LINDISFARNE CAFE – MEMOIR
Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
At the 1979 Lindisfarne Fellows Conference in Crestone, Colorado, and again at our Summer School of Sacred Architecture in 1981, Robert Mann, the founder of the Julliard String Quartet, gave us the gift of a performance of Bach’s Chaconne from the Second Partita for Unaccompanied Violin in D Minor. After the 1979 performance in Maurice and Hanne Strong’s backyard, Bobby discussed with me those exalted moments of performance in which his conscious ego just disappeared in an epiphany of transfiguration. This form of epiphany was an experience I was familiar with in my own creative process when I was giving a public talk1 or writing my novel as I passed up out of the clouds of personal factual knowledge into a state of mind in which I began to be aware in an intuitive gnosis in which I learned much more than I personally knew.
And much the same was true of Lindisfarne as a group, as a noetic polity. There were moments in group-meditation, or in our conferences, when we all felt transfigured and exalted in a state of being in time that was larger than ourselves, and larger even than Lindisfarne as a group. Ultimately, the real significance of Lindisfarne resides in this shared sense of exaltation that touched and transformed the lives of those who participated in our time-bound concert of visions, ideas, emotions, and embodied minds. This personal sense of transfiguration was the metanoia of our noetic polity. In the stillness of group meditation after the conflicts of ego in communal living, or in the confusion and passions of love affairs that did not fit into the previous definitions of our lives, those who felt a connection to Lindisfarne experienced a moment of exaltation in which the ego dropped out of the way and something ineffable took its place.
By definition, one cannot define the ineffable, so I do not wish to try to catalogue the epiphanies and moments of exaltation as Lindisfarne’s raison d’etre. At the core, our being together was never rational: La coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point. I never really knew what I was doing when I quit the university, founded the Association, changed it into a community, then an institute, and then a fellowship. I was improvising as I went along–more a jazzman than a virtuoso with a written score. But because the USA is overwhelmingly a practical culture built upon the American Dream of the consumption of appliances and apps, I wish to address myself to those of us who insist on kicking the tires before they buy into the greater or lesser vehicle. I wish to focus on the economic and cultural significance of Lindisfarne in our new hypercapitalist America in which the top one percent have bought out the country in a hostile takeover brokered by the government.
In the shift from a highly polluting consumptive economy to a contemplative one of bio-cultural participation–the real meaning of our Euro-American fascination with Yoga, Suf’ism, and Buddhism—not just Detroit but jobs themselves will disappear as a source of our identity. The job as a configuration is an industrial concept. The Dark Age and Medieval monk or nun did not have a job; he or she had a vocation, a calling. The monks in “The Plan of St. Gall” had artisanal and productive crafts (including making beer for B vitamins in the winter!) but they did not see themselves as having anything so prosaic as a job.
The Stanford Parc and Santa Fe Institute economist and cultural thinker, W. Brian Arthur, has described the emergence of a new global digital economy.1
Recently, Thomas Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, predicted that that the job of restaurant waiter will soon be eliminated and replaced by iPad tablets on which the customer directly chooses his menu, calculates the bill, and pays by credit card. When I lived in Manhattan, aspiring actors and ballerinas supported themselves with a day job as waiters or waitresses, so this economic shift will have vast cultural repercussions. ATMs replaced bank tellers and check-in clerks at airports, and computerized language programs are replacing language teachers, and MOOCS are replacing college teachers, so soon there will be no jobs left as nanotechnologies, decentralization of production through 3D printing, and “the Internet of Things,”re-structure industrial civilization. As workers are no longer needed perhaps the authoritarian neo-feudalist state of the future will have to issue Existence Licenses to protect the property-owning classes from those who are stuck in reservations of passed-over cultures where despair, alcoholism, drugs, crime, and high suicide rates prevent them from paying income taxes? Will Agamben’s “state of exception” find a new way to compact the trash?
As jobs go, so goes industrial society. The days when a high school education got you a job at the local plant and a tract house for life in a stable working class community are gone forever. Post World War II America is not coming back. The film Terminator wasn’t about robots killing people; it was a political allegory about machines terminating their jobs. Small wonder Arnold Schwarzenegger went on to become Governor of California.
As industrial production miniaturizes and moves, now to China, later to India and Africa, the question for now and the immediate future is: What does the 1% think it is going to do with the 99% when it has so restructured industrial production that structural unemployment is a permanent feature of this new economy? I guess the Republicans will expect the peasants to starve and simply disappear from the horizon of their gated communities, and the Democrats will have pipe dreams of another French Revolution.
