The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chakras and stuff

Scott said: "agriculture's a blip. Consider the hunter/gatherer split."

I agree with that one. In doing research for SHADOW VALLEY and GREAT SKY WOMAN, there was great (although not absolute) consistency in the types of work males and females did in "primative" groups around the world. Women gathered, trapped and sometimes fished. Males ranged further from home base and stalked the larger, more dangerous prey. Hunting dangerous prey and fighting other human beings have much in common. The skill sets overlap considerably.

It seems to me that any group of human beings learns pretty quickly how to distribute the risks through their population so as to produce the maximum number of children who can survive to have their own. And putting women on the front line just isn't efficient there. I've read too many studies of the defense of cities under seige. It is only in the most extreme and desperate circumstances that women go on the line. "Women and children first" may not be universal, but I know of no society that demands women protect men with their bodies. That shit would collapse the breeding pool in a single generation. Truth is, I've never even read of a FICTIONAL society in which the human females protected the males. I'm sure they're out there, but if anyone can point me toward a believable one, I'd like to see it.

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Dan asked me for an opinion about the reality of chakras. As I suspect he expected, I consider them to be both "real" and "metaphorical." To the degree that they are "real" I suspect they relate to the same human functioning affected by acupuncture. Something is going on in the body that is more than Western allopathic medicine. What that "something" is gets debated greatly, but it is completely inarguable that acupuncture functions, at the very very least, to decrease pain. I believe that there is more going on, perhaps something to do with the change in electrical potential in different tissues in the body during the day. I really don't know.

But if you take a look at the "maps" of the chakras, they tend to be near centers with massive nerve clusters. I suspect that what happened is that generations of meditation and observation of the effects of postures, breathing, concentration, etc. generated theories about different "centers" in the body that related to different aspects of health and emotion.

Others tried looking at the body that way, and also got positive results. And in time, these theoretical structures gained a great degree of cultural significance: they have different colors, and shapes, and sounds, and move at different speeds. They signify different basic aspects of human development, rising from the bottom these aspects map over fascinatingly with Maslow's hierarchy. Does "kundalini" exist? I think that the answer is yes...depending on the definitions involved. There are higher levels of human functioning, and some say that the very highest includes "psychic phenomena."

This is where the science fiction writer side of my personality breaks with the mystic side. I've experienced things that an entire side of my personality disbelieves. But the simple answer is: if you cut someone open, you don't find Chakras.

But if you act as if Chakras are real, and focus your meditations and yoga poses on them as recommended, you get very powerful effects. I consider them to be "complex equivalences ", simplified symbols representing something that is so complex our conscious minds can't quite grasp it. More real than a fantasy, less real than a kidney. Slippery little devils.

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My belief that our biology exploits our fears and needs to manipulate both men and women into their roles does not in any way excuse violence toward, or oppression of women. I just think that men are actually happiest and healthiest when women have equal power. And that the mythologies that convince them it's just great fun to have his head shot off is tied into the poisonous, wonderful elixer called testosterone--which no man ever asked to have pumped into his balls at birth. Cultures without aggressive males get wiped out (unless they are protected by natural barriers, or have nothing anyone wants). But that aggressive force is also chaotic, and must be controlled--preferably by older males, who are on the far side of the testosterone flush, guiding young ones.

Unless men are superior, unless we actually live better with women dominated and controlled, then all such beliefs are fantasies, mythologies that keep us in our roles. We know that people do all kinds of self-destructive stuff, have all kinds of self-destructive beliefs: they won't die from smoking, obesity isn't damaging to health, unprotected sex won't hurt you, lotteries are a good investment...whatever. I think the only reason it's hard to believe that men have been as brainwashed as women is if you are still kinda harboring a wish that "gee, I really would like to have the domination over women grand-dad had. That was a better world. But it's wrong."

