Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Serendipity, my attitude

Hal Pepinsky,,
May 9, 2012

                I conceive all mass to be systemic resistance to waves of energy that flow in waves around and through us.  Energy as humans know it is the force of human will to live that gets somewhere, commonly thought of as achieving goals or objectives, or ultimately as sustaining homeostasis in our own bodies.  Common words for force are organizing, growing, enforcing or cooperating—accelerating or concentrating life’s labors.  All matter contains energy at a price, all friction among organisms creates heat.  Heat is entropy as we experience it, from fever to hunger to body counts.  The energy expended to sustain oneself and one’s kind has its own rate of decay, its own half life.  In our human case, the more energy we expend to extend our own lives, the more rapidly we create human waste, from battlefield deaths to prisons to famine and pestilence—the more concentrated destitution and wealth become.
                From richer rich to poorer poor, one response to social decay is to get somewhere faster, commonly known where I live as efficiency or productivity.  Getting somewhere faster is power, more energy efficiency.  While I have toyed with the idea of distinguishing power “over” others from power “with” others, I think that however well intended, all power is implicitly over others, as for example in winning or losing political representation.  As power is amassed, resistance grows among losers, as now in Wisconsin with the looming prospect of having the loser of the last gubernatorial election defeat the incumbent, or with US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Bursts of resistance to power unite conviction on all sides that some romantic notion of imposing social order depends on blaming foreigners to one’s own kind such as bankers, infidels and immigrants.  In contests of power, even cults of personality and empires eventually fall, dying or transforming with a fiery and often prolonged series of wars against foreign and domestic enemies.
                I certainly been a powermonger myself.  I have often systematically resisted convention, as in the classroom, and with appeals even to get my own tenure and promotion, let alone in advocacy for students and staff in virtually all the grievance channels on campus and in testimony on behalf of children in custody cases or in criminal cases.  I try to limit the damage I might do by setting boundaries on my involvement in organizations or movements or organized faith. I try to reserve time for synergy.  As systolic is to my blood pressure, so enjoyment of power is to my will to live.
                Moments of synergy rests on adherence to power structures.  In these moments, other boundaries in our relations are relaxed, and new foundations for relations are created in their place.  This requires letting go of attachment to time—taking power out of the energy that flows out of us.  So for instance, when I was mediating victim-offender disputes, I joined other mediators in celebrating most cases in which freedom to confront one another face to face by simple safety rules let grievances be aired freely, which often resulted in parties’ agreeing to terms they themselves invented.  I emphasized as mediation opened that I for one was willing to continue mediation, in further sessions if necessary, until everyone in the room felt that everything that needed to be said had been said by someone.  I sought in other words to take the time out of responding to discord.  Or in teaching, I abandoned attempts to “cover” predetermined material rather than allowing room for discourse to move in unanticipated directions in the course of mutual accommodation.  Or in deciding where I would live when I retired, in favor of letting a partner carrying me wherever she turned out to be.  Or when two people build sustenance together with less than half the effort it would take either of them to sustain her- or himself alone.  Synergy thrives on serendipity.  Synergy in our relations builds trust.  We know it as enjoyment of love and support, as security that others will be there for us in times of need, and who will stand by us when we are attacked.  My late friend, mentor and colleague, Les Wilkins, used to send his graduate research design students to go out and find serendipity.  To me, serendipity increases as I let go of trying to get somewhere in particular, as by settling right by might, or by planning the rest of my life and obeying or commanding others.  Selfishly, I rely on taking time to enjoy synergy as my best insurance that I will not die alone.  This is how I have come to want to live.
                Power and synergy are symbiotic: Neither exists without a parallel existence of the other.  This is captured by the concept of yin/yang, where each force of nature contains seeds of the other.  There is no way that power can conceivably be destroyed except by power itself.  As Egyptians and Libyans have recently discovered, power itself cannot be overthrown.  We know raw power as personal and structural violence.  In the midst of violence, moments of synergy moderate social friction or entropy that exercises of power generate, where people survive hell on earth by caring for another out of love and mutual need.  Where there’s synergy, there’s hope for continued human existence.  Synergy entails an attitude that creates, gives and sustains life.  Above and beyond all, I live and long for moments of synergy  Love and peace--hal