Transmuting the Trumpocalypse – Session 2: Meme Power

Recorded: November 2, 2017



Caroline Savery
Marco V Morelli
John Davis
TJ Williams
Brigid Burke
Stephen Polk

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You said you might be all over the place with this conversation. You didn’t disappoint, and it took me more than one listen to get my head near to embracing all of it.

You’ll also excuse me if, as a non-participant observer, I let my own predominant mentation patterns inform my reactions. This was, I think, I very Gebserian discussion. My own fascination was to be found in just how Gebserian it was.

  • Power: Magical, period. It first arises in the Magical structure of consciousness. It’s taken on any number of different forms over the mutations, but it has always had, as Caroline aptly noted, that flavor of “power over”. But it’s consuming itself. It may take all of us with it. There is a pressing need to express or deal with it differently.

  • “Meme” (power): Mythical, most definitely. (I’m with John on this one – I loathe the term, but fortunately it was dropped very early in the conversation for a wide variety of more meaningful terms, like story, idea, concept, myth, narrative, and) while a bit Amero-centric for my tastes, the take-away I had was that the ones we keep pushing are threadbare and inadequate. I understand the underlying longing to want to find what’s good in them still, but their inappropriateness is the clearest indication that it’s time to let them go. I got a good sense of what it must have been like in Ancient Greece when the Mythical structure of consciousness was in its final throes.

  • Systems – social, cultural, political – defunct: Mental, and most obviously mental-rational. What kind of a “justice” system conceives Alexei’s indictment? What kind of “democratic” system purges hundreds of thousands from its role only to graciously “re-invite” them to play their game? Add to this fake news, most of the most effective of which is produced by the mainstream media; “alternative facts”, the very allowing for a discussion of this is mind-boggling … isn’t amazing how such broken entities can still function at all?

What else struck me? Well, the reluctant, almost begrudging recognition that, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, “you can’t go home anymore”, or at least you can’t go back: you can’t go back to the ‘good old days’ which probably weren’t, you can’t make America great again, you can’t even hope to salvage anything of what might have once been inspiring ideals. It is very appropriate at this juncture to question the “value” of a notion as basic as civilization. Do we even need it?

Marco asked (one of several million-dollar questions): What does it look like when (a) civilization collapses? And all that I can say is, well, look around you; you can watch it in real-time.

So what do we do? Both Caroline and Stephen stated it explicitly: relationships are paramount; start forging and reforging all you’ve got. John pointed out that the ones we once relied on – like family – failed a lot of us; so reconfigure them. (When we moved to CA our little nuclear family – the three kids, my wife and me … only I spoke the language when we arrived – was all by itself; brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents were continents away, so we configured an artificial substitute: work colleagues and older friends (and their children) that we made started taking on the roles of real relatives. We never asked them to, but the strength and intensity of the relationships with others allowed them to develop analogically all by themselves. I wouldn’t say that we organized or re-organized anything … but what would have been there otherwise was reconfigured, that’s for sure.

In other words, the impression I got from this little chat was that we may be a lot closer to what we’re looking for than we realize. We’re letting a lot of habit discourage us.

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I appreciate you watching/listening, Ed. It’s good to have another perspective on the discussion with the benefit of reflection. One thought I’ll add to your point about relationships: I am struck by how often I talk to people who seem very connected, yet tell me that a predominant experience in their life is isolation.

For all the various structures of consiousness and their geneologies that Gebser painstakingly examined, he also said: “In the end, everything is simple.” And indeed, sometimes I feel a simple faith that if we (in general) could just learn how to better relate to one another, everything else work work itself out eventually.

But of course, every simple truth comes with some fine print—in this case, a disclaimer that we find ourselves in the midst of accelerating processes that severely limit our ability to relate. There is an objective, entropic dynamic we are struggling against. Call it “civilization collapse,” but there’s also a cosmic dimension to it. Our souls have taken the shape of habits, attachments, and traumas accumulated over many millennia, which memetically and energetically propagate—unless contained, counteracted, or transmuted.

