Invoking the Mystery, Revisited   Leave a comment

Sunrise On The trail (1 of 1) art III blogInvoking the Mystery By Giving Of One’s Time — Computer Painting by kenne

(The following was first posted on September 26, 2009, on this blog. In the process of writing about my dear friend, Linda Ricketts, who passed away recently, I was doing a tab search on this blog when this posting was among those identified. So much has happened in the intervening years that make the premise of “Invoking the Mystery” even more critical and timely, especially with the Supreme Court’s deeply flawed 2010 decision in Citizens United.)

The book club to which I belong, “The Society of the 5th Cave,” comprises members, all-be-it old educated professionals, males who pride themselves in being specialists in many areas, but with age accepting the reality of being skilled in few. Mostly politically right of center seeking to help me see the light, convinced that those with opposing views are also conducting their act of ministry. Wrong, oh truth sayers! Although I may debate a position, I don’t want everyone to agree with me, and I want each person to think. That’s why I selected Life Inc. How The World Became A Corporation And How To Take It Back by Douglas Rushkoff for September reading. (Click here to see Rushkoff on Colbert Nation.) It is a book that can help people better understand many of today’s economic and financial issues, which Rushkoff feels are not a problem of reality or nature but a problem of design. Are corporations evil? No! Neither are the people who work within their controlling environments. Instead, there is a convincing case to be made for redesigning a poorly designed invention of our culture by identifying non-market ways of developing gift-exchange institutions.

We humanize the corporation, so much so that many who may take a road-trip vacation tend to seek out a McDonald’s in which to eat rather than going to a local establishment. If this is your comfort level, you don’t want to be traveling between the tiny Dakotan hamlets of Meadow and Glad Valley. According to Stephen Von Worley on the Weather-Sealed blog, this is where you will be hurtin’ if you suffer a Big Mac Attack.

Most of us are products of the corporate mentality and lifestyle. I have worked hard to get to an age where I’ve collected enough assets to make money by having money. Even though recognizing that my life and my fortune are controlled and manipulated by our corporate state, I’m now working hard to become part of the gift economy –- doing something for nothing and stop behaving like corporations who “express charitable and community impulses from afar.” A gift economy is a society where goods and services are exchanged without any explicit agreement for immediate or future rewards.

“By donating to charities in the same manner as our corporate equivalents, we succumb to the proxy system that dissocializes in the first place.” Instead, we can start reclaiming what has been lost by accepting that small is the new big and that through a highly networked world, we can begin making local impacts that it spreads. Rushkoff gives many examples of local, sustainable efforts that effectively trickle up in profound ways. The more we network doing something for nothing, the more one voluntary act encourages another. The act of giving is a social phenomenon that should be a fundamental life skill. As Walt Whitman wrote in Carol of Words: “The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him – it cannot fail.”

Rushkoff’s belief that commerce has been separated from the people who are doing the stuff and his reference to the gift economy brought to mind Lewis Hyde’s excellent book, The Gift – Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Written over twenty-seven years ago, his insight and guidance are even more apropos given today’s economic and financial challenges. Here is how Hyde summarizes The Gift:

“The main assumption of the book is that certain spheres of life, which we care about, are not well organized by the marketplace. That includes artistic practice, which the book is mostly about, and pure science, spiritual life, healing, and teaching…. Therefore, this book is about the alternative economy of artistic practice. For most artists, the actual working life of art does not fit well into a market economy. This book explains why and builds out on the alternative, which is to imagine the commerce of art to be well described by gift exchange.”

In his chapter titled “The Labor of Gratitude,” Hyde uses the folk tale “The Shoemaker and the Elves,” a tale of a gifted person, as a model of the labor of gratitude. In the tale, the shoemaker makes his first pair of shoes to dress the elves, which is the last act in his labor of gratitude. When Hyde speaks of labor, he refers to human endeavors such as “writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms,” as distinguished from “work,” that we do by the hour. Labor has its own schedule. Things are accomplished, but often we as if wasn’t us who did them. This is always a bit mysterious. It is the mystery Federico Garcia Lorca was referring to when he wrote at the bottom of one of his drawings he did in Buenos Aires — “Only mystery enables us to live.” Invoking the mystery is to gather the Duende.

Suppose we value the mystery and the categories of human enterprise that invoke the mystery, such as family life, spiritual life, public service, pure science, and artistic practice, none of which operates well in the corporate marketplace. In that case, we must find non-corporate ways to organize and support them.

— kenne

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