overly strong states. A little later we read:

Individuals must be obliged to subordinate their will to their reason; the public must be taught to recognise what it desires

Strong words indeed. The intention seems to be not to let individuals' desires ruin the common interest that the state represents, nay, is.

The rest of Book II goes on to investigate the relation between the lawgiver and the people. The proper lawgiver is no ordinary person, and just as rare, and ultimately has never existed (except, Rousseau says, in God). But this founder of nations, this "engineer who invents the machine", has a tendency to invoke the gods to justify his laws to his fellows. Apparently this is why religion often accompanies the birth of a nation.

This engineer of the future society is no softy. I imagine that this is every bit true, but it is quite chilling to hear it all the same:

The founder of nations must weaken the structure of man in order to fortify it, to replace the physical and independent existence we have all received from nature with a moral and communal existence

It is not that the outcome does not appear "good" (with emphasis on "appear"), but the thought of what the state will be willing to do to achieve this goal. I am beginning to see why The Social Contract is a kind of precursor to socialism and a strong state.

But if this sounds hardhanded, it must be remembered that the law is really the general will - i.e., it helps to realise the common interest. We are given a helpful note on how to distinguish between a lawgiver and a tyrant: "note the moment he chooses to give a people its constitution":

Usurpers always choose troubled times to enact, in the atmosphere of general panic, laws which the public would never adopt when passions are cool

I have decided that the treatise is very much worth reading - more than once even, it isn't very long - for its great insights into the nature of politics. It seems fresh even after more than two centuries. As such I can't convey all the details here without becoming boring - and he said it better anyway. But I think it is worth one more post to elaborate on his view of a good democracy.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Social Contract: 3

Rousseau previously defines the sovereign as the collective of public persons - citizens - in an active role (in its passive role he calls it the state). It is worth noting Rousseau's distinction between natural man and cultural man once more - in his view natural liberty is constrained only by physical power (of the relevant individual) whereas civil liberty is limited by the general will. This distinction continues the slightly ambivalent attitude towards nature and culture respectively, which I noticd before. He maintains that

man acquires with civil society, moral freedom, which alone makes man the master of himself; for to be governed by appetite alone is slavery, while obedience to a law one prescribes to oneself is freedom

He then declares that in The Social Contract "'freedom' is no part of my subject" and so absolves himself from clarifying the apparent endorsement of some of societies' ideals.

I've been dipping my attention a little into the preface and fist chapter of The Confessions and from the preface one gets a clear impression of someone who was allergic to society's yoke. Good for him. But that makes it all the more interesting that he shouldn' t clarify himself a little more in The Social Contract.

Be that as it may, the nature-culture dichotomy makes for a useful juxtaposition of terms - possession is based on force and is part of natural liberty, whereas property is a legal claim that can only be decided for the individual through the state, i.e. the sovereign or general will (which also always has a stronger right over the estate of the individual than the individual has):

the state, vis-a-vis its own members, becomes master of all their goods by virtue of the social contract, which serves, within the state, as the basis of all other rights

But there is a catch: the state has "right of the first occupant" which was determined through individuals' actions. And so it is, relative to other states.

Rousseau states three conditions by which an individual can claim a land: firstly, the land is not already inhabited; secondly, the individual claims no more than is necessary for subsistence; thirdly, the individual must work the soil and not keep it idly.

It is useless to point out that virtually all empires have disregarded the second condition. More specifically I would say - and many would agree - that the
first condition is practically undecidable, unless a certain force of power is not taken into account. And so one is left with the suspicion that society came into existence because of forms of domination and force. Again, many would agree. In fact, we know it's so - why think differently? So nature and culture is a false dichotomy to start off with, and the only reason I can think Rousseau must justify culture is because it is a given, and he wants his audience to take him seriously.

Having said that, his insights into the basic injustices of society shine through - here is a little footnote on p.25:

In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing

He gives this as basis for his earlier contention that in society all men (but we should say individuals) should have enough for subsistence and none too much.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The whole and integrated person

Being an integrated, whole person in the midst of a high-powered career in the city these days, means nothing so much as to be in touch with, and to contain within oneself, the whole network and set of frequencies of civilisation - in short, it is to be, in human flesh, the most complete monster imaginable.

The fallacy in such a statement is immediately apparent: a value judgment is being made in addition to an assumed totalising dynamic rarely found in any human being, and even then only partly realised. The commercial commander with the sensitivity of a poet, the chess player of politics who has a specialist's attention to detail. But its truth remains even if its comprehensiveness is questioned: what should one take way if not everything? And then we would be in the state of nature once more, at the terrible whim of nature - which we are no longer able to withstand.

Perhaps this is the terrifying truth of nihilism: that we have become this artifical construct, a regressive metaphor, and are no longer able to return to ourselves. What we simulated we've become, and now we are characters in our own dreams - except that the dreamers are dead.

To remember that state is to relive the trauma of death, and we are entirely haunted, entirely burdened, entirely oppressed. It is not just that we are nothing, for in a sense, then, we never were anything that our communicative lingua franca could decisively capture. It is rather that we are forced to alternatively disconnect from and convey what is entirely impossible to reconstruct except as chimera to inject with our lifeblood and energy - we are neither inside nor out, operating like conduits and communicating like mirrors, always between states, destined to experience their distribution or reanimate in their absence.


Originality is a non sequitur, it does not follow from the reality that it appears to complement.

Ideas can come at any time and any serious poet or writer knows that they must be jotted down immediately. One may be drinking in the pub, or waiting for the bus, and a good line arrives. If one doesn't write it down the chance of recovering it later is hit and miss (better to miss the bus!).

Speaking of poetry, I've been reading some in the May 2004 acumen and am amazed to find lines of poetry that are really snippets of good prose, rather than good poetry. Take these 3 lines from The Rainbow Birds by Linda Saunders:

We walk between darkness and light, struck by the sun's last
lemony fire
while thunderheads loom to the east above the march of rain.

