This phrase just popped into my head after reading Alex Fradera’s post on an event he led at Atlantic College recently. To be clear, and fair to Alex, it’s not directed at him! I’m not even quite sure what it means, that’s what sitting down to write this is for. It just seemed a nice play on the old Clintonian Neo-Liberal dodge about the economy….
I love the the term holographic used in the way he’s used it here. He refers to its original definition, that something is transparently itself. As in a handwritten signature. Both the name and the writing speak of the fact that it was made by and refers to the person who wrote it. This relates to the Holographic Principle in physics, that the information provided on a surface can give us all that need be known about what is inside of its bounded volume. In this way again referring to a form of transparency. In a big way, it is all holographic! If we can read anything clearly we find the ways in which it is transparent, the way its parts hold its entirety, its surface depicting what we could discern if we dissected its interior. Of course the trick is in being able to shift perspectives and sidestep one’s illusions and projections so as to be able to read what is there. In the end, it can become yet another ideal that requires us to transcend our fallibility to meet its unreasonable expectations.
Still, it is an antidote to all the whining about how difficult everything is. Difficult in the sense that it is so hard to decipher what is really going on. That reality doesn’t meet expectations. That we can be nothing but confused unless our reality is subjected to a thorough scrubbing of oversimplification and predigested interpretation. So many times all we need to do is calm down and let the clarity within our situation bubble up and just show through. Insight as transparency, as finding the right trick of the light so as to have its holographic sense shine through.
Isn’t this what he went through on realizing that instead of forcing – in this case a democratizing principle – it would show through even more clearly if he just let it come out? This illustrates a key element of intended holography. What we want to be transparent will actually be more genuinely transparent if we don’t attempt to force it!
In the end this connects with the principle of action without intention. It connects to the basic trust underlying how we let go of intention and allow what will happen to happen. In these cases, we are acknowledging that transparency is already there. That our efforts to force the issue only cloud the issue. It’s like a chance meeting in a doorway with everyone going all polite on each other, “You first! No, You first!” Bowing and scraping, and hesitating and false-stepping, and stepping back again and getting all embarrassed! What could have been handled well on an instinctive level as a smooth and transparent transaction has been rendered sclerotic!
We tend to think of letting go of intention as a passive response. It is supremely active! Especially in this sense that we need to actively cultivate a trust in what will be. And a reflecting trust that we will be able, much better able, to meet what emerges if we are not trapped in the tangles of intention and its metabolites.
I run into this frequently with the way people respond to the imperfections of a social situation and the way it has been handled. Say an event is held. Its organizers have done what they could to make it open and inviting. They have stated they wish for participants to feel welcomed and their input will be valued. Then the whole thing, or usually some aspect of the thing doesn’t go in the way we’ve expected. It’s now a case of our having been wronged! Defenses go up, righteousness raises its mighty sword, and we’ve found a new betrayal! This can be anything from a lunch date gone sour to a Constitutional Congress.
Our failure to see the holographic truth is in our selective vision and our willingness to get caught up in a cascade of intention, both actual and ascribed. Stepping back and gaining insight into its true holographic nature would allow us all to sidestep this descent into psychodrama and actually get something done. Like a belligerent drunk, we still have to be led away, throwing snarls and curses back over our shoulders!
Another aspect of reality’s holographic nature is played out in the managerial impulse that has infested the last say one-hundred-and-fifty years. Whenever something appeared to be understood we immediately proceeded to attempt to manage how it would manifest. The underlying assumption being that in so doing we would be able to control that aspect of reality. That we would know what to do, that our manipulation would be beneficial was taken as a given. Of course we knew what was best! If only – fill in the blank – didn’t interfere! Our plan was perfect!
Alex’s brave self-criticism shows how far this has penetrated our psyches. As with so much of what passes as System Theory attests, even when all the evidence we unearth points to the fallacy behind these attempts at control, we find it almost impossible to let it go! We just fold it all into an ongoing managerial project. Our blind-spot is just too big, and our misunderstanding fits its shape perfectly.
This brings us to the limits of consensus. I’ve written on dissensus before. It is the opposite of consensus. But unless we can see it as more than just an opposition, the other pole shining there in a mirror, the reflection of our original position, we haven’t seen what it offers us.
The key is in the difference in the way consensus and dissensus deal with certainty and our urge to manage. Consensus in the ideal is a commingling of opinions that lead to an arrived at single-mindedness. What could go wrong?
In reality consensus is a stage-managed series of power plays in which all sorts of subterfuge is used to create the appearance of unanimity. There is no underlying belief or trust left that real agreement can be found. After all, I have all the answers! You are wrong! This leaves us to struggle and strive, to crave after the power to overwhelm resistance and manage our way into a controlling position. Then we can accomplish all the good we know is in our hearts. No tyrant ever sees himself as evil, only wronged.
