Pandemic Preemption – ‘Author’s Subtext’ [see footnote in ‘Introduction’]

Contributors; Ted Lumley

In writing this first newsletter (APN #1, Pandemic Pre-emption)  on the ‘H1N1 swine flu pandemic’, I wanted to try to deepen the view of ‘what is actually going on’, to capture how the sense of ‘being a participant in evolution’ (a ‘strand in the web of life’) does important things for us and for the way we engage with/in the world, that are absent when we opt for the sense of ‘being in control’, as associates with dealing in ‘representations’ and the ‘causal model’.

The remarks on community ‘seen’ as the ‘wild desert flower’ that spontaneously self-organises, rather than the community ‘seen’ as something ‘deliberately constructed’ as it may appear in ‘representations’, tries to infuse the sense that the relationship between ‘habitat’ and ‘inhabitant’ can be ‘seen’ in two ways; in an ‘aboriginal/medieval’ way and an Enlightenment – representation way.

The approach attempted has been to infuse, by way of a ‘background awareness’, the sense that there is indeed a conjugate relationship between ‘inhabitants’ and ‘habitat’ (‘terrain’).   In the viewfield of a notional long-term observer (the ‘eyes of the continuing evolutionary process’), the flow of people in and out of the oasis is relentless and so the occupants of the dwellings around the oasis are ceaselessly being replaced, not only by the immigration-emigration flow but by the birth-death flow, so that the dwellings (that we can capture as photographic representations) can be understood as a kind of ‘scale’ that develops along the periphery of the flow, in the manner that a silt-loaded river in the delta dumps out the material to build its own banks. 

A freeze-framed snapshot of the oasis-community gives us the ‘radial view’ that characterises Enlightenment representation.  There is no ‘reciprocal habitat-inhabitant aspect’ in this way of seeing as there was in aboriginal/medieval way of  ‘seeing’.  There is where the sense of the community being ‘local’ comes in.  Now we want to understand the community in a local context and we use the zoom lens to go in and find out what ‘the locals’ are doing and ‘how they have built this community’.   Quickly, we have reduced our understanding of ‘community’, making it into a ‘local phenomenon’.   But even as we do this, the ant-like nomads continue to come in from the desert and depart out into the desert, and babies come out of the soil, age, and go back into the soil.  In other words, the dynamics of community do not originate from ‘local agents’.  This is an Enlightenment concept that derives from our imposing of an absolute frame of absolute space and absolute time as a kind of implicit ‘box’ that the community sits in, contrary to a far greater ‘reality’.

The Enlightenment way of seeing, thanks to the abstractions of absolute space and time that enable ‘representations’ of ‘local objects/organisms/systems’  reduces everything to notional ‘localness’ and notional ‘independence’ in spite of our real-life experience crying out to us from behind the obscuring representational models, that we share inclusion in an inherently INTERdependent world.

These two ways of seeing don’t just apply at the macro-level of human social dynamics, they apply generally, at all levels and, in the case of the focus of the ‘pandemic’ newsletter, to the dynamics of micro-organisms in the body-terrain (habitat).    The western medical model is based on the ‘radial perspective’ that imposes ‘localness’ on the scenario of microbes and terrain, and it is this model that Pasteur renounced on his deathbed with his comment that ‘the microbe (-dynamics) are nothing, the terrain (-dynamic) is everything’, … ‘the microbes are the result of the imbalances in the terrain, not the cause’.

Trying to infuse some parallelism on this point, that there are two alternative ways of ‘seeing’, so that the one exemplar in the familiar macro world of social dynamics can be ported over to give insight into the other, the normally invisible and thus unfamiliar world of microbial and cell dynamics, is a tactic born of the ‘author’s subtext’.

As Johannes Kepler said, in speaking of these same alternative ways of ‘seeing’ in regard to celestial dynamics; we are in the habit of “choosing not that which is most true but that which is most easy”, and it is easier to speak of people as if they were ‘local organisms with their own locally originating behaviour’, or to speak of  ‘storm-cells’ as if they were ‘local systems with their own locally originating behaviour’ (call them ‘Katrina’ and ‘Francis’ or whatever to affirm their notional ‘local existence/agency’, rather than ‘seeing’ their behaviour as being shaped by the dynamical space they are included in, and which has also created them.

