Saturday, August 31, 2013


Googling up a storm here -- my only prob with it is that I’ve got a bad case of TB (tired butt) from this “guaranteed comfy” office chair.  My joy with this is cross-pollinating YouTubes.  So here’s an idea that budded out of two of them seen consecutively.

I’m using Helen Fisher’s theory of the three categories of love (not the classic Christian four) to analyze the homophobia in Uganda.  The plain fact is that in Uganda homophobia is so strong that a law to kill homosexual people (usually assumed to be men) is seriously considered.  I don’t know what its current state is but it is ferociously insisted upon by forces in the country.  Individuals are forced to live underground but continue to meet and network.

Helen Fisher is not a psychologist but is interesting to them because of the present enthusiasm for technological access to brain neurology.  In her TED talk, she quickly skips through three types of love I will describe in my own way.  First, the raw lust of the sex drive which rises up from the deepest and oldest part of the brain:  the foundation of survival for the group.  If, as one man worried, 80% of Ugandans became gay, the country might wither.  (HIV-AIDS was not mentioned but surely it is the death shadow behind this idea.)

Second, romantic love is cultural, a matter of story and expectations, and though many people will share the same ideas, is often quite individual or about individuals who break society’s expectations.  A story about a gay man in Uganda struggling to maintain his love for another man would fit this.  

Third, there is attachment, which Fisher defines as the commitment that allows people to persist in raising their families or doing some kind of work or devoting themselves to a country or institution.  It’s not necessarily sexual.  Personally, I have problems managing attachment, but maybe not what you would expect.  I attach too easily, too “hard,” and in contexts that turn out not to fit.   Nor can I turn it off.  This is the opposite of the common complaint about people who never attach to anything or anyone, so they simply float.  But it would be a mistake to think that attaching to something abstract is not attachment.

Understandably, the Ugandans are attached to their lives, their country, and -- in the obvious case of some of the politicians -- their status.  The same is true of Scott Mills, the gay BBC DJ who bravely went to investigate Uganda.  The difference between Ugandans and Mills is that the Ugandans are in a defensive mental space: they live inside mental walls built by missionaries and have been taught that if they accept new ideas, they will be destroyed.  Mills is able to look at all ideas without worrying about what they will do to him as ideas -- only what physical consequences, like death, might be attached.  Both want the same thing in a way: ideas that will confirm them in their lives, but the Ugandans insist on preventing change and Mills reaches out to see what change might bring.  The greatest irony, of course, is that Ugandans are utterly changed from what they were before missionaries arrived.

Here’s where I make my “swerve.”  At a recent funeral for a friend whose world overlaps mine in a small way, I sat next to a woman who worked with delinquent girls.  There was no obvious question about them being girls, mostly sexually active (without specifics), but it’s always unclear what “delinquent” means.  Some of her girls were in an institution where she worked with groups and some were individuals who came to her in a private practice.  The difference had to do with the way the law treated them: if they were considered criminals, they were locked up.  Otherwise they were merely stigmatized and possibly not fully functional in society.  Maybe had no family or a partial or foster family.  No income, no dependable food and/or shelter.  They might have babies.  They have a lot of romantic fantasies.

I was trying to describe what I thought they might be like and suggested that they probably attached to her and each other in deep and almost desperate ways.  She agreed that this was typical, that search for a dependable and intimate human relationship, and then said, intensely, “And I attach to them as well.  In fact, I miss them very much right now, but I wanted to come up here to honor this friend who just died.”  I was impressed.

In Uganda and in the United States as well we constantly confuse two four-letter words:  Love and Fuck.  Romance and attachment get left out.  It is a cliché that women demand love in order to fuck, so men simulate love in order to fuck.  (No one has a snappy saying about “Attachment”.)  We feel that love legitimates lust; lust is the only logical consummation of love.  This excludes parent/child nurture, mentor/apprentice relationships, friends working towards a common goal, and even love of one’s country.  

Fisher was mostly talking about Romantic Love, which shows up in an MRI as desire, craving, cocaine addiction, gambling, striving, risking.  Focused mating energy, needy, specific, engulfing.  She’s looking for the underlying hormonal patterns that trigger love-at-first-sight.  She figures there are four kinds interplaying: dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone.  At this point I leave her creating computer questionnaires for a dating service.  Right. 

I’m looking at something different: for one thing, I think fear hormones (adrenaline which is by definition an arousal) or the nurturing hormone (oxytocin) will both foster attachment.  It strikes me that these are the hormones that account for reaching out to others in a way beyond self-interest.  And it seems to me that even abstract phenomena like patriotism or religious faith can also be romantic loves.  I watch Scott Mills in Uganda, becoming grateful (what hormone is that?) or terrified (oh, we recognize the adrenaline), and I see that he’s reaching out towards these Ugandans and some of them are reaching back.  

But there are some so sealed into their magic addiction to their own ideas that they can’t take in what they see right in front of them.  They say,  “I have never met a homosexual.”  Mills says, “I am one.”  They say, “No homosexual was born that way.”  Mills says, “I was.”  They are dumb-founded.  Rather than be wrong, they send the police to arrest, confine and even kill Mills.  They are in love with themselves and their own ideas and, as the saying goes, “love is blind.”   They do not know the rest of the planet and they have no intention of finding out anything about it. 

A smaller swerve.  In the romantic fiction of the West when the frontier was dangerous and full of people who thought about the world in quite different ways, there are two means by which people become intimate.  One is by surviving danger together and the other is by nurturing each other -- maybe the symbolic gunshot wound.  Attachment forms.  It might NOT involve sex, because I think Fisher is right about attachment being different from both sex and romantic love.   The expression of the attachment might not even require physical presence -- it can be in letters or memory -- but it will not be easy to shake.   In the evening I’ve been watching McMurtry’s “The Road to Laredo,” which is a web of attachments, some of them hate-based and some of them very much love-based.  Not much sex.  Lots of romance.  The usual quota of violence.  

