Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Forces that are With Us

Hal Pepinsky, pepinsky@indiana.edu, pepinsky.blogspot.com
December 25, 2012
                 I see each of us creatures as bundles of resistance, transforming forces I typically call “love” and “fear” within us into discrete social action .  Together, the forces form an energy field that manifests itself through our bodies as life itself, containing the universe of existence.  From my perspective, we are all born with this full universe of human experience in and around us.  The riddle of will to survive and procreate entails learning to attach language to bits of that universe as shared circumstance allows.
A prevailing, Enlightened, postulate of today’s “social sciences” worldwide is instead that social control is born and dies in individual lives, where children’s brains are born socially empty, whose lives depend on us teaching them the right stuff—what “they need to know.”  Social science caters to dominant social policy, which for instance in my field of criminology, as my late mentor Les Wilkins put it,  limits itself to “treating the problem of crime as the problem of the criminal.”
                While one way of individualizing social problems is to focus on “needs,” another is to focus on “consumption.”  Right now, the planet’s capacity to sustain human “growth” (like a tumor?) is suffering consequences of over-consumption, aka indebtedness to each other and to our ancestors.  We are so addicted to thinking of consumption as healthy that we despair that potential consumers are saving more money to be able to retire some time.  We can agree only that consumption is a problem that trumps even hunger as a “national crisis” at the level of Body Mass Index. Law’n’order IS social order.  We concentrate a lot of our energy drawing on knowledge of how to fight, the same force that moves us to eat and drink—to consume life to live even if it is “only” plant life.  At the physiological level, it is effort we direct to keeping our body burning warm enough to keep on pumping and oxidizing food and drink.  It corresponds to what neuroscientists call left over right brain activity—the part that monitors conscious thought and action, as in carrying out plans of action—heading somewhere, attending to bodily needs, in today’s parlance, rationally or scientifically determined.  It speaks to us of things that must be or have to be or should be done; it calls on us to fight all social “deviance,” to right all personal wrongs.
                The premise that our brains are vessels that need emptying and cleansing is as religious as the premise I share, that the force I call love, the force where one taps into the omnipresent experience of empathy, of compassion, of “intersubjectivity,” of mutual understanding, of unguarded conversation.  As W.I. Thomas put it in his well-known “theorem,” either leap of faith we make in responding to social problems is equally real in its consequences, including what we accept and purvey as “knowledge” that is useful in “the real world.”  I note that the Latin root of “science” is said to be “shared knowledge.”  We live in a world dominated by the view that our very survival as a species, let alone our life expectancy, depends on conquering our fears by campaigns against their human sources.  We have a deep and complex understanding of how to fight and how to avoid losing.  We call that kind of knowledge “empirical,” meaning grounded in tangible experience.  My premise is that we also are born with equal access to experiences of the ways and fruits of the corresponding force field I call love. I concentrate there to fill the void in public discourse of attention and on giving voice to this side of our natural database.
                I like most of us have amply been taught prices of disobedience and learned fighting techniques (including crimefighting) in due social and educational course.  It has taken much more conscious effort to discover how relations progress across a range of learning situations.
                Social circumstance, starting with being born to an interreligious pair of second-generation iconoclastic academicians, have made it hard for me to accept any truth on personal, let alone an institutional authority.  That has translated into a life without preconceptions as to which sources of information I rely on.  Looking back, that has meant that significant shifts in my understanding of how love in action replaces fear have come from a wide array of unexpected, improbable sources—from an exchange with a law professor, from family friends who pointed me toward a law school with Chinese law or later toward sociology, from prisoners, from chance acquaintance as with a visiting anthroposophical hydrologist in a small village far from home, from victims and survivors of extreme sexualized assaults, from a restart of a local volunteer victim-offender mediation program…and including moments with children and with older folks diagnosed as “demented.”  I have learned that my moments of learning, including moments when parties to conflict settle and accommodate differences, happen when for my part I let them happen to me from others rather than making them happen to others.  In that learning process, I have noticed repeatedly that others come along or say things that mirror my own supposedly independent thoughts.  This is one of many ways I have seen and felt coordinated or harmonic relations with my surroundings, human action included.  This sensory/extrasensory experience is my “scientific” guide to addressing problems we address as “crime” and “violence”—no more faith-based than the belief that violence demands counter-violence.
                While on one hand, my own faith that love dictates my epistemology, it coincides with a life that beyond abundant material privilege, has miraculously minimized the personal cost of my many mistakes and misunderstandings, and brought richness and depth to my relations.  Thus, I am in a place where the blessings that happen to me like meeting extraordinary people, enjoying security in a family  and returning home are also seemingly miraculous things that happen to me rather than things I make happen.  If my approach to life has anything to do with such good fortune, I can only imagine that there is a will implicit in the force of love that is somehow enhanced in my relations by my appreciation of it, and thereby reinforces my continued will to try love before fighting as a way of life.  It also offers me the comfort of believing that the life I enjoy was not conceived in my mother’s womb nor will end when my heart stops.
                This is my first published attempt at describing the religious leap of faith that underlies my lifetime of social inquiry and action.  It is a standpoint no more religious than what it taken for secular science—a standpoint which I believe carries religion beyond the political dogma and sense of personal righteousness and rightness implied by faith in individual social determinism.  I am sensitive to the consternation I may have caused by outing the religiosity of science as I experience it.  I hope this first crude attempt to describe my faith helps people who evaluate my claims to knowledge to see beyond religious stereotypes, and to understand the humble obligation I feel, in all honesty, to give thanks for blessings and knowledge I receive from a force beyond human control.  Love and peace--hal


  1. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Are-Babies-Born-Good-183837741.html - an article from the Smithsonian Magazine which examines infant moral/ethical choices, for your thoughtful consideration.

  2. feel free to share this link with our U-School friends and other blog friends.