Sure, I'm an art snob. That means I consider it possible that "good things" and "my favorites" are not necessarily the same. But what ought to go into the good things category? Or even the best things category?

We cannot tolerate this being simply be a matter of technical sophistication and production value. Very high-priced films with famous writers and great cinematography are often mysteriously inadequate. Big budget Soviet propaganda movies are interesting as historical curiosities -- not gems of the cinema. The remake of Evil Dead is technically a better horror film but sooooooo much less interesting than the haphazard and amateur irony of Sam Raimi's original films. So where does that leave us?

Well, the traditional approach for defining great art is simply a cocktail mix of "popular renown" with "academic vanity". I am suggesting that if a creation is both famous and often used by institutional intellectuals (either in praise or critique) then it ends up occupying the de facto category of Great Art. This is the approach that the whole world symbolizes in the icon of Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

Yet I have elected to decorate this thread with Salvador Dali's Mona Lisa. For why? You might say it is one of my beloved Nietzschean themes. That weird theorist sought to remake the value of all values within an organic hierarchy based on the usefulness of each value to the overall production of increasingly complex and coherent intensities of empowerment for living beings. I.e. art should be GOOD for life's sake.

What is good art for life's sake?

It has three necessary characteristics:

  1. It makes you want to make art. The best artwork is whatever incites you to want to generate art and to feel confident that you can generate art, with a good conscience, using the resources at your disposal.
  2. It makes you feel more alive. The best artwork amplifies and enriches your sense of what it means to be you -- and what it means to be a human being.
  3. It arms you for life. The best artwork makes you happy with what is, ready to embrace your world and your culture, and gives you the mood of capability to productively engage your specific life challenges and the universal human challenges (e.g. time & death).

This is art for life. It is what fascist art said it wants to do... but never actually accomplishes. Does the Mona Lisa do these things? Not really. Not for me, anyway. Da Vinci's historical status and apparent technical capacity seem beyond me. How can I match the curiosity of the moment in which that woman smiled so ambiguously? How does it relate to my life? What does it make me feel? How does it empower me for real challenges? It doesn't. So I must take myself seriously and devalue her status. Maybe it is really bad art!

On the other hand, I remember -- as a child -- walking out of the movie theater after Die Hard 3. Wow! I was ready to take on the world. After watching Twin Peaks I was confidently alert to the vibrant ethereal dimensions of my own local wildlife and community -- ready to intelligently struggle with world of even murders and demons!

Art becomes dangerous and dubious when it is so grand and involved that the individual feels distanced, placed into the role of the appreciative spectator or "consumer of facts about art". Just observe those sad pointless faces of school children at the museum... quickly moving from exhibit to exhibit READING THE NAMES, DATES AND EXPLANATION CARDS! Horrifying. 

Art becomes dubious and dangerous when intellectuals start thinking that the conceptual inquiry of "What is art? Could anything be art?" is either interesting or in any way related to the vital questions with which artists are grappling. 

No, the art of life is much closer to "cult classics" than to either sheer popularity or the academic praise of art critics, pundits & professors. In the recent documentary It Might Get Loud, musician Jack White describes how his favorite song is still the one which made him WANT to be a musician -- the instrument-less, untutored blues classics of Son House. That is great art. It animated him in art and life.

Although I have been a lifelong fan of Tolkien and the Middle-Earth films... they do not do for me what art should do. Instead, they "take me away" to "another place" whose challenges and energies bear little or no resemblance to my own life. On the other hand, the problematic writings of H.P. Lovecraft make me feel as if playing with words is accessible, highly personal and wildly chaotic opportunity. And Star Trek -- well just look at the power of human well-being, experimentation and actual technological innovation that has spread from that brief 1960s TV show! Probably we should say is a much greater work of art than the paltry Mona Lisa.

