Post-Porn Priestess of Pleasure: Annie Sprinkle Takes a Sex-Positive Position
Post-Porn Priestess of Pleasure:
Annie Sprinkle Takes a Sex-Positive Position
Former whore and porn-star, now artist and educator, Annie Sprinkle is named to match her old signature display as the Queen of Pissing, Anywhere, Anytime. But her real specialty is the public display of a positive attitude toward sex. The old idea of the "hooker with the heart of gold" may be revealed in this lady.
Annie is like a living museum, where visitors receive a special sex-ed course on the history of sex in post-war America, presented with good cheer, humor and the wisdom of experience.
Dividing her career into two major categories, "porn" and "post-porn," Annie calls herself a "post-porn modernist." The extremes of her life mirror North American society’s own extremes. From the demure democracy of the fifties, to the goofy and naive free love of the sixties and the crass hedonism of the seventies, down to the outspoken anarchical exhibitionism of the eighties and the glossy spiritual searching and sexual "healing" of today, all are manifested in Annie’s sexual career. Her new video, "Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn: Reel to Real," and one-woman show of the same name, are interactive tours of these extremes.
The morning after her three-night, sold-out run of "Herstory of Porn in Boston," I sat with Annie in the airport as she ate cereal with milk before her flight home to San Francisco. The show drew a mostly intellectual-looking crowd, not your typical porn-house audience (whatever that is), and Annie Sprinkle doesn’t look like your typical porn star (whatever that is). In fact, she looks very ordinary, dark hair, medium height, sweater, slacks, a little bit shy. Talking politely with her breakfast partners, Annie is soft and rather wholesome, with a little lilt in her voice like Gracie Allen’s.
Just an ordinary girl, but one who played in more than 200 porn films and, at certain points in her career, made a point of having sexual encounters with anybody. Handicapped, gay, straight, bi, transsexual, dwarfs, fat, thin, male, female, you name it, she joyfully had sex with them.
"At that time, I think I was very open and, in a way, able to love anybody," she says. "Even in my ‘raunchy’ phase, that is what I wanted. I wanted people to ‘accept their raunchiness,’ or something."
In the early eighties, she worked as a professional dominatrix and was a regular fixture at New York’s infamous Hellfire Club, which during its heyday, in the last breath before AIDS hit, was the gathering place for every fetishist and kinky leather and latex bound sexual exhibition imaginable. Despite her previous success as a mainstream porn star, Annie’s activities had become too gross even for porn, and she was ostracized by many in the industry for her extreme behavior.
It’s Annie’s humor that allows her audiences to experience the dark and sometimes frightening aspects of sex and sex-culture. European audiences especially love her wacky willingness, and covet her paintings called tit-prints. During intermissions, she poses with audience members for her famous Polaroid tit-on-the-head snap shots that people can then use for greeting cards.
Annie’s job is to guide people through the dark side. "I think humor makes the medicine go down," she says. "Sex is a very difficult subject for a lot of people, and it is scary. Laughing relieves tension and makes it all more fun and pleasant to look at. I think many people take sex far too seriously, so it’s good to have a laugh about it."
Annie’s "Herstory of Porn" show is a funny, and sometimes sad, romp through her 25-year career in porn, a career that parallels the sexual evolution of her generation. "I think it’s a fairly typical evolution," she observes. "People start from the bottom, from lower, more basic sexual awareness, and work up to a more communicative, sexually-aware, spiritually-aware way of being."
This lady has done it all and seen it all, and her message has remained markedly simple from the beginning: sex is a good thing. And she means it.
What she means by "lower, more basic sexual awareness," in terms of her porn career, is the evolution from the raunchy, simplistic, "Boogie Nights" standard porn of the early seventies, to the widely-varied and more sophisticated porn available today.
"I see the porn culture as having definitely matured and become more balanced," she says. "There are even a handful of very spiritual people making porn, now. The world of pornography has enormous potential."
Annie was one of the first to push the envelope of porn when she broke ranks with the male-dominated industry and wrote, directed and starred in her own porn film. "Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle" was the number-two grossing sex film of 1982.
