Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Master and His Emissary, pt. 2: More Thoughts

Initial book review here.

The premise of this book, that an overdependence on the left hemisphere is pervasive and heavily reinforced by current culture, resonated with me because it made sense of various things that seemed connected but I couldn't quite put my finger on how.

Like the difficulty people seem to have in handling the relationship between individual and universal experience. It crops up constantly in blog and online article wars, but I think that is just a place that is manifested, not its origin. Mostly there are people who conclude, "My experience is X, therefore X is true for everyone (or at least everyone in the category I have drawn)." Occasionally there are people who think individual experience is only that and tells us nothing of general value. And every once in a while there is a person who has an individual experience and is able to draw from it general applications while recognizing that it is not a hard and fast categorical description. However, such a person, knowing what they are up against, usually has to hedge their statements with so many qualifications and caveats that it is hard to get the point, and they are still jumped all over by people who just don't get it, who cannot fathom that something can be both individual and general and yet not hard and fast universally applicable.

In general, there seems to me to be an intolerance of fuzzy edges--if you can't draw a bright line test (as lawyers call it) between two things, then there's no meaningful difference between them at all. But really, all edges are fuzzy if you try to hone in too closely. At the molecular level, the line between my pants and the chair would be hard to spot, but it's definitely there. There's an inability to appreciate context and the whole that cannot ever quite be reduced to a check list or bullet points. (Indeed, sometimes it seems there is an inability to read or write anything that's not a checklist or bullet points.)

And there's an over-fondness for categories, for categorizing ourselves and everyone around us, as if people existed primarily as a compilation of their categories.  If someone doesn't fit so well in a particular category, then we must either get rid of the bits of them that don't fit OR create yet another category. When perhaps what people need is to not be categorized, but treated as an individual, whole person in relation with other individual, whole people.

Then there's the way often religious fundamentalists and materialist fundamentalists sound so much alike, in their insistence on facts, facts, facts. (I remember one lady saying that she referred to the Biblical "accounts" rather than "stories," that word that suggests, well, that facts themselves are not the most important thing.) 

And this may seem off the wall, but there's the quest for novelty and even transgression in perfectly ordinary pleasures. Enjoying the same things we have enjoyed before is never enough; people get bored quickly and we must always be chasing after something new. If someone's really trying to sell something, they'll label it naughty or sinful, even though it is merely a rich dessert or fancy lingerie. Apparently we have to *pretend* it's bad to enjoy it; we can't just be there, enjoying it for itself.

Even more vague, there's the sense that everything is awesome and yet people are unhappy; not just unhappy with the normal unhappiness of humans, but unhappy in a way that is rather different in human experience; unable to just be, needing to be either working or entertained, or else hopelessly bored. A sense that people are disconnected, not just from each other, but from themselves.

These things seem rather different, and yet there seems to be a common thread somewhere. This is what The Master and His Emissary ties together: all of these are aspects of a left-brain dominated outlook, an outlook that is very good at taking things apart, sorting and classifying and pinning things on paper, but not at all good at being alive, at seeing the whole thing, at remaining in contact with the world itself.

Next time, I still have some thoughts on how this relates to education.

1 comment:

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I'm really enjoying this series. I might even have to look up the book :)