It's not a condemnation of the poem, in which the sentiment does emerge through careful construction. One says that to indicate that it succeeds in its aim, rather than as poetry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Social Contract: 2

I felt like trying out the PC pronoun, possessive pronoun, reflexive pronoun, possessive adjective set per / pers / perself / per.

Rousseau's Social Contract considers not only politics but also what it isn't. To understand this one must go back to the reason society exists in the first place - for Rousseau society came into being because at some point the threat to people's "preservation in the state of nature" became too great and they were compelled to unite for the benefits that collective efforts afford.

In his first set of arguments he tries to prove that no person has any natural authority over another. This is important because it leads to the important conclusion that legitimate authority is always based on covenants between people. The notion that there is something like "the right of the strongest" makes no sense, because it tries to extend the power of force to morality - to transform a localised force into a universal right.

He develops this further to prove that there exists no right to slavery either. He makes nonsense first off of the idea that anyone would willingly enter into a covenant in which per is completely dependent on another who is completely dominant. The point is that by stripping someone of pers freedom per loses pers moral significance, and per is thereby robbed of what any legitimate covenant would strive to preserve first and foremost.

Many of these arguments he aims at Grotius with whom he obviously disagrees on a great many accounts. War is seen as similarly problematic when it is used as a justification for slavery, because the subjugation contains the state of war in the relation itself, and the so-called "right" to conquest is from the start nothing but the law of the strongest, which has nothing to do with morality at all as already proved. Thus slavery has no moral basis.

Rousseau then reaches the central problem that he tries to solve:

How to find a form of association which will defend the person and goods of each member with the collective force of all, and under which each individual, while uniting himself with the others, obeys no one but himself, and remains as free as before

The answer is the social contract - the social pact - which has the following characteristics:

Firstly, every individual gives perself completely including all rights, and since everyone does the same there is no one who can say it is in someone's personal interest to make life hard for anyone else.

Secondly, because the individual alienation is total the collective union is perfect. No individual retains any rights and there is therefore complete equality.

Lastly, by giving perself to all, per gives perself to no one and still recovers everything per loses - and in addition there is more power in the collective to preserve it.

Rousseau summarises these characteristics:

Each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible part of the whole.

The Anthropik Network

The Anthropik Network - these people are doing good work and I am learning from them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Anyone for a game of blinkered chicken?

What an awkward name.

Blinkered chicken is a game that people pretend not to be playing when constrained to appear serious and professional. From the viewpoint of the player, it is therefore a non-game, a pretense. I see it - and also engage in it - almost on a daily basis.

When I walk to the large corporate buildings where I work, asserting themselves amidst an otherwise flat landscape with the silent power of those who receive and harbour and transform before giving back, I needs must take many paths before I arrive at the particular building I go to, furthest from my entry onto the premises. Being a proud pedestrian I know my way well enough, unencumbered by the change that motorists face when their favourite parking spot is taken.

Now as it happens my path crosses several other walkways at a perpendicular angle, and when I reach these - especially the first of these on the inner sanctum or privileged parking square that the buildings huddle around - I inevitably cross the path of people making their way from one building to the other (whereas I am simply trying to get to the other side).

So there we are, professionals at anticipation and calculation: how likely is it that we will walk into each other at my current pace? Will he walk faster or slow down - or stay steady (that's for the truly brave)? This problem presents itself in many public spaces, in office corridors, at shop entrances, every day. But nowhere is the distinct pretense of not playing this game so apparent as between serious office workers on the premises where they work. Add to that a sprinkle of English reserve and the predictability becomes a spectacle.

There are two further aspects that distinguish this non-game. (The term "non-game" should be understood to follow from the player's viewpoint, because the player must pretend that it is not a game, just like, by way of analogy, a certain type of "friendly" meeting between a male friend and a female friend is in fact a non-date rather than a true friendly, since one of the two must pretend that he/she doesn't prefer it to be a real date instead, while the other wishes the company was someone else). The first is that it is always preferable to strike out in a David Campese-style march rather than visibly indicate a real slow-down or halt when a change of pace is required. The second is that, unlike chicken, all angles except head-on apply.

Well maybe I exaggerate. After all, the real game of chicken starts inside the office. The blinkered version is just an unfortunate side-effect.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Social Contract

For such a small treatise - the little paperback edition in my hand numbers to page 168 - The Social Contract has had an awful lot of influence on Western thought. Its impact on the French during the period that led up to the French Revolution is generally acknowledged, and its simple but persuasive principles regarding the qualities of a good state makes it an indispensable reference for anyone who wishes to understand the state of politics and especially democracy in the world today.

Its simple exposition hides surprising complexity, because the topic at hand is no small matter and Rousseau's ability to think about it in a way that appears relevant and almost fresh over two centuries later, and yet must have been novel and highly original in its day, is remarkable. That is not to say that some of the ideas and references aren't dated, but the logic still challenges one to think about the issues in the current world.

Before heading into a few highlights - rather than cover too much I will touch on a few of the worthwhile topics - I should mention an ineresting contradiction I noticed. Now, Rousseau is known for his talk about the Noble Savage, and that humans are inherently good and that society corrupted them, but in The Social Contract he starts out with a new tune: "And although in civil society man surrenders some of the advantages that belong to the state of nature, he gains in return far greater ones ... if the abuse of his new condition did not in many cases lower him to something worse than he had left he should constantly bless the happy hour that lifted him for ever from the state of nature" (p. 20)

That is quite a change (even though he makes a point of saying that the peaople have abused their newfound state, so it's not the ideal it could be) and is indeed the assumption throughout most of the work. However at one point Rousseau loses his cool - I could literally feel the change in his attitude as if he looked around him and was suddenly disgusted at his "modern" peers: "What? Is freedom to be maintained only with the support of slavery? Perhaps. The two extremes meet. Everything outside nature has its disadvantages, civil society more than all the rest." (p. 114) The basic wage has gone up in two hundred years and these days you can get a loan for a house but, dear middle class friends, we are most of us just white collar farm workers. Believe it.

