Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Steampunk Girl

I'll preface this with my usual disclaimer. I invented Steampunk in my 1999 film script, Thunder Child. I will concede that William Gibson gets the credit because of his 1990 novel The Difference Engine. Yes, the same William Gibson who invented Cyberpunk, hence the "punk" in the steam. After all, he is a famous writer who was actually doing the work while I was just dreaming.  

Back in 1999, I outlined my script Thunder Child to someone in the pub and he told me that I was writing something called Steampunk, so I rushed home to investigate but there were very few pages on the subject on the internet at the time.  I did not need them really, for I had been instinctively attuned to the genre since I was ten years old, through Jules Verne and the Wild Wild West television show

Over the past ten years, I have watched the genre grow like a behemoth. For me its like knowing Bill Gates while he lived in the basement and not having the money to invest in his new company; then you watch it grow and everyone jumping on the bandwagon. You stand in the darkness as others profit in the spotlight and you become just another "steampunk" in the crowd. I am however resolved that when they pass, I shall remain.

You see, there is this false dichotomy that I called "the pop-cultural spectrum" back in the 1980's when I recognised it. Whether you buy into the mainstream, the cool alternative, or some soon-to-be-hip niche you are still buying into the same system of consumerism. Sociologists call this cultural consumption.

I'm all for consumption. I am a Romantic and history shows that Romantics love their stuff. Where I differ is that things exists for us to use, we do not exist for the things. The things we use to decorate our style of life should reflect our souls, our values, our beliefs. Only then do they become an extension of us. I'm not one for consumption for the sake of impressing the crowd or clique, only for myself.

One phrase I hate hearing is, "Oh, I use to be a Goth." I think to myself, "So you were a poseur then?" The poseur can wear the clothes, buy the stuff, talk the talk, listen to the music, and go to the clubs. A poseur can be the picture perfect model. But if that hot goth chick goes home and throws on her trainers and jeans, then I have to wonder which is the real girl. Is Goth just for dress-up until you grow out of it? Sorry kid, statistically speaking, everyone sells out and becomes a mundy.

Historically and culturally, Goth, like Steampunk, is an idiomatic subset of Romanticism, like Western (believe it or not). Some have gone so far to criticise Steampunk style as "goth (or industrial) in brown".

My take on Steampunk is same as my take on Goth. I do not approach the idiom from the position of consuming the fashion or music. I approach both from an historical, literary, cultural, and yes, philosophical position as parts of the Romantic.

Where I believe Steampunk is important is as an ideology – the Romantic ideology. But alas the consumers don't give a shit about the philosophy or the ideology. That's just rain their parade. They want to have fun, enjoy the new party theme and then move on to either the next one or grow-up and abandon it all together.

Forgive me if I sound cynical, but I have witnessed this over and over and over again for decades without any real change in consciousness. Image how I feel as a Romantic with people flirting with symbols and styles of my religion because its cool, people profiting from it, and then consumers throwing it aside because they could care less about meaning. Then they continue with their lives whining about how their lives have no meaning. Well my dear, that because you sucked it right out.

Among the ancient Celts there was a special caste called the bards. Part of their duties was to give meaning to the customs and rituals of the people through stories, songs, and histories. I speak of this very rarely but I will write it here. I am of the highest rank of bard through the authority of a bishop in the Celtic Christian Church with twelve lines of apostolic succession. That makes me legit. As such I have always seen as my role to bring meaning to people's lives by showing them the relevance of those things that they take for granted. This is my job and it is what I was born to do.

So what is the meaning of Steampunk? Romanticism is part of human nature, but more importantly it is part of Western Civilisation. Many feel that that civilisation is crumbling. So we look back to the glory days of the Romantic...the Victorian Era. We mimic it in our dress and our style either as Victorian Goths or Steampunks. But dressing like a tiger does not make you a tiger. What we are really after is a change of consciousness – a return to the worldview that made us great. But the Victorian Era was not perfect. So enter Steampunk.

The Victorian Romantics loved the Middle-Ages and in many ways Victorian society was a pastiche of how the Victorians either perceived or wanted the Medieval Period to be like. Likewise Steampunk is our pastiche of Victoriana.

William Gibson's book, The Difference Engine, is what is known as Dystopian Steampunk. The world he painted was a hell of steam and machines in a polluted London. This is not the world of modern Steampunks. Theirs is one of high adventure with brass machines and liberated women. My vision is one of inclusion, and that brings me to the real topic of this article.

Life for the middle-class Victorians was not the ideal we often depict. The most rampant disease of the age was syphilis. The philandering husband brought it home to his wife and she infected her children. This means she was scarred for life, on her face, with the sins of her husband. The famous Mrs Beaton, who wrote the definitive guide for the Victorian housewife, had syphilis.

Now it takes two to tango. This philandering husband was with his mistress or with one of the many London whores. It has been estimated that in London there was one prostitute for every twenty-five men. The worst thing that could happen to a woman was pregnancy out of wedlock. She might be cast-out from the family home disowned and living on the streets. Many such women threw themselves into the Thames.

I've had people challenge my glorification of the Victorians with facts such as these and my reply is always to state the theme of the age – Improvement. Victorians tackled such issues head-on. They wanted a better world and they were not afraid to work for it. The state of life from the start Victoria's reign when compared to the end is a stark contrast. The Victorian (see here Romantic) method worked. The problem is that we, as a civilisation, lost faith and abandoned it. Steampunk asks us what our world would be like if our ancestors had not stopped the Romantic Revolution.

The vision of the Classical Liberals of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century was inclusion. The white, middle-class, Protestant male was king and they wanted to teach the values that made him king to others and bring them into the Gentleman's club of power. This was viewed by later critics as an attempt to deny and destroy the inherent values and beliefs of others.

