Sotto Voce.

"Qui plume a, guerre a." — Voltaire

Three More Important Journal Entries

I doubt I’ll keep updating this site on a daily basis for much longer. Consistency is not one of my hallmarks when I’m not getting paid for it. I just feel compelled to make sure there is enough content and context on the site to serve as a kind of “core” around which to build anything else that may follow. And to keep you from getting too bored too quickly.

Today I am offering three more diary entries (April 17, 2002; May 1 and 6, 2002) that take the concept of “Right Organization” right up to my psychological present. The first and third entries are long; the middle one is short (what I like to call a “bridge entry” because it serves as a connection between the entry that leads up to its conclusions and the entry that follows from its implications). See what you think.

Diary Entry for 4/17/02
Vessels, Vessels Everywhere.

I re-read that entry about “guilt as consequence of action trapped in program.” I like it a lot and I think there’s a key in there for me as a big insight (boy, what a bad sentence!). It seems to indicate an “outside-looking-in” perspective on an old issue. I like what it teaches me.

I continue to think/feel about what it means to be in the “right relationship” with people, places, and things. What is the right relationship between living creatures and institutions? What does a “right institution” look like? That one, to me, is perhaps my most important question right now. It is critical for my personal “koan quest” — the relationship between structure and love.

By binding ourselves to a process of change and awareness that is slower or more limited than the way we would otherwise develop, we put ourselves into conflict with the world around us. We become separate from nature, from other people, and from those parts of ourselves that do not acknowledge the limitations. We come into conflict with processes of change that are faster or slower, that have wider or narrower boundaries of awareness.

One of my favorite pieces of music is Philip Glass’ “Vessels” from the soundtrack to “Koyaanisqatsi” (seemingly more apropos than ever, as a concept). The metaphor of the vessel resonates deeply and profoundly with me. I am a historian of vessels that move people through air and water. I hear “Vessels” as I write this.

Institutions are like vessels. Institutions are vessels. The ability to contain, to enclose, is one of our most fundamental, pervasive, “invisible” too-making skills. I think that a case could even be made that “the vessel” — the ability to enclose — is the seventh simple machine.

Consider the development of the flying vessel, from balloons to airplanes and missiles — aerostats, aerodynes, and ballistic objects (classed according to the principles under which they operate). The trajectory of success and usefulness of each is determined by the extent to which they are able to operate independently of their environments, or perhaps better put, the extent to which they take better advantage of their environments and experience fewer of the disadvantages. (Quick example: advantage of using the air as a means of transport = simplicity of physical principle, i.e. moving a curved surface through the air creates low pressure, which in turn acts as a “supporter of weight.” Disadvantages = storms, unpredictable winds, effects of terrain. Solution = travel faster to overcome wind effects, travel higher to rise above most weather. Result = function of vessel (to move from point to point) becomes more reliable.)

Institutions are like air vessels in that they create a bubble inside which things exist and operate as if they were on the ground and standing still, though they are in reality moving faster than they could without the vessel. The vessel is not subject — or tries not to be subject — to the vagaries of its environment. It shuts its contents out from its surroundings. It exists in a time-ordered world — after all, the whole point of not being subject to the vagaries of nature is to allow a person, not the environment, to determine the times of departure and arrival, the points of departure and arrival, and the course to be followed.

All this is by way of saying that one of the results of an institution is to create a “model world” with its own rules that may be at varying odds with its surroundings, and that changes at a different pace or along a different trajectory than its surroundings.

Is it inevitable that an institution exists in this mode? If not, then what would an organization look like that acted otherwise? If so, then how do we relate to it so that we do not become ruled by, or caught up inextricably in, the artificial flow of the institution?

Post Hoc:

When I was at The Tutorial School, we had a guest speaker (an artist, maybe the father of one of the students) who brought with him a set of interlocking rods that he assembled and reassembled in various ways while he talked to us about the nature of structures. As he built triangles, squares, pyramids, and cubes, he asked us to think about how and why each structure was inherently stable (like a triangle) or collapsible (like a square). Then he asked us to try to predict how certain structures would collapse based on the arrangement of the rods.

The effects of what I was seeing and hearing resonated straight to the core of my being, almost like I was standing inside a giant bell as it was being rung. Then he ended by asking us to consider this: “What is the relationship between structure and love?”