"Women were expected to be ‘good girls’ and not to like sex all that much," she explains. "In my movie, I was the one who wanted sex, and the men better watch out. Most male directors never gave actresses the time to have real orgasms. Lots of people at the time didn’t even believe that women actually had orgasms." Annie not only has real orgasms in the film, they’re multiple.
What characterized "Deep Inside" was Annie’s willingness to interact with the audience in a forthright and gentle manner, which she continues today in her live shows, where she delivers one-liners like a seasoned standup comic.
"In that movie I involved the viewer in an interactive way by talking directly into the camera," she says. In the film, she sort of coaxes the viewer along, saying, "Hi, I’m Annie. Would you like to come inside?" She continues the verbal hand-holding as she enters a porn theater where one of her flicks is playing, and then proceeds to get it on with various members of the audience, after politely asking them if they want to.
The film was feminist by the standards of its time, with a light touch. She made a feminist statement without really intending to, she was just being herself.
"I don’t want to assault people," she explains. "I’m not trying to clobber people over the head. I’m just trying to shake them loose a little bit, gently."
Enthusiasm about sex guides Annie. Fear, ignorance about, and problems with sex arise from cultural guilt and negativity, she says. "Basically, we are a sort of sex-negative culture, pleasure-negative culture. For instance, the words we use for people who are into sex are ‘nymphomaniac,’ ‘hedonist,’ ‘pleasure-seeker.’ They all have kind of negative connotations. While the words that are used for people who suffer are ‘martyrs’ and ‘saints.’
"Most of our monuments are for war heroes or military people who have suffered. There are no monuments for people who have had ecstatic, blissful, pleasure-filled lives. Our culture does not generally honor pleasure."
Annie Sprinkle did not grow up in the abusive or broken home that one might imagine a prostitute or porn-star to come from. She grew up as gentle, shy Ellen Steinberg, born in 1954 as the eldest of four children in a wholesome and supportive family in Philadelphia.
"There was nothing in my childhood that would have led anyone, including myself, to believe that when I grew up, sex would become my obsession," she writes in her new book, Post-Porn Modernist.
"My parents were very open-minded, liberal Democrats, intellectual, Universalist Unitarians," she says. She attributes her stability to her good upbringing, and her fascination with sex to the fact that she really, really enjoyed sex from the time she lost her virginity on. She describes the day that she "happily gave up her virginity" at age seventeen: "I couldn’t stop smiling. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. When you think you have found something that is great, you want to let people know about it."
A few months later, Annie took off to enjoy all of the pleasures that communal living and free love had to offer. "I was your average sixties teenage hippie girl," she says, "wanting peace, love, freedom and adventure." By the age of eighteen, she had had sex with 52 different guys, and kept a journal chronicling the details of each of her sexual adventures. By nineteen, she was a working sex-professional and a budding porn starlet.
If you look at photographs of Annie from childhood through her career in porn, the expression remains the same throughout, a fresh-faced, bright-eyed smile, a look of what appears to be genuine enthusiasm, and a kind of openness.
"For me, sex, making love, has always been my most spiritual experience. I have had my most spiritual feelings here, my feelings of connectedness to god, or the divine," she explains. "The moments of orgasm are the most pleasurable moments that most people will ever know. There are many different kinds of ecstatic moments, but not too many people have better moments than those moments during orgasm.
"Some of us have been lucky enough to study with spiritual teachers, and have spiritual moments of realization through meditation and other practices, great heart orgasm, or whatever. But for the average person, orgasm is about the closest thing to this. I am not a spiritual expert, but I do know that."
In her early thirties, Annie put herself through art school with her burlesque shows and prostitution earnings, but the study of the fine arts only reconfirmed sex and the erotic as her favorite topic of study. "I realized it wasn’t a passing phase. To me, it is the most interesting and important subject there is," she says.
As she became more accomplished as a photographer, she naturally became a pornographer in her own right. "That’s where the fun is, in terms of pornography, actually being able to film real people," she explains. "Pornography has been going on since cave painting, and everyone knows the Vatican has a huge collection of pornography. All of the great artists have painted pornography, but to actually depict real people has only been possible since Daguerre revealed the secrets of photography, and the next day there were nudes! The very next day there was some guy selling nudes. That’s a historical fact."
