A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Virtue and the Way

The Te-Tao Ching (Tao-Te Ching, Te is virtue and Tao is the way) talks about becoming the complete man, the virtuous man, the sage.  It directly confronts the contradictions and paradoxes that living the life ‘of the way’ leads to in the world of cultural man.  It is an underlying assumption that humans are naturally ‘of the way’, but, in their present relations, have lost it.  The book is not a prescription for the society, but for the individual (though it does prescribe for a proper politics assuming that proper personal action would lead to proper public action).

By the time of the thinking that forms the basis of the Te-Tao Ching (about 3000 years ago), the “natural” forms were already going and The Madness was taking over -- belief and action had become self-referencing and were therefore unguided and without limit.  It was the study of and the immersion in the paradoxes that would lead the thoughtful back into the way, the one way, the unnamable way.  As they became resolved, so the way was attained: action without action, attainment without effort, to attempt virtue was to deny virtue and so on.

Consciousness order generates paradoxes, paradoxes that when fully integrated into a community in a natural truth relation with the environment disappear (it is itself a paradox).  These are not trivial paradoxes, but formed of the very bedrock of our belief and action.

When the community has moved into self-referencing and away from a truth relation with reality, the paradoxes fall most heavily on individuals as they struggle to establish personal truth relations in a world in which the very design of their societies have adopted madness over sanity.

This began thousands of years ago in earnest.  Any agriculturally based community must be rooted in the real, but can be quite mad in its “loftier” parts.  The early civilizations began to pop the kernels of the community-based paradoxes into full-blown madness. The early beliefs were (as described elsewhere) stories, cultural mnemonics, that, when functioning in the originating environment, produced very detailed and adaptable action based in the realities of sustaining the people and the culture. (A new ethic, that of “progress” and “improving” the culture, began with self-referencing.) When the stories were removed from the originating environment, the content detail became ‘real’ rather than only a vehicle for the message.

The stories were no longer environmentally referenced and actions grew out of them based on story details, often of only mnemonic significance, attached to accidental (coincidental) conditions of the social environment.  This could even be driven by the thought of subgroups or single individuals seeking immediate advantage.

((Hypothetical example: A prohibition against cutting a certain type of tree in the rainy season -- an adapted response to the tree’s biology and function in the ecosystem -- sustained in a culture based story that required the sacrifice to the tree before cutting of a minor dry season animal.  As the tree becomes more rare (for whatever reason -- not necessarily related to human action) detail can be added to the requirements for the collecting, say, of  the winged stage of a termite as additoinal offering. 

After a time the tree is either gone or no longer used in the same ways, populations have shifted or grown, yet the story and its power may still serve as a social device, but becomes attached to sacrificing to a leader who could be called “the tree of the people” and the winged termites are grain or a seasonal fruit with an association to termites (color, shape, sound of name, location --in self-referencing systems the associations are almost unlimited).  The very word for termite could come to be taken for certain kinds of tribute. – we can look to many examples of such self-referenced sequences.))

You see how it goes; each change references a previous cultural/social condition rather than reaching back to an environmental condition --social reality is split off from Reality.  And in its wake are trains of trivial paradoxes and a few major ones.

The individual who “feels” these disconnections is largely at sea: the original stories have no connection to reality; the social reality has little or no connection to Reality and yet, for some, the body and the mind form a conspiracy that points into an evocative mist of ideas that stand at odds with the social reality of the time.

It is never so simple as to say that The Real is within us if we will only “listen” to it.  It is more like: certain rough measures of certain parts of the Real are still within us to varying degrees (genetically based biological references).  We are a construction in which some parts are provided by biology and some parts are provided by environment.  The environment provides the biology with guides and the biology selects from the environment.  This is true and more easily understood in the physical development of the organism, but is also true -- even more true! -- in the development of consciousness order.  But we cannot make a list of what is genetic and what is environmental; these are completely interpenetrating in any functional product.

