Creative Conflict



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Jung’s idea is based on the premise that conflict per se between two cultures (countries, societies, or religions) is natural or normal.

The problem to be tackled is not to remove conflict, but to prevent it escalating into destructive violence, by helping the conflict become productive.  Conflict becomes destructive when it is hijacked by unconscious, emotional tendencies that are out of control and have massed together to form a cultural movement.

Conflict is productive when both sides recognise the validity of the other, and collaborate to find solutions to their differences.

[Steve Myers]
'World Peace - how to do your bit'


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Related posts:-
The Principle of Polarity
Everything is connected
Assuming a position

Collaborative Communication




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Defined                     -                  Primitive
Tight                         -                  Loose
Narrow                    -                   Wide
Perfect                     -                   Flawed
Definite                   -                   Indefinite
Sharp                       -                   Blurry
Pure                         -                   Contaminated


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There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

[Leonard Cohen]
'Anthem'


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Beneath our words lie our meanings. Words are a way in which we communicate meaning to one another.

I’d like to talk about the difference between ‘defined' and 'undefined' terms. I found these concepts through the work of philosopher Karl Popper, although the meaning I ascribe to them may differ to his. He refers to undefined terms as 'primitive,' so I will too.

The difference between the two is analogous to the difference between iron ore and a steel bicycle frame. Both represent stages in a process of ‘working’ the iron. We could say that the iron has more potentialities in its raw state, as ore, than it does as a bicycle frame, because many things can be made from iron ore, but less things can be made from bicycle frames.

As the iron travels along this process it becomes ever more defined, and purposeful; from the ambiguity of ore, to the definitiveness of a bicycle frame. Where once it had many potentials - was unsure of itself - now it has few.

When it comes to language, the ore is our primitive term, and the bike frame is our defined term.

Defined terms are those that have, or seem to have, a fixed definition. In other words, they appear to be anchored to something specific, definite, and ‘real,’ and so aren’t as fluid and flexible as primitive terms. Like a tool that has been crafted for a very specific purpose, what they sacrifice in flexibility they make up for in precision.

Primitive terms are generalists. The more primitive a term is, the less definition it has. It could be this, or it could be that. A cat’s miaow, a dog’s bark, or a baby’s cry could all be classed as primitive terms (albeit extreme examples). We must search for their meaning rather than having it spelled out for us.

When it comes to conversation, primitive terms tend to foster collaboration because they require more work from the other person. When your words are ambiguous then their meanings must be searched for, felt out.

In truth, conversation is always collaborative because none of us, no matter how accurate we strive to be, achieve perfection.

In spite of our best efforts, our communcation will always contain holes, tears, flaws, and openings. These are the chinks in our armour, our vulnerable spots. They remind us that, whilst we may gaze at the stars, our feet are still firmly on the ground.

But, significantly, they are also invitations. Our openings let the outside in. They encourage contact; be it a deadly blow, or a tender touch.

In this sense, the more we attempt to define our terms and perfect our communication, the less communal we become. We are like a jigsaw piece, attempting to straighten out its edges in the hope of becoming a square. As a square it can sit side by side with other shapes, but it can no longer penetrate or be penetrated. In chasing perfection - straight edges - it has lost its communal aspect.


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As a writer I am like a guide, and I hope to show you, the reader, something; a place that I have been to; a place that I like and that I hope you will also like.

This place doesn't belong to me, I am only familiar with it. The success of my writing - my guidance - is determined by how far I can take you, how near I can get you to it. My English may not be perfect, and I may not always take the most effective route, but I hope that these things won't deter you.



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A story.

My dad could be a pedant when it came to words.

He would often halt the flow of a conversation in order to question my usage of a certain term. Sometimes it seemed to me that he knew what I was trying to communicate, but was using my lack of accuracy as a way to not understand me.

He had a habit of setting himself up against me. This was often, it seemed to me, a reflexive action, rather than because he actually disagreed with what I was saying. It sometimes seemed as if it were a game, a form of sparring or battling. I could tell when we’d gone into battle mode: the tone of the conversation would shift, and I suddenly felt more wary, and less free.

