Why is the ending of Beatriz at Dinner so disturbing?
Because throughout the film, we have witnessed our own whiteness: normalized, privileged, comfortable. And then we are confronted with the stark reality of existential choice.
There are only three ways the film can end:
White people heal ourselves and change.
White individuals are killed.
The first option is decidedly unappealing. The Trump-like character of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) reeks of white fatalism, and his supporting cast stinks of white fragility. What can one do but ignore the damage and keep doing whatever provides pleasure?
The second option doesn’t solve the problems whiteness has created for all other living beings and the planet.
The third option is our history and our present. Are we so incapable of sacrifice, so afraid of discomfort, that we have already surrendered the future?
Brilliant, unsettling filmmaking suitable to this desperate era. A must see.
Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice in Chinese medicine and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat.
My Taichi teacher, Wolfe Lowenthal, asked me to write a book review for our school’s newsletter, Taichi Thoughts, so I read Brendan Kelly’s book with an eye to implications for practicing Tai Chi.
In The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural and Ecological Imbalance with Chinese Medicine (2015), Brendon Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice based in Chinese medicine, and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming, to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat. “Heat,” he explains, “is an excess of warmth and a state of overstimulation, which can eventually cause our internal fluids, or coolant, to evaporate.” Kelly jumps back and forth between the levels of an individual human body, majority US culture, and planetary environmental conditions. This logic is legitimate from a Chinese medicine point of view, which holds that “the microcosm and the macrocosm reflect the same conditions and tendencies, with the only significant difference being scale.” Accepting this premise and Kelly’s diagnosis means most of us are operating with too much Yang, generating too much heat and thus contributing via our very bodies to the ecological processes of climate change.
Kelly spends time detailing both the ways in which too much heat is generated and ways in which cooling systems are failing, hence the specific designation of Yin-deficient heat. Water is the element mainly responsible for cooling, in our bodies as well as for the planet. Critiquing the rapid pace and consumer-orientation of our culture, Kelly argues that “stimulation is not strength; it’s heat.” This got me thinking about the sensations of practicing Tai Chi, especially Wolfe’s frequent instructions about how we are to engage the air: “caress the air;” “treat the air as if it had the substance and weight of water;” “feel the water-like air.” What if, in addition to sensing the air as an element in physical contact with our hands, we considered the air as literally cooling the excessive Yang in our bodies? A new mantra might be, “feel the air like cool water.”
“Climate change is not just happening in the world around us;
climate change is also happening within us.”
As an introduction to Chinese medicine, I found the book compelling. In particular, Kelly’s description of the interaction of the “Five Phases” (or “Five Elements”) with the Sheng and K’o cycles was instructive. “The Sheng or Nourishing cycle is what allows organs and phases to feed what comes next. While the K’o cycle creates balance by limiting and controlling things, the Sheng cycle is the relationship among the different aspects of who we are that promotes growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually” (136). If you want to learn the major symptoms of climate change without perusing the scientific literature, Kelly provides a fair and specific representation. His lessons about the Yin and Yang are familiar, e.g., “By itself, the Yang of doing things won’t lead us to the Yin of understanding our lives.” The unique contribution of his book in Tai Chi terms is his articulation of parallels and successful treatments that will help us “to know within us what climate stability would look and feel like” so that we can help to bring about climate stability “in the world around us.”
Brendan Kelly: “The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis“, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
Republished with permission, includes minor revisions. Originally published in Taichi Thoughts, Volume 16, No. 3, November 4, 2015.
Almost a month ago I received an email inviting me to join a Google+ group. I was happy to do so, thinking it was a personal invitation rather than one generated by an essentially anonymous algorithm.
Arriving to the group (I went to check it out right away), the post that greeted me also seemed personally relevant to me; in fact my first impulse was that the founder of this group had invited me because that particular post had just been published. I felt an immediate tug to comment but hesitated…
Very soon (what felt like practically right away), I saw a Facebook post in a related “Conversation” group that complemented the Google+ group’s posting—indeed it felt directly relevant, articulating some of my private contemplations about a particular sub-set of dynamics that arose around a Sceenius’ Knowledge Expedition.
