Sunday, July 19, 2009

Haunting the Ozarks

Haunted Ozark Forests
Among the other things the Ozark Mountains of Missouri are famous for is a haunted atmosphere that pervades the hills, hollers, and crags. I have heard tales about ghosts, spirits, and haints told by average people in the most matter-of-fact ways.

Spirits or ghost are sometimes called “haints” as in “…haint really people and haint really ghosts”; in other words something else, something beyond description. I’ve also heard an even more macabre definition, “…haint alive and haint dead” something truly unfathomable for the modern rational mind.
The really odd thing about haints is that I have heard people talk about these entities that were seen in the woods. No, no, not in a haunted mansion, shed, or house not an old insane asylum or prison but in the woods.

For sure the Ozarks are a strange place anyway. “Stretching from St. Louis, MO to McAlester, OK and about 150 miles or so either side of that line is area of hills, ridges, small mountains, and general rough country”, that was a very old description I read in a copy of a journal entry from the 19th century and still good today. It is a sort of an odd kidney shaped region mirroring an ancient Balkan kingdom like Transylvania.

A cartographer in the 1950’s actually made a map of the Ozark region. It depicted the Ozark-Ouachita plateau as one contiguous region just the way people have seen it for centuries rather than the reductionist segmented, St. Francis Mt., Salem Uplift, Boston Mt., Ouachita, Mt., Osage Highlands, blah, blah conglomerate that one sees on Internet search engines.

Yet it is the Missouri Ozarks and just the northernmost part of the Arkansas Ozarks that the tales of spooks and haints really abound. For many years I pondered, “Why would that be?” What is so different about our Missouri Ozarks that makes them so haunted and foreboding?

In my reading I have not seen any spooky references to the Ozarks by American Indian accounts. No tribe really “owned” the Ozarks but several drifted through staying awhile and moving on with the seasons; something like tourists today. Some reports even spoke of the Ozarks as a spiritual place full of springs and streams inhabited generally by positive energy.

Indeed the Ozarks are full of magical places. I think there are more caves and springs and other portals to the underground in the Ozarks than anywhere else in North America. Because of the mysterious geology with soft limestone and spongy sandstone rubbing against some of the hardest god awful flint rock and cherts imaginable one is confronted with an installed conundrum. This makes the Ozarks in many places seem dry and craggy while a stone’s throw away is a lush spring with ephemeral plants that appear and disappear in the blink of an eye; God’s magic abounds everywhere.


But what about the ghostly haints; the strange sensations that one encounters while deep in the Ozark woods. The rustling, the weeds parting in front of you and then in the flash of a perception you “see” a Gila monster or a scaly anteater for the fraction of a second; but it’s not really there, or was it? More than once I have been left puzzled and shaken by the encounter with the impossible.

Then there is the energy. Energy is such an overused term. Good energy, bad energy, green energy, positive, negative, on and on the adjectives go in a dizzying confusion. But there is something that seeps out of the cracked, crunched, fissured, sink-hole filled landscape; call it energy if you like. One can almost smell it, almost see it but it is just at the edge of the senses so the brain can just barely touch this mysterious stuff oozing out of the earth.

Please don’t scoff gentle reader at the rambling of this writer. Just south of Joplin, Missouri is the famous “Ozark spook lights”. Sometimes globs, or bands, or shafts of light bubble up from the ground a phenomenon that has been seen by thousands over the years. No less than the US military has conducted “hush-hush” experiments in the area concluding that the whole thing was “anomalous”. Yet at times the frequency of the Ozark energy seems to slow down beneath the speed of light and manifest as bright balls or globs that are perceivable to the human eye. That’s what I think.

Some feel that the mystical properties of the Ozarks can be exploited for the good of Mankind and harnessed to cure the sick; clinics abound in the hills and hollers. With all the spiritual new age theorizing about spectrums of healing and “good vibrations” there is still the old tales about haints and oddly dressed people trudging through the woods, weeds, and fields of the Missouri Ozarks. What about them?

Blue Demons from the North

Beyond the spectrum suite of psychic healing is a cold reality buried in shallow graves and pits all across our Ozarks. No less tortured than the hills and castles of Transylvania is an occulted history concealed there in the leafy thatch and pungent musk of the rocky ground.

Around 1860 Missouri became a killing field. First came waves of invaders from New England, based in Kansas the Jayhawkers murdered their way into Missouri. Then from Hessia, Westphalia, and Prussia came the 48er’s; Marxist murderers and thugs kicked out of Europe after the failed Revolution of 1848. After them came outsiders and pillagers and rapists and plunders and murderous demons from wherever they could be mustered to subdue the proud people along the Kansas border, in the Ozarks, and throughout the rest of the state. Historian Donald Gilmore does a good job describing it in his book Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border.

It took about 15 years to finish the war and then mop up all those who refused to surrender. There was little of no law; military or otherwise. The killing was relentless and for the most part unbridled. The actual toll in lives lost will never be known. The carnage is examined in Canadian author Michael Fellman’s book, Inside War as he takes a stab at it from a Northern perspective while Don Gilmore tries to set the record straight as does Paul Petersen with his work about Quantrill.

Another book, The Burning by Richard Sunderwirth is a personal homespun look at evil and the state sponsored terrorism that occurred at Osceola, Missouri. The murder of civilians by invading troops from the North is unfathomable, uncountable, simply beyond understanding: I know I’ve tried.

Once the sun has set on a day it is history and fodder for debate. It can be then twisted and turned to suit the victors and the establishment. But the truth is still there in the hearts of the descendants and tangled up in the myriad energies of time and space. When scholars argue over “facts” it falls to the poet to find truth through intuition or far-sight or vision or whatever that faculty might be called that “sees” what is unseen.

So here in the Ozarks of Missouri and its immediate environs where the deadly death dance of unbridled warfare stepped to the fiddle of the Devil and his blue demons only the haints those ragged ghosts lurking in the woods and God know the truth. The haints cannot speak in the tongue of modern man so it is through the fog of time that they come forward and leave their impressions on the minds of those sensitive enough to feel the cries from the mortally wounded, tortured, and murdered.