Well, that pretty much vaporized what was left of my cerebral cortex. When I got home I was so exhausted that I fell into a deep, deep sleep for a few hours. Then, for whatever reason, I woke up and grabbed a blank piece of paper, pencil, tape, ruler, and scissors. In a few minutes I sketched, cut out, and assembled a four-piece tetrahedron consisting of a central octahedron and three small tetrahedral “corners.” (To this day, I still have it.) No big deal for an architect; but I had never before, nor have I since, been able to simply wrap paper around empty space quite so easily.

Not only that, the artist’s question became my own personal koan. Pretty much everything that you read on Sotto Voce is a dispatch from somewhere along the quest to understand it.

While I may have been overreaching with the idea of vessels as “the seventh simple machine,” there is no doubt that the enclosing power of physical and conceptual vessels (even names, labels, and time-ordered narrative descriptions define the boundaries of a concept or concepts) is an important part of the whole issue of Right Organization and Right Relationship.

This diary entry ties in to some of the issues discussed in the Tutorial School Dispatch on organizations, authority, and compassion.

# # #

Diary Entry for 5/1/02
Bridge Entry: The Necessary Condition.

How about this as a component of, or necessary condition for, “wrong institution” (or the near enemy of “right institution”): “a situation or condition that eliminates, minimizes, or inhibits the direct experience of the consequences of an action.” Boy, the implications of that one are pretty amazing! But I think I’m beginning to get at the heart of the issue (as I see it now, at least).

# # #

Diary Entry for 5/6/02
Truth in Consequences.

Wow, that one is a real key concept. It has tremendous explanatory power for me. It is one of those conceptual “nodes” that seems to be at the intersection of a whole range of thougt-trains, and suggests even more possible avenues of exploration, of departure from that node in a dozen different directions. I haven’t had something resonate that deeply, that richly, since my “days of discovery” at the Tutorial School. I “tried it out” with J at a session today, and it really seems to open up some amazing potential consequence-implication avenues. We had a great, substantial discussion about it.

We discussed it by way of a segue from the “vessel metaphor” of institutions, and it does seem that they flow that way. One of the implications, obvious to me at the time I wrote the “necessary condition” and applicable in our discussion, was this: anything that isolates an individual from the consequences of an action immediately eliminates any sense of scale or proportion. What one person can do amorally to one person, can be done amorally to a hundred, to 10,000, to a million people. But with the sense of consequence and responsibility comes a “de-metaphorization” of the person (or environment, or self). You are in relationship with that person, and to be in a relationship means to understand, to know, to be compassionate towards, that person. You have not “objectified” him through the filter of a system — legal, religious, cultural, etc. etc. — that allows you to be free from the consequences of (a.k.a. “justified in”) killing him — the emotional, deep-seated compassionate response to seeing something/one that is “known” suffering because of what you have/haven’t done.

If we were to be aware of, and responsible for, our actions and their effects on those with whom we are in relationship, we would not have the time, the inclination, or the right to treat them with anything other than dignity and validation.

From this vantage point, then, it sure looks to me like the relationship between structure and love is that love is the only real structure.

Post Hoc:

Often when you’re having trouble identifying what something is, it helps to be able to clarify what it isn’t. So one way for me to narrow down the definition of a “right” organization was to establish some of the key characteristics of a “wrong” one. (I personally prefer the Buddhist concept of “near enemy” to the dichotomous idea of “right/wrong,” but the concept of “right organization” is a kind of shorthand for me by now.)

The original handwritten entry for May 1 is filled with crossed-out and inserted words, like the draft of an important declaration or something. I really wanted to get the expression right as it appeared to me. It came to me one night just before I fell asleep; I had to jot it down in the notebook on my nightstand (yes, I am a writer) and then re-rendered it the following day in my journal. Even then, I had to struggle with the wording to make sure it captured the nuanced impression that was in my head.

So have I, in fact, “solved” my koan? Well, I sincerely doubt it. Just the act of putting my solution into words limits it (“classifies” it; puts it in a “vessel” — all those metaphors that I’ve used here). So the unspoken resonance of it is already more complete than any expression of it can ever be. Not that I’ve stopped wrestling with it or anything. Not until the day some enlightened Buddhist master tells me that I’ve “gotten it” — not a very likely proposition.

Categorised as: Life the Universe and Everything

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