a mystical möbius — curating facts, ideas, text, and media to create a contemplative space.
Life imitates art
I’m thinking about an experiential theme, a phenomenon depicted in a 1977 science fiction film, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Do you recall when Richard Dryfuss’s character was obsessively drivento create a physical representation of the image he was seeing in his mind? Remember, his wife was none too pleased that he had shoveled a big pile of dirt into their house? Later in the film we realize that others from all over the country have been seeing the same image in their minds and feeling driven to near compulsion by it, as well. All these previously (seemingly) unconnected people were seeing the same thing, not really knowing what they were seeing, but all feeling powerfully compelled by the experience.
In a non-literal, rhyming kind of way, I can definitely relate.
When Nora Bateson dropped her “Stage theory… Is colonial BS” provocation into the social media context, I realized that what I’d been working on for a few years fit into a much larger, specific theme that I hadn’t clearly seen or appreciated previously. Bateson’s critique of stadial theory is a very sharp scalpel that cuts across several key areas that have shaped “American consciousness.”
As it turns out, stadial theory is found lurking about in many, if not most, of our legacy social constructs—”K thru 12,” for instance. Another example from earlier, we saw that while we probably don’t want to toss the baby out with the bathwater, even well-intended stadial theory-inspired structures like *meritocracy* have dire unintended consequences for human life (see “—part 4“ – under subhead: “Meritocracy: not well born”).
The artifacts of stadial theory are far more ubiquitous than I had ever imagined. The underpinning concept of stadial theory is very well populated with control mechanisms and superiority justification methodologies and, thus, may be both helpful and problematic — it may advance both instrumentality and colonialism.
Racial justice… a journey, not an event
The intervention of Franz Boas and his band of renegade anthropologists definitely helped stem the Western tide of human hierarchies and modern efforts to legitimize them. While they laid the basis for its later expression, in their time, Boas and Co. didn’t have a full appreciation of the social construction of race.
Critical theory and critiques that attend it basically follow after the Boasian revolution, and so we find some problems and shortfalls intrinsic to Boasian proto anti-racism — advocating ‘color blindness’ was a misguided by-product of Boasian anthropology, for instance. So, Boas’s legacy of liberal* anti-racism rightly had its critics. We’ll take up the post-Boasian period a bit more closely next time, in part 9.
*liberal = Enlightenment modernism, individualism
Black Studies (and, later, Critical Race Theory [CRT]) were responses to the lack of movement in racial justice. Despite the Boasian interventions and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, racial injustice continued. The identification and recognition of the cultural fallacy of racial caste, and even legal proscription, were not enough to reverse the cumulative effects of nearly 400 years of White supremacist ideology. And yet, as we’ll see next week, some argue that Boasian anthropology framed anti-racism in such a way that it helped further institutionalize and perpetuate White supremacist ideology.
Why are we so prone to using mechanistic illustrations? I know that I like to do so, and I have a recent example.
In this mini-series I’ve been looking at how it might work if I dropped the stadial aspect of Graves’ thinking from my approach — see the new non-stadial graphics below. I’ve suggested that stages (levels, altitudes, layers) are an unnecessary (and unhelpful) way of thinking about Graves’ insights regarding system composition and dynamics. Further, I’ve suggested that loops constitute a far suppler, more sensitive, and subtler form of dynamic self-ordering for Gravesian values systems.
I thought of an illustration for how loops could more efficiently sequence dynamic self-ordering. Instead of a stage-threshold trigger, loops could form a continuous, real-time control system analogous to a nerve circuit. Readiness factors could be accounted for and administered in a way similar to electro-chemical reactions across synapses. However, no sooner had I begun thinking about this illustration, I realized that, ironically, even that example is mechanistic…. far more supple perhaps, but still mechanistic. I mean, the ‘fatigue’ aspect of nerve cells alone adds significant nuance to the ‘mechanism’ over ‘stages.’
While always passionate, of late I haven’t really had a conscious direction for my blog beyond trying to gain some understanding. I was recently surprised to find that a differently themed agenda largely encompasses my local personal project.
Boasian interventions were proto anti-racism and weren’t the last word (more on this next week).
I wonder if we conceive of social and psychological complexity in mechanistic terms as a product of the influence of our modernist context? Even loops are, minimally, mechanistic-like.