I have covered a lot of ground in getting this far with my blog telling the inside story of consciousness. I here offer an opportunity to see that journey not as a sequence of hesitant steps, but as an adventure entire in itself. Here are a few bulleted reminders of the stages I have passed through.

  • Consciousness is a collaborative effort between mind, body, and world. It intercedes between perception and action, and can be bypassed by reflex thinking, rote learning, mimicry, habits, routines, prejudice, and ideology.
  • Solving the world puzzle from the perspective provided by our minds is a matter of conjecture based on personal experience, not knowledge, not truth.
  • Perception provides not a glimpse of the world so much as a heightened impression of the world from a particular wayfarer’s point of view.
  • Like Plato, we all share in the common failing of mistaking our personal solution to the world puzzle for the way the world really is. Our beliefs are custom-made for true believers (that is, ourselves, who couldn’t be more earnest).
  • The more ardently we hold our beliefs, the more likely we are to be wrong.
  • Expectancy and recognition reveal the participation of memory in perception.

No matter how finely we resolve the tissues of the brain, consciousness will elude us because it is an ongoing process of engagement between our minds, actions, and the world.

  • Attention is the gateway to consciousness. It is aroused by a delta signal stemming from a sense of discrepancy between what we expect or hope for and what actually happens.
  • From the outset, all awareness is polarized as being either good or bad, desirable or undesirable, satisfying or dissatisfying, right or wrong, true or false.
  • It takes persistence and concentration to explore the forbidden middle ground between the two poles of awareness.
  • The engagements that link us to our worlds couple perception to meaningful judgment to fitting action on one or more levels of nature, culture, community, and family, which in turn affects our attention and stimulates sensory perception.
  • Our engagements are told by the situations they create in our minds as made up of various dimensions of intelligence such as memory, sensory impressions, understanding, feelings, motivations, biological values, humor, imagination, temperament, interest, thought, and available energy (what I refer to as the life force).
  • Language in the form of speech, writing, thought, and comprehension flows from the situations we find ourselves in when we experience the urge to speak or to listen.

As a writer, I have long wondered where words come from. I now feel that our situated intelligence shapes our current situation from the dimensions of personal awareness (or intelligence) aroused in a given moment of experience. In being conscious, it is just those situations that we become conscious of, and subsequently respond to.

  • All life engages its surroundings in an ongoing exchange of matter and energy. It is the job of our minds to monitor how that exchange is going, and to feed-forward to judgment a selection of options for how we might respond. For good or ill—and engagements can strike us either way—we must engage in order to find our place in the world.
  • We are linked and anchored to our worlds by a spectrum of ongoing (often simultaneous) engagements. It is essential for us to keep up with what is happening around us. Hence we live in a world of media all striving to influence and inform us from their respective points of view.
  • Time is a calibrated sense of change that is not of our doing; space is a calibrated sense of change resulting from our own actions. Spacetime is a calibrated sense of change resulting from our simultaneously doing and perceiving at once.
  • Ownership and possessiveness are attitudes toward persons and objects with which we meaningfully engage in being fully ourselves. Money is a tool we use to engage on cultural terms. The law is our culture’s effort to regulate the conduct of our engagements so that each of us enjoys equal freedom and opportunity in pursuit of our personal goals.
  • Freedom is an opportunity to engage the world with full respect for the integrity of each of its inhabitants, whether plant, animal, or human.
  • Baseball, Roget’s Thesaurus, and the stars provide examples of aspects of the world puzzle we are apt to engage with in our search for personal happiness. There is no limit to the importance we project onto such personal engagements as primary shapers of our lives.

I view my personal consciousness as culminating in the image of a wayfarer finding his way among others who are making their own ways for themselves. Our respective journeys are so varied and personal, I identify with each wayfarer in taking on the challenge of finding a way forward from wherever she or he is at any given stage of life.

The task each one of us faces is solving the world puzzle in a meaningful way for ourselves, while respecting other solutions for other wayfarers on journeys of their own.

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Reflection 325: Stormy Weather

September 28, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

Little Eva, age three, got several presents at Christmas: toy dinosaur, plastic sow and piglet, miniature pocketbook with handle. She quickly saw the former two would fit snugly in the latter, so used the pocketbook as a shelter for her new treasures, which she proudly carried about the house. Until the handle came off, the pocketbook fell to the floor, and Eva, broke into tears, her momentary joy come to a sad end.

Ever the observer, I saw that episode as an example of a loop of engagement kindled in the mind of a child who, heartbroken when the pocketbook fell apart, cried in frustration and disappointment. As Steve Jobs cried when designers at Apple failed to live up to his demanding expectations for new product lines.

These days emoticons and smiley/frownie faces are everywhere, reflecting how we are engaged at a particular instant. Life is parsed in terms of its happy and sad moments of engagement. I can imagine someone’s diary or autobiography as a sequence of times and dates, punctuated by small faces either happy or sad.

How many songs have expressed the sorrow of being alone, shunned, or jilted in love; or the joy of finding new love? Such moods have been the meat of the popular music industry since the thirties when I became aware of “Blue Moon” and “Stormy Weather” ("stormy weather since my man and I ain’t together, keeps raining all the time"). For better or worse, we hum and sing the turn-ons and turn-offs of our engagements.

We cheer the home team and jeer the team from away as naturally as we invest our hope in the one and envy (or dread) in the other. We do the same for candidates in political campaigns, identifying with one, demonizing the rest, putting buttons on our chests and signs on our lawns to declare our pledge of support. As we are engaged, so do we present ourselves.

Our stability is largely maintained by cyclical engagements with our surroundings. Just as our digestive system takes in nutritious food and expels unclean waste, our cardio-pulmonary system circulates oxygen and rids our cells of carbon dioxide, our reproductive system stores eggs and sperm in separate vessels that need to merge in complementary engagement to be fruitful—so does our nervous system transform sensory impressions into felt situations, and develop felt situations into appropriate actions by means of loops of streaming awareness.

