I know lots of you guys would rather see pictures of Spain… but I promised you the meat of the Ideas program/podcast on Imagination, Part 2 (with a little of my patented sauce at the end) on Nov. 29:
Buddhism, among other philosophies, tells us that the self isn’t as concrete as we think it is. Our personal identity is a bit of an illusion. What poses as a coherent individual identity is largely due to a person’s memories, and the weird thing is that those memories change; we modify (i.e. reimagine) them every time we retrieve them. What’s more: memories are the “building blocks” of imagination.
The real virtuoso imaginers are the visionaries, who possess what Jung called a mythopoeic imagination. Henri Frankfort and his wife Henriette Antonia Frankfort coined the term, mythopoeic, in the 1940’s. Frankfort, H. studied ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia – the source for most of our modern religious mythological types. Ancient Egypt is really cool, but let’s stay on topic here. Jung believed that all humans share a collective unconscious that includes bits from the memories of our ancestors – even pre-human ancestors.
Modern humans also build a community based on our common observations. Observations are really all one has to go on when one has to go – on, I mean. We learn to trust our own observations if we can find some other people who see the same crazy things we do, so we tend to rely on others for our (illusiory?) solidity. Instead of going on I could go off here – on a tangent about particles and how they are just forms of energy being shot back and forth and how particles like electrons can’t exist by themselves and how matter is just energy flowing back and forth and how eee = em cee squared and… but I won’t.
With imagination come good and bad: good, like beautiful art, music and architecture and bad like a-bombs, drones, racism and killer chemicals. Notice I didn’t say “good, bad and indifferent.” I left out indifferent. Some things we humans have come up with by using our imaginations might be considered indifferent, but when they get used it’s usually for bad or good. It’s never neutral. The program said that, so it must be true.
The program used the idea of the wheel as a case in which a product of our imagination actually moved a culture to change in a major way. Television has moved ( some might say removed) our culture. Neil Postman wrote a book in 1985 about how we are Amusing Ourselves to Death. He said that we are oppressed by our addiction to amusement. George Orwell believed that a socialistic state would oppress us. I think the Postman version of oppression has won, and Orwell would be shocked to find that a state controlled by the right is indeed oppressing us! The poorest of us can still be moved to vote for a party that will eliminate social programs that help them survive. The state is, now, actually the tool of the really, really rich. Forget the 1% folks. Im talking the 0.0001%. The one in a million super-rich people or corporations that, in some obscene twist of legislative sleight of hand, somehow got to be considered, legally, as real flesh and blood persons. Only differences between them and us: unlike really real persons, they are immortal, and, with their bottomless pockets, they can sue the shit out of any government that tries to create a “Just Society,” as Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau tried to do in the late 20th century. For a truly wonderful example of creative imagination I love the story of rabbi Abraham Heschel, who, when asked why he was marching with Martin Luther King, said something like: “When I march in Selma, my feet are praying.”
Warning: What follows, and 90% of the previous paragraph, is my own, personal, “eschatological” rant, which I think flows out of the above ideas…
Contrast the inspiring imagery of Trudeau and Heschel with the type of impoverished “vision” that gets modern politicians like Rob Ford elected Mayor of Toronto using a neanderthal slogan like “Stop the Gravy Train.” Of course, what we got was library closings and the type of sick farce that we are seeing right now unfold in the once proud capital of Ontario.
Political types like our current Canadian prime minister, “he who shall not be named,” now spend much of their troops’ energy (and, whenever possible, public money) trying to mould our imaginations to their corporate masters’ agenda. They understand, not the spirit of Neil Postman’s vision, but the fact that consent can be manufactured (thank you, Noam Chomsky) and planted in the simple, mythopoeic minds of the voters. They play us like a violin, and we vibrate orgasmically to the movement of their clever, manipulative fingers.
The battle that we are in now, one we seem to be losing, is nothing less than a battle to control our imagination and our thought. It is a dehumanizing struggle, made less obvious by our obsession with being amused.
All right, since you read this far, you deserve a nice picture. This one’s from Morocco.