I believe the haunting of the Ozarks is man-made. The gentle spirits that inhabit the springs and the bluffs and caves have been disturbed by the brutality of power and politics. Displaced by the forces of modernism and its material cousins the plight of those kindly nymphs and fairies is told by Edgar Allen Poe in “Sonnet-to Science”; although not about the Ozarks the poem is about the same subject.

These sensations we feel are imperfectly read by our meager facilities so their expression is in symbols and metaphor. Fleeting glimpses of another reality and time that have the power to move, influence, and cajole the sensitive and stir them to express themselves in a unique way.

Taking cues from the dead and angels that speak for them people try to convey a glimpse describing it as a ghost or haint or whatever fills out this vague impression one might feel. In the quiet nights deep in the forest or on the rock-strewn savanna the whispers in the wind and the rustle of things unknown evoke a haunting that cannot be silenced. -David  Reif
Credits:  illustration; photograph, A. Ann Reif, 2003

Monday, June 15, 2009

1406 Moonlanding Drive Part II


I already posted Part I of 1406 Moonlanding Drive which can be read at:
Moon Landing One. The following is the second part of this comprehensive work. In 1991 with the help of Institute for Perennial Studies co-founder, Carl Klemaier, we wrote an essay that attempted to explain some of the lessons we had learned about modernism using concrete examples drawn from society. The result was the following piece which is a combination of taped conversations sewn together with commentary.
In Part I we tried to provide some context by using a brief look at the “planned obsolescence” of post WW-II America as an introduction to a broader look at cultural history. Exploring the hype associated with the products that filled out the modernist’s pantheon we set the stage for and expanded critique of a weltanschauung that has given us the junk-pile as metaphor for the modern world.
By including political history in Part II we use the perennialist view to analyze liberal and conservative showing their complicity and cooperation. Interestingly we threw down a challenge to contemporary conservatives of 1991 to live up to their historical rhetoric and today we see that up to now they have failed. We also pointed out the role of environmentalism in politics and cautioned that it could be co-opted by neo-Marxism; foreshadowing the Green Party and its spin-offs. In fact the failure of the conservative movement to acknowledge the “deep conservatism” manifested by a significant segment of the so-called “60’s revolution” is exactly why the Republican Party is in turmoil today; namely the inability to pick through media driven accounts of the sexual libertine exploits by some and the underlying spiritual longings of the majority.
One can draw a close parallel between the rebellious conservatism of the 1960’s spawned by Barry Goldwater and the Ron Paul faction of the Republican Party. Furthermore, the rejection of the Paul bloc today is a continuation of policy by statists within the Republican Party to preserve scientific secular modernism as the official view of the Party. Yet both Parties cling to the National Security Act of 1947 as their unofficial manifesto which absolves government from responsibility in the name of self preservation for the State; a masterpiece of secular scholarship.
As the feast of consumerism draws to an end in America fueled by the spoils of WW II squandered on the national security state, a sort of hangover of self loathing has set in. While economic elites bail out and set sail for the Orient the average citizen of the United States is left to clean up the revelry as best we can. With Asian materialism on one horizon and Islam on the other, America must find a way to survive. Although perennialism is not necessarily limited to any particular religion it is the Christian perennialist like the so-called Southern Agrarians and others,, that needs to be studied to find answers to this dangerous predicament. -DSR-

1406 Moonlanding Drive Part II
A Meditation on the Decline of Materialism
Carl Klemaier and David S. Reif (June 1991)

“Progress is our most important product”. General Electric Slogan
“Better Living through chemistry.” Dow Chemical Company Slogan

Carl Klemaier: “The story of modernism is an expression of these slogans. As I grew up in the 1950’s these slogans became as familiar to me as the prayers I was learning in Catholic school. And like prayers, those slogans became the cornerstone of my hope in a better world, both here and hereafter. In this world progress would bring the worldly equivalent to heaven—heaven on earth. Anything newer and faster, brighter and shinier, like aluminum, brought us closer to the heaven at the end of history, just as each bead of the rosary brought us closer to the heaven at the end of life. And just as the priest mediated between God and I, so did the scientist, ‘Dr. Science’, would carry out the earthly ceremonies of progress.”

Underlying Dr. Science was a secular ideology based on a belief that humans need not have limits and by using the right method, the scientific method, the world could be transformed. This came to mean that whatever scientists could do, usually for the military, the corporations, or the State, they should do.
This secular ideology, termed, ‘modernism’, was the result of a 200 year erosion of traditional values caused by the rise of the cult of positivism and the industrial revolution. These two factors caused extreme change in Europe. It was a time of fortunes being made by the new rich, and old institutions being eclipsed, and rural populations being uprooted as they struggled in the overpopulated industrial cities.
The new religion of science as described by French philosopher Auguste Comte (3), having obtained a foothold, now began to evolve a bureaucracy funded by those who benefited from the changing world. Lewis Mumford, in his book, The Myth of the Machine, puts it this way: “the new scientific philosophy took over…As mechanical power increased and as scientific theory itself, through further experimental verification, became more adequate, the new method enlarged its domain…Those who created the mechanical world picture foresaw many actual inventions and discoveries, and were passionately eager to bring them about; but they could not even speculatively, anticipate the dismaying social outcomes of their efforts.”

CK: “As the 1960’s began with Kennedy’s optimism, the space program, and the Peace Corps, the promises seemed justified. In the intellectual circles there was even a debate that the need for ideology (fundamental assumptions about what life is about) had come to an end. Those who believed this felt that as a society the United States had, or was well on its way to achieving, the society at the end of history. Republicans and Democrats really had nothing to argue about, given the affluence of post WW II society.”
“But as nuclear weapons multiplied, and assassinations erupted, and Vietnam became fouled by napalm burning the flesh of children, a growing sense began to emerge that something was fundamentally wrong. I began to doubt the presuppositions with which I was raised.”

