History and Thought LO12889

Jacqueline Mullen (J.Mullen@agora.stm.it)
Fri, 14 Mar 1997 07:51:37 +0100 (ITA)

Replying to LO12821 --

Replying to LO12821 (Title change seemed appropriate)...

Gosh, Joe, you sure let me have it. I'm still trying to figure out why,

I'm inferring that somewhere underneath there is a difference of mental
models. I wrote under the assumption that just because I say something
essentially "negative" (however tongue in cheek I tried) it doesn't mean I
am "anti" or "against", and that in pointing out an instance of
ethnocentricity it doesn't mean I am asserting it doesn't exist elsewhere.
I was poking fun at John's title choice. I don't think I said anything
particularly earth shattering.

Perhaps I am guilty of an overconfident "list memory", presuming knowledge
of conversations held too far back in list history to have context in an
ever-changing list membership. It has always been a problem with
participation on this list, or any list I suppose. You are often doomed
to repeat yourself. After much soul searching and emotional and
intellectual effort, you find that soon the list participants have
changed, and, to continue along in dialogue, you must start from stratch.
This can be very draining, and I suspect this is why many voices I have
long valued on this list have gone elsewhere...

To the subject at hand...

I tend to think the dichotomy of rational/irrational is a false one, that
it is context dependent. After Goedel's work in logic and paradox,
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Schroedinger, von Neumann, etc., etc.,
the whole science and truth game is up for grabs, so I feel one might as
well enjoy the ride. As Niels Bohr put it: "There are some things so
serious that you have to laugh at them."

My view is that one has to let go. Not identify who you are with what you
know or what you have. Exactly what Frank Totino was talking about in
LO12803. F. Varela, G. Lakoff and many others are exploring aspects of
transcending the objective/subjective, rational/irrational divide in
concepts such as "embodied mind" and in cultivating an awareness of the
conceptual gestalts created out of a lived bodily experience plus
environment. The future appears to promise choices other than certainty
vs. witchburning.

It seems to me that our challenge in this crazy global bedlam is to
explore the possibilities of a world where the logic of "both/and" might
inform a long-standing cultural disposition to conceive in terms of
"either/or". Where there are many "truths" in understanding a single
situation. As Arthur Battram called it - "multiple perspectives".

An important part of this process, in my opinion, entails enriching our
understanding of the past. We may all agree that complex systems have a
dependence on initial or historical conditions, but it seems to me that
human systems rely to a great degree on the collective interpretation of
these conditions, in addition to whatever actual events indeed came into
play. In planning scenarios or imagining futures for ourselves I think it
important to relinquish the habit of assuming an "objective observer",
well, in any absolute sense that is, or that somehow our past history is
already fully known and explained. I think we are constantly creating our
past as well as our future. Continually reinterpreting and compensating
for the inevitable biases of perspective.

With your indulgence, I'd like to offer a part of a longer post that I
wrote to this list back in '95. I still stand by these thoughts...

----- Start of earlier msg -----

When I was a young, trusting student I used to assume that "History" was
carved in stone. That "History" was an account of "what really happened,"
that it was all "scrupulously researched by those trained in historic
analysis." It seemed larger than life. Impressive and sacred and
daunting. "History," codified with the authority of a text book, spoke to
me of wars, political subterfuge, and economic embargoes, of kings
beheading their queens, of legions conquering far off lands. This, it
seemed, was the REAL work of nations. The rest was fluff.

"History," as I learned it, appeared to condone. Teach a mindset
with which to consider events. Convey what is important and credible and
worthy within the collective memory. A mechanism of mythmaking in modern
society. Sanctifying the tale with its "scientific method." "Just the
facts, ma'am." As if context and motivation were dwelling in a murky
emotionality that would cloud one's vision, taint one's "objectivity."

But, of course, "History" is yet another case of "everything said
is said by someone." It is a story. A social narrative. Cultural
baggage packed tight.

The other night on TV, after midnight, when anything good is
broadcast here, I watched with awe a transmission consisting of interviews
with some Montessori school children in Rome. These were the wisest, most
introspective, well-adjusted 9-or-so year olds I have ever heard or seen.
Pushed my envelope of "being a kid" to new limits.

At one point, a young girl describing her previous evening's
adventurous dream, burst out "It's so beautiful. Being a protagonist is
the most wonderful thing there is!"

Seems rather self-evident. Yet consider that in most universities
there is still an ongoing separation between the various flavors of
"History" (a culture's narrative) and Women's studies, Afro-American
studies, Asian studies, Native American studies, etc. etc. "History"
being considered, well, "History." While the others might get thrown into
the much loved euphemism, "special interest groups."

Isn't the whole point that every individual deserves society's
respect as the protagonist in his or her own story? That these individual
narratives make up a culture's collective History? "Counternarratives"
are, in the end, "narratives" of equal weight as all others. Imagine
growing up considering yourself the daring protagonist in creating your
own story, a socially valued unique tale. Gosh... now there's a

Yet, overtly or otherwise, there is still the ever present idea
that a General is a protagonist, but a Homemaker is not. A CEO is a
protagonist, but a Data Processor is not. A Theorist is a protagonist,
but a Potato Farmer is not. (Yipes, all these labels!) That there is
something inherently more "protagonistic" in making war and economic
agendas (especially when the metaphor's business = war!), than in creating
social relationships and meaning. So while these cultural priorities,
this hierarchy of experience, are constantly reinforced in our films, our
TV programs, our advertisements, and our places of study or work, we can
see it most strongly reflected in our expectations and respect for

Well... this is my opinion, at least.

----- end of earlier msg -----

In the end, my concern with many philosophers is not with the intellectual
"tools" they developed, but the strong role they played generally as
"storytellers and mythmakers" due to the high status afforded them in
cultures whose source of "authoritative knowledge" was predominantly
conceptual in nature.

Sorry for any confusion, and the length of this post.


Jackie Mullen J.Mullen@agora.stm.it

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>