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Check out the Sutra Journal

January 20, 2016

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Here is a suggestion to check out the Sutra Journal. It is an online, curated journal on art, culture and dharma. They just published one of my articles: ALCHEMY AND THE HERMETIC TRADITION: Mircea Eliade and Carl Jung, and have many more interesting and diverse pieces to read. New editions are released monthly, so add it to your bookmarks!

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“Making a Murderer”: Authoring Fear through Authority

December 28, 2015

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Using authorship in a position of authority without transparency is an abuse of power. Authorship allows for the author of a narrative to have creative autonomy, or freedom. Often associated with the idea of the author who writes a book, the concept of authorship is founded on the idea of the author being in complete control of the world of the text, a pseudo-deity of their tempestuous landscapes. While the author is an authority of their work, not all authorities are authors. An authority is invested with power through the consent of a group. Whether the group is led by the matriarch of a family, a minister of religious affiliation, or the president of a country, authority acknowledges that an individual has the power to make decisions, often to lead and to enforce boundaries. Ideally authority is given through a process of democratic consent, however it also has historically been obtained through consent bullied through violence and/or intimidation.

When authorship is knowingly wielded by authorities to create narratives with the intention of manipulation there is cause to fear. This may be done through creating a narrative that appeals to logical fallacies, such as by eliciting strong emotional responses that trump logical analysis, appealing to vanity, de-contextualizing experiences to distort truth, or by assuming the moral (and/or intellectual) high ground. On a large scale this is the foundation of propaganda. For a time, the aesthetic beauty of Leni Riefenstahl films of Nazi Germany inspired positive emotional responses to the Third Reich with the outright intention of deflating the less aesthetically appealing logical opposition[Political Rites: Initiating Art]. While political propaganda is one of the most historically acknowledged ways that authority may abuse authorship, it is present in all layers of society.

Most recently, the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer is a clear example of how the abuse of authorship by an authority may have dire consequences on both the individual and societal levels. Released in December 2015, this series follows the legal struggles of Steven Avery over a thirty-year time period. The documentary was created by Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos and must be questioned in itself as a piece of authorship. However, prior to those concerns, the case of Steven Avery as presented by this documentary reveals how many people in authority struggle with imposing authority in authoring events due to feelings of morality, vengeance, superiority, and hate.

Everyone knows that ideologically a lawyer fights for the truth, but practically a lawyer’s job is to create narratives using evidence. In criminal cases, the defense must show that the defendant is innocent either through proving their inability to commit the crime, or by someone else’s guilt. The prosecution must create a narrative that is irrefutably more convincing, responding to these assertions of innocence, and offering proof clear proof of the defendant’s culpability. The narratives that both sides create do not represent the 100% truth of the situation, however they pull on concrete evidence and testimonies. Authenticity of evidence is both objective and subjective and is weighed by jury and judge.

In the history of Steven Avery, the audience witnesses, not once, but twice the manipulation of evidence through abuse of authority to convict him of crimes. In the first instance, he was accused of the attempted rape and brutalization of a local woman and was convicted of the crime despite the fact he had a substantiated alibi and that there was a convicted sex offender with greater probable cause. After serving eighteen years for the crime, he was found innocent through DNA analysis and released.

While in the process of suing the country for his wrongful imprisonment, he was once again arrested, this time for the murder of a woman. Though there was evidence that would include him amongst many possible suspects, it was also possible that some other perpetrator could have scapegoated him. However, rather than analyzing these possibilities, a multitude of situations allowing for the abuse of police, detective, legal and media authority led to Steven Avery and his sixteen year old nephew being the prime (and only) suspects. The coercion of confessions, the continued abuse of the moral high ground by prosecutors, the assumption of guilt before innocence that was encouraged to the media by the police prior to the trial, and the repeated witnessing of evidence being manhandled, and/or manipulated is a nightmare for any practitioner of critical argumentation. He was found guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. However, even after his convictions, the jury members commented that when they entered their deliberations 7/12 members began with him being innocent. One jury member had to leave due to a family emergency and three had reportedly entered the trial with the outspoken conviction of his guilt. In addition, even though he was found to be innocent of his earlier crimes, his reputation as a criminal clearly influenced the perception of his moral character as he stood for sentencing in front of the judge.