A critique began to surface, issuing forth from the anti-war/counterculture movement. While at the time, opponents labeled them “leftists” because they were questioning, sometimes aggressively, the political, economic, educational and social foundations of the country. In reality, however, at their root these movements were perennialist (deeply conservative) in their motivation.
Michael Novak, writing in 1968, hinted at this radical conservatism when discussing young people. “One would have thought, a few years ago, that the age of ideology was at an end. But now young people have discovered that pragmatism, too, has the characteristics and effects of an ideology. They have observed in particular, its low resistance to a new toughened strain of tyranny. Technological progress, they recognize, demands stability and unity over periods of time log enough to bring plans and projections to fulfillment; it depends upon control over natural resources, industrial facilities, future human desires, and conditions. Any government dedicated to the use of advanced technology finds it in the national interest to produce and enforce stability on a worldwide scale…”(4) The political movements of the 1960’s saw militant corporate capitalism, Communism, and fascism as bureaucratic tyranny set upon world domination. The Cold War was a battle not between ideologies, but between materialistic worldviews set on dominating people and manipulating nature.
The “deep conservative” movement was an expression of a profound alienation created by a change of emphasis from a healthy individualism to the grandiose egotism of the post-WWII super-power state. The “self” became a prison of loneliness. Michael Novak comments on the worldview that led to this impasse. He continues, “The radicals recognized that the rugged individualism of Ayn Rand, the inner directed personality imagined by David Riesman, and the natural, atomic individual imagined by John Stuart Mill and the English empirical tradition are now viable models of human behavior.” Unfortunately, this model was full of unintended consequences not the least of which was individual feasting on the spoils from the recent World War.
The perennialist movement was interested in interconnection and “whole systems” more than atomistic individualism; a conservatism rooted in the deep past of Pythagoras and Siddhartha Gautama rather than new comers like Hobbes and Rand. The hippies were interested in communes but not Communism. They were interested in connections of people to the land, as na├»ve as that might have seemed. As a line in the song “Woodstock” states’ “I want to get back to the land and set my soul free”. Longing for meaning in a consumer driven, junk product world was the underlying message here.
This “deep conservative” emphasis on the interconnection between community, family, people, land, God, and values cuts across contemporary ideological lines in such a way as to nearly rend them completely. In the 1980’s, the family and spiritual issues of the Republican Right come from the same piece as cloth of the ecological and “mother earth” agenda. They both stress the connection of ideology and non-measurable, intangible values based in spiritual wisdom…and area inaccessible to positivist science and technology. Unfortunately, this potential cross-pollination has already been recognized as a battleground by the avant-garde of the Left in the disguise of the so-called “greens” lurking on the fringe of European politics. Whether the Republican Right is up to the challenge is an open question.
Regarding the notion of interconnection philosopher, David Fideler, states it best when he comments on interconnection in a classical sense. “Pythagoras correctly observed that all things are linked together proportionately, by justice, harmony----call it what you will. By cultivating an awareness of harmonic forming principles and working within the bounds set by necessity, Mankind possesses the potential to become a sacred steward of the earth and a co-creator with nature; but the inevitable corollary is that humanity also has every power to create and inhabit a hell of its own making. The simple fact remains that the scales of justice are inexorable---it is a principle of nature, and not merely of human morals, that each should receive his due. If we poison our rivers, we poison ourselves; if we act in stupidity, it is only appropriate that we suffer the consequences. If there is a moral to the story, it is simply that individuals and societies are far less likely to run into trouble should they posses an awareness of these principles and relationships. And if one would like to cultivate the innate human ability to see things as they are, in whole-part relations, there is scarcely a better guide than the Pythagorean sciences.”(5) In other words “the wisdom of the ages”.
Today conservatism is supposed to be on the rise and liberalism is a dirty word. In reality, there is little difference. Pragmatic secularism or modernism, carried out by scientific, corporate, and State bureaucracies are still telling us that progress is ‘new and shiny products’ that are in reality designed to turn into junk, developed by chemists and computer programmers working for the same entities. Liberals and conservatives are locked into a positivist paradigm. They are equal in their wholehearted support of the unexamined concept of Progress.
Modernism, then, becomes a wholesale assault on the old worldview of interconnection between Man, God, and values; the ultimate in whole systems. The desire to “conserve” what is old and longing for “renewal” through the perennial wisdom become the targets of technology and positivist science. Given this situation the question arises: Can the various peoples of the world hold onto their traditions and the worldviews that underlie them in the face of the secular modernist attack carried on in the name of progress?
The assault on tradition is obviously an expression of great arrogance. Drawings from the Bible and other timeless books true conservatives have questioned human pride. This includes the creation of vast schemes that call for comprehensive planning which are favored by leftists but have also tantalized conservatives who have come under the spell of the modern age.
Russell Kirk, in his classic study of American conservatism, The Conservative Mind, lists six fundamentals of conservatism. 1. Belief in a transcendent order or body of natural law which rules society as well as conscience. 2. Affection for the variety and mystery of human existence…a sense that life is worth living. 3. A conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes against the notion of classless society. 4. The belief that freedom and property are closely linked…Economic leveling is not economic progress. 5. The belief that custom and convention are checks upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovators’ lust for power; a distrust of sophists and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. 6. The recognition that change may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.
Yet, this no longer acts as a model for conservatism. It is nearly its antithesis in the light of recent history. The “devouring conflagration” of innovation from aluminum tumblers and “trailer houses” that are designed to crumble, through junk bonds and the Pentagon’s “Star-War” schemes are now the banner of both conservative and liberal.
Saving tradition may not be bringing back high button shoes, whalebone corsets, and rigid religious orthodoxy. However, it does mean reviving a traditional worldview that emphasizes whole systems to operate culture and individual freedom to operate society; a true pluralism where nations instead of ideologies rule people.
Breaking with the recent past of technological “progress” and industrialized productivity may cause panic in the faint hearted. Yet continuing the dizzying ascent to scientific heaven, with only second-hand military technology, medical experimentation, and 19th century resource exploitation as the foundations of modernism to guide us, seems far more frightening than a re-examination of a perennial wisdom to see us through a transition to sanity.
The hype driven economics and philosophy that moves our worldview are based on a Western idealism gone mad. Morris Berman states it well when he writes, “Scientific consciousness is alienated consciousness: there is no ecstatic merge with nature, but rather total separation from it. Subject and object are always seen in opposition to each other. I am not my experiences, and thus not really a part of the world around me. The logical end point of this worldview is a feeling of total reification everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object too, an alienated ‘thing’ in a world of other equally meaningless things. This world is not of my own making; the cosmos cares nothing for me; and I do not really feel a sense of belonging to it. What I feel, in fact, is a sickness in the soul.”
“Translated into everyday life, what does this disenchantment mean? It means that the modern landscape has become a scenario of ‘mass administration and blatant violence’, a state of affairs now clearly perceived by the man in the street. The alienation and futility that characterized the perceptions of a handful of intellectuals at the beginning of the century have come to characterize the consciousness of the common man at its end. Jobs are stupefying, relationships vapid and transient, the arena of politics absurd. In the vacuum created by the collapse of traditional values, we have hysterical evangelical revivals, mass conversions to the Church of Reverend Moon, and a general retreat into the oblivion provided by drugs, television, and tranquilizers. We also have a desperate search for therapy, by now a national obsession, as millions of Americans try to reconstruct their lives amidst a pervasive feeling of anomie and cultural disintegration. An age in which depression is a norm is a grim one indeed.” (6)
Few can argue with this position. The linkage between scientific pragmatism and politics is manifested in its by-products. We see the outcome in Big Science bureaucracies; consumer junk piling up on landfills; and moldering “trailer houses”, cars, and refrigerators decaying in the countryside. These combine with the larger issues of toxic waste, plutocracy, weapons of mass destruction, ecological degradation, and an alienated culture which produces dependent poorly adjusted people.
Given this, then the mobile home, with its grid coordinate address on a street named after a technological accomplishment, decaying after its short lifetime of use becomes a metaphor for much of our lives---lives which make us begin to wonder what happened to the future we long to remember.

3) Auguste Comte—(1798-1857), French philosopher who founded positivism and believed that the final stag in the evolution of human thought was when science discovered “positive truth” through observation. He believed in the “religion of science” with himself and other scientists as the priesthood for this cult.

4) The End of Ideology Debate, ed. Chaiml Waxman, (Simon and Schuster 1968), pp. 389-397.

5) Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library, ed. David Fideler, (Phanes Press 1987), p. 45.

6) The Re-Enchantment of the World, Morris Berman, (Bantam Press1984, p.3.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

1406 Moonlanding Drive (Part I)


The effects of modern materialism have been more than evident but only lightly scrutinized for several decades now. An out of control science bureaucracy linked with out of control government both being lead by destructive secular motives was the sad impulses driving the dark and murderous twentieth century. This subject was discussed in the essay Tesla’s Legacy: , however, I thought it important to look at the precursors to that piece.
In 1991 with the help of Institute for Perennial Studies co-founder, Carl Klemaier, we wrote an essay that attempted to explain some of the lessons we had learned about modernism using concrete examples drawn from society. The result was the following piece which is a combination of taped conversations sewn together with commentary. Almost no one was working in this area so what we were doing was verboten within our materialist culture in those days. Attempts to publish this and other similar essays were met with comments like “too daunting” and “the results of negative speculations”. These attitudes are changed somewhat as the veil is lifting on the agenda of global materialism and secular tyranny that is now making its way into the popular consciousness.
As "planned obsolescence" and other modernist catechisms have played out the views we expressed are more evident today. Linking the National Security State with culture was not considered then but today that statist plan has borne bitter fruit as it has poisoned a society from within.
What follows is part one of a two part project. It was written before it could be digitally stored so I am transcribing it from paper text into a word processor format as time allows.

1406 Moonlanding Drive (Part I)A Meditation on the Decline of Materialism
by Carl Klemaier and David S. Reif (June 1991)

“The Science of today is the technology of tomorrow” Edward Teller

David S. Reif: “When I was young I remember the first time I knew what aluminum felt like. It was dull, gray, and light weight. School science books and magazines (c. 1960) that I read all proclaimed that this was the metal of the future to replace everything from wood to steel. It was to be a veritable revolution in the way we were going to live.”
“The marvelous light weight stuff was omnipresent in the days of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. You cooked with it. Your knife and fork could be made of it. There were those crazy anodized tumblers in bright candy-colors: some were a sort of purple, others blue, gold, and green: strange colors like Christmas ornaments. It seemed everyone had them. They were awful! They sweated; ice melted fast; and when you got your teeth against them you got a kind of funny ‘shock’ or something unnerving like that. And the creepiest attribute: you could taste them.”
“Some people had dishes made of it. Many had serving pieces made from the stuff. Mass produced lazy-Susans, trays, and bowls with elaborate Victorian designs “etched” into them that I suppose were to make us think of “depression glass” patterns or other classic designs. They were ubiquitous and hideous. Cold food got warm in them and hot food got tepid. They had a funny “scum” on them all the time and they ‘tasted’.”
“We were told by the Dr. Science of the time that aluminum was inert, wouldn’t rust or tarnish, was safe as ceramic to eat off of, and of course---tasteless. I knew better, even then. I liked the colored tumblers but only to look at. Most people got rid of the awful stuff as soon as they had enough money to replace it or the person who had given it to them went to their final rest and the offending tray didn’t have to be trotted out every time they came over for dinner.”

Aluminum was supposed to be the “miracle metal” of the modern world. Although it was first extracted by electrolysis in 1866 by Charles Hall, it was not until the 1920’s and ‘30’s that aluminum was hailed as a technological panacea. Lightweight, cheap, and plentiful, it seemed the perfect metal to carry out the dream of the modernist architect and planner.
World War II was a great booster for the fortunes of aluminum as well as other “modern” materials. The ordnance, airplane, and electronics industries demanded new designs to keep up in the deadly game of killing. Non-ferrous metals, plastics, and precision castings were developed in earnest by all sides of the conflict, accelerating the process started in WWI which mechanized warfare. Now war was industrialized.
In that process, new materials and methods were devised for the lethal business of warfare. “Big Science” and high tech are particularly suited for this type of production because of the reductionist component that tends to turn a blind eye to the human costs involved concentrating instead on technological priorities. But with the end of the war, a market had to be devised for all the deadly processes invented for killing. These methods now had to be adapted to a peace time economy.
Of course, this is where advertising comes in to move the modernist(1) agenda along. Huge sums had been invested into the war making process and great effort had been expended developing a new world of products and materials. Now they had to be packaged and moved through the civilian economy. The “old” had to go and make way for the “new”.

DSR: “New and shiny; that pretty much sums it up. Whatever is new and essentially unused is the best. Whatever is old is, well, old and close to being obsolete or at least on its way to the trash heap. “New” the universal buzz-word of modernism would become ever-present. ‘Modern’, ‘Space-Age’, and ‘High Tech’ are essentially labels for the same thing. The marketing people are just doing their job: creating demand…and by using various “tags” they can repackage the message of the post-WWII era over and over using the formula devised earlier in the twentieth century. That new is better than old and if we want to keep up and not be left out of the action we, “…need to get with the program” a popular expression from the 1970’s."
"The era of the Cold War had begun ushering in a new and deadlier round of weapons research and development, inevitably spawning new product spin-offs to astound and amaze the world. In effect government spending on weapons and space drove the economy and eventually the culture.”
“The photograph “1406 Moonlanding Drive” is a detail of a mobile home or as we say in the Ozarks a ‘trailer-house’. It looks like an early 1970’s model of the American Dream, the single family dwelling. When it was built it was really new and shiny on the sales lot where it was displayed. Bright colored pennants merrily flapping in the breeze and a big sign announcing what a bargain this little baby was greeted potential customers.”
“It was the latest in aluminum and baked enamel steel construction with all paneled and plastic interior, ventilator windows set in aluminum E-Z care no paint frames, and put together with the latest tech-screw fasteners. It was, in short, a marvel of modern technology. Cheap affordable housing for the newly wed, the retired, and the low income customer; it was built to withstand the elements, resist the ravages of time, and hold its value for the lucky new owner of this fine example of American technical know-how.”
“In the era of the Gemini Project, the Moonwalk and push-button warfare, this edifice stood as a shiny new example of how military research and all that space program technology could be brought down to earth and harnessed for the use of the ordinary citizen.”

It is now about 20 years later. The dream home has seen some history. Viet Nam has collapsed. Nixon is driven from office. The flower-children are gone. The standing of the United States in the world is now openly debated. The single-bread-winner-family is starting to look like a quaint story about better days.
The price of aluminum has skyrocketed and almost everywhere there are people walking along the roadsides of our country collecting beer cans, storm window sashes, wire, and other flotsam to “recycle” for the good of the environment. Or are these people really trying to subsist by picking up the scattered garbage of others and take it to the scrap yard for cash.
Either way it all revolves around the “miracle metal” aluminum; making it from ore is many times more expensive that beer can aluminum. It takes an enormous amount of electricity to convert bauxite (aluminum ore) into metal. There are waste products from smelting that are not easily gotten rid of and there is pollution. The electricity comes from generating plants fired with coal which is said to pollute the atmosphere. Or it comes from oil and gas fired generators or nuclear power plants. Oil and gas needed for transportation are used to electrolyze bauxite into aluminum. Atomic power plants are heavily subsidized by tax dollars but none of these costs are factored into the price of the “miracle metal”.
Sometimes electricity to extract aluminum comes from hydropower plants which have been built to fuel the needs of the industry. They dam our rivers, flooding cropland and displace farmers so they can join the urban work force and become potential customers for mobile homes.
In the not too distant past, homes and commercial buildings were built by craftsmen to last and last. The structures had a spiritual quality because they were constructed with time honored methods in geometric arrays whose origins were functional, aesthetic, and spiritual, recalling Pythagorean principles or the mystical relations that exist in the archway, the perfect circle, or the ratios of a rectangle. Materials were durable and earthy. Stone, brick, hewn beams, and wrought iron came together under the hands of skilled people to bring forth beauty and function: form following essence.
Structures lasted hundreds of years and were populated and re-populated by on family after another. When there was need of temporary buildings, the “trailer-houses” of the past were made with materials that were abundant and easily available, and could be repaired readily. The American Indians had thousands of such dwellings” lodges, tepees, wikiups, hogans, and other temporary homes that were made from natural materials that did little to harm the earth.
Even if people needed to live in these structures for extended periods, they could be repaired as needed with common materials. Their design was in tune with tradition and spiritual sensibilities of time and place.
Dr. Science tells us to wait, things will get better. There will be new building materials that will last forever. Plastics in every color of the rainbow and metals that never rust or tarnish. Homes of the future, clothes, and other possessions will be beautiful and hold their value indefinitely; tools and utensils will never wear out.
The people on Moonlanding Drive have heard all about progress before. But today things are broken, the doorknob will no longer work; the precision casting in its interior no longer accepts the aluminum key to fit it. The baked enamel steel siding is dirty beyond cleaning; it is peeling in places and rust has invaded the cracks. The high-tech fasteners are corroding, coming loose, and no longer hold properly; the roof is leaking. Repair is difficult for people without space-age technology; aluminum is hard to weld requiring specialized equipment. Fasteners once tightened are not meant to be replaced; precision castings are not designed to be fixed.
Try to tell the people on Moonlanding Drive that the promises of a worldview based on positivist(2) science and modernism will work. They may listen and hope and without an alternative, they will try to believe, but it is getting harder. For many “shiny and new” is a cynical memory. No more credible than the latest hype on the TV for a flimsy Veg-a-Matic or shiny and new faux-pearl jewelry that is worthless before it arrives in the mail.

1) Modernist-Someone who adheres to the creed of modernism which is an uncritical belief in “progress”. A view that believes whatever is “new” is intrinsically superior to what it replaces.

