Social Practice

Social Practice in regards to art can be looked at as anything that isn't studio practice.

By studio practice I mean the dominate way of making art-spending time in a studio working out personal interests into the form of paintings, or objects, or photos, or videos, or some other pretty easily commodifiable form.

The often unspoken intention for this studio work is that it will go off to a desirable commercial gallery, be reproduced in art magazines, and eventually wind up in museum collections, while making the artist into a celebrity of sorts, and paying all of the bills. That is the carrot on the stick that keeps this dominate approach alive and kicking, even though very few of these studio practice artists ever get their work shown at all, and most just give up and find some other way to pay off their student loans.

I've just started up a Social Practice MFA program at Portland State University. There are currently eight students enrolled. They don't get studios like the other MFA students and instead have a shared office and a shared classroom space. Currently we are looking for a more public version of these spaces possibly in the form of an off-grid alternative energy portable building that might locate itself in different parts of the city in vacant lots and at grade schools, etc.

The students take some classes with the other studio MFA students but they also spend time on projects in various collaborative groups working with the city of Portland, various non-profits, and applying for public art projects in other places, as well as doing their own individual social practice work.

I'm trying to show that artists can actually have sustained and supported careers within the public in ways that aren't possible when the commercial gallery is the primary system that artists are trying to respond to. So far it is going very well.

[Harrell Fletcher]

Image: "Some People From Around Here"
See also: Some People

Related posts:-
Sell Out
Be Yourself

Chinese Whispers

Ben Goldacre: There is one university PR department in London that I know fairly well ... [and] until recently, they had never employed a single science graduate. This is not uncommon.

Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely – since they’ll be the ones interested in reading the stuff – people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it’s edited by a whole team of people who don’t understand it. You can be sure that at least one person in any given “science communication” chain is just juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they’ve got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk.

amoebic vodka
: As for scientists taking responsiblilty for communicating science to the public, we have to ask why? In most cases companies and government bodies don’t expect the people responsible for decision making and doing the job to talk to the media. They employ spokespeople or entire PR departments to do that for them.

MostlySunny: What you have quite rightly highlighted in your column is the powerful effect the
media has on society in shaping popular “opinion” and “morality”. The media defines for society “good”, “bad”, “right” and “wrong”.

John A: I have often read both scientific papers and the newspaper reports and have found that the reporter has completely misunderstood the paper and even added conclusions that just didn't hold. If a factually false and conceptually misleading article is written concisely and clearly is that good science reporting?

Disseminating knowledge from the scientific community to a scientifically undereducated public requires effort on the part of all those involved. Scientists communicate all the time at conferences, in papers and indeed to anyone who shows the remotest interest (as many have learned to their cost at parties). It is the media's job to inform and educate the public, not the front-line scientist's. If the media is incapable of understanding scientists and unwilling to employ those who can, it is lazy and unfair to demand that scientists should come to them while they remain resolutely fixed.

amoebic vodka:
We disagree that it is the job of the media to educate and inform. it is the job of the media to sell more copies, get more viewers or whatever it is the company in question needs to make money. In most cases this means the purpose of the media is to entertain (the exception perhaps being the BBC).
It’s not just science, the media misinterpretation of statistics in particular affects other subjects too. The annual ‘exams are getting easier’ stories for example.

Debate taken from 'Bad Science' blog, see here

Implicit here is the idea that advanced artists (and Lenins and Maos) see things ordinary people cannot, and therefore have a right to lead - or at least to special autonomy. So: "Avant-gardism is grounded in the dangerous notion that there exists an elite class possessing enlightened consciousness."

This is blunder number two, and it leads to the hoarding, rather than sharing, of information; to obfuscation and dissimulation, rather than openness and transparency; and to the deliberate blockage of autonomy and mutual self-empowerment.

[Gene Ray]
Art Schools Burning & Other Songs of Love and War, Chap. IV, para. 12

Scientists are generally a complex bunch who are extremely introverted but also love talking about their work to anyone who is interested. That's the problem. The 'public' aren't interested unless there's a 'sexy' conclusion or headline that can be given in the 20 second slot they'll allocate you on the evening news - at a workshop I attended (entitled something like 'communicating with a non-science audience and the media') I was told this about my own research by someone who used to be the editor of the financial times, and someone who used to be the news editor for Radio 4 (our supposed 'high brow' radio station)and apparently a well known presenter of Watchdog in the 80s.

The man from radio 4 was putting words into my mouth and drawing false conclusions from my work within 30 seconds.

Not sure about any 'deliberate blockage of autonomy' - maybe we don't communicate because we can't, in the conventional channels anyway. At least, we are blocked from communicating by a select few who choose what is and what is not interesting..

Further, there's the adjunct issue that everyone has different brains which are expert in different areas and interested in different areas. I have great difficulty digesting any engineering papers - this prevents me from bulding bridges and complex metal structures, but do I really want to anyway? The issue there is co-operation and collaboration. We can't do it all ourselves, so we need community to capitalise on those who are experts in those areas to help us fulfil our own goals.


Adorno is allergic to the power-relations involved in propaganda and commercialism. For him, to countenance using something as imbalanced as the mass media to put over a "progressive message" is to agree with manipulation, setting up the artist in a hierarchy above the audience.

'Theodor Adorno and Mass Culture

In 2004 Marxist sociologist Michael Burawoy's presidential address to The American Sociological Association called for a public sociology. Burawoy considers the point that sociology has a role to play in the public domain and suggests that the academic sociologist should be more involved in public debate.

One of the main differences between the role of the critical sociologist and public intellectual is the ability to have a relationship with popular media resources outside the academic realm.

