Busy-ness, Ambiguity, and Imagining
It’s obvious I’ve not been posting for some time. I’ve continued to give much (near constant) thought to human goings-on in the United States and other places on this globe. I’ve even begun a few writings – they have joined others in an increasingly large “incomplete blog” folder on my computer.
I know many of my posts are longer than readers may feel time for. I try to set posts up to ‘assist’ when time feels short. For instance, using ‘bold’ here and there to allow quick scanning and catching key points. This one is divided into 3 sections; the first ‘newsy chat’ on my absence; the 2nd and 3rd thoughts and statements on more universal concern.
Section 2 ‘what’s on my mind’ commentary about ourselves.
Section 3 is commentary on current high-profile news items, and conclusion.
First: I don’t usually make a practice of reviewing personal updates of my activities but this time, here it is!
Since my ‘silent period’ began, I’ve consulted with contractors (and monitored progress) to re-build a failing porch, have raised a garden (harvested and stored its produce), have tackled the season’s monster (small Christmas tree size) weeds by mostly hand labor, and have added to my “organized stockpiles of very large rocks”. (These were removed when the entire foundation had to be replaced, I was angry (the house, though old, was supposed to be ‘clear of extreme repair need’), and I am a pragmatic salvager by nature. I laid claim to the foundation rocks, reasoning I’d paid for them in the first place!) The rocks, over time, become components for planters and landscaping efforts. Most, but not all, are now gathered, ‘organized’ in such a way that weeds cannot grow among them. I also successfully created a ‘laundry center’ with a stacking washer/dryer – each ¾ size but older models, so I had to modify the dryer stacker. (Don’t let anyone tell you you cannot stack a dryer above a top-loading machine; this is the 3rd such arrangement I’ve had. The difference and greater difficulty this time was that I could not find the stainless steel tubular legged stacker available in years past.)
I also work part-time in office support activity, now accomplished from home. I much appreciate not needing to ‘close down’ the above list for a trip to town, (mostly this means I don’t have to change from ‘home chore clothes’), and the doggies have the full day to come and go, in or out as it suits them, rather than being housebound while I’m gone.
In addition to ‘house/yard’ projects and distractions, I’ve spent many hours at the computer, often late into the night, finding and listening to many, many lectures, talks, and addresses on general history, American history, and contemporary philosophy. These often introduce other references, either familiar and neglected or new, and the roaming mind continues. Rock play! These are figurative, and I’m looking under a lot of them!
Life is indeed odd. Years ago I took on a project of geology study to escape constant awareness of social/political issues. Not long into my ‘rocks’, I was ‘captured’ by ‘evidence of persistence of change’ as revealed through rock study. “Everything is a model for everything else”. I loved roaming local rivers and wandering among outcrops, but “humans afoot on earth, in and out of harmony with nature” was not lost from my attention. Nor was preoccupation with ‘human doings’.
The coming post-winter season will bring much the same list of projects and tasks described above. Different porch, maybe a plumbing project, maybe replacement of the front yard fence lost during foundation work, and improvements on water-run-off close to the house. Last summer I actually wrote and posted a number of pieces, for the first part of summer anyway. I certainly hope to maintain concentration for writing from now – but don’t know when the combination of assorted distractions of “immediate concern” may overtake me.
While busy with the above described activities, I constantly muse on ‘who are we’, ‘what’s going on’, ‘what changes would be helpful’. Conclusions form to statements, then may shift as alternative possibilities and counter arguments pop to mind.
Nevertheless, I find myself with underlying core principles and beliefs that hold steady.
It is clear we are creative and oriented to make change. I believe we would make changes even if nothing much was amiss. We are also vulnerable, need one another, and inclined to cooperation. We also are aware of wisdom, old and recent, that reminds us our survival is thoroughly entangled with all life and earth forces.
These attributes combined, would lead us to “Do No Harm” as a guiding principle. Yet, since it is impossible to be all we are without moving about, harm is inevitable. The principle can be changed to “Do the least harm imaginable”
“Imaginable” is a key word in this principle. “Imagining potential harm” is, I believe, an imperative for our time. “Imagining” is innate. It is the impulse we apply to creativity, to invention. Creativitiy and invention require projection of outcome: what will the final creation look like, how will it function. When creating, we need to revise because we want the best outcome possible. Imagination is a perfect in-born capacity for us to use to predict potential good or harm of whatever we do or create. (History is rich with thinkers using imagination to assist creation of improved over-all societal function. Interested thinkers of all ages do the same in present time. The rest of us need either to join them, or to reflect on the wisdom of their search for improvement.)