Fortunately, I didn’t have time to compose a comment at that exact instant, but the vitality of my visceral engagement meant I kept thinking about the communication I thought had occurred. That is to say, I felt as if a particular message (or messages) was sent deliberately to me, calling upon me to offer up a response. I say fortunately I didn’t give an instant response, because as I have been able to carve out time to explore more, I discovered that the Google+ post was not that fresh; it had been re-posted by someone other than the original author.
Ron’s original post pre-dated John’s invitation by three days. One could argue (I suppose) that this timing lends some credibility to an hypothesis that John invited me because of Ron’s post. Whether or not this was the case is of minor significance, however, in light of the reality of me experiencing it “as if” the meaning of “invite+convergence glyph” was directed personally to me.
It is more likely that the invitation I’d received from John was random: at least its timing with the (second) appearance of Ron’s Glyph diving in social fields post was coincidental. At most whatever motivated the invite to be sent at that particular moment was not accessible to me in the instant of reception—there was no “evidence” nor any “clues” presented to connect the invitation with anything that had happened before—only my suppositions; call them intuition, or wishful thinking, or fullblown fantasy. The experience offers an illustration of what one might call a communication fact: receivers are the ones most ‘in charge’ of deciding what something ‘means.’
My realization of the serendipity of the timing of John’s invitation and Ron’s posting called into question the construction of meaning in my mind, also casting doubt on the associations I’d made about the content of Joe’s Facebook post, How to Create a Group Mind, being a reflection or commentary relevant to the Sceenius dynamics in question. In fairness to my logic, I had not thought that there was any association between Joe’s post and Ron’s. Nor did I draw any overt connection between Joe’s post and John’s invitation. Rather I sensed a more covert kind of parallel process or synergy whereby different members of a group are always representing various aspects of the group’s whole/holistic experience.
Now, I am writing weeks after the immediacy of those deeply-felt ‘turns’ (John—Ron—Joe) and can imagine the labor of memory required for John, Ron and Joe to recall those original moments from their points-of-view. Certainly each of the their individual communication acts (Invitation—Google+Post—Facebook Post) are not seamlessly connected in their minds as part of a discrete flow of sequential experience. It is unlikely that these separate communication acts were collectively conceived as a conscious representation. One could go so far as to say that it’s ridiculous for me to have made such strong associations among them, particularly in terms of sensing myself as an intended audience. Indeed, only John might have considered his invitation to me a direct engagement warranting a designation of me as an interlocutor, but that single act of communication could hardly have been more than a blip in his day. Ron most likely did not have me in mind as a potential audience member/reader of his post. Joe would not (as far as I know) have had any reason to even be aware of me when he decided to re-share his blogentry (originally written two years ago) on Facebook!
This diversity of communication experience is an illustration of what Mikael Bakhtin meant by heteroglossia: everyone speaks ‘their own language’ and, by corollary, comprehends language by making use of linguistic resources and packaging/interpreting perceptions in ways particular to their own particular ‘center’ according to the sequence of events and experiences. Everyone has different reference points, experiences a unique stream of communicative events, and is informed from the on-going transactions of their specific embodiment and particular social position(s)/positionality. These aggregate and cohere in society to create social reality: prejudices, discriminations, and oppressions as well as strengths, beauties and aspirations. This dialectical process is prominently enabled by language: language use, language-in-use, language as transactional for the transmission of knowledges and equally (though often neglected) the perpetuation of identities and relationships through time (see John Carey).
At an emotional level, I would have preferred to continue to flow onward along the trajectory of the imaginary meaningfulness I constructed from those three discrete communication acts! When such acts collapse in mutually shared experience, it seems people do generally prefer to carry on at full speed along that stream. Perhaps there was a way I could have “joined” in a more immediate manner, but I was at a loss to reconcile the complexity of our interaction into a simple reduction that was suitable to the moment without compromising or, worse, appearing to erase an unresolved previous encounter.
