Friday, March 27, 2009

mushrooms and metaphors

I've been considering how living in darkness compromises our abilities to know ourselves and to connect with one another immeasurably.

Truth and Darkness:
Proverbs 17:4 "An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives heed to a mischievous tongue."
It took years of reading Proverbs regularly, at times daily, for me to realize the import of this proverb. (Perhaps I overlooked it, as I do many verses, until that day when it fit so well, I couldn't miss it!) There are plenty of folks who think themselves savvy about making their own way through life, but who fail to recognize that the self-justification they practice regarding their own wrongdoing and lying actually blindfolds them regarding others' lies and deceit. It's as if, metaphorically speaking, we cannot blindfold ourselves about ourselves, while selectively removing the blindfold in other areas and regarding other people.

So, in a world where we define ourselves in opposition to ourselves (justifying or punishing ourselves for choices and mistakes) and in opposition to others, the darkness gets deeper by the hour. C.S. Lewis wrote in
Perelandra something that follows these lines: "There is an ignorance of evil that comes from being young. There is a greater ignorance of evil that comes from doing it, as men by sleeping lose the knowledge of sleep." (Apologies to Mr. Lewis for any paraphrase resulting from my memory!)

Charlie Rose, this evening, interviewed a pair of scientists researching sexual arousal which illustrates the disconnections cultivated in the pursuit of "higher" goals. One researcher spoke of how the research involved measuring physical arousal signs of subjects watching various videos of sexual activities. As I watched, it was evident that the "subjects" were not individual human beings to the scientists. Paying them to be "subjects" justified what they were being subjected to. One should ask, but Charlie Rose notably did not, how the subjects live thereafter with the memories of the people in the videos and their own physiological reactions when the "scientific study" is complete. Are there lasting effects in their own sexuality from the disconnections they experienced in their relationships to the scientists, and between their bodies' responses and the people in the videos? Note the multiple layers of human disconnection: scientist to subject, subject to objects in videos, objects to viewers of videos. Thus, disconnected from the implications of behavior in themselves and the disconnected others, this study passes as "science" -- a purportedly "closed system." Yet, the system cannot be closed because of the human implications for the people who willingly submit themselves to the study, and who cannot walk away from the process the same, whole persons as they were when they entered the study.

The philosophy and sociology underlying this science flaw the results. I'd surmise that scientists simply can't measure true sexual response of faithful partners, because that would involve intimate relationship between partners who wouldn't subject themselves to public viewing or measuring. As postmodern philosophers note, the act of observation changes that which is observed and the observing ones.

Personally, academically and professionally, we all engage in "boundary-posturing mechanisms", as sociologist Robert Wuthnow named them in his book,
The Struggle for America's Soul: Evangelicals, Liberals, and Secularism: "...scientists, especially those in the less codified disciplines, rely frequently on values, attitudes, and life-styles to maintain the reality of science by setting up external boundaries between themselves and the general public or those who represent the realm of everyday reality. ...[they] turn to symbolic modes of differentiating themselves from everyday reality in order to maintain the plausibility of their scientific orientations - orientations that are inevitably precarious in relation to the paramount reality of everyday life." (p. 153)

Although Wuthnow applies this specifically to scientists, and to social scientists especially, it is a useful concept that we can use regarding the differentiations and disconnections we're constantly making from one another to maintain our own "plausibility structure" (sociologist Peter Berger's term), i.e., the preservation of our version of reality. To put it simply, we all create a "that's my story and I'm sticking to it" rationale of how we perceive reality, how we perceive ourselves, and how we treat and respond to others. Our rationale may be orderly or disorderly, planned or made up as we go along, fixed or fluid, defined in elegant language or in instinctual responses. The rationale works better when we find fellow believers with whom we constantly refine and reinforce our version and outlook, because community can be an impregnable fortress against those who perceive otherwise, and even against reality itself.

In our corporations, organizations, bureaucracies, academies, and voluntary organizations, we naturally gravitate toward (or coagulate with!) those who differentiate similarly. The real problems start to spread like fungus when our human intra- and interconnectedness and encountered truths become progressively more obscured by our compulsive boundary-posturing and self-valuation. The scientist cannot be separated from their own humanity and philosophy, the object of scrutiny cannot be separated from the effects of scrutiny, the subject of inquiry cannot be separated from the inquirer, "free-market capitalism" cannot be separated from human greed,
the wealthy cannot be distanced from the poor, human physiology cannot be distanced from physical experience by mental rationale, emotions, or spirituality.

We maintain the darkness of our disconnections in order to reassure ourselves of our comparative value. The good news of God-in-Christ is a revolutionary re-valuation through reconciliation and one-ness within God. It's frightening light to mushrooms.

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