Welcome to DarwinianInterlude.org

“Three billion years ago, life was then a community of cells of various kinds, sharing their genetic information so that clever chemical tricks and catalytic processes invented by one creature could be inherited by all of them.

Evolution was a communal affair.

But then, one evil day, a cell resembling a primitive bacterium happened to find itself one jump ahead of its neighbors in efficiency. That cell separated itself from the community and refused to share.

The Darwinian interlude had begun.

Now, after three billion years,

the Darwinian interlude is over.

— Freeman Dyson

Table of Contents – Donald Trump and the Working Class

Lately I’ve taken to writing on Medium.com as well. Here’s the Table of Contents to Donald Drumpf the Working Class— Sources and Comments hosted there.

  1. Pain – “Half a million people are dead who should not be dead.”
  2. Economics – “Rural America has taken a real shot to the gut in the past couple decades. What once was the pride of American industry and economy has since dwindled to its nadir.”
  3. Let’s Get Personal 
  4. Left Behind, Disrespected
    Desired: Work…
    …Agency…
    …Respect…
    …and a Fair Shake.
    The Sandbar
    Rage and Resentment
  5. Aside: Drumpf’s Convenient Pathologies
  6. Analysis
    Racism
    Why would women vote for Drumpf
    Democrats, WTF
  7. Conclusion
    1) First, I need to rethink how I think about political strategy.
    2) I am struck by the paradox at the core of the WWC’s economic situation.
    3) There’s a massive amount of misinformation that provides the context for most decisions in America politics

One final article: This Is How Steve Bannon Sees The Entire World.

Open Source Software and ‘Indie Biz’

[Also available on Medium.]

Thesis

  1. The Open Source movement freed large scale software development projects from a set of narrow constraints imposed by the capital infrastructure needed to finance big projects.
  2. Current developments including B-Corps, crowdfunding projects (e.g. Kickstarter) and, in particular, crowdfunding equity under the JOBS Act III (e.g. Wefunder) are allowing a parallel development in the capital infrastructure needed to finance Independent Businesses.

Definitions

Biz — an enterprise that needs to return concrete value to key stakeholders, i.e. customers, investors, and employees.

Indie Biz — an enterprise funded bottom-up from customers, fans, supporters and small investors rather than top-down by VCs or large lenders.

Let’s start with a Manifesto. I like Manifestos; this will degrade into an essay all too soon.

Indie Biz Manifesto

  • An Indie Biz should grow out of community: businesses should be the outgrowth of communities of interest; capitalization should scale with community growth.
  • An Indie Biz should retain its connection to its community in as many ways as possible. Constant communication is the key.
  • An Indie Biz should provide a clear vision but allow a variety of interests. At the founding of Mountain Hardwear, our fearless leader, Jack Gilbert’s, provided this initial vision statement: “Where others have gone off in other directions, we are going to build the really good stuff.” Simple. Clear. Works for all shareholders…with the possible exception of financers.
  • An Indie Biz’s financial structure should keep interests aligned. For example, if offering stock to small investors, that stock should provide the same rewards and value as any founder’s stock. Proceeds should be parceled out relative to contributions. (My favorite model for that: Slicing Pie)
    It’s not exactly anarcho-syndicalism but it’s a start.

Restating That By Example

The food biz can provide a great example. First, communication with one’s community is not generally a problem. You’re feeding people. You can tell if they’re liking it. There’s an engagement path (dinners for friends->catering->food cart->pop up->restaurant) where reputation can grow an expanding clientele. A clear vision (great food) can be pursued from a variety of motivations (making it, being creative with it, enjoying it alone and with friends, being proud to produce and serve it, etc.) Finally, with new regulations, a food biz could scale up based on financing from its community at various points along that path and returning value to its investors in a mix of cash payouts and discounts on dining.

Note: this provides a path for people with vision and talent but limited financial resources!

Discussion

On rare occasion, I get a distinct whiff of the future arriving. Here was one:

20+ years ago at the height of Microsoft’s empire, Ruth (a little old lady)*1 and Jay Cheroske (a Ruckus Society activist and coder) separately explained Open Source Software to me.

Ruth gave me a description of the emerging ecosystem and breadth of projects. Jay gave me the emotional hook:

“There are two approaches,” he said.

“You can build proprietary software and make money by squatting on it like a big ugly spider.
“Or you can join in and build open source tools. You don’t make money by charging tolls and rents. You make money building and using tools to practice the craft you love.”

The core: you’re not in it to score and get out. You’re in it because it’s where you want to be…and you need to put together the revenue stream to stay at it.

Here’s a great recent statementwith a shout out to Medium author, Nadia Eghbal

I’m here because I want to make it easier for other people to build, do, and express themselves however they want. To me, that’s the heart and soul of tech. Technology is about making tools for us to express our humanity. To make our creative expression frictionless.

The Problem

Expressing yourself creatively “frictionlessly” is a bit more difficult if your expression is a physical product…say gear we make for mountaineers, climbers, backpacking and wilderness explorers out in all sorts of weather and locations.

I’m a backpacking biz lifer. I don’t design gear, but I’ve been using it and loving it as long as I can remember. My job for most of my working life has been the application of information to the design and sourcing chain that brings that gear to you over the web or through REI or your local specialty shop.

For example, I was one of the founders of Mountain Hardwear in charge of IT, Forecasting, and Operations. My great love has always been systems and what we call hardware: tents, packs, bags. I’ve been lucky enough to combine them. I built my first forecasting systems in Dbase and Quatro Pro on a Kaypro II a couple of thousand years ago.

This biz is a capital intensive one. We often use boutique fabrics with long lead times using fabrication techniques being hacked together along with materials. As an example, Mountain Hardwear used a special Italian fleece laminated by Gore in Germany and sewn in Oakland,CA, into one of the original softshell jackets. We would have to commit 8 months in advance before a shop saw the product. We’d need to buy a second season before we could see most of the results of first season. Forecasting was a bit tricky.

In capital terms that means: spend season #1, spend season #2, start seeing money for #1, spend #3. That’s worst case. Some short lead products leaven it out but the capital demands are bruising. It’s basically a motherfucker.

Once gear visionaries emerge from the (often literal) garage, they hit against this hard. So, they generally have to make a deal with the money people. I could get into details of how it goes south from there but the net result is most typically a classic example of what Tim O’Reilly terms the ‘clothes line paradox.’ Value is created; value is harvested. But not by the same people. The brand, with diluted vision, totters on to a slow death or crashes and burns.

Occasionally the brand is strong enough to survive pirates, thieves and MBAs (witness The North Face), but it is not an accident that Patagonia and Osprey are privately held and essentially bootstrapped companies.

Indie Biz

On rare occasion, I get a distinct whiff of the future arriving. That is happening now.

It is my belief that we’re on the cutting edge of a change comparable to the emergence of Open Source Software that is grounded in the way outdoor brands and other “passion driven businesses”can be funded.*2

(The parallels are probably best communicated in nested bullet points shown in the supplement post.)

When the capital required to fund an enterprise is significant…and the forced path to obtaining the capital is top down from professional investors or big banks…then it is easy for two sets of interests to collide in a way that is detrimental to the sustained creation of genuine value.

This is particularly acute for businesses that are, at essence, “affairs of the heart”…food, beer, outdoor gear, bikes, small label music, that sort of thing. These enterprises don’t often start with a business plan; they start with someone making something great and the community responding.

As they grow, they need funds. This typically sets up a collision course between the need for steady and unending growth, quarterly progress, and an exit strategy on the one hand versus looking for sustainable (and perhaps steady-state) business, a reasonable return for key stakeholders, and a consistent delivery of value and innovation in a more natural “punctuated equilibrium” pattern on the other.

This malign dynamic is being upset!

How ?

  • Kickstarter and such where initial products can be tested and developed in dialog with the community. This might be all that’s needed. Peak Designhas leveraged a series of Kickstarters into a vital business. Typically more is needed to provide enough capital for the business.
  • Wefunder and such where the JOBS Act TIII allows a business with a track record and a little seasoning to then appeal to their community for working capital. (I’m involved in that now with a gear company, SlingFin.)
  • The maturing of the B-Corp is worth mentioning: a wider mission can now be baked in to an enterprise making it substantially more durable.

This will have (is having!) a number of positive effects.

