Asian Philosophies, Oppenheimer, & the New Age

Asian Philosophies And The “New Age”

The New Age is the name given to an amorphous mood elevation movement that mushroomed into Western pubic consciousness during the 1960s, and congealed in the 1970s as a wide array of commercial activities involving bodywork services, psychological counseling, and the marketing of literature, seminars and paraphernalia intended to vivify individual meditation.

The themes blended into the New Age movement include: metaphysics and the mysticism in major religious traditions, Western esotericism, self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, herbal and hallucinogenic pharmacologies, consciousness research, parapsychology, environmentalism and Gaia philosophy, non-mathematical popularizations of quantum physics, and archeoastronomy. Wikipedia provides a nice summary of the New Age. (1)

Clearly, the label New Age can be stretched over a multitude of activities, with some that are admirably sacred, probing and intellectual, while numerous others are just banal hedonism, farcical psychobabble, and commonplace hucksterism. Thus, the phrase New Age lacks specificity, and both praise and criticism of the New Age in general lacks meaning. Only discussions and critiques of specific activities under the New Age label can be substantive.

This essay will describe a few of the streams of thought that contributed refreshing insights to the large pool of ideas over which New Age consciousness floats.

Esotericism has been a part of the intellectual histories of both Europe and the United States from their earliest times. During the early 20th century, popular esotericism in the United States was stimulated by the Theosophy of Helena Blavatsky, the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, and the dervish-yoga combination of Caucasian and Indian ideas by George Gurdjieff, as described by the Russian writer Peter D. Ouspensky. Additionally, the public lectures on Vedanta (the ancient Hindu religious philosophy) given to Western audiences by traveling Indian swamis and teachers broadened public awareness of Eastern metaphysical thought.

However, during the fifteen years of the Great Depression and World War II, Americans were more focused on the immediate concerns of their economic and physical survival, so the study of esoteric and exotic philosophies was left to amateurs in secure personal circumstances, and university scholars. With the return of prosperity in 1942 as a result of the full-employment war economy, and then the victorious conclusion of the war in 1945, the American public was more financially secure to give attention to personal metaphysical thought, and more psychologically in need of philosophical insights to counteract the mental traumas and disappointments carried by war survivors.

I take the postwar release of American public consciousness from the immediacy of concerns of survival to be the beginning of modern popular interest in finding a sustaining and motivating personal metaphysics beyond the irrational trust (faith) in traditional Judeo-Christian formulas. Books, based on good scholarship, published to satisfy this interest can be seen as the secular scriptures of the intelligent portion of the New Age movement. A small number are described here.

Bhagavad Gita

In 1944, the Vedanta Society of Southern California published an English language version of the Bhagavad Gita, the renowned veda (Sanskrit sacred scripture) written between the 5th and 2nd centuries BCE. Swami Prabhavananda translated the Bhagavad Gita from Sanskrit, and Christopher Isherwood coauthored the rendering into English. Aldous Huxley wrote the introduction to the book. The Bhagavad Gita is a masterpiece of both Hindu philosophy and world literature. Its central lesson is of the life-affirming value of fully committed selfless action combined with a devotion to the appreciation of the ultimate reality (God or its equivalent in your philosophy), and an all-consuming effort to experience that ultimate reality. The Prabhavananda-Isherwood edition of the Bhagavad Gita was well received and remains a popular source of insights from ancient Hindu religious literature. Among the serious American students of the Bhagavad Gita was J. Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb,” who learned Sanskrit in 1933 so as to read the Bhagavad Gita in its original form. (2) (The Bhagavad Gita is described in greater depth in the article cited, which follows after this one.)

I Ching

The I Ching is a Chinese book of divination, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE (most likely), whose interpretation was expanded philosophically during the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE) to describe the dynamic balance of opposites and the inevitability of change in the phenomenal realm. Perhaps the most compelling translation of the I Ching into English appeared in print in 1950. This particular version began as a translation from the ancient Chinese into German by Richard Wilhelm guided by the Chinese scholar Lao Nai-hsüan, and was made during the years of World War I. In about 1927, Wilhelm’s friend the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung asked one of his American students, Cary F. Baynes (the former wife of Jaime de Angulo) who worked as a translator of Jung’s books into English, to translate the Wilhelm edition of the I Ching from German to English. This effort was slowed by the death of Richard Wilhelm in 1930, the death of Cary’s husband Helton Godwin Baynes in 1943, and dislocations resulting from the social turbulence of the 1930s and 1940s. The English translation was completed in 1949, and the book included an extensive forward by C. G. Jung explaining how to use the I Ching for divining the right course of action on a question of serious personal interest to the seeker.

The philosophy of the I Ching is of the organic unity and intrinsic appropriateness of the unforced unresisted phenomenal realm, or Nature, called the Tao; and the dynamic balance of opposites of every type, the ying and yang, whose ceaseless interplay give an illusion of duality, yet which dance is really just an alternation of images of the underlying eternal monism, the Tao. (3)

The purpose of the I Ching is to guide the seeker toward a proper psychological balance for the circumstances of the moment. Such balance is essential when making the significant decisions of a lifetime. The propriety of that balance is defined by a moral code that can be characterized as Confucian combined with Taoist flexibility. The I Ching was already ancient by the time of Confucius (K’ung Fu-tzu, 551-479 BCE) and the coalescing of formalized Taoism (traditionally 6th century BCE, more likely 5th-4th century BCE), which movement identified its founding text as the Tao Te Ching, a masterful collection of poetic logically ambiguous yet conceptually clear aphorisms ascribed to legendary author Lao Tzu. Modern scholarship is uncertain about the historical authenticity of Lao Tzu, and some scholars believe the Tao Te Ching is a collective work by now unknown authors. Regardless, the Tao Te Ching is one of the finest gems of world literature, philosophy and psychology. The Confucian school of thought is one of building up systems of social organization from simple elements and rules. Taoists see society as immersed in the organic whole of a phenomenal existence of infinite fractal complexity (4), hence impossible to systematize by reductionism. So, the interpretative commentaries that became attached to the I Ching during the Warring States Period were primarily written by Confucians, which infused the I Ching that has come down to us with sensible and honorable Confucian morality.

For the man or woman of today’s modern Westernized culture, more interested in utility that in airy metaphysical prattle, the I Ching can be used for practical divination by means of intuitive fuzzy logic (5): a way to reshuffle the imagination to see present circumstances from a fresh perspective, and then to visualize how these circumstances could change into a specifically different situation as a result of adopting a particular attitude or performing a recommended action. Rather than proceeding with an operational description of the I Ching as a decision-making tool, I recommend you obtain a copy of the Wilhelm-Baynes volume, read Jung’s instructional essay (“Forward”), and try it for yourself (seriously, not frivolously). The answer is in the question, and both — an illusory duality — come out of you.

Philosophies Of India

Heinrich Zimmer was an Indologist and historian of South Asian art who was purged from German academia by the Nazis in 1938. Zimmer, who along with Richard Wilhelm was one of C. G. Jung’s few male friends, emigrated to England and then the United States where he secured an appointment as a visiting lecturer of philosophy at Columbia University (in New York City) in 1940. Zimmer met Joseph Campbell, a scholar of mythology and a young professor at Sarah Lawrence College who attended one of Zimmer’s lectures early in World War II, and the two became good friends. After Zimmer died from pneumonia in 1943 at age 53, Campbell was given the task of editing Zimmer’s papers for posthumous publication. (6) Campbell worked at this for 12 years, converting Zimmer’s manuscripts and lecture notes into four books published between 1946 and 1955, the third of which was Philosophies Of India, which appeared in 1951. (7)

In his New York Times Book Review article on Philosophies Of India, Alan Watts wrote that “It is both the most complete and most compelling account of this extraordinarily rich and complex philosophical tradition yet written.” This book is an entire universe; it is deep, detailed and inexhaustible. Zimmer first describes the differences between Eastern and Western thought and the foundations of Indian philosophy; then the philosophies of temporal matters: success (politics, war, treachery), pleasure and duty; and finally more than two-thirds of the book is occupied with descriptions of the philosophies of eternity: Jainism, Sankhya (or Samkhya), Yoga, Brahmanism (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), Buddhism and Tantra. This is a great book: coherent, panoramic, deeply informed, richly detailed and absorbing.

