Monday, November 22, 2010

Gilded Age 2: The Light at the End of this Tunnel?

     Recently, historian David M. Kennedy had an interesting Op Ed piece in the New York Times called “Throwing the Bums Out for 140 Years.”  He reminds us that the political volatility of today is much less than what occurred in the 30 years following the Civil War.  I think his essay helps my analysis in a few ways:

     First, he makes the obvious comparison between today and to that period.  I see it as 19th century Dionysian Romanticism compared to 21st century Dionysian Romanticism.

     Second, American culture tends to be more volatile during Dionysian eras than during Apollonian ones [1].  

     Third, the Gilded Age and the American High were both Cultural Highs that had economic success stories.  The Gilded Age had the longest era of continuous federal surplus in the nation’s history--28 years.  The American High had the Great Moderation, an expansion of the middle class.

     Today, we are in a secular crisis.  We have political gridlock, the economy is dangerously fragile, and anxiety is pervasive.  But, after the crisis comes the cultural high.  So there will be some rebuilding to do, and, we can anticipate that some kind of economic success story is ahead of us.  It is nice to know that there is a light at the end of this tunnel even though it is many years away.

     Kennedy goes on to tell us that “What’s instructive to us now is the similarity between the Gilded Age’s combination of extraordinary social and economic dynamism and abject political paralysis.”

     Here is where I depart from our esteemed professor. In the twenty years prior to the Civil War there was great social and economic dynamism and abject political paralysis, too. I think that phrase defines much of the nineteenth century. 

     In the last many years, I think that many of us bought into the idea of a new Gilded Age.  The name connotes wealth, excess, opulence, and success.  And, I really do hope that this is in all of our futures, certainly, a little bit of it in my future.  Also, let’s not forget to peek behind the curtain now and then to ensure that poverty and sanitation doesn’t get forgotten.

1.  Don’t extend this observation to other cultures.  It’s obviously tempting to say that Dionysian cultures are more “emotional” or volatile than Apollonian ones.  But, the rational/emotional opposition is an Apollonian product.  It’s one of the more foolish ideas held by Modernists; one that has no scientific basis, remembering Damasio’s work.  The Germans, stereotypically Apollonian, are viewed as more rational and orderly than the Italians, stereotypically Dionysian.  But, hasn’t it been the Germans who have been rioting lately?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Scoping Meeting as American High Context Culture

     Recently I had the pleasure of participating in scoping meetings for some planned projects at work.  The meetings were being held to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) as we are implementing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  They were open house style events wherein the public could come and see our presentations, ask questions, and hopefully provide us with their concerns. My role was to staff the historic preservation display, or in the silly jargon of my profession—the “Cultural Resources” display.  What I observed in the whole process was that these meetings and the preparation for them was very much a high context communication process.

     NEPA and similar laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Clean Air Act of 1963, were enacted during the Fourth Awakening, an era of strongly blended Apollonian and Dionysian ethoses.  These laws have strong commitments to analytical research done by qualified professionals (Apollonian abstraction and meritocracy) and to public interaction (Dionysian social engagement).  In theory, the public is to have a say in the process and the outcome, and they can file suits against outcomes.  In practice, the proponents of projects usually get their way, although there are many cases where theory worked out well. These laws have all been amended numerous times with the general trend toward increasing public interaction and contact (increasing Dionysian values).  Apollonian modernists were happy and capable to provide clean water but it takes a Dionysian impulse to get the public informed via notices telling them that, yes, the water is safe and clean to drink.

     As part of the preparation for the meetings we published Public Notices in local and regional newspapers, and even discussed posting notices in local grocery stores (don’t know if that was actually done).  Additionally, we mailed invitations to all local, state, and federal elected officials in the area, to several state and federal regulatory agencies, to several Non Governmental Organizations (such as the Nature Conservancy, etc.), to several Native American tribal nations, to historical societies and museums, and to anyone else that may have an interest in the piece of ground planned for development.

     The day before the meetings we had an 8 hour training session called Risk Communication Training that was put on by Katz and Associates. Here, we obsessed over what we would say and do while in the meetings; and, we were coached on what possible questions we may get and how to handle them.  We learned that we had roles to play and that we were to “stay in our lane,” meaning, don’t try to answer something outside of our own area of expertise. And, that from the moment the first member of the public walks in, we are all on stage. In the terms I have been using on this blog—in the Context of the scoping meeting I needed to be aware of that big Context at all times and be competent in and stay in my own Text of historic preservation.

