In training, individual players build their respective skills on one level, and practice working together as a team on another. There may be individual heroes in baseball, but it takes heroic effort by all concerned to build a team that can face every possible situation with shared skill and confidence.

Each player must stand ready to play his part without advanced notice. Each is playing an inner game of expectancy before a play even starts to unfold. As is each watcher in the stands, stadium, or living room. In that sense, players and fans are engaged for the duration of the game, however long it takes for one side to win.

Baseball is all about arousal, anticipation, seeing what happens, recognizing what that means from a personal perspective. Then, of all possible responses, seizing instantly on the one judged most effective, and following through on plays that have been practiced in countless situations under a variety of different conditions.

Anything can happen, and what actually does happen comes as a spontaneous show of coordinated (or not) team skill, strength, speed, effort, and accuracy.

Baseball gives fans an endless flow of opportunities to be personally conscious. Each witnesses the game with her own eyes and ears, own sense of anticipation, own flow of perceptual, meaningful, and active engagements.

Being there at the game is like inventing yourself on the spot, again and again as situations come, evolve, and lead on to the next. This is what fans live for. If baseball didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it as a rule-governed alternative to the horrors of war, revolution, strife, violence, genocide, and mass murder.

Civilized nations rely on games to ward off the inevitable slippage into violence and chaos resulting from friction between factions having different perspectives on the world. Harnessing such perspectives in orderly pursuits such as baseball, soccer, basketball, and tennis makes the world safe for civil governance that actually serves to keep people meaningfully occupied and productive.

Baseball is no frill; it is a civil necessity—along with art, music, dance, Earthcare, full employment, and a fair distribution of wealth—to maintain a healthy state of mind among peoples accustomed to different ways of engaging one another in their separate worlds. Or worse, as in boredom, not engaging at all.

 

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Living in a small village is one thing; you know everyone by name, know their children, what they do for a living, when they are sick. You can afford to give them the benefit of the doubt, assume they are good people, and help them when they have a setback. By helping a neighbor in a village, you are likely helping one of your relatives who shares some of your genes.

But when an entire culture intrudes into our safety zone by mail, phone, TV, newspaper, magazine, internet, email, cellphone, connecting us to everything that’s happening every minute of our lives—culture is no longer our friend or relative but is clearly out to get at us in our homes and other places where we used to feel safe and snug.

It’s not our culture so much as theirs, whoever all those people are who commandeer our personal engagements for purposes of their own. I know they are out there; I get emails, letters, and phone calls from them every day trying to convince me to follow their agenda.

Perhaps in some far and mythical past, cultures were built and maintained by groups for the mutual benefit of all members. When people got sick, others took care of them. When they needed help, others lent a hand.

But now there are so many of us, and we come in so many varieties, we can’t identify with the whole, so tend to defend ourselves by reducing our decisions to yes-or-no choices, stay or flee, love or hate, pass or fail.

As it turns out, this is exactly how our minds work on the most basic level. Neurons either fire or they don’t, send signals forward or not, excite or inhibit, engage or stand pat. Our minds are made to reduce complex issues to simple choices so that we can act decisively in short order.

Which holds as true in cultural as in natural settings. Culture exists for our personal benefit so that our needs can be met with minimal fuss, delay, and expense. When it gets out of hand and causes more trouble than we can bear, it consumes us as so much fodder for the benefit of aggressive others, not as individuals worthy in themselves.

In the end, cultures are governed by nested layers of laws, ordinances, rules, edicts, ignorance, and hearsay. With culture serving as a buffer between humans and nature, we thrive on obeying the rules, such as they are. That way we can coordinate our efforts, take turns, play our parts in synchrony with others, practice, rehearse, and improve our performance so that we eventually get it right—either that, or are proven wrong once again.

Rules of one sort or another are what make cultures work for a wide diversity of people looking out from the relative calm and shelter of their subjective states. And if they don’t work all that well, they can always be improved.

Along with rules come the enforcers. The leaders, teachers, trainers, coaches, managers, directors, supervisors, inspectors, umpires, referees, timekeepers, linesmen, hall patrollers, quality controllers, and all the rest.

Their job is to make sure the rules are obeyed, which challenges us to do our best within tight constraints. We can harmonize our efforts, play our parts, go solo, work in unison, or in duets, trios, quartets . . . unto nonets and beyond. Which takes training, practice, rehearsal, anxiety, adrenalin, and giving our all.

Being under direction the whole way assures coordination of specialized efforts to achieve maximum effect by smoothing and synchronizing our individual performances as they issue from the passionate core of our respective black boxes.

Culture, then, is the great stabilizer that balances and coordinates our myriad individual efforts for the common good (or ill). Pierre Monteux conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique at Symphony Hall is one cultural event at which I was present in my little black box back in 1951. It was, well, fantastique.

Others have watched or run in the Boston Marathon; cheered Harvard on against Yale; attended Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots games; taken flights from Logan Airport; cruised among the islands in Boston Harbor; visited the Science Museum and Massachusetts General Hospital; read the Boston Globe; and borrowed books from Boston Public Library.

Such coordinated events and institutions are not generally possible in nature. It is human culture that sponsors them, and human individuals that support the opportunities for engagement they offer. Without culture, we wouldn’t be anything like who we are. Imagine being born in the Neo- or Paleolithic Era.

Whether we are deferential or assertive personality types, culture forms, stirs, provokes, instructs, and challenges us to grow into the people we become. And that profound influence is not so much in our brains as in our cultural experience as enabled by our brains. You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take country culture out of the boy. Country culture isn’t so much in the boy’s brain as it is in the integrated style of his engagements, in his way of being himself. Through years of engagement, it resides in his eyes, ears, muscles, clothing, vocabulary, and neural pathways, ready to be activated on demand.

Music is a branch of culture that makes it possible for people to gather for the purpose of making noise. The art is in the integrity of the noise, how it all fits together. What string quartets and jazz ensembles release in me is a sensitivity to and appreciation for the interplay between separate voices weaving in and out among their companions.

I find musical chords boring. I like polyphony, each voice playing its part. It’s the difference, not the sameness that gets me. The playful gap between voices, the delta, the dichotomy, the discrepancy, the polarity, the disparity. In brief, the close encounter, engagement, relationship, interaction. Moving in, then away, then back again by a different route.

It’s the wayfaring. Playfully finding the way in easy company. I turn off the switch on jazz that blows the loudest, highest, longest. That’s for the Olympics. So what? I say to myself. It’s not individual prowess in itself I want to hear but deftness in relating to others. The more spontaneously the better and more engaging. That is my preference. I am not a rational or reasonable person. I’m out for adventure. That’s what I seek and pay attention to. The lilt and surprise, not the pure form. Not the logic.

Overall, culture is the footprint of our collective ways of actually obtaining the basic necessities of life from our home planet. Necessities including air, water, food, shelter, warmth, fuel, clothing, sex, safety, healthcare, and help with projects we can’t handle alone.

