This is an addendum to the last post I made on “Transcend and Include”.  I was inspired by a recent podcast on Jeff Salzman’s Daily Evolver podcast about How To Vote Integral.

When you consider it, how a person trying to make an Integral decision would decide how to vote really addresses the the whole issue about valuing and recognizing the positives in each level.  There are few Integral, Second Tier politicians out there, and it’s not certain how much success they might have if elected at this point in time.  (Take Obama for example, who was pretty close to having an Integral outlook, but who became hogtied by his reality.)  It is also true, as I tried to outline in the previous article, that each level has something valuable to contribute to society and government and, as Jeff points out in his podcast, success often depends on using input from multiple levels.

So, choosing your vote requires filtering the positives and negatives of each level.  It is not only the ideology that is right or wrong, but also the way it is discerned.  I really like that word as it is a word like judge or discriminate, but has no connotations.  Discern.  How do you do that.

Jeff’s podcast gives several ideas, at one point saying that perhaps you should chose wisdom over ideology.  I agree with that, but I don’t find it very helpful guidance.  One thing that I was surprised that he didn’t say was that perhaps Horizontal development and integrity are just as important as Vertical development.  Vertical development is the hierarchy of Traditional vs. Modern vs. Post-Modern, or the Red / Amber / Orange /Green continuum that Integral and Spiral Dynamics uses to describe social evolution.  But we’ve seen that there are negative traits in each of these, so that’s not enough when making a political decision.  Horizontal development is growth within a particular stage.  It is often seen as “integrity”.

That Horizontal development can be addressed using many facets and factors.  It can be that all Lines of development, such as intellectual, emotional, physical, social, etc., have undergone equal Vertical evolution.  Someone can be post-modern at a cognitive line, but traditional or even pre-traditional at an emotional and social stage.  (In many cases that would be called a sociopath.)  Someone with even development and balance across different kinds of “intelligence” is more likely to have the wisdom that Jeff is talking about.

Another aspect of Integral theory is respect of internal realities vs external ones vs social ones.  These are the four quadrants.  Certainly, a person who regards and takes into account factors from each of these quadrants is more likely to be a successful politician.  And one has to remember that it doesn’t matter what vertical level a person may be at, they can still access each one of these levels and utilize them.  A person with a traditional world view can access their own personal inner reality and values, can appreciate the objectivity of the external world and reality, and can consider social and systemic consequences.  A traditional person who relates to the world more in this way is going to be a more successful and wise politician than one who does not.  In fact they might be a better politician than someone at a “higher” stage who does not have this balance.

Another important aspect of Horizontal development is Shadow Work.  Shadows are the denied and submerged parts of our own mind that can act to sabotage our daily activities.  No matter how enlightened and wise we may think ourselves, if Shadows are not confronted they can ruin everything.  Sometimes entire cultures have Shadows in that there are deep ethnic or cultural injuries that have just never been confronted and absorbed into the main stream.  They then fester as cultural hang-ups.  Certainly a leader or politician who has dealt with their personal hang-ups or Shadows is likely to be more in touch with the positives than someone who has demons or skeletons, no matter what stage they are at.

Personally, I think that Horizontal development is essential to successful Vertical development, and should be a major part of any Integral mentoring or coaching program.  The ones I’ve witnessed recognize this and use it.  Insufficient Horizontal development leads to fixations, i.e. getting stuck in certain aspects of development which then can lead to integrity problems.  Politicians seem to have a lot of those.

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The following is my attempt to address a few issues often brought up within the Integral Community.  An understanding of Integral Theory would facilitate understanding it, but I’ve tried to write in in a way that would be accessible to most people.

Level+&-

“Transcend and include” is a central concept in the idea of evolution through the AQAL levels of Integral theory.  As you progress from Traditional to Modern to Post-Modern you are supposed to retain the best parts of the previous level as you migrate to the world view of the next level.  It often doesn’t happen that way because each level believes that it is the only right way to look at things, often rejecting with enthusiasm the values and perspectives of the previous level.  Once one achieves an Integral, Second Tier level, one is open to the value and contributions of each of the previous levels.

