Changing cultures, changing thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

regenerativagriculture

 

 

Wave Particle Duality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thought that begins from “parts”.

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

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

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

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

Thinking from Whole to parts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concluding but not ended thoughts.

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

escherants

Escher

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitional Approach to Change

Organizations, Management of Change and Ethical Dilemmas

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

The Transitional Approach

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

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

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

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

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

Ethical Dilemmas

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

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

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

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

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.