signposts

As many others and I have written, the real world always wins, in the sense that no matter how much we think we are in control, outcomes result from whatever forces are at work out there. Objects will always fall down, not up, when we drop them. People will behave the way their brains tell them to, no matter how we think they should respond to our commands. Even proven scientific theories don’t work when the circumstances depart from those from which the theory was deduced. Newtonian mechanics do predict the path of a cannonball, but not how electrons in atoms move. If we are open to reality, we will always understand that our actions can, and often do, produce unintended consequences due to the differences of our limited grasp on the world from the way it really is.

That is the very best we can do, using the knowledge stored up in out left-brain hemispheres as individuals and as the collection of scientific facts in the equivalent, metaphoric public domain’s left-brain. We can, perhaps, do better if we drop the pretense that we ‘know’ how to deal with the complexities of real life, and become pragmatists. The difference between pragmatism and any form of determinism, scientism, or positivism is not simply some methodological variation; it is a distinct way of thinking, using the right hemisphere instead of the left. The reason is that the right brain is capable of taking in the whatever is out there in the present moment in as much of its fullness as is possible, given the sense’s and the brain’s limits. It works on what is present, not what has been abstracted and stored in the left hemisphere.

The magic of pragmatic thinking is that the right side of the brain is able to make use of the storehouse of knowledge in the left side, but in conjunction with what it sees, what is really out there, to create responses that are connected to the world of the present. There is no more certainty that such pragmatic responses will work, that is, produce the desired outcomes, but pragmatists will keep trying and adjusting until success shows up, if it ever will. The left, operating alone, will act only to satisfy its own purposes, without regard to what happens to the world outside. Iain McGilchrist, whom anyone following my work or this blog now knows as arguing that the two sides of the brain provide two different worlds to us with consequent two distinct ways we act, says, succinctly,

The left hemisphere is always engaged in a purpose; it always has an end in view, and downgrades whatever has no instrumental purpose in sight. The right hemisphere, by contrast, has no designs on anything. It is vigilant for whatever is, without preconceptions, without a predefined purpose. The right hemisphere has a relationship of concern or care (what Heidegger-calls Sorge) with whatever happens to be. (p. 174)

The purpose, however, is frequently hidden from public view until it is too late to do anything about it, especially in institutional settings where power is almost always distributed according to some hierarchy. Power is the name we give to the ability to control or dominate something, and is indifferent to whether the object being controlled is a human being or anything else. The left brain does not care whether the purpose produces positive or negative outcomes for others; it sees the world only as an assemblage of mechanical parts to be re-assembled and manipulated toward its own ends.

This is the “normal” way the left works, that is, when it figures out how to control the immediate situation brought to its attention by the right side. But what happens if the left cannot come up with any plan of action? It simply lies about the world in order to be able to shrink reality to its diminished stock-in-trade, and to maintain its control, even when it is out of answers. Lies are the most narcissistic way of dealing with realities that cannot be handled. They have absolutely no purpose other than to be in control. They indicate that the left-brain has completely ignored whatever the right side is telling it about what is actually going on, and, essentially, preclude that what follows will be able to directly impact whatever is needed out there. It’s bad enough to have to deal with occasional lying, but when it becomes “normal,” particularly in people with great power to affect many others, it is extremely dangerous. McGilchrist writes,

Ultimately we need to unite the ways of seeing that are yielded by both hemispheres. Above all the attention of the left hemisphere needs to be reintegrated with that of the right if it is not to prove damaging. (p 174)

The prior quote, above, highlights a particularly harmful result of unfettered left-brain behavior. Not only will left-brain controlled actors only serve their own purposes, they will “downgrade[s] whatever has no instrumental purpose in sight.” Think of the many times the President has belittled, denigrated, or dehumanized others. This is the reason that only his base matters to him; they are the tools to maintain his power, but he cares not a whit for them His severe right-brain deficit prevents him from executing his constitutional responsibility to serve all US citizens. It is much more than merely something political; it is a pathology that can only become more and more damaging. We know how he demands loyalty, but probably not its depths and absolute power over everyone he interacts with, even his friends. The utter lack of empathy, another face of complete left-side dominance, supports this argument.

Far beyond the man, left-brain deficit affects the Commonwealth. Any act that reflects “ism” is a sign of left-brain dominance, that is, actions based on a re-presented set of facts that generally fail to fit the uniqueness of the moment. Only some balance between the two hemispheres can produce the essential care for one another and for the Planet out of which our species evolved. A world where everything is nothing but an input to be used for some purpose cannot last. Both humans and everything else need to be taken care of if whatever is essential to maintaining a meaningful existence is to be available. The social nature of our species demands that we take care of other humans. The realities of life, itself, demand that we take care of the Planet. Democracy, without care, is impossible. We must heed McGilchrist’s warning.

(The quotes come from Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary)