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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In an excited rush to discover this new continent, of Ivan Illich’s writing, I’m caught up by a desire to stop and write about the implications of what I’m reading or even simply to celebrate what I’m finding! At the same time, I want to devour the writing so I can gain a perspective on it as a whole, or at least as a wide swath. I think its important to do both. There is, if not reason to hurry, reason not to waste time, and get on with communicating and moving ahead; there is also value in a preliminary acquaintance. There is a power to call forth, out of myself and my own thinking, that arises from the first reactions and insights I get from reading a new voice I find compelling. The collision, and an amalgam of intuition and even misunderstanding, may call into being a fresh perspective. There’s even a power that arises from chewing on someone else’s writing, as a voice, as a way to string together words and to lay out thoughts and emotions, turns of phrase, and ways of speaking; that generates a craving to try it on myself and see where I can take it. This can vary from a specific desire to create an “impression,” as when someone does an “impersonation,” or as subtle as just wanting to enter into conversation with that newly acquainted voice. If we wait for a more deliberate digestion to occur, all of these opportunities are left behind.
I’ve begun reading Illich’s essays HERE. This morning, reading his, The Silence is a Commons, I found this phrase and stopped. So much flooded in as I read it. In part, following his point, relating the story of the “enclosure of the pastures” in Eighteenth Century England, and the way this usurpation of the common good carved a hole out of which commercial interests mined wealth, not only from the land, but from their fellow citizens; and as a result created a kind of structural poverty that was new, and one that has been pernicious and continues to spread. Along with this particular example, there are many more in the chronicle of modern life, our focus on Haiti these days highlighting one of the most successful and longest running examples; it brought to mind the initial “innovation of poverty.” Whatever we may want to say about the earliest human societies or the remnants that have survived to the present day, or at least into our recorded history, there was no poverty in those lives. There was scarcity, there was hardship, there was danger and often sudden death; but no poverty. Poverty was invented.