"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Apr 1, 2010

Open Palm, Closed Fist

I don't know much. Reasonably intelligent, relatively curious - sure. But, I long ago coded myself to avoid certainty, or the presumption of omniscience. On top of fulfilling the role of boorish bores, resolutely certain people tend to fuck shit up a lot. "Really self-convinced" might as well equal "inquisitionally holy," and folks caught up in their own holiness (even if they worship no gods) soon enough conclude that everyone else has too much sin.

I still figure out how to act like an asshole at least half the time, on any given day, but I think I've at least learned to tweak that native tendency toward uncertain and self-doubting assholishness.

This post, then, in the key of “typing out my ass, but what the hell”:

I don't think the world necessarily divides readily into twos. Either/or postulates, hemispheric counter-positions, mutual antagonisms might fill a human need, mayhap, but not a universal one.

I'll kick that towards the old king's Saxon: yes and no, right and wrong, good and evil don't really make sense when put to the eye.

Coming at this another way, to have "right and wrong" you also have to have a perfect standard by which to judge what events and people fall on one side, and what events and people fall on the other. Picture that standard as a membrane, a division which sorts the myriad events and choices of any persons, or set of persons, in any place, during any time, into one of two categories. For the standard to work, it has to fulfill an absolute, unchanging, irreversible, untouchable and perfect function. It cannot fall to persons to decide it. If people have a hand in deciding the standard of right and wrong, it no longer works as a standard.

But, for any person to know that a particular example of conduct falls into one of the two categories, that standard must also remain intelligible, accessible and communicable within the contingent events of human action. People must have the capacity to decide their choices according to that standard, communicate them and then follow through. They must retain the capacity to interpret it, and apply it to changing times, or it becomes first opaque, and then inapplicable.

A standard of right and wrong, to work as a standard, must embody in each and every person, at each and every point in human space and time, both rigid perfection (to identify right and wrong, while excluding personal bias) and fluid contingency (that people might choose their conduct, and conform to it).

An imperfect perfection. A black whiteness.

A chimaera.

Perhaps, I think, because the world really doesn't divide up into neat, tidy sets of (X v. Y),  (X and Y), (X or Y), right and wrong, or good opposed to evil.

We divide the sum of events, according to mutable, febrile inconstants which we then treat as cold, clean universal standards. We lie to ourselves, and call it universal truth. I don't mean to suggest that a person ought not judge, ought not choose a course of action with regard to an ethos, or principles. Only that we would serve ourselves well by treating those principles as contingent upon the consequences that ensue from the using of them, in the first.

What the fuck does this have to do with anything, especially anything related to just getting to tomorrow?

Quite a bit, I think.

We tend, I think, to treat with human choices and human interactions (never mind all the non-human shit which has a habit of intruding into our fantasy of humanistic mechanism) as if we need only see them through one of two lenses. The yes lens. And the no lens. 1 and 0.

Yes - do some thing, make some choice. Or, no - don't do that. We define the foundation of our choices, and our possibilities, by these limitations. Further, we tend to hardwire our yes and no judgments to predetermined responses, and loyalties.

For example: “Smoking is unhealthy and wrong, so smoking must be stopped, so smokers must be ostracized and smoking made expensive, so that smokers will learn to do good to themselves, so that smokers can be saved from the unhealthy wrongness that they do to themselves, so that unhealthy wrongness can be further purged from the world.”

We ignore consequence in favor of intent, and the judgment/reaction syndrome metastasizes into oppression, of self and others. By wiring our faith in immutable standards to either/or judgments and predetermined reactions, we fall fall prey to all-or-nothing thinking, and worse, all-or-nothing emoting.

But, what if we have more than two base choices? More than "vote for" and "vote against"? What if, foundationally, we've blinded ourselves to the two other (absolutely essential) primary building blocks of human choice?

What if, instead of "yes" and "no," as filters for our choices, we add in the two missing ingredients?

So that we get "yes," "no," "mayhap*" and "I don't know."

I don't have much truck with snout counting**, but imagine for a moment a voting scheme where the choices for a proposal, or candidate, rounded out to the four above, with caloric labor devoted and volunteers requested according to percentages, and the combinations of desire, and not merely to the tyranny of the all-or-nothing majority. And I certainly don't hold forth for the prison industry, but imagine a verdict slate that allowed for "yes, committed the act," "no, didn't do it," "might have done it, but we cannot tell for sure" and "we just don't know."