Through periodic engagements, reproductive sex assures that each new person is a unique human being. Eating is a form of engagement that maintains our bodily metabolism and triggers elimination of exhausted waste. Engagement through games, athletics, and education demonstrates our capabilities both mental and physical. Through art, music, dance, and literature we express the essence of our engagements with others and with our personal situations. Through religion and politics we conduct ourselves according to interactions steered by the dictates of our passions and beliefs. Through family connections we do our best to assure ourselves of food, sleep, learning, health, adventure, and wellbeing.

Engagement is natural law because our lives depend on it. Where there is life, we know that streaming engagements make it possible. We sing our new ones and mourn those gone by.

When striving to convert sensory impressions into appropriate actions, we know we are engaged. When we look about us, we see impressions from our situated perspective. When we listen, we hear impressions from that same familiar place. When we sniff the air, we scent those aromas that confirm who and where we are. When we reach out to the sensible world, we touch its recognizable features. When we question our surroundings, we are answered by what we can comprehend. When we marvel at events, we arouse our need to update our situation and personal perspective.

Mental development is a spiraling process of repeated attempts leading to successively more satisfying engagements. Space is the province of our actions; time the domain of our awareness: the two together in sequence constituting a loop through space-time that is the signature of our unique, animated, personal style of engagement. Consciousness is whatever passes through the human mind in the course of its serial spatio-temporal engagements from sensory impressions to meaningful situations to purposive actions. The result is what we call consciousness, the basis of our existential life.

Solitary confinement denies us that life, as does any form of sensory deprivation. Mind-altering drugs change the chemistry of our brains, creating false impressions and situations, leading to performance of inappropriate acts. If we go deaf or blind, at least our minds often learn to compensate by sharpening senses remaining intact so we can learn to engage by means that are only rudimentary under normal conditions.

Our social engagements bear the stamp of our mental processes at the time, revealing our respective levels of ethics, respect, courtesy, integrity, attention, awareness, and situated perspectivity. Practice of the golden rule signals a mind in good social order as it entertains neural signals in the context of diverse minds processing signals across a wide range of subjective conditions. Loners with slight practice in engaging will be apt to tread roughly on the sensibilities of those around them, asserting their untutored styles of engagement because they lack a repertory of suitable alternatives.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a financial services industry where the sole reason for doing anything is to make as much profit as the situation will bear, or even to transgress that limit if thought possible (through, say, hedge funds and insurance). The essence of financial exchange is fairness between equals. A trend toward fairness is the governor that makes capitalism itself possible in practical situations. When fairness and equality are taken as the mark of the gullible and inexperienced, then real-estate markets collapse, savings and loans go bust, dot-coms fail, stocks tank—leaving big banks and investment firms casting about for yet another ruse for separating the public from its money.

All engagements are transitory. They are fleeting by definition, and must of necessity come to an end. If any combination of great wealth, power, or influence is at issue, then the stakes are high enough to corrupt all but the most disciplined loops of engagement. Personal gain trumps fairness, justice, and equality much of the time. Politics, finance, organized religion, healthcare, and other social institutions are susceptible to influence by those who stand to profit the most by manipulating others through fraudulent engagements.

Engagements paying off in peace of mind, joy, justice, public spiritedness, efficiency, and long-term stewardship of natural resources—such engagements in high places lend themselves not to corruption but to social adaptability and citizen approval. Think Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Vaclav Havel, Rachel Carson, George Washington, Elizabeth I and II, Hillary Clinton, Albert Schweitzer, Margaret Mead, Kofi Anan, Florence Nightingale, and many others who have for the most part resisted the gravitational pull of power on their personal pursuits.

As we engage with our surroundings and with significant others during childhood, and update our approach when we come of age—so (in many cases) are we likely to carry on for the rest of our lives. Like the proverbial die, our styles and expectations are cast. Mental pathways established when we were young can be modified later on, but it takes concentration, deliberate effort, and perhaps ten-thousand hours of practice to restyle our habitual engagements.

Loops of engagement play a leading role in the everyday psychology I have been developing for the past thirty years. The twin arts of constructing situations from sensory impressions, and programs of meaningful action from felt situations, determine not only how we present ourselves, but how we interpret the world around us. Engagement, then, is the process we use to build a world around us as our current reality.

)>:|;>) –Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday, Occupy Bar Harbor hosted a public showing of Charles Ferguson’s film Inside Job documenting the effects from 30 years of deregulation of the financial services industry. What did we get but exploitation of the many by the few?

What struck me most in this, my fourth viewing, was the unbridled collusion between 1) giant international investment banks, 2) rating agencies that evaluated their offerings, 3) insurance companies that guaranteed a profit even if investments proved worthless, 4) business schools that lent respectability to dangerous practices, and 5) state and national governments that dismantled the legal framework preventing the industry from abusing its clients.

Bill Clinton summed the attitude up in his maxim, “It’s the economy, Stupid!” Which, perversely, I now read as, You’re stupid if you think the economy is all there is. That is, the economy is life itself. No, there’s more to it—this muddling life of ours.

Exploiting others is only one example of an extreme way to live. Of setting oneself as the standard and computing all benefit from that narrow perspective. What’s in it for me, me, me? is no philosophy of life. Particularly in a self-proclaimed democracy that claims to respect all citizens as equal. Social (misapplied) Darwinism that leads to treating the elite as more equal than the rest leads to eugenics, dysgenics, winning at all cost, and exploitation of those deemed inferior and less worthy.

Which is why we play games by rules that apply to all players. We share, take turns, are fair in our judgments, and accept loss as a temporary setback, not an evaluation of our humanity.

As I see it from my individual perspective, the drive to dominate others’ minds for personal advantage is at the heart of entrepreneurship and our capitalist version of democracy, including notions of corporate personhood and the spending of money as a variant of free speech (CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, p. 262).

That’s where Inside Job takes me each time, to the deliberate abuse of public trust for personal advantage—which is called cheating. I continue the passage in that vein:

Capitalism sets up two classes of people: owners and workers. Because owners have wealth, workers have jobs—we take that as the desirable state of affairs. Getting a job means working for somebody else. Owners, on the other hand, are seen as public benefactors in keeping workers off the streets and public dole. This formula gives all power and all virtue to owners, to whom workers owe the duty of arriving on time, working hard, not complaining, and being grateful for regular paychecks. But as company men, workers lose the right to exercise their own minds, which is more than any man or woman should bargain away for the sake of employment (p. 262f.).

Power is the issue here, or the unequal distribution of power:

The powerful have always depended on the labor of others—spouses, children, servants, minions, slaves, laborers, stewards, consultants, staff, hands, and all the rest. Bodily control depends ultimately on mind control, so workers are expected to devote their lives to the welfare of those they have the privilege of serving (from Latin servus, slave). The economy is designed to justify such a situation as being true to the reality of how life really works—as if individuals were born to one class or the other as children of the owning or of the laboring class—an idea whose time should have come and gone long ago (p. 263).

The collusion between various elites treating the public as losers, dupes, and fools is at the heart of the latest financial collapse as depicted in Inside Job. How is it possible for a class of people to evolve the belief that they can duly suck the blood of the masses like so many vampires—and think they are clever in doing so? In the process wreaking subsequent havoc, chaos, waste, and destruction on a gullible public, generating massive amounts of entropy where civilization depends on sustained social order for the indefinite future.

It all comes down to how we choose to engage with (not in opposition to) our fellow passengers on this planet of ours. If we live at the expense of those we deal with, we are so many lampreys or vultures. If we elect to live as peers equal to the cohort we are born to, respecting others as much as we do ourselves, then there may be some hope for us all.

It is no accident the Occupy Movement chose to camp out on Wall Street where the entire financial services cabal could see their faces. Who wants to grow up in a world where your future is co-opted before you arrive?

Enough already. As ever, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

Yesterday, Occupy Bar Harbor hosted a public showing of Charles Ferguson’s film Inside Job documenting the effects from 30 years of deregulation of the financial services industry. What did we get but exploitation of the many by the few?

What struck me most in this, my fourth viewing, was the unbridled collusion between 1) giant international investment banks, 2) rating agencies that evaluated their offerings, 3) insurance companies that guaranteed a profit even if investments proved worthless, 4) business schools that lent respectability to dangerous practices, and 5) state and national governments that dismantled the legal framework preventing the industry from abusing its clients.

Bill Clinton summed the attitude up in his maxim, “It’s the economy, Stupid!” Which, perversely, I now read as, You’re stupid if you think the economy is all there is. That is, the economy is life itself. No, there’s more to it—this muddling life of ours.

Exploiting others is only one example of an extreme way to live. Of setting oneself as the standard and computing all benefit from that narrow perspective. What’s in it for me, me, me? is no philosophy of life. Particularly in a self-proclaimed democracy that claims to respect all citizens as equal. Social (misapplied) Darwinism that leads to treating the elite as more equal than the rest leads to eugenics, dysgenics, winning at all cost, and exploitation of those deemed inferior and less worthy.

Which is why we play games by rules that apply to all players. We share, take turns, are fair in our judgments, and accept loss as a temporary setback, not an evaluation of our humanity.

As I see it from my individual perspective, the drive to dominate others’ minds for personal advantage is at the heart of entrepreneurship and our capitalist version of democracy, including notions of corporate personhood and the spending of money as a variant of free speech (CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, p. 262).

That’s where Inside Job takes me each time, to the deliberate abuse of public trust for personal advantage—which is called cheating. I continue the passage in that vein:

Capitalism sets up two classes of people: owners and workers. Because owners have wealth, workers have jobs—we take that as the desirable state of affairs. Getting a job means working for somebody else. Owners, on the other hand, are seen as public benefactors in keeping workers off the streets and public dole. This formula gives all power and all virtue to owners, to whom workers owe the duty of arriving on time, working hard, not complaining, and being grateful for regular paychecks. But as company men, workers lose the right to exercise their own minds, which is more than any man or woman should bargain away for the sake of employment (p. 262f.).

Power is the issue here, or the unequal distribution of power:

The powerful have always depended on the labor of others—spouses, children, servants, minions, slaves, laborers, stewards, consultants, staff, hands, and all the rest. Bodily control depends ultimately on mind control, so workers are expected to devote their lives to the welfare of those they have the privilege of serving (from Latin servus, slave). The economy is designed to justify such a situation as being true to the reality of how life really works—as if individuals were born to one class or the other as children of the owning or of the laboring class—an idea whose time should have come and gone long ago (p. 263).

The collusion between various elites treating the public as losers, dupes, and fools is at the heart of the latest financial collapse as depicted in Inside Job. How is it possible for a class of people to evolve the belief that they can duly suck the blood of the masses like so many vampires—and think they are clever in doing so? In the process wreaking subsequent havoc, chaos, waste, and destruction on a gullible public, generating massive amounts of entropy where civilization depends on sustained social order for the indefinite future.

It all comes down to how we choose to engage with (not in opposition to) our fellow passengers on this planet of ours. If we live at the expense of those we deal with, we are so many lampreys or vultures. If we elect to live as peers equal to the cohort we are born to, respecting others as much as we do ourselves, then there may be some hope for us all.

It is no accident the Occupy Movement chose to camp out on Wall Street where the entire financial services cabal could see their faces. Who wants to grow up in a world where your future is co-opted before you arrive?

Enough already. As ever, –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 © 2012 by Steve Perrin

All people on Earth depend on looping engagements with their surroundings for air, water, and food—both intake and elimination, as well as for reproduction. It should come as no surprise, then, that the human nervous system should depend on a similar looping engagement between energy received by the senses and actions directed at the physical environment. Yet we tend to look upon our brains as the whole story on the theme of consciousness without considering the inherent order of sensory stimulation and the ordered serial gestures we make in response.

The job of consciousness is to make our actions appropriate to the situations we judge ourselves to be in. Those situations as told by the energy they relay to our senses are every bit as essential as correlates of consciousness as the relevant regions of our brains. Consciousness requires embodiment in a physical body within a situation that includes air, water, food, and opportunities for sexual engagement. And a brain to boot.

Without brains there would be no consciousness, just as without sensory stimulation and occasions for action, ditto. Nothing new there. We all assume as much. But what we forget to mention is the unbroken circulatory relation between environment and brain on which meaningful perception and action depend.

Our loops of engagement are responsible for the kinetic quality of consciousness, what William James called the stream of consciousness. Memory is essential to our realizing that stream as an ongoing process of situated awareness. Without a glimmer of short-term memory, life would be a blur of one moment of “booming, buzzing confusion” merging with the next without end.

Instead, we are able to fix our attention on the instant, and to develop stable relationships with the many tools or accessories we use to boost the effectiveness of our actions in the moment. We enlist a host of accessory devices in accomplishing our plans—vitamin pills, Doberman pinschers, monkey wrenches, computers, skateboards, Glock handguns, etc., upon which we come habitually dependent in conducting our engagements in order to feel like ourselves. We relate to such possessions in a master-servant relationship as if our engagements gave us the authority to actually own them and determine their use.

A great portion of human law is given to regulating human loops of engagement through legal use and possession of personal property. That is, local, state, and federal governments have an interest in how we conduct our loops of engagement so not to cause harm or undue discomfort one to another. What freedom we have in conducting our affairs is supervised by judicial bodies in assuring we do not inflict mayhem on our neighbors through the use of private automobiles, weapons, animals, toxins, and so on. 

Our relationships with our partners and children are of particular interest lest we abuse those we are most intimate with in our everyday engagements. But, too, those with great wealth can arrange for laws to favor them in particular, so a great many special arrangements are protected by the law, giving significant advantage to those in positions of power and wealth, rendering the law itself unjust in favoring one group above another.

My purpose here is to suggest the importance of our individual loops of engagement by which we act on those who share our life situations, and are in turn acted upon by others. Marriage is a form of engagement, as is education, warfare, commerce, and entertainment. Nothing is more important to each one of us than how we engage our life situations.

Neuroscience would make a significant advance by acknowledging and accounting for the looping engagements by which we conduct our affairs. There’s more to our relationships than we commonly allow. And it lies at the heart of how each one of us views the world through personal consciousness.

Thanks for stopping by. 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

Reflection 195: Inaction

April 5, 2010

(Copyright © 2010)

If the outcome of consciousness is, as I claim, to make things happen (to build a future, to act in relation to a current situation), what are the implications of those times when we are conscious in a given situation—but are unable to follow-through with appropriate action? Think of the young mother who dreams of a career but can’t take time away from childcare to act on her dream. The young man in solitary confinement, with active mind but inactive body. The child who watches TV Saturday mornings and shuttles between  refrigerator, bathroom, and his station on the couch. Think how it feels to wait for a stoplight to turn green, a ticket line to advance, an expected letter to arrive. 

Impatience is a sure sign that consciousness has gotten ahead of our ability to put plans into action. Biding time, waiting our turn, twiddling thumbs to release nervous energy—everyone knows what it’s like to be all wound up with no place to go. C’m-on, let’s move it! Get the lead out. The problem is that when our loop of engagement in a particular situation is delayed or interrupted for some reason beyond our control, we feel frustrated and out of sorts. Our rhythm is broken. If the delay turns into a long one, we become disengaged. Leading to a state of annoyance, despair, or depression.

It is surprising to consider how often we adopt surrogate outlets for activities which may be suppressed for even a short time. Smoking, for instance, chewing gum, grabbing a bite, drinking, or humming can be the result of a conscious urge to “do something” when we are inclined to act but cannot. The tension we feel is the result of an inability to act in an appropriate manner, so we divert that urge into an alternative activity both accessible and acceptable. We move our mouth parts instead of arms or legs. Watching TV, our options for making an appropriate response to what we’re seeing are often severely limited because we can’t enlist the screen in a conversation, argument, fight, or engagement of any sort. Roused to action by the program we’re watching, yet not able to make an appropriate response, we resort to surrogates such as tapping our fingers, picking a scab, scratching our necks—whatever diverts our urge to action to something we can actually do short of throwing a book at the screen or clicking it into oblivion.

Reduced to spectators, as we have been by the one-way, broadcast media since radio was invented, we find ourselves leading double lives having little to do with each other, following the program with our ears or eyes, perhaps, but tapping our fingers or toes to let off some steam. Such a waste of consciousness leads to hard feelings, because we know we’re being manipulated by someone else’s agenda. We get their message, but they can’t get ours. Domination of significant parts of our lives by such one-sided interactions with the media leads to frustration and irritation because we can’t “do anything” to let producers and sponsors know how we feel. Abuse by the media is one of the most common ailments of recent years, a global pandemic of enforced helplessness largely unrecognized for what it is.

The problem is that long-term inaction leads to an incapacity to act at all. If appropriate action is always sidetracked, that is what consciousness learns to do—sidetrack itself. Dissipate its capacities and energies. That is, to chew gum instead of speak truth to power. The freedom to act in light of personal consciousness is the fundamental freedom by which lives are led and civilizations built from the ground up. Freedom of will means nothing if it does not lead to action. Or worse than nothing—to waste and despair. Which is the state of modern America under the heel of corporate personhood with its industrial base shipped abroad, leaving formerly skilled workers stocking shelves at WalMart or smiling behind counters at MacDonalds for paychecks that Thoreau or Mohandas Gandhi couldn’t live on.

