Simon Fowler's Blog

rLiving Day 15: World Peace (Purpose/Commonality)

Posted by Simon on May 14, 2010

“Social Networks are fundamentally connected to goodness, and what the world needs now is more connections.” Nicholas Christakis

“I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we’ll project into the world, and the more peaceful our world will be.” Jill Bolte Taylor

“When people of all different persuasions come together working side be side for a common goal, differences melt away and we learn amity and we learn to live together and to get to know one another. Karen Armstrong”

I have a contrarian side to me, and whenever I see hyberbole like this my snarky side switches on. Besides, I’m wikid tired right now so I’m not in my usual upbeat and bright-side mood.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

There’s rarely been a TED ( talk I didn’t enjoy and which didn’t fascinate me. It’s a great platform, wonderfully presented, and the technology, the discovery or the personal experience is invariably gripping and exciting. And what they’ve done to spread the ideas and concept is excellent. It has been accused and defended of elitism. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic way to make use of rich people’s money and to spread great ideas. If anything, however, the problem is that the speakers just can’t seem to help overstating their point. With an audience paying six grand a pop, just 20 minutes to pour out your life’s work, the spotlights … I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.

But I also think they and their audience actually might believe their overstatement. Unfortunately the overstatement takes the talks from being mostly excellent, scientifically grounded and true-to-life to, well, amazingly utopian wishful thinking. (I speak as an idealist myself). Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing description of watching her own brain have a stroke (truly, jaw-droppingly amazing) ends with an apparent choice between left brain individualism or right-brain universal life-force. My emotional & violent right brain freaks me out sometimes. And what part of the brain is the ‘we’ that’s doing the choosing anyway? Nicholas Christakis asserts that connections will solve the world’s problems. Connections like the Stazi had? Like the world banking system had?

And Karen Armstrong’s talk seemed grounded neither in anthropology nor anything like a robust theology. The ending actually I agree with (“get to know each other” would presumably comes first – I’m sure it wasn’t her best line, she looked exhausted). But the ‘common purpose’? It’s the “Compassion Charter” signed up to by 46,179 compassionate people so far. Sorry if you’re a fan but isn’t the problem uncompassionate people?? And I don’t want differences between me and others to go away, I want them transcended. I’m not saying we couldn’t do with more love, but not even the 10 commandments prevented human ingenuity for evil. A group of people simply agreeing to be more compassion isn’t, I’m desperately sad to say, going to solve our deepest problems. I totally commit to be being more compassionate. Then another day happens. As Solzenitsyn said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhlemed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

I love and appreciate the longing for peace and goodness and love in these people and in their statements. The confirmation of relational proximity found in these social science, neuroscience and and humanistic statements I wholeheartedly welcome. But, firstly, mere ‘relational proximity’, socially networked togetherness, isn’t the whole answer; it just points the finger more acutely on the problem. I’ve said (in the 30-day index) that the five dimensions of relational proximity are nothing without love and commitment, and that love and commitment can barely consist without them. That’s why relational proximity I think is so powerful, and so much more powerful than nebulous ‘social networks’. If used to examine our lives, I think it reveals the reality of our choices and our relationships. Secondly, the that these connections are FOR something is crucial. What is the common purpose? Christakis says in his video that our global human network is a super-organism, it has a life of its own. I think world peace and compassion are good goals, but I actually think they’re penultimate; they’re derivative of something bigger, something, perhaps someone, more creative and dynamic and Personal.

And that is way too much thinking for one night. See below for all three videos and let me know what you think?


9 Responses to “rLiving Day 15: World Peace (Purpose/Commonality)”

  1. Kate said

    Jill Bolte Taylor definitely moves to “and/both” in her book. Maybe it is indeed a function of presentation time and the desire to be memorable that does it… :shrug:

  2. christian said

    i wonder if this tendency to focus on the goodness of the network, the saving power of the right side of the brain, the transformative effects of statements supportive of compassion are all just more variations of the old–but ongoing–theme manifest in we humans substituting/mistaking a LMS for learning, obedience to the law instead of morality, feeling satisfied with political correctness instead of real equality, focusing on profits instead of purpose, worshipping golden calves instead of God, and satisfying ourselves with making all kinds of metaphorical pies in the slums instead of enjoying a vacation by the sea?

