21 December 2010

The Unsent

This is an 'unsent' letter. The 'not sending' of it is a result of engaging in the simple reflective process below. The unspoken question of the 'process' is the basis for such a conscious choice to 'engage' or 'by-pass' in particular moment of the arising motive to speak, act, etc. For me this is an occasion to reflect on the context of service, or the attended to commitment, of that moment. What is my 'mandate' to speak or act in such a moment. Often it is a moment of some felt conflict, or the arising 'need' to do something. This may seem tedious, but we are enacting some form of this much of the time. I was introduced to this simple process by my dear friend Robert Hanig. I have made explicit the distinction between 'internal' and 'collective', but it is not necessary.
I engage in a very simple process, It can be depicted like this:

Even as I write this I am deciding about the first level of engagement, and am not yet clear. It occurs to me that whatever I write is going to possibly occur as offensive to some people. I therefore have to make a determination about whether I am sufficiently committed to deal with that and to do so in a spirit of inquiry and learning, as opposed to one of advocating some form of 'rightness'. In my model, this has to do with the context of service or mandate for my speaking and action in any moment. In the Bohmian model this has to do with distinguishing where I might advocate for something as 'necessary' and developing a kind of conscious responsibility about my disposition with regard to that. One result of such a Bohmian act is the possibility of suspending what occurs for me as 'necessary' in that (any) moment and trusting something about the collective nature of emergence as we inquire together. In short, I am writing this, but have not determined that it is appropriate to send. If I do send it I hope you can read it as coming from a committed partner. Should you be generous enough to read what I have written, I certainly understand the commitment required for that reading.

You wrote me to say that you found yesterday interesting. May I ask what in particular? For me, part of yesterday was a practical and immediate conversation. As the world occurs to me, we often get confused about what is immediate and 'practical' and what is 'abstract.' I believe that often groups function within this confusion, not doing the work to address the 'real' and immediately lived. The consequence is that then the things that are so important to us have no real ground of being for accomplishment or manifestation. We may end up accomplishing our closely held goals, but often at the expense of successfully living the context which had those goals occur for us as meaningful in the first place. The very real commitments to 'democracy' or 'harmony' lead to hegemony, or rolling tanks into Tian An Men. Our plans become a kind of force based manipulation, over and against something, rather than a generative, creative endeavor that we live together. My limited experience is that groups often fail to meaningfully connect or feel the already present integration of what they may be distinguishing as the concrete/practical and the abstract. In the face of an artificial duality between the concrete and abstract, felt as real, we act to eliminate one or the other. In that process we tend self identify with one or the other, making statements about ourselves like 'I am a: doer, planner, thinker, actor, etc. Often this lack of connection or integration will leave groups feeling that the investment in what therefore occurs for them as 'abstract' or 'conceptual' is a luxury. This is more common in my experience, but then people seem to want to identify me as 'abstract' in such an artificial duality, so it would be. If the apparently abstract things (e.g. self organization, etc.) remain a concept, then of course, this is right. Dialog, for instance, is only remotely interesting as a concept, but really amazing as a practice, as you know. Often this lack of integration is strategically enacted as a kind of coping mechanism in the face of complexity. We say 'this or that is necessary' as a way of eliminating complexity or felt tension within a system and the system of our own lives. We assert this. It is a 'strategic' enactment in the sense that it is serving something unsaid about our relationship to the dynamic of the moment.

Let me attempt a sort of example. In the 'food group' we had a conversation in which someone began saying that of course in order to raise funds these are the things that need to happen. The list of things was indeed self evident. It included assertions such as 'if we want to grow we will need, e.g. a staff person, website, the assumption of an organizational structure, etc. All of this seems self evident and immanently sensible in the moment. Soon we would be organizing around all the things that we needed and effectively pursuing the accomplishment of those. As we did so we would be declaring victory about having done so. We would encounter and overcome problems and challenges associated with all this.

The inherent difficulty with this is that we are trying to work with conditions that themselves have been and are being generated by exactly these immanently sensible ways of thinking and acting. This does not mean that we should categorically dispense with all such ways and means. For me, it means that we should carefully consider the consequences of such a held and enacted paradigm before jumping into it in the name of such culturally held norms as utility, efficiency and practicality. It may turn out the that practicality ala mode is not actually practical.