There is therefore this ambivalence in the work, after all at the very start he says: "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains." (One of those famous "first sentences" that can make you go simply weak at the knees, like the first time you lay eyes on the local girl whose sex appeal does more to enliven the town than Tesco's entire supply of Red Bull). With reference to this he states the intention of the treatise: "How did this transformation come about? I do not know. How can it be made legitimate? That question I believe I can answer." (p. 2)

On that note, more to come!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Interview with John Zerzan

This interview highlights some of John Zerzan's views and is worth reading. I'd like to draw attenion to a couple of issues he comments on.

One of the obvious problems with his rejection of symbolic thought, technology, language, art, religion, in short several essential ingredients of civilisation as we know it is its regression to a pre-historic paradise that looks more like a myth than anything else. It hasn't been proved, and if civilisation has all these problems it is not clear that we are any better off without them - nor does he generally offer much by way of alternatives (other than the pre-historic footnote). Admitting to this shortcoming he says:

I think you are right to suggest that we should avoid idealizing pre-history, refrain from positing it as a state of perfection.

He goes on to place his view of pre-history in the correct perspective, calling it "instructive and inspiring":

On the other hand, hunter-gatherer life seems to have been marked, in general, by the longest and most successful adaptation to nature ever achieved by humans, a high degree of gender equality, an absence of organized violence, significant leisure time, an egalitarian ethos of sharing, and a disease-free robusticity. Thus it seems to me instructive and inspiring, even if imperfect and and perhaps never fully known to us.

So basically there are these values we might strive towards: equality, absence of violence, abundant leisure time, egalitarian ethos, lack of disease. I would add to them his usual emphasis on sensual experience in the present. And the hunter-gatherer's lack of reliance on civilisation as we know it is the model to strive for then. Or that is the implication - Zerzan doesn't exactly offer it.

With regards to technology, the obvious question - and my own contention - is whether technology is reversible. In his view technology is never neutral - an eye-opener for sure - and therefore should be questioned:

Technology has never been neutral, like some discreet tool detachable from its context. It always partakes of and expresses the basic values of the social system in which it is embedded.

Ultimately his viewpoint on technology is worthwhile because of the moral dimension he introduces:

It is quite possible that it is irreversible, but the only way to know is to challenge it. If one concludes that the course of techno-progress is proving
disastrous then one is obliged to stop it, to reverse it. This is a matter of basic morality, it seems to me.

My own position must be clarified, but that is a task for another time. I am not quite ready to do so yet.

In the meantime I am reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract, about which I will have something to say soon.

Chungking Express

May I take the opportunity to once more tout the virtues of Wong Kar-Wai's filmmaking. It is not just that I am fodder for cult films. After watching Chungking Express today I noticed the themes that pass through this one, In The Mood For Love and 2046. Good cult filmmakers tend to operate within a confined area of interest, repeating its exploration and expression in varying but unmistakable ways across the filmmaker's oeuvre - or at least the cult clusters of it. Wong's is the immortal transience of love, the subjectivity of its experience, the chance encounters that occasion them and untie them once more, and the dynamics that allow them to be fulfilled or doom them. Cult filmmakers are defined by their obsessions.

I was going to say cult filmmakers' works, but in the case of Wong I thought better of it ...

Chungking Express - perhaps slightly less so than 2046 - is a flawed work, less tied to a grand vision and the precision of its execution than the logic of its themes. One gets the sense that the movie was going to have more of the first set of characters, and then suddenly "within six hours she had fallen in love with someone else", and this narrator and the girl he met the previous night disappear from the movie to continue in the new setting with different characters. Nevertheless, in my opinion the second part of the movie is better than the first and the actors also carry it better.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


After a bit of web dowsing I realised that I am not going to find a film club in this untranspired town.

Information overload

The amount of accessible information available is enormous. As if the vast array of constantly expanding information on the World Wide Web is not enough, people are writing articles in journals, others write books, there's a lot of trash but at any rate far too much of value to be perused in several lifetimes.

What to do about all this? It's a strange state of affairs. Albert Shenk thinks of the information overload as "glut [that] becomes a cloud of data smog". In a very informative article he uses ideas from several of his sources, knowledgable in the fields of memory, economics, psychology, and media to argue that this information overload is not so good for us and what we can do about it.

The main starting point for me is Nelson Thalls' contention that we are pushing beyond the speeds for which we were designed to live. My foremost interest here is in the human being, our potential but also our limits, but ultimately our well-being. This is a complex issue and I have barely begun thinking about it in this context.

In several of his movies David Cronenberg investigated the idea that technology is an extension of ourselves (Videodrone, Crash, Existenz). The idea seems at least in the proximity of Marshall McLuhan's work on media and connectivity, but to some the notion that the internet is an extension of the mind is still a strange, even repellent thought. And why not? If it's not of our flesh and blood, what's it got to do with us? How can it be a part of us? Andy Clark tries to help us think about this issue, asking the reader of his book to imagine him or herself as a cyborg.

Advanced digital technology is with us, it is here to stay. Many have found much joy in it, but many have also been just as frustrated - and I'm not talking about the older generations, of whom many are only recently starting to participate. The constant software and hardware upgrades, the seemingly inexhaustible amount of
technical information that goes along with proficiency, the neverending, ever-growing waves of information infiltrating our minds and senses - what's to be done about it all?? And that is all the more reason to start thinking about it, about the directions digital and information technology, and technology in general, is taking.

The familiar (Western) definition of the person as an individual, as an independent entity with attributes and who acts upon or is acted upon others and other entities, can be traced back at least as far as Descartes' with his dictum "I think therefore I am". Accordingly humans - human consciousness in particular - were given a privileged position in all of existence. The rest of nature was relegated to a position outside consciousness, at a scientifically tenable distance, and viewed as a large, infinitely variable something to be dominated. Fortunately many revisions
have taken place, including thinking of humans as part of ecological systems - human groups themselves a special kind of ecosystem - wherein the individual is always in relation to others.

