Changing cultures, changing thoughts

There are many papers being read and written just now as the COVID -19 pandemic affects all of the world. Many recognize that this is where whole is greater than parts, and the complexity is “wicked“. They also say that in order to change the hegemony we all live within, without negative “othering“, the change is as much internal to each self, and to each collective groupiness, as it is to external actions and changes demanded in social patterns and policies.

To me it is important to say that there are “others”, this is existence. Rather than saying things like tribalism is inherent in human nature as though curiosity and co-operatvie crossing of boundaries was not also human, I prefer to acknowledge the many many differences between each of us and all of us – but that is cause for interest, always, and often also for celebration. Who wants to be a clone?

The problems of othering come from the attachment to difference of social norms of power, authority, that demean or diminish the ‘other’ group, and consequent emotions: fear, anger, hate, shame, resentment and ressentiment emotions that affect and take shape on both sides of the falsely othered boundary. In other words, negative othering is an issue of bad faith, the denial of responsibility for one’s own thought and action, whether that be assumed entitlement to privilege, or unexamined bias that causes actual harm, both seen and unseen, personal, cultural or institutional.

Thought process within us matters. It is too rarely studied, more frequently the actual process is not part of the conversation, it is hidden behind perception of its effects, which are studied. Although they also matter, the rest of this post is about thought processes.

In my own thinking I have become aware that I have several processes, which can create differing attitudes and hence consequences, within the blink of an eye. My will, or mindfulness gives me some degree of choice which one will be followed in one circumstance or another, others are simply triggered by particular circumstance and if I am not listening to myself, being more than just mindful, also observing and interrogating, why this, why now, then I am there in a well trodden mental space within the blink of an eye. For example, my son, middle aged, happens to say that he needs to go to the dentist, in kicks my anxiety thought process way back to when I was mother of a crying baby, and if I don’t take care the dance is triggered where I offer advice that is totally unneeded, and unheeded, etc. There are many similar family dances, like the one I had with my mother when she was still alive. The dances could be called transferences, the catching oneself within them a use of counter-transference, or as series of patterns. Many examples are well described in transactional analysis or the long ago book “Games People Play” written by Eric Berne. Another of my own is getting intellectual, using concepts and cognition, a very valuable thing to do, but not at all valuable if its purpose is to avoid the feelings that belong and misdirect myself into somewhere more comfortable but less truthful. That could easily happen during writing posts like this. It is very hard to bring in the emotions, and hold on to them, and still write clear succinct sentences. Maybe they do not have to be clear, succinct, from the wholes kind of thinking process creativity and fruitfulness emerge. Not-knowing parts are visible, unclear, a bundle of perceptions, intuitions, imaginations. Notes follow.

Thought Processes – Wholes … emergent parts… Concepts, theories, imaginative fantasies Fruitful….. and also emergent needs leading to opinions beliefs fixed biased institutionalized Circular, Dead end.

Work of Wilfred Bion, psychoanalyst, Alfred North Whitehead, philosopher, David Bohm, physicist, and many others, there are people who have studied thought process.

Bion refers to thought without a thinker, the notion of negative capability, becoming, and the creation of intersection with truth, an ineffable.

Bohm [working from physics and wave-particle duality of matter] says “whole” is everywhere, everything, structured as an “implicate order” from which a continual “holomovement” allows “explicate order” of many kinds to emerge, unfolded from the implicate, then refolded.

Whitehead’s process philosophy says actuality consists not of individual objects with attributes, but rather of interwoven processes.

Each also identifies thought mistakes [my word]. I once wrote a paper that actually got published called Making, Mistaking, Reality. Another discipline, history of science, recognizes paradigms and rather than calling out-dated theories mistakes, can show that their truths hold partially, within certain limits, although commitment to such theories, as if they were true more widely, is a mistake. What do Bion, Bohm and Whitehead say?

Bion: the “lie” is a thought based on the need of the thinker;

Bohm: what is actually the ‘one single process of thought’ is tacitly treated as if it were split in two parts … fragmentation of the process of thought must lead to distortion in all of perception;

Whitehead: Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness – reification – we easily slip into believing that an individual word/term must refer to an individual object.

Whitehead was clearest regarding the earth, and nature: ‘It is a false dichotomy to think of Nature and Man. Mankind is a factor in Nature which exhibits in its most intense form the plasticity of Nature.’

Bohm is clear there is no final “theory of everything” to be found, as the implicate ordered whole is not fixed, it is in a dynamic state with continual interacting flows of enfolding, unfolding, of explicates, holomovement. This name links with the concept of the hologram, a physically produced artifact that exists. Every point within a hologram contains the information of the whole of the object from which it was encoded. In other words, each point is both the whole and the part, an undivided duality, that in practice exists although it loses some of the definition of the original object.

To bring this down to practice, experience and thinking, each of us has this hologram quality. I have an awareness of myself, and also at the same time I contain unthought experience of the universe that I am in. As I am in it, it is in me. 

Bohm and Bion both regard thought as real, not a product of a thinker’s mind, but an existent thing that a thinker might access. There are associated ideas to be considered within this statement, for example, perception, witness, revelation, proprioception, emotion, creativity, to name a few.

Circumstances and past circumstance – cultures – matter – to the ways in which thought processes operate and so how thought manifests. Circumstances, those we are in and those we create with our thinking influence the individual emergence of continually developing real people and other beings. To find what structure lies in the variegated rainbow of possible thinking process, this diagram is a brainstorm, that should be three dimensional, ranging from creative holistic thinking that is fruitful, a process of “thinking truly”,  through that which is partly institutionalised, partly biassed, partly to enable or affirm my self, to that which is damaging, causes harm, is wrong. possibilitesin thought

Now – practically speaking, the evidence that I am in one kind of thinking is seen from results, which is not much help, it is after the fact, but at least I can ask, be mindful of consequences. I also want to know how to be in creative fruitful un-biassed thinking at the time this thought is being thought, in its present. [Or if I am not able enough, at least how not to harm.]

What I have discovered is blindingly obvious. I can’t know, or not know definitely what kind of thinking I am in, but what I can do is increase the probability that my thinking is in touch with whole. I do this by knowing I am in whole and it is in me, so being open to the feelings in myself, dreams and passing thoughts, and asking why, is a vector that changes not just me but everything. If I practice this, an everyday use of counter-transference, more purposeful than meditation, intentionally seeking, then more information unfolds. The holomovement creates the revelation, and I have a thought that is more likely to be fruitful. Can I accept it? That is the real question: will I be in active listening? able to observe, witness?  I am suggesting that it is not answers to the ‘using self’ questions which create access to ‘thinking truly’, but the factual existent event of asking.  The answers then take their place in a different dynamic process in the whole, that is still mostly unknown.

As Bion said, “Nobody need think the true thought: it awaits the advent of the thinker… his significance depends on whether or not he will entertain the thought, but the thought remains unaltered.” [Bion, 1970, Attention and Interpretation, p.103.] I gave examples of this in a long-ago unpublished typewritten [!] paper “How Scientists Think” written after my doctorate work on Michael Faraday. It fails to recount the most important very simple but profound line in Faraday’s experimental Dairy where he wrote all of his thoughts, facts, records of his practical and theoretical laboratory work. He said: What if space is not empty? In the 21st century we are accustomed to knowing that space is full of electromagnetic waves, light, gravity, particles, black holes, whatever, even if we do not understand what these fillings are, we have TV radio and internet flying everywhere to inform us that space is indeed full.  In 1840, this was a new thought that would upset previous thinking and lead to new and different concepts of matter and energy, even time, as well as a different understanding of space.

Will my diagram help with reading the many papers now being written? Will it help in assessing whether complex analyses and imaginative proposals are real or utopian? It is often hard to tell. To use my emotional response is essential, as well as my mind, and now I think I have another criterion: can I see the fruitfulness, or the possibility that something emerges here?

I would like to share an example of Regenerative Agriculture. This embodies the fruitful whole, in a real place, Mulloon Creek, Australia, not theory.

regenerativagriculture

 

 

Wave Particle Duality

Wave Particle Duality is a concept within physics, and as such is not much referred to outside of science, nor indeed within many branches of science. Think: have I seen it in any of the climate emergency reports from IPCC or have I seen it in discussions of medicine or pharmacology, or anywhere, apart from its home within Quantum Theory?
Quantum Theory is the physical theory that explains the behaviour of Matter and Energy.

In quantum theory objects have characteristics of both particles and waves (wave-particle duality), and there are limits to the precision with which quantities can be measured (the uncertainty principle). [The link references are to Wikipedia]

Matter and Energy. Objects. That is us, the world, the universe and all its life and inhabitants. E= mc2. Energy and matter are related. The equation tells us that energy and mass are, effectively, the same thing, and it also tells us how much energy is contained in a given mass, or vice versa. In other words, mass can be thought of as very tightly packed energy. That energy and mass are equivalent is quite an extraordinary claim and seems to go against classical laws of conservation, and also in ordinary life is counter-intuitive. This is not the way we see the world, ourselves or the things around us.

Recently, in philosophy and psychology, the word “Duality” has been used in one of those interesting different ways, meaning separated, or split, rather than Both And Together, as in “Wave Particle Duality”. “Duality” is one of those interesting contronym words, like ‘cleave’, that have two meanings directly opposed to each other.

Screen Shot 2020-06-15 at 15.28.52In particular, the old Cartesian Split between Body and Mind is referred to as a duality, a separation of two entities. Their oneness, or their interrelatedness are now being well made, see for example, Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.

Or, Charles Eisenstein, Climate, A New Story, or Sacred Economics. Or, many other philosophies especially those written from ecological perspectives and eastern rather than western ways of being.

It seems to me that “duality” is a question of world view, or mindset, and so it is a question not of “thinking” but about how we think about thinking.

David Bohm, quantum physicist, brought an interpretation of the meaning of duality, and the meaning of field, to his scientific work, and then he extended it to what he called “the whole”. He brought his scientific thought to the concept of a “Living Earth”, and to us, beings who have consciousness and thinking. His interpretation rests on grasping the together meaning of “duality”, that any entity can be simultaneously both particle and field.

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 16.41.53This wave-particle-duality is not the same as the both /and of much psycho-social discussion, nor is it what is meant in the many studies referred to above, that express desire and necessity for humanity to learn to live in harmony with nature and the earth. These ideas, many of enormous value, are about relationship: the relation of one entity, a human or all the humans, with another entity [the earth, or others of its beings]. From classical physics, other sciences, to dream, to fantasy, to fiction or documentary, most often relationship is of particles. Each part of the relationship is a little or larger piece finding ways to connect with the another part, in harmony or conflict, reaching by some means across distance, or colliding, interacting, merging or crossing boundaries which have a variety of permeability. In ‘particle’ understanding, a particle acts and is acted upon by that which is contiguous, next, whatever the distance in the space of the next, taking time to do so. We are interested in the relationships that describe these actions. This is particulate thinking.

Wave-particle duality is undivided, the whole is everywhere, a wave, space is not empty. The wave is energy. We are energy. At this point my physics is totally inadequate, so I skip to the consequences for our mindsets, our attitudes to self and others, self with others, our understanding of creativity, wellbeing, flourishing, as far as I can understand the thoughts. I owe David Bohm and other thinkers, psychoanalysts like Wilfred Bion, philosophers etc. and my history of science work that looked at the way Michael Faraday thought, the inner process of doubt imagination and attention to experimental phenomena that led him to the electromagnetic theory of light, and the beginning of wave-particle duality in physics. This thinking starts from a ‘whole’ that is undivided duality. The structure of the whole is dual, as is every part that is enfolded within this structured order. Bohm gave this structure a name: the Implicate Order. Our knowledge of parts which we abstract from the whole, enabling partial unfolding, has a different structure, called Explicate Order. [ David Bohm: Wholeness and the Implicate Order. downloads available here]

Thought that begins from “parts”.

