Dances with Wolves

Reading the original novel that led to the movie “Dances with Wolves” it isn’t difficult to understand the message of the book, even in the first few chapters. It is about the demise of the Sioux after centuries of struggles with other tribes, especially the Pawnee, and then with the “Whites”, and their special connection with life in the land they lived in. The question that sticks in my mind is why didn’t the American native tribes not form an alliance against the Europeans? The American frontier, in United States history, was the advancing border that marked those lands that had been settled by Europeans. It is characterized by the westward movement of European settlers from the original Atlantic coast (17th century) to the Far West (19th century). That was two hundred years of movement across the continent, but Native Americans had been in North America since around 15,000 BC. The French and Indian War began in 1754 due to English colonists settling past the agreed upon boundary between England, France, and some Native American tribes. Settlements and farms past these borders had been constantly fighting off Natives.

According to the book, it was after 1863 when Union Army lieutenant John J. Dunbar travels to the American frontier to find a military post and is confronted by a group of Lakota speaking Sioux. That means that the struggle against the advancing “Whites” had been going on for over a hundred years. The book regards the Sioux as culturally superior to many of the intruders, who are described as dirty and uncouth. The Sioux are puzzled by the progress that the coarse race of “Whites” is making and ask what they have done to anger the great Spirit. John Dunbar is the link between the two and is portrayed as the intermediary hero that saves the Sioux on some occasions but can’t hold off the inescapable.  To all appearances, it was the big tribe driving out the smaller tribes. However, the situation of the native Americans on the plains of North America was the same as the various nations who were invading the continent. By the time of story in the book, a political peace had been made in North America after two wars had been fought, one with Britain and another a civil war, but there still remained many conflicts yet to be sorted. In the same way the native Americans had also failed to overcome their differences and consequently were unable to present a unified front.

The Lakota Sioux couldn’t have imagined what was going on in Europe as they faced their expulsion by the “Whites”. We should remember that in 1863 two new trouble spots emerged in Europe: In Poland, the January Uprising against Russian rule broke out at the beginning of the year, which was suppressed by the powers of Russia and Prussia with all their might. In Denmark, the new king Christian IX, who had come to the throne a few days earlier, signed a joint constitution for the Kingdom of Denmark and the Duchy of Schleswig, which was unacceptable to Prussia and Austria as the leading powers of the German Confederation and led to war at the beginning of the following year. The context of the book seems to me to be of importance. The presentation of the Lakota Sioux in this story has me asking whether other cultures have become attractive because we are disappointed with our own, knowing, as we do, how tribal natives throughout the world were pushed away by the advance of European civilisation, but the similarity of what was going on in the world makes it clear that it is the human condition.

There was no idyllic world in which peace and prosperity prevailed. If it were not another tribe, it was nature that got the better of people. The story of the book is essentially a love story, in which the hero not only gets the bride, but also the extended family as well, with which he is just as much in love with. Then disaster strikes and the whole dream dissipates and reality strikes. The hero, Dunbar, doesn’t know where he stands to begin with but in the end stands with the smaller tribe. In reality the story is a tragedy, just as human existence, despite the appearances, is a tragedy. It is only a question of how we deal with the tragedy and whether, in the end, we were the hero and struggled against the destructive powers that be – or gave in and died with a whimper.

Christopher Hitchins – a difficult hero?

I have once again been reading Christopher Hitchins, an Anglo-American author, journalist and literary critic. He caused a stir with publications on Henry Kissinger, among others, in which he massively criticised what he saw as the aggressive, interventionist US foreign policy of the 1970s and called for the former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State to be prosecuted as a war criminal.

