…Guy Debord / La Société du Spectacle I…



  • The entire life of [our] societies where modern conditions of production reign, manifests itself as – and proclaims itself to be – an immense accumulation of performances and images.  Everything that used to be lived directly has become removed and distanced: and has become a replica, a second-hand representation.

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This means that instead of people using the myth for introspection and illumination… the myth now has become its own thing. And so  having an aggregated myth about yourself, plus a set of selfies and a ‘personality’…  everyone has become both an actor and a cinematographer, and they’ve forgotten… even though Nature is acting upon them… they respond in the third person. And they don’t feel the visceral knowledge: which means they’re out of synch with Great Nature.

And so what used to be the great dramas and passion plays, that were used to reconnect you to tribe and to Nature and a deeper sense of being, have all been turned into the opposite.

It actually turns you away from everything. It even turns you away from others, because then you compete in your spectacle.

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  • In a world which has been truly turned inside out, the ‘true’ is a beautiful moment of sublimely realized falsehood. 

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  • The concept of  ‘le spectacle‘  – of these performances and images – encompasses and explains a huge diversity of phenomena of appearance. Their diversity and variety are the way these appearances appear, organized socially, which must be seen and understood as its generalized truth. Considered on its own terms, ‘le spectacle‘ is the  a f f i r m a t i o n  of appearances and the affirmation of all human life, which is to say life in society, as simple appearance. But the critique which gets to the true heart of ‘le spectacle‘ discovers it to be the visible  n e g a t i o n   of life; because, in fact, it is an on-going    n e g a t i o n  of life which has  b e c o m e   v i s i b l e .

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  • In order to describe ‘le spectacle‘ – how it formed, how it functions, hardrainand the forces that work towards its dissolution – we have to artificially distinguish between elements that are in truth inseparable. As we  proceed in our  a n a l y s i s  of  ‘le spectacle‘, we are talking, to a certain degree, the language itself of the ‘spectaculaire‘, in that we are traversing the methodological terrain of our society, which expresses itself in ‘spectacle‘. But ‘le spectacle‘ is nothing other than the  m e a n i n g  of the entire practice of a particular economic-social formation (ours)… the way it    u s e s    t i m e  .   It is the moment in history in which we live. 

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  • These performances and images present themselves as an enormous positivity which is beyond discussion and untouchable.  They express nothing more than “what is seen is good, what is good is seen.”  The attitude that they demand in principle is this passive acceptance which they have, in fact, already obtained by the way that they make their appearance in our lives – without opportunity for come-back, by their monopoly of what is seen.

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  • The fundamentally tautological nature of these performances and images stems from the simple fact that their means are at the same time their ends. They are the sun that never goes down on the empire of modern passivity. They cover the entire surface of the world, and they bask continuously in the light of their own glory.

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  • The society that arises from modern industrial production is not  superficially or by some chance associated with performance and images, it is fundamentally  a b o u t   performance and the creation of images.  And in these performances and images, which are the way we get to view the reigning economic system, there is no end-goal: their continuous and endless permutation, evolution and expansion are all there is. These performances and images are intended to achieve nothing more than more of the same.

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This is pervasive and ubiquitous. But a way to see it really clearly is to look at a place where you expect to see artists, and at what is happening there as it gentrifies.


This was a place of art and artistry, but now, suddenly everything  m u s t  happen, because now the art is a scheduled, monetary event. They call it ‘McCountry music’. There are 100’s and 100’s of musicians there, all of them functional, and yet they must produce ‘x‘ amount of noise and songs…to keep the restaurant businesses – everything – flowing, so that the huge influx of 30-something folk have entertainment. And all the art that once was there, the soulfulness, has been reduced to a product – and the people have become as products.

So here they are, talking music culture when really it is materialism culture:  and the music is simply to get the people into stores to purchase the boots to get the whatever… and the music – when you listen to it – is “how many permutations of the same set of melodies, done on a slide guitar, do you have to produce in a week until there’s no art at all?”

So it goes from someone being moved to write a song to “I must write ‘x’ amount of songs in order to compete.”  And all the old sections of the town have been leveled and you’re getting rows and rows of smaller steel-and-concrete-and-glass and corrugated-steel modernistic ‘brownstones’.

The art of the place has become like people yelling ‘ole‘ because it is required of them,  every four beats, and there’s no feel – that ‘sense of touch’ thing… – it is the loudest, most brittle music, because it wasn’t written for a purpose, and the town has no purpose. As Bob Dylan said recently:  “There’s a certain intensity in writing a song. You have to keep in mind why you are writing it and for who and what for.”

But all the 100 new people a day coming to Nashville are coming for this material info-tainment that now occurs there – they don’t really have a culture of music… and pretty soon you just have a formulaic existence.

And this is what has happened everywhere: things have gone from having a heart to formulaic.

And there’s something happens to humans… the organic quality of the human being gives rise to beautiful creativities and then all the nuance and all the development of the soul get side-tracked, and all the energy goes into the expected thing.

And everything becomes a logo. Nothing has meaning.

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  • As the essential adornment – the essential accessorization you might say – of any object produced nowadays… as the omnipresent systematic presentation of the essential rationality, reasonableness and coherence of the System  🙂 …  a n d  as an advanced economic sector [Hollywood] which fabricates directly the endlessly growing multiplicity of image-objects…  image and performance are the foremost and principal product of our present day society.

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  • These performances and images control living men and women to the extent that our economic system has totally controlled them.  For then nothing exists, except the economic system ever expanding and developing for its own sake.  [If you map out the System, you will find you are looking at] the faithful and exact  reflection of all the physical – and non-physical – objects that have been produced, and the reduction – by one small treachery after another – of the men and women who make them: to mere objects.

