Originally Published on OpEdNews
Andrew Bard Schmookler, in
his book, What We're Up Against, describes a major problem that keeps people
from seeing the big problem, what he describes as "the destructive, evil force
right before our eyes." That problem, he says, is "lack of a wholeness of
vision," manifested in "the habit of seeing the world just in pieces, rather
than seeing things whole."
Schmookler's book describes evil, in his book, as producing, encouraging, exacerbating brokenness. But he says a big part of the problem is people don't ask, they don't look, they don't see. He writes:
""too little asked. Indeed hardly asked at all.
The failure to ask is not only a failure to see things whole. It is also a eflection of a mental habit" not to think in terms of seeing things whole. This neglect of the dimension of interconnectedness is itself a kind of brokenness.
".Our world is one of dense interconnectedness and vast forces. To be content with understanding our world just in myriad discrete pieces condemns us to being cut off from some of the most fundamental meanings of our existence.
This failure to see things whole is a result of the Aristotelian, Galilean, Newtonian top down, atomistic, mechanistic model of science that has prevailed for several thousand years, at least in the industrialized world. The model looks at one thing and then breaks it up into its constituent parts. It is a "parts" way of seeing the world. Schmookler might call it a "broken" way. This approach worked great for many centuries, enabling many, many scientific discoveries and inventions. But it ran into problems when some really big questions and aspects of nature were approached.
Fritjof Capra, in his book, The Systems View of Life, explains how scientists couldn't wrap the mechanistic, atomistic model of science, couldn't bend it to work for sub-atomic particle physics or ecosystems. It took a new way of seeing, of thinking about everything--one based not on parts but on relationships and connectedness. That's the way systems theory works, with some non-linear dynamical theory, also known as chaos theory thrown in.
This is the lens through which humans viewed the world for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years, before civilization, which led to the hierarchical way of living which I believe catalyzed the atomistic way of seeing. It was further atomized when maps and clocks were invented. Before maps, the world was one continuous thing in our heads. Maps created lines and boundaries and parts. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, described to me how clocks broke time up into parts, the clock "broke what had been a natural flow up into little measurable units like seconds and minutes."
Writing took ideas and broke them into words, sentences and paragraphs, where before, big ideas were told in stories and songs.
I think a systems view of the world is consistent with and catalyzed by bottom-up technologies and processes--the ones that are energizing humanity's shift back to a more bottom-up, systemic, wholistic way of seeing and interacting--the ones that give us a sharing economy, distributed systems and open source technologies like Linux. But those same technologies, Nicholas Carr warns, can take us to "the shallows," where we fail to drink deep, where many are no longer able to immerse themselves deeply in a long novel.
I spoke with Carr about how smart phone technology is becoming more and more intrusive, further segmenting and breaking up our connection to longer rhythm ways of being. He commented,
" I think it's becoming (and this shows how technologies weave themselves deeply into society, and into norms of behavior, and so forth) ever harder to moderate our use of the Web and related technologies, and to exhibit self-discipline. But on the other hand, I'm trying to do this in my own life, even though I admit that's it's tough. If we do value the more attentive, more contemplative modes of thinking, you really do have to exercise them; and that means cutting yourself off sometimes from the web and from these streams of interruptions, because if you don't, you're going to lose those mental faculties, and I think as a result, you'll have a less rich intellectual life."
So technology can bring us hope--that we will start seeing through more bottom-up, systems view, interconnection finding eyes. But it also brings great risk that we may also become ever more distracted and atomized in our ways of seeing--in ways that blind us to the big picture, to seeing the whole.
We can talk about this or that politician, this or that bill, but the real problem is so much bigger, and if we lose sight of the big picture, the whole picture of the systemic problems, we are really blind. B.F. Skinner wrote, in his book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, about how some people, who live in a prison, see freedom is getting out to the courtyard. I fear that is the kind of freedom we will all "enjoy" if we don't wake up to see the bigger whole. I call this idea of being aware of all that we are a part of and connected to connection consciousness.
Yes we need to take care of our daily and moment to moment needs--food, shelter--Maslow's basic hierarchy. But we also need to be conscious of the bigger whole. Schmookler describes how we have shifted from functioning with living system, wholistic, regulations and order, sculpted by evolutionary processes, what I would call bottom-up regulations, to a new kind of civilization-induced discontinuity and disorder, with no naturally evolved "way" to relate. Schmookler says, ""nothing is in place to make sure that the various actors act in a way that is compatible with the needs of the whole system. "Life, whose specialty has been the creation of order, has thus stumbled into a dangerously anarchic situation."
Interestingly, Schmookler cites Hobbes view of anarchy, "a war of all against all." But Hobbes was talking about the anarchy that he suggests exists without civilization. Schmookler suggests that civilization created a new kind of anarchy--"a new living entity--the civilized society--coming up in clusters, inevitably compelled to interact in a kind of anarchy unprecedented in the history of life." He points out how the worst manifestation of this anarchy look, in places like Lebanon and Somalia, and I would add the West Bank and inner cities of the US, where death and violence are routine.