  1. Founders will in be a stronger position when they have to deal with the money people if they end up needing them at all.
  2. Surviving businesses will exhibit a greater diversity of motivations (more Patagonias.)Like Open Source, the gatekeeper is now gone and a significant choke point for surviving enterprises has been removed.
  3. More value will be harvested by the core value creators: designers, visionaries, and enthusiasts who support and sustain them.
  4. This will result in a more vital ecosystem. There will be more great gear and experiences. This will help us better share our love affair with the amazing world we all inhabit!

Point 2) is, I think, the key. Rather than all value eroding over time to a monetary bottom line, more of the heart and vision of startup businesses will survive. Granted, “money is a necessary evil” and stakeholders need be rewarded, but those stakeholders will define their interests in less narrow terms. This will I think be to everyone’s benefit including the money folks. I’ve seen great long-term value trashed at a whole series of outdoor companies afflicted by a monetary focus that is too short-sited.

Do what you love reprise

One point that shouldn’t be overlooked is that the process outlined above will lower the barrier to entry and soften the barrier to success. Great outdoor gear has generally constellated out of the community. The return of the 10th Mountain Division from WWII, the 60’s backpacking craze, and the thru-hiker surge (AT, PCT, John Muir Trail, etc) all pushed innovation created precisely by the folks actually doing it. There has always been a permeable barrier between enthusiast and pro and a strong DIY ethic in our ‘industry.’

Most of us are in the biz to stay connected to our passion. We seek to make a living doing that. We feel that our work should be a vehicle for our contribution to wider society…while running an honest business. Now we have a whole new tool set to accomplish that.

PS, If you read this before 11 pm on 12/19/2016, come check us out at the SlingFin page on Wefunder…particularly if you love outdoor activities from the extreme to simple backpacking or bike camping. If not (pity you<g>) check out Wefunder anyway. You’ll find lots of essentials from coffee to beer to environmentally friendly tampons to glow in the dark shrubbery and smart guitars.

DISCLOSURE: Obviously, I have an interest in Slingfin. I’ve, also, invested small amounts via the Wefunder platform in a number of companies including Wefunder itself. You can see all that on my Wefunder profile. (Hmmm, just checked the link and it only shows things that have fully closed. I’ve committed to a half dozen others in amounts from $100 to $1500.)

*1 Ruth is now 93. From the perspective of my current age, I’d say she was barely passed middle age when she described Open Source to me in the mid-1990s.

*2 Outdoor businesses are generally what Kristin Carpenter-Ogden calls ‘passion driven businesses.’ She’s exploring this space in her great podcast, The Intrepid Entrepreneur.

Open Source and Indie Biz – Parallels

This is a supplement to an article published on Medium as well as on DarwianInterlude.  This page is under continual revision. It’s where I make note as they occur to me.

  • Parallels
    • The Makers
      • Like open source – Motivation is to do what we love in a way that expand possibilities for both ourselves and the wider community.
      • Like open source – Work is a source of meaning and a vehicle for our contribution to the wider society.
      • Like open source – Businesses start dedicated to our customers and vision and not to pumping something up and exiting.
      • Like open source – You should be capable of a stable release before getting too full of yourself.
    • The Community
      • Like open source – projects often begin as a natural outgrowth of the efforts of a community of interest.
      • Like open source – Makers are supported emotionally and financially to various degrees by the wider community.
      • Like open source – There’s a diversity of motivation around some common visions. Not all squashed down into a monetization or growth strategy. Unique visions of high quality endeavors.
      • In my biz gear constellates out of community. 60s backpacking. Appalachin Trail. The barrier between fan and pro is permeable. We want to stay connected to our passion and make a living.
      • Like open source – The product can scaffold up through this direct connection to community.
  • The Change
    • Kickstarter
      • Projects and premiums – Peak Designs and all those damn hammocks as eg.
    • Wefunder.
      • Premiums remain but can also offer equity/debt/profit-sharing. Synergy of premiums.
    • Facilitates further evolution in a direction that supports both the Makers and the wider Community.
    • Part of a recognition of the wider range of motivations for economic activity.  Another parallel = selfish gene, classical economics vs Sober & Wilson, Sante Fe Institute, Behavioral Economics. This has resulted in B-Corps, community capital programs, etc.
    • Removes the barrier to entry. Minimize risk to individual investors. Premiums as part of ROI and smaller amounts. (Up to 500 now, raising that is key.)
      Lower cost of allows a greater range of motivations. 50k 5k .5k
    • Intensify the community/maker connection. Extends companies as natural outgrowth of community.
    • Removes choke point where diversity of interests are squashed down to a narrow stock market / exit strategy.
    • Currently funding suffers from mono-culture in models.
  • Alignment of interest.
    • Should go both ways – value returned from equity. To align interests there should be significant equity position in same class of stock by founders. Common interest in a method to get value from the efforts of founders and the cash of investors. (SlingFin as example.)
    • Challenge – as in all small and/or privately held enterprises: liquidity when needed
      • Process has to acquire, absorb, transform and then secrete capital
        Implications of wider range of investment motivations?
      • Owning what you do vs exit = transfer of interest vs diffusion into uninterested capital. There are some promising experiments.

