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Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop

Blazing A TrailTill 25 November 2018
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop is the first major exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, the first big exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, from influential indie pioneers to global superstars.

Featured artists and bands include Lonnie Donegan, Gerry Rafferty, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Lulu, The Rezillos, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, The Skids, Big Country, Garbage, Franz Ferdinand, Young Fathers, and many more. The exhibition has been brought to life through original stage outfits and instruments, many loaned by the artists themselves, plus memorabilia, props, film and, of course, music.

Stephen Allen, Exhibition Curator said:
“Popular music is a shared experience, and a really important one in many people’s lives. We want the exhibition to capture people’s imagination and allow them to reflect on their own experiences of listening to and enjoying music. Between the objects, the AV and the music, people will be able to learn more about their favourite artists and see their treasured objects up close, but also to discover music that is new to them in a whistlestop tour of over six decades of Scottish pop.”

Everyone will have a different experience of this exhibition. It covers a broad time period and diverse types of music. There are over 300 items on display as well as film contributions and music. Some was familiar to me. Although sometimes I don’t know why and I didn’t know there was a Scottish connection at all when I first heard it. I always liked The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (particularly Faith Healer). I think it was how theatrical and unusual they were! Much later I was drawn to punk and politics. So I was interested to see the Rock Against Racism (RAR) poster from 5 August 1978 advertising the Scars, Valves and Josef K (among others) playing in Craigmillar Park. It’s interesting to note that the reasons for the foundation of RAR are somewhat glossed over. RAR was formed because of comments made by Eric Clapton at a Birmingham concert in 1976.Clapton had urged his audience to back former Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration stance. The guitarist, who has since said he is not a racist, suggested Britain was becoming “a black colony”. Inconvenient history.

Less so the Proclaimers poster for anti-apartheid gigs!

I was also interested to see that emphasis was given to independent Scottish record labels such as Postcard, Creation and Fast Product. These helped foster bands in Scotland. The media and production centre was always very much London of course but there was an attempt to do something different by creating local centres.

There was also a lot of material which provides you with further avenues of enquiry. I was really intrigued to listen to the excellent Needle of Death by Bert Jansch. As someone who has lost friends to heroin addiction it really moved me. I’ve since listened to many of his songs. All thanks to this exhibition. That’s just one of the things I took from the exhibition and followed up. As a big Bowie fan I was intrigued to see his connection to The Beatstalkers highlighted. They recorded a Bowie song called Silver Treetop School for Boys. A connection to another band Clouds wasn’t featured.

Pop quiz! Which Scottish artists did James Bond themes?

The exhibition had so much in it of interest that I couldn’t absorb it all in one viewing. I’m actually thinking of going again.

If you are interested in pop culture you would be foolish to miss this. I hope it tours other areas to make it easier for people to see who don’t live near Edinburgh! Go see it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3X9T3rxmRk

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Dietrich: Natural Duty

dietrichnaturalduty

Peter Groom as Marlene 

Theatre (cabaret)
Venue 33
Pleasance Courtyard – Beside
15:30
Aug 22-27
1 hour

Peter Groom is outstanding as Marlene Dietrich in this one (wo)man show. When Peter first appeared on the stage as Dietrich the audience applauded. The appearance, dress, make-up and figure were immediately convincing and captured Dietrich so well. Everyone sensed from the start that this was going to be good.

The material he has to work with is fascinating. It starts with her discovery and starring role in ‘The Blue Angel’ (1930) through roles in the US to the start of the conflict with Germany. It shows how Dietrich took the Allied side in the Second World War. She even held the rank of Captain and travelled to the front-line to entertain the troops and raise morale. Cue bawdy humour about being “long at the front” etc! A word of warning, if you sit at the front of the audience you might get roped in. It was a bit discomforting when I was included but also good fun.

Groom presents an image of Dietrich as a disciplined performer who worked hard to craft her presentation in whatever she did. The focus of the show are her songs and her relationship with Germany. This isn’t a show about her many love affairs (with both men and women). If it was an hour might not be enough!

Although a one (wo)man show there are voice only interruptions from a subtly threatening and yet entreating Goebbels and an insistent media interviewer. The dialogue hints at a hard side to Marlene, even a cruel one. It is not explored, perhaps because the focus is on the performer more than the woman.

