MANDATES, Penalties & Incentives

Something there is that doesn’t like a mandate,
being told what to do, penalized & fined.
Doesn’t matter (much) how good the reason.
If good enough, it should be easily choosable
without being forced, shoved down throats
that question it, provoking the urge to push back,
overwhelming the part that thinks things through.

Good mandates make good states, say some,
often enough with good reasons, sometimes the best,
everyone’s got to pitch in for all to benefit,
sometimes the worst, too–children conscripted
to fight & kill each other, little lives sacrificed
to please bigshots playing Risk with other people’s lives,
the emperor’s flunkies, mafia dons, ward bosses,
goons & enforcers, local bullies & hard-nosed Uncle Sams.

On the other hand, self-sacrifice isn’t always an easy sell.
Alas, the same can be said for chipping in, paying dues & taxes,
the skim it takes to keep the systems running, the schools & roads;
hospitals, safety & emergency services; currency, market-place, exchanges,
integrity of financial institutions, power grid, communication & delivery systems,
defense & intelligence, safety net, public health & environmental protection.
(What good is any of the rest if the air & water make you & your loved ones sick?)

The same can be said for the social infrastructure & cultural atmosphere,.
both of which are major players in the human ecology, like air & water,
subject to pollution & renewal, essential elements in healthy relations.
Even in relative solitude, we’re not separate from the air we breathe,
the water we drink, the thoughts we hear, think, imagine &/or repeat,
the attitudes expressed with feelings, partly apart from what’s said,
the emotional points-of-view of the partisans, whether us or them.
There is a difference, as between gangland turf & ladies auxiliary. 

In many cases, humans self-organize to meet an emergency,
a challenge critical to one becomes a focus for all.
A building collapses–people outside will dig with their hands,
if necessary, trying to rescue others still trapped inside.
An advanced society has special technical resources
available to meet the usual challenges held in common–
natural disaster, dangerous humans, all sorts of threats.

Alas, the struggle to control these “special resources”
does not always produce better services in common.
Sometimes it’s better services for some at others’ expense.
Sometimes it’s less service that’s delivered than servitude.
It is easier to diagnose a corrupting influence or infection
than it is to effect a systemic cure. Call a grand pow-wow,
a council of elders, a community feast, with rites & dance.

The worse critical systems seem to function,
the more resistance to paying for them grows,
even when that resistance & lack of support
cause the system improvement to lag.
Those who profit most from systems & resources
have corresponding influence in writing the rules
Is it surprising, then, that those who profit least
end up paying a significant surcharge in lost choice?

What makes the us-ness, what makes the developed I?
No one has fully mapped the over-lap–across the many
dimensions: ecological, psychological, social, cultural…
including spiritual, philosophical & political in this last).
On the one hand, there’s the hermit, writing for all yet to come;
on the other, the fraud artist targeting one sucker at a time;
on the other other, more hands than fingers can count.

[Sorry about that. Got carried away on the breeze of a muse.
The following is more to the point of what triggered
my anti-mandate, pro-good government rant,
questioning whether this government– of the people,
by some people, for some people–shall perish from the earth….

It makes a difference whether that government is trying to
conscript you, take control of your whole life, & send you off
to Vietnam, say, or just asking for your fair share of what
a healthy health care system fairly well accessible to all costs.
Nevertheless, I tried to identify with contrarian views.
The following rant goes a step further.]

Jack-booted government thugs

I have just received my third notice from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, Official Business, Penalty for Private Use, etc. in an envelope the largest, boldest type of which announces:“YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW.”

The notices have been sitting on my desk for long enough, I’m starting to think of the poor shlubs at Ruby Ridge, misguided as they may have been, no less so than the “officials” who set them up & then attacked them. My back is up, in other words. Besides the confusions & uncertainties raised by the questions in the 10+-page questionnaire, that bold-faced implied threat makes it extremely hard, really impossible, not to resist.

Being the Commerce Dept., rather than an agency like the ATF or some maximum shock strike force, I probably don’t need to stock up on siege food & ammo, or even turn the Bod Library stacks into an escape maze with book-tower booby-traps. Come to think of it, in fact it’s not even addressed to me, but “To the resident of…,” with the street number for what is currently a studio annex with no resident for the winter. (I own the building but can probably beat the rap, if charged, not being the “resident.”)

