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.




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.



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.







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.


Enable Sustainable Reform?

This blog is a copy of a final assignment written for the Money and Society MOOC online course I have been enjoying very much for the last few weeks. Because of the word length required, quite a lot of the detail is in the footnotes, sorry about that. I am very grateful to Jem Bendell and Matthew Slater for a great piece of learning. I heard about it through the Positive Money group, so thanks to them also.

Enable Sustainable Reforms: an Ethical Guild for Developers?

Missing from the Money and Society course is a Systems Perspective approach[i]. The course analyses ‘moneystuff’, offers information and ideas[ii]. Systems thinking brought a recommendation to the surface.

Systems thinking asks questions about underlying factors, for example, not what makes Fiat or Commodity the same or different, but why are they both called “money”?[iii] In the system, what is a part, and what is a container of parts? Can parts be expressed in different containers? System is personal, I am in it, so what I bring is not just about me, but also provides partial system information[iv]. A systems account takes holism as its start point, however unfocussed, as each individual aspect carries information. It is more like a hologram[v] than a flowchart. First, free association vignettes, then a search for connections and commonalities in the picture.


  1. In Michael Connelly’s crime fiction[vi], the detective Bosch has a credo: everybody counts or nobody counts. The stories tell how Bosch can only do the job, feel valued, when he works for the others, the least important, the forgotten. Without this valuing, everything flips to nothing, is meaningless.
  1. Some years ago, I queued behind a woman offering a cheque to pay for her purchase. The assistant declined, only cash or card, woman distressed, humiliated, assistant helpless. I paid for the goods with my card and accepted her cheque. Everyone happy, woman and I chatted. She was afraid of cards and going into debt, reluctant to change how she managed her life. She decided to ask her bank for a debit card, explained as ‘like a cheque’. She managed life well within limits she could choose. Knowing more would not have helped.
  1. Following links, I was on Ethereum[vii], thought I would get a “wallet” and learn something about crypto-currency. Click went to a “Security Warnings” list from “You are responsible…” to “SURE I UNDERSTAND AND AGREE”. As part of the 21st Century, I have entered sites, bank accounts and passport renewal, playtime apps, computer upgrades, and happily clicked “agree to Terms and Conditions”. Ethereum, transparent and detailed, scared me with my ignorance. I do not understand, I would not click. I did not want to spend the time it would take to learn its meanings.


The woman in the store stands as symbol for all Bosch’s others: me with limited time to learn among other commitments, the teenager with disability seeking independence, the lecturer in literature asking her kids to program her phone, anyone anywhere with inner self-image ‘not capable, don’t know’. We all count, and we are all capable of adapting, but adaptation is sometimes choice (me), sometimes according to previous experience and help available (woman). Guy Standing has identified loss of “time control”[viii]. It is easy to adapt and adopt when either I already know this system or I can easily learn it. The woman and I represent the inevitability of change, how we adapt and manage real limits. We want systems we can safely use, not always becoming well-informed users.


This is about autonomy, BOTH taking personal authority AND having trust in someone else’s. Monetary systems cannot return to ‘tally sticks’, nobody believes in the divine right of kings to issue them[ix]. Instead, we know we are dependent on imperfect others, and vulnerable to their goodwill, their human qualities[x]. Limits in our capabilities and capacity for education are real[xi]. Life chances are not equalized in exchange systems, however devised, but unfair practice can be minimized by an ethical protocol[xii]. I believe this means a restoration of “Commons”[xiii]. ‘Commons’ or not, an autonomous system requires a code of ethics, an infrastructure that maintains ethical direction, and a means by which failing system parts are corrected. From Ann Pettifor:

  1. a) Money is a social relationship: the promise to pay;
  2. b) there has to be a third party that upholds the promise;
  3. c) a system relying on promise is a claim on real resources (with limits and uncertainty) otherwise the supply is not valid[xiv]:

Money systems should be explicitly ethical, as banking is not[xv]. However, reform depends on perception[xvi] not just the quality of the proposal[xvii]. We can learn from history: advances in knowledge practice lead to the formation of guilds, or professional bodies[xviii]. New techno-systems will come[xix]. Let us have planned ethically informed change[xx], not a chaos echoing the old, just as likely to fail.