Clearly, this is just a very brief summary of what transpired over decades (and I could not more highly recommend watching the series on either Netflix or Youtube and reading up on it through other sources), the troubled legal life of Steven Avery demonstrates the power of authority over authorship. Even when Avery was clearly telling the truth, he could not stand up to the legal narratives that convicted him. This leads us to two important questions: 1) How can we develop critical thinking skills to question, respond, and search for the authentic truth rather than the attractive and easy truths? 2) How can the methods of authority be more clearly derived from critical transparency, authenticity, and ethicacy? Through watching Making a Murderer we learn more about the function of power in our modern, American society. Regardless of Avery’s ultimate guilt or innocence, the abuse of authority through the manipulation of narrative (or authorship) is clearly present throughout this documentary. It presents a depiction of authority that all citizens should be concerned by and not accept as the status quo.

Now, before concluding this article it is essential that we look at the source that inspired this discussion. Everything that I know of this case was presented by two documentarians. After immersing myself in a little over ten hours of the history, I can’t say that I have not been seduced by the aesthetics of the film. If you were to ask me now, I would say from the evidence I saw, there is serious doubt to Steven Avery’s guilt, and if I “theoretically” had been on the jury, I could not have voted to convict.  However, my opinion has been developed through the context of the film that (while extensive) is only ten hours and does have an author’s bias.

So, how does the manipulation of the documentary’s narrative differ from the manipulation that happened during Avery’s trial? First of all, the audience knows that they are watching a documentary that has been pieced together in retrospect. Secondly, the documentary makers are not authorities in the legal system and even if they do take liberties with the narrative they are not sworn to the same ethical obligations. The job of documentary filmmakers is to inspire their audiences to reveal untold truths by asking interesting questions. At the time of Avery’s trials he was not given the question of guilt or innocence by the public, he was only met by social outrage. Now, at the time of this documentary, it is my belief that he will be offered the chance to have the status of his guilt publicly questioned. In addition, new questions regarding authority figures will also be asked—as they specifically relate to the case, and as we accept them in general within our society. So, yes, the documentary is a work of authorship. But, it is not an abuse of authority because it clearly reveals its methodologies, and, rather than leading to one clear response, it calls for critical reform and accountability.

Making A Murderer: Trailer

 

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Île de la Cité

April 19, 2015

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The city surrounds the island, the flow of the two rivers breaks the urbanscape of buildings and the crush of industry is composed of cars, families, machines. The island itself is the same. Surrounded by water, the buildings push against the limits of land and reach toward the opposing shore. Within these labyrinths of survival, we find that what is within the island is also without. One is the shadow of the other, refractions of light revealing lines on the portrait of civilization. But it is not the similiarities that engage us to cross these boundaries. It is the distance. The break that separates the one from the mass. The experience of the bridge that either prefaces the experience of one, an island alone in itself, or the one, whole, together, with all.

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Days of Lightness, Days of Darkness

April 19, 2015

Ahhh voice, what do you have to say today? The months are passing so quickly now and I wonder what happened to all those old conversations. From November to February the days had only five hours of light. Cold. Short. Confined. But, now the sky has opened up again, extending infinite hospitality. Longer days, with light and warmth. And, yet the voice I wait for is silent. There is no rebirth. There is no resurrection. But, haunted by memories, I ask: Voice, what do you have to say today?

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Ushangi: The Sculptor in Silence

July 1, 2012

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Located between Museum Row and Melrose, up-the-way from Farmer’s Market, and across from CBS, you may find a very, very old rock. However, to describe it as an ordinary rock would be inaccurate. It is not mixed with tar and oil holding the streets of neighborhood together, and it is not what you would find walking in the local hills to peer across the ocean. Nor is it the ten million dollar rock being installed at LACMA. Rather, it is a unique rock, with its soul revealed, its song let loose, and its heart etched free from earthly bounds.