The Way Of Zen

In his New York Times Book Review article on my favorite Alan Watts book, The Way Of Zen, published in 1957, Joseph Campbell wrote “No one has given us such a concise, freshly written introduction to the whole history of this Far Eastern development of Buddhist thought as Alan Watts, in the present, highly readable work.” This book is such a lucid account of both the history of Zen Buddhism and its manner of direct conscious experience of reality without abstract concepts or language as intermediaries. (8)

Alan Watts was an amazing autodidact who began teaching himself Chinese as a child by comparing the corresponding English and Chinese passages in a bilingual Bible. He became a popular writer and lecturer, the “guru of the hippies” until his death in 1973. All his books and recorded lectures on Eastern philosophy and particularly on Zen and Taoism are enlightening and refreshing. Watts brought out the core of insights from beneath the layerings of cultural ornamentation that most Westerners see when facing Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism and Zen, and he presented these liberating ideas in a way that made them relevant to our modern lives and psychological problems. Watts was not a professional academic teacher but instead a very talented seeker who allowed us to see out to farther horizons than most of us could ever have done on our own.

The common impulse in all the Indian philosophies of eternity since the Vedic period (1700-1100 BCE) was to identify a unifying principle underlying all existence. The Hindu philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta grew out of the earlier Vedic religion, identifying Brahman as the fundamental undifferentiated essential underlying and immanent in all phenomenal existence. The aim of both Yoga and Vedanta was to break the hold on consciousness by the illusory multiplicity of the universe suggested by the ceaseless interplay of apparent forms; and to merge consciousness into unity with Brahman, thus experiencing eternity (nirvana). Buddhism is a revolt against both the extremes of asceticism and pleasure as paths to achieving unity with Brahman, it is the Middle Way. The liberation of consciousness from the illusion of duality is called Moksha, and achieving that is enlightenment.

The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, was born in what is today Lumbini, Nepal (though other Indian sites also claim that honor) and he is estimated to have lived from 563 BCE to 483 BCE (though some scholars estimate a similar lifespan occurring about 80 years later). (9) The Middle Way of liberation taught by the Buddha (“the enlightened one”) sparked the growth of a movement that continues today. Buddhist teachings remained an oral tradition until the 1st century BCE, when the Pali Canon (the earliest of Buddhist scriptures) was written.

Between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, a more sophisticated concept of Buddhist practice had developed, called the Mahayana. The traditional practice, which was based on the Pali Canon, said little about the practical psychological difficulties of achieving nirvana.

Thus the great concern of the Mahayana is the provision of “skillfull means” (upaya) for making nirvana accessible to every type of mentality…The Mahayana distinguishes itself from the Buddhism of the Pali Canon by terming the latter the Little (hina) Vehicle (yana) of liberation and itself the Great (maha) Vehicle — great because it comprises such a wealth of upaya, or methods for the realization of nirvana.

By the 1st century CE, the practice of Buddhism had spread throughout the Indian subcontinent and along the Silk Route from northeast China to present-day Iran. (10) The awareness of Buddhist ideas had been carried along the trade routes west as far as the Greco-Roman Mediterranean. The Mahayana Buddhist way of achieving enlightenment by a proper concentration of the mind (samadhi) through meditation (dhyana) was adopted by Taoists in China, who devised a form of Mahayana Buddhism that used Taoist concepts to interpret existence and reality, and was better suited to Chinese culture. The idea that enlightenment could be achieved instantly, or suddenly, was developed in Chinese Mahayana Buddhism by the time of Tao-sheng (360-434), who stated the idea explicitly. This “sudden school” of Buddhist meditation believed samadhi could be naturally triggered after the mind had been prepared by meditation (later know as the Soto School), or caused by a teacher’s spontaneously skillful improvisation by word or deed taking advantage of the circumstances of the moment to jolt a seeking student into enlightenment (later known as the Rinzai School).

This “sudden school” formally emerged as Chán Buddhism in the 6th century CE and grew to become the dominant form of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1297) dynasties. The Chinese word Chán is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana, and is better known by its Japanese equivalent Zen. While Buddhism had been introduced into Japan during the 8th century CE, the separate schools of Zen Buddhism were only established in the 12th century CE, when Eisai introduced Rinzai Zen to Japan in 1191, and Dogen introduced Soto Zen in 1227. (11)

For us, the real fun and value of Zen is as a way to expand our awareness, to not miss out on really living. The value of reviewing Zen Buddhist history as summarized here is to realize that we can be just as free as the Buddhists of times past to modify the externalities of the vehicle carrying the life-affirming Buddhist insights, to suit our culture and psychology, so long as we not obscure, corrupt or lose those insights and the compassionate heart of the teaching. Lives conducted along these principles would help nudge humanity toward the better possibilities for a New Age.

Zen And Japanese Culture

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was Japan’s foremost authority on Zen Buddhism, authoring over one hundred books on the subject before he died at age 95, in Tokyo in 1966. Suzuki trained in the Zen monastery at Kamakura, and then began his literary career as an English teacher and translator (between Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit and English). He worked in the United States as an editor and translator from 1897 to 1908, and in 1911 married Beatrice Erskine Lane, a Theosophist, with whom he founded the English language journal The Eastern Buddhist published in Kyoto. He spent most of the 1950s teaching, writing and speaking in the United States.

Susuki’s book, Zen And Japanese Culture published in 1959, is a modern classic. It is a revision and expansion of a collection of essays that had been published in Japan in 1938. The form of the book gives each chapter its own completeness, each is a unique meditation or tour through its subject such as Haiku, the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu) or swordsmanship (kendo), without the need for preparation by an earlier chapter, nor the burden of introducing a subsequent one. For this reason, one can open Zen And Japanese Culture at any page and become instantly absorbed, and later repeat that arbitrary beginning, to read the book in random order over any stretch of time.

The great psychological advantage of the Zen attitude to understanding — let us not be so bold as to say “being enlightened” — is equanimity. With this evenness of temperament, one experiences life as a self-motivated participant in this vast Tao of infinite fractal complexity unified by the “interdependence of all things.” (12) For too many people whose minds are glued to the temporal ying-yang of their ambitions and anxieties orbiting desires attached to externalities, Life — seen as an immense external separateness — can be an indifferent and arbitrary victimizer jerking them around. The benefit of the Zen attitude is being able to pass through the routines of daily life, as well as the occasional emergencies, while remaining cool, calm and collected. Also, for those who understand what they are doing, training in a martial art is simply a method of physical exercise for getting one’s Zen.

Zen And Japanese Culture imparts tranquility to its appreciative readers through writing of calm graceful clarity telling many delightful stories reflecting the influence of Zen Buddhism on aspects of pre-industrial Japanese culture: the philosophy of the samurai and their swordsmanship, mindfulness and its celebration with the drinking of tea, sudden ineffable awareness and Haiku, the appreciation of nature in its self-so essence (ziran or tzu jan), its innately right existence (13), and expressing this with effortless action (wu wei) (14) in the unforced fluidity of the calligraphy depicting it poetically and graphically.

A monk asked Daishu Ekai (Ta-chu Hui-hai), one of the T’ang masters, when Zen was in its heyday:

“What is great nirvāṇa?”

The master answered, “Not to commit oneself to the karma of birth-and-death is great nirvāṇa.”

“What then is the karma of birth-and-death?”

“To desire great nirvāṇa is the karma of birth-and-death.”


Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Erinnerungen Träume Gedanken is the title of Carl Gustav Jung’s autobiography, which was published the year he died, 1961, appearing in English as Memories, Dreams, Reflections. C. G. Jung was the famous doctor of psychic maladies (psychiatrist) and researcher into the human psyche (psychologist) who founded analytical psychology, and introduced the concepts of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, individuation, the introverted and extroverted personality types, the complex and synchronicity.

