Crafting Gentleness

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Major Shifts and Transitions

"the prevalence of this kind of thinking in ecological/spiritual circles makes me more rather than less likely to consider it helpful"

[Dougald: should that be "less rather than more", or have I misread it?]

Aye :)

[Dougald: I love "construmption" which conjures up images of construmpets... :)]

Now, now, be good ;)

[Dougald: But (and I know you've tried to answer this for me before) does this mean there's no room for talking in large historical terms, attempting to describe major shifts or transitions?]

There's plenty of room, work away, just that I don't really go there myself. For me, I don't find any need to speak in such terms. Sometimes I find it interesting to consider how what might be identified as major trends play out in the micropolitics of everyday life, working with the caveat that statistics and broad strokes, in my thinking, tend to really misrepresent what actually happens, often by displacing the messiness of everyday life with the clarity of abstracted, depeopled narratives (or metanarratives, if you will). When the narratives we use don't require any person in particular and could be speaking about anybody, anywhere, then I find them unhelpful. Does that make sense? I haven't articulated that as I feel it. Close, but not quite.

It's about effects for me. Does a progress narrative help me get a better sense of how I might always-already make a difference in transformatively helpful ways, or does it lead me to think that I'm one of many getting swept along on a wave of evolution and improvement, or getting left behind should I not measure up to the criteria that certain people (usually in institutional positions of power) would claim to be the yardstick criteria for that progress. Progress? According to whom? According to which criteria?

Transformations for me are more helpfully considered at the level of the everyday, in relationships, attitudes. When people use really broad narratives they seem to me to simply reduce/abstract relationships while still claiming to speak adequately about the dynamics of those relationships. It's like someone standing on a hill and pointing at the group of people on the far hill and determining what's important to them and how their lives work on the basis of distant observation. Fine, if all you want to do is talk about how people look upon a far hill from your own hill, but not so helpful if you want to talk about how to make, (or how they can make!) a transformative difference in their lives.

Progress narratives aren't designed as muck-in narratives of transformation and relationship. They tend to celebrate distant points of view, often the classic Archimedean perspective, the view from nowhere in particular. They tend to celebrate a coherence which tends to be, for me, a disrespectful reading of how happening happens. They tend, for me, to remain unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable (on account of the level of abstraction from actual experience - the causal/effectual leap from macrostructural to microstructural tends to be just too large to bridge with anything other than bald rhetoric) (although, because of such leaps, such narratives can often be 'justifed' and hence seem 'justifiable'. But that just means someone offered a justification, it doesn't necessarily mean that the justification is adequate or helpful). I'm interested not so much in 'views' from somewhere (the dominance of the visual metaphor still implying a certain distance), but experiences/feelings from somewhere among somewho (not my best neologism!).

Identifying major shifts or transitions is for me simply an invitation to look/interrogate more closely, whereupon the assumption of 'major shifts' and 'transitions' is then dispensed with, those construmptions having been helpful as signposts or pointers, but not beyond that. If we cannot take our understanding of situations down to the level of attitude and relationship and interaction I believe we will likely find it very difficult to find a doorway through which to step in order to include our participation in situations.

Do we locate the primary forces/centres of politics, change, agency, and hope somewhere which is not *here*? To the extent that we do, to that extent I find such thinking unhelpful, and our contribution subtly, or not so subtly, disempowered, diminished, burdened, enclosinged (ouch).


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