A Turbulent Stream

by Antonio Dias

This post grew in response to a conversation over at Leaving Babylon around questions of planning.

We imagine ourselves on stable ground, or fear that we are otherwise in a chaotic jumble. We are within dynamic flows. These take place around us and within us and can be thought of as motions upon morphic fields that affect and shape our perceptions, our judgements, our actions. Perhaps the most fundamental flaw behind our notions of planning is this misunderstanding where we stand. Let’s take globalization as an example. We are each of us in a different part of this great stream that has swept through the world. Parts of its flow are yet still, in those rare outposts where it has not yet taken hold. Parts are in full flood and other parts of its flow are reversed in counter eddies.

We imagine that as individuals we are static and that our relative movement in relation to our immediate surroundings is in some way absolute. We wonder why others – in different parts of the flow – don’t do more to respond, or in some way fail to meet our expectations of a rational response. We lash ourselves over our apparent inability to change our own position.

What we fail to consider is what the surrounding flow does to each of us even before it can be affected by our individual differences of temperament or ability.

How can any plan – a static, fossilized recipe that draws attention and effort away from what surrounds us at each moment do anything but lead us astray? Think of a brook running over stones and dropping off ledges into pools. Look at various leaves, sticks, fish, bugs, and birds at various points along its course. As they move from one part to another. If we insist on a static frame of reference we are like a pre-Copernican astronomer trying to reconcile the movements of the planets with an earth-centric conception of the universe. All sorts of elaborate machinations are needed – full of special cases and counter intuitive rules – to make it work out in any plausible approximation to what we see. That’s where we are with our plans.

Chaos is a quality of perception not a state of existence. There is only relative stability and instability. Chaos is an instability that is misunderstood or beyond our comprehension. It is part of a cosmic order that we are incapable of perceiving at a particular time. This is a good working definition of drowning.

What separates a swimmer from someone drowning is the way a swimmer acknowledges and respects the limitations of immersion in water. A person drowning rejects them. It is this rejection of their situation and its constraints that puts them in danger. A swimmer is immersed. A drowning person is not just in denial, but actively rejecting where they are and insisting that the same “rules” that work on land should apply. They attempt to climb out of the water. They close themselves off from any possibility of learning from their situation, from learning how to adapt to what almost any human body will do on its own if left to its nature. A body floats. With little trouble it can float in such a way that one can maintain breathing and maintain life. A drowning person for whatever reasons that lead up to their being overwhelmed by their condition, closes themselves off from these possibilities.

Solid ground, under the most stable of circumstances is still at most a convenient fiction. We are all, always immersed in turbulent flows that will overwhelm us if we lock-up and refuse to engage, to recognize the fact of our immersion. The habit of turning away from our direct experience, looking for “leadership,” for directions, for some plan to show us how to proceed; will only get us drowned as they divert our attention from the turbulent flow.

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