Thursday, May 24, 2007

Growth 1

If efficiency seems the road to power and the method of maintaining its hold, so growth seems the proof of power. The idea of growth glows with the hope of betterment, although we all know that getting bigger is not always getting better, that maturation also means withering and dying and that independence also brings solitude.

Nevertheless, growth remains freighted with positive implications like fertility, hope, good health, progress, optimism, strength, invulnerability and conquest. These positive implications persist, despite the fact that a counter current has been discrediting the idea of growth in recent years.

Growth is becoming a more subtle idea than the naive version suited to a child. Nowadays "more" can no longer equate with growth because "more" actually can restrict the possibilities inherent in growth.

Wherever we see increase we feel its weight. Growth has taken on a cancerous tinge. Going up now means decline. What before was the measure of progress has become a sign of problems.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Efficiency 3

The idea of efficiency per se does not provide sufficient reason for human action. Everyone who justifies decisions by referring to the bottom line has something to learn from Treblinka. Cost-efficiency needs some honest reflection.

Because every exchange is always a relationship, to get the most while giving the least is unjust - unethical, antisocial, abusive, perhaps "evil". Yet predatory commerce ("the free market" as it is euphemistically called) operates regularly on the principle of "get the most and pay the least". Predatory commerce differs from Treblinka only in degree, not in principle.

There are businesses today dedicated to "the double bottom line" - profit and social responsibility. They are harnessing efficiency with concern for nature, aesthetic values and spiritual principles. They still seek efficiency (profit) but not at the cost of the well being of their employees, the communities where they are located or the implications for the wider world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Efficiency 2

The efficient cause makes things happen. When it is singled out as the only cause, then it does not matter what happens, to what or whom it happens or for what purpose.

In psychological language, efficiency is a primary mode of denial.

Single-minded devotion to one's job blinds to what the job is actually doing. Efficiency defends against sensitivity.

Two insanely dangerous consequences result from raising efficiency to the level of an independent principle.
First, it favors short-term thinking - no looking ahead or down the line. It produces insensitive feeling - no looking around at the life values being lived so efficiently.

Second, means become ends. Doing becomes the full justification of doing regardless of what you do.

Operational phrases such as "just do it," get it done," "don't ask questions," "no excuses, just results" are telltale signs of the efficiency principle beginning to separate and set off on its own.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Hillman, in Kinds of Power, uses Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka as his icon of efficiency. Treblinka was the largest of the five Germany camps built exclusively for the purpose of extermination. According to conservative estimates these five camps killed close to 3,000,000 people in seventeen months.

The extermination camps were devised for what was called The Final Solution because an earlier method - simply shooting masses of people above open pits - was soon rejected as inefficient for what was described by Himmler as "the enormous task ahead."

Efficiency here is to be understood solely from the viewpoint of the one in power, the executor. An efficient execution in other situations takes the victim's viewpoint: quick, painless, neither cruel nor unusual.

Gitta Sereny conducted an extensive interview with Franz Stangl in Into That Darkness. Here is a brief excerpt: The "work" of gassing and burning five thousand human beings in a morning or anywhere from five to twenty thousand persons in twenty-four hours requires the maximum efficiency: no wasted motions, no friction, no complications, no backlog. They arrived, and they were dead within two hours.

When asked whether the horrific conditions could have been changed (ie. the nakedness, the whips, the cattle pens), Stangl answered: "No, no, no. This was the system. Wirth had invented it. It worked. And because it worked it was irreversible."

And there you have it - the inexorable doctrine of efficiency - It worked. Efficiency elevated to absolute law.

Left unchecked by other kinds of power, the efficient cause will tragically become the sole answer to the question "why?"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kinds of Power 9

Much of the basic furniture standing around in our minds was set there by Victorians between the 1830s and 1890s. It belongs to the heroic age of industialism and imperialism, deriving its style from steam engines and railroad tracks extending into a limitless horizon.

Whatever stands in the way can be met by fixing or fighting.

These inherited furnishings are not easy to move, especially since they are remnants of social Darwinism, the philosophical base of the modern age.

Social Darwinism can be condensed into a sequence of propositions. Progress is natural. What is natural is God-given. Therefore, progress is good. Progress advances by means of natural selection; the superior rise and the inferior fall out. There are always more at the bottom than at the top, more weeds than hybrid roses, so hierarchy is natural.

Because of the numerically narrowing ascending pyramid, natural selection requires competition which allows the fittest to survive. Only the fittest survive the competitive struggle. Survival is assured by getting to the top, and staying on top.

Each of these formulas regarding progress, selection, survival and upward struggle can be subsumed under one dominant idea: growth.

