AVATAR discussion: Technology and Ecominstrelcy


ON JAN 4, 2010, 9:48 AM
reaton@eoni.com wrote:

Rarely if ever has there been an exceptional opportunity to capitalize
on a cultural event of immense
magnitude as now exists. The film AVATAR is sucessfully awakening
millions of people worldwide
to the absolute importance of reconnecting with nature and the value
of indigenous wisdom.
It speaks to everyday parents about their longing to be part of
genuine community/society, and
it is awakening young people to their need for rites of passage.
Brilliantly, it contrasts what western
civilization has become with what it gave up and needs to recover. It
is about cultural mentoring,
honoring the creatures, nature and the divine.
I encourage you to seize a unique opportunity for promoting nature
connection and sustainability on the coat-tails of AVATAR.  Perhaps
ultimate message is a recommendation to recognize that what you have
to offer the world is now ready to accept. Move your thought and your
words to the mainstream.
AVATAR invites you out of provinciality onto the stage of a world
hungry for your vision.
P.S. The film also honors the sacred hunt and hunting as rite of passage.


ON JANUARY 4th, 1:10pm

I’m fascinated enough with this e-mail to respond to it critically —
and since it was mailed to me with all the CC’s intact,  I’ll gather
my gall and send this out to everyone,  hoping this doesn’t land
us all on some government no-fly list,  or whatever.   (And I
see enough addresses from my local community to assume
some tolerance for this level of mailing.)

I saw AVATAR Saturday,  small screen, no goggles and accept
that there are moments of great beauty in the film,  as well as it
being a work of art that I will not soon forget,  as I do most movies.

That it speaks to the ravages of high-tech industrial life,  the
rapaciousness of the military,  the beauty of wilderness,  and
the wisdom of indigenous people integrated with that wilderness
—  none of this would I deny.   (It speaks also to the Boomer’s
desire to be tall and slim,  to the feminist’s desire for equality
in agency (equal warriors,  in this case),  to the courage required
to domesticate wild creatures, to what I believe is an innate longing
for community,  and for rites-of-passage into a community — and
who wouldn’t want a tail that could plug into the circuitry of plants
and animals —  I mean,  more direct circuitry than we already have
—  none of this would I deny.

But both assumptions of the letter writer give me pause:  (1) that
this movie softens up the world for environmental messages;  and
(2) that such “softening”  —  if indeed it does occur —  should be
exploited by those of us “in the know”.

The movie carries an image of the most beautiful tree I have ever
seen depicted in art —  a magical monster of a tree,  transcending
anything that could be experienced,  except perhaps the giant
sequoia,  on acid,  in California.   A tree,  romanticized beyond
the natural world —  like a statue of jesus in a cathedral.  As a
once-botanist,  I could only enjoy the depictions of plants,  floating
and otherwise,  spirit-invested and otherwise,  but again,  realize
I was enjoying fantasy.

The question is,  is it romantic fantasy that will bring our species
to its senses?   I think not — no more likely than to terrifying
people into giving up their addictions —  yours and mine —  that
maintain our complicity in the ongoing destruction of the planet.

The movie,  on the surface,  extols the supple indigenous folk
who fly around on large birds and sail off cliffs.   But it is a movie
extoling —  archetypally —  warfare between good and evil —
with the indigenous being good,  and the representatives of
civilization being evil.    It extols the native vs. the civilized —
though it is the civilized person,  the “wounded-warrior” marine,
who,  through the use of fantastically complex technology is
morphed into a form that can more or less integrate with the
natives,  learn their language,  eventually save them —  and,
voila!  become their Avatar.   The white man (a la Dances With
Wolves) crosses over and,  rather than bring the civilizations
into some kind of harmony,  helps the natives beat back the
bad guys,  using high-tech stuff (radios?  explosives?)  to do
so.   This seems more a battle between the beautiful and the
ugly,  couched in terms of romanticized natives over wildly
over-stated evils of a technologized military.

I can get into all that —  and so does my grandson,  who found
the movie very reminiscent of his violent videogames.

There’s a dozen other archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
floating around the movie —  as well as attempts to best all the
movies Cameron’s ego wants to best (not the least of which are
the Star Wars Movies).   And there are moments of great beauty,
and the music,  for once,  doesn’t destroy the movie.   But were
my emotions engaged?  Is there enough realism in this movie
to make any pollitical point?   I don’t think so.


