Monday, February 16, 2015

Life Weavings

Changes are happening. In the pursuit of simplifying and having my writing more closely work with the business of Life Weavings, LLC, I have opened a new website and changed from this blog to a new one. The first entry on the new blog indicates the direction that I've found myself going over this past year, moving away from dissenting and being contrary, to promoting an integral and growth-focused way of looking at life.

The link for that site is: Life Weavings

There will be found all future blog posts, including ones from the past that I will edit from their original. Further, the site will contain information concerning Life Weavings, particularly the service of "relational mentoring" that I provide and material explaining the philosophy of relational dynamics as articulated in "Relational Dynamics In Identity Theory" that Life Weavings promotes.

I hope the new site is helpful to everyone, easier to follow and I am quite grateful for all the support that has so far been given. I have always endeavored to reflect in my own journey the principles and values that I talk about and promote. I can only hope that these writings continue to support, even in the smallest of ways, the well-being and wonder of discovery that is living an integrated life.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Violence Is A Failure Of Rational Engagement

When attacked, verbally or physically, the internal response is often the same, an immediate dissociation from any connection with that person. They become "other." Thus when explaining their actions and determining our response, labeling them as being wholly separate from us is easy. Further, declaring their actions a complete disavowel of a value we hold sacred makes a violent response feel not only right but inevitable. Let's face it, the purity of violence as it shuts down our frontal lobes and engages our emotional brains, feels good. The liberating feeling is the reward center kicking in.

"More specifically, we need to understand the irrational allure of mass violence, the forms of self-deception that are its handmaidens, and the true human costs concealed behind fantasies of valor and righteousness." (David Livingstone Smith, The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War) The self-deception and fantasies Smith talks about are rooted in the distortion provided by what I call value politics. This practice is one of identifying with a value in such a way that any behavior supporting it other than one's own is inherently invalid; allows for an ease into violent response that undermines the march of peace through dialogue.

The journey there...

Religion, like politics, develops out of a need to find a core identity, a central story out of which we can organize our experiences. This story helps determine who is like us and who is different and therefore build a sense of community. Isolating differences allows for the creation of an "other," limiting the need for dialogue. If the person is "other," any potential for finding similarity is prima facie impossible and therefore there's no need to look. The "us VS them" version of tribalism is felt here at the individual level, unfortunately making this adversarial view of life feel inevitable, when in reality this is farthest from the truth.

On the other hand, generative dialogue requires searching for what is similar and then determining why different behavior evolves out of those similarities. This "us AND them" version of tribalism stems from first identifying as human beings sharing a set of values and then recognizing where ideologies or worldviews generate different behavior through the value lens. Differences are still accepted, still acknowledged, but by beginning with the shared reality as human beings we can then endeavor to seek why people who value freedom and life defend this value in very different ways. 

Violence is simply one way of defending a value, it is an action, not a value in itself. Violence is a simplistic defense, it affords no discussion, no requirement of understanding and is most easily demonstrated within an adversarial paradigm. While there are certainly situations where violence is the only remaining means of defending a value, like life, to say that it is the best way to do so cannot be held under scrutiny. Introspection, generative dialogue, and rational skepticism are the means of understanding ourselves and others within a world of democratic living. Violence begins and ends at a definition of ourselves as mere beasts, at the mercy of our instincts. " is obvious that the more we know about ourselves, the more skillfully and effectively we can pull the strings that control our own behavior." (Smith)

In situations like the attack in Paris, labeling the perpetrators as barbaric and therefore "other" shifts the potential response from self-reflectively seeking to exemplify our values in the best way possible and on to the road of knee-jerk violent response. We do not uphold the values of freedom of expression and diversity by grossly labeling an entire group and removing all sense of nuance. We do not uphold the values of fairness and rational inquiry by failing to differentiate between an identification with an ideology and a race.

