Let It Flow

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The road system is a lot like our circulatory system. It has red blood cells, and white; platelets and plasma; each with their individual characteristics and modes of behaviour.

For our body to be healthy, things must flow smoothly, free of disputes and blockages. Each part works together, to create a harmonious whole.


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We all like surprises, or so the saying goes. But on the roads, surprises lose their appeal.

Broadly speaking, motorists know what other motorists are going to do, thanks to universal rules that govern their behaviour. Inasmuch as everyone sticks to these rules then a critical amount of order is maintained. We all make mistakes - and occasionally someone will be wantonly reckless - but by and large we strive to follow the rules and be transparent to one another.

Can the same be said for cyclists?

There are many instances in which cyclists' behaviour becomes largely unpredictable. Certain situations provoke this more than others, chief among them being whenever a cyclist sees slow moving or static traffic.

As cyclists, we have the option to 'filter' whenever we see traffic ahead. This is in essence a pass to the front of the queue, presumably awarded as either a congratulatory or condolatory pat on the back, depending on your point of view: either 'good on you for choosing to cycle instead of drive' or 'we know you keep getting overtaken by everyone else, but you can get your own back now.'

Filtering creates confusion and anxiety because it is risky and unpredictable. Motorists cannot anticipate when we are going to move up their left side, or their right; or cut in front of them. They do not know what we are going to do when the traffic starts moving and we are stranded on either side of them; whether we will attempt to speed up or slow down. They are surprised as we spring from one blind-spot to the next. They do not know whether we will even choose to filter at all.

Not only do they not know how we will behave, they also do not know what we expect from them.

There are a great many unknowns when it comes to cyclists. And this is because we currently have a great deal of freedom. There are no laws that say we must or must not filter; or that dictate how we must filter if we choose to do so.

Filtering - or queue-dodging as it is known to other road-users - is tacitly encouraged by the presence of advance stop lines, which entice the cyclist to assume pole position. Whilst these measures have been put in place to help cyclists, it is my view that, in encouraging unpredictable and risky behaviour - that zig-zag squeeze to the front - they are a detriment to all road users.

Cyclists frequently cite the ability to queue-dodge as one of the benefits of cycling; yet if we are honest with ourselves, we know that cycling has much else to advertise it besides the opportunity to act like prima-donna VIPs whenever we see a line of traffic.

We have great freedom, and yet we, as a community, continually abuse it. We run red lights; we hop from pavement to road to cycle lane as and when it suits us; we ride two - or more - abreast, holding a conversation on the road; we flagrantly queue dodge. We ask to be treated like a car, and in the next moment take advantage of the fact that we are not.

We are a schizophrenic presence. We make people nervous.

As cyclists we generally do not see the turmoil we cause; partly because we are concerned with our own plight; and partly because such turmoil may often play itself out in undetectable and subtle ways. We do not know how disgruntled we have made someone; or whether we have added another black mark in someone's mental logbook, another straw that may one day break some cyclist's back.

We may think that filtering is 'fine', that no damage is done; but even a cursory survey of a handful of motorists would lead us to see otherwise.

Motorists want from us what all road users want from each other: predictability.

Filtering is an inherently unpredictable activity - now I'm here, now I'm there; now you see me, now you don't - and is fraught with uncertainties. It is that point at which the friction between cyclists and other road users becomes especially intense.

We may protest that cycling takes longer and that car drivers are able to get to where they are going quicker, therefore why shouldn't we be allowed the odd advantage? But this is an argument that uses sleight of hand to convince. It would have us believe that by filtering through slow-moving traffic we are, to some extent, readressing the balance between cyclists and motorists. It is a position that has at its heart a division - cyclists on one side, and motorists on the other.

If we want an equal place on the road, then we must accept this equality in all of its implications, good or bad. If motorists are to treat us as equals then we must behave as equals. This means queueing in traffic, and waiting our turn like everyone else.