So if we really took seriously this call to revalue all values in the service of life -- our life -- how would we begin to rank Great Art? What paintings make us ready and willing to paint? What songs actually makes us feel capable of working to improve our lives? What television shows make you not only glad to be alive but more willing to be creatively engaged in YOUR life and life of the specific culture into which you are born?

And if this is the axis of altitude then what are the "levels" of an integral analysis of art?

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"Very high-priced films with famous writers and great cinematography are often mysteriously inadequate."

Immediately I thought of Cormac McCarthy's hideous screenplay of The Counselor. It has him writing, Ridley Scott directing and some of the hottest actors, but his usual superb dialogue in novel form did not translate at all to the screen. Scott or the actors just couldn't pull off the bad and obvious moralizing in a media form outside his usual genre. The Coens screenplay for McCarthy's No Country For Old Men on the other hand deserved its critical acclaim.

Doesn't the Lord of the Rings inspire you want to UNMAKE that "Ring of Power" which holds us all in its thrall?

The Spectacle

The Simulacra

The Media

Brands gone MetaSymbolic   (Like "Girls gone Wild", but with a credit card)

Unfettered Capitalism?

Language as a Ring of Power.  Those modern mythologies that Barthes and other post-structuralists may have been trying to expose.

Next stop on the Holon express ..... Mount Doom (or the Rhine, depending on your chosen mythology.)

If the ring was forged in fire (both the LOTR and Der Ring des Nibelungen have the ring forged in fire).  Should it be unmade in fire (LOTR) or be cleansed in fire (consuming Valhalla itself) and returned to the waters  (the Rhine-maidens of DRdN) from which the gold itself originally came?

Joseph (happy winterlight!),

I'm a life-long Tolkien fan. My mother used to read me to sleep with it during infancy. And I've already seen the latest Hobbit film twice. It is definitely an artwork that engages me on multiple levels. In fact -- as you could probably predict -- I have a lot to say about the presentation these films make about the "belly" and "solar plexus" chakras (etc.) in both personal and cultural bio-psychology.

However... NO, I am not very inspired to want to unmake that ring of power. Sure I want the ring, sure I feel its clench and desperation, sure there is a little pleasure in seeing the fascination-object melt back into primal fire -- but I only toy a little with such ideas as I watch. And I suspect most people are not relating to them much at all. They could. It's right there on screen. But that doesn't mean it is strongly connecting to the vital drives of the individuals. 

So my normal position as viewer and psychological citizen of my culture's reality field makes me want to acclaim the "artwork" of these movies. However, from the set of three criteria outlines in my opening post -- art for life's sake -- I do not consider them to be great art. Using those criteria (and, obviously, there is a going to a lot of divergence between individuals) I would place Peter Jackson's Middle Earth films  somewhere around the middle of a scale. The art decent works of art... but not Great Art. People are not coming out these theaters the way they came out of the original Star Wars -- full of confidence, power, readiness to play and invent their own special effects, ready to upload exuberance into the collective. 

Those of us with finely tuned archetypal minds -- just like those of us with a more traditionally refined sense of painting, literature, cinema, etc -- have to be careful to make sure we are not confusing our own capacity to detect symbolic patterns with the actual efficacy of the particular presentations of those patterns. The "ring of power" is a tremendous concept which draws on potent bio-psychological energies... but I do not think it does an equally tremendous job of illuminating the symbol or helping us deal with it. The return to the volcanic forge of Mt. Doom is, like a lot of the subterranean treasure-and-fire forces of Middle Earth, a rather superficial and inchoate myth structure that is routinely outperformed by other films, novels and comic books. 

Even as a rendering of the ideological position of the cultural Western cultural field, I think the Middle Earth films (which, again, I love) are not prominent. They are not doing what Dark Knight, Hunger Games, Titanic, etc. did in terms of displaying our shared wiring. 