Now our schools emphasize concept formation in the earliest grades, neglecting personal sensory experience as if it were not the true foundation of learning to live in the world. Children are now supposed to be objective, not subjective, to live on familiar terms with descriptive and statistical generalizations as replacements for personal experience because schools can deal only with tidy (because largely empty) concepts instead of messy personal stories. Experience, the base of personal judgment and behavior, is earned through engagement with our senses and emotions, not solely our rational minds. It is subjective by nature because consciousness itself is subjective. Unique in each case, there is no such thing as statistical consciousness. Any school system that believes in students collectively rather than individually is teaching to an ideological fiction that cannot exist, a fiction spread across a bell curve so that a young person’s position relative to the mean is more important than who she is or what she can do. Which reduces human characteristics and abilities and histories and experiences to abstract generalizations instead of singling them out as the very qualities which make us who we are.

Schools, that is, train workers, customers, and consumers worthy to become a mass audience of zooids who will do what they are told by their supervisors. Try sitting still in a chair for hours at a time without talking or fidgeting and see if you are capable of original thought at the end of the day. The few outlets allowed include sports, music, theater, dance, and gymnastics—activities based on personal skill and discipline, which should be the center of the curriculum instead of out on the extracurricular fringe. What we learn in school is to stifle our basic urge to action, or to postpone it until classes are over. No wonder we’ve become a nation of media consumers, cubicle sitters, and counter attendants—those are precisely the sorts of non-activities we’re trained to do. As McLuhan said, the medium itself is the message. In schools, the medium is sitting quietly as if something were happening when it’s not. That’s what passes for good behavior and earns you a gold star for citizenship—doing as little as possible without bothering anyone else.

Am I tilting at windmills here, or have I become a professional cynic? Through my lifetime I’ve watched freedom of personal action decay into freedom of inaction to avoid upsetting the neighbors. That’s our modern version of the golden rule—instead of doing unto others we’ve learned the safest guide is to do as little as possible. That way we don’t make waves to get people upset. When we should be marching on the state or national capital, we sit quietly at home watching game shows on TV. Instead of embracing life itself, we’ve raised pretending to live to a high art.

As I see it, we’ve surrendered our personal sovereignty for the sake of comfort and convenience. That is, given up being unique persons to adopt the myth of being like everyone else. Persons act as consciousness leads them; members of the crowd look to their leaders. Think of the expectations we lay on Barack Obama to do our work for us when we could be part of the solution to the nation’s problems by putting our bodies on the line—as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King put their bodies and their lives on the line (both being assassinated for offending those they opposed). The theory we follow is we’ll live better and longer by not taking personal action—as if simply enduring under present conditions were more important than altering those conditions to make a better world for all.

We talk a lot about freedom, but the most basic freedom is the freedom to act, not the freedom to sulk or to hide. What if Martin Luther had never nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg to be seen by parishioners on All Saints Day in 1517? Where would we be but for his taking that stand against the sale of indulgences by which sinners could buy forgiveness for cash instead of confronting themselves? It is possible Christianity in the West would be synonymous with the Roman Catholic Church, and the church hierarchy would center our lives on its origins in the priesthood of the Roman Empire of Constantine’s day. Inaction leaves behind it a heritage of what if? what if? what if?

These days we live in an era when chartered corporations have the status of living, breathing persons, and the rights granted to persons by the U.S. Constitution, including the right of free speech, and the spending of money as a variant thereof. That is, corporations can behave as if they were persons and we won’t make too fine a point of the self-evident fact that confounding corporations with persons is a sure sign of mental illness. Why persons? Why not corporations as servants of the people? Protectors of the Earth? Humanitarian institutions? The result of corporate personhood is the mockery of human personhood in that every one of us is diminished by that false categorization. If a distinction is not made between for-profit corporations and individual persons, something very important goes missing from our culture—the realization that persons are fundamentally conscious and can learn through experience while corporations are built structures without minds, and require persons to run them. Persons are persons, corporations are corporations; it makes no sense to extend the rights and abilities of one to the other as if there were no difference between them.

People can act in the world, corporations can’t. It is the people hiding behind corporations who have taken over our country and the rest of the world, acting by charter exclusively in their limited self-interest at the expense of us mortal beings who can’t afford the legal apparatus and deep pockets that corporations use to teach us our place, and keep us there. Tobacco companies, drug companies, agribusiness, the military industry, the power generators, big transportation—these are the corporations who presume to act on behalf of the world’s little people when they do not rise up and act boldly for themselves. Education renders us docile so we do not stand against this takeover of our most basic prerogative—to defend ourselves against hostile aggression.

With wealth concentrated in corporate accounts, and power safe in the hands of highly paid attorneys, corporations are free to manipulate public opinion by foisting whatever image they choose on a gullible public, so we come to accept them as what they pretend to be. Always the good guys, no matter what havoc they wreak in Nigeria, India, Chile, Mexico, or here at home. The playing field is not level. We engage by different rules. Freedom and equality are forgotten values. We can still vote, but it makes little difference because corporate money votes closer to where laws are written and decisions made. Our great ethical systems are stood on their heads—the golden rule, do no harm, equal opportunity, act from love, respect your opponent, democracy, fair play, we’re all equal under the sun. Corporate personhood renders every one of them obsolete because ethical systems are for people, not corporations. Corporations act as they wish as long as they pay their bills and keep the truth to themselves.

Yes, I fling paint with a broad brush in this portrait because I’ve learned that corporations can be counted on to sink to the lowest possible level. One financial crisis after another, one war after another, one takeover after another, one environmental catastrophe after another—we still end up with the same system that victimizes persons but treats corporations as if they were sacred. Even if they go bankrupt, even if they fail utterly, even if the people bail them out.

