Monthly Archives: July 2010

The Open Source Fallacy

In the past three weeks I have accomplished too little in terms of visible production. What have I been doing in this hot village? For it is so hot that I find it difficult even to watch whole films, read whole books, or listen to whole albums. I have been reading very short texts. In between these, I reflect.

ONE

First, I dealt with my reassimilation to Maringouin. I rarely spend time anywhere where it is all right to be who I am, or where access to the contexts I need to be who I am and am also expected to be is not such a struggle.

I feel completely different away from Maringouin, and I must conserve that feeling here if I am ever to work my way out. I decided this is a legitimate question of temperament and needs, and not a character defect or a self-indulgent attitude.

TWO

Next, I continued to deal with Reeducation. Now, when I speak of Reeducation I refer in part to the highly coercive and misleading introductions to academia I experienced after graduate school. At a more important level I refer to the experience of psychotherapy with an ACOA based individual in New Orleans. I did not realize that this person was ACOA based and I would not have known what that meant, so I did not understand the worldview I was having imposed upon me. It took some listening and sleuthing to figure it out.

We had strange conversations because I did not have all the reactions to life I was expected to have, and had not had. Trying to understand where this person was coming from took a great deal of effort. The time, energy, and brain twisting that effort required was very destructive, and I have been trying to recover from this experience and its concrete effects ever since.

THREE

The present weblog is an invention I designed to take myself back from Reeducation. Now I have discovered that someone else had a related idea, and created an entire website where people piece themselves back together after run-ins with the Twelve Step movement. I am amazed to find that so many different people, from different countries and with different orientations, have had my exact same problems with this movement and especially with its claims to universality.

The method is “universal,” it is claimed, although it only “works” if you do not question any part of it; but when you show its exponents why it cannot be universal, they say you have not understood it correctly. Or you have not reinterpreted it sufficiently, or it is simply “not for you” — which means, in the end, that you do not seek improvement.

They think this self-justifying sleight of hand is clever; I think it is mentally retarded; since not all of them are mentally retarded, I can only conclude that they are deluded, when not also self serving and even abusive.

FOUR

I have learned quite a lot from this new website. Indeed, it is not clear to me how I used to get through the days, before I had all this information. Evidently, not having it was what made the days so difficult — in addition, of course, to the oil culture and the white folks and the heat.

China is considering the possible abolition of Reeducation, and so should we.

FIVE

The new website linked to an essay around which it was alleged that the Twelve Steps were “open source,” meaning that you do them however you want. That defense is weak and incomplete for reasons already suggested here. But the comparison to open source code is also based on a complete misconception of that. What if the Twelve Steps resemble, say, an urban legend more than they do open source code?

Indeed, the editors of Wired appear to have forgotten that a great many things in life are not proprietary. By their loose analogy one can call almost anything that is not an industrial secret “open source” including the English language, which we are using right now in a way uniform enough to communicate, but individualized enough so that each interlocutor has a distinct voice.

To give another kind of example, the complete writings of thinkers like Marx, Freud, and Einstein, among many others, is there to be read, and multiple teams are at this moment rereading, reinterpreting, adding to, and using these bodies of work. In these communities, dissent and disagreement are permitted; are they thus not more “open” than the Twelve Step movement? Finally, the editors of Wired seem to forget that a principal characteristic of open source code is that it is no secret how it works.

Verily, in their odd mixture of rigidity and nebulousness the Twelve Steps are anything but a solid program which you can then individualize to your own needs. As many others have pointed out, if it is a spiritual, not a scientific program, then it cannot be considered a modern approach to a physiological disease; if it is a psychological or religious program aimed at a psychological or spiritual problem, there are many more solid and more truly flexible ones.

There is much more to say, and which has been said on these matters, including that in the movement, the phrase “take what you need and leave the rest” is used to tout flexibility and individualization to newcomers, while the allegation that members “did not work the whole program” is used to batter those the program has failed. This is not mere hypocrisy; it is manipulation.

These, then, are some elements in what I am calling The Open Source Fallacy.

Note 1

If you’ve ever been to any kind of Twelve Step meeting, you will have heard the phrase, “It works if you work it!” Someone on the thread I linked to above made a joke, “It jerks if you jerk it!” I wish I‘d come up with that.