Your criteria for the greatness of art (as life-promoting) have a strong subjective element, as they should.  But I mention that because Tolkien's works did, at one time, inspire me to create art as well: I created whole mythologies, language systems, and geographies, and then wrote stories (or ran D&D games, sometimes both) within these Tolkien-inspired universes.  (Later, Dylan Thomas would inspire a certain type of writing in me, and for several years running my poems simultaneously won almost all available poetry awards -- 1st, 2nd, 3rd place and one or two honorable mentions -- within the same yearly contests at my university).  In the cases of both Tolkien's and Thomas' works, I don't consider them universally great art, either (nor was the work I produced), but at one time they were both really great for me: they set me on fire and stirred creativity and vigor in me like little else did.  Using your criteria, perhaps these works fell short of being lastingly "great" because they didn't really fulfill #3 for me.  #1 and #2, yes, abundantly; but for #3, I sought and found those inspirations elsewhere, and then used the "vehicles" of my Tolkien- or Thomas-inspired art to channel those feelings and moral/existential drives.

The subjective element, as you say, cannot and should not be avoided. I was inspired to art, map-making, linguistic experiment and poetry in my real life by the Tolkien books. I cannot say the same about the films. As I mentioned, there is a high correlation between "cult classics" (which Tolkien originally was) and "great art for life". I've always considered Tolkien's prose to be a bit hip-hop in the sense of its use of internal semi-rhymes, and tone-alliteration combing dark energies and childish play.

I experienced as great art of some kind: Lewis Carroll, Coleridge, a little Yeats, some Dylan Thomas, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles and Edgar Allen Poe. Perhaps also Tolkien. A few of the French and Spanish surrealists... but one can never quite trust a translation!

Yet I would not want to be much more critical about the metaphysical poetry which drew my energy away from the subtle forms of my own world toward a fanciful subtle energy realm largely disconnected from the gross realm. The great danger of British writing in general has been the mechanical-imperialism of their eroding materialistic trade-empire was reinforced by their interesting in exotic realms of imagination. This schism and supplementation approach should, I think, be seen as problematic... as an alternative to more dynamic integration of the subtle and gross realms.

In hindsight, my stimulating-poets who gave the English language a return to the ancient aural-celtic (as opposite to visual-literary) function of poetry but spliced together with a modern sensibility of slips, tricks, trivial play, surrealistic juxtapositions and exotic syntax.

The British poets I loved gave me fire, imagination and playfulness (criteria #1 and possibly #2). The Americanized songwriters helped situate my in my own reality (First we take Manhattan..., I'm Going to Graceland...) and feel optimistic about the grammatical mood of my time. For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, for example, really showed me that the music of words exists where it is being folded in from non-musical domains. So these song-poets fulfilled #2 and #3 for me. 

Probably a strong indicator of "great art" in the more objective sense would be how often these works are used by other people and in other media. Many of my favorite and most inspiring experiences of poetry come from their fragmentary usage in film and television. Have you seen Oliver Stone's old mini-series Wild Palms? They keep quoting Yeats' :

The wind is old and still at play but I must hurry upon my way for I am running to Paradise...

Terrific. Better than the whole rest of that poem put together. And quite obvious not specific to just me! Likewise with Tolkien. The mediocrity of the films as artwork does not yet comment on the power of the texts to have simulated the films...


I agree that the Jackson films are of a middling quality.  I also agree with Bruce that the films do not satisfy criteria #3 very well.  The first thought which comes to mind as to possible reasons for this, is that in the films the main theme seems to be the coming of some great evil (loss) and the necessary unmaking of this evil (restoration).  The films are also permeated with a wabi-sabi kind of nostalgia or Gothic romanticism.   In watching them, you feel a tinge of sadness for a ruins of the lost grandeur of a forgotten golden age.  As you say, the root of this may lie in the fact that these stories were written during the twilight of the British Empire and the rise of Fascism and Totalitarianism.

And so, because the Tolkien series mainly points backwards, it would be up to us to figure out how these themes could carry us forward with some kind of confidence.  In this task, I agree that the film series leaves us to our own devices.

