Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Complementarity of Fear and Love

Hal Pepinsky,,
December 27, 2012
                Many thanks for responses to my blog of December 26, calling for letting the force of love into lives driven by fear.  Let me clarify: I believe that being driven by fear is as vital as being carried away by love.  Life requires giving way to both forces, and striking balances between the two is always a work in progress, across generations work never completed.  I only suggest that we have become so obsessed with “solving” our fears as to obscure our awareness of how we live by love.
                My labels for the life forces I see are arbitrary.  What I call being driven by “fear” others may call being governed by reason, or in certain cases being inspired to greatness, or being achievement motivated.  In this realm, beyond fight-or-flight reflexes or parasympathetically controlled homeostasis, we define tasks or problems as closed systems where actions have purely logical consequences, or as it is often put, we behave rationally.  I many ways we gain awesome power by so doing, like the power I have to turn keystrokes into this blog, following rules of spelling and grammar, and have my laptop convert it into text that I can upload and send round the world almost instantaneously.  Or engineering buildings and cars and bridges that don’t break or collapse.  Or designing production system that allows me to know where to go to get this or that or prepare this or that for a meal.  Or “curing” diseases.  Or at a simpler level learning where to poop other than in our pants (and learning to put on pants in the first place).  Or in formal education these days, systematically making students achieve what “experts” determine to be “grade level” or what can be measured as “competence” of students and teachers.  And in criminology, the default logic is that social order depends on properly enacted and enforced rules, entailing an “evidence-based,” “effective” set of sanctions to “deter” or disable disobedience.  In this world, our problems are assumed to have “solutions.”
                “Solutions” have their limits.  When we close systems to constrain them to perform in specified ways, the force we use expends resources, or in Newton’s terms, creates entropy or heat.  Today we are caught in the collapse of unmitigated economic “growth” or determination to “get ahead” or become wealthier generation by generation.  The US criminal justice has become so massive and efficient as to produce human waste piles known collectively as “incarceration” at world record levels.  The science that led the US Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in 1973 to rate the “stopping power” of a .357 magnum bullet as against a .38 caliber shot and led to an upgrade in police armament has progressed to increased levels of fire and explosive power to destroy and incapacitate our “enemies.”  In theory, my president has for more than half a century had the power to obliterate all of humankind with the press of a button.  And we have long since learned how to concentrate agricultural production to lay waste to vast expanses of fertile ground, and even to generate extreme shifts in climate what we know as permanent unemployment by enhancing industrial “productivity.”  The road to earthly fire and destruction is paved with well-motivated rationality.
                The work we do to conquer and overcome fear is Sisyphean.  It requires materially manifest expenditures including patterns of electrical wattage that show up in the brain.  I speculate that the “letting go” entailed in connecting to the love force, as for instance people report in “meditation,” amounts to short circuiting the fear driven connections to allow the force of love to overtake us.  Thus, for instance, what neuroscientists describe as right-brain activity may actually amount to taking electrical interference out of the left brain, permitting it to detect and be motivated by forces of love that lie beyond the power of our five senses to measure directly.  At this level, artifice and instrumentality in responding to the environment is superseded by spontaneous accommodation to conflict known by such terms as empathy, compassion, maternalism, nurture, stewardship and love.  When it comes to reaching agreement or settlement of conflict, the force of love allows time for the force of logic to translate feelings of trust and reciprocity into concrete, materially detectable and measurable, transitory “solutions.”  It is at the level of awareness of lower voltages that we see leaps of perception that we recognize as wondrous works of art, as analogic rather than as logically dictated, as gestalt rather than as discrete objects, as background rather than as foreground.  I do think that principles of how “peacemaking” by force of love operates can be inferred from experience, just as theoretical physicists infer quantum mechanics.  For instance, when I heard the program on the holy land No More Taking Sides network that I cited in my December 2 blog, I found a description of victim-offender healing—remembering how murder victims lived and what they lived for rather than revisiting their deaths—that I have heard time and again from survivors of violence when their suffering can openly and honestly be heard and shared rather than displaced onto those blamed. 
                All human knowledge is imperfect, as Karl Popper put it, subject to refutation.  What distinguishes learning how love from how “solving” problems works is that discoveries come in unexpected ways and places rather than through controlled study.  When I celebrated and recognized the force I credited with waking me up and inclining me to listen to a radio program on December 2 just as I was trying to figure out how to thank people for mediation week in Trinidad, when I credit for a German anthroposophical hydrologist in Norway for giving visible form to a Norwegian word that I had just translated as “responsiveness,” I am describing a “scientific method” that I supplement what is commonly known as rational inference and action.  Because this kind of knowledge or insight or discovery cannot be engineered but can be amplified and reinforced by human action, it is normally today cast as religious revelation.  Because I give credit to this force for guiding and enhancing my knowledge and grounding my relations, I call myself religious.  Because this force takes on a will of its own when we allow it to overtake us, it never in itself offers us authority to dictate what is right or wrong for one another.  In the realm of love, what we can only account for as supernatural becomes natural.  When my late mentor Les Wilkins assigned students in his advanced research design course to go out and find serendipity, he was recognizing that many of what we consider to have been great scientific discoveries are products of a force of learning that is unplanned, unpredictable, and precious.
                By implication, there is no single logical sequence of human intellectual or moral development, as even Lawrence Kohlberg came to recognize late in his life.  Yes, learning does entail progressions of attaching words to tangible and intangible experience and communicating and interacting in layers of understanding that broaden and deepen with age, but as in the fable of the child who saw that the emperor was naked, a small child can at moments manifest what we rate as advanced wisdom, and we as adults often think and act in ways that we call infantile.  We need not, and do not learn in a fixed sequence; I'm reminded of the mathematician who found he could teach calculus to 6-year-olds.  And in terms of deciding whether a child’s thinking is advanced enough to warrant punishment for doing what s/he is capable of knowing is wrong rather than right, I figure I have learned too much to “know” that an adolescent who shoots someone to death in anger or for gain is more culpable than a person with a joy stick who fires a missile from a drone into someone’s home on a president’s say so.  Such distinctions can only be drawn within politically arbitrary closed systems of human logic.  While our survival depends in part on learning and applying rules of what we find we “must” or “need to” do, cooling off of resultant social heat or friction depends on something else.  We can recognize and gain understanding of how to enter that side of our lives, but there is no god that dictates the right and wrong moment to move either way.  Our lives may be enriched by awareness of a choice of forces to go with, but it doesn’t tell us what balance to draw between the two—a matter which, it seems to me, is always negotiable in principle.  That’s my religion and I’m stickin’ to it—love and peace--hal

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