My last post took its theme from the article by Helen Sword referenced in that post. It also reminded me of an issue that I had intended to return to after posting on it indirectly in at least two other posts. The issue is one that I am by no means comfortable in confronting, and that is possibly my best clue as to why it is that humankind as a whole seems constantly to retreat from engaging with it.
The issue has to do with how we define the limits of our own ability to affect events. In MSOU I referred to Kevin Lynch's observation that the size of the world in which we conceive of ourselves as being active, effective participants is critically affected by our prior experience. For those of you who have yet to read the book, the full quote from Lynch reads as follows: "Uprooted persons, those who suffer shock, or those whose realistic futures are terrifying or completely unpredictable, will withdraw into a narrow present. . . . It is when local time, local place and ourselves are secure that we are ready to face challenge, complexity, vast space, and the enormous future." (Kevin Lynch. What Time is this Place? M.I.T. Press, 1972)
Undoubtedly, and as was discussed in the previous post, our ways of defining the size of the world with which we are able to deal are strongly affected by the vocabulary of concepts we have available for defining it. It is no accident, I suggest, that the "zombie noun" language so widely found in sociological, political science and philosophical works itself contributes to our perception that our realistic futures are indeed terrifying and unpredictable.
In an earlier post ( "Free Will and Responsibility") I also spoke of the manner in which the nominalizations and, indeed, the personifications of abstract conceptualizations make dealing with them almost impossible. If we define people themselves as de facto "undesirables" (as referred to in the "De-familiarization" post), we have already dissociated ourselves from them in an attempt to cut our world down to a conceptual size that we find it easier to deal with. On the other hand, if we frequently think in terms of consumerism, capitalism, communism and other large-scale abstractions, we almost inevitably see ourselves having no significant potential to affect their impact on us.
It seems, then, that there are two fundamental ways of disqualifying ourselves from being effective: defining others as essentially different and therefore "unreachable", and defining the forces to which we are all subject as so large as to be unamenable to change. In so doing, we not only victimize others; we also victimize ourselves.
I think I'm going to allow you to meditate on that for a while. In the meantime, READ THE BOOK!
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