Tuesday 8 November 2011

Understanding Inauthenticity and Technology

In drawing attention to individuation, attachment and conviviality, I have been pursuing ideas about how engagement with learning technology can be as deeply authentic (if not more authentic) than face-to-face engagement. At the back of my mind are the sort of convivial experiences that people have in choirs or team sports - those moments where life is given meaning through being together.

But our world, and the education system in particular, is not full of people 'being together'. Instead, there are many whose practices are currently focused on reducing the conviviality in institutions through restructurings of various kinds, the apportionment of increased pressure and stress on individuals as they are asked to "work harder" or whose idea of 'teamwork' is "do as I say". What I want to understand here is, having begun to identify a cybernetics of symmetry relating the inner-world to the outer-world (using attachment theory, fractals, absence, etc), how can these same mechanisms lead to the sort of inauthentic pathology that is present in the bully, the psychopath or the loner?

For these sorts of people, perhaps Habermas provides us with a good starting point. His description of "strategic action" is a description of inauthentic speech acts which are calculated to achieve a particular end in the outer-world, but which do not make a rich connection to the inner world. I've often thought that NLP training can be taken as a recipe for strategic action (although it doesn't have to be). At worst, people can be taught to numb their emotional responses, put on protective 'masks' which both intimidate others and hide emotions (this manifests often as a dead-pan expression which can sometimes be witnessed in politicians or senior managers), 'listen' carefully to communications in the environment, spotting key interventions that they might make to their own advantage, giving themselves maximum flexibility of action whilst restricting the flexibility of action of those around them. These are the techniques of bullies and psychopaths of all kinds!

Interestingly (and related to this) Erich Fromm worried about what he called 'cybernetic religion' - adherents to which were characterised by a view that states:
"success depends largely on how well persons sell themselves on the market, how well they get their personalities across, how nice a "package" they are; whether they are "cheerful", "sound", "aggressive", "reliable", "ambitious""
he argued
"people of the cybernetic religion constantly adapt their egos according to the principle: "I am as you desire me"" (To have or To Be, p121)
Ironically, this is very much NLP-man that Fromm descibes (and of course NLP owes its roots to the anthropological cybernetics of Gregory Bateson)

What is wrong with this is the lack of individuation, of authenticity, of creativity and freedom. It is characterised by slavery to the 'communications machine' that is the modern world. The communications machine offers that "if you push the right buttons, you will be ok". Speech acts, emails, telephone conversations, reports and accounts may fly by with the best practices of Fromm's cybernetic religion. But those who submit forget they are lost, and with their loss is a broader human loss - not just in the people they shaft on their way to success, but in the real good that they don't do, and the love that they don't show either for the world or for themselves.

C.S. Lewis called these people "men with empty chests" (in "The abolition of man"). Ultimately, I believe it is fear of death that creates this hollowness. But it is the mechanism I am interested in.

It may be a mechanism of 'death substitution' or 'absence substitution'. The nexus of sin lies in these 'death substitutes'. It is either 'success', or 'acquisition', or 'status' or the 'object of lust', or 'hatred' which fills the void. And as the void is filled with these things, an uneven symmetry emerges which unbalances the relationship between inner and outer worlds. The result is almost always narrow obsession. That suggests a kind of symmetry which continually turns in on itself in ever-decreasing circles, that never experiences the kind of total transformation brought about through transcendence. There may be a positive-feedback relationship between getting hooked into an obsessive symmetry and dependence of ego-identity on particular objects of attachment. That would certainly explain the obsessiveness: the car, the woman, the job, the house, the title that has to be 'had'...

Individuation, by contrast, is characterised by choice of attachment and deep awareness of the relationship between inner and outer worlds. In my model, this can only come about through true recognition of death and absence, because only this can give rise to an aesthetic sense of the 'symmetry of being' that can guide individuation to its most characteristic act: the divestment of possessions.

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