The French economist Thomas Piketty has predicted that our economy will evolve from one of producers to inheritors, and that the children of the One Percent will become a new and entrenched patrimony. What he fails to imagine is that it would not be impossible for a new FDR and a new New Deal to address itself to that situation by passing laws that restrict inheritances to ten percent and that the remaining ninety percent by default would return to the federal government to invest in public education and federal grants for research. The One Percent could escape this appropriation by designating private colleges and universities of their choice as their cultural heirs. In this way their fortunes could be returned to their alma maters and not their alma filii et filiae. And to recycle the funds accumulating in the blockages of the rich, a tax on financial transactions could be used to revive that old sixties notion of a guaranteed annual income to transform the structurally unemployed into students on fellowships and stipends. What Piketty does allow us to do is to rethink the dynamics of a social democracy.
A more compassionate answer to the question of the meaning of human existence is that people will move from industrial nation-states into noetic polities. The rich have paved the way, for they are no longer patriotic and now feel that they have nothing in common with their lower class countrymen. Someone like Mitt Romney is much more at home with a Japanese entrepreneur, an Israeli venture capitalist, or a Saudi oil prince than he is with Joe Six Pack from Detroit.
Precisely because America is no longer the source of our cultural identity—as it was in the World War II days of GI Joes—nationalism has come to be replaced by regionalism and religion. In fact, the United States is no longer united, and like the Soviet Union, it is likely to break up in the next forty years. What we see in the popularity of the Lumbaughs, Palins, Perrys, Bachmanns, and Santorums is the distinct emergence of North American cultural zones. A Silicon Valley Californian has closer relations with China than Kansas. A New Yorker or Bostonian has more relations with Europe than with the Mid-west. We have reprised the America of the Scopes trial in which it is science vs. the Bible Belt all over again—this in spite of almost a century of cultural investments. TV has defeated public education and secured the dumbing-down of America.
The Northeast, the Southeast, the Southwest, Middle America, and the Pacific Northwest are five distinct emerging biomes. To give them cultural instead of locational tags, we could give them the Latin names of Intelligentsia, Ignoratio, Religio, Imaginatio, and Moderatio.
To stop scientific investment from being localized around MIT and Cal Tech, Democrats familiar with the backwardness of rural life like LBJ insisted that NASA invest in Houston and Huntsville, Alabama, but fifty years after this noble effort we still see a cultural divide in which places like Manhattan, Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Madison, Austin, Boulder, Chapel Hill, and Berkeley are the only places to live if you are interested in bookstores, real cafes, good restaurants, foreign movies, science, and performing arts. To live in places like Saguache County, Colorado—as I know only too well from personal experience– is to have your life reduced to a parking lot culture of no cafes, awful restaurants, Clear Channel car radio, and what is available in Walmart.
Now people of all five states of mind are spread throughout the biomes, so you have some East Coast intellectuals in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, and some zealots of the Bible Belt in the rural areas of Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire, but as some states start passing Rick Santorum’s Catholic Sharia laws—banning Gay or interracial marriage or policing the bedrooms of the nation to insure that married couples do not commit the sin of having oral sex–you are going to see people moving into cultural zones that are more accommodating to their world-views and life-styles.
Artists and Gays have always fled our rural areas to go to places like Manhattan and San Francisco, but now we are going to see a cultural exodus in which the rural areas collapse back into black holes of Aryan Nation, junk food obesity, cigarette-smoking, and a crystal meth and heroin drug culture to relieve the boredom of rural life. From Texas to North Dakota, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska, or what Sarah Palin calls “the real America” will become an American tribal Waziristan, a “no-go zone” for the educated class of scientists and humanists.
The current cultural opposition—whether over guns or Gays–between the Heartland and the metropolitan coasts shows the fault lines of an America beginning to break up.
The rich have already moved beyond patriotism and out of the nation-state, and are no longer simply American citizens. Like Mitt Romney, they have sold off their American manufacturing holdings and outsourced their investments to factories in Bangladesh and China, and to escape U.S. taxes have parked their millions in banks in Zurich and the Cayman Islands. Being rich is a state of mind, a state of consciousness, and a patriotic fervor for national unity with the American working classes does not map onto this new cultural evolutionary noetic polity of the wealthy top one percent.
But this newly emergent noetic polity is not based upon an industrial economy of scale; it is a fractal—a bubble of consciousness in a landscape of bubbles in self-similar architectures. The noetic polity can be as small as Lindisfarne or as large as Paris.