To mention a few of Shenk's thought-provoking references, he quotes Robert Bjork (an expert on memory in humans) as saying that our memories are stored according to context cues. As a result of data and information overload those contextual cues disappear and their value is largely lost, even if they were stored. According to Juliet Schor, an economist, professionals these days have to learn new technologies every 3-4 months (as an IT worker this statement seems relevant if a little misleading - it's not quite as simple as that; there is a also lot of continuity between technology products). Further, as the number of tasks expand performance must continually be improved upon. A continuous exercise.

Communications scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson talks about the "normalisation of hyperbole", referring to sensationalism as increasingly the only type of media guaranteed to grab people's attention. As a result the more sober-minded, thoughtful people's views are heard and sought less and less. In my opinion this has a lot to do with the value placed on salesmanship as well - if you can't sell yourself, or get enough attention somehow (anyhow) you're in for a long quiet period.

Shenk finishes the article with lots of practical advice. Not to contribute to the info-glut (for instance by writing more concisely - a habit I might cultivate, as this overlong post testifies), to consciously try and manage one's use of information. Happily, he also suggests that the television set should go ...

"Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all." - Henry David Thoreau

Monday, March 14, 2005

The importance of independence of mind

Devoid of other means to recover a Paradise Lost, technology's promise to enable a complete simulation of paradise, and thereby the fulfillment of desire, prompts enthusiasm for the technological project. What we've lost in ourselves, in immediacy with others, technoloy will restore. Who would question it?

Memory is always allied to the simulation of these private utopias. In fact it is memory itself that is being simulated, a selective memory of a desired sensory experience. In the film Solaris, Gibarian tells Chris Kelvin in a recorded message: "We don't want other worlds. We want mirrors." The movie plays itself out as the unfulfilled past of the characters return to haunt them in perfect simulation - including Kelvin's (dead) ex-wife. At the end, Kelvin appears to choose simulation over mundane reality, to live the simulation of what he loved, the mirror of himself and of his memories.

On a more familiar level, Chief John Anderton in Minority Report uses holographic images to help him re-experience some of the joy he felt when his son was still alive. He is replaying his memories in a near visual 3 dimensions.

The danger of virtual reality does not correspond to a supposed increase in sensory atrophy, because conceivably technology will develop to the point where the relevant brain pathways are activated to allow a completely simulated experience. It will not be soon, but some day this will not seem so strange.

More worrying is that the owners and benefactors of technology will be in charge of the means to regulate our innermost thoughts, memories and desires as simply as we operate software today (which is to say, with some difficulty, but when it works it works). By comparison today's media and its effects on our consciousness (its partial ownership of our consciousness) will look old hat and superficial. The important question that arises is, will much independence of thought still be possible?

The case against an affirmative answer is that if even our memories are not our own then the ability to remember a real event, an event that hasn't been transformed or diluted as it passes hands and pockets and minds, will be hard to find. In such a mess the status quo thrives easily - even if it is questioned any reason with appeal to real past events become unreliable and increasingly fallible.

Since it is currently hard to conceive of this state of things not arising some day, the ability to maintain an independent mindset is imperative.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song: A short interpretation

Zerzan's grievance that reification and symbolism lead away from sensual experience via projects, makes me think of Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song. In TOS the tower is a symbol of what is left when sensual experience (of love) is no longer possible, even though the artistic musical mediation of that experience is still a great success (thanks to Cohen of course). It is reminiscent of the phrase "ivory tower" which denotes an academic mindset that has insufficient connection to the oustide realities it tries to bear upon. In the song the tower is seen both as a safe haven ("they don't let a woman kill you Not in the tower of song"), a kind of protection from sensual or intimate experience of love; and a place (the only place left) of enlightenment - but only at the window, where communication is possible: "I’m standing by the window where the light is strong". A tower is also an elaborate upward construction, typical of the idea of a project, so we may say the tower symbolises a specific project - artistic and musical. But in that it is also a reminder of that overblown other tower, the Tower of Babel, it can be seen as symbolic of something larger, civilisation itself perhaps. At any rate, it is a symbol Zerzan would instantly recognise as intimate to civilisation.

Whereas I don't think LC intended this song first of all as a commentary on all civilisation, it is well to remember that many of his songs have just such a theme - on the same album, I'm Your Man, the song First We Take Manhattan (with its eerie reminder of a 9/11 still far distant at the time) goes all out. But the difference between these two songs is large - in FWTM the tone is one of slightly demented vengeance. There is a sense of satisfaction and pleasure in the songwriter's telling of the way things will pan out now as music has been abandoned for something more worthwhile:

Ah remember me, I used to live for music
Remember me, I brought your groceries in
Well it's Father's Day and everybody's wounded
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin

In TOS though this sense of revolutionary destruction is nowhere to be found. Instead there is a sense of what it is like to live without the good things in life - and for this songwriter it's all about being without fulfilled love and desire:

And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day
Oh in the tower of song

And then, just to emphasise that it's probably going to get worse:

I said to Hank Williams: how lonely does it get?
Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me
In the tower of song

On the surface it seems to be just about a man growing old and not being able to enjoy the pleasures he used to:

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on

But we are really talking about a tower, i.e. a project, of song - it is not just an individual's tower, but a collective tower with others residing, but perhaps not really 'living', in it. Hank Williams is mentioned, but since he is "a hundred floors above me", it follows that there are many many others. So this experience is of something that has grown old, but not gracefully old. It has grown more away from others in intimate and sensual experience, not closer. And so it has this in common with Zerzan's view of civilisation and symbolisation.

