Because I refuse to address this blog to one group or another, any answers I give concerning racism MUST apply to both the problems in the black and white communities. They must be generative, not accusatory. Here goes:
1) Racism is an outgrowth of natural human protective tendencies dealing with “outgroups” and the perceived scarcity of resources.
2) This tends to operate at the level of unconscious competence. You are VERY unlikely to be able to admit to your own level of racism unless you have done deep introspection indeed.
3) These tendencies tend to decrease with positive interactions with the other group—including positive media images.
4) Humans tend to hide their pain, fear and guilt, either “stuffing” it in their psyche (obesity, financial or relationship dysfunction) or projecting it onto the “outgroup” (alcoholics screaming about drug addiction.) “They” are the problem. Never “us.” Never “we.”
5) Historical factors exacerbate the entire problem.
6) The answer is honesty, personal responsibility, and love.
a) Be honest about the fact that we all have these tendencies. The group with the power simply has the ability to turn their tendencies into law and devastating financial advantage.
b) Personal responsibility says that you have to rise to your own highest level as a human being, regardless of your obstacles. The more pressure you are under, the more you must struggle against the natural human tendency to blame others or wait for someone to rescue you. Unless you are balanced in body, mind, and spirit, don’t blame others for the same flaws you have failed to overcome in yourself.
c) Love and fear compete for the same space in your heart. You have a choice: either build a shell, or a spine. Be a loving warrior: prepared to defend your family, but also to protect and nurture a stranger’s child. Be strong, and compassionate. By learning to forgive ourselves, we gain the strength to forgive and accept others.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Because I refuse to address this blog to one group or another, any answers I give concerning racism MUST apply to both the problems in the black and white communities. They must be generative, not accusatory. Here goes:
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:04 AM
Monday, February 27, 2006
MADEA’S FAMILY REUNION (2006)
If you go to rottentomatoes.com, you’ll see a cross-section of reviews from various print and internet media. Almost universally, they express something close to contempt for this film written, directed by, produced and starring (in three roles) Tyler Perry. They must be baffled, disgusted and slightly condescending that it earned thirty million dollars in its first weekend.
This film, which is crude, overwrought, sometimes underwritten, often broadly performed, and made on a TV-movie budget, has plenty to raise the eyebrows. Melodrama abounds. Family secrets crawl out from under every overturned rock. Conflicts are resolved with violence. Some characters (I am told) are too bad to be true, and others too good. Matriarchs pontificate and speechify at the drop of a hat, preaching to the audience in a way that would embarrass Spike Lee. Tyler Perry’s cross-dressing makeup is embarrassingly bad, and simply doesn’t work in screen-filling close-up.
And yet, in its own simple way, it is one of the best, and most courageous, heartfelt, heartbreaking, intelligent, passionate films to ever succeed in Hollywood.
To understand my laugh-out-loud, lump-in-the-throat reaction to this film, you might have to step back to last Thursday, when I attended the premiere of a film called THE SEAT FILLER, starring Duane Martin and Kelly Rowland. This black romantic comedy was released (or "presented") by The Momentum Experience, the brainchild of producers Nia Hill and D'Angela Steed. Presented in Los Angeles at the historic El Capitan Theatre, it was more than a movie, it was a multimedia event: We were graced with black-and-white clips of black produced and released films from the past, a live band, tap-dancing, ballet, and the terrific on-stage narration of Blair Underwood (also a star of MADEA).
During that narration, we were reminded that once upon a time there was something called "The Chitlin’ Circuit," where films made by and for blacks played to enthusiastic crowds. Quoting Ossie Davis, the narration admitted that, yes, they were often crude, and broad, and technologically inept--but the audiences loved them because there, black people saw themselves, not as filtered through white sensibilities, but as lovers, heroes, villains, fools, businessmen, parents--the entire spectrum of life. The same spectrum of life white folks got every day, for the first time seen through a black lens.
As the methods of distribution consolidated, the Chitlin Circuit died. Now, there is nothing black that reaches the public without the approval of some white male--and I’m afraid of the implications of that. I’ve complained in this blog since its inception that black male sexuality is anathema to America. That Denzel, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Ving Rhames, Samuel Jackson all are loved by America until they drop trou. And then, the box office plummets. There are other factors too, of course, but this one can be pointed out and proven mathematically--and it is just as demonstrable that black or Asian women can have sex scenes in movies any time they want, but only with white men. Or else white men won’t go to see it. And there we are, as Multinational corporations buy up more and more of the organs of production and distribution, whose aesthetic do you expect to see expressed? And don’t blame Hollywood: from time to time they will try to break out of the box, but the audience simply isn’t there.
The sexual issue is just a marker--don’t think that that’s my real concern. The concern is the fantastic damage done to black families during 300 years of slavery, damage about which white America remains in an almost complete state of denial. And I can’t blame them: If I were on a winning streak in Vegas, I really wouldn’t want someone to point out that my dice were loaded. No, I’d want to believe it was my luck, or my superior qualities as a player. If I had to grasp the fact that much of my advantage was at the expense of innocent people, well, I might have to do something about it. And human beings, black or white, really aren’t that fair-minded.
The destruction done to black families, as I’ve said before, was simply phenomenal. With the males unable to protect their own females or hold their heads up, women took the lead in the black community in a way that is simply not organic to most human experience. Statistics suggest that between 15-25% of all American women will be, or have been, the victim of rape or attempted rape. And this is when the act is illegal, and women are considered valued members of society. To even TRY to suggest that these numbers would not soar in an environment in which black women could not resist, there was no legal punishment, black men were powerless to protect them, and all food and privilege was controlled by whites, is absurd. Fifty percent of slave women? Seventy percent? And in the decades following slavery, the damage done to the black family by turning the power-structure upside down can be matched by fascinatingly similar damage among any colonized peoples, anywhere in the world.
Look into the health of the family structures among the Maori, the Native Americans, the Irish (during British occupation), South African blacks, or the Chinese during British occupation. Note the alcoholism and drug abuse, domestic abuse, and general dysfunctionality. During the Watts Riots, I remember white commentators saying: "Why are they destroying their own community?" Because rage is a mask over fear, and rage wants to destroy. And if they journeyed outside their own community to destroy what they WANTED to destroy, they would be killed. So you destroy what is in front of you. You kill the thing you love.
The twisted female energy, the stifled male energy, turns in upon itself. You can find the truth of that in studies of any colonized people. And when those people are stripped of their names, religion, culture, language--and left only with the dominating mythology that they are worthless and worthy of the slavery imposed upon them, followed by the Jim Crow imposed upon them, followed by the segregation imposed upon them--they would have to be superbeings not to be sick in spirit.
And that is one reality so rarely addressed: That there is a deep sickness. The other reality, even more infrequently addressed: In spite of that damage, there is love, and joy, and triumph, and success, and healthy sexual union. This continuum, and the reality that whites will NEVER be able to compensate for what was done--that the healing of the black family MUST come from within--is what Tyler Perry has tapped into.
Perry honors the black Matriarch, but presents her as a blend of male and female characteristics by playing her in drag. Like Shakespeare, he uses farce, because such broad strokes appeal to his core audience: working-class blacks who, in another day, would have been Chitlin Circuit customers. Denied access to the Hollywood megabucks, the training one gets coming up in the Hollywood system apprenticing under working directors--most of whom are white males--his directing is crude at times.
And he uses that broad-stroke humor, those "clichéd" relationships. (It’s not a cliché if you haven’t seen it applied to your group. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN would be utterly cliché if the events took place between a man and a woman. But America has grasped that the same images of love and hope and need and renunciation, viewed through the lens of a group--male homosexuals--who have never had their internal reality, their inwardness, presented honestly on film before--well, everything old is new again.) And so it is true of blacks in cinema. “Reunion” distributor Lionsgate deserves its reward for rolling the dice and believing in Tyler Perry's vision.
The reality of our pain and hopes and needs has so rarely been depicted on film. The life of slaves--so central to understand the current status of black America--has been almost completely washed from cinematic history, despite the vast number of films about the Civil War. Slavery didn’t exist. What are you black folks complaining about..?