Can we hold each other accountable for real? And, in doing so, can we uphold each other’s dignity and respect each other’s learning curves and processes of assimilating new/different feedback?
In other words, how, I keep wondering, can we ever generate collective coherence beyond the easy magnetism of instantaneous grokking when divergence is much more common than convergence, or when convergence self-perpetuates itself only among those who are already like-minded?
What is needed is to enable connection that allows for, nay embraces, tensions of real difference as an essential part of collectivizing.
Michael Holquist, a contemporary Bahktinian scholar and translator, labeled the operational function of language in generating chronotopes as timespace calibration. Bakhtin had realized that the language of a people reveals that people’s orientation to time and thus to space, that culture or society’s overall relation to timespace—the time of spaces. Bakhtin gleaned this from close comparative study of early literature (the Greeks and Romans) and contrasted their similarities and differences with the popular Russian literature of his own time, the first half of the 20th century. Bakhtin suggested that not only does language provide a lens for discernment of past and present cultural and ideological orientations to time (and thereby to space); language is itself a tool for constructing the social realities of timespaces. That is, language dynamics make a significant contribution to the generation of material conditions.
These days, I’m a peripheral, minor participant in several chronotopally-bound conversations. I think of them as contrapuntal. The general trend in most of these conversations is a centrifugal discourse, one that continually re-centers itself as “the” most-important-thing-that-is-happening-now. #BlackLivesMatter is a counterpoint to #Conversation and also to a month-long online encounter last January exploring Dialogue, Deliberation and Social Transformation. #Conversation strikes me as a tech version of the #permaculture movement. Last week Greenpeace dangled human beings in front of a massive oil rig to try and prevent drilling in the Arctic. Egypt nears absolute water crisis. War and unspeakable violence continues to ravage vast populations of human beings on the planet. The patterns of self-reinforcing language use of folks invested in each of these discourses offer slim strands of interconnections, but there is no reason these cannot be made more robust! I suppose that giving careful attention to interpersonal/small group-scale moments of disconnect and divergence (according to diverse beats and varying rhythms) we can identify and forge such mergers.
With time, practice, and increasing skill, this more resilient ‘net’ will spread.
Alliances must be broader, deeper, and more wholistic. We must learn and enact skills of bridging differences in those moments when surface synergy becomes unharmonic, when the rhythm shifts to an unfamiliar score or the beat changes from a familiar cadence to one which feels discomfitting or even threatening. If we are to build hope of overcoming the entrenched systemic inertia of industrial civilization with its myriad comforts and diversions, we must learn to embrace and adopt the explorer’s ethos and curiosity about what’s going on right here right now so that we can discover how to get along into the future in profoundly new ways.
“…sheds light on a very interesting issue in IB, and is overall very convincing” (Reviewer comment).
“Undoubtedly, language use is a fascinating idea, both in terms of its real-life impact and as a field for research. I believe that this paper raises an important issue and can contribute to the IB literature” (Reviewer comment).
This draft of a paper co-authored with Jeff Kappen, Assistant Professor of International Business at Drake University, was accepted as an interactive session for the Academy of International Business in Bangalore (India) this summer.
I’m a panelist for a one-day conference by the UMass Institute of Social Research, on the topic of
Social Science Research Beyond the Academy, which is a UMass Graduate Student Research Exposition and PhD Alumni Panels Event.
Learning, the Permaculture Way was a pre-conference workshop by David Eggleton and me at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference (PV2) in San Diego. Our session drew about 50 participants, some of whom continued a dialogue that seemed—on the surface—to have a narrow focus but, over the five days of PV2, grew wider, broader and was deepened considerably through Meet-Ups and collaboration with the Mycelium team of facilitators.
For sustainability to function and endure, the overarching relationship that must function well is between people(s) and place(s). A resilient ability to balance the twin goals of being a Whole Person and living in a Whole Place is the aim and outcome of working well with the differences between peoples and places.