The advent of performance art entered Annie into her "post porn" embodiment, making her a favorite of the avant-garde art world and a feminist icon. In the mid-eighties, her now-famous performance art piece entitled "Public Cervix Announcement" was a target for right-wing politicians fighting National Endowment for the Arts funding. In this, Annie’s signature act, she inserts a speculum and invites the audience to line-up and take turns viewing her cervix by flashlight. Despite headlines like "Porno Star Puts On Disgusting X-Rated Live Shows & Your Taxes Pay for It!" (National Enquirer), Annie’s show played around the globe, and she estimates that a good 25,000 people have examined her cervix.
In her "Post-Porn" embodiment, Annie has been a sex-educator, activist, journalist and advocate for spirituality. Through lectures, workshops, and visual and performance art, Annie has conveyed some basic beliefs that she summarizes in "Annie’s Sex Guidelines for the Nineties":
Step 1: Honor your sexuality and realize its incredible value.
Step 2: Do not judge yourself or others.
Step 3: Get rid of any last vestiges of sexual guilt and feelings that you don’t deserve pleasure.
Step 4: Realize that abstinence can be dangerous to your health.
Step 5: Accept the fact that we are living in the AIDS era.
Step 6: Redefine and expand your concept of sex.
Step 7: Learn to consciously feel energy.
Step 8: Realize that sex is like food.
Step 9: Learn about breathing.
Step 10: Take care of your body.
Step 11: Visualize a satisfying future for your sex life and the sex lives of future generations.
Step 12: Make time for enjoying sex.
Step 13: Make love to the earth and sky and all things.
Through all of the facets of her career, this view of sex as essentially positive has remained Annie’s continuity. This does not mean that she went unharmed and happy all of the time. She was abused; she saw many friends die of AIDS and murdered in the line of work. For the last eight years she has been with women lovers exclusively. She jokes when asked why. "Well, ya know, I was with about 2,000 men. So it was just time for a change."
In one statistic from her wacky scrapbook of a book, Post-Porn Modernist, Annie estimates that the number of penises she sucked equals the height of the Empire State Building. (That’s 3,000 men x 6 inches =1,500 feet of penises. Empire State Building = 1,475 feet.)
She still likes men though. "I was with some fabulous guys, fantastic guys. I was also with a lot of disrespectful, unappreciative and impolite men, but I always tried to be forgiving and compassionate. My father was a very, very compassionate person. I realize how much about compassion I learned from him."
As she sits eating her cereal and milk, the humility of the woman is plain. She knows she has good intentions, but she also admits that porn is just a job, too. Like many people nowadays, Annie would like to live a more spiritual life, and she tries, but also makes no big claims at it.
"I have had phases where I felt very spiritual, but right now I don’t feel particularly spiritually-connected. I’ve made films, and that is what I do, but I have not made the perfect film. Actually, they are all just clumsy attempts at trying to make a spiritual film. That’s ultimately my goal, to make a film that really inspires people to experience a deeper kind of love. Sometimes it seems that there are so many lofty motivations, and other times it is just plugging-away, trying to make a living."
Annie certainly is "plugging-away." In addition to touring her show and releasing the video, she is finishing a sparkly underwater erotic fantasy film in which she plays a mermaid who passes the torch of sacred wisdom on to another younger mermaid. There are whimsical shots of dolphins swimming and a female jellyfish.
She also has a brand new video coming out, a minimalist film put to the sound of breath and meditation bells. Called "Zen Pussy," it’s a cinematic exploration of vulvas in extreme close-up. "I hope it isn’t offensive to any Zen Buddhists," she says.
bell hooks argues that our erotic lives are enhanced when men and women can celebrate the penis in ways that don't uphold macho stereotypes.
Working on a poem inspired by the joys of having sex in the world’s smallest study seated on an old-fashioned straight back chair painted red where I spend much of my time writing, I seek for words to describe the sensation of sitting in the lap of sweet lust moving my body back and forth against the deliciously hot moist penis of my off-and-on-again lover A. Among the penises I have looked upon and touched in this world, his gives me the greatest sense of delight. Yet finding words to describe the pleasure I feel, words that do not perpetuate conventional sexist thinking about the penis, are hard to come by.