I don't think it's just wrong. I think it is a way of organizing pre-industrial males and females to produce maximum offspring, and that we are at the end of that cycle. Who the hell had the perspective to understand how mythology becomes intertwined with action to create perception? WE DO. Now. Thinking men are inferior to women puts you in the exact same room with people who think women are inferior to men. Imagine conducting your conversation with them. How would that go, hmmm? I don't have the opposite position: I have the contrary position, and that is a tricky balancing act.

Now, that said, I do think that I've encountered more "real adult" women than "real adult" men. Possibly because child-rearing is one of the "real" activities, and women are more connected to that. An industrial society demands that those who work factories do work that is disconnected from their own reality in exchange for symbols (money) that will provide for their families. That requires an interesting level of abstraction to make personal and meaningful.

I think fewer factory-workers can find meaning from their lives than can child-rearers. And to the degree that discovering the meaning of our actions is a maturing factor...that may have something to do with it.

I do know that societies don't encourage us to become really adult human beings. They seem to encourage us to remain child-like and obedient. This has nothing to do with Right or Left...it is more like a society tries to get us to be more like cells in a kidney than freelancing amoebas. My guess? Traditional societies have equal amounts of adults on either side. And there may have been burps that sent that proportion one way or another throughout human history.

My "sense" that I've met more adult females than males isn't like a 1/3-2/3 situation. I don't think it's that lop-sided. And I didn't have that sense in Africa--it felt more even. I just think that office buildings and factory lines are artificial, while bringing a child through your body is as old as time, and is still much the same maturing experience it was a hundred thousand years ago.

But to me, this is all just conditioning, "software" opposed to "hardware." To be honest, I do see this effect, disturbingly so, in the inner city. And you know I attribute this to the break-down of families, what I interpret as a giant mistake: the belief that fathers aren't needed to raise families. This is a horrid result of 400 years of violent oppression that included black women being allowed to live lives closer to their natural state than black men were allowed to do.

Note the difference in sexuality between minority females and males in movies, and you'll see an expression of this. I see this stuff coming out in college statistics and crime/incarceration statistics as well. This is not natural, it wasn't there in the wiring, it was cultural programming.

##

If I'd been darker-skinned, and not so much of a nerd, I might have found more protection and shelter within the black community, and accepted their mythologies about the world. Had I been white, I probably would have accepted many of THOSE mythologies about the world, and never looked deeper.

While Sotomeyar almost certainly spoke poorly, I interpret her comment as this: privilege protects. A minority who has risen above the inherant problems of being a minority or in a disadvantageous power position ("a wise Hispanic woman") will understand the actual reality map better than someone who has benefited by the power gradient (a white male) and never awakened to reality.

My guess is that the most important question is: would a wise white male have an equal capacity for judgement? I'd think that the answer would be: yes. But who believes the average male understands women's issues as well as the average woman? The average Christian understand Jewish issues as well as the average Jew?

To the degree that we believe our experience creates the lens through which we view reality, it is impossible to actually be impartial, regardless of what judges and reporters are supposed to be. That just isn't real. We can TRY to. We can COMMIT to.

But unless we believe that white or males are superior, there is simply no way that a Senate composed entirely of whites, or males, can represent a diverse population as well as a Senate whose composition is more diverse. Privilege protects. Look how quickly the crazies emerge if we have a black President: the belief that whites are under attack is already hissing and coiling and crawling from the shadows. And what would happen if the next two Presidents were also black? And what if the Senate was, say, half black?

Yes, our founding fathers were all white. And white guys, especially, love pointing this out. Fine. Of course, there were a few little problems involving slavery and women's rights those guys left out. Gee...does anyone think that those same problems wouldn't have been addressed if half the Founding Fathers had been Mothers? If ten percent of them had been black? I think not.

ᅠWe do the best we can with our poor little human perceptions, and one of the things we struggle with is what scared Octavia Butler about the human species:

1) We arrange the human race into hierarchies.

2) We place ourselves and our group high on those hierarchies.