Omitting environmental protection (along with the arts, sciences, religions, sports, entertainments, and other cultural interests), the U.S. President’s cabinet of top advisors is concerned with agriculture, commerce, defense, education, energy, health, housing, homeland security, interior, justice, labor, state, treasury, transportation, and veterans affairs.

That brief list hints (by what’s on it and what’s missing) at the intricacy of the infrastructure necessary to maintaining a modern national culture. The shadow of the Washington Monument reaches farther than we commonly suppose. In that shadow, the U.S. is governed by a lopsided, Washingtonian synopsis of the culture we engage with every day of our lives, whether we know it or not.

We are governed by the rules of “fair play” in the form of legislative and judicial decisions, edicts, proclamations, ordinances, policies, and guidelines of every imaginable sort. We are subject to the rule of law—layer upon layer of it—which regulates our engagements in more ways than we can keep up with or even imagine.

This system results in a state of full employment with good pensions for government employees, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of our system of laws. Think of the potholes filled, snows plowed, ditches dug, wrecks hauled, votes counted, tax bills sent out, hearings held, reports issued, checks cashed, jails filled, witnesses sworn, and on and on. The pulse of state never skips a single beat.

On the other hand, we now use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to gauge the success of the U.S. Economy, and by extension, the standard of living of its culture and people. Little Bhutan on the slopes of the Himalayas, to the contrary, gauges its national quality of life by an index of Gross National Happiness (GNH).

Other alternatives to the GDP include the Happy Planet Index, Better Life Index, and Social Progress Index. Or if you’d rather wallow in the mud, there’s the Misery Index.

How about cultural ratings based on Justice for All, Peaceful Solutions, Nonviolent Alternatives, Earth Forever, or Small is Beautiful? Once you start thinking about other ways of rating cultural achievements, it’s hard to stop.

One thing is clear: It’s time to raise the bar for the cultural measures we use to rate our success. The GDP ignores environmental degradation and exploitation as direct consequences of production, as well as inequality of wealth distribution. Who are we kidding. Who else but We the People?

Clearly, culture descends from above and outside as a distorted reflection of the concerns we sent aloft in the first place. We the People are the proposers of culture. The instigators. The starting impetus is our doing, each of us bearing the burden of the share for which he or she is personally responsible. And for which her/his parents are personally responsible. And their parents before them.

But the disposers—the administrators—of culture are the powers that be. It is they who take our little yearnings and view them through the lens of their personal advantage. Culture is like an archaeological dig down through the midden of human activity until we hit bedrock, which is nature’s doing before our tribe came on the scene. Ultimately, our culture is founded on the native ground of our planet. We inherit a version of culture that, beyond being built on that substrate, is modified by the cumulative impact of all who have come before us.

Culture shapes us according to the free-floating pressures and concerns most alive in our minds at the time and place of our birth—and those same concerns as translated and answered by those who are in charge. Where do we find shelter? Water? Something to wear? A place to sleep? Our next meal? Work? Help? Care? A potential mate? A dump for our waste?

Our culture shows us the path. As wayfarers, we learn from those around us. We go where they go and do as they do, modifying their example to fit our personal needs and desires. As we engage with our culture, so do our minds learn, so do we become.

Maine is known as a so-called natural-resource state. Think trees. Lumber. Paper. Wood pellets. Firewood. Peat moss. Lobsters. The once-famous fish in the Gulf of Maine. Sand and Gravel. Granite. Seaweed. Scenery. Wildlife. There are a lot of jobs dependent on those resources. A huge chunk of the Maine economy.

Resources, by definition, are supposedly renewable. That’s what re-source means. It’s a source again and again. Which requires careful management, including setting quotas that can safely be “harvested.”

When the price of elvers—tiny eels migrating back to their home habitat areas in Maine rivers—rose to a thousand dollars a pound, you can bet the eel catchers did everything they could to capture as many as possible in their nets. That collective effort put tremendous pressure on the homeward-bound elvers, which Asian nations raise to mature eels to feed their burgeoning populations.

Industrial giants make billions from their many natural-resource extractions. We mine the Earth, trawl the seas, cut the tops off mountains, spew our spent space apparatus as a belt of scrap metal circling the Earth—because that’s how we engage natural resources as our personal cornucopia. Enterprise we call it. Big business. Making a living.

How ironic is it that we plunder the Earth in order to live?

What others have, we want for ourselves. That’s called jealousy. Jealousy, it seems, runs the world. We are envious of others for what they take from the Earth. What they possess. What they engage with. We envy their circles of engagement with life itself, and treat them as celebrities.

We want to attain such a level of engagement for ourselves. To own such possessions. To have them available for our personal use.

Having and owning are the basis of our possessiveness, our shopping sprees, our powerful concept of personal ownership of a planet that clearly supports us all. Private ownership is the dark side of human engagement. Of consciousness gone haywire.

What if I claimed, these are my horseshoe crabs, my eelgrass meadows, my fish in the bay? If life has a mystery, personal ownership is it. How working for a living turns into an engagement that degrades the Earth. How our engagements come to master us as if we had no control over them. And once we initiated them, they had to run to their inevitable conclusion.

Ownership and control are such fundamental parts of our nature, of our natural heritage, we devote a huge amount of our cultural law to protecting the rights of individuals to engage as they please. This we call freedom, life’s blood of the capitalist system of consumption.

We interpret ownership as a right to engage whatever we want, however we will. Even unto destroying that which we love and desire.

But as the word “resource” implies, we own something, not by buying it or extracting it, but by caring for it and keeping it safe so we can enjoy it again and again. Not to exhaust it, but to ensure it will be available forever.

Engagement is a fundamental property of mind. It comes with coupling perception to action by way of meaning and judgment. In that sense, all property is intellectual property, property that reflects the workings of our minds. You’d think that if we all want the same thing, then we would be sure to keep that thing safe for everyone’s use.

But that’s not how our engagements work. Property is an attitude, a state of mind, a combined outlook and inlook. When we engage, we know exactly what we’re doing. Or should, if we keep our eyes open. If we do damage, we can see it for ourselves. And modify our behavior accordingly.

Engagement is strong stuff. Powerful in getting at the heart of our life as conscious beings. Of our having and holding a particular way of life we can count on, now and forever. Don’t come between me and my significant other—what- or whoever it might be. I will get very angry because you are threatening my way of life. My perceiving, judging, acting, and engaging. If you break my accustomed loop, I will take it very personally.

That loop is me as I know myself from the inside. It is who I am on this Earth. I am an ongoing process. I live to engage as I am with whom or what I choose at the time. I am beholden to those people or things I am responsible to in asking them to be responsible to me. That is all I want. Mutual engagement, commitment, and responsibility. Ownership and freedom as I say. The right, within limits, to live my life according to natural law.

That is the state of mind I am trying to get at in this post. The conflicted inner life we lead by leaving a sacked Earth in our wake. We engage our home planet as if it were the peel of a banana we lower the car window to toss into the road. Do you feel the power of that image? The true horror? If I didn’t believe it was the culminating truth of our existence, I wouldn’t be writing these words.