All through the song it is clear that it is not for not wanting intimacy. The songwriter is "crazy for love" but can't make it happen. And later he admits that he doesn't really know how things got so bad. People are divided, and there is no apparent reason why:

I see you standing on the other side
I don’t know how the river got so wide

Zerzan would say it is due to the division of labor. And he may find some agreement with this songwriter, because in the very next stanza we hear:

Now I bid you farewell, I don't know when I'll be back
They're moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track

It sounds just like offices being excavated and people resuming their work in another building. And so people become physically and otherwise removed from each other when no longer in the same immediate community of work.

Thus the tower symbolises a project that has "grown old" in the wrong direction, or even because it grew in the wrong direction. But there seems to be no turning back in this place, and yet paradoxically the past is the only place where intimacy and sensual experience can be experienced:

I loved you baby, way back when
And all the bridges are burning that we might have crossed
But I feel so close to everything that we lost
We’ll never have to lose it again

This is near the end of the song, but in the middle part of the song there is a more self-mocking tone of voice. The vocation of song is under the magnifying glass, and as if it is a "natural vocation" the songwriter mockingly justifies his vocation:

I was born like this, I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice

Now everybody knows that Leonard Cohen has anything but a good singing voice - even at its best, and at this point it was already in throwing distance of the current talking-in-a-deep-voice stage (which is nevertheless great :-). One would say he has more a silvery voice. He uses further ludicrous images to render the "natural vocation" questionable (and hence throwing the entire music project, the tower of song, into question):

And twenty-seven angels from the great beyond
They tied me to this table right here
In the tower of song

To emphasise the suspicion that Zerzan would have about societal divisions, the singer shows his discontents with the way things are:

Now you can say that I’ve grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there’s a mighty judgement coming, but I may be wrong

The added "but I may be wrong" is perfect to indicate the essentially uncertain, cautious, almost timid mindset of the working and middle class individual when faced with the dependent relation towards the owners of production. A sort of futility and lack of control, an outside power also stated later: "They're moving us tomorrow to that tower down the track".

But in this scheme of things the songwriter has no option but to commit himself to his songs - not because he has a golden voice, but because songs are, despite their inadequacies, the only way to communicate his desire. It's a necessity, and without it there would be nothing left:

But you'll be hearing from me baby, long after I'm gone
I'll be speaking to you sweetly
From a window in the tower of song

It's a catch-22 - song is the rent he pays to keep staying in the tower of song, while at the same it's also his only connection to what he loves and desires.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


In the essay That Thing We Do JZ takes to task another evil of the empire, reification and objectification. Akin to symbolisation of course.

What makes Zerzan's writing interesting is the unusual and uncomprising stance he takes. What he fails to do is to really reveal his position. He mentions his Future Primitive once in this essay, and closes it off by mentioning - as he is wont to do - the prehistoric period in which reification was apparently an unknown. The rest of the piece is filled with references that support the attack on reification. Forgive my scepticism, but if your position is based on a myth of wholeness - at the very least, something that was in the past - , and you proceed to attack the very foundation of culture, philosophy, and such in order to get back to it, then you'd better have something available in its stead.

A quick look tells me that what he leaves us with is a non-linguistic, non-symbolising, entirely desirous human with no technology and no divisions of tasks. What does that remind you of? Something that happens during the night, doesn't it? That's right, dreams. Now I wouldn't be too concerned about Zerzan's stance if it wasn't for the fact that a large part of 20th century philosophical thought was spent hacking at the assumptions of Western thought. To my mind it all starts with Nietzsche, who anticipated much of the following century. In fact, much of the 20th century project looks like annotation to the different directions of his thought. But maybe that's just me. He saw that the whole was fragmenting, dispersing. Values were crumbling all around him, meaning was already on its last leg - he just made sure everybody starts to understand what the world has come to. Who can blame him for going crazy? He had no peers to lean on for support.

Anyway, before I wax lyrical ... given a century of effort in this department, it's really up to Zerzan to come forward with a viable alternative. So Nietzsche spoke about the re-evaluation of all values, new values to be sure. But he was too far ahead of his time, it wasn't his destiny to complete the task he and a few others were starting to undertake. But the twentieth century has fallen into a sort of "oh dear, well, it's all relative you know, it's all the same" attitude that investigated the symbolic world to smithereens but preferred not to make any too extreme claims. Those who do are endearing folk or fundamentalist and crazy. So what Zerzan does is perhaps to push the goal post to the point where this postmodernist view cannot exist, cannot think itself legitimate: a world where symbols are bunk. He is demarcating, even to the largest possible area, where the problem likely lies. And he says it's civilisation itself. In a word, he is radical and, together with his otherwise insightful but as-abstract-as-any-other arguments against civilisation, he is letting the ghost of the past (prehistory of the Noble Savages) tempt us into thinking better than the present. Which is better than nothing. And let's be clear, it's nothing - Nothingness - that rules, that makes this relativism possible. But it's not a step forward, it's not a step beyond. It's another step not beyond ... un pas au dela.

Anyway, to give a brief overview of his attacks on reification, the main thing to know is that reification - which literally means to treat an abstraction as if it is real - in combination with objectification, which refers to objectifying a living thing, has caused man (and woman, I am sure) to become an object and part of the external world which (s)he reifies. So you have this abstract world that maps to objects, and among these objects are humans. And by engaging in this abstract and objectified worlds people are manipulated via their abstractions.

He notes Adorno as resigning himself to seeing reification and objectification as working together and no longer separable (they are different technically, as described above, but he saw that in culture they had all but conflated). Zerzan talks about "the reign of things over life", to indicate that what the reified world in effect does is to dominate nature including humans. We are not exempt from our project of domestication. It is also important to see that symbolisation is slightly different - symbols are substitutive (think math or programming, eg. a = b). Reification is a by-product of symbolisation.

Especially in postmodernism, symbolic mediation exhausts life and there is ultimately nothing left but language, the "universal currency" of reification. And we know that the investigation of language has been a major theme in the 20th century. As part of the reified world, language is precisely the problem. "Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees", Zerzan quotes Paul Valery to support the idea that direct perception happens without words (and by implication without any reification - a conclusion that I find too extreme).