Action is indeed the upshot of consciousness, appropriate and effective action in the world we live in, even if we can’t make it out very clearly. When our options for action are severely restricted, our basic freedoms to think and act for ourselves become nonexistent. If that goes on long enough, we forget how to express our personal values in what we think and what we do. The game is over. The faceless “they” have won. The ones who pull the levers behind corporate curtains. The ones who make billions of dollars a year while the rest of us scrounge for coins beneath cushions.

All this is no dream. It comes to me through conscious reflection. Engaging the world with my mortal body and mind, this is what I discover. Here is the reality I live in. I have been schooled not to think for myself by sticking to the great thoughts of others, passed off in slogans and party lines. But I can’t help myself. I keep going back to the source of my own experience and digging around to see what I can learn from it. I see now that consciousness, critical judgment, and the ability to act free from interference in my current situation (as best I can make it out)—these are the greatest treasures I possess. If I do not exercise these gifts, I give up being myself. If we do not act for ourselves, that is where we end up—enslaved to others, devoting our actions to serving them.

Is this what we look like?

 

(Copyright © 2010)

Great Seal State of MaineSome years ago, Farmer and Sailor met at a bar in Augusta. After downin’ applejack and rum for couple hours, they went separate ways.

Seems to me,” said Farmer as they parted, “if you’d drop some seed in that furrow you plow out to China, you’d have something to show for it on the way back.”

Maybe so,” said Sailor, “and if you’d hoist some canvas on that rig of yours, add helm and rudder, you’d make better headway than plowin’ back and forth in that field every day.”

Our lives—what we do in the world—flow from our biological values mapped onto events, and in turn our categorizations of events flow from the lives we have led up till now. That is, a (sometimes winding) path runs between our values and categorizations (how we see the world), and that path is the life we have led. Or what personal memory draws from walking that path, and consciousness maps onto here-and-now awareness through acts of in-formed categorization.

There is no particular logic that applies to the course of our lives other than the ad hoc logic of salient events we actually witness and participate in. In that sense, we keep casting the same old categories onto the world, and the world keeps making the same old response—giving us back more of what we already have in mind. The world does not so much turn in orderly fashion as that we who turn with it are set in our ways of looking at the world. So when unique events occur before our eyes—such as a new Congress wrestling with what a national health plan might look like—we see it as a variation on a theme and treat it as if we’ve been there and tried that, with no forward motion whatsoever. We are stuck because we hold tight to the same tried-and-true categorizations we’ve always projected onto such situations—even if what’s on offer has never been tried before.

The world keeps moving ahead, and we keep pulling it backwards in conformity with formative events in our lives drawn from yesteryear. Resulting in change without progress. We spend most of our energy spinning our wheels because we are unable to step off our customary route and see the current situation with new eyes. The star at the top of the Maine State Seal is the North Star by which landsmen and seamen steered their way through woods and across dark oceans in the early nineteenth century. Dirigo, the state motto, translates from Latin as “I lead.” That is, the State of Maine depicts itself as leading the nation. Thus do we all see ourselves on the forefront of experience, when in fact we attire ourselves in the traditional garb of farmers and sailors of long ago. We lead by clinging to our traditional image of ourselves, not by freeing our bodies of such baggage and stepping unburdened ahead.

Another example is the granting of “personhood” to corpora-tions as if they had individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution as amended. While it is perfectly evident that, though corporations may be steered by people, in themselves as chartered by the several states they are fictional entities given a certain legal standing to make profits for investors having a monetary stake in their operations. Corporate bodies are invariably collectives made up of individuals; as such, they are never of one mind. One person, one mind, that is the law of consciousness. If a corporation claims to be of one mind, that can only be if one mind—the CEO’s, say, or chairman of the board’s—asserts itself and comes to dominate the thinking of corporate employees as if they were clones—which they aren’t—and worked in single-minded harmony. Granting personhood to corporate bodies empowers those at the top to manipulate events to their liking.

CEO salaries and bonuses in the field of financial services provide all the evidence we need to prove that corporate leaders act and present themselves as unique individuals, not corporate leaders. Corporate consciousness is an oxymoron, as is categorizing corporations in legal jargon as “persons” in their own right. Corporations present themselves collectively as persons when it suits them, as deserving individuals at other times. Corporation law lets them have their cake whole, and to enjoy slicing it into pieces for unequal distribution at the same time. If the top-to-bottom salary ratio within a corporate body is, say, 400 to 1, then the personhood of corporations is clearly a myth.

The law of the land is a fairy story corporate lobbyists and legislators keep telling us to keep us asleep, while they sack the treasury. Corporate personhood is a fundamental category error. Yet the Supreme Court cast it in bronze in a recent 5-4 decision removing restrictions on how the good fairies can insert money into political campaigns on behalf of issues and concerns as seen from very specific points of view. The majority opinion sides with corporations as if they were persons speaking with one voice to express a personal concern arising within a personal mind—magically backed by corporate funding and legal expertise. The funding gives the lie to all claims of personhood.

When I dig into my pockets, I do not dig into yours, and yours, and yours. Each digs for her- or himself. Money is money, not speech, just as language seen as a medium of exchange is not speech. There is confusion in making such claims, confounding the capacity for speech in general with individual speech acts exemplifying such a capacity on a specific occasion within a limited situation involving particular individuals. Corporations do not speak for themselves qua corporations. They make noises soothing to the ears of the powers-that-be behind doors that are shut. Corporate speech is not free, it is crafted to a particular end—the making of profits for a band of investors.

Categorizations are invariably thrust onto the world from a particular standpoint or perspective. They are first-person singular acts, not motions moved, seconded, voted, and enacted by corporate bodies. When farmers and sailors come together in a bar, they think and speak for themselves, guided by personal habits and experience. When boards of directors come together in a board room, they conduct business in a disciplined manner according to Roberts’ Rules of Order. Members can be recognized or not by the chair. The secretary records comments in the minutes—or not—as he so decides. Speaking out in a meeting is a political act. Submitting to majority opinion, members will, if they want to keep their jobs, abandon the right to free speech. Much as members of Congress surrender to the will of their party for the sake of speaking with one voice, thereby stifling their personal take on things to stay in the good graces of those having control over committee appointments and distribution of party funds.