Itemizing the pros and cons of each level seems to be a necessary task in order to filter out what gets included and what gets transcended.  Although I have come across a few indirect mentions of this in various readings and podcasts, I feel that it would be valuable to spell these our more directly.  This is what I am attempting to do in this article.

Let’s start with the Traditional / Pre-Rational / Amber level.  This is a particularly important topic because this level represents one of the largest portions of the population, and failure to understand them is at the heart of the current culture wars and the current social tension.  In fact, members of this Traditional level are not all the “basket of deplorables” to which Hillary so unfortunately assigned them.  It is the fact that they are all viewed as some kind of uncivilized, substandard group of people that has led to the reactionary results of the recent American election, and we would be well advised to make sure that we don’t fall into the same mistake here in Canada.

The Traditional level has many strengths.  These have been notably demonstrated during the disasters and tragedies of the last few months.  During the string of hurricanes that hit southern Texas and Florida there were countless stories of individual and group heroism in selfless aid, sharing and community solidarity.  This was a demonstration of Traditional positive values.  They are loyal to community and family.  They are group centric, and feel a moral obligation to that group.  Their trust in their religion gives them strength and hope when pure reason would fail.  There is a spiritual commitment to that religion that translates into a sense of awe about the world and a personal relationship with that spirituality.  In small towns, there is a sense of pride and decency which helps prevent things like delinquency and graffiti.  I have personally sensed that strong community citizenship in the many Midwestern and western towns I’ve visited through the years.  Contrary to being “deplorable”, there is a real core of conservative decency.  These are all valuable traits which undoubtedly enabled the settlement of the New World in the face of many hardships.

However, there are many shortcomings within all of this.  Group-centric more often than not means that the positive qualities of which we speak are only extended to members of that home group.  People who are outsiders or who are different are not included.  This is also true of ideas.  When you are using words like “conservative” or “traditional” you have to understand that they are aimed at preserving the past and are very resistant to change.  Change is a threat to the group and the comforting stability.  Values are linked to a literal interpretation of the rules that define the group, -in N. America this most commonly being one form or another of Christianity.  As it is a pre-rational stage, it doesn’t know how to shine the light of logic or reason onto those rules or customs and so they are inflexibly and stubbornly accepted.  This and the exclusivity caused by group centric beliefs give rise to the more negative traits of discrimination, racism, sexism and a variety of other prejudices, including a suspicion of education and intelligence.  These are the qualities of a smaller world and have to change when one accepts a larger world.

Of course, science and culture do not stand still.  As they evolve they become a threat to tradition.  Galileo was persecuted for suggesting that the Earth was not the centre of the universe.  In modern times that persecution and rejection is aimed at people who believe in evolution and who do not believe the literal, Biblical age of the Earth as 8 000 years.

Often, this cultural confrontation leads to the Traditional level rejecting science and progress in its entirety, and those in the rational levels see this as barbaric.  Intellectualism and science are often ridiculed by the Amber level.  When the rational levels (Orange and Green) view this, they’re likely to put all of the Amber characteristics into one basket and label it deplorable.  That’s a mistake on many levels.  Not only does it deny the many positive characteristics of the Amber level, but it also places them in a defensive position from which they are far less likely to evolve.  When you are defensive, it makes it harder to “transcend”, and those who do are often lacking in the “include” as the jump can often be a traumatic one.  Those who progress from Amber to Orange often divest themselves of all traces of the previous level.  Like the adolescent who has just discovered the power of reason, they turn it on everything else in a frenzy of rejection.  All forms of spiritual involvement are given the hatchet, and often so are the group centric practices of loyalty and obligation.

A similar analysis can be made of the Orange / Modernist / Rational level.  Its strength is obviously the power of reason and science superseding superstition.  It dawned with the Age of Enlightenment, which led to the Industrial Revolution and scientific breakthroughs culminating in the cure of many diseases and putting a man on the moon.  Primitive beliefs about the cause of disease were replaced with an understanding of bacteria and infection, in turn leading to how one can cure them.  Those at the Orange level can respond reasonably to argument and logic (although they don’t always do that).

