Back to Basics: Care

care

I try to keep the posts in this blog connected to sustainability, although the ties may be and are quite tenuous sometimes. In the previous post, I made the assertion that flourishing was an observation or assessment by someone that all of their cares were being handled. This is not the same as saying that all their needs had been fulfilled. To say something like, “I don’t need anything else,” runs against the sense that our needs are insatiable. Some little voice will forever be whispering in our inner ear that we could really use a little of this or that. Can we ever have enough love if we think of love as something we can possess? In any case, no one has ever seen a single one of these needs; they exist only in our psyche and we verbalize them if asked about them. They do not exist in the world. Someone watching an actor for a while might be able to guess what needs were being satisfied by enumerating the requests and observing the responses to them.

Requests are a form of (directive) speech act in which the speaker is directing someone to do something. (For a philosophical explanation of speech acts, see John Searle, Speech Acts, 1970.)Transactions in the market are initiated by a request to a purveyor often in the form, “I would like that.” If both can agree about the terms of the transaction, the requester gets whatever had been requested. In our advertising driven marketplace, the process may start with an implicit promise of what needs the goods will satisfy, but nothing will happen until one party makes a request. The intent of the speaker is to change his or her internal world so that the need that initiated the action becomes satisfied.

Cares are ontologically different. They, like needs, have no existence other what an actor says about them, when asked, but the actions they create are quite different. Care is about seeing to the well-being of the three classes in the diagram in the previous post: the actor, other humans, and the rest of the world. Actions follow from promises--a different, mirror-image like, speech act. Promises are a form of commissives, speech acts that commit the speaker to act to enact whatever was specified. The direction of the change is opposite to the case where needs are involved. The actions of the caring actor change the context of the targets, including his or her own worlds when directed towards the domains of care. The actor can make assessments about the degree to which the actions have accomplished the intentions.

The three classes that I used to separate the various domains of care may appear to be distinct. They might be to an observer who finds it convenient to separate them for analytic simplicity. To the actor, they are all part of a single way of relating to the world. Need rests on a separation of an individual from the world with all the desired actions pointing inward. Care, as I note, is accompanied by actions with an opposite sense of direction, outward. There is no evaluative distinction between acts toward oneself, others, or the rest of the world. They all are valued and accepted for whatever they are. In other writings I have referred to this as accepting one’s place in the web of life. My constant source of inspiration, Humberto Maturana, associates this acceptance of all others (human and non-humans) and acting out of care for all with the very basic emotion of love.

Love is not a something, but a way of acting out that accepts the being of all others as legitimate. It’s not about getting all hot and bothered in the presence of someone. Our biological and cultural norms may produce strange responses in the presence of a particular individual that we think are signs of love. These are only cultural phenomena. For Maturana, love is an emotion that sets the context for all of our actions. It is very tightly bound to flourishing. Flourishing without love as taking care is not possible.

As you might guess by now, I am about to claim that the culture today has pushed out this meaning of love as caring action, and we must get it back for sustainability to appear. Yes. How can we find it again? I say again because I believe that there was a time when human interaction was primarily driven by caring. Remember, caring is not about some airy-fairy feeling, but refers to actions interacting with a set of worldly domains such that the actor can move among them, as he or she assesses that the situation is satisfactory, at least or the moment.

Early civilizations must have acted primarily out of caring in this sense. Their evolving language grew out of the development of linguistic distinctions that referred to the coordination of their actions. In settlements not cluttered with the distractions of modernity, routines would have been directed towards taking care. The earliest signs of spirituality, the cave paintings I wrote about last time, are a sign of loving care, an acceptance that the animals deserved a place in their lives.

I believe we can recover our sense of care. The first step is learning the distinction between care and need. Not easy as this will take a strong commitment to buck the conventions of modernity. Then learn the classification of domains of care shown in the figure from the last post or, better, in my book. Begin by assessing how well you are doing in each domain. If you commit to take care of all of them, you will have implicitly transformed your emotional state from the ego-driven needy persona of modernity to a loving person accepting the world as it is and relating to it accordingly.

There are no rules about how to go about this transformation. Each person must generate their own, authentic actions. My experience in watching my own and other’s efforts is that it is not so hard, once the goals and framework become clear. Maturana believes we are loving animals that have become separated from our basic way of accepting and interacting with the world by the forces of modern cultures, particularly our beliefs in an external transcendental reality. It is that belief that leads to a privileged way of acting in which we invariably negate, just the opposite of accept, the status of the others engaged in the conversation.

Maturana say it this way. His writings are not easy to follow. This passage is taken from his article, “Reality: The Search for Objectivity or the Quest for a Compelling Argument" in the Irish Journal of Psychology (1988, 9, 1, 25-82).

From all this, it follows that the reality we live depends on the explanatory path we adopt, and that this in turn depends on the emotional domain in which we enter at the moment of explaining. Thus, if we are in an assertive mood, and we want to impose our views on the other without reflection, de facto negating him or her, or if we are directly in an emotion that negates him or her, we find ourselves operating in the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis [transcendental objectivity]. If, on the contrary, we are in the emotion of acceptance of the other and in the mood of reflection, we find ourselves operationally in the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis [constituted objectivity]. It follows, then, that the kind of reality that we live as a domain of explanatory propositions, reflects at any moment the flow of our interpersonal relations and what sort of co-ordinations of actions we expect to take place in them. Finally, from the perspective of the explanatory path of objectivity-in-parenthesis, this is so regardless of whether we are aware of it or not because it is constitutive of our operation in the human biology of observing.

A lot of complicated words and sentences, but with a clear meaning. If we do not operate from the emotion of love, acceptance and care, we will continue to dominate others and the world as we do now, with all the negative consequences we call unsustainability. We can talk only glibly about sustainability. Sustainability will not and cannot presence itself until our culture becomes transformed. I come to this conclusion simply by holding a vision of the future I am committed to produce. Maturana sees it as a necessity based on our biology.

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