When we bomb indiscriminately, when atrocities like Abu Ghraib occur, when we flood the skies with drones, we are not upholding our values in the best way possible, we are instead succumbing to the base and simplistic act of fear-laden violent response. Violence is the most simple, the most instinctually base of responses to a situation. Sometimes it is called for, when a more rational response is impossible, but by resorting to violence as an immediate and first response we show ourselves to be less committed to our values than to an ideology of authoritarian exceptionalism.

This is why the attack on a satirical magazine demands a response that manifests the best of who we can be. Those who attacked have proven themselves not as lacking a value for freedom, but in not desiring to see what a better way of expressing that freedom would be. Satire and the broader humor it belongs to, is important because it is a way of defying authority without resorting to bloodshed. Questioning authority through generative dialogue is a way of seeing where any and all ideologies can go wrong. The way of the gun supports only the notion of might makes right.

What the terrorist shows us is not that he hates our values. Rather, his worldview or ideology places dialogue outside of appropriate response as he has self-identified his actions as being the only proper and meaningful way of upholding the values we all share. Justifying their actions through a divine or otherwise unquestionable authority is a means of further distancing themselves from their adversaries, their "other." Answering their actions with our own violence only cements their view of the world as one of "us VS them."

Answering terrorism by upholding our values means attempting to do so in the best way possible. This means focusing on the rule of law, the rule of reason and rational inquiry, supporting freedom of expression through a free and powerful press, which includes humor and satire. What the terrorist wants is not merely the abdication of our reason, but the right to laugh in the face of authority. We win not by shooting them, but by continuing to laugh, to joke. We win not through bombings, but in every engaged nuanced discussion. We win not by hurling racial epitaphs, but in seeking through rational inquiry to understand even those people who belong to a different group.

We win not by denying the humanity of those who oppose us, but by displaying the best of humanity in all of us.

© David Teachout

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

They Don't Hate Our Values

Values are a shared engagement with life. They help us identify the how of our relationship to our actions. Why is a particular action completed? Well, because of a particular value held. What comes first is a value, followed by a behavior. The road to violence requires conflating values with particular behavior. This is a tactic of anti-dialogue. If a value, say "freedom," is indelibly associated with a particular action, like shopping, then all other behavior becomes not-freedom.

Values in this model, rather than being something that point to how we all belong to a shared reality, become a further means of creating separation between us and those we disagree with. As a held value becomes equated with an identity, the fermentation of an adversarial mindset is inevitable. Not coincidentally, this mindset allows us to no longer look at how we are manifesting our values in our behavior. Such honest self-reflection would lead to the conclusion that those who oppose us do not hate us for our values, they hate us for how we put them into action.

The journey there...

Let's take the value of life or active living. In all the rhetoric from pundits, declarations in movies, and honest bigots, America and Western Civilization is at war with "animals" and "savages." Their actions are routinely looked at as "cowardly." The result is a view utterly lacking in nuance declaring our enemy simply doesn't believe in the value of life or freedom. The lack of nuance here does more than betray our common humanity, it completely denies any avenue for understanding. Disagreement can and must occur when actions are counter to one another, but to deny the opposition any connection to the ability of valuing something is not only wrong, it's ridiculous.

Are we really so caught up in nationalistic self-worship that if someone doesn't act exactly the way we want, they are not merely disagreeing but are cut-off from human engagement with reality? If the opposition doesn't hold to any value like life or freedom, how do we account for their behavior? We are so quick to look at behavior in our own lives that doesn't match the highest of our values and declare them to be aberrations worthy of introspection and cause for personal growth. What if each time one of us lied or cheated we were unequivocally declared absent of valuing truth or honesty? We'd rightly feel incensed at such a ridiculous charge and fight to defend ourselves. Yet when it comes to those who oppose us, we give no such latitude.

Values don't occur in an existence void of relationship to anything else. We are not walking around plucking values out of the air like falling leaves. They are the mental constructs through which our worldview works to manifest behavior. This is why we can act in supposedly opposite ways and still think we're being true to ourselves. Values do not demand particular action because there is no action that is equal in substitution to any value.