These ideas are very difficult to envisage. thinking first about “explicate”, as follows: Often we consider something, objects, or concepts, even people, as made up of parts, and begin by considering one part, and then how it relates to another part, like the bricks, posts and beams of a building. Particulate duality is constructed.

Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 10.57.36In particulate thought, lots of things can be, and often are, analysed by construction from parts, the words that make a sentence, the organs that are in each human (or animal) body, the parts of a plant, everything from the electrons in an atom to the stars and planets in the universe has been conceived of, and theorised, as parts of a whole. Then we say “the whole is greater than the parts” and construct another level, or category, or concept, whatever we call it. This process is much favoured in science, and also in studies of mind, both psychoanalytic and neuroscientific, and in various philosophies. It is both constructed and constructive, valuable, though it is probably not the kind of thought that shifts paradigms, and discovers new. For example, Wilfred Bion a psychoanalyst who explored thought process quotes the mathematician Poincaré:

“If a new result is to have any value, it must unite elements long since known, but until then scattered and seemingly foreign to each other, and suddenly introduce order where the appearance of disorder reigned.  Then it enables us to see at a glance each of these elements in the place it occupies in the whole.  Not only is the new fact valuable on its own account, but it alone gives a value to the old facts it unites.  Our mind is as frail as our senses are; it would lose itself in the complexity of the world if that complexity were not harmonious; like the shortsighted, it would only see the details, and would be obliged to forget each of these details before examining the next, because it would be incapable of taking in the whole.  The only facts worthy of our attention are those which introduce order unto this complexity and so make it accessible to us.” [Bion, Learning from Experience, p.72, and many references to this and the ‘selected fact’ in his other writings.]

In general, this describes the “thinking method” that we often use to help us grasp complexity. We forget, or were never aware, that to conceive of a single part requires a process of abstraction, whether or not we realize that is what we are doing. Our perceptions are, first, of the whole thing, however muddled, chaotic and un-thought. We learn to distinguish, classify, abstract, and then surprise ourselves when we find the whole, greater than the parts.

Thinking from Whole to parts.

Suppose, imagine, a thinking process, or perception, that starts with Whole, whatever that is, as George Eliot intimated when she wrote:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. [Quoted in Margot Waddell’s Inside Lives, p.41, in the context of “Defences Against Pain”, as Eliot also says ” perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it”.

We also think of “wholes”, intuitively aware of an idea of the all. For things that are not too complicated, at a given instant the “all” is as clear an idea as that of any of its parts, we can in fact switch from one to the other. In other words, we also have “a thinking method” that goes from whole to parts instead of building from parts to whole, and we do not die of the experience. the simplest example is “me” a person, who is not “you” a different person, and the whole that is in every part is my DNA, as your DNA is in you. Should I move to particulate thinking about myself I might get into exceptionalism, or separateness, in which I am constructing my identity.

One example is the architect Christopher Alexander who looked at the wholes of architectural endeavours, from them derived what he calls ‘patterns’. He starts from a “whole’, the function of a building, say, and finds something local, particular, over and over again, but this something is also individual, not an endless repeat. It contains both a “pattern” and its manifestation in a present context.  Alexander’s patterning has the quality of undivided duality.

Returning briefly to physics, and the universe of energy waves, brings another realization: the implicate order whole is dynamic. There is no sense here of Platonic Ideals, fixed out of our reach, that our minds try approximate more nearly. There is no final “theory of everything” to be found, as the implicate ordered whole is not fixed, it is in a dynamic state with continual interacting flows of enfolding, unfolding, of explicates, that Bohm calls holomovement. This name links with the concept of the hologram, a physically produced artifact that exists. Every point within a hologram contains the information of the whole of the object from which it was encoded. In other words, each point is both the whole and the part, an undivided duality, that in practice exists although it loses some of the definition of the original object.

To bring this down to practice, experience and thinking, each of us has this hologram quality. I have an awareness of myself, and also at the same time I contain unthought experience of the universe that I am in. As I am in it, it is in me. I know this already, though seldom access it let alone express it as most language especially academic and analytic default automatically to particulate thought [scientific knowledge, working through emotional understandings and insights, looking for independent evidence, etc.]

Where do I experience, or have experienced,  undivided duality, experiencing from whole?

  • poetry
  • use of counter-transference, especially in work consultancy
  • pregnancy – other in me, me in other, one
  • one flesh – not often – when a marriage holds the tension between being two people and also one
  • music – Bohm said The nature of this [holo] movement can be discerned in a number of common experiences, such as listening to music. A sequence of harmonious notes, says Bohm, does not sufficiently account for the experience of coherence we may feel when listening to music. If the sequence of notes was stretched out so that long lapses occurred between the notes, the sense of musical integrity would collapse. It is the co-present reverberations of multiple notes, in varying degrees of interpenetration and unfoldment, that give music a sense of meaning and wholeness.
  • collective unconscious
  • dreaming, and social dreaming
  • history of scientific discovery – understanding the heuristic thought of Michael Faraday from his Diaries when he demonstrated that light was an electromagnetic wave phenomenon, said “forced on my mind” and also later described the new thought as “revelation“. [pdf of James Clerk Maxwell’s comment here]
  • witness, inadvertent, unsought, transcendent experience, WTF …
  • much art and culture, the expression of implicate captured in image and performance
  • a transitional object [like the child’s teddy bear] imaginary and real

Concluding but not ended thoughts.

The conclusion Bohm was drawn to from quantum physics was that the “whole” was not an ineffable hotch-potch mixture, but instead a deeper undivided duality of energy, to which he gave the name “The Implicate Order”. I find I have to think of it as “Life”. It is in me and I am in it. It is in constant change as Explicate orders of every quality are enfolded, and in holomovement, as they unfold, refold.

escherants

Escher

There are many kinds of explicate thought that do not show awareness of the implicate, Escher’s ants capture this. From the simplistic to the complicated the characteristic shared is that eventually they will prove unfruitful. All hold shards of truth, some may be helpful for a time, others such as ideologies do damage.

Bohm said thought itself was real, because it had concrete effect. Bion distinguished two kinds of thought, that he called “truth” and “lie”, the first was thought without need of a thinker [like Bohm’s real?], the second, created by the thinker according to his internal need, not opposite to truth, just indifferent to it, in intent. Bohm’s work on the “creative” distinguished imagination that began in whole and wondered, directed beyond self, from imagination that was “fancy” or “fantasy” created for the self. He also said “nature is a creative process, in which not merely new structures, but also new orders of structure are always emerging“. Again, there is humility, and its opposite, the exceptional separatist me, that wants and is wanting. [another double meaning word!]

And so all this writing returns to a simple, maybe not easy, suggestion. Become aware. Know that the implicate whole, Life, is. In me as I am in it. My thinking, experiencing, being, can  turn upside down. See what happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitional Approach to Change

Organizations, Management of Change and Ethical Dilemmas

A brief outline of the concepts in the transitional approach to the management of change.  [quite a bit of this is summarised from Ambrose, A. Key Concepts of the Transitional Approach to Managing Change,  in Lisl Klein, ed. [1989], Working With Organizations, Kestrel Print, Loxwood, West Sussex.] Then, my thoughts follow as I believe this approach also has impact on the ethical dilemmas which appear as change progresses. I would also say that the paradigm shift created means the change is not just another surface reform, so that institutional social problems, like racism, sexism, disablism, etc etc do not remain under the surface, buried in the institutional structures.

The Transitional Approach

A paradigm shift can occur in organizations when management recognizes how personal and interpersonal values, attitudes and engagements make impact on the purposes strategies and plans which are essential aspects of organizational life and change.

The transitional approach to the management of change is a way of thinking. That is, the transition is in mind as much as in the external context. The approach acknowledges each person, a recognition of the whole self of each person, the differences each brings and the commonality or otherwise of issues regarded as central in the organization and its need for change. The approach supposes that each of us has an “organization in the mind” and that we see the external organization through the lens of this one, the one in the mind. The “transition”, like Winnicott’s “transitional object” the child’s teddy, is both ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, it is inextricably imbued with things which cross the boundaries of self and perception and what actually is.

Besides this over-arching concept of “organization in the mind” the following concepts help identify aspects of the approach, and all are necessary, entwined together:

  • Development potential: Difference will exist in the extent to which individuals are ready to change, and the ways in which they are able to change.
  • Open-system perspective: That is, the organization is not closed, nor made up of fully separable parts, but is exposed to uncertainty and unpredictability in the wider environment, and to internal confusions and conflations, as well as inter-dependencies.
  • Problem toleration: A consequence of adopting an open-system perspective, is that ‘change-agents’ are faced with complexity and uncertainty, so they will be subject to anxieties, confusions and dissonance as they assess the implications of change.
  • Potential space: Innovative thinking is akin to play, so potential space is the ‘play’ space in the mind. Ownership of ideas or imagination etc is not an issue, instead, the varieties of freedom and constraints allowed range through lateral and logical thinking, and produce new meanings and new patterns in the mind, before an objective is identified.
  • Transitional learning: Like play, this is active not passive, as one is not shown what to do. It is however more than just experimentation as it contains the idea of ‘working through’ that is, at each step, consequences and effects on the real space, outside of the mind-space, are also held in mind. The ‘game’ becomes more complex as learning proceeds. In this respect it is different from trial and error, or design process methods of reaching a solution.
  • Double task: If the work of organizations, that is many people, and the work of individuals, are both to flourish and be effective in the long-term, then ‘the work’ can be conceived of as two intertwined and interlocking tasks, like a double helix. The double task looks at the wood and the trees and the whole, which is more than either.
  • Transitional space: Notice that if this is not both sanctioned within the system and provided for, with e.g. time, or place, and possibly facilitation, minds have real dicfficulty in changing. Imagine how the mind of a child is hurt when a parent throws away the teddy bear, rather than knowing the child will at some time replace it by her own developmental growth as opportunities open.
  • Transformational situation: This is the direct correlate of the ‘transitional object’ in the early life of an infant. In an organization, the transformation may not come about even when transitional space is provided as participants may not know how to engage with transitional learning; indeed may seek other more traditional engagements. The transformational situation changes the boundaries, or lifts taboos, in a way in which security is maintained. It may be likened to a catalyst, and is in some sense similar as it is a temporary enabling situation, which is seen insightfully, so that defensive or traditional ‘log-jams’ can be dispersed. Then, new forms of interaction will be initiated by the participants themselves and transitional learning can happen.

This transitional approach to change is an intervention of a peculiar kind. It does not impose the change, nor does it attempt to meet the problems of a change head-on. Instead, it works with the realization that each and every person, and each and every part of the system, are, as living parts of the system both experiencing ‘issues’ as themselves, and as responders to the system they are in. It could be said that everyone has a “double task” and some are better placed to work through this, by chance of the position they happen to be in, as well as by personal capacity for reflection. Attention and insight regarding how each issue belongs to the system within which individual(s) experience it, and how each individual has effect on the system through their response will create the conditions within which an evolution to a different kind of system occurs.

Ethical Dilemmas

As change progresses, ethical dilemmas are experienced in which the characteristic of the dilemma is that all choices appear to have “rightness”, or deep value, yet it appears that these choices preclude each other. There are four classic paradigms of such Right/Right dilemmas in which the choice to be made does not centre on an analysis of “right” versus “wrong” where choosing is simple if the analysis is well done. Right/right dilemmas are paradoxes and can be paralysing. Some can turn into “double bind” where any action brings loss. Consider:

  • Individual versus community or group – instanced by examples where the needs of particular individuals are in conflict with the needs of other ‘stakeholders’.
  • Truth versus loyalty – as for example when the desire for open and free communication is clearly at odds with issues of confidentiality and privacy
  • Justice versus mercy – as when the need of a victim cannot be reconciled with the hope that the perpetrator of harm could be enabled to learn for the future
  • Short-term versus long-term – this can apply in relation to each of the above, but is often particularly relevant when considering ecological issues

The transitional approach to managing change provides a means by which these paradoxical dilemmas can be held. Instead of reaching toward the “successful outcome”, the management of “failure” is part of the transitional process.  In other words, in transition, the effects of the point of view not chosen can be taken in. There is room for contradiction and disappointment to be experienced, even grief or resentment, as feelings are worked through. The child gives up the teddy bear when she learns to play with princess dolls or skateboards. Development is more interesting, better fun and learning is just as good a place to be when need for transitional space is granted. The final outcome contains more of the whole, of people who are lively and eager to engage.