In MADEA'S FAMILY REUNION, multiple storylines concerning the choices women make are interwoven: a rebellious foster daughter, a woman unable to accept the love of a good man, a woman trapped in an abusive relationship, a mother who cannot admit the degree to which her OWN mother’s actions warped her relationships with her daughters. These threads come together at the titular family gathering, and blossom at a wedding at the end. In the process, there is great posturing and shouting and hallelujah-ing.
And if you understand the history, if you grasp the amount of pain locked into the black social genetic strand, it is astoundingly cathartic. The truth, that special pain, and a call for responsibility, communication and compassion, all on-screen distributed by a major white studio on white theater screens. It was US, in all our human warts. With all of the imperfections that making such a film, without the assistance of the countless white artisans who assist each other when Hollywood films are made. (I remember hearing about how the art director for a "mere" James Bond movie had called Stanley Kubrick, who snuck into the studio to show him how to properly light an internal set! THAT is the level of resource denied a Tyler Perry.)
This man, coming outside the studio system as he did, dealing with issues that have been ignored for 400 years, showing tissues of black society from top to bottom, appealing to a disenfranchised black audience that Hollywood has fed an endless stream of polished but soulless pap--that Tyler Perry has reached this audience is only a surprise in retrospect. That his audience has broadened beyond this core is a miracle. That white male critics would put their noses in the air is utterly predictable.
What now? Hopefully, more narrowly-aimed films of steadily increasing polish. Do we have our Orson Welles? What a thought. Considering how Welles pouted and complained that Hollywood didn’t support him as he thought it should, I’d say that Welles would have been utterly destroyed by the experience of being black. No, Tyler Perry is no Orson Welles. But Welles was no Tyler Perry, either.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 1:44 PM
During the 80’s, we lived within walking distance of each other, and often got together for dinner. I sensed a deep loneliness in Octavia, but also humor, vast intelligence, and a level of investment in her craft that was simply phenomenal. For years Samuel Delaney, Octavia and I were the only black SF writers. “Chip” Delaney hasn’t been in the field for years. Octavia continued to soar. Other black writers entered the field…almost all of them fantasists, not SF writers. Why? I could only offer theories. Now, Octavia is gone, and I feel a sense of loss so incredibly deep that I have no words.
What does it take to be a writer of such depth and courage? I say, the capacity to dig into your own wounds, to fold yourself, concentrate yourself so purely into the work that your own life is eclipsed in comparison. To live in the penumbra of your own work. There are costs to this…costs that I encourage my students to avoid. But those who suggest that great artists must suffer have valid arguments to present. Dying at 58, in my mind, is just too young. There was so much more for her to do. And yet, she had done so much already…
What is right? Ultimately, we have to live by our own standards, according to our own values. I can only hope that at the end of the day, in the depths of her dying heart, Octavia felt that this is what she had done. I can pray that that is true.
She was one of the best. Thank God that the world recognized it while she was could still hear the applause.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:44 AM
The Authentic Journey
There are two worlds: that of our internal experience, and that of our external, sensory experience. And in many ways, all communication, political activism, creative work, sales and commerce is an attempt to reconcile the two.
What is sales, but a communication of enthusiasm between one person and another? What is writing or acting but the attempt to create an emotional change in the viewer or reader, by channeling our own experience and imagination? What is any relationship other than a daily attempt to communicate our needs, and to fulfill the needs of others? What, in fact, is any religion other than an attempt to grow in the image of the divine?
This very human struggle, which manifests in so many different fashions, both mundane and sacred, can be impossibly complex—or devastatingly simple.
If we are to be successful salesmen, artists, leaders, teachers, or simply human beings, we must have a world view. But we must also understand the way we gather information, and our method to determine if our ideas are accurate. How can we address our customers’ needs if we don’t really understand human strength and frailty? How can a novelist create realistic characters if he indulges in massive self-deception? How can a parent or teacher raise a child to maturity without actually maturing herself?
How, in other words, can we be certain that we actually know what we think we know?
Consider the possibility that we can increase the accuracy of our perceptions by examining our interactions with the three major aspects of our own lives: our physical vitality, our career/contribution, and our relationships—whether to a single individual or a vibrant Tribe.
1) Body. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the spark of physical joy. We lose the simple pleasure of play, and settle for “fitness” at best, and the negative spiral of obesity, fatigue, and disease at worst. To reclaim our aliveness we must remember what we have forgotten, and begin the process of re-awakening. We must learn once again to stretch fully, to sweat joyously, to learn new dance steps, to challenge our limits, to find delicious the body we see in the mirror. To begin this process is to open our eyes to the possibility we felt as children. A good goal? Doubling your physical energy.
2) Career. Our money flow is based upon many things, including the degree of service we provide for our communities, the self-respect that motivates us to demand what we are worth, and the intelligence and discipline with which we manage our finances. Creativity, empathy, determination, energy, honesty, risk-taking…all of these things factor in. One can either make more money, or develop the ability to find greater satisfaction within the current financial level. But without the ability to find peace and satisfaction here, much of the joy of life will elude you. A good goal? Sufficient resources and financial discipline to support yourself and two others.
3)Relationships. Some crave monogamous love, others wish the comfort of a community of like-minded individuals. Still others wish simply to be at peace with their inner world, to find the sense of wholeness available only to those who walk a sacred path. Whatever your bliss, it must begin with the connection between your deepest self, and the way you live your life. However you conceptualize your “male” and “female” aspects, they must be balanced. However you conceptualize your “child,” “adult,” and “elder” aspects, they must be in balance as well. The interplay between these five aspects determines a gigantic amount of our emotional health. A good goal? The ability to face yourself in the mirror and say “I love you” with all your heart—and mean it.
There is an entire creative writing theory (“Dramatica”) that states that stories are merely conversations between the different aspects of a single personality. There is a healing hypnotic modality (the “Parts Party”) that asks us to divide our psyche into different distinct personalities, and then have them talk to each other. The possibility of effective advertising or sales only exists when we can actually understand the drives and needs of people other than our gender, cultural or age group. And relationships, of whatever intimacy level, are only possible if we can see through the masks of gender or individuality to see the universal truths of human beauty, spirit, and need.
Chose your goals in balance (one in each of the three arenas: physical vitality, career/contribution, and relationship/Tribe) and as you progress toward them, you’ll learn things about yourself, and your life, that cannot be put into words. And to get this effect they MUST be in balance: your demons will hide in the corner illuminated least frequently.
At the center of this triangle is the invisible factor: your actual being. Failure upon initial effort is an absolutely unavoidable part of the process of growth. Note how you deal with failure, and listen to the internal demons as they whisper defeat. It is in watching this “being” interact with these different aspects: failure and success, depression and exaltation, that you begin to understand who you really are. This is the beginning of mastery--the acceptance of life as it is, and the seeking of appropriately excellent performance at every moment of your life. When driving, drive. When reading, read. When exercising, exercise. When fighting, fight. When selling, sell. When loving, love. When sleeping, sleep. Children know this. Adults forget it. It is the heart of every evolved discipline in history.
There are no easy answers. But there is greater and lesser clarity, greater and lesser balance. There is joy, and surrender to the process of work. There is chopping wood, and carrying water, knowing that a hot bath awaits at the end of the day.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:11 AM
Sunday, February 26, 2006
The following fine obituary ran in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. All copyrights remain the property of that publication.
Octavia Butler, 1947-2006: Sci-fi writer a gifted pioneer in white, male domain
By JOHN MARSHALL
P-I BOOK CRITIC
Her father was a shoeshine man who died when she was a child, her mother was a maid who brought her along on jobs, yet Octavia Butler rose from these humble beginnings to become one of the country's leading writers - a female African American pioneer in the white, male domain of science fiction.
Butler, 58, died after falling and striking her head Friday on a walkway outside her home in Lake Forest Park. The reclusive writer, who moved to Seattle in 1999 from her native Southern California, was a giant in stature (she was 6 feet tall by age 15) and in accomplishment.
Joshua Trujillo / P-I
Octavia Butler was one of the Northwest's most prominent science fiction writers.
She remains the only science fiction writer to receive one of the vaunted "genius grants" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a hard-earned $295,000 windfall in 1995 that followed years of poverty and personal struggles with shyness and self-doubt.
"People may call these 'genius grants,' " Butler said in a 2004 interview with the Seattle P-I, "but nobody made me take an IQ test before I got mine. I knew I'm no genius."
