Notes: Iain McGilchrist - ‘Iain McGilchrist on The Matter With Things’




Notes: Iain McGilchrist, The Jim Rutt Show - ‘EP 154 Iain McGilchrist on The Matter With Things’, ‘EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things’
 



Scale

Jim: But to turn loose of objects as a core object in cognition for useful action in the world, I think is very dangerous. I often run into people trying to sell too much quantum mechanics with respect to its relevance higher up in the world.

Iain: […] my point is not that thinking of things as objects in daily life is necessarily wrong from a pragmatic point of view. I’m really making a philosophical point that actually when you come to look at them, that they’re better understood as processes, some very slow processes, some much more rapid processes. But it stops one from making elementary mistakes, like seeing them as sharply defined and distinct from the environment that they thrive in.

Jim: Maybe time is discontinuous at that range, or as I like to think, the distinction between continuous and discontinuous disappears into a fog of confusion at that scale, but I think my takeaway is that things that occur at this ultra micro level do not matter at the level of us.

Iain: Yes, you are right in one sense that when we’re dealing with daily life, we don’t have to be thinking about whether there is continuity or not.



Rutt points out that there are certain distinctions that are irrelevant at the everyday scale - that, for instance, it doesn’t really matter to most of us whether time is ultimately discontinuous because whether it is or isn’t has no impact on our decisions.

McGilchrist makes the point that distinctions at the level of ‘deep code’ are in fact important - that everyday life is, in fact, downstream from such deep, philosophical distinctions, and so it is important to get them right. Our worldview is the water that we swim in, it affects everything albeit in a very indirect fashion.

For instance, to give ‘process’ primacy over ‘state’ is important as it gives us a philosophical base which leads to wiser decisions at the everyday level. It establishes that the right hemisphere is primary and checks the expansiveness of the left hemisphere from the get-go.
 



Deep code, defaults

I take randomness to be an asymptotic element that we can only approach ever nearer to, but never actually to achieve - that order is the principle that is visible everywhere and that true randomness is not a reality. 

Although degrees of chaos, degrees of disorder are very, very important to the functioning of almost anything that we can think of, especially of life.



Animism, consciousness, order, process are the defaults, and their opposites - inanimacy, chaos, stasis - are asymptotic, limit conditions. That they appear to be real - that an object appears still, or a process appears chaotic - is an illusion of scale. Look closely enough and a deeper reality is revealed.
 



State / Process

I’m a follower of process philosophy. The most famous person in that sphere is A.N. Whitehead. And I effectively believe that what we see as things - which implies somehow that they’re contained and perhaps rather static and until given a push - is a mistake if we see it that way, because what they really are all processes.

I sometimes give the example of the mountain behind my house, which looks very solid, a very great big lump and a thing. But actually if you had a time lapse camera going back 13 billion years, you would see that it’s part of a wave that still hasn’t finished its motion.

So yeah, this business of freezing things, examining little tiny parts […] it can tell you something about the little bit you’re looking at, but it can’t tell you about the bigger picture.

I sometimes quote Yates saying, “How can we tell the dancer from the dance?” Because in a way, we are what we do, we become what our actions and interactions in the world make us.



Life is in some sense a speeding up of specific fundamental processes within a bounded region, a whirlwind.
 



Truth

[…] we have to have some idea about how we come towards ideas that are truer than others. And I’m not suggesting that there is one simple truth, but we wouldn’t be able to do anything or say anything unless we believe that certain things were truer than others. So how do we get that?

[…] there’s a difference between the left hemisphere’s idea of truth and the right hemisphere idea of truth.

[…] correspondence truth is the idea that the propositions that we make or have the thoughts, beliefs that we have a kind of version of the world, they reflect the world so that we’ve got a model to be able to work on. Whereas, coherence theory says it’s not about correspondence in a one-to-one way, it’s more about do these various aspects of what we believe to be true make a coherent whole?

I don’t think that either of these is right and I quote Anthony Quinton saying that probably truth will turn out to be an amalgam of these points of view.

But I think we can also, using the hemisphere approach, see a certain difference, which is that the left hemisphere is again viewing the world, the cosmos, as made of things, of stuff, bits here and there, whereas the right hemisphere is likely to prioritize relationships. This is what it is always seeing in both the human and the non-human world. And so it’s interested in the relationships that come and go between the observer and the thing that’s observed.

