Lost Tribe

We need tribe. We need to belong. This is hard-wired into us. And in modern life, there is a disconnect.

We live in little fenced-in square shelters, not only isolated from the collective shadow -- the murderers and rapists, but also the desirable parts of community -- the sense of tribe, belonging and a collective purpose. The more docile among us attempt to satiate this need to belong by staying in and locking our houses and communing with our television alone, watching episodes of Seinfeld and Friends. Or maybe we keep up with the latest Hollywood love trysts as if Angelinia Jolie is our B.F.F.

I'm finding that many of us have been on a long quest to find and co-create a deep community -- a tribe -- somewhere to belong. 

 The modern experience tends toward isolation and loneliness. Alone in offices, we peer through windows of pixels to connect to one another via Facebook. We drop our kids off at daycare to drive to work alone in a metal box. Then we work in that cubicle for eight to ten hours a day, come home, flop on the couch and crank the volume on the TV. We glean meaning from sitcoms and myth systems from film. We are desperate for meaning -- and tribe.

Our desire for tribe has been hijacked by Hollywood and I've often wondered if we would be less apathetic and more involved with local community if TV had never been invented.

Worse than that isolation, perhaps, are the generations born into this isolation, latchkey kids so desperate to feel alive, and to fill that essential need for rights of passage and belonging to tribe, that they join violent gangs and act out their projected rage upon one another and the neighborhoods where they live..

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame.

  For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns. Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing. Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

The belief that we create our lives (as masters of our own fate) rather than being the victims of events which happen to us involves overcoming guilt and shame and speaking our own truth. The meaning, and therefore our reality, created by us through our actions fills us with a sense of purpose and self-actualization. But creating reality from within a framework of shame or guilt stunts growth. Shame combined with lack of opportunity can lead to social apathy at best and violence at worst. We are social, story-telling organisms, propelled by an archetypal drive to create tribes and community.

Tribes are bonded through a sense of meaning.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

Each of us individually struggles with the paradox of good and evil within, but a tribe creates a container that holds these disparate elements.

Tribalism is a perennial archetype that re-emerges whenever it is absent in the dominant culture. In our decidedly non-tribal culture, the archetype may appear as belonging to a gang, being a Dead-Head, or talking about what Jerry Seinfeld did in last night's episode with the coworker in the next cubicle. In all these cases, the tribe creates a feeling of belonging through unified meaning. This meaning, implicit or explicit, becomes the group's mission statement and raison d'etre. And the mission statement can be anywhere along a spectrum of possibilities. They can be syntropic, healthy, and positive or destructive, dystopic and entropic.

In creating meaning, and thus reality, our internal compass of morality guides our choices, rather than an externally imposed didactic moral code.

To clarify this internal morality, we need to experience our edges. We need to be pushed in experiences and mirrored in that journey.

This is why rites of passage like the sweat lodge or peyote vision quest are essential to realigning the compass of those who have lost their way -- whether in gang life, addiction, or just on the day-to-day journey of life in American culture.

For ex-con Joshua, participating in sweat lodges, exploring rites of passage facilitated by a medicine man fills his need to belong to something with a higher purpose. He told me later that the sense of belonging he feels in the sweat lodge tribe creates a container for him to explore honesty, vulnerability, and personal responsibility.

As with tribes, rites of passage must be activated by a sense of meaning, and that meaning travels along a spectrum of possibilities. Childbirth and prison tattoos seem to have no similarities, but both are rites of passage. Getting jumped into a gang, peyote vision quests, running a marathon, Bar Mitzvahs -- these are all archetypal rites of passage. One primary rite of passage is the boy's journey into manhood. A medicine woman once explained it to me this way:

A woman's vision quest is always childbirth... there is no other vision quest for men or women as powerful as childbirth. But for men, it is different. The vision quest is the sacred sweat lodge. Vision quest is suffering. It brings you to your knees. No more lies. I don't care how old you are. You are not a man until you go on your vision quest.

The remaining essential factor in creating and sustaining a functional tribe is mirroring by elders.

