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Freud on Election Day

November 8, 2016


November 8th, 2016 is the 58th Presidential Election and regardless of whether you are voting for Hillary, Trump, Stein or Bernie, there is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment, anger, and frustration. This election is the antithesis of the 2008 President Obama election where HOPE truly seemed to personified, if not by a person, then by a collective action.

While Trump offers the possibility for either radical economic growth or meltdown, Hillary brings political experience and savvy that is fraught with insider concerns. Many people argue, or are simply resigned to the fact that they will vote for the lesser of two evils. As Julian Assange stated it is like choosing between Cholera and the Plague.

My voting record is relatively progressive, however I don’t believe, nor do I particularly care for, any politician. I am a staunch critic of the political process–from the unknown top down. And, I also believe that this type of criticism and analysis, along with voting, is essential to the continued existence of a democracy.

What I found interesting about this voting experience is that when I started to really think about my experiences voting, and what each candidate inspired within me, I realized that I was not being driven by Eros, or love. Rather, in having to choose between either Trump or Clinton my vote was being motivated by what Freud described as the death drive, or Thanatos. The death drive is typified as the movement toward self destruction, aggression, and risk taking. Decisions made by the Eros drive are done by a life instinct, which favors creation, productivity, and construction.

In thinking about how the death drive was present in this 58th election, I saw it in two parts. First, as a voter in my thirties, there is a frustration with the system that has been symbolized in the hypocrisy of the two main presidential candidates–the rule of big businesses and old families. With that came a compulsion to act out aggressively, to move the system toward destruction, rather than toward creativity. Secondly, as I was voting, it became really obvious that the main challenges that this next presidency is going to have to deal with is how to turn our country, if not the world, away from one long drive toward impending doom. Whether we are looking at the environment, welfare, racial tensions, refugees, and present/future wars, there is definitely a message that someone needs to forcefully change directions.

Perhaps we are suffering from a bit of deflation: if Obama couldn’t do it, than who will? Or, perhaps the constant barrage of negative current events has finally gotten us a bit road weary? What I felt voting had nothing to do with the possibilities or limitations of either candidate, it was a reflection of the fatigue, frustration and anger of our countries culture.

But, as Freud noted, the drive toward death is powerful and that may just be the inspiration needed for positive change to happen? This election could be synonymous with our country jumping out of an airplane–giving everyone a chance, regardless of affiliation, to feel some existential adrenalin and re-prioritize the important stuff. At the end of the day, regardless of who is president, or even if we have a president, we are still going be  forced to live with our neighbors, provide for our children, and strive toward a better future.

Proust.

[I am writing this before the election results are in…Regardless of the outcome, this is how the election felt and does not reflect my thoughts, or predictions of how any administration will function or lead this country.]

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Maiden, Mother, Crone, Not ME!

November 7, 2016

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Dani Mathers, the 29-year-old Playboy model who body-shamed a 70-year-old woman in the LA Fitness gym, has been charged with a crime and could face jail time. While this has been ongoing, and somewhat salacious news for a while now, I recently revisited the case and wanted to share some thoughts.

The caption reads, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either” and the image is seen over and over again as a side-by-side of the 70-year-old-woman and the laughing Mathers.

Traditionally in Mythology, there is the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The Crone, or old woman, is portrayed as the archetypally as being withered and ugly, but as also being known as a Wise Woman. The Crone is the keeper of secrets and has the wisdom of old age. She is the final stage of the lifecycle and is held in reverence as she is she is associated with destruction, decay, and death.

In contrast, Mathers is not just apart of the Maiden archetype, but as a Playboy model she personifies the Goddess of Love through her beauty, which inspires love and passion. Ideally, the Maiden should represent enchantment, inception, expansion, the promise of new beginnings, birth, and youthful enthusiasm.

What happens with the Goddess of Love laughs at the Crone?

Obviously, there has been a hugely negative reaction from the community. Mathers failure to respect privacy is a social and legal transgression. Mathers thought it would be funny to play the role of a trickster by posting the photo, but found that she in turn, was made the fool.

However, beyond that, Mathers has also failed to understand the power of archetypes. She states, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either,” but clearly she isn’t really seeing what she is capturing. For whatever reason, the image portrays the message that Mathers thinks she is immune from becoming a Crone. Apparently she is truly a Goddess, blessed with eternal good looks and desirability. The sensuality and beauty that Mathers depicts is the other side of coin from the wisdom and maturity that of the Crone.

I think we all have a bit of Mathers in us and that is part of the horror that we feel toward this story. We would love to laugh at the Crone and say “hahahaha, not me!” But at the end of the day, that old woman is definitely going to get in the last word.

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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