Jung’s father was a Christian minister, and Carl was always interested in understanding the psychology of religious experience, or “how to know God.” To plumb the depths of the human psyche, he attempted to analyze the dreams and remembered ramblings of minds half asleep and half awake in the dead of night (hypnagogic images), both of his patients and himself, and to classify this eclectic library of dreams into a smaller number of generalized thematic types, which in turn could be unified by a general psychodynamic theory.

Jung explored the occult and esoteric movements of Europe’s past (alchemy, astrology, gnosticism) to find useful archetypal concepts of human imaginings with which to categorize specific dreams (clinical data) into generalized types. He saw these earlier movements overtly as efforts by more primitive cultures to devise unified theories of material transformation, the mechanics of the universe, and the structure of humanity’s relationship to the divine, but he also saw these overt aspects as analogies with esoteric meaning, basing this interpretation on esoteric texts from those early times.

Jung interpreted esoteric alchemical, astrological and gnostic treatises as attempts to devise unified theories of the psyche. Basically, Jung assumed that the templates of ideas that erupted unconsciously out of the human minds of his day were identical to the unconscious conceptual templates of our ancestors. So, by a logical process of convergence, earlier streams of scholarship into the foundations of being and consciousness should have arrived at consensus on the archetypes of the unconscious, and these images would then be ubiquitous throughout each culture’s art and literature.

In digging down into the philosophical, psychological, metaphysical and folkloric literature of Christian Europe, Jung eventually (in 1916) burrowed into an underlying rhizome of Vedic imagery — the mandala. Geometric designs of circular symmetry are innate to all cultures because the circle with a focal center is an image innate in the human brain, being the entire focus of the infant seeking its mother’s breast. The rose windows of Gothic cathedrals are beautiful examples of circular symmetric designs used as symbols of the completeness of Christian theology, with Christ, God the Father or the Virgin Mary in the center light and surrounded by Biblical notables and works of creation each in its angular segment. However, when Jung sought to understand the meaning of the windows into his own soul, which he was drawing, it was the concept of the mandala of the Vedas and the Buddhists that he used.

Between 1912 and 1927, Jung was in a period of uncertainty and anxiety about his professional career, he had broken with Sigmund Freud’s school of psychoanalysis and was now on his own. During this period of mental turbulence, he recorded many dreams and fantasies into his famously secret, handwritten and illuminated Red Book. After 1916, he had fallen into the habit of drawing mandalas often to interpret them as momentary representations of his personality’s state of wholeness and vibrancy. By 1920 he had connected the mandala to Vedic and Buddhist ideas, and was experimenting with the I Ching. In the early 1920s, Jung met Richard Wilhelm, who completed his German translation of the I Ching in 1923.

In 1927, Wilhelm gave Jung a translation of a 12th century Taoist text on the practice of meditation as an inner alchemy, The Secret Of The Golden Flower. The golden flower in this text is a mandala representing the image held by the mind when perfectly concentrated on Brahman. Jung saw this Taoist book as validating his psychological interpretation of mandala symbols, and wrote a commentary to accompany Wilhelm’s translation (and that German publication of 1929 was translated into English by Cary F. Baynes, and published in 1931).

In Jung’s synthesis, the mandala of The Secret Of The Golden Flower linked two concepts, one Taoist and the other psychological. The Taoist concept was that of the highest inner alchemical refinement of consciousness achieved by Taoist meditation, the oneness with Tao, the Hindu nirvana. The linked psychological concept was of the central archetype of personality, the self, the totality of the psyche, which includes both the conscious and the more extensive unconscious of the individual. The ego is merely the center of the conscious part of personality.

Jung describes his realization of the archetype of the self, which was precipitated by his reading of The Secret Of The Golden Flower, as the pivotal experience of his professional life, and the end of his anxieties about it.

It was only after I had reached the central point in my thinking and in my researches, namely, the concept of the self, that I once more found my way back to the world.

The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life — in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me. It was the prima materia for a lifetime’s work.

It has taken me virtually forty-five years to distill within the vessel of my scientific work the things I experienced and wrote down at that time.

Jung saw the successful development of personality, what he called individuation, as the awakening in a person of the awareness of the nature of their psyche, that is to say recognition of the self and its four associated archetypes: the shadow, the anima, the animus and the persona. Achieving this perfected psychological awareness would also bring personal consciousness into the experience of the divine. Jung’s deepest motivation was that of the ancient Vedanta scholars: to know God. For Jung, psychological individuation is a modern Western approach to the eternal, so it coincides with the Hindu-Buddhist method of meditating to concentrate the mind and bring it into unity with Brahman.

My Stroke Of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who experienced a massive stoke at age 37 in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996, and survived to write about it. Her book, My Stroke Of Insight was published in 2006. (15)

Taylor recounts her moment by moment loss of faculties during the course of her stroke: mobility, speech, reading, writing, and memory; and she recounts her increasingly desperate efforts to contact the outside world to get help. Taylor was the victim of a congenital defect she was unaware of, a malformed blood vessel in her brain’s left hemisphere had burst and a pocket of blood was being inflated to the size of a golf ball by her pumping heart, and pressing against the area of her brain where her speech, sensory, physical orientation and motor centers converged.

Taylor’s recovery rested on three essentials: excellent medical care (though she did have anxieties in the middle of her stroke about being taken to the “wrong” hospital because of the restrictions of her health insurance!), a devoted mother who had the ability and resources to nurse and re-educate Jill at home during her years of recovery, and Jill’s own resolve to return to full functionality and tell the world what she had learned from the experience.

During her stroke, Taylor experienced nirvana. The wondrous functioning of the human brain was such that her center of consciousness shifted from the logical hierarchical analytical left hemisphere of her usual clinical work to the sensory-affective integrative right hemisphere that always lives in the moment mediating our instantaneous contact with external reality though our senses and emotions. Taylor characterizes each brain half by comparison to computer architecture, the left being a serial processor and the right being a parallel processor. The two halves exchange information through a bundle of connecting fibers called the corpus callosum.

In shutting down the functioning of her left hemisphere, Taylor’s hemorrhage had unglued her consciousness from the myriad gritty piecemeal rectilinear and scheduled minutia of modern Western living, what we unthinkingly take to be “reality,” and had centered her consciousness in the right hemisphere’s endless moment of sensory integration with the enveloping reality of organic existence: Brahman, the Tao.

Taylor had to struggle against her ecstatic attraction to this state of bliss to maintain some contact with her left hemisphere so as to perform the many little tasks of now exceeding difficulty necessary to make a telephone call for help. After the immediate crisis, Taylor sought to maintain an ongoing connection to right-side consciousness for the rest of her life: “Frankly, I didn’t want to give up Nirvana.” Her book is a celebration of cosmic consciousness, which she describes entirely from biophysical brain science concepts, and which experience she endorses with touching sincerity and compassion because she knows how transformative and uplifting it can for the individual, and thus for the betterment of society.

To encourage the reader, Jill describes the many gentle and healthy ways she uses to induce right-brain centered consciousness, or even just simple tranquility. Her stroke of insight is that deep peace is possible for everyone, it lives in our own “right” minds, and accessing it is a portal to joyous living.


Is there a core truth common to all these schools of thought, which can be captured in a single phrase? What would you say to someone who asked for a simple answer?

The Buddha’s parting words were: “Work out your salvation with diligence.” Jesus Christ told his disciples: “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Joseph Campbell (author of the 1949 classic The Hero With A Thousand Faces) is remembered for his advice: “Follow your bliss.” Each of these is good, but none can convey all the meanings we intend to those who have not already heard them.

I can think of two imperfect options, a ying and yang version if your will.

The first is to just smile and “keep calm and carry on” enjoying life.

The second is: “WAKE UP!”



