Today marks Day 3 of the 9-day Culturistan program. Each day here feels like a month, mostly because time moves far more slowly when you’re contained in one location where we are, which is far out in the countryside. Rather than worrying about jettisoning from place to place or meeting to meeting, we are moving between two buildings that are only 1-2 minutes apart. We start each day by dissecting a series of readings, while our afternoons are filled with different activities and a presentation by one member of the group. These presentations have proven to be wild cards, both for the presenter and audience, because it requires little to no planning and becomes more of a real-time representation of where one literally is with their work and creative pursuits.
Today’s readings included one piece of poetry followed by a few pieces of prose. The first piece – “The Real Work” was a rather short poem but smacked of what is known but usually not acknowledged — namely that our real work arrives at the moment in which we are most baffled and unsure about what to do next. The next reading was “Trying Out One’s New Sword” by Mary Midgley. This article felt controversial to me because it could be perceived in a multitude of ways, some of which probably doesn’t add a tremendous amount of value to modern society. However, the idea that our small window of exposure into different cultures doesn’t give us the right to assign any real critiques about it. Cultures are far too complex and dynamic to label or assign judgment against — even for an individual who has grown up within the confines of culture. We are only left to perceive cultures based on our limited perception which is riddled with filters and preconceived ideas of the world. The words of Socrates “I know that I know nothing” seems most appropriate when assessing a new culture or ideology that doesn’t fit within our limited understanding of the world. On the other hand, according to epigenetics, and Freud’s theory of the collective unconscious, humanity has an internal sense of knowing, a shared history that we have inherited from each other. We can tap into this collective unconscious if we allow ourselves the space to communicate without words and instead rely on intuition and feeling. After all, the majority of communication is nonverbal.
We next spoke about “The Woman Behind the New Deal” about a social worker, Frances, who starts to compromise certain aspects of herself in order to push social reforms through Tammany Hall. She collaborates, first hesitantly, and then more determinedly with the political leaders whose values are different than her own. She realizes that in order to achieve new social reforms, she has to work within the construct of the system that she’s dealt – a party and people that play both sides by taking bribes through government contracts but also supporting certain agendas of the people in their district.
Over time, she uses manipulation and strategy to achieve her goals, and slowly, we see that she changes her attitude and behavior towards the party, and even towards herself. Realizing that playing a “mom” role would allow her to gain the trust of the men in office, she starts to dress like a mother, ultimately compromising aspects of her personal life. This story provided many questions that so many of us face when working on projects and encounter adversity. How much of our aspect of self will we compromise in order to achieve what we believe an objective that we so strongly desire? And at what cost?
Lastly, we read “The Unbelievable Plot Against George Soros”, about two men – Finkelstein and Birnbaum who created a new model for attack politics. They worked with various right-wing politicians and have been able to galvanize voters on an agenda of hate against an opposing political candidate. Learning about the use of manipulation in this scenario was highly disturbing because of how effective it seemed to be working. We talked about the differences between “The Woman Behind the New Deal” and “The Unbelievable Plot Against George Soros” and that if we agree with a person’s outcome, we call it adaptation but if we don’t agree with their outcome or intention, we call it manipulation. And while we all have subjective perceptions of right and wrong, I think humanity does share some universal truths.
And on another note, why is hate so much easier to rally around than love?
Marianne Williamson talks about this concept, and she says that it’s not that hate is so much stronger, it’s just that those who have a philosophy of love aren’t as loud.