Ultimately, we struggle against…ourselves. Even our genetics (as @Alex_Blum argues) can be seen as powerful molecular-level habits that may be impossible to break without radical evolution. Until then: what we really need are “safe spaces”—for evil.

Yet in the end, everything is simple: there is little to do but to surrender to the struggle and work through all our millennia of karma, in very (inter)personal and specific ways, for as long as it takes, until we open to the richer realms of the relational and transpersonal…which attract, like a light in the darkness perhaps.

This is to say: “Collective Realization” might be a lot harder, and take a lot longer, than we think. Then again, time is not what we think, eh, @achronon?


I agree, Ed, that the discussion has a Gebserian feel. As students of discourse I feel we are using the technology in creative ways. I also want to stress the power of paying attention to the structure of an argument.

Martha Nussbaum, a great public intellectual, and an optimist, points out how we can differentiate culture, agency, and social structure. This is an important theme that I hope we will develop. Imagination is central to a full flowering of democracy.

Before we declare ourselves in a state of total collapse, we should perhaps cherish the power of the efficient Mental, embodied by Martha. I believe she is one of our greatest scholar-practiioners. She radiates clarity and a sense of beauty!

Let us enjoy the politics of paradox. And never underestimate the power of a well structured argument!


Newton lives. I know we like to think we’re past all that mechanistic thinking, but just because the universe has (also) become relativistic and quantum, that doesn’t mean that everything else just fades away into falsehood. His second law of motion, as it turns out, applies not only to objects moving through space, it applies to thoughts and ideas as well (which in some schools of thoughts are considered things, and, as such, would naturally be subject to the same laws as are other things, like billiard balls or cars or stars. It has long fascinated me that the more globalized; that is to say, the more homogenized, our world becomes, the more areas and ethnic groups want autonomy; the more irrelevant the nation-state proves itself to be, the more those groups and regions strive to become one. It is the same, I believe, with our own experience, our yearnings for connection: the more we want it, the harder it seems to be to find. There’s an old Zen story about gathering sand: the harder you try to grab hold of it, the less you end up with; you get a lot more into a gentle cupped hand than into a clenched fist. And so, when we relax, we encounter. It’s just how the universe works.

I’m certainly glad you mentioned what I believe to be is the most profound and insightful thing that Gebser ever said/wrote: “In the end, everything is simple.” I’m reminded of the story of HIllel, the first-century BCE rabbi, who was asked by a gentile thinking of converting to Judaism, to explain the Torah (the Law) to him while standing on one leg. Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary–go and study it!” It is not only the Zen-like quality of the tale that is so attractive, it is the elegant simplicity of his answer that moves me most. What he say, of course, is the Jewish version of what we know in the Christian world as the Golden Rule (the real one, that is, not the cynical version that goes, “he who has the gold rules”). Oddly enough, the Golden Rule, the one about engaging and interacting with others – any others, not just one’s own, if you will (this was clarified quite brilliantly in the story of the Good Samaritan), is the only principle, admonishment, “rule” – whatever you want to call it – that appears in every world religion. It is, regardless of assumptions, presuppositions, mythology, dogma or creed, the one “feature” common to them all. It is something all of them share. To make things even better, even atheists have their own version. Sure, there’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative for the brainiacs, but I find the Australian comedian Jim Jefferies summed it up for Everyman best: “try not to be an asshole.” How simple can you get? It doesn’t get any simpler than that; and apparently, the whole planet agrees – with the sentiment, and the simplicity.

But, I’m also reminded of something my mother used to tell me (a lot, if I think about it long enough): some things, maybe a lot of things, and certainly important things, are simply easier said than done. Just like the expanses of globalization calls forth its opposite in the drive for local autonomy, and just like the longing for connectedness results in incessant feelings of isolation, so too does the recognition of simplicity drive us insane with feelings of complexity. We can think of a gazillion reasons why we should hate – and if that’s too strong a word, let us say “dislike” – Trump and his ilk, but the truth of the matter is he’s just a poor slob stuck here on planet earth with the rest of us. Oh sure, he’s in a position to make our lives more miserable than they might otherwise be, but I feel sorry enough for him and his own lack of humanity that I feel inspired not to be like that and to get back to my own “roots” and try not to be an asshole myself, knowing full well that there are times I need to be trying harder, and also knowing that just saying “no” is the most courageous act you can perform.