The Ugandan use of fear and punishment, of singling out people to persecute, does nothing but romanticize gays, create stories, fill people with adrenaline and oxytocin as they try to save each other, cause them to attach to each other instead of to the country.  The bullies are defeating themselves.


A much better review of Sherry Smith’s “Hippies, Indians and the Fight for Red Power”  was published at  David Farber wrote it. What I mean by “better” is that it is more measured and addresses Smith as academic-to-academic, because this is an academic book based on written archives and formal interviews.  That’s not my turf.  I chose ONE tribe (Blackfeet) fifty years ago and most of what I know comes from first-hand experience.  Not bigshots, just whoever was here when I was here, including now.

Smith’s idea is to understand how Indians and their supporters came together to make social change on big occasions, one chapter for each.  They are:

Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River  (Nisqually)

Alcatraz Island in San Francisco (pan-tribal)

The commune country of northern New Mexico (Hopi, Navajo)

The BIA building in Washington, D.C.  (pan-tribal)

Wounded Knee Village on the Pine Ridge reservation (Sioux)

Oddly, or perhaps because of the way Smith researched, the “tribe” that comes out looking good is the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee).  My own denominational affiliation during this time was Unitarian Universalist.  (Like many Blackfeet, I couldn’t make a living on the rez so I had gone back to Portland.  I found the UU church in 1975.)  The UU’s, often fellow travelers with the AFSC, pretty much stayed clear.  They had suffered major trauma over black and Vietnam issues, but also -- I found after I had entered the UU ministry -- they were mostly progressive, urban, liberal people who could NOT understand Indians except in the most literary terms.

In 1976 my Portland UU minister, Alan Deale, knowing my background, asked for advice.  Dennis Banks, Russ Redner and Kenneth Loudhawk (with others) had been arrested while driving a Winnebago loaded with unstable nitroglycerine in eastern Oregon.  They were lucky that this happened in a far different political climate.   They were released on bail.   Deale had been asked to be the person to whom they reported daily and he wanted feedback about “Indians” from me.  My sympathies were with them, though I thought driving around in a hot climate with a load of explosives was pretty ill-advised.  In fact, the sheriff of the impounding county was so nervous that he ended up taking it out into the sagebrush and exploding it.  This offered a way out of a very “hot” trial, since there was now no evidence and that particular case was dismissed.

However, Banks was still wanted in connection with the death of Annie Mae Pictou Aquash and it was unclear what Oregon would do about extradition to South Dakota.  It was certainly clear to the rest of us what South Dakota would do to Banks.  Governor Jerry Brown in California would not extradite, so Banks ran for sanctuary.  The sympathetic old lady who had put up the sizable bail lost her money, but Deale managed to get her reimbursed through connections within the UUA realm.

There were funny blunders in the practicalities.  Banks gave a very Vine DeLoria Jr. - type “sermon” one Sunday and the Loudhawk and Redner group served fry bread during the traditional coffee hour afterwards.  They understood UU’s as “granolas,” so the frybread was whole wheat.  When I teased the women -- really little more than kids -- their eyes went big for fear that they had broken some rule.  That’s the use of teasing on a rez.

But when there was an appeal for food, I loaded up a box of what I considered to be “pow-wow food” -- hamburger, eggs, oranges and Sailor Boy hardtack -- and they were at a loss.  There was too much of it for them to eat in a few days and they had no freezer, so what would they do with all that meat?  They were urban people and I was used to rural culture.  On the rez there would be no problem at all, because everyone’s relatives would be over to share in the feast.  But if you live in ghetto apartments, you don’t let people know what you have.  Anyway, you might end up living in your truck.  No fridge.  I should have loaded them up with canned food and packaged cookies.  

What impressed some UU people most was that Kenneth Loudhawk’s father showed up and he was one of those solid, grave, intelligent people that every culture depends upon.   The other point of connection was parades: every UU dearly loves a demonstration.  These things don’t generally show up in journalistic accounts or scholarly aggregations of names, dates and so on.  No one would read this book for the pure adventure of it.  It’s not “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” though Smith’s account of the book’s influence is pretty good IMHO.  This is like Paul Rosier’s book about the Blackfeet -- hard to read, but an indispensable reference work if you’re doing old-fashioned history: names and dates, quotes, and so on.

I was off the rez between 1973 and 1982 but being in Portland gave me the chance to attend speeches by prominent NA writers: Erdrich, DeLoria, Welch, Sarris, Alexie, et al.  Every summer I went back to Browning where things got more and more tense.  Since I wasn’t risking property or my person and since I was contemptuous of the constant FBI whispering campaign and since most of the AIM people on the rez were former students, I saw things quite differently from Bob Scriver and the other white townspeople, a dwindling group once the BIA began to use Indian preference in hiring.  The small town whites had come after WWII and were aging out, simply locking the door on their businesses.  

In the morning I’d take my mail down to the Red Crow Kitchen and sort it in a booth while I had breakfast.  At one table sat the white locals and at a booth across the room sat the AIM prominants and fellow-travelers.  I’d eavesdrop, then on the way out stop off to exchange a few words with each group.  Except for their points of view, they sounded remarkably similar.  The dominance/submission dynamics that are in every society were palpable but never flared high enough for violence at breakfast.  The kind of woman who runs a cafe on a rez does not tolerate any behavior that will interfere with business. 

Anyway, the two groups justified each other.  Each needed the other to brace against, to make their lives seem bold and romantic instead of the constant pursuit of small profits.  A couple on the white side helped to keep the lid on.  Paul Kingston came to Browning as a priest, stepped out to secular life, married a nun, Barbara, who was his equal in dedication and faith, and raised a set of exceptional kids.  They have been a stabilizing force for good by example and faithfulness to both their God and their community without being overbearing or sentimental.  For income they run a Subway franchise.