Peter has a great voice and captures the spirit of Dietrich with a wry humour and passion. I must admit that whilst familiar with many of the songs I hadn’t realised that Dietrich had performed Pete Seegers “Where have all the flowers gone”. For me the delivery of that song on the futility of war was the most powerful in a show filled with emotionally charged songs.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Editorial note: As an aside there is a lovely story here about how “Where have all the flowers gone” originated: https://performingsongwriter.com/pete-seeger-flowers-gone/

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

 

five-stars

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Review: F**k the government

If profanity bothers you then this is one you should avoid. Apart from that key title line, however, the lyrics are rational and persuasive. This rap from XL sums up a lot of disillusionment many of us feel towards the ‘elite’, the ‘powers that be’ or the ‘establishment’. It isn’t just negative though as it gives a message of hope and unity. Here at Counter Culture we like that. Too many fall into the trap of division and the divide and rule strategy of the establishment. This song reminds us that we are all in the same boat and it’s sinking! XL is a rapper we will be following with interest.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfdNmLPkrtU&feature=youtu.be

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Free Will – Sam Harris (Free Press)

freewillbysamharrisThere’s a thought that strikes me in Sam Harris’ book Free Will that there is a kind of ‘fudge’ at the core of his argument. It’s as if he wants his ‘fudge cake’ and to get to eat it! Okay I’m going to demonstrate this, I trust, in this review – but this ‘fudge’ is my main problem with this otherwise very thought-provoking (and short) book.

Harris argues that we haven’t free will. Now, before going on, here’s a summary of where I am on this issue of ‘free will’. In the book he refers to an experiment I was aware of which seems to show the brain making decisions up to a full SEVEN seconds before the conscious mind appears to ‘decide’. That has had me thinking for some time and probably drew me to this book in the first place. I’ve also been looking at consciousness and am half-way through (probably not clever to admit that) Julian Jaynes book: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind – It’s a fascinating work and has provoked much thought (thus far) on the nature of consciousness.

We certainly do much in our life that is ‘unconscious’. Imagine when we drive a car – most of our actions (once they are learnt) become ‘automatic’ and unconscious. If you were to consciously think about everything you were doing you would most likely crash. We learn one thing, then another – these two learnt actions then become ONE and then we can add another skill and these two can then become ONE etc. When playing the drums, for instance, the four limbs learn their parts in stages. And when playing a new rhythm everything can fall apart when you consciously think about what you are doing. Naturally in learning to drive a car or attempting a new drum rhythm, the amount of conscious effort begins at a greater level and then, gradually, becomes automatic. In certain conditions our conscious mind can be called on (by what/whom?) to ‘take the reins’. I have often gone out in my car and followed – say – a route to a workplace only to consciously realise that I’m not actually going to this place. My conscious mind takes over, manoeuvres the car and puts me back on track. And once I know where I’m going I can continue in an – at the very least – semi-conscious way.

There  is also the idea – I have read – whereby the brain takes in all the information from the various senses and collates them and then our consciousness presents this stimuli to us as if it were all happening ‘at the same time’ – as the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light etc. Because the brain has had to collect all the data then our conscious perception lags behind the ‘real present’. But what is doing this preparation and selection? How is it being done and where is the interface with our consciousness?

Harris introduces his thoughts on free will with a harrowing example of a brutal (and sexual) attack and murder of a family; only the patriarch surviving. This certainly concentrates the mind! (There is in fact a running motif  regarding crime and how we should deal with criminals.) Following on from this example he writes about popular conceptions of free will that:

Each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past. And that: we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions in the present.

He argues that free will is an illusion and that we do not have the freedom we think we have. That whatever we do is a state of mind we cannot (and could not) change – that it is the sum of many inherent factors. That thoughts and impulses APPEAR in our consciousness and do not originate in it. There is some compelling argument too – can we DECIDE our next mental state? How much control do we have over our thoughts? Do we create thoughts or are they presented to us? Try and think of your next thought!

Harris writes: ‘There is no question that (most if not all) mental events are the product of physical events.’ And were this NOT to be the case then: ‘The unconscious operations of a soul would grant you no more freedom than the unconscious physiology of your brain does.’ Reflecting on this then, perhaps to have total free will, we need to say we control ‘everything’ – every thought. And, I suppose, to be totally aware of that! And if we have no free will where is this seeming will (idea of free will) coming from – where does our consciousness come from? Some argue that as our brains, our neurophysilogical processes, are deciding things at SOME level, then we have free will – it’s just not what we think of as our conscious ‘real self’. In response Harris writes: ‘As we have begun to see, however, this feeling of freedom comes from our moment-to-moment ignorance of the prior causes of our thoughts and actions.’

Now later Harris writes, ‘Losing a belief in free will has not made me fatalistic – in fact, it has increased my feelings of freedom.’ Here’s where the fudge comes in, I think. ‘A creative change of inputs to the system – learning new skills, forming new relationships, adopting new habits of attention – may radically transform one’s life.’ But can we do that other than in a mechanical pre-determined way? ‘Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings can allow us to steer a more intelligent course through our lives (while knowing, of course, that we are ultimately being steered).’