Of course, the time and place to do just that is here and now. It always has been and always will be. So, I try to be that way with my family, and with the neighbors, and I try not to get too upset by our local mayor who is a challenge to everyone’s faith in these parts, and I find I have to put more effort into dealing with people in positions of so-called authority than I think is necessary, but when the opportunity arises I try to get them to realize that all of us are struggling to make sense of the world and our lives and that we have at least that in common so why not try to resolve our current common issue. It works more often than not, so I keep at it. What I learned in my esoteric sojourns was that the magnum opus, the Great Work, was not called so because it was so lofty and noble, but rather simply because there was so much of it.

And then, there’s Infinite Conversations where I find others not dissimilar to myself who are also trying to make sense of things, and the whole scope of interaction expands in ways and to a degree that I sometimes have trouble following. I listen to a couple of podcasts based on an essay-series and realize that there are more folks that I thought doing lots of wonderful, important, meaningful things that I wasn’t even the slightest bit aware of before, and the curmudgeon in me is gob-smacked for a while for he has to concede that there’s just a whole helluva lot taking place of which was beyond his ken. It’s one of those ignorance-is-not-bliss-rather-knowing-is cases. And if all those little efforts continue and multiply and infect and inspire those around all those who I now know are doing and acting and struggling and sometimes even succeeding, it is not hard for me to imagine that the accumulation of all those little points-of-fact will at some point tip, and where nothing was even suspected before, something new will manifest. And that’s how I understand the cosmos works.

In other words, if I’m just a butterfly, it would probably be a good thing for me to not stop flapping my wings.


While I can appreciate where you are coming from here, I think all the indicators are pointing toward total collapse … which isn’t really a bad thing. I don’t know how you mutate from one consciousness structure to another without the previous, deficient structure simply imploding.

What I like about Martha, and this comes out even in the short clip you provided, is how she so naturally combines efficient mental (structure of discourse) with efficient mythical (law & literature, emphasizing the imaginative aspects it provides) and efficient magical (full recognition of role and import of one’s religious beliefs, for example) structures of consciousness into her own approach to dealing with life as she finds it.

So, I’m very much with you on the politics of paradox, which is certainly one way to address it, for if we are to break through to the integral, say, as Gebser describes it (and I think he’s pretty close to identifying it clearly), then we need everything efficient that has come before, and we can get to this, I think, only if the dross of the deficient is burned off, to use an alchemical metaphor, which comes from the (metaphorical) conflagration of the collapse.

Now, I think we all wish most sincerely that all these descriptions remain metaphorical, but even if the facts they point toward remain very real.


If I believed for one moment that collapse was inevitable I would get a bottle of booze and stupefy myself, which is what I believe many of those who cant cope are actually doing. Distractions and pseudo-options drive them to go shopping and eat too much sugar, fats and salt, guaranteeing that they will get cancer or diabetes.

These fragmented folks are not the majority, they are about a quarter of the population, according to Margaret Archer’s study, which I draw upon in these comments. They are poor, oppressed and distracted and they cannot cope with the speed, they cannot register the opportunities that are emerging, nor think critically. They raise their voices and hit hard. I know because these fragmented people raised me.

