The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

The Inner Dimensions of Socialist Revolution

The social revolution has to precede the political revolution. Personal self-realization has to precede the social revolution.

Achieving social change in America through political change – legislatively – as for example with the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 to 1968, is too slow a process today for overturning American capitalism to American socialism in time to effectively respond to climate change and global environmental degradation, by shifting American civilian energy production from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind and geothermal sources, and ocean-wave-and-tidal and river hydroelectric sources, accompanied by a wide spectrum of energy conservation strategies and materials recycling and reprocessing methods, instead of indiscriminate and polluting waste disposal.

In fact, the political path to social change may be completely plugged shut today, with the fanatical obstructionism by capital interests who collectively own America’s two major political parties, and whose various outmoded environmentally catastrophic schemes of wealth generation are fossilized in place within an overarching 19th century paradigm of CO2-producing industrialization and labor exploitation, directed by frantic casino-style banking and financial speculation.

So, the timely development of a popular, scientific and effective national response to counteract the global geophysical crisis we call “climate change” must occur outside the arcane political machinery of our money-corrupted representative democracy. Basically, “the people” would have to independently develop a sense of national solidarity, overcoming all regionalisms and bigotries, and independently get organized to shift the ways they live and the ways they earn their keep, from a reliance on “black” versus “green” energy, and from a reliance on adversarial-capitalist economics versus cooperative-socialist economics. Given such a social revolution, it would then be possible to mount a massive campaign to counter climate change.

But, is such a social revolution possible? Can a majority of the national population actually free itself from the many shackles, control methods and seductions of corporate capitalism, by willfully bonding into one massive mutually tolerant and mutually helping cooperative, independent of the existing government: into a self-directed revolutionary socialism? This would require an incredible unanimity of vision and an amazing degree of commitment and discipline among hundreds of millions of people, to independently coalesce into a self-sustaining socialized mass able to overcome the opposition of the intransigent corporate capitalist establishment.

Any clear-thinking person will see that the idea of a spontaneous eruption of popular revolutionary socialism that independently counteracts climate change is impossible, and by chained logic such a clear-thinking person will also realize that we humans will never counteract climate change but instead will be plowed under by it, like the terrain downhill from an advancing glacier, because we are so inattentively self-absorbed and fatally wedded to the preservation of our inequitable and dysfunctional capitalism.

So, is the most intelligent tack then to stop agonizing over climate change and give up wasting time and energy in doomed attempts to put off the geophysical inevitable? Should we all just become Trumps and luxuriate carefree in capitalist mud-wallows for as long as they are available? Why bother trying to change the unchangeable?, sacrificing the good times of today for a restrictive future that will never occur anyway? Why not just keep grabbing for the money and enjoy doing that like we always have?

My answer is: half a loaf is better than none. Even if climate change is an implacable civilization-ending geophysical tsunami, I think we all would have a relatively better collective life for the duration of our species if we could develop even a scattering of minor uncoordinated popular socialist initiatives – anti-capitalist and anti-militarist – that directly confront specific aspects of the multi-faceted colossus of climate change and its social disruptions. These initiatives would include the election into public office of ecological-socialist candidates, like today’s young, enthusiastic Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), even if in small numbers. Why? Because any political efforts by eco-socialist officeholders that reach the public as actionable realities will benefit some fraction of the population, since such efforts would either ameliorate, blunt or end specific sociopathologies of our pure id capitalism.

Why give in to despair, dejection and acquiescence to a capitalist climapocalypse? Why not actualize through our own individual living presences the attitudes and one-to-one human connections that inject intelligent compassion and fulfilling artistry into the society around us, and in that way we become focal points of the socialist revolution we can imagine? How do you think a politically successful socialist revolution could be formed in the first place, if not by the weaving together of masses of one-to-one personal relationships of such self-realized individuals into a vast societal network?

Ultimately, it is not about “being saved” by external agents, like “good politicians” and “good laws” and “good governments,” from victimization by looming climate change disasters; it is about transcending who we are as merely passive fearfully insular consumers, and realizing that we are each, literally, individual expressions of the cosmos, and then operating out of that realization with a self-directed living-out of our socialist visions. Such living is the best that we humans can do, both individually and as socialized clusters, regardless of whether we are eventually plowed under by climapocalypse, or completely overcome it.