Females finding and expressing delight in the male body was for such a long time utterly taboo. Before the contemporary feminist movement and sexual liberation, women did not say much in print about our feelings about the penis. No wonder, then, that when we finally gave ourselves permission to say whatever we wanted to say about the male body—about male sexuality—we were either silent or merely echoed narratives that were already in place.
In the late sixties and early seventies, heterosexual women active in the feminist movement often talked boldly and boastfully about the penis, using the same language of conquest sexist men used when talking about sexual pursuits. In those days in feminist consciousness-raising groups, we not only talked about how women had to become more comfortable with words like pussy and cunt. So that men could not terrify or shame us by wielding these words as weapons, we also had to be able to talk about cock and dick with the same ease. Sexual liberation had already told us that if we wanted to please a man we had to become comfortable with blow jobs, with going down, with the dick in our throat so far down it hurt. Surrendering our sexual agency, we had to swallow the pain and pretend it was really pleasure.
Feminist interventions on the issue of sexuality, along with sophisticated birth control, changed that; it said to women who wanted to be with men that we had a right to define the place of pleasure for us and the will to claim our sexual rights. It let us know we did not have to consent to force or pretend to like pain. It let us know that the penis was not "a one-eyed trouser snake" in the garden of sexual bliss, threatening to turn our bodies into a place where pain defines, penetrates and punishes. We did not need to see it as the enemy.
Like many young women who came of age in that intense ecstatic moment when sexual liberation and the feminist movement converged, I let go all the fear of the penis that had haunted my girlhood. These fears were rooted not in envy of the penis and the male body, but in rage that it had to be feared. In those days the message about the male body that females received loud and clear was that whether wanted or unwanted, penis penetration could change a girl’s life forever. She would never be the same; she would never be good again. I can remember the sheer bliss that sound birth control offered us. For it meant we did not have to fear the penis. We could embrace our curiosity about it, our wonder and our passion.
As a small girl I thought of the penis as a magic wand. It was magical because it could move and change its shape; seeds could come from it that would come to life in a woman’s body. I had only seen the penis of a boy baby—it was not envy I felt but wonder. I feared for him and his magical wand, so exposed, so easy to wound and hurt. And as so many girls have testified, I was relieved that my girl genitals were not out there, exposed, visible.
That sense of girlhood fascination and appreciation of the penis changed when warnings about sexual danger and the threat that the male body would destroy female innocence became the norm. In those days there was no discussion of female passion. In my sexual imagery the wand became a weapon, something males used to bring us down, to destroy us.
No wonder females rejoiced when birth control and feminist insistence on female sexual agency made it possible for us to think about the penis in a new way. We could see it as an instrument of power and/or delight. We could go down between male legs, abandon ourselves to mystery, and rise up satisfied and pleased with the knowledge that we could give and receive sexual delight. We could express our annoyance at expressions like blow jobs, which implied that anytime we sucked dick it was service work we did to pleasure men. The pretense was over. Females who enjoyed sucking dick could express that joy, could name it as an act of power which required males to trust in the sexual integrity of the female—to trust that at his most vulnerable moment she would give pleasure and not pain.
A generation later, females living in the new culture of freedom that feminism and sexual liberation produced would from the start approach the penis without fear. Writing about coming to sexual power in her teens in Promiscuities, Naomi Wolf recalls how quickly she and her girlhood friends moved from thinking dick-sucking was silly to passionate interest: "Within a year, we were obsessed. Not so much with what penises ... but rather with what they were—the improbability of them, the beautiful weirdness, the way they oddly rose of their own volition and oddly defied gravity, their unfathomable responsiveness." But female talk about fascination with the penis often stops at girlhood and teen reminiscences. Not because it ceased to marvel but because the marvelous aspects of the penis lose their charm when linked with strategies of male domination.