And yet .... are not the first tasks of Alchemy the Calcination and the Nigredo?  Here we also see the difference between depth psychology (Jung, et al...) and ascending philosophies such as Integral Theory.

From my IL forum posting back in 2011:

We need injunctions which serve to balance the lines we have, instead of pushing us further out of balance in the hopes of providing a large state change.  In the past this would have been called character development.  Practices which help to balance out the personality.  This is an important irst step.

We all have imbalances in our personality.  We all have complexes.  And there is some serious libido locked up in our complexes.  To up the voltage to the circuit or increase the RPMs of the motor (choose your analogy), will increase power to all of the personality, not just the pleasant.    Energetic state change practices will increase the energy and power to the complexes as well as to the witnessing consciousness.    So when in one's practices/injunctions to increase awareness one starts to also notice (or others notice!) strange affects, this is a sign of what one needs to go to work on psychologically in order to dissolve that complex.

The process/injunction may look like this:



1. Increase the RPMs  (energetic spiritual practices)
2. Notice any affects (as the complex(es) is/are also being energized)
This is where others can help you notice your affects. And this is also the place of danger for someone who has gotten a realization outside of a "Tradition".  There ain't nobody around you and observing you, to call you on your shit, and so you might not realize what the complex(es)  is/are that need to be worked on.
3. Dissolve or de-potentize that complex. [12/27/13: I would add that we also need to INTEGRATE what's at the core of the complex in its generative form]

If you don't dissolve these energizing complexes as they "come up" and just keep pushing state changes, then the complexes and their affects may eventually block and prevent you from going any further and you'll end up with a certain elevated level of realization and a certain elevated level of affect from your complexes.   That's the great danger.  You could end up as a highly realized person on one or more levels, but with a monster sized complex as well, and who wants to be another Voldemort, Darth Vader, crazy Zen guy rageaholic, Tantric master with a drinking problem, or Guru with a harem of mistresses? [12/27/13:  or to be held in thrall to the worship of one's "precious"]

Any Injunction should include these three (above).

The great problem for most of the historical spiritual traditions is they are not a good fit in two areas:

  • They were very communal so that you had lots of people to observe you and help you with any energizing complexes when they came up.  Today, people rarely live and practice in such a close group communal life.  We're ignorant of our complexes, except in extreme cases.
  • Today's modern, fast paced industrial, "Western" life style gives rise to a lot more problematic complexes in most folks.  The adaptations and stresses on most who live in the modern westernized world are far, far from the stresses that the typical 3rd century monk had to deal with.

I would even go so far as to say that for the vast majority of modern aspirants, the task of uncovering and dissolving the complexes and balancing the personality are more important than state-change practices.  However, to uncover and dissolve the complexes you need state-change practices as well.


State-Changes SELL.  Psychological work DOES NOT.

Therefore the critical ethical thing is that you must provide injunctions which include both, but not as separate tasks.  They must be fully integrated and done together at the same time.  The best injunction would naturally include both - the same practices which develop awareness and state-change would also at the same time work to balance the personality and help the aspirant develop the critical DISCRIMINATION to notice their own affects as they come up as well.  One way to do this could be to make the focus of one's meditations not just the breath, but of elements or images of a healthy balanced psyche, so that one simultaneously develops discernment of this area while they also develop attention and awareness.

[12/27/13:  I would add that Tarot meditation as well as some forms of Tantric mandala meditation can do this, as well as GREAT ART as you describe above]

For example:  What would healthy Teal look like in the moral line of development?  Turn that into an image [12/27/13: or a story or a great work of art] and meditate on that.  The state-change practice then simultaneously becomes a practice in modeling a healthy Teal moral line and developing discrimination at noticing stuff that comes up that's not healthy Teal on that line.  And if you did this (created images/mandalas) representing the Teal level of many lines, you will have basically created a kind of "Integral Tarot."  Something for all the Integral artists out there to ponder.    It could have the potential for becoming THE Integral Killer App.