As an individual biological organism, you incorporate the formation of the cosmos within you as the subatomic particles, which first erupted out of the Big Bang, that are within the atoms of your materiality. Those atoms are almost entirely empty space, their nuclei (which are clusters of protons and neutrons) occupy only between 10^-14 to 10^-12 of the volume of the atom; that is to say 1 part in a hundred trillion, to 1 part in a trillion of the otherwise empty volume of the atom. The extent of that atomic space is defined by the electrical fields that transmit the forces connecting the nucleus to the point particle electrons flickering (“orbiting”) about it. These atoms are in turn clustered in simple molecules, like water (H2O), oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2) and glucose (C6H12O6), and in massive and complex molecules like DNA. But even so, our personal matter is made of pinpoints of atomic grit suspended in empty space and meshed together by forces communicated across electrical links called chemical bonds. When you press your palm on a tabletop and feel the firm resistance of that structure, you are actually experiencing a force of electrical repulsion between the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space tabletop, and the electro-chemical integrity of the mostly empty space you! Imagine such an atomic-molecular “net of gems” – as the ancient Buddhists called “the interdependence of all things” – as a metaphor for the revolutionary socialist net-of-gems network we would like to weave ourselves into, and to have a transformative effect on our political economy.

The “chemical bonds” of our wished-for socialist revolution are the one-to-one personal connections we “atoms” of that network fling out like spider silk to weave our self-realized selves into that net of gems. What matters is the sympathy of vision, and the moral character and personal integrity of the people we seek connection with. What does not matter are superficial attributes like their ethnicity, their physical characteristics, their birth language, their “style,” their default and unthinking microscopically sectarian political alignments (please!, forget about these uselessly trivial distractions!).

A friend of mine is a Vietnam War veteran who survived over sixty-four artillery barrages while trapped on a hilltop during the First Battle of Khe Sanh. He crystalized the essential idea here this way: “There are some people you want in your foxhole, and some you don’t.” My goal is to be “foxhole worthy” for people like him, and I judge others by the same criterion. At that high metaphysical level of socialist vision, we are synchronized; at the mundane street level of routine personal interaction, we give each other spontaneous rides when our cars unexpectedly break down on the road and we call for help, and when either of our cars are in the shop and we need to make a doctor’s appointment. We also share lunch breaks and stories. If and when it comes to serious action – foxhole time – we know we can count on each other. There are other men and women I share a similar connection with, people who are aware of the realities of our times, and have a compassionate intelligence about the direction of their lives, which goes beyond the effort to physically and economically sustain themselves, to also inject some goodness and humane connection – socialism – into the public sphere they are immersed in. It is with such people that I am associated with – “socialized” – in voting for our “progressive candidates,” and advocating – each in our own way – for an anti-capitalist and anti-militarist social transformation; and it is with such people that I can imagine being next to during any sudden eruption of a volcanic socialist revolution.

The Trumpians and their ilk are empty people. They need all that money, glittery stuff and power, to encrust their lonely hollowness with, so as to give them the illusion of actually being somebody and having actually accomplished something with their profiteering, exploitation and hoarding. But, sadly, they are human failures: they either deny or have no realization of their fundamental reality as expressions of Nature, nor of their potential for experiencing true fulfillment as individuals consciously interconnected in a humane socialist net-of-gems.

Don’t get distracted from the fundamentals by trivial details. Everything you need to know about self-realization – the atomic cores of our socialist revolution – was set down in the Upanishads, 2800 years ago. Everything you need to know about self-directed living, whether for meshing amicably with society or slicing through it for just cause – the electro-chemical bonds of integrity, and the forces of material opposition for our socialist revolution – was set down in the Bhagavad Gita, 2300 years ago. Everything you need to know about politics at the street level of pure, hard materialism – the movement-wide actions of our desired socialist revolution in opposition to dictatorial and enslaving moneyed power – was set down by Thucydides 2400 years ago. Everything written since is at best a gloss on the fundamentals already given, encrusted with elaborations on details about the cultures and times those later writings came out of; or they are at worst a complete diversion into varieties of ignorance, whether presented as texts of religious revelation, or advances of political theory. Read the originals and see for yourself.