We see the same process at work today. People of the hippie persuasion are charmed by the quaint African villages and seek to preserve that native way of life by forcing them to die early from smoke inhalation from dung fuelled fires because oil and non-solar/wind generated electricity is bad. All that is really being achieved is keeping these people underfoot, starving, and dependent. I'd reckon the Victorians would be ashamed. If you doubt me, I would point out all the schools built across Africa during the days of the empire all with the intent of improving their lives and their opportunities.

Part of this spirit of inclusion extended to women. Yes. The Victorian woman had it bad. So with the power of imagination we might ask what would have happened if the Romantic method continued? What would that Steampunk Girl be like?

I saw a Facebook post of a woman dressed in a Neo-Victorian style and a man posted a comment along the lines of, "Why do women get the best clothes?" Fact is that the clothes of the average Victorian woman were pretty boring and the men had the best clothes. Most of the inspiration for the modern "Steampunk" look seems to come from dancehall or saloon girls of the period. These are the so-called "loose women of questionable virtue" of the time.

Fact is that thanks to the pill, legal abortion, condoms, and yes, even state funding for unwed mothers, the post-modern woman can afford to be a sexual creature without the pitfalls that kept the Victorian woman chaste. This change is reflected in the sexy clothes of the Steampunk girls.

Another major theme in Victoriana, and therefore Steampunk fashion, is industry. The curious thing here is that today in the United States only 23% of women choose to enter the fields of engineering, invention, and computing. But what is really being said here is that women are now producers, no longer dependant upon men for their existence. She is active.

Unlike the bound Victorian woman, the post-modern woman is not restricted by the consequences of sex or the dependency of another's production. This gives the woman incredible power and freedom, and yet the other part of the equation is responsibility and consequence.

Men are programmed by evolution in general terms of masculinity to be more reason oriented and less emotional as a consequence of his natural function as producer. Likewise women are programmed for emotion as benefits their role as reproducer. Victorian men often used this emotional orientation as an excuse to dismiss, demean, and control women for their own good. The woman's emotions were seen as a potential threat to herself and to others.

We have moved beyond that thinking, but the basic natural premise has not changed despite the change in social attitudes. Once we recognise this major difference in masculine and feminine psychology we can more easily identify the feminized male, the masculine woman, but more importantly the so-called feral female.

The idea of the feral female is the woman whose natural emotional drives are not restrained, disciplined, or controlled by her or others. Statistically women are more likely to end a relationship then men and the reason is not being fulfilled emotionally by the relationship. Men and women are equally inclined to cheat, but the woman tends to form an emotional bond either, before or after sex, with her lover. This puts her in an emotional quandary which eventually leads to the end of the relationship, particularly if her partner becomes desperate and emotionally needy in his attempts to keep her.

In the old days when a woman was dependent on a man's production he limited how she spent his earnings. Today, the self-producing woman spends for herself. In the UK women spend £21 billion on clothes alone, twice what men spend, and most of this is on credit. These weapons of massive consumption wear only 10% of their wardrobe 90% of the time leaving most of the purchases untouched. The result of this spending is that women aged 25-34 in the UK who declared bankruptcy hit sixty per day.

Women have been liberated sexually and productively and many women have used that freedom to truly flourish and be generally happy. However the feral female nature must be recognised and held in check in the same way that a man must restrain his nature to spread his seed. If it is not, then emotional unfulfilment and bankruptcy seems to be the inevitable outcome for the post-modern woman. It's Bridget Jones without the happy ending.

Many Victorian men chose to be bachelors in the Professor Henry Higgins mode. Part of his duties as a man was to manage his woman and many men refused that responsibility by remaining single. He values his freedom too much to be bothered with women.

Things have not changed. When a woman's hormones go bonkers and she's flooded with emotions the man has to deal with that constantly shifting tide of happiness and hopelessness. He's expected to comfort, console, and support, so he's expected to be a woman. Modern men are also expected to be magnificent lovers indulging her sexual desires and if he doesn't then she might feel "emotionally unsatisfied" and abandon him for stiffer pastures. Many men have chosen that it is better to be a man alone, free, and true than be either subject to a woman's whims or the manger of her emotional states.

If Victorian society was masculine and these masculine qualities are those celebrated and glorified in Steampunk, then where do we living in the feminized post-modern fit in? And who is this Steampunk girl? She's not the Victorian woman sexually, morally, and physically bound. She wears her corset when she chooses and she wears it outside her clothes. So what makes her different from any other post-modern woman? Her taste in clothes?

Keeping with the theme of inclusion, what kept the Victorian gentleman in-line was social convention, reputation, and necessity, true, but overall it was his will over his desires. He was expected to master his emotional urges. Likewise, the women who seek to be in the Gentleman's Club must learn to govern themselves and be judged for their decisions, because the rules cannot be changed to suit their natures. "I felt like it" is no excuse. Women who do not want to join the ranks of producers must submit to those who do or be abandoned.

Sounds like I want to turn women into men. Well, the masculine world is that of production and therefore any woman who wants to be part of that world must follow its rules. Likewise any man who chooses to be a part of the woman's world of reproduction must follow those rules. That's reproduction in the figurative sense as child-rearing, of course.

We can imagine the Goth girl lying languid across a chaise lounge, though not the Steampunk girl. She's ready for action and high-adventure. There are so many herotypes that I can consider that encapsulate the action woman, but none are quite Steampunk. They do not have the sensibilities of what a neo-Victorian woman would be like. There is one though.

I played my first game of Tomb Raider a few years ago and I am embarrassed to say that I realised what all of the fuss was about. Lara Croft is of noble birth, wealthy, intelligent, and witty. She is beautiful and sexy without trying. She is charming and handles adversity with gallantry. Lady Croft embodies all seven of the Romantic virtues, and even some of the masculine ones. All she was missing was some neo-Victorian clothes.

Women go ga-ga over Romantic heroes, be they light or dark. Is it surprising that men went crazy over Lara Croft. The thing about women like her though is that they are a challenge to men. A woman cannot a love a man that she does not respect and she cannot respect a man that she sees as her inferior. So any man who can win a Lara Croft must be a remarkable man indeed.

Steampunk offers us an interesting opportunity. Those of us with a Romantic Victorian disposition can imagine what the world would have been like if the Romantic vision did not die in the fields of France, or the falling of the stock market, or under the boot-heel of socialism. What kind of world would we have if America was still a republic and Britain an empire? 

We can only guess the answer, but I want to see that world for real. America can be a republic again, but I think the empire is pretty much a done deal. No, what I really want to see is that world of industrious and enterprising ladies and gentlemen boldly moving into the future building, creating, and devising new places and new opportunities for everyone. That is the world I want to see and all wrapped-up in a Victorian aesthetic.

Instead we humans are seen as the virus of planet earth draining its resources and killing the world. People need to be held back, controlled, labelled, and kept happy on bread, circuses, and lies. The individual must be protected from himself and others from him and all for the "greater good" as cooked-up in some bureaucrat's office and then fed through the ad-men to convince the mob that it is moral. Then we all can vote for whichever side of the same evil coin we choose and thus convince ourselves that everything is okay. Our ancestors would be appalled by our inaction.

So for all those playing dress-up. Have fun. As for me, I have a world to win. I believe in Steampunk. That spectacular merging of modern technology, Romantic zeitgeist, and the Neo-Victorian aesthetic I live everyday of my life when I put on my hat and frock coat. I'm a 24/7 guy because it's me, and there is no other person to be. There are no jeans, t-shirts, or trainers, just trousers, braces and slippers. That is why I do what I do, because I cannot be anything else. So stop pretending and join the true revolution. Ladies welcome.

Oh, and for all those creators of Steampunk clothes, jewellery, machines, books, films, art, music, and design. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication. I am in awe of your talent, passion, creativity, and ingenuity. Keep up the fantastic work.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The 7 Romantic Virtues: Passion/Sensuality – The Fine Art of Living

Passion is defined as a state of high emotion.  Romanticism is often associated with this state, but this is misleading.  Living a passionate existence is much more that merely being emotional.  The emotion is a by-product of something deeper.
Philosophy looks at the world that is and from there draws conclusions.  Here is where we have advantages beyond our predecessors.  We understand how the world works more now than we did two hundred years ago. 
One area where this applies is in understanding passion.  When in the past people could recognise passion, today we can break it down psychologically, codify it, and lay out a course to promote a passionate life.
In psychology, passion is known as “the flow state”, while in everyday discourse we might say: to be on the ball, in the zone, in the groove, or keeping your head in the game.  Similarly when we say, “Time flies when you’re having fun”; or when you view a film and leave saying, “That didn’t feel like three hours”.  Likewise when you spend an entire day with someone and the day flew by.  All this means that you are completely focused, in the moment, and in a state of high interest.  This is passion.  In the film The Hustler, Fast Eddie describes it like this...