Dissensus is a very different response to a situation. I cannot know enough, nor can I know myself well enough, to be able to handle a position of unbalanced power. Control is an illusion. Power strips us of the strength to face reality and sends us spiraling into ever deeper delusion. Macbeth anyone?
Striving for consensus validates single-mindedness however it might be achieved or simulated. In either case it mistakes agreement with truth. It places a social construct, an alignment of wills, above an alignment with what is.
Dissensus rejects this bargain. It accepts the messiness of our view of what is and the slope of truth that maintains what is as primal over what we assume it to be. It asks us to look harder at whatever might be blocking a transparent view; that the fault is in us, and not in our situation, or in the way others perceive it, and act on it. It accepts our responsibility to resist the urge to become righteous. We are as likely to be wrong as anyone else on the face of it.
It does not wash away our responsibilities to act as we see fit, it just removes the artificial props of self-justification. It pushes us to admit that any Utopia we might imagine will inevitably lead to horror just as every other such fantasy has done in the past. We are led to hold back on the urge to manage, to seek out bargains after chimerical powers that only erode our strength.
I’m reminded of the lack of fanaticism in the animal world. The way a predator is always ready to accept that an attack might just be a bad idea right now and slink away. We tend to see this as the “Heroic Lion” showing feet of clay. When what it does point to is a creature firmly certain of the limits of her own certainty and always ready to modify her behavior, to accept a check on her will. She may not like it, but she does back away, and live to eat another day. She does not confuse her strength with Power.
This is where dissensus keeps our awareness of the holographic nature of reality from descending into another ideal that we follow off the cliff of apparent control. Realizing that we can only be slightly more or less insightful, depending on how well we can let go and trust that what is will show us glimpses of its transparency; we align our trust with something beyond our subjectivity and its pitfalls. In so doing we are not only more effective at seeing more clearly, but we may be able to discover inputs that we can offer that while they will not meet the desire for perfection and utopian idealism, they will also not be merely self-serving “pragmatic” power-plays.
My hunch is that a few cycles of that sort of dynamic will put us in alignment with the sort of evolutionary drives that appear to actually be the way things work when we drop our blinders and let go of attempting to force our control. On one side we have a way of acting that leads inexorably to “unintended consequences” that in hindsight always seem to be holographically transparent in their failure. On the other is the possibility of replacing the strength sapping effects of an addiction to power and control, an insistence that we own the truth, with a way of being that brings us clarity and strength to face what is with our faculties unblocked and our eyes open.
18 thoughts on “It’s All Holographic, Stupid!”
Thanks for this post, it’s good and very interesting. I have a few thoughts in response.
First, what you write about “the holographic truth” reminds me of something I heard very recently. Carol Gilligan, the author of In a Different Voice and Joining the Resistance (http://www.polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745651699) described the experience of gender socialization as “requiring us to not know what we know.” She was referring to both men and women, to the polarisation of the masculine self and the feminine self and their suppression into socially-approved gender roles and behaviours.
Interestingly, she also spoke about our tendencies to suppress our emotions and to distort them in order to fit ourselves into the social order. In fact she referred to this as dissociation, a response to the pain of trauma. She was describing her work with children, and referred to one of her subjects, a little boy, who was talking about an incident in which his mother was feeling sad. When he asked her why she was sad, she said something like ‘oh, no, I’m not sad, I’m just tired’ in order to shield him from the painful circumstances. Nonetheless, he could feel the emotion behind her dodge. What he said about it was “I saw the face behind her face that she didn’t want me to see.” Carol Gilligan used this as an example of ‘knowing what we know’ – that is, knowing what we sense, and what we feel. We are discouraged from connecting with this, though, and from expressing it. The feeling self is dismissed as childish – perhaps disruptive, perhaps belligerent?
So for instance in the Occupy movements, there has been a great deal of criticism aimed at any idealism or passion expressed by protesters. These are maligned as weaknesses rather than strengths, evidence of a lack of organization or civic responsibility.
Along the same lines, I am curious about your example of an event such as a Constitutional Congress, in which participants feel wronged. You say “Its organizers have done what they could to make it open and inviting. They have stated they wish for participants to feel welcomed and their input will be valued.” However, a gap may exist between what is stated and what occurs. You may well ask why people are protesting – surely their input has already been valued via the correct instruments of a democratic society? They have been welcomed to provide their input, via the formal political process? So why then are they protesting?
If the organizers of the Congress hold the power to grant input they also implicitly hold the power to deny it; if they hold the power to validate someone’s input by valuing it, they also hold the power to deny its value. This seems to be the relationship you are describing between organizer and participant. Should the participants not then more accurately be called supplicants?
I’m glad you caught something that needs to be taken further.