  1. The ethics of new proposals should be explicit.
  2. Individuals devising monetary systems or currencies should create a professional guild, characterized by transparency, statement of purpose, and ethical code of practice [With or without expertise everyone can choose their involvement and risk].
  3. There should be sanctions, educational and legal.


Books, journal articles, URLs to sites, articles and video are listed by author, editor or organization, alphabetically, not by item type. All weblinks accessed 14 March 2017.



Bendell, Jem, and Thomas H Greco. ‘Currencies of Transition Transforming Money to Unleash Sustainability’. In The Necessary Transition: The Journey to the Sustainable Enterprise Economy, n.d.

Bendell, J and M. Slater (2015) Money and Society, free course,

Beuys, Joseph, ed. What Is Money?: A Discussion. Forest Row, England: Clairview Books, 2010.

Bollier, David, and Silke Helfrich, eds. The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State /Ed. by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich. Amherst, Mass: Levellers Press, 2012.

Brock, Arthur, MetaCurrency Project,, SourceTree Commons,


Crawford, Elspeth [1]

Crawford, Elspeth [2] Making, Mistaking Reality,

Crawford, Elspeth [3]

Davies, Glyn. A History of Money: From Ancient Times to the Present Day. 3rd ed., With revisions. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002.


Faraday, Michael (1839). Experimental Researches in Electricity, vols. i. and ii. Richard and John Edward Taylor.; vol. iii. Richard Taylor and William Francis, 1855

French, R. B., and P. Simpson. ‘The “Work Group”: Redressing the Balance in Bion’s Experiences in Groups’. Human Relations 63, no. 12 (1 December 2010): 1859–78. doi:10.1177/0018726710365091.

Hoggett, Paul. ‘Perverse Social Structures’. Journal of Psycho-Social Studies 4, no. 1 (June 2010): 57–64.

Fresco, Jacques, The Venus Project

Greco, Thomas H, Beyond Money, Devoted to the liberation of money and credit, and the restoration of the commons,


Gupta, Vinay [1], Ethereum,

Gupta, Vinay [2], and

Helfrich, Silke. ‘The Logic of the Commons & the Market: A Shorthand Comparsion of Their Core Beliefs’. In The Wealth of the Commons, n.d.

Hutton, Jean, John Bazalgette and Bruce Reed, Organisation-in-the-Mind

Menzies, I. E. P, and London (GB) Tavistock Inst. of Human Relations (TIHR). The Functioning of Social Systems as a Defence against Anxiety: A Report on a Study of the Nursing Service of a General Hospital., 1984.

Money and Society MOOC, IFLAS, see Bendell and Slater

Ostrom, Elinor. The Future of the Commons: Beyond Market Failure and Government Regulation. Occasional Paper / IEA 148. London: Inst. of Economic Affairs, 2012.

Pettifor, A. Thinking Allowed – Money – how to break the power of the banks – @bbcradio4

Roesch, Ulrich. We Are the Revolution!: Rudolf Steiner, Joseph Beuys and the Threefold Social Impulse. Forest Row: Temple Lodge Publishing, 2013.

Slater, Matthew, Community Forge

Standing, Guy,

Sweeny (1977) The capital hill baby sitting coop,

The Merchants of Doubt, documentary film,

Waddell, Margot, and Tavistock Clinic. Inside Lives: Psychoanalysis and the Development of Personality. London: Karnac, 2002.

Further reading and media:

Armstrong, David, and Robert French. Organization in the Mind: Psychoanalysis, Group Relations, and Organizational Consultancy: Occasional Papers 1989-2003. Tavistock Clinic Series. London ; New York: Karnac, 2005.

Bion, Wilfred R. Experiences in Groups, and Other Papers. London: Tavistock/Routledge, 1989.

Bollas, Christopher. The Christopher Bollas Reader. London ; New York: Routledge, 2011.

Coleridge, Greg, The Power Elite’s Ten Strategies Opposing Money Reform

Ferguson, N (2008) The ascent of money , Penguin Books. Documentary:

Four Horsemen, documentary film,

Hoggett, Paul. Politics, Identity, and Emotion. Boulder, London: Paradigm Publishers, 2009.

Maizels, Neil Is That Really What It Is! Capitalism un-emperored,

Rowbotham, Michael. The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery, and Destructive Economics. Charlbury, Oxfordshire : Concord, MA: Jon Carpenter ; Distributed by Paul and Co, 1998.