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  • The initial phase of the economic domination of our entire social life involved an obvious degradation of what it means to be human from a definition based on ‘being’ to a definition involving ‘having’. The current phase, in which our entire social life is occupied by the massively accumulated products of our economy, has brought with it a generalized slippage from ‘having’ to ‘appearing’. Nowadays, to be effective, any ‘having’ has to derive its immediate prestige and its ultimate functionality from this ‘appearing’. At the same time, our entire individual reality has become socialized: directly dependent on social forces, and fashioned by them. Only when it  d o e s   n o t    e x i s t  in the real world, is it allowed to  a p p e a r .

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Isn’t that it?  Everyone strives to create an appearance…

You accumulate a bunch of stuff but it’s not really important until some else recognizes what the stuff means. And then you end up with this weird, strange, hollow feeling because no-one wants to be with you: they want to be with the appearance of you. And you spend all this time cultivating appearance upon appearance, and you get lonelier and lonelier till you get down to this final phase where you’re not pretty, you’re old, you don’t really have much appearance of anything desirable to the people who make appearances important. There’s no part left in society where they think: “you’re the ancestor, you’re the older, you survived.”

I had a talk today with the doctors at *********,  and C***** and I were talking about how different we are, people from our age, and how do you tell a child or a teenager that we’re a little bit concerned and frightened for the reality they think is normal?  But we have to realize that we grew up with playing in the woods and all this things where it was safe to ‘be’ something. So you spent most of your time ‘being’ things. You didn’t go to the woods to come back and say “I have walked through da-da-da-…”

But they don’t know that. They don’t feel anything about your words.

And the disconnect is that we now have entire segments of people who cannot feel anything about each other’s words. And so the kotodama, the spirit of the words is really separated, hugely.

I just asked two young teenagers if there was something special they wanted for Christmas. Now, if I had been asked that, as a child, I would have been thinking:  “wow, I need to think this over…”  But they wanted a phone so they could talk to their friends, to take a selfie… It’s like a true disconnect. And yet their psychic drive – I was talking in class about body-mind drive – they don’t want to be alone. They can’t deal with boredom. It’s a constant show. Perpetual appearances with no sense of anyone just taking you as you are.

For me… we were talking about the world of touch… if you really like somebody, when you’re hanging out with them, I don’t care if they stink… the smell is good. There’s a sense of the texture of them that’s really important to you. And what they say, you have to take for what it is which is a very fluid and mobile thing. You can’t think “Oh, they said this: I hate them now…” It’s more like: “Oh… they seem to be this way…”

And so I think maybe what is happening is that the art of loving is being diminished. That there’s not a place for young people to appreciate in a deep enough way. Because it’s all appearances. “I like you because you’re like me is not that.”

I think Facebook is a very interesting experiment in that. “I like your opinions because they please me.”

I think in our society right now, the whole selfie thing is an encapsulation of this. So people have their duck-faces and all the weirdness and then they compare them in some spectacle of  how it’s  supposed to be… in some… and what I find very interesting is that things now are so undefined that there’s really no reality.

And so in here, what I love about aikido is that it’s very tactile. It’s not about appearances. In fact I try to show you how they trick you.

Appearances are not it.

And I’m really very interested in freeing you.

You know: the name you were given can have a pretty powerful influence on you. Names you choose can have powerful influences on you. Relationships that have titles… The reason that I force you to call me ‘Sensei’ in here, is because – position – location – time – amount – we can interact when you choose a position that produces an energy.  I don’t need the ego-stroking.  But I do understand the four things,  and so we get beyond appearances by plugging into archetypical reality that lies beyond superficial masks.

So it’s like if you go into a hospital, and you call someone ‘the nurse’. There’s a relationship there. We hope it calls up their deeper sense of care and duty. Their “I am here to nurse you.” We use the word ‘nursing’ – it’s like ‘breast-feeding’ – it’s a pretty deep concept of keeping you alive when you’re helpless.

I look at dojos, and if a person is only tied up in the having/appearing thing: “I have a black-belt.” “I’m the Sensei.” “I have this, I have that. And you’re supposed to behave like x, y, z…” It never penetrates.  But if you say “I would  like to have a teacher… it would be good to have a teacher…”

I miss some of my teachers who are departed, because I want to ask them questions. I’m mature enough now that I think “Agh! At thirty I couldn’t ask this question, that would have penetrated beyond the superficial and the dishonest…”

We live in the craziest moment I have ever seen in history [December 2016]…

We have hit the ultimate…   the ultimate …  It’s so great, my brain can’t even pay attention to it.  “Who’s going to be in charge of things? Exxon?  Exxon’s going to be in charge of the country?”  We know this is bad. We just spent thirteen years in Iraq for Exxon…

It’s all about appearances upon appearances. Hallucination upon hallucination.

It’s gotten so absurd now that we don’t even know what to do. You hear it and your brain goes “No… no… that didn’t happen…”

And any protest now…  is “that’s false news”.  It’s gotten to now we’ve hit this point that anyone who disagrees with what is, currently, is wrong and should be harmed because of it.

Trump is the perfect example. His appearance – how he thinks people see him – is so important to him that he can’t deal with satire. He can’t deal with disagreement. He can’t. He also believes, just like Louis XV, that “we’ll just kill them all… we’ll just behead them all because…”

But then you don’t know how true that is because everything you read is fantasy and illusion and appearances.

For people that are old enough –  you still have souls. You actually consider that you have such a thing.

But when you talk to younger people: this isn’t part of their context.  That’s a little weird. When you try to talk to them about it, they refer to movies: horror shows, and time-travel things… They don’t really have this sense of “I’m a being”. “I’m ‘being’ myself”.  “I have experiences. They create a depth in me.”

Instead it’s: “my being-ness is ‘I have yoga-pants’. ‘I have this car.’ Whatever…”

And at first you think, “oh that’s not their whole being…” But if you never have experiences which fertilize that, you don’t even know that your parents are trying to show you something. Even though they’re exhibiting something, they don’t have the vocabulary.