The course of our everyday mental functioning creates the worlds we live in as individuals who are living the lives we have made for ourselves. The lives we live out every day by maintaining the engagements we do with all that we care about. In our respective black boxes, unsupervised, we are at the center of those worlds, creating them day-after-day as the foundation of the life we hold as a commonwealth for one another.

The upshot of this line of thinking is that nature and its resources are not for sale and cannot be put on the market as the basis of our gross domestic product. That would be an absurdity. A for-sale sign on either the richest or poorest piece of land is an oxymoron, a contradiction unto itself. Nature is that which cannot be bought or sold. As Earthlings, we are born of the Earth; it is not possible to own our own mother. We survive as members of Earth’s family.

The point of our mutual engagements is to celebrate our common family together. Nature cannot be for sale, and cannot be bought, no matter what you hear in the market. Nature is a gut-level attraction we recognize when we go to open places and pay attention to the ambient energy falling on our sensory receptors.

We have to open our personal expectancy to such experience. No matter how many safaris we go on, and trophy heads collect, money won’t get it for us. To enjoy a truly natural experience, we must hold hands together, take the deepest possible breath, and breathe out a sigh of thanks for all that has come our way as a gift without our even having to ask.

The moral of this post:  We are stewards of our every engagement.

People love to play games. My partner and I have enjoyed what must be thousands of bouts on opposite sides of a cribbage board over the past twenty years. And hundreds of games of dominoes. We move rival pegs and pieces about board and table in a state of total concentration as if everything hung on our progress as make-believe wayfarers.

Those games are a good part of our mythology as a couple, known only to us.

Such weekend games keep us sane by diverting our minds from concerns that occupy us during the rest of the week. Others play games of cards such as poker or solitaire, bridge or old maid. Many games feature fields, courts, or courses—marked-out territories occupied or traversed by opposing players or teams trading roles as defenders and aggressors. Mythological contests, again.

Humanity spends countless hours each day engrossed in nonviolent contests of skill, chance, strength, speed, and endurance. Ice hockey, boxing, and American football occupy niches close to the edge of being harmful and dangerous physical play, but for the most part sports and games, in their claim to being nonviolent, fall short of battles to the death.

Games are universally played by rules, and are officiated by umpires, referees, scorekeepers, and the players themselves. The essence of games is in the taking of turns so that players alternate in facing more-or-less equal opportunities and conditions.

I bring up sports and games in this reflection because, being governed by rules of play, they are examples of the kinds of engagement I am discussing as fundamental features of mind. Rules of play are rules of engagement are rules of thinking are rules of mythology are rules of the conscious mind.

Games are human activities in which our minds play themselves out in full public view. The game itself is what each player and spectator has in mind at the time. Here we see expectancy, attention, understanding, emotion, motivation, values, the life force, judgment, goals, strategies, and skilled action out in the open for all to see and take part in.

In films and TV programs the action takes place on a set that blocks our view of the chaos behind the scenes, so we are allowed a cut-and-spliced version that makes sense only from the camera’s point of view. That is, we are being manipulated by actors and directors and costume designers and producers and hundreds of others to see what they want us to see.

But in sports and games, we take the leading roles, so put ourselves—our innermost minds—into play, in the company of others who are doing the same thing. Which is fun because risky but safe, each side playing by the same rules of engagement. We are wayfaring in joint engagement together. That is, in friendship earned along the way during the journey at the heart of the game.

The apparent innocence of children is achieved much the same way—by being unreservedly themselves in translating thought into action. Lion cubs, ditto, when they roll about nipping each other’s ears and throats. They aren’t simply playing, they are being fully themselves at their level of development and understanding. Games are mythological enactments of the selves our children want to be.

We love them for being that honest and that free. Qualities rare among the rest of us in defending our private lives and innermost thoughts as we do so others won’t get too accurate a picture of what’s going on inside our private black boxes. In play it is safe to venture forth because we have rules to protect us.

 

Reflection 328: Pandemic

October 5, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

When overwhelmed by the wackiness of today’s “civilized” world, I often view my own consciousness as a theater of the absurd. What I see is one crank after another bantering about his eccentric view of the world being the one and only view that everyone else should take as a revelation of true reality. Tyrants do it, political leaders do it, holy men do it, as do newscasters, pundits, businessmen, bankers, economists, entertainers, making it seem that a tsunami of craziness has swept over us in the night, engulfing us in a flood of absurdity.

My defense against this flood is to look upon today’s reality as a kind of dream where the conventional social order is overturned in a wild Saturnalia of anything goes. If it can be thought, it will be thought by someone, somewhere. If it can be said, ditto. If it can be done, double ditto. Which is much like many of my nightmares, and creates a sense of frustration similar to how I, powerless in my sleep, react to those dreams.

Except the current pandemic of self-seeking wackiness is no dream. It is the most brutish kind of reality where every man squares off against all others for himself alone to see what he can get by forcing his burden of craziness on the rest of us.

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has assigned the status of personhood to corporations, thereby granting the right of free speech and free spending of money to for-profit entities out to make a killing from the rest of us mere mortals by transferring our personal wealth to their coffers as quickly as possible. That is no way to run a world, and since there’s only one world based on potential consciousness, that is no way to run this world, the one we’ve been born to.

I dream of the possibility of a world based on decency, courtesy, and respect—a world where citizens are civil one to another, and do not base their engagements solely on power and money, that is, on what they can get from others and from the Earth.

Our current passion for competition comes from a false reading of Darwin’s message. We are one human family among our fellow plants and animals, without whom we would not be here. We are not the top dog, the essential nation, the leader of all tribes. Above all, we are not “man-the-wise.” Whatever happened to empathy and humility? Where did we go wrong in selling our souls for (temporary) personal advantage?

We are a primate species, born of a long line of expert tree climbers and leapers, come down to earth, now risen up on two legs and looking for trouble, which we seem to thrive on. Yet we are all mortal beings, heading for certain illness and death, born of woman, conceived by a man and a woman, who were both conceived by male and female going back to the beginning of primate life. The lady in France who said (in French) “I am not a mammal” had it backwards. Because she worked for a company that made baby formula, she imagined herself as a superior being independent of her animal roots. In deep denial, she was being absurd. It is that fatuous quality that now defines us and sets us against who we truly are.

This year’s Republican presidential primary race pitted one candidate against all others, each making preposterous statements based on his or her personal life experience as if it was the basis of universal law. Personal conceit (which I see as a form of ignorance) mixed with a hunger for money ignites the absurdity I see all around us. A pandemic of absurdity, where no one has his feet on the ground but is issuing nonsense out of his mouth as if it came from the Delphic Oracle—from the Priestess herself. Or from Fox News, the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, some infallible Pope or Ayatollah—from ideologues to the Tenth Degree.

We have become the laughing stock of all species, or would be if we didn’t wreak so much waste, havoc, chaos, and misery in our wake. This is what the 13-billion-year history of the universe has brought us to? This has been our destiny all along?