1. New Age,

2. Manuel García, Jr., “The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer,” follows below.

3. I Ching,

4. Fractals,

5. Fuzzy Logic,

6. Heinrich Zimmer,

7. Joseph Campbell,

8. Manuel García, Jr., “My Favorite Classics,”

9. Gautama Buddha,

10. History Of Buddhism,

11. Chán Buddhism,

12. Pratītyasamutpāda,

13. Ziran,

14. Wu wei,

15. Jill Bolte Taylor,


The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer

“We dream of travels throughout the universe: is not the universe within us? We do not know the depths of our spirit. The mysterious path leads within. In us, or nowhere, lies eternity with its worlds, the past and the future.” Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, 1772-1801)

Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) was the brilliant American theoretical physicist who guided the Manhattan Project during World War II (1942-1945) when it industrialized the technology of nuclear fission power and produced the first atomic bombs, including the only two ever used in warfare.

Immediately after the war, Oppenheimer advocated publicly for international control of nuclear arms, and against the urge for an arms race. This stance brought him into conflict with the political factions and economic interests that Dwight D. Eisenhower would call the “military-industrial complex” fifteen years later, and who were intent to revamp the economic engine that had pulled the United States out of the Great Depression and through World War II, into the war-machine industrialized economy Gore Vidal would call “the national security state.” This politics was Oppenheimer’s undoing as a national policy advisor, but the arguments used against him were phrased as doubts about his loyalty to the nation, and imputed deficiencies of character and judgement, not as political analysis and policy differences. Little has changed.

Every now and then when a new sensationalist book is published with a rehashing of the intrigues detailed in once-secret files of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wiretaps, domestic spying and subterfuge, the question of “the real story” behind J. Robert Oppenheimer’s true loyalties and fate resurfaces. Having worked in the Livermore nuclear weapons lab (1978-2007), some have assumed I know more about that presumably untold story. However, I am too young to have gained any direct or even indirect knowledge about Oppenheimer or any of the bomb physicists of his generation. Beyond riding in a elevator with Edward Teller once (which he did not like, he wanted a private ride) I only know about these people by what I have read or seen on television, like everyone else. The wikipedia article on J. Robert Oppenheimer summarizes what I have read, heard and seen about Oppie. (1)

In 1933, Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit to read the Bhagavad Gita in its original language. The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Hindu scripture (written between the 5th to 2nd centuries BCE), which is a masterpiece of philosophical integration as it combines the monism of the Upanishads, the dualism of Samkhya and the theism of Yoga.

The philosophy contained in the collected texts of the Upanishads (most written between about 1200 and 600 BCE) is called Vedanta, which asserts the existence of one absolute reality called Brahman, and urges seekers of truth to bypass ritual in favor of meditation governed by loving morality, as this will assuredly lead to blissful enlightenment. The 19th-century German Sanskritist Theodore Goldstücker found the philosophy of Spinoza to be a European equivalent of Vedanta, and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) himself to be “a man whose very life is a picture of that moral purity and intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world, which is the constant longing of the true Vedanta philosopher.” (2)

Samkhya philosophy (which coalesced between the 5th and 2nd centuries BCE) asserts that reality is a duality of consciousness (Purusa) and material phenomenology (Prakriti), and that no God or other external influence exists. For the existentially trapped, a glue of desire bonds their Purusa to Prakriti, for example being a wage slave in the rat race to keep up with the Jones. Liberation (Moksha) is the ending of this bondage, when materialism no longer imprisons your consciousness and there is no distinction between your individual and the universal Purusa.

Yoga means union, and is a school of Hindu philosophy based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (written in the 2nd century BCE, codifying yogic traditions that originated between the mid 3rd millennium BCE and about 400 BCE). The aim is to use meditation to gain enlightenment and tranquility by merging with God, the ultimate and fundamental reality.

The Bhagavad Gita unfolds as a philosophical conversation between Prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Krishna, on the eve of battle in a fratricidal war. Arjuna seeks guidance from Krishna, who is an avatar of the preserver-god Vishnu. Krishna instructs Arjuna to proceed vigorously with fully committed selfless action (Karma Yoga), a compete devotional surrender to God (Bhakti Yoga) and finally to experience Brahman directly, which knowledge will carry him past his own desires and materiality (Jnana Yoga).

The Dharma, or law fitted to his nature, which Arjuna must follow is this linking of the paths of selfless action, devotion to and knowledge of the ultimate reality. These linked paths are yogas because Arjuna must unite with and embody selfless action and devotion to the sacred ultimate, and the experience of merging consciousness with It.

The Bhagavad Gita has resonated with the stirrings in many souls, besides that of J. Robert Oppenheimer, for over two millennia because each of its readers is always Arjuna forever on the eve of the battle for the salvation of his or her soul.

Oppenheimer followed the path of selfless action in guiding the Manhattan Project because he was motivated to prevent the globalization of fascism, and he was motivated to use his physics knowledge and personal charm to develop technology that under international control could checkmate the aggressive impulses of dictators, and prevent the recurrence of massively destructive and profoundly tragic wars like World War II. In reference to Heinar Kipphardt’s 1964 play In The Matter Of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which he disagreed with, Oppenheimer stated:

“I had never said that I had regretted participating in a responsible way in the making of the bomb. I said that perhaps he [Heinar Kipphardt] had forgotten Guernica, Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden, Dachau, Warsaw, and Tokyo; but I had not, and that if he found it so difficult to understand, he should write a play about something else.”

Guernica, Coventry, Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo are cities which suffered merciless aerial bombardment; Dachau was the site of a Nazi concentration camp; and Warsaw was the scene of the Jewish Ghetto Uprising of 1943 (a resistance to the population transfer to Treblinka), and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, when the Nazis defeated the Polish Resistance Home Army and destroyed the city during 63 days of fighting while the Red Army waited encamped 5 minutes flying time east of the Vistula River (which runs through Warsaw).

Since I, too, have an interest in Eastern philosophy (Buddhism), I can identify with Oppie as both a “hard” science guy and a person of poetic sensibility and mystical inclination, always at odds with simplistic thinking and narrow vision.

I would suggest that Oppie’s mystical-poetic side was akin to the sensibilities of the esotericists Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925, metaphysics out of late German Romanticism, “anthroposophy”) and Peter D. Ouspensky (1878-1947, psychology out of Gurdjieff esotericism). I assume that sensibilities of this sort would have seeped into Oppie’s subconscious by cultural osmosis, as he was a New York Jew born of cultured and prosperous German immigrant parents early in the 20th century (1904), and his own personality was naturally refined and thus easily receptive to esoteric thought. The way he worked out bringing these subconscious metaphysical currents into the foreground of his conscious mind was to invoke the conceptual structures and language of Hindu philosophy, and specifically that of its philosophical and literary jewel the Bhagavad Gita.

The popular awareness of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s was likely to be a result of exposure to esotericism based on borrowed Asian ideas, such as with the theosophy of Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), and the dervish-yoga collage of George Gurdjieff (1866-1949); and more accurately through the traveling or immigrant Vedanta teachers like the swamis Vivekananda (1863-1902), Prabhavananda (1893-1976) and Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), and the writer and speaker Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986).

Oppenheimer flourished in the highest strata of American and European academia, and could easily interact with Sanskrit, Indology and Sinology scholars. So, it was an unusual commitment for him to learn Sanskrit to independently read and interpret the Vedas (the Sanskrit scriptures) instead of just relying on the lectures and scholarly translations by his fellow academics. But, he was thus better informed.

A highly regarded and popular translation into English of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Prabhavananda appeared in 1944, it was coauthored with Christopher Isherwood, and its introduction was written by Aldous Huxley. In describing the yoga of knowledge, Krishna tells Arjuna:

“Die, and you win heaven. Conquer, and you enjoy the earth. Stand up now, son of Kunti, and resolve to fight. Realize that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat are all one and the same: then go into battle. Do this and you cannot commit any sin.”

A book retelling an ancient teaching of selfless action during the conduct of war, published near the end of World War II; I wonder if Oppenheimer read it?

Consider the following projections of how Oppenheimer might have internalized Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga.

