Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Welcome

NP Journal for experimenting with ideas, Copyright © 2011-2017 LJ Frank. All Rights Reserved. 

 

Narrative Paths Journal

“We think we know but have yet to discover.”  Thomas Aquinas

 

NP Journal for experimenting with ideas initiated in 2011 within the context of experiences and rooted in treks, voyages, studies and work. The access, integrative content and design of the journal are evolving with the goal of enhancing the reader’s experience. The views and opinions expressed in the Journal are those of the individual authors.

 

“Narrative Paths Journal is a literary magazine focusing on new philosophies and ideas.”  Uriél Dana

 

CONTENTS

About Us

Brief overview of  the vision and people who offer their insights and expertise. Includes a list of NP Journal Group & Contributors: editor, assistant editor, guest columnists, writers, poets and photographers.

Contact: L J Frank at narrative.paths@gmail.com

Announcements

Introductions and links to evolving ideas, philosophies, trends with both narrative and poetic reflections on diverse issues.

Interviewees, columnists and other contributors may list their publications including but not limited to books, articles, book signing events and links to periodical, radio, television, YouTube, theater and film productions, talks, speeches and other programs and performances.

Art

Includes some of Frank’s works of abstract expressionism. He has donated several of his paintings to nonprofit organizations. Numerous works are on display in business and professional offices and private homes.

Guest Column

We welcome guest columnists. With over 1,200,000 impressions & visits from over 90 countries being a guest columnist offers global exposure for your thoughts or artistic expressions. We also supply links to your online sites, updates to your writings/publications, social media presentations – (see Announcements). Contact information is listed under About Us.

The Miracle of Learning & the Seasons of Change by Sue DeGregorio-Rosen.

Inquiries

Philosophical approaches to a variety of artistic, cultural, literary, political, religious, scientific and social matters. Hypatia, notes about the extremes of fear by L J Frank 

Interviews

Strives to offer insightful and thought-provoking observations of varying lengths in areas that are engagingly diverse and leaning towards the paradigmatic. Most recent: Work, Ethics, Technology & Democracy, Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Anderson.

NPJ Book Review

Books from the past to the present reviewed within the inquisitive, exploring nature of the journal. All reviews are by L J Frank unless otherwise noted.

Publications 

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”  Lao Tzu, Daoist philosopher

Preview listing of L J Frank’s published books with links to retail availability. Frank is also working on two books including a philosophically oriented autobiography.

Rhythms

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home — Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō

Contrasting shapes of experiences, ideas, dreams and thoughts primarily in the form of poetry and essays. The words amusing, romantic, haunting, disquieting, nonlinear, obscure and existential are a few of the descriptors for these jottings. Rhythms scheduled to change. NPJ Briefing will be noting added changes in content and design.

 

Index

Links to archived Contributors, Announcements, Guest Column, Inquiries, Interviews, NPJ Book Review and Rhythms.

NPJ Briefing

The Briefing includes updates on Journal plans, usage, visitors by country, a personal log and website news.

 

LJF

Currently scheduled

2018:   The Abstract Tattoo,  literary erotica (novel with a twist) 

2018: A Mistress, a Man and a Spy, historical, contemporary mystery

2019:   A life in pursuit of knowledge, the edges of an autobiography 

Leeds Trinity University

News:

“90% of teenagers believe the scenes of sexual violence in popular TV drama series Game of Thrones – the UK finale of which airs on Monday 28 August – are realistic, true to life and an accurate representation of medieval history, according to new research at Leeds Trinity University.”

 

http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/news/teenagers-game-of-thrones-sexual-violence-historically-accurate

Dr Kate Lister’s Journal

Female Sexual Identity – Medieval to Victorian, Interview with Dr Kate Lister

 

Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

What causes so much fear in a human they would cause the gruesome death of another, flayed, their skin peeled off while still alive, dragged through the streets with the bodily remains burned in a public display? What is the woven nature of the impassioned fear and devoted belief that allows for such a grisly, horrific deed?

The year of her death was 415 of the C.E., or Common Era. Her name was Hypatia (of Alexandria, Egypt). She was fluent in languages, considered an esteemed philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, inventor and a skeptic; wrote volumes and taught in the Library of Alexandria and in the streets, and in private households and businesses. Her writings were of such intellectual, scientific and philosophical insight that she was honored, envied and sought after as a teacher for her eloquence and ability to make the most complicated of scientific ideas accessible and understandable. Scholars and searchers of every ilk sought her out for advice and scientific insights.  Hypatia’s brilliance as a teacher and her comely physical presence intimidated those with other agendas for gaining power.

Instilling fear and initiating instability is only part of the groundwork for radical change. The other part is defining what is sacred? Man writes scripture and declares it sacred as his imagination of something greater than him serves as inspiration. Writing down words and defining those words as inspired by an invisible God is man’s attempt to legitimize the change made by rulers. Scripture becomes the child born from changes in power and subject to the accompanying rituals of sacrifice. Sin is a useful tool for those wishing to control others’ thoughts, actions and deeds. Man makes scripture the final authority.

People around the Mediterranean would argue and literally curse and brawl in the streets and maim and kill each other in arguments about the existence and non-existence of God and the human nature of Jesus. The raucous nature of existence – the brutality of those who sought power were not lost on the scholars of the period.

Gossip, intrigues and campaigns of whispers in privacy and rumors in public among the merchants initiated by those seeking to gain a greater hold on the minds of the populace spread like wildfire around the seaport. And all within view of the Pharos of Alexandria or Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, at the Harbor’s entrance. The Library of Alexandria would come under attack once again as any works that were contrary to the new ruler’s beliefs were burned or otherwise disposed of.

While having access to the scrolls that remained in existence even after the burning of the warehouses near the wharf by Caesar centuries earlier, much remains unsaid and unknown. Hypatia and her writings of which some were likely in existence though missing as time moved forward, while scholars fled to other parts of the Levant.