If we connect the first experience, of “knowing what we know” to the second experience of that hypothetical congress, we get to the point. It does have to do with authority, but I would place that authority in another place. The child seeing the “face beyond the face” is puzzled. He or she will probably, because of emotional immaturity, feel that the cause of that discomfort hidden by the mother was really something they had done. This becomes a step on the way to building up a neuroses around repressing feelings and internalizing blame. The second example is of adults dealing with each other. If we make the mistake of investing authority in the organizers, and then act as consumers of an experience, then we have abdicated our responsibility to our own lives. That their intentions and the outcome are different doesn’t come as a surprise or as a betrayal, it is just a fact that all intention and all perception imperfectly captures experience. If we apply “knowing what we know” – including this aspect of what we know – we can navigate a very different situation. Instead of polarizing ourselves and re-living an old psycho-drama over and over again we can cut through to more direct engagement with the whole point of the interaction. This may include passionate disagreement with the way someone else is behaving, but it precludes the sense of righteousness that comes upon us so easily and transports us away from any possibility of doing anything other than re-playing old roles. What is given is that we are each responsible for what we take from a situation. It does not belong to whoever seemingly initiated it, even if they claim to control it. They are misled if they think their intention will follow through unchanged. And they are deluded if they think they control how anyone else will respond. If we abet them by accepting their error and making it our own then we are complicit in the failure. If we insist on remaining in whatever state of reaction this has led to we are just doing this to ourselves. It becomes a case of misunderstood proprioception.
One other key distinction your earlier points bring to mind is that letting go, or suspension of an emotional response, is not another name for repressing ourselves. Repression comes out of willing ourselves to control our emotions. Believing that we can overpower them. Suspension comes out of a realization that our reactions are the result of a situation triggering our conditioning and calling forth a reaction. That reaction is not caused by what anyone else is doing to us – those responses are handled in a very different and more matter-of-fact manner. Think of how we might respond to an unambiguous fault by another. We will defend ourselves in a straightforward manner, or we will forgive an obvious error. We will not get caught up in a strong emotional response before acting, although we might feel it after the fact. The kind of situation that leads to righteous anger is different. It comes from an identification with what we see as coming from the outside as something we are ambivalent about, or have strong negative feelings about, within ourselves. This throws us off-balance and we get caught-up in an escalating emotional response which has effects that are internal. We don’t slap the offending hand, we burn out our stomach lining in rage. Suspending those reactions defuses them. It allows us to then examine what it is that has us so much on edge. At that point we are likely to see in it that we do “know what we know” about this too. A response to this comes out as a re-balancing of our own equilibrium. After this, the same stimuli from another doesn’t lead to the same response. We are now free of the conditioned dead-end, double-bind, stereotypical reaction and can either address it directly or ignore it as unimportant. This action is not driven. It is not something we have to screw ourselves up to strive after, it just comes out as it’s needed.
Looking outside of ourselves for the sources of discouragement is related. If we remain power-centric instead of looking for ways to build and maintain our strength, we will look to others for encouragement or discouragement. In either case these are trades we make of strength for a bargain that is expected to give us power. If power is a trap, then this will always end badly. The strength we build maintains our sense of our own authority. Authority not in the sense of a power over others, but of inhabiting our own skin.
So, to answer your last question directly, no. Unless we are coerced into attendance and reduced to pleading for our lives, we are not supplicants unless we volunteer ourselves to that state in the ways outlined above. We are participants. We are also not responsible for what anyone else takes from what has occurred. Each is free to come to their own conclusions. We may either agree or disagree, but not having righteousness available to fuel our drive for power we respect that there are limits to what we understand of their position just as there are in the other direction. This too is part of a developed sense of the holographic nature of reality. If we suspend our reactions long enough to take a breath, we see that the egotistical blinders of over-reaction do not help us to be more effective, and that they are self-imposed and can be self-suspended in favor of a lighter touch.
Hi Tony, thank you for putting me straight. A few responses:
By what model are you establishing a concept such as ‘emotional immaturity’ and accordingly, establishing a difference between a child and an adult? Who is it that defines this and by what paradigm is it being defined? And to what degree is the term ‘mature’ being used as a measure of moral integrity?
In my opinion, the little boy in the example is more emotionally competent than the mother: he is able to identify his mother’s sadness despite her effort to conceal it, and he recognizes that the mother’s presentation of her self is disconnected from her own feelings. The act of taking it upon himself and internalizing blame (a false story) occurs because the mother has set the precedent: a denial of what is there, in order to maintain a more comfortable social fiction (likewise a false story.) But the energy of the feeling is still there, and if the adult will not own it, then the child may well feel compelled to take it and internalise it as an act of sacrifice to spare the adult. I agree with you that it would be good and beneficial for that cycle to be broken. Though personally I would trust the child in this case, as offering the approach more likely to bring them into an emotionally healthy interaction.