Getting behind our conscious thoughts and feelings?

Recently I went for a walk with my son to a water-mill, now converted to a restaurant. Near-by there’s a weir and where part of the river has been channelled to the former-mill’s water wheels. It was a beautiful afternoon – butterflies flitting between plants settled and floating on the water’s surface; two châteaus close by keep silent watch. We were leaning on a small bridge when I noticed a large ant moving across the wood of the side of this bridge. I pointed to it and said, ‘Stop!’.  Now my conscious mind presented that ant to me, I pointed to it, and said ‘Stop!’ – which I think it didn’t! My son was watching me and we laughed about this. Now, evidently, this innocuous act seemed a conscious decision of my free will. Had it NOT been – then there are a number of things to discuss. Firstly: my son thought he was consciously reacting in the present and with free will (as did I). I deliberately pointed at the ant – that was operating in its own way in this world. I pointed to the ant at one particular point. For me to have decided that beforehand I would have needed to know that the ant would appear and that it would follow a certain path and arrive at a certain point that I could POINT at! Was that moment the sum of all three of our experiences of life? My son’s, to have unconsciously ‘decided’ all previous  moments to arrive at that point; mine the same AND the ant to have appeared and moved across the wood? At this point we could UNRAVEL every moment of our lives (including the ant’s) to track back down every event that brought us to where we were THEN. One pre-determined action following another!

Well, I guess that’s possible – a fait accompli if you will. We all WERE there and I certainly pointed and cried, ‘Stop!’. So in this ‘play out’ of unconscious direction EVERY consciousness is (must be!) part of the great PLAY we find ourselves in. Because if I am not aware I’m going to do something and I interact with someone else (who is also not aware) then we are part of some vast, intricate, script that unfolds, amnd is still unfolding, from the very beginning of time. We are here because of the actions of others.

Yet I could only point to the ant if the ant had been there – that was empirically so. I think Harris would say that no other person could have been in the place and with that mental state that I was in and that I would have been unable to be anywhere else or in any other state. Also – what is tricking our conscious minds to make us think we are doing things of our own volition? Where is the bridge between unintentional decision and apparent consciousness of that decision? When does ‘consciousness’ take over from the deeper decision?

Now the motif I described earlier that runs through this book is the idea of crime, punishment and guilt (or otherwise). We certainly look at crimes differently given our perception of the intentions of the criminals. And if someone has a brain tumour – say – we don’t regard their criminal actions in the same way as someone we believe acts with ‘free will’. And Harris continually argues that we cannot have had any other mental state but that which we had at the time and therefore we need to look at ‘guilt’ differently. He writes that criminals might have: ‘Some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad environments, and bad ideas…’ Looking at this though – how can we introduce a moral definition (‘bad’) to these actions if what he says is true? There cannot be any ‘bad’ – only ‘what is’. Later he argues the idea that human behaviour can be modified by punishment and incentive…I am slightly confused. More cake? Or maybe it’s me!

In the chapter headed ‘Politics’ we get the ‘liberal’ idea that one must be ‘lucky to be able to work.‘ So it’s luck. I’ll get back to that idea. He writes, ‘Laziness, like diligence, is a neurological condition…’ Luck again? ‘But this does not mean we must be taken in by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change.’ Well he says they can’t change any past actions…and how are they to change? ‘We do not change ourselves…but we continuously influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us.’

Okay – so ‘we’ are influenced by our internal world – but how can we escape that influence or use it through volition. I THINK he is arguing for a kind of change through osmosis. Such that, as we are a product of things we have no control over (including our supposed free will) then our past, set actions, history, biological influences can only be added to. He writes: ‘Am I free to change my mind? Of course not. It can only change me.’ Maybe that could be highlighted or achieved say, for example, by forcing folk to have a good iodine intake, especially those living far away from the sea. The intake would have a subtle influence on their well-being and maybe influence their unconscious actions? An outside force would have an impact on their internal world. But someone would have to decide to do that! And that – one presumes – is also decided for them.

It is the concept of ‘free will’ that gave rise to sin – he argues. And, in this, perhaps he is correct – for Adam and Eve were seemingly given ‘free will’ (and not at the same time!).  Their actions have affected all of us – if we believe so. But God would have known the outcome. If he gave them free will knowing they would act the way they did, and take the fruit from the tree – how free were they?

What if you are controlled by others? Your actions and thought directed by others? Would that be a form of double ‘non-free will’?

Are we Beings experiencing this world from the point of view of our consciousness – with no control…as if we are on a roller-coaster that could take us anywhere it desires? Hold on…sit back…tighten your seatbelt and enjoy the ride. Are we puppets of a Greater Being? Are we a strand of conscious experience that snakes back to a greater, composite experience? In fact – even without free will – are we living a spiritual life? Are we simply the observers of our life?