In fact, both Curley Bear Wagner and Buster Yellow Kidney, both gone on ahead now, gradually evolved from politics to a kind of shamanism, looking for the values of ancestors.  They made money from it but it’s hard to blame them for that.  Maybe it’s more problematic that they distracted interested parties from the real-world politics and institutional templates that still pin down tribal people, but are now being addressed.

Smith’s previous book was “Reimagining Indians” which reviewed individuals (mostly men) who had interfaced between whites and Indians.  I took offense at her depiction of Walter McClintock, whose “The Old North Trail” tells me more than Ewers’ official history of the tribe.  She seemed to want to take down most of the people in the book, all of which were prominent in their time.  Her “take” appeared to be heavily post-colonial and hard-line feminist, though it was all well-researched.  This new book is mellower.  

Curley Bear in a mellow mood.

Friday, August 30, 2013


Many people are focused tightly on the disease caused by human immunodeficiency syndrome or HIV.  This is because research is traditionally done in this way and because people are driven to stop the specific suffering and death of human beings due to HIV.  But many other issues and patterns are connected to HIV.  My interest is in the big picture of the entangled bits of the surface of the planet and sometimes in the forces inside the planet that produce geological events.  As well as these physical links and ruptures, I try to think about social cultural patterns that derive from them and contribute to them.  Therefore, I’m interested in the primate origin of HIV, the changing human patterns that transformed SIV into HIV, the resulting reactions of societies around the world as the virus reached them, all the previous pandemics we know about, and the social forces that prevent scientific knowledge and ordinary compassion from saving people.

The Decameron of Boccaccio is a collection (decameron) of stories presumably told by a small group self-quarantined during the great plague that swept Europe, reducing the population by one-third.  My mother survived the Spanish Flu (though her doctor did not) but I don’t know of an anthology that resulted.  It killed 2 to 3% of the population of the planet, reaching even into the Arctic.  Ten percent of the American prairie population died.  The demographic was the same as soldiers: the best and the strongest, because it was not the LACK of immunity, but a sudden burst of SUPER immunity that killed people.  The homeostasis of immunity, which is a stream between the two banks of too-much and too-little, is deadly when over either limit.

The origin of the Black Plague was microbes carried on fleas riding on black rats which may have followed the Silk Trade into Europe.  Most flu epidemics come from the mixing of birds with pigs, which have a physiology much like humans.  The birds are air travel.  (When pigs fly.)  In both cases, plague (which persists in rodent fleas of Asia but is now curable with drugs) and flu (which is a virus and therefore not susceptible to most drugs) were closely linked with human travel patterns for trade or war.

This is also true of smallpox. The history of smallpox extends into pre-history; the disease likely emerged in human populations about 10,000 BC [when livestock was domesticated].  The earliest credible evidence of smallpox is found in the Egyptian mummies of people who died some 3000 years ago. During the 18th century the disease killed an estimated 400,000 Europeans each year, including five reigning monarchs, and was responsible for a third of all blindness. Between 20 and 60% of all those infected—and over 80% of infected children—died from the disease.  When Europeans brought the disease to America, it had the same consequences, but worse.

The following information is from a paper written in 2005, which means it’s out-of-date, but it still gets the idea across that African primates and monkeys of many kinds have SIV and that the origins are very ancient.  Gorillas have passed SIV, as HIV, to humans in a small area.  Monkey-originated HIV has affected more people, and the main origin of the Euro-American HIV is from chimps.  Given a chance, all primates eat other primates, but maybe gorillas less so than the others.  It’s a puzzle to me that if SIV and HIV are transmittable by sex, why do bonobos seem to escape?  They are the most human-like and the most constantly sexual.  Is it because all the bonobos who were susceptible died a long time ago -- so now being a bonobo means inheriting immunity?  People who eat a lot of bush meat carry blood markers of many versions of SIV.  One tribe of human pygmies carries almost all of them but seems immune to not only SIV but also HIV.   

Simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs) are primate lentiviruses [lente = slow] that infect no fewer than 36 different nonhuman primate species in sub-Saharan Africa. Two of these viruses, SIVcpz from chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and SIVsmm from sooty mangabeys (Cercocebus atys), have crossed species barriers on multiple occasions and have generated human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) types 1 and 2. . .   “We Were Here.”  
This link is to a University of California Television Osher Center for Integrative Medicine hour and a half movie about the origin and history of AIDS, reaching back centuries until it goes crazy in San Francisco about 1981 and begins wiping out a community of men who came to join a movement expressing freedom, esp. in terms of MSM sex.  Survivors tell their stories in a kind of national “decameron.”  
Because of the kinds of communities, these men -- and the women who were also there --have a particular kind of story to tell.  Many linked sex with love (this is probably as much physiological (in-born) as psychological (cultural).  They took care of each other before anyone even knew what was going on.  These were guys who broke barriers, who challenged the status quo, who had come from all over the planet to participate in a revolution.  It wasn’t just about free love -- it was about freedom from assumptions.  When I look at all the faces, it often strikes me how similar they are demographically to the WWII photos of soldiers.  When the plague hit, the veterans -- now doctors, professors, and researchers -- at once set to work on the problem of AIDS. 
When AIDS jumped from the West Coast to the East Coast and hit the artistic and bohemian population, a highly political bunch who knew a holocaust when they saw one, the reaction was much sharper and more violent.  Gay liberation broadened and intensified at the same time.  It is the combination of both modes of response (love and fighting back) that has brought us -- at least most of us -- to a new understanding of human relationships.  Now we are up against a similar revolution that is about whether economic patterns can be kept from killing people just as AIDS has -- is.  We see that poverty, hunger, unjust law, stupid priorities, and so on are fanning the flames of an AIDS pandemic into a holocaust of the world as we know it.
Nothing is more contagious than ideas, but some populations around the world have not “caught” ideas that would protect them from fear.  They are still infected with what one writer calls “the culture of persecution,” which he figures arose in Europe about 1100 AD, probably as a reaction to the plague.  It is a meme pattern that promotes fear by pointing to culprits and trying to eliminate them as sources of contagion.  But we see many of the Inquisitors secretly indulging their obsession: J. Edgar Hoover cross-dressing, super-conservative politicians unzipping, teenagers persecuting other teens.  The mysterious draw of wickedness.

