Primate Dominance–Hierarchy Manoeuvres–and Wit

 

Not all talking is thinking. Nor does all listening foster transformation. There are other motives for both, some of which produce much less valuable, counterproductive and even dangerous outcomes. There is the conversation, for example, where one participant is speaking merely to establish or confirm his place in the dominance hierarchy. One person begins by telling a story about some interesting occurrence, recent or past, that involved something good, bad or surprising enough to make the listening worthwhile. The other person, now concerned with his or her potentially substandard status as less‑interesting individual, immediately thinks of something better, worse, or more surprising to relate. This isn’t one of those situations where two conversational participants are genuinely playing off each other, riffing on the same themes, for the mutual enjoyment of both (and everyone else). This is jockeying for position, pure and simple. You can tell when one of those conversations is occurring. They are accompanied by a feeling of embarrassment among speakers and alike, all who know that something false and exaggerated has just been said.

There is another, closely allied form of conversation, where neither speaker is listening in the least to the other. Instead, each is using the time occupied by the current speaker to conjure up what he or she will say next, which will often be something off‑topic, because the person anxiously waiting to speak has not been listening. This can and will bring the whole conversational train to a shuddering halt. At this point, it is usual for those who were on board during the crash to remain silent, and look occasionally and in a somewhat embarrassed manner at each other, until everyone leaves, or someone thinks of something witty and puts Humpty Dumpty together again.

Then there is the conversation where one participant is trying to attain victory for his point of view. This is yet another variant of the dominance‑hierarchy conversation. During such a conversation, which often tends toward the ideological, the speaker endeavours to (1) denigrate or ridicule the viewpoint of anyone holding a contrary position, (2) use selective evidence while doing so and, finally, (3) impress the listeners (many of whom are already occupying the same ideological space) with the validity of his assertions. The goal is to gain support for a comprehensive, unitary, oversimplified world‑view. Thus, the purpose of the conversation is to make the case that not thinking is the correct tack. The person who is speaking in this manner believes that winning the argument makes him right, and that doing so necessarily validates the assumption‑structure of the dominance hierarchy he most identifies with. This is often–and unsurprisingly–the hierarchy within which he has achieved the most success, or the one with which he is most temperamentally aligned. Almost all discussions involving politics or economics unfold in this manner, with each participant attempting to justify fixed, a priori positions instead of trying to learn something or to adopt a different frame (even for the novelty). It is for this reason that conservatives and liberals alike believe their positions to be self‑evident, particularly as they become more extreme. Given certain temperamentally‑based assumptions, a predictable conclusion emerges–but only when you ignore the fact that the assumptions themselves are mutable.

These conversations are very different from the listening type. When a genuine listening conversation is taking place, one person at a time has the floor, and everyone else is listening. The person speaking is granted the opportunity to seriously discuss some event, usually unhappy or even tragic. Everyone else responds sympathetically. These conversations are important because the speaker is organizing the troublesome event in his or her mind, while recounting the story. The fact is important enough to bear repeating: people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves. The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: It takes a village to organize a mind.

Much of what we consider healthy mental function is the result of our ability to use the reactions of others to keep our complex selves functional. We outsource the problem of our sanity . This is why it is the fundamental responsibility of parents to render their children socially acceptable. If a person’s behaviour is such that other people can tolerate him, then all he has to do is place himself in a social context. Then people will indicate–by being interested in or bored by what he says, or laughing or not laughing at his jokes, or teasing or ridiculing, or even by lifting an eyebrow–whether his actions and statements are what they should be. Everyone is always broadcasting to everyone else their desire to encounter the ideal. We punish and reward each other precisely to the degree that each of us behaves in keeping with that desire–except, of course, when we are looking for trouble.

The sympathetic responses offered during a genuine conversation indicate that the teller is valued, and that the story being told is important, serious, deserving of consideration, and understandable. Men and women often misunderstand each other when these conversations are focused on a specified problem. Men are often accused of wanting to “fix things” too early on in a discussion. This frustrates men, who like to solve problems and to do it efficiently and who are in fact called upon frequently by women for precisely that purpose. It might be easier for my male readers to understand why this does not work, however, if they could realize and then remember that before a problem can be solved it must be formulated precisely. Women are often intent on formulating the problem when they are discussing something, and they need to be listened to–even questioned–to help ensure clarity in the formulation. Then, whatever problem is left, if any, can be helpfully solved. (It should also be noted first that too‑early problem‑solving may also merely indicate a desire to escape from the effort of the problem‑formulating conversation.)

Another conversational variant is the lecture. A lecture is–somewhat surprisingly–a conversation. The lecturer speaks, but the audience communicates with him or her non‑verbally. A surprising amount of human interaction–much of the delivery of emotional information, for example–takes place in this manner, through postural display and facial emotion (as we noted in our discussion of Freud). A good lecturer is not only delivering facts (which is perhaps the least important part of a lecture), but also telling stories about those facts, pitching them precisely to the level of the audience’s comprehension, gauging that by the interest they are showing. The story he or she is telling conveys to the members of the audience not only what the facts are, but why they are relevant–why it is important to know certain things about which they are currently ignorant. To demonstrate the importance of some set of facts is to tell those audience members how such knowledge could change their behaviour, or influence the way they interpret the world, so that they will now be able to avoid some obstacles and progress more rapidly to some better goals.

A good lecturer is thus talking with and not at or even to his or her listeners. To manage this, the lecturer needs to be closely attending to the audience’s every move, gesture and sound. Perversely, this cannot be done by watching the audience, as such . A good lecturer speaks directly to and watches the response of single, identifiable people,[170] instead of doing something clichéd, such as “presenting a talk” to an audience. Everything about that phrase is wrong. You don’t present. You talk. There is no such thing as “a talk,” unless it’s canned, and it shouldn’t be. There is also no “audience.” There are individuals , who need to be included in the conversation. A well‑practised and competent public speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing. In this manner, he infers and reacts to the attitude of the entire group (insofar as such a thing exists).

There are still other conversations that work primarily as demonstrations of wit. These also have a dominance element, but the goal is to be the most entertaining speaker (which is an accomplishment that everyone participating will also enjoy). The purpose of these conversations, as a witty friend of mine once observed, was to say “anything that was either true or funny.” As truth and humour are often close allies, that combination worked fine. I think that this might be the intelligent blue‑collar worker’s conversation. I participated in many fine bouts of sarcasm, satire, insult and generally over‑the‑top comedic exchange around among people I grew up with in Northern Alberta and, later, among some Navy SEALs I met in California, who were friends of an author I know who writes somewhat horrifying popular fiction. They were all perfectly happy to say anything, no matter how appalling, as long it was funny.

I attended this writer’s fortieth birthday celebration not too long ago in LA. He had invited one of the aforementioned SEALs. A few months beforehand, however, his wife had been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, necessitating brain surgery. He called up his SEAL friend, informed him of the circumstances, and indicated that the event might have to be cancelled. “You think you guys have a problem,” responded his friend. “I just bought non‑refundable airline tickets to your party!” It’s not clear what percentage of the world’s population would find that response amusing. I retold the story recently to a group of newer acquaintances and they were more shocked and appalled than amused. I tried to defend the joke as an indication of the SEAL’s respect for the couple’s ability to withstand and transcend tragedy, but I wasn’t particularly successful. Nonetheless, I believe that he did intend exactly that respect, and I think he was terrifyingly witty. His joke was daring, anarchic to the point of recklessness, which is exactly the point where serious funny occurs. My friend and his wife recognized the compliment. They saw that their friend knew they were tough enough to withstand that level of–well, let’s call it competitive humour. It was a test of character, which they passed with flying colours.

I found that such conversations occurred less and less frequently as I moved from university to university, up the educational and social ladder. Maybe it wasn’t a class thing, although I have my suspicions it was. Maybe it’s just that I’m older, or that the friends a person makes later in life, after adolescence, lack the insane competitive closeness and perverse playfulness of those early tribal bonds. When I went back up north to my hometown for my fiftieth birthday party, however, my old friends made me laugh so hard I had to duck into a different room several times to catch my breath. Those conversations are the most fun, and I miss them. You have to keep up, or risk severe humiliation, but there is nothing more rewarding than topping the last comedian’s story, joke, insult or curse. Only one rule really applies: do not be boring (although it is also very bad form to actually put someone down, when you are only pretending to put them down).

 

Conversation on the Way

 

The final type of conversation, akin to listening, is a form of mutual exploration. It requires true reciprocity on the part of those listening and speaking. It allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts. A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, of genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priori validity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living.

The people involved in such a conversation must be discussing ideas they genuinely use to structure their perceptions and guide their actions and words. They must be existentially involved with their philosophy: that is, they must be living it, not merely believing or understanding it. They also must have inverted, at least temporarily, the typical human preference for order over chaos (and I don’t mean the chaos typical of mindless antisocial rebellion). Other conversational types–except for the listening type–all attempt to buttress some existing order. The conversation of mutual exploration, by contrast, requires people who have decided that the unknown makes a better friend than the known.

You already know what you know, after all–and, unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough. You remain threatened by disease, and self‑deception, and unhappiness, and malevolence, and betrayal, and corruption, and pain, and limitation. You are subject to all these things, in the final analysis, because you are just too ignorant to protect yourself. If you just knew enough, you could be healthier and more honest. You would suffer less. You could recognize, resist and even triumph over malevolence and evil. You would neither betray a friend, nor deal falsely and deceitfully in business, politics or love. However, your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe. So, it is insufficient, by definition–radically, fatally insufficient.

You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of convincing, oppressing, dominating or even amusing. You must accept this before you can tolerate a conversation where the Word that eternally mediates between order and chaos is operating, psychologically speaking. To have this kind of conversation, it is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous). You must meditate, too, instead of strategizing towards victory. If you fail, or refuse, to do so, then you merely and automatically repeat what you already believe, seeking its validation and insisting on its rightness. But if you are meditating as you converse, then you listen to the other person, and say the new and original things that can rise from deep within of their own accord.