There are other ranges of the spectrum that can be explored as we transition to a vaster intelligence and sometimes it is the most traumatized people who break through to a Vision-Logic. Many artists and scientists and ordinary folk have a capacity for harnessing the imaginal and the subjective/ objective indeterminate zones without collapsing into postmodern drift and all of that truth is relative crap

Truth is not relative ( some are better than others) and some contradictions can be true. We can love and hate the same person at the same time. My father spit in my face and told me he wished I had never been born that to be a queer. And yet I know that he loved me. And when he was dying I let him know he was going to die alone. And when he died I shed no tear. I rejoiced because a very cruel, fragmented human could no longer do any more harm. But I still loved him. I once sat upon his knee and he would read the bible to me, in a soothing voice, with that Alabama drawl. The majestic sound of the King James Bible thrills me, unifies me as I have confronted great sorrows. My capacity to face the wrathful aspect of God was in a way my father’s gift.

This love/hate absence/presence can happen in flashes of deep insight. I think Christ on Cross registers this deepest of deep truths. Forgive them for they know not what they do. And many people around the world are suffering horribly while others are feasting. The 1% take a shit in gold toilet bowls. I know because I have been employed by the 1% and I am not kidding. Toilet bowls made of gold. Vanity, pure vanity.

So the Integral is already here, and that is why the deficient Mental is screeching to a halt. Globalization is cracking up. The efforts of Cannibal capitalists who want to make a fast killing in the market are undermining the efforts of those who are trying to organize research and development in ecological ways. Vision is for the long term and requires disciplined logic, and a logic that is happy with paradox. We need to embrace the excluded middle not get rid of it. I see signs of many who are recognizing this. YouTube is a vast archive of a brilliant humanity, an externalized, technological .version of the interior Astral record. There is considerable progress in every field, as humanity has a rendezvous with the Anthropocene.

Yes we are wobbling, and we might crash and burn. But I wish to avoid that scenario. We are not in chaos yet but wobbling badly. We can self correct and get better at steering Spaceship Earth. I don’t think mass extinction is inevitable and I caution against fashionable nihilism or naive optimism.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”- Abraham Lincoln

Let’s keep the eyes on the prize, good people!


I am reading Caroline’s stellar writings and these comments here. Though I cannot contribute much else beyond a “hear, hear!”…I only want to say thank you and I wish to catch up to speed for future conversations.


You got it right, Ed, and I believe we arent just whistling in the dark.And it is those little nameless acts of love that start to add up. Some of the threads here are so interesting I actually reread them a few days later. I sense there is a new movement starting to coagulate. This is not true of the convulsions on FB and other social media outlets.
As was pointed out in our last conversation, we are co-enacting a learning space for new identities to emerge. I draw upon my experience in the gay movement and others are drawing upon their rich experiences and our life-worlds are revived. Send our roots rain!

And a capacity for identifying with this group dynamic is on going, and new voices are welcomed and the steady contributions of a core group keeps the momentum going.

It is my angst that this fragile coalition of intelligence continues to receive nourishment. I carry it in my mind as a security blanket into the crazy world run amok, knowing when I return to the cave that there are some flickering images on the cave wall to interest me and keep me motivated.

I think we are getting vague glimpses of what this death/rebirth is all about, and we have to lead with our hunches and guesses as well as the occasional structured argument…

As I said last night I am a great believer in the power of study groups. I agree with TJ that it is all about modeling and we can get more skillful at that. I feel that our little band is cranking out some captivating sounds, some good lyrics, a nice rhythm section, a few strong solos and lots of good harmonious back up singing-


There’s really no time like the present, and nowhere so exhilarating as here. Suggesting one might “catch up” reminds me of Zeno’s paradox of Achilles not being able to overcome the tortoise who was given a headstart in a race. First he has to overcome half the distance, but by the time he does, the tortoise has moved ahead and so it goes over and over again, and Achilles is doomed to defeat. They’re artificially imposed limitations and the tortoise wins.

Our conversations are – as are most big discussions in life – more like the tortoises than like Achilles. Ignore the self-imposed, perceived, or simply imagined limitations. Just jump into the conversations, get into the mix. If something’s unclear, ask. If someone appears to be overreaching their own argument, call them on it. As @johnnydavis54 mentioned elsewhere, we’re not here to have a discussion, as much as we are trying to have a meaningful conversation that helps us all make sense of the massive amount of nonsense we have to deal with.

Looking forward to hearing more from you.