However unclear some of the questions seem to me, as far as I can tell there’s nothing in the content of the survey in the least self-incriminating. Nevertheless, I plan to hold out as long as possible against the high-handed pushiness of Big Brother, on principle–given what I presume to be no actual cost, & the ability to prevail, if only on a technicality. Nevertheless, the lesson–though often missed–ought to reveal something quite basic about the American character (&/or human psychology more generally), something that transcends party, political philosophy, & administration theoretically in power.

Rather than encouraging movement in the intended direction, some kinds of pushing more likely trigger pushing back & other forms of resistance. The lesson ought to be made all the more clear for my being a quiet, peace-loving librarian with no automatic weapons. I imagine some other recipients, with households off the grid, might just feel, “Come & get us, suckers, but better bring your armor.” [Continues in “Avoidable Healthcare,” below.]

WAHOO–Chief of the Logos

In honor of the 2016 World Series, & the Cleveland Indians–


For Post on “WAHOO–CHIEF OF THE LOGOS,” click following:


Follow-up (after clickable file):

Chief Wahoo’s friend, at right, may illustrate a few other dimensions of the logo issue. First off, unlike Wahoo, he might be considered a real Indian, albeit from the high country of high up-lift which feeds various great rivers of the sub-continent, including the Indus.

He obviously carries considerable cultural meaning–most of which I don’t yet know. [I’ll put up more when I learn it, and hope those who know will help teach me. -Yours Crudely.]   Some might call him–or possibly her–grotesque, others fearsome. I see a distant relative of Chief Wahoo, though far more intricately developed. In comparison, the Chief seems  like an emoji. No doubt the many details of the hardwood mask shown [which hangs in the Bod, from the Richardson collection] all come with highly developed back-stories from over-lapping religious, mythological, and folk traditions.

Depending on how we consider it, the image itself exists in multiple dimensions at the same time. Besides the spatial & historical, there’s presence, essence & response. The presence is the wordless sense of the perceived object. The essence is the spirit with which it was made & intended to be shared. The response is what’s stimulated in the viewer, beyond the simple perception.

When we suggest the nature of a response is “in the eye of the beholder,” that’s what’s meant. The Dalai Lama may respond quite differently on many levels from how you, I, a wide-eyed child, a cutting-edge painter, or a TIbetan villager might–let alone a Taliban exclusivist or radical fundamentalist of any other tradition. So, too, may one person react as if the image of Chief Wahoo were of a “grinning fool” & consider that demeaning to Indians, whereas another (e.g., any Indian fan) may consider that same concept (of the “crazy fool”) elevating, a non-sectarian, folk version of holy.

There is no denying the huge effect the responder’s predisposition has on any response. Indeed, sometimes the world seems “lenticular,” i.e., like one of those signs that show one image looked at from one angle, and an entirely different one from another direction. We see the evidence of such everywhere, certainly in political interpretation & response. One of the pleasures humans find In art involves this freedom of response; in art, this freedom of response is appropriately enshrined as a fundamental principle.

It is what it is. Each observer is entitled to free response–so long as this does not infringe the freedom of others to respond differently. Freedom of response does not mean freedom of action, destroying something just because you don’t like it, for example. We may say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, along with its opposite. That’s because response depends so much on the responder. All but exclusivists who would mandate everyone’s responses, if they could, at least half recognize this principle.

I say half-recognize, because we are also right to half-disbelieve in the principle. Usually the disbelief comes from the sense that our responses are in synch with those of others and seemingly directly based on the perceived reality giving rise to the image–magnificent landscape, work of art, or whatever, where we say, Ah, that’s so beautiful, it takes my breath away. Similarly, most people will find certain things inherently disgusting–& don’t want their noses rubbed in same.

Nevertheless, in art & other use of imagery, there’s a more or less large grey area in which we don’t just acknowledge “the eye of the beholder,” but consider the principle of free response so enshrined, that we implicitly regard all responses as equally valid. Since each responder has an equal right to that freedom, we may tend to consider each response equal valid, but the two concepts–“validity of response” & “freedom of response”– aren’t at all the same, a confusion that can easily give rise to a fallacy of “relativity.”

The fact that you have the freedom to be “wrong” doesn’t make a wrong response right! First, the freedom rightly assumes what the Romans expressed as degustibus non disputandum est, meaning there’s no dispute in matters of taste. They are what they are. There’s no right or wrong in most such matters, even if there is more & less nutritious or healthy. If lutevist taste good to you, I have no basis to claim that’s wrong. Nor the reverse. Where taste is the question, right & wrong aren’t part of the equation until introduced from another dimension, e.g., the moral dimension (“don’t eat people”).

It’s hard to find a more “lenticular” or polarized response than that generated by Chief Wahoo. On the most basic level, one camp finds the image profoundly offensive, while the other responds with protective affection. If it were only a matter of “taste,” there would be no right or wrong in the matter; yet both camps believe more than taste is involved, including various principles. To avoid confusion, before considering this “more,” I emphasize that the “freedom to have one’s own taste” in the matter is a given.

The freedom to have what others may consider “poor taste,” like that to enjoy lutevist, remains even where reason seeks to introduce a dimension in which right & wrong, better & worse, become entirely appropriate judgments. In the case of symbolic use, for example, if the intent is to communicate “x” (a stop sign, say), it can be wrong to interpret it as “y” (“drive on through”). Intent & its interpretation are distinct from matters of taste.

Closely related to what may be called “artistic intent,” but also its own thing, is what I called “presence” above, not just a matter of “perception,” however, as created objects & images inevitably incorporate an inner spirit, generally reflecting the spirit that went into their making. This is related to the intent as embodied in the symbolic “essence,” but is not exactly the same, being to some degree independent of the maker’s intended meaning.

In the case of Chief Wahoo, then, people of course retain the freedom of taste in their personal response. They can be entirely wrong, however, to claim the essential intent is to be a demeaning racist stereotype. People do not, as a rule, apply these to themselves, or adopt them as beloved symbols, logos with which bonding has taken place.                   

The issue would be more complicated, if the original spirit of the actual representation had been that of a demeaning stereotype, before being adopted to do the opposite function (encourage bonding, the sense of team). A case could then be made that the particular “presence” was, in fact, demeaning, however unintentionally. Thus, an open mind, though I don’t yet find any basis in presence or essence of the image itself to consider it wrong. Taste aside, it seems otherwise wrong to attribute racist belittling to either its intent or its spirit, and equally wrong to claim some prior proprietary right to the broad territory represented by either the term “Indians” or use of the “happy fool” caricature.


[Obviously, there can be a right & wrong even in matters of taste, as in right & wrong identification of ingredients, for example. Your right to think a lemon tastes like an eclair is not in question, but it would be wrong to mis-label them or try selling one as the other, even though that would no longer be the case if the names were switched in general use.]

In sum: A FRESH (& Final?) LOOK

The issue isn’t natives v. Indians, an oxymoron even in most parts of India. If Chief Wahoo didn’t have a feather, he could as easily represent the Bangalore Space Cadets or Burning Ghat Crazy Sadhus, or the Kamakazi Pirates. Maybe those few critics who claim the generic feather shown is a blasphemous mis-appropriation of a sacred symbol ought to lighten up a little bit, that being quite a stretch (further than those who would prohibit cartoonists from supposedly representing their holy figures).

Those who find Wahoo offensive have a right to their feelings, of course, even though they may be wrong to feel offended. (Or not. See below.) Some misguided fools may even object to any association with grinning fools, though many native cultures elevate versions of the same, revering the holy fool, with respect to the trickster. It’s a disservice, as well as misrepresentation, to act as if native people don’t joke & laugh as well as anyone else.

To a 7th grader in the prime of his happy adolescence, there was no greater culture-hero than one who brought mirth & (preferably uncontrolled) laughter forth. It was always laughing with, not at, however, hilarity, not disdain. That same high regard for holy fools may have helped fuel interests in zen, dharma bums, & stand-up comedy, this no stranger to provoking offense, from breaking linguistic taboos & speaking plain truth to shedding hilarity on the oxymoronic contradictions of everyday life & hypocrisies of the powerful.

It’s true that from ancient times on, satirists have not always fared well personally, thanks to the pay-back of those with power who didn’t appreciate being butt of the fun. Indeed, the territory between humor & political speech, as between speech & action, can be quite irregular, slippery when wet, and a minefield littered with pay-back over gored oxes.

Then again, there are always intolerant critics who will find what any creative artist has to offer offensive, as in response to George Carlin actually saying the “7 words you can’t say on TV” out loud. The potential to cause offense knows no limit in form or genre, as shown by attacks on musicians like Pete Seeger for their political positions.

Note that in Chief Wahoo’s case, neither satire nor any political positions are involved, expressed, implied, or intended. In the case of a provocative artist or taboo-breaking comedian, we can at least trace the kind of conditioning that gives rise to the sense of being offended–for better or for worse. Some entertainers find being offensive their bread & butter. There’s a wide range of “taste,” besides, with no fixed line or formula, so even the best-intended miss sometimes, while the worst may lack any redeeming social value.

