As Within, So Without

da vinci, mona lisa fusion

As Within, So Without: the Isomorphs of Development

I am in a world that is in me.
– Paul Valéry

Individual development principles mirror social and historical development principles which mirror individual development principles which mirror cosmic development principles. Individual development may thus internally repeat, contain and express socio-cosmic principles just like ontogeny repeats phylogeny in biological foetal development. As within, so without.

This development process always seems to have a double-sided aspect: one to greater differentiation and individuation and one to greater integration. These processes do not mean greater degrees of ‘perfection’ or ‘betterment’ (the progressivist fallacy), but greater degrees of ‘wholeness’, i.e. a greater differentiated encompassing, containing or inclusion of more diverse, disparate and contradictory elements. As societies complexify and differentiate they produce more individuated, albeit often as narcissistic-egoic, individuals. They economically integrate on a planetary scale (‘globalisation’) and this is mirrored internally inside society’s members. Or, vice versa, the external development ‘mirrors’ or ‘goes with’ the internal.

Bar periodic collapse and regression, overall there would seem to be no alternative to increasing differentiation and individuation. It is the prime driving force of all individual, socio-historical, cosmic growth. Just as societies must integrate increasing differentiation and diversity, individuals are now increasingly called upon to find their unique paths to individuation as the internal work of integration of diverse, disparate and conflicting elements in their psyches.

Simultaneously, such a movement towards a greater containing of diverse and contradictory elements is not without its dangers. The coin of course has two sides. The greater the movement to individuation/integration/health, the greater also the possible danger of pathological isolation, dissociation and fragmentation (Ken Wilber).

The line between the two can be very fine indeed. This applies both on social and individual levels: both societies and individuals can break down in fragmentation, alienation and the pseudo-integrations of infantile regression or pathological delusion. Individuals may become psychotic, societies turn to mass delusions of ecological denial, nationalism, fundamentalism and war. This is one way to read current trends within our global systems.

We thus tread a fine historical line between the increasing potentials for both greater dissociation and alienation on the one hand, greater individuation, liberation and integration on the other. It is carefully hidden secret that, given worldwide wealth and socio-economic integration, social utopia has never been so objectively possible as today. The ‘communism’ of a guaranteed minimum income for all divorced from the necessity of wage labour is now objectively possible. As a collective humanity, as increasingly globalised individuals, we could, if we but knew it, easily build a good and fulfilling life for all and within the ecological constraints of the planetary biosphere, albeit at much lower rates of per capita resource consumption than now pertain in the rich countries.

The nearer the possible realization of such an old human dream, however, the greater both the absence of any organized wish to fulfil it and thus also the greater the possibility of socio-ecological catastrophe, social fragmentation and collapse. We thus indeed live in the best and the worst of times.

The external forces blocking the realisation of such a social utopia are again isomorphic to the ones that block our internal change processes. We all contain a seemingly cosmic and evolutionary principle of ‘conservatism’, fixation and neurotic hanging on to previous old solutions, paradigms and coping mechanisms and strenuously resisting change. Our leaders are our own neurotic and narcissistic structures writ large. They represent the resistance of the ‘secure’ past to the emerging present. They represent the need for ‘power-over’ that neurotically derives from unconscious legacies of experienced powerlessness, dis-confirmation or fear of dissolution. That is, ultimately, why we continue to believe in and follow them. Their ultimate power derives exclusively from our collusion and consent. They externally represent our own weaker, ego-centered and fearful selves that resist opening up to our inherent wholeness, collective interdependence and deep change.

Even as they and their old (industrial-capitalist, imperialist, power-over) paradigms obviously threaten our own security and survival and that of our children, we continue to hold on to the delusion that these leaders, or their phoney ‘new brand’ re-packagings, somehow represent the basic security that we think we ourselves lack internally and that we crave.