I do understand (I think I do anyway, at least cognitively!) your differentiation between power and strength. In my opinion, one vital way to build personal strength and to outgrow old roles is to learn how to identify and recognize one’s emotions, and to accept responsibility for feeling them and for acting upon them. I agree with your point about an action not being the same as the feeling itself, and the opportunities this affords us for responding creatively. But I believe that our social conditioning – and in particular, our gender conditioning – interferes deeply with what courses of action we allow ourselves to take, and what social response meets us from others. A woman is commonly discouraged from expressing anger, a man is commonly discouraged from expressing fear or vulnerability. They may elect to express it – and they may do that skillfully or they may do it clumsily – but in doing so they will very likely meet with social censure.
The difference between repression and suspension is a fair point. I’m just not sure how successfully someone might suspend an emotion and manage their response if they have been socially discouraged from feeling, recognizing and naming it for what it is. Negative emotions are commonly condemned, and positive emotions exalted – they are assigned moral status and preferred one over the other as a good and acceptable way to feel or a bad and unacceptable way to feel. Moral status is assigned to emotions through the vehicles of language and behavior, and this is often tangled up in gender roles and expectations. A recent example of this was David Cameron telling a female colleague to “calm down, dear” ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13207256 ) – something he would be unlikely to say to a male colleague.
You imply (I think?) that to experience burning rage is the result of an act of will. Would you say the same about an experience of joyful elation? Mind you, I’m not disagreeing with the impact they each have: rage hurts, joy heals. I just don’t think that it is possible, useful or desirable to embrace the positive while denying the negative. They both exist in human emotions and in human experience. Why not embrace them both as gifts of the experience of being alive?
That’s an interesting way to put it, “putting me straight.” I wouldn’t think such an effort would warrant thanks.
This is another question dealing with authority. It appears to hold an assumption that authority is the prize at the end of a competition. This is the realm of debate or negotiation, not of dialogue. It assumes that, in this case, I am interested in changing minds, setting people upon a certain path, winning converts, starting and maintaining a movement. If that were so, perhaps I’d call this blog “Setting you straight” instead of Horizons of Significance.
I write, as I’ve said here repeatedly to find insights that I then either accept or challenge or develop further by writing some more. I do this publicly because of a desire to be of use. The kind of use I expect to provide is as a record of how this one person has gone through these conditions at this time and has had these things come to mind about it. It is a search for anyone who would care to reciprocate with elements of their own journey. It is not, or it would be a pretty lame way to do, any of those other things that could be described as an effort to set anyone straight. I’ve written about the pitfalls, traps, and general bad-idea-ness of doing that probably as much as I’ve touched on any topic.
Of course I could be lying….
Another point is that in responding to any comments here I am again writing publicly. Whatever reaction the person who wrote what I respond to has, effecting a change in that reaction is not the primary purpose of writing a response for me. I find elements that seem to bring up certain patterns of thought that I put out again for the two reasons cited in the last paragraph. If I thought I could set people straight I’d be a bigger fool than I give myself credit for, or a charlatan.
An insistence on couching this interchange as a power play, with winners and losers, is not my intention, and I resist the implication that it must be that and can be nothing else. I would say that for me such an insistence in another is a refusal to enter into dialogue. It seems to be connected with a refusal to see that authority is internal and not something to be fought over. It’s also not something to be imposed on another either actively or passively. I reject being twisted into that as the only alternative to silence.
The little boy I once was, and that I carry with me, was not – and is not – looking for admirers or followers. He just wanted to be treated as a child and protected by an adult. Instead he was treated as an adult and left to fend for himself. The last thing he wanted was to be admired for his wonderful innocence, or followed because he was genuine in his pain. I think the distinction between immature and mature responses is quite straightforward. Look at any creature and the differences are clear. The immature is only partially developed and cannot see or fulfill the full duties and responsibilities of the mature. In humans perhaps more than in other creatures, or just the same as in other creatures when their expected paths of development have been thwarted, we are not locked into a direct correlation between age and maturity. Whether it’s a fledgling bird or an immature human the transition between these phases requires tremendous effort and an acceptance of internal responsibility for the outcome. Analyzing the faults of care-givers takes us only so far. In the end the bird or the human are faced with the terrible reality of taking flight and they do that alone. Effort that remains in settling scores and appreciating past pains and slights does nothing to help in the effort required to make that leap.
At the risk of sounding unappealing, in my consideration, I see an insistence on any one defining characteristic as setting anyone apart from everyone else who does not share that characteristic as unhelpful. It is an insistence on remaining within a polarized view of the world and that insistence maintains power struggle as the only available option. “I am weak because I am this and not that. So I must find power to compensate for that weakness. Then I will be able to control all those who made me weak.” This rationalization is not helpful if we are looking to find connections and ways to broaden our integration with Being.
