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Friday, March 2, 2018

The Media Chakras of Clinton, Obama, and Trump

Over sixty years ago, media scholar Marshall McLuhan suggested that every medium of communications, regardless of the content it carries, both extends and impacts our nervous system to both good and ill effect. Today, our electronic grid of smartphones, social media and “always-on internet connections” has extended our individual nervous system to the entire planet. And, just as our nervous system has its spiritual energy centers – the chakras, so too, I believe, does the global grid. Each communications technology emerges as a product of consciousness, and each holds and reflects a different spiritual challenge. Each is associated with a different chakra.

I developed this model in my book, Digital Dharma (2007), where I traced the evolution of telecommunications from the spark of the first electric telegraph, through the analog waves of the telephone’s seductive voice, the power broadcasts of radio, the broken heart of television, and on into the then-emerging technologies of global interconnection, digital compression and virtual reality and the “internet of things,” speaking to each other via “grid computing” (or, what we now call “the cloud”). Today, a decade later, the technologies of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and our smartphone apps, have become the foundation of much of our lives, reflecting and impacting the state of mass consciousness, and its reflection in our contemporary political and social lives. Using the chakra-based model of Digital Dharma, I will look at our Twitter-obsessed “texting” president, and why his claims of “false news” are actually shadow intimations of a deeper spiritual truth; why he continues to be successful in railing against the internet-driven consequences of global integration and boundary deterioration; why Hillary’s television image-based appeal was so easy to mock; and why the heart-centered values embedded in new visual communications, may indeed bring someone like Oprah to the White House.

Hillary’s Fourth Chakra Television-Based Campaign

Hillary Clinton’s campaign was built on the “dynamic feminine” fourth chakra values of “sharing and caring” – inclusion and cooperation, compassion for outsider groups, and the protection of individual rights. The work of this chakra is to integrate the heart’s desire to be fully loved with the reality of living in an ego-based world of limitation and attachment. Thwarted fourth-level emotional energy can easily turn to hypersensitivity and the high drama of the victim syndrome. Philosopher Ken Wilber has called this response “boomeritis” – utopian dreaming and multicultural sympathies bordering on collective guilt for all the world’s victims, mixed with unacknowledged attachment to material luxuries and high drama.

These are the same core values of the medium of television: the technology that brought her husband to the White House, but seemed out of date in the Internet age. Television’s gift to the “boomer” generation was its face-to-face close-up view of the world’s diverse community: people, plants and animals, and our home planet itself. Despite its menu of cowboys and Indians, crime fighters and violent cartoons, TV also introduced us to outsiders of different colors, tribe and nation. It connected us, along with the Space Program, for the first time to our entire planet as one Spaceship Earth. It was the medium of human and animal rights, the environment and holistic thinking. Balancing its diet of “hard news” and glorified sports violence, it was also a medium of the feminine: of the intimate family narrative and soap operas of personal disclosure, bringing the carnage of the Vietnam War into every living room. In its “shadow reflection” of the Heart Chakra, television offered an addictive emotionalism: the glorification of desire, and its fulfillment at bargain-basement prices. Instead of true compassion, its shadow offered a chance to feel pity or disdain for the parade of the world’s “losers” brought to our screens (or faux corporate boardrooms), a half-response that only deepened a sense of spiritual depression and disconnection. As consciousness evolved, television’s world-view of naive optimism, and its shadow of self-pity and addictive consumerism, became easier and easier to mock. Donald Trump understood this, and brazenly used television itself to belittle its feminine side, offering in opposition a parody character of a loud-mouthed, self-made millionaire and beauty-pageant and wrestling promoter. At the same time, consciousness was pushing us upwards into the new, fifth chakra technology of the Internet, bringing with it new forms of social connection, new problems, and a new form of presidential campaigning.

The Fifth Chakra, Internet-Presidency, of Barack Obama

While television offers an opportunity to look at the multicultural world, the Internet brings us the gift and the challenge of actually connecting with it. Fifth-level communications presents us with a world of overlapping instantaneous, unfiltered interconnection: the “other” is not just a face on a screen “out there,” but someone, invited or not, inside our personal space. This is the multi-cultural, globally-cosmopolitan, knowledge-based, world of today. At its best, this is a place of respect for the formerly-unheard voices of minority peoples, for the organizing of vibrant decentralized online communities, and the creativity that comes from rubbing against new peoples and new ideas. It offers a new holistic environmental awareness of the true interconnection of all life, and the possibility of new tools to better integrate humanity into the biosphere.

Its shadow reflection can be found in our fear of viral infection – from pandemics of AIDS and SARS and Ebola, to the waves of global migrants at the door of the “developed world,” to the infection, data thefts, and cyber-attacks on the technological pillars of the information economy. A strong fifth chakra can cope with this bombardment of messages. It is a “truth filter,” capable of resisting unhealthy viral memes, able to discern the underlying truth in every system of relationships. When closed, this chakra manifests as the intellectual cynicism of deconstructionism where “nothing is real,” or its gut-level version of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” Blasted open, it manifests as compulsive self-regard, a fixation on “the presentation of self,” the end of all privacy, and the pseudo-communication of outright lying. The Internet’s constant chatter mimics the babble and distraction of our planetary “monkey mind.”