But the flip side can be the narrow absolutism of materialism.  It leads to determinism, the questioning of free will, capitalism at its worst, and Social Darwinism.  The vitality and awe of the human experience is thrown out with the Amber superstition, leaving the barren landscape of existentialism.  Like Ayn Rand’s character in the novel “We The Living”, it looks out on the world and judges its value only in terms of human need, pragmatic creativity and functionality.  It is beautiful if it was a beautiful human creation.  It can be sterile, opportunist and exploitive due to economic and materialistic pragmatism.  Again, because it believes that it is the only valid world view, it ravages everything outside of its boundaries and in time exaggerates everything within.  While it is a plus that it respects achievement, it is a negative that it respects only achievement and at the cost of so many other values.

And, in turn, we can examine the Post-Modern or Green stage.  The larger scale advancement of the Green / Post-Modernism / Trans-Rational level in the 60s and 70s brought a broader, more inclusive world view often described as Pluralism and a greater degree of relativism in looking at alternative points of view.  It led to a greater movement towards racial and gender equality, above and beyond the formal adjustments that were made under Modernism.  It began greater acceptance of issues around sexual identity and Gay rights.  It began to be more inclusive of other cultures, ascribing to them a degree of internal validity.  All of this acts as an interesting bridge to the Teal or Second Tier world view which embodies the next level in Integral Theory, i.e. the Integral Level.  Compassion was extended not only to other lifestyles and cultures, but also expanded to Nature in general though new environmental awareness.  The ideas of consciousness, self improvement, and things like transactional psychology emerged to extend the world view to the internal (UL) realm.  Parts of spirituality were reclaimed as people realized that pure reason may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater when Modernism reacted against Traditionalism, and as a result trans-rational thought began to consider that logic and reason were not the be all and end all.  Placing materialism on a pedestal had the same detrimental effects as dogmatic traditionalism.  And yet, reason had to be held in the equation in all of these new initiatives in order to give it some grounding.  Hence there was an attempt to justify the new spirituality in terms of Quantum Physics, -sometimes a more successful attempt at justification than at other times.

But like all of the other levels, there is an inevitable dark side potential, interestingly being called “mean green” by Integral thinkers.  As was the case with the other levels, there is the tendency to go overboard.  Pluralism often became relativism, where other aspects of foreign cultures were not only considered for merit, but were automatically validated regardless of what it was.  Instead of each opinion having some truth to it, the tendency was to say that all opinions were in fact true, meaning that there was no truth.  This led to two very damaging consequences.  The first was a dominance of relativism and nihilism that did not allow any form of examination or discrimination when dealing with other points of view.  Everything had to be accepted, which means that there was only “include” and no “transcend”.  There was no selection of values to carry forward or leave behind.  There were no positive and negative aspects because total inclusion demanded that you include everything without any such discrimination, leading to a sort of Nihilistic world view.

In a bizarre twist, this morphed into a second consequence.  Everything had to be accepted, except non acceptance.  For that there was extreme intolerance, leading to things like micro aggressions, political correctness, safe spaces and protests against many things that should be regarded as free speech.  To be clear, each of these things have appropriate applications.  People who are psychologically vulnerable need safe spaces and extra consideration.  Hate speech should not be regarded as free speech without special consequences.  But the trend got out of hand and in many cases these principles are being used as the norm, not the exception.  I called it bizarre because imbedded in this there is an inherent paradox.  On one hand Green wants to be tolerant of other cultures and ways of life.  On the other hand they are extremely intolerant of the social levels such as Amber and risk referring to them as a “basket of deplorables”.

Each level, as we’ve seen, has its positive and negative sides.  There seems to be a pattern.  Understanding this allows us to make other conclusions.

First, it answers the original question about “transcend and include”, making it clear that we can leave behind the negative while updating the positive within the previous level and carrying it forward to the new level.