Wisdom

Wisdom is a fuzzy term generally contrasted with ‘mere knowledge’ with the implication that one can apply knowledge unwisely. The old are said to be wise. Being old, I feel I should come up with a operational definition in case I’m called into account.

My theory:

1. Wisdom is pattern recognition across relatively long spans of time…decades rather than years.

2. If the old are wise, then it is simply because they have lived long enough to see longer cycle patterns. There’s no other way to do it.

I remember the first time a decade long plan actually worked out…before that, I didn’t really believe, deep down, that you could monitor something across decades.  

Pyrrhic victories teach wisdom. Being right but losing the fight teaches wisdom. So does being sure and finding out over a long expanse of time that you were flat out raggedy ass wrong….so becoming wise requires a fair amount of self-directed honesty.

3. Evolutionarily, since people and only a very few other species (elephants, killer whales) live beyond menopause, it is likely that we get to be old people precisely because we might become wise!

The contribution to the gene pool by individuals past reproductive age in big brained social species is almost certainly because they offer something to the tribe that isn’t obvious in a short term or immediate perspective.

4. There is a large tactical component to wisdom. Recognizing and pointing to long-term patterns is of value to the listener depending on the tact and precision of the story-teller. Observing how good advice goes wrong or gets ignore and learning to compensate for that is the heart of wisdom, he said sagely.

5. There is a contextual component to wisdom. The past must be enough like the present and projected future to make generalization possible. It’s easier to be wise about human nature than about progress in material culture.

Related, note, please, that simply pointing out that things are “not what they used to be” does not qualify as wisdom.

 

 

 

Free Will: A Thought Experiment in Three Lunches – Part 1: Intro

I frequently come across asides on Free Will in articles, scientific or philosophical, that strike me as religious statements in the scientific drag.

Their core argument:

  • human behavior is composed of material mechanisms
  • material mechanisms can be modeled scientifically and predicted
  • therefore human behavior is determined
  • and, hence, Free Will is an illusion.

The author then generally goes on to explicitly clue us in on our delusion: the activity we engage in that feels to us like the exercise of Free Will is not…and the illusion’s time is almost up!

I disagree. I think Free Will is what it is.

I can explain the divergence using a little historical background. Descartes split the human experience into two components– the body and the mind– connected, if I remember correctly, by the pineal gland. Some phenomena attached to the material body and others…thought, belief and doubt, choice…are of the mind and immaterial. Our ‘higher’ nature is the classic ghost in the machine.

This is essentially a religious perspective with a separate severable soul.

As science claimed all phenomena as a single set of unified physical systems, the immaterial had to either be delegated to the illusory (the ghost isn’t real so how can its attributes be) or had to be reframed as a material process. Many things made the transition but folks tend to choke when trying to bring Free Will across.

My contention is that this is misguided and we need to follow the other fork in the road. Perhaps it’s the terminology that has tripped us up with free having a variety of meanings including, prominently, ‘unconstrained’ At any rate, I contend that ‘free’ will is exactly what it appears to be…the ability to make meaningful conscious choices.

Defining Free Will.

To restate, I contend that Free Will is a meaningful process that works exactly as it presents itself to us.

The basic unit, the monad of Free Will as it were, is the consideration of at least two options and a meaningful, i.e. non-illusory, conscious choice.

Free Will will be treated here as an emergent property of matter related to other mental phenomena such as intention, planning depth and prediction. (In most places where I use the term, I have capitalized Free Will to emphasize that I am working with this particular definition.)

This definition views Free Will as being composed of material entities interacting in chains of causality. And that means it is in some sense determined. The choices we consider, the motivation for choosing, the limits on our ability to work through options are all determined in the way that material process must be.

What I am contending is that, without that ‘Free Will’ component of our mental processes, we would not take the same actions. Snipping it out would radically change the process. Free Will as we experience it is precisely the physical process by which some action is guided.

To insist that Free Will has to be an unconstrained non-material process to be meaningful is residual religious thinking.

Part 2 is here.

My 2 cents on the compatibility of Science and Religion are here.

Free Will: A Thought Experiment in Three Lunches – Part 2: Models

A few notes on Predictability and Determination.

(Part 1 is here.)

We have learned over the last few decades that a process can be ‘determined’ as a physical processes but not necessarily predictable. Weather, for example, may be inherently unpredictable beyond a certain rough level of precision given the theoretical limits on computation using systems made of matter. Human behavior modeled as the interactions of humans within a given physical and cultural environment might be equally complex and hence only partially predictable.

Three models: is there no such thing as a Free Lunch?

I’ve found it useful to work through the following thought experiment to tease out the various threads of meaning that I commonly see operating in discussion of Free Will. More complex examples might ultimately be more nuanced but I think the gist of can be captured with a very simple look at three versions of lunch.

Models

The constant – lunch.

1) Model 1: Direct. Imagine a buddy suggests lunch. I suggest a place. We meet for a burrito. This is simple meaningful behavior. I have made a choice to go add nutrition and some social interaction to my day. (This simple assumption will be called into question in Part 3.)

2) Model 2: Random. Imagine I now decide to add a randomizing element to the model above. I step outside the door and roll a 4 sided dice. Each of the 4 numbers is a direction and, if it is rolled, I walk in that direction to the next intersection. If a particular direction is blocked, I reroll until I get one that’s open. I do this until I have found a lunch spot. (My neighborhood is more or less a grid with lunch in all directions so this should work. As a failsafe, I limit this to 100 dice rolls and pack an emergency backup burrito.)

A few points —

  • This has made me significantly less predictable. One could build a probability map of my possible locations but my exact location could not be predicted with any further certainty. If our definition of Free Will is behavior that cannot be precisely predicted in advance, I’m free! Also, notice I could introduce random elements at any level of seriousness… from what I have for lunch to whether to have a child, say, or jump off the bridge. These choices would have a more or less significant impact on my personal life and potentially human history. Call it Schrödinger’s life planning.
  • At the same time, the process is completely a material processes.
  • Theoretically, I guess, one might even be able to predict the outcome of the dice rolls by modeling muscles, dice shapes, and air currents if one had the right tools and computing power (which may be, as noted above, outside the theoretical limits of computation on a material substrate.) This observation is, of course, irrelevant inside the experiment because I couldn’t make that prediction myself when assigning pathways to dice outcomes and hence exert deliberate or unconscious control of the process. At the level of my ability to shape the outcome, once I commit to the game, my movement is random.
  • The important observation is that this behavior is much much less meaningful than my actions in Model 1. If I don’t pack a backup, I may not get lunch at all.
  • This raises an interesting point, I think. It is possible that, in a certain sense, paths may be more meaningful the more predictable they are! Less predictability would mean a disengagement from the essential concerns of my existence or making sub-optimal choices. In Model 1, I could go for unpredictability and lunch somewhere else ditching my friend… and have a less meaningful lunch.

3) Model 3: The uber-rationalist. 

Imagine:

  • I have decided to attempt life extension via calorie restriction. Since I am very concerned with the calories in a meal, my aim is to get essential nutrients with a minimum of calories.
  • But, because both exercise and socializing are keys to long-term mental agility, I don’t want to stop my routine of walking out for social lunches.
  • To compensate, I have gone so far as to survey most restaurants in the neighborhood and have built charts of meals by restaurant rated by nutrition over calories. (This example would seem less outré to me if I hadn’t had a friend that routinely pulled out a scale and weighed parts of his lunch.)
  • My friend suggests Emily’s Spaghetti Shack. I suggest a sushi place a bit further down the street. We compromise on a Vietnamese place and meet for lunch.

Now, this outcome might be totally predictable, perhaps even more so than Model 1.

However, given the objectives I’ve set for myself, I am successfully exercising non-illusory Free Will to maximize meaning in my behavior. Meaning, in this case, is bringing lunch into line with a long-term goal and program.

Conclusion.

It seems clear to me that predictability and meaningful choice are separate descriptive axes and the Free Will operates along the meaning axis. Predictability, or the lack thereof, is more or less irrelevant. In all three case, we’re dealing with embodied Free Will, i.e. ‘determined’ physical systems of particles interacting in chains of cause and effect. I don’t see a way to make that component illusory without ridiculous descriptive contortions.

Meaning of Meaning Pt 1 – Introduction

Introduction.

[[This is an experiment. Generally I write and edit and write and edit and edit some more and then publish. I’m working on this in public; parts will probably only be comprehensible to me while that’s happening..]]

I’ve been sporadically preoccupied with the big Why Bother questions since high school: What’s worth doing? Why bother to act? What justifies itself in the face of the imminent heat death of the universe. (Well, maybe not always the latter.)

This has lead through the decades to a slow motion analysis of the meaning of meaning.

My initial thoughts were shaped by three books I found in the paperback rack in my father’s drug store when I was a high school freshman: Alan Watt’s Psychotherapy East and West, RD Laing’s Politics of Experience, and Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections.

It should be obvious from what follows which one of the three had the biggest influence.

I will still argue that Jung is inappropriately dismissed as unscientific. His basic mechanism of the Self, particularly as elaborated by his collaborator Erich Neumann, is an auto-regulatory system, an explicitly compensatory mechanism, that kicks in when the personality becomes lopsided and fore-grounds and integrates needed but excluded and/or under-developed aspects of the person.

With that introduction. Here goes….

(Quick links: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Meaning of Meaning Pt 2 – Much Assembly Required

Life is not a matter of holding good cards but of playing a poor hand well. – Robert Lewis Stevenson

Intrinsic Meaning

Identity

Paragraph form: You are a bag of parts; much assembly required. That’s it. Human beings are a genetically randomized collection of traits. There is no guarantee that the bag of parts you received is optimized to fit together or even optimized to work at all. We have a cognitive bias to assume we’re a unity. (It is very likely that there’s a strong ‘instinctual’ force that seeks to bind us together. Unfortunately, that task is not guaranteed to be easy.)
Outline form: Starting set: Identity
  1. Human beings are a genetically randomized collection of traits. You are a bag of part.
  2. The upside, there is no one else exactly like you. Human beings are genetically unique even without elements of culture and personal biography.
    1. Probably. Estimates on the number of the human genotypes range from near 1 trillion to 70+ trillion unique possibilities. If you exclude non-viable combinations, I suspect that this number would drop singificantly. But, of course, the impact of culture, experience including birth order, etc, pump uniqueness back up.
  3. There is no guarantee this set of traits will work well for you; it essentially presents you with your unique bag of parts and assembly is left as an exercise. The more an organism is open to learning and culture, the looser the knit.
  4. We have a cognitive and emotional bias to assume we’re a unity. This may not be superficial but, particularly in the emotional component, may itself be an evolutionary mechanism aiming at knitting it all together.

Meaning

Paragraph form: Meaning is a human activity. We act as if it is a discovery and, although it presents itself as found, it is built not found. Meaning is fundamentally a social construct and, if all goes smoothly, it provides reasonably stress free guidance to the individual. If that fails, the individual is forced back upon whatever resources they have or can discover.

Outline form: Starting Set: Meaning.

  1. Meaning is a human activity; not a property of the ‘external’ world.
  2. There are both individual and social components to meaning construction. There is not necessarily a single system.
  3. Meaning is most easily constellated by the ‘tribe.’ This can be authentically in the individual’s best interest…we are fundamentally tribal animals…but it is also the mechanism where our energy is re-purposed for other interest’s projects.
    1. In a narrow contexts (a company, a battle) connection and progress constellate out in a way that easily can provide direction.
    2. (From a certain perspective all meaning might fit this description.)
    3. Corporations succeed by harnessing this tribal energy.
    4. Games provide a parallel with simple goals and clear conditions for their achievement. Every game can be considered an experiment in social engineering.
  4. ‘Individual’ meaning is a different process and is frequently driven by the failure of social meaning.
    1. Social meaning as a determining force for individuals can break down either through cultural collapse or shift or through a strong mismatch between the individual and the surrounding culture.