And while the Apollonian approach may emphasize steps 2 and 3 (stoicism as an example), while the Dionysian may only focus on step 1.  But we need BOTH of them working together in the psyche in order to progress in a healthy and balanced way.  This is balance in our approach as well.  We need both tantra and sutra - both the skull cup and the tea cup.

Or as Schalk Leonard responded to this post on the IL forum:

Integral Inc: "State Changes Sell, Stage Work is Hell"

My suggestion here is that there may be a good reason why we see so much Gothic romantic and symbolist style art and narrative today (horror, zombies, vampires, war, death, monsters and dark lords such as Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader, etc...)...

We are held in thrall to certain collective complexes which are becoming more and more problematic:

Unfettered capitalism, materialism, consumerism, and the rising turmoil of the karmic affects of these collective complexes such as global climate change, political instability, terrorism, police-state style surveillance, etc...

The task and the challenge before us may be as Dante put it centuries ago.  The way upward was blocked, and so it was necessary to first go down into the depths.


INFERNO opens on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300. Traveling through a dark wood, Dante Alighieri has lost his path and now wanders fearfully through the forest. The sun shines down on a mountain above him, and he attempts to climb up to it but finds his way blocked by three beasts—a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Frightened and helpless, Dante returns to the dark wood. Here he encounters the ghost of Virgil, the great Roman poet, who has come to guide Dante back to his path, to the top of the mountain. Virgil says that their path will take them through Hell and that they will eventually reach Heaven, where Dante’s beloved Beatrice awaits. He adds that it was Beatrice, along with two other holy women, who, seeing Dante lost in the wood, sent Virgil to guide him.

Virgil leads Dante through the gates of Hell, marked by the haunting inscription “abandon all hope, you who enter here”


In the first canto of the Inferno, Dante, having gone astray in a dark wood, reaches the base of a sunlit hill (later described by Virgil as “the mountain of delight, the origin and cause of every joy”) and begins to climb — only to find the way blocked by three beasts. First, a leopard appears.

And almost where the hillside starts to rise–
look there! — a leopard, very quick and lithe,
a leopard covered with a spotted hide.
He did not disappear from sight, but stayed;
indeed, he so impeded my ascent
that I had often to turn back again.

It is a spring morning, and “the hour and the gentle season” give Dante “good cause for hopefulness” upon seeing the leopard — but then he sees a lion.

but hope was hardly able to prevent
the fear I felt when I beheld a lion.
His head held high and ravenous with hunger –
even the air around him seemed to shudder –
this lion seemed to make his way against me.

When the third beast appears, Dante gives up hope entirely.

And then a she-wolf showed herself; she seemed
to carry every craving in her leanness;
she had already brought despair to many.
The very sight of her so weighted me
with fearfulness that I abandoned hope
of ever climbing up that mountain slope.
. . . I retreated down to lower ground.

So it may be that some kinds of art (such as Tolkien) can  only take us as far as the Nigredo.


Heya Josephus,

Wabi-sabi is an interesting reference. As with Tolkien, I am a big fan of Asian style but increasingly critical of its as personally and culturally healthy form of Great Art -- art for life’s sake. The experience of being in thrall to the “one ring” of the haunting, evocative symbol is both useful (power of invisibility) and demonic (slow progress of soul-crushing enslavement). A certain ambivalence exists in regards to whether or not people’s are being energetically provoked or passively fed upon when they become the contemplative spectators of nostalgic imagery.

I am tempted to suggest that the allure of Middle Earth is itself the wicked fascination indicated by the devilish ring of archaic gold. Many critics could righteously point out that our lives are not empowered by time spent being seduced into an “other world” in which simplistic, visually obvious racial divisions between good and evil are rampant, human complexity is drastically reduced, nostalgia replaces constructive efforts at building more natural and satisfying environments, etc. These are dancing right on the edge of being dangerously regressive notions. The halcyon glow of a naive Golden Age enslaves us with its retro-romantic misuse of subtle energy and unconscious psychology. Like the work of Wagner, it definitely taps into subconscious energy but its effects are unproductively disturbing and narcotizing -- feeding into the very ideology and emotion that it thinks it is challenging.