I’ll leave you with two quotes from the book, one in the body of the text and the other in the notes.

Harris: ‘The illusion of free will is itself and illusion.’

And in the notes, Schopenhaur’s: ‘Man can do what he will but he cannot will what he wills.’

And finally – we may/may not have free will, we may/may not be fully conscious – but the life we lead APPEARS as if we have free will and that is the ONLY way we can lead it. Be thankful for whatever life you have – it’s a one and only experience.

Thanks.

Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Tim Bragg is the author of the recently published Lyrics to Live By: Keys to Self-Help, Notes for a Better Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Locke’s Political Thought and the Oceans Pirates, Slaves, and Sailors

lockeandtheoceans

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Sarah Pemberton, PhD., examines John Locke’s political thought on the laws and freedom of the oceans by examining the Two Treatises of Government. Locke argued that the seas were collectively owned by all humans and governed by universal natural laws that prohibited piracy. His Two Treatises provided insight on international and maritime law. In this book; Pemberton analyses Locke’s political thought in an absorbing weave which draws together the Treatises along with Locke’s unpublished writings and other intriguing archival finds.

John Locke was born in 1632 near the port of Bristol. During his ‘Shaftesbury’ period (1666-1683), he was employed by Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper, later Earl of Shaftesbury. A radical proponent of religious freedom, individual liberty and conscience, he believed power should be controlled and used to secure national interests. He was politically conservative, economically mercantilist, and morally authoritarian. He was a puritan with a modern and empirical vision. He was a member of the Board of Trade in England in the 1690s. Shaftebury is considered by some to be the founder of liberalism.

Locke’s Two Treatises are said to have been written at the pinnacle of his political philosophy. The Treatises contain his theory of government, power, property, trust, and rights. He wanted to build an empire on both land and sea. He proposed an anti-piracy treaty between Europe’s largest maritime players. He advocated English piracy laws and supported the idea of deploying the Navy against pirates. His ideas on piracy were consistent with natural law theory developed in the Two Treatises.

There has been much debate about when Locke’s two treatises were originally written. Published in 1689, they were possibly, written earlier. Considered an apology for the Glorious Revolution, British historian Peter Laslett, feels the writings date back to 1679. This lapse in time would have allowed Locke to amend the original, giving it the appearance of an apology, rather than a prescription for revolt, which could have caused him contention at the time.

In his first Treatise, he rebuts Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. Patriarcha’s main premise embraced the divine right of Kings. Filmer’s theory is a diktat that “all government is an absolute monarchy: since Adam was an absolute monarch, all princes since his time should also be absolute monarchs.” Filmer did not believe that man was born free, nor should they be governed by consent, as the masses do not possess the intellectual wherewithal to elect their leaders. Pemberton discusses this in her examination of Locke’s political theories.

Filmer claimed that man was not born into freedom, and a father, like a Monarchy; possessed unlimited rights over men’s lives, however Locke refuted this idea as unjustified. He argued against Fillmer’s attempts to provide a theoretical basis for patriarchy and examined his assumptions for logical cohesion. Taking issue with his ideas, Locke countered the theory of divine rule. He argued that Adam’s creation alone did not presume sovereignty over anything. Locke felt that rights must be established and argued that man is a governor in habit; potentiality did not imply actuality – he wrote, “A very pretty way of being a Governor without Government, a Father without Children, and a King without Subjects”. He argued against Divine rule, then outlined, in his second Treatise his justification of consensual government.

Locke’s Treatises are consistent with his later work on the board of Trade. There, he advocated forced migration and forced labour for English convicts. He felt forced labour was consistent with theories on penal slavery for the period and he discussed these in the Two Treatises. Pemberton feels Locke’s theories were intended to justify the current practice during the period. She sees a tension between his arguments in the Treatises with policies of forced naval service, which Locke, as a member of the Board of Trade, supported. Locke had a good relationship with King William and was very involved with colonial and trade policy during this period. His theories guided English government policies in the arenas of slavery and piracy, and he was influenced by Grotius’ Mare Liberum; whose central argument was based on freedom of the seas.

Locke’s theories of law and freedom on the seas also influenced his vision of English National Identity.

Locke was a colonial thinker, devoting much attention to the settlement and governance of the colonies. He was in the minority of political thinkers active in the practical aspects of business promotion and administration of overseas settlements, due to his position on the Board of Trade. Locke suggested that Europe come to a formal agreement on how to deal with international maritime law about piracy in his second Treatise. The international piracy agreement would be known as the Power of War and Peace, Leagues and Alliances and all the Transactions with all Persons and Communities outside the Commonwealth.