'Pierre Bourdieu'

When Mr. Smith enters the board room of his company, he is expected to limit his thinking narrowly to the specific purposes of the company or to those of that part of the company which he "represents."

Mercifully it is not entirely possible for him to do this and some company decisions are influenced by considerations which spring from wider and wiser parts of the mind. But ideally, Mr. Smith is expected to act as a pure, uncorrected consciousness - a dehumanized creature.

[Gregory Bateson]
'The Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation', Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p.452

A lot of the internal processes of these organisations, are devoted to the propagation or diffusion of the same ideas across thousands of different offices and organisations. Thus policies acquire an inertia, as more and more actors buy into them and further these policies in their own small ways.

It is very hard to sell many people at once on complicated ideas, and so there is inevitably an emphasis on simplicity and an absence of strategy. The ideal policy in this environment will be one where more of a given action is good and demanded, and less of a given action is bad and to be abhorred.

'Government by Vampire Zombie Squid', eugyppius: a plague chronicle

Related posts:-
Interdisciplinary Teams
The Medicalisation of Everyday Life
The Larger Mind
Boxed Off
Tasteful Distance

Young and Free

The suppression of spontaneous feelings, and thereby of the development of genuine individuality, starts very early, as a matter of fact with the earliest training of a child.

This is not to say that training must inevitably lead to suppression of spontaneity if the real aim of education is to further the inner independence and individuality of the child, its growth and integrity.

In our culture, however, education too often results in the elimination of spontaneity and in the substitution of original psychic acts by superimposed feelings, thoughts, and wishes. (By original I do not mean, let me repeat, that an idea has not been thought before by someone else, but that it originates in the individual, that it is the result of his own activity and in this sense is his thought.)


... most children have a certain measure of hostility and rebelliousness as a result of their conflicts with a surrounding world that tends to block their expansiveness and to which, as the weaker opponent, they usually have to yield. It is one of the essential aims of the educational process to eliminate this antagonistic reaction.

... early in his education, the child is taught to have feelings that are not at all "his"; particularly is he taught to like people, to be uncritically friendly to them, and to smile.

What education may not have accomplished is usually done by social pressure in later life. If you do not smile you are judged lacking in a "pleasing personality" - and you need to have a pleasing personality if you want to sell your services, whether as a waitress, a salesman, or a physician. Only those at the bottom of the social pyramid, who sell nothing bit their physical labour, and those at the very top do not need to be particularly "pleasant".

Friendliness, cheerfulness, and everything that a smile is supposed to express, become automatic responses which one turns on and off like an electric switch.

To be sure, in many instances the person is aware of merely making a gesture; in most cases, however, he loses that awareness and thereby the ability to discriminate between the pseudo feeling and spontaneous friendliness.


From the very start of education original thinking is discouraged and ready-made thoughts are put into people's heads.

How this is done with young children is easy enough to see. They are filled with curiosity about the world, they want to grasp it physically as well as intellectually. They want to know the truth, since that is the safest way to orient themselves in a strange and powerful world. Instead they are not taken seriously, and it does not matter whether this attitude takes the form of open disrespect or of the subtle condescension which is usual towards all who have no power (such as children or sick people).

Although this treatment by itself offers strong discouragement to independent thinking, there is a worse handicap: the insincerity - often unintentional - which is typical of the average adult's behaviour towards a child.

This insincerity consists partly in the fictitious picture of the world which the child is given ... Besides this general misrepresentation of the world there are the many specific facts which, for various personal reasons, adults do not want children to know.

From a bad temper, which is rationalized as justified dissatisfaction with the child's behaviour, to concealment of the parents' sexual activities and their quarrels, the child is "not supposed to know" and his inquiries meet with hostile or polite discouragement.


... [Small children] have an ability to feel and think that which is really theirs; this spontaneity shows in what they say and think, in the feelings that are expressed in their faces.

It appeals profoundly to everyone who is not so dead himself that he has lost the ability to perceive it. As a matter of fact, there is nothing more attractive and convincing than spontaneity whether it is to be found in a child, in an artist, or in those individuals who cannot thus be grouped according to age or profession.

Most of us can observe at least moments of our own spontaneity which are at the same time moments of genuine happiness. Whether it be the fresh and spontaneous perception of a landscape, or the dawning of some truth as the result of our thinking, or a sensuous pleasure that is not stereotyped, or the welling up of love for another person - in these moments we all know what a spontaneous act is and may have some vision of what human life could be if these experiences were not such rare and uncultivated occurrences.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.208-10, 213, 224

Related posts:-
Spontaneous, Intimate and Aware!
Silent Violence
Learn, to be mindless
Life in (Spontaneous) Action
Creative Living
Be Yourself 
A Fresh Challenge

Information / Knowledge

Information        -           Knowledge
Quantity             -           Quality
Data                    -           Narrative
Separate              -           Connected

I want to mention briefly some of the educational methods used to-day which in effect further discourage original thinking. One is the emphasis on knowledge of facts, or I should rather say on information.

The pathetic superstition prevails that by knowing more and more facts one arrives at knowledge of reality.

Hundreds of scattered and unrelated facts are dumped into the heads of students; their time and energy are taken up by learning more and more facts so that there is little left for thinking.

To be sure, thinking without a knowledge of facts remains empty and fictitious; but "information" alone can be just as much of an obstacle to thinking as the lack of it.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.213-14

In the spectacular society, knowledge is not used anymore to question, analyze, resolve contradictions, but to assuage reality.

Taken from Wikipedia page on Situationist International:

Because of the long hysteresis of the mode of acquisition, the same educational qualifications may guarantee quite different relations to culture - but decreasingly so, as one rises in the educational hierarchy and as more value comes to be set on ways of using knowledge and less on merely knowing.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.80

J.F. - Yes. Thanks to the emergence of science, the conviction that something exists that we can call objective became more widely accessible. This was knowledge open to everyone, not only the sage.