Many permies emphasize living in a Whole Place, so the Meaningful Makeover instrument brings an equal emphasis to being a Whole Person by elaborating the “Care of People” permaculture principle with insights from Stephen Covey (author of The 8th Habit and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
Creatively identifying the interconnections and interdependencies between the two “paradigms” of Whole Person and Whole Place yields four working relationships that serve as touchstones for life-long learning and permaculture coaching. With the additional half-hour Diego gave us this year, we asked participants to gather in small groups organized by Working Relationship and come up with a guiding question relevant to their journey through PV2.
Two Paradigms/Four Questions
The Whole Place paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: interspecies and interelemental.
The Whole Person paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: intrapersonal and interhuman.
The overarching questions created by small groups this year were:
Interspecies: How do we reconcile/balance our desire to integrate wildlife and net biodiversity (whole ecosystem health) with the human need for a system that ‘produces a yield’?
Interelemental: How do my design elements fit together as a system?
Intrapersonal: How can we become our best whole selves to care for ourselves, our communities, & the earth while at the same time welcoming the reciprocity of those things caring for us, our communities, & our earth?
Interhuman: How do I connect with the right people, how do I properly communicate, and how do I create/find community?
Working Well with Differences, Interhumanly
Soirée noted some problems with the phrasing of the interhuman question:
I would like to point out that the three-part inter-human question resulted when we were not able to distill the community question further in the time allotted. It’s my impression that “right people” was not intended to imply some people were wrong but rather how do I find people for real connection rather than a passing fancy. [Also] I’m not entirely clear what “how do I properly communicate” meant to the contributor…
Rick pursued a different but related question: “How can I improve community stability?”
During the Meet-Ups and in the Closing Break-Out Session, we talked a fair bit about trying to increase the diversity of future Permaculture Voices conference participants and presenters. One strategy included becoming more aware of whiteness and how it can unconsciously get in the way of inclusion and diversification. More thoughts about how we/human beings can work well with the differences among us/human beings are shared at this Permavoices page. You are also invited to contribute.
This workshop at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference in San Diego will help you plan how to maximize your PV2 conference experience by applying a tool for lifelong learning. Learning throughout your life involves steady investments of attention, time and energy. In this session, you will acquire and work with a set of considerations that set guideposts for navigating intentional learning for as long as you want, beginning with this conference and continuing through the rest of your life. With these considerations and a tool specially designed for PV2, you’ll gain clarity about the choices that brought you to the conference, the choices you have while here, and choices you’ll have henceforth.
David Eggleton, an artist and permaculture designer, and Steph Kent, a sign language interpreter and communication activist, will introduce a system of considerations that merge learning theory with the permaculture principles. We’ll then lead you through a customized worksheet to help you optimize your path through the many rich and exciting opportunities at PV2. Applying the considerations immediately to your conference plan will reinforce their value for the long run while enabling you to get the most from your PV2 experience.
The race of Ultra vs Enigma in The Imitation Game prefigures Edward Snowden, #Anonymous, and the Lizard Squad.
The Imitation Game is impressive in two distinct ways. One is the deployment of cinematic license to dramatically convey what Turing expert Professor S. Barry Olson describes as “the objective truth” about the invention of the counter-machine that cracked Enigma, the Nazis supposedly unbreakable coding machine.
However, Christian Caryl’s criticism isn’t completely wrong: stereotypes about gay men do inform Benedict Cumberbatch’s representation of Turing, and could support homophobic attitudes about what is/isn’t a security risk. That said, Cumberbatch does strike a nice balance between the story of the man and the story of the technology within the constraints established by the script.
In the end, as far as the significance of this film goes, as much as Turing deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as, say, Stephen Hawking, in historical terms it is the computing technology that eclipses the identity of a gay man. This leads to the second, most impressive aspect of the film, which is of a certain metonymy: The Imitation Game is representative of the material birth of postmodernity, in which time and space have been collapsed by the digitalization of communication.
The Ultra project at Bletchley Park brings to mind the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. Although the film rightfully celebrates Turing’s life and achievement of “the unimaginable,” like most forms of innovative knowledge his invention has a dark side, too. Unlike the development of the atomic bomb with its obviously ethical aspects, the creation of the computer appears neutral. The ubiquity of computing today feeds ambivalence about the ethics of computing which might render its unintended consequences all the more dangerous because of their subtlety.