In setting himself against me - in saying, "this is a battle, and you are my opposition" - he drew a divide between us. The fact that we were on opposite sides of this divide mean that we were no longer as amenable to each other in the way that we were formerly, during peacetime.

I see my attempts to convey something to him as akin to drawing a picture with my words. What I came up with was pitched somewhere between Monet and Lowry; it conveyed a scene, but, for my dad’s liking it wasn’t realistic enough. There were too many blurred edges and ill defined figures, and he would focus on these.

‘What’s that meant to be?’
‘It’s a person! Can’t you tell?’
‘But it isn’t in proportion! And look, they don’t have a mouth! It’s not like any person I’ve ever seen.’

Although it may not have been entirely true to life, to my mind the picture communicated its scene effectively enough. Whilst they may not have had mouths, you could tell they were people! It seemed that what he wanted was something photo-real; with no room for doubt or ambiguity. Even then, I suspect that he would have found imperfections.

This is because our conversation was antagonistic, rather than synergistic.

What I longed for were conversations in which we were collaborators rather than competitors. I wanted him to look at my picture with a kind eye, with the intent to find meaning rather than obscure it.

‘Is that a person?’
‘Yes, it is!’
‘Ah, I see. And are they holding something? Let me see, it looks like a bag of groceries?
‘Well, its actually a briefcase, but thats near enough …’

What I wanted was for him to ‘cover the gaps’ in my reasoning - in other words, to look for my meaning, in spite of the words I was using to convey it. I wanted him to help me with those places where I was weak - my ambiguities and my blurred edges - rather than seeing them as areas in which to thrust a blow.

This is what we can call synergistic conversation. It is when we collaborate in order to find meaning.

‘I see what you’re trying to do. Do you mind if I add a few dabs of paint? There, what do you think?
‘I like it. That’s a big improvement. It definitely looks like a briefcase now.’

In demanding rigour, my dad ended up stifling the flow of communication. This is because rigour is a paring down, a distilling or purifying. He narrowed my way until I was left with nowhere to go. The conversation dried up, and I left the room.


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New Criticism, as espoused by Cleanth Brooks, W. K. Wimsatt, T. S. Eliot, and others, argued that authorial intent is irrelevant to understanding a work of literature.

Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley argue in their essay "The Intentional Fallacy" that "the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art".

The author, they argue, cannot be reconstructed from a writing—the text is the primary source of meaning, and any details of the author's desires or life are secondary.

Wimsatt and Beardsley argue that even details about the work's composition or the author's intended meaning and purpose that might be found in other documents such as journals or letters are "private or idiosyncratic; not a part of the work as a linguistic fact" and are thus secondary to the trained reader's rigorous engagement with the text itself.

'Authorial intent'


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The notion that we must define our terms before we can have a useful discussion is [...] demonstrably incoherent, for every time one defines a term one has to introduce new terms in the definition (otherwise the definition is circular) and one is then required to define the new terms.

So we can never get to the discussion at all, because we can never complete the necessary preliminaries.

Discussion, then, has to make use of undefined terms.

[Bryan Magee]
Popper, p. 49


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Related posts:-
Taking the Rough with the Smooth
You laugh at my back, and I'll laugh at yours 
High Stakes

Borders

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Life                      -                    Death
Together               -                   Apart
Include                 -                    Exclude


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Once upon a time borders played a significant role: they guaranteed the continuation of collective identities. Today, borders no longer guarantee anything and halt (almost) nothing.

Flows of all kinds are the hallmark of our time, making borders redundant.

[Alain De Benoist]
'The European New Right Forty Years Later,' The Occidental Quaterly, vol. 9, no. 1, Spring 2009, p. 72


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Group cooperation requires identification and solidarity, which are undermined by too much diversity. 

Liberals emphasize the latter, whereas Traditionalists emphasize the former.

Traditional religion has played a crucial role in the development of group solidarity, which is responsible for cultural-social vitality and commitment to the future. Hence, Haidt says that the decline of religion in modern society might have devastating consequences.

