Archive for June 15th, 2003

Creative expressions of Being: Physicists, Buddhists, Quakers, Democrats


Ok, I’m really turned on by the idea of playing with political metaphors (see my earlier post today).  I believe that what is happening now to the Democratic Party is that its core metaphor—of government as good mother—is wildly out of date, and is inconsistent with how hip, generally progressive people see themselves–which is as autonomous free people enjoying creating their own realities.  So what is needed is a new set of metaphors that can stimulate social and political creativity in individuals and communities.  John Kerry, Howard Dean and the other leading candidates do not have new metaphors.  Some believe Kerry wants to be “Bush, but smarter”.  Dean comes the closest to communicating through new metaphors, having a campaign manager, Joe Trippi, who has embraced the Internet and metaphors of emergence and tipping points and distributed peer-to-peer communication, and having involved the campaign in the blogging community.


So what ARE the metaphorical systems out there that might be helpful?  Many technologists like ecological and/or complex adaptive systems language.  E.g. the economic ecosystem, the blogging ecosystem, disruptive technologies as invasive species, monopolies as kudzu vines crowding out other rivals in the ecosystem, and so on.  Fads are epidemics, with takeoff thresholds and tipping points.   For those with a more abstract bent, there are strange attractors and fitness landscapes.  I personally like the ecological language, and find it analytically helpful—i.e., I get good new ideas from fooling around with these ecological and complex systems metaphors, and I find them fun.  On the other hand, I am not convinced that these metaphors are either profound enough or engaging enough to be at the core of a broad social and political movement.


I think there is a deeper and more effective metaphorical ecosystem (uh, oh, interesting, I find that I need the ecological metaphorical system in order to construct it’s deeper replacement!).  This system is the one inspired by Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Quakerism and other experiential spiritual traditions—as well as by the physics cosmology (string theory, alternative worlds, big bang).  The basic metaphor, I think, is one of energy being transmuted into matter.  What existed before the big bang? Well, of course we don’t know—but it seems that it might have been best characterized as infinite energy—or as something prior to the distinction between energy and matter.  And this infinite prior ??? became finite matter and energy, exploding out across a universe of four dimensions.


Well, the big bang apparently happened just once.  But many religious traditions consider something like the big bang to be going on all the time, maintaining the visible world as a kind of epiphenomena on a deeper ground of infinite being.  For example, many Buddhist sages suggest that the universe is in essence infinite love, and that we ourselves are expressions of this infinite love manifesting continuously in the finite four dimensional universe.  According to this point of view, our “selves” are both distinct and uniquely “ours” as well as connected with—actually, one with and continuously co-created with—all others, from a parallel simultaneous dimension of that is infinite love.  Whoosh!


And finally, through our own intentions we can become aware of this ground of being and its continuous expression in our lives.  In so doing we become wiser, bolder, more creative, and happier.


Quakerism has developed an individual and community practice of listening for this wisdom and elaborating it by bringing together “meetings” of people attuned to the ground of being.  In a Quaker meeting, members typically sit in silence and open themselves to the “light” or quality of being within them.  Perhaps a question—sometimes called a “query” is put before the group.  Then members sit and wait, anticipating that one or more will feel “moved” to “speak to the condition of the meeting.”  After some time, one or more members begin to experience insights emerging within their consciousness.  As they struggle to formulate these responses so as to speak effectively to the community—and to be true to the deepest revelation—they often feel great stimulation—flushing of blood to the face, pounding heartbeat—and this is the “quaking” that is responsible for the name Quakerism.  The formal name of the organization is simply Society of Friends.


What is most interesting to me in Quaker meetings is not each individual response, but how a kind of collective community ecosystem of responses emerges from the process.  As the meeting proceeds, various members may be moved to speak.  At first, the responses may seem disjointed, and not well related to each other.  However, as new responses continue to emerge, a pattern of complementariness and coherence often develops, so that out of many “messages” a full, rich community understanding develops.