Yes I know that last sentence is idealistic, but the probability of a successful flourishing shift taking place is a lot higher than when change is assumed to be possible through only rational persuasion, or through stick and carrot types of behavioural rewards. Transitional change pays attention to human values like ethics and justice. These are not incompatible with other aims, such as profit or economic viability. Though more mercenary motives may be modified, they do not disappear. The transitional approach is not an ideology, nor is it an idealists dream. It is a process, using situated knowledge, in real contexts, affected by and affecting real people.

Follow the Money

Follow the Moneybanker

What is meant by “money”? Many things, and many associations, including emotion, conscious and unconscious. The word connects to so much from value to avarice. These things matter. Money is not an objective concept, it is an abstract idea, put into practice by decisions made. The type of decision made, that allows its creation as a “thing” to use, has consequences in practice.

The history of money shows many sorts of “things” [beads, shells, rocks, gold and silver ingots etc., poker chips, baby-sitting tokens, store loyalty cards and food stamps] that are used as the currency, trusted in particular places and contexts. Though we seldom think about it, we agree that one function of government is to validate the currency used by its citizens, make it trustable. More importantly, we also seldom think about how the currency, or the quantity of it available for use has been created. We usually think about how we will use manage or distribute what we have.

Across the world, money created by central banks provides us with notes and coins in defined currencies. However this is actually a very small amount of the money created, and we use far more that is simply numbers moved between accounts of various kinds, now moved electronically rather than by rewriting figures in a paper ledger. Over 97% of the money now used is represented by numbers in computers, numbers very particularly associated with someone, or of some organization. Wherever the numbers are, in “my account” or “the employer’s account”, or “the pension pot”, etc. they are called “money” .

Who makes – or creates – this money? When the word “make” money is used, it often means earn, that is payment for work or service from the quantity of money already in existence. When we ask “where does money come from?” so that it can then be earned or moved from one account to another, we mean “create”. This number money is created from nothing, money appears somewhere in an account that was not anywhere before.

Although it seems crazy, this is exactly what happens, and has often happened throughout history, as money is an idea turned into a thing that can be used. Rather than considering the “use of money” consider how money is created, and who creates it, and see the consequences of the method we now use throughout the world.

Begin with Money Creation, then Follow The Money.

Where Does Money Come From?

There are different methods of money creation, that can roughly be divided into an either/or of human psychology and world view. One, NOT the current world method, is rather like “what goes around comes around” or “pay it forward”. In other words, people will cooperate with each other in their communities and societies, so give them the money they need in line with the resources that are available, or can be made available. This could be through what is called a “sovereign money” method, money created by a government on its people’s behalf, or could be through a “Commons Principle” where the government is effectively the principles agreed in the commons. Both these, as do all other methods, need laws and sanctions to deal with transgressions. There are some localities where the people in their own community use such money creation.

However, the other method of money creation, now used throughout the world, is so basic to our economies that it is almost invisible. We do not see it, we only see the consequences. Watch a video: Where Does Money Come From?, Ole Bjerg, TEDxCopenhagen. As the video shows, world-wide, an amount about 97% of money in all its different currencies, is created by commercial banks when they make loans, or give credit to individuals, groups, companies, organizations and even governments. Commercial banks are private corporations who provide this service to society, and who also make profit for their shareholders. They are a kind of corporation, but the only kind privileged to CREATE money.

This money creation method, “Money from Debt”, or “Credit and Loan” follows an aspect of human psychology that is based on a fear for survival, that sees all resources as scarce, and requires competition. This is why it seems so natural, it is natural, but only partly so, as it ignores and downgrades the co-operative and caring parts of nature. The idea that a government could create money as part of its duty to those governed has become harder and harder to grasp. Instead, governments also borrow to fund needed policies, and find themselves “in deficit”.

There are three consequences arising from the practice of creating money through debt.

Scarcity, and Competition

Lack of Purchasing Power

Wage Dependency

Competition

Consider the starting point of a financial system near zero, as notes and coins issued from government gift is very small. By ‘think of a number’ and a tap on the keys, money is created and issued by credit to a borrower [who has taken a loan so the money is also debt].  This money just created is then in circulation, the borrower can use it to purchase, and must also do work to earn money from other people or organization so that the debt will be paid off, at which point the created money goes out of circulation. But we are not talking about one borrower. Where did the “other people or organizations” get their money that they paid this borrower as wages or salary? They have “borrowed” or earned from other “borrowers” somewhere along the chains of work and pay and supply, because that is how money is brought into the society. Whatever is happening at any one point in the circulation, is part of an endless ebb and flow in an ocean of currency that has been created by credit issuance, or debt. Even the individual who says “I don’t borrow”, the person who earns as they go, is being paid by a borrower or borrowers further in the system.

What is also happening, is that money that has been borrowed somewhere is being paid back with interest, that is a sum above that originally borrowed goes to the bank as real money, profit made on something originally created from nothing. Over time, not just considering the state of circulation at one time, because this interest has also had to be earned by work done, it means that part of the value of all the work done by all individuals in all organizations, is extracted, and not only pays the bank for its service, but also becomes profit to the bank.

In general, everyone, and every company, would rather feel solvent, have enough money without being in debt, would want to be “free”. Businesses, organizations and corporations would aim for sales of their products or provision of their services without debt, so they could invest without further borrowing. But, as the quantity already in circulation will suffer extraction as well as repayment the only way to keep money in the economy is to borrow more to be repaid in future, to maintain and increase the money supply, that would become more and more scarce without borrowing by some ‘body’ continuing to happen.

Individuals, companies and governments are driven into competition with each other, as each wants to be solvent, not in debt, but the system says someone has to borrow more. For example, countries try to export more than they import, and in the government policy known as “austerity” a government aims to reduce “budget deficit”, which moves the scarcity and debt to a different part of the economy system, and individuals or businesses find themselves borrowing more, or working harder, in order to survive. Competition between profit for companies and wages for workers follows.

A further consequence is that the goal of work and of production becomes the pursuit of money. People work harder and longer hours to pay off debts, or avoid getting into debt, as they need more money for an increased cost of goods, applied because the companies who produce these goods are also trying to reduce their dependence on debt. Businesses are forced to see profit as more important than purpose, will offset debts against assets, so that in each yearly return the business stays solvent, and competition with other businesses, advertising, shifts in price and quality, become another necessary drain on reserves.

Purchasing Power Reduction

The purpose of having money in the economy is to enable the exchange of goods and services. When the money in the economy is created by means of issuing credit to all in the community as the “borrowers” some of the money is required to service the repaying of debts, as well as that needed to purchase resources or goods and services.

“Industry” means work of whatever kind, taking place in home or small farm or coffee shop or health service or multinational corporation, say “in a business”. Industry has two functions. One is producing the goods and services from the resources, doing the work, and the other is paying for that work, whether it is by self-employment or contract with workers. The payment of salaries, wages, profits, however distributed, is what gives the money to the consumers who buy the goods and use the services produced.

Consider a business that has borrowed through loan or through shares, which are effectively equivalent to borrowing in that dividends given are like payback. This borrowing is needed to buy the raw material and the work that will produce the goods. The business has to set a price on the goods greater than the raw material and payment to workers. If it does not, it cannot repay the initial borrowing. The overall effect in the network of businesses and workers and consumers is that prices are set higher than the quantity of money distributed to the workers who are also the consumer people who need enough money to pay for the goods. This can be stated as “industrial debt elevates the prices of goods and services above distributed incomes”.

At the same time, consumers have mortgages, loans or overdraft debts and in making repayments on these their income is reduced further below the levels available for purchasing. The result of creating money through credit or share issuance [effectively debt] is that prices rise and disposable income is reduced. This is what is meant by ‘lack of purchasing power’ in an economy. It is a gap that steadily increases in the whole system, however many individual persons or families or companies manage to reduce their personal gap. There will be winners who manage to get disposable income greater than the cost of goods they need, but overall, there will eventually be more losers than winners. The purchasing power gap affects the entire economy, and steadily becomes worse so that individuals, businesses and government departments have to adjust their own positions more in order to survive. The consequences of these adjustments, then become problems in their own right, and different parts of society compete for solutions. Society’s problems, inequality, the poverty trap, advertisements that encourage spending, rising prices of shoddier goods, housing, communications, transport, endless growth and a climate emergency, etc. are visible, painful, while their cause is unseen. The inability to redress these derivative problems, symptoms arising from the method of money creation, brings helplessness and even denial that some of the problems exist.

Wage Dependence

The inability to effectively act to redress the symptoms is associated with a further consequence of the creation of money as debt. A great flaw in many current economic and monetary discussions, whether in theoretical, political or social analysis, is that of conflating “value” with work for money. Gainful employment is treated as the important part of life.

Being a child, a carer, a person with disability or illness, or old, is less valuable, when the answer to What will you be when you grow up?” is tinker, tailor, doctor, lawyer, rather than kind, patient, generous, have a good sense of humour etc. These qualities, like spending time in creative playfulness with others, friendships, human company, appreciating the natural world we live in, although welcomed when they are a side effect of work, are nevertheless pushed to a place of lesser value, as if being human with both flaws and assets, being a modest part of a living world, was only to be an add-on to being a producer and consumer of goods, using and spending money.

In this conflation, as though value could not exist without work, unemployment is the problem, and getting people in to work is the solution. It is a paradox that much that is valued in living is neither work nor earning power at all. Another paradox is that in an era where technological progress has developed such astonishing and increasingly productive capabilities that the need for long hours labouring is lessened, instead of increasing leisure time for all, what has happened is that people are divided into those who have work, and those who have not. Both have problems, stresses, though these are of very different kinds. The response of developed economies has been to ignore “leisure” or re-direct it back within economy as a kind of service bought and consumed in gyms, holidays and tourism. The unemployed must seek work, any work for wage, said to be necessary to restore their dignity and involvement in society, without regard to either the precarity, indignity, low wage or poor ethics in some of the only work available.

Developed economies in particular are so obviously wealthy that the possibility of job rotation, job sharing, sharing unpaid “work” such a caring or volunteering, is a totally obvious route to a rewarding and engaged living but instead many of those in work are ever increasingly stressed by the need to keep ever more precarious jobs and pay back continuing debts, stressed by being unable to find time for family and friends, developing guilt and anxieties, and ill-health. Those not in work are assumed to be as inadequate as their incomes, and government policy assumes they will be supported sufficiently by taxation of those who do work. This process, whether operated with generosity or grudge, also makes an assumption that income as a whole in the economy is sufficient to buy the goods needed, an assumption that is simply wrong. The distributed income of all, whether they are in or out of work, lacks sufficient purchasing power.

Thus the progress of technology, instead of being harnessed to improve the quality of living, is forced into subservience to economic growth so that the debt based money supply can continue. The pursuit of work for money, only money, has become an end in itself within the ever growing proportion of the economy called the “financial industry” while a need for money in order to keep going overrides purpose in other organizations. More and more work that is available suffers from meaninglessness. Leisure is obtained through conspicuous consumption by those who have money. Also, in a way, unemployment is also a form of leisure catastrophically forced on some as they will lack basic means or dignity. They will be called lazy, while those in work for money, meaningful or not, are considered contributors to economic wellbeing, but together the combination is really a social disaster.

In summary, the creation of money by issuing credit [debt] to be repaid forces a relentless demand for economic growth via fear of scarcity, subsequent competition for resources and further necessary debt, causing a societal lack of purchasing power. More simply, there will always be a gap between income and need, as too much is extracted from the energy put in by the payback required. The many problems we try to mitigate, inequalities, warfare, displaced people, trade wars, food supply, global heating, can all be traced to this gap, just “follow the money”.