All ages think of themselves as modern. The people of Alexandria didn’t think of themselves as ancient but rather as sophisticated and modern compared to the “true ancients” as expressed in the writings of Berossus (Fourth Century B.C.E, or Before the Common Era) and housed in the Library of Alexandria where this Chaldean priest suggested that in ancient times men behaved like animals some 600,000 years previous to his life. Ancient, medieval and modern are artificial inventions as humans grapple with time and its meaning.

Existential was not a word used until the 19th century, yet I suggest is appropriate in understanding those seeking to come to terms with the purpose and meaning of existence in a world being polluted by superstition, lies and palace intrigues. “Diseases” of the mind may take many forms during periods of chaos.

Still, people have memories and memory is the fountain of water from which “humanity” drinks. Hypatia among so many others are remembered in various works in the years and centuries following her death. The effects of Hypatia’s existence are still found wherever scientific reason, skepticism, fairness and what is just are alive to serve as a counterpoint to the extremism wrought by fear.

David Chisholm is now Vice President of Sales at Fourier Network Solutions Inc. with headquarters in Forth Worth, Texas. He is moving his entire team to Fourier where they will be focusing more directly on wireless telecommunications with excellent funding in order to grow significantly.

 

Credit: David Paterson, Photographer

Dr Anderson is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies. She teaches courses in ethics, social and political philosophy, political economy, philosophy of the social sciences, and feminist theory. Her research focuses on democratic theory, equality in political philosophy and American law, racial integration, the ethical limits of markets, theories of value and rational choice (alternatives to consequentialism and economic theories of rational choice), the philosophies of John Stuart Mill and John Dewey, social epistemology, and feminist epistemology and philosophy of science.  She is working on the history of egalitarianism from our hunter-gatherer ancestors through the 19th century.

Links:  http://www-personal.umich.edu/ ~eandersn/

Publications:

    Private Government: How Employers Rule our Lives (And Why We Don’t Talk About It)Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.

The Imperative of Integration.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.

Value in Ethics and Economics.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1993.

And numerous articles, including “What is the Point of Equality?” Ethics 109 (1999): 287-337.

 

NP:   Your recent work, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It) is provocative and brilliant. How did you become interested in the subject and what surprised you the most during your research?

Anderson:   My interest in work and the employment relation goes back to my undergraduate days.  In high school, my father had introduced me to philosophy and economics.  As a libertarian, he exposed me to free market ideas, which I adopted.  In my first year at Swarthmore College, I took a philosophy course in which we read Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts.  I found Marx’s critique of wage labor to be very powerful.  I had been exposed to Marxist economics before then, but only through the Marxist theory of exploitation, which, from a normative point of view, ties into theories of distributive justice.  I had not found the exploitation critique of capitalism very convincing, because the labor theory of value made no sense, workers were far better off materially under capitalism than communism, and any remaining distributive injustices under capitalism could be taken care of by state policies such as social insurance.

By contrast, Marx’s 1844 critique of the factory system as alienating focused on what actually happened in the work process and its direct negative effects on workers and their relations to others.  Wage workers suffer from domination at the hands of employers and not just from low, exploitative wages.  I couldn’t find any persuasive defenses of capitalist wage relations in the literature.  And, while conditions of work had considerably improved since Marx, the domination critique survived those changes.

Decades later I decided to re-examine early pro-market thinking, especially Adam Smith and Thomas Paine, to see if and how it engaged Marx’s critique of wage labor.  I found that, far from attempting to defend the wage labor relation, early pro-market thinkers actually hoped that freeing up markets would enable most workers to escape it.  Workers’ independence–their freedom from domination by others–was, in fact, a core value for these thinkers, just as it was for Marx.  They thought that free markets would liberate workers by enabling them to become self-employed, to be their own bosses.  However, because these thinkers were writing before or only in the early (pre-mechanization) phase of the Industrial Revolution, they didn’t anticipate that economies of scale would destroy the prospects of the vast majority of workers for self-employment, and tie them ever more tightly to subordination to their bosses within the firm.

This discovery helps us see what is wrong with contemporary libertarian thinking, which continues to find inspiration in thinkers such as Smith and Paine.  Smith and Paine were aware that the employment contract could not be analyzed in the same terms as ordinary market exchanges, which leave the parties as free and independent from each other as before.  They thought that free markets would render the employment contract a marginal rather than a central feature of market society.  Most libertarians today, eager to defend today’s market society, fail to grasp this point, and therefore overlook the fact that the modern firm, based on relations of domination and subordination, is inconsistent with a credible vision of what a society of free and independent individuals would look like.

NPAt will employment is a disconcerting approach to employment when you are seeking loyalty and cooperation.  Is at will the master servant paradigm dating back to the 19th century that affects all aspects of a person’s existence in work, dress and lifestyle choices?

 Anderson:   At will employment means that the employer can hire and fire the worker for any or no reason at all.  Likewise, workers can accept and quit their jobs for any or no reason.  Formally speaking, employment at will describes a symmetrical contractual relationship between employer and employee, in terms of entry and exit conditions.  However, the content of the employment contract involves an authority relation–the employer governs the employee at work, issuing orders that must be obeyed on pain of sanction, including discharge.

In fact, employment at will effectively extends that authority to the worker’s off-duty behavior, since nothing stops the employer from firing the worker for off-duty conduct, such as engaging in politics, sexual relations, recreational activity (including smoking, drinking, and drugs), and speech.  Under U.S. law, there are a few exceptions to at will employment, mostly having to do with discrimination by race, gender, age, and disability.  And in some states, workers enjoy limited protection for their off-duty freedom of speech and choices of sexual partner.  For the most part, however, at will employment amounts to sweeping employer authority over workers’ lives, both on duty and off.