Regarding ritual and religion he says "to deify is to reify". He calls rituals objectified schemas of action, which makes sense if it is taken into account that in religious ritual the participant is often not an individual but rather in relation to the deity, who is more important, and where the deity is already reified the ritual enaction is entirely symbolic (reification being the accepted by-product). Art is the other important objectifier. Zerzan asks whether it is accidental that in art the senses of smell, touch, and taste are omitted, when in lieu of Freud it would seem that their omission points to a turning away from sensual love (the three senses are those important in sensual love, according to him - and what does he know, really? It's first in the mind :-) Yes, I think I'll rephrase the old empiricist truism: "There is nothing desired that was not first in the mind". Tasty like jam.)

JZ calls for a "future primitive" where a "living involvement with the world, and fluid, intimate participation in nature will replace the thingified reign of symbolic civilization".

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Against technology

In Against Technology Zerzan moves away from time and tackles technology. This essay was reportedly a speech delivered to a university crowd in 1997.

The first useful point that he makes is to observe the concealed endorsement in the opinion that technology is an instrument and whether it is good or bad depends on how it is used. This fairly common claim implies that technology is neutral, but obviates the need to examine it more closely. He is on the side of Horkheimer and Adorno in Dialectic and Enlightenment who critiqued instrumental reason, arguing that reason is no more neutral than technology. In one part of their critique that Zerzan refers to sensuous desire, in the form of the sirens in the story of Odysseus, signifies a flipside to the project of civilisation. Reportedly Horkheimer and Adorno saw this as an early sign of the tension between the sensuous (pre-history, pre-technology) and foregoing its pleasure in favour of a project (which we might call civilisation in the present context, not least because The Odyssey is such a seminal text). In the Greek story, Odysseus asks to be tied to the mast with wax stopped in his ears so as not to be tempted astray by the sirens.

The latter idea even sounds a bit like Freud's sublimation, wherein "base" (primitive libidinous) impulses are channeled into society's scope of accepted learned behaviours. Anyway, even superficially it is easy to see the flaw in assuming that technology is neutral. It is increasingly immersive and continues to change our understanding and ways of perception. As soon as the realisation that technology is not neutral becomes obvious it becomes necessary to question it. Or so Zerzan implies, because he later challenges the still widely held belief attributable to the Second Law of Thermodynamics that all systems tend towards entropy and disorder and that this unidirection is irreversible. What he ultimately wants us to believe is that civilisation, including the proliferation of technology, is indeed reversible. He hasn't really explained how that can be done yet though.

Onward. He feels that Horkheimer and Adorno put an unnecessary limit on their critique by concluding that if not for the whole spiel of subordinating nature, we wouldn't be here today, most probably there would be no society to speak of, because nature would have subdued us in turn. Here I am with H & A, because the few Noble Savages who are left are on the brink of extinction, telling me that theirs was not the right strategy for survival after all. I don't think civilisation "took a wrong turn" with agriculture - more likely we were too vulnerable to survive in nature; but most likely, for better or for worse, a few bright sparks just got curious about all sorts of things, started building tools by accident and inventing the wheel and the rest is history. That is to say, given that we have a brain capable of symbolic thought some mutant strategy precipitated the rest and from there on some form of civilsation was all but inevitable. So - as Zerzan also says - it is all very well to criticise tehnology (and civilisation) but without it, where will we be? So the cliche that pops into my head, and with which many people will probably be happy to conclude this train of thought, is "better the devil you know than the devil you don't know". (I reckon that if there is anything beyond our current civilisation - and perhaps there is, and we're all starting to gear up towards it - then the last 10000 odd years has been a necessary phase. )

Zerzan wants us to consider an alternative rather than fall into the habit of thinking that nothing can be done, and that because nothing can be done that all analysis and critique is just pointless. So he directs our attention to what he knows, namely the progress made in recent decades in archaeology wherein Hobbes' view of life in prehistoric humans (who lived for nearly two million years before civilsation in the last 10000 years) as nasty, brutish, and short has been demonstrated to be incorrect. Don't take my word for it, but apparently in prehistory humans had as much intelligence as the average adult has today, lots of leisure time, did little work, were egalitarian and there was sexual equality and no organised violence. So it would seem that prehistory has that going for it.

Finally he makes a useful correction of postmodernism's general attitude in stating that the incredulity towards meta-narratives (he correctly traces this idea to Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition) assumes that all ideas of totality are totalitarian and therefore to be held with suspicion. That's useful because it's probably true, i.e., that postmodernism's relativism is too sweeping and prevents the postmodernist from seeing true alternatives, hence becoming overly vulnerable to the advances and excesses of the age. The alternative - the wholeness of prehistoric humans - at this stage still looks a bit naive though, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he comes up with something a bit more concrete than stories about the prehistoric past.

Time and its discontents

As we grow older there awakens in us the yearning to "search for ourselves". It coincides less with puberty than with the period when we've become aware that our lives are not experienced in fullness. Or, understood from the consciousness before the realisation, when the world unfolding before us is taking us further and further away from the fullness we used to know.

Even as the future possibilities increase, the experience of loss becomes more pressing. As Zerzan would have it it is precisely time (which makes the future possible), or Time - of the chronoligcal linear construction - that has chopped up our lives and dispersed our fullness into abstraction (and perhaps repressed its experience). What we are searching for is what Proust alludes to in A La Rechercher du Temps Perdu (literally, In Search of Lost Time) when he says that "a minute freed from the order of time has recreated in us ... the individual freed from the order of time" (quoted from Zerzan, p. 30). Yet we usually limit our "search" to scheduled time - when the wholeness is only available outside time.