The term flow state was coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who identified nine factors accompanying an experience of flow.
1.     Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
2.     Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
3.     A loss of the feeling of self consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4.     Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
5.     Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behaviour can be adjusted as needed).
6.     Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
7.     A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
8.     The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
9.     People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging.
To experience passion is to be fully immersed in an activity and feeling an energized focus on the task at hand with full mental and emotional involvement.  It is completely focused motivation representing the peak harnessing of the emotions in performing and learning.  The emotions are not merely contained and channelled but positive, energized, and aligned with reality.  The opposite of passion is to be depressed or anxious in the tasks of living rather than the feelings of joy and involvement.
While experiencing passion the ego ceases to exist.  Ego is the sense of self, but actually it is a false self.  As we mature we develop conceptual representations of reality and we invest emotional energy into these concepts.  Of these myriad concepts the most important is the concept of self.
When you love some thing or some person it is because you have invested emotion and meaning into your idea of it.  Our filters of perception prevent us from truly knowing objective reality.  We only know our idea of it.
Let’s say that you have an emotional investment in a particular performer.  You listen to all the songs, go to the concerts, and buy the T-shirts.  You have strong feelings about this performer even though you do not know them personally.  You are emotionally moved by what he or she has produced and so you have developed an emotional attachment to your idea of them.  This attachment exists between your idea of them and your idea of your self, your ego.
Then one day someone says, “You like them?  They suck.”  How do you feel?  Angry?  Demeaned?  Apathetic?  Hurt?  By attacking what you love they are attacking you personally, whereas if they were to praise the performer you might feel validated or even cool.
This is the ego at work.  In another instance we might love others simply according to how our idea of them pertains to our ego, so if they reject you then you feel lost and hurt when we should be able to let them go and wish them well.
The ego forms conceptual connections to people and things that collectively we see as extensions of “me”.  This is why many Buddhists preach that things are the source of pain and therefore we must divest ourselves of these things in order to be happy.
Values are those things that we act to gain or to keep because they bring value to our lives.  However, sometimes we pursue things that we think will bring value but actually devalue our lives.
Consider two businessmen.  Both want to make money, however one of them loves the process and the money is merely a consequence whereas the other believes that the acquisition of things will make him more valuable.  One man is driven by passion and the other by ego.  The ego driven man is using the wrong tool for the job.  He may acquire things and public acclaim but all that does is inflate the ego.  His sense of self-worth is tied to the things, so when the things become lost or devalued then so does his sense of worth.
The ego produces because the ego is always hungry, like the spider infecting the soul, it always needs more.  More money, more acclaim, more attention, more, more, more.  There is no satiating the ego.  When the ego is temporarily satisfied it is king of the world, but if there is a failure the hungry ego becomes jealous, covetous, hurt, angry, and resentful all wrapped-up in self-loathing.
When in the state of passion the mind and the emotions are completely engaged in reality.  It is not self-conscious, or worrying, or needing validation.  To be in the state of passion is to be in the moment of existence without the ego getting in the way shouting, “What about me, me, me!”
The flip-side of the inflated ego is the deflated ego.  It thwarts passion with the fears of success and the fears of failure.  Rather than being focused on the object of high interest, we are overly concerned with the outcome or how it might affect the ego.  This is another way that ego kills passion like a self-conscious lover.
The ego is the false self.  The true self is the actual self – the self pertaining to action.  This is the self that others see but you do not.  I have only seen glimpses of my self in a mirror, or a photograph, or a film.  I have heard recordings of my voice but never actually had a proper conversation. I have never interacted with my self to see what expressions I get on my face, or seen how I look when I’m walking down the street.  I see my arms, hands, legs, feet, but never the whole picture.
Now, I might look to others to get a better idea of myself, but they have their own filters on reality, so their thoughts concerning me are really just their thoughts, their judgements.  Nor do they see the thoughts and emotions that drive my actions.  So we can never truly know ourselves and we can never really know each other.  All we can know is how we engage reality through our wilful actions.
Often passion is confused with love or sexuality.  This is misleading.  The passionate man is passionate about the world in general outside himself, which can include love and sexuality as well as bridge building and politics.  He is more concerned about what a thing is and engaging it rather than how it might affect his ego.  When he stops to consider his feelings, the ego takes hold and he becomes too self-conscious to experience passion.  The strange thing is, by ignoring the egoic feelings the true feeling of connection emerges.
It may at first glance seem odd that a philosophy rooted in individualism would have a virtue that seems to call for the elimination of what most people would consider to be the self.  That which you call you, that voice in your head that you call your thoughts, even to an extent the feeling these thoughts evoke, are all part of the ego, and ego makes both passion and sensuality impossible.  Many young and aspiring Romantics go wrong when they confuse the ego with the self. 
In terms of the 7 Romantic Virtues, passion is a masculine quality.  Man is the producer, the creator, the builder fully engaged in reality.  He is passionate about what he does.  The feminine compliment to passion is sensuality.
In Rudyard Kipling’s story, The Cat Who Walked by Himself it is the Woman who brings Man into the cave and decorates it.  In the television series, The X Files, Agent Moulder refers to bachelors as “bears with furniture”.  Even now we refer to a Spartan living area as needing “a woman’s touch”.  The feminine has always been seen as a beautifying and civilizing force in society.
Sensuality refers to those things that excite the senses. How does the thing feel, taste, smell, sound, or appear and what emotions do these sensations evoke.  Sensuality, like passion, is also associated with sexuality, but that too is only part of it.  Where passion describes an interaction with reality through either physically or mentally activity, sensuality is an interaction with the thing itself, and as with passion, the ego does not exist, only the experience of the thing.
Of course a woman can feel passion and a man can be sensual.  Both are part of being human.  It is only the general orientation of passion to be masculine and sensuality to be feminine.  If a man is over concerned with matters of the senses, or the creation of sense related things, such as working as an interior or fashion designer, he is usually mistaken for being gay.  I would argue that a man lacking sensuality is a Philistine and the woman lacking passion is a self-obsessed.
The French philosopher Rousseau wrote, "...for the highest reason is only attained through the same power of the soul which gives rise to great passions, and we serve philosophy worthily only with the same ardour that we feel for a mistress.”
Historically, the French have been masters of combining the masculine passion for wisdom and the feminine sensuality.  This is most evident in the institution of the salon where great artists and thinkers would meet at the home of a hostess, usually a courtesan.
The word courtesan has changed meanings a few times over the centuries.  Originally it meant a female courtier and today it means a high class escort.  The meaning applicable here is the courtesan as a well-educated and worldly woman who often worked as a performer or artist.  She was noted for her social and conversational skills, intelligence, common sense, and companionship – not to mention her physical attributes.  What set them apart from other women was their wit and personality.  The most curious aspect of the courtesan was that sex was still part of the job description; however this was but one facet of her services.  She was also expected to be well-dressed and ready to engage in a variety of topics ranging from art to music to politics.
One of my favourite stories involves an emperor who attends a burlesque show, falls in love with one of the dancers and makes her his empress.  During a revolt he tried to flee, but she refused to join him.  Her resilience forces him to act and put down the revolt and thereby save his reign.  The empress Theodora proved herself to be the great woman behind the Byzantine emperor Justinian.
The notion of the courtesan seems to alien to us today.  Imagine hooking up with a sultry sex kitten and then discussing politics with her.  Today we divide the artists from the academics from the sexy, but for the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century French they all blended together in institution of the salon.  In the salon we find those passionate men and sensuous women who define these two Romantic virtues.
In my younger years I was quite passionate, but then everything changed.  In the director’s commentary for the pilot episode of the television series Firefly, there is a point where Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds realises that the Battle of Serenity Valley is lost and with it the war and director Joss Wedon identifies the point where Reynolds lost it.  This is picked-up again in the film Serenity when Reynolds reclaims what he had lost.  What he lost was belief and I know what it is like to lose belief.
Reynolds was an idealist born of a family of ranchers, a real down-home, honest, and salt of the earth kind of guy.  He believed in his cause and he believed in his God.  When he lost it was as if the sun had risen in the west.  His whole worldview turned up-side-down.  Now all he cared about was surviving by any means necessary, though occasionally the old moral sensibilities would kick-in.  It is not until the event of the film Serenity that he regains his believe and therefore his passion for life.
As Shepherd Book told Mal, “I don't care what you believe in, just believe in it”.  It is belief that drives the emotions that fuel the passionate existence.  It really does not matter what you believe in.  Just believe, though I would advise that your belief system is rooted in Truth.
As for me, well I struggle with living passionately.  Its difficult when you’ve lost faith, but like Captain Reynolds I’m recovering.
To be passionate is to be in a state of high interest, curiosity, and driven by the need to discover, create, and experience the world outside the subjective bubble.  This whole-hearted involvement with reality, either through passion or sensuality, has always been the hallmark of the Romantic reflecting the values of love and beauty in every day life.  Nothing could be more beneficial for the Romantic than to cultivate a passionate existence for in that lays the true art of living.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The 7 Romantic Virtues: Magnanimity –There’s Always More

Of all of Aristotle's twelve virtues, this one is the biggy. In 1828, Noah Webster in his Dictionary of the American Language put it like this:

MAGNANIMITY, n. [L. magnanimitas; magnus, great, and animus, mind.] Greatness of mind; that elevation or dignity of soul, which encounters danger and trouble with tranquillity and firmness, which raises the possessor above revenge, and makes him delight in acts of benevolence, which makes him disdain injustice and meanness, and prompts him to sacrifice personal ease, interest and safety for the accomplishment of useful and noble objects.

