This blog entry and the next nine or so entries to follow are from a book outline I began a number of years ago. Since then, much of my thinking has moved on to other topics. However, I do want to share some of these thoughts, which in the blog version will be much sketchier. But, out of this sketchiness, I hope readers will make the effort to fill in the gaps themselves and, in the Gregory Bateson tradition, to make it their own.
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This blog entry provides an introduction to a variety of issues facing our individual lives, our schools, science and its effects on our lives, and society as a whole. All of these issues appear to share universal origins in the patterns of how we layer ourselves and our social structures and of how such layers create other patterns of relations and actions.
These patterns all contribute to the great “disconnects” within individuals, between one another, between ourselves and our social, political, physical, and biological worlds. In filling up our worlds with entertainment, internal dialogues, and defenses against entry from the outside world, we begin to lose touch with who we are. Our identities become embedded in notions of work, religion, and whatever our minds discursively generate. The answer to “who am I?” tends to based on what we do and superficial senses of our characteristics. But, who are we really? In many tribal cultures, identity is based upon one’s place among families, clans, and relationships to others.
As I sit here in a coffee shop writing this section, a friend’s son sits down at my table. His curly red hair half-dyed a brilliant red seems to symbolize the duality and disconnect of his life. Although he is a bright young man, he doesn’t fit into “normal” society. I ask, “how’s your new job?” He responds, “fine, but my boss is crazy… stupid crazy, bad crazy.” “So, other than your boss, how do you like it?” Hesitantly, he says, “I guess I like it. I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about anything.” How often do we not know how we feel about something? Do we like or love our jobs, our significant others, ourselves, our political leaders? The disconnect with ourselves and our worlds creeps in all of the time. Even when we seem to be quite happy, there’s a background murmur, like the barely audible scampering of cockroaches in unknown crevices of the kitchen. We can hardly make it out. However, there is a sense of disturbance and dissatisfaction that we are quite willing to ignore, if only we could find something to block out the murmur.
In the same way, we avoid contact and distance ourselves from others. We may rely on the automatic patterns of superficial congenialities, then return to our internal dialogues. We can hide behind the barriers to contact provided by electronic communications that objectify the other or by the steel walls of our cars. In driving around town, we can curse at other cars and act out in ways we would rarely ever do when face-to-face with another person. At the level of society’s institutions, the disconnect manifests in similar ways. The operation of the company or organization is paramount to the needs of individuals. Workers are numbers to those at higher ranks. Even in schools, students are treated as numerical entities, whose test scores raise or lower funding. We “manage” children much in the same way we manage a business or manage cattle on a ranch. We are not only disconnecting from who we are individually and socially, but also disconnecting from our place in the natural world. I take students on field studies and begin the day with an sensory awareness exercise, where we lie down under trees and bushes, close our eyes, then listen, smell, and feel. However, there is an initial resistance to lying on the ground. Many never do. It’s a foreign and repulsive idea. The disconnect spreads throughout our lives, just as “the dark” slowly envelops everything in Robert Munsch’s children’s book of the same name. The little boy opens a bottle containing “the dark,” which spreads throughout the kitchen, then the house, and finally outside. The disconnect is “the dark” that continues to obscure our connections to self, other, and environment.
In the following entries, I will introduce some of the major theoretical perspectives. An overview of metapatterns will be provided, along with explanations of how they provide a powerful means to analyze and make sense of our worlds. I also will discuss how a variety of other theoretical and philosophical perspective have informed my thinking about living in layers, including Buddhism, cultural anthropology, cognitive psychology, situated cognition, a variety of philosophical perspectives, and the nature of science and scientific understandings, among many others.