To be fair, I do see what triggers the offended reaction in many, i.e., the source of the conditioning associated with the image. First, there may be some uneasiness at being a member of any group singled out by others, particularly with a history of negative consequences. Offense may be taken from as innocent a form as a nursery rhyme about “Ten little Indians sitting on a wall,” with no negative depictions (except being eaten).

But then there is an ugly side to racist caricatures, with a negative history of its own.  Leaving my personal associations of the gestalt aside for the moment, I’ve got to admit, it’s pretty weird image, and, however unintentionally, does cross-trigger associations with that negative history, the “little Red Sambo” syndrome some critics have described. One would not adopt an image like that today. (Even the team management can probably see this, at least in private, without expressing any disloyalty to the beloved symbol.)

It reminds me of when a “Friends of the Refuge” organization on whose founding board I sat was designing its stationery. The first version adopted (the best we had) looked (to me) a little like “a deformed crane trying to take a dump into the wind,” although the volunteer artist was doing her best, and had no interest in ridiculing cranes. Subsequent versions became significantly better at catching the elegant grace of the bird.

It’s harder to improve an old logo to which generations of players & fans have become attached. It’s a gestalt, a whole of its own, a matter of love & baseball. Changes can feel riskier than switching to a new recipe for Coke or giving Pepsi a brand overhaul, raising issues of fidelity. Nevertheless, brand & logo styles do change with everything else, and this “feathered bird” could indeed be happily tweaked–retaining an “Indian” caricature, I’d hope, including a grin, but in a style less confusable to the uninitiated.

As in any artistic endeavor, the proof would be in the pudding. But PLEASE! Don’t drop the Chief for some spirit-less alternative–like that ‘Block C’ used on the current batting helmets. Some caps do just great with home city initial(s), but on the Indians, it looks too much like a grade that could use improving.  

Peace Corps-India 37

This month, India 37 held a mini-reunion in Columbia, Missouri, site of our first training. Thanks to voice & other health issues, I was not able to be there, but have just listened to an interview done with some of those who were, for a radio program called “Thinking Out Loud,” shared by RPCVF Don Grey. I have two main responses.