And, of course, there will be shadow noetic polities in which the nation-state breaks up into criminal domains. The Libertarians have fantasies of armed citizens but no federal government, but they do not pay attention to just what happens in states without governments in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. A shadow-economy of organized crime, warring drug cartels, and warlords creates a new wilderness of no-go zones. We are already beginning to see the outlines of this shadow economy in the collusion of government with organized crime in China and the United States. Our War on Drugs, for example, is a scam—a faked cops and robbers game that camouflages with rhetoric the reality of price supports for the drug cartels that the punitive laws against drugs sustain.
We have already entered the period of catastrophes—of droughts and wildfires in California, New Mexico and Texas, floods and tornados in the Midwest, hurricanes and superstorms on the East Coast and the Mexican Gulf. As these events cascade with earthquakes and climate collapse with their related food shortages, governments will be hard pressed to deliver services and this social collapse will further increase the growth of war lords, gang armies and vigilantes, and criminal polities. The Dieback of humanity predicted by Wes Jackson and other ecologists and social forecasters will begin. As resources such as clean water—thanks to fracking–and healthful food grow scarce, nation-states will compete with one another, and corrupt governments will turn nations into crime polities and crime polities into sub-nations. Notice how China and the USA have converged. China is de jure communist, and the USA is de jure democratic, but they both are de facto one authoritarian and plutocratic system in which a “Deep State” rules through a combination of corruption and organized crime.
In this new world of each against all, human identity will not be based upon anything as stable as a job or patriotic fealty to a large nation-state. In the prehistoric sanguinal polity of the tribe, identity was based upon kinship and blood relations. In the territorial polity of history–whether city-state or empire–identity was based upon location within boundaries. In the noetic polity, identity is based upon states of consciousness—tiny and immediate for some, vast and planetary for others.
Teenage boys join gangs because it provides them with an immediate sense of belonging, one that is often stronger than the sense of belonging provided by broken families and communities. My forty years of work with the Lindisfarne Association was an effort to provide a sense of belonging that came from my vision of “planetary culture” in which meditation replaced religious doctrine and political ideologies with an inner identity coming from the direct experience of a unique/universal, atman/Brahman, relation of an I with a Cosmic Mind. Call it God or Buddha Mind, or whatever term your sadhana requires, but this Cosmic Mind is a self-similar architecture of bubbles of consciousness from cells to galaxies. During its phase of life as an intentional community in Southampton and New York, I noticed that most of the people attracted to Lindisfarne came from broken or dysfunctional families. Paradoxically, we were isomorphic to the teenage gang that provided “an alternative culture.” Lindisfarne was a noetic polity in which identity was based upon an ecology of consciousness and not upon an ideology or a cult following manipulated by a charismatic guru.
Consciousness emerged in evolution by pushing more and more processes into unconsciousness. I don’t need to know how my liver is doing when I am writing a poem. I do want to know how my body is feeling when I am making love, so consciousness is a floating attractor, variously contacting other organic formations when it needs to. What we see going on now in the world is that the economy is being pushed from the consciousness structure of identity into the unconscious of the ecosphere.
This transition is, of course, like all historical transitions, a painful one. Money has ceased to circulate and has accumulated at the top 1% of the population as the source of wealth has shifted from industrial production to financial transactions. To make money in this world, one has to have money, and one simply cannot earn enough money to buy the chips to play at the tables in the casinos of high finance by saving as a wage earner.
To end the pain for the 99%, money needs to shift from a liquid currency to a gas, an atmosphere that one has to take for granted in the very act of breathing.
Various saints over the centuries, from St. Francis of Assisi to Mahatma Gandhi to Mother Teresa, have tried to effect a shift in our conscious system of identity by refusing to own things or accumulate wealth. In phase changes there are always a few individuals who effect the shift in state ahead of the mass; they are like the Cooper Twin electrons that effect the shift from conducting to superconducting in a metal.
History is slow and sloppy as a temporal process, but eventually the mass catches up. At first there are only a few isolated individuals, say artists in the Italian Renaissance or scientists in the Scientific Revolution, but soon the whole medieval civilization makes the transition from feudalism and religion to art and science in modern civilization.
Of course, there are always holdouts. Foragers resisted agriculture, tribal nomads resisted cities and empires, and now Islam resists the Great Satan of global hypercapitalist civilization. In the sacking of Baghdad in 1401, Tamerlane proved that holdouts could do a lot of damage, and, indeed, hold up civilization for centuries. But today Baghdad is not Mongol. And neither is it American, since baby Bush’s project of enforced capitalistic modernization failed as much as Tamerlane’s project of nomadic tribalization.