Associated with “imagining potential harm – in order that we do the least harm – comes consideration of, responsibility to, “collateral damage”, “collateral loss”.
It is not appropriate for us to glibly dismiss potential suffering or injustice by statistical measure that tell us“only” a certain amount of harm or injustice will result from an action or new creation. Likewise, it is not appropriate to use statistics to insist on status-quo when suffering persists or predictably increases.
We are fond of statistics. We are fond of holding “number to benefit” against “number to suffer”. We use ‘weight’ to give ourselves permission for change, or permission to maintain status-quo. We call it a “rational decision making process”. By using “rational” as justification, we give ourselves permission to stop imagining, in real, visceral detail, what exists, or may develop for those who experience “collateral damage or loss” of existing injustice, action, or proposed change. “Rational” can be, and is, used as shield, to ward off criticism of our plan. (Ironically, when we do this, we in fact use our own ’emotion’ to shield ourselves in ‘rationality’! We try to avoid ‘knowing’ painful consequences – to know them might dissuade us, or might cause us personal emotional discomfort.)
We are even more pleased with our ‘rational’ decision-making process, when money management is involved. If we can use dollar outcomes to make a case, it is ‘proof” of our supreme rational capacity! The additional assumption is that ‘rational’ action will always orient toward accumulation of measurable wealth, and that wealth accumulation is always a good outcome – for everybody!
“What”, we need to ask, “really matters”?
One of the contemporary philosophers who has attracted my audience is Slavoj Zizek.
He, like the rest of us, swims in the ambiguous waters of our time. I believe it was Alvin Toffler who, some years ago, said we’d find ourselves greatly challenged by a “time of ambiguity”. We are now here.
On Zizek: “Ian Parker claims that there is no “Žižekian” system of philosophy because Žižek, with all his inconsistencies, is trying to make us think much harder about what we are willing to believe and accept from a single writer (Parker, 2004). Indeed, Žižek himself defends Jacques Lacan for constantly updating his theories, arguing that it is not the task of the philosopher to act as the Big Other who tells us about the world but rather to challenge our own ideological presuppositions. The philosopher, for Žižek, is more someone engaged in critique than someone who tries to answer questions.” (see Wikipedia, Slavoj Zizek; see also http://www.egs.edu/faculty/slavoj-zizek/biography/ for professional on Zizek including full length videos of talks.)
I certainly do not agree with smaller points made by Zizek. For example, his references to foolishness over organic produce. But I take his larger point – that the motivation for organic, if consumer pay-off “offers superior status and ‘lick and promise’ response to real responsibility” (my words), then there’s a problem, at least in motivation. He makes a closely related point much more successfully when he points out that satisfaction over purchase of a cup of “high status” coffee, because it is accompanied by “promise of profits going to humanitarian cause”, (another ‘lick/promise’ behavior) is skewed. (I, personally, (and on a tight budget), have long rejected corporate benevolence as reason to purchase a high priced product. I either need, and appreciate, the product for quality and function, or don’t buy it. I’m offended by a marketer ‘come-on’ that I might want ‘purhcase’ their benevolence, rather than perform my own more directly. I purchase Fair Trade coffee, or do without. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade).
So, as a ‘launch’ following a long hiatus, what do I want to comment on?
Current affairs move along at such a pace that “the immediate” quickly knocks previous from apparent relevance. (My over-full ‘incomplete blogs’ folder includes much left behind simply due to pace as new details arise.) Whack-a-mole living is part of our post-modern condition. Much that pops up is stressful and often highly problematic. We repeat the same response, regardless of today’s details: We look for understanding, and we consider possible solutions.
Re new and old and left behind: I’ve noticed something curious in some web searches, especially when I want historical information, especially when I want it summarized – perhaps in a lecture, perhaps in a short paper. More often than not I find browser pages of time-constricted, immediate, thought and commentary. This is especially true with current economic issues. Very little media based information dips farther back than late 20th Century economics. Consequently, we have an entire population that believes itself “informed” because someone can describe the dot.com bubble.
We focus on what happened 10 years ago, and how it morphed to what we now experience. We seem to believe there was no prelude to the dot.com bubble, no prelude before the prelude, and nothing reaching back so far as, for example, the emergence of the industrial revolution! (And what was that revolution really like – for small land holders, for instance?) (Where did the concept of ‘incorporation’ for a business enterprise come from?)