First, how little I remember of so much, there are places where we had to be in different counties, or countries. Since this was in the Sixties, it follows, I remember so little, I must’ve been there! (I don’t know about the rest of you.) This could be added to the “Usually Ignored Laws of History,” as: If you remember the events, you weren’t there; if you can’t, you may have been. Kidding aside, the law here may be more like,

~~~~~~People see different things, often at the same time.

Sometimes, one person’s memories trigger another’s, whether from a similar or different perspective, or “point of view, or angle of looking. Thus, the value of different accounts. In that spirit, then, here are some of my reflections on what happened back in Columbia, MO, starting the end of August 1966….

PC-India 37-a personal account [click to open]
clinic scenes group 001


[left] Clinic scenes, near Scott’s Bungalow,

Srirangapatna, Mysore State, S. India



Part of the bungalow gang 001Basket boy 001



[right] Part of the Scott’s Bungalow gang, with friends….


[below] back from Bangalore,
boy in his basket, Priest’s Hole,
by the Kauvery River….
[below] Marge + daughter

Marge & 001

Day 2: Groundhogs in China

It’s a rotten calendar that makes Jan. 2 the second day of the year. In the old days, putting down the Emperor’s calendar could get you locked up & even sent to the lions. Render unto Uncle Julius, Augustus, Juno & Mayo their due. (March madness is its own matter.)

Despite various “reforms,” one losing more than a week of days that never existed, the still pre-modern Gregorian calendar in dominant use has gotten even more confused & out of whack with the events & bodies that make up the timed year, so we not only sometimes get two full moons in a single month, but the 7th month (September) comes 9th, the 8th (October) comes 10th, all the way to the 10th (December)  coming12th. Who thunk that up?

The confusion was compounded whenever the seasonal borders got conceptually shifted from midway between the solstices & equinoxes, where they naturally belong, to the solstices & equinoxes themselves, which more naturally represent the peaks of their respective seasons. Midsummer night is more or less June 21-22, the longest daylight in the northern hemisphere. Midwinter night belongs on or near its solstice. The equinoxes are equally mid-points, early & late seasonal halves in balance.
Some of the old seasonal division points are still there, celebrated indirectly, without conscious or explicit reference to seasonal shift, as in Halloween & Groundhog day. The shift in borders was entirely conceptual, and whenever it was, it seems rather recent, as suggested by the location of “midsummer night.” Meanwhile we can count on weather reporters to comment on pre-solstice storms things like “and it’s not even winter yet!” and do the same for pre-equinox spring & pre-midsummer summer events.  
It’s not a complicated argument. If winter is cosmologically aligned with shortness of daylight, the solstice is its peak, or trough if you’re down under. The solstices and equinoxes signify the border between early in that season & late. In the case of the solstices, the difference in which half represents that between waxing & waning, the daily increase & decrease in daylight (with an equivalent rising & lowering in the sun’s angle of arc).
This highly dislocated conceptual calendar framework is far from universally followed, even by people who use it daily. Its flaws are deep, and its history murky. It would hardly rank in a rational process for choosing a global standard. Its dominance in official use can be considered an accident of commerce & conquest, whether imposed by imperial administrators or adopted for convenience without entirely leaving other calendars behind.  So Jews, Muslims, and countless other cultures have retained their own even while doing business with Pope Gregory’s.
Probably the most widely known of these alternatives is represented by so-called “Chinese New Year,” which assumes the year begins more or less mid-way between the winter solstice & the spring equinox. This was Basho’s calendar, too, extremely widespread and functional still. It is based on a lunisolar calendar, in synch with both moon & sun. Technically, the year begins a certain number of new moons after the moon with the winter solstice, putting it near midway to the equinox. Each month begins with the new moon, which is full on the 15th.    
Groundhog shadows aside, weather obeys no conceptual boundaries, so traditionally we get freezes here in northern New Mexico into May, sometimes even snow, with some toasty February days, too, with 50-degree (F) spreads night to noon. No longer deep winter, even in the passing freeze, we have indeed turned a corner in the annual orbit–something we can say on 2/2, as well as day 1/1 & 1/2….
[Post crypt: A recent book (on the debate between Burke & Paine) claimed the essence of conservatism was recognition of value in the established order, considering how much worse things could get without it, whereas the essence of radicalism (possibly he means progressivism) is the recognition of injustice & commitment to making things better. How varied & complex these forces can be in relation with each other may have been well illustrated by events following the so-called Arab spring. 
Applied to the calendar issue, a conservative might point to the chaos inevitable in any major changeover. (“You think Y2K was a challenge!”) A radical might point to how disconnected we seem to have grown from the natural forces that ultimately sustain us, even as our impact escalates at a potentially exponential (& unsustainable) rate. Being more in tune with the nature of time & the seasons might be more significant than realized, however we do it.
In fact, the bulk of the difficulty is simply conceptual–e.g., in where we “think” the seasons are in our relations with heavenly bodies; the loss of connection between month names & sequence in the year. December is December, whatever its sequence & root-meaning. The same for January, which reminds me of friends named Jan, Jane, etc., as well as April, May & June.  even July & August have their own panache. 