Butler's most popular work is "Kindred," a time-travel novel in which a black woman from 1976 Southern California is transported back to the violent days of slavery before the Civil War. The 1979 novel became a popular staple of school and college courses and now has more than a quarter million copies in print, but its birth was agonizing, like so much in Butler's solitary life.
"Kindred" was repeatedly rejected by publishers, many of whom could not understand how a science fiction novel could be set on a plantation in the antebellum South. Butler stuck to her social justice vision - "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you" - and finally found a publisher who paid her a $5,000 advance for "Kindred."
"I was living on my writing," Butler said, "and you could live on $5,000 back then. You could live, but not well. I got along by buying food I didn't really like but was nourishing: beans, potatoes. A 10-pound sack of potatoes lasts a long time."
Steven Barnes, another African American writer, knew Butler during her early writing days in Southern California and later in the Washington when he and his writer wife, Tananarive Due, lived for a time in Longview before returning to Los Angeles. Barnes saw Butler's confidence grow along with her reputation.
"Octavia was one of the purest writers I know," Barnes recalled Sunday. "She put everything she had into her work - she was extraordinarily committed to the craft. Yet, despite her shyness, she was also an open, generous and humane human being. I miss her so much already."
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Due added, "It is a cliche to say that she was too good a soul, but it's true. What she really conveyed in her writing was the deep pain she felt about the injustices around her. All of it was a metaphor for war, poverty, power struggles and discrimination. All of that hurt her very deeply, but her gift was that she could use words for the pain and make the world better."
Due believed that Butler came to feel deeply at home in the Northwest after she relocated here with 300 boxes of books. The anonymity of her life in Seattle suited both her artistic devotion and temperament ("I always felt a deep loneliness in her," Barnes said). But Butler did become a frequent participant in readings and writers' conferences, especially Clarion West, which played a crucial role in her own start. She also served on the advisory board of Seattle's Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.
A few friends did get to see the relaxed Butler away from her infrequent moments in the limelight, including Leslie Howle, who took her to see the recent version of "King Kong." Howle describes the writer as "one of the most fun people to be around, with an acerbic sense of humor and a keen observer of human nature."
Butler was a confirmed non-driver who would chat with other bus passengers or with neighbors who gave her rides when she trudged home with bags of groceries, as neighbor Terry Morgan did.
"The first time I picked her up, she took me into her house and autographed a copy of one of her books," Morgan said. "That was a great 'thank you,' especially since I am an African American and we felt a common bond. But it was also obvious to me that writing was her life."
The MacArthur grant brought increasing visibility to Butler and allowed her to buy her first house, where she tended to her ailing mother until her death. (Butler's survivors are two elderly aunts and many cousins in Southern California.)
But the MacArthur grant also brought daunting pressure. Three years later, Butler published "Parable of Talents," winner of one of her two Nebula Awards in science fiction. Then years passed without another new novel, as projects in Seattle "petered out." Characters and ideas went nowhere and her blood pressure medication left her drowsy and depressed.
The frustrated artist - who first turned to writing at 12 after the sci-fi movie, "Devil Girl from Mars," convinced her that she could write something better - battled worries that "maybe I cannot write anymore."
But at long last, an unlikely vampire novel rekindled her creative fires and brought a burgeoning joy to her craft.
"I can't say I've had much fun in the last few years, what with my version of writer's block," a relieved Butler recalled in 2004. "Writing has been as difficult for me as for people who don't like to write and as little fun. But now the well is filling up again with this vampire novel."
Butler's death means that "Fledgling," published last fall to enthusiastic praise, will likely stand as her final novel, to the great disappointment to Butler's many fans and friends who expected more work.
"The only consolation in losing Octavia so soon," stressed Due, "is that she must have known her place in history."
More headlines and info from Lake Forest Park. John Marshall can be reached at 206-448-8170 or email@example.com.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:38 PM
I just got this note
Yesterday Octavia Butler fell outside her house during what neighbors thought was a stroke. A neighbor kid found her outside her house. They rushed her to the hospital, and found blood had pooled in her brain, they operated but she passed away today.
For a time, Octavia and I lived within walking distance, and she would come to the house for dinner. A lady of incredible intelligence and rather dark humor, she was also what I called "a REAL writer." She put so much more of herself into her work than I ever have, or would be capable of.
She was sweet, and kind, and generous, and brilliant. And now she is gone. Travel well, my friend. Rest deeply. I'll see you soon.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:16 AM
Friday, February 24, 2006
Writing and Philosophy
Clarifying your “reality map” is a way of saving energy
as well. If you have no map, you drive around in
circles until you run out of gas. No fun. A philosophical
position on life is a theory of how the world works, or
people behave, or whatever—it is an heuristic, in
other words, that saves us time in decision making.
Saving time and energy and confusion is one outcome
of such tools. Coming up with great story ideas is another.
Let’s take a fine example: Ursula LeGuin’s classic story
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” In this
three-page gem of a horror story, a perfect, glittering
society is described in radiant detail. There is only one
fly in the ointment: down in the deepest dungeon
squats a disfigured child, smeared with its own feces,
screaming in terror and misery. If anyone helps the
child, the society will crumble.
Those who have studied philosophy will recognize her
critique of John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarian philosophy, an
extension of Jermy Bentham’s “happiness calculus”
suggesting that “the greatest good for the greatest
number” is the best form of society. Taken to its
extreme, you get Omelas.
And this is what a fine writer does. Studying the
great thinkers of the ages, the writer exaggerates
or personifies their positions, lampoons or investigates,
asks us to assume positions and question our
assumptions. This is both art and craft in the service of mankind.
What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Under
what conditions would you think yourself right or
wrong? Change your position? Strengthen it? Can
you create stories that represent each of these
questions? Can you think of movies and books that
There is a lifetime of work in finding ways to dramatize
the great thoughts of history. I can think of no
better way to spend my time and energy.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:22 AM
First, I’d like to thank those who commented on the Bush intelligence question. I find it heartening that it was polite and measured, but also interesting that only one person thought our President was smarter than he…and he wasn’t a Bush supporter. Either we have some extraordinary people reading this blog, or America is in worse trouble than I thought.
I’ve been eager to write this particular note for several days. It has to do with the question I was asked last week about, according to Lifewriting “who has the right to propose political ideas” (that’s a paraphrase.) I thought the best thing I could do was apply the Lifewriting theory to Karl Marx, and show why I would reject his concepts. Boy, could I write an essay on this. Instead, I’ll try bullet points, and hope you’ll connect the dots.
1) Marx was born to an affluent family, studied for the law, and had a Phd in philosophy.
2) He fled Germany for exile in London, and seems to have accepted voluntary poverty. Such were the conditions of poverty in London that two of his four children died of poverty-related illnesses.
3) He claims to have based his theories on a perception of man’s instinctual self: the need for food, sex, and work.
4) He saw Capitalism as perverting natural human values, creating alienation and reducing people to objects.
5) He dreamed of a classless society, “from each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.”
6) when it is pointed out that his dream seems to have failed, proponents of Marxism generally protest that “True Marxism has never been tried.”
Hmmm. Well, let’s go down the list, and see how my reasoning works, Lifewriting-style.
1) A Phd in philosophy can be problematic in one sense: one has many theoretical maps of reality (Cosmology) which must be balanced with a means of establishing the accuracy of those maps. The fact that you can defend them in the coffee-house is irrelevant. THEY MUST BE GROUNDED IN REALITY, because logic proceeding from a flawed thesis produces a flawed result. Garbage in, garbage out. But what elegant garbage! Have we any indication of whether he had such grounding…?
2) Voluntary acceptance of poverty. His intelligence and degree certainly suggest that this man COULD have earned a decent living, but chose to dedicate himself to the political struggle. As with genteel artistic poverty, this is a perfectly fine option for an adult: BUT NOT IF YOU HAE CHILDREN. Children are completely helpless and dependant. If he placed the “needs of the struggle” above the needs of his children, then by Lifewriting definition he was completely dis-connected with a most basic human need: that to provide for one’s own progeny FIRST. Such a disconnection implies a major warp in the reality map. In the chakra system, you proceed upwards from survival. What he was doing would be considered progressing DOWNWARD from an intellectual concept, “awakening his Kundalini backwards,” an approach fraught with peril.