And the idea of this is not truth as a thing or correctness - which lies in a way behind all the left hemisphere versions of how we get at truth, including the coherence theory and the correspondence theory - it’s not so much like that, as a clearing a way of error.

So it’s working apophatically, in the way that science actually works, which is to clear away mistakes. Science never says this is true, it just says, this doesn’t look true on the basis of what we know now. And that leaves you with something else that you can work with.

[…] truth [is] as a process […] a never ending journey of a reverberative kind in which our consciousness and the consciousness of what is around us come into alignment. And this doesn’t really have the same features as a world of things that are in principle knowable, even if we can’t actually know them too well.

I oppose to that, the idea of truth as unconcealing, in other words, clearing away so that we see the picture ever more clearly, rather as a sculptor makes a statue, not by putting together an arm, a leg ahead, and a torso, but by actually clearing away the stone, that makes the thing stand out.



The process view of truth is provisional and more humble - it stops us from thinking that we have the truth, and so prevents the ‘seizing up’ of fundamentalism.

'Correctness' is only truly relevant to closed systems, such as mathematics. There is no binary correct/incorrect within a complex domain, only probability.  




Tradition is the container of innovation, which is another way of saying that the left hemisphere is contained within the right. 

In modernity the left hemisphere is uncontained and rampant, and so innovation becomes aimless and ultimately toxic for the wider collective.




The presence of complexity indicates the presence of a soul.
 



Finite and Infinite Games




Finite                -                 Infinite
Bounded           -                 Unbounded
Extrinsic            -                 Intrinsic
State                  -                 Process
Zero-sum           -                 Non-zero-sum
Short term          -                 Long term




Infinite and finite games can be roughly mapped to McGilchrist's conception of the left and right hemispheres. 

The idea that "finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game" mirrors McGilchrist's suggestion that the relationship between the hemispheres is asymmetrical, with the left contained within, or subordinate to, the right (the left acting as the 'emissary' to the right's 'master').




There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.

Finite games are those instrumental activities - from sports to politics to wars - in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game - there is only one - includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game.

A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants […]

‘Finite and Infinite Games’, Wikipedia




Here are the rules of finite and infinite games:

  1. A finite game has a “playing field”, either physical or virtual, while infinite games have no boundaries.

  2. We cannot play a finite game alone. We must have an opponent to play against and usually teammates to play with.

  3. Only one person or team can win a finite game.

  4. Participation must be voluntary. If you must play a game, you cannot play a game.

  5. The rules of a finite game are the mutually-accepted terms that dertermine the winner. In an infinite game, the rules must change during the course of play to prevent anyone from winning, and to bring as many other persons as possible into play.

  6. Finite games can be played within an infinite game, but an infinite game cannot be played within a finite game.

[Al and David Blixt]
‘Never Win the Infinite Game’
 



James Carse has a distinction between finite games and infinite games. A finite game is a game that’s played because there is a goal to this game, which is as it were to pot all the billiard balls and win.

But there are other games in life which are absolutely not pointless or purposeless, but don’t have any interior purpose.

What is the purpose of playing music? What is the purpose of a play? It’s not something external that it has utilitarian value in reaching. It’s that the process itself is the purpose and the continuing of it infinitely would be a fulfilment of that purpose.

So it’s quite different from the finite situation in which you’re closing down on one particular outcome.

[…] the infinite games have intrinsic purpose, whereas the finite games have extrinsic purpose. They have a goal that’s definable. The purpose of the system is only fulfilled once it reaches that particular goal, whereas many purposes are not of that nature. They don’t have to have reached a certain point or certain goal, but their purpose lies within them.

When you come to think of animals, I think this is rather important, because the tendency is to think that somehow the purpose of living is to pass on life. Well, it depends how you think of that. If you think of life as a celebratory entity that we don’t understand, that we are part of and wish to continue being in and to continue making, then yes, but not in the sense that its purpose of life is to propagate your genes by copulation.

This is to reduce things to an almost absurd level.