A cyclist with a short-view argues that the traffic is caused by motor-vehicles, and so is the motorist's concern, not his; the long-sighted view shows that traffic is caused by road-users, of which he is one. Like it or not there are a lot of cars right now: all the more reason to endear ourselves as cyclists and to act against the unhelpful antagonisms that cause schisms on the road.

With the benefit of the long-view we do not act opportunistically, using our size to our advantage. We do not say "treat me like a car" at one moment, the next moment adding the caveat "only not right now."

We must act honorably. We must resist the urge to queue dodge. We must not filter. We must never undertake.

When we see traffic ahead, we must move into primary position and wait in the traffic. Through moving into primary we will be seen and will make clear our intention to move with the traffic. There is a beautiful simplicity in this stance: it is clear and it is safe. And more than that, it is honourable. The more we do this, the more it will become clear to cars what they can expect from us; and the more they will respect us for it.

If we, as a community, do not discipline ourselves - act responsibly, and honorably; with the well-being of all road users in mind - then we will be disciplined. A tipping point will be reached. Laws will tighten and our freedoms - those priviledges we currently have a tendency to flaunt - will be stripped from us.

It is my belief that all motorists should be educated about cyclists, so that they know what to expect from us and how to treat us. This could be introduced as part of the driving test, but I believe it would be much more effective to introduce it as a mandatory cycle-training programme for all teenagers, run via high-schools.

This way, we all start with the bicycle. It becomes our launching pad to the road. From this we graduate - if we wish - to the car. From having been introduced to the road as cyclists, we will subsequently be able to anticipate cyclists behaviour and act accordingly, and will be more inclined to treat them with respect. It will not be a cure-all solution to the kind of antagonisms we see on the roads at the minute, but it is a fine place to start.

To conclude:

Motorists must know more about cyclists; must understand what we do, and what they are expected to do around us.

Cyclists must act more honorably and with the good of all road users in mind; not just themselves or other cyclists. They must curb some of their more schizophrenic tendencies, including the urge to filter.

In essence, what we are suggesting is a coming together; a crossing of the divide between us and them. We must remember that beneath our labels of 'cyclists' or 'motorists', we are all road-users.

We must keep that image of the circulatory system in mind; and remember that for a healthy body, traffic must flow smoothly, with as few disputes or blockages as possible. But importantly, white cell or red, we are all part of the same body.

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Related posts:-
Everything is Connected
A Healthy Body
A Higher Power 

Forecast

The only place where perfection can exist is in virtual reality - in other words, in those artificial realities created by us. Inasmuch as we are chasing perfection (and a wide glance at modern trends would suggest that we are), then we should not be surprised by where our quest will inevitably lead us ...

Currently we are still attempting to perfect the real world. We iron out our creases through cosmetic surgery, creams and potions. We are becoming ever more afraid of imperfection, and thus of things that cause imperfections. We deny Nature, that place of messiness, and create sanitised environments that prevent us from having to experience too much imperfection. Surfaces are smoothed, corners rounded off. 

Alongside this we are creating ever more immersive virtual worlds, worlds in which we no longer need to struggle to perfect ourselves or the world around us. These worlds can be as we want them to be; and in them we can be who we want to be. We don't need things like insurance, or cosmetic surgery.

Inasmuch as we remain obsessed with perfection, then eventually we will give up our struggle to perfect the real world, and will give in to the allure of the virtual world.

It is natural that we should try and make things better. But we do not know where to draw the line. It is crucial that we find this line.
 
--

Grand Theft Auto will gradually assimilate many other models of video games within itself, and become an all encompassing game - 'The Game.' Games of all types - driving games, first person shooters - and all themes - supernatural, realistic, ultraviolent, historic - will all be woven into its structure. It will also become more 'open-source' - much like Minecraft - allowing users to design their own experiences. As this happens it will become ever more engrossing to the gamer. Gamers will spend more and more time within it, and technological advances will make it more and more immersive.

The dreams that are given to us by films - those unattainable aspirations that work their way within us from an early age - will be given an outlet in The Game. It will become a place where our ever more unsustainable lifestyles can be safely housed. A place where a garage full of sports cars and a house full of trinkets can be entirely disconnected from unfortunate truths like dwindling natural resources and unseen ultra-violence.

