Conversations June 11, 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

5 AM. Last night, yielding to an impulse that yet wasn’t entirely an impulse, I watched the first half of “Schindler’s List.” I had bought the video sometime ago, secondhand, for a few dollars, but hadn’t ever watched it. (I’d seen the film years ago when it came out.) For the past few weeks whenever I looked for something to watch, I’ve considered it but decided against it. I’ve had it out, but still not played it, till last night I watched the first cassette of two. Why? Well, my friends, you tell me, but I suppose it has to do with person-groups and social-groups. (Had to page back to find the word social-group.) I suppose we ought to call you spirit-groups.

You wouldn’t hurt our feelings if you did, but it makes more of a distinction between physical person-groups and non-physical person-groups than is warranted. The big difference between physical and non-physical is that without bodies, as in the physical, for us the difference between person-group and social-group isn’t so great, isn’t so clear. That’s one of the points to make evident — threads are more in evidence here than rings, though the ring — manifested as the habit-system that is your minds — persists.

So — Schindler’s List?

In the camp commandant as portrayed you see the practical result of a person-group at war within himself. The social-group around him — the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Nazi attitude to Jews — reinforces one part of the person-group that in other external circumstances would not have been reinforced. This should be obvious — you are influenced by your environment. And the person-group that is Oscar Schindler is another example of the interaction. A part of his person-group that had not been active — his conscience, you would call it — became activated by other parts of his person-group in reaction to the circumstances he saw around him. Again, he was influenced by his environment. And Schindler’s person-group, having been changed, in turn began to act in ways that changed his social-group to the extent that it could.

Nothing that we are saying is new. People are changed by their surroundings. People change their surroundings. It is reciprocal. You know that as a practical matter. But we now ask you to look again at what you have always seen. As your eyes open, your mind opens — and vice versa.

The first thing needed is to be able to look at a situation — internal or external, it’s the same thing — without blame, without condemnation. If you condemn, you only demonstrate that you do not understand the situation.

Now, you might ask, how could anyone look at the Nazi death camps, or the Soviet death camps, and not condemn? But this is a misuse of language, or rather is a result of the limitations of language. This one word “condemn” has many meanings, and the meaning — as happens with so many aspects of language — tends to change unnoticed, often enough in mid-sentence, let alone in mid-argument.

It is one thing to discern an action and see it as evil. This is more difficult than it appears; nonetheless, we may say that the social-group, in constructing and running death-camps, did evil.

And we may say, similarly, that the person-group, in participating, did evil. Death-camps are an extreme example, but we wanted an extreme example, to avoid the arguments involved in weighing whether a given action itself was evil.

However, does it follow that the social-group or person-group who does evil, therefore is evil? A few moments’ thought must show you what an impossible scale of gradations this must lead to, weighing how evil by — by what? Number of offenses? Degree of offenses? Intent? Perception? The person-group or social-group’s deliberate decision to do evil?

You have heard us say, many times, you never have enough data to judge. Perhaps it is a bit clearer now? The interaction between person-group and social-group assures that there will never be a test-case of either in isolation. The fact that both the person-group and the social-group are filled with various elements, many conflicting, many that would function one way in one set of circumstances, another way in another set of circumstances, means that you will be a long time looking for “good” and “evil” in isolation. The best person-group or social-group is going to contain elements that — if exposed in the wrong circumstances — are going to do evil. The worst person-group or social-group will contain elements that you would have to concede are good, or would be good in different circumstances.

Judging others is always a mistake. Judging yourself, for that matter, is always a mistake (and in fact is the same thing).

Judge actions, not motivations. Condemn results, not those who produced the results.

Would you tell us what productive result can come from condemnation? As an example, you write this during the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which has people frightened of the future, and sad for the damage, and concerned lest other similar incidents produce yet more damage.

People condemn.

The oil company.

The equipment manufacturer.

The operators.

The management.

The government regulators.

The environmentalists.

The politicians.

The lobbyists.

The consumers.

Each of these, either as a person-group or as social-group is condemned, and does condemn. Everybody sees everybody else as the problem.

Well, you say, what is the alternative? To see myself as the problem?

No. Blaming is blaming. Condemning is condemning.

The alternative is to say — in something of a leap of faith, we realize! — “Everybody’s doing his best.”

Now what does that mean in practice? Because, you know that in practice you’re going to find that the roots of this particular situation are to be found in millions of little decisions, some going back 50 years or more. People take shortcuts and apparently the shortcut has no ill effect, so it becomes standard practice. People are put under pressure, or put themselves under pressure. People perceive themselves to be forced to operate under artificial constraints, unfair constraints, illegal or immoral constraints, and —

Now. Stop right there. Re-read that paragraph and see if you can understand how your language tempts you into judgments. Yes, we led you down the garden path a little, but in a good cause. (And of course any person-group who does anything of any sort does it “in a good cause.” Another little thought-bomb for you.)

In that paragraph that begins “Now what does that mean in practice” we said the same thing we are going to say again, rephrased. See the difference within you?

What does that mean in practice? Every situation has components inserted over time — 50 years or more — by uncounted numbers of person-groups and social-groups interacting and interacting again.

That is all that the original paragraph said, but what a difference in effect! At least, we hope so.

The same person-group who cuts corners in certain situations would be a stickler for detail (or would not be allowed on the job) if surrounded by different person-groups or social-groups. The same social-group that pressures its constituent parts to cut corners would act differently if its own surroundings were different. And this is true entirely up and down the line, from any angle you please. Does every conservation social-group attempt to cooperate with every oil-company social-group, or does it tend to assume that it is dealing with evil? And the same around the table.

Condemnation isolates!

Observe, in the coming months, how much effort is expended by person-groups and social-groups to evade blame. In each case, some of their actions deserve condemnation as morally or practically wrong — but whoever it is, they’ll know that the blame other person-groups or social-groups are attempting to fix on them is not justified in those terms. Since they too will have a need to blame something or someone, they will do so. Nobody — no person-group, no social-group — will dare to cooperate with those perceived as looking for opportunities to make them the scapegoat. All the incentives are to “manage” the situation, because the potential cost of being seen as to blame is too crushing for any person-group or social-group to bear. It can never be justified, because condemnations are never that simple. The story is always more complicated, more nuanced, the closer you look at it.

Now, you might think it’s a long way from “Schindler’s List” to the BP oil spill, or you might not. All we would say is in both cases — in all cases — the situation is vastly more complex than any person-group could ever possibly comprehend, and the only effect condemnation will have is to isolate the person-group doing the condemning, even if he or she is surrounded by others doing the same thing. For, when the person-group as a whole (so to speak) is condemning something or someone, how do you suppose the part of that person-group feels that shares links with what is being condemned?

“Oh, I have nothing to do with __”

No? Maybe the part of the person-group that you are expressing does not, but we can assure you that other parts do. And so what is the effect but to emphasize the split within you?

You may have heard us say this before: Condemnation isolates. It also tends toward fragmentation, which can then lead either to an enforced uniformity (internal Nazis) or an ever-widening panic and its resulting fear.

These things have practical consequences. Understanding leads toward reconciliation and wholeness. Condemnation can not and does not lead to anything but isolation, self-aggrandizement,

Well, enough for now.

Yes, I got lost in mid-sentence.

We were starting too long a thought, and didn’t want to toss it off in a phrase.

All right.

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