In summary: each human being is something Nature is doing; realize and celebrate this, and from such realization free your mind from passivating confinement by corporate capitalist infotainment, herding by fear, and want-inducing indoctrination; from that personal mental liberation, direct yourself toward perfecting your character and achieving your full human potential (an endless endeavor); from such self-focused mental independence and moral drive, exercise the bravery of tolerance by seeking to make connections with other people of similar vision and moral drive; and then from your network of such personal connections try to weave yourself into a grander socialist net-of-gems that may in time capture and transform the nation, and perhaps even someday the world.

<><><><><><><>

Cinema Art From 1968 For Today

For me, 1968 was the most consequential year in American history since the end of World War Two. It was a year filled with uplifting superlatives like: the explosion of fierce creativity and variety in popular music and the arts generally, including the premier of that revolutionary television program for as yet unconditioned humans, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; and it was a year filled with disastrous superlatives like: the meat-grinder crescendo of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and the urban riots sparked by anger over King’s murder and America’s stubbornly embedded racism.

I think that in the fifty years since, the U.S. has regressed socially, culturally and intellectually (except in a few important areas regarding the treatment of women and LGTB people) while simultaneously advancing technologically. But, so much of that technological advancement has been skewed and debased with wasteful profit-seeking and idiotic consumerism. We are a country of lowered imagination, aspirations, expectations, hopes and economic opportunities, awash in highly advanced electronic technologies diffusing stupidity and disinformation for continuous mass distraction and disempowerment.

So, I found it bracing and reinvigorating to recently see three movies — playing in theaters this summer of 2018 — that are each masterpieces of or about that time half a century ago, and remain fresh and compelling today.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, a superb and touching documentary about Fred Rogers and his long-running and revolutionary children’s television program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, is actually a film of 2018. Its very existence begs the question: why is such television programming no longer being broadcast daily as a government-funded public service? (I know, commercialism über alles). Among the many amazing stories in this film is that of the overt and explicit anti-war message of Fred Rogers’ TV show in its first week of broadcast, in February 1968, which was during the height of the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War and also the month of the highest rate of fatalities of US soldiers in that war (it was far worse for the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians all the time).

Remember, Fred Rogers aimed his messages against war, against bigotry, about facing death, about dealing with your parents’ divorce, and about many other real world experiences both big and small, to children in the toddler, pre-school, kindergarten and very early grammar school years; amazing!

In being free of the macho insecurities so closely guarded and secreted by so many of America’s outwardly manly men, and with his strength of character and absolute commitment to love and to the respect of children, he remains for me “the strongest man in America.”

“Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously reprinted as a 70mm six channel soundtrack Cinerama spectacular, and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it today (17 August 2018). Not only is this a movie masterpiece, it is one of the great works of art of the 20th century, and it remains an advanced work of conceptual, philosophical and cinema art today, and is likely to remain as such for quite some time to come.

This film conveys a visceral experience of encountering utterly alien intelligence in the unbounded expanse of unworldly space-time, by use of expansive and profound visual imagery combined with lush, majestic and enveloping music — classical music! — and by the use of deep silences and grandly unhurried pacing, which is so alien to our cacophonous myopic zero attention span hamster wheel earthly circus.

This movie rewards whatever exercising of your intellect you engage in as a result, by resonating with your own pondering and speculations on ultimate questions. It was grand immersing myself in this masterpiece again, on the big screen with the big sound, my eyes filled with wonder, my mind abuzz with transcendence.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR_e9y-bka0

YELLOW SUBMARINE premiered 50 years ago. Now, it has been gloriously restored and is once again being shown in selected theaters this summer. We saw it last month, a wonderful experience. See it if you can, on the big screen with the big sound: Beatles music with imaginatively unrivaled animated imagery.

