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I read the writing of someone who I recognized as a peer, someone who's knowledge I respect, and who shares a similar history to myself. He described himself as a internet pioneer. I realized that I was a pioneer too. I've published over 2200 pages of my own work. My work on journal writing was widely appreciated, but I'm dissatisfied with it, so it's been temporarily removed. My new work for newbies is gaining wide readership. (1300 pages on dancing have gone the way of all bad ideas.) I have developed some unusual ideas, like many people who have explored little known territory and who have been forced to create their own maps. Perhaps some of these ideas are valuable to you..
In 1972, frustrated by some problems I was having personally, and discontented with the failure on New Zealand politicians to even show interest in many critical issues, I set two new directions. I began to write a journal, (I called it my notebook) and I began to study economics. The reason our leaders continually give for our inability to solve our problems was always "economic". Economic success is likely to follow personal development and business innovation. We fail because of faulty thinking and by trying to take the prize without doing essential work.
In the front cover of my second journal I wrote, "I will write only what is true here." A really silly idea as I was to discover very quickly. It's impossible to know what is or what is not true. Besides most people are very economical with the truth they know, they feed you on untruth, and keep the truth to themselves. That is not an act of betrayal. The untruth people share is usually called "common sense" which is the acceptable form of words people expect. People tell you what they think you want to hear. It's the greeting, "how are you?" - "Fine thank you." - "Lovely day." conversation we do, a ritual which confirms our membership relationship, but doesn't really speak truth. It's like the call for "tougher sentences for criminals" that always gets approval in the "nicest part of town". A ritual response not a considered logical opinion or statement of fact.
There are scripts for all the situations facing the community, commonly accepted viewpoints. Repeating these scripts is always safe, they are statements that reinforce your membership of your community, and your position in it. If you have developed independence enough to see "truth" outside these accepted scripts, you are likely to self censor your comments. Nobody wants to make public some strong but personal idea if they are afraid people will react adversely. (Knowledge of child abuse by "friends" for instance is "not seen".) You know how to keep silent, the truth is suppressed, to protect your membership rights. Loyalty to the values and ideals of the group is highly admired. What you know, and what it's possible to say and to learn is always socially moderated.
In 1986 I came across this quote which was written in the Journal of Waldo Salt, American film-maker, in large letters across one page. "To search for the truth, you must first have lost it." I realized that for a long time (15 years) I had been revising and recovering the truth that I had lost.
Most people think they have good knowledge the truth. They don't look further because the community scripts seem to work for them. A young person operating on the basis of the common scripts can be very dynamic, effective and successful. But there comes a time when that formula no longer works. To move on in your life you need to learn some new and different skills. Loss of certainty causes one to hesitate, to be more reflective, to appear ineffective. The challenges that you once thrived on may no longer have any appeal.
In a global world, with the internet, there is new pressure to be a citizen of the world. Those who make that transition have a lot to learn. Beginning the journey is important.
Some 20 years ago I realized that in my own lifetime the "useful common" in which New Zealanders live had been severely eroded, partly by neglect and partly by government and commercial action. I imagined somehow that all New Zealanders had equal rights and had access to the same "common". I now realize that as well as a general common available to all citizens, that there are many extensions or restrictions over access to the common depending on who we are and the memberships we have.
There is a difference between the theoretical citizen's rights and the actual ability of individuals to access those rights. I use the term "useful common" to identify the part one can use. People who have access to a large and rich useful common have the best opportunity to be independent, to be innovative and creative, and to become a leader in a community. The common enriches your personal asset base. The common also supports you when your asset base is depleted by adversity. Enlargement of the "useful common" is desirable for the society as a whole. However it may suit some commercial and political objectives to diminish or privatize the common, effectively converting a public asset to a private asset or opportunity. That tends to be the history of the last 30 years.
Access to the internet created a wonderful new and very useful common that I enjoyed access to for 10 years. The respectful and interpersonal internet of 1995 is gone forever. Today the internet "common" is under attack by spammers, by virus writers, by governments and by commercial and political propaganda. People who are not members and who's only interest in the internet is narrow and exploitative don't care if they destroy the common.
There may be no question more important than to rethink the whole idea of who is (and who can be) a member? A world divided between "us" and "them" is a dangerous place. Living in a modern global world demands more of us.