I quite enjoy reading him, especially with his impressive use of adjectives, which he often spits out in an aggressive manner. But he is often spiteful towards people he doesn’t like – who, in his opinion, are usually not exactly what they claim to be. But who is? Was Hitchins as he wanted to appear? I think he worked hard at it, and his sincerity as a journalist is to be commended. He is mischievous when he uses expressions that are suggestively false, such as „Barack Hussein Obama“, suggesting that the president has Islamic connections when he has clearly taken a Christian position. Of course, Hitchins could truthfully claim that this was Obama’s name, but the insinuation was wallowing. Apparently, he didn’t like Obama because he was too „light on his feet“, which is a questionable statement given how dangerous American politics can be. However, being a Christian would not have been a qualification for Hitchins either, who was among the personalities who launched a scathing attack on the church, calling it in practice inhumane and its teachings riddled with cruelty. His abhorrence of the principle of „scapegoating“, which he called reconciliation through the cross, was well known. He famously said, „After 98,000 years and the failure of 99.9% of his designs, the Designer decided that the best way to end this suffering and make things better was to pick a Middle Eastern man and torture him.“ It was unthinkable to him, even as a myth, that this could be the basis for a world church that would bring peace. It was rather the basis of a church, he said, that persecuted all dissenters when it could.

Perhaps Hitchins was spiteful in all the right places. It may hurt from time to time, but he certainly brought home a point. But doesn’t it matter that he never formulated his utopia, or an idea of how things could be better? He said, „The search for nirvana, like the search for utopia or the end of history or the classless society, is ultimately a futile and dangerous search. It involves, if not necessitates, the sleep of reason. There is no escape from fear and struggle.“ This explains why he was not opposed to war as a means of ridding the world of despotic villains, or initially to torture for that purpose. He changed his tone after going through waterboarding, but he remained deeply sceptical of the idea of utopia, much like his brother, Peter Hitchins, who said, „The trouble with utopia is that you can only approach it across a sea of blood, and you never get there.“ However, I could not help feeling that Christopher Hitchins words about the building of the Parthenon in 450 BC were sentimental and hopeful, that democratic ideals prevailed at the time and that the craftsmen were free men.

He was a great Orwell advocate, and „… in his widely acclaimed biographical essay [Why Orwell Matters], the masterful polemicist Christopher Hitchens assesses the life, achievements and myth of the great political writer and participant George Orwell. True to his controversial style, Hitchens is both admiring and attacking, sympathetic yet critical, correctly assessing his subject as both hero and problem. In response to the detractors and the false claims, Hitchens tears down the facade of sanctity erected by the hagiographers and refutes the critics point by point. He examines Orwell and his views on fascism, empire, feminism and Anglicanism, as well as his view of America, a country and a culture to which he showed much ambivalence. Whether reflecting on empires or dictators, race or class, nationalism or popular culture, Orwell’s moral outlook remains indispensable in a world that has changed greatly in the seven decades since his death. Combining the best of Hitchens’s polemical punch and intellectual elegance in a densely woven and subtle argument, this book addresses not only why Orwell matters today, but how he will continue to matter in a future, uncertain world.“ (Amazon)

Reading Hitchins makes you question your own thoughts and ideas, which is exactly why it is worth doing. If you can get past the nastiness in places, you actually start to question your own position. Especially if, like me, you’ve led a sheltered life and avoided the really bad things in life. Of course, we’ve all brushed against perverted or vicious personalities, and had experiences that can scare you, but many of us have no idea what some people have to go through. I think Hitchins has tried to speak for these people and shock us into the realisation that in some place’s things are worse than we can imagine. Isn’t it the case that we in the West have other issues at the moment and don’t necessarily want to listen to a Hitchins? It is sometimes depressing when you watch a foreign report. It’s as if the hands of the needy are reaching out to you. The grievances make us ask, „Why doesn’t someone do something?“ We thought for a long time that our governments were working for good, but then a Hitchins et al came along and burst the bubble we were living in.

The question remains, what to do when reality sets in? It is interesting that in the English-speaking world one increasingly hears that topics are not wanted in universities and should be removed from the curriculum. The so-called „cancel culture“ is spreading. Unpleasant topics, even if they are only unpleasant for individuals, are viewed critically. Even „classical“ literature from antiquity is suspected and questioned. The culture of debate is also questioned in prominent schools like Eton where it is part of the tradition. I think Hitchins would have had a strong opinion on this and would probably no longer be invited to debate.