Now more than ever we need the spirit of Yellow Submarine to permeate the populace, because the Blue Meanies are out there in force devastating our world with their dour dumbfounding deadly doofusness. Revolution is first and foremost a matter of heart — many revolutionary good, strong and happy hearts — and this movie has a lot of heart. It also remains an advanced work of art, given the sad reality of our decayed, stagnant and backward culture.

“All you need is love.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOlwwoZLoKE

I don’t want to come across as an old fogy disparaging today’s youth by complaining that “things were better when I was a kid than they are today.” What I do wish to encourage is that people look back with appreciation to the real gems of the not-that-distant past, to both learn from and be heartened by them, and to help today’s vibrant (young!) people to infuse their now-time with heart, love and revolution, and thus help create both artistic and material advances of real human value to our shared national and world societies.

Enjoy!

<><><><><><><>

Epiphany On The Glacier

<><><><><><><><><><><><>

Searching For The Hermit In Vain

I asked the boy beneath the pines.
He said, “The master’s gone alone
Herb-picking somewhere on the mount,
Cloud-hidden, whereabouts unknown.”

— Chia Tao (777-841), translated by Lin Yutang (1)

<><><>

Old now, I feel it more than ever — so good
to be here in the mountains!
Die at the foot of the cliff and even your bones are clean.

— Zen monk Jakushitsu Genko (2)

<><><>

“If only you knew how splendid it is up there, that’s where I want to die.”

“The land looks like a fairytale.”

“Adventure is just bad planning.”

— Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), the first human at the South Pole (and North Pole), speaking: in 1928 about the Arctic, and earlier about his 1911 Antarctic expedition. (3)

<><><><><><><><><><><><>

In the 1985 film series “The Last Place on Earth,” about the race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole, the screenwriters graced the cinematic climax of Amundsen’s success, on 14 December 1911, with fictionalized speech of a Zen-like sparseness and focus that matched the expansiveness and extremity of the scene. Against a visual field of white, the lone figure of the screen Amundsen is seen from a distance walking up to an indistinguishable point in space about which the Earth rotates. How does he feel?, his companions ask; “All I know is, how good it is to be alive.” (4)

During January and February of 1911, Amundsen’s expedition established three supply depots for the return trek from the South Pole, at intervals of about 150 km (93 miles) from their base camp on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf at the Ross Sea. The South Pole is about 1300 km (808 miles) from the Ross Sea. Amundsen’s party for the dash to the South Pole comprised of five men, four sledges and 52 dogs. The five Norwegians departed their base camp on 19 October 1911 and returned 99 days later on 25 January 1912 with only 11 dogs. Amundsen had planned for a 100 day trip.

Scott’s party set off from Cape Evans, 883 miles (1421 km) from the South Pole, on 1 November 1911 with twelve men, ten sledges, ten ponies, and dogs. They established supply depots for the return journey at intervals of about 70 miles (113 km), and as groups of men were no longer needed they were sent back to base camp. By 3 January 1912, Scott’s party was reduced to five men pulling sledges, and no animals (the ponies were butchered for meat). Scott was 169 miles (272 km) from the South Pole and at 10,280 feet (3133 m) elevation. He reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, thirty-four days after Amundsen, and his men were bitterly disappointed at the sight of the Norwegian flag and the many dog tracks around it. The last entry in Scott’s diary was dated 29 March 1912, he and the two men who had survived to that point were found frozen in their tent on the Ross Ice Shelf only 11 miles (18 km) from a large depot, and about 400 km (250 miles) from Cape Evans.

^^^^^

“How good it is to be alive” is both the alpha and omega of insight that some people find when facing the challenge of surviving extreme circumstances. It can be the endpoint of a difficult and dangerous effort; and it can be a rebirth, a new beginning, a way of focusing the mind to the tasks of living and the joy of consciousness, by overcoming fear. This attitude is the psychological buoyancy that frees the mind to direct a person’s full physical and analytical powers to working out the mechanics of survival. Such a person will go further against the opposition of implacable circumstances than a fearful one.