Pettifor, Ann. Just Money: Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance. Commonwealth Publishing., ///.

Solms, Mark, and Oliver Turnbull. The Brain and the Inner World: An Introduction to the Neuroscience of Subjective Experience. New York: Other Press, 2002.

Standing, Guy. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London, UK ; New York, NY: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Standing, Guy. The Corruption of Capitalism: Why Rentiers Thrive and Work Does Not Pay. London: Biteback Publishing, 2016.

Zarlenga, Stephen. The Lost Science of Money: The Mythology of Money, the Story of Power. Valatie, NY: American Monetary Institute, 2002.

[i] Aronson: “The approach of systems thinking is fundamentally different from that of traditional forms of analysis. Traditional analysis focuses on the separating the individual pieces of what is being studied … Systems thinking, in contrast, focuses on how the thing being studied interacts with the other constituents of the system—a set of elements that interact to produce behavior—of which it is a part. This means that instead of isolating smaller and smaller parts of the system being studied, systems thinking works by expanding its view to take into account larger and larger numbers of interactions as an issue is being studied. This results in sometimes strikingly different conclusions …”

[ii] In Money and Society, assignment 1, I defined “moneystuff”, Crawford [1], as everything this course would be about. We got: Introduction, money as social technology, History, trust and backing properties, Problems/Impact, issues of mindsets, challenge to worldview, and Alternatives, old and new ideas. Gupta [1] and Bendell specifically state their belief that monetary systems should benefit all people; Slater, Community Forge website is purposefully aimed to help communities and transparent about its methods.

[iii] In a totally unrelated but analogous systemic process, in 1832 Michael Faraday began a series of experiments called “the Identities of Electricity” in which he asked – remember this is 1832 – Why do we think the spark from a cat’s fur and a thunderstorm and the jump of a frog’s leg etc. are all called “electricity”? Fast forward, his study of commonality led to the discovery of electrochemical theory, the production of steady current, Daniell’s production of the first chemical battery in1838, and many other developments in chemistry and physics.

[iv] I can ask: What would I consider the essential property of a monetary system, or of a currency? see CEPTR values levels, or Brock. Or, I can heed my feelings and more idle thoughts, and wonder what information these carry. See Crawford [2] “Use of Self”, and Hutton, et al.

[v] Hologram characteristics: because of interference between two beams of light, the hologram carries information about the illuminated object at every point it occupies, see

In analogy, a system that consists of many parts, layers and levels, can show some information about each part at any point, depending on the perspective from which the view is obtained. In human systems, feelings and atmosphere offer perspectives on levels differing from that accessed by cognitive rationality.

[vi] see

[vii] links from Money and Society, lesson 4.25, Gupta [2], and Ethereum

[viii] Standing: “What are the crucial assets over which the precariat must struggle? … they are socio-economic security, control of time, quality space, knowledge (or education), financial knowledge and financial capital. All are unequally distributed, and in terms of control are becoming more so. One can even claim that many of them are more unequally distributed than income itself.”

[ix] Davies, and Money and Society, lesson 2.10 identify the tally system parts, but the overarching ‘protocol’ that makes it possible to accept the inherent risk of credit was the hegemonic belief that all kings had divine right. They could demand trust.

[x] For authors writing with reference to money and factors inherent in a holistic life, see Beuys, Roesch, Fresco. For depth psychology, Waddell may be a place to begin.

[xi] In a group/cultural phenomenon, as Money and Society, Davies, Gupta, show, each kind of money or currency fails in some respect. All relate to power (issuing and backing), all affect the group that uses them, in a complex feedback loop, people become like the money system they first devised and now are using. Analysis of this phenomenon, that helps us understand the growth of hegemony, is variously called ‘institutionalization’, ‘groupthink’, basic assumption process etc. See Menzies’ seminal paper in social understanding, French, Hoggett, and for an example from Money and Society course, see Sweeney.

[xii] Gupta [2] brings this to the fore this when he notes that Bitcoin is political.

[xiii] The most realistic ethical society I know of is a return to the idea of “Commons”, see e.g. Ostrom, Bollier, Greco, Helfrich.