In that sense, we continue to view political and corporate leaders in the way infants and small children view their security-giving parents. We are psychologically stuck in infantile states, not daring to give way to the risks and changes that the all-encompassing processes of growth, maturation, individuation and differentiation would seem to ask of us. The first step in finding a new level of individuation in personal development is to dis-identify from the previous people or ideas we identified with. Adolescents need to dis-identify from their parents in order to move on into their own lives. Socially, whole societies would need to now pass through this high-growth, ‘adolescent’ stage of history (capitalism) and dis-identify from their parental leaders in order to become more ‘adult’ citizens of truer, participatory democracies. Our current democracies peopled with infantile majorities are thus not democracies in any real sense but systems run by elected and unelected (corporate and bureaucratic) oligarchies.

Given our many global crises, the question then becomes: can we dis-identify quickly enough from our adolescent phase to establish a real, participatory democracy of mature, autonomous citizens and thus both prevent ecocide and realise some of humanity’s deepest dreams of a good society in which there are ‘bread and roses for all’?

~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 16, 2013.

18 Responses to “As Within, So Without”

  1. Thank you Peter.
    A dense very clearly expressed manifesto. We do seem poised on a crest of a possibility. Funny how it all balances, the inequities, the aberrant talent, the hope, the destruction.
    If we all- or even a quorum- tried together, maybe like the sun, we just might change polarity…

  2. beautiful peter…you say so eloquently, what i feel….

    • Thanks Kristi, very kind of you. Hope you’re still enjoying teaching; and also wonder whether you have a fall and winter in Florida? Take care. Peter

      • hey…still enjoy teaching, but only becuz it’s art…i haven’t been forced to follow some arbitrary pacing guides like the teachers who have core classes…tho it’s in the wind that the new nation-wide common core standards will do just that to the electives too…gotta keep everybody on the same page…wouldn’t want any individuality or innovation to happen…! and yes…we do have lovely falls and winters, tho the difference is probably imperceptible to most folks…right now, we’re getting the migrating birds…and the bees and butterflies are all in full swing too…it’s a feast for the eyes! you take care as well…

      • Kristi, do you think there might be any way of teachers getting together to fight against national ‘core standards’ and further standardization of curricula/testing and elimination of the arts? Happening here in Oz too. Seems like a worthy cause for teachers to take up together with students and parents. I always wish for more teacher resistance to the corporate takeover of education that’s been going on for thirty years. Not too much resistance so far…

      • If I can say, here in Scotland, where ‘we’ have had the Curriculum for Excellence more or less imposed from above, there is very little scope for input bottom up as we say. Same in England with the great reforms in late ’80’s with GCSE. I just feel like Peter does- and most teachers who actually teach- ones expertise has a value and a place when |Someone devised improvements are mooted. Usually they are in place, sometimes piloted beforehand, then swept out generally without much pause for thought…

  3. Lots to think about here Peter. To begin with, there is the attractiveness of fractal patterns and neat symmetries… giving us a comforting sense of teleological order. This you might oppose to the notion of chaos, where the “mirroring” or “repeating” effect you mention might only be approximate, refracted or distorted. Here, it might be interesting as well to think of the “mirror stage” in the production of identity, of how the mirror is not a simple reflection but transforms the gaze itself. For instance, the belief that “there will always be war” is a misrecognition derived from the belief ” because the individual is always at war with himself” ( ie Human Nature) . In this case the gaze is performative, through some weird transference justifying both forms of violence ( the correlation is ” because the world is violent of course I am violent, etc, etc good old causation)

    At a much less theoretical level, I am trying to think of how our notion of justice fits into this schematic. You are careful not to culturally “weigh” perfection or betterment (what you call the progressivist trap) yet you can’t help setting up distinct poles of old, conservative, traditional-infantile vs new, modern, healthy-adult and the suggestion that there is a teleological direction between them. In other words, progress, no?

    What I would suggest is that justice is a traditional, conservative value which is deemed irrelevant by the revolutionary system of capitalism, which is actually all about super-integration and unbounded flux. The same with a “quaint” notion like sustainability, it is conservative and even pre-modern.

    Personally, I feel like a child whose parents are reckless, psychotic, drunken adults hell-bent on perpetual, unending “Great Leaps Forward” . In this sense, justice would not require backward or forward or transcendent thinking, but just and equitable thinking.

    • Hi Dave. Appreciate the comments. Sort of topic we’d need face to face contact for and LOTS of time and a few glasses of something I guess.