Contradiction

Paragraph form: Apparently clashing values are a problem only if they lead to contradictory impulses to action. There are often schisms through our belief systems. Some derive from personal biography, some from our culture, some from the nature of our species or any embodied being in a context of forward moving time and physical space. It is only when we find ourselves actively on both sides of a schism, that we are challenged. It is only then that we are given the opportunity to seek/forge deeper meaning. There is, of course, no guarantee that our solutions will be totally successful.

Outline form: Contradiction:

  1. Our individual and cultural value systems are frequently riddled with apparently conflicting values.
  2. An apparent conflict between parts is not necessarily a conflict.
    1. Take two ideas as an example. ‘The King is generous’ and ‘The King is cruel’, considered as being in opposition are no particular problem unless the impulse “Kill the King” is added to the mix. Now one belief supports and one opposes the action. Until a contradiction is activated, it is not necessarily a contradiction at all.
  3. In my experience, our belief systems are riddled with similar contradictions.
    1. Some of those could be considered personal, some cultural, some existential.
    2. The personal contradictions imposed by the demands of job, family, etc, tend to need resolution first with the cultural following similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  4. Contradictions might be unresolvable.
    1. They might be based on accurate observations of a complex phenomena
    2. The world might not only be stranger than we understand but stranger than we can understand. Our contradictory descriptions, no matter how rigorously developed, might be the best we can do with an limited tool set. Modern physics might be an example of this problem.
    3. There is a tendency to retreat from the painful context that might force a search for individually-driven meaning generation into cheap social meaning, e.g. games, work, spectator sports, etc.

(Quick links: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4)

Meaning of Meaning Pt 3 – Building Soul

Building Soul

  1. Given the context of “some assembly required” and likely contradiction and internal conflict, it is reasonable to hypothesize a system that works to knit together and harmonize the components of human personality.
    1. Jung hypothesized this specifically and called it the archetype of Self.
    2. Jung’s Self had the power to channel conflicting components towards synthesized whole. His interest in the mandala reflects an interest in systems that put many components into a patterned whole.
  2. Confronting our contradictions, we generally work from the personal ‘down’ into the collective. Unless your culture is in the midst of a open crisis, the demands of our personal biography trump cultural schisms. Once the personal is reconciled, however, the cultural issues come to the fore.
    1. The downward movement is what Jung called Building Soul and he defines the Soul as a organ of the psyche that gives depth by connecting the individual to deeper collective currents.
    2. The division between personal and collective is, of course, complex and multi-layered…and somewhat arbitrary. The personal is simply an instance of the collective and the collective is the sum of the personal. Conflicts and contradictions do not exist in the abstract no matter how abstractly we work with them. They are always embodied.
  3. When our personal contradictions span emerging or existing cultural divides, the work to heal and harmonize can gain significant additional intensity (often painful intensity) but, also, the work to heal and harmonize can feel powerfully meaningful.
    1. Jung and Campbell described this as the Hero’s Journey
    2. The first stage is often individual crisis and confusion. The present is in some manner intolerable but the future is clouded and the hero must depart from the known world and seek the vision or tools or guidance that allows him/her to move forward.
    3. This is the most individual form of meaning generation: the puzzles are often collective (contradictions in our culture), occasionally individual (warring traits) but the solutions are always sparked by individual blood, sweat, tears, and imagination.
  4. Jung’s Individuation vs Cambell’s Hero’s Journey
    1. Jung focuses on the introverted side: internal contradictions (generated by either personal contradictions or the ‘introjection’ of cultural divides) are resolved into awareness. Hero stories are about that process.
    2. Campbell focuses on the extroverted side. Some rupture sends the hero out to triumph and return and revitalize the culture.

(to follow – Extrinsic (tribal): [[under construction]])

(Quick links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4)