At will employment represents a change from the early 19th century norm.  In common law systems from feudal times through the mid-19th century, employment contracts were fixed by law for a full year.  Masters had to keep their servants for that time, and servants could not quit.  Competing employers were barred from offering work to servants under contract to a different employer.  Labor mobility was possible only once per year, when the contract expired.  When the law changed to allow freedom of exit to either side, however, it did not alter the authority relation between masters and servants under the employment contract.

The sweeping legal authority of employers over employees is not much smaller than what masters exercised over their servants in earlier times, when servants lived in their employers’ households and were treated as subordinate members of the master’s family.  Of course, now that workers live in separate households, employers have less interest and practical ability to regulate workers’ off-duty lives.  But legally speaking, they retain their ancient authority to do so, and sometimes they exercise it–much to the shock of workers who find themselves out of a job for some off-duty conduct of which their bosses disapprove.

NP:   In a high-technology work world is the logical next step in resource development the increasing use of machines/robots to replace human workers for the sake of profit?

Anderson: However problematic the employment relation is, people still need to work.  Under current conditions that involves employment for most workers–that is, subordination to a boss.  So we do need to worry that artificial intelligence will wipe out most jobs.  What will truckers, bus drivers, and taxi drivers do when Google cars do all the driving?  Some thinkers, including libertarians, think this problem can be solved by means of a universal basic income, which would free individuals from having to work in order to provide for their basic needs.

I don’t think the problem of automation is just a matter of finding some other way to secure the means of subsistence.  It’s an existential crisis.  Most people feel a need to be useful, to have some purpose in life, some reason to get out of bed or off the couch.  For most people, paid work is a central way they get recognition from others, prove their worth to others, and gain esteem as contributing members of society, people who are doing something worthwhile, helpful to others, important.

For most people in their prime working years, unemployment is a disaster, a major cause of depression.  Just having enough to eat and a roof over one’s head isn’t enough for a meaningful life.  Will various unpaid activities, such as caring for family members, volunteer work, the arts, and athletics be enough to secure meaningful lives for people?  That’s a big question we may have to face.  If good alternatives are not accessible to everyone, we really need to question whether Google cars and other automated labor-saving technologies are worth adopting.

 NP:  In the 21st century will the meaning of gender evolve into sufficient complexity that it will become an obsolete tool of recognition and no longer be useful as a screening device? Will we at long last acknowledge a person’s dignity and worth by their character, knowledge and ability to participate rather than label a person through perceived external gender identity?

Anderson: Following through on your last question, I see the impending replacement of millions of jobs by robots to have a much more severe impact on men than women.  “Women’s work” has always focused on care work, whether this is unpaid work for dependents within the family, or paid work such as nursing, child-care, social work, therapy, and teaching.  All such work essentially involves human relationships of concern and trust.  I don’t see such work going away, because robots and computers are not genuine substitutes.  (Anyone who thinks that a child can get an education by interacting with computer programs rather than with people has not the slightest idea what real education involves.)  “Men’s jobs”–dealing with the manipulation of physical objects or management of data–are far more easily automated.  Hence, in the short-term, automation will disadvantage men far more than women.

However, perhaps in the long run the elimination of the sorts of jobs that men mostly do, will force them to re-think their social roles.  Perhaps they will gravitate to care work of all kinds, and perhaps we will creatively expand the varieties of care work available.  In that optimistic future, a major symbolic gender division will be radically attenuated.  At least as far as the world of work goes gender might become insignificant.  In other dimensions of life, however, such as sexuality, I don’t see gender disappearing.  If anything, gender identities are proliferating as individuals arrive at more nuanced self-understandings.

NP:  Are we experiencing the death throes of democracy or is it already dead, especially within a world-view of wealth, power, greed, competition and nationalistic fervor within the context of corporate government generated myths such as a free-market?

Anderson: We are currently witnessing more than one crisis of democracy.  As inequality steadily grows, and financial interests dominate states via credit markets, the world’s democracies are facing severe constraints imposed by capitalists, and plutocrats are more and more writing legislation, capturing regulatory agencies, and determining who gets elected through their control of campaign funds and media.  At the same time, populist revolts against inequality and the declining prospects of the middle class have taken an authoritarian turn in the U.S., Hungary, Poland, India, and Turkey, and threaten other democracies around the world.  We do see a rise of democratic activism in some places, including the U.S.  I think it is too soon to tell whether that will be enough to rescue democracy here.

There are very troubling signs.  Democracies can’t operate by laws alone.  Social norms are also critical to effective functioning.  Dozens of norms are being shredded.  Moreover, politics has entered a realm in which discourse is no longer evidence-based, but about cheering for one’s own team and denigrating the other.  Democracy cannot function when different parties don’t share a common reality, when facts are dismissed out of hand because they challenge people’s self-conceptions.

NPJ Book Review – Desert Wisdom by Neil Douglas-Klotz (1995)

This is a thought-provoking, scholarly and very accessible study of “Sacred Middle Eastern Writings from the Goddess through the Sufis.” The writings include translations, commentaries and body prayers. The author strives to “cover both wisdom and spiritual practice from the native Middle Eastern tradition.” It’s a useful reference to balance one’s knowledge of the mystics.

In his quest the author provides the threads to the various traditions and the links to the earth and human respect for caring for the earth, the journey of the soul, resurrection and the partnership of humans with each other.

This is a spiritual journey not of dogmas but of the poetry  – our spiritual existence and the timeless questions men and women have about our purpose in life and our physical death. It is a work of contemplation with Islamic, Hebrew and Christian insights – “sharing the words of Native Middle Eastern mystics linked to indigenous spiritual practices that make their wisdom an embodied practice.”

In perspective, the study of mystics “disentangles” the reader from the dogmas of the extremist rhetoric and “sickness of spirit” found in some degree in all religions today and the interplay with politics and greed. The study moves away from the current stereotypes. Desert Wisdom is a work of thoughtfulness amid the chaos of injustice.