     Katz and Associates is a public relations firm and they are full bore high context communicators. I guess they are members of the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) as they gave us a copy of the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, a matrix of Increasing Level of Public Impact, that states we are to Inform > Consult > Involve > Collaborate > Empower the public.

     I don’t have space to cover all their training material but I’ll offer a taste. We were given the usual Power Point presentation with a notebook of slides and other handouts.  Our Training Objectives were:

Understand why public involvement is important
-- Input from public leads to better decision making
-- Public involvement process leads to greater understanding
Gain understanding of environmental risk communication
-- Identify principles and “mind set”
-- Apply principles to the process to build trust and credibility
Develop better communication skills for dealing with public
-- Learn how to demonstrate empathy
-- Practice active listening skills
-- Learn how to answer easy and hard questions
-- Develop skills to handle hostile situations

We spent much time discussing empathy and active listening as they are the most effective tools in building trust and credibility.  I realized that the Apollonian gives information and assumes that intelligent people will make rational conclusions--a bad assumption.  The Dionysian is focused on empathic communication, genuinely hearing what others have to say and responding to them in honest fashion.

     From an anthropological perspective Scoping Meetings are public ceremonies, no different than weddings, funerals, graduations, parades, and trade shows.  While we had published our EIS notice in the Federal Register, as required, the Scoping Meetings allowed the public to put faces to faceless bureaucracy.  Several did come:  adjacent land owners expressed concerns; local politicians asked many questions; a reporter wrote up the event and the regional paper published it.  We were successful.

     And, maybe our 8 hour vigil was some kind of ritual separation prior to our coming out.  We were anointed with the words and motions of high context public communication.

     It is not a temporary thing.  There will be more meetings.  We’ll be off to the local tribes, on their turf, to get grilled, many times over.  Looking back at my modernism days, I know we used to just ignore all that.  Obviously, we can’t anymore. Dionysus is in control.  Now, if only the tribes would stop calling us linear thinkers…

Saturday, November 20, 2010

American Cultural Eras: A Summary

      Previously, I made the comment that “American culture in 2010 is more like the 1860s than the 1960s”. Here I follow up on the idea.  In the 1860s America was in two stages of cultural change.  It was a romantic era and an era of secular crisis.  Today, we are in both again.

     The Romantic era of the nineteenth century has many similarities with our current one.  This blog is about Romanticism in general with an emphasis on its current 21st century form.  The concept of secular crisis that I am using comes from the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe, particularly their book The Fourth Turning [1].

     Strauss and Howe defined four cultural phases that constitute a cultural cycle [See Table 1].  The cycle is similar to an annual round with four seasons.  History does not repeat itself but the cycles, like seasons, do.  We all know that the winter of 2009 was different from but similar to the winter of 2005. They occurred in different years, had different events, and the strength of each winter may have been different (mild or severe).  But they were winter none the less due to other defining characteristics (the weather is generally colder; the days are shorter, vegetation is dormant, etc).
     Similarly, the four seasons of American culture are:  Awakening, Culture Wars, Secular Crisis, and Cultural High.  The Awakening is a period of spiritual and intellectual growth that comes from deep confidence within the culture.  New ideas are floated, the status quo is challenged, and sometimes governments are overthrown.  In Western Civilization, the Awakening has the second purpose of being the threshold in-between Apollonian and Dionysian periods. It is a high entropy hybrid era with both ethoses’s equally matched. It is the only season that has a dual role.

     Culture Wars are eras of moral and ethical strife, and when powerful cultures may clash on international stages but with little final result.  Collective confidence erodes. The balance in ethos’s tips to the newer side and this strengthened New Light begins transforming the culture, dismantling the legacy of the Old Light.  This era is sometimes referred to as an Unravelling that leads to crisis.

     A Secular Crisis is a season of deep cultural loss of confidence that typically leads to the overthrow of a well established status quo (although, the new status quo may eventually resemble and act like the previous one). The crisis is an identity crisis but it is often played out as a struggle for economic resources or political ends. Episodes of total war are likely to occur. The last vestiges of the Old Light are purged leaving the culture fully dominated by the new ethos.  