Second, it allows us to understand how an Integral, Second Tier world view can value aspects of each level without necessarily having to accept the more unsavory parts of them which don’t meet new standards of inclusion.  In my opinion, one of the biggest issues in our current state of cultural polarization is the inability of levels to see the positive in the other levels.  This isn’t surprising as each First Tier level tends to see itself as the only valid world view.  However, Second Tier has to learn this lesson, and even Green has to begin to have some sensitivity towards it.  This is the real reason that political Progressives lost so much in the Heartland of America.  Those people felt ignored and demeaned.

Third, it draws attention to the idea that horizontal development is just as important as vertical development.  This means that within any given level there is a lot of personal work to be done.  Integral theory is not just about levels.  Lines of development are just as important.  Making progress in all lines of development such as emotional intelligence, social interaction and spiritual development all are going to have an impact on successful transition to higher levels, not to mention that good, even development just does a lot to help make a good person.  Similarly, shadow work is an essential component at every single level, playing a huge part in the positive vs. negative characteristics.  As I read somewhere recently (can’t remember or I would give credit) and evenly balanced compassionate Amber person is in many ways much better company than a Mean Green person, just as a “nice” ten year old is often a better person than a disturbed adult.

If this is truly a pattern, it should be apparent in the Red / Warrior level.  I feel that it is, with independence and personal achievement being important qualities on the positive side, while lack of empathy, egocentrism and lack of nuance becomes a problem in our modern society.

Similarly, there should be positive and negative aspects to Teal / Turquoise, although I’m not really prepared to go into those here at this time.  Unless the switch to Second Tier magically changes the pattern, it is something that should be seen as an important factor in transition and inclusion.  And since “magic” is more of a Red / Amber thing, my money is on the pattern replicating.

THE POWER OF CEREMONY

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Personal Whining

Yesterday I had the honour of conducting a marriage ceremony for an old student/friend and his bride.  I’m not really qualified to legally notarize a marriage, so the couple was married the day before in a civil procedure by a judge.  However I am sure that the date of yesterday’s ceremony will become the official wedding anniversary.  Why?  Because when it comes to the true meaning and spirit of a wedding, it’s not the stroke of a pen that is significant, but rather the gathering of people who witness a symbolic union.  Part of it is the exchange of rings and the reading of vows, but even more importantly it is the supportive witnessing of the ceremony by friends and family.

This is the nature of ceremony.  It goes beyond signing a document or making a simple proclamation.  There’s a power in ceremony that comes from something beyond words and straight cognition.  Symbolism and ritual go further than words, adding layers of emotion and meaning that penetrate more deeply into consciousness.  People can proclaim something and the result is a shallow understanding.  Ceremony results in an understanding which is deeper and more long lasting.

Modernism often wants to strip out ceremony and symbolism replacing it with practicality.  As a result we’ve forgotten the benefits.  This is particularly true of ceremony related to rites of passage.  “Primitive” and traditional cultures have had ceremony surrounding rites of passage for children, adolescents, adults and seniors, many of which have been abandon or forgotten.  As a result passages through critical stages of life are hollow and aren’t paired with the kinds of symbolic meanings and responsibilities that would permit more authentic transitions.  The transition of an adolescent into an adult is too often punctuated only by acquiring a driver’s licence, getting drunk or sexual conquest.  There is no other ceremonial rite of passage in normal society to facilitate and elevate this transition.  Marriages outside of religious doctrine are often stripped of deeper meaning because alternatives are not easily found.  Post modernism has introduced some “New Age” approaches, but this doesn’t sit well with many people.

The value of ceremony is independent of religion or even cultural expectations.  It can be spiritual, but only need be so in a general way that touches something deeper in our minds.  But it is an important part of our culture of transition and growth that we must reconnect with.