In the stories and poems of Zen and Taoist sages climbing the mountains to experience insight, like the Japanese poet Ryokan (1758-1831), there is usually the implicit suggestion of a subsequent descent. Otherwise, how could the tale have been told? This descent is the second part of the insight on the goodness of life; it is a descent back into the plane of human interaction, it is the goodness of life among other people. “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX). (5)

The dual realization of the “goodness” of consciousness, and that this experience is rooted in and nourished by the field of our interconnected individual psyches, is what some call love.

^^^^^

On Friday the 13th of October 1972, a Fairchild FH-227D twin turboprop airplane chartered from the Uruguayan Air Force by the rugby team of Stella Maris College of Montevideo, Uruguay, the “Old Christians,” crashed high in the Andes Mountains while on route to Santiago, Chile from Mendoza, Argentina, the last leg of their trip. Forty-five people, the young men of the rugby team, some family members and friends, and a flight crew of five had boarded the aircraft. Ten weeks later, sixteen survivors were rescued. The search for survivors had been abandoned after eight days, and the rescue only occurred because two of the survivors had trekked from the crash site on Las Lagrimas Glacier in Argentina at 12,020 feet (3664 m) elevation, up to a ridge crest of the Andes Mountains at 14,774 feet (4503 m), and then descended into the valleys of Chile to 4,676 feet (1425 m) elevation by walking a total of 33.5 miles (54 km) over very rugged and desolate terrain in ten days before finding another human being.

The story has been told in a popular book, “Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,” by Piers Paul Read (6), which was made into a 1993 feature film “Alive, The Miracle of the Andes.” One good English language summary with links to maps of the area appears on the internet at (7), and another site in Spanish gives an extensive presentation, including a day-to-day chronology, which conveys the emotion of the story as Latin Americans would feel it. (8)

The sensational aspect of the story is that in order to survive, the living had to eat the flesh of the dead. The essential element of the story is that the rescue hinged on the determination of one man, Fernando Parrado, to see his father again or die trying; and that his trek out of the mountains only succeeded because of the combined efforts of the group.

Parrado’s mother had died in the crash, and his younger sister eight days later in his arms. The loss of nearly half of his immediate family, the excruciating effort to prolong the group’s survival for sixty days, and then finally his arrival at the ridge 2754 feet (839 m) above the crash site after a three day climb up the steep glacier to see a westward vista of seemingly endless snowy mountains had savagely shocked then forged Parrado to the realization of “how good it is to be alive.” Yes, death in these mountains seemed a certainty, but that apparent certainty did not compel him to surrender. He could choose to use all that was in him to find help and to return to Montevideo to express his love to his father personally, or to approach as near to that goal as the force of circumstance would permit. He had found a vision worth dying for; “how good it is to be alive.”

Of the forty-five people on FAU (Fuerza Aerea Uruguaya) Flight 571, nineteen died during the crash or the first eight days. The remaining twenty-six would dwindle to sixteen and struggle to overcome the tensions of surviving at high altitude on the snow in the wrecked fuselage, without cold-weather clothing and mountaineering gear like boots and dark goggles, with very little food and no medical supplies. Despite the inevitable conflicts and the depressed or debilitating psychological state of some of the people, an effective and admirable level of group cohesion evolved and was applied to the purpose of self-rescue.

It might seem that the commonality of religion (Catholic), class, school, sport and even team would more easily incline individuals to cooperate in unexpected and difficult circumstances. However, it is really personal character that determines the capacity for cooperation under stress, because extreme circumstances can give rise to panic, desperation and despondency, which can easily lead to a lack of judgment, and unthinking selfishness in behavior.

One key result of the group effort was the fabrication of a large, three-person, insulated sleeping bag. The insulation was salvaged from the tail section of the airplane, down the slope of the glacier about a kilometer or two (about 1 mile) from the fuselage; and the bag was sewn by a group of the survivors. When the supply of thread was finished, they had to use wires pulled from the electrical circuits in the fuselage. This sleeping bag enabled Fernando Parrado, Roberto Canessa and Antonio Vizintin to survive the nights during their trek west up the wall of the glacial valley to the crest of the Andes.