Marshall McLuhan claimed “the sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new and larger environment.” The Findhorns, Lindisfarnes, and Aurovilles of the seventies were the new interactive works of art in the invisible environment of jet travel and electronic hyper-capitalism. With the job no longer providing people with a sense of meaningful identity, they will begin to self-organize into intentional communities like Findhorn and Auroville. Since I was an intellectual, the Lindisfarne Association became a gathering of scientists, artists, and contemplatives. Because I did not wish to carry on like the guru of a cult, Lindisfarne was a more democratic complex adaptive system—a fellowship and not a followership. But others, like Richard Baker-roshi of the San Francisco Zen Center, were not so restrained and Zentatsu Baker-roshi presented himself as an enlightened figure who deserved to have all his needs and desires provided for by the contributions of the community.
In the presentations of Lindisfarne Fellows, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, John Tood, and Lynn Margulis, the Fellowship achieved the cross-fertilization of ideas that I had hoped for in bringing diverse thinkers and doers together.
The seventies intentional communities were like the mitochondria with their ancient DNA that moved inside the eukaryotic cell–as described by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis–and went to work as little energy farms inside a larger molecular and genetic information system. So in the transition from value as a liquid currency of Money to a planetary biospheric gas, we are going to have to miniaturize all the previous economies (foraging, farms, and factories) inside our new planetary economy and ecosphere.
Here our Euro-American cultural fascination with Buddhism is telling, and what it tells us is that compassion is now more important than competition. In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, as explored by the sociologist Max Weber, or in the Gospel of Wealth, as exemplified by Baptists John D. Rockefeller—Senior and Junior–wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on the pious. That Protestant world-view is now becoming so caricatured in the 1%’s indifference to the 99%, that it is showing signs of being in a state of cognitive dissonance and crisis. The fears of the Rick Perry’s, Ted Cruz’s, Sarah Palins, and Michelle Bachmanns of conservative politics express this sense of anxiety that the great age of white American rural Evangelical Protestantism is disappearing in a tsunami of multicultural planetization.
The new challenge is one of distribution, because now in the etherealization of money, only Goldman Sachs is manipulating “the difference that makes a difference” in micro-time transactions. Therefore, I see the tax on financial transactions that Hazel Henderson has called for as critical, because it would create a fund with which to award “fellowships” and start-up funds to more people than just the bankers, and allow people to live in these noetic polities.
The Tea Party and the Libertarians as well as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations around the world were indications that third and fourth parties are emerging–in a meiosis-like cellular process–from the early industrial formations of Tory and Whig, or Republican and Democratic.
In anthropological terms, the Libertarians are a classic “revitalization movement” (see A. F. C. Wallace’s 1956 defining paper in the American Anthropologist) that appears whenever the old “mazeway” of a culture’s movement through space and time is put under stress or threatened with erasure. In my 1985 book Pacific Shift, I called this movement of rural White Protestants “the Ghost Dance of the Rednecks.” The first Ghost Dance of the Redman was a response to the railroads that Brian Arthur describes as having created the new American economy.
Now the Robber Barons like the Koch Brothers want to return to a Victorian economy of a class of serfs with no trade unions, public health, environmental protection, or public education, and they are willing to spend 100 million dollars on attack ads against liberal social democrats to convince the stupid to vote against the commonweal.
The Koch brothers represent another “revitalization movement” of the Gilded Age’s industrial capitalism, a movement that indicates that Business also feels threatened with cultural erasure by a new international scientific elite. The businessman’s denial of global warming and climate collapse is prima facie evidence of this fear.
The Tea Partiers and Libertarians see global warming and health insurance as deceits used by the intelligentsia to scare the populace into socialism with new and massive systems of government control. Given the hideous evil perpetrated by psychologists at McGill University and economists at the University of Chicago working for the CIA that Naomi Klein describes in her book, The Shock Doctrine, these fears of the populace are not unfounded or paranoid. But this union of the confused and unemployed populace with the top one percent of the wealthiest disturbingly recalls the convergence of the masses and the I. G. Farbens and Siemens corporations working together to forge the fascist concept of the State in the Great Depression of the 1930s in Germany.
From my point of view as a liberal arts college graduate in the Humanities, these evils first described by C. S. Lewis in his novel That Hideous Strength and then more factually chronicled by Naomi Klein, the pretensions of the Social Sciences in their philosophically ignorant efforts to classify their ideological works as a rigorous science after the models of physics and chemistry were exposed. Whether it is the case of Professor Donald Ewen Cameron at McGill, or Professor B. F. Skinner at Harvard, or Professor Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago, it is the case of delusional specialists responsible for the torture and deaths of millions from the orphanages in Romania to the dictatorships of Chile and Argentina.