The result of money creation in this way is the social disaster already reached by too many, as all parties, in their roles as individuals, workers, consumers, businesspeople, professionals, politicians, governing bodies, are bound in widening inequalities, local, national and international as if in a viral epidemic disease. It is also a planetary disaster, with wars, climate emergency, people movement and the possibility of a sixth extinction, into which we have sleepwalked. At one time, the apparently natural notion that commercial banks could be privileged to create money by issuing credit seemed practical and innocuous. Now, it is silly, when there are other ways to enable money creation, and other roles for banks, such as managing, exchanging and brokering the vast amounts of money we already have and need to use.

Money creation could begin with gift, which is also natural. A parent holds a different role from friend or child, a role of responsibility to give, to respond as well as possible neither by authoritarian regulation, nor by permissive laissez faire, but by giving alongside attendance to what is there and what is happening. In analogy, or in our psychology, it would be natural for government to take on this different role, to create, or arrange for the creation, of money that is solely for the development of the people governed. Such a government, however organized, by commons or election or even appointment, gives the money created and attends to needs and resources. Just as banks might not look so different in this kind of system, governments might also look much the same. The difference would be that the present vicious circle that pushes society into a black hole would be reversed, and money would have its more rightful place as a catalyst that matched needs with resources.

 

I acknowledge my debt (of gratitude, not money) to Michael Rowbotham: The Grip of Death, A study of modern money, debt slavery and destructive economics. Much of what I write regarding “money” began when I discovered the campaign organization Positive Money, and then shortly afterwards I read this book, which made great sense to me. I have digested and re-digested, so if I repeat Rowbotham’s sentences, because I have now made them my own, I can only say “thank you” and recommend the original.

Commons, Capitalism, and Psychic Theft

Why is it so hard to tell an open-ended story?

I have just read a new post by George Monbiot where he points to the disastrous state of UK politics right now, and tries to offer explanation. I agree with his definition of neo-liberal ideology, and with his contention that ideology is a problem. I think that any ideology is a problem, there isn’t a “good” one. Quote from Monbiot:

Neoliberalism is the ideology developed by people such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. It is not just a set of free market ideas, but a focused discipline, deliberately applied around the world. It treats competition as humanity’s defining characteristic, sees citizens as consumers and “the market” as society’s organising principle. The market, it claims, sorts us into a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Any attempt by politics to intervene disrupts the discovery of this natural order.

Stop there. However good or interesting the rest of the article, think about what psychological enquiry and philosophy has taught us about humanity. This “competition” market orientation is just one human characteristic. It is often justified by reference to survival tactics in times of threat or scarcity, conveniently forgetting that humans in their vulnerability would not survive at all if they were not dependent on others at birth, and interconnected in various dependencies thereafter. In other words, not competition, but making alliances in cooperative and collaborative networks are the organizing principles required [starting in the family]. The competitive market ideology also forgets that humanity, like all living beings, also die, and they ensure the survival of their kind by procreation, joining with other, death and future together: generation. [And sexual reproduction can be sublimated in creativity and/or desire for legacy.] In other words, action for the long-term, for the future is yet another candidate for being an ideological organizing principle.

Any one of these characteristics taken on its own leads to ideology of some kind or other [like “the market”, “utopia”, “fundamentalist religion”]. In the closed mind of ideology, it is possible to hold all three characteristics at once, never mind their contradictions, as another characteristic we have is an ability to “compartmentalise”. [defn.*]

Where does ideology begin? In the world of thought, external writings, papers, articles and speeches, where rationality is prioritized, and logical thinking is expected, an ideology hidden in the solutions to complex human problems can be missed. Rationality and ideological thinking have more in common with each other than we might like to think. “Rational” starts with parts, already supposed known. It has to work with cognitive concepts, expressible in words. These parts can be truthful or factual within the limits of their partiality. Then cognition builds an edifice, parts coalesce to create larger notions, concepts, theories, and cultures evolve carrying the thought, forgetting that it is partial, and only valid within the limited space where it began. Institutionalized structures follow. Having attended to “Rational”, these very structures claim they are evidence based, can be tested for validity, or in less scientific parlance, they are “common sense”, everyone knows, etc. What they cannot do is take in the whole, see unintended consequences, or find something new. What they fail to understand is that even science is more than “justification from evidence”, it is also heuristic, the desire for discovery lives alongside a willingness to meet failure or refutation. Genuine science is a process where emotive attributes, desire, willingness, delight, despair and boredom etc. are threaded throughout the action. It is only the result (dependent on initial and boundary conditions) that can leave emotion aside, and claim fact. The context of justification, the place of evidence, is regularly claimed by many, both in science and in other areas of human thinking, to be the be-all and end-all, as if it were the whole truth.

Enough. Stop. Human thinking (including scientific thinking) is bound up with loss and failure and risk. Each of us is more than rational, more than cognitive, more than the sum of parts. Exploring the human mind, psychology of all kinds, recognizes unconscious and emotion, and external impact (where we are witnesses, or avoiders of our own perception). Whether psychology (including psychoanalysis, neuroscience, etc) classes itself as art or science or both, is not at issue here. The perspective being taken is that the “whole” lies in a different category to articulated thought, both inside and outside the thinker of thoughts, so that rationality and logic is limited. As an instance of a human being, I can say that from my beginning I could be open to perceive the whole in all its chaos that I could not comprehend, and I exist in all the uncertainty that I cannot feel what is coming next. I have an early memory, aged about four, of my own delight in reading a road sign, a ‘light-bulb’ moment of experience that recalls not only that I got it: this reading thing makes sense; but also my awareness that my father driving the car was so pleased with me, his clever daughter. This glimpse of past experience remembers nothing of my mother or my sisters [who were probably also in the car], nor the weather [which must have been something], nor the colour of the trees, bushes, sky that may have been around the sign [from the memory that the sign pointed to “Rasharkin” and adult knowing of this district, I know we were on a rural drive]. I have screened out “the whole”. Cognition, “I can read”, comes with a delight as I “make myself great”. I need not stay in that vulnerable unknowing place where a baby sister intrudes and a slightly older sister might be envied. I am a “daddy’s girl”. Then, in my unconscious family place, much later in some cognitive place of articulation, I re-learn: vulnerability is strength. When I own dependence and not-knowing, then my all-too-human real father and mother, Nature, Mother Earth, are all part of that which is beyond me, greater than me. Grace and gratitude come unbidden and have more worth to me than greatness.

Enough. Stop. Perceive “whole”, where perception is open to all, feelings, chaos and uncertainty, the not-known. Somewhere, awareness of personal death lurks, and molecules neurons and cells will do what they do, letting body-mind biology transform some part into a want, leave a legacy. Be important, be the best, remember me. It is not a surprise that culture becomes sexualized, in its many different forms. For example, gendering, if justified at all. is justified on the grounds of protecting “women and children”, that is protecting procreation. “Death shall have no dominion.” ” We are in control.” As if, as if, as if, there were no whole greater than the self with its wants. As I write, I like the word want, it means both “lack” and “desire”, if there was no lack, there could be no desire, no learning how to bear doing without, no curiosity about what might be found with the courage to seek. I want now to know how to want, I no longer want to avoid wanting, but I can feel the power of that particular desire.

I learn from awareness. It is partial awareness, my mind is small. My rational self can take a helpful place within a mind open to not-knowing, grateful for other that is not me, and not mine.

How on earth can I tell this story? The story that says there is a way to find an open mind?

Back to Monbiot, and the ideology of neo-liberalism. He says “opponents have failed to produce a new, compelling story of their own, it [neo-liberalism] still dominates our lives“. He has a story, the link goes to a Monbiot TED talk, that shows he has a way with speech as well as with words. A small slice of the talk offers his way to tell a different story, a story of belonging, of “bridging networks, not bonding networks”.

Enough. Stop. It is time to say there is an open story. Tell the story first, then why it is hard to tell. My story is: Live by Commons Principles. This will have many variants, depending on individuals, their locality, their networks and the aspects of the World outside our capacity to manage. (I will not say “control”) “Organization by Commons” is a more formal name for the story Monbiot tells, though he tells it as positive, with no pain. possibly this is why it feels as if it is just a story, a happy story, and could not become real.

When each of us trusts others, we each take a risk, that is what trust means, it does not mean being safe, as there is no point to “trust” if I am safe already. To organize life according to a “Commons Principle” requires trust. And risk. So, for some there will be loss, even death sooner than expected or wanted. There are of course already many who die too soon, the ideological stories don’t cancel distress, and neoliberalism has played a huge part in creating needless pain. What we can do, when pain comes, is offer help, compassion, and the picking up of pieces. In a commons, I believe we would be more free to do less harm, to do more care. Those consequences could emerge, not yet known, worth trying. The most precious attribute of Commons is that it is open ended, based on an open system of thought, that acknowledges the whole, greater than the parts. It starts with the reality, a larger space, where each of us is, a complex part within, and each of us holds, like a hologram, or the letters in a stick of rock,  the unthought image of  “all”. Locality is built in, with feelings to be owned, especially dependence on others, and the trust, and risk that this entails, as we cross whatever boundary lies ahead, working out what will bridge networks, rejecting the stagnation of being closed. Commons is based in dependency, need, and connection, and willingness to be generous to others, to “pay forward” to the future. Above all, it recognizes that “whole” is larger than the sum of parts. We are all commoners already, creative, distinctive individuals inscribed within larger wholes, who sometimes can access a bit of the whole that is in us.

The irony is  – we do it already. Everyone can tell a “happy story” of a recent interaction with another that involved generosity, kindness, gratitude, just being human. We know how to live as whole, but we tend to only do it in small spaces, what a friend calls the ‘crawl space’ of cultural and institutional structures. To open the crawl space opens us to those hurts in ourselves and others that belong to our egotism, our ominpotence and omniscience. We just do not articulate our commons, nor do we – yet – allow it to be an organizing principle in cultures and institutions, although there is evidence that it may have been one once, in some historical or indigenous cultures. Commons cooperation is also alive in some local communities, though pressured and threatened by the push-back interactions from the wider world, especially from individuals and groups who think they are applying rational common sense, because rejection of “commons’ does make sense if and when the risks of subjectivity are avoided. Fortunately there are also many places where work is done that show that a society organized on Commons Principles could be made alive, entered into, spread throughout this world of needs.

There is loss to be faced, grief and shame. One loss is the omniscient greatness, of the small girl inside my memory. I hope now that she may never again feel transported to seventh heaven of unmitigated egotistical rapturous happiness, memory is enough. Another loss is now associated with shame, hard to bear, that I did think I was the best, the only one, omnipotent. In that instant, I did not know the humanness of my father, I only had me, me, identified with great and big, admired. I am grateful that I did have a human father and mother, both ‘good enough’. What is lost is the imaginary internal world, not real, what is gained are riches before unknown, yet invaluable.**

Tell the Commons Story. Bring it to life in each of our local spaces, not as compartments, but like living cells, where in each moment the boundaries are crossed by the taking in and the giving out of wider commonality. We can model this from knowing how we grow up in a good enough family, not competitive nor closed, but belonging in its village, aware and part of the outside world.