I’ve just more or less begun an investigation of power versus strength. Even that statement is suspect, though, as it can be taken as a simple polarity. I have written about the two in that manner though. I do see some value in following that lead. Although I expect the process to lead to something that steps out of that bind.
For now, what I have is a sense that when we see the world in the terms of power, we are confronted by a profound lack that we are desperate to fill. The act of filling that lack seems to be endless and without resolution. There seems to be a connection between this and the way a hunger for power seems to strip us of whatever strength we might have and certainly usurps whatever attention and effort we might put into maintaining or building strength. This appears to be the way the pursuit of power makes us ever weaker and more needy. This seems to hold true whether we’re talking about a hegemonic imperial force or a child struggling to find a way through a catastrophic upbringing. What is so supremely seductive about power is that we are able to find a limitless number of justifications for remaining in its pursuit even as we suffer from its diminishing returns. This is the meat of Tragedy. Every tragic tale is a recounting of how someone has followed their justifications right off a cliff. No tyrant sees himself as a bad person, as evil. They are wronged. There are extenuating circumstances why the rules don’t apply to them. They are just redressing a grievance, restoring a balance. To me this is a lesson that this pursuit is something I don’t want any part of.
From my present condition I don’t know if there is any possibility for power to have any other than a tragic effect. As I see it now it is at best a distraction from establishing and maintaining a position of strength. In common parlance the two are muddled. An armed forces is supposed to bring a nation strength by accumulating power. A “stronger” engine is supposed to give us its power. I see this as similar to the way Control and Mastery are confused. I use these terms to connect to power or strength, and not interchangeably. It seems to be more useful to see that a slave master is really a slave controller. While a Zen Master is not someone who has controlled anyone, least of all herself, but is someone who has practiced a path that has brought her strength to a high level of development.
One of the pathways the pursuit of power uses to take over our attention is to foster the habit of looking to silly, but powerful people and giving them our attention. Not that the leader of the British Government is someone we can ignore without some risk, but the ways in which we owe it to ourselves to be attentive would not be in following whatever silly things he might say, but watching out for where he plants that colossus’ feet. It’s a question of dealing with magicians – and I don’t mean the real kind like the Archdruid, but the regular kind who fool us by leading us to misdirect our attention. Once we recognize that someone like that would rather we focus on the silly things coming out of his mouth, then he, or his handlers, are better able to do what it is they have set out to do. It’s probably a matter of consolidating power. That’s the important thing they tell us. They are fully locked into viewing the world as a power struggle. They will do anything to increase their sense of their power. Those acts will have horrible consequences for us all. If we look to them either to validate what we consider important, or as models for how to get what we want, then we have failed before we’ve done much of anything.
The history of he twentieth century can be seen as a series of attempts to manage and control large masses of people through focusing their powerful emotional responses into channels that benefited a power-elite. Throughout that history no one got very far by marketing Joy. The closest they came was in selling an ersatz ecstasy of one sort or another. The best mileage has always come from exploiting fear and generating rage. Instead of calling certain emotions positive and others negative, this only kicks the can of what those valuations mean down the road, I would want to look at whether we can see that some emotions open us to integration and clarity while others deprive us of these possibilities and make us easy to manage.
The key to this is that we are not just subjected to other people who want to control or manage us. We are easily conditioned, in my case through that unprotected childhood experience, to internalize this desire. It doesn’t matter who is attempting to do this to us, except in how we may respond. If someone else is trying to whip up our emotions to control us we can refuse to accept their siren call. If we are the ones doing it to ourselves – and in the end, it’s this internalization of the oppressor that makes it all work – we can only get out of this trap by following some practice that helps us “know what we know.” Here is where suspension of manipulative emotional responses comes in.
I can’t see how rage, the self-destructive and willful desire to assume control over one’s self and others is an embraceable part of my life. Not that I never tried! It only brought with it pain and more pain, and increasing weakness that led me to want to spread it around as widely as possible. This often led me to look to death as an answer.
Death is a part of life, but not as a choice to embrace it in a panic of fear and rage at being unable or unwilling to accept what life is offering. This is a toxic simulacra, not the real thing.
To go back to why I write what I write, it is because it gives me the possibility of reflecting on what I have been thinking. This is the greatest opportunity to “know what we know” about ourselves. Reading what we write as if it were outside us – as it is, once we put down thoughts they then have an external existence – we can then look for the holographic qualities it can present about ourselves that we cannot see in any other way.
Ok – thanks for your insights! I’ll record some elements of my own journey in response.
I think the distinction between immature and mature responses is not straightforward at all. The differences are not clear to me when I look at any creature. Maturity is a concept of measurement that can be applied to different states of being, relative to one another. Physical maturity is not necessarily synonymous with emotional maturity, and neither of those are necessarily synonymous with social maturity.
