I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Future of Advertising - The Game of Life

This video is a short, ten minute lecture on the future of advertising if gaming merges with marketing. I tend not to pay attention to gaming all that much, but there is reason to pay attention to this industry and the way in which it could influence human behavior.

This excited lecturer reflects on how our entire lives could become a gaming module, where we score points based on our behavior, particularly in relation to what we purchase. He concludes by saying, "I do know that this stuff is coming. Man, it's gotta' come. What's gonna stop it?!"

This discussion reminded me of Spielberg's 2002 film, Minority Report. Here is a short, 45 second video. "John Anderton, you could use a Guinness about now!"

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fire and Desire, Madness and the Spirit

"We do not wake up in this world calm and serene, having the luxury of choosing to act or not act. We wake up crying, on fire with desire, with madness. What we do with that madness is our spirituality." -Ronald Rolheiser

(Continuing to borrow from Tamie's posts.)

Conservation, Eugenics, and Reconciliation

I love Orion magazine. To those who classify and categorize, Orion would likely be labeled as "environmentalist" or "conservationist." However, it is concerned with broader questions of existence that have to do with place, the space that we inhabit and the ethical and philosophical questions surrounding it. It jives well with me because it places environmental concerns within the question of "what kind of human beings do we want to be?"

My interest in environmentalism and conservation of the natural world stem from my concern for the heart and soul of a consumeristic culture. I wonder what kind of damage we do to ourselves if the primary force behind most of our lives (from the big decisions to the little decisions) is an impulse to consume, to have more and more stuff. I also have fallen in love with natural beauty and with the kind of "silence" that only things like trees, streams, mountains, chipmunks, moose, lakes and oceans can provide.

I also appreciate Orion even more after this article by Charles Wohlforth in the July|August issue. It is an honest evaluation of the connection between conservation efforts and eugenics. Check it out.

"The American environmental movement remains predominantly white and middle class, detached from minorities, immigrants, and the poor along the same lines of class and color that existed a century ago....More broadly, our political language for protecting the environment is about conflict between forces of good and evil, the fear of annihilation, and the exaltation of purity. It's the language of war, with dark undertones of racism we've inherited but no longer recognize."


The article traces the dark side of the history of environmentalism. For some, conservation of the natural world was rooted in a belief in the dream of early twentieth century eugenics: that Americans should breed a strong race of rugged, hard-working individualists, "oddly, the improvement of the dominant race meshed with the New Nationalism's utopia for a merit-based society." For Progressives like Teddy Roosevelt, it meant sticking up for the average guy, uh, white guy of course. So, preserving the average, strong working (white) man from the dominance of government and corporate powers that might impose on his freedom and destroy the land.

"Roosevelt was worried about the loss of a special American quality of strength and ingenuity that supposedly had evolved among whites on the frontier."

Said Roosevelt: "If our nation cares to make any provision for its grandchildren and its grandchildren's grandchildren, this provision must include conservation in all its branches--but above all, the conservation of the racial stock itself."

It gets worse, not better.

"Roosevelt wrote, 'I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding; and when the evil nature of these people is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized, and feebleminded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them. But as yet there is no way possible to devise which could prevent all undesirable people from breeding. The emphasis should be laid on getting desirable people to breed.'"

Well, that's one approach. It's the eugenics way, of course. And, actually, there was someone who tried to devise a way for a eugenics vision. Heir Hitler and the Nazis....which brings up more oddity, absurdity, and downright idiocracy, because "Nazi officials who slaughtered human beings in death camps also passed some of the world's most advanced legislation to protect the environment and endangered species, even outlawing cruelty to animals, including the sort of medical experimentation they performed on their human victims."

Weird. Very weird. But back to Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives, whose perspective on the environment was couched within an overall worldview of superiority. It begs the question: "How could progressives who world for conservation, national insurance, and the rights of the workers adapt an ideology of hatred against the weak?"

Indeed. What is clear is that imperialistic thinking thoroughly permeated the heart and soul of the white race, even amongst reformers like T.R. and other Progressives.