Don’t you believe it! This current pandemic of absurdity is an anomaly, a product of personal avarice and lust for power, a temporary state of affairs brought on by a lapse of judgment in choosing our way in the world based on how we wish to engage one another, seeing others as dupes and fools, not our equals, not our Earthly brothers and sisters.

We are suffering through a breakdown in human engagement, a parody of personal virtue gone musty and rotten. We are using one another as personal property to be used, gutted, and discarded. This is the new slavery, the purchase and abuse of those thought to be lesser beings because of their relative poverty and weakness. Imagine the bundling of mortgages imposed on people who cannot afford the homes they buy because that intentionally unbearable debt adds up to big money to be claimed by those who see the total amount but not the people who owe it as if it were only money, not bundled human lives.

Where, oh where is civility? We are not here to be at our neighbors’ throats, or to do our worst, not our best. We are at the forefront of the history of the universe, ready to engage those who have come with us on the basis of our equality as living beings, not as dispensable victims. If I did not believe in civility, I would be embarrassed to be an American. Instead, I think we have only lost our way because of the worm of self-serving power and profit that has bored into our heads—and we can be healed and set right again in a New Age based on civil engagements that encourage decency, courtesy, and respect.

As it is, we are allowing ourselves and the Earth to be sold short of what we are truly worth—the only seat of consciousness that we have yet discovered—or are ever likely to discover—in the universe. If we keep on as we are going, where will we find the worthy examples to lead us back to our senses? Civility is fragile, the product of eons of collective respect, striving, and cooperation. Are we going to sit by and watch it be taken from us by a vain and wealthy elite that wants to run the world solely on its own terms? We deserve a better fate than that.

As I see it, the only alternative is for us to achieve the civility I am talking about by building it into the heart of our own lives and engagements, thereby refusing to go meekly along with the self-appointed elite, who are really the most forlorn, desperate, and pitiable caricatures of what humanity can be. What choice do we have but to remain staunchly ourselves?

Respectfully, y’r friend and brother, –Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

In CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, I divide loops of engagement into two segments: on one hand, dimensions of consciousness devoted to perception (including arousal, expectancy, attention, sensory impression, discernment, interpretation, understanding, feeling, and values); and on the other,  dimensions of consciousness preparatory for action (including memory, judgments, decisions, goals, projects, relationships, and planning).

Perceptual dimensions of consciousness lead to consolidation of new memories. Dimensions leading to action combine memory with current values and feelings in planning and executing behaviors appropriate to the current situation as construed by the mind.

That construal (interpretation or construction) of the current situation provides the setting for our looping engagements. That’s where understanding enters the loop as the upshot of the mutual engagement of perception and interpretation. How we understand a given situation determines how we physically behave on any given occasion. Perception, interpretation, and understanding determine the climate in which events occur; action is the specific weather at a given place and time within a specific situation.

Climates of consciousness, in being largely cultural, include the great disciplines of human thought and awareness: economics, politics, theology, healthcare, science, education, military affairs, agriculture, art, fashion, literature, geography, athletics, language, and other components of the cultures we build around ourselves, and which in turn shape our identities.

These cultural influences are aspects of our personal understandings of ourselves as members of particular groups, families, races, and nations as they shape our fields of personal concern. And within those fields of concern, spur the loops of engagement by which we balance our personal awareness against the options for action we see for dealing with our concerns at the moment.

Within our respective cultures, each of us is a distinct individual subject to a unique variety of pressures, interests, and concerns. How we respond in making ourselves happen in the world is influenced by our understanding of both ourselves and our worlds in concert with our feelings and values.

What is truly remarkable about us as a species is the diversity of approaches we take in dealing with our concerns as we construe them according to our experience, understanding, faith, and belief. Some of us follow Catholic ways, some  Protestant or Jewish ways, others Buddhist or Islamic ways. Some of us are democrats, republicans, socialists, communists, fascists, or none of the above. Some make music while others make art, quilts, or batches of beer. Some have families, some have pets, some live in mansions, others in hovels. All according to the mixture of concerns governing how we engage one another and our surroundings.

There is no accounting for the combination of concerns that makes us who we are. Or more accurately, no recalling the forces that acted on us in our formative years when we were young and more helpless than we remember being at the time. Our parents ruled us via their loops of engagements much as we rule our own children, laying down the law in some cases, letting others slip by. But the structure of our understanding of ourselves and our worlds—whether science rules our hearts, religion does, our passions and appetites, or our addictions—the lives we have lived up to now seem sensible to us as the only lives we can refer to, so we live as if we are destined to go on in the same way as before.

If there is a logic to our concerns, it is the logic of precedents from days we barely remember. As we were treated, so do we treat others and call it fair, just, and deserving. Our loops and memories were forged by powerful emotional experiences, most of which we conveniently disremember. In truth, I am still the same little kid I was when I roamed the hills of central New York State in the 1930s, living now as if the conditions that prevailed in those days still apply. My engagements are just that, my engagements because that’s how I learned to make myself happen in my little world. There’s no breaking free from my formative past because it still bears on the neural network that governs my looping perceptions and actions today.

Every one of us is privileged (or condemned) to follow the dictates of our most intimate pasts. Those dictates are rarely codified in so many dos and don’ts, prescriptive formulas, or commands. That isn’t the language our concerns were received in. We duly and emotionally lived them at the time. And they are still with us in the complex neural networks that make up our brains and on which our minds are dependent to this day. We are variations on a theme we first met long ago. We hang around like old songs and poems from childhood, our lives still having the same Mother Goose lilt they did then.

Our religious, political, and cultural beliefs strive to maintain continuity with our childhoods in the deep Paleolithic period of our most intimate selves. We are today descendents of whom we were in those beginning times. We see and hear now as we learned to see and hear then. We think now as we learned to think then. We believe now as we learned to believe because we didn’t know any better in those early days.

So, yes, we look upon the world of today, but see with old eyes, hear with old ears, believe with naive wits, and in all innocence think we behold the world as it is. We are creatures of our acculturation and upbringing to this day. There is no escaping who we were and how we were introduced to the world through engagement with those whose example gave us our eyes and ears, sensitivities and tastes.

We act today by the logic of precedents received in earlier times—as if they were still valid to this day. We may outgrow our clothing but we carry our primal beliefs as if they still fit us as they did when we were brand new.

In fact, the religions, political parties, and philosophies we practice are all in our heads, carryovers from yesteryear, aided and abetted by the cultural institutions we create and maintain to insure we always have a place to go that reminds us who we were and have been ever since. But institutions have particular clout and endurance because they are dedicated to holding fast to our memberships to gain access to our minds in order to set the climate within which we act.

Think of the great temples, mosques, cathedrals, palaces, government buildings, sporting arenas, universities, theaters, and corporate headquarters whose sole purpose is to keep us in our place exactly where they want us. That is, keep our minds in place so that we behave correctly as they would have us behave. Think of the established, authoritarian governments of North Korea, China, Syria, Iran, Russia—and now the United States of America—governments that attempt to institutionalize their peoples lest they wander off track, learn to think for themselves, and risk becoming ungrateful and unruly.

The bigger such climate enforcers become, the stronger they blow on our minds to whip them into conformity. And if they blow our minds away, from the rubble a renewed people arise who are capable of making up their own minds and living their own lives. Freedom is a personal matter that cannot be imposed by force. It is always earned by exercising the creative imagination of unique individuals, and always flows from those few exemplars who show the way. They are true leaders in mapping out the routes we must follow in being truly ourselves. Routes that give glass, steel, and stone institutions a wide berth in sticking to pathways mere mortals can trend on their own.

Invention and discovery are ways to the future; dogma, ideology, and correct performance lock us into the past. The most difficult challenge we face in becoming ourselves is in freeing ourselves from utter dependence on our past histories as institutions preserve them. No one becomes free in an institution. To be free in our minds requires us to grow beyond the influence of our first cultural enforcers so that at last we discover who we are as free agents.

As always, I remain y’rs truly, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

In the concluding chapter of CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK  I wrote these words:

The general welfare is best improved by each of us having equal opportunity to conduct her own affairs without falling prey to those who would use us for selfish purposes. Introspection shows me that individual opportunity is not only possible, but is the desirable state of affairs in which we thrive on the basis of our mental skills and effort, not our vulnerability or submission. In a democracy, it is an oxymoron to conduct our affairs by seeking to take advantage of our peers. True power is the power of the individual to lead her own life as her unique self, not as who others tell her she should be. Self-determination, in my book (which this is), is the source of individual personal power. It requires not only empathy and compassion, but agreement that our uniqueness is our gift and our strength (p. 265).

Having recently viewed Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, I thought about how I could steer my own loop of engagement to counter the mayhem presented in that powerful film. Here’s a slightly edited version of an email I sent to a co-worker and friend.

The documentary film Inside Job details the results from a 27-year campaign to deregulate the financial services industry. Now our effort should focus on finding ways to effectively rebuild a regulatory system that has collapsed due to constant pressures applied from without and within government. Add our wars in the Middle East as a vital component of our modern economy through the arms industry, and the trashing of campaign finance regulations by the supreme court of the land—all this adds to the sorry state we find ourselves in today with the one percent in control of our destiny.

Now is the time to shore up our gutted regulatory systems and restore our ethical priorities for peaceful, private enterprise. We also need to stress the regulation of for-profit activity so the govern-ment controls the economy rather than the other way around. The court, the wars, and the film show that laissez-faire doesn’t work. What’s missing is the will of the people to fight for what they feel is right. We need a half-time pep talk so we can personally take a hand in making our democracy work. Our individual efforts are so diffuse, how can we organize so our collective efforts can meet the challenge we face? United we stand, divided we fall. How can we get our—the people’s—act together at this time of crisis?

In an era that decries regulation as anti-business and un-American, it struck me how regulated our sports and games are as a matter of course. Think of these games without umpires, referees, or rules: football, baseball, basketball, soccer, track and field, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, tennis, golf. Think of poker, blackjack, chess, bridge, even solitaire. Think about kick-the-can, hop-scotch, mother-may-I? Think about plagiarism. Think about armed robbery. It is one thing to artificially enhance your breasts or fanny or shoulders, another altogether to defraud investors by pushing bundled subprime mortgages on the public while insuring your own risk with credit default swaps.

How does regulation for the safety of investors differ from playing by the rules? The claim is that markets must be free to regulate themselves, which is a variation on letting the fox guard the henhouse. My view is that sports and games are right up there with the arts and sciences as pinnacle achievements of our culture—because of how we conduct them to be fair to all players and practitioners.

How we conduct our engagements with others and the world makes all the difference. I am in charge of my loop, you are in charge of yours. If we seek mutual engagement, we both must play by the same rules, not one set for you and another set for me. Not one set for the financial services industry, another for investors. Or one set for the rich and another for the poor. Or one set for Republicans and another for Democrats.

I reached this conclusion through a 30-year program of first-person introspection. Surely it is time the swindle was over. For Wall Street to adopt a code of ethics that truly levels the trading floor.

That’s my thought for today. I remain, as ever, –Steve

(Copyright © 2010)

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

        T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Little Gidding, part 5

Is there no forward motion, then? Only the same round  again and again? Must I travel in circles? By different routes, I keep coming back to the same thing. Winding down this blog, I am not far from the mental state I was in twenty-eight years ago. I find myself making similar discoveries, or perhaps rehashing the same intuitions in different terms. What I then called “a resonant synthesis of meaning and being,” I now refer to as “the categorization of sensory patterns.”  Unhappy with either phrase because not expressed in plain English, I wonder if it has been worth it—trying to get a grip on the inner workings of my own mind. Am I in any better position to understand—so to remedy—the problems of my time? Or am I on a fool’s errand?

Words, being a social medium, impose the history of their use on the choice of any particular word to express a private thought. I despise the word categorization as sounding so pretentious, so academic, so foreign, so Greek. It is not a word I would normally use, but these days I use it in almost every post, as if repetition would somehow make it more acceptable. I think of it as Aristotle’s word, or Immanuel Kant’s. It doesn’t feel like my word. I have failed to come up with a better word for describing a big part of my personal consciousness.

To categorize is to describe the world in terms that are personally meaningful. That’s why I use it—it says what I mean. But it doesn’t sound like me in my own ears. So I cringe every time I ask my fingers to type that dread sequence of letters. The interesting thing, though, is what kategorein means in Greek—to publically accuse or assert (kata- down, egor- to speak in public). We use it in the sense (via Latin) of to declare or proclaim, that is, to state the nature or character of a person, thing, or event. To categorize something is to make public a claim it is as I see it. Categorization, then, is the outward expression of a mental notion, of a concept or an idea.

How else could I say that to be less formal or academic? The word mapping sounds more friendly to me. Categorization is the mapping of a concept from consciousness onto something in our phenomenal world. It is the categorizer who does the mapping, so responsibility for what he does is solely his. Naming is another friendly term for what we do when we categorize. One problem with names, however, is we often think of them as properties of persons or objects themselves, not as labels or designations applied by others. As if a spade (object) were strictly a spade (name) and not a shovel, digging implement, or trowel. What’s in a name? I find I am bothered by mail addressed to Steven Perrin instead of to Steve or Stephen Perrin. It’s an easy mistake, and there is no way to know if Steve is short for Steven or Stephen. What troubles me is that, without thinking, people lay their assumptions on how I spell my own name, which I take as a slight. Sensitive? You bet! But there it is. Names matter. Categorizations matter.