Essentially, Grand Theft Auto will become The Matrix. It is happening already.

--

The balance of power between companies and consumers will swing ever more rapidly toward the former. Consumer rights will become a thing of the past. Companies will care less and less about complaints. Those companies that have a monopoly or near-monopoly on certain markets will not even have to make a show of responding to consumer concerns. The consumer will be treat with growing disdain.

--

Science will become ever more like a religion; it will have stories that must be subscribed to. Alternate voices will be vilified as heretics and burnt at the stake. It will attract followers looking for the comforting certainty of dogma.

--

Professionals will become more and more limited in what they can do, due to increasing red tape as a consequence of litigation. In response to this a countercurrent will grow, based on friendship relationships i.e. informal, non-professional, ad-hoc arrangements. More and more people will begin to abandon professional institutions as they become ever more rigid. This applies to all institutions.

In order to help each other - truly help each other - more often than not we have to be non-professional - in other words, go outside of the bounds which our professions lay down. This will become ever more true the more the boundaries of professionalism close in; the more 'professional' we become.

--

New insights
will come more and more from 'enthusiastic amateurs' i.e. those on the outside of institutions, the non-professionals. This is because institutions, as they grow and become more solid, will find it harder to incorporate new information, especially when it flies in the face of current paradigms.

The emphasis, then, is on those 'free radicals' who act independently of institutions.

--

We will come to accept that there is great wisdom and understanding in ancient knowledge traditions, and that we weren't able to see this because of our current limited perspective. Things we once dismissed as unscientific and superstitious will be seen in a new light, through new knowledge and understanding.

Twisted out of Shape

One of the biggest questions for our time is this:

How far can human nature be moulded by culture?

In other words; how far can we bend the branch before it either springs back or breaks?

A tree can be manipulated into all manner of distorted shapes through repeated slight adjustments. An individual, and a society, can be manipulated in much the same way. With the former, the moulding force is the human hand; with the latter, is is culture.

As each generation dies, they take with them the lived experience of how things were. All that remains of their time are memories; tall tales that spring from mouths, books or screens. But their experience dies with them; successive generations cannot know what it was like to live then. They can imagine, but they cannot know - smell, taste, touch ... experience.

We can lament a time gone by, but all we can know is our own time. All that is normal to us - all of our measurements, regrets, dreams - are born from within our own time.

An idea of a time gone by will only take root with us if it can connect to something similar in our own time. We lament the simplicity of a bygone era, because we ourselves remember such simplicity in our own lives. If we have nothing to equate it to, then it will not take root. It will remain abstract, a funny story.

The time we grow up in, no matter how distorted it may appear to the ghosts of times gone by, cannot be anything other than normal to us. We have no other frame of reference. If we are (un)lucky we can imagine something different. But generally speaking we will be discouraged from doing this. 

Can a tree forget its shape? It seems that this is what is happening to us. Our society changes incrementally, and each change is normalised by each successive generation. Before you know it, the tree is bent and twisted; and yet it feels no loss, sees no damage. Because to it - its memory of times gone by erased with age - this shape is normal.

And if it knows no different, then where is the harm?
As long as it can sustain itself in such a shape, then there is no harm.

Is there?

So why is it that we protest change? That we lament times gone by? Because when we are dead, there will be no-one to know what they are missing out on. The mass of those left living will experience a world perfectly normal and acceptable to them. At the fringes there will be those who can imagine something different - haunted by a picture of a tall healthy tree - but these voices are marginalized, branded 'luddites',  'unrealistic' or 'hopeless dreamers'. To imagine something else is unrealistic because it does not accept what is real - in other words, things as they currently are.

So to return to the question:

How far can human nature be moulded by culture?

How far can the tree be bent before it springs back or dies?

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Related posts:-
A Healthy Body
Guiding Fiction
Re-write It

The Healing Process

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[...] life cannot tolerate a standstill [...]