The dark side of computing is not videogaming or social media or the proliferation of cute cats on youtube or data mining or even threats to privacy or cyberterrorism (because both of these can still be contained, if enough of us act soon and in concert). Nor is it the deep canalization of subgroups being reinforced by targeted advertising, although this may outrank all the others by perpetuating attitudes of ethnocentrism and prejudice. The difficult challenge of computing is the social construction of time as a race that only the fastest can win.
The race of Ultra vs Enigma prefigures Edward Snowden, #Anonymous, and the Lizard Squad, the latter claiming to be “working to get access to some of the core routing equipment of the Internet.” This cyber/cipher “game” is as serious now to human life and death as it was during WWII, if not more so, with the entire planet at stake. The Imitation Game should win the Oscar for its historical relevance on top of all the excellent acting and flawless production. Imitation champions anti-sexism and anti-homophobia while skirting wide of racism, “the uncontrolled imaginings of the white mind,” which make it a politically safe contender at this volatile moment of “I can’t breathe” and #BlackLivesMatter.
The imitating that Turing and contemporaries created is far more than a game. As a technology, computing has sped up the rate and pace of human social interaction. Turing’s invention was perfectly in keeping with that era of industrialization: radio, telephones and television were spreading information faster and further than ever before, and assembly lines were improving efficiencies and cranking out products at ever-increasing rates. People were (and are, even moreso now) being trained to the clock, not to any natural rhythms of the actual earth or a biological species.
Conceptualizing time and humanity’s relationship to time is tricky territory, not least because science hasn’t yet figured out where time comes from or what it is. “We’re not in a war with Germany, we’re in a war with time,” is the most important line in the film. The meaning of the scripted line is transparent in relation to the calendar and the clock, to the exigencies of battle: factually and descriptively, it is true enough. Metonymically, however, the meaning is deeply representative, even reifying, of the effect of civilization on the modern and postmodern construction of time.
It wasn’t long after the war when Claude Shannon (also a code-breaker) wrote the foundational paper on digitalization. Turing and Shannon were working on different but complementary problems at the same time. Shannon’s application of Boolean algebra is where all those 0s and 1s come from, the key being that all digitized information is forced into one or the other value. This is (so they say) a great boon for copying but there is also loss of variation, at least some of which has artistic value and intrinsic human merit.
Digitalization forces communication to flow along extremely rigid channels. All analog communication, that is, all human communication, has to be broken down into a binary code: either a zero or a one. There is no variation. (Hence, for instance, the return to vinyl for musicians attuned to the richer quality of analog sound.) The unintended consequence now known as the postmodern condition is an effect of digital forcing. Increases in the speed and ability of communication to reach across distances have outpaced humanity’s ability for sane and sustainable cultural adaptation. It’s as if human society has been sucked into a wind tunnel; people find themselves either in the main flow or in the turbulence. Few seem able to find their balance within the onrush, let alone establish positions adequate to attempt healthy and restorative counteractions.
For proper historical context and relevance, The Imitation Game needs to be understood in parallel with Citizen 4. Whether you approve of Snowden’s action or not, you should see Laura Poitras’ film capturing his conversations with journalist Glen Greenwald as news reports unfolded on our television screens and online news sources. Citizen 4 should win Best Documentary because of the time manipulation it achieves in service of art and social justice. Humans now have the means to recognize and record significant historical moments as they happen. Awards aside, to understand what The Imitation Game can teach us about living through this perilous era in human history, it is necessary to be informed about the stakes of cyber-surveillance and cyber-security’s cipher games. The new imitation game (made visible by the Sony hack with its political fallout and economic consequences) not only threatens privacy, real democracy, and genuine social justice, but is also a crucial playing field where humanity’s efforts to evolve enough to avert climate disaster will be determined.
The Imitation Game is more than a good movie; it allows a rare window for comprehensive reflection on the highest stakes of life and living, here and now.