Why is the story hard to tell? In part this is because of the psychological want that griefs, losses and risks will not exist, or when do, there is hope that they can be avoided or displaced. In Commons, they will be faced. However I believe there is a further built in part of our psychology that makes a change to an open system more difficult. Psychoanalytical author Neil Maizels has written a paper asserting that Capitalism derives from an internal model of the competitive family. This helps understanding of why the neo-liberal market has so much appeal.  Another analyst, Christopher Bollas, introduced a concept of psychic theft which offers a way to see why a different kind of thought may be impossible, quite inaccessible, however often the consequences of ideology are seen, and cognitive dissonance is experienced. Psychic theft occurs when the family [maybe momentarily] fails to offer awareness and openness to growth of thought, and instead places the seeds of closed boundaries, compartments within which ideologies thrive. Bollas says, in psychoanalytic language:

…there is a process that can be as destructive as projective identification in its violation of the spirit of mutual relating… a process that I propose to call extractive introjection. Extractive Introjection occurs when one person steals for a certain period of time … an element of another individual’s psychic life. Such an intersubjective violence takes place when the violater (henceforth A) automatically assumes that the violated (henceforth B) has no internal experience of the psychic element that A represents. At the moment of this assumption, an act of theft takes place, and B may be temporarily anaesthetized and unable to ‘gain back’ the stolen part of the self. If such extraction is conducted by a parent upon a child it may take many years of an analysis before B will ever recover the stolen part of the self.***

He gives examples in more ordinary language. I am aware of this process within my own family where it emerges again and again in our family dance. The children, or younger members, even those long since adults, are regularly supposed to be the more needy, more childish, more lost, than the one running ragged with caring. It is too easy to forget or deny that we are all human, even the babies, the not yet walking or talking, and we all have somewhere, most of the range of stuff that Bollas refers to in the term “psychic elements” [their own caring, seeking, playing, generous and reparative capabilities that bring mutual relationship and flourishing]. Psychic theft happens when we are too well educated in adultness, and want too much to give it to those we care for, not letting them find it for themselves, or better, walking alongside them while that happens.

Possibly I am over-sensitized, I see mindsets everywhere, and though they may be inarticulate or shielded here and there by defensive habits, some are open, some only able to refine and develop within a structure that is already there. Sadly too often I think I ‘see’, should say intuit or feel, that in the therapeutic and caring professions, especially my own, which was education, the places where psychic theft exists. This is another kind of “othering” that says: I am an adult (enlightened) you are not, and lesser than me. (To my own children, I am so sorry, so regretful, of the times this happened, and do call me out when you see it now.)

Those of us who try to act for change, most recently in climate crisis action, need to watch the ways in which we ‘other’ those who are less active than ourselves, or at different stages to ourselves. It is not all pain, some of it is learning, flourishing, growing, being alive.


*Compartmentalism is a subconscious psychological defense mechanism used to avoid cognitive dissonance, or the mental discomfort and anxiety caused by a person’s having conflicting values, cognitions, emotions, beliefs, etc. within themselves.

**This sentence is a slightly altered version of a sentence in Michael Faraday’s lecture of 1854, “On Mental Education“. The value of awareness, or the examined life, that enables resistance to unconscious desires of the self, has a long history.

***From Chapter 9 in Bollas, The Shadow of the Object:Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known, Free Association Books, London, 1987. A scan of this chapter for personal use is here.

What can Psychology do that others are less able to do

What can Psychology do that others are less able to do?

I belong to an online group called Climate Psychology Alliance – facing difficult truths about climate change and ecological crisis. I wrote the essay below in response to many posts and references offered by members of that group.

Without any disregard of the capacity for compassion, connection and care shown by many articles, without disregard for the wisdom of both/and in personal cultural and structural discussions and impacts, the recognition that future is uncertain and the help given to contain and bear everything that brings, I find myself criticizing and carping and not liking myself, my ingratitudes. And so, a wee bit of What and Why to myself, and I discover I am missing the clarity of the statement: to be alive is to be in contradiction.

I am seeing it, but not easily saying it to myself. Surely this is what psychology can say to all: there is no rational or reasoned way through to a better [or any] future, if by rational you mean without experiencing contradictions. From inaccurate memory I quote:

eg Bowlby: “ambivalence is a mark of health”,

or ?Bion?: “the inherent contradiction of being born into dependence with a need to become an individual”,

or, many cultures such as Native American and Chinese that share: “I have two wolves in my soul, the fighting angry greedy destroyer and the upright warrior defender [very male this part of the story] that finishes with Which Wolf wins? The one I feed the most.” [maybe this is where the female comes in, the nurturing breast/food provider].

In short, what psychology can say is that at all times in lived experience, us humans and sentient beings are BOTH destructive AND altruistic. The many unconscious and subconscious vectors that criss-cross our behaviours and our reactive and proactive intents have been tracked by neuroscience, and can be mixed and matched to bring the varieties of conscious feeling/action whether that be aggressive / assertive or altruistic / enlightened self-interested caring. Whatever – see Panksepp’s naming of “emotions” [basic instincts, in capitals to stress basic rather than felt in our consciousness – FEAR, RAGE, PANIC, LUST, SEEKING, PLAY, CARE]. These produce the contradiction.

That is Fact 1.

I am trying to say, and wishing I could be more simple, concise, a better writer, that the neuroscience also states another fact just as our experiential observational therapeutic art does: the emotion we feel [conscious or unconscious] is not in our individual personal control, it arrives as a message to the self from the self in its surroundings: This is the state you are in. Information accepted, as therapists [and friends and mothers/fathers carers] know, often, the state changes, dynamic, the process of being a living being. I wonder often how I can share that magical joyousness felt as a person’s being shifts, even in great grief, or recognizing the truth in anger, the joy arrives at the same time, and my eyes can tear up as I write, gratitude wins when truth is fed. We do not control feelings to produce change, we witness them, and hold them or fail to hold. Feeling happens because we live, NOT because we control them. Our agency lies in our willingness to hold, for ourselves, and, as we are connected, also for others.

That is Fact 2 [but I don’t hear it said often, is it my opinion?]

I am emphasizing this because non-psychologists think we help people with their feelings [as we do, from the crude assumptions that counsellors offer advice, a step up from friends’ tea and sympathy, to the much more sophisticated and real work done by holding a space for the feelings to be shared and witnessed.] What we also do is understand the nature of mind, and one of its products, thought. Before I wander into looking at mistakes of thought, and better forms of thinking, as well as the other parts of our being, entwined, not separate, I remember I want to address thoughts on climate. Here it helps me to make an analogy to my understanding of systems thinking, or ecological thought, addressing the whole without losing my threads in a variety of other perspectives.

Do you remember physics lessons, and all those batteries, wires and crocodile clips that made little light bulbs grow bright, or dim, or as many pupils would find so frustrating, sometimes failed to light at all? From such lessons, one was taught a formula: V = IR, where “V” is volts and “I” current, in amps, and “R” is resistance, ohms. This is science, or REALITY, not a piece of mathematics. Volts, amps and ohms are different categories of stuff, and they do not go in a circle like rocks, paper, scissors.

Analogy – current, I, [or brightness] is the effect seen, resistance, R is the context, and the battery providing V is the motivating cause. The only way to change “I” is to fiddle with R, or provide more or less V. If the crocodile clips on the battery are rusty, there is no V, as rust makes a lot more R than was intended etc. The formula is very reductive, it does have severe initial and boundary conditions, necessary  for the results, the effect, to be as expected. Not many physics teachers stress that the system of initial and boundary conditions is what makes the formula science, the story of reality. But, the analogy holds to help thinking about climate change, where, like current, what we see is the resultant effect of many things that happen in the context R, and are caused by the motive force V.

In talk of mitigating or reversing climate change, the effect, we have to work with R, the context or V, whatever is causative. There is a lot of fiddling with R. This may be more or less effective, from “ban fossil fuel” to “eat no beef”, but in my view only some attention to V –the growth growth growth mantra, linked to both individualism and achievement as well economy based on competitive trade. And in this case, V is man-made cultural or structural attitude. We can use the formula: V = R X I to help us think more effectively, more wisely.

I believe the R, the context, is necessarily local, and indeed individual. Each of us has our own mass of contradictions and differences in circumstance. As a creative and productive culture, Extinction Rebellion is an example of being good about acknowledging this, e.g. not everyone can face arrest, but all agree to non-violence. I see it as a mistake to “tell” the Chinese or any other culture, us, not to eat beef. The way forward for context is not “tell”, but as always – education, accurate information, communication, and respect for individual need.  [The classic example of this is on a related topic, that of population growth, where dictat in China has indeed reduced population but brought a slew of unwelcome side-effects, while in the west, population growth drops without dictat, as women – and men – are more free to make different work/life choices.]

V, like its many effects, inequalities, exploitation and damage, as well as climate, is global, its effects are local. For example, the growth of trade war, and its ally, the growth of military war, and its industry, are global. Hope for a better future, enabling the probability of creating a better future, lies in seeing that these global attitudes, the motive force that causes the effects, are NOT science or results, they are man-made. The economy, the monetary system, the military belief in nation and nation states, are all thought systems. I never thought that I might quote that to-me-awful organization, the NRA: “its not the guns, it’s the people behind the guns”. [Help, there is a good reason to adjust context, the number of guns, as well as attend to cause.]

Hence I return to “what can psychology do?”. Keep exploring, looking, educating about thought systems. Of course psychology in action also helps all in distress, supports those who despair or seek peace, and can  also support those who try to change the monetary system, and those who bring technology to context change.  I have been missing that psychology can also say loudly and clearly that we are contradictory beings who by being born, then living, then dying, have both “growth” and “stasis” built in. We go through spring, summer, autumn and winter. Our thought in every department needs this knowledge.

In the last few years, pre-Trump election, pre-Brexit vote, I was struck by the number of rational beings making arguments on the basis of “greed is part of our nature” or “we survive by paying attention to self, so of course the system is like this”, as if these were the only human attributes that mattered. They are of course part-right, and my quite murderous judgmental wish that they would shut up, tells me I have a good bit of that in me too. But, my reasons for living, the things that have me smiling, are hardly ever about achievements, unless it be seeing the toddlers’ face as she reaches the top of the slide in the local playground. Our other truths are contradictory, our ‘seeking’ curiosity, our humour and ‘play’, our defending and protecting ‘care’, for people we don’t even know as well as many we do, can be given a lot more space than our present culture honours.

Working against culture and structure is hard. De-growth will be hard, one has to stand up looking silly, or naïve, bear the disagreements from others, and live with pieces of guilt, whatever they are, when we go along with the present setting. [I could choose not to fly to see my family, but do it anyway, I cannot choose how the pension I need for my daily living is invested, can only choose to ask that question.]

Psychology can say this. Hold the contradictions. The Brexit mess on the UK news at this very time, demonstrates the contradictions, and shows how some are willing to bear and contain, stay in collaboration, while others bluster and bully, driven by survival mode. [There was a great paper about the Eton boys survival on here recently.] Media jump from reporting with some skill, to demanding a lead that would satisfy, etc. Psychology can say “Hold the Contradictions does not mean Do Nothing. It allows more clarity and less pre-judgment about what needs to be done, and what needs to be valued. Be aware of thought process as well as its content.”

My personal view – heeding the V and the R of my equation – has become three passions:

And – I tell the two wolves story in whatever form the context will take. I try to own my contradictions.

I write poetry for self- therapy: If you have read this far,

Bees know

No-one told the bees to make honey
but they do.
No-one needs to know how the grass grows
but it does.
When the tree falls in the forest we do not hear
but fungi flourish
We have not asked the sun to rise and shine every time
Morning comes
In a darkened night we lift our eyes to the stars, or sleep
and dream.
Did you hear the rain pitter patter your window, or the wind’s rattle?
Planning permission not required.

Did you hear about the bananas? Dole’d to consumers faffing and Fyffing
Wanting golden skinned
Nations unfed while consumers led to love the bananas
not too soft or black
tons crated from plantations and tonnage tossing over seas,
Hands harvest the hands.
Fair trade or agribusiness. How do you know there are bananas
in your fridge?
Are you bananas? You forget the world will touch you with its gifts
Let your skin take it in
While the bees buzz on busy honey making.

No-one told you: you will get something for nothing every day
No-one told you: you will be born and grow
No-one told you love, or hate or fear or pride or joy
Let them come, as they will, as surely as the sun shines.
See what honey comes.

Thanks for reading. Elspeth

Attitudes and Defenses

This is a paper written a long time ago [1990s] for reflection after experiential learning classes  – just want a record of it so putting it up here for now.