Yes…I find myself reaching out to purchase Spheres , consulting with time travelers to put me within the time and space of Gebser and Aurobindo, etc. etc…not necessarily the FOMO (is that the fear of missing out acronym?)…I have been the “turtle” all the way down to my birth and might be attempting to be Frankenstein by fusing some hare-brained ideas into this shell…they are well-intentioned and founded in the highest sense of falling in love i can imagine, yet how best to articulate such infinite internal conversations? Thanks for the advice reminding us to tap into the tortoise.

So here goes…I am on Caroline’s Tailsman writing and have yet to grasp the full concept of the ‘meme’ power, though I am sensing it. I am reminded of a recent reading of Paul Tillich’s Love, Power and Justice and feel that Caroline is tapping into that same ontological underpinning of the relation of the ultimate sense of the three (L,P and J). Is any one familiar with this book, with Tillich?

I cannot do it justice at this point…just wanted to toss this about.

Reflections by a blogger on the book.


Heh, heh, heh … my totem is the turtle.

Don’t have Tillich on my bookshelf, and have only taken him in indirectly and in bits and pieces, but he’s always been over there in the corner nagging, “and what’s it look like next week?” It’s not like my reading list isn’t long enough, but you, the BU guy, and the blogger motivated me enough to put the Tillich tome on it. The title encapsulates rather elegantly the real heart of the issues Caroline’s wrestling with.

If you have any “difficulty” with the “meme” part of the notion in Caroline’s series, just chuck it. (I can’t do much with the term myself. To me, “memes” are those funky picture+word posts that you find all over Facebook.) Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives, like story, myth, idea, concept … none of which is synonymous of course, but all (or any) of them can be more effective. The real point is that – if the reviewer and blogger are even partially right – there is something much more fundamental underpinning that “power” of which she writes than immediately meets the eye, and that is well worthwhile to delve into more deeply. This becomes very clear in the related podcasts (and if you haven’t watched the podcasts of the follow-on discussions, I highly recommend them). The notions of love and justice are most definitely connected, if not downright unavoidable.


First, a quick hurrah :tada: to Johnny for the rain dance, and to Ed for this…

There is an organization in Boulder County called Slow Money, which is focused on investing in the local food economy; and there is also the “slow food” movement, which focuses on the quality, taste, and ecological relations involved in humans preparing food and eating together. Similarly, I’ve thought of Infinite Conversations as participating in a kind of “slow discourse” movement, which prioritizes certain (perhaps not fully expressed, but underlying/emergent) values —e.g., quality over speed, listening over marketing, independent and small-scale over corporate, cafeteria-model “feeds.”

“Memes,” we might think of as ingredients, or sometimes spices, condiments. What matters is how they’re combined, cooked, or even fermented, but also, the worlds they conjure. I recall when I was a child, how my uncles and aunts used to come over and the grown-ups would eat, drink, and talk. Nothing was off the table: politics, religion, history, sex…dirty jokes. My dad, who immigrated to the US from Italy, was a progressive Democrat and my uncle (his older brother) an old-school patriarchal authoritarian who admired Mussolini, because, well…

I’m not saying it was the most high-brow intellectual discourse—and after a couple bottles of wine, all bets were off (though invariably, this is when the best stories were told—e.g., its where I learned about what it was like growing up in Italy during the war)—but the point was the conversation itself as a human phenomenon: the lifeworld it sustained.

Tillich’s Love, Power, and Justice looks like it would be a great book for a Cosmos Café. (I’ve added it to the wiki.) I have not read anything by Tillich before, but the review suggests a significant resonance, and a deepening of the consideration that’s at the crux of Caroline’s essays, as well as Alexander Blum’s The Case Against Liberation. To be continued…


Here’s an update on the case of Alexei Wood, the journalist (and Caroline’s friend) who joined us for this meeting:


I love this phrase. The mantra of my whole week, you summed up so simply. “When we relax, we encounter.”