[Michael Zimmerman]
'The Republican Advantage'


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The first step forward is that from school-age upward our societies must reassert a shared national narrative—including a common national culture.

Some years ago the German Muslim writer Bassam Tibi coined the term "Leitkultur"—core culture—to describe this. It is the most decent and properly liberal antidote to multiculturalism.

It concedes that in societies that have had high immigration there are all sorts of different cultures—which will only work together if they are united by a common theme.

[Douglas Murray]
'Cameron's Multicultural wake-up call'


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Tolerant? Oh, God. Yes, I know - that's what they drum into you at school.

No, Blake was not very tolerant. He didn't even think tolerance was a good thing. It was just more slobbering. He thought it blurred all the outlines and muddled everything - that it made all cats gray. So that nobody would be able to see anything clearly and sharply.

[Gregory Bateson]
Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 28


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Tolerance                      -                    Justice
Agreeableness               -                   Conscientiousness
Anything                       -                    Something

Those who proclaim the virtues of tolerance believe that they’re tolerant but generally that’s not the case. They just don’t want to accept the responsibility that playing by the rules would bring.

And being useless and unable to move towards a valuable goal and failing to hold anyone else accountable as a consequence of their equivalent failures does not make you tolerant, it just makes you unable to move forward in the world in any productive manner.

We know that these two axis of value - tolerance and justice - are associated with two cardinal personality traits: one is agreeableness and the other is conscientiousness.

People on the radical left - politically correct people - tend to be very high in agreeableness but they tend to be very low in conscientiousness. And that begs the question whether or not their tolerance is a consequence of their avowed love of other people or their hatred for the fact that any structured society requires adherence to a shared set of ordered beliefs and the capacity for people to compete within those ordered beliefs to attain success or victory.

[Jordan B. Peterson]
'Tolerance as a vice'


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Nationalists feel a bond with their country, and they believe that this bond imposes moral obligations both ways: Citizens have a duty to love and serve their country, and governments are duty bound to protect their own people. Governments should place their citizens interests above the interests of people in other countries.

There is nothing necessarily racist or base about this arrangement or social contract. Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust. Having no such shared sense leads to the condition that the sociologist Émile Durkheim described as “anomie” or normlessness.

The trick [...] is figuring out how to balance reasonable concerns about the integrity of one’s own community with the obligation to welcome strangers, particularly strangers in dire need.

[Jonathan Haidt]
'When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism'


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To this day, our lives are largely spent in drawing boundaries. Every decision we make, our every action, our every word is based on the construction, conscious or unconscious, of boundaries. To make a decision means to draw a boundary line between what to choose and what not to choose. To desire something means to draw a boundary line between pleasurable and unpleasurable things and then move toward the former [...]

Every boundary line is a potential battle line, so that just to draw a boundary is to prepare oneself for conflict. Specifically, the agonizing fight of life against death, pleasure against pain, good against evil […] but in seeking to experience the positive and eliminate the negative, we forget that the positive is defined only in terms of the negative. To destroy the negative is, at the same time, to destroy all possibility of enjoying the positive. The root of the whole difficulty is our tendency to view the opposites as irreconcilable, as totally set apart and divorced from one another.

While it is true that buying and selling are in some sense different… they are also—and this is the point—completely inseparable. In other words, buying and selling are simply two ends of one event, namely, a business transaction. In just the same way, all opposites share an implicit identity. That is, however vividly the differences between these opposites may strike us, they nevertheless remain completely inseparable and mutually interdependent, and for the simple reason that one could not exist without the other [...]

[Ken Wilber]
No Boundary, p. 18, 21-2

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 Contact is not simply a matter of joining or togetherness, but involves a heightened awareness of the distinction between self and not-self;

in other words, contact occurs at a porous boundary, one that holds self and other apart, but at the same time permits interaction and exchange [...]

“The contact boundary is the point at which one experiences the ‘me’ in relation to that which is ‘not me’ and through this contact, both are more clearly experienced”

[Herb Stevenson]
'Paradox: A Gestalt Theory of Change'


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Every ‘good' scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.