[C.G. Jung]
Psychological Types (CW 6, 1991), p. 479

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There is pattern when it comes to things like Fracking protests. It goes like this:

When this new thing is announced - in this instance Fracking - there are those who are against it. They protest its arrival, in a bid to prevent it from happening. It is key that they get it at its inception, before it becomes assimilated and generally accepted as part of the landscape. This is a tipping point, or so it seems. Things could go either way. Once it is established it will be much harder, if not impossible, to uproot.

And so there is initial protest. This protest is reported in the press and provokes a peak of interest from the general mass of people. Some make up their minds, some remain undecided; some don't care either way.

The masses tolerate this disruption because it is a novelty. But soon the novelty wears off and the issue overstays its welcome. 'Soon' being the operative word, because the contemporary attention span is at an all time low.

After time the issue becomes at best an annoyance, and at worst forgotten about. At this point the issue falls off the radar and the protest becomes a battle that can't be won.

Why is this?

The body can only tolerate tension for so long. Protest is tension, a stalling voice that says 'maybe we shouldn't go in this direction.' But a direction must be taken, and sooner rather than later.

Tension will be tolerated at first. There is a grace period, albeit limited. But then a verdict must be reached. An ongoing protest is like an open wound. The body wants to heal and to go about its everyday business.

In this sense, all that a corporation like Cuadrilla need do is play a waiting game. They simply wait for the issue to go out of fashion. Weather the initial storm of public interest, whilst playing on the defensive. Sit back and block the opposition.

In time, the inevitable process of normalisation - the disappation of tension - will win the battle for them.

From being initially receptive to those voices of protest, the culture begins to grow weary of them. Counter arguments surface, if only to help get the issue off the table and close up the wound. By this point the mass of people are looking for this voice, for the first opportunity - the first convincing excuse - to dismiss the issue and get back to business as normal. In the end, the voice of protest is discredited. A lot of fuss about nothing. 

The wound closes. Life goes on.


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Related posts:-
Tension
Still Waters
Status Quo 
Do Not Disturb
Negative Capability
Escaping Uncertainty 

Live Forever?

People will often point to an increased life-span as a sign that our age is an advanced one. It is something we can be proud of. We don't die of this, that and the other. We have nice long lives. 

But what this view does not take stock of is the fact that the way we experience time may have changed.

Things go much faster now, faster than they ever have. We live in an accelerated culture that trades in surface level-snippets. We constantly remark to each other how the years seem to be flying by. "Where did the time go?" And so we seek more of it. Not realising the answer does not lie in more time.

It lies in experiencing time differently. In slowing down.

If we had more time we would inevitably fill it with more stuff. Things would get even faster. More time would become normalised, in the same way that 'more money' becomes normal for the still-unhappy millionaire. How long will it take us to learn the most simple of lessons? That happiness does not lie in accruing more things, more time?

The proverbial caveman who could expect to live to 35 probably experienced a life every bit as long as ours, if not longer. Experience being the crucial word. How did the caveman spend his days and how did this affect his experience of time?

The years don't matter. It is how we experience them.

And it is largely culture that shapes this experience.

In this sense, the insect that only lives for a day - how we pity the wretched thing - undoubtedly experiences a life as long as ours.

Every lifespan is normalised - becomes normal for the creature living it. Culture bends and shifts to accomodate these changes. If we lived longer we would tell different stories. Those born into longer lives would think them every bit as short as ours. Because to them, that span of time - long as it may seem to us - would be totally normal.

How long is long enough? When will we ever be content?

To strive for a longer lifespan for the species is a fool's errand, one of many. It finds its kin in the search for the 'smallest thing' at CERN. All folly springs from the same root; that is, a fundamental lack of wisdom and maturity.

Maturity counts among its virtues the ability to say enough is enough. Here I shall build my home and be content. It does not endlessly seek novelty in the vain hope that happiness lies just around the corner; in the answers that the smallest thing brings; in the contentment of a longer life. It knows that happiness lies in the here and now; in today, not tomorrow. In this hour right here, not at the weekend, or that holiday we have planned in the summer.