I also love your comment Johnny about the range of people’s responses to the stresses of this historical moment and the potential of breakthrough at any responsive state; and the contradictions inherent to existence that can yet be true, holistically. I believe by applying our hearts and minds as fully as possible to the apparent dilemmas of our situation, and doing so in discursive settings (ala study circles), we are pressing the material reality to be more likely to shift into that more highly ordered state (which will inevitably, too, involve some things collapsing: both perspectives are true.There must be space freed up for new forms to be able to manifest.)

Responding to @Douggins comment on my use of the term “meme,” I have borrowed and used the term for several years now in my own constructing of logic, and I admit that my definition/application may be novel, having derived from the utility I gave it within my own matrix of sense-making of the world. The magical thing is the many different forms that memes can take, from the innocuous (name written on a sticky note posted on tupperware in the frige) to the marvelous (the concept of “ownership” which permeates and shapes whole swaths of society and history). In essence, though, they are a thoughtform: a unit of information, illuminated/animated by the presence of consciousness, and once animated, behave along pathways of behavior similar to living things. Memes might be the “mitochondrial Eve” of sorts–connecting life’s seemingly animate/distinct pattern with an even more ancient flow of materials and information according to physical forces (as @achronon seems to speak to in the third comment here). Perhaps life is but an idea, and a simulation, though it feels quite real and substantive and amazing.

I would be interested in exploring more of Tillich’s work!

That’s all I have time to reply right now… this forum can be a vortex of interesting explorations and divergent spin-offs, sucking me in! Will return later…


WOW. Watch this clip, please. And also Alexei and his lawyer are due to be on MSNBC tonight 6:15-6:45pm ET tonight!


Apolitical living defined my life. Zero, literally zero discussion about anything political…even cultural in my household.
To give you a picture of how ignorant my 0-30 year old self had been: as with attempts to remember my age (am I 34 or 35…?), I had to question and question again the memory of voting/not voting for Obama in 2008. This may offend some of you, invoke feelings of despair (how can we expect change in a world full of apathetic, uninvolved individuals?!), prompt your mind to resort to providing an individual of my caliber some really real reality checks. I do weep silently at times: when I realize how ignorant I have been; when it hits close to home; when the weight of the world shows its face again and again and again.

This is a serious story. I thank you for providing the continuous struggle and process Alexei Wood is experiencing. Just one of thousands…perhaps millions or even billions if we start to think.


Wow. A real test case—canary in a coal mine kind of situation for the ‘free press’ in the United States. It is interesting how “objectivity” is supposed to be the journalistic standard—“fair and balanced,” right?—yet how selectively it can be applied. And if a cable news network, not so long ago, in effect championed the killing of perhaps a million of Iraqis in a blatant war of aggression conducted under false pretenses, should we then consider these networks (and especially their owners and financiers, who are ultimately responsible for their editorial content) to be war criminals?

The courts have been opposing Trump’s agenda in many cases, e.g., the immigration bans. We can hope they rebuke this attempt to silence journalistic subjectivity, i.e., political opposition. This is not to say I resonate with Alexei’s expressions on the video recording, which were obviously unwise; but the freedom of speech (right to dissent) implications of this case are quite significant, it seems to me.

That said, in the bigger cultural picture, I don’t see people shutting up, but rather speaking out more boldly. The more aggressive the administration becomes in attempts to silence, the more the opposition will be aroused. There is a lesson here, probably, about the importance of keeping one’s cool in a volatile situation. Yet in a post-truth world, we need truth more than ever, which means protecting the journalists courageous enough to report it, even when they don’t conform to so-called professional standards.


Marco, very very well said. Would you share this comment as a blog linking to Alexei’s story?


My heart goes out to Alexei. I am going to pray for justice in this case. He is a brave, idealistic young man who is fighting for others and his own integrity in a world run amok. We need more men like him who cultivate a healthy warrior energy. May he and all of us learn how to bring forward the clarity and the passion of the healthy warrior in action. I believe he is helping all of us to become more skillful. One thing I can say of Alexie-he is not an armchair critic!