3) His claims of basing his theories on basic human needs are therefore highly suspect: he himself was not in touch with his own. How can a man so dissociated in his personal life as to let helpless children die so that he can “serve the people” be expected to formulate a theory that can actually provide safety and security organically for millions? My answer? He cannot. There is a serious, basic flaw in his perceptions.
4) Capitalism may well reduce people to objects, but it is an economic theory, and from the position of economics, people are less important than the things they produce. This is neither good nor bad. From the perspective of anatomy, the human soul is less important than the position of organs in the body. This doesn’t mean that a doctor doesn’t believe in the soul, just that when he puts his “anatomist” hat on, he’s not thinking about spirituality. And when an economist puts either his “Capitalist” or “communist” hat on, he’s looking at the flow of goods and services—not the personalities, needs and individuality of the people within the system. That is separate from the sense of caring. The real question is whether Communism cares MORE about people than Capitalism. What? Both are abstractions, and can care about nothing. Well, then: does a Communist care more about people than a Capitalist? On the surface, one might say yes…until you look a little closer, and realize that the Father of Capitalism was disconnected from the screams of his own children. I would posit that Capitalism seems to work better because it is more in alignment with human nature as it is in the world: spiritual only after basic needs have been met. Until then, we care more about our own lives, and the lives of our families, than we do the welfare of strangers. Unless you are Karl Marx.
5) “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.” Right. And who exactly decides this? Every child believes that he or she needs everything in sight. It is only upon maturation that the ability to share evolves. Parents must teach children to share, by giving them both love and discipline. And excuse me, but in this “egalitarian” society Marx envisioned, who exactly was going to take the parent role..?
Of course, if he’d really connected with his children, he might have noticed this…
6) “True Marxism has never been tried.” Neither has true Capitalism, or true Democracy, or true ANY OTHER KIND OF POLITICAL/ECONOMIC SYSTEM. They have all been modified. Always. Why? Because the laboratory of human thought is far more pristine than the messy world of actual human affairs. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” No theoretical model for human psychology, politics or economics can survive contact with the actual world. They are ONLY MODELS, not the actual thing. All of them. There is ALWAYS a difference between the menu and the meal. The real question is: what model of human society best survives contact with the reality of human existence?
You know, I sometimes suspect that pure communism could work in a society where everyone knows one another by sight (a small tribal group, or a city-state). Or in a society where everyone has evolved spiritually (a nunnery or monastery). But an entire society? If evolved to spirit, yes. But the chakras suggest that we have to progress from the more basic needs first, that we cannot leap ahead. The further ahead we try to leap, the more we need an authoritarian Parental figure to make decisions, tell us to play nice…and tell us what our needs and capacities are.
Sorry to say it, but Capitalism seems far more in alignment with human needs and motivations than Communism. And it survives modifications better. Add a bit of a Socialist safety-net (welfare, social Security, Medicare) and it really seems to work better than anything I know of. Take those safety nets away, and we get a Darwinian nightmare.
Maybe we’ll get to the point where a Communistic system could actually work (that sure seems the unspoken premise of the Star Trek universe!) But I won’t believe the opinion of anyone who lets his children die because he’s too busy writing manefestos.
Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:43 AM
Thursday, February 23, 2006
You know, like everybody I have opinions about politics, but I've never claimed to any special insight. My own politics would doubtless be thought shaded to the Left, but it varies depending on the topic. I'm hitting threshold, though, on what feels to me like the most incompetant administration of my lifetime. People blamed Bush I for not finishing off Saddam. May we now state with confidence that we can see WHY he, quite intelligently, understood that this wasn't a good idea? May we go down the list of problems that this current administration has (or seems to me to have)? I can understand someone saying "Bush is an average president beset with extraordinary problems. Any other President would have been equally overwhelmed." That, at least, strikes me as a reasonable response. But I've actually been hearing people claiming that Bush is extraordinarily wise, great, etc., which strikes me as pure b.s., and I'd love to hear thoughts. But first, a list of what SEEM to be fairly telling problems.
1) Losing more American civilians than any president in the last 50 years (or more?)
2) Specifically, the disaster of 9-11 and
4) The (apparently) botched aftermath of Katrina
5) The biggest national debt in history, following a gigantic surplus left by Clinton.
6) Borrowing more money than every other President combined.
7) America's first pre-emptive war based on
8) Completely shoddy intel.
9) Outing of a covert CIA agent by someone within his administration.
10) Mishandling the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, so that the country seems poised on the brink of civil war.
11) Outsourcing port security to a company owned by a country with FAR closer ties to Al Queda than Iraq ever had.
12) His own family with tight ties to the family of hte man who attacked us.
13) An obfuscation of the rather obvious fact that Saudi Arabia, not Iraq, held more likely culpability in 9-11. I remember not a single official comment on these ties.
14) Bush taking more vacation time than any other President of my lifetime.
15) Bush as bumbling and stumbling in spontaneous discourse.
16) Tightly, tightly managed public appearances.
17) The demonizing of anyone who disagrees with the administration's policies
18) Support for torture.
19) Earlier claims that "America doesn't torture."
20) The utter disaster of Abu Gharib, and only a few low-level soldiers being punished
21) An apparent stifling of scientific thought, from meaningful discussion of Global Warming to Stem Cell research to an implied support for "scientific" creationism. And this at a time when America risks losing the global edge in technological innovation.
Christ...I could go on and on and on. Before I ask my question, may I please ask my Conservative readers if this man truely represents you? Is this the America you hold dear?
And now my question. Do you think that Bush is smarter than you are? In my entire life, I have never looked at a President and said: "I'm smarter than this guy." I don't think I'm smart enough for the job, folks. And whether I've agreed with someone's policies or not, I've NEVER thought I was smarter than a sitting president. Until now. So I would really, really, like to hear from Conservativers who think that Bush is smarter than they are. And if you don't, unless you have accomplished EXTRAORDINARY things in your life, doesn't that scare the living hell out of you?
this man needs to go. Replace him with another Republican if you must. But America seems at the lowest ebb it has seen in almost a century, and ultimately, the Buck stops with the man at the top. I think he's a disaster. Please--no automatic defenses. THINK THIS THROUGH. We are going to hand over this country, and this world, to our grandchildren. This is no time for Partisanism. So Liberals--please don't just jump on the bandwagon. I'm not saying this man is evil, or stupid. Just incompetant to lead America in these times. I would love some serious discussion here, not just yelling at each other. Thanks.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 11:57 AM
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
The light came even more easily this morning. I slept until my body felt cool and light. Then I sat up in bed, and began to listen to my heartbeat until my breathing slowed and mind quieted.
I looked into my mental mirror, saw myself naked, and sharpened the contours of my body—I have a goal of getting down to 175 pounds by my birthday, March 1 (2 1/2 pounds to go!) When my body was right, I created a female doppleganger, and we sat facing each other, hands touching.
There was a goodly amount of light running up and down our spines/chakras, and I concentrated it into a single small, happy glowing child. Took that child into my body, and sank it to my base chakra. Light, warmth, vibration. My heartbeat, low in my body.
Slowly, I expanded the light up through the next three chakras. Stopped at my heart. The reasoning? If I am properly rooted in the first four, the rest will take care of themselves. I would rather trust instinct to their management.
But I did visualize a triangle at the 6th Chakra. Rotated it to represent each of my three major goals, visualizing them, hearing the laughter, feeling the joy. Let the light spread through my body. Returned to my heartbeat.
Opened my eyes.
As anyone reading this blog knows, I’m getting hyper-sensitive to certain negative media images. Every time I see them, I flinch, and flinching bonds my energy. New tactic. Envision a white-water raft traveling down a narrow river. The negative stimulus is a rock in my path. When I feel the fear/anxiety flinch, I switch to Performance breathing (“Be Breathed”, the technique taught in the Five Minute Miracle) for five breaths. If I have the time and space, I might do this while performing a djuru (softly), swinging a Clubbell, performing a set of FlowFit, or performing a kinetic chain designed to remove a tightness. A yoga pose would work as well. But just doing the breathing, even a single good breath, would work.