2) Positivist-One who believes in positivism; a belief in those things that have a quantity, believing only in things that can be measured. It is the basis for “science”.

In the next installment Carl Klemaier and I discuss more of the issues concerning people living on Moonlanding Drive. It can be read at: Moon Landing Two

Illustration: Black and white photograph entitled, “1406 Moonlanding Drive”, 1990, by the author, taken with Nikon N-2000 35mm camera using Kodak Plus-X film.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tesla's Legacy

Nicola Tesla is a pivotal figure in the history of science. Tesla conceived of nuclear weapons, particle beams, and ballistic missiles years before they existed. He is known for practical inventions and bizarre experiments. Today some people have made him into a "science mystic" of sorts giving him a cult-like following even naming an electric car after him. When I wrote this he had not achieve that notoriety. However, I wanted to put this essay back in play as it seems to me that it is as relevant today as it was 10 years ago.

This piece is essentially a perennialist analysis of the twentieth century as seen through the life of pioneering electrical engineer, inventor, and media icon Nicola Tesla (1856-1943). As a cultural history it visits the last century: a dark age of mass murder and destruction brought on by the rise of materialism.

The original essay published under the title “The Last Wizard” appeared in the European journal of the Proustist Society, Global Times, in the July/August issue of 1998. Then an expanded version was published on the website The Fireeater in September 2005. The first edition is in a print magazine which is difficult to come by and the second is archived.

The one that appears here contains some new material as well as new artwork.

Tesla's Legacy

A slender man with dark handsome features stood atop a mountain in Colorado and witnessed the fruits of his labors play out against the cold Rocky Mountain sky. As bolts of man-made lightening slashed the darkness, echoes of thunder cascaded back and forth between the peaks. The deafening sounds were heard fifteen miles away at Colorado Springs. Flash after flash of unfocused electron energy spewed forth from a 200 foot tower that stood atop a primitive high-potential electric generating station. Streamers of electricity over 100 feet long turned the blackness into blue phosphorescence as bolt after bolt arced skyward. The man seized by the enormity of the event was frozen with excitement. He was the only person on the planet to comprehend the principles of this work. In the flashes of energy he stood on the brink an age that would dwarf all history for the horrors it would bring to humanity.

Was this a description of a new science fiction movie? The latest piece of fantasy churned out on the Internet? An advertisement for a rerun of the "X-Files"? Not at all; the equipment used to generate this incredible scene is today considered antiquated. The man was not the product of M.I.T. or some other government particle physics research team. Nor was he the slick result of a billion dollar science bureaucracy.

The man was Nikola Tesla. The event sometimes called "Tesla's lightening experiments" happened in July of 1899 over one hundred years ago. The centennial of his great work came and went and there weren’t any global ceremonies or re-enactments of this accomplishment. To my knowledge that feat along with several other tricks that he alone mastered has never been reproduced.

Creative Fits
Tesla was born in the village of Smiljan in rural Serbia at midnight on 10July 1856. Part of the Serbian minority this deeply religious family was headed by his father a Serbian Orthodox priest. From an early age he built machines and small inventions. He was curious, a fast study in most things, obviously intelligent, a quick wit, and had a nearly photographic memory. Yet one trait stood out. He had a peculiar ability to envision the plans for a complicated invention in his minds eye, draw the plans, and if the parts were available; make the thing work. Another less desirable quirk was a habit of compulsively calculating in his head the cubic volume of all the bowls and serving pieces on the dinner table and periodically announcing his findings.

Although he attended local schools getting what might today be a high school education with the addition of a year or so of technical training, this largely self-taught man had always been a dreamer and visionary. The gift of vision was to benefit and plague him throughout his life. As a young man he thought of a machine that would hover in a stationary fashion above the earth. People could board this device and then allow the planet to move underneath them in a natural rotation traveling great distances effortlessly. Unfortunately, at the time the technology was not available to accomplish his plans: a situation that remains today. However, the scope of this kind of thinking would color his relations with business and fire the imaginations of the public.

His senses and emotions were always hair-trigger acute. He claimed to have extraordinary sight and hearing and was even credited with what might be called para-normal abilities at times. Yet this heightened acuity often left him edgy, restless, and frustrated.

In his mid-twenties he had what might be characterized as a "nervous breakdown" of sorts where he claimed to hear faint noises at great distances, became extremely nervous, and sometimes his heart would inexplicably race to over 200 beats per minute. During one of these "fits" something remarkable happened. He had another of his visions except this time it was for the basic principles of alternating-current electricity (AC) and the machines needed to supply it, support it, and utilize it. This invention has shaped nearly every aspect of our life today.

During a period of several months the visions and drawings continued as a shower of ideas flooded his life. Not only inventions but theoretical work issued forth from the busy pen of Nikola. Design problems that had plagued him for years were resolved in this period of activity. Obstacles of science and technology seemed to succumb to an almost paranormal flood of inspiration. These peculiar states of creativity would visit him throughout his life.

Tesla, however, was no mystic. It is problematic whether or not he was spiritual at all. Some say as his life went on he became an agnostic or atheist. Certainly his belief in the proposition that all phenomena could be explained by science and utilized by technology flew in the face of religious thought.

His father had been a priest and at one time Nikola was being groomed to follow his footsteps. This prospect was loathsome to Tesla and it seemed he did whatever he could to avoid the priesthood and pursue a completely materialistic path.

Of course he was not alone in his beliefs. The era he was born into was an age of growing doubt with spirituality and the worldview it had spawned. The old spritual order was faltering under the weight of bureaucracy, patronage, and the bickering of its elites. Powerful secular republics like France and the United States were waxing on the horizon. A new profane order of wealthy mercantile interests and global exploitation had created a voracious appetite for technology that would concentrate riches. A "new scientist" was emerging to satisfy that craving and Tesla was right on the cusp of an era. The old image of scientist as natural historian studying nature for the good of Man was fading like a tintype image in the Sun.

The Modern Dawn
Although materialist thinking has been around for a long time the arrival of its present incarnation was cooked up a generation or so earlier. A new paradigm arising out of Cartesian dualism and the Religion of Humanity founded by Auguste Compte was gaining the ascendancy.