Does the pro-choice person simply not value life? Certainly the opposition would have it declared so. Are we to look at those who protect their families, work to support their children and yet support a woman's right to choose as being anti-life? The answer with any degree of honesty is of course not. Does the pro-life person simply not value freedom of behavior? Certainly their list of acceptable behavior is different, but to the caricatured extent of absolute rigidity in action? The answer with any degree of honesty is of course not. Are we then to look at people who, however reprehensible their actions in war, simply don't care about life? If the answer is yes, then we must therefore declare our own military as utterly absent of valuing life as well, for killed non-combatants in the form of collateral damage are a fact of every bombing run and missile launched.

The very fact that such a statement will undoubtedly cause emotional apoplexy indicates both that the knee-jerk declarations concerning our enemies are absurd and that we are doing a frightfully terrible job of objectively looking at our own behavior. An armed assailant attempts a mugging to get money for food and is instead killed by the potential victim. The difference in judging their actions is not due  to a difference in held values but in how those values were put into practice. This means looking at their worldview. The person committing a crime did not care less about life than the person defending themselves, their point of reference was simply different.

Starting and stopping discussion at the conflation of values with behavior is a great way to blind oneself to the complexity of reality and how we relate with it. There are certainly valid and real disagreements, but not at the level of values. Rather, the disagreement is with what is behind or before the values are instantiated, that being the person's ideology or worldview. That one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter does not mean there is no possibility for honest engagement with ethical discussions or even that some behavior can be considered truly abhorrent. What it does mean is that how a person constructs their view of the world will often lead to very different manifestations of the values shared by everyone.

Those who fight us do not hate us for our values. They do not hate us for our freedom or our liberty. They hate us because we are the "other" in their worldview. Their values manifest in particular actions precisely because their worldview has declared a means of engagement that is "US vs THEM."

In determining the best and yes, better, way of manifesting our shared values, we would do well to remove ourselves from a similar mindset. Such thinking disconnects us from our shared humanity, resulting in behavior that were it committed by those we oppose, we would rightly condemn.

© David Teachout

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cast Aside Original Sin and Be Free

The manner in which we live our lives, the form our actions take, is based on our biological/relational existence and the principles governing the ways in which value manifests in behavior. Those principles include the view of free-will, the determination of causation and its influence, and the view of human nature. This is true both in our personal lives and our interactions with others.

One of the most pernicious views of human nature is that of an inherent brokenness. In religious terms this is referred to as "original sin." Our sexuality, our drive for freedom of expression, the expression of our will, these are intrinsic instinctual aspects of our humanity. When we take one of these and twist the perception of it like unto a malignant cancer, we have not only done a disservice to the beauty of our being, we have poisoned the well from which our futures spring. Casting aside this notion allows for an increased degree of freedom in the perception of our potential behavior. We are better than the worst of our ideas.

The journey there...

Looking at the start of a new year, there is an inevitable contemplation of the future, what it holds in silence waiting to be discovered. Whether the sound emerging from those boxes of experience will be joyful or curses is in no small part contingent upon perception. This is not the simplistic declaration of positive thinking to establish control over our lives. The universe is far too big for even the greatest increase of a particular trajectory of thought to influence it in a manner remotely close to control. No, perception isn't about control. Rather, perception, as the root word indicates, perceives. If something is able to be seen then it must at some level be manifest in our lives. The only difference in general experience is whether any such specifically appears in consciousness. Regardless, the influence will still exist, though the degree of such influence will change.

Imagine the experience of having someone talk negatively behind your back. You're certainly not aware of it, not in any direct sense, but it still influences you based on the level other people agree with the negative statements and their role in your life. Then imagine having found out what was said, it has now entered or appeared in your conscious life. Despite the fact that the words had existed anyway, the mere inclusion in your conscious experience makes them more real, the power of their influence becoming salient. The same could be said of knowing someone has washed their hands after using the bath-room, we assume that people have but once we've actually seen them not do so or been told that they didn't, the act of shaking their hand takes on a new level of awareness.