Imagine in the Quaker practice if the contents of the meetings were recorded and transcribed, and then members were encouraged to look back over a series of meetings to discern an overall pattern to what was emerging.  The pattern might be seen as expressing the desires of the Infinite, and as providing clues as to how members might shape their lives to express more being.  There are a number of systems of psychological and spiritual practice that have worked out tools for looking at the emergence of such understandings and experiences over time.  The “journaling” practices are most well known—notably including Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way, and Ira Progroff’s Intensive Journal Method.  Also of note is the PRH (Personnalite et Relations Humaines) system of psychological and spiritual workshops.


So how does this translate into political practice for Democrats?  Democracy itself can be seen as a method of listening to the expressions of the being of the electorate.  Politicians, rather than polling and listening to majority viewpoints, should be listening for leading voices, for profound voices that quake a bit—and that give us a sense of where our collective national soul might best express itself.  We should search our history—recent and farther in the past—to understand what is trying to manifest through our society.  This, by the way, was famously Abraham Lincoln’s point of view—and helped him determine to fight the civil war and to free the slaves.


There is a big difference between this point of view and George Bush’s.  According to many published accounts and interviews, George Bush prays for guidance, and then makes choices on behalf of the nation.  This top down approach is the opposite of the more fractile, distributed practice of Quaker and similar communities.  In Quaker communities it is understood that no one person will always be tapped into the deepest sources of wisdom. One needs many to be seeking, and many to be heard.  The role of leaders is to facilitate the process by urging a sense of openness to leadings, by suggesting questions that are most in need of consideration, and by helping to organize action around the leadings that emerge.


As I look back over this blog entry, I note that I have combined ecological and emergent language with energy transmutation.  By the way, many people have suggested reading Barbara Hubbard’s Emergence and visiting her Center for Conscious Evolution, neither of which I have yet done in detail, but I believe she also explores this combination.  Hmmm.  Metaphorical cross pollination.


Well, this is about as far as I can get tonight! Such is the nature of blogging.  I look forward to your comments.  Much remains to be explored!  The Second Superpower continues to rear it’s beatiful head, and, increasingly, to bring forth its precious body.

George Lakoff on “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics: Why the conservatives have left the liberals in the dust”


In response to my post yesterday on psychoanalysis and the Democratic Party, and on a “politics of Being,” Abe Burmeister sent a fascinating article by George Lakoff on the metaphors underlying conservative and liberal politics.  Lackoff is a well-known cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and the author of the classic Metaphors We Live By (1980). 


Lackoff emphasizes that people think largely in metaphors, and that metaphorical consistency and attractiveness is central to effectively communicating a point of view. Lakoff argues that conservatives have a very consistent set of root metaphors that animate their political views (e.g. the value of strict fathers, retribution for wrongdoing, morality as being upstanding and strong in withstanding evil, etc.)—and that conservatives are highly self-aware of this metaphorical consistency, and use it to powerful effect in communicating their point of view.  Lackoff believes that liberals have a different set of root metaphors (nurturance and love, people as fundamentally good, a morality that encourages people to be happy so that they can nurture others and help others be happy), but—and this is the crucial point—that liberals are not self-aware of their metaphors and do not effectively express them in their communication.    And thus conservatives are more effective communicators than liberals, and gain converts. Liberals—who have in many ways an inherently more attractive point of view—continue to lose community members and elections because they communicate in terms of issues and interest groups, and do not make clear the underlying consistency of their vision.


As someone who was educated as a cognitive psychologist, I agree generally with Lackoff about the importance of metaphors and thought. And I agree about the value of consistent and attractive metaphors in communication.


I don’t agree that a “good mothering” set of metaphors will make liberalism widely attractive. I think that in an increasingly individualistic and post-conventional society, people are turned off by parenting metaphors.  By contrast, what I think is attractive is a politics based on free, happy people as the center of wisdom in society.  This politics of Being emphasizes that each person has an aspect of self that is a direct expression of the highest wisdom in the universe.  Community wisdom emerges out of the coming together of the wisdom of many individuals.  The politics of Being is a politics of peer-to-peer relationships, bottom-up.  It is not a politics of top-down, and is thus neither modeled on strict fathers nor on nurturing mothers.


Thanks, Abe, for a great referral!  What this adds to the agenda is exploring in more depth the metaphors that together make up a politics of Being.

By the way, check out Abe’s blog if you are interested in media and consciousness.  He is the co-founder of One Infinity, a design and animation firm–among many other things!

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