M. - Spiritual knowledge is open to everyone willing to take the trouble to explore it. That's how you become a sage. Otherwise, 'objective' knowledge, immediately accessible to anyone without them putting any effort into it themselves, can only be knowledge's lowest common denominator. You could call it a quantitative approach rather than a qualitative one.

[Jean-Francois Revel & Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.327

It's true that biology and theoretical physics have brought us some fascinating knowledge about the origins of life and the formation of the universe. But does knowing such things help us elucidate the basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering?

It's important not to lose sight of the goals that we set ourselves. To know the exact shape and dimensions of the Earth is undeniably progress. But whether it's round or flat doesn't make a great deal of difference to the meaning of existence. Whatever progress is made in medicine, we can only temporarily treat sufferings that never stop coming back, and culminate in death.

We can end a conflict, or a war, but there will always be more, unless people's minds change.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.17

Science covers such a vast field of discovery that it's captivated the interest and energy of many of the brightest minds of our times. It's like a never-ending gold rush.

The risk of science, real science, is that it gets too carried away by its analytical momentum and goes too far, so that knowledge gets too horizontally spread out. There's an Arab proverb that says once you begin counting you'll never be able to stop.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.218

Information is not knowledge.

It is of no importance whatsoever that one should remember the date of Caesar's death or the date of the Battle of Waterloo. One might be able to answer every question in the encyclopedia and yet have no knowledge.

A student who received a low intelligence rating because he could not remember the name of the river which flowed into the Caspian Sea, and the capital of Finland, might be consoled by the probability that Shakespeare or Dickens might also not be able to answer those questions.

[...] To remember and repeat, through experimentation, reasoning and assembling other brain recordings of observed effects, does not constitute knowledge. It but indicates cleverness.

This highly technical world of many skills is very much more the result of great cleverness in the assembling of observed effects of motion than it is the result of knowledge.

[Lao Russell]
God Will Work With You But Not For You, p. 57

When the world begins to acquire knowledge it will show the effects of it in human relations instead of chemical and metallurgical relations.

The human race has not yet acquired sufficient knowledge to know the law which makes it possible for man to live with man - or to know the relation of woman to man. It is too concerned with the application of the many physical laws to the relation of physical matter to give thought to God's one and only law which governs spiritual relations.

[Lao Russell]
God Will Work With You But Not For You, p. 57-8

 DEFINITION of 'Fiat Money'

Currency that a government has declared to be legal tender, but is not backed by a physical commodity.

The value of fiat money is derived from the relationship between supply and demand rather than the value of the material that the money is made of. Historically, most currencies were based on physical commodities such as gold or silver, but fiat money is based solely on faith. 

The word education is widely used and highly valued in American society, but it is suspect in Amish society.

Education to them signifies self-advancement, independence, obtaining power over others, and disregard for the simple life.

True education, by Amish standards, is "the cultivation of humility, simple living, and submission to the will of God."

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 171

The Amish are committed to the assumption that learning should be practical, related to life, and should lead to social responsibility. They hold that schooling that is committed primarily to abstract and analytical learning is useless to them.

Social cohesiveness, rather than intellectual creativity or critical analysis, is the goal of Amish schooling.

Amish education emphasizes cooperation, responsibility, and humility. Facts that are learned, are learned thoroughly.

Study, reasoning, exegesis, and record-keeping lead to a way of thinking that is primarily linear in emphasis. Instead of collective unity there is a multiplicity of thought, which leads to individualistic revelations and knowledge.

[John A. Hostetler]
Amish Society, p. 377, 390

Education really meant the teaching of town things to country people who did not want to learn them. I suggest that education should now mean the teaching of country things to town people who do want to learn them.

[G. K. Chesterton]
The Outline of Sanity, p. 104

That which is simply ‘learned’ from the outside is quite valueless in the former case, however great may be the quantity of the notions accumulated (for here too profane ‘learning’ shows clearly the mark of quantity); what counts is, on the contrary, an 'awakening’ of the latent possibilities that the being carries in itself (which is, in the final analysis, the real significance of the Platonic ʻreminiscence’).

[René Guénon]
The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times, p. 59

This, then, is the state of affairs: Modern science has led to a prodigious increase of information about phenomena in formerly unexplored or neglected fields, but in so doing it has not brought man any closer to the depths of reality, but has rather distanced and estranged him from them; and what nature “really” is, according to science, escapes any concrete intuition.

From this point of view, the latest science has no advantage over earlier, materialistic science. The atoms of yesteryear and the mechanistic conception of the universe at least allowed one to represent something, in however primitive a fashion; but the entities of the latest mathematical physics serve to represent absolutely nothing.

They are simply the stitches of a net that has been fabricated and perfected not for the sake of knowing in a concrete, intuitive, and living sense—the only sense that would matter to an undegenerate humanity—but in order to gain an ever greater power, yet still an external one, over nature, whose depths remain closed to man and as mysterious as ever.

Nature's mysteries have simply been covered over, and attention diverted from them by the spectacular successes of technology and industry, where one no longer tries to know the world, but to change it for the purposes of an earthbound humanity - following the program explicitly laid out by Karl Marx.

After it has been said that energy, not matter, exists, that we live not in a Euclidean, three-dimensional space but in a curved space of four or more dimensions, and so forth, things remain as they were; my actual experience has not changed a whit, and the significance of what I see-light, the sun, fire, seas, sky, flowering plants, dying beings—the ultimate significance of every process and phenomenon is no more transparent to me.