The contempt for the 99% by the wealthy 1% does have historical precedents. Imperial Rome gave us latifundia and bread and circuses; the Middle Ages gave us rituals and faith in the Great Chain of Being that bound peasant and lord together. The Enclosure Acts ended that relationship and gave us the market system, replacing crofters with sheep in the Highland Clearances and giving us market-based genocide in the Irish Famine.5 Nassau Senior, the first Chair of Economics at Oxford–ironically then called “moral science”–said at high table: “The trouble with the Irish famine is that not enough of them died.”
If we are becoming a global noosphere of transnational interconnectivity–as Brian Arthur argues–one consequence is that all wars now become forms of suicide bombing. The toxic weapons we used in the first Gulf War with Papa Bush, and the depleted uranium artillery shells we used in the second Iraq war with Baby Bush, have proved toxic to our own soldiers and they have returned home with more than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.6
The response of the Military-Industrial complex to this new vulnerability has been the use of drones, and soon will be robotic instruments for teleporting violence.
In this noosphere, we all use the Internet and the digital infrastructure; even terrorists use the Internet to recruit new followers. Unfortunately, both governments and terrorists are now becoming similar. “We become what we hate.” The President can now declare a U.S. citizen to be a terrorist, or merely a terrorist sympathizer, and kill or imprison him or her indefinitely without due process of law. Authoritarian America and authoritarian China are now converging into one system of anti-democratic governance as our joined economies become a mutually dependent system, but one closed to any system of management except control from the top. The recognition of this political transformation is what is really behind the recent globalization of movements as different as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Ron Paul’s Libertarian attack on our imperial military foreign policy.
It would now appear that industrial and service economy “jobs” are disappearing at the same time that international currencies like the Euro are in crisis and public universities like Berkeley and community colleges everywhere are being stripped of funds, so that they cannot take up the slack by employing the unemployed. We seem headed for a crisis greater than the Great Depression. The solution, it would seem to me, is not a propping up of the old economy through government bailouts of the Big Banks, but an entire restructuring of our dysfunctional industrial civilization.
On human terms, I fear this is not possible. Homo sapiens is just not that sapient.
Earth Day began in 1968 and Maurice Strong organized the Stockholm Conference on the global environment in 1972 and helped to create the United Nations Environmental Program–the year I founded the Lindisfarne Association. But the environmental movement was followed by forty-four years of corporate obstruction with Reagan, the Bushes, the Clintons, and now even Obama. I am afraid that we are in for a catastrophic environmental transition and a massive dieback, unless national governments can come up with something that is not Business as usual. Germany and the U.S. came out of the Great Depression through war. As William James suggested, we need to come up with the moral equivalent of war.
The new digital economic infrastructure suggests to me that the old industrial economy is now going through a process of miniaturization in which, as Brian Arthur shows, productivity goes up, but unemployment goes up as well as jobs simply do not come back on the scale once characteristic of industrial society.
In the industrial revolution, prefigured by the change in infrastructure brought on by the Enclosure Acts, agriculture was miniaturized as a new and smaller content within the structure of the new industrial society. Sheep replaced crofters and the dispossessed agricultural laborers migrated to a nineteenth-century North America emptied of aboriginal peoples by small pox and the army, and to the new cities and slums of the Industrial Revolution.
After World War II, many Americans—I among them–took part in a second wave of migration from the old industrial Rust Belt to the West Coast where first the aerospace industry, then the electronic industries and service economy absorbed them with their government-supported expansion of the defense industries for the Cold War.
Now in the digital revolution, factories and work forces are miniaturized, and industrial cities such as Detroit seem unlikely to spring back to what they were in the post World War II era. And, as Brian Arthur points out, the service economy of office workers, bank tellers, and teachers is contracting while the population is still expanding.
In the first contraction of agricultural and the second expansion of industrial society, art became a new economy as it was extended from the aristocratic to the middle classes. Where chamber music was once played in the large homes of the aristocracy, large symphony halls took their place, galleries proliferated for the new medium of canvas paintings for upper middle class homes, and the popular author, such as Charles Dickens, became a celebrity supported by a vast readership.
In the second contraction of the industrial and expansion of the service economy, education replaced art as the new superstructure. The University of California became the largest public university system in history, but it was simply the top of the pyramid of state universities, community colleges, and good public school systems. The critic as Professor in a collective became more important than the archetypal solitary Romantic Artist. Roland Barthes proclaimed the death of the author with his or her system of author-ity. Derrida’s philosophy of différance may not have adequately described the literary work, but it certainly described the new monetary system that Nixon introduced to replace Breton Woods. Value became a mercurial fluid and not a stable solid. The solitary visionary of a Beethoven or a Blake became a thing of the past, and the Romantic Artist became replaced by the Rock Star or the Celebrity. The Celebrity is, however, a mirage, as it requires an atmosphere of hot air to produce and maintain its ephemeral illusion of individuality.