Friction between different ways of looking at things wears us all down in the end. That is the nature of corporate decision- making and governance. Frustration smoothes our rough edges as we seek the lowest common denominator we can all agree to. Alternatively, if nobody speaks up or does anything—like the farmer and sailor standing mute on the Maine seal—we can pretend we are all of one mind. To know my own thoughts in writing this blog, I must keep to myself much of the time in order to preserve the integrity of my personal consciousness and the ideas which flit through it from one instant to the next. On my own authority, I can say anything I want without glancing at faces around me. As a result, I now write words I could not have put together a few months ago because, in remaining true to my conscious thought processes, I essentially pull myself up by my own bootstraps (a figure Gerald M. Edelman keeps using to describe our efforts in achieving consciousness for ourselves).

Detailed communication between unique minds is always a challenge. Initially, our differences excite and draw us together; but on second thought, they compel us to retreat to avoid surrendering more than we bargained for. We thrust our categories back and forth as in a duel, seeing whether the other nods or shakes her head. Thrust together in a marriage, say, or a foxhole, we quickly discover how much work it takes to stick together instead of withdrawing to respective positions of safety. The chief danger is overlooking our differences for the sake of family or community. My own upbringing consisted in large degree to being told, “Don’t be conspicuous!” meaning, don’t draw attention to yourself. That is, don’t be original. Such is the challenge many New Englanders face in growing up in families with deep roots.  Knowing from personal experience that over-concern for what neighbors might say is the kiss of death for honesty, transparency, and integrity, I seem to have turned out otherwise.

More commonly, we cease to be conscious for ourselves and become conscious for the larger group, surrendering individuality for the sake of living in a state of oblivious peace. If Sailor did as Farmer suggests, he would be dead, and vice versa. We must be our own selves, yet cannot admit it out loud. Which is the human dilemma, the corporate dilemma, the Congressional dilemma. Are we to shout with Billy Budd, “Farewell, Rights of Man!” every time we enter the public or corporate arena? Is life without a personal voice worth living? As a people, we seem to have decided in the affirmative. Or might it be that the Supreme Court has made that decision in our name, and we are too stunned to object?

Seeing the moose lying beneath the pine tree on the Great Seal of the State of Maine at the head of this post, I am reminded of Ferdinand retiring from the bull ring to seek a life of content-ment in a flowering meadow. Neither farmer nor fisherman, that moose is what we seem to have become, happy to take the world lying down in the shade of a tree.

Moose and Pine

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

Everybody knows what territory is—the ground of personal survival. Without it we die. Through territory, Earth grants plants and animals the wherewithal to stay alive. It is the biological substrate of life itself. Territory is our hold on the Earth, or, more accurately, Earth’s hold on us at our preferred level of consumption.

By definition, territory is not only a good thing, but up to a point it is an absolute necessity. Trouble is, when populations grow to exceed the carrying capacity of the territory they occupy, something has to give. The productivity of the land must increase; the population must make do with less; or segments of the population must move to greener pastures, effectively expanding the territory.

There is a cultural side to territory, too. Market share is a variant form of human territoriality, as is personal wealth, power, property, influence, celebrity, among other currencies for apportioning the ability to survive within a particular social group. Moving off the land into the city does not cut dependence on the land, it merely shifts it to services and resources which others are able to provide, giving rise to several economies enabling distribution of whatever it is people need to survive—food, shelter, assets, health, respect, vigilance, and so on.

Within the various economies for distributing prerequisites of survival, any finite good must be apportioned among those who desire a share of it. Which sounds innocent enough, but actually gives rise to fierce rivalry, unequal division of shares, wide-ranging standards of living, envy, anger, hatred, and warfare. Many if not most of the ills of modern society fester in the shadows of territoriality—the possessiveness with which we claim what we see as “ours.” There simply isn’t enough life-supporting territory for everyone to have her share above a minimal level.

When someone deprives you of the attention you deserve as a child, one way to regain the spotlight is to throw a tantrum. Later, when another driver cuts you off on the road, you can register your displeasure by paying him back in a satisfying fit of road rage. The rule is, as you perceive others horning-in on your territory, do the same unto them, only worse. Administer the punishment they deserve for treading on your sacred ground. Fear of being cut-off from that which you need arouses anger, which fuels retribution. Payback is a most satisfying form of vengeance, particularly in defense of one’s rightful turf.

The difficulty with territoriality and its cultural derivatives is that, filtered through consciousness, each of us can distinctly see its shadow in everyone but himself. What I desire is mine by right; everyone else is driven by greed, lust, or conniving. Consciousness has many blind spots, but the most debilitating is the one that bestows a kind of self-righteousness in exempting a subject’s own mind from realizing his total dependence on, and stewardship duty toward, the territory that provides for him.

Resulting in the common outlook that there’s one rule for me, another for all the rest. And so we go at it with one another, each convinced of the virtue of her own cause, the depravity of those around her:

The sad truth is that Google and Microsoft care less about making cool products than they do about hurting each other. Their fighting has little to do with helping customers and a lot to do with helping themselves to a bigger slice of the money we all spend to buy computers and surf the Internet. Microsoft wants to ruin Google’s search business. Google wants to ruin Microsoft’s OS business. At the end of the day, they both seem like overgrown nerdy schoolboys fighting over each other’s toys (Daniel Lyons, “Google This!” Newsweek, 12-07-2009, 34).