One cannot begin to speak of transcendence, of a deepened knowledge in spiritual or truly intellectual terms. One can only speak of a quantitative extension of notions about other sectors of the external world, which aside from practical utility has only curiosity value.

[Julius Evola]
Ride the Tiger, p. 137-8

If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I'd say it is data-ism. 

We now have the ability to gather huge amounts of data. This ability seems to carry with it certain cultural assumptions - that everything that can be measured should be measured; that data is a transparent and reliable lens that allows us to filter out emotionalism and ideology; that data will help us do remarkable things - like foretell the future [...]

[David Brooks]
'The Philosophy of Data', New York Times, 4 February 2013

Statistics and Enlightenment are one and the same for Voltaire. Statistics means setting objective knowledge founded on, and driven by, numbers in opposition to mythological narration.

[Byung-Chul Han]
Psychopolitics, p.57

Related posts:-
Having, to hide from Being
Learning Environments
Experiential Education
Young and Free
The Earth's the Limit
Lost Tribe

Ideas with Weight

Character in the dynamic sense of analytical psychology is the specific form in which human energy is shaped by the dynamic adaptation of human needs to the particular mode of existence of a given society.

Character in its turn determines the thinking, feeling, and acting of individuals.

To see this is somewhat difficult with regard to our thoughts, since we all tend to share the conventional belief that thinking is an exclusively intellectual act and independent of the psychological structure of the personality.

This is not so, however, and the less so the more our thoughts deal with ethical, philosophical, political, psychological or social problems rather then with the empirical manipulation of concrete objects.

Such thoughts, aside from the purely logical elements that are involved in the act of thinking, are greatly determined by the personality structure of the person who thinks. This holds true for the whole of a doctrine or of a theoretical system as well as for a single concept, like love, justice, equality, sacrifice. Each such concept and each doctrine has an emotional matrix and this matrix is rooted in the character structure of the individual.

... [An example would be] the emotional roots of early Protestantism.

The fact that ideas have an emotional matrix is of the utmost importance because it is the key to the understanding of the spirit of a culture. Different societies or classes within a society have a specific social character, and on its basis different ideas develop and become powerful.

Thus, for instance, the idea of work and success as the main aims of life were able to become powerful and appealing to modern man on the basis of his aloneness and doubt; but propaganda for the idea of ceaseless effort and striving for success addressed to the Pueblo Indians or to Mexican peasants would fall completely flat. These people with a different kind of character structure would hardly understand what a person setting forth such aims was talking about even if they understood his language.

In the same way, Hitler and that part of the German population which has the same character structure quite sincerely feel that anybody who thinks that wars can be abolished is either a complete fool or a plain liar. On the basis of their social character, to them life without suffering and disaster is as little comprehensible as freedom and equality.

Ideas often are consciously accepted by certain groups, which, on account of the peculiarities of their social character, are not really touched by them; such ideas remain a stock of conscious convictions, but people fail to act according to them in a critical hour.

The vast majority of German workers before Hitler's coming into power voted for Socialist or Communist Parties and believed in the ideas of those parties; that is, the range of these ideas among the working class was extremely wide. The weight of these ideas, however, was in no proportion to their range.

They had deep-seated respect and longing for established authority. The emphasis of socialism on individual independence versus authority, on solidarity versus individualistic seclusion, was not what many of these workers really wanted on the basis of their personality structure.

... [Protestant and Calvinist] ideas were powerful forces within the adherents of the new religion, because they appealed to needs and anxieties that were present in the character structure of the people to whom they were addressed.

In other words, ideas can become powerful forces, but only to the extent to which they are answers to specific human needs prominent in a given social character.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.239-42

Related posts:-
Guiding Fiction
Who's steering the ship?

Be Yourself


Cohle: This place is like somebody's memory of the town, and the memory's fading. It's like there was never anything here but jungle.

Hart: Stop saying shit like that. It's unprofessional.

Cohle: Oh, is that what I'm going for here?

Hart: I just want you to stop saying odd shit, like you smell a psycho's fear or you're in someone's faded memory of a town. Just stop.

Cohle: Well, given how long it's taken for me to reconcile my nature, I can't figure I'd forgo it on your account, Marty.

Dialogue, True Detective 


While spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture, we are not entirely devoid of it ... we know of individuals who are - or have been - spontaneous, whose thinking, feeling, and acting were the expression of their selves and not of an automaton.

These individuals are known mostly to us as artists.

As a matter of fact, the artist can be defined as an individual who can express himself spontaneously. If this were the definition of an artist - Balzac defined him just in that way - then certain philosophers and scientists have to be called artists too, while others are as different from them as an old-fashioned photographer from a creative painter.

There are other individuals who, though lacking the ability - or perhaps merely the training - for expressing themselves in an objective medium as the artist does, possess the same spontaneity.

The position of the artist is vulnerable, though, for it is really only the successful artist whose individuality or spontaneity is respected; if he does not succeed in selling his art, he remains to his contemporaries a crank, a "neurotic". The artist in this matter is in a similar position to that of the revolutionary throughout history. The successful revolutionary is a statesman, the unsuccessful one a criminal.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.223-4


I'm not always happy, but I'm always me. And they can like it or lump it. Life's too short to spend your time being something you don't want to be. Like the old saying, "To thine own self be true. "

I'm true to my self and my own nature. I think that's all anyone has a right to ask of me.

[Walter L. Williams, quoting an unnamed Mohave berdache]
The Spirit and the Flesh, p. 229


Related posts:-
Life in (Spontaneous) Action
Creative Living
Young and Free
Sell Out
Twist Your Melon
Wild Things
What do you think?
The Attainment of Autonomy
Leaving Home
Walk a Straight Line 
Go Your Own Way
Do It Yourself

Life in (Spontaneous) Action

Spontaneous activity is the one way in which man can overcome the terror of aloneness without sacrificing the integrity of his self; for in the spontaneous realization of the self man unites himself anew with the world - with man, nature, and himself.