Even though contemporary feminists worked hard in the seventies to come up with new ways of talking about female sexual agency in relation to the penis, new words did not come into general usage. Individual women gave the penis of male partners witty cute names, but overall, there was not a widely accepted re-visioning of how we all might see and experience the penis.
Then and now, women talk about how the words used to describe female genitalia are much more varied and compelling than those used to describe male genitals. Reading lots of erotica, both gay and straight, I was dismayed to find that overall, the penis is still primarily represented as a weapon, as an instrument of indelicate and painful penetration. Talked about in terms of force, whether in descriptions of pleasurable consensual sex or forced sex and bondage, no one seems to have much to say about the penis that challenges and changes sexist representation. To identify the penis always and only with force, with being a tool of power, a weapon first and foremost, is to participate in the worship and perpetuation of patriarchy. It is a celebration of male domination.
No wonder then, that as feminism has progressed many anti-sexist women feel there is no way to engage the penis that does not reinforce male domination. While many feminists as a political act have chosen lesbianism or celibacy as a way to resist sexist sexual subordination and have no interest in the penis, those of us who enjoy penis passion often find ourselves silenced by the assumption that mere naming of our pleasure is traitorous and supports the tyranny of patriarchy. This is simply faulty logic. Submitting to silencing makes us complicit. Naming how we sexually engage male bodies, and most particularly the penis, in ways that affirm gender equality and further feminist liberation of males and females is the essential act of sexual freedom.
When women and men can celebrate the beauty and power of the phallus in ways that do not uphold male domination, our erotic lives are enhanced. In an essay published in the anthology Transforming a Rape Culture, I wrote how I had to change my sexist thinking about the penis— letting go my erotic fetishization of the hard penetrating dick, to embrace an eroticization of the penis that was more wholistic. My penis passion was enhanced when I stopped thinking of it solely in relation to performance, to penetration. I enjoyed learning how to be sexually aroused by the sight of a non-erect penis.
Continuing in the tradition of the first contemporary feminists, who were also advocates of sexual freedom, I believe we still need to see more visual images of the penis in everyday life. In a contest of mutual sexual pleasure rooted in equality of desire, there is room for a politics of sexuality that is varied, that can include hard dicks, rough sex, and penetration as gesture of power and submission, because these acts are not intended to reinforce male domination. But without this progressive sexual context we end up always creating a world where the penis is synonymous with negativity and threat.
The presence of life threatening sexually transmitted diseases has been used by sexual conservatives to reinforce anti-penis sentiments. Many women have returned to a fear of the penis that is practically Victorian. Despite the sexual revolution and the prevalence of feminist thinking, it has not taken long for sexist social mores to triumph over the new ways of thinking about sexuality introduced by the feminist movement and gay rights. The vision of the phallus as always and only an instrument of force is conservative and lacking. But it still reigns supreme. I feel dismay when I read lesbian erotica where all the symbolic phalluses used in sexual play are described using sexist vernacular, reinforcing the sense of the phallus, whether real or symbolic, as a weapon. Clearly, we must continue the work to create a liberatory sexual frontier, places where the penis is precious and can be cherished.
Changing how we talk about the penis is a powerful intervention that can challenge patriarchal thinking. Many sexist men fear that their bodies lose meaning if we value penises for the sacredness of their being rather than their capacity to perform. After a romantic meal with a man who captivated my sexual interest, as we sat in my living room listening to music, I asked him to show me his penis. He responded in alarm. We were fully dressed. We were not engaged in sexual foreplay, but the mood was erotic. He appeared alarmed at the thought of his penis being looked at apart from a context of performance and wanted to know why I wanted to see it. I responded that I wanted to see it to see if I liked it. He asked: "Will you know if you like it by looking at it?" I responded: "I will know that I like looking at it."
I shared this story with friends, and again and again males and females responded as though I had threatened his masculinity. I believe that the sense of threat arose simply because I was asserting the primacy of the female gaze, a female sexual agency not informed by sexist conditioning which separated pleasure in the male body from penis performance.