[Iain McGilchrist]
‘EP 155 Iain McGilchrist Part 2: The Matter With Things’, The Jim Rutt Show, YouTube
 


Related posts:

The Goldilocks Zone




The edge of chaos is a transition space between order and disorder that is hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. This transition zone is a region of bounded instability that engenders a constant dynamic interplay between order and disorder.

In the sciences in general, the phrase has come to refer to a metaphor that some physical, biological, economic and social systems operate in a region between order and either complete randomness or chaos, where the complexity is maximal.

Adaptation plays a vital role for all living organisms and systems. All of them are constantly changing their inner properties to better fit in the current environment. The most important instruments for the adaptation are the self-adjusting parameters inherent for many natural systems. The prominent feature of systems with self-adjusting parameters is an ability to avoid chaos. The name for this phenomenon is "Adaptation to the edge of chaos".

Adaptation to the edge of chaos refers to the idea that many complex adaptive systems (CAS) seem to intuitively evolve toward a regime near the boundary between chaos and order. 

Physics has shown that edge of chaos is the optimal settings for control of a system. It is also an optional setting that can influence the ability of a physical system to perform primitive functions for computation. In CAS, coevolution generally occurs near the edge of chaos, and a balance should be maintained between flexibility and stability to avoid structural failure. 

As a response to coping with turbulent environments; CAS bring out flexibility, creativity, agility, anti-fragility and innovation near the edge of chaos; provided the network structures have sufficient decentralized, non-hierarchical network structures.

'Edge of Chaos'
Wikipedia
 


Related posts:

Sedentary / Mobile




Sedentary                -                      Mobile
State                        -                      Process
Permanence            -                      Change




A sense of looseness, negotiatedness, or temporariness is prominent in Pintupi social action. Very little ever seems "settled."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.275
 



When individuals have the capacity to choose which social relations to sustain, such relations tend to be fragile.

On the other hand, Pintupi personal autonomy depends upon sustaining relations with others. Thus, the temporary polity must be continually renegotiated among the autonomous actors who are involved with each other. Aurarky is not by any means the goal of Pintupi action. On the contrary, they prefer to live with others. 

The question is whether any particular aggregation of persons can endure.

Thus, the relief with which older Pintupi describe the traditional movements out from the large, fixed gatherings at summer water holes to small, autonomous family groups is paralleled by contemporary events. Since establishing the early outstations in 1973, Pintupi continue to move centrifugally outward from the large settlements, where conflict and tension have been marked, to smaller and relatively more peaceful outstations.

The Pintupi system of organization places little emphasis on maintaining the structure of any residential community, finding its duration in other social forms. The relations that endure, objectified in the reproduction of "country," are those of the broader translocal social structure.

What it preserves, rather than community integrity, is individual autonomy. But the structure assumes the possibility of mobility among people who live in small and changing local groups. These have not been the conditions of the large, sedentary Aboriginal settlements of the past fifty years.

The critical feature of Pintupi politics is the continuing emphasis on individual autonomy, that sociality is reproduced without an individual's subordination to a higher-order social unit such as a “community.”

The Pintupi, in other words, are not communal. Society is not accomplished through an individual's duty to a corporation of which he or she is a part, but by obligations individuals have to each other.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.256-7
 



The Pintupi case illustrates that the relations enduring through time are those of the broader translocal social structure. Thus, the production of social persons is concerned specifically with the reproduction of the condition of widespread relatedness among people.

However much actual bands may coalesce and disperse, an underlying nexus of relations must be sustained.

On the one hand, individuals do not identify entirely with or subordinate their autonomy to the band they are currently living with; on the other hand, they must sustain the possibility of entering into productive relations with others not included in the current residential group. With the ironies so characteristic of history, the enduring dimension of Pintupi structure reflects regional organization as the condition on which any concrete residential community can exist.

Broader ties, in turn, limit the continuity of any residential group.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.291
 



Pintupi "trouble" is resolved less often by collective action and subordination of individual autonomy than it is by a reaggregation of people in space.

Pintupi remember the large aggregate communities that once formed around the few available water sources in summer months as exciting and socially intense. However, their descriptions also testify to mounting tension and conflict when coresidence had to be sustained for a long time.

