Stream of Consciousness-raising
The desert sunshine and 80 degree temperatures may seem like a gift in March, but to residents of Phoenix, they are a portent of the triple digit inferno that is July. So, faced with the opportunity to attend a conference in Vancouver, B.C., I seized winter by the coat-tails and flew with a friend to Portland, Oregon for a road-trip up the northwest coast. Vancouver’s rainy cloud-cover animated its glass and steel skyline. The 40 degree bite in the air animated us as we queued up outside the Vogue Theatre for Z-day.
Following presentations about 'job-stealing robots and robot-producing education systems,' I heard a common lament. Faced with the reality of our cultural and planetary self-destruction, why do people attack (or more often ignore) the messenger? How can we engage people who choose to ignore facts and reality?
A couple of months ago, Biological Anthropologist Terrence Deacon released his new book, Incomplete Nature. I reread his seminal Symbolic Species in anticipation. In the first chapters of Incomplete Nature, Deacon calls into question various homuncular theories including hyper-modularity and the notion of mind/brain correspondence. Pertinent to connecting with the reality-avoidant are his chapters calling into question determinism (both genetic & environmental). The problem with determinism is that it depends on something (genes or environmental cues) to influence reality. Deacon points out that the same assumption derails some theories of Emergence. That is, top down forces reining in components through the imposition of process parameters.
Deacon argues that emergence actually develops through what he labels ‘constitutive absence.’ It is not something, but the lack of something, which constrains components and component systems. Deacon uses the analogy of a wheel’s hub and the doorway in a wall – both of which are composed of strategic absences. The current United States housing market is depressed due to an absence of buyers. In a jobless recovery, the absence of employer hiring is creating foreclosures and Occupy movements.
I like the stream metaphor. Rain falls fairly evenly over a mountain, yet as gravity pulls the water to sea level its distribution skews. The soil and rock densities vary across the mountain’s surface. Cracks and less concentrated soil deposits give way to the rolling rain water, forming gullies, which concentrate water flow, creating further erosion, etc. Absence of rock and dense soil deposits facilitates the formation of pathways of erosion which we label streams. The more absence created, the stronger the stream. Residing in the Grand Canyon state gives one an appreciation for the power of absence.
Which is equally effective when applied to interpersonal communication.
As Deacon explains in Symbolic Species, humans have developed a unique sense of self-awareness occasioned by the use of symbolic language. All living organisms pursue physical survival. Humans are able to pursue psychological survival, as well. Confronted with ideas which threaten their psychological security, the people you converse with will employ a dazzling array of techniques to evade, ignore and attack your unwelcome information. Rather than matching them, technique for technique, step back.
What are you feeling? Irritation? Hopelessness? Bewilderment? Ask yourself why you are so passionate about spreading the word. Are you attempting to enlist other people’s support for ideas which reinforce your own psychological security? Narrowing another person’s thought repertoire to match your own is a compensatory strategy.
What connects you with all other people, all life and the ecosystem is survival, not a prescription for survival. When you speak with someone who rejects the facts related to human-induced climate change, express relief that there are no climate problems. “After all,” you could continue, “we all depend on the climate for our survival.”
Rather than convincing your fellow conversant that humans cause global warming, you have expanded the conversation space to include survival. Survival is an ultimate goal, which everyone can agree on. While your fellow conversant may deny that humans pose any threat to survival, he has now heard whatever symbols feed his sense of psychological security (his economic system, his nation, his political party) associated with the underlying goal motivating his sense of security. Repeated associations will facilitate the broadening of his concern to include survival.
Rather than attempting to convince another person of reality, be like a mountain stream and clear the way. Instead of pushing up rocks to buttress what the other person feels threatened by, expand your repartee to include what is in everyone’s interest. At Ultimativity, we label this approach Generative Expectation. Broaden the conversation space to include what is vital to everyone and everything, without attacking or prescribing. By doing so you free other people from defensive or compensatory reactions. Over time, they may even realize that the best means of pursuing their own survival is choices and actions which ensure the survival of us all.