Why? Here’s the theory, and I invite you guys to try it and report back: the negative stimulus creates a bracing, a flinch response that interrupts the balance of breath, motion, and structure, sending us into a negative emotional/physical spiral. Pretty natural, right? By using the negative stimulus to trigger a positive, re-integrative response (not “positive thinking” but an actual physiological pattern) you are creating a Pavlovian stimulus response loop between stress and proper use of the mind and body. In other words, you are developing the habit of responding to stress with excellence and balance.
Eventually, (so the theory goes) that given stimulus will no longer trigger a negative response. You will need to look deeper to find a good trigger. The freed energy can be invested in growth and change, and will naturally contribute to personal evolution.
That’s the theory. We’ll see, won’t we?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:39 AM
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Yesterday was a breakthrough day. My meditation was clean and sharp, indicating that the emotional garbage I’ve been processing has finally turned into mulch. I met with my friend “Mike” and things were both worse and better than I’d thought. He’s actually been sleeping on the street. But he seemed lucid and honest about his massive screw-ups, which he feels stemmed from a childhood filled with low-expectations. His family was pretty much white trash, and he was on the low end of the totem pole. This led to some serious identity problems that have plagued him his entire life. But he’s going into a shelter today, and I put him up in a hotel last night. Thank God.
Afterwards, I went to my Silat class, where my teacher Cliff Stewart debriefed me on my weekend helping Stevan Plinck teach his seminar at Bud Thompson’s JKD school. One of the subjects that came up was the fact that another student has had several family members die, and that he is experiencing some emotional trauma as a result. Cliff encouraged us to be supportive, but also to remind him that it is vital to “get on with life.”
Get over it. Get on with it. Wow. It was great to hear that in another context. Class was great, and I woke up this morning even clearer, with my energy running just great after six hours of sleep.
It isn’t that “Mike” doesn’t have genuine complaints. Or that my co-student doesn’t have plenty to feel horrible about. Or that I don’t have real, no-b.s. reasons to feel betrayed, hurt, threatened by the natural human responses to race difference that have damaged my people beyond meaningful calculation. But the truth is, life doesn’t care. We either get on with our lives, learn to deal with the hurt and obstacles, or the world will just roll over us and never know we were screaming “stop.”
I don’t know a single human being who doesn’t have perfectly understandable reasons for being a basket case. We can all find reasons to be dysfunctional, and since it’s all relative, being ignored by mommy in Beverly Hills can feel just as bad as being homeless in New Orleans—to you. It is all relative. People commit suicide over the “silliest” crap, and others stand tall in the midst of soul-rending chaos. It’s up to us. We either have reasons to fail, or we have the results we crave. You can’t hold both in the same hand.
I needed last week. And yes, I’ll be down again…this is an inevitable part of the process of growth. The difference is that I understand this now, better than I ever have, and I let it roll over me.
Reasons, or results.
What’s your pleasure?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:04 AM
Monday, February 20, 2006
I want to thank those of you who offered your kind thoughts over the last week. You’ve noticed that things have been a bit darker than usual. There are always problematic elements in our lives, but I didn’t want you thinking that that stuff is swamping my existence. Here is specifically what is going on:
In preparation for teaching the Path workshop in Portland in April (and another one in Los Angeles in June) I have to go as deeply into myself as I possibly can. One way of conceptualizing this is that the levels in which I operate elegantly are like “clean” rooms, and those which still give me trouble (moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy) are like “dirty” rooms stacked above them. I have to get into them and clean them out.
My morning meditations are like running the aquarium filter on the fishtank of my soul. It can seem that there is endless silt and muck, but past experience tells me that if I continue to have faith, if I stay with my heartbeat, if I look for the light in my mirror-image, if I see the light extending out to my family and friends and the world, flexing and changing the light through different genders and stages of live…that the muck begins to dissolve. That I catch glimpses of light, of clarity, of God, if you will. And I come back from the experience (which may take weeks or months) expanded. My world is larger, more beautiful.
But it takes work. I wanted to share some of that—we are so afraid that the depression and fear within us represent unsurpassable barriers. No. They can be dissolved with enough light, focus, commitment, faith, love. But lord God, Billy Bob, it takes work.
So last week (and doubtless this week as well), I’ve been dealing with demons. My friend “Mike” is in terrible trouble. I must find the light within me, and also let him mirror my dark aspects, to see if there are things that I have neglected. I am troubled about some contractual things in my career. I must use that frustration to motivate me to find answers. I am troubled by images in Hollywood—not merely because they are movie image, but because I believe those images are beloved by America, and that they reveal some of the remaining work to do in race relations—work that we would all like so very much to put behind us, to believe needs no longer be attended to.
This stuff threatens me because it affects my ability to work, because it influences the world my son and daughter will inherit. I must face it, so that they will be less damaged by it than I was.
But…if I cannot maintain my balance there, how can I ask White men not to flinch when they see black male faces? This is an amygdalic response, something quite pre-conscious: the tendency for people of one race to have an AUTOMATIC fear and anxiety response when shown images of those of another race. It has been proven again and again in psychological tests, and the bigger the visual gap, the stronger the response. And in an unhappy coincidence, Sub-Saharan blacks and Nordic whites don’t look much alike—a huge amygdalic response. By an unhappier one, the ancestors of those blacks are outnumbered ten to one by the whites, and that tiny flash of fear and anxiety has a massive effect when multiplied across millions of judges, cops, landlords, employers, banker, jurors, and real estate agents.
But if I cannot control my response to the perceived threat, I cannot expect whites to learn the same delicate trick. So I expose myself, I take the hits, I experiment with maintaining balance rather than pretend I don’t feel it…and it ain’t easy. And I write about it here, in case my own internal struggles would be of value to anyone out there.
This weekend my northwest Silat instructor, the wonderful Stevan Plinck, taught a workshop down here at the school of JKD maven Bud Thompson. I’ve known Bud almost thirty years, and we talked martial arts, and the old days training under Danny Inosanto, and I helped Steve teach the workshop. It was a wonderful experience, and reminded me how long the road is, and how far I’ve come.
Yesterday, I taught my Flow class, and found a new way of sequencing physical and emotional flow to create a very powerful cleansing state I’ll be able to use in the Path workshop (www.Rmax.tv). This morning, I had the best, and cleanest meditation I’ve had in weeks.
I’m coming through this particular stretch of bad internal road. It’s just the stuff that there is to be done. There is no end to it. The Way is in training. I’m in this for the long haul, folks. Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down…but I’m always moving forward and sitting still. That’s just the way it is, and you know? In the final analysis, I guess that’s perfect.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:56 AM
Sunday, February 19, 2006
I’ve been opening up the back of my head, and letting some of the snakes crawl out. In preparations for The Path workshops, I have to get my mind as clear as it can possibly be, and to be cable to come from the absolutely cleanest place that I can. That’s been kind of hard this week, because of multiple factors (and here’s the rub—the deeper you dig into your psyche, the more “reasons” you’ll find not to dig deeper. It never, ever ends.)
1) We’re still not paid for work contracted almost a year ago. This creates massive stress. It is a balancing act to keep that stress from becoming strain.
2) I heard some really sucky news about an old and dear friend. Call him Mike. I’ve known Mike since college. A very dear, very sweet man, who has never grown up. He’s never gotten his body together at all—both obesity and hygiene problems have plagued him. He’s never been married. He’s never had a job that a 19-year old couldn’t handle. And yet, he’s one of the smartest people I know. A few years back he suffered an accident that landed him in the hospital, and he lost his job, his apartment, damned near everything he owns. And now he is homeless, has been for six months and wouldn’t let his friends know. I have to try to find a way to help him, all the time fighting my fear that it is just too late.
3) In the last week two major Hollywood films opened that dealt with race relations. In both of them an interracial relationship features centrally. In one, a black woman and a white man. In the other, it is a black man and a white woman. Guess which one is down, dark, destructive, negative, and heartbreaking. Guess which one is lighthearted, “inspiring”, and has a “happy ending.” Yeah, you’re right.
Each of these three things hits me in areas of unresolved, unhealed damage. It would be easy for me to wallpaper over this stuff, but I can’t do that and simultaneously dig deep, clean out my psychic attic. I can’t. So my morning meditations have been some of the darkest and least satisfying in months. Fear, anger, disappointment…all mixed together to obscure the light.
