techno-bling and the demise of the Qigong master


Sylvester teaches Aikido to 80 year old ladies. And Qigong. And breath work. And energy work, of course. Whole food nutrition. Color and aroma therapy. African-American pragmatism. If it’s a healing art — he can convey it.

And the ladies at the North Oakland Senior Center love him. And so do I. He’s my mom’s personal guru (if I can be so bold) — and you can watch right before your eyes, her energy increase in his presence. He’s also gorgeous, I might add. The salt and pepper dreads really work…

But not today.

Today I watched as the great master fell. He fell in the face of his very first powerbook, which he had with him in a nice shiny black case. One hand on the powerbook, the other on his cell phone. No hands with which to heal.

His energy, which is usually spot on on the client, was erratic. It was dissipated, chaotic, and disturbing.

He could not keep his eyes off the screen.

His struggle with the glorious new machine was where to find the copyright symbol in order to print up some flyers for forthcoming classes. My mom showed him how to take a plain envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail his own articles back to himself, to copyright it.

That wasn’t the problem, however. He needed a © to be specific.

“Shut the case, Sylvester!” I ordered. I had never spoken to him that way before, but it was driving me crazy.

But the case was open again before you could count to five.

“Wait!” he said. “Let me write that down.” And he opened a document in Word, and wrote: FIND SYMBOLS. I had just showed him how to find symbol fonts. But then, like an idiot, I said:

“You know, Sylvester, what you really need is a website…”

Driving home across the bridge there was an interview with a science writer on NPR. I didn’t catch her name.

“Over the last 20,000 years,” she said, “scientists have found that the human brain size has decreased by about 10%” — which is about a tennis ball’s worth of gray matter.

You know the movie, Idiocracy? one of the scientists was saying. Well, it already happened — and is continuing to happen. Apparently, human brains have been decreasing in size since the Cro Magnon.

Well, today, thanks to Sylvester, I believe it. I watched intelligence and energy drain out of a mind right before my very eyes. Healing powers melted in front of me, stolen by glossy irresistible techno-bling.

To be fair, NPR tries to make nice with disastrous conclusions.

Brian Hare of Duke University says there’s an evolutionary advantage to decreased brain size. I know that we anthropologists should stick together, but I’m not quite convinced on this one: He argues that smaller brain size is linked to cooperation and the lessening of aggression. His evidence: the bonobos, current darlings of primatologists.

And then there’s David Geary, a cognitive scientist. He says we just don’t need to be so smart these days. Nowadays, he argues, you don’t need intelligence to survive or reproduce. This must be where the Idiocracy reference came in.

But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

I want to take Sylvester’s new techno-toy and throw a few stone tools at it. And do it quick, before all of his magic powers drain right down the power cord.

And well shit, I guess the same goes for me. And you, too. Maybe we’d all be a lot smarter if we’d just close the lid and go um, make music or paint something. So. okay, this is me powering down. Right after I hit < save > and then proof read, and then hit < publish > and then …

By then, god only knows how many more brain cells we all will have collectively lost.

A kaddish for the Qigong master’s brain cells — although he (unlike me) surely believes in reincarnation and therefore has nothing to worry about…

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

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