The article has an interesting conclusion. "Power won't help us....This is a better job for the weak, who often have more at stake in the loss of nature, a closer relationship to its gifts, and a greater capacity to recognize when a certain level of material wealth is enough." This conclusion is intriguing because the article begins by suggesting that the environmental movement is a project of the white middle class, presumably those who want to protect nature (and the ecosystem) for their enjoyment (and safety). It is a movement detached from the marginalized, the poor, minority races, or immigrants. In this sense, it can become another "cause" that benefits the existing benefits of those who are higher in the power structure.

"Understanding the history of racism in the conservation movement is important, not to assign blame, but to diagnose our unhealthy relationships with each other and with nature, learn from our mistakes, and begin cooperating in the ways that we must in order to reverse our destruction of the Earth's ecosystems."

Agreed. But in order to cooperate with the marginalized, there must be something at stake for them, some benefit to their cooperation. These divisions between us are deep in the United States, and it is important to our power structure that we maintain them. As such, I imagine that the conservation movement will continue to be a project of the white middle class. In order to enlist the marginalized, they have to receive something in return, a greater share in the power and wealth of the nation, and a breakdown of the stigmas that make them marginalized. Cooperation means that the marginalized are no longer perceived as less than. Enlisting their cooperation means that the white power structure has to give something, something economic in return.

Knowing that this is the case, I doubt that such a cooperation will occur. More than likely, the environmental movement will continue to be a project of the white middle class. I will support it, of course. But these days, I am more inclined to think in wider terms; specifically, I want to ask about reconciliation in the broadest sense, the type of reconciliation that is at the core of the Christian faith, though it is often not recognized as such: "In Christ there is neither Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female." This passage and others suggest that the ultimate end for Christian reconciliation is the obliteration of all hard divisions based on ethnic groupings, class and social status, and gender privilege. All exist together, unified under Jesus the Christ.

Environmental and other causes often exist in isolation from greater philosophies of reconciliation. Articulating such a greater philosophy is one of the great opportunities for religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

more bumper stickers

This quirky bumper sticker had Tamie and I in stitches:

"Support your right to arm bears"

Friday, July 23, 2010

Environmental bumper stickers

An interesting bumper sticker I came across:

"Environmental bumper stickers don't mean shit when they are stuck to CARS."

(Thanks to Zach and Amy.)

Catching up with the world

Tamie and I are spending a bit of time in Vermont. One look at the handy road atlas reveals that Vermont is loaded with scenic highways and byways. It is a beautiful area of the country. Of the entire continental U.S., I would say it ranks at the top of my personal scenic charts. I also love the feel of Montana. Vermont has its own style: great cheese; Ben & Jerry's ice cream; it was green before green was cool; life moves at a slow pace; strip malls are kept to a minimum; and the Wal-martization of the world is kept at bay. So, I love the style.

Tamie has a short, humorous post on the subject:
Vermont: So beautiful it's offensive

For now, I'm trying to catch up a bit on the 'ole blogging front. So, more to come. For the moment, I've been enjoying the New England area.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Portland, Maine

No great ideas. Not even any pictures, unfortunately.

I'm just hanging out here in Portland, Maine, scoping out the possibility of Tamie and I moving here to this wonderful little coastal city. I am couchsurfing with a wonderful host, John. He's been great, and today we bicycled around the city. It's only a city of 60,000 or so folk (not including hamsters), but it has a nice, artists/creative community, and the scenery is lovely. Maine has many islands and a beautiful, rugged stone coast. Ferries (the boats, not gay men or the little enchanted girl creatures with wings) shuttle people out to some of these islands, or just take you around for a few hours or a day of taking in the salt air and the inspiring sights.

Try as I might, it's hard to find anyone give the city a negative review, or say anything disparaging about it. It's like pulling teeth. (Or, perhaps, it's a lot like answering that infamous interview question, "Tell us two or three of your weaknesses." You know the one? Where you try to say something "negative" about yourself, but it actually turns into a positive. Like, "Well, ya' know. One of my weaknesses is that I just get so wrapped up in my work that I can get burned out. Yeah. It can be a real draw back, I tell ya.")

So, I dig Portland, and I think moving here is now in the works. The price of living is a bit higher than living in the cornfields of northern Indiana; but, ya know, we expected that sort of thing.