Standing beside this rock, you will find another stranger in this neighborhood, Ushangi, the sculptor. Born in the old Soviet Union, the story of Ushangi’s immigration to the United States for creative freedom is not nearly as interesting as what he has done with that achieved liberation. Unhindered by politics, set free from culture, and mixed with an immense amount of open American country, Ushangi has found a balance between the venerable earth and the yawning sky.

When you enter Ushangi’s new studio, paintings cover the walls and sculptures stand in attendance. Within these images, mythological stories, archetypal portraits, and personal narrative meet in conversation. Color and mood mix to create scenes set in open spaces. Key to Ushangi’s work is his use of voice and silence. In each piece, there is an important story, but there is also a place of silence, an abyss of reflection.

Whether Ushangi is carving the hidden figure free from stone, pulling a new dimension from blank canvas, or teaching a class of students how to see and create, the relationship between form and emotion is examined. Color, texture, shape, and shadow are key to Ushangi’s immense amount of work. Although his style, content, and material may be varied, the underlying questions remain true to his experience of the world as a sculptor; Ushangi’s goal is to reveal what is hidden within the rock of our own eyes.

While there are countless young artists co-habiting the studios, exhibitions, and museums within the same radius, Ushangi stands separate; partly because of his classical training and cultural roots, partly because of his mature age and international recognition, but mostly because of his humor and unabashed curiosity. Ushangi draws emotional breath from stone. He does not try to create an identity for himself or for others. Rather, he strives to reveal the authentic soul, song and heart that are already there.

www.ushangi.com

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“Museum of Me”: Architecting Identity and Walter Benjamin’s Historical Materialism

June 13, 2011

A museum is defined as a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and displayed. Already known for being the architects of what is inside your computer, Intel is now branching out to what is inside of you. Specifically, this is being achieved through an application that filters your Facebook activity and regurgitates it into a virtual “Museum of Me” (or you, depending). On the cool side of the spectrum, it is pretty fascinating to see the lineage of relationships, portraits, and taste. Aesthetically, the “Museum of Me” paints a pretty picture of who you are, or who you would like to think you are.

The Intel App creates a video tour of your Museum. Featuring your name, photos, friends, likes, and networks, the video is a visual summary of everything you have ever clicked on while logged into Facebook. If the information were to be presented outside of a “museum” context, such as for corporation research or consumer profiling, the shear amount of information available would be overwhelming. Not to mention the horror if the “Museum of Me” were being used as a visual introduction to potential employers. In short, the “Museum of Me” project articulates just how impossible it now is to filter which parts of your identity your friends, family, businesses, and employers have the ability to access.

But does this breaking down of filters mean that we are able to more consistently be who we are? For some it is enough, but for others the “Museum of Me” fails to fit. And here are the reasons why:

If history is a narrative constructed from selected cultural artifacts, the question is who, or what, is to decide what is significant? In “On the Concept of History” Walter Benjamin asserts the importance of blasting historic structures and reveling in the pieces, separate from an architected structure. In this regard, he states the following:

The historical materialist cannot do without the concept of a present which is not transition, in which time originates and has come to a standstill. For this concept defines precisely the present in which he writes history for his person. Historicism depicts the ‘eternal’ picture of the past; the historical materialist, an experience with it, which stands alone. He leaves it to others to give themselves to the whore called ‘Once upon a time’ in the bordello of historicism. He remains master of his powers: man enough, to explode the continuum of history.”

Central to the concept of historical materialism is the paradox of the transition of time, where time is simultaneously beginning and ending. If time is constantly narrowing and expanding, then the experience of the present cannot be roped into a single narrative (there must be at least two for the beginning and end of time, if not an infinite amount of other possible twists and turns!). In contrast, Historicism argues for the limitation of historical perspective and an authoritarianism to interpretation. More crassly, Benjamin likens the historian who writes an objective history from a set perspective to a whore who gives up the goods for capitalist interests. In contrast, the historical materialist blasts the narrative of history and through this action ascends his power.

Now, how does this relate to Intel’s “Museum of Me”? Intel has created an App to reflect the activities, faces, friends, and likes that are logged into the Facebook world. This is a historical narrative of your life, and on a literal level is accurate. Intel is not lying and the narrative has been built on tangible evidence. However, when a blast of historical materialism is applied, there is no more Museum, simply refuse from the explosion. A discarded photo, or shard of familiarity no longer represents the set narrative. However, the potential for meaning has been exponentially expanded. Because authentic significance is simultaneously a beginning and an end of time, the encounter with historic artifacts is unlimited once the form of Historicism has been dissolved.