I fail to see any argument against diversity on the courts or Senate that don't boil down, ultimately, to believing the "other" isn't as good. Just a couple of days ago, we talked about "presenting arguments." That people will hold prejudices and not want to put their cards directly on the table. So they will find other ways to criticize, without letting themselves be labeled as bigots.

Honestly, I've had many conversations with friends and business associates on such issues. And what I love doing is waiting until the conversation has been forgotten, and then see how hard it is to get them to admit that group "X" is inferior or evil. And to my memory, it just hasn't been hard at all. Every one of these people would say, if they thought you were sympathetic, that homosexuality was sinful, or blacks intellectually inferior, or women needed to be controlled by men, or Hispanics were untrustworthy. It was a game I played, until I got sick of it. I just couldn't find anyone who really got steamed up about this stuff who didn't have some serious attitudes.

And what of it? Those attitudes seem to be close to universal among human beings. Whites, blacks (Jeeze, it's easy to get black people to talk about how they're superior!), gays, straights, men, women--I see the exact same thing.

Try it yourself. Scratch the surface of someone who takes a position that would seem to be to the disadvantage of one group, or decrease the power and privilege of another, and you find icky stuff. Dig into yourself deeply enough, and you'll probably find the same. Hell, I know I do.

11 comments:

Pagan Topologist said...

Oh, yes, I do, too, Steve. My biases in this way are non-standard, but they are very real. Thanks for keeping the dialog honest. I reveal some uncomfortable stuff here, but not as much as do you. (Perhaps because this forum belongs to you??)

BTW, I just noticed that there seem to be parallel comment threads here and on Facebook. Do you have a preference where we comment? It must be awfully confusing to have two or more disjoint comment threads to keep up with on each blog post.

Dan Moran said...

Steve,

Of course men and women are not the same. We have different hardware, different wiring, and different software. The only piece that's really addressable is the software, what we learn and are taught: the rest is what it is. And in some ways those differences are substantial; the genetic gap between men and women is much larger than the genetic gap between Africans and Europeans and Asians, for example. And by “much larger,” I mean, bigger than the biggest bigot could possibly imagine; the genetic gap between men and women may be larger than the genetic gap between humans and apes.

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

That men are stronger and more violent and women are better parents for small children seems so obvious I shouldn't need to say it, but probably do. I wouldn't let a man I didn't know extraordinarily well watch small children, and I wouldn't under normal circumstances hire a woman as a bodyguard, not even a rock star like Dawn Callan. We're not the same, we are inherently "separate but equal" in ways that racist whites wished was true of whites and blacks two generations ago. I could father 100 children, but I can't bear any. (I find it likely, as well, that some portion of the life expectancy difference between men and women is hormonal/chemical/DNA, as Steve Perry suggests.)

I certainly value men who go fight. I tried to join the Marine Corps. reserve twice right after 9/11 and they wouldn't have me because the maximum enrollment age was 35 and I was too old. I was 38 ... a few years later, Curious George had to up the maximum enlistment age to 38 because not enough people wanted to go die in Iraq. But I was now 40 or some such ... and still too old. Some time after that, they had to up the maximum age to 42 ... and I was again too old.

That's right: George Bush tried to kill me multiple times, and couldn't get the math right. I don't mean to pretend; I was ready to sign up and do whatever I was told to do for the purposes of punishing the people who struck this country on 9/11. But Bush never did that: the great majority of the culprits are still safe at home in Saudi Arabia. Once it was clear that "signing up" meant going to Iraq, there was zero chance I was ever going to do that, regardless of my theoretical eligibility.

I value my own life very highly -- more an expression of the value I hold for my children than for any fierce attachment to being alive, at this stage of the game. I've done the great majority of the things I wanted to in this life, and aside from seeing my kids grown, there's nothing left -- not art, not career, not women, not pleasure, not even basketball -- that I'm so attached to I couldn't say goodbye and die with some dignity if I had to. That's not fatalism, I'm having a good time with my bad self and I'm still interested in art, career, women, pleasure, basketball ... life is good.