Quickly and briefly, here are 4 quite recent ‘bits’ and my thoughts:
1- Glenn Beck’s “New Year message”:
“America is at a crossroads. We have known this for 10 years now but after each tragic event or “bubble” America has gone back to sleep because we wanted to believe that we could have it all and “it just isn’t as bad as they say.” (http://www.theblaze.com/stories/fundamental-transformation-a-message-from-glenn-for-2011/)
I agree “we are at a crossroads”, as do countless others; many have said so from the 1960’s on. I welcome rising interest in our crossroads position from everyone. That we seem situated on a cusp of unprecedented and nearly unimaginable magnitude seems reasonable and clear.
Toffler warned us: “Age of ambiguity”. The ‘stuff’ of today’s world needs as many questioning, creative, critical-thinking minds as can be brought to bear!
Beck’s interpretation of our ‘cusp’ is different from mine by near 180 degrees. He focuses on “America” without emphasis that we must account for ourselves in context of global humanity. His apparent shock and fear leads him to want ‘previous’, ‘established’, ‘solution’ as he imagines it has worked in the past. (Tricky thing – imagination, it is often contaminated with less than clear emotionally based comfort seeking, which is fine, but awareness is needed!) I, on the other hand, believe we have arrived ‘here’ precisely because we have not appropriately and helpfully practiced self-examining in the past; we have not ‘imagined’ consequences and collateral harm along the way.
I do not fault us for this, but feel we have finally ‘run up against a wall of our own making’. Crossroads, wall, or cusp, we need to undertake serious, deeply probing, inquiry of human psychology and of economic forces at play in hierarchical systems. To be followed by equally serious, deeply probing, imaginative and creative adjustments, perhaps replacements.
No better time than now to “challenge our own ideological presuppositions”.
Arguments, that our dominant economic models have ‘proven’ themselves because “compared to history” many people live physically comfortable lives and enjoy themselves, are not justification for stopping where we are. We now know there is wide-spread, deep and miserable collateral suffering, by “dis-enfranchised” life in our present. We’re not that far beyond what Dickens described, may be slipping back, and the earth is under siege. (If we are truthful about shoving people off land across time, about slavery and other “supporting” practices that allowed our “success”, arguments that existing dominate economic systems have proven themselves may prove we did not have sufficient imagination way back when!)
Much to explore here; can we envision and create a new economic model? Sub-groups work on this; will we seek out their ideas and join the creative discussion?
(I suspect Beck, et al, would read my remarks as “anti-enterprise”. On the contrary, I speak of our creativity. “Enterprise” is rooted in ‘creativity’. It’s use (popular unexamined definition) has been reduced to mean participation in the dominant economic system.)
2– Bill Zeller’s suicide statement: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/07/bill-zeller-dead-princeto_n_805689.html
and a study of what lets NFL stars find happiness: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-briggs/study-gods-of-nfl-find-ha_b_802284.html
are only two of many reminders that understanding human psychology is key to our healing and that we need to know better what we’re doing as we work our way through current challenges.
On Bill Zeller: If ever there were a well-put statement to the soul-destroying harm that can be done to an individual trapped in traumatic abuse, from generation to generation, this is it. We are ignorant of the effect of potent harm. We carry on, not imagining, not accepting, that the entire human civilization is largely made up of “the walking wounded”. Zeller speaks as an individual; from within a “well thought of family”. We assume, (presuppose beneath our thinking), that apparent “success” means proven success. We take comfort that our personal lives and possible transgressions could not be so ugly or so miserable as suffering ‘vaguely out there.’ (That same suffering we avoid imagining.) We ignore real consequence located on a continuum’ (slippery slope). We prefer to measure outcomes in statistics — anyone falling below the line can be ‘rationally’ ignored. We do not want the responsibility of knowing, we prefer comfort in things as they are – if, that is, our personal lives are more or less “OK”. (A little chemical poison here, an enemy there, a false justification for war here, loss due to no medical coverage there; “brutality here”, we say, “justifies outcome there”.) Zeller’s statement points to our fear of our own psychology, our preference to assume “we” are not as “horrible” as “some” people can be, (the ‘other is ‘known’ to be ‘out there’). Zeller’s statement properly belongs in the study of deep trauma, delivered by abuse, and its healing. I have no wish to take it too far outside that effort.