Now economic value has become an atmosphere and not a fluid currency, but we still treat money as if it were a currency that flowed through channels, and so we are experiencing a crisis of money and credit in which one percent of the population becomes the accumulating reservoir of money.
So it would seem to me that it is not just industrial productivity that is experiencing a process of miniaturization; it is the whole economy that is being miniaturized in a larger emergent structure. The economy is like a system of continents within the planetary atmosphere—which means that money should not be stored in the one percent at the economic stratosphere, but should be inhaled by everybody to sustain the life of a new planetary civilization.
But what seems to come between emergent civilizational economies are plunder economies and Dark Ages. If one reads Caesar’s Gallic Commentaries and Tacitus’s Germania, one realizes that what later became the European aristocracy was first simply a protection racket. Raiders on horses would take slaves home to do the work, while they increased the number and scope of their raids and drunken feasts. They soon found that if they took everything from the farmers, the farmers would starve, and they themselves would have no crops to plunder the next year. So the man on a horse coerced the farmer into an agreement; he would protect him from other raiders, if he agreed to give the lion’s share of his harvest to him. Out of this arrangement, the Plunder Economy evolved into the next economy–feudalism based upon land tenure and oaths of fealty. The myth of blue bloods and the divine right of kings was the mythological system that grew up, like kudzu around a telephone pole, to cover the old protection racket of the Germanic and Celtic barbarians.
Bucky Fuller said that the first people to think on a planetary scale were the pirates. Piracy was the next Plunder Economy that came at the shift from land-based economies to mercantilist and capitalist ones. Queen Elizabeth used the pirates and privateers like Francis Drake to help her break the power of the land-based barons and contribute to the growth of trade that supported the Tudor monarchy.
What we see now with Mitt Romney’s Bain and Company and Goldman Sachs is the new Plunder Economy in which the hostile takeovers of American factories and their subsequent closures and selling off of their parts is followed by a reinvestment in factories in China and Indonesia. Then the profits from these overseas investments are deposited in banks in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands to avoid American income tax. These enormous profits are then used to make huge donations to the Republican Party to energize a hostile takeover of the federal government so that tax cuts and special allowances can protect these corporate raiders from government controls and regulations, as well enabling them to buy ads to convince the electorate that the Republican Party is patriotic. So far this scam has worked and the electorate has been stupid enough to vote for these corporate con men like Romney who are simply robbing them. This new American Plunder Economy is the transition between our present hypercapitalism and a postnational global ecology of noetic polities, of which only a few will be scientific.
Recently, headlines in newspapers and the Web have shown how corporate entities like Apple Computer have more cash on hand than the federal government. The Occupy Wall Street movement was a recognition of this fact of life. As their signs said: “We are the 99%.” Although the OWS movement was often criticized for lacking a coherent ideology, it was precisely its lack of an ideology that was its uniquely relevant characteristic, its arête. This New Left movement expressed an ecology of consciousness, an affirmation of diversity, and not an ideology characteristic of the industrial thinking of the 1930s. As they said in the one page hand out given to me and the visitors and supporters at Zuccotti Square:
Occupy Wall Street is an exercise in “direct democracy.” We feel we can no longer make our voices heard as we watch our votes for change usher in the same old power structure time and time again. Since we can no longer trust our elected representatives to represent us rather than their large donors, we are creating a microcosm of what democracy really looks like. We do this to inspire one another to speak up. It is a reminder to our representatives and the moneyed interests that direct them: we the people still know our power.
Although Obama pretended to be sympathetic to the occupiers of Wall Street, he was more their cause than their colleague. When Obama orphaned the liberal progressive wing of the Democratic Party, he formed the New Left by leaving it out in the cold.
Following President and First Lady Hillary Clinton’s deregulation of Wall Street with the advice of their viziers Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, Obama chose to continue the shift to the right in which the Clinton Democrats became what used to be the Rockefeller Republicans. When Larry Summer’s disciple Timothy Geithner was put in charge of bailing out the banks—thus encouraging the reckless and high risk-taking speculations that caused the crisis of 2008–Obama created the new corporate culture in which the banks were too big to fail. For investors, this new culture–as Paul Volcker pointed out (New York Review of Books, November 24, 2011, p. 75)–meant that their profits would be private, but their losses would be reimbursed out of public funds. Risk-taking no longer had any risks. Small wonder that nothing changed in the behavior of Goldman Sachs et alia in which they paid themselves large fees from companies they raided and ravaged.