They have. They appear.  And they want to be left alone to do their thing and ‘be,’ but all the ‘be’ turns out to be more having and appearing. And they’re so lonely. Humans aren’t meant to be this way. I think it causes a true mental disorder. We are a tribal thing. We are a big, entrained species thing. We are the planetary thing.

And it’s disturbing what the consequence of that kind of world would be: because you can quite literally, in some kind of hallucination, rush towards the abyss, thinking it’s dramatic and wonderful. “Look how I’m going to appear. I’m going to shoot a selfie as the shit comes down.”  And they have no idea.

The abundance and luxury that has been accumulated… material stuff… has created a lack of desire for other things.

So everything’s a giant sales pitch now, to try and create some fake desire.

And then what happens to people is that they end up at some point in a crisis. But there’s no wiring to receive the cure.

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  • And then when we get to the point where the real world is transformed into nothing but images, then those images become [for us] real entities, and the extremely effective agency for a hypnotized way of seeing the world. These performances and images, as the aggregate, the collectivity that shapes how we see – through a variety of specialized media – the world – which at this point can no longer be grasped directly – as a matter of course elevate the sense of sight to the position of most privileged of our five human senses: whereas in other times and other eras it was the sense of touch. And this elevation of the sense of sight – that most abstract of the senses, and the most easily deceived – corresponds to the generalized abstraction of present day society. But this ‘spectacle‘ – these performances and images – cannot simply be defined as things we perceive with our sense of sight, even in combination with our sense of hearing. We also have to define them as things that are outside of  our normal human activity in our real, normal, physical space… things that are beyond the ability of any single, isolated consumer/audience-member/viewer to rethink, reconsider and correct. And everywhere that there is this autonomous, beyond-our-control  ‘representation’ : performances and images that are ‘untouchable’… there the ‘spectacle‘ of our society coalesces.

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What I deal with and I see is that people living in a world of symbols and philosophy end up believing that the ebb and flow of their mental condition actually is reality itself.  And so, as my sword teacher said – we were talking about all the great Japanese poetry and the Budo way of thinking – and then he said: “That’s very good philosophy. Please teach me with your sword.” Meaning: what you can actually do is what you can actually do.

And I see this as a form of illness: it’s so common amongst people now that they don’t feel their natural bodies any more – they feel the mental body. And I see often a struggle between the physical body – which has in it a million years of surviving… it wants to keep living… it will do all kinds of things just to keep living, living, living… and the mental body: which can be wrapped up in self-destruction and despair.

And so conditions of depression often are the conflict between the mental body wanting to die and the physical body refusing. And the soul – the being – is hung between hell and heaven.

The natural self doesn’t get to live because it’s being suppressed by the mind. The mind-self has already decided – it believes somehow – that death will free it from restrictions . It doesn’t see it as oblivion and it never considers that if you are really are unhappy – the mental state you are in could continue in another world ad infinitum with no escape.

No-one wants to consider that because we feel powerless. The mental self, in the world of symbols, can end up feeling powerless – or more powerful than it actually is. It can hallucinate god-like nature, or hell-like nature. The body itself – the physical body-  is created and evolved to live whether it’s cold or hot or starving: it wants to live… and the the very last thing is it struggles for its last breath because it’s so much in love with earth.

The mental body: no.

Particularly now. Because the mental body does not match the physical body anymore.

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  • This ‘spectacle‘, this ensemble of performances and images, inherits all the weaknesses of Western philosophy: which was always an attempt to understand activity primarily through ways of seeing, and so, of course, is based on the incessant deployment of that very precise and technical kind of reasoning (“rationality”) which comes with that kind of thinking.  It by no means creates any kind of  reality out of its philosophy: rather it reduces all of reality to a philosophy.  And over time it is our entire existence – our physical life as we experience it and share it – which has been degraded into a universe that is merely ‘speculative’.

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You know we’re always saying “don’t think” when you’re doing this thing, this aikido that we do… “try not to categorize… just move…” This is because we’re a culture where in order to feel powerful in isolation, to feel powerful in our loneliness, to feel powerful in our powerlessness, we have created an artificial world, a virtual world of philosophy. And so you drink water… and then part of something in our society values discussing the water, and the water-ness, and all that, but really you don’t taste the water any more. You taste the water in order to have a philosophical, intellectual, and – particularly in these times  [December 2016] – critical evaluation of the water. And eventually you get so separated from the divineness of everything, from the direct experience of something, that even when you have a direct experience, that’s not good enough for you. The philosophy, the thinking and all that, become the only reason to have the experience. And you get farther and farther away. And there’s a kind of loneliness generated by this.

And we were discussing the philosophy of touch, the kinesthetic world. If you could imagine even a century where we just smelled things and got some kind of feeling off of it. Science will tell you that’s probably the most important sense. That’s supposedly the last sense that goes when you die. And yet, philosophically we go over there [gestures at the corner of the dojo].  And that’s because, in order to communicate, in our society, are you allowed to touch?

J**-San:  No.

Sensei: Under what circumstances? It’s pretty rare. You were a physician. Touching was okay?

J**-san:  In the clinic. In certain circumstances.

Sensei: Were people okay with you examining them for real?

J**-san: No.

Sensei: And yet, what you needed to do was interact with them on a kinetic level, and have them be able to communicate with you.

Because I too, all day, I’m working with people who can only say, “Oh, it hurts,” and I have to get them to come up with a language of pain.  Because different kinds of pain mean different things.  They really do.  And in order for me to help, I need to know if it’s burning or stabbing… because it may be fascial. I’m trying to get a sense of what I need to do for them.

So that now, having learned to ignore people almost entirely at their intellectual level…  (I do, I have to)…  I can do this thing that we do… We both can do this thing that we do.

So when a person says it hurts somewhere, do you really pay attention to where they say it hurts? Really, truly?

J**-san: It’s a beginning.

Sensei: Is it good information?

J**-san: No. In the sense that they often have some other structural or emotional deal… something else is driving what they’re feeling.