Emotional Education: Some thoughts on Attitudes and Defenses

Emotional Education is about (i) becoming aware of what is happening in our emotional process and also (ii) learning how to influence this happening even though most of it is unconscious.

All sorts of interactions have both conscious and unconscious aspects. The unconscious occurs first, before conscious awareness. Also, the unconscious does not have a rational sense of time, place or contradiction. Anything goes. Two ordinary ideas help our conscious observation of emotion and feeling.

Rapport               The degree of emotional contact between people

Here-and-now     Unconscious communication expresses the present emotional state (however far in the past the roots of this state may lie, or however much in desires for the future)

Rapport – (or atmosphere) can be full of feeling, different and strong feeling/s, very nearly empty/ without feeling. The word “trust” can be very significant in relation to rapport. Pay attention to it, and notice when you do not notice rapport or do not want to notice it.

To understand “Here-and-Now” observe how often when we talk (or think etc.) we are sometimes emotionally in “There and Now” (that is stuff/events happening elsewhere) or “There and Then” (stuff that has already happened somewhere). The unconscious acts “Here-and-Now”.

Rapport and Here-and-Now are connected, and consequences like trust, degree of anxiety, etc. follow depending on the kind of attention paid to them.

Whatever people are doing, they are influenced by the quality of the intra and interpersonal relationship(s) which arise, e.g. by the creation of rapport or an appropriate use of authority, respect, etc. depending on the kind of relationships and roles. [Think of examples – doctor-patient, parent-child, friendship, partners, teacher-student, server-customer, financial adviser-client… the list is long…]

In one area of psychodynamic thought, “object relations theory”, a person’s need to relate to others is taken to be central. The term “object-relationship” refers to unconscious activity, where a person processes a store of feelings about others, like an emotional program. These unconscious activities, ‘the inner world of object-relations’ are usually based on those who were important in early childhood, but are more like caricatures of people in particular emotional states, than rounded recognisable pictures. They are “part-objects”. For example, in inner world, a person could feel that a woman who is strong is also angry, or that a woman who is kind cannot be strong, nor ever be angry, even though a real mother might have been able to be both gentle/kind and strong/firm sometimes and either one or the other at other times. A child’s early perception is of emotions present, not an awareness of the whole context, nor a rounded recognition of why or how the mother (or father, other) has these feelings at this moment.

Later, relationships are influenced by unconscious associations that evoke particular part-objects. Say someone has an inner world with “caricatures” such as above, he/she might find it very difficult to trust a female boss (or doctor or teacher), and also might be completely unable to realise that his/her daughter (seen as ‘gentle’) is angry about something real, so she is wrongly labelled “upset” or “childish”.

Some particular object-relationships within people are painfully intense. These are kept out of awareness by splitting and defense. These hostile words describe part of normal development. The supposition is that life/reality is just too complex, especially in babyhood when each person has yet to develop the pre-concepts and concepts for sense-making, so we rely on non-verbal and body communication. Intense discomfort is coped with by diluting, filtering or disposing of some feeling. Ordinary good-enough caring can ‘catch’ the feeling, recognise it and hopefully return it in a manageable form, that is, no longer too intense, something from which the reality of the world can be learned.

However, relationships do not stop being complex, or uncomfortable, and people continue to use defenses that have become automatic rather than useful. These can be visible, especially to others. Developing emotional awareness, and knowledge about emotional process, whether of self or other, can create helpful change and lessen defensiveness in relationships. Examples of common defenses are:

Denial:  Disowning of feelings which are either unacceptably intense, or labelled ‘bad’, or produce too much confusion and anxiety, or all of these.

Projection:  Ascribing feelings or motives to others, i.e. experiencing others as angry, or accusatory, or jealous, etc., when it is too painful to accept these feelings in oneself.

Displacement:  Using feelings which belong to one situation in a different context, for example being angry with one’s family when the cause of the anger lies in a work situation.

Manipulation:  Using the feelings of others to satisfy one’s own need, usually without appreciation of the effects on another, as in ’emotional blackmail’ or ‘double bind’. This often covers hidden desperation about being needy and/or being rejected (needs having been rejected before) and creates a vicious circle.

There are many types of defense. Combinations of defenses entangled with those of others also make it difficult to avoid being drawn into particular kinds of relationships from time to time, for example:

Collusion: where the defense of one person matches with another (e.g. one takes an authoritarian role, the other passively obeys, while both avoid mental pain in the real problem faced)

Health Warning: When a defense is seen, some compassion for the reason for it is needed, otherwise the other is left with the original unmanageable emotional difficulty, made worse by feeling accused, exposed or intruded upon. The result will be greater ‘defensiveness’, increased rigidity, not what is wanted. Pointing out a defense does not ‘catch’ the feeling and return it in a manageable way. It is cruel.

To reduce defensiveness in a safe atmosphere, and do no harm, three attitudes are worth practicing:

Genuineness (awareness of self)

It is sometimes, though not always, easier to see defensiveness in others than in oneself.  To be genuine, and engage in relationships authentically, it is important to regularly reflect on one’s own feelings, notice how and when one became aware of them, and become curious about why the person or context evoked that particular feeling. It is particularly important to notice mixed feelings or those one does not like having, or thinks are ‘wrong’ to have, and acknowledge these conflicts. There is no right or wrong about feelings; one has them. [The action taken in response to a feeling might be wrong.]

By becoming self-aware, relationships with others become more authentic and less a performance. Also, ‘be genuine’ applies only to oneself. It is not possible to demand that someone else is genuine though it becomes more likely when they meet genuineness in you. And, do not demand it of yourself, just practice.

Acceptance (awareness of various parts of self and others)

Feelings, attitudes and personal characteristics, both physical and mental, have to be accepted because they are so at least for now [they may change]. This is easier to say than to do, as, first assumptions are made both about self and others, so you might not know what the actual feeling, attitude or characteristic is. Also, if what it is, or what you assume it is, is something you do not like, which makes you anxious or uncomfortable, you can mentally block the discomfort.  However, accepting can be practiced.  It applies both to yourself and to others. Acceptance does not mean “agree with”, it means you realise that this view or attitude or feeling exists and is held by the person. It does not avoid any responsibility you have to let someone you accept know when, how or what you disagree with.

One way to practice is to allow yourself to think about personal characteristics, e.g. impatience, kindness, and divide them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.  Then try to find a way in which the ‘bad’ characteristic can be linked with something good, which doesn’t change it, but makes it more bearable, e.g. an impatient person might also be spontaneous or energetic. Similarly, find the downside to the ‘good’ characteristics.

Acceptance needs lateral thinking.  You are opening your mind to wider images of people or groups and respecting them as individuals, not labelling or categorising.

Empathy (awareness of the other)

This is recognising what it feels like to be other person.  It is not necessarily about how you would feel if the same things were happening to you, because you are not them; you might have the same feelings, you might not. It is more like being in their skin, than in their shoes. Empathy is achieved by listening and observing attentively and picking up the clues, both those which are obvious and those from tones, atmosphere and body language. It is gathering information. You can check the information, but do that in an accepting way, as if you are aggressive or intrusive, the feelings will change in reaction to you.

Being empathic is sometimes called knowing the other’s ‘frame of reference’.  Should you want the other to move to your frame (often with good reason) and you have some idea of theirs, you are much more likely to find a way from the one frame to the other, if you convey and make use of your empathy.

There is considerable confusion about ’empathy’, especially the assumption that it means being ‘nice to people’.  For example, to treat a disruptive bully with softness and ‘would you like to talk about your worries’ is not empathic, neither is retaliation with more force than he uses.  A bully is making others fear or be angry; is not owning fear in himself, not letting himself feel weak; he is ‘projecting’.  His need may be for security without retaliation.  To consistently watch him and firmly stop him is empathic.

Genuineness, acceptance and empathy are aspects of reflective activity, or mindfulness. They do not replace regular communication. They are like peripheral vision when driving a car. Of course knowing where you are going and watching the route in front is how you drive a car. Reflection makes connections with the other people on the road, and reflective activity improves all our journeys. In literature concerning psychoanalysis, object relations, defensiveness, etc. the concepts can sound involved and difficult. However, everyone has been living with feelings, defenses and relationships throughout their life and knows a great deal about them already. Practising genuineness, acceptance and empathy increases awareness and enables the psychodynamic notion of using “counter-transference” which leads to change in our inner world.

Acknowledgement: Genuineness, acceptance and empathy as described here are my version of the ‘core conditions’ of person-centred counselling, considered in the light of psychodynamic theory of human living and growing. [See for example Carl Rogers (1961) On Becoming a Person, and Margot Waddell (2002) Inside Lives.] I have found these ideas especially useful in non-therapeutic contexts, such as occur within organisations and a variety of groups. I am responsible for this version, which I believe is accessible from observation in daily life. Emotional Education is more like human relations consultancy than therapy or counselling. Or, it seems to me that Emotional Education offers a way in, and enables flourishing, while complex or difficult ideas are not simplistically reduced.

 

Philosophy, Ontology, Thought

A personal essay, my philosophy, its emergence, partly articulated, as much a part of my experience as events in a memoir I am writing in another context.

I created my first website in 1997, something of an online resume, but also an attempt to show in this then new format, what was professionally important to me. Through it I hoped to engage others in conversation. At that time I also belonged to the Scottish Institute of Human Relations, SIHR, a charity and a membership organization. There I had a friend and colleague known to me as the “other Elspeth”, as I am known to her. She and I thought that communication between parts of the organization, and the membership, needed to be better. We created a newsletter, and in 1998, I made a website for SIHR, so we could put the news online as well as all SIHR information, its structure and management, lists of its courses, and procedures for applying, etc. Members received the Newsletter by post, probably no-one but me and the other Elspeth looked online. I knew that the internet offered an incredible possibility for communication, but like everyone, had little idea that within ten years it would have become a home to almost every kind of communication, perception and misperception, except those connections of feeling and touch, which it cannot do.

I know I like trying to communicate, I like writing, and the process, setting out to see if I can capture an event, or clarifying the record of information. Since 2011, I have been blogging, a kind of Diary, called My World, Your World, One World, a ramble of everyday activities and impressions. I hear my desire as I write, I so much want to “Tell the World” and I so much do not want to get mired in Me, Me, Me, but then for a while it does not matter at all if the world, or anyone, reads or hears, as one thing I am doing is listening to myself. With some chagrin I realize I do not have many followers, which is apparently a goal of blogging that I have not made my goal, but when I have occasionally had a response from some other previously unknown soul, I am happy for the rest of the day. It makes a harmony of some kind, a connection. Having discovered that blogging is now easy, once one has learned how, I put my poetry on another blog, another way to record that I am, this is a way to be. Dear old Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” which is totally the wrong way round. I, and all of you others, are. First, we exist. Then we discover that we are, hurray, people who think, consciously, and we can see that we exist by the many ways we do. From preaching to playing, there many ways to hear and see how others are also doing.