Meanwhile, we live with multiple calendars woven more or less seamlessly together in the cord of every year, the historical calendar (4th of July),  folkloric (e.g., Halloween), cultural (thanksgiving), religious (Christmas, Yom Kippur), & honorific (Mother’s Day), with birthdays in each category. There are also astronomical, botanical, ecological calendars, etc., e.g., annual meteor showers, blooming times, and wildlife events, each with  source, connections & dynamics rooted in a nature based fundamentally on cosmological-planetary relations.
These natural cycles don’t stop with the earth year, of course, but scale up with longer term moon & sun rhythms, as reflected in some human calendars, like that used in classic Maya & Vedic astronomy, two of the most elegant…..     

Our Neanderthal Ancestry

A recent question Jeopardy got very wrong: the species recently gene sequenced proving it interbred with us (or ours)? (A: What is Neanderthal.)

The answer is right, but the question not. How can one say “they” interbred with “us” when the proof is having identified Neanderthal DNA as part of “ours”? We are presumably some mix, in other words, part this, part that, more this, less  that, perhaps, but with at least some us-ness from each.

There are two problems with getting something like that so blatantly wrong.  One is just plain sloppy thinking, sooner or later bound to be seriously misleading. The other is a falsely constructed sense of who we think “we” are, with implications for how  the “other” ends up getting treated.

“Never mind there but for the grace of Claude go I, but there go I also.
–Ricardo Bods, The Unauthorized Posthumous Autobiography, serialized in advance in The M T Mirror Times Mirror’s literary review, Shattered.

This is just one of many examples of DNA hokum….

Sloppy Thinking

Social reliance on mass media for information on political choices conveys some responsibility, so important to note how widespread sloppy thinking seems to be, calling the would-be professionals to task. A glaring current example can be found in the coverage by every major Albuquerque tv station news departments of an imminent local special election.

First, seemingly to their credit, they all reported accurately that early voters were having an extremely difficult time with the complicated ballot, with the major proposal containing multiple clauses, sub-clauses, paragraphs & sub-paragraphs, to a total of over 1500 words, by the end of which many voters no longer knew what “For” or “Against,” the two choices, meant.

Indeed, that would seem to be a serious problem for any ballot proposal, regardless of its subject, or how it might have been sold. As any judge or lawyer will point out, how a statute is actually worded ultimately makes a difference. In this case, when the stations inquired, the county clerk pointed out that officials had no legal alternative but to present the wording exactly as received on the citizen petition that required the proposal be put to the people for a vote.

You might think that any proposed law confusing enough that voters had trouble understanding what it meant, did and implied in outcomes would speak for itself. One might even assume that sooner rather than later, the courts will have to address the implied confusions, potentially reducing the entire exercise to one in citizen futility, everyone’s complete waste of time and public resources.

Here is where, rather incredibly, each of the stations got it backwards, and wrong, thanks to a sloppy thinking that totally ignored everything mentioned above, including their own reporting, to advise viewers: “If you’re for a  ban on late-term abortions over 20 weeks, you should vote “For” the proposal; if you’re against a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, you should vote “Against.”

Not a single one suggested, “If you’re in favor of confusing & complicated proposals wasting public resources, where nobody really knows what they will end up meaning, you should vote ‘For.’ The same if you’re in favor of laws you really don’t understand & have no real sense of what effects passage will have on the ground, like a big waste time & public resources for which real needs exist. Otherwise, vote ‘Against.'”

Missing this point entirely does a disservice to the community & mis-advises readers by offering a patently false “translation” of what the proposal states. It muddies the waters while pretending to clarify, spreading a confused perspective. There really is a difference.

Inner Voice(s)

One hears a lot of “iffy stuff” just by listening, wherever one tunes in–outside & inside alike, & not just on radio & tv. “Iffy stuff” is the technical term that includes both the genuinely “iffy,” i.e., uncertain, as well as things not uncertain at all, but much worse–destructive, hurtful, dishonest, even predatory. Of course there are beautiful, wise & wonderful things to hear also–also inside & outside.

Whatever can or might be heard outside can or might be heard inside as well. In fact, that’s an important & fundamental truth to understand from the start–all hearing happens inside. Even when we think we’re quite sure about the source (my radio, for example, across the room), the hearing itself takes place “in here,” where the listener is. I most cases, the mind does a further process, “thinking” the sound out to its source. The hearing still happens in the observer, who experiences the more or less meaningful sound variations, whether the emotional richness of beautiful music, a  thought sequence in words, or an emotional attitude (e.g., a political rant or rabble-rousing harangue, on the one hand, seductive or serene on the other).

Some aspects of emotion, thought & attitude “go with the territory,” whether we receive these aspects through visual, audio or other channels. If I make a sudden loud noise right now [insert one in the imagination], you would not just jump, but feel a rush of adrenalin, chemicals associated with alertness, possible fear, flight or fight response, as well as less expressed stresses. If strum my lap dulcimer sweetly, on the other hand, and share a soothing cowboy lullaby as if out on the prairie under the magical stars, the effect is quite different. In either case, however, perception transfers experience from outside to inside, including sound vibrations that directly affect our inner state.