Sensei: Yes, they’re feeling it there, that’s true. Neurologically it can be a referred pain… There are a thousand things…

And I would submit this for your examination: it is what that person considers to be significant, not necessarily what the difficulty is.

This I believe is global, it’s in every section of your life. What you think is significant is where you look for information.

And what I’m trying to do is take you back to your exact experience – ‘this very thing’ [slapping chest with one hand]. So this trick: if you ever meet a Zen master… “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?”  Take your hand.  Do this [slapping chest with one hand. Everyone slaps chest with one hand.]  It’s answering that question. It’s clapping, isn’t it? But it’s also a reference to ‘this very experience’. This body. This experience of existence.

Philosophy would fool you.

That’s what I love about what we do.

I consider the two people working together a form of kinetic communication and debate. A kinetic debate.

And it’s always ‘this’.

I don’t care what you think about something. Either it works or it just doesn’t work.

Either your balance is taken or it’s not taken.

And it grounds you in reality again, and gets you out of that philosophical universe that Guy Debord is writing about.

It also breaks the hypnosis of reactivity.

There’s a whole group of people who are now in love with the constant reactivity of things: there are no solutions, only more problems and more things to react to… an ever-increasing babel. Until most people will bail and allow the unthinkable to happen.

It’s too much stimulus.

Now you are warriors. Remember the story: “We are meditating monks… why are you calling us warriors?” “Because you seek to get beyond illusion. To get beyond the delusions of things.” It takes a really warrior mind to want to do that.

You’re willing to cut through what everyone else is doing to see what’s behind it all, and NOT react to the truth:

There’s the wizard in his underwear.

That would be reactive.

The wizard.
“Oh. That explains it. Let’s question the wizard now…  Oh Wizard of Oz… ”

[and Sensei’s cell-phone rings…]

So, knowing this stuff, we practise the direct.  We practise being okay with being in the body. We don’t need to take on an identity of some particular kind. We don’t need to say “oh, I relate to x or I relate to y…”  You’re just here experiencing ‘this very thing’.

Your internal philosophical orientation does not necessarily affect the taste of the Christmas turkey. It doesn’t. It tastes like what it tastes like. You may not like it. You may like it.

I’ve played with… I’ve done… many experiments with humans over the years to see how much of their opinions, and incredible reactivity, was actually based in anything other than mental activity with no grounded tie-in with their lives.

How much do you think, Thomas-san?

T*****-san:  Ninety per cent.

Sensei:  Okay.  Now, if you keep it in that category and you know what it is, that’s one thing: “Oh, I’m just enjoying this whole hallucination.”

“Can I puke on you with my hallucination?”
“Okay, I won’t…”

“Can I puke on you with my… I have to puke on you because no-one will listen to me.”

That’s different, right?

In here we use kinetic information, touch.

I’m attempting to get you to depend on that as your point of reference.

You’re moving with someone. [gestures]  Making your body capable of dancing with full attention through touch. That develops a very powerful form of attention. A very powerful form. Which can not be shaken by outside phenomena.

It’s a little like when we’ve got the Dixie-cup and the string and we’re talking. As long as there’s no slack, we’re communicating.

Who’s in charge?

Both people.

Both people are keeping the slack out. Now, if one person is running away, you have to chase them to keep the slack out, it’s trickier, but we learn do it.

Our preference in here is  b o t h   people keeping the slack out, neither pulling to hard or being too soft.  And this is a skill that you have to learn: how to be present. Neither too slack, nor too push-y, pull-y, shove-y.  So the information’s traveling.

Being uke,  in the old days, was:  three years you had to be uke before you can even attempt to be nage. You had to learn to connect and stay in there. Not be victim.

At first you’re a victim…  “Oh. I’m thrown.”  And then there’s “I’m going to be really good at taking high falls…” And you go through all these processes until finally you realize: “I’m learning the technique backwards!”

When the really masterly person does it you say: “I paid attention that time and I noticed all this stuff…  So now, when I touch  m y  uke, then if  t h a t  isn’t happening, it’s not it.”

So I’m suggesting that the beauty of what we do is that we get beyond being lost in the thoughts, being lost in the manipulation. We become much more plastic about how we behave. Your adaptability, no matter at what level you approach it, is what’s going to keep you safe.

Some people think adaptability is going to harm them. It depends on what you do. It really depends on what your adaption is about.

Some people… I try talking to them about it, and I mention adaptation and they think they’re giving up some ‘self’.  Now, at that point, you and I ask: “What ‘self’?  You show me this thing, this object of attention, and who you are, and who you need to kill for, and then we’ll talk.”

And you know what?

They cannot. Because it’s not real. It’s a very mobile, plastic, ever-moving, ever-evolving thing. And a snapshot of it may be a snapshot of your tension, anger, fear… whatever…

But it’s not it. It’s not the thing.

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  • And as, one by one, all our needs become something we dream of together – collectively – so, too, that dreaming becomes something we all need. These performances and images – le spectacle – are the bad dream of our enslaved  and shackled modern society, and they express, in the end, nothing but our profound wish to go to sleep – and our society’s profound wish that we should go to sleep. And these performances and images are the guard who stands over us as we sleep.

* – * – *

So, one thing that is interesting in this time is that: whereas everyone has this ability to be seen for ever and all over, and spread their presence… …there’s a passivity to it.

And the reason for this is neurological.

When our children are immersed in social media, they receive dopamine – a sense of belonging –  n o t   f r o m  other humans but from a reflection of the activity of other humans.

That’s why they create some selfie – because they get ‘likes’. They actually sit in a form of anticipatory stress, waiting to see if someone ‘liked’ them. They don’t really go to each other for comfort, community, development, whatever… physical comfort, physical community, physical development, whatever… Physically they go to a parent – a parenting culture – that’s telling them they’re okay, and then they go to the virtual world for their dopamine fix.

The problem is there’s no feedback. There’s no growth.

