Archive for category Inner and Outer

Flowers R Us




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Why the Expressive Arts are Essential to the Transition

The expressive arts: music and dance, drawing and painting, calligraphy, sculpture, acting, needlecraft, architecture, and so on. Why they are essential: Because they bind us to one another and to the earth, they transform a place, a locus, into a home.

Before continuing down that path, however, let’s take a look back to the Romantics. It’s important to see how, for all their love of nature and of the expressive arts, they contributed to the ideologies that have ended up alienating us from Nature, and from the expressive arts.

It’s really quite simple. Back at the turn of the 18th into the 19th century, as the industrial revolution took hold, the Romantics venerated Nature, and opposed it to the City and to Industry. Industry was dirty, degrading, and alienating, keeping us from our True Home, nature. The trouble is, by so arguing, the Romantics placed Nature on a Pedestal, and put the Pedestal Over There Somewhere. The Romantics preserved nature by separating it from us. As more and more people moved into the cities, more and more people moved away from Nature. Nature became more and more alien, even as the Romantic Ideal became more and more alluring.

At the same time, the Romantics invested artistic expression in a class of rustics that lived Other There, in Nature, but also in an elite class of Geniuses who, while living among us, were not of us. Music and painting and poetry and dance became the provinces of those august geniuses, on the one hand, and women and children on the other. They were no longer capacities that each and everyone of us had and exercised. And those geniuses, they became the playthings of the industrial rich, perhaps railing against them, but ultimately tied to them as patrons.

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Who sustains the light?



Standing Watch


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The Great Show Trial of Two-Ought-Ought-Six

In honor of all interweb traditions

It’s not all fun and games here at the Transition Party USA. We get serious on occasion. Here’s the story of how a rival party was born and how it died, all on the webtubes.

It was back in two ought ought six at Bérubé’s joint on Wednesday the fourth of October. Michael decided that it was high time he and his beloved Janet prepared a living will:

There were a few comic moments in the attorney’s office when it sounded as if we were ordering from a sushi menu: we’ll have the maguro in the event of severe and permanent incapacitation, please, and two ebi with extra wasabi if terminally ill. Hold the intubation, and no blood products, thanks—we’re trying to cut down.

Michael continues on a similar vein until a Great Revelation comes to him, which he then passed on to us, the readers of his humble blog:

So it occurs to me that one of the more pleasant aspects of a giant nuclear fireball that consumes all life on earth is that it would render all these difficult decisions moot. I have therefore decided to abandon my commitments to procedural liberalism and political left-progressivism, and to begin working for the We Are All Giant Nuclear Fireball Now party. What’s in it for me, you ask? Peace of mind, mainly.

Just as long as we all perish by being vaporized in the bombs’ total destruction radius, and are not left to wheel shopping carts around the ashen, blasted post-apocalyptic landscape like something out of Cormac McCarthy’s latest. Because that would suck.

Thus was the WAAGNFN Party born in the sixth year of the reign of King “Bring’Em On” Bush.


That left us with a problem: Just what exactly was the WAAGNFN Party (hereafter WAAGNFNP) to do? The party’s major objective – total annihilation of the world though nuclear conflagration – while spectacular, wasn’t exactly the sort of thing that got out the voters. And, in any event, it was a bit late in the season to run candidates for office, whether dogcatcher, assembly-person or governor.

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Art and Civil Society in Tokugawa Japan

With an extension to graffiti in late 20th Century

rainbow CEAZE in the industrial zone

I first published this in The Valve back in 2007 under the title “Tokugawa Blogging: Best of 2006.” I’m republishing it here because it relates to the role Transition Teams are playing in moving our societies to a new, more sustainable, and more human way of life.

Back in September of 2006 I was looking through the current issue of Science and saw a book review (requires subscription) entitled “Through Art to Association in Japanese Politics” by one Christena Turner. Given my interest in manga and anime, the title caught my attention. That Science was reviewing a book on such a topic, that really caught my attention. So I read the review, of Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture ( by Eiko Ikegami.

According to Turner, Ikegami argued that

Japanese sociability is characterized by an extensive repertoire of practices for handling the problem of how to interact with strangers. Somewhere between friends and enemies lies the domain of strangers. Somewhere between intimacy and danger lies the domain of civility. “The degree of ‘strangership’ may be an indication of the degree of civility in a given society,” she claims. Civility permits ordinary people to be confident in interactions with those of unknown or different backgrounds, making it possible to form social bonds in the absence of friendship or kinship.

This is important because modern democracies requires a civil realm where individuals can form voluntary associations “outside the realms of both the political institutions of the state and the intimate ties of the family.” Ikegami argued

that networks of people engaged in interactive artistic and cultural pursuits created the bonds of “civility without civil society” that prepared the population of pre-modern Japan for its strikingly rapid transformation into one of the first and most successful modern nations outside of the West. Art created politics when participation in aesthetic networks taught people technologies of association among strangers that eased the transition toward institutions of a modern political economy.

That had me hooked. Not only would this book serve as “deep background” for my interest in manga and anime – “deep” because it’s about a period, roughly 1600 to 1850, well before the emergence of those forms – but it also promised to be a volume that argued for the social value of art on an empirical basis, as opposed to asserting ideals. Since I’d already argued that it was music that made apes into humans, I was eager to read a more empirical, less speculative, argument broadly, if only loosely, consistent with that. Finally, it seemed that Ikegami’s argument might be generally useful in thinking about how social networks function in the larger society.

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Innocent Screams

By Komar, a graffiti artist working in northern New Jersey and who knows where else. This is under the 14th Street viaduct in Jersey City, where it supports thousands of cars a day from Manhattan, through the Holland Tunnel, to points West.

Innocent Screams - Komar

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