Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mare Sit – Lux Sit

I didn’t finish my salad. That’s not an indictment on the indulgent lunch menu at the Napa Valley Grille in Westwood nor on the excellent kitchen which manifests epicurean delights. The grilled chicken and avocado were transcendent but they couldn’t hold a candle to the conversation which satiated far more than my palate. As Anna, Jeff, Adam and Ran wove a tapestry of conversation ranging from art, to geopolitics to finance, I was transported to that monastic silence from which I can at once observe, interact, and amalgamate each colorful strand. Mind you, my reclusive reflections were of imperceptible brevity as my half-eaten plate witnessed. Ran Ortner, whose work I’ve celebrated in previous posts, was discussing the evocative engagement he has with his opus studies in the sea. Like Constable’s voyeuristic intimacy with the agricultural metaphors in the late 18th and early 19th century in which the artist and observer enter the image at the organic and authentic level, Ran’s work evokes an appreciation for breathing as you find yourself prostrate on a surf-board at wave trough level in wild seas. Constable’s homage to the earth (in the face of the blackening skies of industrial England) and Ran’s tortured currents swirling about in that delicate balance between buoyancy and the abyss both provide perspective for a deeper exploration of the fundamental questions of who we are and why are we here? Both Ortner and Constable give us an image inspired by entering into the powerful dominion OF nature – not the popular, remote denigrated apology to nature.

A few days ago I received another map of “who owns the Federal Reserve.” Spoiler alert. It was the same August 1976 House Banking Committee diagram that has “discovered” the nefarious conspiracy of the Rothschilds, Morgans, Schroders, and Rockefellers at least five times in Congressional records since the creation of the Fed in 1914. Iconoclasts, conspiracy theorists, and self-avowed patriots alike have all come to an intriguing conclusion that periodically pretending to out the fact that the U.S. currency is manipulated for the self-interest of individual family dynasties and their corporate beneficiaries is somehow a right of passage into a deeper knowing. It’s not. The very fact that this public information is treated as intrigue for a Nicolas Cage-inspired National Treasure thriller every few months paradoxically reinforces the primary intoxicant of the agents of control.

Every era in recorded human history includes elusive wealth that serves to capture the greed fueled imaginations of those without. The metaphoric House of Rothschild, to be sure, has had ample opportunity to wield inhumane power without regard for humanity and has failed to steward its resources for the advancement of the marginalized. But like previous despotic heirs in history, this behavior is enabled, in large part, by the illusions of impenetrable intrigue maintained by those who whisper public things in hushed voices. When Doge Pietro II Orseolo inaugurated the Sposalizio del Mare (“Marriage of the Sea”) in around 1000 and Pope Alexander III elevated it to near sacramental in 1177, there was ample madness fueling the notion that humans had dominion over the sea. However, this insanity and hubris was only in part the responsibility of the perpetrators. It was celebrated by the complicit, opulence-struck masses. Watching from Venetian balconies and gondola in the harbor were throngs of on-lookers who buoyed the delusions of the ego-maniacal few. An empty coliseum would have not only spared many a gladiator but would have likely attenuated the delusional Emperors. I was struck by Brian Williams’ NBC Nightly News piece this past Thursday when he somberly reported on the growing outrage among voters over the cacophony of negative political ads. Having had to watch three such ads on NBC to get to his feature, I arrived at a singular conclusion. His piece, after all, was on the same network that was more than happy for the ad revenue all the while disingenuously wringing its hands about the terrible content. These ads have an effect because people become emotionally, transiently engaged – for good or ill – with their content. Each dollar donated to a campaign was donated by a complicit participant in the mayhem. In short, there are no victims – just buyer’s remorse from the co-conspirators. My solution to NBC’s faux news – turn off the TV.

Wandering into the labyrinth further, one begins to see a pattern resolve in the hedges. What allegedly makes money work is a consensus illusion which links status, social engagement, and identity to a metric measured in the coin of the realm. The more you have, the more power is at your disposal. Countless millions hate their jobs but “need to make a living.” Living has become synonymous with money. As we’ve discussed in earlier blog posts, the centrality of money as metric is the arbiter of everything from creativity to industry to compassion. Americans desperately cling to the illusion of Freedom and Democracy but we’re spending $3 billion to put our free and fair elections into the hands of the lords of money yet somehow are angry with them. While we’re certain that the whole world wishes to have the “American Dream”, we fail to reflect on the fact that our values are being promoted most aggressively and financially, at the point of a spear – hardly Freedom. Are we really victims of the lords of money or are we venting our self-loathing on those who feed our addiction with them serving as simply a convenient, reductionist target?

I’ve spent a lot of time with the lords of the currency of the realm. From time to time, I’ve deeply angered them by bringing transparency to things that were designed to persist in obscurity. I’m frequently reminded that, when the powerful have so much to loose, my cavalier proclivity to point out injustice and sociopathic behavior is not in my self-interest. But I’ve also seen many of the world’s monetary elite confronting mortality with the recognition that their power didn’t give them confidence in their progeny, ideological satisfaction that their dogma would prevail, or satisfaction that their legacy would idolized. And I wonder, what if those who share a conviction that there’s a better way would actually learn from my artist inspirations – Ortner and Constable? Rather than maintaining the ostracizing distance which both fuels mistrust and energizes hostility, what if we actually invited the aging incumbents into a transitional narrative which would provide redemption rather than damnation? Is it, in fact, conceivable that the insular world of the perceived powerful elite robs them of the collaborative and transformative other narrative? If they were invited into the hay fields or the wave’s yawning troughs, would they find a path to another mode of engagement?

Art wouldn’t work without Light. And the nonsensical debate about whether light is a wave or a particle is, well… nonsense. Photons, regardless of the energy state, are only manifest in an excitation ecosystem with other photons. Light propagates. If we want to paint a new picture of humanity on the canvas woven by sinners and saints alike, we might do well to reflect on Light. If those who see themselves as bearers of Light transition from the judgmental elucidation of the darkness and, instead engage in Light propagation in the dimly lit recesses, we may see a remarkable transformation. Wishful thinking – maybe. But let me remind you that the illumination of conspiracies hasn’t minimized their power. So let there be Light…at eye level.

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave