Tag Archives: culture

Matter

What do people need?

water
food
shelter
each other
meaning

In recent months, I’ve revisited Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and some of the Zen ideas and teachings therein have wended their way into my consciousness. Reminds me of snippets of Buddhism I’ve absorbed over the years, such as the interconnectivity of all beings.

“A person pokes up from the world and rolls along like a wave, until it is time to sink down again.”

A Tale for the Time Being, p.194

A wave is a person is alive is dead is the same thing. The narrator goes on to lament that one cannot hold on to water, to the people we love. “…still I gripped her fingers a little more tightly to keep her from leaking away.”

More recently, other ideas about how fleeting human life is in the scale of geologic or universe time have bubbled up. I wish I could cite the articles or podcasts that resurfaced this idea, but it’s not uncommon. Perhaps it was this:

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu (as quoted in Frugaling’s Ownership Isn’t Real, We Rent This Life)

And I’ve picked up another of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novels, and so have remembered Aurora, and the perils of a generation starship. What are we preserving, when we rocket a probe into the stars?

We are all star stuff.

Carl Sagan

Another idea that’s gained prominence in my mind recently is the emphasis, in some cultures, not on individuals or even the group, but on the culture itself. The peoples’ practices.

In high school, I hit upon the belief that the point of life is to defy extinction. I’ve come back around to this, with some additions.

The point of human life, broadly, is

To defy extinction
To perpetuate the species
To make meaning of existence
To reproduce culture

So…what is our culture? As families, as communities, as municipalities, as states, as a nation? (USA context, here.)
What is worth reproducing? Passing on? Changing? Leaving behind?

now

And what role do we play, as fleeting time beings? Given that most of us are unremarkable outside of those who know us, I’ve started to believe that what is important is family, chosen biological or otherwise. That is where our attention can make a difference. Where we transmit values and cultural practices. Where we make meaning.

now

Ozeki’s work reminds me of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower ~ the only lasting truth is change ~

“Everything in the universe is constantly changing, and nothing stays the same, and we must understand how quickly time flows by if we are to wake up and truly live our lives.”

A Tale for the Time Being, p.408

[I mistyped “flows” as “flowers” just now. A freudian typo?]

So many people have lived
small lives
Brief
Time Beings

And what does it mean,
to truly “live our lives”?
What life is worthy of living?
How do we fully honor, appreciate
the privilege
The unlikely circumstance
of living?

now, this moment, mindfulness meditation, and its capitalist twisting, unrooted from its Buddhist origins*, how can we be present for one another, make meaning together, create something lasting knowing that lasting is relative and relatively hopeless beyond a few generations ~ we last, endure, relationally, with our relations ~

“human consciousness is neither more nor less than the clouds and water, or the hundreds of grasses”

A Tale for the Time Being, p.409

we are all star stuff

*Listen to the Upstream Podcast’s conversation with Ron Purser for more on “McMindfulness

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The Problem with Identity

This is a series of questions that circle back on one another. I do not have answers.

Anthropology seems at odds with itself. As a discipline, it’s charged with understanding people from their own cultural perspectives, maintaining that meaning arises from use. Thinking through these tenets, it leads to a tension between intention and interpretation. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of identity and personhood–who someone is, how that “who” comes into being, and who has the power to determine who the “who” is.

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Embracing Multiplicity, Shunning Competition

The prevailing mode of research in academia is that you want to find what no one else is looking at and explore the crap out of it. Dive into that niche, carve it out of what exists if you must, but first and foremost do your due diligence to make sure no one else has staked their claim on it. This is a great way to produce knowledge, and a shit way to produce culture.

Culture needs repetition. Culture needs a multiplicity of voices. In short, culture needs movements, or it will never be, much less change.

“I will never be the only person writing about X, and that’s okay.”

As a blogger, tweeter, nascent fiction scribe, I will never be the only person writing about X.  And that’s okay. That’s a good thing.

Rather than bemoan the lack of opportunity to be original, the healthier thing might be to embrace it. To shout it from the mountain tops. To foster a sense of pride in sharing ideas and opinions and ways-of-expressing with others.

It’s little wonder that many of us have similar opinions. True iconoclasm may be a myth. There are no isolated test-tubes within which we incubate our conscious selves. We are each of us exposed to shared nutrients and toxins. We choose what to take in and what to discard. And there are so many of us that of course some of us will have chosen to take in and discard almost exactly the same things. Thus are many of us raised in similar vats of culture, allowing us to harbor similar opinions. look anywhere, to any opinion on any subject, and there will be a vibrant multiplicity of voices.

Even diversity needs multiplicity. Needs amplification. Just as we flock together, so must we cast outside of our comfortable nest, to visit and understand and embrace other flocks. But each flock must be just that–a flock. Otherwise we lose difference in the noise. One single voice is difficult to hear. But many voices crying out, in bunches, creates tides of change and opinions to move millions. Multiplicity is amplification. Amplification is the first step in cultural transformation.

Why not share and repeat and re-work a great idea? How else will that idea change anything for the better? Ownership is a dangerous thing…

Rather than feels guarded, jealous, turf-y, we can choose to read one another, share one another with others, and continue writing ourselves. We can choose to embrace multiplicity by amplifying the ways others express ideas we care about; ideas we want out there so much that we wrote about them ourselves. By sharing and amplifying the work of others, we bring these ideas we hold dear to even more people than we could ever hope to enlighten alone. Together, we can multiply the number of people who care, increasing that idea’s importance in public discourse and consciousness.

We can choose to shun the idea of competition, not worry about who’s doing it “best,” but worry that any of us are doing it at all–and support and encourage one another to keep at it. By reading one another, we all learn to do better. We see slightly different ways of expressing the same idea. We encounter slightly different perspectives that can cause us to examine our own and shift it to suit the greater good. By embracing the difference and the sameness, we are stronger together.

I hope I’ll never be the only one thinking and writing about

  • gender
  • class
  • power
  • technology
  • consumerism
  • body politics
  • animal-human relationships (bovinity, even)
  • the insidious ways that advertising misconstrues and reconstitutes social norms, influencing us without allowing those who live them a say in how we are represented

All these things and more, which are each huge and multiple and deserving of many voices and much attention.

I’m sure many writers have already figured this out. But every now and then I catch myself slipping into that academic fetishization of the new, or else the capitalist obsession with credit, and I needs must remind myself of the good that comes from multiplicity.

We must embrace one another, be each other’s champions, if we wish to change the world.


In the spirit of supporting, sharing, and connecting, here are links to a few voices I enjoy listening to:

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