On the other hand, McKellen's bumbling, bearded, beer-drinking, ironic, quasi-homosexual warrior-wizard is probably a pretty good human role model.

Gothic and symbolic epic romances exist today for numerous reasons. We should not overlook the simple fact that we finally have the technologically to render these perpetually popular genres in a way that is visually convincing. However they also have sinister resonances with the neo-medievalism of the dark side of the modern economy AND provide one of many demonstrations of the stylized a-temporarily which is an inevitable side-effect of electronic civilization. Plus it plays into our genuine longing for a simpler, more nature-integrated, more understandable and evocative cultural field. We will not be satisfied or empowered collectively until we can establish something of this kind.

Does pop-Tolkien, like Wagner, give us the nigredo? Just the beginning? It is hard to tell, in many areas, whether we are dealing with a truncated process or a false path. Are there two kinds of breakdown/stimulation... one of which is self-thwarting and therefore always appears upon inspection to be “just the beginning”? Or is such a condition always legitimate and workable?

We should not hasty to answer either way.

I wonder how much difference exists between alchemical depth-psychology, beginning by energizing our structures and complexes alike, culling our strange affects, breaking things down into delicate dust or black ashen sludge, can be distinguished from "ascending philosophies such as Integral Theory". Recently I have made some posts and threads (here and on IL) suggesting that a certain mixture of intentional reasoning and “experiential failure” are necessary in order to channel energy from an existing structure into a higher layer of complexity. Yet this is a fleshing out, a making clear, an emphasizing of factors already present within any well-developed integral-level theory. So it might be excessive to suggest that there is a strong alternative between such approaches.

To say that “outstanding perspectives” are “not yet integrated” and “may progress into greater complexity” is a certain tone or accent which nonetheless implicitly invokes an energetic movement in which tolerance of excluded affects is required. In general, it is not that the way up is blocked so we must take the way down. Rather, we confront a too-narrow or false version of the way up which is bound to fail -- so we say for convenience that this way is obstructed. Yet the obstruction consists only of the non-realization that we must actually integrate seemingly-foreign elements within and without in order to rise. Otherwise it is not a movement of ascent at all. It becomes merely an idealism which is bound to fail when it comes into contact with reality. (What? The Maharishi had lovers??? TM is a fraud...).

Of course one could argue that we select a false version of the ascending path precisely in order to accomplish our failure -- either as a strategic movement of healing or as a nihilistic process of self-suppression. But again... are there two processes or only one? Is there unhealthy or only incomplete?

I suspect that “stage work” and “psychological work” can be sold nearly as well as “state changes” -- but what is lacking is the will of sellers and buyers to engage in such commerce. There is a lack of confidence among the marketers. A shared moral/e seems to be missing which would form the basis to legitimize persuasion in the direction of an evolutionary effort. The force that makes a moral demand acceptable must come from a general coherence of culture which produces a surplus quality of functional self-divinization. We cannot achieve that as long as the alternatives of traditional, modern and postmodern appear as rivals and alternatives. The force of the confidence and demand must come from the new harmony of the overall cultural situation.

So here is a snake biting its own tail. We need to liberate energy in order to discover what needs to be creatively integrated. But for that we must occupy a cultural field which disposes us to engage in such work. And that depends upon other creative efforts which must yoke together the existing healthy and sick forces of society into a functional team of allies. Yet how can that be done without first liberating energy from our complexes?

What seems like a vicious (golden) circle is actually very promising, though, if we read it as “we can productively intervene at point in the loop, many options of helping exist”.