    In media/philosophy terms this theme feels as though it is related to technological determinism (belief that man-made things determine outcomes), and in theological terms it feels as though it is related to idolatry (replacing a physical object for a god). I wonder if there is a deeper unifying human hubris behind both of these things that conferences like TED tend to surface?

    • Simon said

      I think there is a unifying human hubris in those two lists: the examples from the post, the LMS/learning etc. I’m not totally seeing the parallel between technological determinism and idolatry, however (but I’m an amateur philosopher so I may not be getting the nuances).

      The examples from the post seem like they’ve confused ‘how’ and ‘make’ (I’m sure there’s a more sophisticated way of putting this). I mean, “because we know HOW this thing works, we therefore can and will MAKE that thing happen”. It still astonishes me that people assume that merely because people have ‘information’ that behavior will change. I’m all into cognitive psychology, but from climate change to health education there’s this naive assumption that the moment you know how something works, that something new is possible. And then there’s the naivety that assumes only good and benign things will happen once people have the information. The hubris of conferences like TED seems rooted in an astonishing naivety and ignorance about human nature, not to mention human history. This confusion of IS/MAKE seems similar to the confusion of IS (this is the evolutionary origin of fidelity and of infidelity) and OUGHT (therefore, my advice is, erm …?). Is it also parallel to ontological/epistemological? If so it seems that the unifying theme is more/different than hubris? I wonder what it is?

      The second list I agree seem more like idolatry. Treating something that is penultimate as though it is ultimate. Making of something more than it actually is. It’s also an effort in masking the problem, the difficulty. There’s technological determinism about the LMS, the profits and the golden calf because we’re able to get our controlling hands around it, keep it order, count it. And it succeeds in hiding masking the real problem or challenge of learning, purpose and faith. Interestingly the idea of ‘masking the problem’ helps with the others in your list; political correctness and obedience to the law. They’re just weak covers for humility/respect/love and a moral backbone. In that light, theologically speaking, Adam and Eve covering themselves seems very typological.

      Blown the blog etiquette again. But I’m grateful for you ‘plus’-ing my posts with your great insights!!

    • Simon said

      Just to clarify: When I said, “the moment you know how something works, that something new is possible” … of course something new is possible, that’s what’s so exciting and hopeful; the availability of new possibilities. What I meant was “that something will happen’, critiquing the simplistic assumption of information=change.

  3. christian said

    I think the link between technological determinism (man-made technology possesses the agency to save or destroy us) and idolatry (man-made representations possess the agency to save or destroy us) is one of locating agency in something penultimate, and usually (i was going to say always, but there are plenty of examples, i think of idolizing non-man-made things) something man-made.

    I think your use of the word “masking” is extremely important, particularly when i am trying to design/implement a means of effecting change in the world. When i stop short and assign agency to something penultimate (“the calf will save us!” or “if we just have a knowledgebase our organization will be more efficient”) i risk stopping short of effecting the type of change i might have with a closer-to-ultimate understanding of agency.

    One of the sticky wickets that prevents closer-to-ultimate thinking is dealt with nicely in Senge’s “Fifth Discipline” where he points out the human tendency (the same general thing has been around for a long time in psychology as well in concepts like the Prochaska/DeClement Transtheoretical Model) to gravitate toward less-than-ultimate agency that has a more immediate, more tangible benefit (like getting drunk to stave off emotional pain, instead of working through it.

    Sheesh. This was going to be a quick comment…

    • Simon said

      But how should we consider human agency in a way that is appropriate? I hate the word ‘balance’ because it always implies 50% of two things. How do we exercise and stretch to the fullest all we’re capable of doing and creating while recognizing – and being properly and appropriately constrained by – its penultimate nature?


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