Instead, following the rules of the virtual world,  often they become more outrageous: they do whatever society might find most shocking. If they produce something, they do  t h a t  in order to get feedback… and it’s not for the purpose of communicating and developing a conversation. It’s strictly to get the same dopamine they would have gotten in the old days from playing with their friends. Which they don’t do any more.

At one time, their parents were their reference point: their “I want the approval of…”, their “I want to fit in with…”. But then they get to their teenage years, and they don’t have a community of other children to take over that role. Even in their school that’s been changed. And their natural process of evolution requires this dopamine feedback for them to feel safe – it’s definitely a biological safety mechanism…

And this also controls what they’ll do…

The need for this dopamine feedback enforces just as powerful a conformity, just as powerful a set of norms, as in the age of network TV.  Most people use social media – and the internet as a whole – to create their own escapist TV and radio, which they then sit back and consume. They won’t take all this technology, and actually say something with it, because they’ll get a negative response, which will be crushing to them because they don’t have any self-esteem based on actual things they’ve done…

They haven’t got into the river…

And so their self-esteem’s fragile.

It’s very risky.

And so they become passive consumers who throw out a little explanation-point of “Look, I’m naked!” – or whatever it might be – in order to get this biological feedback.

And because this happens in the virtual realm, it’s created this absolutely disconnected concept of what it means to be a human any more.

You don’t get feedback from your peers. You don’t grow, actually. Because the dopamine you get from an eight second burst of virtual event…  there’s no consequence.  You can turn it off.  You can become anonymous…

And they don’t develop those deeper kinds of human empathies and consciousness that come from physical presence and physical consequence. So it’s really screwed up.

As they age – the older ones – the original millennials… they never really got these things either. And so the generation we have now was raised by those people.

And they’re so fragile. Once you take them out of the artificial cyber-experience of society they are ill -prepared to believe there are  consequences for things. Physical consequences for things.

They don’t know how to do it. Which makes them even more upset and fragile. And they want to stay at home with their electronic box, because it’s the only place they actually feel safe. And they never get the human growth experiences such as disappointment… correction… social correction by their peers… Even the slightest correction becomes epic: they don’t have that normal resiliency or sense-of-humor about themselves.

So we live in a society now of stand-up-comedians who are so brittle.

* – * – *


  • The fact that the actual – exercised in practice – power of modern society has detached itself from its own self:  [the potential but not exercised use of force] –  and has built itself an independent empire: ‘le spectacle‘ – [these performances and images] – can only be explained by this other fact: that its potential for violence was never coherent, and was permanently in contradiction with itself:  [contradictory to our culture’s self-image of rationality].

* – * – *

So, think of every action movie and every police-series on TV, and the way the news-cast tries to be part of that way of seeing the world… But now the real power is fragmented, and our depictions of power are fragmented, and social media show us nothing but social contradiction…  …this seems to be the end-point of a historical process: and raises big questions of “where do we go from here?”

As the Tao Te Ching says:  “When the people have no reason to respect those who hold power,  then it is time for established models and higher laws to hold sway.” 1)

So maybe it is time to turn the equation around:  to embue with authority the folks that people  d o  have respect for:  folks who are adept at dealing with deeper things:  the ‘hidden’ world,  the Dharma world, the Buddha world, the world of the emotions, folks who are adept at dealing with many layers of meaning but do it through the real, physical world (artists), and folks that understand well and are completely empowered by the personal computer and the internet (geeks). The folks who, in an Information world, control the means of production.  Because these things are like being the person in ancient China who is able to write – and that simple ability brought with it position and responsibility and this is what Confucius talked about,  if only we could listen correctly…

1)    chapter 72

* – * – *


  • This is the oldest social specialization – the specialization of brute force as power – which is at the roots of ‘le spectacle’.  And ‘le spectacle‘ is therefore a specialized social activity which speaks for everyone and everything else.  It is the sanitized  representation of a hierarchical society,  on display for its own self and its own members  – in a place where all other speech is banished.   So the most modern is also the most archaic.

* – * – *

Jane Goodall, the doyenne of chimpanzee-researchers, has video of a chimpanzee alpha-male, leaning on his staff, contemplating a waterfall for minutes at a time, “dancing,” swinging on a vine right out into the spray… So contemplation, reverence,  communion with Great Nature – and embu –  are things that actually predate our differentiation as a species…

…and so we can indeed say – leaving the uses of sexuality aside – that the exercise of brute force is the oldest social specialization in human-kind. And, in fact, the DNA tells us that it dates very precisely all the way back to when our evolutionary path diverged from our chimpanzee-like common ancestor. We chose to stand upright – which in the world of chimpanzees is an aggressive posture – and we developed the motor-skills to do so.  We also developed fists – for fighting – which none of the other higher primates have.

But at the very same time, our more refined motor-skills immediately enabled us to dance way, way better than chimps.  To become one with the natural movement of the universe:  a chimp at a waterfall has to swing on a vine, or watch a rock falling in the the water – but  w e  can imitate the movement of the water itself. And the better mental-wiring, required for those motor skills – which would have included visual and spatial modeling – was eventually repurposed for conceptual thinking, and, later, speech.

So thinking comes from movement.  And even today, in Australia, in the desert South-West, on the Kumano pilgrimage trails, even on the Camino de Santiago, ways of thinking about the world are learned from movement in space, and movement through landscape.

And the impulse to speak, too, is originally a way of connecting with the natural universe. And we see this being worked out in the thinking of First Peoples, as attested by the aggregating and synthesizing work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl and others. Connecting with the natural universe and with the species around us.

Because when we came down from the trees, alert, and determined to survive, standing on two feet, there was, it is clear, immense  advantage in being able to understand other species, and being able to control the behavior of other species.