During these larger gatherings, ceremony was the effective means of integrating coresidents into a more comprehensive community by coordinating autonomy and relatedness. Insofar as ritual requires large numbers of people, this correspondence was obviously more than a felicitous coincidence.

The large and semipermanent quality of contemporary Pintupi communities makes them similar to the temporary aggregations of Western Desert summers. Indeed, throughout the Northern Territory, observers have commented on the tension, conflict, and strain that settlement life imposes on Aboriginal people.

The Aboriginal people who came to live at Papunya attempted to integrate themselves as "one countrymen" by traditional means, through marriage exchange and shared ritual. But the problems presented by the increased social scale and the permanence of sedentary life proved too great to surmount except by fission.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.259
 


Related posts:

Come Together




The cultural meaning Pintupi attribute to "happiness" is clear in the following example. 

Informants frequently told me that the settlement where they lived was "not a happy place." There were fights all the time because there were "no ceremonies." There should be, they said, "ceremonies all the time." Indeed, on a day in which numerous fights and arguments were occurring, several men suggested that a ceremony be organized to stop the fighting. This would, it was thought, make everyone happy.

There is a reality to this expectation. Singing functions as a "ritual process" that reduces discord, and it also presents participants with a lesson about what it means to be among walytja.

Typically, when ceremonies take place among people who do not usually camp together, they are organized to reflect cooperation and complementarity (through exchange of functions and meat), drawing symbolically on the model of the individual camp. Ceremony presents intergroup relations as involving the same mutuality and sharing as other relations of walytja. Indeed, those with whom one takes part in a ceremony become walytja to a degree.

To the Pintupi, singing provides a salient image of sociability. Whenever large groups came together in traditional times, they would sing together at night. Ceremony-song and dance was the real content of most intergroup relations.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.112
 


Related posts:

Continuity




Juniors, then, experience the authority and autonomy of The Dreaming as mediated by their seniors. Through their own acquisition of knowledge, they move toward a similar autonomy vis à vis their successors.

The metaphor of "holding" and "passing on" the Law, conceived of as an object, mediates the relations between generations [...]

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.242
 



Ritual knowledge constitutes the widest, hierarchically encompassing sphere of exchange among men within a region.

The transmission of knowledge not only differentiates older from younger, but comprises a critical element in reproducing the regional system by increasing the ties of "overall relatedness" which an individual has with people from far away. This hierarchy is established in the social production of persons.

Such hierarchy in Pintupi life assures that “relatedness” does not have to be totally recreated anew by each individual. 

Shared identity already exists, as it were, not merely as the product of individual arrangements but inscribed in The Dreaming, objectified in the landscape from which persons come.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.221
 


Related posts:

Transcendent Law




Immanent                      -                      Transcendent
Human                          -                      Gods
Temporary                     -                      Permanent




As the Pintupi see it, morally binding social consensus cannot be generated by human decision-making. Rather, consensus is maintained by common adherence to a shared, external, and autonomous code: The Dreaming.

What they call "the Law" is not something made by humans. Not the creation of any person or group, the Law is outside human control and cannot be the vehicle of any private interests or selfish pursuits. 

Those who cite The Dreaming as dictating a certain course of action are not perceived as making a personal statement of preference or desire, but rather as offering an impersonal, non-self-related precedent, divorcing themselves from any interest in the outcome. Thereby, they avoid "shame."

By following this course, one presents oneself as not trying to force others to submit to one's own will. All submit, instead, to the same transcendental moral imperative, before which humans are merely passive. Besides avoiding "embarrassment," this strategy also removes the decision from any quarrel or negotiation, from pleas for "compassion."

The Dreaming externalizes social facts into binding normative rules in a way that human consensus never can. It constitutes impersonal models for reality, to which everyone must submit: ground rules beyond negotiation. 

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.125, 255
 



The principles to which the Pintupi look for guidance and which they manipulate in daily life are not seen as the creations of contemporary men and women. Consequently, current action is not understood as the result of human alliances, creations, and choices, but is seen as imposed by an embracing, cosmic order.

The Dreaming, then, can be reduced to its significant features, which constitute it as transcending the immediate and present. The concept dichotomizes the world into that which is yuti ("visible") and that which is tjukurrpa, where the latter lies outside human affairs and constitutes an enduring, primary reality.