It was there that Fernando Parrado had his epiphany. After the sinking dread that came upon seeing the snowy jagged crags of the Andes stretching far out to the west, instead of the lush green valleys of Chile falling away to the Pacific, he accepted the fact of his mortality and awakened to his power to choose how to employ it. About this epiphany, Cynthia Boaz wrote “in the most hopeless of situations, we still have a choice. At its core, Nando’s story demonstrates that we always have a degree of control over our lives, even if that choice is simply defining the terms under which we die. This phenomenon is much more than hopefulness or optimism; it is the manifestation of human agency. It is the essence of empowerment.” (9)

Fernando Parrado describes his moment this way: “My love for my father swelled in my heart and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. It staggered me. The mountains, for all their power, were not stronger than my attachment to my father. They could not crush my ability to love. I felt a moment of calmness and clarity, and in that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Only love can turn mere life into a miracle and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear. For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the godforsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell, I would die that much closer to my father.” This was Thursday, 14 December 1972. (10)

Parrado’s strength of purpose was enough to convince Canessa. Vizintin was sent back — a quick sled ride downhill — to wait with the thirteen others while Parrado and Canessa continued on with all the provisions the three had carried to that point. Six days later, on the 20th, the trekkers made contact with a Chilean horseman tending his cattle. On the 22nd and 23rd, Chilean helicopters brought rescue and medical people to the crash site and ferried the survivors out, two days being necessary because the weather and travel time only permitted one trip per day, and there was a limited carrying capacity.

^^^^^

There are many seasonal and religious themes that can come to the minds of Christians and people of the Americas when reflecting on the story of FAU Flight 571. The most poignant is that of Holy Communion, the sixteen survivors today are literally “the resurrection and the life” of many of their companions. They are a tight knit group who 35 years ago entered a horror during the harvest-time gaiety of pumpkins, Halloween and the Day of the Dead. They endured a ghastly negation of Thanksgiving, and were lifted to salvation for Christmas. Three Kings among them set forth from east to west following the star of Parrado’s vision, which carried the hopes of many and was itself the gift that gave birth to new lives for them all. Their gift to us is their story, reflecting on it can center minds otherwise distracted by the relentless hyper-animated flash of crass commercialism and mawkish religiosity that propels so many from pumpkins to turkeys to Santa Claus to cheap flat champagne with even shallower resolutions for “new” ways of living. The future is a fiction.

^^^^^

The plane in this story was a Fairchild FH-227D, an American built version of the Fokker F27 F. I flew in a Fokker F27 F over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California many times, on trips to and from the Nevada Test Site. Flying at 18,000 feet (5487 m) and looking down, the rocky crags poking through the snow-pack (at about 13,000 feet or 4000 m) are very clear, and the expanse of the desolation — for a marooned unfortunate — is evident. Having been through bumpy flights and frightening storms, it is not hard for me to imagine the experience of the FAU Flight 571 crash.

^^^^^

The majestic inhuman beauty of the Andes made a compelling impression on the FAU Flight 571 survivors, and you, too, can experience it through the photographs of a 2005 expedition to retrace the trek over the crest of the Andes by Parrado and Canessa, on the exact same dates 33 years after the events. (11) The Uruguayan trekkers had no mountaineering experience nor specialized equipment and clothing, there was no trail laid out for them, and they had no maps. Try imagining this as you look at the 2005 pictures. The 2005 expedition was sponsored by National Geographic. (12)

^^^^^

To me, a compelling aspect of this story is how a sense of appreciation and love can grow out of the effort to overcome adversity, and how that in turn can give one a greater psychological stamina. This same theme appears in Zen, and I believe is the essence of Buddhist insight regarding “enlightenment” as opposed to religious superstitions, which can have an uplifting effect on people facing hard times, but which are unreliable because they are a placebo effect based on fantasy.