Karma Yoga

Commit to swinging the sword and letting the blood flow. This is your unique time and place in the universe, your dharma, and to gain the enlightening insight that can be taken as the purpose of life it is necessary to learn from the consequences of your acts, your karma. So, lay down the best karma you can trail in the wake of your actions by being unattached to personal gain from them. Fulfill your duties and act out your existentially appointed role in a selfless manner, for the noble though temporal purpose of defeating fascism, and for the higher and eternal purpose you are now aware of. You cannot moan that “the world is a mess” because for all men and women at all times and places the world is and has always been a mess. It is forever imperfect and filled with suffering and injustice. You are of this world, this realm of phenomenal existence, and cannot remake it. What you can do is to change yourself from a being trapped by lack of awareness of the ultimate reality, and your own true nature as part of that ultimate reality. Do not run from the unavoidability of karmic diffusion that material existence entails, but instead merge with your karma selflessly, and realize you are the ultimate unrecognized. Then you will begin to see that ultimate, and transcend karmic diffusion.

Bhakti Yoga

Devote yourself to the appreciation of the ultimate reality by delving into the workings of phenomenal manifestations. Unfolding these for the understanding of others raises the amount of such appreciation among men and women, and inspires others to follow along similar paths of discovery, bringing more souls toward self-realization. This is so different from chicken-scratching in the dirt of reality to peck out some hidden nugget, some secret recipe, to be used in petty schemes of self aggrandizement and in temporal power plays. Devotion to the ultimate reality is that “moral purity” which elevates you to “intellectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world.” This is completely beyond conventional social morality, which is entirely a matter of seeking acceptance, currying favor and maintaining social standing. All that is about keeping Purusa glued to Prakriti. Devotion to the ultimate and indifference to the temporal are liberating, they are Moksha.

Jnana Yoga

Oppenheimer used his considerable intellectual talent to pursue this goal of “knowing,” which paradoxically is unattainable by the conscious effort of abstract thinking alone. Jnana Yoga is like Zen, the direct experience of the ultimate, or “cosmic consciousness” as Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) called it. This is knowledge by direct experience, not the mere thinking in abstractions, which is so much of theoretical physics. The understanding of quantum mechanics and general relativity is not the same as the experience of cosmic consciousness. Still, such abstract thinking on philosophical concepts can prepare you to recognize when the plunge into cosmic consciousness envelops you. One usually seeks the experience by some form of meditation, or is jolted into it by the force of circumstances. Rather than trying to tease out a verbalization of the experience of the ultimate, from distortions of Vedanta in European languages, Oppenheimer learned Sanskrit to burrow down into the primary references in their original language. Is this not Bhakti Yoga, a devotion to the appreciation of the the ultimate? Is this not Karma Yoga, a selfless merging with the task to be done for the greater purpose of complete enlightenment, the merging with “the one,” Brahman?

“The true philosophical Act is annihilation of self; this is the real beginning of all Philosophy.” Novalis (1772-1801)

I can only assume that Oppenheimer experienced his true self at some point, and perhaps several times during his eventful life. Certainly, we will all merge with eternity eventually when we die, though sadly so many will pass through still unrealized.

Oppie was a man of much keener vision than the average Joe, so from the perspectives of mundane viewpoints comfortably settled within conventional thinking and behavior he was always seen to be on the edge intellectually, psychologically, morally and politically. To those of straightforward robotic thinking at the service of monomaniacal ambition within the bureaucracies of the US military-industrial-political complex, Oppenheimer would be instinctively perceived as a threat. It was inevitable that people like Lewis L. Strauss, Edward Teller and Leslie Groves would oppose Oppenheimer in 1954, during his security clearance hearing. In 1945 they had loved him because he enabled their ambitions and because he was acknowledged as “absolutely essential” to the gargantuan Manhattan Project.

It just so happens that people with any psychological similarity to Oppenheimer tend to be Democrats (or far more leftist), and people like Oppie’s psychological opposites tend to be Republicans. So, at the time there was also a partisan divide on the matter of Oppie’s security clearance, which struggle was entirely about allowing the arms control perspective to be given a place in the councils of government or suppressed, and was framed as an argument over the degree of policy-forming power that Oppenheimer was to be given or denied. Today as then, the battles over what types of ideas and thinking are to hold sway in the making of government policy are couched as arguments over the personal merits or deficiencies of selected high-profile individuals. Oppie “lost” his security clearance (one day before it was to expire anyway) because he was a high-profile symbol of the type of prewar East Coast urban leftist Jewish intellectual New Dealer who was now being excessed, since the war was won, in favor of a new generation of guardians of concentrated wealth, in the tradition of Robert A. Taft (1889-1953), the establishment white Christian grand bourgeois managers of post-war corporatism.

Was Oppenheimer subversive? Did he betray the trust put in him? Oppenheimer’s marital life was complicated, being interspersed with extra-marital affairs. But then, so are the lives of billions of other husbands of all political persuasions. His marital fidelity or infidelity was really of matter of concern best left to his wife Kitty Harrison, who remained with him till he died in 1967. However, on the matter of national security the record is clear, Oppenheimer never passed any classified information to the Soviet Union (based on the Vassiliev notebooks of KGB archival material), and even removed Los Alamos scientists whom he suspected of excessive Soviet sympathies from the Manhattan Project. He did not break trust in his technical-academic nor public-technocrat lives. (3)

Oppenheimer was a “subversive” only in the sense of being opposed to, and opposed by, the postwar military-industrial corporatists. These included J. Edgar Hoover who would use the federal policing agency he lorded over to undermine Oppenheimer’s postwar political standing, rather than protecting him from intrigue as the FBI had been required to do during the war, when Oppenheimer was “absolutely essential.”


1. J. Robert Oppenheimer,

2. Vedanta,

3. Alexander Vassiliev,


Asian Philosophies and the “New Age” originally appeared at:

Asian Philosophies and the “New Age”
5 November 2012


The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer originally appeared at:

The Esoteric J. Robert Oppenheimer
22 October 2012


American Decline (continues)

When we say the American Empire is in decline, what do we mean? Is it the decline of:

1) The U.S. economy (and consequently U.S. political power) in relation to and in competition with the other national economies, the regional groupings of economies (like the E.U.), and the aggregate world economy?, or the decline of

2) The industrial mode of economic organization of society?, or the decline of

3) The capitalist model now controlling the U.S. economy in its industrial mode (as opposed to, say, a socialist model whether of democratic form or of command form as in China)?, or the decline of

4) The competence of the economic managing elite, and the influence of white males as the demographic group devising and directing public policy, controlling the national economy and ensuring their demographic group is most favored in the distribution of national prosperity?, or the decline of

5) The standard of living, physical health and security, mental state and personal development of the majority of the members of the public?

We can abstract these five aspects of a national economy, respectively, as its:

1) power,

2) organization (as an industrial mechanism or as a social relations network),

3) purpose (capitalist or socialist),

4) leadership (ability and demographics), and

5) living conditions (the typical experience of daily life).

Clearly, any person’s view of the state of the economy will depend on which of these five aspects they most identify with; and any media account of the state of the economy will be crafted to resonant with the biases of the intended audience.

Economic Power

People in the corporate and political leadership classes will gauge the health of the economy on the basis of its power in relation to the international competition. The remora class of analysts, commentators, consultants and promoters, who base their livelihoods on the sale of information and “suggestions” to the executive classes, will also fabricate their interpretations of current events on the basis of the economy’s power.

Economic Organization

Critics of the industrial mode of economics will focus on the mismatch between the performance of our current economic machinery and the human and societal needs of the public, which is required to support this economy. Ivan Illich (1926-2002) wrote three books in the 1970s (Deschooling Society, Tools For Conviviality, and Medical Nemesis) arguing quite effectively that many of the institutions of the modern industrial state impede their own supposed purposes; he focused on education and medicine in particular.

For example, the educational “funnels” sought today so as to insert more knowledge more quickly into student minds are so burdensome (too much homework, “one-size-fits-all” regimentation, politically circumscribed curricula) that they work against the natural impulse to intellectual exploration by children and young adults, and rob them of the time to follow their natural inclinations toward discovering and learning at their own pace. Children are conditioned, programmed and trained to be passive receptacles rather than being nurtured to become self-directed learners and creators.

Another example of industrial mode counterproductively is the high-volume production of automobiles, which enables suburban sprawl. The unavoidable result is the clogging of increasing longer commute routes between suburban homes and city jobs. The losses to individuals in hours-per-day of living-time spent commuting, and the societal costs in air pollution and the national security liability of oil dependency, are all well known.