The connection between outside & inside is more complex & profound than we sometimes realize. According to neurologists, for example, there are some cells in our brain called “mirror neurons” which seem to produce the same experienced response whether in reaction to our own actual experience or someone else’s experience which we have observed. To some degree, to observe is to experience, as to read someone else’s thought is to re-think its key elements & progression, even if we simultaneously disagree with its content, implications, claims & premise.

We don’t agree with everything we hear–or even everything we think. Nor should we. Some thoughts might just get you killed, particularly without the “true knowledge” to base them on. For example, the thought we might jump off the high cliff & soar like eagles, or supergirls., fine enough for a film sequence, dream or imagination, but out of synch with the real world without some serious training, technical expertise, & maybe a hang-glider. You have to suit the action to the realm of the experience it belongs in–a “real world action” does not belong in a “fantasy realm,” for example. A real-world action requires a real-world knowledge–the fantasy world does not.

We can go bang bang bang with our fingers in play without knowing anything about ballistics or real-world effects, and, up to a point, the same for popular entertainments, TV, games, films, etc. I say “up to a point” because any & all of these can leave a psychic remnant, like an echo in the brain, which can be confused for ourselves. The  reaction may be primarily felt, an attitude, or a thought-sequence with associated actions, as if the voice in charge were either our own or some higher, deeper, more compelling entity of potentially irresistible power.

Such “voices” have been known for as long as humans have used language, with all kinds of explanations. Some metaphors give them status as entities, others as ephemeral projections of a divided self (like a super-ego). No doubt there are also neurological explanations involving things like neuro-chemical transmitters, electrical discharge-delays, brain-mind barrier leaks & feedback-loop echo-overloads. Sometimes, it might be just a matter of fine tuning, a few microseconds in a wiring coordination, letting imagination run away with the show by getting slightly our of right relation with it, losing sight of the film, or letting a self-hurtful attitude turn our own mind into a bully, rather than a key ally.

Writers & writing teachers have some other perspective on the inner voice, and capacity for voices. The singular voice is the one that emerges from each writer, or within each writing. Sometimes the voice of the writing is not the voice of the writer. The poem, story or novel may each have its own speaker–who may be quite far from &/or quite close to the writer even at the same time, as well as quite far from &/or close to the reader. Characters emerge not only with their voices, but also with points of view, ways of seeing & feeling the world (or not).

For writer & reader alike, these voices & points of view are experienced in the intimacy of the mind & its imagination, momentarily as if our own. One may lose the reality temporarily in the as if without problem, but not so much the reverse, losing the “as if” to believe it  the reality, like believing the power of an imagined voice over us. In the story, that’s okay, but only in the make-believe world. One needs to know the difference, as in a movie about super-powers. One also has some choice over what “stations” are tuned to, particularly if one’s best interests are put in charge.

In the case of what we might call the writer’s own voice, not just the voice of roles observed, made up &/or played, but what emerges just being most ourselves, no one can say where it comes from, or where it goes, least of all the writer. It seems the deeper one looks, or the well drawn from, the more this is so. Thus, concepts like the Muse &/or muses, founts & sources of inspiration, sacred embodiments of spirit &/or place. To enter the spirit of a sacred place is not necessarily different in kind from entering the spirit of a theater or film, for example, prepared to be receptive.

No one really knows a firm dividing line between what is received from direct perception of reality & from other sources of imagination–yet all but the fully delusional recognize the general difference, or can quickly learn to do so. At the minimum, anyone capable of reading this with even imperfect understanding can set some trustworthy guide-posts, starting with there are some things I will not do, which by their nature are off limits, inherently not only delusional but destructive. Such voices may be all over the place, whether in the media, in the rocks or rattling about in our temporarily discombobulated brains. It doesn’t matter where they’re from or who they claim to be, they have no real power, which resides entirely in the real person, the witness self who hears, thinks he hears, imagines, understands he imagines, so remembers & respects the basics.

I went once to various sacred sites in highland Mayan rainforests, intending to “listen to the earth,” as my daughter had suggested. I took my pen & notebook of the trail, rested & listened as well as I could, trying at once to fine tune & open to as wide a range as possible–to & beyond the bird & insect sounds, to & beyond the air & water, wings in leaves & the spider web, to & beyond the water-veined limestone mountain. I imagined a voice asking, “Why are you here?” as if it were from the place itself.