One option involves progress in generating an integral tarot. New and personal attempts to generate humanist, pluralist and integrative levels of mythic depiction are very promising. As are more broad cultural attempts which may be more likely to build upon existing inherited figures -- what is a “more Teal” Iron Man, Lincoln, Thor, Batman, Columbus, Jane Goodall, Shakespeare, etc? How Teal is Gandalf? And how would we need to nudge his already-recognized character in order to make his Teal potential more potent?

Good questions for all of us -- especially when trying to revalue our feelings about Art in order to experimentally determine its serviceability to “life”.


Short on time today, but I wanted to comment on this:

Many critics could righteously point out that our lives are not empowered by time spent being seduced into an “other world” in which simplistic, visually obvious racial divisions between good and evil are rampant, human complexity is drastically reduced, nostalgia replaces constructive efforts at building more natural and satisfying environments, etc. These are dancing right on the edge of being dangerously regressive notions. The halcyon glow of a naive Golden Age enslaves us with its retro-romantic misuse of subtle energy and unconscious psychology. Like the work of Wagner, it definitely taps into subconscious energy but its effects are unproductively disturbing and narcotizing -- feeding into the very ideology and emotion that it thinks it is challenging.

This is what happens when the numinous motifs and themes become disconnected from communal cultural life.  With the virtual world of film, media, and the internet, these archetypes now take the form of autonomous collective complexes which can capture our attention and collective libido.  These are the rings which must be unmade (the Nigredo) and their archetypal cores reintegrated in their generative form (Alchemy).

How to do this collectively?  (remember our discussion last year on COUNTER TECH?)

Here is what Robb Smith wrote today on Facebook:

Everyone should read this. More evidence that the Information Age is an anachronism, in this case because information has been metabolized at the intersection of mammalian brain impulses and the capitalistic systems that take advantage of them. Not confined to journalism, if people could see how "information products" that sell for $995 are exquisitely engineered to be an irresistible marketing device for their limbic systems, they'd be appalled. There is 3x the amount of energy put into making them optimized for the mammalian purchase behavior as for the content within them. And yet what's sad is people won't take the content seriously - even when it's good - unless they have serious skin in the game. So lower priced products with more honest marketing are actually dismissed and treated as unworthy as part of a drive-by, throwaway culture. The problem with this lack of discernment is it proves some of our most cynical philosophers right (e.g., Ayn Rand). And leaders like me and my friends stand in the breech and say "no, not on our watch, not in our companies, not in our families." But on the surface we look increasingly irrelevant at the same time as we just become exhausted championing depth, integrity and mindfulness.

I had to smirk at Smith's statement, since I-I ads effuse exactly the type of capitalistic marketing he denounces. I guess they can turn this around and say "see, if we don't advertise this way no one will buy our depth, integrity and mindfulness."

Related to that and this thread, I just saw The Wolf of Wall Street yesterday. Talk about the height of sales and advertising without depth and integrity, but with plenty of mindfulness. And if Lakoff is correct one can indeed frame an ad or sell a product based on integral values and be just as effective to our brainstem. In fact it did so in the last election, overcoming conservative big $ to fund lies and deception.

As to the Wolf movie, check out this open letter from the daughter of one of the Wolf's co-conspirators. She makes a good point that the movie glorifies the not only unethical but illegal conduct while spending no time on the devastating effects to victims. Instead of instilling in us a sense of injustice we want to be like him; it's the American Way.


Yes indeed, many people want to be like the Wolf of Wallstreet.  In other words, they want to be like Satan and to wield the One Ring of Power.