Spiritual Emergency and Depression

I have been reading Spiritual Emergency from a number of authors edited by Stan Grof MD, and I’ve been thinking about the crisis I went through. I have also investigated personality types via the enneagram and found the symptoms I went through as normal for my type under stress. It makes me wonder whether depression is sometimes just the normal reaction of some people to stress – especially when it continues for years, like in my case. It is questionable, whether there is an organic cause. Bodily problems are more likely physical symptoms – the body screaming at my mind, so as to say.
I associate this with the spiritual crisis that accompanied my depression and find a myriad of questions going through my mind at that time. Since then I have started a tentative approach to Christianity in order to find the ground where I can stand spiritually. I had made the mistake of following the reasoning of laypeople who are more fundamentalist in their outlook. Since then I have been looking at what more informed people have to say and there are more people qualified nowadays, and they are available on YouTube too. This is where I found authors like Stan Grof, James K.A. Smith, Richard Rohr, and Andreas Ebert.
I have also been reading my way through Jörg Zink’s mystical books („Dornen können Rosen tragen“, and „Unten dem großen Bogen“), which are more Anthologies of mystical thought. I think it has been a grave mistake to underestimate our need for spirituality, and how the lack can lead to depression. I was also in the wrong job, as it turns out. I did my best, but throughout the years I have been struggling, frequently calling on abilities that I had learned, but which were not my inherent abilities. I had seen my job as a vocation, a calling, and perhaps it was the right thing to do up until a point. I had been advised by experts to take a therapeutic vocation, which was my intention, but it didn’t happen. Richard Rohr even said in his book, that many people with my enneagram type are monks, which should have rung a bell.
What I now have considered is, perhaps my depression wasn’t just my body screaming at my mind, but my soul yearning for spiritual guidance. Stress may have been just a catalyst for something more meaningful.

So this is Christmas

The day after Christmas, when everything becomes relatively normal again, reminds me of this title from John Lennon. In the past, I have been in the place of work, a home for the elderly and sick, over the Christmas period. I held meetings, we sang the old songs, and read the texts connected to Christmas. This time it was different and we stayed at home. I needed time to get over the things that contributed to my condition and start anew. It is sometimes very difficult for people to understand, which I can understand.

From a distance, Christmas isn’t that impressive. That explains why people in other cultures don’t feel that they are missing much. In fact, it became very clear to me that unless you are immersed in some tradition, it doesn’t occur to you that you’re missing out on something. However, outside of Christmas, I found that I was drifting without much connection to anything. I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere, which is a strange feeling. We all need to belong somewhere, even to something that we have a critical attitude towards. In fact, the critical attitude means that you belong all the more because you wouldn’t be critical if it wasn’t somehow important.

I think that there are many people who think they are outside of something that they can’t help criticising, but they’re not. If you are really outside, you don’t care and therefore don’t criticise. Thinking about this, it appears to me that there are people who think they are outside of a tradition who are really inside, and people who think they are inside but are really outside. If you spend time and thought, then you are not outside. That may come as a surprise to some.

18.11.2019

I’ve not written for a while because I’ve been reading rather a lot lately. Jordan Peterson’s “Maps of Meaning”, Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift”, and an Anthology of Classical Science Fiction. There has been a lot to learn in these books, far more than I could fully present in a coherent report, but I thought I would start off by mentioning what I have learnt from Jordan Peterson’s huge contribution to people looking for meaning.

The first thing that occurred to me after just 20 (of 403) pages was the depth to which he goes to explain how people think and find meaning in anything. He portrays the transition from “What is” to “What should be” in such detail, providing diagrams to help, that it becomes apparent that there have been numerous professional people who have thought about this, and exponentially more, who haven’t. I, of course, belonged to the latter until now. The fact that we are all wearing a mask, which sometimes becomes our fixed identity, seems straightforward. But it is when people come to the end of their working lives and try to become themselves that they suddenly realise, how much they have become one with their mask. Something which I can personally bear witness to.