Fortunately, perhaps, I see all of this as an inevitable part of the process of moving myself to the energetic position where I can, honestly, speak of healing to a roomful of strangers. Speak of a path to success, peace, love. How can I not go deeply into the core of my humanity, and if I go there, deeply enough, I will find more of the storehouse of memories and karma that holds us back on our evolutionary journey.
It’s my belief that this is what stops people from genuinely moving forward: they try to ignore this stuff. They cram their pain into their bodies, ignore their physicality, and try to become spiritual. They abandon their dreams of creative self-expression or comfortable living, just bury those ambitions, and think that they can walk away from them without actually dealing with their issues, their beliefs, their pain and fear. They turn a blind eye to their prejudices—or the pain of having suffered prejudice. They think that the dysfunctional homes they grew up in have nothing to do with their bitterness toward the possibility of lasting love, that their broken hearts speak wisdom when they say that the opposite (or same) sex cannot be trusted with your deepest feelings.
We can only trust others to the extent that we can trust ourselves. If you cannot keep your word to yourself, cannot tell the truth to yourself, cannot see both the ugliness and beauty in your own existence, your chances of dealing with another human being with anything even vaguely resembling compassion, understanding, and wisdom are just about nil.
My friend Mike has a totally inaccurate reality map. What he thinks he knows, he does not know. Over and over again, I’ve watched him lie to himself about why he is fat, why he has no resources, why he has never had a real relationship. Why, in other words, in my opinion, he has remained a child. If ever, for a single moment, he had actually accepted responsibility, he would have felt the pain of regret so deeply his ego would have wanted to die.
And by mistaking his ego for his true self, he has robbed himself of the opportunity to actually live an authentic life. It breaks my heart to say that, but I must, because I could not have been friends with Mike all these years had we not traits in common. Which means that there must be things that I cannot face, excuses I cannot stop making, lies I cannot stop telling myself, ways in which I have avoided becoming an adult human male.
It is so easy. I can genuinely point to damage done me on gender or racial grounds. True stuff, stuff I can justify with statistics and anecdotal evidence up the yin-yang. And none of it matters. In life, you either have reasons, or you have results. Either I am going to shoulder the load, and learn to stand up under it, or my son will have to do it, because I wasn’t willing to kill my ego to make the way smoother for him. I wasn’t willing to be a man.
I disrespected my father for leaving me alone to cope with life. And I loved him for being the best man he could be. That conflict, that incongruency lives in me, and in us all in one form or another. It tears us apart and defines our creative flow, our contact with life energy.
I will not allow it to stop me. Yes, I have pain, but I also have been given grace—the ability to see the light. I was given obstacles, but by some miracle, also the strength to struggle on against them for decades, alone in some critical ways, and never stop loving life. Why? I’m not sure. But I know that the Light did not originate with me, and I have an obligation to pass it on.
So I’ll continue to face my demons, and to talk about what I experience along the way. It is my way of trying to stay in touch with the truth of my journey. I don’t know another Way.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:54 AM
Saturday, February 18, 2006
AIDS in AFRICA
This one is hideous, and I want to reiterate that I don’t think it’s true…just that it COULD be, and I’m damned uncomfortable about it.
The following is a matter of fact: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a series of interviews, meetings, accusations and confessions by black and white South Africans, concerning the bad old days of Aparteid, with the intent to squeeze the pus from some very ugly wounds indeed. During them, several white scientists formerly working for the South African government admitted that they had experimented with , and actively sought, race-specific pathogens specifically designed to kill blacks but not whites, with the intent to thin the population of South Africa and neighboring countries. Among the gasses, bacteria, viruses and other agents they experimented with was HIV.
They say their efforts failed.
I wonder. The rates of infection in South Africa are fascinating, seen from this perspective. If they had succeeded, would there be any difference between what we see now? If they had perceived a combination of tribal behavior patterns, nutritional deficiencies, disease outbreaks, etc, and took advantage of it, would there be any difference? Is it difficult to imagine a scenario in which they experimented, perhaps piggybacked HIV (which I do believe was naturally formed. The first corpses found with HIV are earlier than recombinant technology required to create such a virus) onto an inoculation program…I can even see them testing such a program in the Carribean first. And to be shocked that it crossed over into the white population so rapidly through gay sex.
But as the district attorneys say, they had motive, means, and opportunity. This doesn’t mean they did it, but…if I was a public official, of whatever political leaning, and I had this knowledge, knew that this was truth…I’m not sure I could speak it publicly. Man, if I was a black African, and I found out this was true, the blast of raging fear and anger would motivate me to kill every white person in sight. So if it was true that AIDS had been “helped along” would we even know?
Like I said…this one is troubling because these guys ADMITTED that they tried to do it. And because, dammit, it LOOKS as if they succeeded, even though they claim to have failed. This one troubles me right to the core. Do the research. They said it, guys. I’m not making this up.
Ugh. I think I need to go wash my brain out.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 9:03 AM
Friday, February 17, 2006
Now this one will ruffle some feathers. Part of it is pure Lefty conspiracy, and that should get interesting reactions. Part of it is a fear that something truly, truly vile happened in the world. Some of this I’m pretty certain of. The “vile” part is pretty tenuous paranoia on my part. But again, I can’t get it out of my mind completely…
First, the “Lefty” AIDS conspiracy…
About Thirteen years ago, Scientific American published an article on the scourge of AIDS. I eagerly devoured it, looking for statistics that had been missing from every other story on the subject I had ever seen. There was one particular thing that no one seemed to address. You see, when someone talks about a disease being “heterosexual” the usual assumption is that men give it to women, and women give it back to men with approximately equal facility.
But there in SA, in black and white, were the numbers I was looking for. As I suspected, the percentage of men who were said to have contracted AIDS from women was about 5% of the number of women who said they had contracted AIDS from men. This number is so small that it fits comfortably within the number of men who won’t come out of the closet, or admit to using needle drugs.
In other words, women are not good at passing AIDS to their partners. To put it another way, you primarily get AIDS by being penetrated: with a penis, with a needle, with unsterilized tribal scarring implements.
For years I wrestled with this one, waiting to hear something, anything, that would contradict this. And to this date, I haven’t heard a single man who CLAIMS to have gotten AIDS from a woman through intercourse, and can give her name. I’ve heard dozens of women name the men they got it from. With guys, it’s always “some hoochie.” Really?
So I began to suspect that something was going on. That when AIDS first burst on the scene in the 70’s, the gay community was hit like a bomb. According to male gay friends I had at the time, bathhouse sex was like screwing as an extreme sport. MAN they were having fun, and frankly, I was jealous (as I suspect a lot of other heterosexual men were. There has never really been an equivalent to the baths. Ask the people who tried and failed to establish swinging clubs. The problem is, and has always been, getting women in the door. The number of women interested in anonymous sex is a fraction of the number of men who’ll boff anything that moves. Guys are just like that. Not all of us—but enough. Don’t believe me? Pick up a half-dozen pieces of erotica written by and for gay men. And then a half-dozen pieces written by and for gay women. Chose them at random. Count the number of sexual encounters and partners per page. Add it up and do the math. I rest my case.)
The conclusion I came to was that members of the medical establishment and the news media certainly knew the truth: that the primary way to catch AIDS is to be the “receiving” partner of vaginal or anal intercourse, with anal being considerably riskier. But they also knew that if this information was ever stated honestly and directly, several things would happen:
1) Men would feel safe, and be more difficult to convince to use condoms.
2) There are many who control the public pursestrings who would say: “let the faggots die.”
So they lied. And the lie has continued almost to this day. Only in the last five years have I really heard much of anything about the specific behaviors that are highest risk, and the groups at highest risk, and that heterosexual, non-drug using males are at very little risk indeed.
Don’t believe me that women are terrible at transmitting AIDS? Look at the difference in AIDS rates in the male as opposed to female gay community.
On several occassions, I've had an opportunity to have quiet conversations with people seriously involved with the AIDS awareness movement. And several of thenadmitted to me, privately, that the risk to men was deliberately overstated. Does this mean it's true? No, but it's worth thinking about. And only now, after so many years, do I feel comfortable talking about this publicly.
Again, I’m sure we all know men who supposedly caught AIDS from women. And it HAS to be true in some cases—I’m just guessing that women are 10-20 times more vulnerable. If that weren’t true, if women really gave it to men as easily as men give it to women, we’d be knee-deep in the dead.