[Karl Popper]


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All societies draw on nationalism of one sort or another to define relations between the state, the citizen and the outside world.

Craig Calhoun, an American sociologist, argues that cosmopolitan elites, who sometimes yearn for a post-nationalist order, underestimate “how central nationalist categories are to political and social theory—and to practical reasoning about democracy, political legitimacy and the nature of society itself.”

["I don’t mean that we should prefer nationalist accounts, but rather that we should take them seriously and see how deeply imbricated they are in our conceptual frameworks rather than trying to wish them away."]

'League of nationalists', with further quote from Craig Calhoun, Nations Matter: Culture, History and the Cosmopolitan Dream, p. 8


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Another image to which [analysts of postmodernity] return is the collapse of boundaries.

Not just the boundaries between real and unreal, right and wrong, matter and spirit, but the boundaries between people, individually and collectively. In this regard Deleuze refers to “the end of enclosure”.

The fences which we once constructed around our community, our profession, our gender, our economy, our culture, our nation, our humanity, are in the process of disappearing, and this disappearance is a source of anxiety and grief.

We might suggest that [nationalism] has its roots in this grief. The people to whom [its] message appeals are grieving at the loss of the enclosures which once defined who they were and what was their purpose in life. A globalized, multicultural society threatens their reason for being.

It is not surprising that it is in rural communities that the loss is felt most keenly and that [support for nationalist ideas] is strongest.

[Bernie Neville]
Out of Our Depth and Treading Water: Reflections on Consciousness, Culture and New Learning Technologies'


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Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel 
The Principle of Polarity
This, Not That 
Bondage 
Entropy
Exclusion 
Limited / Limitless

Simply put

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Simple                      -                   Complex
Mono                        -                   Poly
One                           -                    Many


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“Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.

One third (33%) said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.””

'How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday ... and why'

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Following the referendum on the EU there are many who have found themselves asking why the vote went the way it did - why did so many people vote ‘Leave’? In the post-mortem that has played out in the media, some reasons have been more prominent than others, with ‘immigration’ being a particularly hot topic. But what are we really talking about when we talk about ‘immigration’? Is there more to it than there appears to be?

The subject of whether to stay in or leave the EU is extremely wide ranging. There are many different considerations, ranging from the pragmatic to the ideal; from concrete concerns about business, legislation or immigration, to more ephemeral notions like ‘togetherness’, or ‘independence’; from those considerations that occupy the mainstream, to those more esoteric viewpoints on the lunatic fringe.

Much of the commentary following the referendum has seemed to suggest that people voted for a few, or even one, core reason. For instance, one prominent exit poll gave a list of three pre-determined reasons for voting, and asked its subjects to rank them in light of how much they influenced their decision. In light of their responses it claimed to explain why people voted the way they did.

No doubt there are some who are only aware of, or interested, in a single issue, and have voted with only that in mind. However, it is equally true to say there will be others who feel pulled in many directions by many different, and even contrasting, considerations.

In asking someone to select a reason - or even a core group of reasons - we are demanding that a multiplicity be shrunk down to a unity; that something complex, expansive and nuanced be converted into something bite-sized and simple.

So for example, a person may, when asked, give their reason for voting ‘Leave’ as ‘immigration.’ Whilst it can refer to a specific issue, ‘immigration’ can also be a catch all term for a variety of other things. The person in question may be worried about the disintegration of their community; or about their lack of individual, local or national identity. Indeed, these notions can also be taken apart and seen to consist of many other, smaller, issues.

In this sense, ‘immigration’ is used as a shorthand; perhaps because it is the most relevant of the available options; or because the person can’t, for whatever reason, articulate a better, more accurate, reason.

When I’m asked to explain my reason for doing something I’m often unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings. It may be that at some point in the past I have come to a conclusion based on a rational thought process - a moment of clarity - but now, some time later, this thought process has become lost in all of the thoughts, feelings and experiences that I’ve had since.

Recalling my reasoning may be difficult, and could take a long time. It may be that I simply can’t recall it at all. All I may know is that I have a conviction about something, and, at best, I may have a memory that there was a thought process that led to that conviction. Remembering the ins and outs of the that process is another matter.