The homeostasis of culture is not different from any other limits of survival.  Too much persecution and the culture will kill itself, a kind of auto-immunity.  Failure to identify dangers and resolve them before they kill the vulnerable is also to lose the culture.  These are the shores of survival. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Giancarlo Biagi is the editor of “Sculpture Review” which is the official magazine of the National Sculpture Society.  In the Spring of 2013 issue his editorial was about this sculpture, which is called “Crouching Aphrodite.”  It’s in the Louvre, is a little bit over a yard high and was probably created about 250 BC.  Obviously, it is broken, but the particular way it is broken -- the woman losing arms and head and the child losing all but the little hand in the middle of her back -- is extremely evocative.

What it called up in me was a memory of several years ago when a friend was going through a very hard time.  I wanted to offer support, I was thousands of miles away, I knew this friend only via books and email, and I didn’t want to say anything sexual.  So I said, “Imagine that my hand is resting on your back.”  It became a sign-off: “my hand on your back.”  Sometimes “my hand on your shoulder.”  To me it was very real.

When we talk about paintings, we talk about “frames,” and we notice that a change of frame can make an image look different, so the phrase “re-framing” has been claimed by the counseling community to mean looking at the same thing in a new way, to see if this will give new insight.  Sculptures don’t have frames, but they do have points of view, and I once read a wonderfully insightful analysis of Rodin sculptures in terms of how they seem to move when you circle them, the sequence of points of view revealing potential shifts over time.  But I never read anything much about the effect on people of so many ancient sculptures being broken.  Maybe the Venus de Milo, the woman who is missing only her arms, is the most famous.  Biago continued to think about fragments and truncations and so the Summer, 2013, is also about partial sculptures of bodies.  Also, sculptures of partial bodies.

There are no headless people wandering around, but as wars and drunk driving take their toll -- particularly UED’s -- we become more used to people with limbs missing. In addition there is a whole category of people who were born without limbs, because their mothers took thalidomide during their pregnancy.  I recently saw a TED talk by Nick Vujicic  He’s a motivational speaker, but he doesn’t “tag” as thalidomide victim.  Because he doesn’t see himself as a victim now.  It was tough as a kid, because other kids bullied him.  But now he’s handsome, smart, married, and has a career as a speaker and resource. 

Alison Lapper and son

On the cover of the Summer, 2013, issue of “Sculpture Review” is Marc Quinn’s statue of “Alison Lapper Pregnant” and there is a major story inside about this series of works that are portraits of people with “phocomelia” which is the technical name for people whose limbs failed to develop.   They are white, in marble, to echo found partial sculptures from antiquity.  To some they are shocking and shameful; to others they are beautiful, full of hope and love.  Though many of the sculptures from antiquity had lost their sexual organs (in some cases it looks like penises were add-ons anyway), these statues of Quinn’s are intact.  These people have head, heart, guts and genitalia.  If you are the sort of person who becomes interested in the model as much or more than the portrait, Lapper is an artist herself, has written a book, successfully gave birth to the boy-child she was carrying and is proud of him as a normal teenager.  (If there is such a thing.)

Biagi asks us to consider the tradition of bust portraits -- just the heads.  He also reminds us of Rodin, who said,  “Recently I have taken to isolating limbs, the torso.  Why am I blamed for this?  Why is it allowed the head and not portions of the body?  Every part of the human figure is expressive.  And is not an artist always isolating, since in Nature nothing is isolated?  When my works do not consist of the complete body, people call it unfinished.  What do they mean?  Michelangelo’s finest works are precisely those which are called ‘unfinished.’ ”
Michelangelo: Slave

We might reframe “fragmentation” as a metonymy. (The formal name of using a figure of speech that is a part that stands for a whole -- Ogi Ogas says one of the problems with categorizing their porn-viewing data was that “pussy” stands for both a person and a part of a person -- evidently not many actual cats in the study.)  Then fragments could be sorted according to whether the part was once included in something bigger, whether it is part of something that is as yet incomplete, what it implies in terms of what it would be if it were completed, and so on.  Fragmentation is a real thing that points to a potential whole thing.

Is a person whose legs were amputated a fragment?   Is a person born without any legs a fragment?  What makes a person whole anyway -- most of us would be pleased to think that the wholeness of a person is a matter of mental and emotional development and not the state of a body.  Was the poet in “The Sessions” more whole after he had been initiated into sex?  He said so.  What are other markers of completeness?

Or is “whole” the same thing as “complete”?  We are happy these days to say that a person is a process.  If so we will never be finished until death: that’s as whole or complete as a person could get, and yet people don’t usually say they aspire to be dead.  They don’t generally even say they’re as good at whatever they do now as they could possibly be.  One is always a part striving to be whole.  But then age or illness or trauma CAN make you feel like a fragment.

How to hold your baby if you have no arms.

And yet there is something beguiling about a fragment: it is a puzzle piece.  Even the people born with no limbs can have an integrity and wholeness of purpose that we admire.  Nick Vujicic presented from a raised table or dais that he rocked back and forth on; he leaned, pointed with his shoulders, nearly danced with his torso.  He told about how something spontaneous happened with children who approached him.  They would put their hands behind their backs to imitate him, and then “hug” him with their necks, tucking their throats under his ear.  They “re-framed” themselves into being the same so they could relate to him on his terms.

Michelangelo’s unfinished works, formally called “non finito,” are usually slaves shown emerging from blocks of stone.  They may have been left that way on purpose.  Usually it is the front that is carved and the back is still in rough stone, so it’s impossible to rest a hand on their backs.  That’s a shame, because it was my experience that as much as I had intended to lend support, in the end a powerful current of life was coming back through my baby hand.  In the case of the Rodin torsos, a museum guard would have to watch carefully to keep me from putting my hand or even my head against those bronze chests, expecting to hear heartbeats.

