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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A New Commandment

(Photo by Dorothea Lange)

There are some actions that only give us a squeamish feeling and there are actions that we believe are so wrong that the community must collectively prevent or reduce their occurrence. And yet these are not universally accepted. We have lists, arrived at by various forms of consensus, that we both agree to and teach to others as the accepted standards for behavior. It is characteristic of all such “standards” that they first adapt to changing circumstances in application and then in actual content.

There was a time when it was acceptable to kill, assuming it was done in a “proper” way, someone who offended you; this in violation of a listed commandment. In many places today a person can be socially sanctioned for even harming an unwelcome intruder into a home; requiring that details of the intruder's intention and capacity be divined by the persons intruded upon. This is not a judgment, just description: both are adaptations to a whole complex of social realities and madnesses.

There was also a time when members of a community where disallowed by social sanction from eating well while others starved. It was assumed that those who were doing well were especially lucky, even if that “luck” derived from talent and that the poorest peoples (possibly the unluckiest and least talented) contributed in their own small part to the overall stability, safety and general welfare of the community. There was a fabric of obligation and responsibility holding the community together. If the poorest one died of starvation, then the most wealthy went to bed hungry. ‘Thou shalt not eat whilst thy neighbor starves,’ has not been on the list for some time now.

We are at the end of the old rules. The modern burst of self-interest theories are only an attempt to use the old ways so fully that they recreate reality (to strictly apply them as a means of overcoming the gathering forces that will eventually overwhelm them). Capitalism cannot replace community. Community is in our cells, in our molecules. We drive it out only with insanity. The biology of our bodies can only be overcome by the constructs of our minds becoming mad. Our consciousness order evolved to support our whole and complete integration into the ecosystems in which we lived, not to destroy them.

Empathy, the ability to recognize and include in one’s deliberations the sensations experienced by others, is a universal human property, even found in its beginnings in the great apes. Empathy has forever been a powerful tool in the formation and maintenance of community (meaning, as long as there has been community as distinguished from the herd); the attempt of certain segments of our society to trivialize empathy and therefore all of its consequences for community order, to emphasize the importance of individual ‘selfishness’ as the organizing and ameliorating force in society, betrays one direction that today’s earthly collections of humans can go. This is both an intellectual construct, an adaptation to our time, and a product of personal disorder; it involves believing that you are either, in one form, a special creation in the universe or, in another form, ‘obligated by existing’ to take from the world all that you can. Ultimately both are insane. That our society doesn’t call them insane is just a measure of how mad the society is.

This is all very difficult for humans. Biologically a community is about a hundred people functioning as a primary ‘organism.’ Individuals as we currently think of them didn’t exist. Only a crazy person acted as though they were independent of the group. Everyone had a place in the social order. All manner of difference had to be accommodated since there could be no ‘critical mass’ of difference to hide within, the community needed every hand and eye and it was adaptively advantageous to have many different perspectives to apply to the life and death decisions that were a daily occurrence.

This is who we are. Hominids have been evolving our behavioral/intellectual/emotional biology in and to this community design for millions of years. The depth of the madness required to dismiss the whole of our biological heritage and construction is staggering; and the consequences will be devastating.

But few people really wish to return to a tribal way of life. The individualization process of our historical time has produced great joy along with the disbenefits. And, of course, we are not really in charge of the trajectory of our evolution and adaptation, but are rather along for the ride. That said, however, the newly evolved capacity of the Consciousness Order has been only weakly tested for its potential to organize material and process. We have been “using” it with little wisdom, primarily to attempt to defeat its benefits. The possibilities contained in the ability to imagine a future and to make that future happen have barely been explored. We have almost no practical experience with how to manage this process beyond letting it run wild in the land like Frankenstein’s monster.

The political detail with which we are so enamored is just the daily expression of our more general disorders. That there are solutions to our dilemmas to be found in those details is the purest of fantasy. It should be more than obvious to an even passingly thoughtful observer that every ‘solution’ creates as many new problems as it solves. We are like someone whose poor diet has led to multiple systemic conditions for which he is multiply medicated and all the medications have complicated and unforeseen interactions; and so rather than stop the medication and return to a proper diet (he is supporting whole industries!), the medication regime is mythologized into reality – and the patient suffers. Returning to reality is not an option; and yet we must.

Since we have always lived by lists of allowed and sanctioned behaviors (even from our tribal beginnings) I suggest that we put the aforementioned to the test: “Thou shalt not eat whilst thy neighbor starves.” Returning to a proper and healthy behavioral diet will, of course, not happen by the addition of one commandment, but it might help.


Anonymous said...

A cry in the wilderness of humanity and with a nod to your recent articles.

I appreciate this blog even though much of your deeper thought processes is intellectually beyond me.
My capacity to change the world around me or even to simply exist in it is a marginal exercise at best, but I encourage you to keep writing, whatever your internet "views" are.
My personal web sites gets max. 1000 hits a month but despite maybe 5% having a genuine interest, it comforts me as it is 50 people that would otherwise know I exist, and the big "perhaps", share my views to whatever degree. Full power to the internet, however long "they" allow it to function as a means of exchange of ideas.

At 64 I have realised a single human can change little except by living ones' world.
I'm not into cooperation as such and by nature due to my artist bent and farming heritage but do, to limited extent, enjoy the complexity, vibrancy and randomness of mass habitation of cities.

My personal issue is - how do I combine a personal need for solitude and quiet artist and survival contemplation with the constant unending barrage of information and even friend's goodwill coming at me, while remaining sane and not inadvertently drifting into mainstream madness?
How do I sufficiently apply myself to life without being self-centred or selfish and lead a responsible life?

Not actually seeking a reply, just motivated to say something on my mind.

Cheers from downunder ... ron (Australia).

James Keye said...

Ron, your closing question is the central issue behind my every thought and action.

Anonymous said...

The photo that accompanies your article is actually by Dorothea Lange, I believe, not Margaret Brouke-White.


James Keye said...

Charlie, thank you for correcting this error.