It is technology that allows White Man (and dear Signorey) to
get to Pandora. it is technology that allows a few of them to
morph into the form of the natives and thus, more or less,
enter into their culture. And it is technology that
ultimately allows them to fend-off the Sky Invaders.

This leads me to think — as an article in the latest Orion
suggests — that technology (starting with bows and arrows,
dipped in poison) is no more, or no less sacred than the
giant tree. It’s how it meshes, or doesn’t, with our value
system. To romantisize “nature” and denigrate all human
artifacts is simply to perpetuate the dualism that leads
us to think we humans (or “minds” or “culture”) are some-
how separate from the natural world.  Evolution has
spawned us,  our technologies are extensions of that, no
more,  no less.

And no society mucking along at a low level of moral
development will be able to mass together the energies
to recover from the already immense human-caused
destruction of the planet,  and to turn away to the degree
necessary in avoiding further destruction.  We’re far
into the soup.

I don’t think a movie,  based on romantic views of nature
and indigenous people,  and depicting regressive attitudes
towards the human capacity for  invention,  will bring to
the fore the moral evolution so critically needed.

it is a personal transformation needed,  not making a few
points on a momentarily softened-up populace about a
romanticized vew of “us” and “them”.

Next time you fly in one of those metal tubes that shoot
through the air at 400+mph,  spewing massive amounts
of carbon in its wake,  ask yourself why you’re not riding
on the back of a large bird.

Robert Greenway
Corona Farm
Port Townsend,

ON JANUARY 5th, 11:50pm
JOHN WOOD wrote:


I received all those cc’s, too.

Robert Greenway is right to criticize the self-righteous “in the know” assumptions of the earlier letter and its “us v. them” approach which too easily lets “us” off the hook.  He’s right that the fundamental need is a personal transformation to counter our low level of moral development.  I agree with 90% or what Robert wrote.

However, the remaining 10%, and an aspect Robert omitted, makes his letter misleading and inaccurate.  While on one level the warfare may be between “good and evil” (both of which human judgments, often based on “us v. them”) it is also a conflict between those who are conscious of the soul in all things, everything as animated, and those who see no life in anything beyond themselves.

The character “Jake Sully” is physically wounded–and he fails, in the beginning, to see the soul in all things.  Like all the invaders, he has no reverence for other life.  Throughout the movie, he comes to see life or spirit everywhere–whenever he steps on a rock, or moss, or touches a plant or tree.  In the end, his spirit is strong and allows him to transform into a Na’vi.

He does not, as Greenway says, “become their Avatar”.  He becomes a Na’vi using the Avatar body.  He also had to help beat back the Sky People because they were invading–and to suggest, as Greenway does, that he should “bring the civilizations into some kind of harmony” would not be the advice of Winston Churchill when faced with the Nazi threat–but it does echo the choice of the scorned French Vichy government during World War II.

The invaders were murdering Na’Vi–and both Freud and Jung (the latter whom Robert cites) supported the death penalty for murderers.  That’s a moral position.  You can find Jung’s words about this in the “Zarathrustra Seminars.”  Freud, when asked about the death penalty for murderers, approvingly quoted what happened in the French Assembly when it was considering its abolition.  During the debate, a voice shouted from the gallery:  “Let the murderers make the first move.”  Here, let the invaders make the first move–by not invading.

No one should accept invasion–and Greenway’s suggestion that Jake Sully ought to bring harmony between the invaders and the invaded is repulsive.  I can’t imagine Jung or Freud or any of the world’s invaded peoples supporting such a position.

Greenway also says: “This leads me to think … technology (starting with  bows and arrows) is no more or less sacred than the giant tree. To romanticize “nature” and denigrate all human artifacts is simply to perpetuate the dualism that leads us to think we humans (or minds or culture”) are somehow separate from the natural world.  Evolution has spawned us, our technologies are extensions of that, no more, no less.”

Greenway’s argument makes no sense, at least as far as the movie goes.  The Na’vi do not at all denigrate “all human artifacts”–and to suggest they do is not accurate.  They have technology and use it.

Greenway’s statement that technologies are extensions of evolution “no more no less” is a matter of serious debate and ought to be considered at the heart of his argument that we need moral development.