Yep, that's quite a virtue. Remember that a virtue is a positive habit. So being magnanimous is to be in the habit of greatness. It sounds impossible, doesn't it?

One of the key philosophical questions is, "What is the nature of man?" Are we as a species basically good or basically evil? Your answer to that fundamental question forms the bedrock of most of your beliefs and behaviour. Everyone has an answer to that question, though they may not be aware of it consciously. They may even espouse, and truly believe, one answer, but unconsciously believe the opposite. Before we can understand magnanimity we must first understand good and evil and determine where mankind fits the equation.

In the Aristotelian ethics the good is that which promotes flourishing and the evil is that which hinders or destroys it. Since man flourishes through the use of his mind, then it is the "great mind" that leads to greater flourishing. There is more than that. Through his flourishing he allows others to flourish.

For example, look at how the flourishing of an inventor and entrepreneur like Bill Gates has allowed millions of other people to flourish in their lives. Love him or hate him, you must admit that the corporation he built has employed either directly or indirectly millions and millions of people, not to mention how his products have allowed others to flourish and also employ people.

I do not subscribe to the mainstream ethics of altruism that states that the good man is the man who sacrifices for others. I do not believe in the concept of the "greater good". However, every man judges another according to how they benefited from this man's actions and when the many benefit from the actions of the single man then there is a common consensus that he is great.

When people are asked who the great men of our age are they will usually point to spiritual or moral leaders, such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King. The men of industry, such as Gates, are seen as just being in it for the profit motive. Well, when you are unemployed and starving would you benefit more from the preacher giving you spiritual sustenance out of the kindness of his heart or the businessman offering you a job for his own selfish end?

People like Gandhi and King courageously opened the doors of opportunity for millions of people. That can be considered good and great. However, people had to walk through those newly opened doors. For all intents and purposes inspirational men such as these are basically just cheerleaders encouraging others to act. It is the unsung people who followed their calls, did the work, and flourished who are the real creators of a new world.

All rational men seek to flourish, so therefore we might say that mankind is basically good. However, everyone has a different idea of how to go about flourishing and what it means to flourish. So the ends may be good, but the means can be evil.

The problem occurs when people are completely convinced that their evil actions are moral and justified. I believe it was Willem Dafoe who said that the key to playing a villain is remembering that the villain thinks that he is the hero.

In my life, every thief that I have ever encountered has always has the same excuse. "I needed it". There may or may not have been a genuine need, such as when a homeless man steals food from a supermarket. But generally there is confusion between need and want. "I took it because I wanted it" in most cases is the truth of the matter. They wanted it because it added value to their life.

According to the trader principle, all human relationships are based upon the mutual exchange of values, be they material or emotional. That trade relationship is soured through the use of force or fraud. This is fraud in the general sense of the word to include concepts like the use of deceit or theft to acquire values thus bypassing the informed, rational, and mutually beneficial exchange of values which is the ideal.

Humanity has been arguing over the nature of evil for thousands of years. One theory is that the most prevalent form of evil comes from a real or imagined scarcity of values. The homeless man steals food because he lacks the values needed for trade, so he steals the values he needs to relieve his scarcity, or the man who sees other men with a better standard of living than he has, so he steals to relieve his perceived scarcity.

Did you hear the story about the rich man who broke into someone's house and stole their television? No? Because it doesn't happen. The rich man has the money to buy a very nice television through the proper exchange of values. People with values in abundance generally do not try to circumvent the trading process. It is the people with a real or imagined scarcity of values who do so.

I am by no means saying that the wealthy do not engage in force or fraud to increase their values. Questions of abundance and scarcity are largely a matter of relativity and perception. A man with a 50k salary has more abundance than a man with no salary; the 50k man may feel scarcity when compared to the 100k earner; and the 100k earner may feel lacking when he compares himself to the millionaire. It is not unknown for the wealthy to "feel" poor and some will do whatever they might believe is necessary to increase their values or avoid a perceived scarcity.

In his influential 1989 book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey coined the term abundance mentality. This is a mindset in which a person believes there are enough resources and success to share with others. The opposite is the scarcity mentality in which a person believes that resources are scarce and must be hoarded and protected from others.

If we hold to the notion that most of human evil stems from a real or perceived scarcity of values and the resulting battle to gain and protect these limited resources, then we can also accept the opposite to be true that the abundance mentality promotes both the flourishing of the individual and the resulting flourishing of others. According to Covey, the abundance mentality stems from a high self worth and security, and leads to sharing profits, the recognition of others, and personal responsibility. Such people are inclined to celebrate the success of others rather than feel threatened by it.

This is because abundance is not simply a question of material values, but also emotional values. There is always more love, more credit, more worth, and more opportunities to go around for everyone. He can afford to be understanding, kind, and more importantly he aims for that win/win situation because he has nothing to prove and he has nothing to loose that cannot be replaced. There is always more.