A short excerpt:

Today’s world is ruled by signs. This is no wild postmodernist theory but an empirically observable fact. Money, which is nothing more than a system of signs, has over the last four centuries mutated into an independent, self-generating power that dictates the policies of nations and the lives of individuals. Technology allows the reproduction of images on a scale undreamt of before the twentieth century. In politics, the manipulation of images has long obscured discussion of substantive issues. The power of autonomous signification defines our era’s philosophy, psychology, linguistics and, above all, its economics. All of these disciplines, in their postmodern forms, privilege what linguistics calls the “performative,” rather than the “denotative,” aspect of signs. They all assume that signs do things, that the objective world is constructed for us via the realm of representation, and that there is nothing real that exists outside signification. They rarely pause to consider the ethical ramifications of this assumption, however, and that is what I intend to do in this book. My argument is that the notion of the performative sign corresponds with remarkable precision to the Judeo-Christian concept of the Satanic, and that, if this is true, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the Western world has sold its soul to Satan.1

That statement would have seemed eccentric to many intellectuals of the last century, who often took the naively literalist view that Satan “does not exist.” They meant by this that there is no ruddy individual with horns and hooves, goatee and widow’s peak, who makes it his business to tempt and betray the human race. But this figure was only ever a symbol, a pictorial aid to the imaginations of the uneducated, and when we turn our attention to the philosophical and psychological tendencies which that symbol represents, we find that they are more powerful today than ever before. It is often said that the twenty-first century is a “post-secular” age and recently, in the wake of the dramatic resurgence of religious forces in the political arena, many thinkers have returned with a new gravity to theological concepts and categories once dismissed as obsolete.2The mood was captured by Stanley Fish in a July, 2005 interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education:“When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.”3

This return to religion entails the acknowledgment that theology never disappeared, but rather went underground, so that originally theological concepts continued to influence the ostensibly secular discourse of the early modern world. As Julia Lupton argues, “secularization and Christianization are bound up in a dialectic that raises what it cancels; hence what we generally call ‘secular literature’ is actually Christian literature in a displaced but heightened form.”4 This book examines the origins of the Faust story in an overtly religious environment, but also its “afterlife” in the world of Enlightenment and modernity. I suggest that Faust provided the increasingly secular world of the sixteenth through twentieth centuries with a mythological means of ethically evaluating both the rise to power of autonomous representation, and the closely related phenomenon of the death of the human individual, subject, or “soul.”


Hawkes, D. (2007). The faust myth : Religion and the rise of representation (p. 247). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Retrieved from Google Books

Money and Images have come together as "a system of signs [...] an independent, self-generating power that dictates the policies of nations and the lives of individuals."

and From:

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.


Capitalism, I often say, is bad for business. Robb Smith echoes the same sentiment with -- as Theurj notes -- a hint of irony that is rooted in the hyped overselling routine that has infiltrated so many advanced self-help movements in our world. The layout of the system, the way in which quantification is achieved, the pattern of organization, etc. generates inevitable distortions of the free market which work against individual and collective human well-being. This general problem is well known. Less prominently discussed is your concern about the pseudo-sorcerous binding of psychological energy in rings of fascination. The necessary procedure is clearly one of destabilizing the fixated transference patterns and reorganizating the liberated energy in ways that are simultaneously more sophisticated and closer to the healthy pattern of the intact virtue-core (living myth) which powers the complex.

I have not yet seen the Wolf of Wall Street but am aware of the general social conversation which has erupted over the fact that it reminds people about the glorification of the Mean Orange Meme. Using the "art for life" standard of this thread, we should pay careful attention to the stimulus which the film appears to provide. If it makes people energized either in terms of personally profiting from the existing economic system OR ready to oppose the structural pathology of the current economic system then it meets criteria #3 -- it arms people to face the world they inhabit.

As we've discussed before, I am not a huge fan of using the archetypal terminology of exotic places and epochs. The "devil" of the Tarot seems to me as though it is symbolically weak precisely because it has such poetic and imaginative association with the systems of previous centuries. The card should bear the name of a generic word-principle in English. The Owner (of symbols). The Binder of Signs. The Secret Governor. The Oligarch.

Naturally, the healthy veneration of indulgence, success and excess must be teased apart from the horizon of meaning which makes such "jouissance" subservient to the Oligarch through the driving, skimming, binding and hoarding of signs. And that's where some alchemy comes in...

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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