Note 2

If any Believers read this post they will surely write in to ask why I am Angry and do not Let It Go and Move On. I and others have a fair amount to say about the misguidedness of the assumptions which inform that retort.

SIX

The commenters in the new site make some useful points about Twelve Step hegemony in the addiction and recovery industries. For instance:

(a) people who have not had reason to come into contact with addiction and recovery will not have had the opportunity to discover any problems;

(b) practitioners prefer not to deal directly with substance abuse and are just as happy to slough the question off onto an organization which claims it has discovered the only way to solve this problem and that, furthermore, it can do so all on its own;

(c) many participants in this scheme have private doubts but know that if they voice these, the aspects of the “program” they find helpful may be withdrawn; given, then, that it is “the only game in town” they participate in a highly individualized fashion (i.e. they do NOT “work the whole program”).

(d) if you have experienced abuse anywhere or from any zealots of such a place, or exhortations to be tolerant or to try just one more time in a new key, do not blame yourself, doubt yourself, or wonder what it is you have not understood. Put it in the place it has in fact worked so hard to earn with you, and walk away.

That last point is in fact great advice for healing, but I find that one must often also understand what it is one is walking away from in order to actually walk. I also think that this sort of movement is different from, say, a car one didn’t like although others might, or a personal relationship that didn’t work out; I shall expand slightly upon this point in section SEVEN, below.

In addition, there are apparently many people who actually have the sorts of problems the Twelve Steps are purported to address, but might benefit much more from another approach, and are not aware of any. Statements like “if you don’t like it, just leave” are disingenuous because the entire model of the self, and of “addiction” that the Twelve Step movement promotes and has installed in mainstream culture really limits accessibility to and comprehension of alternative approaches.

SEVEN

Still more important from the point of view of my life, since I am powered mainly by caffeine and vegetables, is the way in which the Twelve Step “wisdom” has seeped into the culture at large. I mean, there is an entire self help industry based on this. Many “therapists” and “counselors” are informed by that industry and not by the more serious work that would (and does) call the Twelve Step ideology anti-therapeutic. Widely read purveyors of common sense like Ann Landers were AA members, and the list goes on.

My point is that it is precisely true what the Twelve Steppers say, that it is not just (or not even mainly) a method to stop abusing substances; it is an interpretation of life and a methodology for living it. Some critics point to the “cult-like” characteristics of the Twelve Step movement. I see their point, particularly with regard to the way in which refugees from the movement appear to require healing in the ways former cult members, or prisoners (or torture victims) do. Yet I note that the concepts this movement wields seem to be even more widespread and therefore more powerful than are those of most mere cults.

Its core ideas and methodologies in fact fit with those of too many other movements, including but hardly limited to those of the Tea Party. Its customs seem to be part of a whole cultural trend. People quote Twelve Step slogans as eternal wisdom without being aware of their source. These “make sense” because they speak to and reinforce other repressive traditions which float in our cultural air. Thus does this falsely “therapeutic” ideology become one of the main ways in which we are taught to think of ourselves and conceive of our relation to the world. That is why I think we should all be interested.

SONG

It having been the weekend, we must sing. I sing that I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.

Y’heah dat, y’all?

“I’m blowing down that old dusty road. They say I’m a Dust Bowl refugee, but I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way. Your two dollar shoe hurts my feet. It takes a ten dollar shoe to fit my feet, and I ain’t a-gonna be treated this a-way.”

And, to continue the Guthrie fest for a moment, please note that all [them] Fascists bound to lose.

Axé.

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1910 (Intermedio)

Aquellos ojos míos de mil novecientos diez
no vieron enterrar a los muertos,
ni la feria de ceniza del que llora por la madrugada,
ni el corazón que tiembla arrinconado como un caballito de mar.

Aquellos ojos míos de mil novecientos diez
vieron la blanca pared donde orinaban las niñas,
el hocico del toro, la seta venenosa
y una luna incomprensible que iluminaba por los rincones
los pedazos de limón seco bajo el negro duro de las botellas.

Aquellos ojos míos en el cuello de la jaca,
en el seno traspasado de Santa Rosa dormida,
en los tejados del amor, con gemidos y frescas manos,
en un jardín donde los gatos se comían a las ranas.