I imagined a voice within myself (that had aspects of the same voice that had asked the question) answering, “I come for healing; I come for wholeness; I come for mission,” where each of these, examined closely, meant the same thing, at least to a poet who has come to listen to the earth. Following the local iconography of stone temples, I came to call the voice Chaac, sometimes represented as an open water-flowing mouth in the stone, and which I came to think of as the spirit of flowing water in air, river & web of life, powered by the sun. I heard Chaac’s voice in the currents of the Usumacinta, in the falls of Agua Azul, in the flocks of parrots, in the howlers at Yazchilan, as I would later far north, in storms from Rociada, as in the sound of the tortoise shell.

Did I really hear anything besides my own imagination? Oh, yes. No question about it. The parrots were real. The howlers were real. The currents were real. The breath was real. Inside & outside were real. And beautiful. And so welcome. Had some warped trickster appeared, on the other hand, known as such by presuming what the witness self knows is destructive, demanding the sacrifice of virgins, for example, that would have been a different story, and I’d’ve said, “No, thanks. Wrong movie.”

II. Inner Voice(s) II.

No one knows where a voice comes from, or where it goes when (& after) we hear it. Plenty is known about the mechanics, and the physics of sound, but not much about “the speaker” or “hearer.” We do know that the voice is one of the most singularly distinctive things about any individual. Everything else may have changed over a half century or more, but we immediately recognize the voice (even if we can’t always place  a name to it), suggesting that somewhere in there is the more or less same person. We can have a related experience with an actor or actress who has disappeared into the costume & make-up of a role, but whose voice is still known. Something occurs that is an audio equivalent to the face-recognition software most brains come with or develop.

It used to be in the early days of the cheap tape recorder that the people often recognized least was their own. This was sometimes explained by the fact that we don’t usually hear our own coming from the outer direction. Some studies may more recently have indicated that people who have difficulty with “inner voices” may be particularly prone to mistaking their own, so missing the source of imagined or remembered voices.

In The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes sheds light on many mental voice-related phenomena, including many related to the bicameral nature of the dual-hemisphere brain–in prophecy, possession, poetry & music, for example, as well as in conditions like schizophrenia. It’s been long enough since I’ve read the material, I’ll have to do a little boning up before summarizing,  recommending or qualifying. My recollection is that there were many mind-blowing insights, using the mind to understand the mind.

Or as the poet Attar (as in essence of attar) put it:

“To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind….”

Aurobindo’s Birthday

I’m amazed at how little awareness there is here in the U.S. about one of the world’s greatest sages, writers, and teachers. Sri Aurobindo Ghosh (Aug. 15, 1872-Dec. 5, 1950) was a classics scholar, freedom fighter, modern yogi, philosopher, poet. He  helped lead India to self-determination and his followers to a holistic synthesis integrating the highest values of east & west, including literary and scientific traditions.

When independence happened, Aug. 15, he grieved at the divided birthday gift, seeing in the partition of India & Pakistan the serious trouble ahead–all the more as a Bengali, with East Bengal turned over to Pakistan. (He predicted more or less to the year how long it would take for East Bengalis to free themselves from Pakistani domination.)

Check the Wikipedia entry for Sri Aurobindo. You’ll be amazed. If you hadn’t known of his work before, you’ll wonder why. If you thought you were aware of him, click on a few of the links and find out how much more there is. Leave any preconceived ideas of the Indian yogi behind, for openers.

He was trained as a youth in what the west had to offer, at St. Paul’s School, and King’s College Cambridge. Avoiding the Indian Civil Service, he returned to positions in native state government & higher education before being drawn to indigenous traditions, the mystic hymns of the Vedas, yoga & the Indian national movement, becoming one of the first to articulate swaraj, self-determination, as national goal.

An amazing history–British jail, release, expanding horizons, move to French Pondicherry, lifetime of major works in philosophy (on evolution, the life divine, integral yoga, essays on the Gita), poetry (Savitri, a mantric epic of over 24,000 lines; The Future Poetry, on the nature of the beast), social organization (The Human Cycle; The Ideal of Human Unity), and integral yoga (The Synthesis of Yoga, his foundation for conscious evolutionary development).

Aurobindo’s work combines a rare clarity of conception with correspondingly tuned sound-power, a kind of directly effective psycho-musical sensitivity that serves rather than obscures the higher reason. The primary impact always includes a sense of informed honesty in what’s said (clear about what is & isn’t known) & the beneficence of motive (with its fundamental commitment to the process of enlightenment).

The approach is not based on dogma, but on dharma, not on formalized beliefs about, but what emerges in actual doing (karma). As such, the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Auroville (the planetary city), and many other Aurobindo-inspired initiatives are involved in multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional experiments in on-the-ground education, living & growing.

Aurobindo deserves attention for the value rendered in each of the forms he works through, starting with a mind as open as his, alert to the nuance and precision with which he uses language, and continuing towards an increasingly comprehensive perspective. His language opens channels of insight & vision, while honing the critical skills that a trustworthy thought process requires. Its sound power must be experienced to be appreciated; no summary or secondary account of its content does it justice.

“And belief shall not be till the work is done.” —Savitri, Aurobindo

(“Is such work ever done?” —Ricardo

“Like earth’s, such work goes on getting done just the same.” –Bods)