When you refer to “full responsibilities and duties” this suggests to me you are referring to social maturity. I would define social maturity as the possession of individual agency allowing for equal participation with other people in a community. We began however with the concept of ‘emotional immaturity’ which you introduced in your first reply comment. I don’t believe there is such a thing as emotional maturity, there are only emotions, and social maturity which may be an agreed or indeed imposed standard of how to respond to emotions via one’s attitude and behavior management.
If we go back to my original suggestion (or rather, Carol Gilligan’s), it is that a child is more likely to be in tune with ‘knowing what they know’ than an adult is, for the very reason that they have not invested themselves with the responsibilities and duties of social maturity. I will give you an example. I attended an event over a year ago, at which many adults were gathered. A great deal of conviviality was experienced among those gathered, tempered throughout by the usual negotiations of social skills and personal presentation. This was contrasted most vividly for me with an experience I had toward the end of that event, in which I happened to catch the eye of a baby looking at me from over her mother’s shoulder. We made eye contact and said ‘hello’ to one another in this way; her face lit up with an enormous smile, and so did mine. There was joy in the connection, and in ‘knowing what we know’ – unfettered by responsibility or duty to fit within prescribed social rules. Meanwhile the adults all interacted with ‘emotionally mature’ goodwill and mutual respect, and we conversed in the heady realm of the intellect, but any display of vulnerability or emotion was swiftly patched and realigned to meet social norms. On the whole, we behaved ourselves (and is that then a reflexive verb or an active verb with direct object?)
All emotions will swell and subside, when they are allowed to exist rather than avoided and bypassed. In my opinion, emotions are part of the experience of Being that you refer to, and so in that respect, I do consider rage an embraceable part of my life, one that will subside if I trust myself to the experience of it, and accept it is a natural response within me to some trigger in my environment – as opposed to slapping some socially-approved guilt and shame over it and distorting it into a personal failing. In my opinion, the only thing that will prevent an emotion from subsiding is to pretend that I can rise above it somehow or avoid the pain of feeling it – to behave myself out of it, like the lyrics in the Gothic Archies song: “Have you no dignity? Have you no sense of style? You’ll never be pretty until you smile.” If I can feel the pain of rage and allow it to subside, then I can also feel the healing pleasure of joy, which too will subside. If I don’t feel my emotions then I may just as well be dead.
I believe the surrender to feeling emotions could be considered a holographic experience leading to as much personal enlightenment as writing things down and reading the words. In my experience, words tend to create as many boundaries as they do connections, no matter how they are intended when formed (these ‘dialogues’ with you are a good example!); and after all, language is only one of many tools at our disposal.
The baby I met at that event had the capacity to connect with another person and surrender to her subsequent joy and she expressed this without inhibition in a beaming smile; she will also have had the capacity in other circumstances to howl in rage in a most obnoxious and anti-social manner. Her rage will have been an uninhibited expression of distress at some hurt that is imposing itself upon her (hunger, wetness, pain) which may also include fear of disconnection from her sources of survival (isolation.) In all these instances, the uninhibited expression is a declaration of vulnerability.
I bring up vulnerability because by meeting my eye the baby was exposing herself to a risk: I could have responded by looking past her altogether, or with a cold stare of superiority, in response to which I imagine she would have at least looked away in discomfort, or she may have reacted with fear, perhaps crying, and perhaps even a defensive rage.
You describe maturity as an acceptance of internal responsibility for the outcome [of a transition from partial to full development.] This seems to me to be another case of the limits of language. I may be misunderstanding what you are getting at, but here’s what I think. First, I think that the word responsibility in this sentence refers to a social contract of some sort, it is a relational concept. It implies that there is an obligation to be met, from one entity toward another. So I would suggest that it is worth asking by what source the obligation is being imposed – from whom and upon whom, and for what purpose and to whose benefit.
Regarding your reference to partial and full development: who defines the parameters of these states and on what model is the definition based? To me it sounds like the current status quo model of human development which is wrapped up in the same concept of progress that is driving our industrial civilization. That something may exist in a partial state in respect to a potential ideal state, and at some objectively determined point it will reach the full state. I am not sure that the current status quo model of human development is entirely helpful or universally accepted.
Next, you suggest that there is internal responsibility for an outcome of transition from a partial to a full state of development. I can’t see how this differs from the will to control, in that it is imposing a change in the state of something else. Your statement seems to be saying that maturity is measured by the success or failure to achieve a desired outcome, namely the arrival at a stage of ‘full’ development from a stage of ‘partial’ development.
Perhaps you will steer me again to the straightforwardness of maturity, and point out that adults obviously have greater maturity in every respect than babies. Ultimately though, we are all of us as vulnerable as babies; like babies, we cannot survive on our own, no matter what stage our development. Any parent understands that it is impossible even for an adult to protect a child from pain, and no parent ever feels ‘fully developed’ in their capacity for the job.