On NFL stardom and achieving “happiness”: Understanding psychology of NFL stars means also asking questions, and gaining understanding, on psychologies of families and fans of these individuals. It’s an easy extension to expand these questions to our cultural frenzy over ‘stardom’ of any kind. It turns out that commitment to values larger than the self is key to satisfaction and happiness.
(The NFL article focuses on religious commitment as an “answer”. Nothing is quite so simple! Bill Zeller’s agony was in part delivered in a context of deep “religious commitment”. The core ‘values’ of an improving society, I believe, must be life-affirming, generous-spirited, and imaginative and responsible, to possibility and of collateral misery. This is a ‘new frontier’ for initiative (or – the enterprising spirit.)
Those most adamant to “shut down Wikileaks with a vengeance” exhibit too much, far too much, symptomatic behavior of “presumed authority lost”. One of our deepest challenges is to sort out issues of traditionally established, hierarchical, authority as guide. We have barely begun to understand how deeply our behavior and ideologies are based in privileges of gender, birth, opportunity – – within individual families and across global cultures. I certainly do not wish ‘collateral harm’, which is one of the arguments made against Wikileaks. It’s my understanding that, so far, responsibility is taken on this valid concern.
There is a strong underlying “psychology of presumed authority” behind the vengeance against Wikileaks that fairly shouts concern to maintain authority-over, power-over, by operating in as much secrecy as possible.
I am reminded of teacher-classroom power struggles before teachers came to develop and enjoy more collaborative approaches. To do this, many teachers, coming out of established hierarchical educational systems, had to explore previously unrecognized assumptions about authority, and needed to learn new approaches. I don’t think those made uncomfortable by Wikileaks realize their personal psychology is “kicking up a fuss”. When presumed, inherited, or aquired social/political authority is challenged, then equilibrium, based on assumption, is lost. Individuals ‘feel’ quite uncomfortable, vulnerable in a much deeper sense than the surface explanation they offer, no matter how high the level of mover/shaker status.
4– Gabrielle Giffords, Judge Roll, Christina Green, and other victims killed or wounded:
What needs to be said about a political culture oiled with vitriolic fear and anger has been said, is being said. What is the psychology behind the culture?, behind the motivations of some individuals in society to commit to active support of others, and the motivations of others to gain by prestige of angry, judgmental, voice?
Both these are appropriate for probing inquiry, not only by ‘experts’ but by all of us. Nothing can change if we dismiss relevance of vitriolic public statements (“it’s outside human culture, is only one disturbed personality”). Nothing can change if we dismiss influence of cultural context on mental health in America, (all mental health suffering, not only those who ultimately harm themselves or others.)
Personal private, motivations, and the psychology behind them, are not formed apart from cultural ‘flavor’. The individual charged with these horrific crimes has not been shaped in isolation from broad culture and subcultures in which he has moved and lived.
American culture has become an angry, mistrustful, accusing and blaming culture. It’s important to develop intelligent sensitivity to the impact of such a ‘flavor’, on everyone, all individuals – even those appearing “successful”. (Where does this flavor come from?, How deep are historically based roots?, How does such a flavor influence ‘felt comfort’ and ‘felt community’ in all of us?: These are only three questions to be asked in a study of malaise in current American culture.)
In a genuinely more compassionate and improved society – the one we are well-advised to begin to imagine, we will want to reduce or eliminate the kinds of action we’ve seen taken by this extremely angry (and apparently extremely confused) person in Arizona. One can refer back to Bill Zeller’s story, to the NFL study, to confirm: we are quite askew.
We need to know why, we need to know how we got here, we need to know what it is about ‘humans’ that let us develop along hierarchical lines, structures that accept absence of full opportunity for so many.
A study of ‘who we seem to be now’ is insufficient – human cultural practices are trans-generational in development. We need to study our current (national and global) economic malaise in the context of hundreds of years of development to our current system.
We need to embrace our humanity, we need to embrace our relationship to this earth .
Questions need to be asked. Creative thinking needs to be encouraged. “What would be ideal?” needs attention, as if it were possible.
We simply cannot know possibilities unless we shift to a reasoned search for healing.
Crossroads, cusps, walls as barrier — we’re here. What do we propose to do in response?
Best New Year to You, With Hopes for Curious, Compassionate, Study and Inventiveness, Across this Unfolding 21st Century!