[xiv] In a recent radio programme, Thinking Allowed – Money – how to break the power of the banks – @bbcradio4

Ann Pettifor identified these three money properties. It seems to me that Money and Society analysis agrees with these properties, as I do. Consider ‘backing’ for example, or whether money is Commodity or Fiat. History has had chiefs and priests and kings, and law and judiciary play their part, as they always have, with sanctions that operate or not, as in ‘bailing out the banks’ and exporting of the credit risk where a promise cannot be kept.

[xv] NB “Ethical Banking” does not refer to having a code of ethics that governs ones own behavior and direction. It uses the word ‘ethical’ [wrongly?] to refer to particular types of investments and their impact on externals in the environment.

[xvi] see Waddell, Crawford [2], [3].

[xvii] for opposition and propaganda as well as simply mistaken perception, see Coleridge, and documentary film The Merchants of Doubt.

[xviii] The purpose of guild or professional body is usually ethical: the protection of both future knowledge and of those who use the expertise offered. Examples:1377 printers Guild of Stationers, ; Doctors, 1832, revision 1855, British Medical Association. All are in danger of institutionalization, becoming the establishment, see note x above, and suffer from politicians’ failures to represent needs of constituents even though they take oath to do so, etc. Ethics code and infrastructure should address this.

[xix] See Standing: “proficiens, a growing group who live as contractors, consultants, self-employed “businesses” and the like. They earn high incomes, but live on the edge of burn-out and constant exposure to immoral hazards, often breaking laws with abandon. Their numbers are growing, as is their influence on political discourse and popular imagery”? Do “proficiens”, often anti-authority personality types, need education regarding autonomy – independence within a system, and the nature of personal authority – inner recognition of rights, responsibility and ethics?

[xx] Consultancy on code can be available, free, should include “this code is to be re-visited in [insert time scale here] or when request for revisit is made by [proportion of guild members here] or [number of external referrals here], and other guards against institutionalization, note x above. Contact

A new Paradigm for a new Monetary System [4]

Read Part 1 here, and Part 2 and Part 3.

Based on philosophical and psychological inquiry, part 1 referred to the philosophy of science in order to show the need for a new paradigm approach to a world problem: to think how “money” or a monetary system might be better planned to support life. Part 2, supposed three interlinked relationships within life as the foundation of this holistic approach [transcendent, rights, and exchange]. Then in part 3, a thought experiment began where “exchange” was left out, so that some notions of what “money” might mean without that aspect we are so accustomed to viewing could emerge. This “out of the box” thinking helps the realisation that the current paradigm (a hegemony in thought) allows exchange to dominate. This can be seen again, but each time a little differently, when the exchange aspect of life is paired with each of the others, but all three are not in combination. Leave out “transcendence” and inevitably, the view moves to conflicting aspects of sociology and psychology. The “elephant in the room” is that we talk about cultures, spirituality, the uncertainty of future, as if we were not in the experience. This is OK if we do not forget that there is a wider perspective, but when that perspective is forgotten, it can be observed that thinking tends to become reductionist, about short-term, immediate issues.


Politics tries to balance the needs of economy – seen as market – without which aims (even self-interested aims) for the well-being of all cannot be begun, nor rights advanced. The viewpoints shift from ‘left’ to ‘right’, neither seems to succeed.

If “exchange” is paired with “transcendence”, leaving out “rights”, observation from this view shows another familiar dichotomy, that between simplistic reductionism, and a more utopian idealism. The idea of “rights” gets dragged in to discussion, almost as an afterthought, again linear thinking as if either ‘left’ or ‘right’ had the answer, overwhelms more complex thoughtfulness. People are again in US and THEM mode, one group being thoughtless consumers, the other utopian idealists, depending which sort of US group one happens to be in at the time.


One aspect of life has become dominant, so that it is almost impossible to use the word “economics” as meaning life management, it refers primarily to “exchange”, trade, things with technical meaning like “balance of payments”.

In a more holistic view, considering disparate fields of inquiry, every discipline* has proposed a different theory of living that contains some truths. From each particular lens, a version appears, of three, sometimes four, drives, instincts, or needs, differently named, but similar in quality, to the threefold approach being used here. Finding correlations, or links, or even differing semantics, is welcome, a collaboration in understanding from a variety of perspectives. 