Without the witness of someone who has been on the path, the meaning and the importance of ritual are lost. The psyche acts out the rite of passage in endless repetition until it is witnessed. For example, in the rave, participants seek ritual ecstasy through ingesting "X" (Ecstasy or MDMA), which produces a cathartic merging and sense of belonging. This emulates a rite of passage, but often the meaning is lost when the psychedelic pilgrim sobers up because no shaman witnessed, digested and reflected the meaning for the seeker. The same is true for gangs. Drive-by shootings, hazings, school yard bullying -- all these acts are repeated and escalated until someone takes notice. Elders and mentors are essential to de-escalating violence. For troubled youth one of the most important ways through which to receive that guidance and wisdom is a caring and capable adult. Many kids just need someone to guide their journey toward responsible manhood and illuminate them to the fact that each of them has a unique gift to give the world.

Creating intentional tribes and rites of passage can restore a sense of purpose, belonging, respect, and morality. Regardless of the method, the ultimate success depends on whether the tribal morality can inspire. Then it may be assimilated and accommodated into the psyche, to emanate from within to create a lasting frame of relevance for the individual's gifts. The tribal morality must be able to allow and integrate the intrinsic diversity of personalities and how they react to the stages and challenges of the life journey.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', found at Reality Sandwich

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Individual + Villager = Balance
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Entitlement and Accountability
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Projecting a Shadow
Evil and Us
Imperfect Relationships
You laugh at my back, and I'll laugh at yours
Contain Conflict
Standing the Strain
My Advice? No Advice!
Empty Container
Silence
Touch Societies
Alone Together
Rooted in blood and soil
Still Waters
The Importance of Rituals  
A Circle of Gifts

Mind Your Language

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Noun                     -                    Verb
Being                    -                    Becoming
Solid                     -                    Liquid
Goal                      -                    Process
Rational                -                    Empirical


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And so castles made of sand,
fall in the sea,
eventually.

[Jimi Hendrix]


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[...] language tends to divide our experience into segments that have the appearance of objects.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 87-8


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If our language tends to foster the delusion of misplaced concreteness, it is particularly nouns - substantives - that get in the way of our being able to clearly see the flux and interconnectedness of our world.

Yet the problem is not so much words per se as our relationship with them.

"Language [...] is a remarkable servant and a lousy master."

And there exists something called poetry, which is the practice of using words to say what cannot be said in words.

Language labels things for us. Jean Piaget wrote: "Intelligence organizes the world by organizing itself." The problem with language is that it turns the world into things. Because of the incredible convenience of language, we hypnotize ourselves into believing the reality of linguistic symbols, especially nouns.

Gregory Bateson, following the inspiration of Anatol Holt, used to say that he wanted to get a bumper sticker that would say, "Stamp out Nouns."

Nouns, representing so-called persons, places, things, and ideas, are a marvelous convenience to allow us to get up and to move our mouth parts at each other and communicate, but they don't represent anything except for a very provisional and temporary kind of reality.

[Stephen Nachmanovitch]
'Old Men Ought to be Explorers', p.10-11
'Improvisation as a Tool for Investigating Reality', found here.


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Anthropologist Rupert Ross said that primordial languages often center on the use of verbs rather than nouns.

Native Americans for example, tend not to label individuals, but look at people as a process rather than a static thing.

Ross says, "When we apply such labels to real people, however, they tend to stick. And when they stick, they cause us to start denying the complexity and wholeness of the human beings we are speaking of."

Many primordial languages in the Americas had no words for guilt or shame. For example, the Apaches say those words were developed by white men to control one another. Actions that we think of as unforgivable actions were considered by many native cultures as mistakes which created opportunities to discover more about themselves and growth toward deeper wisdom.

When living close to nature, everything is in a constant flux of change. Nothing stays good or bad forever. Judgment and expectation get us in trouble. They become shorthand for a dead-end label that some thing or some one is good or bad.

[Sunny Strasburg]
'Violence and the Need for Tribalism', found at Reality Sandwich


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The physicist David Bohm argued that quantum reality is so very different from our everyday large scale experience that it requires a new language for its discussion.

Our Indo-European languages are strongly noun based and subject-object structured. For Bohm they represent a barrier to deeper understanding. The essence of the quantum world is flux, movement, transformation, symmetry and relationship rather than individual objects in interaction.

For Bohm the essence of such a reality requires a verb-based, process-based language - probably one very close to that still spoken by the Blackfoot.

[F. David Peat]
'Creativity: The Meeting of Apollo and Dionysus'


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He: But aren't you supposed to be inside? My interior person?

Chest-Voice: You are stuck in words. Interior simply means deeper. Going inward simply means going more deeply into things, into their heart and soul.