Cats meow to communicate with other species – not with other cats. Wolves don’t bark:  so it seems likely that dogs invented barking to talk to us. And the Mbuti Pygmies – who of all humanity have the most archaic DNA – use language for only a quarter of their utterance: fully half the time they are imitating and communicating with the birds and animals of the rain-forest, and for the rest, they make an assortment of clicking sounds, much as we still use to talk to our horses…

And even today, for many people, talking to their dog, or cat, or horse is still their most intimate conversation.

And for other people: their kotodama practice.

And with a family member or a co-worker, often the most intimate activity is the performing of a task without words, at all.

So, in aikido, when we work to unify mind and body, and then work on musubi, connection with the natural universe: we are simply returning ourselves to an original human way of being.

* – * – *

And if we think about all those cute-animal videos on FB, then we can see that video on the internet and social media does, indeed, represent all the primal human concerns…  …and this is the fulfillment of everything rock and roll promised: folk practice – the art of the people – re-becoming the mainstream through electronic media.

But the power-relationship with the flickering screen has moved on since Guy Debord wrote these words.  And the arrogance of TV personnel – news and commentary especially – and the arrogance of bloggers – is the arrogance of those who sense that we might simply stop listening.  Step away from our work and stop listening. And that that, logically,  is the next step in the sweep of history.

* – * – *


  • These performances and images are the uninterrupted discourse that the current system maintains about itself, its monologue of self-praise.  It is a self-portrait of power in an era of complete totalitarian control of the conditions of existence. The fetish that is made of a seeming complete objectivity in our relationship with these performances and images hides their true nature: they are a relationship between human beings and between classes. But this fetish of objectivity creates a second Nature that appears to be the determinant  of our living space with its inevitable ‘Natural’ laws. But these performances and images are not an inevitable product of technical progress, they should not be regarded as a  ‘n a t u r a l’  development.  On the contrary: these performances and images are a social construct that finds and chooses its own technical media. For while these performances and images – even considering only the limited subset of “mass communications media“, which are the most imposing of its superficial manifestations –  can seem to pervade our society simply as a means of communication, they are in fact not in the least bit neutral: they are precisely those particular means of communication that procure their own complete autonomy. If the social imperatives of these times, where these media have developed and proliferate, can only find satisfaction by these precise means… if the ongoing management of our society and all human contact can now only happen when mediated by these instantaneous mass communications media… it is because this “communication” is essentially  u n i l a t e r a l  …   such that its concentrated power amounts to placing in the hands of those who manage and administer the current system  the means which allow them to maintain this very particular and specific kind of management and administration. The manner in which these performances and images are set apart and privileged is inseparable from the modern STATE. That is to say: from the generalized shape and form of the privilege and apartheid that exist in our society: which are the product of the social division of labor and the organ of class rule.

* – * – *

So now it’s 2017, and most people in the culture can have their hands on the means of production – the means to create appearances… to create an image, a video… and yet most people spend most of their time passively consuming… just as if it were the age of radio and TV…

Now: there are multiple voices and many, many players… and – with a reality TV – or TV reality – genius at its pinnacle – Guy Debord’s ‘modern STATE’ is beginning to dissolve… but we find that, for us, to be active creating content, and to fore-go that dopamine fix, requires an effort of will… a triumph of will-power… ein Triumph des Willens.

To avoid that whiff of Fascism, we have to go beyond the media and beyond the logic based on seeing. We have to feel the universe inside ourselves… dance, touch, smell…

Our dojo and our theater are used to the thought that we have to create a beautiful and surprising video or an intriguing website in order to entice people into the building. But that then we have to give them an experience that is better than, more than, more ki-connected than the website or the video. And completely makoto.

Because budo is about training the mind.

And with enough Zen practice, you can see yourself and your companions and your surroundings as if looking down from above.  In these times, we need to make a meditation practice that enables us to see the scene behind the camera, the people gathered off-screen – and the person writing the software.  And make ki-connection.

* – * – *


  • With the invariable and ubiquitous separation of the worker from his product, any coherent view of the work accomplished is lost and gone and irretrievable, and so is all direct, personal communication between individual productive workers. And as those individual, separate, and isolated products accumulate and pile up, and the process of production becomes more and more concentrated, any sense of wholeness, inter-communication and inter-connectedness, become something that belongs only to the system’s administrators – to those who control the system. And, in the end, the success of this economic system based on isolation and separation is that absolutely everybody has become a member of the proletariat.

* – * – *

So the end-point of this is: that in this age, wanting to listen has become suspect. Wanting to listen to each other has become suspect.

But listen we will.

Aiki is about listening, and tuning back into each-other. And tuning back into the [natural] universe of ki that unites us, and that is where we all come from.

The thing that exists now is that many, many people  w i s h   to be beyond musubi, beyond connection. They’re investing in alone-ness, as if they can stand in the face of Great Nature and extract some benefit, and some abstraction.

Eventually, Great Nature just has a way: it will just change their DNA.

And if there is ever a proletarian revolution, it will be when people simply don’t go to work. When people just say: “I’m not going to go to work today, and let’s see how they like that!” “Ne plus jamais travailler”. Because the police can keep you off the streets, and from expressing your view. But they can’t make you go to work. You cannot make people work. That’s why the Soviet Union failed. They tried to force people, and the people went to the factory… but everything slowed down to a grinding halt. An expensive grinding halt…

…and also, of course, in the end the masses tend to take out the guillotine.

But in general… in general, Nature will prevail. We are made of Nature. We are Nature.

And what we’re having is a very unusual cycle of Nature, right now, an extreme cycle.

So in here we train, so we can hear the voice of Nature if it says “run!” or if it says “fight!” We train so that we can hear the [natural] universe. We train so that we’re not confused.

* – * – *


  • This economic system based on isolation and separation is a coherent  c y c l e   o f   s e p a r a t i o n : a cycle producing separation.  Isolation of elements is the foundation of the technological means, and the technological means, in turn, produce more isolation.  From the car to the television,  all the  f a v o r e d    g o o d s   of this system that is all about performance and image, are also its chosen weapons that continually reinforce the isolation – and feelings of separation – of its “lonely crowds”.  And these performances and images settle ever and ever more concretely into their own individualistic pre-suppositions.