Returning to a blissful sense of the sacredness of the body, of sexual pleasure, we acknowledge the penis as a positive symbol of life. Whether erect or still, the penis can always be a marvel, a wonder, a magic wand. Or it can be likened to a caterpillar, as Emily Dickinson tenderly declares: "How soft a Caterpillar steps—/I find one on my Hand/ From such a velvet world it come."
bell hooks is the author of Wounds of Passion, published by Henry Holt and Company.
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A Revolution in Healthcare
A Revolution in Health Care
By According to Rachel Naomi Remen, Integrative Medicine offers the promise of living a good life, even though it may not be an easy life, or even a long life.
For the past hundred years the goal of health care has been the curing of the body. Restoring the concept of healing to the heart of health care is no small thing. It requires rethinking the assumptions on which medical relationships are based, rethinking the goals of every health care interaction. It will require a revolution.
This is what the newest movement in medicine, Integrative Medicine, is about. This field, which hopes to synthesize the best from alternative and conventional approaches, actually goes far beyond these techniques to recognize the potential for wholeness in everyone. Integrative Medicine is a call for all health professionals to commit to strengthening the wholeness in their patients by all means possible.
Curing happens at the level of the body, and it requires expertise. Healing is what happens at the level of the whole person, and it requires collaboration with the innate movement towards wholeness which is constant and present in everyone.
Healing is not the outcome of an interaction between an expert and a problem; it requires a relationship between two whole human beings who bring to a situation of suffering the full power of their combined humanity and all of its potential. When this happens many things that cannot be cured can still heal.
The hope of healing is always present. Even faced by an incurable disease, a person may still grow in such a way that, over time, the wound of their illness becomes a smaller and smaller part of the sum of their lives.
As both a physician and a patient I have come to accept that not everything is capable of cure. Some time ago I wrote a poem about my own forty-five year experience of chronic illness:
For 40 years,
with the combined 16,787 years of train-
ing have failed to cure your wounds.
I am whole.
Because wholeness exists even in the presence of disease, Integrative Medicine has a power which may elude even the most potent of scientific approaches. It can open a door of hope in what otherwise might be an impenetrable wall of disease and suffering. Collaborating with people in furthering their wholeness offers them a place to stand from which a life may be reclaimed even in the absence of cure. It offers the promise of living a good life, even though it may not be an easy life or even a long life.
Integrative Medicine also offers the hope of healing for medicine itself, a chance for health care to reclaim its original meaning and purpose, and by doing so, restore its integrity. The original meaning of medicine is not science, it is service, and this ancient meaning has not changed in three thousand years.
But in recent generations, health professionals have fixed life, outwitted life, manipulated life, controlled life, and attempted to gain mastery over it. We have been taught to view life as broken.
This is not really what serving life is about. That which is broken is not worthy of our service and the dedication of our lives. We can only serve that which is holy and whole. When we serve, we recognize the wholeness, the buddha seed, in everyone.
The healing of medicine will require the reform of medical education. For a hundred years we have been educating our young people to be fixers; we will need to educate them to become healers.
Healers are whole people, but many physicians were not educated to be whole people. We were trained to be professionals and experts, and as such we were encouraged to repress certain essential aspects of our own humanity in the belief that this would make us more useful to others. Touring an historic cemetery many years ago, I saw a tombstone with this epitaph: "Here lies George Brown, born a man, died a Gastroenterologist." Surely, this is not a step up.
As physicians, we have been trained to value and develop the intellect, but the parts we have sacrificed to our expertise, the heart, the emotions, the soul and the intuition, are basic human strengths. We will need to find ways to respect and develop these strengths in our students so that they can nurture them in their patients.
Without such basic strengths, no one can heal. In the central courtyard of the Temples of Aesclapius, the Father of Medicine, was a statue of Venus, the Goddess of Love. Perhaps the heart is just a way of seeing. Despite external appearances, it enables us to see things whole. This commitment to seeing and furthering the innate wholeness and integrity in every suffering human being is the true lineage of medicine.
Integrative Medicine has become a meeting place for a truly bewildering array of holistic and conventional techniques. But all these techniques and approaches, from acupuncture to neurosurgery, are only the branches of a very old tree whose trunk is healing and whose root is service. This new field offers the hope that in the new millennium medicine may return to its lineage and make as great a commitment to the buddha seed as to the body.
Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. is Associate Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine at U.C.S.F. Medical School and co-founder and medical director of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. She is author of the bestseller, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal.
Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave
Oh, What a Tangled Web We WeaveBy: "No medium can remove the need for thoughtfulness, artistry and eloquence in the creation of something great."
Ah, the Internet! What started as a government plot to create an undestroyable network has turned out to be one of the few government plots to succeed, for the Internet has become a truly indestructible juggernaut.
Most publications still tend to treat Internet as a proper noun and capitalize it, but like earth, cosmos, spring, summer, winter and fall, the internet is now a force of nature. From here on out, I’m lower-casing it, because it is now part of the infrastructure. It is not owned or organized. It can’t be trademarked. It is the catholic church, not the Catholic Church. It will be the governing principle of M2 (new code for the new millennium), the medium that truly has become the message (see www.videomcluhan.com).
There’s no point in asking whether the internet is good or bad. It is. Even Luddites have a home page or two, one of which tells you to shoot your television against a backdrop of wallpaper blanketed with the phrase, Kill your computer. My daughters assume the internet, like I assumed television and my grandfather assumed steam engines.
The internet has brought us an e-mail network that enables us to keep in touch with far-flung family (I can reach all my brothers and sisters through e-mail), colleagues, compatriots of every stripe, and long-lost friends. People now routinely ask you what your e-mail address is, not whether you have one. We can reach many more people now. That’s a good thing.
Yet, if you have recently received a hand-written letter through the disdainfully named snail mail, you may appreciate that there is also something that is lost. To hold the letter in your hand and re-read it in a quiet place, in sunlight, no screen required, is undeniably pleasant. Because we have a new medium must the old medium be forced to die? Manual has almost become a term of derision, such that our dexterity declines with each generation. Is the day to come when all vegetables will come pre-sliced, so that we can throw away our knives?
A good e-mail is quick and allows for a response just as rapid, but the fast does not equate with the good. E-mails are often sloppy, with poor or non-existent spelling, punctuation and paragraphing. The writer thus freed from the constraints of convention has decided that the reader must toil to find their all-important message, delivered with all the grace of a long belch. Cybernauts are forever telling us that this or that thing could be put on the net overnight, but what of the great care that has always attended the process of publication?
The internet has all the beauty and terror of anarchy. It is an information resource of vast and wondrous proportions to be sure, and I love it. I go to a variety of sites almost daily. Within minutes, I can read ten good reports on Kosovo. I can find myself looking at the seating chart for the Metropolitan Opera, train schedules for Germany, or the murals of Diego Rivera. I can send a book to a friend at the push of a button.
Yet the internet is also an unwieldy agglomeration of jewels and oddments, the sacred and profane thrown together in a big pot that can make searching like bobbing for apples in an Olympic swimming pool. The vaunted search engines (even employing advanced techniques) do not even approach the efficacy of the card catalogue, that great manual beast that organized all of knowledge for accessibility. I half-cringe when my daughter says, Dad, can I go on the internet? because I’m not sure if she should venture in these waters un-navigated. You can go from the art museum to the combat zone in the blink of an eye. As a little test, I decided to search first sex, then meditation, then sex and meditation. The New York Times is my home page (get a life, eh?), so I decided to use their Northern Light Research capability, which searches over 130 million web pages and 5,400 full text resources (ooh la la, am I impressed). The #1 match for sex was Do you like teen anal pictures? Then, 2-4 were each Do you like free teen pictures? Then, #5 repeated, Do you like teen anal pictures? #7 offered the Zhangguang 101 Series for Hair Loss Stopping and Hair Regrowth. #9, Vive la difference: males vs. females in flies and worms, was about fruit flies and the X chromosome.
The first three matches for meditation brought me: This document can be acquired from a sub-directory coombspapers via anonymous... followed by meditation, meditation and more meditation, a commercial site immediately trying to sell me books and programs. One of the top sites in the sex and meditation search was tantra.com, which early informed me that tantra was more than souped-up nookie. Thanks for that.