Another definition of magnanimity is generosity and the antonym is pettiness and meanness. The man who believes that emotional values, like material ones, are scarce is more inclined towards what is commonly seen as greedy, selfish or self-centred behaviour. Screw them before they screw you. He sees others as a means to his ends or potential challengers rather than potential trading partners. In relationships, he succumbs to desperate co-dependency or jealousy because he is afraid of losing what little he has. If he does loose it, then he becomes spiteful and mean-spirited.

St. Columba wrote, "The man to whom little is not enough will not be satisfied by more". But the Romantic is all about more: more love, more experiences, more life. When we think of successful people who have made their fortunes ten times over we may notice that many of them are still working. Why? It is because they enjoy the work. It is not about the money, or even the public success. The Romantic notion of "more" is not born of a perceived need or scarcity or lacking, on either a material or emotional level. It is the love of creation and the pleasure of the process.

In this sense the virtue of magnanimity ties in with the value of love. Love pertaining to the creation and appreciation of values both in yourself and others. In that we have the keys to flourishing and therefore goodness.

Have you ever stopped to open the door for someone, and then someone else, and then someone else, and the next thing you know you're the bloody doorman. It's easy for magnanimous people to be taken advantages of by the inconsiderate. Over time you become more and more tight fisted in your conduct in an attempt to protect yourself. This too can become a habit and soon you wake-up to discover that you've become David Balfour's uncle from Kidnapped.

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."

The miser of love, like the miser of profit, suffers in his solitude and misery. He no longer takes the chance to love for fear of loss and soon he looses that wonderful childlike glee of love. The scarcity mentality takes root and like Captain Barbossa's apples, all life loses its pleasure, crushed by his insatiable ego.

If you possess a large bag filled with pound coins and you drop one you might just let it go. However, if you have only three coins and one accidentally falls into the toilet, then by god you're fishing for it.
The man who possesses the abundance mentality is naturally magnanimous. He can afford to be giving in both material and immaterial values. His cup overflows and allows others to flourish. This is the mark of a great man, a noble man, a loving man.

The man who possesses the scarcity mentality is always on guard. He hoards his values from those he fears might take them while he himself takes. He is petty, mean, vindictive, and vengeful. He is always fishing in life's toilet to see what he might recover to ease the emptiness of his soul.

So is man basically good or basically evil? Humans are creatures of need, as are all living creatures. We need the means to produce food, shelter, and clothing. We need the means to protect these material values. We need to reproduce. We need emotional values, like a sense of self-worth, efficacy, and yes – love. There are many ways to satisfy these needs. Some means lead to flourishing and some to destruction. Wisdom is knowing which is which and developing the habits necessary to flourish. The alternative is destruction.

I believe that all mankind has the potential for greatness. We can all be magnanimous. It is not beyond us. Yet, so many fall short. They fear that there is not enough to go around. They fear others having more than they do. They fear others having too little. Ultimately, they fear for their own values. It is their fear that drags them, and all who believe their cries of wolf, into the abyss.

Just remember that there is always more love, more money, and more success to go around. If you make this a habit, then life's little losses seem utterly insignificant, like dropping that single pound coin when you have an entire bag of values at your pleasure.

After posting this article I did a quick YouTube search on the subject of the abundance mentality. Most of what I found would be classed as self-help. Now back when I worked bookstores I developed a real dislike of self-help. I saw it as something for the weak and pathetic. My views have changed. The Victorians invented self-help. 

The first self-help books were part of a type of writing called self-improvement books designed to help people to live better and more profitable lives by imparting wisdom. I have since learned that all philosophy is fundamentally self-help. A person cannot say that they enjoy philosophy but hate self-help. Self-help is the purpose of philosophy.

I found this video which seems quite applicable in laying out steps for moving away from the scarcity mentality and towards the abundance mentality. It is not enough for me to preach the virtue of magnanimity without offering a path to achieving that virtue.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Glenn Beck and Framing the Scarecrow

It has been a very very long time since I have lived in the United States, but I'm watching. I see it through the screens of my television and my computer. I am seeing something that I saw when I lived there and I see it still. I see bigots.

Now there is a word not heard much of these days – bigot. A bigot is an intolerant person with strong opinions, especially on politics, religion, or ethnicity, who refuses to accept different views. However, that is not the whole of it. The connotation behind the word is found in how the bigot refuses to accept the differing views.

In the field of logic, there are several logical fallacies. One of which is called ad hominem argument. The person using this will refute the opposing view by demeaning the person making the argument. So if Adolph Hitler were to say "2+2=4", I would respond by calling him an evil fascist shit. That may be true, however it does not refute his statement, nor does it change the truth of it.

Worded this way the ad hominem argument makes no sense whatsoever. You might wonder why it is used at all, and yet it is all around us. When a person makes a statement and you are trying to decide whether or not you believe it, then it makes sense to consider who is making the statement, what is his character, what kind of people does he choose to associate with, and what are his intentions. 

So when a junkie approaches you on the street and asks you for food money it makes sense not to believe him because he is a junkie, he is with his junkie friends, and most likely wanting money for the next fix. He may in fact be hungry. He may even intend to buy food. It is up to you to decide whether you think that he will in fact buy food or the next fix.

So this sort of reasoning makes sense in everyday decision making, considering the source, however in the realm of reason, argument, and debate it devolves into little more than playground name-calling.

In the example of the junkie, it is obvious that he is a junkie. We can see the tell tale signs. However in the multimedia world we do not know the people with whom we disagree, so people make-up group stereotypes.

This ties into another logical fallacy known as the straw man argument. This is where you misrepresent your opponent's argument and then attack your version rather than the actual argument being made. So I might say, "Sometimes the sky in Los Angeles is brown" and my opponent might reply, "Logan says that the sky isn't blue, and that is simply not true".

So now let's spice-up this straw man with a little ad hominem. "Logan is a nutcase. He actually thinks that the sky isn't blue. He says it's brown". Oh, but it doesn't stop there. "Logan is an American, they are always saying stupid things." Now we've moved into the realm of prejudice. "All Americans are nutcases who believe that the sky is brown".