Our baseline principles govern the way our values manifest in behavior. We may value life, but how we define it, how each of us determines the means of it reaching the grandest fulfillment, is a powerful variable in determining our behavior. As discussed above, perception perceives, but whether any such principle in guiding values is seen will not remove the influence it has on our lives. A person may speak loud and long about how much they find joy in their lives, but if their internal definition of life is one of inherent wrongness or of being broken or cut off from a divine source, this will inevitably shade any positive protests with a tinge of melancholy. The result is often a life of constant emotional upheavals, a seeming steady stream of joy broken by persistently powerful lamentations.

The ease of acceptance for "original sin" is likely due to an inherent disjointed feeling, emerging from the moment we understand that our caregivers are separate people and not simply extensions of ourselves. Erich Fromm states it in his book Man For Himself: "Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve and from which he cannot escape." When an idea, however false, is delivered from an authority figure, this feeling of uncertain connection can be easily conflated with a negative image. Once accepted, it spreads like an oil on the surface of our self-image.

Fromm noted that an ethic supporting the idea of "original sin" is based on an authoritarian need for controlling people's basic desires. Small wonder then that the notion appears in society the way it does. Our sexuality is depicted as inherently prone to rape in men and wantonness in women, as if any degree of freedom in sexual expression inevitably leads to a breakdown in society. Our intentional will is met with a predilection for corporal or capital punishment, for children and adults respectively, derived from a notion of free will devoid of any influence other than the choice of the individual, that it inevitably manifests in evil acts. Our drive for progressive realization of our potential is curtailed by a governmental system tied to corporate power in a fascistic desire to control the means of our economic and therefore political development.

We need not fall astray from our human reality, the mobility and nobility of our existence. Each of us must "strive for the experience of unity and oneness in all spheres of their being in order to find a new equilibrium" (Fromm). The doctrine or social more of "original sin" or brokenness can be cast aside through an active engagement with our integral lives. This means no longer looking at our sexuality as malicious but as an avenue for interpersonal expression of connection. This means no longer seeing our choices as cut off from social, historical and relational context but compassionately view our behavior through a lens of empathic forgiveness. This means a government that serves to create ever-widening disparities of opportunity must be replaced with one that actively supports the growth of everyone.

Casting aside "original sin" means looking at our future within the integral framework of our relational reality. We are more than any one of us thinks or acts. The manifest potential for us all is as limitless as our imagination will allow us to perceive.

© David Teachout

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yes, It's About The Sex And That's Ok

"Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink," so the saying goes. One could, if feeling particularly feisty, shift this to "sex, sex, everywhere and not a meaningful connection to be had." The ubiquity of sexual expression in American culture is met only by an equal and contrary denial of it. Children appear in make-up and skimpy outfits in various beauty pageants and parental instigators are aghast at how anyone could think there was anything sexual about it. Teens involve themselves in ever-increasing behaviors of sexual expression like sexting and yet there continues to be a push in some social quarters for "abstinence-only" education. Adults consume enormous amounts of porn and yet shrilly proclaim the lascivious quality of advertisements. If it's possible for societies to have mental illness, then the American one is bipolar. 

Let's be truly liberating, declaring loudly, "yes, it's about the sex!" Say it loud, say it clearly, say it in ever-expanding ways of enjoyable perversity. This in no way dismisses discussions of social relationship dynamics or anything else related to a particular social movement; in fact it liberates everyone to have honest dialogue now that nobody is hiding from underlying desires. Yes, it's about the sex. Yes, it’s about being able to discuss one’s sexuality and accompanying feelings without committing to any particular form sexuality may take. Yes, it's about being able to sexually express oneself as often as desired without being called slut or whore. Yes, it's about being able to have sex with any gender without being called abomination or having your children taken. Yes, it's about sex, in a consensual and healthy manner that is of benefit to all involved.