A “convivial” (Illich’s term) solution would be to group residential and work areas close together within smaller well-planned cities and towns linked by networks of intra-urban and inter-urban public transportation systems (trolley, bus, train). Such convivial towns and neighborhoods (structured around the natural scale of human interactions) would harken back to earlier times when every city block was not far from a park, and had a bakery, produce store, meat and fish store, druggist and newsstand along it or “just around the corner.”

The industrial mode requires that people serve the efficiency goals of a delivery system so it operates at its lowest cost per item moved. For example, the “big box” stores one must drive to, because they are beyond walking distance from home, and because no one can carry all the bulky items and large quantities one is required to purchase in order to get the array of supplies needed for home-life. How much easier stepping off a bus or trolley a block or two from home after work, and within half an hour buying one easily-carried grocery bag filled with all the supplies and fresh food needed for the next few days.

Another Illich concept is that of the “radical monopoly.” This occurs when a technical system or method appears to be most effective at meeting some common need, and as a consequence of its popularity makes alternatives so economically disfavored that the use of the dominant technology becomes effectively mandatory. This might be acceptable in the case where a more convenient technology replaces a less convenient one, such as personal computers replacing typewriters; but it might be detrimental when the radical monopoly consumes large amounts of energy and pollutes (which we could recast as “requires a wasteful consumption of environmental potential”). The automobile transportation required by suburbia is one such radical monopoly.

Another radical monopoly is western medicine in the form of a pharmacologically and technologically intense industrial mode of centralized medical practice. A convivial alternative would be to have doctors (and their clinics) distributed throughout the well-planned towns mentioned earlier, so that one lived on every block, and every resident would have their “personal physician” living within walking distance. Hospitals would still exist, but patients would most likely enter them as a planned visit arranged by their local doctor, rather than as the only option in an emergency. This latter health care system is used in Cuba.

People address the problems of their daily lives by applying a wide array of tools: hand tools, kitchen and food storage appliances, transport vehicles and transportation systems, electronic devices and electrical power networks, houses and housing systems, drugs and medical devices and health care systems, and many other technical entities from simple pocket knives to trans-national social, monetary, judicial and government systems. Illich called all such entities “tools.”

His central point was that “A convivial society should be designed to allow all its members the most autonomous action by means of tools least controlled by others.” Illich chose the term “convivial” to designate the opposite of “industrial productivity,” his concept of a society of autonomous and creative interaction between people, and between people and their environment, “where individual freedom was realized in personal interdependence.”

Tools that allow for many possible uses, as determined by the creativity of the user, and are not restricted to a narrow purpose by their designer, are convivial. Simple hand tools, like a hammer, are convivial tools. More complex examples are the telephone, in that the telephone company cannot restrict the nature of your conversations; and AC electrical power, in that the power company has no control over what you plug into an electrical outlet. In contrast, machines made for industrial productivity can only be used in a few ways, which is the intent of the designer so as to control and “own” the benefit of the tool’s use. The specialized machinery in any factory assembly line, big box stores, and “personal” computers with proprietary and purposely exclusive operating systems are examples of non-convivial tools. Non-convivial tools require humans to become their servants, who operate them in set ways to achieve unique purposes of benefit to the tool designer.

It is easy to see that centralized systems of supply (e.g., food) and service (e.g., medical) are industrial and non-convivial, they require people to “line up” and operate them in a set fashion (e.g., through inflexible bureaucracy, and customer service telephone holds), so the system providers can minimize their costs and maximize their returns. Conversely, decentralized systems of supply and service delivery — as we envisioned earlier in our hypothetical well-planned towns — would not operate at the lowest cost physically possible per item moved, but they would enable a much richer and freer living experience to the wide variety of people who were using and paying for these systems. This is conviviality.

Economic Purpose

An economy is a man-made procedural structure integrating the operation of the financial and commercial interactions engaged in by the members of its society. Every economy, however primitive and disorganized, or sophisticated and highly organized, is an artificial and intentional construction. It is built to a purpose by people, it is not an organism arising out of nature. So, no economy is based on natural and unbreakable laws. Every economy is a game, and is rigged. Just exactly how any particular economy is rigged is the purpose of politics.

Generally, economies are recognized to serve two purposes: capitalist and socialist. The capitalist purpose is the accumulation of private profit at general expense, and the socialist purpose is the support of varieties of social and humanitarian needs at general expense.

Most national economies today have some mixture of capitalist and socialist purposes, though usually the capitalism dominates. For both, the industrial mode is more popular. Capitalist big box stores aim to maximize the profits to the owners, while socialist big box stores aim to minimize the cost to the state for distributing the goods they dispense. Similarly for capitalist and socialist service dispensaries in the industrial mode (e.g., health care).

Both capitalist and socialist economic purposes can be organized in either the industrial or convivial mode. The socialist purpose industrial mode was forcefully promoted by Stalin. As Illich wrote:

“In 1931 Stalin translated ‘control over the means of production’ to mean the increase of productivity by new methods used to control the producer [the subject population]… Since then a socialist policy has been considered one which serves the industrially organized productivity of a socialist country. Stalin’s reinterpretation of Marxism has since then served as a form of blackmail against socialists and the left.”

Fifty-three percent of the U.S. federal budget is spent on pure Stalinism, known simply as the Pentagon, a non-convivial radical monopoly used for political intimidation.

Social Security is another example of a socialist purpose within an otherwise capitalist U.S. economy, that purpose being the dignified management of the transition from taxpaying productive life for old people to their taxpayer-supported maintenance and death. Another socialist purpose proposed for the capitalist-dominated U.S. economy, but so far rejected, is that of universal health care. Publicly funded education through college and child-care are similarly as-yet rejected socialist purposes (note that socialized child-care is a way to ease the strain of industrial mode employment of women; the convivial alternative is socializing the costs of mothers caring for their own children).

Realize that all of these socialist purposes can be addressed in either an industrial or a convivial way. Too often the choice between an industrial organization or a convivial one is ascribed to either a capitalist or socialist motivation (whether as a recommendation or criticism).

This author’s preference is for convivial socialism, probably because he lives in a capitalist-dominant industrial economy.

Economic Leadership

The leadership classes of the United States are disproportionately populated by white males, and also include attendant females and accepted minority individuals (tokens) who service the class-race ascendancy imperatives. The whys and wherefores of this are well known. The essential public responsibility of an economic leadership class is to be competent (and, it should go without saying, to be honest).

Economic Living Conditions

The conditions of daily life in the U.S. are noted and reported on by the journalists of ethnic minority and working class life. At this time there is an economic depression for the working class because of the collapse of the housing market and financial bubble of 2007 [The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which implemented the $700 billion emergency bank bailout Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), was signed into law on October 3, 2008], and because of the permanent loss of U.S. jobs outsourced to China and other minimum labor-cost economies.

The U.S. population has a capitalist utility as a market — a mass from which to extract cash and dump goods into — but this population is largely unnecessary as regards productivity (Pentagon industries excepted). Much cheaper foreign labor can produce the goods needed to absorb the retail cash from the U.S. market. How the U.S. population is supposed to get this retail cash in the first place does not seem to be a matter of concern for U.S. capitalism’s economic planners.

Food, energy consumption and entertainment, often in combined forms such as “fast food,” flashy oversized automobiles, giant plasma-screen home-theater systems and hand-held video-viewing telecommunications devices (telescreens aplenty), are popular retail goods. Like the soma and feelies of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, they serve the political purpose of pacifying the U.S. population so it conforms itself to the service of the capitalist industrial mode economy that profits from them. In rural communities in California’s Central Valley, Mexican-American children of farm-worker parents play with iPods in homes with dirt floors.

Decline And Expectation

The experience of economic decline is a matter of expectation. Investors in stocks, bonds, real estate and currencies might fear a decline of the U.S. economy when the productivity of foreign economies surges relative to that of the U.S. Changes of this type are the result of: continuing progress in less-developed nations, changes in labor and resource availability, the unexpected twists and turns of international politics, and the occasional influence of geophysical forces (e.g., natural disasters and climate effects).