The foundation chosen here, although it refers to Beuys, an artist with a deep interest in economics and money, is a re-wording of discovery from the psychoanalysis of groups. Over the many years that psychoanalytic thinking (an experiential observational inquiry) has developed, it has left behind early cultural misapprehensions, it has found affirmation from the newer discipline of neuroscience, as well as from practical results in particular applications (therapy being just one of these). For psychoanalytic thinking, often called psychodynamics, one of the biggest problems now is that of expressing valid and useful findings in ordinary language, so the information can be used by all, rather than using the specific technical language that is just as hard to understand as the languages of physics or literary criticism, or any other depth inquiry.

The next part of this exploration of how to make change in a monetary system will use this basic understanding of human life and its motivations, applying it to economics, the idea of “money”.

return to  Part 1 here, or Part 2 or Part3.

*look up almost any discipline and search for “basic human” …: Cultural anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Genetics, Evolutionary biology, Economics, Neurology, Philosophy


A new Paradigm for a new Monetary System [3]

Read Part 1 here, and Part 2,or go to Part 4

These produced questions, that are counter-intuitive to how we often consider money: First: Could we, creative people, conceive of a money system that is like life? [Life is a gift] Second: What would money as gift look like?

Before damning this as totally unrealistic, playing games, think instead about breaking the paradigm, gostarting from what is in life that is indeed a gift: the sunlight, the seeds that know how to grow, the seasons, and ourselves with myriad capabilities, including those of death and destruction. This post is about real, not a fantasy wish-list.

People created money as we think of it at present, and most of us think about it as something it is not!! It is not concrete stuff, it is an idea, an artifact of mind, that we use to represent necessary relationships.

Look back at the foundation diagram (in part 2), and take it apart from different venn1perspectives, remembering that it is a whole. Or, at least an attempt to represent something holistically.

Leave out the exchange part, that has become so dominant in recent history.

Surprisingly, historical research[i] into money creation suggests that it first emerged as a combination from the Transcendent and the Rights sectors, not using exchange at all! And, it allows me to think about children, dependents generally, as well as those bugbears of power and authority, both inner world perceptions and beliefs as well as the outer world effects. These are so evidently part of the necessary debate about money and its uses and abuses that somehow it feels like a good road to take. [Reflexive thought, inner awareness of feelings plus outer observations, evidence, combination to assess truth or prejudice. Keep going.]


This brings notions about holistic think methods – basically the well-known brainstorm process. Brainstorm “money as gift” or “life as gift” or just “what kind of money do we want”? What do you get? What did I get? Words like money is relationships between people, payment for service or product, trust, risk, not enough, root of all evil, work reward, many things to many people…

I also discovered that brainstorming alone is not a great idea, so looked at the record of an earlier brainstorm process with others, at a recent Positive Money Retreat a brainstorm about good or bad groups, produced the flip-chart below. It seems to me that the “bad” group represents pretty well how our society has sleepwalked its way to the monetary system we have at present, and the good group processes have been pretty much absent when it comes to designing what we want from money, or monetary system.


Using words from the ‘good’ group brainstorm – do they apply to money? Effective, common purpose, synergy, … why not use these alongside the other words that are more commonly used to describe the meaning and use of money.

Also, would the other parts of the diagram reveal interesting aspects of what we really want from “money for life”?

go to Part 4, or return to  Part 1 here, or Part 2.

[i] See Stephen Zarlenga, the New Science of Money

A new Paradigm for a new Monetary System [2]

read part [1] here

How do we set about creating a system that would represent life better? Inadequate as it is, the Venn diagram below helps me think about how we can stop seeing money as only a means of transaction between people, helps me start from something more whole in human experience. There are three interlinked relationships within our life, expressed in many different ways and differently divided by other writers[i]. However they are expressed, all agree that without each and without each in combination, the picture of life fails in some important respect. Joseph Beuys[ii] proposed a basic foundation that encompassed what he called the Spiritual Life, the Rights Life and the Economic Life. A little differently, I consider the life of the transcendent, rights, and exchange[iii]. Suppose a foundation could look like this:


If we said the need was for a money idea that covered life needs, human and world in which we live, then it is not utopia to say this is a final objective, but on the way there will be lesser aims, transitional shifts. Whatever these are, they need to be seen to be stages in heading towards a monetary system that might be uncertain but would even so be more genuinely reaching for real requirements than the present pseudo-science that is too frequently taught as economics[iv]. The direction in which proposed change takes us matters.