Historically, they have changed over time as Latin replaced Greek as an international language, then evolved into French, which merged with Anglo-Saxon into Old English, then became modern English. With the result that we forget what terms once meant, and bring in new terms of our own, replacing simple old names with verbal concoctions. In Words and Places (Everyman’s Library, originally published 1864), Isaac Taylor gives examples of concatenated place names made up of bits and pieces contributed by different cultures:

In the name of Brindon Hill, in Somersetshire, we have first the Cymric bryn, a hill. To this was added dun, a Saxonised Celtic word, nearly synonymous with bryn; and the English word hill was added when neither bryn nor dun were any longer significant words.

Pen-dle-hill, in Lancashire, is similarly compounded of three synonymous words—the Cymric pen, the Norse holl, and the English hill. In Pen-tlow Hill, in Essex, we have the Celtic pen, the Anglo-Saxon hlaw, and the English hill. Shar-pen-hoe-knoll, in Bedfordshire, contains four nearly synonymous elements.

Why use four syllables when the meaning of each is the same, and one of them would do? These terms are monuments to human forgetfulness, reminding us that categorizations are projections of the human mind, not labels of things as what they are in themselves.

Name-calling is a clear example of characterization conveying an attitude: you turkey, you imbecile, you darling, you angel, you pig. It is a very different act to apply the name pig to a pig or a person. But thinking about it, a pig isn’t a pig on its own; it takes a person to dub a pig a pig, cochon, Schwein, cerdo, or maiale, depending on whether that person speaks English, French, German, Spanish, or Italian. The pigness of a pig is clearly in the ear of the categorizer.

Once we get beyond the standoffish (to us) quality of foreign words, the idea of categorization (recognition, mapping, naming) is clear enough. After casting our concepts outward, the hard part is accepting that the world as we perceive it is a phenomenal version of the world, a rendition by our sensory apparatus, different for each one of us, depending on our motivation at the time, our interest, arousal, attention, level of discrimination, and other aspects of consciousness. The world in itself is other than we can see, hear, touch, smell, taste, or intuit. Imagine the world of a bird that can detect Earth’s magnetic field with sensors in its eyes; imagine the world of a shark, skate, or ray that can read electrical signals sent out by the nervous system of prey species buried in sand, gravel, or mud. Like ants, moles, worms, and bumblebees, such species, too, would claim to see the world “as it is,” but theirs would be a very different world from the one we claim to know.

Within our own species, individuals see the world differently. For example, here is something I read this morning in Harper’s Magazine of Jan. 2010, from a piece by Charles Bowden,  “The Wisdom of Rats”:

Laws are passed, uniforms designed, theories float like butterflies over the mountains and valleys and deserts. Things are Mexican or things are American or people are settlers or pioneers or savages or aliens, men are outlaws or lawmen, boundaries are violated or secured, armies sweep through, order is insisted upon, revolutions come and go and succeed or fail and it is all under control at all times whether there is control or not.

Different observers, different worlds, that is the law of consciousness. Not that there’s nothing “out there,” it’s that each of us renders it to suit himself in the moment. If I am hungry, I notice food; if I am wet, I look for shelter; if I am cold, I seek warmth; if I am lonely, I wish for company; if I am frazzled, I retire into solitude. Narrowing the search, we find what we look for, but that’s only the beginning. Our personal worlds are functions of our size, sensory acuteness, ability to discriminate one thing from another, prior experience, genetic makeup, chemical environment in the womb, childhood development, rearing, schooling, training, job history, higher education, and on and on. The one world may be out there, but the phenomenal worlds we entertain in consciousness are different for each individual. Consequently, we respond in different ways to those phenomenal worlds, so behave as uniquely ourselves.

There is no known standard for any so-called objective world. We do not perceive material objects directly as they “are,” but construe them from the energy they emit, reflect, block, or diffract (as voyagers in the Pacific could navigate in relation to wave fronts in the lee of an island they could not see). Kicking an object (such as a tire on a used car or a cardboard box at the side of the road) is as good a way as any to check on the solidity of an object, but it says little about what that object might be.

In earlier posts I have mentioned apparent motions of sun, moon, planets, and stars, apparent colors, apparent sounds (such as speech or music)—none of which is the same in the world of objects as it appears in phenomenal consciousness. Things seem to grow smaller as they move away from us, and we accept that illusion as natural, even though we know that a locomotive does not actually grow in size as it approaches or smaller as it passes us by. Looking down from the upper floors of a tall building, we remark how small people on the street are, even though we know that on their level they are probably of average size.

People categorize their phenomenal worlds in order to act more-or-less appropriately in situations they can construe but cannot directly engage beyond consciousness. Consciousness, that is, enables an ongoing loop of engagement between  individual actors and their surroundings by which specific gestures are traded for sensory input, followed by a series of adjusted gestures and revised inputs, mediated by personal judgments, values, goals, and prior experience. In two sentences, that is the gist of the 199 posts to this blog. We the people are motivated categorizers of sensory impressions. The worlds we live in are parallel universes rendered by our brains in creating personal consciousness.

Which may be true for individuals (personal consciousness being the topic of this blog), but what about the collective consciousness of people acting in groups? After 199 posts, that is the new beginning I am faced with, the flip side of individual consciousness that can be known through introspection. Corporate personhood and the “right” to bear arms are two examples of beliefs held in common by groups made up of disparate individuals. Beliefs may be hatched in individual consciousness, but as items on a group’s agenda, they become aggrandized as issues, principles, rights, or policies, and so become larger than notions, concepts, or ideas in individual minds. Trying to grasp individual consciousness is daunting enough, but collective or corporate consciousness adds layer-upon-layer of difficulty on top of that. The issue then becomes the mental underpinnings of behavior exhibited by people acting in groups, not the relatively simpler matter of individual consciousness in relation to one person’s independent acts.

Mixing levels of consciousness, seen from my personal point of view, corporate personhood becomes an out-and-out oxymoron. For corporations to be considered persons, they would have to have brains and some semblance of consciousness. But corporations are entities chartered by the various states, not living beings. Though they may have members and employees who have brains and are conscious for themselves, corporations as such are demonstrably both brainless and mindless. Ask a corporation to categorize some aspect of its world and it will refer the job to an attorney who does have both a brain and a mind; the corporation as an entity chartered on paper is not up to the task.

Yet corporations exist and are considered legal persons under the law, allowing a group of people to act within certain specified limits as a corporate individual. This legal fiction confounds true and make-believe entities, magically bestowing rights and qualities of living persons upon chartered bodies (orchestras, alliances, unions, partnerships, companies, corporations) as if they were mortal beings and not so many origami tigers without wits or judgment. But, looking around, I see many similar fictions alive and well in the culture I live in. There is a trend in corporate thinking to allow for convenient fictions that fail any test of reality beyond the fact that it pleases us to act as if we believed in them. I have written in this blog about The Wizard of Oz, who is as real to me as Barack Obama, Dick Cheney, or Isaac Newton.

Does it matter that we have a hard time differentiating fiction from truth? Considering the wealth concentrated in modern multinational corporations, and the legal expertise in their employ, yes, it becomes a serious question because of the influence and leverage such impersonal entities wield in the affairs of natural persons. Corporate persons have vastly greater powers to control the media, lobby Congress, sway the Supreme Court, and determine election results than ordinary citizens do. Corporate personhood mocks the principle of one person, one vote, which underlies our democratic form of government. Does that matter? Is pitting corporate versus individual resources likely to lead to a fair contest? Is democracy itself just a myth?