It’s as if you are listening to yourself during such a conversation, just as you are listening to the other person. You are describing how you are responding to the new information imparted by the speaker. You are reporting what that information has done to you–what new things it made appear within you, how it has changed your presuppositions, how it has made you think of new questions. You tell the speaker these things, directly. Then they have the same effect on him. In this manner, you both move towards somewhere newer and broader and better. You both change, as you let your old presuppositions die–as you shed your skins and emerge renewed.

A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for truth itself–on the part of both participants–that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why it’s engaging, vital, interesting and meaningful. That sense of meaning is a signal from the deep, ancient parts of your Being. You’re where you should be, with one foot in order, and the other tentatively extended into chaos and the unknown. You’re immersed in the Tao, following the great Way of Life. There, you’re stable enough to be secure, but flexible enough to transform. There, you’re allowing new information to inform you–to permeate your stability, to repair and improve its structure, and expand its domain. There the constituent elements of your Being can find their more elegant formation. A conversation like that places you in the same place that listening to great music places you, and for much the same reason. A conversation like that puts you in the realm where souls connect, and that’s a real place. It leaves you thinking, “That was really worthwhile. We really got to know each other.” The masks came off, and the searchers were revealed.

So, listen, to yourself and to those with whom you are speaking. Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom. It is for this reason that the priestess of the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece spoke most highly of Socrates, who always sought the truth. She described him as the wisest living man, because he knew that what he knew was nothing.

Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

 

 

  

    

  

    

 

RULE 10

Be precise in your speech

 

Why Is My Laptop Obsolete?

 

What do you see, when you look at a computer–at your own laptop, more precisely? You see a flat, thin, grey‑and‑black box. Less evidently, you see something to type on and look at. Nonetheless, even with the second perceptions included, what are you seeing is hardly the computer at all. That grey and black box happens to be a computer right now, right here and now, and maybe even an expensive computer. Nevertheless, it will soon be something so unlike a computer that it will be difficult even to give away.

We will all discard our laptops within the next five years, even though they may still work perfectly–even though the screens, keyboards, mice and internet connections may still flawlessly perform their tasks. Fifty years from now, early twenty‑first‑century laptops will be oddities like the brass scientific tools of the late nineteenth century. The latter now appear more like the arcane accoutrements of alchemy, designed to measure phenomena whose existence we no longer even recognize. How can high‑tech machines, each possessing more computing power than the entire Apollo space program, lose their value in such a short period of time? How can they transform so quickly from exciting, useful and status‑enhancing machines to complex pieces of junk? It’s because of the nature of our perceptions themselves, and the oft‑invisible interaction between those perceptions and the underlying complexity of the world.

Your laptop is a note in a symphony currently being played by an orchestra of incalculable size. It’s a very small part of a much greater whole. Most of its capacity resides beyond its hard shell. It maintains its function only because a vast array of other technologies are currently and harmoniously at play. It is fed, for example, by a power grid whose function is invisibly dependent on the stability of a myriad of complex physical, biological, economic and interpersonal systems. The factories that make its parts are still in operation. The operating system that enables its function is based on those parts, and not on others yet to be created. Its video hardware runs the technology expected by the creative people who post their content on the web. Your laptop is in communication with a certain, specified ecosystem of other devices and web servers.

And, finally, all this is made possible by an even less visible element: the social contract of trust–the interconnected and fundamentally honest political and economic systems that make the reliable electrical grid a reality. This interdependency of part on whole, invisible in systems that work, becomes starkly evident in systems that don’t. The higher‑order, surrounding systems that enable personal computing hardly exist at all in corrupt, third‑world countries, so that the power lines, electrical switches, outlets, and all the other entities so hopefully and concretely indicative of such a grid are absent or compromised, and in fact make little contribution to the practical delivery of electricity to people’s homes and factories. This makes perceiving the electronic and other devices that electricity theoretically enables as separate, functional units frustrating, at minimum, and impossible, at worst. This is partly because of technical insufficiency: the systems simply don’t work. But it is also in no small part because of the lack of trust characteristic of systemically corrupt societies.

To put it another way: What you perceive as your computer is like a single leaf, on a tree, in a forest–or, even more accurately, like your fingers rubbing briefly across that leaf. A single leaf can be plucked from a branch. It can be perceived, briefly, as a single, self‑contained entity–but that perception misleads more than clarifies. In a few weeks, the leaf will crumble and dissolve. It would not have been there at all, without the tree. It cannot continue to exist, in the absence of the tree. This is the position of our laptops in relation to the world. So much of what they are resides outside their boundaries that the screened devices we hold on our laps can only maintain their computer‑like façade for a few short years.

Almost everything we see and hold is like that, although often not so evidently.

 

Дата: 2018-09-13, просмотров: 54.