Eventually I want to get to the subject of the surge in vandalism and hate crimes against Muslims, Jews and many other sectors of society.  But first…

Traveling gives you a deep understanding and respect for the fact that civilization is often based on a thin veneer of civility.  By that I mean that for many, human nature hasn’t changed that much over time and from area to area.  When walking through the ruin streets of Pompeii I considered how superficial many aspects of our so called “progress” actually were.  Stripped of laws and institutions, what we normally regard as civilized or even progressive societies could easily revert to an egocentric and warrior like state.

When the civil rights revolution took place in the southern U.S. at the end of the 60s and through the 70s, there was a radical difference in the way that black people were treated.  It wasn’t a perfect situation and there was a lot of residual discrimination and racism.  Obviously, there still is.  But, by and large, a lot of it was submerged and the overall state improved dramatically.  Not because people changed, but because the standards and expectations along with many of the actual rules shifted strongly in the direction of civil rights.  And so it has remained, with racist, pre civil rights sentiments, percolating quietly below the surface, unfortunately still manifesting from time to time, still being addressed in law enforcement, incarceration and many other areas.  But one cannot say that there hasn’t been significant improvement, to the point that a current debate is whether discrimination and inequality still exist, or whether “white privilege” exists.

We see that thin veneer in other areas as well.  Several years ago, here in Canada, riots broke out in Vancouver that surprised everyone.  It was in response to a sports event.  For one strange night the rule of law was suspended and people let loose with their more primitive, violent selves.  This is not unusual, and one can’t help but wonder what the results would be if our society lost the ability to enforce the consequences to the rules and laws that define our society.  What would happen in a natural disaster or an epidemic where police and other emergency resources were unavailable?  Would our better natures take over or would the primitive self lash out in self preservation.  People concerned with survival in such situations are not overly optimistic, claiming that 10% of the population would have little hesitation to stealing your supplies and around 1% might be willing to kill you in order to eat … you.

It’s an old question, often told in literature and films.  My feeling is that a rather large percentage of society is constrained by a very delicate and easily broken veneer of civility, held in check by fear of consequences.  They secretly harbour a world view that places them at the top of the priority heap.

[For clarity, let me explain that I do not hold all people in such regard.  When I’m talking about “human nature” here, I’m thinking about the more primitive, irrational aspects of it.  I’m not even talking about people with a conservative or traditional world view, as it is plain that hatred comes from all parts of a political spectrum.  Our society is progressing and evolving, and there are many who don’t fall into this category.  Unfortunately there are also many who do.]

Herein lays, in my opinion, the basis for the current shift in vandalism we’re witnessing.  Many uncivil people, normally are constrained by the standards of society by which they’re surrounded by rules, examples and expectations.  When you have a prominent person like the President of the United States purposefully taking a sledge hammer to that veneer of civility, many people see it as permission.  They are emboldened by these brash and uncivil expressions of anger and hate, misogyny and racial profiling exhibited by a person who is a powerful symbol and icon of what the social standards should be.  The President’s status in such matters cannot be overemphasized.

Donald Trump has seriously damaged our society, not just in the U.S. but all over the world, by trashing civility and empowering Neanderthal behaviour.  Many things such has his comments about women and encouraging violence and intolerance at his campaign rallies (among so many other things) have set a new standard.  Now nothing keeps in check the base attitudes and opinions which were previously closeted by people because social standards were opposed to them.  Those social standards are no longer in control.

In this light it is easy to understand the bomb threats and vandalism of Jewish gravestones.  It is not reasonable to believe that hatred will be directed only in the limited direction that the U.S. administration chooses.  Hatred is a primitive thing.  Once unleashed it will find its own way into the heart of all people who have been harboring frustrations and prejudices, whether it be against Muslims, people of colour, Jews, gays or whatever is at hand that provides an opportunity to lash out against someone different.

Jews seem surprised at this recent violence and persecution.  I’m not.  It may easily spread to other groups.  Once you open Pandora’s Box, the consequences are out of your control.  Trump did, and it is.  And it will take a long time to reverse.

In his book, Player Piano, Kurt Vonnegut describes a world where master craftsmen and the best assembly line workers are studied and recorded in order to program robotic automation to emulate them.  Work on the factory floor is all done by robots programmed to copy the movements of the best workers.  These workers are paid a handsome bonus and then relieved of their jobs, just like all of their co-workers who are not as fortunate to get the bonus.  The result is a massive amount of unemployment with people receiving enough to get by, but generally living aimless, drifting lives.  I read the book back in the 1970s, but the haunting picture has remained with me for decades.

Now we are seeing signs that the this prophetic literature may actually come true.  Automation in factories is responsible for more of the unemployment in the manufacturing sector than most people know or are willing to admit.  Fortune magazine estimates that over 80% of lost jobs are due to automation or other related domestic factors.  When this is told to politicians they often respond with, “Well, then there will be jobs building and maintaining the robots.”  But studies show that jobs related to automation are very temporary, disappearing when the designing and building are completed, and the maintenance jobs are quite sparse (that being one of the advantages of automation, -you don’t need a large work force to maintain production).

Similarly, we are now looking at the very real prospect of a revolution in driverless motor vehicles.  Once this is perfected it will impact everyone from taxi drivers to truck drivers.  Big rigs moving along principal highways will be the first to go driverless.  It will be more efficient because robots don’t have to sleep or stop to eat.  Transit buses will likely be the next to be hit.

We’re already heading towards automated check outs at the grocery store and at MacDonald’s.  It’s only a matter of time before AI tech gets to the point where employees like warehouse workers and even middle management position become at least partially redundant.

I don’t see new jobs in technology keeping pace with those jobs being lost by the above circumstances.  Even if they did, there is the whole question of educating people adequately in order for them to fill those jobs.  Currently there is a huge shortage of skilled workers in the tech industry, now largely being filled by immigrants because the domestic population can’t rise to the occasion.  However, even if you could train the local MacDonald’s cashier or short order cook to write code for automations, I don’t think it would cover those finding themselves out of a job.

So what’s the answer?  Well, Player Piano is one of the possible consequences.  It describes a society that has a very polarized social strata, with many people deemed “not useful” and therefore marginalized.  You see a similar story in the TV series, “Incorporated” where the engineers live inside walled cities and the majority of society are left to fend in the lawless “Red Zone”.

Another possibility is that we increase the need for productive labor by engaging in a war.  A bonus to this (so to speak) is that it may do a lot to wipe out national deficits and debts as well.

But barring these dystopian solutions, what can we do to adjust our society to cope with automation?  Diametrically opposed to the problem societies mentioned above is, for example, the society envisioned by Star Trek, -a utopian society where technology has solved most of humanities needs and problems, but where people still lead meaningful lives.

I would suggest that the solution involves a whole scale re-evaluation of both our economic and educational systems.

Economically, the answer lies in a guaranteed annual income, already being experimented by some countries like Denmark and Finland.  The idea of a guaranteed minimum income has a long American history, as you can discover if you Wiki it, and has even been spoken well of by conservative pundits like Andre Coyne in Canada (National Post).  In this model, people would have a guaranteed minimum annual income to which they could add through other gainful work.  It would have to be paid for by flattening out the current polarization between the poor, the middle class and the economic elite.  This doesn’t mean eliminating differences in income, nor does it remove the incentive to better your economic situation, but it does recognize that companies are eliminating jobs to increase profits.  You would think that companies would recognize that they may be maneuvering themselves out of a market and towards both an economic and social crisis if they don’t “share the wealth” in some way.

Shorter work weeks may allow more people to be involved in the jobs that survive.  Instead of one person working a 40 hour week (or, as is often the case, more) you might have two people working 20 hour work weeks, but with the same pay.  Yes, that doubles the employee expense for the company, but that company saved the money it put out by automating.  In the end it will still make at least the same profit.  I know they automated so that they would make more profit, and they may still be able to do so, but not with the same impunity that they would have if they simply dismissed half or more of their work force.   I am sure there are ways that could be structured so that everyone would benefit more from automation, -just, perhaps, some not as dramatically.

Then again, these shorter work weeks would produce an excess of free time.  One would hope that people could benefit from this, but the reality probably is that without proper education people may feel aimless and without purpose, or may fall into traps of self gratification that will not be beneficial to anyone.  The role of education has to change.  Not only will it have to adjust its curriculum to the needs of this new social order, but it will have to spend more time educating the person to live rather than just to work.  Much more attention needs to be given to self reflection and self improvement.  A mindset that will encourage things like hobbies, self improvement, lifelong learning, and community service needs to be introduced into the curriculum.  Opportunities for this kind of self improvement have to be built into the system as well as building a sense of empowerment which causes people to engage productively.

These are major paradigm shifts for both economics and education.  Don’t ask me how they will be accomplished, but we don’t really have a lot of time.  We’re very quickly going to make some fundamental decisions to change or to not change.  The result will forge the kind of world we’ll inhabit in less than a quarter of a century.

 

A part of the solution has to be that we try to retain a respect for human endeavour.  Just because a job can be replaced by a robot or computer program doesn’t mean that it has to be.  Corporate striving for the largest profit may dictate that people be replaced with machines, but that doesn’t have to be how it plays out if we engage different economic priorities.  The fact is that when I go to a doctor, I prefer a human being (even if they are assisted by technology).  If I go into a small store, most people enjoy talking to the human owner.  Certainly jobs in teaching, although they might efficiently be replaced by technology, would be better served with human interaction.  Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we have to.  In the Medicine Wheel there’s a stage before doing where you examine your vision and projection of the goal.  Sometimes human priorities related to that vision are more important than the purely efficient and cost effective ones.  Often things that are cost efficient are only successful because there are few alternatives, and they don’t really make anyone happy, worker or customer, other than the ones reaping the profit.

It’s a tall order because many of the required changes require a social evolution that we can only envision on a far horizon.  It may be a question of technology having evolved faster than society, nd faster than what is for our own good.  On the other hand, the adversity and consequences may spark the necessary change, but probably at a huge cost.

 

Oscar Films 2017

Posted: February 10, 2017 in Personal Whining

More than usual, it seems to me, this year’s nominated movies have mostly come out  in the last month.  A few have just come out in wide distribution, so I haven’t seen all of them.  Here’s what I can tell you:

Of the ones I’ve seen,

“La La Land” lives up to its title completely.  It put me to sleep.  Make no mistake; there are plenty of notable things about this film.  The acting and music and sets and special effects are all great.  But the story is cliché.  Actually I saw it as a parody of a cliché, but that didn’t help.  I know I’m being sacrilegious.  I can’t but wonder if its appeal is tied to the need for something simple and sweet in this complicated and dark time.

“Moonlight” was equally non engaging.  Here, while the theme and plot were attempting to be socially relevant, the pace of the movie was almost surreal.  I don’t think that was necessary in order to make any point, unless they were trying to demonstrate how boring the day to day drudge of life was for the characters.  You have to have more than social relevance to make a good movie.

“Hell or High Water” was a good action film, well made and acted, but certainly not exceptional in any way.  I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed a lot of films this year.

“Manchester By The Sea” was also dragging and non engaging.  I couldn’t warm up to the characters, and didn’t feel that it rose above mediocrity in any way.  Not a bad movie, but certainly not notable.

“Arrival” was, in my view, the best film of the year, but I’d be the first to understand why others wouldn’t think so.  I thought it was all round good, but did drag in some places, partly in an over-enthusiastic attempt to create suspense.  It was novel, though, and surprisingly fresh.  It was definitely an intellectual mystery.

“Hacksaw Ridge” The film is well made with an engaging story, although is a little slow at the beginning.  It tackles some interesting moral issues, though sometimes very awkwardly.  Having the main character advocate the idea of non-violence while surrounded by Mel Gibson’s typical graphic violence and gore creates a contradiction.  Perhaps that’s the idea, and it does end up as a bit disturbing.

 

As for best foreign film, I’m really surprised to see “Land of Mine” on the list.  It is a Danish film about German POWs being forced to dig up land mines after the end of WW2.  I saw it at TIFF 2015, so it’s taken a while to come through the works.  Great film, and though I haven’t seen the other foreign films, I highly recommend this one if you can find a copy with subtitles.