Rene Descartes' (1596-1650) famous dictum, "I think therefore I am" became the bumper sticker slogan of a whole school of philosophers. It enabled a disconnect in Western thought to go wild and the mind/body split ensued establishing the supremacy of the intellect over the heart in European thought. Although many truly brilliant people including the Italian jurist Giovanni Vico (1668-1744) totally exploded Descartes’ work it had a nice commercial ring and it implications neatly fit into the domination theories of the new elites. Descartes, the "father of modern philosophy", was one of their darlings.

Following Descartes came another French philosopher, Auguste Compte (1798-1857) whose name is not nearly as well known today yet his thinking more than any other has shaped the modern world with his new wrinkle on materialism. The founder of the school of "positivism" Compte believed that the only things that existed in the universe were those things that could be measured. In other words, any thing that is without quantity does not exist and is unimportant. Furthermore, he believed that in the future scientists would usher in the final stage of human evolution by finding "positive" truth through observation. This cult would then establish a religion and Priesthood of Science that would supersede all other religions and dominate the world for the good of humanity.

With the power of an expanding industrial elite bringing huge sums of money into the picture and a growing vacuum of leadership from the decaying Hapsburg order the scene was set for positivists like Tesla. His ability to intuit the mechanical workings of the natural world and then abstract principles that could be applied to a wide spectrum of problems seem tailored to the agenda of the new secular order. Going to the United States appeared to be a logical move where his talent would be welcomed with status, money, and power. At first his plan would work for him but there were problems down the road.

For a time his genius was hailed and breakthrough after breakthrough in electrical engineering made his presence welcome with the industrialists of the time. Taming the vast potential of electromagnetic forces seemed in the public mind to be god-like and his fame grew. He worked tirelessly on problems of power transmission and distribution so as to make electricity more available. Keeping centrally generated power in the hands of business interests while making household electricity widely available was one of his priorities as was the use of radio signal to transmit instructions to machines and ultimately broadcast the human voice. These projects consumed much of his time as he went from tycoon to tycoon pitching his ideas and getting money to develop them.

Without doubt the "lightening experiments" were of this sort. Collecting money from John Jacob Astor and other robber barons of the time Tesla was attempting to transmit electrical energy directly through the atmosphere without the use of wires. His success was mighty. High potential electric power filled the air in Colorado on those fateful nights. When he had his generators turned on it is said that at a distance of more than a mile away local residents could pull a six inch arc of blue flame electricity from a barb wire fence or any other piece of metal.

News of his extraordinary experiments mixed with his own fanciful pronouncements flashed across newspaper pages. Yet as much as his wizardry astonished the press and inspired the public many of his projects were too extravagant for his backers. The “lightening" experiments fell in this category. To compound the problem he was as bad at managing money as he was with interpersonal relations. He had a reputation as a temperamental and haughty genius with a penchant for meddling in the affairs of supervisors often attempting to micro-manage projects based on his ideas and plans.

In 1884 Nikola abandoned Thomas Edison's laboratory in a pique of anger mostly because he could not work under the direction of anyone except himself. A few years later he had evidently invented radio transmission before Marconi. But due to inattention to documentation and plain disdain for people's opinion he somehow allowed Marconi to get the credit. A bitter legal battle followed lasting the rest of his life for the recognition he deserved from the invention of wireless communication. It was not until after his death that the dispute was resolved. Edison would brand Tesla "...a poet of science" with ideas "...magnificent but utterly impractical". As that flawed notoriety grew it would become a kiss of death for his business ambitions.

Using radio waves and other inventions he built robots and even remote controlled submarines before the Spanish-American War. These developments caught the attention of the U.S. War Department and the British Admiralty. The application of advancements in physics and chemistry had become a top priority with the military of the Great Powers. Reports of his inventions and Tesla's proclamations in the press caught their attention.

His work in the arena of mechanical resonance spawned the idea of crumbling matter with energy. He bragged that if he could engineer a simple sequence of vibrations on various points of the earth and could set in motion as resonance that would "destroy the world". He talked about flying machines carrying bombs and projectiles operated by remote radio control that would obliterate an enemy a continent away. He foresaw the arrival of energy weapons and predicted that in the future the world would be cleansed by a titanic "war of science" foreshadowing the dark age of carnage that would be known as the Twentieth Century.

The military and the emerging industrial elites needed a vision of how they could accomplish their own dreams of domination and control. The growing new secular order in the institutions would do their best to erase the past and its importance from the textbooks and establish the modernist intellectual hegemony. Politicians surfing a wave of money would abandon principle and embrace relativism. But it would take shot and powder to actually install secular materialism and science as the new weltanschauung (worldview). A lasting alliance between industry and the military would soon be forged and the new scientist was the bridge. The prophecies of Auguste Compte whose speculations about the supremacy of science was now close to becoming a reality.

The bureaucratic institutions that developed from this rich soup of money, influence, and intellectual horsepower would fill the growing vacuum of authority left in the wake of declining Christian and other religious thought. The materialists of the time were not dummies. Many could see that their moment had come both to continue their studies and to enrich themselves by creating a new order of control and dependency to replace the old ideas of faith and self sufficiency.

Thus the stage was set and one secular prince of after another would plunge the planet into the black night of World Wars. The ensuing century of carnage, holocaust, and human deprivation paralleled the rise of positivist science. Nobel’s high explosives begat the machine gun, airplanes enabled aerial bombardments, electrolytic chemistry gave us poison gas, Einstein’s clever scribbling became the Atomic Bomb, and as each scientific breakthrough fostered another weapon system the fortunes of the “new scientist” continued to blossom under the dark skies of modernism.