Yes, it's about the sex and being ok with that may indeed be the most revolutionary thing of all.

How I got there…

From potential social upheaval to isolated pet issues, the trajectory of the sexual revolution is anything but impressive, however much progress in some quarters has been made. Currently it struggles to maintain any sense of purpose outside of single-issue political protests. Gay marriage? Yes! The continued denial of healthcare to individuals outside of a governmentally prescribed social institution like marriage? Silence. The creation of legislation making crimes against a particular group somehow inherently worthy of worse penalization? Yes! The systematic incarceration of minorities and the broader culture of violence that breeds acting out against isolated groups? Too complicated. While certainly there can be a mistake made in losing sight of the trees when focused so strongly on the forest, the reverse is equally problematic. In the case of the sexual revolution and liberation, the core problem seems to be a tacit acceptance that sex is too difficult for society to deal with. Instead, sex should be ignored in favor of discussing anything but. 

This is frankly understandable. From that first fulfillment of a crush to dating and partner-hood and marriage, the phrase “in a relationship” embodies desire, hope, pride and a fair share of social acceptance. Little wonder then that a focus on the socially relational side is easier to find group solidarity with, it's something that everyone shares regardless of form. Unfortunately it's the form that starts tripping people up. 

Every counter-culture, whether it be gays, swingers, feminists, or any other, has their own version of denying sex in pursuit of being more socially amenable. I'll offer an example from poly simply because I'm most familiar and it has come up more than once. 

There's a consistent message that it's a lifestyle embodied in multiple concurrent relationships, with the act of sex simply being a byproduct or secondary focus. That this is often disingenuous is ruefully discussed in chat forums and the causal gossip of social groups. Regardless, even taken at face-value, if the potential of merely having multiple relationships was the issue, there'd be no need for an alternative lifestyle. Everyone already does it. Unless a person lives on an island with only one other, everyone has multiples upon multiples of relational connections. Even multiple emotionally intimate connections is not outside the norm for many, as close families, the multiplicity of girl-friends and bros can attest. What's at issue here is the form a relationship takes. The multitude of emotionally intimate relational connections, when placed within a counter-cultural message, includes the addition of a sexual component or at least a potentially sexual one.

Let’s be clear, polyamory or any other sexual counter-culture is not solely about sex, but it also is not separated from it. The addition of sex is what makes it counter-cultural. Ignoring or down-playing the underlying focus on sex diminishes the capacity for potentially revolutionary groups to be, in fact, revolutionary. One, opposing groups who point out the sexual foundation will rightly point to levels of deception being committed. Two, those in the group face increasing problems as difficulties arise in their personal relationships concerning sex. Further, with the real issue being ignored, the difficulties are attempted to be met by increasingly facetious layers of demagoguery (irrational protests of personal meaning), making situations worse than they need to be. 

Having crossed through the religious plateau of abstinence-only and its accompanying sexual self-hatred, dipped my toe in the counter-culture sexual movements of polyamory and BDSM, I’ve found a remarkable amount of similarities. While both are committed to discussing the form sex and sexual behavior takes, nobody is overly concerned with talking about sex itself, particularly the emotional and intellectual requirements to any form of exploration. While all sides of this sexual polyhedron attempt to make headway in being socially acceptable, the common every-day sexual lives of people get ignored. No revolution or even an increase in the maturity of our sexual choices will occur if sex itself is not first and foremost lovingly and loudly accepted as being a wholesome and inevitable avenue of human expression. Whatever form sexuality may take, it is sexuality itself that must be embraced first.

Yes, it's about the sex and being ok with that may indeed be the most revolutionary thing of all.