Rodin torso

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Deep experience is not that different, I think, from Maslow’s “peak experience,” which seems to be back in public consciousness again.  The effervescence (explosion is too big a word) of the newer neurosciences -- not just the technological perception of molecular nerve function but also the patterns discovered by computer analysis of mega-statistical accumulations such as internet behavior records -- reminds me very much of the blossoming psych theories of the Seventies when I was just staggering out of a very intense relationship.  

For me, taking the Maslowian approach of looking for what makes people happy and healthy (which, after all, was only pushing forward the Menninger pattern, though the latter was concentrating on “maturity” instead of fulfillment) gave me a place to start.  Erikson’s evolution of the individual from birth to death was helpful, Perl’s counterphobic confrontations, Rogers’ value of empathy as the basis of relationship, Winnicott’s formation of self in relation to others -- all these were miles and miles beyond my undergrad psych classes, which were merciless examinations of rats in glass boxes.  Deep experience is a confirmed, valuable, manageable phenomenon, perhaps the most purely human capacity there is -- so far.

How do institutions capture deep experience?  Call it faith or call it patriotism or even call it falling in love -- all three become captured in religions, nations and marriage. These common social structures (usually built on an economic foundation) use deep experience to capture people.  Institutions are ways of capturing “territory” (actual or virtual or a combination of both) in structured, stabilized systems for the sake of safety, predictability, and therefore profit.  If deep experience dissipates, then usually habit or peer pressure or self-interest will take over, but sometimes it seems necessary to use force and punishment. 

In American society today we are kept in our places by barrages of advertising that model how we should be, what rewards and punishments will ensue, and various stories illustrating those.  Underneath this “mainstream” is always an undercurrent of counter-culture, parasitical culture, experimental individuals and small specialized groups.  These alternative “ways” are closely related to the ecology and to economic niches created by the larger stream.

To make a quick list, religions and nations (and marriage which is a merging of both to keep households orderly, solvent and contributing) use the following means of creating allegiance:

aesthetics:  is it beautiful
brain function: you can’t do what you can’t think
affiliation: with whom do you belong
individual psych patterns: what has life taught you so far
community: where is everyone going
protection: help me out here
stories:  and then what might happen
writing:  recording rules, decisions, bookkeeping

All of these means use content drawn from the ecology and the ways people relate to it.  Thus, the surface of the planet is covered by a mosaic of various human arrangements.  A religion or government developed to fit one place will not necessarily work in another -- in fact, probably not.  But the constant is the human part: if it is true of most or all humans, it will work.  Often these are family patterns, or child-raising practices.

Governing institutions merge with religion to exclude some people, punish others, control behavior with laws and criminalization, and set norms of behavior.  For a nation to function, it must submerge religious dissension, often by ruling it irrelevant.

At the root of both is basic turf protection, the impulse of all living beings to survive by protecting their environment and claiming whatever they need.  Not every living being is driven to expand, to claim more land, more followers, more profit, more domination, but many are.  When it comes to institutions, the drive to dominate seems far more powerful than the drive to submit, though they always go together.  A general cannot dominate the battle without the voluntary obedience and submission of his subordinates.  Though there is a sense in which governing institutions (nations, cities, the securities exchange, the United Nations) have a virtual element (waving flags, brass bands, statues of idealized personification, images of heaven and hell) they tend to be pretty much earthly.

Religion can trump anything of this real world by claiming an imaginary virtual world that seems so powerful as to cause a change of heart: the promise of a better place or the threat of everlasting punishment.  If a religion can use the eight elements listed above to make this happen, it can overpower governments.  The trouble is that then there is chaos, unless the church has an infrastructure capable of taking on the functions of a nation.  Most of them are not able to deal with matters outside their own turf, and their method of keeping order inside the nation might be simply elimination of all competition and difference.  

This, of course, causes something they cannot see because of the smallness of their vision. It makes them vulnerable to the capacity of every other nation to generate prosperity by providing options and a rich inspirational life.  Violence, fear, and threats -- all demand huge economic resources while diminishing the impulse to experiment, reach out and grow.  All force-based nations must fail, particularly if they are rooted in punishment-based religions.

I come from a mildly progressive background that believed in cooperatives, pluralism, and democracy -- not just in the sense of being guided by majority vote but also in the sense of protecting dissent as a valuable growing edge.  To an authoritarian government this “reads” as weakness and confusion.  Indian reservations are a good example of a population where three-handed institutional power (tribe, BIA, state) and multiple styles and goals full of exploitable gradients have been both the strength (because no one can grab the snake by the throat -- there are too many of them) and the weakness (they go off in every unpredictable direction).  This is not necessarily negative.

Deep experience, when described as Native American spirituality, is ascribed to reservation lands and religious practices.  People come hoping to find a guide to achieving something life-changing, but it is a circle.  Deep experience is not in a place or a protocol: it is in the perceiving human.  If those people would simply change their own lives -- perhaps using the Ericson steps, the Perls confrontation, the Winnicott tenderness, the Rogers empathy, and so on -- then deep experience would come to them.  As AA recommends, the first step is surrender of the craving for power.

What may trump all our games of “Let’s You and Him Fight,” (Eric Byrne’s “Games People Play” from that same favorite era) is the great glory of the cosmos and the devastating endangerment of this little planet.  These are pushing the realignment of both government and religion, human by human.

If one’s culture is based on guarding resources, claiming turf, excluding intruders, then it becomes important to preserve one’s literal life along with everything else.  Then immortality is just another form of hoarding, wanting to have bigger, higher, more, even after death and to be deserving of it.

