Since I moved back to the high prairie to think, read and write, my understanding of the world has completely transformed. Both hopeful and daunting, the main changes can be listed (temporarily, because to me a “list” is something that is written down so it can be changed). They include the following ideas, which you may find difficult. :
1. Everything is a process. We are now told that even our memories, our identities, our daily experiences, are interactions and only permanent because that is the way we think of them. My efforts to stay the same “me”, resisting all efforts to control and change me, are futile. This is not at all the same thing as surrender to what acts on me or changes within me. It is more like conversion away from still photos to video, or from painting to music. It accepts the dimension of time and finds persistence and stability in themes and rhythms.
2. Because it is all a process, new things constantly emerge both outside and inside us, both good and bad, both perceived and denied. The advantage to recognizing process is being alert and able to adjust, though humans have a biological/mammalian drive to keep everything the same. The fact that we CAN adjust to newly emerged things like climate change or the invention of the Internet, means that we persist, which is one way we define success.
3. Too often our definition of success is personal and not social. Consider HIV-AIDS, an emergent factor on both levels. Here are three TED talks that review the topic in case you’ve never heard of it.
4. Membranes — divisions, dividing points, boundaries — develop as ways of controlling process. Some are permeable (screens on windows), some are very stubborn (the blood barrier to the brain), some are negotiable (the legal boundaries of property), and some are very tiny. There are two membranes I think about quite a bit: one is the skin, which separates the organism from the environment; the other is the cell wall, which acts like a one-celled organism within the environment of the body. Since we can’t see cells, most of us are unaware of the system of gates and docks in the wall of a cell that keep out some molecules while admitting oxygen and nutrients.
5. Consciousness. What we are aware that we are perceiving, what we could perceive if we adjusted our filtering mechanisms (gates and ports of our awareness membrane, which is a source of identity), and what happens to keep us alive through nearly automatic constant adjustments that work in loops or pendulums, varying between too much and too little in a process called “homeostasis”— mostly it all goes along by itself. Most of our consciousness is devoted to the conversation with what is around us, outside.
6. Emergent disruption of homeostatic balance by new influences recur, maybe in the molecular nuclear codes that were the source of our creation when the two sides of the chromosomes were zipped together at conception. A virus is a membrane-crossing, emergent — or rather intrusive — code that gets into the body, then into the cell, in order to “eat” it by making the cell into itself. The most major driver of life-process in the universe is our consuming each of other.
7. Raising understanding of what would in earlier times have been a mysterious failing of the body’s processes, we consciously set out to restore homeostasis, either by adding compensation (insulin) or by disrupting the code (anti-retrovirals). Maybe by acts and manipulations.
8. Society is like a body. It has its membranes and cycles. By now the humans of the planet are involved in a kind of global homeostasis of families and societies. We speak of the internet as “viral”, crossing membranes between countries, cultures, generations, and economic status. Coinciding with this surge of interpenetrating information and narrative are experimental attempts to restore homeostasis either by suppressing anything new or by adding compensations.
9. One compensation is narrative and another is music. Economics involves transaction, crossing the culture membranes that come out of the development of different places and times that respond to unique ecological conditions.
10. Education can both create and destroy social membranes. Ideas are like nuclear code, directing the life of the individual cell. But that may mean that cells must be separated by membranes to protect them from each other.
That’s enough stuff to reflect on. What prompts this list is social separations that have surprised me, rather painfully. My oldest playmate — pushed a bit by my reactions — revealed that she had no mental picture of my life beyond the point of my marriage. She considered the “breakdown” of the divorce a failure on my part. In fact, she thinks my whole life since has been failure to cope, selfishness, and self-indulgence, marked by failure to risk participation.
Her romanticization of marriage (she’s Catholic) began with her opinion that the actual wedding was “beautiful.” She didn’t know that my bridesmaid, the groom’s daughter, had just found out she was dying of cancer. She didn’t know that the church prevented our musician, a bagpiper, from entering the sanctuary because a bagpipe is “heathen” music. She didn’t know that my contempt for my father was barely tolerated for the sake of my mother. She didn’t know that the groom, twice my age, married me because “i would be good for his career” and that conventional love had nothing to do with it. (Nor lust neither.) Admitting these things -- even if known -- would have been brushed aside by her, never getting through her “membrane.” It’s not her fault. It’s a membrane that has saved her.
There’s another example. My cousin, trying to mend what he felt (realistically) was a divide between us, offered two “sympathies” for my life, things he thought he shared with me. One as the conviction that mountains are beautiful and the other was an interest in the Unitarian denomination. (He is an engineer — null-religion.) To bridge this gap, he sent me a check, which I rejected. He does not know how much I feel that making scenery into some kind of Hallmark totem causes a denial of the complexity and gravity of geology and it’s impact on human life, nor is he aware of my “loss of habitat” by the change of a once-relevant religious home, and my turning away from the idea of institutional congregations altogether. If I tried to explain it, his eyes would glaze over. (By now yours probably are as well.)
Education has separated me from others, and anyway that’s what the post-modern philosophies have meant to do, rip holes in the status quo. Foucault, Derrida, and all those guys are basically punking authority. Which needed it. It’s incomplete work, as signed by the persistence of stigma, the freedom of street law to “not be so nice” anymore, and our willingness to let money buy our standards of governance — not just elect an empty president but also to motivate an entire political party to simply keep their hands in their pockets, fondling their dark money as though they were their genitals. This is why they try to displace all the arguments over to sex, which they think is their entitlement.
HIV-AIDS is not about sex. It’s about money.