The mystics provoke our imagination to ponder who we are and suggest a deeper reflection on life and it’s meaning and our intimate relationships with our neighbors and the need for love. From the Sufi poet Mahmud Shabistari to St. John, from Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic come words of wisdom that peer into the existence – of God, Goddesses, man and woman, amid the silence of ‘the desert wilderness of our mind where someday we might find ourselves alone except for our prayers.

Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

It’s somewhere north of Charleston along the coast and heading to an appointment on the Outer Banks. Driving is movement and movement is a form of external liberty even when the mind is trekking across the desert where one might lose or regain their soul.

It’s not that I previously unthought about it. Nor is it a matter of being transparent to oneself. Of course I can easily imagine some neurons at times act with an “irresistible impulse,” though as a legal justification as depicted in the film Anatomy of a Murder, such an impulse might not hold up in today’s courtroom.

Still, there are certain things a person are not currently legally liable for – like getting up in the middle of the night in a motel that feels like a 1950’s film location and listening to waves splashing on the beach, then looking in the mirror and deciding a change is needed – shaving one’s beard or looking back in the room at your partner who yawns and mentions something about getting a wax. Such thoughts are not an actual liability but rather a perception even when the task is completed with “intent.”

And, within the context of geography a naked face or body is not a liability unless we only see what we look like through the eyes another or if the skin is transparent and then everybody’s ugly. And, no one knows what the geography of the human heart or laws will look like next week. We have the “free will” to start growing hair again if so desired.

On the other hand the concept of free will is another philosophical discussion altogether of which volumes have been written. Things may be matter of choice among the small decisions in life but the larger choices about existence and purpose appear at times to be another matter.

There are acts in life that overlap, like irresistible impulse and intent – such as taking a nude bicycle jaunt in the early part of June in Montpelier, Vermont where one can achieve a Zen-like awareness in discerning the difference between naked and nude even if it’s merely a philosophical and emotive state of a brain reshaping its experiential perceptions in what might be described as neuroplasticity.

Naked and nude are different in the discerning mind that allows for that discernment. On the other hand when one shaves a part of the body it might be viewed philosophically as becoming naked as opposed to nude within the context of their respective etymologies and ancient roots. Depending on context, naked may be shunned as being too invasive, especially if we are straightforward with our thoughts and find that the commentary sections of the Internet of existence can be quite abusive.

Nude on the other hand is understandably quite acceptable in our perceptions of life as our neurons send and receive messages as part of cultural learning and acceptance to parts of our and others’ bodies and expressions. Experience affects definition.

There’s an exciting potential with the pliability and plasticity of the brain. Will it become an opportunity for knowledge navigators of the future to design and adapt learning navigational systems to expand the brain’s ability to think and become more aware of its own potential with interactive tools for learning and gaining knowledge while solving problems of memory?

Adaptation and learning though becomes the most formidable through participation, nurturing and empathy of the human heart. So with that in mind we got dressed with a different point of view realizing our thoughts affect the fabric of the world as we breathe in the argon molecules that still exist from centuries past.

The rooster was late in crowing that morning or perhaps neither of us heard it. Not sure what time it was even though my wrist was wearing a watch. I wore it out of habit. The summer sun was peeking above the ocean’s horizon millions of miles away and my partner decided to remain natural as we packed up and headed out.

A young driver with old eyes in a freshly minted pickup truck hurried by us revving the engine as he seemed to be switching gears and headed for a coffee shop line up behind other custom designed machines to order a morning blend the names of which seem to be getting longer which each season like a word that becomes a sentence and that sentence becomes a paragraph without a period at the end to signify a new thought.

We ordered two cups of coffee and after a morning smile and a thanks headed back to the highway. As I touched a button on the radio we started to listen to the news to discern if it was indeed the news or a sponsored advertisement. So at a loss decided to change the channel and catch the wisp of a tune from the past or perhaps it might be the future.

It’s not the change or the pace itself as time folds over and what happened years ago was just yesterday in the heart. Our neurons transmit messages to the heart and it appears to me that heart understands first and the mind takes note as the mind can imagine things that never really happened though the heart knows better if one is able to listen carefully to its geographical insights and rhythms. Understanding the geography of one’s heart is core to reaching one’s destination.

As we approached the Outer Banks and watched the ocean’s waves lap the sandy shores we paused. Perhaps one never truly knows oneself unless one is awakened to the geography and sensitivities of their heart as it assists in the messaging of the neurons towards taking the next step.

 

NP Journal is looking for a Cartoonist.  This is an opportunity for a retiree or anyone wishing to gain experience and global exposure for their efforts/work. The cartoons will provide a social, cultural and intellectual commentary. Please review the journal to get an idea whether this would be of interest.  The position is part-time volunteer fun.

 

Contact L J Frank at narrative.paths@gmail.com to discuss.

Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

What is knowledge? For the philosophical purposes of this article knowledge means to know and be aware of or cognizant of something.

The process of acquiring knowledge begins at birth and grows through experience wherever one receives it and through research, reading and study. Knowledge is the ground (foundation) of life and without it is to live and make decisions in a “dwelling” without a foundation.

And existential in its most basic form means, “to exist,” (and, what does it mean to exist).

I assume one of the purposes of human existence is to create and evaluate an environment that enables knowledge to grow and the human species to survive, support and nurture each other. Human cells are full of knowledge that pass along information and knowledge with each generation.

Knowledge in other words, affects the ability “to exist.” My question consequently is whether knowledge acquisition is a natural human right? That is, what is the rationale for people having to pay, other than taxes, for knowledge especially in a democracy and given that it’s essential for existence? To what degree do the artificial boundaries that people face in everyday survival affect knowledge acquired?

The “library” – whether it’s public or academic serves the public and the populations of students, faculties and staffs and is founded on knowledge. To create a library is a political act. That is, its existence or “to exist” is the result of a political body that creates and maintains it as the ground or building blocks (foundation) of a civil and an informed, educated and enlightened citizenry.