The internet does present us with great opportunity. In many ways it is a medium par excellence, but it is no savior of humanity. No medium can remove the need for thoughtfulness, artistry and eloquence in the creation of something great. That will never change, whether it is M2 or M22.
Barry Campbell Boyce is a writer and teacher of writing. He is president of Victory Communication: http://www.victorycommunication.ca
Liberalism and Religion - We Should Talk
Liberalism and Religion - We Should TalkBy: Liberalism's objections to mythic forms do not apply to formless awareness. Thus liberalism and authentic spirituality can walk hand in hand.There are two major dialogues in the modern world that I believe must take place, one between science and religion, and then one between religion and liberalism.
The way it is now, the modern world really is divided into two major and warring camps, science and liberalism on the one hand, and religion and conservatism on the other. And the key to getting these two camps together is first, to get religion past science, and then second, to get religion past liberalism, because both science and liberalism are deeply anti-spiritual. And it must occur in that order, because liberalism won’t even listen to spirituality unless it has first passed the scientific test. (Showing how that might happen was a major theme of my book, Sense and Soul.)
In one sense, of course, science and liberalism are right to be anti-spiritual, because most of what has historically served as spirituality is now prerational, magic or mythic, implicitly ethnocentric, fundamentalist dogma. Liberalism traditionally came into existence to fight the tyranny of prerational myth and that is one of its enduring and noble strengths (the freedom, liberty, and equality of individuals in the face of the often hostile or coercive collective). And this is why liberalism was always allied with science against fundamentalist, mythic, prerational religion (and the conservative politics that hung on to that religion).
But neither science nor liberalism is aware that in addition to prerational myth, there is transrational awareness. There are not two camps here: liberalism versus mythic religion. There are three: mythic religion, rational liberalism, and transrational spirituality.
The main strength of liberalism is its emphasis on individual human rights. The major weakness is its rabid fear of Spirit. Modern liberalism came into being, during the Enlightenment, largely as a counterforce to mythic religion, which was fine. But liberalism committed a classic pre/trans fallacy: it thought that all spirituality was nothing but prerational myth, and thus it tossed any and all transrational spirituality as well, which was absolutely catastrophic. (As Ronald Reagan would say, it tossed the baby with the dishes.) Liberalism attempted to kill God and replace transpersonal Spirit with egoic humanism, and as much as I am a liberal in many of my social values, that is its sorry downside, this horror of all things Divine. Liberalism can be rightfully distrustful of prerational myth, and yet still open itself to transrational awareness. Its objections to mythic forms do not apply to formless awareness, and thus liberalism and authentic spirituality can walk hand in hand into a greater tomorrow. If this can be demonstrated to them using terms they find acceptable, then we would have, I believe for the first time, the possibility of a postliberal spirituality, which combines the strengths of conservatism and liberalism but moves beyond both in a transrational, transpersonal integration. The trick is to take the best of both, individual rights plus a spiritual orientation, and to do so by finding liberal humanistic values plugged into a transrational, not prerational, Spirit. This spirituality is transliberal, evolutionary and progressive, not preliberal, reactionary and regressive. It is also political, in the very broadest sense, in that its single major motivation, compassion, is pressed into social action. However, a postconservative, postliberal spirituality is not pressed into service as public policy, transrational spirituality preserves the rational separation of church and state, as well as the liberal demand that the state will neither protect nor promote a favorite version of the good life. Those who would transform the world by having all of us embrace their new paradigm, or particular God or Goddess, or their version of Gaia, or their favorite mythology, these are all, by definition, reactionary and regressive in the worst of ways: preliberal, not transliberal, and thus their particular versions of the witch hunt are never far removed from their global agenda. A truly transliberal spirituality exists instead as a cultural encouragement, a background context that neither prevents nor coerces, but rather allows genuine spirituality to arise.
But one thing is absolutely certain: all the talk of a new spirituality in America is largely a waste of time unless those two central dialogues are engaged and answered. Unless spirituality can pass through the gate of science, then of liberalism, it will never be a significant force in the modern world, but will remain merely as the organizing power for the prerational levels of development around the world.
Material in this column appears in One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber, from Shambhala Publications Inc., Boston. © Ken Wilber, 1998.
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