Oh, and by way of a P.S. We camped in the Adirondacks on our way here to Maine. That was good times. And the drive through Vermont was tops. I mean tops. It was gorgeous. Right through central Vermont, through the Green Mountains. Oh yes. Vermont is tops. And New Hampshire has the absolutely best state motto you shall ever hear. "Live free or die."


Friday, July 02, 2010

Calling All Fanatics: Protecting nature should be more important than enjoying it

Derrick Jensen is a provocative environmental activist and writer. His basic point: save the planet at any cost. If it costs your integrity? Yes. If it costs your life? Check.

He has a short column with Orion magazine. In the recent July|August edition, "Calling All Fanatics" he starts by saying, "there aren't nearly enough of us working anywhere near hard enough to stop this culture from killing the planet."

Should we be enjoying our hikes, kayaking trips, and nice camping trips when our entire society is continuing to allow the destruction of the natural world, polluting the air and water, sending carbon into the atmosphere, and cutting down the forests (and other overharvesting), all to feed the need for greed--our demand for more and more stuff.

"For anyone not to devote her/his talents and energies to defending the planet is a betrayal of the worst magnitude, a gesture of contempt against life itself. It is unforgivable."

I am inclined to agree. Although I am a theologian by trade, a thinker, I want my theory to be grounded in the reality and workings of the world. From my volunteer work teaching in the local county jail it has become clear to me that there are problems that require immediate action, and words without deeds are dead. People's lives are being stolen and abused. We can sit back and pontificate on incarceration, but I know the names of people who need support because every night they get shut up in cages like animals with other desperate people. They need friends, mentors, and they need activists.

I feel the same way about the environment. I agree with Jensen that there is a "contempt against life itself" at work somewhere in all of this.

Yet as a theologian and spiritual thinker, I also want to ask the deeper questions. I want to ask, where does this "contempt against life" come from. I want to take Jensen's militarism, his do-or-die attitude, his courage, and join it with some intelligent spiritual analysis. By "spiritual" I mean that I want to ask about the "spirit" or "mood" or "attitude" that animates this culture of contempt against life. I do believe, for example, that consumerism is based on contempt. We have to first despise ourselves. Once we despise our lives, then we are vulnerable to advertising and marketing manipulation.

In the past, advertising and marketing was simple: for a content, satisfied, or self-actualized life, just purchase [insert product/service]. The sophistication of our current consumerism is such that we are well aware of our own self-content, and yet we continue to consume. This interests me. Self-contempt is celebrated, in often very subtle ways. Of course we still sell cereal by showing happy kids, but its also hip to be angsty: "yeah, I'm a jaded consumer, and to prove it I wear this jacket and these shoes." Even protests against the system necessitate that we participate in the system.

There's a market for the anti-system crowd. These are the saavy, self-aware types. The advertiser can tap into the contempt and bring it to the surface, no problem. An advertiser can use anything to sell a product or service.

How do we respond to this contempt for life? If our consuming impulse is based on contempt and a discontented consumer, how do we stop the consuming impulse before it begins? How does a person (or a society for that matter) become content, undoing our conditioning toward contempt?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

"At one moment we deplore our birth and state and aspire to an ascetic exaltation. The next, we are overcome by the smell of some old garden path and weep to hear the thrushes sing."

Were I to comment on the novel, in a very general sense, I would say that Virginia Woolf's Orlando was rather uncompelling. Of course, one might rightly call me to task for using the term "uncompelling," due to the fact that it is not a word--it is not a word in the sense that it cannot be found in a major dictionary. However, if you were to suggest that my word was not a word merely because it was not in the dictionary, I would say that this matters little because you get the gist of what I am attempting to communicate. Or, alternatively, in response to your criticism that my word is not a word, I might respond by saying that Woolf's novel is not a novel.

Orlando is in fact a displaced genre. It is written as a biography and intended by the author as a biography. It is shelved under "fiction," and more importantly, it is being reviewed by this writer as a novel....but not quite a novel....but when you read it, you get the gist of what Woolf is trying to say.

