Monday, December 07, 2015


Developmental sequences like the ones I posted yesterday have some drawbacks.  They are so simplified that they leave out much information that might be important, flattening everything into one dimension.  They leave you to figure out what their one-word titles mean.  Most seriously, they imply in these maturation time-lines that one thing happens, then another thing happens, but there is no sense of how one comes out of the other or what the continuing relationship between them is.  Time’s arrow is assumed to go one way -- to the future.

In truth, human beings in their brain evolution and maturation are recursive and depend upon synergy, concatenation, and entrainment among anatomies and processes.  When a second ability or dimension is added to the first, both may gain or lose, but will certainly change.  Then a third capacity comes from the interaction of the two or the new addition may lie dormant until some happening activates it.  This is true even in the sense of the individual’s development.  

We think in terms of organs, neglecting that the molecular soup in our blood and lymph also evolves and that a molecule can change pretty quickly, if not in kind then in amount.  The visceral nervous system, controlled by the vagus nerve directly from the brain and full of molecular contributions from other tissues, is constantly responding to pathways and cascades of chemicals based on things like dopamine or serotonin or oxcytocin.  They work in a key/lock manner, the molecules only accepted by the cells according to little docks on the cell wall.  For instance, there are two kinds of diabetes.  The kind that is produced when there is no insulin in the blood stream and the kind caused when the cells themselves reject the insulin.  Some environmental forces can affect both through the epigenome.

This is what simply ingesting or injecting powerful chemicals can derange.  Even small changes, even the trace contributions of gut bio-entities like e.coli can disturb mood and thinking processes in the brain.  The molecular loops that work the brain neurons are the same ones that control the intestinal walls.  Sometimes the effect can be seen on the skin, which uses the same loops.  Brain, gut, skin.  Basics.

But they are all meant to be self-contained as much as possible.  They simply can’t evade nutrition, trauma, poor sanitation, and exposure, let alone the things we like to ignore like support, cherishment, and security.   All those visceral things that too many people ignore and suppress.  Their lack will cause suffering in the short term and death in time.  Just about every culture will have ameliorations that will help briefly, but maybe do long time damage, esp. when concentrated, like the current craze for khat, which is sort of like smoking except by chewing the leaves instead of burning them.  Concentrations will make you into a zombie.

Visceral issues like the above cannot be healed by a college education or a course in philosophy, but these can help a person to think through what’s happening -- if they’re conscious enough and have information -- or a person or community can see what’s wrong and show a pathway out of the trap.  A whole culture can make sure that nutrition, sanitation, freedom from violence, and protection from weather are off the table by simply providing them.  Not even as a matter of compassion, but so as to keep them from forming what amounts to autoimmune response, attacking the whole in an effort to protect themselves.

This is a very cold, distanced way to think about issues of destruction and anguish.  There is no one way that will resolve everything and put us back on the path.  But surely it’s simply practical to start with boys out on the edge who can make such major contributions once their basic needs are met, because they need so little.

Still, it’s not a matter of new clothes, a haircut, and learning to read that will redeem them.  What electrochemical pathways of horror and abuse have distorted their thinking, what the broken loops in the systems of head and gut?  The advantage of stage theory is that the natural processes at each interval are well-enough known to suggest strategies of reconciliation and regrowth.  The main thing we know is that human bodies, those skin-enclosed communities of one-celled sub-creatures, fight to live and have a lot of resources, many of them unconscious.  So do the out-skin environmental entities, like cultures and institutions, have ways of supplying help if they can get focused.

I’m amazed when people tell me about the years they were hooked on drugs or the ghastly childhood conditions they survived.  On casual acquaintance a person would never know.  They might be a little more tolerant than most, but they have good jobs and even fancy degrees.  They might occupy every place on the continuum of sexuality from extreme male to extreme female to don’t-bother-me-I’m-busy.  In fifty years (out of 76) I’ve seen people go into deep trouble, even prison, and gradually work their way back out while they still had happy years left.  All these “tendencies” and statistics about what might happen are irrelevant to the individual.  But survivors do seem to converge as people who accept themselves and therefore others.  You know -- “unconditional positive regard.”

There was once a time when it was assumed that beatings were good for boys, because it made them virtuous (translation: obedient), clean and nicely spoken, those markers for "respectable" and prosperous that cause us to vote for politicians who turn out to be devoted to other deficiencies, like greed and vengeance.

So now let's look at the last two stages of human development I named earlier:

6.  Maturity within the culture 
7.  Abstract and meta-concepts, beyond culture

These are likely to be embedded in the culture via the written materials of academia, professions, and literature, including fiction.  Without resolution and comfort in the viscera, it will be hard to calmly look at these ideas.  Whatever value might be in books, it means nothing without acting it out in life.

But there is another force that isn’t a stage -- it recurs in every stage.  It is the question of whether to go on living.  Most of us won’t be concerned enough to worry about it, but even a child living in misery can wish for oblivion without getting specific about how to achieve that state.  Cultures that make their participants wish for escape are evil, but they persist too long and too effectively, because those of us outside the bondage don't help.  

William Langewiesche

I just read a story by the excellent and intrepid William Langewiesche:  
It is not just a description of humans reduced to profit-objects, but also includes the description of individuals and organizations, some of them religious, who dedicate themselves to push-back and salvation.  Why watch “Game of Thrones” when the real world offers far more violent story lines that we could actually address?  Is it the lack of dragons?  Surely not, since our flame-throwing flying machines kill as many innocents as enemies -- SO effective. 

My conviction is that we have played out the limits of the Cartesian approach, all that bloodless pyrex and stainless steel, and cannot go forward without adding feelings.  It might be no more complex than enjoyment of daily life: sun through the window, something good to eat, the embrace of someone who is loving, riding a skateboard fast, sleeping with purring cats or snoring dogs.  Participating in the universe.

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