At the same time, seven years ago, I had finally retired from the last threads of part-time work. I happened to be in Shanghai for most of 2011, as thanks to sons and wanting to be physically near to the children, to feel and touch, I was being a global grandmother. I was often lonely after I had taken the twins, then three years old, to the “experimental kindergarten” they attended. I began a third blog, [this blog], which was to be the “Not-me” writing, the place where I could be both passionate and informed about Human Rights, and our World. This writing would, by intention, attempt to clarify and put in order what I have learned from psychoanalytic and scientific thinking, and my work experience in teaching social justice. Well, I could have remembered which road is paved by intentions, but I only remember thinking that it was an irony to say “teaching” and “social justice” in one phrase, as silly as saying “teach morality or values”. The quality sought emerges from experience, one tries to be the part of the experience that would allow that quality to arrive. This blog is called Transitional Space: The In-between of Identity Culture and Community, with a tag line question: Can People Do Better? I remember I began it with such hope that this time I would succeed in sorting my thinking, I might even discover more clearly what it is that I think. I am happy that it declares my values in every post, but I know it is not clearly ordered at all, and my intentions are unfulfilled. It is laden with difficulty, complexity, clumsy writing, attempts at graphics, words, and more words. Looking at it, I am now surprised to find that there are actually 35 posts, that’s about five each year, more or less each about something that matters to me, attempting to explain or show why that is so. This blog has almost no followers, no comments from others. I think of this work as my failure. It is a failure. It was an experiment: could I order my thinking? Read it, and you will see that focus is elusive, there is no completed order emerging. What you might not see is that “failure” is fine, I am still hoping, still experimenting, and will write another post there when I find myself again in that transitional space that brings an idea into my thoughts. Failure is another way to learn, and that is what Michael Faraday knew, and tried to share. [My doctorate is on Michael Faraday’s thought. In the 1840s he made the discoveries that brought understanding of the electromagnetic field.] I murmur Faraday’s seminal insight to myself: “What if space is not empty?” and realize, again, that transitional space is not ordered, especially when whatever is going to be new, has not yet emerged. I don’t even know if it will be a gem, crystalline, sharp, or round and smooth like a pebble tossed up by the waves on the beach. Maybe, I wonder, can creative new thinking only emerge from some deep level of conflict or ambivalence?

However, some kind of finding my way in transitional space is what seemed possible, lurking in the back of my mind, when I thought that I would try memoir writing, see what happened, and took Uncommon Harmony to be a memoir writing name. I know I was also doing what I have often done, and what many people do: see something they fancy, in the moment, get interested, follow along a bit, find it becoming a hobby, or more, and then it, whatever it is, seems to become part of one’s identity, as well as a pleasure to be enjoyed, a part of living. My memoir writing is making something obvious that I already know, that I have a history of shifts in identity, taking myself fairly blindly into something new that has grabbed my attention, or seemed a good way to go, when I found myself in a box that was becoming irksome. This means my memoir, although a looking back, has also to serve as a means of going forward.

As I write, the record says that throughout my life, circumstance, or active self, or both, have intervened and I would discover a door opening to a new interest and then a little later find I have moved on and seem to be somewhere that I had not previously expected to be. I am not where I was before, though I am still me. In a modern phrase, I have re-invented myself, but unlike the meaning of that phrase, this is not at all by plan. My re-inventing is reactive, not proactive. I would like to think I was creatively reactive, if such a thing can be, an uncommon series of identities, a harmony of self and world. I remember that Faraday, whose courage I revere, was reactive. He reacted to failed experiments, to observed puzzles, and called the process “a revelation, forced on my mind”. So failure can be a process, not a dead end, I am still getting somewhere, just arriving at a different place that I had not expected. There is an Irish joke, where the stranger asks the man at the side of the road: Do you know the way to Ballybofey? The man says, Yes, but I wouldn’t be starting from here.” Maybe planning to reach Ballybofey is not a good idea.

Now, I am not even sure that I have a place where I want to go, but, the act of memoir writing certainly lets me look at where I have been, with views both welcome and unwelcome. When I find myself recording the many different kinds of work I have done, my activities look manic. Surely that is a fault of writing, recording, as the memory is not of mania, some is of vitality, and enjoyment, but a lot is also of being lazy in a good way, letting time go by. It is true that I have more than once shifted from one field of work to another that on the surface seems totally different, but I know my recollection of change is that the transitions were smooth enough, even seamless, not sudden disruptive shifts. The pattern of change seems to hold together if I think of myself as a scientist, the exploring kind, even though know I have never actually been employed in the field of science, so I sometimes say I am a scientist, other times I say I am an educator. One needs experimentation, the other needs play, so both make some sort of sense, at least to me.

The memoir makes me look at my career, my various occupations, and trainings, as well as paid positions. In my resume of experience, extended into retirement, I have been a mathematician, a student of computing science in the 1960s, a wife and mother, a proof reader for a scientific publisher, and a nursery school teacher, though I had no formal certificated learning in Child Development. That was all before I was thirty. Then I was a historian of science, a trainer of science teachers, and a physics teacher, also, without having undertaken a teacher training myself. I was just forty-four when I became Head of a Physics Department, and also the first Chairperson, using that then newish word, of the newly formed Education Section of the British Society for the History of Science. I was breaking new ground, finding a place where I would not just go to conferences, but would sometimes be invited. Learning, education, became ever wider, I know I was a “trailblazer” though somehow, not a leader. I do not seem to bring people with me on the trail, just like now when blogging, I don’t bother courting followers.

While thinking about teaching, and being taught, I remember another quote from Michael Faraday:

“the education proposed must, to a very large degree, be of self, it is so far incommunicable; that the master and the scholar merge into one, and both dis­appear; that the instructor is no wiser than the one to be instructed, and thus the usual relations of the two lose their power”

My story of career is of learner and teacher “merged into one”. As learner I was a doctorate student and analysand, I would feel more like a child and a busy mother/parent, rather than a scholar or master. The best paper I ever had published is called “Making Mistaking Reality”, lots of pages, more words. I could more simply say, I learned to play, and learned while playing. At forty-two, doctorate complete, still fooling myself I was happily married, I had a new job as Head of Physics at Godolphin and Latymer School and was convinced of the value of psychoanalytic thinking. I attended an intensive evening course “Psychoanalysis in Britain Today”, and then with the support of the school, took a Master’s level course in Counselling Aspects of Education, and the Dynamics of Institutions and Groups. This two-year postgraduate study was undertaken at the Tavistock Clinic, London, a different department from where my then husband, George, had trained as a psychotherapist, but a place where I knew some of the tutors socially. The course was a crucial learning experience, that made sense of many previous interactions, and indeed helped immeasurably in those still to come, the breakup of marriage, the death of parents, the dysfunctions and failures of ethics in a teacher training college, that might otherwise have been unbearable. But, during my study time, there was no accreditation, it was pure learning for those of us on the course. I was there on what might have been its third intake. If I had waited until 1995, when it had become a Masters from the University of North London, though still taught at Tavistock by Tavistock tutors, then I would have received a Masters degree for my learning. Maybe there was a retrospective process, but by then I had again “moved on” and I do not know if a masters certificate might exist for those of us students who were the trailblazers, or guinea pigs, depending on view. Not “having a certificate” later mattered a great deal.

In 1990 I became a trainer of teachers in Scotland, and another kind of “not having a certificate” was almost a joke, as no-one cared about a particular regulatory phrase in scottish bureaucracy, but at the time of leaving that post thirteen years later, the General Teaching Council of Scotland had still not managed to state that I was indeed suitably certified to teach, or to train teachers. The paperwork sits on a shelf somewhere, as does the paperwork from COSCA, Counseling and Psychotherapy in Scotland, who did in 1996 decide that I could not be accredited with them as a counsellor or psychotherapist, even though I was not only teaching on courses that would allow the accreditation of others, but was a part of staff teams that had put these courses together and seen them through the quality assurance committees of the educational institutions. COSCA was at the beginning of finding out what was meant by certification and accreditation, as we all were, it was a new institution, for a new profession.

How these things happened are different parts of my story. Here I am reciting that in some sense, I have often been ahead of the game, from being a child who “got” what reading was about before going to school, and saw the solution to maths problems before I had worked them out, to these much later almost farcical professional conundrums. I want to show that it has taken a lifetime to hear my own perception of what I am trying to say, and even now I have no idea whether the articulation of it is understandable. It is certainly not about being a leader, clever or wise, or emotionally intelligent, though from time to time in particular circumstances I might have managed to be these things, and at most times I am doing whatever it is that I do, and then it goes off track somehow, and I start doing something else.

I have two anecdotes that illustrate different kinds of learning, both from the Child Psychotherapy world of the 70s and 80s, in which I was sometimes present, though usually a visitor, a guest, a wife. [I was married to George, a child psychotherapist.] The Child Psychotherapy Association organized professional lectures, seminars, conferences, most of which I did not attend, more often being part of a casual social event that followed, one or two people returning to my home afterwards and continuing discussions. Sometimes there were more organized social events, like the one where I met Martha Harris, one of the founders of the Child Psychotherapy training at the Tavistock Clinic London, whose personality convinced me to commit to therapy, or less profound events, like the Tavistock Christmas Party. Unlike now, I was then good at remembering faces and names, so I felt I knew most of George’s contemporaries, or at least was acquainted with who they were. I don’t remember the date, but it must have been in the 80s when they had all become well-regarded psychotherapists, no longer students or at the beginning of their careers. I attended an event where the visiting speaker was the very well-known Dr. Benjamin Spock. Like most mothers of that time, I owned a well-used copy of his book “Baby and Child Care”, probably more practical and helpful than any other advice I received. After his lecture, there was to be a social evening at Dilys Daws’ home, what we would now call pot-luck. I knew Dilys quite well, her son was in the same year as Donal [my eldest son] at University College School, and I was invited along with George.

There were maybe fifty or more people present, I greeted many, but not Dr. Spock, who was surrounded by eager faces. I have a ridiculous association of the evening with potatoes, and know I did spend most of the time in the kitchen, which I remember as having a very wide modern counter open to the main room, where I could see what was happening, and where people I knew came and went, in and out of the kitchen, to and from the counter, with the food. Why do I think “potatoes”? I don’t remember preparing or peeling potatoes, and I would not have brought potatoes as my contribution to the potluck. My offering was almost certainly a cheesecake, as cheesecake was the specialty I usually made. I know I love potatoes for their comfort, however they are prepared, so maybe the association is a clue to the atmosphere we were sharing, good wise, practical, homely, not too fancy, a place for really good parenting, Baby and Child Care, and Parent and Wife Care too. I felt at home, I was comfortable and cheerful with the role I had taken on, a sort of friendly unobtrusive helper, hearing about Dr. Spock’s lecture, and probably sharing anecdotes of Spock book consultation with whoever came by.

I did not speak to Dr. Spock at all. George had been in deep conversation with him for quite a while, so when the time came to leave, we both returned to his side to say goodbye and thank-you. Dr. Spock turned to me. I still remembered his clear attention and his words: “but I have not met you”. I think he said something like Do tell me who you are, because I also remember that I felt this man really did want to know who I was. Dr Spock had a remarkable skill, in the few sentences we then spoke he cannot have heard much about me, but he left me with the impression that I had been seen and known. I think his book is like that too, when reading, it can make an uncertain mother think her problems in caring are seen, and yes, can be resolved. This is an extraordinarily valuable thing to do, it is probably what being a “good authority” is about, a good parent to the child who wants to know. I will always remember the meeting, and that feeling of being both noticed and well-regarded.

However, another of the Child Psychotherapy lectures, quite a different one, helped me see that this kind of “good authority” is not always what we seek. When I think of the contrast with Faraday style learning, Spock is always the “master”, there is no merge of master and scholar in his attentiveness. At a different Child Psychotherapy Lecture, the speaker was David Bohm, also an author, roughly contemporary with Spock, writer of many books that very few people seem to have heard of, let alone read. His first in 1951 was “Quantum Theory”, one just before his death in 1992 was “Changing Consciousness: Exploring the Hidden Source of the Social, Political and Environmental Crises Facing our World”. Bohm had a theory of mind that psychotherapists were interested in, and I was asked if I would like to go to the lecture, not just the social event, as I was a physicist. Had I ever heard of this David Bohm? I had. In fact I had read his “Quantum Theory” book lying on the floor in that long ago flat I shared with my friend Jean in Belfast, but I had never heard that he had also had a theory of consciousness, linked to his understandings of physical matter. His ideas are very difficult to explain, but at one level are very simple. He says that the atomic theories of matter, and the physical representations of brain, and our ideas of consciousness, are fragmentations, and lead to confusions unless they are also seen to be “just a point of view”. They are always only a part of the “Whole”, aspects of whole, whatever that is, which emerge from the perspective taken. His theory offers not only perspectives but lots of different categories and levels for grasping understandings. Then, Bohm’s theory goes on to describe the nature of the “Whole”. The ideas stop being simple, at any level of understanding. For example, one explanation reads:

“the order in every immediately perceptible aspect of the world is to be regarded as coming out of a more comprehensive implicate order, in which all aspects ultimately merge in the undefinable and immeasurable holomovement.”