* – * – *

“…its Lonely Crowds…”  A-a-a-h…

B e c a u s e   we don’t have self-confidence in our relationship to nature… …we don’t listen any more. You can’t really have a relationship with anything until you can listen. And now people only want to listen to a picture, a feedback, something they’ve already predicted…  So they’ve lost their courage in the face of Great Nature. In many ways – I can’t say we’ve conquered Nature – but we have created such an enclave of isolation from it that we don’t get much information any more. It’s the Information Age, and certain people do traffic in and work with information: scientists and such who are building all this technology, have a lot of information. Artists work with the whole matrix of many kinds of information. People who grow food are still in contact with all that information that comes from the land. But for other users, the structure of the ‘spectacle‘ tends towards – for the individual user – homogeneity, simplicity, less and less information.

And so there are all these people who have tons and tons of access, but very little information. Tons and tons of access, but very little perception.  Because perception means losing the eighty-years old comforting illusion that: through your electronics, you have a contract with the centers of power. And, because it is large businesses who are now the ones who maintain some kind of cultural continuity with the monolithic spectacle that Guy Debord was analyzing in 1967, many people cling to the idea that “life is a business”.  That governments are businesses. Schools are businesses. This is a form of insanity.

And so right now,  if someone decides to express a perception, it’s suspect.

But government is a social contract. Nations are social contracts. They are history. And in many cases, they are an identification with a particular area of land: the kami of that land. And the land always wins. The kami of the earth always win.

When we abuse the kami of the earth, they act up, and – over time – they tend to reduce and mitigate our impact on them.

* – * – *


  • The origin of these performances and images is very precisely the loss of unity of this world [as these performances and images become its multiples], and the vast, grotesque and ubiquitous multiplication of these performances and images in the modern era expresses the comprehensiveness of this loss: the abstraction of all individual work and the pervasive and ubiquitous abstraction of production together translate perfectly into all this ‘spectacle‘,  of which the physical mode of being is precisely  a b s t r a c t i o n .  In these performances and images, one part of the world presents itself to the rest of the world, and feels itself to be superior to it. These performances and images are simply the common language, the lingua franca of this division. The thing that the viewers, the spectators have in common  is simply a one-way relationship with the very locus that sustains and makes permanent their isolation. These performances and images bring the separated viewers together, but they bring them together precisely  i n   t h e i r   s e p a r a t e n e s s . 

* – * – *

So now, in 2017, everyone takes it in turns to “present themselves to the rest of the world”, and feel themselves for just a moment superior. But this is an illusion – a nostalgic illusion.  Nostalgia for that unspoken power-relationship that used to be behind the unitary, coherent view of the world put before you by radio and TV.  The guarantee that if you had faith in that vision, the unitary power behind it would keep you safe.

Now there is no longer a unitary power… but it’s still hard to give up that habitual source of comfort.  And there are many, many compelling, competing, attractive views of the world, but that lingering promise of a relationship with a unitary center of power – that could protect you – is completely illusory.

So there are two theoretical consequences:

  • in order to see the world clearly, you have to give up that old relationship with the electronic media
  • in order to attain a coherent view of the world – one that has the potential to be successfully predictive – you have to begin your seeking somewhere outside of the electronic media, and you have to be looking for connection, looking to restore unity…

Your means need to be your ends…

…and in budo, this would mean attaining and restoring ki-musubi with the world around you…

So in our dojo, the thinking is to get you used to the idea that there are forces out there in the universe, that you can make contact with, that are so different that they change your point of conception. And eventually you will get good at just going with different points of conception until you get nimble with them, as it were…  but first of all, we have to learn that they exist…

And so even doing what we were doing tonight: using go-no-sen to go to kyo, to go directly to kyo,  instead of trying to let their energy and timing take you there…just going right to it.  And when you do that, you’re no longer creating from a flow that you could perceive as being outside yourself.

We need to have absolute confidence in co-creating.  We have to know what it feels like. And if, right now in the dojo, we’re at the experimental, “toddler” stage,  still when you do this enough you’ll be able to see what I’ve been doing.

Often you ask, “what if it doesn’t happen ‘this way’?” What if uke doesn’t give you  t h i s   kind of energy or   t h a t   kind of energy? How do you create the form?  But once you understand what I’ve been doing, you will see how it is, say, that when I’m trying to show you how to do ikkyo , and the person I’m with is perhaps not present with that, I can still do it…

So what is it I’m doing? How am I listening and how am I able to do what am I doing? How am I able to ki-connect, to achieve musubi, and still get to the form?

You can think of other dojo that we know: teaching some pretty profound form… but it’s rare that the deshi are doing the thing their Sensei is doing. They’re so intent on making the form correct – because that’s the requirement – that they never understand what he’s doing.

But for me, I think    t  h a t   is worth exploring.

The locus classicus of this is it at Hombu, when the foreign deshi ask O’Sensei, “how come we can’t do what you are doing?” and O’Sensei says “it’s because I know In and Yo and you don’t.”  And that’s it. That’s the end of the conversation… And Henry Kono Sensei spends the rest of his life trying to figure out in-yo.

So here’s the thing to do.

When Rebeca-san is leading jo-kata – which we do a lot, because it is a form where you can discover so many things – well… I’m trying to get you to no longer be thinking, “I know how to do this: I’ll get there before she does!” I want you to get the idea that that’s stupid. You should be thinking,  “I want to get perfectly in rhythm!”  She goes slow, you go slow, she goes fast, you go fast. And that is the essence of aiki: not learning something and imposing it on a situation, but getting to the place where you can follow her – follow exactly her speed. Doing this, you learn entrainment, and then all of a sudden it stops being like you’re driving a car that’s going too fast. Suddenly you can see the detail, you can see the timing. You see that the whole thing about counting – “ich’ ni san yo…” – is a way to have metered time/space, like a metronome. And if you’ve ever worked with a metronome you know that you get to where you can observe what’s between the beats.  At first it’s “click click,” and you’re just looking for the click. But once you get used to it, the span between the click becomes important and then the quality of things in the span  – it’s like this in seated meditation, too  – “hi, fu, mi, yo…” –  and then you find that the click is no longer the relevant thing anymore. It is a kata, and it has de-ai. It’s holding a place so that you can get used to good observation.

