Thursday, June 25, 2009

Double Bind

"Damned if I do, Damned if I don't." The perfect example of the "double bind". Only in this case the action isn't specified. You can get more specific examples and definitions but for our purposes this example of contradictory language will do. Now what are the actions I want to consider? Lets start with: "We don't save enough." vs "The economy hinges on the consumer returning to the marketplace." How about: "We must stop dependence on foreign oil." vs "The American auto industry failed because the public stopped buying cars." The policy response is "cash for clunkers" a program that hopes to encourage the sale of yet more cars albeit with slightly higher fuel efficiency.

"We are in the middle of the greatest debt destruction in history" vs "We must stimulate the economy by generating trillions of dollars of new debt."

"We are burning too much carbon." vs "Your electric bill rose because the utility argued they couldn't maintain their profit margin on reduced sales."
"There are limits to growth determined by the fixed amount of resources available on earth." vs "If we don't continue to grow we will fail."

What's a body to do? Bateson's theory of the double bind in communication implied that its persistence in language would result in schizophrenia.

I believe there is a sane alternative. The institutions that construct the language in the above examples of the double bind are vast competing forces, struggling for survival in what is clearly an end game for one or more of the opposing points of view. We however are but individuals, who, if we were to become selfish, could abstain from the limits of the duality, and construct a third way.

The objective of our collective school curriculum, from the moment we enter the system, is stated as the development of individuals with the ability to think critically, make decisions based on sound reason, and realize our unique potential. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are tested, shaped, and driven on a path of group think that allows us to be marketed to as a herd. All the while decrying behavior that might allow us to realize our individuality as selfish.

Its time to get selfish, to screen all conflicting points of view from the perspective of "does it work for me". The NYT in a story in april referred to the double bind of college loans. We were all told they were a good investment. It may not work out. When choosing a course of study we have been counseled to specialize, develop a set of marketable skills. It turns out that many "secure" positions are now dead or dying and the ability to be flexible, adaptable, and a generalist is becoming a smart survival skill. When it comes to trusting others with your money maybe investment firms don't have your best interest at heart. The failure of responsible institutions to deliver on their promises of health, wealth, and the pursuit of happiness, is obvious to all.

It would be wonderful if such a screen included an appreciation that what works for you is not achieved at the expense of others. That in itself could be understood as a selfish interest. Stability of the population, the planet, and community you live in, is life affirming.

It is time to construct a personal reality. Now the irony of such a general statement is that if we have learned anything it is that we can't "go it alone". So now we have constructed the ultimate double bind statement, to survive "I" must find my way, within a "COMMUNITY" of fellow travelers. These terms seem to be mutually exclusive. If we accept the possibility of community to be diverse, it can become inclusive.

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