You are who you are because of the memberships you hold. Family, ethnic, educational, professional, clubs and associations, and social class are some of the peer groups we are part of. Our identity is socially constructed. Each membership demands certain knowledge and behaviour and loyalty to certain ideals. Each membership requires that we demonstrate the culture of membership. We adopt forms of words, manners of dress and ways of behaving that make it possible for members to recognise each other. These appropriate behaviours are signals that members implicitly understand even though nobody ever stated what those signals are.
We defend members of our group and the ideals of the group with great vigour and energy. This confirms our value as members to our peers. My support of these ideas even when they conflict with my other goals and objectives confirms my status in the group and my value as a member.
All learning is social. What I choose to see as important, what I can know, and what I choose not to know, is influenced by my memberships. Each membership gives me access to a members common. The value of membership lies in the rights and privileges and sharing that occurs between members. If I choose to adopt certain principles that are contrary to the values of the group, my status as a member may be threatened. Social control is unseen and very powerful.
Once you realize that community scripts cause us to have a common blindness to reality, and a blindness to what is possible, life begins to get interesting. Call this mid-life transition if you like. I believe it's a critical part of anyone's development. This is apparently a time of low self esteem and lost confidence, but in fact there is an internal revolution going on. Everything you know is up for challenge. You've functioned on the basis of other people's truth for half a lifetime. Now you need to find your own truth. If you can do that, life can move on in new and exciting ways.
We learn by doing. Joining a group of interesting and knowledgeable people is worth doing. Learning about the history of some foreign country, or some dispute the doesn't directly concern you is worth doing. To learn you have to engage in the process of understanding.
Why would anyone follow a debate that doesn't concern you? Perhaps because you know the people who are involved and you might have friends on both sides. All learning is social. My friendship with people makes me interested in what they say. When they are hotly involved in a debate that doesn't directly concern me I get to see them in a new way. I might also see how they build mind traps for themselves, and joyfully throw away the key. Observing and understanding the debate in a situation that doesn't directly involve you can be mind expanding. It can give you tools that you can later use to understand issues close to yourself.
What I know, the things that interest me, what it's possible for me to learn is moderated by my memberships. Even so, I am responsible in the long run for both my knowing and for my unknowing.
In my own case I've taken some interest in Venezuela, a country I knew nothing about. I became interested because I couldn't understand why strikes were being organised by management. In my experience strikes were always worker organised, against management. Reading some of the history of Venezuela I can see repeated some events that apply in New Zealand. The country changes, but the tools by which the powerful dispossess the powerless are usually the same. Here in New Zealand the position of the local first peoples, the Maori and the Crown is established by the Treaty of Waitangi. Sadly with the treaty in hand, the new colonial power proceeded with the open theft of Maori land and rights, always cloaked under some shroud of legality. Look in any country you can probably find similar events. If you can see the process in some other country, perhaps you can see that in your own country something similar happened, and is probably still happening. That's certainly the case in New Zealand.
There's a long journey from becoming responsible for your knowing and for your not knowing, to having self knowledge you can trust. All the things we know that are not in fact true, prevent us from seeing what is true. I've discovered that the truth is obvious and is sitting plainly in view, but our culture, our way of seeing the world makes us blind to many things. Sometimes, briefly in a flash we can know it, we have this vague idea of new insight. Then we dismiss it. Too dangerous, it goes against everything we've been taught. Self censorship is a powerful weapon. It happens every day. Our common knowledge is full of untruth. But we don't want to examine it too closely, because people will get hurt. If I can be precise about it, if I "blow the whistle" then I'll be hurt. So we go along, we share the common untruth, it's a social game. If we really want to know why communities have problems that persist for years and years and resist all efforts to make progress, look at the stories people believe about themselves. The stories we tell each other confirm who we are but they also trap us into being like that, we are slaves to the demands of our status as members.
"These things I believe make my life relevant and useful, they give me a place in a real community and they confirm who I am. These beliefs control both what I know, and what it's possible for me to learn."
"These things I believe make me blind to reality, they force me to perform foolish and irrelevant rituals that I'd be better off without, these beliefs trap me in the past and prevent me from achieving my potential."
There is a story in Hindu mythology, The Mahabharata which tells the story of birth and growing up, of who we are and what we believe, of the battles we fought and the principles we live by. An actor on the BBC talking to a youth about The Mahabharata says, "If you listen carefully you will become a different person."
If you are having problems in your life, look at that stories you believe about yourself. However, that doesn't help much. Those stories, those beliefs exist for a reason, they are part of who you are, even if that is destructive. You can change those stories, but it takes time and effort. In the process you change who you are. You choose the person you are going to become, scary stuff, but possible and valuable.