Talisman: a charm or amulet to ward off insidious powers

This insidious power is what I’m calling ‘boring culture’, but that isn’t quite right because this world we live in, with its nuclear weapons, AI and gene editing technologies, its social media echo-chambers and ecocide-inducing industries are so terrifying that most people just want to hole up with some Netflix and a bucket of Madagascan custard.

We’ve somehow created a world which is simultaneously boring and deadly.

The boring bit has to do with all the dry language and form-filling, with same commutes down the same grey roads where we sit for hours in stale offices under flat lighting, subsumed in a world of boxes inside boxes inside boxes. Think grid-cities, office blocks, housing blocks, watching the box with a boxed dinner, doing therapy in a box room (or on a box screen typing little boxes with our finger tips) with no awareness of all the box madness, then going away on a packaged holiday to escape it all.

War, climate-crisis, food shortage, mass extinction, illness, disease, god-like technologies. Terrifying. But we have bills to pay, kids to feed, often through jobs we don’t love. It’s knackering. At the end of the day we just want to cabbage out with TV and ice cream or hang out with friends. No time to solve the meta-crisis, or even to think about it properly, but we can’t forget about it because we’re getting hammered by the News every day.

Boring and deadly is the world we’ve brought forth. It’s a schizophrenic experience to be in.

What I call ‘boring culture’ William Blake named ‘Urizen’. James Hillman imagined it as senex tyranny. Iain McGilchrist calls it ‘the world of the Left Hemisphere’. Paul Kingsnorth (following D.H. Lawrence, George Orwell and R.S. Thomas) refers to it as ‘the Machine’.

Ideas you don’t know you have, have you.’ - James Hillman

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand.’ - W.H. Auden

You can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that brought it about.’ - Albert Einstein

Confucius said that the healing a disharmonious society begins with the correction of language. What kind of language, ideas, and thinking might help to alleviate the soul-eroding power of boring culture?

William Blake gives one answer.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

Poetry, even from Blake, is not enough. Bridges between science, imagination, reason and intuition need to be made, and no one has made them better than master bridge-builder Iain McGilchrist, especially in his rigours and beautiful book The Matter With Things.

What I want to do with this newsletter is to practice a different way of thinking and writing, informed by some of the people mentioned above, whom together with many others constitute a hidden tradition of ideas stretching back to Heraclitus and beyond.

I’m imagining each post as a little spell, charm, or a tonic - something to help guard against the drudgery and terror. If that sounds like your cup of tea then please subscribe so you can get these talismans straight to your inbox.

This is where most of my writing gets done - in a strange little shed overlooking the Derwent valley in the North of England.

If you’re curious about my background as a writer, and what other stories I’ve been cooking up, then head over to my website: www.benpholden.com

Thanks for reading.

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protection against soul-erosion


Ben Patrick Holden

Ben Patrick Holden is a fox-faced, crow-eyed dream pirate of Hermes-Mercury, a soft boiled alchemist and apprentice to rivers, dedicated to cramming wild language down the gullet of boring culture. www.benpholden.com