Locke considered the grandfather of liberalism; in the standard histories of philosophy, was also an exemplar of empiricism. His position on the Board of Trade had a bearing on his philosophies in the Treatises, just as Grotius’s writings on Natural Law came from his defence of the Dutch East India Company’s maritime activities. He argued freedom of trade across the oceans in The Free Sea (1609). Locke understood Grotius’s position well.

Locke acknowledged extractable resources such as fish and ambergris produced by the ocean could be acquired as the property of man. He glossed over that fact that these resources might be finite and risk extinction due to over-extraction. Conservation efforts such as with fisheries would have been consistent with Locke’s concerns about acquisition of private property. His theory of property had concerns. Starting with the premise that potential productivity of natural resources derived from human labour and not in the inherent value of the resource itself. He ignored the finite nature of natural resources, and he underestimated the value that eco-systems could provide. Overly concerned with human contribution, he completely ignored resource depletion. Furthermore, he criticized Native practices of land use, feeling they did not use the land productively enough, he felt that sustainable fishing wasted resources and again, ignoring resource depletion he emphasized man’s contribution and focused on over-productivity. His Treatises provide a systematic political theory of the seas and did not feel oceans could be considered ‘appropriated’ because they cannot be managed or improved in the same way that land can be improved.

Pemberton relates that Locke first addressed piracy in an unpublished manuscript called Pyracy which now resides in the Bodleian library. In this manuscript, he ambitiously proposed extending England’s existing piracy law to the colonies and extending protection of European trade to those involved in the Treaty of Ryswick and urged them to reach a formal international agreement on the piracy issue. Described as Power of War and Peace, Leagues and Alliances and all the Transactions of all persons and communities outside the Commonwealth, he wished to create a coordinated approach to piracy, to extend these laws across the World’s oceans. Unfortunately, he missed the issues of jurisdiction under Admiralty law. Like a good Loyalist, he felt that these laws could be extended to the colonies thereby preventing colonials from exercising autonomy on this issue. Locke’s contribution to piracy was consistent with his ideas on natural rights and the rule of law under the Two Treatises.

Locke had theories on penal slavery which stemmed from his position as a member of the Board of Trade and his work on piracy. This resulted in him advocating expanding English legal and naval power at sea and reducing political autonomy in the American colonies, which gave rise to tension between liberty and empire. He felt that penal slavery, including the English convicts, was justified. Those who broke natural law give up their rights and they should be punished proportionately, which he felt would deter future crimes and allow for making victim reparations. He argued attacking someone’s liberty was equivalent to murder and felt that participants in an unjust war broke natural law and should be legitimately enslaved or killed.

A practice England had already been taking part in for quite some time. The colonists including many so called ‘free’ subjects co-existed with those sent there under forced labour (penal) and forced migration. Pemberton relates that between 1600 and 1800 more than a million Europeans migrated to America and the Caribbean and up to a third of these immigrants were transported convicts or indentured servants, or bonded slaves, due to the cost of transportation across the Atlantic. Some came during this time by choice, but they forced many. After his death, his political philosophy in turn impacted on ideas leading to the Age of Enlightenment. It related to the development of separation of Church and State in the American Constitution. Pemberton takes us on an interesting journey, dissecting the Treatises, adding social and political context so we understand the period and why Locke was formulating the theories he was, his influences, along with other possible economic and political factors which may have played a part in the formation of his ideas.

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

 

Further reading recommendations on Locke:Tully, J., Rediscovering America: The Two Treatises and Aboriginal Rights’.
An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts. 1993.
Arneil, B., John Locke and America: Defence of English Colonialism. 1996.
Farr J., ‘Locke, Natural Law, and New World Slavery’, Political Theory. 2008.
Israel, Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752 (Oxford, 2006).

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 Sicario 2: Soldado (2018) 

JoshBrolin

Josh Brolin in Sicario 2: Soldado. Photograph: Allstar/Columbia Pictures

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (original title)
15 | 2h 2min | Action, Crime, Drama | 29 June 2018 (UK)
Director: Stefano Sollima
Writer: Taylor Sheridan 
Starring
Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Donovan, Elijah Rodriguez, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Matthew Modine, Shea Whigham

Sicario 2 is a bleak film. It breathes hopelessness. The subject matter is the failed U.S. war against the Mexican drug cartels as in Sicario 1. The Spanish word “sicario,” means hit man or contract killer. It’s difficult to know if the government agents or the cartel gangsters are being referenced. Perhaps it describes both. In Sicario 2 what few rules there were have been torn up as the drug cartels have smuggled ISIS terrorists over the border. One kills himself and takes out members of a US border patrol and another makes it across to take part in a bomb attack on a crowded supermarket.