The novel is a biography of "Orlando." It is a loose interpretation of the life of one of Virginia Woolf's intimate friend, Vita Sackville-West, also a writer. Yet it is free and easy with the truth, very "unhistorical," if you will, "unfactual." But then again, you'll get the gist of what is going on. Woolf is taking liberty with the biography to better understand the person. It's like painting a tree that doesn't quite look like a tree but at the same time gives us a better sense of the tree than we would have if we had looked at the tree itself. Or said differently, it's like the fact that what we see in the mirror is never quite what is being mirrored.

Orlando, the one being biographied, if that's a word, which I am sure it is not...oh, but we've had that conversation before....Orlando, subject of this biography, is like Woolf's friend in that s/he is a writer. However, unlike Vita Sackville-West, Orlando is ageless and sexless. Well, not quite sexless. We are treated to a discourse on the life of Orlando, and then we find that while Orlando is in the prime of his life, he falls into a deep sleep and wakes up to be a woman. The "he" becomes a "she," but retains her (or his) prior impressions and understanding of what it is like to be a he. So she understand he, as perhaps no she has ever understood a he. And to top it all off, she sometimes acts like a she and sometimes acts like a he.

Orlando also feels out of place in his/her class. S/he is an aristocrat who can't quite give his/her heart to the life of an aristocrat, but who also on the other hand cannot quite escape the life of an aristocrat. Orlando isolates himself from his aristocratic peers, never managing to quite form any intimacy with them. Later, as a woman, Orlando finds herself living with Gypsies, but she longs for the comforts of her aristocratic lifestyle.

"For what more terrifying revelation can there be than that it is the present moment? That we survive the shock at all is only possible because the past shelters us on one side, the future on another."

Our subject also belongs to no era. As the story progresses, centuries pass and Orlando does not age. S/he is somehow lifted out of time and space, yet s/he seems at the same time to embody each era, be it the Elizabethan Era of the Victorian Age or the modern industrialized city.

In short, this novel is the story of a subject displaced from time, class, and gender. And all of this displacement occurs within a novel that is deliberately displaced as a biography by its author who (despite being a novelist) insists that we approach her novel as though it were a biography.

"How little she had changed over the years....she had remained fundamentally the same."

"I have sought happiness over many ages and have not found it, fame and missed it, love and not known it....I have known many men and many women, none have I understood."

The text is experimental. The prose is beautiful. Yet for me, the novel lacked a truly compelling element. The subject is lifted out of the world such that s/he lacks context. Orlando becomes a sexless character without any true affiliation to any particular era or even alignment with a class. Orlando, the protagonist, remains static, and as such, there is nothing to invest, emotionally or otherwise. The best the reader can do is to sympathize with this character for the extreme displacement that s/he finds his/herself living.

"Morning James," she said. "there's some things in the car. Will you bring them in?" Words of no beauty, interest, or significance in themselves it will be conceded. But now so plumped out with meaning that if they fell like ripe nuts from a tree and proved that when the shriveled skin of the ordinary is stuffed out with meaning it satisfies the senses amazingly....to see Orlando change her skirt for a pair of whip cord britches and leather jacket, which she did in less than three minutes, was to be ravished with the beauty of movement, as if Madame Lopokova were using her highest art."

The protagonist is distant and inaccessible. S/he seems to live in a sleep-like state, unable to awaken to a strong sense of identity. In the above quote, Orlando is in here eleventh hour, nearing her demise, and she experiences an awakening of sorts. The prose is beautiful, but somehow I remain unconvinced. Orlando still seems distant, as if she is experiencing a moment of fullness, when life is being experienced in all of its richness and the heart is full. Yes, she may be living a few moments of being in tune with the wonder of the world, but the reader still is somehow being kept at bay, closed out. As for myself, my sense is that Orlando is not only closed off to the reader but ultimately she is closed off to herself. And perhaps that is the point of the novel, itself, a character unable to ever quite wake up.

The world seeks to establish and settle identity: gender, era, class and social standing. Orlando is displaced in this world, and somehow his/her displacement paralyzes his/her ability to awaken. She remains trapped in a dream.

"Illusions are to the soul as atmosphere is to the earth. Roll up that tender air, and the plant dries, the color fades. The earth we walk on is a parched cinder...by the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. 'Tis waking that kills us..."

But how many of us truly wake from this dream?