If one’s culture is based on relationship with everything else -- other people, other creatures, other lands to the extent that you can know them -- then the feeling that everything is going on, an enduring process that includes your influence on them, your attachment to them, then a view of death that is a dispersal through the cosmos, dissolving into it, a generosity, is satisfying.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Instead of sitting me down for The Talk, my parents left a lot of books for young people around -- the kind with diagrams of plumbing and information so tactful that it was inscrutable.  But they did succeed in establishing that books and sex went together.  A book on the shelf that they had evidently never read or had forgotten was there was “Boccaccio’s Tales” which make Chaucer look like family fare.  I read it carefully.  Sometimes I couldn't "get it."

My father was also curious about sex, so he kept his underwear drawer stocked with the landmark academic books on the subject.  Just approaching puberty, I read them -- I’m not entirely sure he didn’t know I was doing that.  The first I read was Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” which made me blush every time I looked at anything perpendicular, and the second was Kraff-Ebing, which was about what we call today “kink.”  Then there was Kinsey and finally Masters and Johnson.  To put this in context, to my mind this was not different from reading the Revised Standard Version of the Bible which came out about the same time and which I found equally shocking.

In the last few days there has been another of my occasional media convergences: Netflix sent the movie called “The Sessions” which is about a sex surrogate initiating a man in an iron lung.  The next day I watched a video of a speech by Ogi Ogas about the contents of his book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” which was obviously entitled by a publisher trying to capitalize on “Fifty Shades of Gray.”  Ogi Ogas and his fellow author, Sai Gaddam, are neuroscientists who research brain function, in part by analyzing porn preferences on the Internet.  (Yes, they ARE watching you!)  or   The second vid is the more frank because the lecture is in Canada, which is less uptight than in the USA.  It also includes both researchers and was taped a year later, so is a little more perfected as a talk.

The bottom line (sorry) is that humans are adaptable mammals and those strategies that lead to survival (both individual and demographic) are the ones that survive, often becoming built-in to the body.  Mostly this has to do with conceiving babies but also in large part with successfully raising them to adulthood.  So healthy young women (the “dry herd”, we undiplomatically say around here) are sexy, but desirable men are experienced (older), strong, competent, alpha men.  Sexy women are about healthy bodies; sexy men are about the ability to provide for and protect families.

The single most startling fact that came out of this study is that the four body parts that in both genders provoke sexual desire are breasts/chests, butts, feet and penises.  In both genders, in all societies.  Even het men are fascinated and attracted by penises.  (At last an explanation of why most chicken hawks are heterosexual men: it’s about non-threatening penises!)  The most unsurprising fact was that men care about bodies, but women care about emotional context, the story.  This explains why gay men do not change their sexual preference throughout their lives, but women seem able to move back and forth.  What attracts the heterosexual women to a man is a flaw in his armor: a story that is an entry point for intimacy because she can heal it.  She thinks.

The Sessions” tells a story -- it’s a chick flick based on reality -- about a woman who works as a sex surrogate, a medicalized sex worker of the kind brought to consciousness by Masters and Johnson.  This woman is adult, happily married, has a teenaged son, and has had training.  She keeps a journal and writes reports.  The man in the story is gifted (a poet), appealing, and paralyzed by polio to the point of having to live mostly in an iron lung.  He longs to know what “being a man” is about and since his sensitivity and reflexes are intact, he is able to have sex -- with help.  He is also highly moral and engages the therapist with the support of his priest, who is the equivalent to the woman’s journal.

The poet and the surrogate cannot help loving each other, which shows a kind of moral ideal, since sex without love can be commercialized and vulnerable to corruption by violence and stigma -- but they both pay an emotional price since the relationship cannot be carried through.  There is a context of hired caretakers: one woman is rough and resentful; one woman falls in love but will not let it continue; and one woman is capable of keeping her own private relationship strong while not rejecting or criticizing the man.  One caretaker is a man, sympathetic.  The person who has the hardest time may be the priest, though the woman’s husband loses his cool. The priest has the burden of explaining why it is good to love each other and each other’s bodies, even if  getting married and having babies won’t happen.

So considering these two sources of thought and image about humans, one an indie film and one a scientific or at least statistical study, is enormously enlightening. The most interesting kind of porn for me to think about is “slash” porn, which I thought at first was about knifing people.  Instead it is about the typographical mark that joins two words.  Slash porn is about the “other,” particularly when the “other” is different in interesting ways (like sidekick Westerns.)  The first ones I ever heard of, before I heard the term “slash,” was lesbian Kirk/Spock erotica, maybe to address the problem of relationships in which one person is all body and the other is all mind.  

The two researchers say that the most basic “slash” in both genders is dominance/submission and that the two forces are actually embodied in the brain by two different “centers”.  BOTH men and women have BOTH centers but tend to favor one over the other, sort of like being right-handed.  Men tend towards dominance, women towards submission.  The culture defines what actually “is” dominance or submission.  The researchers did not discuss how the two roles could be mixed, switched back and forth, or rationally negotiated.  Nor did they talk about the difficulties of a person who doesn’t match the culture’s definitions, e.g. the stiff-necked woman, the spineless man.  

At an extreme the result is BDSM: Bondage, domination, sadism, masochism -- concepts taken to be sophisticated except when they are acted out at the expense of children.  Adult/child is a third rail issue in Western society, which means that it is both seductive and despised, and therefore a gold mine if properly commodified as in human trafficking.  Of course, secular/priest and white/Indian are also good potentials for slash fiction and have always been exploited on French postcards.  The kinds of slash explained on Wikipedia are as various as anything else with a cultural component.

People began studying sex about the same time they invented anthropology.  Meadville/Lombard Theological School had a huge collection bequeathed by a sexologist.  (I don’t know whether they dumped it in their recent transition.)  As is my family’s tradition, I read a lot of those books but they were sort of empty: guessing, rumors, irrelevance, stereotypes, sensationalism and very little analysis.  Ogas’ and Gaddam’s method of using internet data plus brain neurology to analyze what goes on at last begins to suggest ways we can create a better world.  But also how we can escape the iron lung of prudery and not-knowing.  Following up on these ideas is fascinating and revelatory.