Love is the foremost component of such spontaneity; not love as the dissolution of the self in another person, not love as the possession of another person, but love as spontaneous affirmation of others, as the union of the individual with others on the basis of the preservation of the individual self.

Work is another component; not work as a compulsive activity in order to escape aloneness, not work as a relationship to nature which is partly one of dominating her, partly one of worship of and enslavement by the very products of man's hands, but work as creation in which man becomes one with nature in the act of creation.

The basic dichotomy that is inherent in freedom - the birth of individuality and the pain of aloneness - is dissolved on a higher plane by man's spontaneous action.

... the self is as strong as it is active. There is no genuine strength in possession as such, neither of material property nor of mental qualities like emotions or thoughts.

Ours is only that to which we are genuinely related by our creative activity, be it a person or an inanimate object. Only those qualities that result from our spontaneous activity give strength to the self and thereby form the basis of its integrity. The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks, and the resulting necessity to present a pseudo self to other and oneself, are the root of inferiority and weakness.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.224-6


Related posts:-
Process vs Outcome
Some thoughts on creativity
Sell Out
Ahead of the pack

Obey Yourself

Analysis shows that conscience rules with a harshness as great as external authorities, and furthermore that frequently the contents of the orders issued by man's conscience are ultimately not governed by demands of the individual self but by social demands which have assumed the dignity of ethical norms.

The rulership of conscience can be even harsher than that of external authorities, since the individual feels its orders to be his own; how can he rebel against himself?

Instead of overt authority, "anonymous" authority reigns. It is disguised as common sense, science, psychic health, normality, public opinion. It does not demand anything except the self-evident. It seems to use no pressure but only mild persuasion.

Whether a mother says to her daughter, "I know you will not like to go out with that boy", or an advertisement suggests, "Smoke this brand of cigarettes - you will like their coolness", it is the same atmosphere of subtle suggestion which actually pervades our whole social life.

Anonymous authority is more effective than overt authority, since one never suspects that there is any order which one is expected to follow. In external authority it is clear that there is an order and who gives it; one can fight against the authority, and in this fight personal independence and moral courage can develop.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.143-4

Well Adapted?

Most psychiatrists take the structure of their own society so much for granted that to them the person who is not well adapted assumes the stigma of being less valuable.

On the other hand, the well adapted person is supposed to be the more valuable person in terms of a scale of human values.

If we differentiate the two concepts of normal and neurotic, we come to the following conclusion: the person who is normal in terms of being well adapted is often less healthy than the neurotic person in terms of human values.

Often he is well adapted only at the expense of having given up his self in order to become more or less the person he believes he is expected to be. All genuine individuality and spontaneity may have been lost.

On the other hand, the neurotic person can be characterized as somebody who was not ready to surrender completely in the battle for his self ... from the standpoint of human values, he is less crippled than the kind of normal person who has lost his individuality altogether.

... there is a discrepancy between the aims of the smooth functioning of society and of the full development of the individual.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.119-20

Related posts:-
Society, you need therapy
Status Quo
Silent Violence
Learn, to be mindless
The Inner Light

Doing the Good

I was walking home the other day, when I came across a car with its boot open. I'd noticed from a distance that it was open, and upon reaching the car had come to the conclusion that it had been left this way unattended; in the distance that it had taken me to reach the car the owner hadn't appeared to remove items, or to shut the boot.

As I drew near I looked inside, finding that it was relatively full, with various items. I was surprised that all this stuff hadn't already been taken by opportunist thieves.

At this point I was distracted by a guy in the distance shouting to me; he must have seen me slowing down to look inside, and, though I couldn't make out exactly what he was saying, I presumed it was something about taking something from the car; he had a smile on his face and seemed to endorse me helping myself. He walked on, and so did I.

I'd been walking for a few minutes when it suddenly struck me as absolutely absurd that I hadn't closed the boot. I quickly made my way back to the car and to my relief everything was as it had been; all of the stuff in the boot was still there. I slammed it shut and continued on home.

Reflecting on incident, I was struck by why it had taken me so long to identify and do the right thing. I think there are a few reasons.

Transgressive Moments

To shut the boot involved a slight transgression, in that I was compelled to step outside of my world and into someone else's. In other words, this incident had been thrust upon me; it wasn’t part of the fantasy I had, until this point, been living. It seems transgressive incidents like these can come in many forms; from the unimpinging (such as this) through to the more affecting (like being mugged, witnessing a violent crime, and so on). I was compelled to react to a moment that was unrehearsed, and for which I was unprepared; this is perhaps the crux of the transgressive moment - a compulsion to act outside the range of your normal repertoire.

Because the thoughts and actions involved were relatively foreign to my day-to-day vocabulary, my reaction was not instantaneous, and I walked on. Only after a moments thought did I realise the right, and obvious, course of action.

Capitalist Thinking

The prevailing attitudes and values of capitalist society engender a certain mode of thought, especially when it comes to ideas like property. Capitalism, in theory at least, allows us the freedom to master our own fate; every individual can try his luck – his is the risk, and his the gain. In allowing us this freedom, it also pits us against each other, and we all become potential competitors for capital.