      Progress, yes and no (cf Both Progress and the Primitive). Overall direction, teleological or not, I’d probably say yes too, tho’ there’s also a mystic/Zen sense or level of being in which nothing ‘goes’ anywhere, no future no past no time no space… But here we’re talking human history. Both an ‘Up from Eden’ (Ken Wilber), and it’s all there always from the apparent beginning/origins, just gotta get outa our own way as it were….

      I agree that there might be revolutionary implications in some traditional conservative values. Brecht: we’re not revolutionary, capitalism is, it tears everything down all the time, ‘the fury of disappearances’. A case could be made for deep resistance to capitalism only happening historically where there was something traditional to defend, a way of life incorporating other, non-market values (peasants, indigenous and subsistence cultures, moral economies, early capitalist craftsmen etc). I’d also argue it’s now revolutionary or subversive to conserve things like nature, books, solitude, non-market values. Against that of course, Marx lauds the destructive, anti-feudal, revolutionary nature of capitalism brilliantly in the Communist Manifesto, and I’d tend to agree with that when I know sexy advertising and the lure of commodity hunger are always gonna defeat patriarchal ‘elders’ shooting girls who want to go to school or ‘honour kill’ them for being independent. Tricky issues.

      ‘Justice’ a trad, conservative value. Yes and no. Yes, I’m sure we’re all born with an inherent sense of justice, toddlers have it. Indigenous people would probably not have used the term ‘justice’ for their grievances, as the term is probably a product of western Enlightenment and thus capitalism. The whole abstract notion of ‘justice’ in trade and money exchanges then spreading to political concepts of the isolated citizen seeking justice and individual rights.

      Ditto ‘sustainability’. Very modern concept. Both sustainable indigenous cultures AND many examples of indigenous cultures profoundly disturbing/degrading their environment before finding some kind of balance with it (i.e. a Primitivist myth to locate humanity’s ecological ‘Fall’ in neolithic agriculture, urban civilisation and class society…).

      All for now, there is no time there is no time there is no time

  4. Just the other day I was talking with a fellow muso (we had just played) about some stuff that seems somewhat related to what you are saying here Peter. He has been getting into stuff that is similar in taste to Buddhist notions and was talking about oneness. That all is really one connected thingy. There isn’t really differentiation or at least it is of less importance. I was leaning the other way. Not denying the oneness, interconnectedness, mesh thingy but rather accentuating the diverseness, idiosyncraticness of individuals and how there seems, in many movements, organisations, groups, a perhaps unconscious desire towards sameness. To smooth out the paradoxes and contradictions as if they are in some way bad. I used the dreaded solipsistic word too. I have been contemplating the notion of “irrelevance” in relation to existence once one’s OWN consciousness has been annihilated, snuffed out. That it is not that something doesn’t exist if it hasn’t been noticed before, as in Newton’s laws before Newton discovered them, or whether the fridge light is on or off when the door is closed,it is merely that they are irrelevant.( I read recently that Heidegger apparently said, “Only as long as Dasein is…is there being…” and I related strongly to the notion but with my own personal twist of irrelevance rather than non-existence) It seems presently I am pushing the individuated side a bit further, where as before, when I practiced Buddhism, I was perhaps doing the opposite. I say perhaps, because I am not certain. That not-certainness is a very strong quality. It relates very strongly, for me, to the idea that we may not be in as much control of ourselves, our behaviour, moods, thoughts, states so to speak, as we think. That our always to remain unknown capacities, our uncontrolled states, along with all those other multitudinous dispositions, contradictions and paradoxes can’t be smoothed out necessarily and nor should we try, but rather must be embraced for their idiosyncraticness, the creative energy latent within them and as part of the mesh. Our interconnectedness.

    For me not-certainness, idiosyncraticness, and the idea of uncontrolled states play a large role in who I am, so who I am is not all my own doing, I think! I am not certain I have understood everything you wrote Peter, but the idea of development not necessarily being better or headed in that direction but rather towards a wholeness that encompasses the individuated, differentiated yet integrated seems intuitively and soothingly right. Feels right. Visceral.