For example: a body is made of materials from the environment on a pattern supplied by the genes (even this pattern is interpenetrating). The amount and timing of various environmental materials and events influence the genes turning on and turning off as well as other behaviors.  The genes acting through the growing forms contact with different aspects of environment in selective ways -- genes “expect” the environment to present in particular ways based on long standing environmental stabilities (this is a key concept).

There is a “standard result and a range of variability” that defines the biological/consciousness product, but no part of the result can be said to be exactly genetic or environmental in origin.  How much of a house is the plan and how much is the lumber and how much is the labor (we can for a very selective purpose put money values on them, but that is not their actual contribution)?  Put this way it is clear that we can talk about optimum contributions and qualities, but that we really can’t trade off one against the other.  We can’t add a carpenter to make up for not having enough lumber!

Consciousness order and its products (consciousness, thinking, language, story, the whole host of “concepts” and words that we have created to indicated the nuances and expressions of awareness and its consequences) have a very similar relation:  Genetics carries the pattern to generate the form and the form interacts with the environment to generate and manifest consciousness order.  Consciousness order, once it is manifest, has its own information selection, storage and implementation designs which use environmental pattern, process and event as its substrate.  So, genetic design, biophysical design and environmental order all contribute in a completely interpenetrating way to consciousness order.

And so, the biological components, when they do not develop in the “expected” situation, may express in modified ways.  In a world that is dominated by consciousness order and is self-referencing, the biological origins cannot be fully satisfied and organized into the functioning organism -- specific omissions or commissions would have recognizable consequences.

Some people “feel” these states and try to adjust to them.  One such effort is to regain as much of specieshood as possible for them in their situation.  It is a motive that has underlain past and present religions (the pantheistic religions are another matter) and it is the lack of completeness of function and the self-referencing of consciousness order that turns such efforts into political rather than spiritual directions for the greatest number.  Such efforts are made part of the self-referencing story and thus lose their connection to reality which originally motivated them.

This is then, when successful, a lonely quest, and thereby limited in its potential accomplishment.  One person can develop a relationship with the originating natural world, but two (or more) are almost certain to have to combine on a self-referencing model -- almost!

However, ultimately the associations that one makes embedded in self-referencing are even more alone than being alone within one’s own specieshood; though the possibility, always there, of combining in community within the referencing of specieshood (and thus reality) is so powerful that it is always worth remaining receptive.

Most people do not “quest”, but apply directly their human ways (the human biological/consciousness adaptation) to the environment in which they are born and grow.  Since this environment is now, thorough the long process and history of the accumulations of the consciousness system of order, in large part social self-referenced ‘environment’, it is in no particular relationship to the native designs of the human species.  The ‘successful adaptation’ to the social designs that lack truth relation is Madness -- even (especially) when fully accepted within the social order as normal.

What is gained by recognizing the madness of the society and attempting to find ways (the Tao) to non-madness (sanity)?  It is fairly obvious that the rejection by society often follows any open “defiance” of social rules and values.  It is also obvious that it is the defiance of such rules and values that will be the eventual outcome of any truly successful coming to peace and accommodation with specieshood and with ecologically functioning consciousness order. The question then hinges on a single idea, a single word: openness.  At what point in the process does the assumption of specieshood require an open recognition and action in the social environment?  I believe it to be different for different people and situation, but early in the process is best, if not essential.

Values: (values that I have come to as being most directly appropriate to specieshood or important to adopt in our present situation to allow specieshood to manifest)

(1) Live simply: use little material resource, accumulate only the necessary.

(2) Live richly in relationship and learning:  Don’t just recognize the biophysical events, processes and entities that are the world of existence and experience, but have relationships with the most enduring (“plants”, “animals”, sky, earth -- health, for example, is a relationship).  Value the process of living and the special contribution of the consciousness system of order as part of the measure of life.  Value all of life as a special system of order in the universe and value the physical universe as the source.  Spend time, give attention, learn these things with direct experience.

(3) Let life dominate the material: Life’s events and action should interact with and use the material and should not be “owned” by the material. Life is in its processes and events and not its accumulations.

(4) The single most destructive act is the LIE: The only protection from the madness that distorts societies and trivializes life is the truth relation between belief and The Real.  Lying at any level damages this vital relationship and finds its way into the very substance of the primary informing basis of consciousness order.