Investors might also fear a “downturn” of their expectations if there is a serious possibility that sectors of the economy might be reorganized in a convivial fashion (meeting people’s needs instead of just extracting cash from them), or worst yet become nationalized.

However, if a working class family is now covered by an industrial mode national health care plan, it could easily experience better economic conditions even if the cost of the plan actually reduced the national gross domestic product, and the economy’s power relative to the international competition. That family would feel even richer if their health care were available through a convivial system of neighborhood-based physicians and clinics, even if the Wall Street Journal were to assure them that they were now living in an even weaker national economy. In reality, no wealth would be lost. Quite simply, the profit potential of investor fantasy in an industrialized mode capitalist economy would have been used to provide the people-centered national health care benefit. A potential wave of private profit, and chips for financial speculation, having been smoothed out into a rising tide of socialized benefit.

This is an evolving planet, and some can view changes in demographics as an economic decline. This is race-based thinking, something like tribalism; it is primitive, ignorant and very popular.

The fertility rate of whites is lower than that of nonwhites in the U.S., and the fertility rates of northern latitude and industrialized countries are lower than those of less-developed and tropical latitude countries. This is the glacially advancing demographic steamroller that flattened the apartheid regime of South Africa, will eventually inundate the Israeli colonial project in Palestine, and is darkening the complexion of North American and European life.

For some of the most insular and least cosmopolitan populations of white North Americans, the visible changes in the complexion of the leadership classes — still predominately white but now routinely mixed in with non-white personalities — is too jarring a reminder of their own social and economic stagnation, and they express their resentment over their own unacknowledged backwardness by a rejection of any society with nonwhite members of equal status. This in turn is voiced most honestly as simple racism (against Latinos, blacks and muslims in the U.S., and muslims and blacks in Europe), or disingenuously nuanced as anti-government sentiment, by which they mean opposition to the socialized purposes of the national economy because such socialized activity is by definition racially integrated. These are the Tea Party people.

These resentful whites, angry at the imagined loss of their assumed race-based socio-economic privileges rail about the illegal immigrants (a.k.a. Mexicans) “taking” jobs and “getting free government benefits” which they have to pay for through their taxes (this is usually just the overblown hyperbole of simple misers resenting taxation). Yet, they never seem perturbed that 53 cents of every tax dollar they hand the government goes straight to the Pentagon and funds the most wasteful and destructive subsidy on Earth, at a societal cost far beyond that actually created by undocumented immigrants.

But, these resentments grow out of fears born out of ignorance, and logical argument can do little to break through to the emotional engine driving this mindset. These people see loud, uncouth and very rich nonwhite people on their televisions; they see as their president a black man whose sophistication and intellectual attainments they will never match; in their towns and shopping malls they see Mexicans, walking in large family groups and chattering in an undecipherable lingo, and obviously spending money, where did they get it?

It all comes back to hammer the painful point home: “things aren’t as I expected, I’m not special, and they’re making me pay to have it this way.” This mindset sees national social and economic decay in the darkened complexion of the national demographic, and harrumphs about “taking the country back.” Tea Party politicians will try to actualize their faction’s guiding delusion by disabling as much of the socializing purpose of the national economy as will return the country to a more racially segregated and white-favored past, without the loss of subsidies popular with white people, like Medicare and the military. In this work of social regression they will be the useful idiots of the capitalist ownership class, for whom industrialization is profit, conviviality is taxation, and socialism is expropriation.

Decline? Yes Or No For Five Factors

1) Decline of economic power? Yes.

China and India combined hold 36% of the world population (2.49B of 6.89B). The 2010 GDP third quarter growth rate for India was 8.9% and for China 9.6%. These rates are representative of their respective economies during the last three years (though all economies experienced some dip near the 2008 U.S. banking collapse). The growth of U.S. GDP during the 2010 third quarter was 2.6%, and the average U.S. growth rate over the last 15 quarters was 0.49%. The U.S. population of 311.9M is 4.5% of the world total.

If we take the GDP (in 2009 $) of India, China, the U.S. and the World ($1.31T, $4.99T, $14.12T, $58.14T) and divide each by their respective population (1.155B, 1.331B, 0.312B, 6.893B) we arrive at a productivity per capita (GDP/#) of, respectively: $1134, $3749, $45,270, $8438. Note that we are assuming that every single person in the country (and World) is a “worker” who contributes to the GDP; hardly exact but usefully indicative.

We can compare the performance of two different economies by forming ratios from pairs of GDP/#, to arrive at:

— the number (at top of the resulting fraction) of U.S. workers that produce the same absolute output ($ amount) as

— the number (at bottom of the resulting fraction) of workers from India, China, the U.S. and the World, respectively,

— as: 1/40, 1/12, 1/1, 2/11.

So, the output of one averaged U.S. worker equals that of 40 averaged Indian workers (as defined here), or 12 averaged Chinese workers; and 2 averaged U.S. workers produce as much as 11 averaged World workers.

Performing the same exercise but this time comparing India, China, the U.S. and the World to the averaged World worker, we find, respectively (World/country): 2/15, 4/9, 11/2, 1/1. So, 2 averaged World workers produce as much as 15 averaged Indian workers, 4 World to 9 Chinese, 11 World to 2 U.S. (and 1/1 for World to World).

If we assume that the third quarter 2010 growth rates remain constant, then (by simple exponential extrapolation) the Chinese economy will match the total output of the U.S. economy in 15.8 years, at $21.2T (unchanging $).

By a similar extrapolation, India’s economy will match that of the U.S. in 39.9 years, at $39.4T. The estimated averaged Chinese “worker” productivity in 15.8 years will be one quarter that of the averaged U.S. worker then, and a similar calculation for Indian productivity at GDP parity yields 23% that of the U.S. in 39.9 years. (These calculations used national populations projected for 15.8 years and/or 39.9 years in the future; the projections were calculated using constant population growth rates of 1.3%, 0.5%, 0.9%, respectively, for India, China and the U.S.)

The sheer size of China’s population compared to that of the U.S. means that it must inevitably outpace the U.S. economy, as long as China’s productivity increases over time (and there is no revolutionary improvement in U.S. productivity). India follows the same trend but at less than half the pace.

2) Decline of economic organization? Neutral (yes and no).

The U.S. economy is as highly organized as it ever was, in its overwhelmingly dominant industrial mode. There has been no overall decline of organization, nor modal shift to conviviality (the no part).

However, there are significantly fewer industrial sectors today than existed three decades ago. The range of possible industrial production has diminished because of the permanent loss of major portions of the manufacturing base (the yes part).

In brief, civilian manufacturing industries have largely been “outsourced” to replace American labor with lower-cost foreign labor (primarily Chinese). Those portions of the domestic productivity base that have not been abandoned are strictly, even obsessively, organized along the industrial mode.

The haste, one might say panic, with which U.S. capitalist planners tossed domestic manufacturing labor overboard and walked away from domestic manufacturing physical plant suggests there has been little useful thought about the future economic impact of a swelling population of the permanently unemployed, and expanses of decaying industrial ruins (

The outsourcing gimmick has kept “the economy” (as experienced by U.S. capitalism’s management, ownership and investor classes) robust and competitive (factor #1). However, the detritus of mega-capitalist “open loop” schemes of wealth generation, in this case entire industries and their skilled domestic labor populations, is just too large a burden to dump onto the public for reabsorption and regeneration, without cost to the schemers. There will have to be “taxes” on future “earnings” to help pay for the reintegration of the jettisoned industrial capacity into a new type of all-are-included domestic economy.

The political conflict at hand is between capitalist exploiters and speculators, who wish to escape paying for the waste and societal damage of their schemes, and the working class taxpaying public (most of the people), which deserves receiving sizable payment for damages caused to the commonwealth, because the people of that public will do all the work of reprocessing abandoned industrial ruins and unemployed industrial workers into a new regrouped national community, with cleaned-up reusable sites, and revitalized neighbors, colleagues and co-workers.