    Fear of wholeness could be a misconstrued fear of sameness, which doesn’t actually exist but that our current society (actually, only a small minority of, as you point out Peter, oligarchs)seems hell bent on imposing. Perhaps there is one last major contradiction of capitalism that Marx didn’t think of (I don’t know. He probably did. Seems he thought of most things!), that the superficial homogenisation of society, in order for a few to suck every last drop of creativity out of those under their heel, does, can, will create such a psychic dissonance or disturbance that eventually that deeply embedded quality of creativity will, on a massive scale, burst asunder, thereby realising “humanity’s deepest dreams of a good society in which there are ‘bread and roses for all’?”


    • G’day James. Seems we’ve relocated EARTH to this blog, with Kristi and Dave partcipating too. Nice.

      Like our musings or riffs on wholeness-as-integrating-diversity. Here I’d make a few quick connections between a liberated society/anarchism, ecology and art. To me they are all forms of bottom-up, democratic self-organising of differences into a whole, whether this is into a work of art (art, music, poem), an ecosystem, or an autononomus community. The integration of the whole does not happen top-down by force (then you get art as propaganda, a ruined ecosystem, a totalitarian dictatorship). The whole is the free association and communication of differences finding its own form of free order, which is then under constant review, negotiation, change. This is also the idea of autonomy: people making their own rules without recourse to any external authority (Castoriadis is good on this).

      When I studied Bookchin and bio-ecology for myself back in the 70s in Frankfurt for a PhD in political philosophy I never finished, I discovered you could summarise the discipline under three large headings: unity, diversity, self-organisation. In more traditional terms: The One , the Many, wu wei (Taoist/Zen ‘non-action’). Writing/reading poems, making/listening to music, making/contemplating an art object, these are all wu-wei, the process of diverse elements flowing and coming together into an unforced whole. That’s my model for a libertarian organisation too. But usually the hangups start arising quickly, and…. Hard to keep in that groove, loose but strongly focussed.

      Anyway. Liked the music you posted at IOPS too. Blow dat trumpet Joshua blow. Rattle dat tumbleweeded ghost town.

      • Hi Peter,

        Thanks for reply. “Hard to keep in that groove, loose and strongly focused.” “Hangups” getting in the way. That rift between “fixing oneself” as if we’re broken and fixing the world in which we are broken. This constant oscillation between the two. Sorry if I don’t make sense but I’m thinking of those things that don’t keep us in the groove I suppose.

        Been reading a bit of Timothy Morton via Jason Chaplin of Vic IOPS. Really struggle to understand him. Like philosophy as art. An aesthetic quality coming through the delivery that I just let wash over me even though I am uncertain as to what he is saying. Uncertain about reading him as compared to reading Clive Hamilton’s book about geoengineering. The aesthetic/philosophical/intellectual fog of Morton (though alluring) vs the practicality of Hamilton. Do either clear the way or add to one’s confusion, uncertainty and existential anxiety? See, hangups. What to do with stuff? How to correlate one’s own idiosyncraticness with connectedness and wholeness? The inside with the out? Fix myself or the world? Both? Do I need fixing?

        I guess that’s why I free improvise. I forget all that and it reflects (to me) your idea of a liberated society or organisation. “… the free association and communication of differences finding its own form of free order, which is then under constant review, negotiation, change.”

        Yeah posting the music at IOPS made me feel weird as if I was doing something naughty or wrong. It was the Sagan bit that “made” me do it. The tumbleweeds are still blowing through. I find that sad a tad. But I suppose change isn’t about websites!


  5. hey peter, nick…from what i’ve read, there are pockets of resistance around the u.s…and hopefully, it will grow…that said, at my school, resistance is futile…it’s been accepted as a necessary evil…the latest in the long line of predictable bandaids…what i’m seeing are the young teachers simply don’t question…and the older teachers, well…as my former principal said to me, “you should be grateful you still have a job…” and, as far as electives like art go, he’s right…the disregard for art is palatable thru-out the faculty…so i just keep my head down and quietly tell the kids that, yes…they need math, language arts and science…but it’s creativity that will set them apart…some get it…most don’t…
    i fervently hope you’re right james, that on a massive scale, creativity will burst thru…and unless these creeps in charge blow us all up, i think it will…i think our strength is in our collective individuality…

    • Ah well, Kristi, I can just imagine your situation at school. Keep on truckin. How sad that as you say ‘young teachers simply don’t question’. I found that too when I started doing teacher training and teaching in Germany back in 1978. So it’s not a new phenomenon. While there were a few exceptions, most were only interested in a secure job, and a good pension.