In his book “Man’s Search For Meaning,” (1946) Viktor Frankl expressed a similar idea. His epiphany was forged by surviving a Nazi concentration camp; he was a Jew. For Frankl, survival demanded that one made a conscious choice to live fully, even happily, despite external circumstances. Again, externalities may control my life and my lifespan, but I can always choose my attitude within my time of consciousness. The attitude that made life as fulfilling as possible, whatever the constraints, was one that saw itself as directed toward a goal greater than oneself. A great love for another person, for one’s family; a desire to preserve and publish original ideas on your field of study (Frankl’s motivation); a desire to produce art, literature or some invention you can visualize; these are all examples of what could motivate a person to “live through anything” or die trying. Frankl saw humans as having an innate need to create something of personal meaning out of the physical and mental labor of their lives. If individuals can bring this insight to consciousness and make it specific to their particular lives, they would be as steeled as any human could become to face the buffeting by reality.

What Parrado and Frankl express about their epiphanies may simply be particular examples of Novalis’ elegant presentation of Heraclitus’ aphorism “Character is fate.”

^^^^^

On a less elevated level, a sort of Marxian view of the FAU Flight 571 story would be that in the extremes of scarcity, group action and sharing rather than resource competition and inequity have to be the rule to survive. Yet, despite this there is no loss of individuality, in fact it seems to flower as each person discovers their niche in the collective endeavor. There could also be an element of dismal math here, when there simply isn’t anything, then everyone is “poor” and thus “equal.”

If we look at the Andes story as a microcosm of humanity in a world with a decaying environment, then we could say the lesson is that cooperative attitudes must precede any ability to respond effectively — globally — to halt and then repair environmental damage. Otherwise, I suppose we could hope that as environmental damage becomes more widespread and threatening we will all be drawn together into a more cooperative frame of mind, though this is a rather unappealing form of hope. The analogy does not preclude the possibility that humanity will simply kill itself off unnecessarily through blind, obstinate stupidity. One need only drop names like Cheney and Bush to make this point.

The FAU Flight 571 story — as a story for us — pivots on a realization of happiness by Fernando Parrado that relieved him of any anxiety about the inevitability and near eventuality of his own death. The external reality remained unchanged, and it was crushing and cruel, but he had changed. All the survivors had to have this experience to some degree. The escape was as much a shedding of psychological restraints as it was a trek out of the wilderness; survival was transformation, it was a release of one’s former self. I think this is the essence of the “happiness” that is signified in Thomas Jefferson’s phrase “pursuit of happiness,” and I think the reality upon which this “happiness” is based for any individual is their solidarity or “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” with the sea of individuals that surrounds them as our communities, societies and nations. Happiness is simply caring for others who care for you, and wealth can only be the extent of that mutual affection. The political structures of a population with this attitude would necessarily be socialist. So, happiness is solidarity, and solidarity is the objective of Socialism. George Orwell put the matter this way:

“I suggest that the real objective of Socialism is not happiness. Happiness hitherto has been a by-product, and for all we know it may always remain so. The real objective of Socialism is human brotherhood. This is widely felt to be the case, though it is not usually said, or not said loudly enough. Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail merely confuses the issue.” — George Orwell (“Can Socialists be Happy?” 24 December 1943)

“Love is the final goal of world history – the One of the universe.”
— Novalis (1772-1801)

Enjoy your time in the wild, behind every ridge is a marvelous vista.

NOTES

[1] This poem opens Alan Watts’ book Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown, a “mountain journal” (1973, Random House). It is a series of essays written between 1968 and 1972.

[2] This poem opens Jack Turner’s book Teewinot, Climbing and Contemplating the Teton Range. (2000, St. Martin’s Press)

[3] Map of Amundsen and Scott routes to the South Pole in 1911-1912
The Fram Museum,
http://www.fram.museum.no/en/default.asp?page=158

[4] The Last Place On Earth,
a 1985 film series based on Roland Huntford’s book with the same title,
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088551/

[5] “Man is a social animal” (Aristotle, “Ethics,” IX, IX)
http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/LitNote/id-21,pageNum-116.html

[6] Piers Paul Read, Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors,
(1974, Avon Books/J. B. Lippincott, Inc.) ISBN 0-380-00321-X