In the current policy community considering mitigation and adaptation with respect to climate change one of the premises is that past behavior is not currently an indicator for future success. How deep does this go? Does it mean 'don't drive your car?' In my view it means the deep frames for thinking, meaning, way of relating and acting that created the successes of the past several centuries are no longer indicators of future success, where that future is more or less immediate. The way we 'get things done' is subject to this. However, we are so thoroughly products of and enacting these frames that they are invisible to us. We consider it human nature. Even Adam Smith had questions about whether this was the case or not. It is akin to imagining that technology will provide a 'solution' without understanding the role of techné in the manifestation of the current condition. Only in this case we are talking about the fundamental frames of our self identification and mode of action altogether. The typical response in a group to distinguishing this apparent dilemma is the desire for a ready made alternative, when there is not one. The endeavor itself is to discover that and to do so in a way that is not an unconscious product of the paradigm we are currently enacting. There is typically very little tolerance for this endeavor amongst groups who feel themselves deeply committed and are often self identified with some form of ideology such as 'making a difference', which often sits on top of some unexamined and asserted necessity and particular mode of self identification. One implication of all this is simply that many of the things that seem 'right' and self evident are neither, contextually speaking, and that many of the areas where we feel most vulnerable and incompetent are of great value.

I am not sure what exactly to do with some of the information I received yesterday. Some is very clear to me. My contribution to the dynamic of suffering is clear to me, though not my intent and I will address that. This particular group seems very interested in this question of roles and normalizing such statements as "I am a doer," etc. I confess that I both understand and do not understand the appetite for this. I myself do not wish to be related to, or relate to others in that way, as if I were some particular role or another, though I understand the convenience, efficiency and utility of that. I would not say this about anyone in this particular group, but I find something about that general dynamic a bit objectifying and even violent. The positive intent seems to be to eliminate some form of uncertainty or something of the sort, in the service of accomplishing something. The result is that I am left relating to someone almost as if they were one dimensional in some way, distanced, and objectified with a sort of use orientation for the accomplishment of this or that. Or perhaps as if there were different 'parts' to them, which to me can be a useful metaphor, but is not actually true. Though immanently 'useful', this also seems a recipe for suffering to me. Oddly, I also seem to be being related to as if there were more than one Roger. I am not substantially different in the room with you than I am with CEO's, academics, government leaders or most anyone in my life. I do not have a compartmentalized life in which, for instance, I work at a job in order to then do something else. I understand how, and why, that can happen, but it seems odd to me and I have not engaged in that for many years now.

We are very polite with one another, in the Bohmian sense, and much of the behavior, cult of roles and role lock, is a kind of coping mechanism in relationship to the apparent challenges of the current condition, in my view. It creates a false impression of permanence and security, when in fact, any of us might not be here in then next moment, of course. We place our attention on ourselves in this, in a way that actually constrains the possibility of self organization and emergence. It may be 'useful', but the underlying use orientation of consolation undermines the integrity of any authentic utility, in my view. I am not really interested in participating in that. Seen from within the bias for 'roles' this can then make it seem as if I am not doing anything, or not committed. Though I understand how such impressions might arise, that is simply not the case. From within such a role based interpretation my actions are often not visible. When I question something about all this people can simply decide that is my 'role' and so relate to me in that way, altogether deleting the ways I might be 'in action'. People can be unclear about what I might mean by a 'result'. People self identify as a 'doer' or a 'planner' or some such and then seek to identify apparent 'others' as same or other to varying degrees. It is a kind of participation in a culture of same/other, or separative action. Even in the moment of saying such a thing to someone it is likely that this articulation itself is used in service of reinforcing the model of roles and 'doing'. My unwillingness to participate in such dynamics can seem irresponsible and offensive to many people. The choices I have made in life can leave people imagining that all of this is easy for me to say. I have almost no institutional affiliation. Less and less over time. This is neither random nor easily accomplished, particularly at this moment in history. At the same time I have not simply removed myself from participation in the global local communities of humankind. What is often ironic to me in these types of conversations is that in actuality I typically have more direct, ongoing, experience 'doing' with respect to very high stakes, large scale, and quantifiable results than most of the people who seem to wish to communicate to me that I am 'not practical' and sentiments of the sort. I do not like to say this, since the saying itself is simply a participation in the very dynamic I am pointing to and feels defensive in that regard. I am never exactly certain how to relate to this, and consider it a kind of 'failure' to find myself even having the question or feeling the motion to articulate something about my doing in this regard. That dynamic is not a hallmark of collaboration, in my view, and of course I apologize for my participation in that.

The painting is by Walter Tandy Murch.

1 comment:

  1. I love this letter. It is a fantastic explanation of your work...or of your being. i especially liked your last point about explaining the doing that you have done. this seems a particularly difficult dilemma - how to explain your own frame of reference without it seeming like you are promoting yourself.