This was the world that Barack Obama understood in ways that the older TV-generation could not. His campaign was based on data-driven Internet organizing, and his Presidency was based on the “cool management” of a less inflated nation in a multi-polar world. It is no surprise that this move into fifth-chakra, network-style governance, would generate unease and push-back from those left out of the information economy, those frightened by the real or imagined appearance of the “the other” at the door, and those who felt that their (formally unquestioned and dominant) voices were now being stifled by “political correctness.”

A Return to the Text: Donald Trump as the Twitter Candidate

In the 2016 campaign, at a time of deep social division and growing distrust of the new networked global financial corporations and financial institutions, the Democrats offered a candidate steeped in fourth chakra aspirational memes (fairness and multicultural “rights”), coupled with an unpleasant air of fourth chakra entitlement shadow (“its my turn”). Donald Trump, who rose to fame manipulating television’s shadow as the exemplar of me-first materialism, crass cynicism, and melodrama, easily embraced the role of anti-fifth chakra avatar. He ran as the anti-diversity, anti-politically-correct speech, anti-feminist, anti-immigration, candidate. He tapped and twisted the deconstructionist ethos into casual lying, a disregard for the truth, projecting his own fifth chakra shadow into chants of “lying Hillary” and “fake news.” He channeled his attacks against the values of the Internet Presidency using not just his television persona, but even more radically, the medium most aligned with the primal masculine “alphabet power” of the first chakra the chakra of security, survival, and fight or flight, the 140-character “telegraph of self,” theI talk, you listen” one-way broadcast of the Twitter feed.

Twitter’s mini-telegrams – short textual declarations, free of nuance, without even the perfunctory hellos and goodbyes, let alone the empathetic responses of telephone talk, reflect the first chakra’s work of individuation: discovering the I – and presenting it to the world. At this stage of development, relationships are evaluated primarily in terms of one’s safety and one’s gain: the very applications that drove the early telegraph system (what Tom Standage has called the “Victorian Internet”) market transactions, military and colonial control, and emergency communications. In Chapter One of Digital Dharma, I called these wireless services “the telegraph of Aliveness,” and suggested that this medium was the perfect voice of adolescence: the time when kids start to push away and declare their individuality, announcing and reinforcing their ‘Beingness’ to their peers, calling attention to their cleverness. Adults usually grow out of this narcissism. When they don’t, in Maureen Dowd’s words, “its as if your id had a typewriter.” Today, the most prodigious user of texting, the loudest voice on Twitter, is the President of the United States!

What Might Come in 2020?

The same force of technological evolution, and its impact on consciousness, that brought us from the telegraph to the telephone, radio and beyond, is still at work. We are accommodating ourselves to unfinished work of fifth-level communications. In response to the crudity of the Trump “winner take all” lower-chakra politics, we are already seeing the activation of a mass movement of deeply-offended women pushing for a return to some of the better fourth chakra values (personified by television’s face of empathy and financial reward, Ophrah Winfrey). This trend will grow stronger as text-based communication itself continues to decline in favor of visual image sharing and voice networking. Fifth-level shadow will continue to be exposed as the Internet reveals the impossibility of holding “secrets” from the public, manifesting in more calls for “transparency” and “Me Too” campaigns, and also in more fears of “secret deep state actors” and other conspiracies. Immigration policy – how to manage boundaries in a networked world – will also swing between heart-centered compassion for the “dreamers” and calls to build stronger firewalls and security systems.

Into this mix will also come the initial impact of sixth-chakra communications. This is the center of “deeper seeing,” of the “codes of reality,” and the mystical understanding that “all reality is but a dream, all reality is the same!” At its best, this chakra reminds us to treat all communications as the product of the ego-self, to act with great humility in “deep listening” to those we have decided are “others,” and to connect with all beings at the soul level. It teaches us to "watch the codes," in practices like mindfulness meditation. In its shadow presentation, this is the center of hallucination, false voices, and false realities (including the latest dark phenomena of creating real-looking fraudulent videos). Sixth-level communication technologies include all digital image devices, video games and VR, virtual worlds such as Second Life, and the coding schemes that make them work. Issues of managing genetic coding, controlling AI, and accommodating different variants on the racial, gender, and neurological spectrum will dominate political debate in the coming years.

One can imagine further polarization along three versions of sixth chakra “truths” – (1) “My truth is the only truth, (and its written here in my Holy Book),” (2) “There is no truth, everything is fake, (and therefore only my tribe’s stories are real),” and (3) “All things are true, (and we must learn to communicate the deeper feelings and needs under our words).” Let us hope that our evolving consciousness brings us closer to the third response!