Oh, and the "slash" in Meadville/Lombard?  Two schools merged and neither one would give up its name.  Actually, Meadville was a theological school, but Lombard, which was Carl Sandburg's alma mater, was only partly theological and included a farrier school -- that's horseshoeing.  There are surely dominance/submission issues here.

Monday, August 26, 2013


Two in the morning and she was trying to cool out, slow down, by cruising YouTube -- Native American stuff since she was teaching on a reservation.  It was contract signing time and she was divided about it.  Loved the kids.  Hated the administration.  So what’s new?  How much trouble had she gotten into this year?  How long should she keep up the struggle?  

Then her hair stood on end.  Figuratively.  Onscreen was the bare fanny of her best writing student, Henry.  Actually, his whole nude back from top to toe, posed like a European classic odalisque, one knee bent so the sole of a foot showed.  She knew who it was only because his uplifted hand, naturally with the middle finger extended, was cuffed by a bracelet she recognized.  It was one-of-a-kind: a wide copper band with Catlinite pipestone cabouchons carved in a Blackfeet design.

She had known he had a secret life -- in fact, he didn’t attend school enough to be called an “A” student.  He never did assignments, but he did twice as much work on his own as any other student and it was the real thing: heartfelt.  One assignment she cooked up -- in hopes of waking up a few dullards -- he actually did with stunning results.  The idea was to read a poem out loud while playing a CD of instrumental music in the background.  His response was to write the poem himself and to play “Reflections of an Indian Boy,” which most of her students had never heard, though they were all Indian.

“I rise from my bed at dawn
so we can watch together the sun come up,
red skin against red skin under an ochre sky
across a brilliant land of grass
in this late season.
My heart drums against yours.
My hands entwine with yours.
The sweetgrass scents us both.”

The students knew nothing about the Cherokee composer Carl Fischer’s work or his musical “Tecumseh!”.  Fifties mood music was totally outside their experience, but they had known all along that the boy was gay.  They had been very quiet.  And respectful.  Not because of any political or cultural beliefs about gays, but because each of them, regardless of gender, yearned for a dawn lover.  The teacher not excepted.  

But there in front of her computer -- even as sunrise came nearer -- she had no “frame” or context for encountering Henry’s backside on the Internet.  Just as she was going to investigate further, the electricity went out, as it often did in this foothills village.  All clues were erased.  When the sun rose, she was asleep.

It didn’t seem wise to ask around about where the image might have come from, because she would have to admit she had seen it.  The kids were remarkably liberated about sex, counseling each other more about emotions than practicalities.  They tolerated all affinities and recommended condoms, though they were a little vague about why.  She often overheard them because they had come to accept her -- not as a mark of approval, but because they had decided she wasn’t a threat.  She was just there.  

They didn’t realize how much Blackfeet language she understood.  Sometimes she could hardly keep from putting in a remark as she sat in the corner marking papers.  But she had learned the hard way.  Her previous school had fired her because of a remark she had made about smegma.  It WAS a smart aleck remark.  As a teachers' union counselor told her once, laughing, “You are not a vanilla sort of person.”  

“No,” she had agreed.  “But my skin is vanilla.”  She assumed she was entitled to have opinions so long as she didn’t share them.  And in her opinion Henry was gifted.   What to do about that was another matter.  You can’t just send a poet to college, even though he had a scholarly bent and read constantly.  His manner was courteous, almost courtly.  But Henry probably wouldn’t stay anyway.  So she just put it all off.  She did sign the contract for the next year.  Henry faded from her mind as she began the shift to her own writing for a few weeks and the kids fanned out everywhere across the rez and farther.

catlinite carvings

About pow-wow time in the middle of July she was brewing her morning coffee when the radio reported the body of a boy found in a dumpster in the nearest major city.  He had been beaten so badly that his face could not be recognized.  It wasn’t until she got the newspaper off the porch that she realized who it was. Why did they publish such photos?  A sheet was over him but his arm stuck out to the side and there was that bracelet.  She was too frozen to weep.  And yet, this was what happened on the rez all the time.   Of her dozen fine writers one was dead of alcoholism, two in a car wreck, one had AIDS, one knifed, one suicide and one shot from a distance with a rifle.  A couple went to college where they assimilated, got off-rez jobs, and never wrote again.  Then there's always one kid who just disappears.

It wasn’t hard to figure out, even before the rumors circulated, that Henry’s death had something to do with his gayness.  The community, both red and white, divided into “boots” versus “mocs”, conventional contemporary and contemptuous versus the soft, subversive, and traditional.  She had not known until the autopsy report that he was an HIV carrier.  The kids had known.  They always knew everything.

“Those city gang guys wanted to fuck him,” they told her.  “He told them not to, because of the HIV.  He was trying to protect them.”  She sat there, no blood in her stiff face.  They said, “His grandmother says it was the poetry.  She burned it all.”  Surely there was no blood left in her body.  Nothing was warm and moving anywhere in her.

Weeks later, when school started again, an older Indian man she didn’t know came to her classroom door.  Classes were over and she was sitting in the student seat most distant from her desk, spacing out.  He looked for her, found her and came back to her -- set in front of her something knotted into a bandanna.  He said, “At his age I was a poet, too.  But they didn’t kill me for it.”  Then he left.  He wore boots but he walked softly.

She suspected what was in the small bright bundle and didn’t want to look, but knew she had to.  Eventually she did, though the knots were tight, hard to undo.  The bracelet was not bloody or damaged.  She put it on her own arm, a little higher than her wrist because was bigger than her wrist.  She wore it always after that though it would have looked better against Indian skin.  The kids saw it and smiled.  The administration didn’t notice.  

The attackers were never found.   One day some city gang drunks were blotto in a pickup that burned up with them in it.  The kids smiled.  She asked no questions.  Somehow they managed to get “Reflections of an Indian Boy” off the Internet and sometimes when she walked down the aisle past a student wearing earbuds, she’d catch a hint of it, like a faint scent of sweetgrass near a marshy place.