In brief:

Could we, creative people, conceive of a money system that is like life?

What would money as gift look like?

read Part 3 here, then part 4

or return to Part 1

[i] Interactions: see French, R. B., and P. Simpson. ‘The “Work Group”: Redressing the Balance in Bion’s Experiences in Groups’. Human Relations 63, no. 12 (1 December 2010): 1859–78; The Threefold Social Impulse: see Roesch, Ulrich. We Are the Revolution!: Rudolf Steiner, Joseph Beuys and the Threefold Social Impulse. Forest Row: Temple Lodge Publishing, 2013; add your own knowledge from whatever perspective e.g. ecology, religion, sociology, philosophy, etc.

[ii] Beuys, Joseph, ed. What Is Money?: A Discussion. Forest Row, England: Clairview Books, 2010.

[iii] This is roughly comparable to Wilfred Bion’s unconscious theory of group behaviours, pairing, dependency and fight/flight. see French and Simpson above for development of this idea as basic interactions.

[iv] References, many include:

Rowbotham, Michael. The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery, and Destructive Economics. Charlbury, Oxfordshire : Concord, MA: Jon Carpenter ; Distributed by Paul and Co, 1998.

Jackson, Andrew, Ben Dyson, and Herman E. Daly. Modernising Money: Why Our Monetary System Is Broken and How It Can Be Fixed. London: Positive Money, 2014.

Ivo Mosley, and Positive Money websites.

Ressentiment – unjust suffering

Ressentiment is an effect of detriment that is unjustly suffered, by an individual or group, or by labeling a person as ‘group’ (like black, or disabled, or mentally ill) and thus denying their own experience of how they do and do not belong. Anyone who thinks they, and not the sufferer, can decide on the quality of “detriment” is not able to learn the nature of what is suffered. The sufferer, as well as experiencing damage, however tiny that damage may seem, also suffers RESSENTIMENT (coined by Nietzche, no less).

This is cousin to the better known resentment. They are both affects, or feelings, arising from human emotional process. We think we know ‘resentment’ – the angry feeling a person or group has when it feels it has been wronged. This feeling is directed towards the source of the wrong, or the injustice. The sufferer of wrong may not be able to get redress, or revenge, but they do know they deserve better. They can voice something, even if they cannot act, and their sense of self is valid. This happened, I experienced it.

Ressentiment arises when people react to a perceived injustice by repressing their feelings of resentment and revenge. The feelings, the facts, can be inarticulate, the person can be without the verbal capability to own knowledge of what is happening (too young, too shocked, too oppressed, too bullied…). The repression occurs because of the impotence of those not only holding, but also unable to express their feelings openly, out of fear of the powerful, the authority of the oppressor. They remain passive and powerless… an abiding affect … a lasting mental attitude … ressentiment … becomes a pronounced dimension of social suffering  … that is lived experience of domination and repression and the feelings of humiliation, despair, shame and resentment … that are hidden injuries internalised because they cannot be expressed.

Well, quite. What is damaged is the core of the self. Later, even much later after changes in society may have happened, how is such a person (or people within a social suffering group) to know if they can now trust their own feeling or perception of the context that others believe – rightly – has changed? It is a nameless constellation of ??? something feeling ??? not right. NOT RIGHT. Damaged. The self’s capacity to repair has also been damaged (that follows if you can’t trust self feelings).

The politics, the authority, culture and  context change. Thank goodness it sometimes does. Then, if a sufferer is told that ‘it is all right now’ or ‘get over yourself’, insult is added to injury. How can people trust themselves to express the previously nameless and inexpressible?

Try to imagine how you would re-establish a validity in your soul, in yourself. Maybe anger and tilting at any windmill in sight helps, I do not know. I do know one thing that helps:

Acknowledge damage is done.

It is present, in the present, activated by a word or act. Compassion honours this reality.

To imagine how to re-establish validity, first see what people do. Observe, try not to think.

Get curious about what is it that is happening. Are those parts of a person that have been denied, that have had no voice with which to speak finding space? Or are they being shut down …again?

Can parts that have ‘felt they feel what they should not’ and ‘not felt what they feel they should’ reverse their enfolding into experience? (think child abuse, brutalised soldiering, victim of domestic violence, groups experiencing discriminatory treatment, etc.)

First, see what people do. Let yourself see, and be touched by what is then felt.