US secretary of defense (Matthew Modine) orders a dirty war. The man for the job is obvious – Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He has few moral qualms and likes to get the job done. Matt has a plan – divide and rule. He wants to get the cartels fighting each other and plans murder and kidnapping to provoke that. Alejandro Gillick (Benicio Del Toro), a US black-ops ally with a grudge against the cartels is reactivated to help.

The main part of the story centres on the kidnapping by the US black-ops team of Isabel Reyes, played by Moner (the daughter of a Cartel leader) and the fall-out from that. Another story that intersects concerns another teenager Miguel Hernandez (Elijah Rodriguez), a Mexican-American boy with a family on both sides of the border who joins a gang of human traffickers. Sicario 2 emphasises the profitability of human trafficking and the cartels involvement. This depiction of crime, terrorism and migration has proved uncomfortable for some in the US as it may resonate with those who want to build a wall to keep people out!

There aren’t any conventional heroes in Sicario 2. It’s clear that this war will go on and on with brutal inhumanity the norm on both sides. This is underscored by the score by Hildur Gudnadottir. It’s relentless and fills you with dread and foreboding. The Beast from Sicario (2015), written and Performed by Jóhann Jóhannsson, is played over and over again.

The ending was unconvincing and out of keeping with the tone of the Movie and the likely actions of those inhabiting this shady, amoral world. Far happier than I expected though still depressing!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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­Who I am

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whoareyou

The following article first appeared as the ‘Foreword’ for:

Who Are You: Philosophy, Physics, and Eastern Mysticism (Paperback – January 5, 2018): Chandran Tattvaraj

It is re-published here with the author’s consent. The original title was ‘Who I am’ and we have reverted to that here.

Who I Am

How long have we been questioning who and what we are; where we’ve come from and where we’re going? Perhaps throughout our existence we have questioned the very notion of ‘self’. Ideas of this self are there to read in Eastern religious and philosophical writing, and in the West, was philosophically enshrined with Descartes: I think therefore I am. But long, long before Descartes, religious philosophers had contemplated the nature of the ‘self’ and within the self – the ‘soul’…that there was (is) something intrinsic to us that also seems to be apart from ‘us’ – a part and apart simultaneously.

When I was a child I was fascinated by two mirrors placed near opposite each other in the family’s bathroom. The reflected images disappeared into infinity and thus timelessness. Maybe this triggered in my developing mind an idea of eternity…and an idea of an alternative reality – for I could see many ‘me’s seemingly projected into the future and into a kind of reflected past. As I recall now I can see/feel myself wishing to step into those multiple ‘other worlds’. Ten years later or so, on one of the few occasions I took LSD, I was aware of passages within the space, the air, surrounding me…Had I the wherewithal, I could have turned into these passages, or corridors and entered a world normally hidden from (or by) my ‘normal’ perception.

In medieval time in England it was thought there was a powerful connection between things and the names of those things. That everything naturally had a name that was somehow bestowed and fixed. The bond between this name and the thing was irrevocable. Now we think: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But we live in and are trapped by our language and thought. The self and our idea of who we are comes to fruition along with understanding both the concept of self-hood and our gradual understanding of our-selves – a paradox from birth that develops and changes through time. We physically and mentally grow into ‘being’. We slowly join the unfolding narrative of the world. As unfolding selves we receive and are affected by the scientific, cultural, religious, fairy-tale narratives of the ‘main characters’. They tell us who we are, what to do, how to behave and what to think. We are seeds scattered into the ground…healthy or rocky.

We are born into a world that seems locked into time and space…a concrete world of ‘reality’. And we are given the ability to perceive this world through our senses in a consensual manner. But is there an ‘out there’ a ‘world’ that exists extraneously to our mind’s perception? Our brain collapses the ‘out there’ (the waves and particles of light photons) into the world we live in and deem ‘real’. Of course in one sense it is so very real…run a blade across your skin and you’ll feel pain and see blood flowing. But the mind that perceives and ‘holds’ our thoughts…the thoughts that perceive the world we grow into has no definite location (there are areas of the brain that correspond to certain elements of the mind…but under given circumstances these can be changed and/or re-routed) – and further, the thoughts themselves have no location or indeed space. You cannot grasp a thought and though it may re-appear as a memory in the ‘future’ its existence feels completely ‘out of time’. Yes we seem to experience the passing of time (and we can look into a mirror or view old photographs to verify this) but that too is seemingly an illusion. But. Let me state, this illusion and all that the brain creates is a necessity for us to exist in this illusory world. No wonder we have constantly asked those enduring questions and the shortest and the most effective and relevant being: Why?

What kind of trick has been played upon us frail humans…and even beyond this trick there being dealt a false trump card – a card that has given us the desire and need to discover who and what we are and where we are, where we are going and ultimately if we were created by some unknown supreme being. We frail humans given cards of nobility and poetry but also fear and violence. Each is dealt his hand…by chance, by providence, through DNA?