Well, quite, not immediately obvious nor clarifying any confusions the reader might have. [implicate? holomovement?] Bohm has several books elucidating his theory with thought experiments and models and further explanation, and it really is not surprising that they are not generally known. In my remembering, his lecture was not very well received by the psychotherapists, although a sense of “wholes and parts” is very much part of “systems thinking” which is much used in family therapy, as well as in organizational consultancy work. Recognizing holistic and dynamic perspective might be why he had been asked to lecture, or maybe, as most therapists would admit, “consciousness” and experience of it, is not something anywhere well described, and they wanted to hear what Bohm would say.

However, as I listened, I recalled what had been said about Michael Faraday by the great physicist who followed him, James Clark Maxwell. Maxwell put the mathematics into Faraday’s discovery of the wave theory of light, and confirmed its power, opening the way to understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum and thus the initial development of quantum theory. What Maxwell said was:

“We are accustomed to consider the universe as made up of parts, and mathematicians usually begin by considering a single particle, and then conceiving its relation to another particle, and so on. This had generally been supposed the most natural method. To conceive of a single particle, however, requires a process of abstraction, since all our perceptions are related to extended bodies, so that the idea of the all that is in our consciousness at a given instant is perhaps as primitive an idea as that of any individual thing. Hence there may be a … method in which we proceed from the whole to the parts instead of from the parts to the whole. …

The method of Faraday seems to be intimately related to the second of these modes of treatment. … He conceives all space as a field of force, the lines of force being in general curved, and those due to any body extending from it on all sides, their directions being modified by the presence of other bodies…”

[James Clerk Maxwell, Treatise, 1873, Art. 529]

Nowadays one name for this first method is “Social Construction Theory”, much loved by history of science educators, and others may give the method other names, but as I heard Bohm speak, I realized that he was talking about the second mode. As I write now, I understand that the essence of what he was saying is that everything is part of a whole, what he calls the “implicate order” and further that the meaning of “implicate” can be understood. However, from then the only thing I remember is that I know I was there. I think that Bohm would say that constructed learnings, whether scientific theories, or the many other kinds of knowledge, are an “explicate order” of parts, from particular points of view. He did give one analogy to the whole that resonates more easily. He asked us to consider music.

“In listening to music, one is therefore directly perceiving an implicate order.  Evidently this order is active in the sense that it continually flows into emotional, physical, and other responses, that are inseparable from the transformations out of which it is essentially constituted.”

I knew Bohm was talking about the Faraday kind of learning, the creative discovery of something new, not the positive good authority of a Dr. Spock. I wonder if most of us are often reluctant to let ourselves learn by this ‘second mode’, preferring to have our learning in Dr. Spock style. Sometimes I wish I had never heard this lecture. I do often, for years at a time, manage to put it out of my mind. Nevertheless, it always returns, and I try to understand it, and sometimes do, but can never explain what it is that I have understood. I do however think that maybe I do experience from “whole” rather than build my world from pieces and parts. The parts emerge, as Bohm describes, from the whole within which they have been enfolded, and each part carries, like a hologram, enough information to perceive the whole. This feels right, it could be what pushes me to go ahead of where I am. I let myself do so, but I don’t at first know that this is what I am doing, and when I am troubled I cannot make sense of it. In fact, most of the time it doesn’t make sense.

I also sometimes wish I had never heard of child psychotherapy, or any other kind of psychoanalytic process, or revelation. And then I remember how many doors have opened, how many prejudices have been shed, how living is not about order however much order pays a role. Again Faraday tried to tell his audience about learning this way:

“What he has lost are things imaginary, not real; what he gains are riches before unknown to him, yet invaluable.”

I wonder what I will lose, and what comes next.

 

What Have I Lost?

What have I lost?
My youth
young untried self
dipping into an unknown world.
Eyes half-shut, mouth open
bewilderment and folly mixed
I followed rules unspoken.

What have I lost
I mind losing?
A lithe waist,
a body quick to jump,
run, turn cartwheels
on the sand of each
and every beach I ran on.

Passions, lust and longing
springing unbidden,
greener than the grass
my feet passed in carelessness.
What have I lost
that I do not know
has passed by?

Somewhere a whisper
of apprehension.
What if some opportunity
is yet to offer
and I forget such chance
will also pass?
Choice is not for tomorrow.

Now, on the fulcrum
of this moment,
remember to dance
to seize with seeing eyes
whatever loss and sorrow gives.
How else is a life built?
Each present passes by forever
into loss, no longer now.

Age is the sand and stone and rock
on which I stand.
Joints ache
weary eyes need specs
a phoenix from the ash
of sorrowed time
looks to the future.

Considers, maybe,
Can I be wise?
Life’s adventure, next,
might yet surprise.

 

 

 

 

 

Usury, and becoming an activist.

Usury has been misdefined as excessive interest, the charging of excessive interest. But, usury is not about having a debate around which percentage of interest is acceptable. Usury is the earning of interest on something that did not exist before.

I have written before about what I have come to believe is a root problem undermining all our attempts to create better lives and better conditions for all who share living on our finite planet. We need Monetary Reform, a change in the way money is created and put into circulation in our economies. [This is a man-made construct, not a natural law; history shows many precedents regarding different methods of money creation.] Recently I heard/read a brilliant podcast on the same theme. I hope you who read this will also listen. The definition of usury, earning interest on something that did not previously exist, is there. Also there is a distinction between causative injustices and derivative injustices. If the monetary system is indeed a causative injustice, from which so many other injustices derive, and if we consider how it was brought into being, we can see that well-meaning people as well as psychopathic greedy people [each of us capable of being both] sleepwalked into the creation of this dangerous destructive system that feeds derivative problems the world over. [It’s a systemic problem, we are part of it, that is why we often feel so helpless.]

How to reform/change?

We need a different image, an easily imaginable mind map of how a different money system would work. The first essential, that is indeed well on the way in many parts of the world, is that we stop giving precedence to purely rational thinking, AS IF by reasoning we could encompass ALL the elements that made up a causative story line. We can’t. See modern neuroscience, or less modern maths logic, like Godel’s theorem, and recognize that any thinking will either be circular or move outside its initial bounds*.

Enter: UNCERTAINTY, we really do not know the future, but duh, we don’t know past nor present either. Language, and its mind-mate reasoning, does not capture all. Perception is not only limited, it can be false.

Enter: EMOTION, the biological response that tells us the state we are in, filtered and nuanced through nature, nurture, memory and experience to become a present feeling.

Enter: INSTINCT, the impulse to act, to be an agent in our living.

Because these enter and affect our experience in our body knowledge, before our higher cognitive capacity gets going, thinking includes them.

ENTER: we no longer feel helpless, we can act, in humble and ordinary lives, each of us may be as a drop in the ocean, or a butterfly wing tossed in the wind, but, we become part of the change. We can each make a new Money Mind Map for ourselves and share that, as widely as possible, making connections, adapting and changing as we live it out.

usury2HOW will I act? I cannot push your action in any direction, but I can write these posts.

As well as writing posts, I am looking more closely at where and how usury enters our lives, my life.

I have come to believe that the Monetary System where banks create money through credit/debt came into being because usury was ignored. This is, as always, about money creation, NOT about money lending, as lending means that the something lent already existed.

I can’t do much about the price of my coffee, and the amount of that price that is interest in the usurious system. I can move away from some kinds of  “money” making, like share dealing. [As my income is relatively small, this is easy, I do not have spare money with which to deal.] The best I can do seems to be to support activities that are based on commons principles, or cooperative endeavours. Especially I can support community actions that do not involve money at all, see for example the “101 things to do“.

And, I write to my representatives, both local and national. Apparently they do heed what constituents say, if they hear it often enough from enough of us.

*We know that psychologically complex holistic thought that includes all, is difficult if not impossible. In fact, the good old Enlightenment [male] understandings, let us mistakenly believe that reason was the most powerful element in our mental armoury. OOPs – neuroscience and experiential psychologies and lots of non-western and feminist thinking now puts reason in its more realistic non-hubristic  place, an outcome of emotion and experience enabled by test and connection with the whole world out there. Wilfred Bion called this thinking  process an “intersection with truth“.
I find that this truthful thoughtfulness (in which one is active, an agent) has many names, call it what you will:
be mindful; meditate; use systems thinking, situated knowledge, reflexivity, ecological thought; heed heuristic as well as evidence based science; use critical friends, the examined self, connect with others; be open to change, hear and bear criticism, use  self.

What is the root problem?

bankerIs there a root problem? There is certainly one that underlies others. The current monetary system undermines our ability to work through common problems. Worldwide, whether governments, corporations, small businesses, indigenous cultures, voluntary organisations, or individuals and families, economy and fiscal management take place within a system of money creation, that has never been debated, but has grown by accident of history. It is not a law of nature or discovered in science, it is simply a social systemThere is agreement from august bodies , such as Bank of England, US Federal Reserve, IMF, etc. that money is CREATED – about 97% of that in circulation – by commercial banks, issuing credit, or debt, at interest. 

stevekeenexponential

Graph from Steve Keen, an economist who predicted the 2007/8 crash. Similar exponential picture globally, re money issuance and debt.

This is the man-made monetary system within which any one ‘entity’, a person or a company or even a country, might pay off their individual debt, but where collectively the system always has an ever- growing debt. This pushes competition at all levels, where the logic of economics, or the responsibility for a fiscal policy, demands a ‘survival of the fittest’ and pushes human compassion and care into an ‘add-on’ ever more difficult to fund without exploiting something else. The system cannot attend to cooperative or collaborative ways of attending to human or planetary needs and resources. It is extractive. Productive work that replenishes or conserves resources is diminished, all kinds of ‘money to survive’ work is increased, and the trillions in financial industries now exceed that of GDP in the real economy by several factors.

Possibly the problem is not the identification of this system failure, that most money in circulation is issued in a particular way, but that each entity, no matter how they perceive that ‘something is wrong’ – as many people certainly do- but the fact that any of the pieces is functioning within a holistic system, and no one piece, be it a government, a corporation, a bank, a business, or a person, has the whole picture. More importantly, no one piece has the authority or power to change other pieces’ positions. Even if any one of us, or any one group, wanted to work collaboratively, or tried to do so, the system is competitive, and subverts collaboration.

So, what can we do?

There are many solutions, the best are not “solutions” as such, but first steps forward, clear-sighted, but knowing that none of us have the total picture, thinking big and global, acting local and joining the advocates with the evidence from what has been done, in the communities where we do have space to act. Finding out: What actions have impact that enables what we do value, what life-gifts are we grateful for, what has real worth?

I am putting together a list of available “stuff” the great thoughts and helpful ideas and practice out there on our wonderful internet of connections. The list so far is pretty muddled, but here if you want it. I also belong to groups at Positive Money, who have a single focus on UK and monetary policy change, rather than societal shift, I have learned a lot there, and get face-to-face contact. Three fairly easy to read books have come my way recently:

101waysbookThe Revolution Where You Live – contains a list of 101 Ways to Reclaim Local Power – just pick what suits your town/place from it – like us here (in my part of the world) you will notice you probably do some things already. I like the way their list is grouped:
Build Bridges; Connect to your Ecological Home; Connect to Self; Build your Local Economy; Build Power.

doughnuteconomicsDoughnut Economics – a pretty good summary of the big stuff and its connections to the small and human and local can-do stuff. This link goes to author Kate Raworth’s interesting site that explains a lot of where she is coming from.

 

wealthofcommonsThe Wealth of the Commons – a book of essays that convincingly describes  a different paradigm, a creative way to live, honoring human social connections. This is published on the internet under Creative Commons license so you can read each essay online.

 

This connects with where I began this post “The current monetary system undermines our ability to work through common problems.” And moves forward. Human beings are a mess, have made a mess, but we are also very very creative.

 “Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all”
– Emily Dickinson