     The Cultural High is when the survivors of the crisis rebuild their society using the guiding principles of the new dominant ethos. Cultural categories are firmed up, empires are expanded and solidified, and confidence is restored.

     Next, another Awakening emerges that starts the process over again.  However, the pattern is not set in stone and it can be broken in any era due to internal or external issues. But the pattern has been consistent for several cycles.  

     Table 1 shows this pattern, taking American history back to its English colonial days. The pattern continues deeper into British history but here I am merely pointing out that it is a pattern found in Western Civilization as other European nations have versions of it too. The pattern breaks from being nation/empire focused into city-state or regional variations the further back in time you go.

     I have shown the Apollonian-Rational eras as blue and the Dionysian-Romantic ones as red. Awakenings are purple due to their hybrid character.   The 17th century may have been more of a pre-Romantic era but I am thinking of the intellectual figures of those years that assisted with creating the rational-romantic opposition during the 18th century, such as Descartes (1596-1650), Spinosa (1632-1677), and Locke (1632-1704). Remember, the Puritans emphasized the rational-intuition dichotomy that would become rationalism vs. romanticism.  

Table 1:  Cultural Eras in American History [2]
Culture Wars
Secular Crisis
Cultural High

4th; Consciousness Revolution
Post Scientism
Crisis of Confidence
Our Future

3rd Awakening
WWI & Prohibition
Depression & WWII
American High

2nd Great Awakening
Slavery Compromise
No slavery Compromise
Gilded Age

The Great Awakening
Colonial Conflicts
American Revolution
Young Republic

Puritan Awakening
Glorious Revolution
Age of Empire

     When was Modernism?  Roughly, from the 3rd Awakening through the 4th Awakening. After that there is an overhang as it gradually fades to its sunset in our current crisis.  Yes, Keynesian crap will end.  Nineteenth century Romanticism ran from the 2nd Awakening through the 3rd; its overhang then faded into the 1930s.

     So, there it is. Year 2010 is like 1860 because we are once again in a secular crisis guided by romantic principles.  Year 1960 was at the end of a Cultural High guided by rationalism.  In 1960 our leaders walked the earth with great confidence.  Today, they may have superficial hubris but their deeper anxiety shows through.  Confidence is lacking and maybe competence too.

     Today, don’t expect rational responses to our current crisis; seek the intuitive solution. Study the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution as they are our best guides to action.  Romantic secular crises do not have obvious linear related events such as B follows A.  But, there are dozens of events that are related in nonlinear ways such that A and B may appear to be isolated events when they are actually in a reciprocal or reflexive relationship.  These are dangerous times in which competence is sorely needed.


1. William Strauss and Neal Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, Broadway Books, New York, 1997.  See also their Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, William Morrow, New York, 1991.  I’ll use their Generations theory later.

2. I use ideas and dates from The Fourth Turning and William G. McLoughlin, Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform: An Essay on Social Change in America, 1607-1977, 1978 for Table 1.  The big difference is that I allow the eras to overlap because cultural processes needn’t be viewed as links in a chain. Within each season there is a 17 to 23 year period that is the core of the season.  Table 1 has no grid lines.  Time and cultural patterns are nonlinear as well. Sometimes it snows in autumn.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Entropy and High Context Culture

     This one is nerdy, but it is necessary.  In previous essays (here & here) I discussed different aspects of High Context (HC) and Low Context (LC) Culture.  Here, I offer commentary as to why LC cultures are “cold” and HC cultures are “hot” but only from the perspective of cold Modernism. The discussion runs along the order/disorder spectrum.  To do that I’ll switch to the term Entropy, defined as, with my edits as the dictionary needs help:

1.: a measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system's disorder, that is a property of the system's state, and that varies directly with any reversible change in heat in the system and inversely with the temperature of the system; broadly: the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a [closed] system
2 a: the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe [believed to be a closed system] to an ultimate state of inert uniformity b: a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder
3. Chaos, disorganization, randomness [in any system]

Culture and entropy are reflexively tied together.  Culture is "the acquired knowledge people use to interpret experience and generate behavior" [1], and, HC and LC cultures have different perspectives on entropy.