A final element of response: I mentioned David Cameron’s remark as a publicly accessible example of someone using language in such a way that reveals a different attitude toward one type of person (in this case, a woman) than toward another type of person (a man.) You’re absolutely right that the example was a trivial one. And I agree that I would do better to be attentive, not to “whatever silly things he might say” but to the magician’s tricks that plant the collosus’ feet, as you say. Those magician’s tricks were apparent in the internal memo circulated within his government last month:
“ [The document] cites an “urgent need to up our game on communications about what we’re doing”. It says: “We are clear that there are a range of policies we have pursued as a government which are seen as having hit women, or their interests, disproportionately.” The document mentions public sector pay and pensions as an example, “particularly as contrasted with – mostly male – bankers, in the popular narrative”. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/13/government-plan-win-back-women
Anna Bird, Acting Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society [which campaigns for gender equality in the UK] responded accordingly: “We welcome government recognition that women feel targeted by cuts in public spending. Fawcett has long warned that job losses in the public sector, drastic reductions in spending on benefits and public services and the looming care gap will leave women facing a triple jeopardy. It’s not that these policies aren’t a vote winner- it’s that they are devastating for the opportunities of women and their families across the UK. Sadly, it appears the government thinks the problem is one of perception – not reality.” http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=1244
Well, I don’t know: maybe those in power are right, and it is all a matter of perception. After all, they’ve assured me that ‘we’re all in this together’, so I would do better to hold faith rather than undermine myself and others with this divisive sort of distraction. As you say, I should look to my Strength, learn to suspend my emotions, and reflect upon what is written, and what is thought, as the “greatest opportunity to ‘know what we know.’”
I’ve repeatedly stressed that suspension of self-hurting emotional responses has nothing to do with what you keep returning to as the only alternative to embracing self-punishment. I’m not sure how else I can say it that might make this clear.
I was the recipient of the need by an adult to maintain that same power dynamic over me that I feel underlies your experience with that infant – if it is taken as anything more than a nice moment of unfiltered Joy. As an adult, we need to deal with children and adults within the realms of behavior that are appropriate. Being frustrated at the “complications” of adult society and using that to justify infantile connections is in my experience a recipe for disaster. It objectifies the child as a powerless individual that is being used by an adult to justify an escape from the requirements of adult life. The infant cannot choose to maintain that kind of relationship and if the growing child is forced to stay at that level of powerlessness and is continually used for the purposes of feeding an adult’s self-image they are in serious danger and face irreparable harm. I was there.
Because of the one-sided power dynamic we cannot enter into negotiations with infants we can only help them or get out of the way of those who are willing to help them. A baby’s vulnerability is absolute. They have no choice but to howl or smile or do what they do instinctively in ways that were meant to instinctively draw a helpful response. Treating that as a “Right” to be angry as an adult is an incredible stretch!
If you followed any aspect of what I’ve been writing for some years now, I would be surprised at the characterization that I am espousing business as usual social dominance strategies and tactics. I have no place to begin to respond to this.
The relationship to responsibility I’ve been searching out has to do with the foundations of responsibility that could be encompassed by not actively seeking to justify hurting ourselves so that we can maintain a conviction about anything. That this is a basis for finding a relationship to responsibility that begins with how we confront ourselves, with empathy and compassion instead of anger, guilt and shame. Those emotions are useful, but not an insistence that we somehow hold ourselves at some high plateau of their manifestation. They show us three things: anger points to an aspect of our self-image that disturbs us and that we project onto the other. The best way to get the “benefits” of anger would be to proceed to the next step which is to find a way to relate with our self that doesn’t require this filter so that we can make changes that bring us into a more compassionate relationship with our self. Guilt is another hopefully transient feeling that notes that there is something intruding on how we would like to see our self and that it needs attention. Anger and hate would hold us in the pain pf guilt, while empathy and compassion would give us a way to start an interior dialogue that might resolve the issue by helping us become more integrated. Shame is another transient emotion that indicates a sense of transgression. For someone unaccustomed to transgression – of either useful or destructive patterns of behavior – will quickly proceed to changing their behavior. We find that living in circumstances of extreme complicity in all sorts of shameful acts done by us or in our names either get thick-skinned and stop feeling, or are tormented and become fixated on the high of extreme emotion. There’s nothing fated about how we respond to any of these emotions. We do have a choice, a choice an infant does not have, in how we react or respond to these clues.