The idea of competition engenders a prevalent attitude of hostility, and ‘every man for himself’ becomes the unconscious dictate. If he has that, then the inevitable implication is that I do not (unless, of course, I have the same model …). Psychologist Erich Fromm talks about the affects of capitalist society upon man; “His relationship to his fellow men, with everyone a potential competitor, has become hostile and estranged; he is free – that is, he is alone, isolated, threatened from all sides.”1

In an atmosphere like this our attitudes toward another person’s property may become uncharitable, especially if we feel that we have been badly treated by the system. Fromm goes on to say, "In all social and personal relations the laws of the market are the rule. It is obvious that the relationship between competitors has to be based on mutual human indifference."2

To protect a stranger’s life is one thing, but to protect his property is another, especially within an environment that encourages a climate of indifference. It may be that, if only unconsciously, capitalist thinking – the way of thinking that we are surrounded by in this country – leads to questionable ethics regarding the property of strangers (‘stranger’ as synonym for ‘competitor’).

In this instance, I don’t think this mode of thought consciously affected my actions, but it may have slowed my reaction on an unconscious level. Why protect another man’s property - his booty? It is, after all, every man for himself.

Fear of the bad

In closing the boot there was a chance that my actions could have been misinterpreted, had someone been observing. I was walking along with my bike, and so the car was clearly not mine. To touch the car – to touch another person’s property without asking – is an encroachment, albeit a very minor one.

We seem to be very afraid of encroachments. There are undoubtedly a myriad of reasons for this, not least the various sensationalist scare-stories that provide daily fodder for the media, and the ensconcement of this media within a capitalist system that, as we’ve touched upon, ferments such stories. We are increasingly led to fear one another, and this inevitably leads to distance.

I was afraid to have my actions misinterpreted because I did not want to be seen doing the bad; in other words, I didn’t want it to look as if I had committed an unethical act (theft, vandalism, etc). I was, again perhaps only unconsciously, so afraid of being seen as doing the bad, that I hesitated to do the good.

An environment of fear creates distance, and makes it harder for us to act. If we are so afraid of being conceived as doing the bad, then it is likely that we will also miss many opportunities to do the good; an unfortunate outcome that I, through initially walking away, almost helped embody.

1 Fromm, Erich. The Fear of Freedom, p.54
Fromm, Erich. The Fear of Freedom, p.102

A Friendly Challenge

Because of the split archetype, destructiveness in the sense of the archetypal shadow, the unconscious, etc., is no longer primarily the therapist's problem; he has shaken it off and experiences it only in projections, so that by and large he enjoys something resembling inner peace.

He is merely confirmed in what he already knows. His blind spot prevents him from seeing the decisive dark areas of his own being; or, if he grasps them intellectually, he is still not emotionally gripped by his self-knowledge.

In order to break free of this vicious circle the therapist must expose himself to something which touches him deeply, something un-analytical (he is already too much the master of analytical technique) which repeatedly throws him off balance, stimulates him, shows him time and again who he is, how weak and pompous, how vain and narrow.

It is surely not by chance that Socrates sang the praises of friendship.


Friendship, loving but forceful encounters with one's equals, to attack and be attacked, to insult and be insulted - all of this strikes again and again at the psychic center of those involved. What the analyst needs is symmetrical relationships, relationships with partners who are up to his mark, friends who dare to attack him, to point out not only his virtues but his ridiculous sides.

Many analysts maintain that they cultivate intensive friendships, when what they actually do is gather a circle of disciples around them and bask in the admiration [...]

Friendship intensely lived - and intensely suffered - saves many a therapist from inextricable entanglement in his own dark and destructive side. Hatred and love flow back and forth between friends; love circles around the positive potential, and hatred around the negative.

The psychotherapist must be challenged by something which cannot be either mastered or fended off by his analytical weapons and techniques. Works of art may shake one, the study of history may stimulate, an interest in natural science may lead to tortured questions. But the clever analyst finds it all too easy somehow to press all such things into the analytical framework.

Friends both male and female, wives or husbands, brothers and sisters, children, relatives - all of these often have the power to challenge the analyst and the ability not to fall victim to his clever attempts at deterrence.

But in these cases there must be awareness of the danger that therapist-friends often become therapist-accomplices, cleverly assisting in the battle against individuation, careful not to challenge the other in order not to be challenged themselves, and thus providing additional weapons against further psychological development.

An analyst may have the most serious confrontation with those closest to him; and as long as he remains open within the love relationship, he must take these reactions seriously. This brings him into ever-renewed contact with his own shadow.[Contact with the shadow stimulates the individuation process] by bringing new movement to a psyche grown rigid. The soul opens up once again.

The experience of eros between two people, and its fructifying effect on the psyche, cannot be described in dry psychological terms, but only represented artistically. Once it has taken place, of course, it can again be put into analytical terms and grasped that way. But those psychological concepts must in turn be repeatedly relieved by the immediacy of erotic experience. And this can only be effective - fully and deeply effective - when it takes place between people who love each other, rather than between doctor and patient, analyst and analysand, or master and pupil.

The point is that he must actively, painfully and joyfully come into direct contact in his dealings with his fellow men. He must somehow find a way to once more expose himself to the most difficult challenges. He must be shaken. The senile "I know, I know" must become the Socratic "I don't know."

The tools with which he can aid others may spell his own psychic doom. He can fend off any challenges; his patients are no match for him, and even the challenge of religion can be depotentiated by his mastery of analytical concepts.

Only through the emotional interchange with those to whom he stands in a relation of love can a new dimension be brought into his benumbed world. If he fails to achieve this, if he succeeds in using his psychology to drain and empty his interpersonal relations he becomes a tragic figure.

[Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig]
Power In The Helping Professions, p.134-6, 148-155

Related posts:-
Creative Partnerships
You've changed
What are the people saying?
Watch the way you're acting
Status Quo
Do Not Disturb
Whats Your Position?
You laugh at my back, and I'll laugh at yours
Escaping Uncertainty
Incursions of the Unknown 
Know it All?