 

I guess that the best film I saw this year was “Captain Fantastic”, which is not nominated.  Anyone who knows me can easily see why.  It revolved around themes and issues that I’m very involved in, and had a very strong social commentary that made you think.  Add to that great performances and settings.  You may not agree with the ideas in this movie, but it will cause you to reflect on them, and I think that’s central in a good film.  It’s surprisingly come up sporadically in many of the pre Oscar award shows, so obviously it is getting some critical acclaim.  “Power to the people.  Stick it to the man.”

 

My Best 2016 Album Picks

Posted: January 3, 2017 in Personal Whining

This was a year that I was really impressed with lyrics.  I think that given the current social situation music can play an important part in the lyrics that it presents, much like the Hippie or the Punk eras.  There was a time when Rap did that, even if you could tolerate it, but that time is largely long gone with its and Hip Hop’s lyrics having been little more than fluff for quite a while now.  However, there’s been a bounce and maybe 2017 will see better in this area.

 

  1. David Bowie – Black Star : I’m not placing this here out of respect or pity or anything other than the fact that I think it is a terrific album. Lyrics, melody and production all come together to make Bowie’s obvious “good-bye” a masterful piece of music.  It’s original, deep and full of emotion.

  1. Strumbellas – Hope : I know this is an odd one to put in second place with so many other great albums further down the list, but this is an album that I found myself constantly going back to, impressed with the strength and likeability of almost every song on it.

  1. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker : And he certainly gave it to you. The melodies have the usual Cohen angst, but it is the lyrics that really captured my attention here.  Like Bowie, this may have been a conscious ‘good-bye’.  Song lyrics are just dripping with dark emotion.

  1. Colour of Bubbles – She is the Darkness : Again, a relatively unheard of choice. I’m always impressed by new bands that successfully experiment with new sounds and which just ring out freshly original. I loved their first album and this one does it even a bit better.

  1. Conor Oberst – Ruminations : Catchy ballads and more great lyrics. I’ve been an Oberst fan since the Bright Eyes days.  Personally I found his last solo album much better and diverse, but apparently that opinion was not shared by the critics that found this stripped down Oberst much better.  Either way, all good.  The concert was amazing as well.

  1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree : So you can probably see that the downer tone of the year has influenced my choices. Here’s another really deep and moody selection.  Nick Cave is always a class act.

  1. The Kills – Ice and Ash : A lot of Alt Rock stuff sounds the same. I listened to I don’t know how many New Wave type groups this year and many of them seem interchangeable.  So it’s nice when one stands out as more fresh and original.

  1. Wild Beasts – Boy King : An excellently produced album with strong songs.

  1. Drive By Truckers – American Band : I’m not much of a country music fan, but this one is more R&R. What makes it stand out though are the socially relevant lyrics.  I’m hoping this will be the beginning of a trend.  We need more stuff like this from younger bands to galvanize the fight for social justice issues.  (Neil Young’s latest album does that, but I don’t think he has the weight with listeners under 40 that is needed.)

  1. Radiohead – Moon Shaped Pool : Took a long time to get into this album. Didn’t appreciate if fully until one time when I ended up listening to it sitting back and half asleep.  I guess that says something about it.

  1. Agnes Obel – Great voice and well crafted songs.

  1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial : Another one in the ‘Alt-Rock that rises above mediocrity’ category.

  1. Anohni – Hoopelessness : Kind of a slow, experimental, trip hop album with really depression lyrics. Aside from the title track you’ve got some song titles like, “Drone Bomb Me” and “Execution”.  Very clearly preoccupied with social justice issues and stands out from the crowd for that reason and others.  Definately an acquired taste, though.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:  Air Traffic Controllers; Bat For Lashes; Dylan LeBlanc; Kongos; Mogwai; Neil Young; Pretenders; Ray LaMontagne; Teenage Fanclub, The Lumineers; and Wilco.