The Edifice of Thought*
Technological thinking, institutionalized, taught thinking, what we call rational thought is shaped entirely by an Edifice of Thought. It never looks at, is blind to, even the existence of Thought as an edifice, a bounded world. It takes its sense of bounded-ness as being the result of essential limits on what is possible; what is realistic, in its terms. But, even when we question thought and take forays outside these boundaries thought is still exercising control, in the sense of giving a particular shape, to how we think.
This acts in a way analogous to the way the wrinkles in a slope will effect how falling water gathers into rivulets, streams, and rivers. On a virgin slope small variations will lead to the development of a particular pattern of channelization. Once this process has begun it reinforces itself. After a while the resulting channels, having deepened and coalesced, come to seem inevitable and, once established, they create a powerful momentum that both maintains their form and makes major changes seem impossible. While from the initial circumstances many possible patterns of channelization were available this particular pattern has resulted from a dynamic of self-reinforcing events in which chance and variability over time lose their ability to direct the outcome.
At this point change comes to seem as only possible in small, incremental steps. This insistence that what we refuse to take in cannot possibly be continues to build-up pressure until some major perturbation leads the stream to jump its banks, leaving its old channel and quickly establishing a new path that then seems equally monolithic and stable until the next major shift.
This dynamic plays out in revolutions and counter-revolutions in Thought. Each change is imperceptible until it arrives at a cascade of events that then leave us with another different, but essentially similar system of apparent stability punctuated by chaotic instability leading to another apparently stable state.
Each channel carved into the slope by these contingencies can be seen as a form of damage done, an erosion of the virgin slope cut there by an act of violence. It can be seen as an instance of trauma, affecting everything that comes after it. So long as we fail to understand this connection between our found condition and a series of long-unfolding traumas we are unable to see over the banks built-up by their effects on our landscape. We are stuck reacting to the results of these compounded cascades of trauma.
We can never recover or return to the conditions of the virgin slope. We cannot wipe the slate clean and simply start over, hoping for a different result. The only reason this has ever appeared to be an option is because we are stuck within these existing banks unaware of the greater dynamic that has produced them and, in our frustration, we insist on forcing a change. We either knock down the existing bank or we build a dam in our desperation to change the course of our stream. All this does is increase the perturbations that lead to the next chaotic restoration of a new relative stability still mired in the patterns of Thought, in this Edifice of Thought we have built over time and that we inhabit without realizing that its limitations are not necessarily ours.
If we look at our condition as resulting from a series of compounding traumas it becomes clear that adding further traumas, tearing down dykes and building new dams, will only make matters worse. We can begin to see how our desires, as well as our conceptions of how things work, are confused and ultimately no more than reactions to our traumatized condition. It becomes clear that compounding trauma can never do anything but makes matters worse.
This is a realization of futility. This realization is what our defended selves, resulting from our traumatized states, will not allow us to see.
The only way out of this defensiveness is to pass through a process of uncovering the nature of our deepest wounds. This path moves us towards a recognition of our vulnerability. Our refusal to accept vulnerability not only keeps us from realizing and accepting futility when we run into it; it also drives our violent reactions taken in the mistaken expectation that we can change our situation by forcing reality to come into line with our misshapen desires. It blinds us to the nature of frustration and keeps us trapped in it. Never allowing us to let futility wash over us and, in acceptance, for us to change.
These cycles of reaction are not just reflected in the Edifice of Thought as it exists. They have built this Edifice of Thought itself. Once this becomes apparent we can begin to see our situation differently.
The difficulties arising from the constraints represented by the banks and bounds of our present channels; as well as the violence done to us by us in this chaotic transition we help force into being; brings us much misery. What turns our physical, temporal pains and discomforts into suffering is our refusal to pass through futility and reach a point of acceptance. This acceptance is not a passive state of pseudo-spiritual mellowness. It is a descent into the pain and anguish resulting from loss. We must pass through tears to arrive at a recognition of our vulnerability. This can only take place when we allow ourselves to be changed by accepting the futility of continuing to deny some significant aspect of our reality. In this recognition we do not eliminate misery; but, we do dissolve suffering.
It is our reaction to this self-inflicted suffering that leads us to compound misery, not only by adding the griefs of suffering itself to our woes; but because in our suffering we lash out in frustration and worsen the conditions that bring about misery. Not only that, but as much as we try to hide behind our self-justifications we cannot lose a sense of our complicity in the violence done and its continued tearing at the fabric of life.
We experience the Edifice of Thought as the world around us. We cannot differentiate between what is there and our projections so long as we continue to resist and defend against accepting the futility of our condition. Caught in structures wrought of Thought we continue to fuel destruction that can only end in the destruction of Everything. All of our energies go into feeding this edifice. All of our physical and psychic energies go into maintaining this desperate scramble. This energy is lost to us; lost to life itself as it goes into shattering us and destroying the living world on which this edifice depends even as it strives to destroy it. Each new layer of suffering and the frustration unleashed draws more of the energy available for life and creation into its destructive maw.