It's not enough for bigotry to refuse to accept the existence of contrary views; it has to justify it, which it accomplishes through straw man and ad hominem arguments. There is one more element to this fiasco of reason and it's called Frame Control.

I've written it before and I'll write it many many more times, "We live in the real world and exist within the realm of perception". Now what if someone could control how you perceive reality? For all intents and purposes this person is creating the world in which you exist. Frame control is the act of controlling the "frame" or point of view that a person has regarding reality. Some call it spin.

The easiest way to maintain frame control is to have a stronger point of view than your subject. In other words, the stronger belief wins. When you state opinion as obvious fact people are inclined to believe you, particular if they are unsure, lack information, or have no investment. Once you have lost control of the frame it is incredibly difficult to shift someone from that point of view. For individuals this is found in confidence, but in the media it is repetition. Repeat your message enough times and through enough outlets and it will be believed.

In a CBS television interview with Harry Smith on 2 April, President Obama was discussing his critics, particularly Glenn Beck and the accusation that Obama is a socialist. Obama said, "The truth is some of these comments when you actually ask, well this is based on what? This notion that Obama's a socialist, for example, nobody can really give you a good answer".

This is an example of Obama controlling the frame. He is asserting that his critics have no evidence of him being a socialist and the statement is delivered in a blasé and matter-of-fact tone with a smile. The President appears cool and in control, he is believable, and he makes his opponent look foolish. Of course, none of this is true.

When I look at the debates going on in America on the television and internet I am amazed at the levels of bigotry, ad hominem and straw man arguments, and frame control. Where this is most apparent is the ongoing storm surrounding Glenn Beck.

I have read people who write that watching him for merely a few moments makes them physically sick, he is slammed for being crazy, a nutcase, dangerous, inciting hate, and even for making a profit through his radio, television, and print works. Likewise those people who agree with him are portrayed as stupid, foolish, teabagging, racist, rednecks.

I recently saw an article in the Huffington Post in which the author declared in the first paragraph that he was going to expose Glenn Beck once and for all. The ensuing paragraphs amounted to well-written name calling. At no point were Beck's basic premises ever addressed in the article.

So what does Glenn Beck have to say? 

He claims that the political ideology known as Progressivism took root in the American system one hundred years ago, infecting both political parties, and that it has been steadily undermining the American Republic through the gradual implementation of socialist policies at the expense of the US Constitution.

He claims that Obama came from a family of 1960's era radical Marxists, pursued this path in his academic and professional life, and that he currently surrounds himself with advisors who are similar radicals, Socialists, or Communists. He supports this premise with numerous video clips, radio interviews, and published works in which Obama and his associates advocated socialists and/or socialist policies, such as the redistribution of wealth, in their own words.

He claims that Socialism as an ideology has consistently bankrupted countries, led to a lower standard of living, and in the common worst case scenarios, such as in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Soviet Union, and Maoist China, have led to mass murder.

Therefore, Beck advocates on his programs a rejection of Progressivism, among both Republican and Democrats, and encourages protests against the Obama administration and its allies in order to save the United States from becoming a socialist nation and restore the republic as established by the US Constitution.

Every attack I have ever read on Glenn Beck, and those who agree with his premises, consists of ad hominem and straw man arguments and frame control. They attack him as a person; they accuse him of profiteering, fake crying, stirring hate, racism, and being a Republican Party mouthpiece. Even if all these were true, I have never heard anyone address his arguments.

Is socialism a desirable and workable economic system? If so, then why? Answer the evidence concerning Obama, his advisors, and his allies as being socialists. Refute the evidence that the increase in social services, bureaucracy, and central government power over the last century has made America more socialist. How do you respond to the cover article in Newsweek Magazine soon after Obama's election that declared, "We Are All Socialists Now"?

Since socialism is, for the vast majority of Americans, a dirty word you tend to hear calls for the tenants of socialism but then anger when the quacking thing is called a duck. If you are pro-socialism, then what is the problem with Glenn Beck stating the obvious? Why do certain anti-war or pro-union demonstrations downplay their socialist identity in public but proclaim them on their websites only to act offended when called socialists in the media? Why do they refuse to debate the tenants of socialism? Instead they make heartfelt appeals as though they are a charity. 

The answer is frame control. They argue for their ends and take the means as a given. If you disagree with their means, then they condemn you for disagreeing with their ends. I want to relieve the suffering of the poor, but I do not think that taxes for the purpose of redistributing wealth is ethical, therefore I must hate poor people. Since many poor in America are minorities, then I must be a racist too. It is possible to debate arguments; however it is impossible to debate frames since its all subjective perception.

It's like arguing with a child. I find myself no longer arguing against the redistribution of wealth rather I am defending myself against the accusation of being a racist. This then empowers their argument, but if I ignore the accusation, then I am hiding something. You cannot win. I am not longer Logan who is against the redistribution of wealth. In the public eye I have become Logan the racist who hates poor people and wants them to die. "Logan? Yeah, I've heard of him, he's that crazy racist isn't he?"

The latest attack on Beck comes from his following premise. The term "social justice" is a common phrase referring to the idea of redistribution of wealth. Beck points out various religious groups who preach that "social justice" is a moral tenant found in their religion. He goes on to state that socialist have infiltrated certain religious groups to use them to promote their political agenda under the guise of religion and warns his viewers to be wary. This practice of infiltration has also been observed by Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, in regards to environmentalist groups.

In response, a group called Jewish Funds for Justice began a protest against Beck that they called a Twitterstorm where they inundated Beck's Twitter account with anti-Beck haikus for several days. One article claimed that they were protesting Beck for comparing them to the Nazi's. The only connection that I can see there is that both the Nazi's and the Jewish Funds for Justice (supposedly) are socialists.

