Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Breaking the codes

Codification of our deepest urges and our highest hopes only insures that we feel justified in combating someone else's codification. This tragic folly proceeds from the smug nonsense that there is such a thing as a "natural order" to be imposed on any collection or grouping of humans.

I hope you won't take it amiss if I ask you to uncover the pale neck of your inner mystic and stretch it out comfortably on my chopping block but...

I gotta ask you, dear reader, if you have some sort of theory about what you are: what is your mind, how do you know its connections to your body, to your world? I am not going to answer the question, not all at once in one post anyway. Its really a question I have been asking over and over again and adding little postage stamp bits to what my intuition tells me is a billboard sized answer that would, in any case, only be my answer.

Yet having no answer, not asking the question or having a dumb answer gets us all in so much trouble. You can't stop being the animal you were born as. You add your cultural programming to that and hope you are human. Your culture is not going to stop being a coagulated constellation of verbal and relational habits that dress up our inescapable biological heritage: e.g. "multiply and be fruitful" is more Darwin than ID, or "do not lie with a man as one does with a woman" which is ignorantly oversimplified Darwin... just to pick on one culture I know. You have wiring to make you feel stongly about some things but you should not let that lead you to conclude that you know anything [a theme with which I weary any who will listen]. For instance, as I replied to Brownie:"Pain has a way of narrowing consciousness considerably and that's a biological necessity without which most of us wouldn't see our tenth birthday." From what is going on inside us, even if we were all sensitive and intelligent, it would be impractical to each rederive the best way to behave toward each other. Not that we can't or shouldn't be more fully conscious of that behavior and its origins but it could be paralysis if it weren't reflex. Since we parted from apes and apparently before, we just tend to do as those around us do. One wouldn't have to try hard to see the survival advantage of readily adopting your neighbor's tricks. By whatever route you arrive at your rules for sharing the planet, you will have gotten them, in the final analysis, mostly from the people around you and a bit of your own insanity. I observe that, rather like the DNA-encoded rules, the culturally transmitted rules don't readily change in the face of novel circumstances. What you have learned as the "right thing" to do as well as what you feel is the right thing to do CAN be or become wrong! That, [and the arrival of humans or other un-checked predators] accounts for extinctions. By being adaptive controllers or promoters of the wants and needs that our biology would have arise in our otherwise undisciplined minds, incorporation of personal urges into social orders is absolutely natural if not downright essential. But it is brittle too.

So here you are with a culturally determined set of guidelines that should square more or less with your own little inner voices [bit of a stretch there but not as much as our cynical times would suggest]. You may or may not be aware of how strongly you agree that these rules are an extension of and a protection for your own ego but trust me, its mostly the sociopath for whom that charmed cocoon of culture is not in tact. This "theory of everybody else" which I have spun out here is setting up a creature that would, without necessarily understanding why, feel threatened when significant disagreement with the rules is presented. I don't know whether to treat defensiveness re one's own culture and kin vs others as response to attacks on identity or continuity or survival but I know the feelings are primal. Historically, "workable" social frameworks with value schemes in them have little agility and our habit of hewing to the gummy conglomeration of old rules and unbending hierarchies of rulers gives an illusory comfort. The configuration of resources and acceptable misery that shape any social order sooner or later drifts apart, gets used up or wiped out but a corresponding change of the rules of the culture is much less likely than a revolutionary collision with new realities and an abrupt change of rules in a reconstructed social order.

The worst thing about the above generalization is the way it ignores the range of flexibility exhibited by real societies...some more tolerant of change, some less. To refine the generalization in hopes of salvaging its accuracy, let me hasten to add that when one of the rules of a society provides for feedback that can correct the rules themselves, you have a vastly more durable culture that will bend to changing circumstances rather than break. But thats a generalization too: if some rules are above change and others not, you only gain partial flexibility. A constitutional direct representation democracy with provisions for changing the constitution seems to me a good model of the idealized feedback. A fundamentalist theocracy seems to me a model of the non-adaptive ossification of the rules...a way to chafe the adherents and eventually founder itself. Certainly, there are more and less liberal sects of the several major religions. The liberal flavors get that way mostly by just relaxing and eventually relegating a rule that does not apply or has been morally outgrown. The written or codified core of these branchings is common and shared but, much like DNA, there are sections of regulation that have been "turned off" in one branch and kept active in another. We wind up with moral dinosaurs among us, who can still exist as long as they can insist that the world has not changed. They posit and project a mingled constancy of authority and core of external reality and fasten upon it for their survival. We can not conveniently dismiss these beings for their backwardness since they preserve their good along with their bad interpretations. There are only imagined connections between the internal reality we each experience and some constant external reality. The only world you can show me is one that is always changing. I am not willing to suffer anyone's dream that there is anything constant out there, no matter how strongly they feel it is so. Very few rules would be good for all people and for all time.

If you have one, are you satisfied that your theory of what you are paints a complete picture? How strongly do you feel that satisfaction?

OK, you can button your collar back up now.

I just had to give that a try. I will revisit to clarify my thoughts if commenting shows I have said it wrong, said what I meant but thought sloppily or just not said enough. I hope at least to be understood as tilting against rigidity in rules of socially accepted behavior, not against rules per se. Reducing all I know of the detail of our behavior to a few patterns, wanting to wield explanatory power over what seems a brutish chaos; these are my appetite and preference. Having once been a physics major, trying to map the parade route for what has looked more like a riot is just how I deal. I so wanted to go see the parade of humanity.

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