This is another case of planting an assumption on me that I would never make. Feelings of inadequacy of whatever kind come from a confrontation with futility. From a sense that we are trapped in a pattern we cannot avoid. It is never the “noble Thing” to accede to that sense of imposed and unavoidable weakness. It’s from that feeling of implied inevitability that all bargains after power stem out of. We cannot avoid pain that has occurred and we can only very imperfectly avoid circumstances that will cause us pain later. That is just the way it is. There are alternatives to how we deal with pain, to whether we allow pain to dominate us or use pain directed at others to dominate them. Looking at a child as a source of an irremediable inadequacy is the first step towards their abuse.
I’ve repeatedly brought up the lack of a place for compassion and empathy in your calculations and you never respond to that directly. My generalization is that a blindness to compassion is what under girds any power play. We cannot insist on maintaining a clash of powers and an attempt at control of another without refusing to acknowledge the role of compassion in how we relate to others.
What all of this exchange seems to boil down to for me is an attempt to enlist me in allowing you to justify conclusions you don’t want to abandon, but seem to require the approval of another to maintain. I’ve repeatedly said I can’t and won’t do that and given reasons why. Ultimately, our authority starts and ends with how we deal with our own concerns. Seeking authority outside, in my view, is at best a misunderstanding of where our responsibilities to ourselves and others lie. If you hold certain beliefs, then own them. No one else’s opinion is more important than your own unless you make it so. It’s my sense of this dynamic that a misunderstanding of proprioception, and an insistence that the only alternative to being destructively emotional is to repress and do even more violence to the self and to others, is tied into the need to find external authority to back up that view.
There are plenty out there who prey on those “needs” and who harvest followers in just this way. That’s not what I’m after.
You’ve chosen repeatedly to miss-state what I’ve written or to simply ignore what I’ve said so you can hear what you’ve wanted me to say. There is an anger evident behind this whole thread of comments that would more suitably meet your program if it weren’t so veiled. There’s a continued insistence that without my being convinced of your view I am acting as a failure – it’s unclear as to what or to whom, but I cannot see any other possible force behind your continued hostility.
There is no compulsion to reading what I write, or to considering my opinion on any matter, for anyone. It is easy enough to avoid.
Without some sign that there is any other purpose other than to attempt to force a confrontation and have me proven to have “feet of clay, just like all the rest!” I don’t see any point in continuing this exchange. If anyone else has anything to add please feel free.
It seems to me that the distinction between an organizer and a participant cannot be reduced to “or a supplicant.” In other words, there is participation, and then there is participation… a variety of states before one would get to “supplicant.”
In my own experience, most of the time when people say someone is a participant, it does not go very far. More like “an appreciator” or “enjoyer” or “witness” or “consumer of an event.” I think this is an edge issue… many of us trying to figure out how to enable full participation… and often failing. Reminds me of the 15M crowds in Spain who were reduced to just another version of spectating… albeit under the aegis of Real Democracy Now. We are all floundering…. and learning.
Thanks for your response to my reflections. I walk a line between “an unexamined life…” and a much more instinctual philosophy – the whole improv training, in the main, together with sitting practice and so forth. And it’s not always easy to draw a circle around one or other approach and charge that as the culprit for a misreading of reality. After all, the consensus approach wasn’t highly planned, but just fell into place as an obvious way to keep things flowing from the earlier talk. And it was partly the active reflection and thinking that lent me the courage to drop what wasn’t right, and then to help make sense of it after.
I spent last weekend studying with someone widely considered to be the top few improvisers in the world, who is firmly committed through her work to freeing us from the head and putting us into the moment and our bodies. But she still maintained there is a place for appraisal, after the performance, to reflect honestly on what we felt connected, whether we played generously, how to give more to our partners in the future if we feel we came up short this time. I agree. For me, as much as there is a need for us to become more animal, our particular mode of consciousness puts us into a unique position, a para-animal that we can enjoy being. (When we aren’t enjoying it, that’s a problem.)
Dissensus – I love that word as well. It’s probably fair actually to emphasise that the state I was hoping to hold a space for was more conversational and informal rather than any hard and fast consensus – precisely because, as you say, dissensus allows for humility, perspective, and the maintenance of difference.
Thanks for reading and thinking about this, Tony.
Your work is of great interest! You are bridging an enormous gap that currently exists between analysis and spontaneity.
What you describe in your first paragraph, the way you shifted how things went along is an example of recognizing that holographic nature and using insights gained from that awareness to make changes. I can imagine, having been to a few of your events, that everyone present was involved in tuning their awareness and feeling the excitement of involvement instead of the vicarious thrills of spectating.
I agree with what you describe as our para-animal nature. I would only add that perhaps animals are that way too, in varying ways and to varying degrees.
Dissensus does seem to hold promise, if we are to find ways to break with established patterns. We tend to see the comforting aspects of consensus as a benefit. I would say we should consider this to be extremely problematic. It’s not just a question of manufactured consent, any form of single-mindedness leads to damaging and destructive outcomes.
Thanks for commenting!