      Thinking about schools, I came up with this a while back (it’s at this blog under Aphorisms, seems to fit in with what we’ve been talking about):

      ‘The core problem of schools is that they have always been too middle class. Children are born workers who want to DO practical, useful, creative things, not just talk about them, or, worse, be talked to about them. Children are also born poets, artists, philosophers and aristocrats who want to get the widest possible view about everything in the known and unknown universe. Most of the many problems of the middle class school system stem from its structural repression of the practical, creative and philosophical.’

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful reply Peter, I look forward to the day. I spent a great deal of time in Frankfurt in the early 70’s, mostly in connection to the hashish trade or rock and roll. One of the reasons I appreciate Zizek is because he is one of the few philosophers trying to stay out in front of the always accelerating, frighteningly dynamic circuits of capital.

    Kristi, my great friend and comrade is a high school Spanish teacher and his soul is wrenched by the experience; so much possibility, so much frustration… He has led several delegations to Chiapas (to stay in Zapatista caracol) and soon will lead his second to Cuba. A couple of his past students are in our IOPS chapter but most reject his critique and drift along with the mass.

    High school was a disaster for me. I couldn’t memorize things and only wanted to do, as Peter puts it. Only after being a cowboy and logger and lots of other things here in the Rockies did I turn back to learning and now my biggest dream is to go to a university. Maybe if I can sell my novel….

  7. peter, i read and very much liked your aphorisms…all of them…but so true about our “middle class” school system…
    dave, i didn’t make the troutsky/dave connection till peter’s comment…interesting how the earth folks have relocated here…in my youth, i did the equine thing too, a kentucky “hardboot”…and met quite a few cowboys during my years on the track…
    wondering why you think it’s even necessary to go to a university these days, with the courses all available online…?
    another interesting thing…your friend, the h.s. spanish teacher…i work at a middle school that is probably 90% cuban…staff and students…but the hate for castro is palatable…just another reason i keep my head down and my politics to myself…

    • Hi Kristi et merci. Wondering if a Kentucky ‘hardboot’ might be an Oz ‘jillaroo’ (male: jackeroo)? Re the Castro hatred, I think a libertarian case could be made for something similar, just google anarchists in Cuba, repression in Cuba etc. I know reactionary/authoritarian reasons for rejecting dictators aren’t the same as libertarian ones, but sometimes common grounds can be found for these rejections, and for conversations, in a common humanity, sense of justice etc. Despite the soviet gulag etc, I think progressives often make the mistake of playing down ‘leftist’ repression for fear of ‘anti-communism’, which is something we should be. All libertarians/anarchists are anti-communists by definition, we’re the first ones those bastards stand up against a wall. Watch really right-wing people squirm when you agree with them on that score, and also watch your own credibility go up…

  8. well…if jill/jackaroo means a tough as old leather-hard-ass, then yes…!
    there might be someone at my school who, in a one on one conversation, we could find common ground, maybe they’re keeping their head down like me…?
    everyone has their personal horror stories about what castro has done to them or their families…and he’s been a royal prick to be sure…but the patriotism here is so prevalent…they are soooo grateful to be here…few risk even questioning the capitalist hierarchy…and i totally understand where they’re coming from…
    what i do find interesting, are the rumors about those cubans that came here, only to go back to cuba once they realized how tough it was to achieve the american dream…
    but then again, a fellow american came back here last month after living in the dominican republic for 12 years and immediately went on medicaid, food stamps, and enrolled his kids in school…
    sustenance living is preferable to biting the hand…
    seems people don’t want to connect the inequitable dots…things could always be worse…be freakin’ grateful already !

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