Relationship, not Integers

As much as I avoid it, there can be something to be gained by listening to public radio once in a while. On a long drive over the holiday I heard a piece on studies being done analyzing the differences between an innate logarithmic sense of quantity and rational, integer-based counting. A French developmental psychologist described his work on this innate sense that is shared by many creatures and is the default manner in which non-civilized people confront questions of quantity. This ability is based, as is all perception, on logarithmic scales. What matters is how the total changes and if it changes proportionately. In this way of seeing what is halfway between one and nine is three.

This is perplexing at first, especially if we are hearing about it in spoken words or reading them on a page. If we have an array of something in front of us and we square it by multiplying it by itself, this logarithmic sense is quite intuitive.

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What they have also been finding is that the process that takes young children out of this intuitive perception and into our construct of integers is an acculturated violent series of actions. We are indoctrinated, assaulted, broken, and eventually we succumb to the idea that what matters about number is how many integers separate two quantities.

This is celebrated – as it was by the dupes to the status quo who ran the show – as a great boon! Otherwise, how would we have ever invented public radio? This is a clear case of the victors writing history and making themselves the heroes. What is missing from the celebration is, what is lost?

Measure, proportion, relation; are all drowned out by the abstraction that what matters is a precise quantity of abstracted integers that separate whatever we are looking at and remove them from any larger context. We practice accumulation, atomization, and all manner of reductive thinking under this spell.

This is where the technological attitude is born and how it is defended. This attitude towards quantity is directive, hierarchical, abstracting. It constantly erodes any awareness of the whole, constantly reinforcing illusions of certainty and a false sense of precision.

There is violence in the defeat of each developing child’s innate sense of quantity. This defeat shared by all non-civilized people when they are run down by the juggernaut. A defeat everyone’s ancestors suffered at some point, and that each of us went through at a very early age.

This is how civilization is propagated and maintained.

Previous victims who have internalized the abuse done to them, to us, we pass along to the next generation.

This can seem sinister, from a certain perspective. Just as it seems totally innocent and necessary to those who carry it out.

These two views illustrate the dangers of sentiment decoupled from mindfulness. Both hold reservoirs of violence ready to be unleashed covertly or overtly against one’s “enemies.”

In that unerring trick of all projections, the results they see in their opponents view is characterized as “barbaric.” The unacknowledged darkness within is projected upon their other.

This dynamic of violence is at the heart of being civilized. The depth and virulence of resistance to this realization by those held in its thrall is its psychological proof.

“Who let the straw-men out?”

We call out the hounds to defend our assumptions. Out pour the straw-men. Whenever an unexamined verity is challenged, instead of accepting, even relishing, doubt we defend what’s been questioned by posing ridiculous alternatives. The quicker we come up with something, the more preposterous it sounds, the better.

“Should we raise our children as savages?”

“How could we do anything if we didn’t insist sometimes?”

The point is to shift into anger and shut-down any more nuanced capacities we may have lurking within our organism that might lead us away from our beloved over-simplifications.

Civilization is built upon this illusion of certainty. It is maintained with the power this unleashes over our selves and others.

This is the certainty of the mad man. But, it is our willingness to break with health and sanity so easily that has given civilization its temporary advantages.*

*Temporary is a relative term. Civilization can, and has, lasted for thousands of years. What makes it temporary is that it focuses its energies on its own destruction, albeit in a round-about manner. It is the insanity of the “Last Man Standing.”

Wealth, the chasing after an accumulation of advantages, is the gathering of an ability to insulate the mad man from the consequences of his insanity. Wealth defends those who are wrong. It extends their abilities to over-reach. Wealth is the opposite – not of poverty which is its only result – but of intelligence.

Intelligence is the capacity to navigate uncertainty. Wealth smothers our abilities to maintain contact with uncertainty. It guarantees – logarithmically – that we will respond with less intelligence. It ensures that we will be much more likely to react to situations instead of responding with creativity.

In the previously intelligent, wealth does result in an increasing unease, an inchoate foreboding that something is amiss, that some thing is missing. Some thing is wrong.

But within wealth’s dynamic our responses are conditioned and limited to reaction. We insist that our defense of our wealth, and its continued increase, must be maintained at any cost. We point at encroaching poverty overwhelming all those “below” us. We insist this is the driving force behind our panic. Our fear and rage blinds us to the direct connections between this “creation” of wealth and the proliferation of poverty.

Insecurity drives us into further accumulation which makes us more insecure. This is the motivation behind the wealth-pumps that have been and continue to grind up what is left of this world and turn it into lack, into poverty, into extinction.

A two year old would see this clearly. A “lost tribesman” would too. They are each incredulous that those so much more powerful than they are would persist in such folly with such vehement determination.

At least until they are overtaken and consumed by the juggernaut. At this point, the survivors come to accept in their defeat that five is halfway between one and nine…

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6 thoughts on “Relationship, not Integers

  1. Tony,

    Indeed , so much is lost to our attempts to measure everything. Inane levels of precision. What is lost in precision is craft.

    My wife and I love to make bread. The only ingredients we measure are the water and yeast. But in the industrialized food industry, and in the world of guaranteed recipes, everything needs to be so precise. The water has to be an exacting temperature, the yeast has to be weighed, the flour weighed precisely, the bread dough proofed accurately to the minute, the amount of dough measured to the nearest gram. Each loaf of the industrial product is an exact clone of the other, and each loaf as bland and tasteless as the rest.

    When we make bread, we feel the water to see if it is warm enough, we slowly awaken the yeast and add a dollop of honey or sorghum to make it happy. We may add a bit of salt for taste. We add the flour slowly until the dough feels right. We shelve the dough and let it raise as it wants. We make small adjustments along the way , instinctively, to adjust to changes in humidity and barometric pressure, but we don’t go to instruments to do so, we just look out the window. when we bake the bread, we don’t rely on how long it bakes with any precision, but to how the loaves sound when tapped with a wooden spoon, and the richness of the crust’s brownness.

    When a visitor comments on the quality of our bread, they love the flavor , texture and smell of our lowly loaves. When they ask for the recipe, and find out that it is so simple they are astonished. All the ingredients are readily available except one. Love! It is not a bunch of fancy recipes, or a great deal of precision, or a fancy range. It is knowing what dough should feel like, respecting the yeast, loving hand crafting of loaves, and knowing what the product of our own making smells and feels and sounds like when done. This is craft. It is something not measurable, something valuable, It’s something to partake in and something to share.

    Precision only serves the technological and the technological only serves to make greater demands on precision.

    John

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