I have avoided adding posts to the blog for several months. There is already too much noise and heat being generated about the current state of the political system in the United States. Yet, I cannot get it out of my mind. I cannot, with any honest concern, read the papers or watch the news or tune into any of the social media (I rarely do anyway). Yet I cannot get away from the continuing sense of foreboding I feel.
For the last couple of years, I could have excused the failure to get involved as the result of being completely immersed in writing a book. But it is finished (for about the third time) and awaits the acceptance of a publisher. If not this one, I have other possibilities in waiting. This book, like my others, reflects my deep-seated belief that nothing that is being done or even being thought about today’s cultural life is remotely connected to the underlying causes of the great issues that are threatening the polity and the very world in which it is embedded. Modernity, which has brought much to the West and, more recently, to other parts of the world has run its course like all the previous eras along the march of the human species from its origins.
I began to argue this way well over a decade ago. Now, my argument (and those of others like me) has been buttressed by recent understanding of the brain. A number of my recent blog posts have discussed the work of Iain McGilchrist and his model of the divided brain. He claims that the natural balance between the right and left hemispheres has been lost, with the left assuming almost complete control since the industrial revolution opened the modern era. Now the mechanistic, reductionist, controlling ways of the left have become the underlying foundations of modern cultural institutions. McGilchrist spends about half his book making what I believe is a compelling case for his arguments to this end.
Society deepens its underlying conceptual structure in the process of everyday life, mimicking the way that individuals continually deepen their own left brain’s beliefs as they taken from memory and are put into practice. The metaphorical brain or consciousness of society (or any organization) lacks the right-side’s features found in humans; it has only the left’s conceptual, virtual world. The continuous reinforcement features of the left brain in McGilchrist’s individual model of the brain are virtually identical with Anthony Giddens’s “structuration” model of how the metaphorical cognitive system of society drives it and is, in turn, further anchored through societal activities. It operates in what systems dynamicists call positive feedback, reinforcing and increasing systemic outputs with every cycle of activity. Eventually such feedback tends grow large enough to tear apart the system that is producing it (acoustic squeal, cancer, viral videos, derivative trading, capitalism(?) . . .)
In normal functioning human beings, the right-side of the brain interacts with the left to maintain some level of stasis, with the combination showing a form of negative feedback, where some internal part of the system holds it in check and prevents runaway behavior. The right does this by comparing the real world outside that only it can present in opposition to the conceptually constructed world of the left. The right brain, according to McGilchrist, normally would have the power to stay no or not say no the artificial world and the course of action that the left would enact. That way it can utilize what already has been implicitly learned and has been reduced to an explicit conceptual form by the left whenever it finds that doing so would be beneficial.
The two sides of the human brain can be metaphorically seen as two opposing actors locked inside one’s body. When the left side has gained control, the right can no longer say no to the left, only not say no. So anything resembling wisdom that the right has learned about the world outside is negated by the left’s meaningless, constructed simulacrum. McGilchrist spends many fascinating pages comparing the consequences of left-dominated behavior to schizophrenia and other mental disorders. I cannot count the number of pages from which President Trump leaped out at me. Without an active right brain, one lacks empathy, positive emotions, anger control . . . Here is a rather terrifying passage:
Separating words from their referents in the real world [lying, fake news] . . . turns everything into a nothing, life itself into a game. But the coupling of emotionally evocative material with a detached ironic stance is in fact a power game. It is not so much a matter of playfulness, with its misplaced suggestion of innocence, as a grim parody of play. It is familiar to psychiatrists because of the way that psychopaths use displays of lack of feeling—a jokey, gamesy, but chilling, indifference to subjects that spontaneously call forth strong human emotions—to gain control of others and make them feel vulnerable.
Pocahontas, Cheatin Obama, Little Marco, etc, fit this to a “t”. This is just one example that makes McGilchrist’s divided brain model so compelling and worrisome. McGilchrist has just published a brief summary of his big book, called, Ways of Attending: How our Divided Brain Constructs the World. It may be out of stock right now, but, for about $6, is well worth a reading.
So what can be done about this sad state of affairs? It will take a strong right brain that can take in the world as it is. No fake news or alternate facts. They are already present in society’s left brain. Faith in institutions won’t work either, as many are hoping they will. I think this is a big mistake. Institutions do not possess a right brain, only living, breathing humans do. I believe the only way out of the death spiral (positive feedback loop) we are in is to induce an Emperor’s New Clothes moment in those we have ceded power to run our political economy. Only people can find the power of their own right brains and begin to call out the charade to the way our world is being run. And run it is by a very small number of people with inordinate powers.
But how can we get anyone, now under the spell of their left-brain, to let what is so clearly happening in front of them to enter their consciousness. The only way is to OPEN UP THE EYES. Not to the empty words the left-brained media or political babble. Not to the lure of the mind numbing social media. . . but to what is happening right in front of them. Imploring institutions to act will NOT work. Only live individuals have a right-brain and can connect to and reflect on the real world. Institutions always and only derive their powers from past abstractions.
With this post, I ask all who read it to write, call, or otherwise communicate with virtually every powerful individual they know, in government, business, and civic and religious organizations and simply ask them to open up their eyes. If they really do that, the right brain will have a chance to exert itself and call for actions consistent with its inherent humanness: care, empathy, connection, reason . . . , as opposed to the opposite sensibilities of the left. We will have to rewrite the ending of Anderson’s fairy tale, and have the couriers accepting the same reality we the poor townspeople see and speak it, leaving only the (right-brain deprived) Emperor deceived.
ps. While I was editing this post as I typed a title that seemed to fit, I had a deja vu moment and realized that the poem I chose to introduce my first book, Sustainability by Design, was titled, “The Opening of the Eyes,” by David Whyte. Pretty uncanny! I know now why I chose it. Here’s just a bit: “life is no passing memory of what has been . . . it is the opening of the eyes long closed.