Cultural Dreams and Schelling Points

Dear C,

Ok ok I know we were supposed to do this weekly, and it’s been four. Mea culpa. Sometimes you gotta know when something is stuck, vs. when it’s just taking it’s time y’know.

My excuse: we’re almost at the other side of the holidays, the lead up to which was surprisingly overwhelming. Not for any one specific reason, just the accumulation of responsibilities that tend to occur at the end of the year. The focal point through which so many threads pass, and just as the water flows most quickly through the narrowing of a passage, so does the pace of life seem to accelerate as it approaches this annual astral bottleneck, the solstice constraining our daylight hours.

Let it be known that, Safe Ghost Space be damned, I must admit that I’m pretty non-astrological in my worldview. But the annual cycle, the seasons, the breath of the circadian rhythm, those to me are undeniable. The heavens do at least exert some influence.

I’ve had a certain skepticism of holidays, but while I do still think that the “corporate-consumption-fest” lens on Christmas is a pretty accurate critique to hold in mind, I’m forced to admit that this thing that “The Man” has appropriated is a natural cycle, and there’s something to this as a time of release, the sudden tryptophan and liquor-soaked deceleration as we pass through the bottleneck into the slower waters of the opening on the other side. The nature/culture line blurs of course, and although the solstice is the shortest day, I think there is also a self-reinforcement to it, like a standing wave that lingers in water or traffic long after the obstruction that first caused it has cleared. The fact that the initial cause can be lost to history doesn’t negate the presence of the wave, though it does make its position negotiable.

So this year I will unabashedly make new year’s resolutions. Sure it challenges my individual agency, and sure I must navigate the psychic overwhelm of The Screaming of A Thousand Gyms’ Advertisements, but the culture calls us to take stock and re-orient now, and what do I prove by resisting?

In fact, while I may doubt the physical impact of my moon being in Aquarius, I’m grappling with not denying the material impact (and indeed utility) of astrology as a social technology. A Schelling Point is a concept from game theory describing (in my interpretation) how shared culture, or mutual theory of mind, allows us to coordinate without communication. We can all decide to make sourdough at the same time without planning amongst one another. If we all share a cultural understanding that the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn portends great change, then we can all initiate a process of change together as one cultural body, without actually planning together to do so. The Grand Conjunction as a Grand Schelling Point.

To reiterate, the diffusion of a shared cultural divinatory technology allows a culture to operate as one body even in the absence of shared communication or broadcast media.

As the chaos-energy of the internet has increased with more, manifold, and often malicious voices shouting together as one dissonant choir of horrors, we’re perhaps more “connected’ than ever but coordination seems ever more elusive. But one thing we can’t deny, that is true is the position of the planets. So perhaps the cultural body is falling back to its old (parasympathetic?) nervous system as its more conscious, contemporary electromagnetic-wave-mediated nervous system undergoes rapidly accelerating paroxysms. This ancient coordination mechanism is more intuitive, more “yin”, putting mythological archetypes back in charge. A dream-logic state where the collective unconscious leads us through change (and hopefully healing) as the collective conscious is forced against its will to rest due to frenetic burnout.

I’m thankful to Tada Hozumi who in this discussion that you shared introduced me to the idea of “cultural somatics”, and thinking of the cultural nervous system, from which a fount of inspiration has emerged. I’m thankful to you, my dear Banyan, for your expansive and deep root-system into the soil of the culture. This time of collective dreams and nightmares is frightening, as the fragmented logic of the night often is. I wouldn’t want to navigate it alone, and what better co-conspirator than you.

With love,