It is remarkable how many thinkers, particularly literary and philosophical figures, have said as much. Zerzan quotes T.S. Eliot in Burnt Norton:

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness
To be conscious is not to be in time

Poe, Pater, Swinburne, Baudelaire, Beckett's Waiting For Godot. Then there is Marcuse ("Timelessness is the ideal of pleasure") and Freud who both (roughly) see desire as operating outside time. Marie Bonaparte, probably investigating desire within time, according to Zerzan argued that time eventually comes to serve and becomes flexible to the pleasure principle as ego controls are loosened.

Dreams, too, are seen as existing outside the constraints of time (which makes them irresistible). Nietzsche's emphasis on the consciousness that is playful like a child's is not mentioned, but it may find support in Piaget's finding that children appear to have no inherent understanding of time, i.e. time is abstract and we are in a more "natural" state without it.

In our search for ourselves, which is really a search for what is not within time at all but timeless (as opposed to eternal, which is forever and therefore of time), we are really trying to re-be outside time. As stated there are some (Freud et al) for who desire fulfills the criterion, and it occurred to me suddenly that the yearning is nowhere better expressed than in Ernest Dowson's most famous poem where Cynara comes to personify desire. He uses "desire" instead of "Cynara" in the second last line and in that simple act, almost magically, lifts the poem's dreamy subject matter into the conceptual world:

Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae
("I am no longer as I was under the good Cynarae"):

But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

In his essay Time and its Discontents John Zerzan gives satisfying insight into the treatment of time by a variety of thinkers, who largely fall into two camps: those who subscribe to time and those who don't (well, those who had nothing to say about time were probably just left out! so that figures). A variety of philosophers and thinkers, scientists and physicists, literary figures, and psychologists are sampled.

New Renaissance

Interesting article by Douglas Rushkoff pondering the similarity between our age and the Renaissance. Quote: "Revolutions happen in the future; Renaissances happen now" He reckons that while the Renaissance brought about individualism and competition, the present age may be reinventing collectivism and cooperation.

Friday, March 04, 2005

cool title

Spotted this cool sentence for a title on the backcover of Running on Emptiness:
"My Name is Chellis & I'm in Recovery from Western Civilization" (by Chellis Glendinning) hehe

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Noble Savage

Whether symbolic thought is a false consciousness, as Zerzan supposes, is not clear to me. It presupposes some sort of true consciousness, which in Zerzan's view some might argue is really a preconsciousness because the advent of language is one of the evolutions that precipitated consciousness. I am not in agreement with a definition of consciousness as belonging to frontal lobe processes to start off with, as consciousness to me is evident at a much lower level - I reckon trees have consciousness and certainly animals do as well. But it may be a very different sort of thing than that which those who connect consciousness with language and conceptual (symbolic) thought have in mind. They may be thinking of self-awareness.

Where false consciousness can be talked about with more certainty is in view of the conceit inherent in the 19th century view of science, wherein the possibility of absolute or true knowledge is assumed. Once that certainty is rendered insecure the mind's conceptual response to its environment and mental environments are like the responses of the central nervous system to the environment: they are responses. That much the mind and the other senses have in common - there is a lot they don't.

Ok to put it differently, it is not clear why symoblic consciousness should be more false than, say, a bicameral consciousness in which natural forces have spirits and are proclaimed gods. Zerzan doesn't talk about the bicameral mind so I have no idea what he thinks of it (in the bicameral mind religion plays a role, which Zerzan links with symbolic thought, if that's any indication).

But to come back to my other gripe with his ideas - his alternative is a little too ... simplistic. Too "natural". Whereas his advocacy for a future primitive is described as radical and anarchist, his basis for that vision is not a new idea. I keep on thinking of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but compare these words written by Montaigne 2 centuries earlier already, as he describes the Noble Savages:

"The laws of nature still rule them, very little corrupted by ours, and they are in such a state of Purity that I am sometimes vexed that they were unknown earlier, in the days when there were men able to judge them better than we. ...This is a which there is no sort of traffic, no knowledge of letters, no science of numbers, no name for a magistrate or political authority, no custom of servitude, no riches or poverty, no contracts, no successions, no partitions, no occupations but leisure ones, no care for any but common kinship, no clothes, no agriculture, no metal, no use of wine or wheat. The very words that signify lying, treachery, dissimulation, avarice, envy, belittling, pardon-- unheard of." (quoted from The Victorian Web)

Beautiful. Now if only I could believe in it.

I suppose the role of an anarchist is to some extent to inject ideas that will eventually become more moderate in their execution, but could not have drawn attention or be successful as ideas in a more moderate form. In that respect Zerzan is probably forced to take a rather extreme stance. There is some evidence, as noted in my post yesterday, and maybe some patterns will emerge as I read the rest of the essays.

Culture, symbolic thought, and mind

Zerzan continues provocatively by stating that the problem with culture is culture itself, seeing the symptom in some of culture's most precious expressions - art: early on in civilisation there was a "dissatisfaction that motivated the artistic search for a 'fuller and deeper expression' as 'compensation for new deficiencies of life'. Cultural solutions, however, do not address the deeper dislocations that cultural 'solutions' are themselves part of." (p. 12) Later on he notes the fashionable stance that culture is natural, whereas, of course, he begs to differ.

He does bring evidence to the table - largely in the form of archeological musings about past civilisations. Hunter-gatherers are observed for their peaceful, non-domesticated way of life before civilisation touched them. The bushmen in South Africa are mentioned and Laurens van der Post's studies cited - apparently there was "complete trust, dependence and interdependence with nature". There are very few bushmen left in the Kalahari - they are all but extinct (in the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy a bushman is one of the main characters).

Many of the ideas seem to be in tune with what I anticipated - the time problem as central for instance ("the first separation seems to have been the sense of time which brings a loss of being present to ourselves" - p. 8) and the importance a period of timelessness prior to culture, because the wrong turn came with culture, and culture arose because of language, domestication, and division of labour to mention a few of the most important ideas.

