Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Relatively Speaking

I've been having a dialogue with a professor of mine. Sort of. It's almost a debate. I don't want to focus so much on our personal clashes as much as the mental-scapes in which we differ. This teacher of mine is intelligent, young, charismatic and whole-heartedly passionate about teaching sociology. Yet, some of the views that often come up in class can at times frustrate me. We'll call her professor M, and for the sake of anonymity I'll turn this into a creative dialogue that sums up our differences, and helps me explore the perspectives.

At any rate, the discussion went like this:

Student Z: Professor, I'd like to show you this interesting philosophy. It's called Integral, or a "theory of everything." What it basically means is a comprehensive map of all of our perspectives, theories and schools- an attempt to see the bigger picture from a wider perspective, without losing any important revelations from each level.

Professor M: [While looking over a few charts in Brief History of Everything]. Sounds really interesting!

Student Z: Yeah, it's actually amazing how it summarizes so much.

M: There's a danger in that, though. You see, I am very critical of any map or system, because a map or system is never going to be able to size up to the human being. We're too complex and organic. A system is a stagnant thing. You might end up marginalizing someone by categorizing them.

Z: Oh, you're totally right. That is, I get where you're coming from. But this is... different. In fact, it even mentions your criticism.

M: Really? [Looking at AQAL] Wow. That's so intricate.

Z: Yes. Basically the difference is: Instead of marginalizing, Integral maps try to be holarchical, not hierarchical. That is, they embrace and transcend. Consider them maps of the mental sphere that reveal that, much like planets are included in solar systems, not rejected, so too are different levels of human thinking included into newer ones. We're layered, complex, dynamic. Though only a map, its a nifty one. It helps point the way to real depth of the human being. This is the big difference between these systems and the oppressive systems of the past.

M: You'll have to excuse me, but I am quite skeptical of something like this. After so many years of heirarchical oppression, the last thing we need is a philosophy that has the potential to be abused.

Z: True. I see your point. I just feel that at this moment in time, more and more people are appreciating evolutionary development. If we keep things entirely complex, continuously more intricate, what do we do?

M: It's really a duty of mine, I feel. To help my students enrich their knowledge, to complicate their thinking, to question aspects of culture and society that are often left untouched. This sort of system isn't something that I feel will help that. In fact, it may over-simplify, or generalize the very things I'm trying to complexify.

Z: Yes, that's true. But what about the people who, like yourself, have broken up the systems. The system busters shatter norms, explore taboos and question our own way of living. But what's next? Or are we to forever wade in a sea of complex theories? Isn't there a big picture to it all?

M: I can't see a bigger picture than that. To see how complex and non-heirarchical our life is on earth is something I value greatly.

This is basically as far as we get. I totally get her rationality. In fact, I deeply appreciate it. But this complication- if that's the great answer, then why do I still feel a yearning? Why is there still a quest in myself for a bigger picture? I feel it's deeper than that. I feel that it's possible to rise up from all of these theories, as Wilber calls "the flatland," and see how it all fits- or if it even fits. If we don't bother to entertain the notion of a bigger picture, how is it that post-modernism can help us? It was born as a system breaker, and now it seems it is bent on destroying all systems, past and future. In essence, it has become a suppressor, destroying the one seed in the garden that will transform our flat earth into a lush and organic forest, let alone universe.

I feel this is why it has been so hard to get ourselves working together. For the first time in history, we are able to communicate instantly, yet we feel so alone. We seek escapes, we yearn for outlets. If anything, more flatland is not going to solve the riddle. Nothing will. But if you want to fly, if you want to touch the stars, you'll need to use structures- at least a little.


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