This construction occurs in space, on the landscape, where it creates places with enduring identity and relationship to other sites.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.69
 



What sustains the social objectivity of norms that transcend immediate relations? One might argue that the importance of male initiation and male cult provides a way in which a man is reoriented to a greater value than his relatedness to kin—to The Dreaming.

Those who violate The Dreaming's Law, say the Pintupi, will be killed "without sorrow." Male initiation provides a mechanism for reorienting subjectivity, for assuring conformity to things of transcendental value, for ensuring that concerns beyond the immediate feelings of relatedness will prevail when vital moral issues are at stake.

The description of sacred objects, songs, and the like as "Law” emphasizes their obligatory power. In Pintupi theory, it appears, the binding power of Law over compassion comes from "sorrow"—itself the very expression of relatedness to others, just as in Freudian theory the superego derives from the id in order to oppose it. How else could Pintupi overcome the tendency to "compassion"?

Men are bound to the higher Law through the same considerations of relatedness and "sorrow" for the dead, and they deny "compassion" as agents of a higher authority and not of their own will. It is not an egotistic denial of relatedness but an acceding to the authority of the framework on which Pintupi society is based.

Thus, they are not responsible personally: The Dreaming is something outside of them to which they must conform.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.119
 



An individual is identified with his Dreaming. 

People are often referred to in terms stressing their identity to The Dreaming, that is, a man may be called “Emu Dreaming" or "Possum Dreaming." And just as others refer to figures in The Dreaming by kinship terms, people frequently discuss the events of their own Dreaming in the first person. 

In this sense, an individual is, from conception, identified with a Dreaming and through it to a place. 

As transformations of the same Dreaming, place and person share an identity of substance. That a person's identity is thus founded on something that is unchanging, not created by human beings, and absolutely distinctive, defines individuals to possess a degree of autonomy as part of who they are. 

In this theory of human substance, a part of each person is owed to no other person.

This belief is part of the ontology that perceives everything as having "become real" from The Dreaming. Indeed, the strongest claims of place identity are those that are clearly "from The Dreaming."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.131, 145
 



Pintupi will accept an elder's actions in sustaining the level of organization they call the Law as a form of “looking after.”

Such is clearly not the case for actions intended to sustain “the community." The authority of a "boss” does not include the right to create laws that impinge on other people's autonomy, but to mediate determinations that are already accepted.

No direct mechanism exists for objectifying political decisions into guiding principles. To do so would require removing from the actions of men their identification with subjective personal will, interest and responsibility. In the context of the Village Council, an acceptable resolution of hierarchy and equality is thus difficult to maintain.

The traditional Pintupi construction of authority accomplishes its resolution of hierarchy and autonomy outside the consciousness of actors.

The projection of artifacts of legitimate social consensus to a realm of being divorced from subjectivity - The Dreaming - enables these norms to be mediated to human society through the nurturance of senior males. Such norms are not perceived, consequently, as arbitrary injunctions placed on one's actions by the will of others […] The authority of seniors is thus not their "own idea" but rather a mediation of the transcendent authority of The Dreaming.

As with many undifferentiated societies, inequality is represented as deriving from powers exogenous to the social system. The "higher" level of society (in the Pintupi case, The Dreaming) is not understood by participants as a product of human activity, although it is human social action that reproduces it. Instead, the genuine ontological difference that the higher level presents to individual consciousness is articulated as the presence of a self-sufficient reality on which the realm of human life depends.

Village Council decisions and rules, contrastingly, lack this ontological resonance. Because council decisions are clearly perceived not as principles transcending time, but as human products, they lack legitimacy. Rarely do such decisions stand.

The problem is that the councillors are not mediating an authority that exists outside of themselves […] At one point, the Yayayi council agreed that alcoholic beverages would be prohibited in that settlement. One man's reaction was indicative of the issue: "It's only their idea," he insisted. "They are just men, like me."

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.265-7
 


Related posts:

Ghost in the Machine





The trouble is not just that Democritus' proposal of fitting mind into the atomic scheme by supplying it with smooth round atoms turned out not to work because there were no such atoms. Even if there had been those atoms, they still would not have furnished a usable way of thinking about mind or consciousness.