No slope is slipperier than corporate personhood because the combination of corporate policy, expertise, and funding trumps hard-won, mere-mortal judgments every time. We the people are disheartened: the courts have stolen our nation out from under us. The struggle for independence never ends.

Miscategorizing a corporation as a person is contrary to any system of law that claims to be reasoned and compassionate. If corporations can play at being persons, why not dogs and cats? Pigeons? Rats? Which brings me back to Charles Bowden’s piece in Harper’s:

The rats came out in the night and moved right here where I sit, a continuous thread of rats reaching far back with love and anger and lust and dreams and reaching past any place my world will ever attain, and the rats know but will not say what they know and so we must find out, experience the fantasy of power and control, and finally we will go under like every one of our kind they have ever seen and still they will come out in the night and move around, not making a sound, not a single sound, but move around and thrive as the creek purls along in the black love of the night. We must not play it safe if we wish to share the wisdom of the rats.

Our idea of history is the end of history, of tracking a concentration of power that finally reaches critical mass, and by an explosion of force solves all problems and ends all change forever, amen.

No rat has ever believed our history.

Categorizations such as corporate personhood are creations of what Gerald Edelman calls higher-order consciousness. Rats are endowed with primary consciousness, which deals with a phenomenal world interpreted in light, not of concepts, but of innate biological values—sex, food, drink, and more sex, food, and drink. It is not corporate personhood itself that will prove our undoing, but our helpless putting-up with it. If our higher-order consciousness allows us to categorize it as a crazy, irrational, illegal power-grab, that leaves us helpless because these are not arguments admissible in a court of law, which is where the problem lies. On a social level, courts are the deciders of which categorizations are legal and which are not. For now, while rats and judges creep among us in the dark, it’s OK for corporations to act as if they were persons, which everybody knows they are not, but if the Supreme Court rules it’s OK, then it must be OK.

Leaving me to wonder, is there any such thing as higher-order social consciousness? Have we reached the point in our evolution where that might emerge? As it is, court decisions serve the interests of those who write legislation and the judges who back them up. Corporate personhood is alive and well in our age, as is the right to bear arms, so I feel I am ahead of my time. And I don’t see higher-order social consciousness emerging anytime soon. The trend, in fact, appears to be running the other way. How long can the right to be a fully conscious, independent person last before being declared unconstitutional?

To end this post, I will return to the beginning of the rule of law in this nation, to the Preamble of the Constitution, which, in case you might have forgotten, reads as follows:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The thirty-nine signers of the Constitution in 1787 were all able-bodied categorizers and witnesses to the sensory phenomena kindled within them in their time. They had not yet surrendered the right to keep and exercise their independent consciousness. What they left out of the document was a provision for protecting the people once the checks and balances they provided were ignored or subverted by, for example, a President who makes his own law, a Congress that can be bought by lobbyists, or a Supreme Court with tenure “during good behavior” (no matter how obliquely it categorizes the law of the land).

 Ouroboros: End as beginning

(Copyright © 2010)

Do we have it in us? Can we back off from our project of building a future for ourselves, leaving room for those around us who are doing the same? Are we so dedicated to our agenda that we can’t appreciate that others are pursuing needs of their own? Who is to declare us right and them wrong? I mean, who aside from ourselves?

The trouble with sticking to corporate agendas with excessive zeal is that it sucks the air out of the room, leaving no oxygen for others to breathe. Is that our goal in life, to assert ourselves to the point that others suffocate in our presence? Are we capable of giving them leeway, some space to breathe? Just enough so they are comfortable in our presence, and vice versa. Are Israelis capable of backing off the Palestinians’ case, allowing them to live on their own without Israeli supervision to make sure they don’t step out of bounds?

The only way Israelis will ever live in peace is to permit Palestinians to do likewise without interference. Not just permit, insist that is their right. Instead of governing by domination, it would be better to step back, adopt a sensible two-state solution, and recognize that sovereignty for one group is workable only if all groups have equal claims to freedom and justice. As it is, Israelis regard Palestinians conceptually, as if they existed in a vacuum—but the vacuum is an emptiness in Israeli imagination.

Why is “the other” so difficult to picture in the mind? We know why the Palestinians are angry, the Israelis took their homeland out from under them by violent means. The Israelis are angry because Palestinians are blocking their agenda, coming between a people and their dream. In some ways, the Israeli dream is similar to the Palestinian dream—to live in peace. Israelis go further and insist on occupying the particular ground that they lost two millennia ago. If the Israelis were to back off, they might discover that both sides want the same thing in modern times. Which would seem to elevate the two-state solution to the level of a win-win compromise. True, neither would take possession of the entire state, but both could have access to it on peaceful terms. Is not living at peace with one’s neighbors preferable to dying an extremist’s death for an unjust cause that is wholly self-serving, and wrongly so?

Passion does not render miscategorizations accurate or fair. Insistence does not transform a claim into a right. Often the wise are those waiting patiently for their opponents to come to terms on their own without being forced. Such a strategy allows those on the opposite side to catch themselves overreaching so that, as in jujitsu, it is they who are shown to be off-balance. Extremists overreach themselves in denying the integrity of those they miscategorize or misjudge. Like hornets, they stir up commotions and alarms to snuff out the slightest hint their cause is any less righteous than they claim.

As for righteousness, no one has defended it better than the Congregation of the Holy Office has protected the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. After the fact, that body was advised to categorize Copernicus’s heliocentric theory as heresy, which led to Galileo being forced in 1633 to recant evidence provided by his telescopic investigations in support of the sun’s being the center of the universe as then understood, not the Earth as scripture would have it. Categorized as a heretic, Galileo was placed under permanent house arrest as a threat to the faith. Which is pretty much how Israel treats Palestinians today, categorizing them as threats to the state, so shutting them behind walls of concrete to teach them their place in the Israeli scheme of things.

Undue vehemence in support of particular categorizations of how things stand—or should stand—in the world is rampant around the globe. It comes as a shock to realize that bigotry on behalf of extreme beliefs is not a thing of the past. Bigotry divides people into two classes: those who are with us and those opposed; those who are right and those who are wrong. With the subtext that the right have truth and justice on their side, so are fully justified in censoring the free speech of the wrong by categorizing it as vicious and unfounded lies. That is, one effective way to guard against defamation is to defame your opponent before he is able to frame the debate. Which illustrates the power of our deliberate and conscious minds to use categorization in identifying and destroying at one blow those who oppose us.