A physical and or online “library,” requires money from others to exist. It’s fairly simple arithmetic. In a democracy it has meant taxes. And, once elected or appointed to a physical or “online Board,” members arrive with agendas within a political and digital context. Historically, core to a board member’s agenda is the role of advocate for a knowledgeable citizenry that carries with it political and financial support and a plan of action. The challenge for boards and politicians is appreciating their role in government. Does outsourcing government alter the foundation or ground of existence – the meaning of government and roles of its participants?

A technological nuance exists in the processes of governing as the dwellings of knowledge arrive in a digital format. The question is how will the agendas evolve? Sufficient physical parking space in a downtown or campus library gives way to “digital parking space.” The agenda moves towards the process that is corporate based. “Thought leadership” is now synonymous with corporate mindfulness.

American democracy has transitioned from a social democracy applied to public services towards using a corporate based economic model with more money in the hands of fewer people and significant donations to knowledge based institutions or agencies increasingly coming from fewer sources. Isn’t that the definition of an oligarchy? Does the application and exploitation of a post democracy model affect the quality and structure of information and knowledge itself?

Knowledge and literacy and the use of high technologies are critical to public, and academic libraries. Innovation means being cost-effective and beneficial on less operational money and is a corporate based paradigm. As Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at MIT, has pointed out, today the wealthy enjoy the benefits of socialism through wealth sharing with each other while capitalism is applied to the poor. The wealthy increase their wealth at the expense of the poor while those who are poor live on what the wealthiest allow to fall off their table (“even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” Mark, 7:28).

Whoever controls the wealth controls the agenda – ridicule it should be noted, is a potent weapon of manipulation and used on those without sufficient resources to combat the moral equivalence perpetuated by the corporate model based on profit, power, narcissism and moral arrogance.

Who plans for their own obsolescence? “Maker space” and other programmatic trends in libraries are not new but the information and knowledge paradigm “shifts” the rules of navigation and the nature of the navigator and has increased in velocity. Transitioning from a state of being to a state of becoming is now a lifestyle.

An added challenge today is the numbers of under-employed and unemployed college graduates let alone the increasing numbers of disenfranchised and under trained citizens that continue to rise in numbers in a high-tech environment that demands more knowledge, literacy and skills.

While the corporate mind recommends more entrepreneurship are we also nearing a juncture where citizen boards and politicians aren’t really necessary in a corporate-digital-intelligence-security-militarized complex? What will software and hardware and “humans” look like in the future?

At issue: has technology, wealth, power and corporate influence tilled the “ground” to such a degree that “to exist” becomes a matter of – can you afford it? What will the world look like when the right to knowledge and the right to exist are sold to the highest bidder? Being a pawn to another’s knowledge or one’s own ignorance is not a pleasant thought and points to an “existential frustration or angst” now being faced.

The Greek historian Herodotus after observing the travesties of war, the callous behavior of the wealthy and the travails of the human spirit among the physically and spiritually impoverished, stated, “The worst of human sorrows is to have much knowledge but no power.” History, Book ix, Ch. 16. (445 BCE)

*Frank has over 25 years public library directorship experience and over 5 years as a consultant.

 

Image for Writings

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

It was late Spring 2016. The minutes on my watch were approaching midnight. I was traveling across New Mexico and pulled off to get some gas at a 24-hour service station. As I stood at the pump next to my car a single Harley-Davidson motorcycle with a muffled exhaust sped west on route I-40 with only the service station lights noting the full shape of its existence and a nodding head in my direction and the darkness of a moonless night over the high desert. The muffled sound of the exhaust was haunting with a single light on the front fender serving as a beacon showing the way on the ribbon of high-tech asphalt with the biker’s mind serving as a map to a destination perhaps only known to her or him and possibly stored on an android or I-phone inside a leather jacket.

Technology is faster than a reflective philosophy. My driving partner and I questioned whether the biker was heading to a home or away from one, distancing her/himself from a former lover or anxious to meet a new one, heading to a job or leaving one behind, or perhaps the Harley was the biker’s “maker space,” or was the biker an escapee from a less than meaningful alliance or perhaps it was just a needed ride across the high plateaus for the sake of nothing else but the drive. Processes and destinations may serve the same purpose on the road map of the mind.

It would seem a Harley biker seeks more than competition in a “market economy” regardless of official and unofficial office politics. Once a person experiences the liberty and freedom that being mobile like a biker riding across the desert, it’s hard if not dangerous to take away that freedom. The singular drive across the country is a liberating act that transcends the physical. Movement is a form of literacy and essential to knowledge. The more literate one becomes the more one wishes to control one’s own destination even if it’s ultimately an illusion in the grander scheme of the universe. Gaining knowledge is a political, cultural, philosophical and intellectual act with human and non-human consequences.

There is a freedom and liberty in movement expressed in the lone rider across the desert. The drive is a form of an evolving vision as to the possibilities one might encounter over the next ridge and passed the artificial boundaries cultivated for people to think outside of, especially from those who reside in the lofty towers of their own psyche.

Adapting and adjusting to the terrain ahead and supporting others along the way to help realize their own personal destination humans require a journey mentality and the knowledge that their free to do so. Money affects the liberty of movement. And like the headlight on the front fender of the Harley, the literate mind can adapt and serve as a beacon on the ribbon of the high-tech journey of tomorrow. Knowledge is the basis for maintaining a balance in life’s struggles. And it arrives in many shapes and forms.

So I got in my two-seater car along with a long auburn haired partner sharing the drive as we headed east towards Oklahoma listening to Glen Campbell sing By the Time I get to Phoenix. It’s a lonely song in the middle of the night so we switched channels and listened to Miles Davis’ So What.

Like a person I listened to the other night, my auburn haired partner asked me who had influenced me the most besides the biker that we saw that moment.

