After listening to a few interviews and reading a few more of Barbara Ehrenreich, while waiting to read her new book “Living with a Wild God: a Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything” myself when a check comes in, I have to reconsider her dialog with wild god(s). My first post responded strongly to an interview where it seemed like her mystic experiences troubled and excited her in a long repressed way, at least in expressing them. Further that her materialism was yielding to idealism where it’s all in the mind. Her interviews in the NYT, NYT Self, NYT magazine, Harpers, Slate, Salon, NPR, and POI added more.
I was wrong. And that’s the great thing about evidence. I can be wrong. There’s no shame in it. It’s really quite liberating. We all would hate to have to be right all of the time. I’ll probably revamp my view again when. My own didactic personality is peripatetic anyway. Anyone who has followed my peregrinations here has seen my thoughts are as linear and singular as a crab circling the beach. Arguments are never singular in either direction or number. Which puts me at odds with most scientists and rationalists.
I find myself on a similar journey as a kindred seeker with Ehrenreich.
Ehrenreich has been a strong force against the psychobabble of people like Martin Seligman who first positioned positive psychology in both study, grants, and popularity. In her previous highly readable books she wails on the idiocy of American can do attitudes, motivational seminars beware, while praising the gumption and resourcefulness of common workers, blue and white collar. This you can do it mind numb is used to pillage and pacify too many who really can’t do it and need shitloads of help. Indeed, information technology has become the coal mines of today. It may help to have a positive attitude, like any other drug, but it wold be better to be real, get support, and change the system.
BeforeI joined the skeptical movement, which is what I am even more than an atheist, I spent considerable energy deconstructing science and reason. The first for prostituting itself to industry, product grants, and research myopia. The second for its insularity as a formal system that thought itself self-sufficient, self autonomous. Working in technical publications allowed me to see engineers, scientists, and logicians (I worked on PALASM for AMD which is a language of the basic logic of EPROMS; controls fundamental computer logic) as being nearly as biased as the rest. The rest being the mystical and New Thoughters that invaded my public and private life of concerts, nature, writers, friends, and Hippies trying to drag me into New Ageism, ESP, and parapsychology.
A basic issue was consciousness. Never in my wildest dreams of youth could I imagine adults would be so sincere that only humans have consciousness, self-awareness, cognitive frameworks, and conceptual abilities. Everything in my experience showed many things to have these qualities. When Jane Goodall showed chimps to be tool makers the reaction by most was not really or a paradigm shift. My reaction was of course; I read everything she wrote and saw her several times.
Ehrenreich’s wild god is a metaphor for consciousness experienced in others and as perceived by us by our limited ways. A fisherman does always believe his fish in pain. A dog trainer often denies their animals are more than Pavlovian automatons. A lion tamer forgets his Tiger is still a tiger and may someday play with him to death, in reverse blindness. I attributed all this nonsense to religions which worked against the animisms and paganisms of foragers who had no issue whatsoever with most if not all things having consciousness.
Further I see no issue with rocks having a kind of consciousness, nor other inorganics. After spending so much time with algorithms and computer logic I could even attribute a weird kind of consciousness to them–something I didn’t find alliance with until finding Godel and other mathematicians that were platonists of a different ilk. I couldn’t take that though. Consciousness is never separate from materials. The silly idea that a thought has no form was vapid and facile to me. I was a terror to those who thought ideas had an independent, self-autonomous life. What recourse do you have to anything but the Mute button if you deny material? Only an existential nothingness that allows any meaning as meaning, where action is the only consciousness but doesn’t say what to do, hoping movement is enough.
Communication as consciousness is a tempting description where even bacteria inform each other. Where chemistry and the physics of that substrate rules. Remarkable to me that it took so long to prove the vast communication between lifeforms through a macrobiotic world. Where consciousness is a team of players, adversaries even, usually, communicating. Where trees communicate to each other through vast networks of mychorhiza. Get rid of the mychorhiza and plants and trees suffer from both nutrient loss and lack of communication to other vascular plants. Not some sort of plants love western music thing but direct communication through chemistry.
By this measure I have long been interested in metaphysics or mysticism but was driven away by rampant woo. Only forager society anthropologists, naturalists, and creatives were willing to understand that I might be willing to spend days and weeks climbing mountains and having deep relationships with so-called objects simply for the view. The same for repetitive actions, mantras, contemplation, and psychoactive drugs. Just being there was enough.
I don’t call this mysticism or a wild god but communicating with nature directly but I often experience it–I live by it. Once called the sublime by those like Beethoven, classicists, and now called the awesome, the inspiring, or the feeling of something more, else, I can’t choke down this verbiage. It is too easily called god. A kind of god religions steal to show their god must be that god with their assumptions of form, content, and all the other clap-trap they can’t possibly witness. Even if “god” were atoms, waves, mass, extension, or form that speaks nothing to what religions claim, mystical or not.
Perhaps Ehrenreich is speaking to that in which case it does provide a more accessible means of getting people to talk beyond their personal god, and more about how we experience consciousness. I am afraid that to her benefit it will be seen as ubiquitous to all types of theology or spirit. It may also backfire to more spiritual but not religious gunk that needs to be cleared away with some kind of expectorant. It’s all in the dialog.
Jim Newman, bright and well