February 16, 2004
"When the routine is perfect, understanding can be eliminated, except such minor flashes of intelligence as are required to deal with familiar accidents, such as a flooded mine, a prolonged drought, or an epidemic of influenza. A system will be a product of intelligence. But when the adequate routine is established, intelligence vanishes, and the system is maintained by a coordination of conditioned reflexes. . . . There will be no foresight, but there will be complete success in the maintenance of the routine."
An example of system in Whitehead's sense is the mytho-historical perspective that the United States has been a) a democracy, b) a republic, or c) a representative democracy. In the second half of the 20th century, the USA morphed irrevocably into a bureaucratic state. (3) In the ending years of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, the USA has morphed further into a security state. "Security State" is a euphemism for authoritarian.
Systems of governance slipped out of the hands of imperfectly selected representatives into those of bureaucrats, nominally the executive branch of a once theoretically tripartite system. The bureaucratic state has now morphed into a security state within which the remnants of Constitutional restraints on executive authority are shredding. These myths are maintained by "coordination of conditioned reflexes." As in the story of the Emperor's clothes, we deny what we know and see; the Emperors are naked even though their entourages insist on the splendor of their outfits.
Gregory Bateson worked hard to break through conditioned thought and reflexive behavior. He admonished us to keep Heisenberg in mind, to remember that the observer affects the observed. He told us to look for patterns that connect.
Mytho-history, however, is replete with patterns which do not connect. The unacknowledged actualities of security state are overlooked by obedient little lambs or lemmings who don't know this actuality, won't tell if they do know, and want keep anybody else from learning it. Sound familiar? Explains media and politics.
The few who are left with a sense of world actualities, if they will break conditioning, realize that there are others who share and have shared this planet in addition to Mediterranean peoples and their descendants. Other perspectives exist. Over time, the flows and interactions of peoples reveal patterns of creativity and intelligence, as well as use and development of skills and tools not confined to a few or crammed into recent times. Life is more than what may be told.
Long ago I abandoned the word reality. Perceptions and perspectives are unique to each being. I may have an actuality, a point of view, a snapshot, a momentary set of impressions, given my location, my states of sensing, my cumulative conditionings, etc.
Whatever this moment may be, it is uniquely mine. I cannot share it beyond attempting hints. Read what I write as hints. Use these hints to look for yourself. The critical variable is that you look rather than drift along. Given power, I may attempt to impose my actualities as your realities. Not having power, I may give up, which I don't. I attempt to share perspectives and perceptions within context. To the extent that you craft your own perspectives on actualities clearly seen, you are free. To the extent that you accept others' actualities as yours, you are denying yourself. To the extent that your denials blind you to your actualities, you are in a double bind. I will suggest that most Americans, most people, exist within a vast web of interlocking double binds: multidimensional and moving in all directions at once.
Erving Goffman wrote a seminal book published first in 1974, Frame Analysis, An Essay on the Organization of Experience. (4) The work is very popular with political strategists who see the Goffman's insights as manipulative tools. Karl Rove and his people have mastered Goffman's perspectives in ways which I feel Goffman would abhor.
For me, Goffman in this and other works contributed strongly to the deletion of reality from my vocabulary and perspectives. "For even as it is shown that we can become engrossed in fictive planes of being, giving to each in its turn the accent of reality, so it can be shown that the resulting experiences are derivative and insecure when placed up against the real thing." The real thing given Goffman's analyses, is my actuality. What I can share with you is what can be demonstrated within a shared perceptual context. If "we" will examine shared evidence taken in context, we may be able to arrive at viable action choices other than docile acceptance, abandonment of self, denial, and double bind.
Meanwhile, I will walk through some evidence in context. You may choose to come along. It is, after all, your double bind to loosen. I will give you tracks to follow or to ignore as you will.
Rupert Sheldrake, (5) a British bioscientist and philosopher, challenges the unconnected patterns of scientific mytho-histories. In wondering how life forms get to be how they are, he breaks out of evolutionary lock steps and biological certainties. From an acorn grows an oak tree, a very complex lifeform. From the unions of seed and egg, grow mammals and other life forms. All are complex families of complex life forms. From the tiny comes the huge, which then produces more tiny ad infinitum. The lesser are food for the larger who are, in turn, food themselves.