All pretty wholesome stuff that's good for you. Our most important sense is the eye, largely because it distances. Smell and touch are far less important, yet they would be the most intimate forms of sensual knowledge. Because of culture we are no longer attuned through these senses - no argument there. I tried to see whether the mind can itself be conceived of as not being a Cartesian abstraction. That would at least give the mind a basis for existing.

So this is what I came up with. Zerzan quotes William Blake as saying that "if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." I proceed that perception of The Infinite is the mind sensing the universe directly, just like other senses may have unmediated perceptions that stimulate the brain (and I'm not talking of the frontal lobes). So the 6th sense is here, right behind our very eyes. Not in its symbolic interpretation of everything, but in its immediate perception of The Everything and The Infinite. Now if we move to the country of early 20th century thought we may surmise that Nothingness was an earlier attempt to describe this - but it was still too conceptual, too haunted by the advent of nihilism that Nietzsche already predicted towards the end of the 19th century. A conceptual conclusion rather than a perceptual energy. It then takes just a little leap of imagination to see that the mind wants to perceive, just like any other sense (for goodness sake, it cooks up dreams during REM sleep).

Which just goes to show that you can argue anything! G'night folks.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The failure of symbolic thought

No doubt the cover caught my eye - against a black background (because it is night) an elevated inner city highway is outlined only by the impressionist dots of cars' lights as they cover an inverted 'S', with colour variation for their lights reduced to a singular neon yellow. There are hints of buildings beyond and below the elevated neon circuit, nothing more. "Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization" the title explains, by "John Zerzan". Further below a commentator called Derrick Jensen is quoted as saying that "John Zerzan is the most important philosopher of our time". Funny, I've never heard of him. And then "All the rest of us are building on his foundation".

To outline my ignorance, a quick link to Derrick Jensen's web site tells me that "us" might refer to a subcultural movement I haven't really been acquainted with, but which has some roots in environmentalism and includes figures like Lewis Mumford. I am suitably sceptical. Are these guys lobbying for some idealistic cause whose ideals will outlive anyone's ability to execute them, or ... well, maybe there is no or. So I started reading, at least without a truly alternative preconception.

The Failure of Symbolic Thought

The paradox of Zerzan's thought (in the essay The Failure of Symbolic Thought) is that he uses an impressive array of symbolic information to argue his "thesis that the extent to which thought and emotion are tied to symbolism is the measure by which absence fills the inner world and destroys the outer world" (p. 2). He states the preferred option of knowing through direct sensory perception - something I interpret as animism via mystery religion, a.k.a. romanticism: "It is our fall from a simplicity and fullness of life directly experienced, from the sensuous moment of knowing, which leaves a gap that the symbolic can never bridge." (p. 4) I can hear Wordsworth ecstatically dictating a lyrical poem from his creaking dusty crate.

Fearing that I sound slightly cynical, let me begin by explaining where I am in complete accord with the essay (even at this entirely premature stage - like Huggy Bear, while others run the course I head straight for the finish line). The discontents of society are well-known - to name but a few there is alienation, abuse of one human being by another, violence, disrespect for the environment (which includes other people), and the oppressive poverty and disease and death that continues on the peripheries of, and sometimes in the shadows cast by, wealth and comfort. The list is much longer, but the more conscientious among the affluent minorities tend to agree that this is not alright and if there is something to be done then let it be done. Now it shouldn't interfere with business as usual, but one should at least endorse it after the inexhaustible set of other pseudo-needs have been satisfied. Which occurs only when in the ensuing moments of boredom the mind has tired of the ever-increasing menu of entertaining time killers available - once in a leap year, that is. Great. Which via a small alleyway leads us to the first problem: the existence of time.

In transcending the "natural" umwelt, perhaps around the time that consciousness, language and tools developed, a symbolic world started to assert its power in order to replace a more "natural" world. We find ourselves today in a highly sophisticated world full of symbolic realms where a few heavyweight contenders such as science, technology, and capitalist self interest collude to strengthen the strong and leave the weak with few options. Take Ilbury and Sunter's "The Mind of a Fox" as an example. It appeals entirely to the reader's self interest (there is neither aesthetic nor even analytical pleasure in reading it, but a little in analysing it in turn) and promises to sharpen the reader's skills when summoning that other ally of capitalism: The Future.

Specifically, Ilbury and Sunter's scenario's are possible futures, i.e. symbolically mediated realities that may or may not be released into the present (at some future point in time - always). Depends if you choose the right scenario, or your present (at some future point in time) will simply be in service to somebody else's (read: another self-interested player) scenario. But usually a mixture. And so on. Scenario's as symbolic realities include what we know about the business environment, consumer forces, and our own goals. Knock away these two props (Self Interest and The Future) and you are left with a person (who wouldn't care to read "The Mind of a Fox") wandering around with a warm fuzzy feeling but unable to make ends meet for long within the framework already outlined - a framework where the bottom line is usually money (or an exchangeable currency - even beauty counts) and power (which is an expression of the need to possess the currency as an object).

Why is this happy person unable to make ends meet for long? Because this person must make a pact with the "unnatural" (cultured) natural environment - which already demands some kind of allegiance through the sacrifice of non-time. Whether the environment was once a purely natural world I have yet to be convinced of, but right now I know at least that life is mediated, in varying degrees, by a symbolic environment in which a future orientation is dominant. Our fuzzy feelinged happy person, as long as the pact remains in place, will remain on an even keel for a while or, if he or she wins the lottery or inherits big time, for as long as the exchangeable currency lasts. That is the price of the pact. There are probably genuine alternatives, and some people who even manage them, but what is of interest to me, and may be what justifies Zerzan's use of symbolic thought for the purpose of demonstrating the failure of symbolic thought, is that this is the inherited environment. And since it's what we understand it should be employed ingeniously in the service of finding a way out. A simple thought. Now before I get too far ahead of myself (and I have indeed rambled largely along my own tracks in the last 4 paragraphs), I plan to read more because Zerzan seems to have his ideas well practiced and I reckon that they may just be important.