To do that we have to have a language for the subjective. We have to take seriously what happens at the first-person point of view. And there is no way of doing this inside the atomic scheme, which is irredeemably an external, third-person one.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.89
 



[…] the imaginative picture which has shaped our supposed modern problem of free will shows human life, no longer as a drama where active people struggle against difficulties, but as one where they do not exist as distinct entities at all, only as areas of matter which are passive cogs, parts of a vast alien machine.

That is the picture which Richard Dawkins presents so forcefully at the outset of his book The Selfish Gene, writing that 'We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes' (p. 10). Dawkins evidently does not regard this phrase as rhetoric but in some sense as literal fact, for he adds 'This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment'.

This kind of image, however, is not one that could be literally believed in. It belongs essentially to third-person talk. It is a way of thinking devised for describing other people. There is no way in which we ourselves could set about living if we really envisaged ourselves as cogs or vehicles. For people who are not actually paralysed, this pattern is too fatalistic to provide any usable view of life.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.143
 


Related posts: 

Cutting Ties




Free                    -                       Tethered
Shallow              -                       Deep
Short Term         -                       Long Term




Liberalism tends to place the emphasis on the individual and on the universal collective that contains all individuals. Groupings - those intermediary levels between the individual and the global collective - are generally deemphasised, or discouraged.

By its nature a group is exclusionary, defining its identity as much by what it is not as what it is. The more vivid the identity of the group, the firmer its boundaries. Because liberalism is predicated on the notion of individual freedom and autonomy, and on the free flow of goods, services, ideas, and people within a universal, global market, it must work against anything that may inhibit this flow. In this context, groupings - with their localised customs and norms - act as circuit breakers, impeding the wider flow.

Accordingly, liberalism tends to focus on the restrictive aspect of groupings, characterising them as systems of oppression that place unnecessary and tyrannical inhibitions on the individual. The project of liberalism is to dissolve the boundaries of the group and to set the individual free within the global market - in other words, to maximise flow. Groupings are permitted to the extent that they do not impede this flow in any serious way.

Liberalism points out that groupings are artefacts of culture, rather than nature, and that our natural state is as autonomous individuals. Groupings are, in other words, constructions. They may once have served a purpose, but most are old relics that can be deconstructed.

When the idea of the group loses its positive meaning then to be ensconced unthinkingly within a group becomes pathological - ‘groupthink.’ The modern person must seek autonomy and is encouraged at all times to 'think for themselves', independently of custom and local norms, and to question received wisdom. 

We see this in the work of many twentieth century psychologists - from Jung, to Laing, to Berne, to Winnicott - whose theories of psychological development were all grounded in the liberal, progressive mindset. In their view an optimum, healthy person is unencumbered by group-ties, which are generally seen in only their negative light, as shackles to be thrown off.
 



[…] not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him: it throws him back for ever upon himself alone, and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.

[Alexis de Tocqueville]
Democracy in America, part 2, book 2, chapter 27
 



During the last four centuries political thinkers in the West have concentrated mainly on limiting [wider] claims. They have put genuinely heroic efforts into cutting bonds. They have managed to free people from endless forms of oppression, both political and domestic, and of course this has been a splendid achievement. The difficulty is just in seeing what it leads to now.

Freedom itself is a negative ideal. Its meaning depends in each case on what particular bonds it frees us from.

The reformers who fought each special kind of oppression were always led by a vision of a particular kind of freedom that would replace it, a special way in which society would be changed when they had cut a certain kind of bond. But it has gradually become plain that this bond-cutting sequence is cumulative, which means that it cannot go on for ever.

Humans are bond-forming animals. When all the bonds are cut - when the various kinds of freedom are all added together – when a general vision of abstract freedom from every commitment replaces the more limited aims - then, it seems, we might be left with a meaningless life. It begins to seem doubtful whether any kind of human society is then possible at all.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.21
 



Pintupi concepts of the emotions constitute a subjectivity that recognizes a significant identify with important others, such that these others are represented as part of the self.

The self is not an aggressive, self-contained, egotistic, or entirely autonomous individual. Rather, one must be malleable to others, not "hard.” One should be moved, not stolid in willfulness.

Going through initiation provides the means by which young males become able to exchange with older men, a step in the direction of equality. Initiation entitles them to take control of the sacred knowledge that is necessary for the performance and direction of ceremonies.

This control is a token of their personal autonomy, but the central theme of Pintupi sociality remains, that one cannot be autonomous by oneself. "Freedom” requires the help of other men. 

When a young man at Yayayi tried to assert himself as free of obligation to others, older men chastised him in a revealing way: "Did you become a man by yourself? We grew you up. We made you into a young man!"

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.124, 174
 



While there is no basis in subsistence production for inequality among adults, this is not true of the larger process of social reproduction. One can feed oneself, but it is easier to do so in concert with a larger, cooperative group - a "band."

Furthermore, living with a larger group offers some protection from the danger of attack. Finally, the division of labor makes it important for men and women to have access to each other's labor. Thus, marriage is desirable.

All these activities require sustaining one's relationships with others.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.254
 



In the same way that courses in economics claim merely to describe human beings as utility-maximizing individual actors, but in fact influence students to act more selfishly, so liberalism teaches a people to hedge commitments and adopt flexible relationships and bonds.

Not only are all political and economic relationships seen as fungible and subject to constant redefinition, so are all relationships to place, to neighborhood, to nation, to family, and to religion.

[…] the default basis for evaluating institutions, society, affiliations, memberships, and even personal relationships became dominated by considerations of individual choice based on the calculation of individual self-interest, and without broader consideration of the impact of one's choices upon the community, one's obligations to the created order, and ultimately to God.

Liberalism encourages loose connections.

[Patrick J. Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.33-4
 



Tocqueville points out that the constant movement of Americans from place to place and from one profession to another deprives people of their ties to one another.

It causes them to abandon their friends and families and makes the people in each profession “strangers to one another, each indifferent and almost invisible to all the rest.” This compounds the severing of connections between individuals in democracy that makes them “at once independent and weak.”

It also changes men’s relationship to their work. When people are frequently changing their professions, few experience the satisfaction that comes from long mastery of a craft or art. There is, Tocqueville reflects, “something unexpected and in a sense improvised about [Americans’] lives. Hence they are often forced to do things that they barely learned, to speak of things they scarcely understand, and to engage in labors for which no long apprenticeship has prepared them.”

Thus, democracy makes it harder to take satisfaction from work, even as it puts paid work at the center of men’s lives.

[Dana Jalbert Stauffer]
‘“The Most Common Sickness of Our Time”: Tocqueville on Democratic Restlessness’, The Review of Politics 80 (2018), p.450
 


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Narrow Contexts




Science only ever deals with abstracted, narrow contexts which give partial views. It must always be nested within a tradition, a wider story that weaves all contexts into a cohesive whole, and that doesn’t allow the extremes of constructivism (all nurture) or biological determinism (all nature). 

Within tradition there must be a good reason to inquire, a reason that relates to the wider context and worldview of the tradition. Inquiry for the sake of inquiry, out of mere curiosity, is foreign to tradition.

Perhaps for many scientists their motivation is a progressive worldview, albeit unconscious in some cases.
 



Theorists - such as Descartes - have been tempted to try and find a standard entity for [the word ‘self’] to refer to. They have hoped for a Procrustean bed guaranteed to fit all [its many] uses. And in modern times the hope has been that something narrower and simpler still would emerge - a concept modelled on the most abstract scientific terms such as the names of physical particles.

This is surely a mistake because these scientific terms are designed only for a specially abstract context.

Even in biology it has not proved possible to standardise terms like 'species' in this way because they refer to things in the world which have to be looked at in a variety of lights, and this is still more true of notions that play an important part in the jungle of human life.

Attempts to impose simple, arbitrary definitions on the subtle and versatile words that play an important part there – words such as person, reason and feeling - are inevitably futile.

What is needed in such cases is rather to make clear just what the context of the particular enquiry is – why this particular question is arising.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.120




There are [doctrines], popular today, which do allow for a social context but deny a bodily one.

In sociology for instance, there is still quite a widespread belief that human behaviour can only have social causes, not biological ones, so that the constitution of people's bodies can have no effect on their personality.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.122



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