Or consider the person who is not used to rationalising their thought process, or articulating their motivations. When asked to articulate and to rationalise - to provide a reason - they may struggle, and reach for the nearest available option; an option that may not be entirely accurate.

A person may even tell themselves that immigration is the core issue for them, whilst remaining oblivious to their deeper motives; to the wounds and grievances that really move them. For instance, they may feel deep grief because the lack of community in their life, whilst being in denial about this grief, and in the dark as to its causes.

Its also worth considering how people are polled. Have they been given the time and space to articulate their own concerns, or have they been asked to choose from a limited range of options? Have they been given enough time to think their answer through?

When we are forced to choose from a selection of pre-determined answers our thought is shepherded in certain directions. Indeed, the very fact that we must limit our reasons (choose one, or a few) closes out nuance and complexity. If we must give our answer within a certain time limit - for instance, if we have a questioner in front of us who is waiting for an answer - then we may feel compelled to rush and could find ourselves groping for the nearest available option.

I suppose my point is that stats can be very misleading. Or to put it another way, my point is that I have many points.

Perhaps this impulse to conclude with a singular, simple ‘point’ is at the heart of the matter. Put simply, we have a need to simplify.

There are always a multitude of reasons, and we can, if we wish, simply things and whittle them down; place one above another and so on. And this process of simplification - or purification - can be very useful. But it seems to me that its always worth remembering the multiplicity that lies beneath every unit; the complexity that lies beneath every simple answer.

To say that a certain percentage of people voted ‘Leave’ because of ‘immigration’ is a simplification.

Whether it is too simple depends on your point of view.


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When I wondered about the cause of the estuary die-off, an hypothesis may have jumped into your mind – climate change, the culprit du jour for nearly every environmental problem.  

If we could identify one thing as THE cause, the solution would be so much more accessible. 

As I was doing research for my book, I googled “effect of soil erosion on climate change,” and the first two pages of results showed the converse of my search – the effect of climate change on soil erosion. The same for biodiversity.

No doubt it is true that climate change exacerbates all kinds of environmental problems, but the rush to name a unitary cause to a complex problem should give us pause.

The pattern is familiar. Do you think the “fight against climate change,” which starts by identifying an enemy, CO2, will bring better results than the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or the War on Poverty?

[Charles Eisenstein]
'Of Horseshoe Crabs and Empathy'


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Twitter encourages simplistic thinking.


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One of the main themes on which Taleb touches in The Black Swan, is "Platonification", or our tendency as humans to simplify.

We like to explain history by using general themes when, in fact, history is very complex and cannot be simplified into one theme and a few pages. We not only simplify history, but we also generalize problems and make simplifying forecasts. Our tendency to Platonify also leads us to depend on averages and to believe that the future will be average. We then miss the "Black Swans".

'The Black Swan, by Taleb'


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Related posts:-
The Pyramid
Short Cuts
Digging Deeper
This, Not That 

Exclusion

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Life                      -                    Death
Together               -                   Apart
Include                 -                    Exclude


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Is it a given that any system of social organisation will necessarily exclude someone or other?

If a thing is only a thing because of all of the things it is not, then identity is predicated on the idea of exclusion. As a person you have an identity because you say yes to some things, and no to others. You allow certain things within your borders, whilst keeping others at a distance.

Thus, inasmuch as a collective (a locality, a community, a society) has an identity, it must be exclusive.

From this it follows that when a collective attempts to include all - give everyone a place - within its boundaries, it also works to erase its sense of identity.

Inasmuch as those within the collective define themselves in opposition to those on the outside, the more people there are on the outside, the more there is to oppose; and thus, the stronger the sense of identity within the collective. As the number of people on the outside decreases, the opposition becomes weaker. When there is no-one left on the outside then there is no longer anything to oppose; and all sense of collective identity disappears (indeed, the notion of the collective itself disappears).

The communities that have managed to retain a strong sense of identity in the contemporary world seem to be those that have very definite borders; in other words, those that are exclusive.