The Last Wizard
Not trained at a prestigious university, not being born in one of the Great Power countries, and unsupported by a tweedy network of colleagues; Tesla had problems. As the twentieth century unfolded professional images continued to morph and a new and improved model of the scientist gained favor. At first men like Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Max Plank, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard came to power in government and university sponsored research. Many were disciples of Ernst Mach the hard core ideologue of materialism whose simplistic views on phenomenology appealed to these people. Then men such as Robert Oppenheimer and Edward “Fritz” Teller of nuclear weapons fame came along who would finally eclipse them all. These were organization men who understood the clubby world of international conferences, professional journals, national alliances, and most of all grant money. These improved scientists could be integrated more easily than renegade wizards like Tesla.

The victor and the vanquished in the great wars of the twentieth century shared one thing in common. They worshipped the scientist for the cornucopia of technology that he delivered to his benefactors. Capitalist, communist, or Nazi all agreed that the way to power was through the temple of positivism. No other single ideology so profoundly shaped a time than this materialistic system. It could both produce and destroy with comparable effectiveness. Trussing “big science” up in bureaucracy and slathering its practitioner’s with money would ensure a steady flow of ideas and goods. In the new reality of administrative charts and state power the pliable genius would become a seamless part of the establishment power structure.

The populace would stand in awe as one “miracle” after another rolled off the assembly lines of technology. Supplying food and entertainment while dangling new weapons of control over the common man’s head the secular princes could manage the unruly with credible threats of annihilation while basking in the sallow glow of power.

Nikola Tesla the man who called his body a "meat machine" may have been just the kind of disconnected genius to utter the spell that would send generations of physicists to court planetary extinction through thermo-nuclear holocaust. But he wasn't alone. From his grandiose speculations inspiration was stimulated in others whose intentions were not nearly as ambiguous as Tesla's.

Branding him as evil misses the point. Although the Jeckle and Hyde dichotomy in science is well known, its negative embodiment is probably not at its zenith with Tesla. Even though Einstein might later be caricatured as the bureaucrat of theory, in the nuclear age it was Oppenheimer who would ply the river Styx and surely it would be Teller who sought to inhabit the dark throne; not Tesla.

Yet the implications that issued forth from Tesla’s words and actions militated strongly towards the camp of Ernst Mach whose ultra-materialism and outright disdain for religion left little room for difficult concepts like ethics, morality, and the law. Soon this omission allowed an amorality to grow that enabled an era of unprecedented industrialized murder to bloom.

When the physical abominations caused by the apparatus of ruin were not enough; weapons of mass cultural destruction would become legitimate. Using government policy, the Media, and the courts social scientists from the Frankfurt School like Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse attack the entire belief structure of traditional society. Like a virus in a computer the program these positivistists created known as “political correctness” continues to grind forward and the mind control that it enabled would become an epidemic. By the dawn of the twentieth-first century literally nothing was sacred.

Insulated from history and moral critique the devastation wrought by materialism-gone-wild is overlooked by most of its devotees. While indulging their nebulous “creative urges”, engaging in the work of "invention", and the exploiting of phenomena; today's scientist/priest seeks to master nature and deliver its bounty to those who might preside over the domain of Earth. Apart from that the modern scientist pleads absolution from responsibility in the name of the unexamined concept of “discovery”.

When examining the products of Tesla’s unrestrained genius and self promotion a judgment must take into account his lack of understanding about the venue that he stumbled into. But those who came along in the wake of him knew exactly what they were doing. Claiming forgiveness on the grounds they are innocent from understanding the consequences of their actions is ludicrous. Something akin to a thief claiming he didn’t know that the things he stole were valuable. Even the Soviet-materialist philosopher Evald Ilyenkov in his essay “The Metaphysics of Positivism” understood that scientists are inherently irresponsible.

Tesla was genius and stumblebum at the same time. His nineteenth century rural Eastern European personality had not caught up to the bourgeoning secular world he found himself in. He could envision the mechanisms of electro-motive forces and make them manifest but cared little for anything except what fame and fortune it might bring him. Not knowing that the exaltation of creativity was also the worship of one’s personal ego never occurred to him or any of his colleagues to this day. Caught in between two worlds he prophesized the trappings of a new material age without understanding the society it implied thereby helping to install a program which doomed it to tragedy.

As the failures of modern materialist technological society mound up a sad legacy surrounds us. Massive engineering failures, mega-systems management blunders, atmospheric anomalies, overcrowding, iatrogenic disease, traffic, fuel cost gyrations, the evaporation of privacy, and a world of other problems have been handed us since the first light of positivism dazzled the world. It is a long road from the heady days when man-made lightening ripped the skies over the Colorado Rockies

David S. Reif

artwork: 5x8 oil pastel on paper by author entitled: Tesla's Legacy, 2009

Many of you have been enjoying Perennis blog for years since the print version cease to exist.  After over a decade we continue to post on this blog as time permits.  I still go to work everyday as an artist squeaking out a living with my wife creating things to sell.  It is no easier today than ever .

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"One of the Trees in the Garden"

This watercolor was used in an exhibit in 1989 to illustrate the nature of the work done within the Institute for Perennial Studies. Entitled "One of the Trees in the Garden" an allusion to Genesis and the various trees in Eden. There were names written on the branches of different authors, prophets, and religious figures we were studying; the trunk was scripted with 'The Perennial Wisdom'.

What is evident today is the alchemical nature of the graphic although that may not have been consciously intentional at the time. It is highly mystical but not in the Eastern sense of a struggle towards "oneness". The feeling is instead a pluralistic mood that displaced truth into an organic collage of understanding that is a product of the human mind instead of a divine revelation.

Noting that all the ends terminated in buds rather than flowers it is up to the viewer to determine whether there is some conclusion to each terminus or not. Nothing has been decided in this milieu.

However, in toto it is far from nihilistic or even uncertain. The force of the proposition draws one into inquiry instead of conclusion. Yet there is a definite point of view which is non-material. The whole picture floats in a cosmic location with sun and moon setting the stage in a universe filled with knowledge. The roots caressing both direct and indirect light feeding off of both but not relying on any earthly attachment.

This is a world beyond materialism which is the home of wisdom. Although data can be found by measuring; ultimately data is ephemeral. Here wisdom is obtainable but not by direct sensory means. It is a world of symbol and metaphor which exists in an eternal place beyond the reach of data and material facts.