Don’t go by anecdotal evidence. Look for the statistics. Compare them. And you’ll see why I have my suspicions.
But what, you will say, of the Third World? What of AIDS in Africa? There, certainly, it is spreading both ways through heterosexual intercourse. Well, maybe. But I have my suspicions. To run through them in no particular order, we’d have:
1) A different strain of HIV?
2) Tribal scarring with unsterilized implements, and lack of autoclave to sterilize needles used in inoculations?
3) Homosexual behavior that is so culturally taboo that men have even greater motivation to lie about it than they do in America?
4) Overreporting of AIDS—in other words, starvation, parasitism, other wasting disease that attacks the immune system being reported as AIDS. There is an interesting gap between rates of AIDS and rates of HIV infection.
5) The same kind of well-intended scare tactics that happened in America for the last twenty years, writ large on the International scale. Doctors who know that the starvation in Africa will be less seriously considered by the West if we’re not afraid it’s gonna come and get us.
6) Pre-existing disease patterns like open sores and compromised immune systems that make men more vulnerable than they are in the west.
7) Other cultural factors of which I’m not aware
And the biggest, nastiest one of all: it’s not accidental. I’ll address that one, my favorite, ugliest conspiracy theory of all. Again, I DON’T THINK ITS TRUE. I’m just unable to put it completely out of my head, for reasons that are not as wild-eyed as you might think.
More on this ugly subject, quite soon.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:48 AM
In many ways, everything I say in this newsletter—or on my blog, is just a different way of trying to express something I’ve grasped over my years of writing and living. Something that has enabled me to accomplish every goal I had as a child, and MOST (but not all, by any means!) of my adult goals. This thing can’t quite be put into words, but by approaching it from different directions, and encouraging you to try different thought experiments, you can glimpse the same mountain I’ve been climbing, and decide for yourself whether it is worth the time and effort.
When I talk (endlessly!) about fitness, and relationships, and career, it is not that these things are some end-all be-all in and of themselves. It is that if you learn to succeed (by your own definitions) in these three arenas, that you learn some very interesting things about life, things that the great sages have been trying to express in words for centuries. They elude precise definition. But in actions, truth can be clarified.
Let’s try looking at it another way. Everyone reading this has had what they would consider success in at least one of these areas. Who among us has not learned a difficult subject? Or excelled, even for a day, at a sport? Or found a healthy, loving relationship, even if we could not sustain it for long?
What I ask you to do is to go deeply within yourself, and ask WHAT WAS IN COMMON BETWEEN THESE EXPERIENCES? This is so slippery, and so hard to express with precision. Let me try this way: at that moment in time, you were able to produce energy, and use it appropriately. You were neither less nor more than you needed to be. You were able to simply BE, and in that BE-ing, you found, just for a moment, excellence.
You glimpsed it. You probably lost it. We sometimes spend the rest of our lives seeking to find it again. Note that most stories that have lasted for generations deal with people placed in high-stress situations: they love, they lose, they are threatened, they seek power or glory or revenge or relief. SOMETHING knocks them out of their complacency. Objects at rest tend to remain at rest. Objects in motion tend to remain in motion. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks because the old dog is tired, and wants to simply do the same things over and over again.
We are the same way. If you want to get different results, you have to do different things. To do that you have to raise your energy, and then match it to the current situation in an appropriate fashion. This is HARD, people.
And what three things motivate us the most? Love/Sex, power, and survival. Madison avenue has understood this for a long time. Almost every product you see is pushed using one of these three. It requires a more evolved, spiritual, and mature person to be motivated purely by intellect or spirituality.
Energy. Passion. Drive. Motivation. Ki. Chi. Prana. Num. So many terms that dance around a central truth.
1) Where in your own life do you experience the most natural flow of energy?
2) Where in your own life is this energy most blocked? Where do you feel the greatest fatigue and depression?
3) If you were to evaluate your successes and failures in the arenas of relationship, physicality, and career (please alter these definitions so that they make the most sense to you) is there any common pattern that would yield wisdom or understanding of your own process?
Let us seek the source of our energy. Once we’ve found it, let’s find the way to most appropriately use it in our lives. Yeah. Stalking energy. Sounds like a good use of our time for the next few days or weeks, doesn’t it?
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:17 AM
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Again, I’m aware that there is no real logic here, but I can’t help the fact that this stuff swirls around in the back of my twisted little head…
Let me just lay it out in pieces.
1) Our current drug policy makes no sense to me. Alcohol and tobacco are legal, pot is illegal. I don’t think that pot is harmless—I would consider it about on the level of beer. If you eat it instead of smoking it, the risk goes down even further. In addition, it would be very, very easy to make the case that it is much less dangerous…but I won’t bother. What matters is that the current drug policy is created by people who smoke and drink, and therefore have subconscious motivations to project their own guilt and incongruence onto others.
2) as to other drugs? On this subject I do have an opinion as to how to end the drug problem. One creates a battery of tests or standards for measuring the danger of a drug. Let it be medical: LD50, brain damage, deaths per thousand, violent acts per thousand at typical levels of intoxication, whatever. Anything that tests less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco is legalized. Tax it to the hilt, and sell it only in plain-wrap “package” stores. Take the tax money—all of it, and all the profits, and roll it into drug treatment programs and anti-drug campaigns. Price the product to undercut the street gangs and cartels. The effect to organized crime would be devastating. The money saved in our prison systems could fund treatment programs like nobody’s business. No consumer product unable to advertise itself could survive the onslaught of a multi-billion dollar campaign against it. But you know what? Anyone who seriously proposed such a plan would be murdered. It serves no one’s interests to actually diminish the damage done to our country body by intoxication, the black market, and the unfair justice system that pretends to care about the lives of those it destroys. So…this is just a joke.
3) I find the CIA-Crack connection to be plausible. Not certain, but plausible. I have sources that suggest it was not a planned thing. That Congressional funding for certain Central American black ops got cut, leaving operations officers with networks of hungry soldiers and no way to pay them. But they also had access to cocaine, and means of smuggling it to America, and superiors who turned a blind eye… a recipe for disaster. Remember that line from The Godfather? “I say we import the drugs, but confine it to the Coloreds. They have no souls anyway.” Anyone who doesn’t think there are plenty of people who think just exactly this way about any group that isn’t “theirs” simply hasn’t gotten out much.
4) “Just Say No.” Now, the whole CIA thing, if it happened, seems to have happened during the time that George Bush I was either head of the CIA, or in the executive. And the “Just Say No” campaign blossomed during the same time. The combination of crack and a crack-down was devastating to black neighborhoods. In the back of my mind, I connect the dots. I wonder if a single mind could have dreamed up both pieces of this, and realized that they could simultaneously further a secret war, and tear the black underclass a new one. And if that conversation ever took place, that would be about as close to pure human evil as anything I’ve ever thought of.
Do I really think it happened? Not really.
Am I afraid it might have? Wellll…let’s just say that I’ve never been able to get the possibility completely out of my mind.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:50 AM
It is clear that the question of relationships touches an exceptionally deep and powerful nerve for many readers. I appreciate both the rather raw and accusatory notes, as well as the comments from those who would defend me. Both of you, in your own way, are seeking to heal and express your light to the world. As are we all.
But what is that essence called love, and what is the nature of the human pair-bond? Obviously, we still have desires and needs outside of that primary bond. Even those most committed to monogamy admit that. And there have clearly been, and continue to be, many, many ways to navigate these waters.
For those who are not interested in that monogamous bond, I ask, what is the nature of the bond and intimacy that you seek? I would trust that such bonds are best created by those who are healthy, sane, happy, and have nurtured their capacity to provide goods and services to their chosen community—that these bonds are made of choice, and not because of any dysfunction. In other words, they could choose to have any bonds they wish, and find these the most satisfying. There have been periods in my life where I operated in this fashion, and was quite happy. And now, at this point in my life, I am investigating the means by which a monogamous relationship can be deeply satisfying on every level, and that is the primary focus of my inquiry.
But be that as it may…what human qualities cut most deeply here? Are most attractive to those we wish to attract? Allow us the quality of perception that allows us to avoid toxic individuals masquerading as exciting opportunities? I have a growing sense that it is a balance of male and female energies (however you conceptualize that), with the capacity to age or regress those energies along a time line.