[7] Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, The Crash and Rescue,
wikipedia,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uruguayan_Air_Force_Flight_571#The_crash_and_rescue

[8] Alexis J. Scarantino, El Milagro De Los Andes,
http://www.carlitospaez.com/elmilagrodelosandes/

[9] Cynthia Boaz, Thoughts About the True Miracle in the Andes,
14 October 2007,
http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/101407A.shtml

[10] Fernando Parrado with Vince Rause,
Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, (2006, Crown Publishers)

[11] Ricardo Peña and James Vlahos,
National Geographic Adventure Expedition December, 2005,
Alpine Expeditions,
http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/ngc_adventure/index.html, http://www.alpineexpeditions.net/photos/ngc_adventure2/index.html

[12] Alive, Retracing The Survivors Daring Escape,
April 2006, National Geographic Adventure,
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/alive/survivors-expedition.html

Acknowledgment: Thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair for recommending Jack Turner’s book.

[Published by Counter Punch on 21 November 2007]

Dawning Minds, Fading Love, and Opera

The diffuse light falling through the calm air over the hills east of San Francisco Bay on this early August afternoon beguile the mind to contemplate larger themes with wider perspective. Recently, I saw and heard Jake Heggie’s opera, The End Of The Affair, (based on the novel by Graham Greene) in a production by West Edge Opera, in Berkeley. I find this story similar to that of Frank Waters’ novel The Woman At Otowi Crossing, and also somewhat similar to W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

The themes I see here are: the fading of romantic and selfish love in the presence of expanding consciousness; the fading of ambition, and the evolution of equanimity as awareness expands beyond the narrow confines of social convention and economic utility. In each of The End Of The Affair and The Woman At Otowi Crossing the spiritual growth or awakening of cosmic consciousness is experienced by a women, and the counter-pressures to that by the mechanistic and commercial facets of industrialized civilization are represented by male characters. The sexes are reversed for these roles in The Razor’s Edge, with Larry Darrell (a traumatized World War I pilot) experiencing the awakening, and Isabel Bradley, Larry’s clever and scheming ex-fiancé, as that novel’s major agent of conventionality.

Graham Greene portrayed the spiritual awakening of his fictional Sarah Miles as Catholic mysticism. Frank Waters’ portrayed the awakening of cosmic consciousness by his fictional Helen Chalmers as an intuitive arrival at Buddhistic nirvikalpa samadhi, as influenced by her immersion in the American Southwest with ancient Pueblo Indian mysticism permeating New Mexico. Graham Greene’s image of conventionality is of stodgy pre-war British society now evidently outmoded in the aftermath of World War II, while Frank Waters’ image of frantic and inhumanly reductionist American utilitarianism is given by the story of the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos.

W. Somerset Maugham has his fictional Larry Darrell achieve his samadhi in the mountains of Nepal, Siddhartha Gautama’s own country, and Maugham has Isabel personify all the pressures of conforming to the economic rat race in expectations of achieving the American Dream of social status with a lucrative job, and a popular family expansively housed in a tony neighborhood.

Jake Heggie’s opera The End Of The Affair appeared in 2004, and Stephen Paulus’ opera The Woman At Otowi Crossing appeared in 1995. I am not aware of any opera based on The Razor’s Edge. I like and recommend the 1946 movie of The Razor’s Edge, with Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, Herbert Marshall and Anne Baxter. I have neither seen nor heard the Paulus opera mentioned, so I cannot comment on it. However, I think the Frank Waters’ novel is so good that it could easily support several operatic interpretations. After all, Puccini’s La bohème was the second opera version of Henri Murger’s fragmentary novel of 1851, Leoncavallo had already composed a La bohème opera before 1896.

I should think that The Razor’s Edge could easily support an extensive operatic interpretation. Perhaps the right combination of creative impulses and copyright-holder approvals will eventually occur for such an opera to appear.

I think that the theme of the melting of conventional attachments during the emergence of cosmic consciousness could inspire the composition of very deep and enrapturing music, and affecting theatrical presentation. Put together, this would be great opera.