This New Left Green movement was neither socialist nor communist, for those ideologies were expressions of twentieth century industrial thinking. Communism was the category-mistake that sought to eliminate all differences to appropriate all property by the State. But a weather system, as well as an ecosystem, works through the thermodynamics of difference. Too much can give us a hurricane, too little can give us a drought. What is needed now is not a cascade, or mudslide, but an energizing of interruptions of flow through a system of terraces. Nature works through pulses of light and dark, hot and cold, not a uniform extension of sameness. Mars may have once been a living planet, but when it lost its magnetic field, it lost its atmosphere, its weather, its ecosystem of pulses.
Earth’s magnetic field allowed life to evolve and cell membranes to form. What is needed now is an economic magnetic field to protect difference and pulsation. What is not needed is the extremes of obscene wealth and abject poverty, for that would be like having a continental weather system of only floods and droughts—a weather system that we are already experiencing as industrial climate change continues to bear down on us.
Whether the Tea Party may like it or not, the only entity positioned to generate a magnetic field is the federal government. Its task is now to redefine and create the system of terraces for the circulation of money. The Banks will not do it; the government of ordinary businessmen refuses to do it. So the difference engine that will drive the emergence of the new system will be ecological catastrophes.
In the meantime, it would seem to me that I am merely rediscovering the wheel–the very old idea of a Guaranteed Annual Minimum Income, first proposed by Thomas Paine at the beginning of the shift from agrarian to industrial society, and later advanced by such thinkers as John Maynard Keynes, Robert Theobald, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Hazel Henderson.
I enjoy my Social Security check each month and use it as a fellowship to support my writing and research. Social Security is not welfare, but an insurance system that I paid into throughout my working career. I am sure that some young people–after the manner of Jobs and Wozniak who worked in the garage that saw the birth of the Apple computer that challenged the rule of IBM—would use their GAI fellowships with equal imagination.
The small tax on financial transactions that Hazel Henderson has been calling for– or the global tax on capital that Thomas Piketty has been calling for–seems to me to be the source of funds to support a Guaranteed Annual Income. A financial transactions tax could become the system of terraces that can step down the abundance at the top that threatens to break like the faulty dam it is and drown us all in the collapse of money as a cultural system. Or, to change the metaphor from our Lindisfarne Fellow John Todd’s observations on terraces in Java to our other Lindisfarne Fellow Lynn Margulis and her comments on planetary Gaian evolution and cyanobacteria, it is the slight outgassing of oxygen through photosynthesis that got rid of the toxic methane atmosphere to give us the beautiful blue sky that– unlike Beijing–we still enjoy for the time being.
Looking back as a cultural historian, I now believe that the United States came to a fork in the road in the election of 1998, and in the choice between George W. Bush’s neo-conservatism and Al Gore’s Earth in Balance, it confronted its last chance to avoid the catastrophes we are now going through.
“Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique,” Charles Péguy wrote in Notre Jeunesse. Lindisfarne was the mystique and Jerry Brown and Al Gore were the politique. Governor Brown came to the Lindisfarne Fellows meeting of 1980 at the Green Gulch Zen Farm in Marin County, California. Brown was familiar with the issues of pollution and climate change that Lindisfarne had been discussing since 1975, and he appointed Lindisfarne Fellows like Gregory Bateson, Rusty Schweickart, and Sim Van der Ryn, as well as the Lindisfarne Scholar-in-Residence for 1975 Tyrone Cashman, to his administration. But the U.S. dismissed Brown as “Governor Moonbeam” and elected Governor Reagan to its Presidency in 1980. Had Al Gore chosen to challenge the unconstitutional interference of the Supreme Court in the election of 1998–in which he held the plurality of votes–we might have avoided the disastrous policies of the Neocons that gave us the Trillions of dollars War in Iraq and the incalculable number of deaths we are still experiencing there, as well as the slow catastrophe of irreversible climate collapse we have now entered. But through the mass entertainment industry of sports and politics, and the industrial cheerleadership of Reagan, the Clintons, and two Bushes, the consumers bought their energy intensive McMansion houses and gas-guzzling tank-like SUVs and closed formations into right wing corporate industrial politics, Christian religious fundamentalism, and the fake electronic community of Facebook that enabled the Deep State more effectively to keep track of them all and monitor their thoughts. It gives me little satisfaction to think in this my last book “we told you so.” When the New York Times Magazine reporter Ted Morgan wrote about our 1975 Lindisfarne Conference in the February 29, 1976 issue he asked: “What if they are right?” The Times reporter provided people with a chance to move from mystique to politique, but people sipped their coffee, turned the page and went to work on Monday to carry on with business as usual, and in 1980 voted for Reagan who claimed pollution came from trees.