Two that come to mind are the traditional Amish and Jewish communities. Both set very firm guidelines on the kinds of person they will and won’t accept within their collective. I imagine that most people from modern western societies, myself included, would find these communities extremely restricting, and very hard to live within.

Modern progressive societies attempt to include as much as possible within their boundaries. Words like ‘multiculturalism’ or ‘globalisation’ can be used to talk about this process. Whilst an Amish or Jewish community may exist within a larger collective (‘American’) they see themselves as very much distinct and, to a certain degree, separate from this collective. The only way they can maintain their identity is to remain a collective within a collective; in other words, to not assimilate into the greater whole. More assimilation = less identity (or to put it another way: stronger borders = stronger identity).

Thus the Amish primarily identify as 'Amish,' and secondarily as 'American.' And, inasmuch as 'Amish' and 'American' are mutually exclusive - as much as to be one means to not be the other - then one must suffer in deference to the other.

Multiculturalism faces its multiple cultures with a choice; to loosen their cultural boundaries and assimilate, to a degree, into the larger whole; or to maintain those boundaries and remain isolated.

Picture a colour wheel. The more the colours mix, the less distinct they become. When all colours are merged they become a dull brown or grey. To retain their vibrancy, they must remain separate: they must have boundaries; say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

I’ve heard it said that multiculturalism is good because it increases diversity within a society; it brings new things, different viewpoints, ideas, experiences, and so on: it brings new colours into the wheel. However, this diversity is only possible to the extent that the cultures - the colours - within the collective do not mix. We gain diversity, but at the expense of cohesion.

This presents a schizophrenic situation: on the one hand, I want to belong to something greater than myself, a collective; and for that collective to exist it must have an identity. In other words, it must distinguish itself from other collectives. But on the other hand, I’m urged to transcend boundaries and think of myself as part of something larger. My urge to be part of a collective conflicts with the imperative to transcend the boundaries of that collective.

What really happens is that I’m asked to think of the collective of which I’m a part in an ever more expansive and abstract way. As one boundary is dissolved, another appears on the horizon. Much like Russian dolls, no sooner have I escaped one container than I find myself within another, larger, one. What this suggests is that, inasmuch as we continue to think of ourselves in a collective sense, we will always need boundaries and will always be excluding someone. For instance, we can only think our ourselves as citizens of the earth because we are not citizens of some other planet.

What affect does this swelling of boundaries have upon us? If, for instance, I'm part of a community of 50 people, chances are that I will know most, if not all, of these people. It will be a close community, at a scale that makes sense to me (a 'human scale'). I understand this collective in a relatively concrete way, inasmuch as I know the people within it and understand our relation to one another.

However, the more my collective increases in size, the less likely I am to know everyone within it. Concrete relations are replaced with an abstract sense of relatedness. As the collective becomes more inclusive, the links between its constituent parts weaken. It may be that the kind of bonds that tie together small groups of people simply don't emerge when a group exceeds critical mass.

I raise this because the pendulum of contemporary culture seems to have swung fully in a particular direction, embracing concepts like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘inclusion’ whilst maligning concepts like ‘boundaries,’ ‘exclusion,’ and so on. In other words, we’ve swung, collectively, into an imbalance.

Another way to put it is to say that we’ve had the thesis - exclusion (tribalism, etc) - and we’re now getting the anti-thesis - inclusion (mutilculturalism, etc).

Perhaps we’re just about ready for the synthesis…


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It seems that I need vulgarity. I'm fascinated by it. The things I disapprove of define me as much as the things I approve of.

Sure, I could spend all my internet time reading my digital copy of The Wire, watching the films on ("all avant garde, all the time") ubu.com, or listening to Arte Radio. But, even given the opportunity to be my own curator, my own programmer, I throw in some stuff that's compellingly appalling, some stuff I love to hate.

Otherwise, what would there be to rebel against? How could I enjoy my trek to the cultural high ground?

[Momus]
'Portrait of the artist as a young snob'


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Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel 
The Principle of Polarity
This, Not That 
Borders
Bondage 
Entropy