I value my own life equally with that of almost all women -- there are plenty of women out there who need hearts or other organs, and I ain't volunteering mine. Some sainted mother out there dying for lack of a heart, and mine's a perfect fit: sorry, I got kids of my own. Even if I didn't have kids of my own, I doubt I'd do it for anyone who wasn't direct kin -- wife, sisters, mother, children -- life is tough and I'm not here to rescue strangers. (Treat them decently, treat them fairly -- sure. If I felt suicidal for some reason I'd make sure the organ people got a call while I was still warm ... but that's the limit of any obligation I see.)

Dan Moran said...

Absolutely, a male life, and certainly mine, is as valuable as a female life.

I agree there's a tradeoff here, and should be. Women get to bear children; men get to go fight wars. In peacetime, women get the terrible hard work of bearing (and frequently of raising by themselves) children; the deal on our side is that when danger arises we protect them and their children by killing or dying as needed. (And women then do the same for the children, if it comes to that.) This is right and proper.

But that's a small part of most of our lives, certainly in the modern world. Most women don't have five kids. Most men don't fight in wars. Most men have never been shot at -- I doubt your average adult male in the U.S. has been in a fistfight since childhood. To take those important but, day to day, peripheral parts of our lives and set them front and center and assert that this supercedes that ...

Here's the core of your argument as I now understand it. Women live longer than men; this is a result of choices they made, and therefore the deal whereby they are deprived of other choices is just part of the same deal. And long life isn't the only benefit to this deal, just the biggest one. Men don't have it better than women, and women don't have it worse than men. Right?