Sidewinding away, for a moment: when I take a step, I don't simply make a decision to place a foot forward. I take into account (not all of this immediately a matter of conscious inquiry) the terrain, what I do know. I map what I ought not do, to best insure that my foot does in fact fall where I please it to. I use yes and no perhaps hundreds of time, before my first muscle twitch triggers. But that doesn't describe the whole of the process. In order to step, the bodymind has to account for uncertainty, for partial knowledge (rainy day, leaves might cover a puddle) and for all that it doesn't know, all the possibilities not yet mapped by and stored in memory.

Yes, no, mayhap, I don't know. For, against, uncertainty, unknowns.


So what about that title? Open Palm, Closed Fist? Really? Going for the faux-zen thing, assclown?

Zen's not my bag, but yes, my wife thinks assclown describes me to a tee.

Okay, then.

I think that we could call the two predominant types of reaction to events, for individuals and in group dynamics, "open palm" and "closed fist." Yes, let's let stuff happen. No, let's fight this shit.

Faced with a crisis or change in conditions (human or nature made), some people and groups open up like a palm, ready to accept the unfolding of events. Faced with the same set of circumstances, others roll up like a clenched fist, ready to strike back at events, ready to assert opposition.

Some accept, some reject.

Not really a new insight, on my part, I know. I just have to scratch this itch, to come at it from a different perspective.

Imagine (pushy, this blogger, eh?) a group of people come together to perform some task, say organizing a local food network independent of industrial agriculture and box retail outlets. Imagine a modicum of success, such that their impact hits the radar of the authorities, or just the bottom line of the regional attempted food monopoly. A boss type might feel an immediate threat, close up his or her fist, and smash away, perhaps on a flimsy pretext, like a petty prior or a protest arrest. A boss type might also try to co-opt the anarchofoodies as "good citizens," as feed for the nightly news and human interest consumers, perhaps even bring in a few corporate sponsors. Closed fist, open hand. In the face of such pressure, the group might decide to bunker down, go on the defensive, playing into the cultivated fears of the lawn order aficionados who'll vote for this year's bumper crop of petty fief and office holders. Or they might choose to play along, turning exposure into exchange, and infiltration into misdirection.

Whatever the case (and I can think of dozens of permutations, offhand), either/or just doesn't cut it. Right way and wrong way judgments don't really help a group of people envision consequences, and they don't help the same people aim towards some provisional end. Because these judgment-reactions reduce options before events even unfold. In the face of state or corporate pressure, sometimes the open palm and the closed fist will both lead to a bad end.

When we cripple ourselves with these a priori assumptions about choices, and sets of choices, we mayhap lose sight of our aims. More to the point, we blind ourselves to consequence.

Recently apologists for Obama, in their urgent need to demonstrate filial piety, to affirm their reactions against the standards of their pre-existing judgments, set about savaging the President's detractors from the left, leaving in their wake a series of unintended outcomes, most notably the liberation of a number of memescapes and mememakers from the confines of institutional liberalism. Responding only with a closed fist, they appear to have shattered any number of emotional and philosophical loyalties, and doing so, set in motion the first ripples of an opposition to power which no longer pretends even a hint of fealty to the set piece of electioneering, an opposition drawing not only on those who've already long walked away, but those they themselves have scattered to the winds, in their urge to prove their devotion.

An object lesson, if only for a spell.

When we come together in the future, even in temporary community, to achieve some end, some act of liberation, some fulfillment of desire, I think we best serve (and enjoy) ourselves if we begin the process of unlearning the culture inheritance of yes/no, either/or, all or nothing, open palm or closed fist thinking and reacting which so far still governs much of the developing extra-political opposition to power.

Faced with a multitude of choices and avenues down which to wander, perhaps we ought to consider them all, play with them all, embrace, abandon and try them again, experimenting with and expanding the arena of our interactions to include all that we just don't know, giving social form to uncertainty and the hybridization and difference it engenders. So that our strength lies not in cohesion with and obedience to party or power, not in the coordinated and managed acceptance or rejection of events, but in the sheer riot of difference.

Let the bosses send their warriors and seducers against that.

* - I have a problem with the verb form, to be. But you can substitute "maybe."
** - All credit to Harry Turtledove

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