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Related posts:-
Lines and Circles
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Masters of the Universe
The Tyranny of Novelty 
Familiar Territory

Get Real

Broadly speaking, people can be put into two camps:

1. Realists/pragmatists
2. Idealists

Between these two extremes everyone falls. Some of us tend toward one side more than the other.

Our society is one that suits pragmatists. It is imbalanced in favour of this mode of thinking.


It is like a lens placed atop a colour-wheel, that shows some colours as they are whilst distorting or obscuring others.

It mainly consists of lots of short journeys from A to B. Take this to there. And don't ask too many questions. It has a strong current and it likes to flow. It is extremely hostile to things that threaten to disrupt this flow.

Thus, it likes those with the short-view. Those that can get on with things, do the tasks that need doing. Those that can get their head down (and so avoid seeing the bigger picture).

It prefers idealism to be kept to the realms of fiction, where it can do no real harm.

There is no place for idealists within day-to-day life. They are made to feel useless, their value ignored or ridiculed. They are called 'dreamers', a label that in a bygone era may have been taken as high-praise. They are a spare part; awkward, troublesome.

Yet pragmatists and idealist alike are a vital part of the whole organism, each with their role to play in the larger balance.

Inasmuch as they are opposites the two must always battle each other, and through this conflict a balance is struck. This is how it has been throughout the ages. But these days the battle is rigged, and the contest vastly one-sided.

Idealists are ridiculed for their lack of 'realism', a bizarre criticism akin to criticizing white for its lack of black, light for its lack of dark. Light may be annoying when we are trying to sleep - but it is vital when we trying to grow crops. Both have their place: it is context that defines their value.

We have lost the context - the right environment - for everyday idealism.

We shoehorn everyone into a small space - one unwisely biased toward pragmatists - and vilify those that struggle to fit.

The ongoing refrain of our society is "get real": in other words, abandon your idealism and run the other way.

For the sake of our collective health - health, of course, being a matter of balance - this voice must be matched with another: one that soars high and dares to dream.

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The elders do not see the details, they see the overall picture. If the overall pattern is good, the hardship of the details does not matter.

[Maildoma Patrice Somé]
Of Water and the Spirit, p. 311

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We are all deprived; we are all disappointed; and therefore we are all, in some sense, idealists.

The need to link the real and ideal is a perpetual tension, never resolved so long as life persists, but always productive of new, attempted solutions.

[Anthony Storr]
The Dynamics of Creation, p.237

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'Orange MEME' (Spiral Dynamics)

ORANGE embraces values and beliefs that stress materialism over spiritualism, pragmatism over principle, and short-range victories over longer term guarantees. There is a desire to get on with life and not bog down in quandaries of absolutism or picky, picky, picky theology.

[Don Edward Beck & Christopher C. Cowan]
Spiral Dynamics, p.251


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Related posts:-
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You ought to be more like me 
The Right Match 
The Devil is in the Details (and God is in the Generalities)
Life Support 
Small Mind/Large Mind
Part of a System
Know Your Place 
Beggars and Choosers 

One to One

[...] I find this law of one to one peremptory for conversation, which is the practice and consummation of friendship. Do not mix waters too much. The best mix as ill as good and bad.

You shall have very useful and cheering discourse at several times with two several men, but let all three of you come together, and you shall not have one new and hearty word.

Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searching sort. In good company there is never such discourse between two, across the table, as takes place when you leave them alone.

In good company, the individuals merge their egotism into a social soul exactly co-extensive with the several consciousnesses there present. No partialities of friend to friend, no fondnesses of brother to sister, of wife to husband, are there pertinent, but quite otherwise. Only he may then speak who can sail on the common thought of the party, and not poorly limited to his own.

Now this convention, which good sense demands, destroys the high freedom of great conversation, which requires an absolute running of two souls into one.

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
'Friendship', Self-Reliance and other essays, pg 46

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Related posts:-
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