I think therefore I am – yet I am aware that I am thinking – therefore I am ‘we’ – both the thinker and the observer. And because I think in English: I think therefore I am English and all that I am aware of through this inherited language. And everything I think comes from where? I think therefore it is I that think. Or: I think unbidden thoughts therefore I am me and something ‘other’? We seem to be a paradox. That’s the nature of the trick.

When we dream – who is it that dreams? Who is it in the dreams? Who creates the dreams and sets the play in motion?

For many people it is enough to live and die – to work and play…some struggle some seem gifted by ‘fate’. Some folk give their lives to ideas and some are tortured and killed for having these, or indeed contrary, ideas. That is how strongly we are caught in our language, in our being. O I truly admire those who have died and suffered in the name of beauty or truth or spirit. But how odd it all seems too. That some men should dictate to others how they might feel, think, believe, say, write and act. When nothing is, indeed, quite how we think it is. The ancient Eastern religions understood this and now modern ‘cutting-edge’ science seems to be verifying these ancient beliefs. There’s more to us perhaps than even we thought.

If this life is a trick, a game…whose rules are we playing to? Is there a reason for us to be here. What is our true nature. There is the argument that we are ‘one’ (non-dual) and that we exist without time and matter. An idea that we are drops of the ocean or fragments of a hologram – all belonging and connected to the whole. In this sense we have been tricked into an earthly state of division and unique personality. When I talk with people about this there comes the idea of ‘re-birth’ (reincarnation) and that our mission, if you will, is to ‘escape’ from captivity of the flesh. That our essence is something beyond and eventually apart from who we are (or who we think we are). On the one hand I see the logic and even justice to this and on the other hand I see cruelty and lack of justice. Most of us are destined to relate as the ‘I’ – and we create our life story correspondingly. The idea of re-birth seems to be the loss of each personality (but maintenance of the ‘spirit’). Who we are is annihilated – and yet some part of ‘us’ carries on. Is this the ‘divine spark’ the droplet of the divine ocean. But if there is no connection between that droplet and my perception of ‘me’ – why would/should I care? Are ‘we’ but fading dreams of another?

How cruel to birth us into this material world with senses to experience it – and to feel its love, hate, warmth, cold, benevolence and cruelty and yet also be locked within a ‘secret’. This secret being that we are NOT truly part of this earth and that we must – through lifetimes of repeated existence – find a way off and out of this material plane! Were I the playwright of such a play I might congratulate myself on its playful and clever conceit. But discovering one is but a fictional character with no life beyond the page…well…I might feel somewhat misused. Especially as my appearance on the stage is so brief and apparently futile.

My father used to say to me: There is only one thing worse than dying for ever and that is living for ever. Here is the great conundrum. This conundrum seems rarely to be challenged. Is there any connection between this earthly existence (the test) and the existence ‘as one’ (connected to all and everything and perhaps The Godhead) beyond time, space and matter? There certainly seems much credible (and incredible!) evidence for existence beyond this life but the nature of that also seems poorly transmitted. It maybe that we enter a lighter consensual reality, amidst others we relate to…a more spiritual place (for some) but dark and heavy for others…who perhaps maintain much of their earthly existence. Maybe we’re being given spurious information as but yet a further test?

The nearest I get to understanding another life beyond the mystical glances sometimes obtained in the beauty of nature…or through music or a piece of sublime literature or art is within my dreamscapes. In dreams it seems as if there is a natural narrative…everything ‘makes sense’…it is us and we comprehend our seemingly natural environment. It’s only on waking that our dreams might seem very strange. And then they begin to fade despite our best efforts to resurrect them or keep the narrative going. It’s like reading a story and the last few pages have been ripped out. Dreams make sense even when nonsense. It really is another reality. It is REAL or as real as this reality. Only waking from a dream does it seem odd or different. Of course there are those who can hop in and out of dream-states and even travel beyond into the astral realms. Or somewhere. Another avenue of reality? A place where our conscious mind (and/or spirit) goes on death? Do dreams offer an insight into the connection between this world and the ‘other’?

These days we can slip into virtual reality. A time seems fast approaching when being in virtual reality might be as common as falling asleep and dreaming. Though we might become masters of our movement in VR land it is not a ‘consensual reality’ but rather a reality created by both humans and machines. I can imagine all sorts of wonderful experiences and the most frightening too. In a future world, grossly over-populated we might enter VR to see, smell and experience nature. But who knows what might have been designed to roam through those lands too. VR certainly can but make us consider what THIS reality is. Like self-induced other realities it will be ‘real’ at the time of experiencing. The mind can be fooled and sometimes quite easily. And the mind can be manipulated too. If we create a VR that transforms the human experience are we creating a VR within a VR. If we can create effective virtual reality who’s to say THIS life isn’t a ‘virtual reality’!