3) Decline of capitalism and shift to socialism? No.

It would be wonderful, but circumstances have yet to decay to the point where they batter most Americans severely enough so they question their childhood indoctrination to capitalism (think Berlin or Tokyo, 1945).

Health care is the single issue that draws most interest to socialism in the U.S. today. The pressure for socialized medical care arises out of the stresses of the industrial mode of employment and service delivery.

I suspect that most Americans (U.S.) would lose interest in socialized medicine if they had access to a convivial capitalist health care system they could afford. An individual might state it this way: “If I have to be just one of the herd in some industrial medical system, then I’d rather it were government-run and taxpayer funded. At least then I wouldn’t have the added anxiety about paying for the indignity, nor even about being able to get it when I needed it. However, if I could get quick and easy access close to home anytime, and a professional to deal with the hospital for me when that was needed, I’d be happy to pay dues comparable to a swim club.”

4) Decline of economic leadership? Yes.

There has been an absolute decline in the competence of economic leadership, certainly since the days of John Maynard Keynes and John Kenneth Galbraith, and especially since the onset of the Reagan Administration (and Thatcherism in England), with its rabid Chicago School ideology (e.g., Milton Friedman’s “free market”).

The logical terminus of Reaganomics was the bank crash of 2008, though today’s economic managers remain witless before it, their minds still possessed by the free market cult. How can anyone think that the economic managers, ministers, experts and regulators, who collectively gave us the economic crisis of 2007 to the present, are competent? Unfortunately, neither these incompetents nor their Reaganomic mindset — which has eviscerated the American economy as a living experience, as opposed to an investment climate — have been swept off the scene so an authentic recovery and effective reforms can be started. Present U.S. fiscal policy is the equivalent of trying to blow air back into a burst balloon. Somewhere, Santayana’s ghost is laughing.

As described earlier, from a Tea Party perspective there has been a decline of the leadership elite by virtue of demographic titration. This is really a public health problem regarding epidemic mental illness.

5) Decline of the standard of living? Yes.

This is the great theft in the U.S. during the late 20th and early 21st centuries. A specific instance is the abandonment of the American skilled industrial laborer, but the overall scheme affects every working person: the socialization of vast speculative losses and the costs of capital flight from civic responsibilities.

As long as the political problem of reintegrating the U.S. economy, so it includes all workers in an equitable sharing of economic gains, remains unsolved, even unaddressed, then the standard of living will continue to decay, and with it prospects of long term profitability even for members of the elite economic classes.

“Big capital” uses its money to forestall any political engagement on this fundamental issue, and too much of the public accepts being distracted and pacified by high-tech trinkets, toys and endless entertainment streams, to focus on the work needed for their own education in reality, and the commitment needed to organize politically in the public interest.

When a quorum of the public wakes up (Yoo Hoo! Stop watching and believing TV!) and comes together to take action, the capital interests will be forced to negotiate for their survival, and that will make it possible to actually reform the economic machinery of the country, to re-rig the game in the public’s favor.


1, 2, 3, 4, 5, respectively: yes, neutral, no, yes, yes.

The economy-as-lived by Americans has declined steadily for three decades, and sharply after 2007. This economy is in a depression now, with no indication of imminent improvement. Further decline is inevitable unless an extensive recovery scheme is implemented (think non-militarized Keynes plus significant financial reforms plus large and permanent cuts in military spending).

The economy-for-investors, which hosts financial speculation, is growing slowly. However, it is a non-convivial shell game that excludes a large population of unemployed and underemployed people, except as members of a public dump used to absorb cast-off banking corporation liabilities and environmental damage. This is politically unsustainable in the long term. An economy that produces livelihoods for everyone is needed.

The long term solution to both problems is a reorganization and reorientation (a.k.a., ‘re-purposing’) of the U.S. economy, by dissolving and recombining the economy-as-lived and the economy-for-investors into a re-integrated whole. Of necessity, the result would have significantly more socialism and some more conviviality. A public that could accomplish this reform would understand that “lost” potential profits (which could have been had from the old economy-for-investors) would only have gone into risky and destabilizing gambling activities, and “lost” potential subsidies (like the excessive Pentagon favoritism in the old economy-as-lived) would only have gone into wasteful military adventurism and consumption. The new economy would produce living wealth.

How do we achieve this? Politics. Impossible? Remember, the barriers are all in our minds, collectively.


Originally published on 21 January 2011:

American Decline
21 January 2011

The re-posting here was prompted by the following.

“Deaths of despair” are surging in white America
23 March 2017


Dvorák – From Johannes Brahms to Duke Ellington

Dvorák’s 9th symphony (From The New World) is wonderful. It sounds so “American,” yet is composed entirely of Bohemian folk themes, though Dvorák listened many times to Harry Burleigh (an African-American) singing Negro Spirituals just for him at the National Conservatory of Music in New York (Burleigh was a student), which Dvorák directed during 1893-1895. Dvorák blended the themes of his homeland into the sound and spirit of the musical America that Burleigh exemplified. As quoted in the New York Herald in 1893, Dvorák said:

“I am now satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called negro melodies. These are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them. … In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music. They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, bold, merry, gay, or what you will. It is music that suits itself to any mood or any purpose.”

Another of Dvorák’s African-American students at the conservatory was William Marion Cook, a violinist and composer. Cook, along with Fats Waller and Sidney Bechet mentored Duke Ellington in 1915-1916, encouraging the teenage Ellington to take his musical knowledge and talent into public performances (gigs in New York and on the road), and launch a musical career.

Dvorák himself had been discovered, mentored and financially aided by Johannes Brahms, and they remained close friends for the rest of their lives (for Brahms till 1897, for Dvorák till 1904).

(See wikipedia articles for Harry Burleigh, Will Marion Cook, and Duke Ellington).

So, from Brahms to Ellington, by way of Dvorák, Burleigh and Cook.

Dvorák’s New World Inquiry
How a Czech composer helped America find its authentic voice (2004)


Young Love

Children touch all the buttons
with dirty little hands, cling
forever fighting weaning
and after suck has ended
sulk sullen seeking second mothers
rebirthing them as love’s evangelicals,
shouting praises of amorous physicality,
lingering languorously on love’s lips and nipples,
iron pinpricks of rootedness awash in pendulous sensuality.
And old men sipping coffee quietly in corners,
stroke ears, raise eyebrows a hair,
remembering the first awakening –
just for a moment –
faint echoes returning to forgetfulness;
and old women walk by
passing hands over fruit
laid in open boxes
mellow sweetness to the sun
squeezing sensing softness
while chattering one and another
as they stroll through the market.
And each writes their verses on flakes of light –
leaves of memory –
like a forest burning, a crumbling cascade of color
peppering autumn’s wind,
fading to the earth of innumerable beginnings –
again unknowing.

22 March 2004


If I Knew Then What I Know Now

If I had to do it over again, I would be less obedient, less trusting and less credulous. I would keep up my piano lessons for the duration, do a lot more photography throughout, and travel more while still young – for my own interests, not for work. I would have worked on my passions much harder, even with abandon; I would not have wasted time on many inconsequential distractions; and I would have paid much less attention to many people. A very few people I would have paid more and better attention to. I would be much less afraid of dying, though I did come pretty close. I would have read Balzac and Flaubert in my teens, and then I would have had a much clearer idea of what men want from women, and what women want from men. I would have read Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene in 1976 when it was first published, and then I would have understood what family is really about. Balzac, Flaubert and Dawkins are the best preparation a young man can have before engaging in the battle of the sexes. C. G. Jung, though his ideas are rather elaborate, was very helpful for understanding the failures of human nature. While Jungian thought is too cumbersome to be absorbed in your teens, it is wise to do so in your twenties so you can understand the psychological catastrophes others will try to suck you into, as well as your own mid-life crisis in your thirties, or forties or fifties. I don’t have too many regrets about the many compromises I made in order to support my family, because I am happy my children are who they are today. I made my mistakes as a parent, but overall I am happy with how I performed as a father. Even so, had I to do it over again I would be much more adventuresome about my career in my younger half of life.