In terms of identity, one of the joys of Facebook is that it allows the individual to create a public face. To make photo portraits, post relevant articles, network, search, and comment to our hearts delight. However, is this the entire picture? One narrative says yes, but for some this is not enough. The narrative deconstructs, the spiral toward Self shifts, and suddenly we are once again left with the Other—unknown possibilities abound.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Psychopath’s Resource

June 12, 2011

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There are two primary types of Emotional Intelligence (EI). The first is the “Innate Potential Model” and is defined as the “innate potential to feel, use, communicate, recognize, remember, describe, identify, learn from, manage, understand and explain emotions” (Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey, 2007).  Each individual is born with an emotional potential, how that potential is developed or stunted may be related to traumatic experiences, culture, family dynamics, etc.

The second type of EI may be learned or developed throughout the lifespan. Developed EI was also defined by Mayer (1990) and states that “EI is a subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

In both, the innate and learned forms of EI there are four different branches that may be explored.

  1. Perception, Appraisal and Expression of Emotion
  2. Emotional Facilitation of Thinking
  3. Understanding and Analyzing Emotions; Employing Emotional Knowledge
  4. Reflecting Regulation of Emotion to Promote Emotional and Intellectual Growth

While many people unconsciously have the ability to navigate these categories effortlessly, other people find themselves unbalanced or disconnected from emotional content. This may be evident in the ability to read an audience, develop intimate relationships, inability to regulate emotions in relationship to goals, and the lack of feeling differentiation, amongst others.

Interestingly, a critical diagnostic symptoms of a psychopathy is a lack of empathy. In 2011 article by NPR, “ A Psychopath Walks Into A Room. Can You Tell?” it was postulated by “Robert Hare, the eminent Canadian psychologist who invented the psychopath checklist, ….that you’re four times more likely to find a psychopath at the top of the corporate ladder than you are walking around in the janitor’s office.”  Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is divided into two main factors.

    Factor 1: Personality “Aggressive narcissim”

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/ manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow effect (genuine emotion is short-lived and egocentric)
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions

Factor 2: Case history “Socially deviant lifestyle”

  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behavior problems

As we review the list, it is easy to identify behavior characteristics that may be found in many of our acquaintances (family non-exempt). However, this does not mean that they may be immediately categorized as psychopaths. Rather, it is the evaluation of all of these factors that may lead to a diagnosis.

By looking at the extreme absence of EI, we may better understand our own areas of emotional lack, and also better understand our interactions with others. One of the reasons that more psychopaths are found at the higher end of the corporate ladder is that they have learned to manipulate and engage emotional responses of other people. However, this engagement is not reciprocal and allows the psychopath to maneuver without scruples. A contemporary example of this is explored through the TV series Dexter (Look for future posts on this series and EI).

So, if you are a psychopath looking for guidelines to fit into society better, or if you are just an average ranking empathizer, here is a list of suggestions for how to increase your EI sensibility:

1.   Become emotionally literate. Label your feelings, rather than labeling people or situations.

2.   Distinguish between thoughts and feelings.

3.   Take more responsibility for your feelings.

4.   Use your feelings to help make decisions.

5.   Use feelings to set and achieve goals.

6.   Feel energized, not angry.

7.   Validate other people’s feelings.

8.   Use feelings to help show respect for others.

9.   Don’t advise, command, control, criticize, judge or lecture to others.

10.  Avoid people who invalidate you

Below you will find links to the referenced NPR article and an online source where EI is explored in greater depth. Remember that these terms are most often fluid and diagnostic definitions and criteria do change (Check out the DSM-V for more information). In this article these criteria are being used to establish definitions to explore cultural content and behavior depicted in the media, it is not intended for clinical determination.

http://eqi.org/eitoc.htm

http://www.npr.org/2011/05/21/136462824/a-psychopath-walks-into-a-room-can-you-tell 

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