Errors in the truth relation regardless of the source are damaging, but errors as part of the honest pursuit of the valid truth relation are naturally correcting, i.e., errors of result are traced to errors of initiation.  Lies, on the other hand, attempt to create unaddressable connections, attempt to hide relations that are real and place in front of them images of relationships that are not real.  Eventually these deceptions fail, but damage is always done to the designs of good order. 

(5) Support low growth, no growth and negative growth of population and economies:  A new economics is desperately needed that allows and supports a reduction in the use of material and productive biophysical space.  Until there is such a paradigm shift, individuals, for their own benefit, need to live in a sustaining model.

(6) Value community over the private: This is tricky since the consideration of these issues is typically done from a position firmly in the madness, a madness obsessed with “private property” and “ownership” as the primary definitions of human value.  Also, the notion of community is demonized by a sort of institutional immaturity that doesn’t want “to share.”  This is really central to much of the human difficulty: personal psychological distortions given importance and justification by framing them in societal terms, supporting social designs not for their efficiency, but for their usefulness to one’s distortions.

(In general madness cannot speak to sanity and madness talking to madness is only the appearance of communication.  One “system” ungrounded in reality can’t communicate with the system grounded in Reality, and two “systems” both ungrounded in Reality, but different, even if they seem to use the same language, can only seem to communicate.  This is even more destructive to forming a truth relation.) 

(7) Value diversity:  An immediate problem with this simple and obvious value is that madness is the most “diverse system” of all -- it has only one fixed rule (and thus can be of any form that does not violate it) and that is to be disconnected from Reality.  It is therefore the very ‘poster child’ of diversity.

But madness is not what is valued here.  A more accurate statement is that diversity is valued within the truth relation.  Thus is created the issue: what is to be done with madness?

A specific species of Madness, generally, rejects challenges.  Since madness is also inherently baseless (that is, the particular form of madness exists only by accident; a different set of events would produce different details of madness), then it must reject variety to remain itself.  Non-madness or sanity is enhanced by variety; it is recognized as unfinished, still in formation from the touches of Reality that valuing diversity makes it ready to receive.

Madness does not carry a sign.  In our society much that is madness is seen as the essential roots of normalcy. (more on this elsewhere)

(8) Support Reality based contact with the world: Contact with people, other living things and the physical world is best done “in person.”  Our various “communication” devices and methods need to be seen as isolating and discommunicators; their proper function is to facilitate direct contact rather than substitute for it.  This is particularly an issue for those devices and methods that directly support “story” (cultural ‘DNA’): books, movies, radio, TV and increasingly Internet connections have become the repository of story, replacing community and the mutualizing process of story creation, interpretation and implementation.

Another related part of this value in to confront and deal with both the sane world and the mad world on the same (non-mad) terms.  Those parts of the mad world with which one must have relationships must be honestly, directly and immediately acted on, not in the terms of the mad world (which will have great force to design the form of action), but in terms of this overall value system.

(9) Living in specieshood as a practice:  In the simplest terms this is living within the biological designs of the species.  A beaver acts like a beaver.  A Wasp acts like a wasp.  A human might best act like a human.  But the information how to and the functional capacities to act like a human have been drowned out by the self-referencing Madness (even as we feel the tugging); it must be rediscovered by effort and practice.  Even avoiding the most oppressive forms of madness is not enough, is only a necessary beginning.  This is the life-long personal quest that is practiced by spending time in The Real every day.

(10) Establishing a truth relation with the madness:  The madness, if one is not absorbed into it, can be seen as a local reality the way one might look at the behavior and rules of a club or, physically, at the surf at the beach.  We have no trouble being in a truth relation with the waves at the beach.  We fight against them to a measured extent; we give up to them also in a measured way.  We do not demand to breathe when we are knocked down and held against the bottom.  We do not rail against their uncertainty or their power.  We use them for our pleasure even as we are occasionally tossed and scraped.  We avoid them when they are more powerful than our own strength. This is the way to live with the madness.

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