I tried to think back and it’s been dozens of people, a friend who was a medic and died in a meaningless war, a Japanese student who I taught English as a 2nd language to in Tokyo and who taught me how to learn a language; a German woman who I chatted with late into the night in Munich about Germany’s social history, a priest I drank beer with sitting on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland waiting for the monster to emerge from the deep, a library director and Finnish descendent who knew how to toss the stones and possessed worldly knowledge, a Lutheran theologian from St. Louis who left the church on a meditative trek, a child with cerebral palsy that communicated through sounds and movement of hands, a wine connoisseur in San Francisco who explained how to grow the best vines, an Asian woman & CEO in Santa Barbara who understood our mutual cultural shock and we shared the Buddhist priest’s suggestion – if one seeks truth one should drop one’s opinions, or the blind man in Michigan who was helped crossing a street he didn’t want to cross in Detroit and developed a personal philosophy from that experience, or a multi-lingual colleague from Romania whose soul and intellect was without borders, or the  striking woman whose ‘mindfulness’ and evolving ‘spiritualness’ I encountered while traveling or the bartender who listened with determined focus regardless of his own persuasion.

The list is long and the conversations fleeting and some were deeper than others, like the metaphors we find in a novel’s character, a word here and there and unplanned experience and you’re thankful you crossed paths – like the lone biker who nodded, a connection was made, while she or he rode the Harley with the accompanying haunting sound across the high desert at night and an awareness that imagination expands our knowledge of the existential and spiritual journey we take in life.

Publications:

Victorian Paraphernalia, ed. By Kate Lister and Helen Kingstone (London: Routledge, 2017)The History of Sex Work in Leeds’, in Our Voices: Perspectives to Challenge Stigma and Stereotypes Around Sex Work, ed. By Basis Yorkshire (Leeds: Delta, 2017) (Funded by Rosa Fund)

‘The Pen is Mightier than the Whore: Victorian Newspapers and the Sex-Work Saviour Complex’, in The Routledge Companion to Sex, Sexuality and the Media, ed. By Clarissa Smith, et, al. (London; Routledge, 2017)

Upcoming appearances:

August 25th 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘Edinburgh Skeptics’, Whores of Yore

August 22nd, Scarlet Lounge, London 

Dr Kate Lister is currently a lecturer in Literature and History at Leeds Trinity University in West Yorkshire, northern England. She received her doctorate in medievalism and gender studies from the University of Leeds in 2014.

She is a board member of the International Sex Work Research Hub and advisor on the use of digital media and a member of Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, the British Association of Victorian Studies.

She curates the online research project, www.thewhoresofyore.com. This is a digital public engagement project that works to make research on sexuality and the history of sex work publicly accessible by working across various medias; social, digital, radio and television. The Twitter feed has 90,000 followers and the website includes over 150 academic articles, as well as archived images, extracts from medical texts, antique erotica, and independent blogs from Basis Yorkshire and resident licensed sexologist. The project was nominated for the Sexual Freedom Award, Ally of the Year in 2016, and has led to numerous radio and television appearances.

Links

School of Arts and Communication

NP:  You have a fascinating and remarkable research background in the study of female sexual identity, Medievalism and historical sexuality. How did you get interested in these fields of interest?

Lister: I would have to describe myself as intellectually slutty. I have never felt restricted by disciplines and have always indulged my curiosity as much as I can. For my post-doctoral research, I started by researching how the medieval period is often highly sexualised in cinematic portrayals, and that led to my researching sexuality during that period. From there, I started researching historical sexuality and was particularly drawn to ‘sinful’ sexuality and how attitudes around sexual morality change. I started the Whores of Yore Twitter feed to share all the historical ‘titbits’ I was uncovering and people seemed to enjoy reading about them as much as I enjoyed researching them.

NP:   An intriguing example of how a woman’s identity was viewed in the Medieval Age might be the myth or actual practice, the  act of placing a live fish in a woman’s vagina until dead, then cooking or roasting it and serving it to men to make them more ardent in their love-making. How does a superstition like that come into being?

Lister: That particular anecdote about the fish is less of a serving suggestion and more of a fear. It’s found in ‘Decretum’ by Bishop Burchard of Worms, (c. 950 –1025) which is a penitential (a Catholic text that indexes sin.) The text lists all manner of conceivable sin and gives the appropriate penance for it. There is no evidence that this really happened, but it is likely to be an old folk superstition that taps into primal fears around women controlling men through their vaginas. Myths about vaginas (and by extension, women) being dangerous to men are found around the world.

Many cultures have myths that focus on vagina with teeth that bite the penis. This is known as the Vagina Dentata myth and variations are found in South America, Shintoism, Hinduism and Māori mythology. Interestingly, pioneering psychologist Erich Neumann (1905-1960) recorded one version of the vagina dentata myth where ‘a fish inhabits the vagina of the Terrible Mother; the hero is the man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth out of her vagina, and so makes her into a woman’ (The Great Mother, 1955).

  NP: Much as been written about the Victorian Age and female sexuality.  What are some of the myths of the Victorian Age about female sexual identity in contrast to the reality that may have surprised you in your research?

Lister: My doctoral thesis focused on how the Victorians wrote about the Middle Ages and sexuality, so I always have a soft spot for Victorian sexuality. Like every era, they are very complex and not easily categorised. The Victorians have a reputation for being very prudish, and that is certainly true in many ways; they thought masturbation was injurious to health, sex was not talked about in polite society and women were shunned for sexual transgressions. However, they were also absolutely filthy! They invented pornographic photography and films! All their suppression of sex was still talking about sex, and they were utterly obsessed with it.

One of the most pervasive myths is that the Victorians invented vibrators to masturbate female patients to orgasm to cure hysteria. Despite this being a widespread story, there’s no evidence for it at all. Victorian doctors had some very odd ideas about sex and health, but this isn’t one of them.