Interior is a sense of inward chambers, the hollow in the chest that resounds. It isn't a place to go and it doesn't mean all those things you've learned and taken so literalistically: introverting, introspecting, internalizing.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.122


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Unlike Westerners, Ladakhis never express themselves with certitude about something they have not experienced. Any event in which they have not personally participated will be described using verbs that reflect the limitations of their knowledge: "It is said that ...,""It appears that ...,""It is probable that ..." If I ask someone, "Is it a big house?" he or she will be likely to answer, "It seemed big to me."

Even when people have personal experience, they are far more reluctant than we are to categorize and judge. Good and bad, fast and slow, here and there; these are not sharply different qualities. In the same way, Ladakhis will not think in terms of fundamental opposition, for instance, between mind and body or reason and intuition.

Ladakhis experience the world through what they call their semba, best translated as a cross between "heart" and "mind." This reflects the Buddhist insistence that Wisdom and Compassion are inseparable.

[Helena Norberg-Hodge]
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, p.82


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While rationality can explain much, there are limits to human capabilities of understanding. The English language is structured to account for cause and effect. For example, English speakers say, "It is raining," with the implication that there is a cause "it" that leads to rain.

Many Indian languages, on the other hand, merely note what is most accurately translated as "raining" as an observable fact. Such an approach brings a freedom to stop worrying about causes of things, and merely to relax and accept that our human insights can only go so far.

By not taking ourselves too seriously, or overinflating human importance, we can get beyond the logical world.

[Walter L. Williams]
The Spirit and the Flesh, p.20-1


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"From West to East" is a commonplace journalistic structure for an article. "From West to Female" is more like poetry. By jumping from one criterion, one binary, to another, it represents a real difference rather than the staged differences of the binary. It's fresh!  

[language becomes] mere texture when dichotomy ends.

What the remapping of the binaries produces, I think, is something irrational: beauty. 

It also produces a sort of self-knowledge; the realisation that all truths are provisional, contextual, consensual, habitual. It's therefore good to break one's habits from time to time -- to "binary hop".

[Momus]
'Binary hopping'


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Montaigne's thinking baffles our most common categories. The vision of an ever-changing world that he developed threatens the being of all things. ‘We have no communication with being’.

We wrongly take that which appears for that which is, and we indulge in a dogmatic, deceptive language that is cut off from an ever-changing reality. We ought to be more careful with our use of language. 

Montaigne would prefer that children be taught other ways of speaking, more appropriate to the nature of human inquiry, such as ‘What does that mean ?’, ‘I do not understand it’, ‘This might be’, ‘Is it true?’

Montaigne himself is fond of ‘these formulas that soften the boldness of our propositions’: “perhaps”, “to some extent”, “they say”, “I think”, and the like.

“I can see why the Pyrrhonian philosophers cannot express their general conception in any manner of speaking ; for they would need a new language. Ours is wholly formed of affirmative propositions….”

'Michel de Montaigne'


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Saussure pointed out that the association of a given sound, or signifier, with a given concept, or signified, is arbitrary - there’s nothing natural, simple, or permanent about it. Saussure wrote, “the arbitrary nature of the sign … dominates all the linguistics of language; its consequences are numberless.”

[The arbitrary association between signifier/signified] suggested an uncertainty, or slippage, in language, that would become a key tenet of poststructuralism.

How does that slippage arise? In place of the idea that signified and signifier were closely tied to one another, Saussure observed that each term is defined in relation to other, similar, terms nearby. For example, the sound of the word ‘horse’ differs only slightly from ‘horn’ and ‘hearse.’ Saussure pointed out that the concept, the signified, was also defined differentially, in the same way. Defining meaning not positively, but negatively, as a gap between adjacent terms, also contributed to this sense of slippage […]

Saussure had another diagram to express the blurry boundaries between terms - he redrew the series of signifiers [and signifieds] as a continuum. It’s language’s role to delineate units of meaning, and map between these two streams.

“It is mysterious that language works out its units while taking shape between two shapeless masses.”

[Christopher Bolton]
Animating Poststructuralism



Saussure's radical observation that signifieds are linked only arbitrarily to signifiers, defined by the structure of a given language system, led him also to notice that the signified is not stable, but the signified slides under the signifier because that signifier requires other signifiers to define the original arbitrary one (e.g., "deciduous broad-leafed trees of the genus Quercus or Lithocarpus").