So you’re building in a sensitivity to her movements even though you’re not seeing her.  Let’s say you followed really well, and you did a lot of it regularly…  then you will find you that you can close your eyes and follow.

And that’s the non-contending, non-victorious, non-achieving form.

* – * – *


  • The alienation of a person looking at an object to the favor of that very same object (which is the result of his/her own un-knowing activity) can be expressed as this equation: the more she looks, the less she lives; the more she comes to recognize herself in the dominant images of [fabricated] needs, the less she understands her own existence and her own desires. The fact that these performances and images are outside of her and her own activity can be seen in the way her actions are no longer her own, but rather belong to someone else, who suggests them to her.  And this is why the audience member, the viewer  of these performances and images feels herself at home nowhere: because these performances and images are everywhere.

* – * – *

And it makes the same sense when you read “he” for “she”:

“The alienation of a person looking at an object to the favor of that very same object (which is the result of his/her own un-knowing activity) can be expressed as this equation: the more he looks, the less he lives; the more he comes to recognize himself in the dominant images of [fabricated] needs, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The fact that these performances and images are outside of him and his own activity can be seen in the way his actions are no longer his own, but rather belong to someone else, who suggests them to him.  And this is why the audience member, the viewer  of these performances and images feels himself at home nowhere: because these performances and images are everywhere.”

* – * – *


  • The working man is not improving himself, he does not make himself a better man: he is not creating a better self.  He creates a basis of power that is completely outside of himself.  The success of his creativeness – its abundance – comes back on him as an abundance of dispossession.  Both the time and the space of his world become foreign to him with all the accumulation of his alienated creations. These performances and images are the map of this newly fabricated world, a map which perfectly and precisely covers the territory it maps. They are precisely our creative power that has escaped us, and that now displays itself again to us in all its full strength.

* – * – *

So here, Guy Debord is addressing the Ten Perfections, based on the Shingon idea of right action and right livelihood. Actually it’s a universal Buddhist idea – sometimes Eight, sometimes Ten Perfections – and they go way back – actually they go back to the Vedic yogas, who were a Northern people…

  • right view
  • right resolve
  • right speech
  • right conduct
  • right livelihood
  • right effort
  • right mindfulness
  • right samadhi
  • right knowledge
  • right liberation

…and if you were at a Brahmin level, or a Samurai level, you learned these – and you must do them for a while – and then you can actually pick advisers: an architect, a healer… you can assign a healer for your country because you have studied these ten perfections…

* – * – *


  • Human beings, separated from the things they create, more and more completely create every detail of the world they share, but in doing this, they find themselves more and more separated from their own world.  The more a human life is now lived as a fabric of alienated creations, fabricated by other – unknown – humans, the more a human being becomes separated from his/her own life.

* – * – *

Start with your own body: learn to sense every part of your own body, and the things you create in your own body… Taoist meditation practices are good for this because they teach you to sense  a n d  to relax your body in detail… And then movements of your own body become a whole world to be explored: we say, “a book” to be “read”…

And this is the joining of mind and body – shin-shin-toitsu.

And once you have it, you can join this unified mind and body to the world around you…

This is the alchemist’s way of working in the world. And you will find that the alchemic tradition is in everything… For instance: it is in how you brew beer…

Our ancestors lived on grains: but they lived on beer. Bread was not the main staple, because it didn’t keep. The grain doesn’t keep well. But beer is bread that keeps. And also it embodies alchemic principles. In every step, when you brew beer, is an alchemic principle.

You test your water temperature by seeing your perfect reflection in the water. You use a god-stick, where you have the god of brewing – a piece of wood full of little holes… so if you have a good batch of beer, the god rests in the beer. Then you take him out, you hang him up, and the next time you want to make beer, you put the stick in the water, and it inoculates it with that particular yeast-batch.

And the idea of taking the inedible: millet, and things like that… sprouting it, and using heat and water to bring out the flavor and the life-giving properties – basically you’re eating sprouts – and then toasting it – applying fire to this element, driving off the water and bringing out the earth element in it, and then running water over it… it’s a total alchemic process.

And the water has to be a specific temperature: the temperature of the moon is what it used to be called, because they would heat the water until they could see the moon reflected in it – it’s a particular surface tension, and they do the exact same thing in Japanese tea-ceremony…

And there’s three passes: just as with good tea there are three steeps. The first stage of sparging: ale – what the people drank. Second stage: beer – more a beverage of hydration. Third: small beer – food for children.

In all cases, the water’s been purified, and its application to the grain has brought out the inherent energies. And so when you think about the diet of these people: you make the three beers… everyone’s got food. And you feed what’s left to the pigs, so at the feast you have beer, and pork, and butter, all of which have alchemic principle to them… Because making butter’s very alchemic: a churning motion, a figure of eight, turning milk into something that will cause light – because butter burns, it makes light. Also it stores. You can put it in a bog: it will be there three thousand years. They find these chunks today, still.

So.  Modern people have romanced the alchemy:  they’ve put it in their drama and their movies. But no-one consciously does it, except for chefs and blacksmiths

So I think Aikido’s a way to rejuvenate this whole art of alchemy again, because an alchemist’s life is beautiful:  you’re in touch with the elements all the time. Budo and alchemy. It’s like budo and farming.

* – * – *


  • These performances and images are  c a p i t a l  that has accumulated so much that it becomes image.

– – – Guy Debord,  Paris 1967

– – – Takeharu Yoshi Renshi


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