It might also surprise people to know that the Victorians really valued sexual pleasure in marriage. Many doctors believed women could only conceive if they had an orgasm, and there are numerous texts devoted to encouraging newlyweds to enjoy one another. It’s important to remember that Victorian attitudes around sexuality are rarely consistent. There are texts that argue masturbation will lead to blindness and eternal damnation, and others that strongly dispute this. Until science advanced and clinical trials were introduced, much ‘science’ around sexuality was guess-work and driven by moral agendas.

NP:  An historical assumption might be that wealth and power determine orthodoxy and to resist that orthodoxy is viewed as heresy with accompanying punishments. Wealth and power has been a male prerogative especially in patriarchal cultures. Is female empowerment related to man’s fear of female power?

Lister: No, I don’t think so. Female empowerment is not about what men fear, but with what women need. Some men may fear female empowerment, but that’s a different thing altogether. Historically, men have always held the money and the power. There are only three ways women could get some of that for themselves; they could inherit it, they could marry it, or they could shag it. But, being able to earn their own money is a very recent development for women. Women who insist on a share in the power require a relinquishment of that power. For as long as women have been questioning the ‘natural order’ of things, fears that women will banish men to the kitchen sink and keep their penises in a jam-jar have been rife.

It’s important that we don’t make simplistic distinctions between the sexes as cultural orthodoxy is a social issue, rather than a gender based one. Women have fought against their emancipation as hard as men have, and many men crusaded fearlessly for women’s rights. Queen Victoria famously called women’s rights a “mad, wicked folly” and believed “Feminists ought to get a good whipping”. There were female anti suffragette groups and numerous anti-feminist texts that have been authored by women. The anti-suffragette propaganda was vicious in its depiction of women as man hating, ugly misandrists who wanted to subjugate men; but, none of those fears were realised and now we couldn’t imagine things any other way. Any shift in the status quo is met with a degree of suspicion and fear, but that must not stop us from pushing forward.

NP: Whore has been given a bad wrap it would seem as the word can apply to both men and women. Where are we at today in our literature about whores and sex workers and how does that affect female sexual identity?

 Lister: We can use the word ‘whore’ today to mean a person who sacrifices personal principles or uses someone or something in a base or unworthy manner. So, you can call someone an, ‘attention whore’ and we all know what that means. But, the word still retains is associations of sexual promiscuity and judging female sexuality. I’ve heard the expression ‘man whore’ being used, which means a promiscuous man. But, ‘whore’ is associated with women. The fact that ‘man whore’ uses the prefix ‘man’ to make gendered distinctions is testament to that.

The word is so old that its precise origins are lost in the mists of time, but it can be traced to the Proto-Germanic ‘horon’, or “one who desires”. Interestingly, ‘Whore’ is not a universal word; the indigenous Aborigines, First Nation people and native Hawaiians have no word for ‘whore’, or indeed prostitution, as they do not shame sexuality.

The word ‘whore’ is also in a state of reclamation amongst certain groups of the sex work community (others reject it entirely.) The truth is that I should not have used ‘whore’ in whores of yore; it’s not my word, and if you’re not a sex worker, it’s not yours either. It’s a term of abuse that sex workers hear every day by those seeking to devalue them and shame them. I have had feedback from many sex workers questioning my use of the term, and for a while I gave serious consideration to changing it. But, the history of that word is an important one, and one that I want to retain, and emphasise. Debate around what ‘whore’ actually means is a conversation worth having.

NP: Given your research, are there more women becoming the primary breadwinners in western culture and is there any type of male perceived role reversal and what would be the positive downstream effects?

Lister: I haven’t seen any evidence that women are becoming the primary breadwinners in the west. There is data available to show that the proportion of women in Europe and the US who are working to support a family has significantly increased in past 20 years. In the UK, roughly a third of women are the main breadwinners in their family and a report in 2015 estimated 40% of American women as the primary earner. We need to remember that these figures also cover single mothers and same-sex couples, so all we can really say is that mothers are earning more than ever before. It’s quite reductive to view this as ‘role reversal’ as that suggests that there are ‘correct’ roles and that men have to lose rights in order for women to gain them (and visa versa). None of which is true. If more women are working, that doesn’t mean more men have to take over the domestic role.

NP:  Sex work is valuable yet erroneously labeled. What is the future look like for the sex worker? Do you think humanoids or sexual fantasy machines will take their place in this century?

 Lister: Sex Robots have been in the news a lot lately, but I can’t see them ever replacing real sex as they are trying to stimulate real sex. Sex dolls have been around for a long time and have remained a kink, rather than the norm. I expect sex robots will be the same.

There’s so much work to do in charging attitudes to sex work, but I feel like the tide is slowly turning. Amnesty International, the World Health Organisation and the Lancet all support full discrimination of sex work and present considerable evidence as to why this will help keep sex workers safe. Social media platforms have allowed sex workers to come together and have a voice that people now have to listen too.

There are so many myths and false narratives around sex work that cause enormous damage to the sex work community. Conflating consensual sex work with sexual abuse and rape, for example. Despite the excellent work done by feminists around sexual consent and bodily autonomy, many people still can’t accept that some people want to sell sex and can choose to do that. Sex workers are often assumed to be women and the clients, men. This is a very hetero-normative assumption and excludes the experiences of LGBTQ community and ignores the fact that many women pay for sex. Many of the stereotypes around sex work seem to come from outdated beliefs that women aren’t sexual, and therefore must be being abused. We need to listen to sex workers, rather than talking over them.

Arab and Jew, Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, Revised & Updated by David K. Shipler (2015)

Some works are read over weeks and not days. This is one of those journeys. It’s a substantial, poignant, disturbing, accessible work that reads like a journal. It’s in the category for which Pulitzers are given and been awarded.

Allow me to begin with the “end,” in which the author asks, “Who is the victim?” Voices are offered on all sides of the issues. What is the story that leads up to such a question?