The consciousness of a system can change the system, but the Congress of the United States now chooses to repress consciousness of the crisis of industrial civilization and to deny climate change and science in general.7 So now rather than creating our destiny we will have our fate thrust upon us. The transition from one world to another is going to be more breakdown than breakthrough. The sky has turned on us, and what was the ground of our being has now become the horizon of our undoing.
William Irwin Thompson (born July, 1938) is known primarily as a social philosopher and cultural critic, but he has also been writing and publishing poetry throughout his career and received the Oslo International Poetry Festival Award in 1986. He has made significant contributions to cultural history, social criticism, the philosophy of science, and the study of myth. He describes his writing and speaking style as “mind-jazz on ancient texts”. He is an astute reader of science, social science, history, and literature. He is the founder of the Lindisfarne Association.
His book, Still Travels: Three Long Poems was published in 2009 by Wild River Books. Order a copy from Amazon.
Works by William Irwin Thompson
Memoir – Farewell Address at the Lindisfarne Fellows Conference
Memoir – Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne: 1972
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part I
Memoir – The Founding of the Lindisfarne Association in New York, 1971-73 – Part 2: A Community in Fishcove, Long Island
Memoir – Building a Dream – Part One: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – My Dinner with Andre Gregory: Lindisfarne-in-Manhattan, 1977-1979
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Shadow Side Part Two: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Building a Dream/The Cathedral Part Three: Lindisfarne in Crestone, Colorado, 1979-1997
Memoir – Conclusion: The Economic Relevance of Lindisfarne
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary: Reflections of a Homeschooling Parent
Memoir – Sex and the Commune
Memoir – Raising Evan and Hilary
Memoir – With Gregory Bateson’s Mind in Nature
After Heart Surgery: Hokusai’s Great Wave
A Lazy Sunday Afternoon
Nancy Grayson’s Bookstore
On Reading “The Penguin Book of English Verse”: on my iPad and Exercise Bike
Wild River Books/Poetry – Nightwatch and Dayshift: Cezanne
Anatolian Days and Nights and the Cultural Evolution of Spirituality
And the Votes are In: The American Elections of 2010
Avatar – When Technology Displaces Culture
Bedtime Story for a Civilization
The Big Picture: Reflections on Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The Big Picture, II
Child Abuse and the Catholic Church
The Digital Economy of W. Brian Arthur
From Shamanism to Religion, Part Two
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality, Part Three
From Religion to Post-Religious Spirituality: Conclusion
January 1, 2011: Reflections on the Philosophical Notions of Republicans
January 6, 2011 – Part Two: The Etherealization of Capitalism
Nature and Invisible Environments
Of Culture and the Nature of Extinction
On Nuclear Power
On Religion – Part One
On Religion and Nationalism: Ireland, Israel, and Palestine
On Transnational Military Interventions
A Pagan Ur-Text of the Lebor Gebála Érenn
Part 1 – The Shift from Industrial to a Planetary Civilization
Part 2 – The Shift from an Industrial to Planetary Civilization
Part 3 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The Recovery of a Cosmic Orientation
Part 4 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – The Global War for Drugs
Part 5 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – The New Jerusalem
Part 6 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Catastrophes as the Spur to Institute Tricameral Legislature
Part 7 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Complex Dynamical Systems and Tricameral Legislatures
Part 8 – The Shift from a Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Israel and Palestine: Sic transit gloria mundi
Part 9 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civlization – On Sarah Palin and the Technocratic Society
Part 10 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – On Conspiracy Narratives as Expressive of the Transition from the Nation: State to the Noetic Polity
Part 11 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Global Awareness and Personal Identity
Part 12 – The Shift from an Industrial to a Planetary Civilization – Conclusion: The United Nations
Political Meditation for the Fourth of July, 2011: Can We Shift from Empire Back to Republic?
St. David’s Day, 2011, Technology and Social Change
Saint Patrick’s Day, 2010: Us and Them: Identity and the State
Some Reflections on Hurricane Sandy and an Outline for a New Civilization
Technical Hubris: and the Sinkhole of Obama’s Centrism
Television and Social Class
Thanksgiving Day, 2010: The Uses and Abuses of History
The Elections of 2010
Thoughts on My new Kindle App: on My Mac iPad