The purpose of mythology in society has been ignored in my lifetime, much of it thrown out “with the bathwater,” leaving us trying to find other sources of inspiration for our dull lives. Religion has either become redundant or become radical. The difference between the field of science and the field of mythology and religion being that the first provides a description of things, whereas the latter provides the value of things, why they matter. These two aspects of life automatically happen in our minds, without conscious effort. The question needs to be asked, what do we find valuable?

Sub-cultures have become overly important, sometimes the complete content of peoples lives. The elderly are left trying to fathom what is important in the apparently shallow lives of younger people. Other people are completely under stress because they aren’t aware of what is causing it and therefore can’t find a way out of it, despite countless self-help applications available. Looking for meaning has become terribly difficult after the ideologies of the twentieth century have failed. Many people are left without their lives having meaning, and the numbers of mental-health patients have risen rapidly. Depression and even traumatic disruptions of everyday lives are not uncommon.

The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, is an older book, but interestingly, it does try to help people find meaning in their lives. The Gift describes the way that gifts have been part of communal life for thousands of years, how societies were inspired by them to be strong collectives. The Potlatch is a ritual of this kind, designed to keep the members of the community in touch with each other. It also promotes generosity. Strangely, Hyde tells of opponents to the type of commerce based society that we have today, who were against making things into commodities that were previously gifts, which are now subject to buying and selling. These “anarchists”, as they were called, wanted to preserve the Gift community and knew that modernity was forcing another, inferior community upon them.

Order and Chaos

I found Maps of Meaning difficult to listen to on Audible, probably a book in hand would have made it easier. The videos on the same subject have the problem that Jordan Peterson needs a while to get to the point that suffering is real and being a “good person” has to do with how you alleviate suffering. The opposite, he points out, was demonstrated by the Nazi extermination camps, and was how malevolent people can be. This leads to the question of what matters. What should I be aiming for?
It seems to be the difference between what is and what should be. The latter should be in some way better than the first, but just how do we decide, or better, how do we agree on what should be? I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain, what with all the aspirations to separate and differ around. The worst things that man has done happened when this was the case. The best things man has produced has come from working and pulling together for a common goal. This should make us sit up and think.
I think that in many areas where people at odds today are unexplored territory. JBP showed that this is traditionally chaos. It is where we are most destructive but in the same way the place where new things can come from. It is generally where things aren’t working out the way we’d hoped. In fact, the West seems to be undermining what has brought us so far and welcoming chaos. Radical movements on the fringe do their best to create chaos and thereby hope to install their particular take on what is good. Of course, there are umpteen groups and movements at any one time.
Young people seem to find order oppressive although it is explored territory and familiar. We know that all forms of culture can be tyrannical as much as they’re beneficial. But we underestimate the benefit of being where things work out the way they were planned. Living in a reliable society that is balanced and even seems to be the worst thing imaginable for investors and entrepreneurs, who also value a chaos that they can offer their special order to solve. In this way we could see chaos as a valuable balance in the yin and yang of society, as indeed JBP points out. The question remains, what is enough order and enough chaos, but not so much as to push the world over the edge?
Traversing good and evil, order and chaos is the task of us all. All called to follow the mythological hero, and be the hero in our own way. I think that the more we live this way individually, the less danger there would be collectively. As JBP points out, ancient traditions have shown for thousands of years that the line between good and evil passes through the heart of each of us. The more balanced we are, the more balanced society will be.