See No Evil

Optimism          -              Hope
Shallow             -              Deep
Light                  -              Dark

Marty: Do you wonder, ever, if you're a bad man?

Rust: No. I don't wonder, Marty. World needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

Dialogue from True Detective

Pleasure is inconceivable without pain; light without darkness; love without hate; good without evil … the denial of suffering is the negation of life itself.

The creation of tragedy is both a response to the horrors of life and a way of mastering them … we are saying ‘Yes’ to life as it actually is.

[Anthony Storr]

There is a phrase which you sometimes come across in country districts even nowadays, which sums up a good deal of what he might have tried to say. Farmers use it in Ireland, as praise or compliment, saying, "So-and-so has a Word. He will do what he promised."

Lancelot tried to have a Word. He considered it, as the ignorant country people still consider it, to be the most valuable of possessions.

But the curious thing was that under the king-post of keeping faith with himself and with others, he had a contradictory nature which was far from holy. His Word was valuable to him not only because he was good, but also because he was bad. It is the bad people who need to have principles to restrain them. For one thing, he liked to hurt people. It was for the strange reason that he was cruel, that the poor fellow never killed a man who asked for mercy, or committed a cruel action which he could have prevented. One reason why he fell in love with Guenever was because the first thing he had done was to hurt her. He might never have noticed her as a person, if he had not seen the pain in her eyes.

People have odd reasons for ending up as saints. A man who was not afflicted by ambitions of decency in his mind might simply have run away with his hero's wife, and then perhaps the tragedy of Arthur would never have happened. An ordinary fellow, who did not spend half his life torturing himself by trying to discover what was right so as to conquer his inclination towards what was wrong, might have cut the knot which brought their ruin.

[T.H. White]
The Once and Future King, p. 365

'Jenny, all my life I have wanted to do miracles. I have wanted to be holy. I suppose it was ambition or pride or some other unworthy thing. It was not enough for me to conquer the world—I wanted to conquer heaven too. I was so grasping that it was not enough to be the strongest knight—I had to be the best as well. That is the worst of making day-dreams. It is why I tried to keep away from you. I knew that if I was not pure, I could never do miracles. And I did do a miracle, too: a splendid one. I got a girl out of some boiling water, who was enchanted into it. She was called Elaine. Then I lost my power. Now that we are together, I shall never be able to do my miracles any more.'

He did not like to tell her the full truth about Elaine, for he thought that it would hurt her feelings to know that he had come to her as the second.

'Why not?'

'Because we are wicked.'

'Personally I have never done a miracle,' said the Queen, rather coldly. 'So I have less to regret.'

'But, Jenny, I am not regretting anything. You are my miracle, and I would throw them overboard all over again for the sake of you. I was only trying to tell you about the things I felt when I was small.'

'Well, I can't say I understand.'

'Can't you understand wanting to be good at things? No, I can see that you would not have to. It is only people who are lacking, or bad, or inferior, who have to be good at things. You have always been full and perfect, so you had nothing to make up for. But I have always been making up. I feel dreadful sometimes, even now, with you, when I know that I can't be the best knight any longer.'

[T.H. White]
The Once and Future King, p. 414

On the night Lord Voldemort went to Godric's Hollow to kill Harry, and Lily Potter cast herself between them, the curse rebounded. When that happened, a part of Voldemort's soul lached itself onto the only living thing it could find. Harry himself.

There's a reason Harry can speak with snakes. There's a reason he can look into Lord Voldemort's mind. A part of Voldemort lives inside him.

Dialogue from 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2'

[Harry Potter] is kind of an interesting character, because he’s not really good; and we find out that’s because [he has a piece of Voldemort] in him.

What that means is that to be good, truly good […] you have to be able to understand malevolence. And in order to be able to understand malevolence so that you can withstand it, you have to understand that part of you that’s malevolent. Because if you don’t, you’re naive. And if you’re naive, you’re easy pickings.

That’s a Jungian idea, that part of personality development is to understand your shadow. The shadow is those things about you that you do not want to admit to.

I think that you cannot have proper respect for yourself until you know that you’re a monster. Because you won’t act carefully enough if you think, “I’m a nice person, I’d never do anyone any harm.” You’re no saint, you can be sure of that, and the harm that you can do people can come in many, many ways. And so, if you regard yourself as harmless, inoffensive, nice … well, why do you have any reason to be careful? You’re like a teddy bear sitting on a shelf; even if you throw it at someone, no-one’s going to get hurt. But that isn’t what you’re like, because you’re a human being; and human beings are vicious creatures. And there’s utility in knowing that.

What’s interesting about [Harry Potter] is that he’s touched by evil. And that means that he’s an embodiment of what Jung would regard as someone who’s integrated the shadow. And without that capacity he isn’t able to communicate, say, with snakes. And that’s not so good because, since there are snakes, its not such a bad idea to know how to communicate with them.

[...] Harry could stand up against Voldemort and understand him and speak his language, because he was infected by him to some degree.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
2017 Personality 02/03: Historical & Mythological Context’ and
2017 Maps of Meaning 7: Images of Story & Metastory

The price of fruitfulness, Nietzsche writes, “is to be rich in internal oppositions.” Such oppositions can always get out of control and result in behaviour that is nothing short of criminal. Nietzsche recognises this, and claims that “in almost all crimes some qualities also find expression which ought not to be lacking in a human being.”

[…] the idea of a purely good agent is a fiction. [Nietzsche] thinks that the appearance of perfect goodness is created by stunting all of one’s features and abilities so that one no longer represents, even potentially, a danger to others and to the community as a whole. Such an agent, who is incapable of greatness as well as of harm, constitutes for him the goal of morality: “ We want someday that there should be nothing any more to be afraid of!”

But in fact, Nietzsche insists, great accomplishments involve exploiting all available means, perhaps evil by the standards of the previous order, but seen in a different light once those accomplishments become parts of the life of others […]

One of [Nietzsche’s] central criticisms of Christian morality is that it fights the passions with excision, that “its practice, its ‘cure,’ is castratism.” And though he agrees unbridled passion is “stupid,” he argues that to destroy it as a preventative measure is itself “merely another form of stupidity.” He claims that this is the practice of those who are afraid of the two-sided consequences of strong impulses: “Castration, extirpation… [are] instinctively chosen by those who are too weak-willed, too degenerate, to be able to impose moderation upon themselves.”

“The greatest human beings perhaps also possess great virtues, but in that case also their opposites. I believe that it is precisely through the presence of opposites and the feelings they occasion that the great person, the bow with the great tension, develops.”

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p.  219-21

Imagine someone who’s naive, and dependent, and over-sheltered. And they’re off into the world, even though they’re not prepared for it, and their axiomatic presuppositions aren’t sophisticated enough to allow for the existence of radical uncertainty or malevolence.

And then one day they’re attacked - maybe they get mugged, or raped, or something worse - and they develop post-traumatic stress disorder. And the reason is that the event is so anomalous, especially combined with its malevolence, that it demolishes their interpretation frames - from the local level, all the way out to the superordinate level - and then the person is cast into [a] chaotic state. And they’re terrified, and angry, and vengeful, and paralysed, and depressed; and all of those things simultaneously; and maybe they never put the pieces back together.

They descend into chaos […] It’s the constrained chaos that’s underneath everything, inhibited by your contextual knowledge, that suddenly pops its head up into your world.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'2017 Maps of Meaning 7: Images of Story & Metastory'

Progressives, according to Mumford, believed that human nature is deflected from its natural goodness only by external conditions beyond the individual's control.

Having no sense of sin, they discounted inherent obstacles to moral development and therefore could not grasp the need for a "form-giving discipline of the personality."

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.79

Niebuhr had reservations about the political implications of Barth's neo-orthodoxy, which seemed to him to write off the political realm as irredeemably corrupt; but he too came to accept original sin as an "inescapable fact of human existence," to reject the shallow optimism of liberal theology, and to acknowledge the impossibility of justifying religious belief on purely rational grounds.

Just as an "impartial science” could not fully justify the “right to believe” in justice or in the possibility that justice would prevail in the political order, so it could not justify a belief in the goodness of God's wicked world. Hope - “the nerve of moral action” - had to be asserted in the face of evidence that could easily justify the conclusion that the world is “meaningless.”

Hope was the product of emotion, not intelligence. It sprang from “gratitude and contrition” - “gratitude for Creation and contrition before Judgment; or, in other words, confidence that life is good in spite of its evil and that it is evil in spite of its good." 

Hope had to be distinguished, therefore, from optimism or "sentimentality," which closed their eyes to the dark side of things and attributed evil merely to ignorance or "cultural lag" - the failure of a science of morals and society to keep pace with the scientific understanding of nature.

Without hope, the world was seen “either as being meaningless or as revealing unqualifiedly good and simple meanings”. Yet hope exceeded strictly reasonable and realistic expectations. For this reason, Christian orthodoxy had always equated hope with a state of grace, which could not be achieved simply by the exertion of will or intelligence.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.370-1

Certain elements of the Mayan religion may also have come from the Olmecs, such as the belief in the power of the jaguar. Their great ancestor was spoken of as the Plumed Serpent, also called Quetzalcoatl. It was he who taught the people how to carve stone and make pottery and who was tricked by his brother Smoking Mirror (Texatlipoca).

It is so easy for us in the West to see Quetzalcoatl and Texatlipoca as the embodiments of good and evil. But this is to miss the essence of a worldview that extends across Turtle Island - the idea of harmony and balance. For in a world of process, activity, and relationship, both brothers are necessary.

We have already met a similar story of two brothers as told by the Iroquois people. Each is the complement of the other, and if one brother were to create an eagle the other would create a bat - and within the web of the world both forms of life are necessary.

It is only if one brother were to gain too much power over the other, or if the People were to acknowledge only one of these powers, that imbalance and disharmony would come to the land.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.187

Related posts:-
Evil and us

Doing the Good
Taking back the Projection

Sell Yourself

Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. "Do you wish to buy any baskets?" he asked. "No, we do not want any," was the reply. "What!" exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, "do you mean to starve us?"

Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off, - that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and by some magic wealth and standing followed, he had said to himself; I will go into business; I will weave baskets ; it is a thing which I can do.

Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man's to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other's while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.

I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one's while to buy them. Yet none the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men's while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them.

The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?

[Henry David Thoreau]
Walden, p.19

Related posts:-
Sell Out
Naked or Famous?
Open Source Approaches

Adventure on life

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

... it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left. But alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices.

No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What every body echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be falsehood to-morrow, mere smoke of opinion, which some had trusted for a cloud that would sprinkle fertilizing rain on their fields.

Nature and human life are as various as our several constitutions. Who shall say what prospect life offers to another? Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?

So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre.

The greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of any thing, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?

When he has obtained those things which are necessary to life, there is anther alternative than to obtain the superfluities; and that is, to adventure on life now, his vacation from humbler toil having commenced.

[Henry David Thoreau]
Walden, p.9-12, 16

Related posts:-
Satisfying Narratives
Spontaneous, Intimate and Aware!
Status Quo
Silent Violence
Think, Say, Do, Feel
Why are you so sure?
Testing new opinions and courting new impressions
Boxed Off
Don't Commit to It
Hold it still 
Cut to fit 
Shedding Skin
Do Not Disturb 
The Colour Wheel