Such tactics have become the American way. Consider these examples. 1) Political parties don’t lose elections anymore, they have them stolen by unscrupulous opponents. 2) Once corporations were categorized as persons, they were deemed to have freedom of speech under the First Amendment, which was stretched by activist judges to include the spending of money as a form of free speech—by lining those ducks in a row, the judicial branch singlehandedly undid our representative form of government as described in the U.S. Constitution. 3) Raise the issue of gun control within hearing of the National Rifle Association and you will trigger a tirade by CEO Wayne LaPierre in which absolute heresy is too weak a term for what you are are trying to say (“bullshit” would be his term); instantly you find yourself characterized as an evil terrorist out to prevent decent women and children from defending themselves with firearms, as (he will claim) specifically provided for in the Second Amendment.

Then there is AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee), the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., which claims to level the playing field for all discussions concerning Israel—but comes at such discussions from so aggressive an angle as to tilt the field smartly in its favor. For AIPAC, history is destiny, and modern Israel is seen as “fulfilling a political and historical imperative,” an imperative that makes no mention of Palestine or Palestinians, a place and a people wholly eliminated from the Jewish dream of founding a homeland in modern times. Which raises the issue, when dreams are turned to reality, what happens to those excluded from the dream? Does it matter? In this case, evidently, but not to the dreamers.

My point in this post is that in building a future for ourselves, we all attempt to reify or actualize dreams based on our prior experience, or sacred texts (as in the First and Second Amendments, or the Torah). First we visualize and categorize the kind of future we want for ourselves, then we develop the project of fulfilling our dreams as apt categorizations of reality. That, basically, is how consciousness works in the interest of our individual survival as far as we can push it.

But in realizing our dreams, it is better to include the world in its living diversity, not solely the narrow territory of our personal yearnings as we would project them onto a barren globe. If we don’t work with the lay of the land and the tribes that occupy it, we are apt to impose ourselves roughly in their midst, as Hitler did in Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, North Africa, and the Balkans during World War II. And as the Jews did in 1948—and are still doing today—in what for a time was known as Palestine, and long before that was shown on maps of the time as Egypt, Syria, Canaan, Israel, Philistia, Judah, Persia, Palestina, Jerusalem, Galilee, among other fleeting categorizations.

Given the complexity of human movements and settlements around the Earth, staking a dream claim to any particular area requires a clarity of vision far beyond what the human mind can consciously attain. Columbus claimed the so-called New World as a province of the Old, in one gesture sweeping away the sovereign relationship Native Americans had with the land they lived on. The result is that such campaigns to claim and categorize a place invariably do violence to the historical record, and are conveniently based on the limited views of a small group of assertive people in one place at one time. Such as the Bush administration in deciding to bomb Afghanistan and invade Iraq. Knowing that, as we all must by now, we are well advised to be cautious in mapping ourselves onto Earth’s living surface. At the very least we must allow for those who are already there, since forcing ourselves upon them is bound to lead to resentment and cycles of revenge for the foreseeable future.

It makes more sense to back off from our dreams and develop a live and let-live philosophy that takes other perspectives with other histories into account. Those of us alive today are latecomers to our planet. We may think of ourselves as Adam and Eve in some nouveau Garden of Eden, but the fact is wherever we go, Earth is one giant midden heap consisting of the decomposing ruins of all that has come before us in this place. Excavating for a subway tunnel, we will come across a forgotten palace or perhaps the bones of a saber-toothed tiger. Future excavators will likely dig up the refrigerator we leave at curbside today.

If our minds are so preoccupied they can’t see that each of us is but one point of light in a coruscating multitude, then we are not fully conscious, and our categorizations are apt to be wildly inaccurate because our outreach and intelligence are seriously flawed. Acting as if our judgment were infallible, we head straight for the nearest cliff. Actions we accept on faith to be true and just will surely turn out to be false, unfair, and cruel. To others as well as ourselves and our heirs. Leaving us stunned with massive internal injuries. What we need is largeness of mind from the start, not as a sorry afterthought. The way to achieve that is to resist mapping our personal meanings onto others without consulting them first; just because we can paint them as we see them doesn’t mean a casual sketch is as good as a studied rendition. Our well-intentioned categorizations represent things only as we view them at the time, not as they are. As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume we haven’t a clue about most things most of the time, and that we know not whereof we rave and rant.

It is better if we do not insist on pushing our agenda to its foregone conclusion. That is, instead of committing to a plan of action, if we back off after our first move and wait to see what will happen. Embarking on a looping engagement with those around us, we remain open to an easy give-and-take with the situation as it develops. We are wise to see what happens before acting again. Consciousness can come to a decision in a fraction of a second, but reacting at that rate, we base the future largely on assumptions we can’t rightly make at that speed. Even after a day or a month, we can’t know very much about conducting ourselves in the world. It takes decades to develop a sense of who we are and what we’re doing—I’d say fifty years at a minimum. Until then, we have only a weak sense of what we don’t know we don’t know. If you are impulsive and can’t wait, then plunge ahead; I promise you’ll learn something new—or will if you keep an open mind.

As it is, Republicans in Congress don’t seem very keen on new learning at this stage of their development. They’re right up there with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, which hasn’t learned much in 2,000 years of rigid, top-down, authoritarian, paternalistic organization. Nor have AIPAC and the NRA much to show for all the stands they’ve taken because, like Alois Ratzinger (a.k.a. Benedict XVI), they claim infallibility in being so headstrong they can’t learn anything they don’t already know. These are not people you can trust to usher in the future of the world because they are so busily defending their corporate points of view.

“Catholic” means including or concerning all humankind (AHD). Which would seem to require broad sensitivity to grassroots affairs, not a heavy-handed, authoritarian approach radiating top-down from an infallible apex of one man. But once an idea germinates in human consciousness and becomes institutionalized, then it ceases to develop and ossifies as if, like commandments, it is written in stone. The same fate hardens interpretations of constitutional amendments, homelands depicted in ancient scripture, platforms of political parties, colonial attitudes toward native peoples. Like ants in amber, ideas get embedded into agendas and serve as mission statements chartered by law.

I have repeatedly emphasized in this blog that consciousness is a property of individual persons, not corporate bodies. When regarded as if groupthink were the equivalent of personal consciousness, then the weight of collective thought becomes extremely dangerous, as in the case of each of the examples I have provided in this post. When multitudes behave as if of one mind, then mob rule is inevitable. With disastrous results.

Better, we place our trust in individuals who plant flower gardens, go dancing, thrive in the presence of art, music, and poetry. And look to hikers, farmers, sailors, birdwatchers, and athletes of all sorts who move their bodies in joy, not just to win. These people are into the wonder of sensory relationships, not concepts, not what they already know. They are all on the forefront of their lives, doing their best to appreciate and respond to the sensory patterns that dance in their minds. They are likely to have a more accurate take on reality than those who force meanings upon it, who live in worlds where knowing is more important than simply being who they are. If orthodox knowledge is power, stand clear of it. Follow new patterns wherever they lead; patterns are sure signs of life. Concepts are yesterday; percepts are right now.

If you must categorize, take your time. When you don’t, you might find yourself playing the role of a particle collider that creates a vacuum to ensure unstoppable forces coming from opposite directions meet head-to-head.

Heliocentrism