Desván donde el polvo viejo congrega estatuas y musgos,
cajas que guardan silencio de cangrejos devorados
en el sitio donde el sueño tropezaba con su realidad.
Allí mis pequeños ojos.

No preguntarme nada. He visto que las cosas
cuando buscan su curso encuentran su vacío.
Hay un dolor de huecos por el aire sin gente
y en mis ojos criaturas vestidas ¡sin desnudo!

— F.G.L., New York, agosto 1929

Axé.

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Grupos de palomas

A la Sra. Lupe Medina de Ortega

1
Los grupos de palomas,
notas, claves, silencios, alteraciones,
modifican el ritmo de la loma.
La que se sabe tornasol afina
las ruedas luminosas de su cuello
con mirar hacia atrás a su vecina.
Le da al sol la mirada
y escurre en una sola pincelada
plan de vuelos a nubes campesinas.

2
La gris es una joven extranjera
cuyas ropas de viaje
dan aire de sorpresas al paisaje
sin compradoras y sin primaveras.

3
Hay una casi negra
que bebe astillas de agua en una piedra.
Después se pule el pico,
mira sus uñas, ve las de las otras,
abre un ala y la cierra, tira un brinco
y se para debajo de las rosas.
El fotógrafo dice:
para el jueves, señora.
Un palomo amontona sus erres cabeceadas,
y ella busca alfileres
en el suelo que brilla por nada.
Los grupos de palomas
-notas, claves, silencios, alteraciones-
modifican lugares de la loma.

4
La inevitablemente blanca
sabe su perfección. Bebe en la fuente
y se bebe a sí misma y se adelgaza
cual un poco de brisa en una lente
que recoge el paisaje.
Es una simpleza
cerca del agua. Inclina la cabeza
con tal dulzura,
que la escritura desfallece
en una serie de sílabas maduras.

5
Corre un automóvil y las palomas vuelan.
En la aritmética del vuelo,
los «ochos» árabes desdóblanse
y la suma es impar. Se mueve el cielo
y la casa se vuelve redonda.
Un viraje profundo.
Regresan las palomas.
notas. claves. Silencios. Alteraciones.
El lápiz se descubre; se inclinan las lomas
y por 20 centavos se cantan las canciones.

–Carlos Pellicer

Axé.

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Des Foules

It was midday. The crowd filled the streets, coming and going, dispersing or conglomerating, circulating or standing still, pouring down the entrances to the métro like a river of bitumen, assaulting the buses like a cloud of locusts; a crowd trading on each other’s toes, digging its elbows into each other’s ribs, spitting into each other’s backs: a grumbling, gloomy, anticfray crowd.

A fine sight for young people.

–Queneau 1936; based on his Paris journal from 1920-1928.

Axé.

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Prosas profanas

…[He aquí que veréis en mis versos princesas, reyes, cosas imperiales, visiones de países lejanos o imposibles: ¡qué queréis!, yo detesto la vida y el tiempo en que me tocó nacer; y a un presidente de República no podré saludarle en el idioma en que te cantaría a ti, ¡oh Halagabal! de cuya corte -oro, seda, mármol- me acuerdo en sueños.

Some famous passages are so vitriolic that I laughed the first time I read them, and never forgot them. Here R.D. says, among other things, “I detest life and the era in which I happen to have been born.” It is all so marvelous: he writes of princesses, kings, imperial things, and visions of faraway or impossible countries; he feels he cannot greet the President of a Republic in the same language in which he would address Elagabalus, whose court of gold, silk and marble he remembers in dreams.

R.D. is invoking and evoking decadence in a certain spirit of social critique and that is one thing we are doing here, in a more revolutionary way.

*

Friday, Oxalá‘s day, was lovely in New Orleans. On the way down I had imagined the road I will take sometime soon from Mexico City to Xalapa to the coast; riding back to Maringouin I left the highway for a while and took Highland Road through Baton Rouge. Gliding past oak after oak for miles in the beautiful night I thought everything was at last all right. My house is very beautiful inside, and when I fell asleep I had the impression it was dedans la ville.