Sheldrake speculates that there are non-physical processes which communicate within species and guide the emergence of preprogrammed life forms. He calls these processes morphic resonance. An acorn grows to an oak because there are field effects guiding its processes. As quantum theories carry far beyond Newtonian concepts, so morphic resonance extends DNA, gene and instinct. Darwin is a Newtonian, useful up to a point for some purposes but not as adequate explanation in totality. Morphic resonance is also kin to Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Energy. (6) Both Sheldrake's and Reich's ideas demonstrate patterns which connect. Both suffer the slings and arrows of Science as conditioned reflex. See also Lovelock's Gaia. (7)
Vine Deloria, Jr. writes powerfully about first peoples, particularly his ancestors within North America. Red Earth, White Lies details the fallacies of mytho-history and anthropological studies related to populating the Americas with humankind and depopulating it of certain animal species, Wooly Mammoths, et al. He debunks the idea of a Bering bridge between Asia and Alaska, North America. The Bering bridge is an impossible idea given a little open-eyed knowledge of geology, geography and cycles of climate applied. In Voyages of the Pyramid Builders, Robert Schock gives further detail to support Deloria's insights. (8)
Spirit and Reason, The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader collects many of his key essays. "We do not know the real history of our planet, and we know very little about the historical experiences of the various societies and races that constitute our species. The information is lacking because our scholars and scientists are wedded to an outmoded framework of interpretations and spend their time arranging facts and evidence to fit these old ideas [mytho-histories]. . . . Sometimes they resemble nothing more than priests of dying religion, making up explanations ad hoc to defend outmoded articles of faith." (9)
Gregory Bateson is also known for developing the Double Bind Theory (10) and demonstrating its validity. The classic double bind situation involves being locked out of relevant responses to stimuli. When I am told a lie by someone of significance which I know is a lie and I also know that I will be punished severely if I call the lie, I am in a double bind.
Deloria, Sheldrake, Reich, and Bateson are crying out about patterns which do not connect. Interesting to me is that so many who presently decry George W. Bush show little historical perspective, little reach for connecting patterns evident over time. George W. Bush is a present day symbol and embodiment of processes operative throughout human history. (11) We may decry these processes yet are better able to handle them if we know and acknowledge that they are neither new nor unique to Bush. While history may not repeat itself exactly, there are recurrent patterns which link.
Recent American history provides such links. Goldwater links backward with McKinley and forward through Reagan, Nixon, Ford and into the Bush dynasty. McKinley, intriguingly enough, links backward to Lincoln who is tied in with Hamilton and others of Federalist Papers' times. The 2001 Patriot Act links backward to repressions during WWI which, in turn, link backward to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which, in turn, link across the Atlantic to European roots, especially those of Great Britain. For a parallel and earlier link to "Patriot Act," see Great Britain's Official Secrets Acts and its extensions since September 11, 2001. (12)
Corporate development links backward to medieval Genoa, Venice and to ancient Phoenicia. Silk Road traders link with Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch voyages to outflank the Silk Road, to find a cornucopia of riches. Sir Walter Raleigh's Virginia and other colonizing efforts sent to North America along with the East India Company which morphed to India's Raj used corporate patterns, the limited stock company. Globalization is firmly linked to historical processes of long duration. As with the Iraq wars, differences link more to technologies than process innovation.
I will be writing more along these paths, abandonment of intelligence and conditioned reflexes, in future Swans' commentaries.
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Notes and Resources
1. Adventures of Ideas, Alfred North Whitehead, Macmillan, N.Y. 1933 (pbk ed. Free Press, 1967, ISBN: 0029351707. (back)
2. Historical Consciousness, or the Remembered Past, John Lukacs, Harper & Row, New York, 1968, ISBN: 0805238417. (back)
3. See Outgrowing Democracy, A History of the United States in the Twentieth Century, John Lukacs, Doubleday, New York, 1984, ISBN: 0-385-17538-8. (back)
4. Frame Analysis, An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Erving Goffman, Harper Colophon, New York, 1974, ISBN: 06-090372-4. (back)
5. See, for example, "The Nature Channel," an interview with Rupert Sheldrake by John David Fleet, Utne Reader, January-February 2001, p. 67. (back)
6. See, for example, The Bion Experiments on the Origin of Life, Wilhelm Reich, Octagon Books, Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 1979 (no ISBN); Noonday Press, 1979, ASIN, 0374514461. (back)
7. See, for example, Homage to Gaia, The Life of an Independent Scientist, James Lovelock, Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN: 019-8060429-7. (back)
8. Voyages of the Pyramid Builders, Robert M. Schoch, Ph.D., Tarcher/Putnam, New York, 2003, ISBN: 1-58542-203-7. (back)
9. Spirit and Reason, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden CO, 1999, ISBN: 1-55591-430-6, p. 119. (back)
10. See, for example, Pragmatics of Human Communication, A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies and Paradoxes, Watzlawick, Beavin and Jackson, Norton, New York, 1967, ISBN: 0393010091, dedicated to "Gregory Bateson, friend and mentor." (back)
11. See Daniel Quinn's series which begins with Ishmael, Bantam, New York, 1993, ISBN: 0-553-56166-9. (back)
12. See, for example, "In the Streets of Londonistan," John Upton, London Review of Books, 22 January 2004, p. 3 ff. (back)
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