Let me phrase it like this: If I held a position about black people that most black people disagreed with, I think it would be fair to question why and how I got that opinion. When you hold an opinion about women that most women would disagree with (the overwhelming majority of the women I personally know, certainly, would disagree with you in this area) ... I'd think you'd question your own conclusion a little more strongly. Maybe having their business and career options limited is, in the long run, better for women; but not many women I’ve ever known felt that way.

~~~~~

As far as Maslow's hierarchy, as I now understand you, you are in fact using it as a sort of statistical process model: most people go from A > B > C > D, but not everyone. That's fine. It's not a real hierarchy, but it's a model most people can internalize and make use of quickly, and generally get good results. In some areas of life, good enough is good enough. And the chakras are something similar: not a “true” statement of what is, but a useful one. I respect that; something that’s been useful for 6,000 years is worth paying attention to. (This is much the way I feel about religion; while religious belief may not be “true,” and while it may be harmful to a given person for one reason or another, clearly it’s been beneficial to societies over the course of time in perfectly pragmatic ways: the maintenance of dietary law. The threat of eternal damnation to keep the rubes in line. The promise of eternal paradise to free soldiers of fear. The use of baptism and confirmation and marriage and funerals and weekly mass and daily prayer as a way of keeping people within the structures of the church – and so on: I could come up with another 20 examples.)

But I don’t think Maslow’s hierarchy is “true,” I don’t think chakras are “true,” and I don’t think religion is “true” – and using any of them to explain why women live longer because of a deal they never (as a group) consented to – seems to me a terrible reach.

Dan Moran said...

>Thinking men are inferior to women puts you in the exact
>same room with people who think women are inferior to men.

You have to specify context. I want fire, crime, and war to be fought by people fit enough to do the job – that’s mostly men, by the probabilities. I want my children watched by people who are extremely unlikely to molest them: that’s mostly women, by the probabilities. If that makes me a sexist (and there are feminists who would say it does) OK … but I’ve never hired a male babysitter and would never have sent my children, when they were small enough to go, to day care with male employees. And, sorry to all this may offend: if there’s a bad guy at my door, I want the police to send men to deal with him. (Or at least to cart his stiffening corpse off, if they’re a little slow responding. Some criminals are heavy and it’s not right to expect some 5’4” lady cop to haul off the dead bodies. Just saying.)

We’re back to separate but equal. Separate is OK -- and maybe I shouldn’t be speaking on behalf of women there, but given the actuality of differences among men and women, seems to me inevitable -- but equal is a requirement. As long as women make 70 cents on the dollar doing the same work men do, there’s no informal social agreement (if it existed, which I believe it does not) that makes up for it. Sure: women will make bad choices, just like men, if given the chance. But if freedom means anything it means the right to make bad choices for yourself. You don’t need freedom to make good choices, as society around you defines it; everyone’s happy you did what society expected. You need freedom to tell society to go fuck itself: and if you can’t tell society to go fuck itself, you are not free, no matter what the “deal” may be otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I've tried mentioning it before. Frank Herbert's God Emperor of Dune, the Fish Speaker army is entirely made of women. While science fiction, the series is heavily routed in philosophy, ecology, and sociology. Still my favorite series ever.

AF1 said...

In Piers Anthony's "Battle Circle" trilogy, there was a society run by women and the warriors were all female.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Dan, the police and women situation is more complicated than you imply. If (as seems to be the case) men are more likely to escalate to violence, then there might be a net gain by having women to cool things off.

Also, if what shows up at The Agitator is a fair sample, when the criminal are the police, they're more likely to be men, though I may simply be underestimating the proportion of women police.

*****

Afaik, most religions don't include a threat of eternal damnation.

My tentative take on religion is that its major social win isn't so much threats and promises (though that's part of the system), it's cementing social relations with symbolism and stories which are resonant enough to get people's attention.

Dan Moran said...

Nancy,

Yeah, I know that. I don't mean to say women shouldn't be police, or firefighters, or soldiers, only that, when it comes time for work that depends upon physical strength, people who have it should do it. Construction work is a fair example -- if a woman can do the work, fine. But the work should not suffer so that people unable to do physical labor can participate.

The only person who tried to stop the Rodney King beating was a female (highway patrol officer, I think.) I think the presence of women on the police force is on balance a very good thing, and wouldn't want to roll things back. But there's a tension there in terms of subduing violent criminals that's not going away, and which I admit I don't know how to solve as long as physically weak people are serving in the police force.

The LAPD used to have height requirements that kept out women and a lot of Latino men. They had to lower them, and now most of the cops I run into are shorter than I am. I'm a little above average size, but not that much, and the fact that I (and more to the point, a lot of thugs) are bigger and scarier than most law enforcement officers is probably a bad thing, overall.

Marty S said...

A lot of the discussion of who has it worse men or women is based upon historical roles. But while we can know the facts of history it is hard to really understand the emotional and motivational issues of a time without having lived through them. I recently picked up and browsed through one of my statistics books. The first section of the introductory chapter was "The role of statistics in experimentation". I read the first couple of sentences and said to myself OMG this is obsolete. I checked the copyright date and it was 1957. In 1957 ten year olds did not walk around with laptop computers with gigahertz processors and and gigabytes of memory. So not only was it more difficult to analyze a "large quantity" of data, but the definition of what we would consider a "large quantity" has changed. The mathematics, the hardwiring, of the statistics may not have changed, but the context and motivation for the use has.

Anonymous said...

I used to be on a list of traditional tai chi students and teachers with a fairly strong martial/techie slant - physiologists, engineers, ex-marines, etc. - and for a while there was a lot of analysis of the meridians and "chi points" (similar to chakras; the ming men, etc. but I can't for the life of me remember the word for them right now). Anyway, eventually they came to the conclusion that the 'chi points' were key points on the fascia, and that the meridians tended to follow fascia trains. Of course the word "chi" as used in tai chi is different than "chi" as used in Chinese medicine, but the physical location of the points were the same. The definition of the points was a functional one; it didn't really matter if "chi points" actually existed.

Anyway, the "chi points' " intimate connection with fascia, (presuming this theory is correct, of course) might apply to chakras too.

Some guy said...

Ooops. To avoid confusion with the other "Anonymous", "Some guy" wrote the previous comment. I just somehow botched adding the name.