© David Teachout

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Behavior Comes From Our Values, It Does Not Propel Us To Them

Note: We are so quick to declare that a particular behavior will propel us towards a correct end, we cease to understand that behavior does not exist in a vacuum.

The tragedy of another school shooting is not made more important by directing attention to their seeming ubiquity. Each and every one of these events is used as a case example of the failing of some particular institution, often selected by virtue of one’s political ideology. Liberals will decry not having enough social programs in place, conservatives will note the breakdown of the family, fundamentalist religionists will point to gay marriage or the legal support for abortion. All of these and more, from the serious to the ridiculous, will be played out on various media forms, but none will come close to addressing the deeper issues involved. This lack of a result will not be due to a difference in values, there is no group claiming an absence in valuing life or love or family. Indeed, the very fact that all groups are claiming different social problems stemming from the same general values, points to the underlying problem being ignored or simply not being seen.

This confusion stems from the dual manner with which we view and judge behavior. We can call the first form of judgment, internal responsibility, and the second, external pressure.

From a place of internal responsibility, we promote the notion that behavior is a product of a person's ideas concerning reality, ethics, etc. This behavior is seen as connected in a straight line to that person’s values, with the selection of the behavior being made out of a panoply of options. The American judicial system is based on this, as is the social politics notion of pulling yourself up by gravity-defying bootstraps, or for those spiritually-minded, the positive thinking movement follows this structure as well. All base their judgment on the notion that a person who has committed an act could have at the time done something different, that they selected from potential behaviors the one they actually did.

The external pressure form of judgment resides in the contextual backdrop of family, society and biology. External pressure could be referred to as the “not me” form of judgment, where “I” is somehow held as being separate and distinct from the material world. “Mitigating circumstances” is the reference in a legal framework, whereas liberal social policy points to some lack in education, social movement or financial freedom. Whatever the frame, the result is a diminished capacity to choose from what otherwise would be available behavioral options. The cited variables are considered outside of the control of the individual.

In personal practice, judgment following internal responsibility is often made as it pertains to others, whereas the external pressure form is kept when viewing our own actions. “He/she should just get a job” is immediately turned into “the economy is terrible” when it pertains to ourselves. Colloquially we often hear the phrase “it wasn’t the real me” or “I don’t know what came over me” when attempting to explain some action that afterwards is determined to be outside of our usual values.

In both forms of judgment, the assumption is the same, that behavior propels us or moves us toward a particular value, as if the value exists in some form “out there” waiting to be fulfilled. We can call it the “values shape toy,” where block shapes will only go inside the ball through the pre-cut forms already in place. The only difference is where the impetus for that movement is originating; with the first judgment being internal and the second judgment being external. This conflating of particular behavior with values is simple and makes for great media sound-bites and knee-jerk judgments. However, this almost completely destroys the potential for dialogue by making any debate one of battling or competing positional statements. Further, such thinking also diminishes our felt experience of being both in and with the world, removing our sense that we live in a world that interacts with us.

Changing the view of how values manifest first requires seeing values not as pre-formed behaviors but as deriving from our narrative principles. These principles form the cognitive foundation of how we construct our perspective, working alongside the social relationships we live in. Notice in the structure above how both the first and second forms of judgment are not inaccurate so much as incomplete. The first correctly notes the reality of our thoughts and how we look at our lives as playing a part in manifesting behavior, what we often refer to as personal responsibility. The second correctly points to the situational context that our personal history, social connections and biology work through.

Behavior does not propel us towards our values, it manifests them, but it does so in and through the world that we are an integral part of. Looking at behavior to judge others and ourselves is only helpful when it moves us to more deeply consider the myriad of variables that reside as building blocks to its fulfillment. Understanding ourselves and our fellow travelers in life is not a matter of looking at the proclaimed end results that are our behavior.  Learning about how our lives are shaped by us and for us means looking at ourselves as integral beings, which in the end provides a source for respect and wonder as well as stopping us from rushing to unwarranted conclusions.

© David Teachout
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