Were we created in God’s (or The Great Creator’s) image? If so – what a disappointment we must have been and still are. I immediately think of us the ‘sons and daughters of God’ creating our own reflections – ‘Artificial Intelligence’ and Robots. Here again the whole notion of consciousness might be forced vehemently into our collective consciousness. The idea – say – that consciousness is received by humans (and not self-created) seems interesting in that the future might see robots obtain their own consciousness. If the reaction to this is – never!…well, that would mean that only the human organic brain (or an animal’s?) can tune into radiating, and yet personal, consciousness. Consciousness is also said to be whole (oneness) but if we receive consciousness we do so in personalised packages. Are we bundled up and packaged pre-birth? If it is the will of the sender that determines who and/or what receives consciousness then why not robots? At the moment robots are fairly ‘primitive’ and yet there has already been a case of robots creating their own language. If humans did come from apes and were subsequently to receive the consciousness we have now – then why not highly sophisticated robots? Of course all this is but scratching the surface. But as an aside there have been experiments with humans where simple choices have been offered (left/right on/off) and their brain reactions monitored. These experiments seem to show quite large gaps between the brain deciding what to do and consciousness deciding what to do! In other words our consciousness (decisions seemingly made in the ‘present’) lagged behind the actual brain decision by seconds. This would mean our ‘present’ is in an eternal ‘past’. Not only that of course but it would suggest all is mapped out and we’re here just for the ride…though we have been tricked (once again) into thinking we are masters of our own fate. Maybe robots of the future though highly evolved will always lag behind their programming? Maybe robots will feel tricked.

If we are beyond time, space and matter (the soul nature) then again we have been tricked into believing we have a beginning and an end. And yet the beginning is hazy and comes together through our perception of time and self and unfolds in retrospection. Most of our perception of ourselves is retrospective. There is also the sense of deja vu (or deja vecu) that haunts us…Do we re-live our life over and over – and if so for what purpose? The world we live in seems to have constant birth and rebirth – as in Nature. Yet we and our surroundings SEEM to be eternal. Others may die (like a leaf/flower/cow/dog or even fellow human) but surely not us. The Sun will one day burn out but can we (do we) perceive of Earth’s ending? And the universe in which we live perhaps has no boundaries and ‘just is’. Like puppets we gaze up into the sky at night, our strings lost into the blackness…Our helplessness and lack of understanding is full of pathos. Why were we tricked so?

What is the antidote to our existence in this world that both is and isn’t? For me it is the art and act of creation. If all was created by The Great Creator – the original creative act – then being creative is truly a spark of godliness. Life can be cold, hard and cruel but we have shown throughout our time on this earth that we can rise above hardship and persecution, above torture and even walk to the gallows with our heads held high. There is something in us that is greater than ourselves.
My own philosophy of life and death draws on the ideas and communications of others (both alive, dead and perhaps beyond the ‘veil’). At death our consciousness/spirit travels on and alights at another place of consensual reality. In this place we flock together with like minds – some others are drawn to the heavy earthly states – some are light and finely tuned. Thus we begin the next stage of our journey. Perhaps this journey involves the ‘release of ourselves’ – the ‘release of attachments’…though we continue to learn we also learn to give up. Gradually we will indeed become ‘one’ – leaving the unique self behind. By becoming ‘one’ we will no longer be aware of time, space or matter…we will no longer fear the loss of ourselves and loved ones…as we will be melded into a greater and all-encompassing love. As I write these words I feel panic…I am attached to the poetic in this life and the connection to others. But being melded with love and being ‘one’ will not – I trust – mean the loss of anyone or anything but rather the gaining of a higher connection and higher ‘love’. Poets, mystics, philosophers, religious thinkers and perhaps even each one of us has at rare times had an in-sight into the greater-ness that we are normally so unaware of. Maybe we’ll get to comprehend the ‘Great Trick’ that has been played on us – maybe we’ll laugh out loud and understand the very true nature of who we are and what we are for. In the meantime we can but dream…we’ll continue viewing the stars above and continue making enquiry. And we’ll continue asking: Who am I?

I hope and trust you will enjoy the essays that follow…and that you might step back from this stage for a while and view from the wings…view the actors so caught up emotionally in the play. Maybe you’ll catch a glance of the playwright him/her/it self viewing from the balcony and maybe you’ll catch a wry smile on that playwright’s face. After all, the playwright knows the trick that’s been played all along. And we are but the stuff that dreams are made on.

Tim Bragg (copyright 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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