This is how deep change becomes possible. This energy is not only taken away from destruction it is added to creation. This, while it does not lessen misery directly, or shall we say, automatically; does significantly change the dynamic behind destruction. A process that cannot do anything but compound misery and destroy creation, leading to further dissolution and greater suffering.
The recognition of our vulnerability is a recognition that misery is a part of life. No life can exist without confronting its vulnerability and the clashes brought about by this confrontation are what we experience as misery.
The difference between trauma and injury.
These two conditions are not identical. They grade one into the other. We can have an injury without it becoming a source of ongoing trauma. We use the term injury to refer to an event, a point in life when interacting forces larger than us collide in a way that has a violent effect on us. A trauma is a psychic scar such an event can leave on us if we have no way of metabolizing the experience, as by passing through the tears of futility and being changed by the event.
What makes one injury pass without leaving a traumatic scar while another leaves us traumatized for life is a complex dynamic, but overall, it is influenced by the stability and resilience of the ways we are positioned to understand our situation. We make assumptions about our place and how we can act as the result of the form inherent in the culture we find ourselves in.
Thought has a history. It began at a certain point and was effected by its circumstances throughout its development. We could suggest that there was a shift at some point from a state in which most injuries were metabolized by the individual and their local culture without inducing long-term trauma. These injuries made sense to people in ways that let them metabolize the results without becoming traumatized. Or, their injuries were fatal. Either to the individual or to their local culture so that no lasting legacy of trauma was left behind.
We can easily imagine how these conditions could have evolved into our present circumstances where misery is compounded, leading to an ongoing heritage of trauma, creating an Edifice of Thought that holds us within banks cut so deep into the slopes of time and existence that we can no longer see any other possible landscape.
We enter a changing energy dynamic when we begin to dissolve the suffering this state of trauma has unleashed. This happens not because we create lists of enemies and keep all of our past grievances alive. It happens by looking at what happened to our ancestors with compassion and humility, seeing how each incident of trauma unrelieved led to the next and has led to the construction of this Edifice of Thought. Blame, ultimately is a form of denial of our inescapable vulnerability. We insist on finding scapegoats to convince ourselves that if not for their culpability we would be whole. Following this path we end up becoming the cause of a next generation of victims of the violence we want to believe belongs to some Other. This cannot end without our recognition that wholeness is dependent on metabolizing our past traumas and accepting our mutual vulnerability.
Imagination arises from our instinct for caution.
Imagination arises from our capacity to perceive our vulnerability and to see, to imagine, how an existing condition might lead us into danger. Imagination arose from this ability to see our vulnerability, to see it in detail, in the moment, and then come to a response.
The defended, traumatized, fragmented self cannot even notice its vulnerability; let alone see how one’s actions might make matters worse. We simply react. The changes wrought in us by our encounters with futility bring us to a point where our powers of imagination are recovered.
The legacy of action through time is the creation of meaning.
This brings us to is the point of awakening our courage.
Imagination, Meaning, Courage, once these are brought to bear we are no longer trapped within this Edifice of Thought born of trauma, feeding on misery to produce and compound our suffering.
Together these three underpinnings of life change our condition. We can begin to see what we had been blind to. We can begin to find meaning in relationship-through-action. We can begin to act with courage and disarm misery’s capacity to induce further trauma in us. At this point instead of remaining prisoners in a ruin, trapped in this Edifice of Thought, we begin to participate in the creation of a living culture.
We are still here, still feeling the results of the Enormity brought about by this Edifice of Thought, but we are profoundly changed and no longer stuck.
*This essay grows out of my confrontation over the past several months with the works of Doctors Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld. I’ve resisted attempting to produce a scholarly work here, laying out in detail what they have done and then making forays into some sort of synthesis. I am no scholar and it is not my place to pretend to such a work. What I’ve done is to feel out how my exposure to their thinking has created a new place for me to stand. I’ve written what I see from here. This is to acknowledge how profound an effect their influence has had on my thinking and how contact with their work has brought many of my long-term concerns to a new point of inflection.
It should also be clear to anyone who goes back over my writing for the past decade that I’ve long been interested in the dynamics of futility and the importance of recognizing deep trauma, not only in individuals but in our culture and civilization itself. Maté and Neufeld’s work has also fit in very powerfully with what I’ve found in the work of Jiddu Krishnamurti and David Bohm. The concept of an Edifice of Thought comes right out of their thinking and is also influenced by Peter Kajtar’s work in progress, The Order of Thought.
Lastly, the felt need to append this note stems from a realization that this essay brings my work to a watershed. It feels necessary to make these acknowledgements at this time.
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