Once in a while a reporter would come to the rez and want to interview people about the school system.  When they came to talk to her, she was careful not to tell them anything.  The kids had taught her well.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013


“The Bone Chalice” -- which began as my D. Min. thesis proposal -- now appears to be a lifework, morphing and splitting as it goes.  Partly because it began as an academic exercise in hoop-jumping, it has been necessary to pry open a chrysalis of assumptions, footnotes and previous books by experts to get at the soft and potential larva within.  It appears that -- for me at least -- that takes a long time.  While I was in seminary, a fellow student who was a nun (it may have been the one David Loehr tried to pick up at Orientation, the sort who wears skirts and cardigans) told me I was post-Christian.  I went with that idea for quite a while.  Now I have a new idea.

I’m saying I’m “pre-theological.”  Previously when others responded to what I proposed, partly because I defined it as about “liturgy,” it was usually seen in terms of that person’s institutional liturgy: the mass or baptism or a communal meal.  People can’t be blamed for categorizing new things according to what they know already.  At first even I was looking at prescribed rituals, almost always in a written script.  But actually I was trying to discover principles that apply to “emergent” and particularly land-based (autochthonous) experiences.  

What I’m after is what I might call “deep experience,” moments of intensity that can reorganize the mind -- and heart. This takes me close to the people who use substances or other short-cut mind-altering strategies, but that wasn’t what I wanted to think about either.  It could also take me off onto a side trail about electroshock therapy but I’ll resist.  It could tempt me onto the rather shaky ground of the quest for the Big O, orgasm as the best experience there is.  In religious terms “deep experience” might be called hierophany (that’s Eliade) or theophany (more specifically a direct experience of God/theos) or maybe epiphany or conversion (Saul into Paul) and so on.  I was more interested in the sort of thing like the old days when Blackfeet young went up on the mountain to fast and meditate until their protective totem visited them.  Some people claim that voluntary torture will do it (Sun Lodge) or any high-adrenaline situation (combat).  As you see, vocabulary is a big problem -- there are not enough useful words.

It remains to say that Czikszentmihalyi  and his ideas about “flow” are valid and approach “deep experience” but there is still another step to make it “spiritual” -- a word that has become so trendy that I’d like to go back to the more traditional “sacred” or “holy.”  This approach is “instrument-based,” the instrument being the human body (not just the brain but including the brain) in every sensory and skill dimension, producing a harmony that is probably expressed in brain waves, a kind of music, a sort of harmony with the cosmos.

Part of the reason I kept getting re-captured by traditional or even experimental institutional liturgies became clearer when I looked back through the centuries:  since writing was invented (let alone the printing press) it has controlled religions.  Theology is a creature of written words.  When the focus of development moved to written dogma and specific words  language became overwhelmingly important.  It was all code and laws.  Among the UU’s, at one point the hymnal was revised to throw out all the “God” talk and then later it was revised (often by hand, women sitting in pews after church with stacks of hymnals alongside) to take out all the man/men.  The tunes lingered .

The Reverend Lillian Daniel

A UCC minister and religious writer, the Rev. Lillian Daniel, one of those honey-haired, blue-eyed good girls (only lacking wings), made a popular furor by declaring that she was bored by “spiritual but not religious” people who find God in the sunsets, whom she claims are invariably seated next to her on airplanes.  I don’t fly these days, so maybe that’s why I only find gorgeously diffracted light in sunsets  (very red right now because of forest fires) but that doesn’t keep me from “feeling” it with a sense of heightened perception.  I just give the same thing a different name.  

But Rev. Daniel wants that person in church.  She says, “There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself.”  She says you must, “dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.”  Though she attended the U of Chicago Div School, she resisted the call of Bibfeldt ("both/and").‎  I did not.  She’s welcome to her academic and institutional bias, but I find in those same sources what we might define as “the devil,” stuff that doesn’t work and actively hurts people.

Reflecting on Rev. Daniel’s assertion, I haven’t had many deep experiences in church with the exception of congregational singing, though there’s a great deal of suffering in the words of traditional hymns, so it must be the communal sound. Nor do I find that solitude is an obstacle to personal deep experience.  It’s not that I’m just roaming around in my subconscious with no reference to the world -- it’s more like the earth itself and my going to and fro on it is my text rather than the secondary interface of words -- with the exception of stories and some poetry.  I never have had an ecstatic reaction to dogma or morality.

I decided that I would chuck out any word-based liturgies, which means all those Middle-Eastern institutions that so love their books and transcribed rules and all the bookkeeping -- the numbers written in Saint Peter’s Pearly Gates no-fly book.  

Luckily, the recent scientific study of neurological brain function reveals that brain cells remember and think by patterns of molecule interaction supplied by the senses -- not just the five basic holes in the head (sight/sound/smell/taste/feel) but the whole body’s constant information loops from gut, feet, main organs, fingertips, orientation to gravity, state of arousal and so on.  The brain is only the sorting and settling bridge of the ship, where the monitoring thermostat and rheostat readings are managed and course corrections are issued.  It is in the brain that intense, passionate (deep) experience is determined and then experienced.  Remember that the brain is part of the body which need not be accessed through words.  

Put simply, the place to start is not the sheet music but with the instrument: the singer, the wordless song, and the dance.  If the body is responding to place, time and other beings, and has formed categories of thought that do not censor or distort, and if the body is expressive in sound and movement, then it is likely that the harmony of the pattern will yield the “deep experience.” Felt, not defined.

To summarize, this bottom-up approach to “deep experience” does not depend on intervention from above, via a book-based institution, but rather on holistic experience through the entire sensory body (guided by the management of the brain), allowing concepts to emerge from immediate experience, and expressing engagement with them through movement, including utterances.  This is an immanent theory of the sacred, even autochthonous since the world is taken as the ground of being.  It is therefore local, but unified by the capacities of the human body as an instrument of perception and expression.  Therefore it is in divergence from print-confined, pew-confined, pulpit-confined religious methods.  Some would say, "heresy."  I rule that irrelevant.