It’s not only Google v. Microsoft, Israeli v. Palestinian, Tutsi v. Hutu, Rich v. Poor, Insider v. Outsider, Home v. Away—the essence of any culture is to vie with those who do not belong to it and so seem strange and somehow annoying. Turkey, for example, scored points with its neighbors by preserving its sovereignty in the following incident:

In Turkey, the cumulative anti-U.S. resentment peaked in 2003 when the Bush administration pressed Ankara to let U.S. forces invade Iraq through Turkish territory—a plan that was derailed only at the last moment by a parliamentary revolt (Owen Matthews and Christopher Dickey, “Triumph of the Turks,” Newsweek, 12-07-09, 46).

As cultures develop, their territorial needs take different forms, still providing the basics required to live a decent life, and beyond them, new ways of participating in the common good, often by dealing with novel opportunities as they arise:

Antebellum America boiled with entrepreneurial energies; go-getters roamed the land eager to take advantage of the flood of business opportunities that accompanied the country’s territorial expansion. Aspiring men on the make denounced established ones, especially those enjoying the favors of the government, as monopolists and aristocrats (Steve Fraser reviewing The First Tycoon, T.J. Stiles’ new biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, in The Nation, 11-30-09, Books & the Arts, 28).

The consciousness of every member of a given culture is a function of the collective experience of such members as viewed from their unique, personal perspectives. We are creatures of our times and places on Earth; ten years from now we’ll be someone else. We will appear much the same to ourselves, but others will clearly notice the difference.

Consciousness, that is, eternally justifies itself. It can’t help it. Being privy to the one point of view, it has no other basis for comparison. For each one of us, ours is the gold standard of awareness. It may be an attractive thought—walking in the shoes of another—but truly exercises imagination more than our leg muscles. Similarly, what we consider to be our fair share is bound to be a sure sign of greed to a random panel of neighbors. We are constitutionally unable to remove these scales from our eyes. With the result that the situation is always Us v. Them. Capitalists, mass murderers, and sex offenders often go to the grave as innocent in their own eyes as they were at birth.

One of the unanticipated consequences of democracy is the vitriolic attacks on elected officials by those aspiring to, or recently removed from, power. In such cases, power is the territory—the survival currency—at issue. The dispossessed fill the atmosphere with hype and scare tactics in their campaign to tilt their followers, if not toward happiness or a state of effective governance, then by hue and cry toward outrage (see tantrums and road rage above). The point is to stay in the public eye by any means, which, when you’re out of power, is better than making do with territory much reduced.

Human biological values come in two valences: good and bad—for the individual person, that is. Powerlessness is clearly bad if one thrives on influencing other minds and the deeds they perpetrate. That is, those who would dominate by controlling the behavior of others will do almost anything to get back in the saddle again. Fear of helplessness and deprivation leads to anger, which in turn leads to random attacks on those who have taken power in their stead. Fear underwrites the attitudes and acts of both Jews and Palestinians. Their respective territories are unsecured, so will remain the issue until some kind of agreement can be reached on how each side can have—if not the settlement it wants—the settlement it fairly deserves. When it comes to territory, there are no occupiers designated by god to inhabit certain lands. Settlers keep trying to gain access to new territories, but their success is not told by their ambitions or traditions. Nor can precedent guarantee future settlement in a once and former homeland. No matter how they may be wished for, those days will never come again. Where are Assyria and Babylonia now? Earth has moved on in its spiraling orbit through the galaxy. These times are ever new.

Once upon an old time, culture was a grassroots creation; now it serves the purposes of the rich and powerful, who carefully shape it to their advantage. Those who can afford top legal, financial, and medical advice, for instance, are likely to fare well; those who can’t, are worse off. That has become such a truism, we accept it as given as if people enacted the fate they truly deserved. Inequality is built into the system by design so the spoils of territorial possession float upward, the dregs of deprivation sinking to the bottom.

Private property is our current term for territory we claim the exclusive right to use and exploit. We don’t appreciate the absurd humor in one creature laying claim to a kingdom, as if one one mite on our body staked a claim to our person. Who is in charge here, anyway? Our legal system has been carefully crafted to back nobles and gentry against every claim by lesser beings. In truth, our system of private ownership is what the privileged elite, running the culture as they do, can get away with. It’s true if they think so. In practice, it’s what the cultural traffic in labor, goods, and services will bear. We not only own the territory, but reserve the right to destroy it in the process of exploiting it. As even now we are upsetting the balance of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to consequences no one has either the courage or wisdom to predict.

In truth, we are killed by the lives we lead; live by the sword, die by the sword. In extracting resources from the territory we claim to own, we are wasting the very qualities that keep us alive. Irony, blindness, stupidity—call it what you will—the future of humanity and Earth itself can be foretold from our attitude toward territory under our domination. We are personally content to sully the biological substrate of life itself, the ground we live on—the ground that lives in us.

If this is not a failure of consciousness—which is given us to live by in unanticipated situations—then it is certainly a failure of the culture we have consciously designed and built for ourselves, and agree to inhabit till the end of our days. 

Leaving us where? Locked in a clash between personal consciousness and the culture it puts up with. The greed of those who inhabit a higher plane of life makes them regard those on lower planes as representing less worthy, barely human, stock. As degenerates, they should expect to fail, because that is the fate their betters decree for them. That goes without saying (at least among the powers that shape a culture’s ways of apportioning the territory it occupies).

If you can make a fortune in a few milliseconds by trading stocks on line, then you’ve found a way to beat the system designed to assure fair and equable trading on a more human timescale. If your territory and influence are shrinking, but you have a microphone in front of your face and can make a big noise—even if it’s gibberish—shout it out. We learned long ago that well-reasoned arguments can’t squelch a good tantrum.

As natural resources become scarcer, we will all resort to bolder tactics in attempting to make sure we get what we want. The best way to do that is to undercut the opposition by stealing his thunder (euphemism for his share of what’s left of Earth’s natural territory still in good working order). End times are here. If the revolution in our regard for Mother Earth doesn’t happen tomorrow, then we’ve dug our grave and will soon fall into it. What happens next is up to each and every one of us.

We're losing it.