In other words, whether you are gay, straight, polyamorous, an orphan, or whatever, you are the result of the union of a man and a woman’s genetic material. I think that reality lives in our cells, even if we choose to live out our lives in another fashion. Whether we are attracted to males or females, many or one, there are aspects of ourselves that are…shall we say useful? Yes, useful, to divide into male and female qualities, that usefulness dissolving the instant that we confuse a conceptual tool for some kind of immutable social or psychological truth. It’s just a tool.
Here’s a thought exercise: envision yourself sitting in front of a mirror. See your body, naked. Visualize it in whatever is YOUR definition of perfection. Now regress it until you are an infant. Can you see this clearly? Can your eyes see beyond the flesh, to the spirit and light within? Now, age it, take it to the point of old age, and the moment before death. Can you still see the light?
Now bring it back to your “perfect body” stage, and morph genders. If you are heterosexual, the body you see now should be damned attractive to you. Regress it to childhood. Age it to the point of death. Can you see the light at all phases?
Now allow the flesh to dissolve, so that all that is, is the light. Take that light into your own body. Shrink it down, condense it until it is almost unendurably bright. Sink it to your genitals, and then down to Muladhara, the spot at your perineum. Then feel and see and hear that energy flowing upwards through your body to your head, and then outward into a luminous cocoon. Feel what you feel. Then, taking all the time you need, come back to the room.
My suspicion? Someone who can run their energy in such a fashion, can identify with all their ages, and with all the ages and stages of the opposite gender, is genuinely on the road to self-discovery. Take that energy and extend it to your community so that you are inspired to create goods and services they appreciate. Take it and pour it into a healthy physical discipline to create fitness and vitality. Take it and heal your own emotional wounds, love yourself and have enough love left to overflow into the cups of those you cherish.
Such a person is exactly the kind of neighbor, friend, lover, follower, leader I would want to have. I think that on the path to becoming such a person, we accomplish all our “goals” and discover that they were never important in the first place: what was important was that we developed the ability to manifest them, that we disabuse our notions of scarcity. We have the ability to love, and to attract love, and to have the kind of relationships, or sacred solitude, that nurtures us most fully.
That’s what I think. When I remember the thousands of hours of meditation, prayer, introspection, and ceremony I have engaged in over the decades of my life, it seems that the visual/kinesthetic process I just described goes to the heart of much that has been of genuine power and worth. Much that has healed my heart and mind and body. It is just an opinion. I offer it here without further comment.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 8:12 AM
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
A reader posted a lovely reply to my question about love and beauty, stating that she loves her husband because the divinity within him sparks and reflects the divinity within her (Namaste!)
And I think that that is the key. Several different models of humanity suggest that the end point of all our efforts is the connection with the divine. The Chakras, Maslow’s hierarchy, and Core Transformation map over one another elegantly, suggesting that this drive, to re-connect with the ultimate realities, can be found everywhere, in every culture, through all of time.
They also suggest that until one satisfies the more basic needs (survival, sex, food) it is difficult to evolve to the higher ones. Not impossible—certainly many people manage to do this. But in general, this is the way to bet. Now…AFTER you have taken that evolutionary step, one can forgo the lower in preference to the higher. Martyrs and patriots give their lives for their higher values. We push out of our comfort zones for high levels of self-expression in the arena of athleticism. We give up our right to random sexual pleasure to increase the emotional bonds with our partner. Children want satisfaction, NOW. As they mature, they learn to postpone it, or to understand that the things that feel good in the moment may cause misery down the road (excessive simple carbohydrates, for instance.)
And then love. If it is true that every human being is the result of a biological union between a male and female, then it stands to reason that much of our biological, psychological, and social apparatus will be dedicated to keeping this chain going. YES, there are other bonds, other ways of living and loving other than monogamous marriage between a man and woman. Anyone who suggests otherwise has never cracked an anthropology text. But it is easy to see this pattern in behaviors around the world, and much (but not all) makes sense viewed through this lens.
To that end, it would make sense that much (but not all) of what we are attracted to in each other initially has to do with the question: could we create children together? Which is very similar to another question: would you be able to parent and protect me when I am weak? Which is similar to ANOTHER question: can you see my strengths, and appreciate my accomplishments?
All of which cluster around a more important, more central, and less quantifiable question: Do you see my divinity? Do you see the energy that connects me with all of creation?
And: Can I see yours? Do you show the world your creativity, your honesty, your passion, your clarity, your courage?
In any culture I know of, most of the time this boils down to: are you healthy? Can you protect and raise children, or contribute to society so that others can protect and raise children? Can you learn and pass on your knowledge? Can I trust you? Do you have values that I recognize from my own mother and father? Can you see who I really am, flaws and all, and accept me?
For men, these questions often (quite often, actually) initially appear as visual attractiveness. Secondary sexual characteristics. I’ve said it before: few women seem to have any instinctive grasp of just how powerful the visual apparatus is in males. For women, this usually seems to initially trigger on power issues: the ability to protect and provide for a home. The specifics of beauty and power vary greatly between cultures and people, but if you start from the assumption that this is what people want and then modify outward from this point, you’ll be right more often than not. What you must determine is the percentages of each. In the 21st century, we seem to be heading toward men and women wanting equal amounts from each other. I defy you to name a culture (not a sub-culture) that operates in the opposite fashion: women primarily chosen for power, men primarily chosen for beauty.
Gay culture: I’m not at all sure about lesbians, but gay male culture is so beauty-driven it isn’t even funny. So one might say that men don’t want beauty from women: they want it from their sexual partners.
But how does all that relate to spirituality? Just this: once the bond is made, the energy begins to evolve. Whereas I was certainly attracted to Tananarive’s face and body, now that I love her, I’d continue to love her if her face got blown off by a hand grenade. Why? Because I see her. I feel her divinity.
And many women, initially attracted to a man because of his perceived power, will stand by him if he falls on hard times—if that bond has been truly made.
In the movie “Swept Away” a delightful case is made for the proposition that, in the right circumstances, ANY two people could fall in love. Stripped of social b.s., the capacity to connect is there within us all. It is why arranged marriages work. Given two people committed to the same values and outcomes, over time they see more and more deeply into each other, down to the originating, core energy, and the only name that we have for that is Love. In that mirror, we see our own past (“what was the shape of your face before your parents were born”) and we can drop our desperately maintained acts. We see each other. We see ourselves. We love.
So I enter a room filled with women. I migrate toward the one I find most visually attractive. Interact with her, if I can. If we connect, fine, if not, I move toward the one “down the chain”, until I find one I connect with. Now, maybe she doesn’t like ME! In which case, I keep moving “down” until I find one I like, who also likes me. We talk. We bond. Perhaps we love.
On the internet, it’s almost exactly the opposite. We talk with people. We connect. We speak of hopes and dreams. Love sparks. Pictures are exchanged. And THIS, according to many who have met people on chatrooms and so forth, is where things screw up. People lie about their appearance, we see the truth, we are not attracted (“there was just no magnetism” she says) and we try again. And feel some guilt and pain about it. Isn’t love supposed to look past all of that?
Yes. When it gets a chance to deepen. Here’s another case: I work at an office, or go to a school. Over months or even years, I get to know the woman sitting next to me. She is not initially “my type” but through time, I see her spirit. She is intelligent, funny, nurturing. One day, my heart is troubled, and in her presence, I feel strong. I cry on her shoulder, and can feel that she still thinks me to be a man of worth. My heart opens. At the core, THIS is what I really want.
But there are so many millions of people in the world. We cannot be blamed if we sort for those who delight our senses as well as our souls. I do not blame a woman for wanting a man with more resources than I have—although if she would be as attracted to someone who INHERITED his money as to one who EARNED it, I would consider her shallow. In the same way that a thirty-year old man who is as attracted to an eighteen year old with a perfect body as a thirty year old woman with a perfect body. The thirty year old (or forty, or fifty) not only has the secondary sexual characteristics, but is absolutely radiating her discipline, energy, clarity, and physical intelligence. The 18-year old just got a gift from God.
Once the link is made, we evolve toward spirit. This is what we want and need and the way we are designed. The initial connection seems determined by personal history, cultural conditioning, and genetics. Love is the flower, attraction the root.
Watch out for the thorns along the way.
Posted by Steven Barnes at 10:31 AM