So rather than answer the accusation that the Jewish Funds For Justice is a socialist front, either by denying the claim or saying , "yes we are socialist, so what." The group attacked Beck in what they called a protest. The purpose of the protest was the shut down Beck's freedom of speech without any debate or discussion and of course to promote the public image of him as a vitriolic, hate-inspiring, nutcase whose free speech is a danger to America and therefore must be silenced.

The controversy surrounding Glenn Beck is evidence of the sort of bigotry that I have seen rampant in America for decades. People of contrary views are demonised, put into some pre-conceived, pre-packaged stereotype, and then the scarecrow is publicly burned. Glenn Beck may be completely wrong, but shouldn't we argue the case before we pass judgement?

Over the past two decades I have seen news reports of people who have lost their jobs and careers because some group did not like what someone said, they protested, and the person's bosses did not like the bad publicity so the person was fired. Trial by media.

I recall one such incident when a professor was sacked for his unpopular findings. He laid out his research to the board and told them to prove him wrong. They refused to even look at it. Being right or wrong was irrelevant. The accusations and misrepresentations from others was enough. So much for the stick and stones theory. Being the victim of name-calling can ruin your career.

In debate your objective is not necessarily to convince the other person. More often than not the purpose is to convince the audience. The ad hominem and straw man arguments and the practice of framing can, if skilfully used, manipulate the audience to your side. Part of this is what I like to call the scarecrow effect.

You create a stereotype of your opponent that is socially distasteful. Tea Party Protestors are ignorant rednecks and racists. I do not want to be seen by my friends and family as an ignorant redneck or a racist, so I will avoid any sort of association with them. Thus I have rejected the ideology proposed by the group without even knowing what it is because I do not want to be associated with the popular image of people in that group. The straw man scarecrow scares people away.

The opposite is also true. Liberals are caring individuals who promote peace and love among all races, creeds, genders, and sexual orientations. They want to help the poor and heal the environment. Among their numbers are artists and intellectuals who are all working together to fight the evil people motivated by nothing more than their own greed and prejudice. I want to be associated with this group.

There is only one problem. None of this is real. It's all lies and manipulation. Being human, I am also guilty of buying into an image and I am guilty of promoting one. As any hypnotists can tell you, the idea of the thing carries more power than the thing itself. Or the salesman might tell you to sell the sizzle and not the bacon. Mark Twain is attributed with saying, "Image goes round the world twice before reality gets its shoes on."

Glenn Beck portrays himself as an everyman forced by circumstance to reluctantly take on the mantle of a modern day American patriot in the mould of the Founding Fathers. His enemies seek to portray him as a right-wing charlatan profiteering off the ignorance and fears of others. It's all image manipulation. We are not debating the issues but the image and people will align themselves with the group with the most appealing image, the one that most resonates with their values.

I confess that I have an image of socialists. I see them as either bitches or bullies. The bitches are the sentimental, bleeding-heart ones who selfishly put their feelings about reality above anything else and think that they are doing the right thing by promoting the use government force to get their way while simultaneously portraying themselves as anti-government. Many of them are well-intentioned fools living a delusional existence.

The bullies are the enforcers who try to silence any dissent by force, harassment, accusations, or threats through displays of group power (also called angry protests) in lieu of discourse. Even when wielding government power, the bullies use these same tactics but on a grander scale. That is my subjective perception.

Subjective Reality is personal. How you feel about things is very important, but only to you. Your feelings are only relevant in that little pocket universe you call reality. As the common NLP saying goes, "The map is not the terrain." If spiders scare you, that does not make spiders scary as a rule of the Objective universe. It only pertains to your subjective universe. Your feelings are yours and your responsibility. No one can "make" you feel anything that you do not already have the capacity to feel already.

As we go into the world we meet other people with their own pocket universe. Sometimes these subjective realities are similar and a rapport is established. We might even find rapport with certain images. These images may be works of art or even our ideas concerning people that we have never met. All of this is rooted in the perception of shared values, also known as love.

Sometimes we meet people or encounter images that are completely contrary to our values. We might even perceive them as a threat to our universe. How do we deal with that conflict? The bigot will use any means necessary to shut out, silence, or demean the opposing universe and will exert the superiority of their feelings-bias through all sorts of emotional means from ranging from tears to bullying. All of this is done to preserve their perception of reality.

Remember I wrote earlier of the popular image of the liberals as "caring individuals who promote peace and love among all races, creeds, genders, and sexual orientations. They want to help the poor and heal the environment". Suppose that it could be proven that this deeply held perception is wrong? Suppose it could be proven that their actions to make the world a better place will led to destruction of the very thing that they sought to preserve? Loss of belief is a soul-shattering experience. I've been there. I know. This is why any opposition is treated as a personal threat.

Romantics tell the Truth through lies. All perception of reality is merely perceptions contributing to our personal Subjective Reality. We exist among our ideas of things and the feelings that they invoke. They are nothing more than images, representations of reality with which we can interact physically, mentally, and emotionally. Romantics use and manipulate these images, these lies, to convey Objective truths.

However, these lies can be used to propagate more lies. Snake oil salesmen who distort the perceptions of reality so thoroughly that objectivity becomes irrelevant. The problem is that objectivity is the true reality and it always trumps the subjective. The bigot may ignore the facts, engage in name-calling, misrepresentation, and burn the scarecrow effigy of the messenger, but objective reality will always be reality and no amount of feelings to the contrary will change that.

I'll conclude with another selection from my internal images. When I tell people that I write on the subject of Romantic philosophy I mean all five branches, including Politics. Romanticism is historically connected to Classical Liberalism which today is Libertarianism. 

Thus my image of the Libertarian is that of the freedom-loving individualist Romantic hero, be he cowboy, pirate, dandy, or captain of industry, fighting against the meddling government and its supporters or the collectivist do-gooders trying to tell myself and others how we should live. I know that there are others who see it differently, but that's my preferred image of the Libertarian Romantic, and one that I like to promote.