Growth has come to be a major indication of power and a term that substitutes for it, since the ability to grow assumes an innate potential to survive and to win out in the competitive jungle.

"Grow or die" is the prevailing modern doctrine fueled by anxiety, fear, arrogance and ego.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kinds of Power 8

Since ideas are already operating in our perspectives, turning ideas over and looking at them carefully becomes paramount for every endeavor of any kind. Because we take our usual ideas for granted, ideas have us in their grip without our realizing it.

That's why the investigation of them is freeing and the encouraging of ideas is enriching.Ideas need liberation; they need to be born again else they become not merely defunct but delusional.

For ideas to be born and stay alive through their precarious infancy they must be welcomed warmly so that their native power can come fully to mind.

Skepticism and irony don't belong at the start. At first, better the wacky and the weird than ideas whittled down to fit preconceived slots. Here we need courage to face their destructive force, for ideas also can lay waste cherished habits of mind.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kinds of Power 7

The soul is desperately seeking the power of mind to be applied to the powerlessness it experiences. Though we want ideas, we haven't learned how to handle them. We use them up too quickly. We get rid of them by immediately putting them into practice. We seem to know only one thing to do with an idea; apply it convert it into something usable.

Fixed upon the "how" and the "who", we avoid playing with the "what", turning it over in our mind, an idea as an entertainment, ideation as a sport that gives as much fun and mental exercise as do many other kinds of play.

I worry lest the birds be caged too soon.

My idea about ideas is that they first need to be entertained. Then they may spark better ones in your mind and can lead to unforeseeable implementation in your life.

Let's talk ideas.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Kinds of Power 6

The struggle now and always is with the autonomy of ideas, their ability to invade the human mind, seize it and shape its formation into ideologies. Do we really know what has moved into our minds - those ideas, like furniture, that stand silently in the same place for decades determining every move we make in the interior habits of out thoughts and actions. Ideas we have, and do not know we have, have us.

My recent journey, if recent can include the last five years, has been one of "idea examination". Due to a host of reasons (eg. aging, painful as well as beautiful experiences, honest observations about certain systems and practices) I have systematically and unsytematically been deconstructing and reconstructing many of the ideas that I have inherited. It has been one of the most unnerving, liberating, individuating experiences of my life up to this point. A word of caution, however, it is not for the faint-hearted. And it's risky, dangerous business.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Kinds of Power 5

To go to the source, especially in America, calls for a new heartfelt appreciation of ideas in and for themselves. Perhaps ideas are the single most precious miracle in human existence. For ideas determine our goals of action, our styles of art, our values of character, our religious practices and even our ways of loving.

In my couseling practice I have found this to be so, so true. Most people have inadequate ideas for their current and future lives. They have essentially outgrown their ideas. Some ideas were appropriate and fitting to their pasts. Other ideas were useless or even destructive from the get-go. What would it look like to do an "idea assessment" periodically to see if we need to "trade up"?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Kinds of Power 4

Ideas need to be shaken before they can clarify. So I invite disturbance.

Expanding ideas comes first; widened practice follows.

To become conscious of anything we have first to get the words right, because words are loaded with implications.

Language can express every shade of emotion, that is precisely its beauty - and its power. Deprived of the sense of words our emotional expressions become primitive, physical and senseless.

The Chinese have said for centuries that people resort to physical violence because their words have failed.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Kinds of Power 3

As Einstein said: "Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler." The seduction of simplicity tempts ever more as issues become more and more complex, so that voices of simplicity offer mental peace without mental effort. Simple ideas feel comfortable; they don't give us trouble. They seem to let issues settle down quietly into the bottom mud of the mind, all tension and sophistication denied. The mind needs richer foods and it likes to move subtly, like a snake or a fox, otherwise it will get blindsided by the narrowness of focus.

What simple ideas are proving insufficient to help me navigate the realities I'm facing?

Kinds of Power 2

"The unconscious is exactly what the word says: what is least conscious because it is most usual, most familiar, most everyday."

Typically, when depth-pyschologists speak of the unconscious, they are referring to the field of awareness that is below the water-line so to speak. What's interesting about Hillmans words here is that the unconscious is also whatever simply ceases to register on our senses because of it's consistent normalcy. Makes you wonder at the work place or at home what is present and either wonderful or destructive that you've ceased to notice.

Kinds of Power 1

I'm currently reading James Hillman's Kinds of Power. I was turned on to Hillman by Thomas Moore. Hillman is a Jungian/Post-Jungian. I find him brilliant and stimulating on a variety of fronts. I've already read three-forths of this book, but the blog will be a good excuse to re-read some sections for posting.