     Modernist academia and governmental social science generally views culture as an open system that “continuously interacts with its environment. The interaction can take the form of information, energy, or material transfers into or out of the system boundary.” For example, in Anthropology it has been common to hear people argue that non complex cultures adapt to their environment whereas complex cultures create their own environment. The basic idea here is that the environment (nature) and culture are separate variables.  Under this scenario, version 3 of entropy applies to culture but not 1 and 2.

     Much Western academic and governmental social science also uses zero sum game theory because it is a common problem in everyday life.  If a household is on a fixed income, if a manager in a government agency has a rigid budget, then both are likely to view their little system, their universe, as being closed.  Running out of money too soon before the next allotment increases entropy in their little systems.

     Human systems are fractal.  An open system will have within it contexts and situations that are perceived to be either open or closed. The same is true for closed systems.  It is important to recognize the meta level (for example: meta, macro, micro, mini) as being a dominant organizing force of the world view. The meta level is the cognitive framework that other metaphors fall into.

     In Apollonian LC cultures the meta perspective is:  order must be imposed on disorder.  In the Enlightenment/Modernist tradition it is variously called self discipline, domestication, working from the known to the unknown, or simply, being in control. Generally, you start small and build outward.

     In the Modernist LC tradition, additional meta level beliefs are that the pie can always be expanded, growth is valued, and progress is expected because the system is viewed to be generally open.  Nature, within itself, may have order; but, in relation to mankind, it is disorderly.  Thus, Nature and Culture are viewed as separate, and often as competitors. Mankind can defeat nature, forcing it to adapt to culture. The Fed can print money forever, defeating entropy.

     LC cultures entail a need for structure, organization, and predictability; they want to reduce entropy, tame it. The phrases “a place for everything and everything in its place” and “all things in moderation” and “think before you act” are examples of old fashioned American LC values.  

     LC cultures dislike entropy because they intuitively know they can’t really control it.  That doesn’t mean they can’t try.  Puebloan cultures do everything possible to make it rain.  Mid 20th century Modernists disliked anything that was non-normal; they hated “crazy” “irrational” and “emotional” people because of their “disorder” and spent decades trying to determine what “normal behavior” was so that they could lock all the crazy ones into psycho wards, insane asylums.  The desire to institutionalize “insane” people peaked in the mid twentieth century. And, well into the 1980s going to a shrink was to be avoided or kept secret due to the stigma of being called “crazy.”  (Today, in our new HC culture, these issues are generally diminished although the stigma of mental illness lingers). 

     In HC cultures the basic meta value is harmony between order and disorder.  HC cultures start from a much larger Context, and work to ensure that all the parts are either working well together, or at least, not conflicting with one another. Mankind is a part of nature and there needs to be harmony within the whole. HC cultures are sometimes described as zero sum cultures because they focus so much on larger universal issues. All versions of entropy are fully engaged.

     As American culture shifted from LC to HC during the tumultuous Fourth Awakening (circa 1960-1990) new HC sayings came about as well:

Just do it = act without thinking
No rules = the situation/context is unstructured
Think outside the box = be unique, break existing rules to do it
Push the envelope = get out of your comfort zone; be extreme
It’s a no brainer = the action is intuitively profitable, you don’t have to analyze it
To infinity and beyond = ironic humor about extremism
Nothing succeeds like excess = see here; from romanticist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

All of these HC sayings have come about or been revived since the 1980s.  They reflect our move away from rigid structure, the use of formal logic, and moderation in general—away from being a narrow minded and Text oriented culture, towards a broad minded and Context oriented one.  It also means embracing all the disorder of life, its excesses, and the new fuzzy rules that must come with it.  And, eventually, there must be a quest for harmony, at least at the individual level.  It’s no wonder that the traditionalists are being decoupled from the new Romanticism, the growing part of society.

     Descartes separated mind and body, and then, the Enlightenment thinkers went on to separate culture and nature.  As a rejection of most of that, the romantic scientists of the early nineteenth century tried to describe man within nature but they blurred into the various forms of anti-modernism and existentialism of the late 19th century.  As positivism and progressivism merged into Modernism in the Third Awakening (ca. 1890-1920) Apollo again strode forth, this time as the Age of Scientism. 
     The concept of HC and LC cultures is, thus, a product of an LC culture under stress from an Awakening.  E. T. Hall [2] was, early on, a modernist who began shifting to a hybrid stance about culture as he worked on these concepts in the 1960s and 1970s, the Awakening years.  The main point of Beyond Culture was to encourage scientists and policy makers to be more HC.  As it was first described to me in a class room lecture, circa 1982, cold Apollo needed to be a little warmer (but don’t become excessively hot like those hot cultures).

     To consider culture generically as a closed system you have to think high context.  Today, we have post-modernism, anti-positivism and other eclectic ideas, all of which speak Dionysian.  Entropy is a becoming a full partner in the process of understanding culture. Here is one example:

“Culture can be viewed as the means by which a society can live in its surroundings by acquiring and consuming free energy. This naturalistic notion assumes that everything can be valued in terms of energy; hence also social changes can be described as natural processes that are influenced by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This universal law, when formulated as an equation of motion, reveals that societies emerge, evolve and eventually extinguish after tapping, exploiting and finally depleting their resources, which we can say are ultimately valued in energetic terms” [3].

     Not sure I’ll buy into all that energy stuff but I do appreciate the man-is-part-of-nature perspective, typical romantic science. 

     To sum up.  Modernism, a LC cultural pattern, views culture as an open system.  Thus, from that perspective, LC cultures are low entropy (cold) and HC cultures are high entropy (hot). 

     Post Modernism, a HC cultural pattern, views culture as a closed system in which variations in entropy ocure. For example, the HC Hindu perspective has not been overly damaged by LC science:

“The survival of mankind on the matrix of the cherished values of life…is dependent upon its adoption of sustainable low-entropy living patterns fortified by harmonious and symbiotic relationship with the environment” [4].

     And there you go.  Even a “hot” culture can aspire for low entropy (requiring a theoretical perspective that starts as HC). And, such a view is counter intuitive to LC modernists.

1.  James P. Spradley, Participant Observation, New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1980, pg. 6.
2.  E. T. Hall, Beyond Culture, New York: Doubleday, 1976.
3.  Arto Annila and Stanley Salthe, "Cultural NaturalismEntropy 12, 2010, no. 6: 1325-1343.  Not to be confused with the Cultural Naturalism Report that supports Kantian rationalism.
4.  B. V. Subbarayappa, “Spirituality and low-entropy culture” in Cons-Ciências: actas do Fórum Internacional Ciência, Religião e Consciência. Porto. ISSN 1645-6564. 2 (2005) 103-116. Here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Traditionalists Keep their TVs, Progressives Let 'em Go

     Recently we are told that prime time TV and cable is dominated by conservative audiences, as the most popular shows appeal to that group.  In reading this I was thinking of George Lakoff’s book The Political Mind and wondering if the Republicans and Democrats of this essay align with the way Lakoff describes the two cognitive frameworks.

     I offer my unsubstantiated opinion on this--I bet they don’t because Lakoff’s “progressives” probably don’t watch much TV or cable; they use the internet.

     Remember, per Lakoff, the conservatives operate from a Stern Father complex metaphor that is based in authority.  The show NCIS fits this fairly well as it is about a team of Navy crime fighters led by an ex-marine.   

     Progressives operate from a Co-parenting cognitive frame that is based in empathy. The essay tells us that democrats like shows about damaged people; I am unsure if that is what empathy is about. Of the prime time shows listed in the essay I don’t know any of them well enough to say that they emphasize empathy or co-parenting styles.  

     And that is the point.  I don’t know the shows. I am very much in line with Lakoff’s depiction of a progressive; my last essay on the principles of our new Intuitive Age clearly marks me as such.  While I watch some TV/cable I don’t care for prime time stuff.  Of the thirty shows listed as most popular in that essay I have seen only four:  NCIS, Law and Order, Beck, and Olbermann.  Beck and Olbermann I stopped watching in 2006 as I could not tolerate their blatant biases.  Law and Order I have watched when with my daughter; it’s been one of her favorite shows and has helped in her choice of criminal justice as a collage major.  NCIS I watched for a while but have moved on in the last two years.  My free time is used up by reading, writing, using the internet, or being outside.

     I suspect that the democrats who watch a lot of TV and cable are the sub group called Neoliberals; the ones that are generally over age 45, are still steeped in rationalism, and who are still concerned with the issues of the 1980s-1990s (because "there is still so much to do"). Pundits such as Bill Maher and Paul Krugman come to mind.  I suspect Olbermann fits there too. The neoliberals are mostly Boomers or older.

     Who really cares if TV and cable are polarized in the way the essay describes?

     I don’t.  TV and cable are dying industries serving an aging shrinking audience; they will slim down along with the age groups that still use them.  See this, this, and this.

     Why aren’t TV and cable interesting to progressives and younger folks?  Simple, these industries are too monochronic; they are still anchored to linear, one thing at a time, options. Even though much of the content on TV and cable is expressing high context culture ideas, the TV box and its wires are still low context culture delivery mechanisms—one channel at a time.  And, the shows are still preprogrammed, as they have been since the beginning of industry. 

     Our high context culture requires stronger polychronic delivery mechanisms, including multiple screens, multiple windows, toggling back and forth, and the use of as many senses as possible.  And, it needs to be interactive and supportive of social gatherings.  Today’s Millennial young adult desires electrical devices that allow her to be mobile, situationally aware, multitasking, engaged in multiple conversations, and connected, integrated to a global network. I know that technology is being developed to push this further.

     I wish that someone would get out and survey the internet crowd too because surveys of TV audiences don’t have the random sampling range that they once did.

     I suspect that the true polarization in America is between those older folks who hug the remnants of Modernism (conservatives and neoliberals are the traditionalists) versus the progressives and younger folks who are advancing the principles of our high context culture. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Twenty-first Century Romanticism: The Basic Principles

     In previous essays I offered some simple contrasts between Apollonian and Dionysian ethos's, and between their subsets of rationalism and romanticism.  Now it is time to delve into the core principles and characteristics of contemporary twenty first century Romanticism. Obviously, in the future, this era will partly be defined by what precedes and follows it.  All I can do on this website is demonstrate how the era of Modernism was, and its remnants still are, different in kind from what is emerging as a new pattern of ideas and behaviors.

     The basic principles are:

     Dionysian cognitive framework:
  • Spontaneity, passion, intuition, rebellion, and love of excess 
  • Rawness, we want to see, smell, touch, and taste the real thing, not an abstraction.  But we will also settle for the virtual thing. 
  • Holistic ideas; nature/culture is one system

     Romanticism is High Context (HC) culture: 
  • Social issues, relationships, and gatherings are more important than intellectual pursuits; (Intellectuals and intelligence are not revered as they were during Modernism; “the life of the mind is a waste of time”).
  • Wisdom is more important than theory; Science and the Humanities are secondary players that help embellish and celebrate life; the pure search for Truth is asocial but tolerated within certain bounds.
  • Collecting and storing vast amounts of information about people and their relations, habits, and likes/dislikes is necessary.  This is done at all levels (small intimate groups maintain constant contact; corporations monitor their staff, competitors, and partners; governments track large numbers of people); individualism and privacy are being redefined
  • It is personal.  In The Godfather series (1972) when someone was to be killed they would offer the consolation “its business, not personal.”  When I first heard that as a young teen I cringed but most adults didn’t even flinch.  In Sleepless in Seattle (1993) that line was used but the important reply was “It’s personal to me.”
  • HC culture is also high contact culture; calling, texting, tweeting, and emailing your significant other, your friends, and your extended family many times a day is allowed in most situations, even at most workplaces.  The Text of these messages is often inane because what people are doing is sustaining the Context of their lives.  The guy who’s walking into a building and is on the phone saying “I’m walking into the building; be there in a minute” is sending the message I am close to you, socially and emotionally.  It is phatic language. Focus on the Context not the Text to understand the behavior.
  • The matrix Organization; you are placed somewhere and have vertical, horizontal and nonlinear relations.  Example:  "Ms. Betty Fxoxox has been associated with the program from its very beginning. Recognizing that open systems and conformance to standard architectures are critical to a program like CIS, she has worked hard to ensure these requirements were identified early. She is matrixed to the IPT from CECOM's Software Management Directorate".  (AQ101:  fundamentals of systems Acquisition management, Lesson 5.) 
  • Technology is being used to maintain, sustain, expedite, and proliferate the needs of HC culture, and for gathering and storing vast amounts of information; relational databases, mobile communication devices, and web sites keep it all going. Identity theft is an unfortunate outcome.  

     Romanticism and Pop Culture:
  • Our movie and cable industries are dominated by fantasy:  witches, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, mummies, zombies, etc. (They replaced all the popular westerns and mysteries).  They are metaphors about human behavior.
  • All you Need Is Love, The Beatles, 1967.  This song hit the square headed affection supressed Modernists square in the face.  And so, after decades of suppressing displays of affection in public, by the late 1970s, people were openly affectionate everywhere and at any time.  Today, few people remember that saying hello and good bye at the airport used to be a subdued quick awkward moment. Now, it can be that or a social circus and no one cares.

     Key Metaphors in contemporary American Culture
  • Situational Awareness; it’s HC so be aware of everything around you and all the non verbal stuff; on the nonlinear battlefield, Total Situational Awareness is the playbook.   We are all situated in life (unless you are having a communication problem which means you are desituated--out of touch, lost, confused)
  • Empathy; you must care about everyone
  • Engaged; not in the sense of getting married, but being out there in high contact with people
  • Integrated; my team’s policies and procedures are integrated with all the policies and procedures from other groups in this organization (whew)
  • Relationships (your doctor, dentist, lawyer, etc., now wants a “relationship” with you
  • Community; strongly defined us/them groups; you have to decide who’s in and who’s out
  • The matrix organization (we are more than a top down society; it’s diagonal, zigzag, and sideways too)
  • Sustainability; we have to sustain the environment; and now that the go-go years of greed is ending, we have to sustain our business for the long haul instead of maximizing short term shareholder return
  • Embedded, everywhere. In culture, in nature, journalists in the Army, videos in your web posts, viruses in your emails.  People and things are parts of wholes, and parts can attach to other wholes.  Again focus on the fractal aspect of Context.

     The Embodied Cognition Movement [1]:
  • 98 percent of human thought is unconscious
  • Human thinking entails emotion (there is no separation)
  • Most human thought is metaphorical with very little literalness
  • The human body is the basis and grounding for thinking; the brain’s primary function is self regulation and self monitoring-awareness; the brain and the neurological system is a full body system; yes, wiggling your toes can affect thoughts
  • Rational Man, as defined by Modernist social scientists, especially economists, is wrong.  People sometimes employ logic and formulas to make decisions but more often than not they employ other cognitive frames to make decisions, and these are often embedded in situational and impulsive frames.
  • Enlightenment-Modernist Thought that disembodies the mind from brain and body, and thoughts from emotion, is wrong; there is no scientific basis for it. Descartes was wrong.
  • American conservatives and neoliberals still hold to the Rationalism of a fading era.  They are traditionalists being pushed to the sidelines, to be called “Old Lights” because their ideas don’t shine as brightly as they once did. They won’t go quietly because they still claim the status of Status Quo.
  • The en-cultured brain/body see here

     The Behavioral Economics Movement [2]
  • Human psychology drives the economy
  • People’s economic activity is influenced by confidence (or the lack of it), fairness, corruption and bad faith, money illusion, and stories told about people, businesses, and the economy
  • Monetarists have been discredited by the current economic crisis (see here [irony intended], here, and here).  The Keynesians will be next (do we really have to watch this ship go down? An early look at this is here and here)

     Romantic Science and Humanities
  • Nonlinear analysis is done by itself or jointly with linear analysis to seek both Text and Context
  • Fractal analysis
  • Situational Analysis
  • Cyclical analysis

     These principles cover quite a bit of ground.  Where it all takes us I have no idea at this time.  But, since I am an experimental researcher, I guess I’ll have answers when I get there.  Everything in its own time.


1.  The primary sources in this area are Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error:  Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Penguin Books, originally 1994 but reprinted in soft cover with new Preface 2005; and his Looking for Spinosa:  Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Harcourt, Inc, 2003; and, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh:  The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, Basic Books, 1999.  The rationalism of American conservatives and neoliberals is described in George Lakoff, The Political Mind, Penguin Books, paperback edition 2009.Mark Johnson, The Meaning of the Body,Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2007

2.  Start with George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, Animal Spirits:  How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism, Princeton University Press, paperback edition, 2010, and read their references; and, read the references at

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cubism: From Moderation to Excess

         The Progressive Era (aka the Third Awakening, ca. 1890-1920) was a great quest for order after decades of romanticism.  Modernism would sweep in behind it and dominate most of the twentieth century.  Let’s take a look at some of the key designs, ideas, and values of Modernism.  They basically include linearity, geometry, squares, and rectangles. Balance and equilibrium are also important ideas. 

      At the turn of the 20th century artist Pablo Picasso began a new art form called Cubism where “artworks, objects are broken up, analyzed, and re-assembled in an abstracted form—instead of depicting objects from one viewpoint, the artist depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a greater context. Often the surfaces intersect at seemingly random angles, removing a coherent sense of depth. The background and object planes interpenetrate one another to create the shallow ambiguous space, one of cubism's distinct characteristics” [1].  As typical in an Awakening, cubism was a hybrid style--Apollo abstracting Dionysus.  This gets inverted 75 years later.
                                                                       Picasso 1910
     Cubism was just one trend that was signaling that another Apollonian era was emerging.  That trend was Modernism with its love of straight lines and angles.  In Architecture the German Bauhaus school would soon put its stamp of order on the world.  Many of its practitioners would move to the US in the 1930s and influence designs here. See the design below. 

                        Johannes Itten, 'House of the White Man - Architectural Study' (1921) [2]

     After World War II, as the middle class began expanding, there was a need to build small inexpensive homes all across the nation.  Architects and urban planners began building planned suburbs such as Levittown, PA and the many Capehart and Wherry housing tracts on military installations.  The ranch style became one of the more popular home styles in the US.   These small, modest homes are all variations on cubes and rectangles. 

                                        Wherry style home, Elgin Air Force Base, CA. [3]

     During those years plaid clothing was common.  People also used phrases such as “he’s square,” “he’s straight,” and “He’s a straight shooter” to complement someone. (A straight person is honest and has integrity; a crooked person doesn't).  Later, during the Fourth Awakening and after, people who had once been complemented in such a manner would be criticized for being “uptight” because they were viewed as being overly controlled and “emotionally repressed.”  Loosen up man.

                                                                              Plaid shirt

     The closing years of Modernism saw a great deal of beautiful architecture that offered simple and elegant designs.  The glass office building with its repetition of cubes and rectangles was the high watershed of Modern architecture.  In every day puzzles, the Rubik’s Cube (aka Rubix cube) was the ultimate game.  Below we see some nice lines and geometry.

                                            Towers of Bella Terra, Orange County CA [4]

     Even before Postmodernism got moving in the 1980s there were some early examples of Dionysian excess.  One art style is called Op Art that uses simple Apollonian lines and geometry to create eye dazzlers.  Here is one piece by American artist Richard Anuszkiewicz.  The Op Art movement is typically viewed as being an outgrowth of the Bauhaus school.

                                                           Richard Anuszkiewicz 1961

     Currently much new Romantic architecture is basically about embellishing the Modernistic standard.  If glass buildings were elegant then they also need to become opulent with more detail and materials, and they need to be contextualized (mimicking feng shui) to their environment.  Here is the MacAllen Building & Condominiums in Boston MA, built circa 1999.  It is described in this way:

                                      MacAllen Building & Condominiums, Boston MA,1999

“On the western end, the building responds to the highway with a curtain wall yielding panoramic views for the residents inside the building. On the eastern end, brickwork mirrors that of the residential building fabric, extending the logic of the storefront and pedestrian scale elements on that facade. On the north and south facades, bronzed aluminum panels reflect the industrial neighborhood component and express the structural system organization.”[5]  I think it has a nice mild eye dazzler effect.

     “Often post-modern architecture is referred to as neo-eclectic, essentially representing a revival of period styles for houses, and an unending variety of forms and sleek, asymmetrical designs for commercial buildings. Post-modernism is based on several reactions: a rejection of modernist thought; a return to traditional, historical precedents; and a re-awakened interest in history and heritage.” [6]. 

     And often it is just unpleasant to look at—not because they are eye dazzlers, but because they are ugly cubicles and rectangles.  Eventually, our new Dionysian era will stop anchoring itself to Modernism.  When it does hopefully we will be inspired by new forms of beauty.  Meanwhile all I can do is try not to cringe at the sight of such crap as below. And this crap is being built all over the west coast. Please stop. 

                                                       Neo Eclectic Hotel, Fullerton, CA

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6. Quote and photo from Not all post modernism rejects Modernism; as I've been saying, it often embellishes it.