That is the problem.
We don’t know what works.
We DO know what doesn’t. The whole chasing-after-control-by-wielding-power-thing. Call it civilization. Call it whatever you want. From this abstraction; taken from a moment of survival when wielding strength brings us another chance: to eat, to be left in peace, to protect someone we care about; we take from this the idea that if we could only bottle it…. And so we come to the delusion of amassing power, chasing after control.
It’s Tolkien’s birthday. Whatever else we might say about his life’s work and the billion-dollar industry it has engendered, he did get one thing right. The Precious only brings delusion and grief to those who have it. Those who seek it.
But how do we get beyond what otherwise is no more than a sterile realization? Unless we can replace our habitual rationalizations and even deeper-acting ruts of thinking with something else; we just end up right where we started.
Illich brings up the way the corruption, of in his case Christianity, is always there in the kernel of its inception. Perhaps this is the/a mechanism that brings this about?
In the case of Christianity, as Illich lays it out, it was the turning inside-out of a revelation based on the primacy of compassion to generate an instrument of control, of domination, and subjugation that lead to its corruption. What if this is always the case?
This question leads to the possibility that suspending these urges to “do a Constantine” and make an insight into a means of aggression might be a way to avoid setting-up this opposition, to sidestep rushing headlong into corruption.
We began with the question of urgency. Looking at how urgency interferes with someone’s ability to see clearly, to get beyond reaction, we can so easily forget that what is more destructive is not the urgency we encounter in others, but the urgency we tend to allow to intrude into our own efforts. Even as we are attempting to spread word of a hygiene, or a practice, a way of being that affords us the ability to go on about our lives without succumbing to the traps of urgency.
This is where Taleb‘s sense of heuristic seems so valuable. A heuristic does not carry with it the weight and inertia of a grand conceptualization. Unlike an ideology, or even a theory, a heuristic is a simple flag on a gate and not a whole structure, a maze of desired and prohibited pathways of the kind we’re always creating when we want to follow an idea. It’s a scrap of note-paper. Not a tome of rules to be followed.
When we use a heuristic we have allowed a form of potential wisdom to enter into our relations in a form that is light enough to include the reminder that anything heavier would be only a burden.
No one can make a career out of explaining a heuristic, the way the academy does with ideas. With no stakeholders, and their rationalized urgencies defending why things must be done a certain way, we are closer to the moment and to the kernel of insight residing within the heuristic.
This appears to be related to what is so often scornfully dismissed as instinct whether in our selves or in other creatures.
The challenge here seems to be to find ways to work with insights regarding thought and the traps of power and control without replacing one monstrous construction with another. The weorld will not support this one. It will not support another. Our only play is to see if we can do something else. And that something else must be light.
This is where it seems that if we stick with what we have – even though it may be deeply hidden behind so many layers of pathology and dis-ease – we have a better chance.
Think of this Internet we’re using right now. It is at least a metaphor of the body of knowledge that exists at this moment, if not the same thing. Think of this as our Library of Alexandria. It is just one flickering match away from its destruction. Whether this happens this year or in twenty years, its precarity is a reality we live with every day. As it passes so will the kind of access we are so accustomed to. This expectation that any question can be answered, any confusion resolved by the right Google-search, is a hyperactive version of the broader deeper cultural expectation that knowledge is at hand.
The trouble with this, besides what it costs us in planet-wasting to maintain it even for this blink-of-an-eye span of time, is that we use this expectation to hide from the question of knowing, of the limits of knowledge. The infinity of the Cosmos that can never be circumscribed in any meaningful way within a category labeled: The Known.
Traveling light, we would be better off facing these questions and these limits and finding an accommodation with their intractability. The way we tend to bristle at the sound of “accommodation” is another sign of our discomfort with anything that ruffles our grand illusions.
What if we developed, or more likely, re-discovered a relation with the known/unknown that is easier to carry around?
As we can see when we have John Boyd‘s work on these questions bowdlerized into Rummy’s “Known knowns and unknown unknowns.”This too can be easily misunderstood and shoved into a crippled semblance of itself to be used as yet another tool in an armorium for the sake of accumulating Power. The same can be seen in the overall approach to the insights at the basis of Systems Theory. The thrust of these insights point at how we are immersed in a Cosmos – a unity – while the point of this Discipline is to use these insights as just another strategy of division. A way for a fragment to gain power over the rest at the expense of all.
These short-circuits are everywhere. These blind-spots are in all of us. We cannot eliminate them anymore than we can know everything. What we can do is be aware of them and have some experience in handling them heuristically.
All this brings me back to the accumulating sense that for any of this to go anywhere it has to be related to from within a practice. It needs to be a part of life, not an addenda. There is no academic shortcut. No recipe. No technique.
In our efforts to embody this there is one important heuristic:
Beware of urgency.
And most especially our own.