Each of those signifiers ("deciduous" and "broad-leafed" and "trees" and, yes, even "of") yield signifieds which are themselves caught up in the slippage under their signifieds, a process that could possibly slide all the way to pure meaninglessness.

One of Derrida's unlikely allies, Jaques Lacan, a French Freudian psychoanalyst, gave a series of lectures in which he reapplied Saussurian linguistics to Freud and launched a new theory of personality.

In Lacan's appropriation of Deconstruction, we are "normal" (i.e., merely neurotic) because our minds refuse to notice most of the slippage Derrida insisted was going on. 

Those who could not resist seeing the slippage fell into psychosis, which presents verbal symptoms known, for instance, as "word salad," "clang associations," "knight's move" thinking, "neologism" (coining new words), etc.. Thus, language's identity-structuring power could be used to explain losses of structure, as well. 

'Slippage of the Signified Under the Signifier: Unstable Identity in Language'


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Hegel deals with a sequence of logical categories: being, becoming, one, many, essence, existence, cause, effect, universal, mechanism, and "life". Each is examined in turn and made to reveal its own inadequacies and internal tensions. Each category is made to generate another more promising one which in its turn will be subject to the same kind of scrutiny.

Hegel calls this dynamic aspect of his thinking the power of "negation".

It is by means of this "negativity" of thought that the static (or habitual) becomes discarded or dissolved, made fluid and adaptable, and recovers its eagerness to push on towards "the whole".

Dialectical thinking derives its dynamic of negation from its ability to reveal "contradictions" within almost any category or identity.

Hegel's "contradiction" does not simply mean a mechanical denial or opposition. Indeed, he challenges the classical notion of static self-identity, A = A, or A = non-A.

By negation or contradiction, Hegel means a wide variety of relations - difference, opposition, reflection or relation. It can indicate the mere insufficiency of a category or its incoherence. Most dramatically, categories are sometimes shown to be self-contradictory.

[Lloyd Spencer]
Introducing Hegel: A Graphic Guide


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[...] Popper condemns 'what is?' questions generally [...] Their quasi-magical attempt to capture the essence of reality in a definition has led Popper to brand the use of such questions as 'essentialism.'

In politics the essentialist approach leads almost naturally to Utopianism and doctrinal conflict. Genuinely important questions are more like 'What should we do in these circumstances? What are your proposals?' [...]

Because authoritarian structures incorporate the same mistaken notions of certainty, and the same mistaken assumptions about method, as does the traditional view of science, the arguments underlying Popper's criticism of the view that in politics we can, let alone should aim to, establish and preserve a certain state of society are in point after point the same of those underlying his criticism of the view that science can, let alone should aim to, establish and preserve certain knowledge.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 106-7


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Related posts:-
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Lost Tribe
Wishy-washy
All is Change
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Where language ends and art begins
Making it up as we go along
This, Not That
A Difference that makes a Difference
The Eternal Ideas
The Right Distance

Re-birth

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Representation                     -                      Will
Earthly                                 -                       Transcendent
Desires                                 -                       No desires
Individual                             -                      Universal

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Beneath our individual characters there is a universal character - the 'same will in all' as Schopenhauer puts it. This common character is always speaking, but not often heard. If we are able to quiet our will - our various earthly desires - then we are more able to hear its voice.

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[...] so long as the knowledge is only that which is involved in the principium individuationis, and which positively follows the principle of sufficient reason, the power of the motives is irresistible.

But when the principium individuationis is seen through, when the Ideas, and indeed the inner nature of the thing-in-itself, are immediately recognized as the same will in all, and the result of this knowledge is a universal quieter of willing, then the individual motives become ineffective, because the kind of knowledge that corresponds to them is obscured and pushed into the background by knowledge of quite a different kind.

[...] the character can never partially change, but must, with the consistency of a law of nature, realize in the particular individual the will whose phenomena it is in general and as a whole. But this whole, the character itself, can be entirely eliminated by the above mentioned change of knowledge.

It is this elimination or suppression at which Asmus marvels, as said above, and which he describes as the "catholic, transcendental change." It is also that which in the Christian Church is very appropriately called new birth or regeneration, and the knowledge from which it springs, the effect of divine grace.

Therefore, it is not a question of change, but of an entire suppression of the character;

and so it happens that, however different the characters that arrived at that suppression were before it, they nevertheless show after it a great similarity in their mode of conduct, although each speaks very differently according to his concepts and dogmas.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, p.403

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Everything is connected