This is especially true in regard to quantum mechanics (invented by Neils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli) which was the necessary foundation for the development of nuclear weapons.  It’s been strongly argued that Heisenberg refused to participate in the development of German nuclear weaponry (which is why the Nazis never developed the atomic bomb).  Pauli, who taught in Zürich and worked with Jung beginning in 1932, and played an important part in Jung’s creative development, came to the US in 1940, taught at Princeton and was the only nuclear physicist in the US who refused to work on the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear warheads.  Pauli felt that it was not the business of science to engineer mass destruction.  After the two bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945, Pauli fell into a deep depression and said he felt he was “living in a criminal atmosphere”.  He left the US and returned to Switzerland “realizing that the quantum mechanics he helped create was responsible at least partly for mass murder.”  For the next 15 years, he “inquired how his unconscious would react to the beginning of the nuclear age when the demonic power drive unleashed by science had become espoused to ethnic and national hatreds.”  (all quotes are from “At the Heart of the Matter:  Synchronicity and Jung’s Spiritual Testament” by Gary Sparks)

What Pauli did, over 15 years, with the help of both Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz, was to look “at all those places where spirit and matter, subject and object, guidance and world were considered one; these can be the origins of a new outlook on life.”

Pauli did what we should all do–he sought that personal transformation and asked the moral questions about science, technology and the enthronement of the Goddess of Reason.

Greenway wants us to seek the “moral evolution so critically needed” but he wants to exempt technology and presumably those who invent it.  He was a botanist–and botany is in the realm of technology.  He, too, is talking “us versus them”–but he’s not quite aware of it.

In Avatar, the character Jake Sully does ask questions, he does seek answers, and he certainly goes go through a transformation.  When his Na’vi eyes popped open at the end, I felt a thrill.  I commend director James Cameron for at least trying to do something bold. Many people applauded at the end of the movie.  It’s already the 4th largest gross of all time with over a billion dollars worth of tickets worldwide.  He’s touched a lot of people–and for the good.

John Wood
Port Townsend


Body As Place: Thoughts on A Mediatized Society

“The pitcher cries for water to carry,
and a person for work that is real.”

–Marge Piercy

Beware that dance as…performance art in the theater,
is a minute fragment of dance in the true sense of the word.”

–Min Tanaka



All across the modern world, the human being is malnourished.  In Western nations, the bodies of the obese, the rich, and the over-privileged betray obvious signs of starvation, both physical and spiritual.  We certainly have no lack of stuff to fill ourselves with, yet spiralling consumption of things devoid of nutritive value only whets our hunger.  Wasn’t  ‘consumption’ the 14th Century name for a disease of wasting away?  Today we are not so different: consumption is consuming us.

The bland fare of modern pop culture is as empty of soulful nutrition as bag of Cheetos, and about as addictive.  In the frenzy to sate our cravings, we often forget that this hunger for performance is an ancient one, a deep human need for ritual and ceremony, for meaning-making, for cultural transformation–the original purpose of the arts.

Cut to our contemporary scene:  legions of the culturally anemic, voraciously consuming lonely performances on iPods and laptops, Youtube and Twitter, capturing minutae on our cell phone cameras, gasping for for the nutritive value of the arts .  Yet, because we can never be “virtually” satisfied, the cycle of addiction rambles on. Performance scholar Baz Kershaw wonders:

Is drama now an unconscious addiction, a programme so deeply ingrained that we do not even recognize it as a need?  And is performance becoming an addictive matrix of consciousness, a new kind of paradigm crucially inherent to human ecology?…It arrives in a very personal guise through anxieties about our own performance–in career, lifestyle, love…Or we become fascinated by the peformance of people we will never meet–in the media, sports, politics.  Or we are drawn to more abstract domains of performance—the FTSE, the GNP, the RAE, the hundred best of everything, the ten worst…? The perfusion of performance through public and private arterial networks then generates various pathologies of perception of social process.

Baz Kershaw, Theater Ecology (2007)

Perhaps the massive proliferation of performance in our is trying to tell us something about what we truly need?  I believe that we can remedy the addictive mediatization of society by returning per-form-ance to its roots—giving tangible and actual form to the sustainable and healthy culture we so desperately need. My own work as a embodied artist seeks to renew a performance tradition which truly nourishes, truly transforms our people and our culture.

The above words are an excerpt of a multimedia “paper” which details the Bcollective’s site-specific performances.  In these performances we are invited outdoors to physical connection with people and place.   We recover the art of meaningful work in the landscape,  the art of honoring the body, the of art of actively building and sculpting a vision for the healthy, modern village.

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