In the morning I awoke to a new nightmare, one I had not had before: I was being married off. The groom seemed to be a nice person and was accepting of the situation out of respect for tradition. But he was modern and grown up in aspect, and I surmised he must have the same doubts about this plan as I did. If we go through with this, I thought, it will be harder to undo than it will if we end operations now. But how could I interrupt the proceedings, given that it was impossible to caucus with this groom since he had been assigned to seat guests in some faraway part of the room? And no family or friends were present — only dignitaries, neighbors, and coworkers.

I began by complaining about my dress, which had been rented but not by me, and which did not fit. My attendants prevailed upon an audience member my size, who was wearing an off white summer dress of Indonesian rayon that was more my style. The plan presented was that we should trade dresses, so I could wear something I would be happier with. I objected that this was still her dress, not my dress. I did not want her to have to give up her dress, and certainly not in favor of the rather odd dress I had; furthermore, it would not solve the problem since it was not my dress. My other objection, not voiced but truer, was that this audience member was someone I have had trouble with at work, and I did not trust her dress.

My refusal to wear this dress caused serious trouble: plaster and gauze were brought, and I was put into a full body cast. This was tapped into shape with a hammer; it covered my mouth and hair. As the hammer was brought up to tap the cast into shape around my teeth, I awoke in absolute horror and proceeded to pass a rather unsettling day. All vivid dreams are good signposts, however.

*

And the fact is that Maringouin is not me. It is interesting indeed, but it is not only not me; it is also antithetical to me in many ways. Adaptable though I am and try as I do, I do not succeed in accustoming myself to it because it does not offer a context in which I can be who I am and who, for practical purposes as well, I must be. I do not want to believe this because I am indoctrinated to believe that my feeling  — which is actually an expression of basic needs — is intolerant and also excessively demanding.

Notice, however, that in the dream there is nothing wrong with the groom. The problems are that we have no relationship, and I am not wearing my own dress. Were I to recognize this in waking life it would be wisdom, perhaps.

*

I had a dream a few nights ago, in which I was moving to California. I was elated for two days — in fact, I do not know that I have been this elated since the sixties or the seventies. Then I realized why, and that I had been elated about something which was not real, and I began again to struggle with that enclosed feeling of Maringouin and of our university where the few windows which exist, do not open. Psychically, though, perhaps the dream indicated a shift.

*

This post on the cult like aspects of academia may be worth considering. I had written a very interesting post on it, which quoted several marvelous poets and linked to a variety of other resources; that post was lost and I cannot reconstruct all of it now. Very briefly, it suggested that academia is not actually a cult, but that many of its members think and behave in cult like ways. One is often coerced emotionally to take measures which do not serve any rational purpose.

In my case, that has tended to mean living in situations where I cannot be who I need to be to truly do the job. I was always told I should not be an academic because I would have to publish and I might have to live in a place where it snowed. These things did not deter me. Had I been informed that in so many academic places being an intellectual would be a problem, I really would have reconsidered everything.

*

Bright Eos has come over the horizon, turning the clouds gold and rosicler as she steps across the dewy fields; this day will be beautiful. Tous les matins du monde sont sans retour.

Axé.

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Raymond Queneau

I had never read Queneau, but Les derniers jours fell into my hands in English. It is very amusing, and I can see that it could be moreso in French. Here, the character goes to a salon:

They were impressionist poets or symbolist painters; they had known friends of Paul Verlaine; they still remembered tubercular or alcoholic beings who had died in the first years of the century, victims of rare words and punctuation.

Axé.

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Un paisaje hecho poema

(Siento que se aglomeran mis deseos
como el pueblo a las puertas de una boda.)
El río allá es un niño y aquí un hombre
que negras hojas junta en un remanso.
Todo el mundo le llama por su nombre
y le pasa la mano como a un perro manso.
¿En qué estación han de querer mis huéspedes
descender. ¿En otoño o primavera.
¿O esperarán que el tono de los céspedes
sea el ángel que anuncie la manzana primera.
De todas las ventanas, que una sola
sea fiel y se abra sin que nadie la abra.
Que se deje cortar como amapola
entre tantas espigas, la palabra.
Y cuando los invitados
ya estén aquí —en mí—, la cortesía
única y sola por los cuatro lados,
será dejarlos solos, y en signo de alegría
enseñar los diez dedos que no fueron tocados
sino
por
la
sola
poesía.

Carlos Pellicer

Axé.

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