Truncated Communication

In a world in which “Toxic Masculinity” has become something that supposedly needs attention, it is easy to forget all the love songs in which men mourn a relationship. These songs reflect issues which are seldom subject to open discussion because men aren’t like that. Very often they mourn in silence. In that way, women are often let off the hook. They become free to begin a new relationship. Many women can pick and choose up until a certain age, then age turns on many of them. Men are rejected at youth and middle age and may find a connection later. Some obviously don’t.
We need to look into this, because the lack of reliability is spreading. It is hard to depend on people if they are not reliable. It is hard to trust if people are not trustworthy. If people don’t want responsibility, who can ensure that a relationship will hold more than ten years? The problem goes deeper into the fabric of society than just in romantic relationships. When I grow used to being the independent person with no liabilities, it becomes a lifestyle. The more people with this kind of lifestyle, the less reliability in society there is.
It was said that Jordan Peterson’s comments on women’s tendency to pick and choose was an example of “toxic masculinity” because he addressed the problems that arise if men don’t find sexual partners. The agreeableness of women is met with the lack of agreeableness in men. Men become aggressive and disorderly when frustrated. They have no other way to react, other than depression and, in more cases of a ruined relationship than women, suicide. Women are more likely to experience guilty feelings and attempt suicide, although they actually kill themselves less often than men. In women, depression is more likely to be associated with stressful life events and be more sensitive to seasonal changes.
It seems to me that the greatest problem in relationships, in general, is that people are communicating less, except via social media and mobile apps. It may be easier to avoid seeing the emotional distress one causes when communicating in this way, but in general, relationships of any kind deteriorate when less one-on-one communication takes place. The (love) letter has also lost its attraction, so that communication is truncated. Feelings are not felt and at best presented in Emojis. This is a situation we have to address before we all become lonely behind our computer and mobile screens.

Toxic Relationships

In a world in which “Toxic Masculinity” has become something that supposedly needs attention, it is easy to forget all the love songs in which men mourn a relationship. These songs reflect issues which are seldom subject to open discussion because men aren’t like that. Very often they mourn in silence. In that way, women are often let off the hook. They become free to begin a new relationship. Many women can pick and choose up until a certain age, then age turns on many of them. Men are rejected at youth and middle age and may find a connection later. Some obviously don’t.

We need to look into this, because the lack of reliability is spreading. It is hard to depend on people if they are not reliable. It is hard to trust if people are not trustworthy. If people don’t want responsibility, who can ensure that a relationship will hold more than ten years? The problem goes deeper into the fabric of society than just in romantic relationships. When I grow used to being the independent person with no liabilities, it becomes a lifestyle. The more people with this kind of lifestyle, the less reliability in society there is.

It was said that Jordan Peterson’s comments on women’s tendency to pick and choose was an example of “toxic masculinity” because he addressed the problems that arise if men don’t find sexual partners. The agreeableness of women is met with the lack of agreeableness in men. Men become aggressive and disorderly when frustrated. They have no other way to react, other than depression and, in more cases of a ruined relationship than women, suicide. Women are more likely to experience guilty feelings and attempt suicide, although they actually kill themselves less often than men. In women, depression is more likely to be associated with stressful life events and be more sensitive to seasonal changes.

It seems to me that the greatest problem in relationships in general is that people are communicating less, except via social media and mobile apps. It may be easier to avoid seeing the emotional distress one causes when communicating in this way, but in general, relationships of any kind deteriorate when less one-on-one communication takes place. The (love) letter has also lost its attraction so that communication is truncated. Feelings are not felt and at best presented in Emojis. This is a situation we have to address before we all become lonely behind our computer and mobile screens.

Colliding with Reality

It’s significant that today’s movies are geared to the fact that there’s a perfect technology, a superhero, or a monotonously overpowering enemy in order to be interesting. It has little to do with the life that most of us have. That’s what’s wanted, of course. Nothing is more boring than everyday life, and it’s regularly portrayed that way. The stories that are interesting today are excursions into a fantasy world. The times in which a story about special, but quite human, people who have come to a special situation are rare.

Even if there is such a situation that might be interesting, people are often as the media wants them to be. It has to be politically correct. The heroes are now homosexual or transsexual, which was not „PC“ ten years ago. But that way we can see how the media goes one step further and imposes its portrayal of reality on us. It’s a power, and that power expects us to swallow the pill.

Whoever does not want this version of the truth is immediately suspicious. In student circles, one can even be excluded if one does not take part. The gender discussion is also here and there not to be questioned. Such things that are present in Anglo-American societies precede German society – as always. It is imported, no matter what. If the Europeans were as careful with (sub)cultures as with food, we wouldn’t have some problems.

I recently saw a video of a transsexual Person who had herself surgically transformed into a man. She wouldn’t do it today – and regret it or not, it can’t be changed. Like so many things in life. Must it get that far before you collide with reality?