In a heart wrenching and searing narrative that reads like a diary of people’s intimate lives and the uneasy and complex relationship between diverse cultures of Arabs and Jews, there exists the meaning of among other things, property – land that is viewed as personal, cultural, community and core to a national identity and interlaced with the movement toward nationalism and religious fundamentalism and the search for reconciliation in which any number of Arabs and Jews claim they are the victims. And, it’s actually even more complicated than that where so many lives have been maimed, abused, tortured, misplaced and lost and where the divide between the wealthy and impoverished and the superficial and the deep, grows.

Survival is a writhing struggle even on the simplest levels of daily living.

For a number of people who wish merely to survive and have families in relative peace they are wedded to place with religion/culture secondary. The defense of one’s personal property as seen through one’s own eyes is a multilayered history. It’s personal. And the personal becomes political. The author observes that, “Ethnocentrism and religious arrogance feed a political mood today.” Optimism is in short supply.

This work points toward, in my view, the growing conflicts around the world, where the game of religion, nationalism, purposeful chaos, propaganda, fake news and the undermining of the human will and spirit are at play. But it’s not game. Human dignity is at stake. Morality and ethics have become politicized where any number of politicians and corporations are perceived to act and “perform” in whatever “clothes” they deem fit to wear for their personal best interests and with only token acts of good will to assuage the crowds and masses and to help them feel good about their own lives and feed their own coffers of money and power. So what’s new under the sun?

Illiteracy in all its forms and arrogance/ignorance in all its shapes are siblings.  Where is truth to be found? Perhaps the richness of diversity is part of the answer.

This is an excellent read that stimulates the reader to learn more about the world in which we live and to strive for an optimistic outcome.

The Philosophy of the Bed by Mary Eden and Richard Carrington (1961)

I’ve been reading this book while sleeping in different hotel beds. This is one of those books I classify as a gem and I brought along from my personal library for some insights into the sensuality and the realities of the bed throughout history.

The authors have offered up a spicy, thoughtful, documented and accessible look into the philosophical and social history of the bed – from ancient nomadic tribes in caves and forests, to those who made beds from  piles of grass and brushwood in huts and the use of straw that served as pillows to a myriad of other bed types in different cultures. The constructions of beds whether on wheels or mechanical or out of wood or metal this study offers an informative look at beds, bedding and furnishings that could be found in different levels of a society and the philosophy of bed design – from Ancient Greece and Rome to the Medieval ages and the present, the authors offer poetic, social, philosophical  and artistic insights.

Superstitions were attached to the many uses of the bed: such as the young losing their vitality by sharing their bed with the old, or the man who sits on the bed of his mother has committed incest, or importance in certain types of hunting expeditions and associated rituals to have intercourse, particularly with one’s spouse, the night before the hunt to achieve success and the bed being viewed as an omen for good or ill in a variety of relationships depending on one’s partner and circumstances.

Throughout history it was only those who had resources to have a bed for themselves while the masses of impoverished shared beds together especially while traveling. The smell of human odor was prevalent.  Infestations of lice, fleas and cockroaches was not uncommon.

The bed through the ages has been used for  sex in its varied and stimulating erotic forms along with the use of chastity devices, giving birth, reading, eating, writing, drawing, painting, personal and not so personal intimacies & conversations, breast-feeding, dispensing justice,  composing music, dying and sleeping with any number of marriage and death-bed sayings and confessions. With regard to sleep, snoring it was noted in some cases led to divorce and murder. Mistakes also were made at times as in the case of the chambermaid that mistook a guest’s wooden leg for the handle of a warming-pan.

This concise book is very well illustrated with photos, paintings and drawings. And I suspect given the many new designs and philosophies of the bed and its uses make for an opportunity for a 21st century social history update by an enterprising author as more information has been discovered. Until such time this philosophical and social historical insight will do. Enjoy!

Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech by Cass R. Sunstein 1995

Sunstein’s work is a reference tool to be intellectually chewed in morsels and one is provoked to think about applying James Madison’s constitutional thoughts about free speech and democracy.

The words of the First Amendment remain essentially as articulated in the draft of the US Constitution. The Federalist papers show the heated discussion of the constitution’s difficulties with brilliant minds on all sides articulating their positions – one of the chief results was the First Amendment being viewed as a bulwark of American democracy.

Sunstein covers much complex ground (this is several books under one cover) and so I find it useful as a reference. In an early section the author discusses the absolutist position that government is the enemy of free speech and the First Amendment should be understood as embodying a commitment to a strong conception of neutrality, also…government may not draw a line between speech it likes and speech that it hates.” And so forth. How does one distinguish the difference between political and nonpolitical speech is more than a gnawing question.

The author examines various positions concerning what constitutes free speech and democracy and the resulting dilemmas. Whether one agrees with the author or not in all or part of his thinking, the reader is provoked to reexamine free speech and democracy in the age of – the art of the lie, post-truth and the resulting effect of chaotic thinking; and does free speech allow for purposeful lying or lying with intent?

The three branches of government – legislative, judicial and executive allow power to be balanced. When that balance is usurped by one branch over the others one comes perilously close to a dictatorship and the Founding fathers were weary of monarchies to the point of bloodshed.

Tangentially, when government is woven into the military industrial complex and where past privacies have been obliterated through the effect of high technologies the question is what next? The marketplace of thought on one level has affected the language of free speech and the nature of democracy? How does one go about having a reasoned opinion unless one deliberates with other people we feel are reasonable? Belief is a powerful tool of persuasion.

Given the marketplace where people are bombarded beginning in childhood are we able to reason with clarity? What is effect of money and power but to create an orthodoxy? Isn’t to resist a form of heresy.

Sunstein maintains and for good reasons James Madison arguments for free speech have a place in cyberspace and modern telecommunications but the times have changed dramatically in the first six months of 2017. If one wishes to be intellectually stirred then read this as a reference tool in the midst of change.

Older Posts »