The one-way radial ‘seeing’ that was elevated, unnaturally, into precedence in the Enlightment, is at the bottom of the view that ‘microbes cause illness’, though the alternative ‘seeing’  in holistic medicine etc. refuses to ‘go away’.  Getting back to the ‘flow’ view is like trying to grasp a slippery fish, it tends to be very elusive because it puts the invisible into natural primacy over the visible or ‘representable’.   That is, you won’t be able to ‘see’ that ‘storm-cells’ are the result of atmospheric flow (rather than the ’cause’) unless you acknowledge the primacy of what you can’t see (e.g. what is continuous and lies all around you including behind your back).   It is ‘most easy’ though not ‘most true’ to ‘see’ the storm-cell as a ‘local system’ and define it as such.  But as John Stuart Mill observed; ‘Every definition implies an axiom, that in which we affirm the existence of the thing defined.’.

The ‘real’ source of those things we can produce ‘representations’ for, are not themselves ‘representable’.  This is what the aboriginal physics ‘flow’ view fully accepts.   But the ‘romance’ in life lies in the non-representable dynamics that are the real source of the residue of representable matter such as what we ‘see’ by way of one-way radial perspective as in the camera lens.    Remember Nat Cole’s ‘Get your kicks on route sixty-six’?   A map of route sixty-six is a ‘representation’ and pictures of buildings alongside in towns like Barstow, where it flows are representations and the hard asphalt pressed down by the flow that signals that the flow has been there,  … all these are capturable in ‘representations’ but what really do we mean by ‘route sixty-six’ ?

What excites us about route sixty-six is something non-reprentable; the sense of  the wonderful diversity of life that has flowed through ‘here’.   All of the representable ‘evidence’ such as the familiar US 66′ road signs and the residual ‘scale’ of towns and buildings, service stations and restaurants can only imply the flow (the ‘real thing’).   They cannot show what excites the spirits; i.e. the passage of happy faces, young old, beautiful, plain, vibrant and sullen, tough and timid, pioneers and adventurers and those returning home.  This nonlocal flow gives a deeper understanding than that which can be derived from ‘representation’.   Representation is merely the hollow precipitate of this extraordinary, sexy, terrifying, unpredictable and innately irreproducible flow.   As Bob Dylan says in his song by the same name ‘Dignity Ain’t Never Been Photographed’ and so it is with ‘route 66 ‘.  It is not something you can ‘see’, it is something you can ‘feel’ and it has the same sort of feeling, this sense of potent presence in the space that you too are included in, as is awakened in you when you are alone in the thick undergrowth of the forest and come across fresh grizzly bear droppings.   Now the forest is more than the pretty pictures on your digital camera that can be reproduced on flat pieces of paper.  it is a space that you can feel the wonder of being included in, an unpredictably unfolding historic flow that is in the process of writing your history, as well.

Well, this has been an outline of the ‘author’s subtext’ that is, in my view, poorly accomplished in this first newsletter, but nevertheless, an honest attempt to bring into perspective for comparison and contrast, the ‘two ways of seeing’.  And to further bring forth for open examination, the view that the ‘causal model’ of Western culture Enlightenment, wherein we regard ‘representations’ as ‘reliable substitutes for the visible’ (Kunze), defining such representations as local causal agents that have locally originating responsibility for real-world dynamics,  is not the only way of ‘seeing’, and that it is, in fact, a ‘radically reduced’ way of ‘seeing’ that ends up giving us the impression that ‘we are in control’.  The Enlightenment ‘we’ (who are in control) being a vision of ourselves as ‘local organisms with locally originating behaviour’ who have succeeded in ‘turbocharging ourselves’ (amplified our natural born capabilities) with a wide array of wonderful technologies that we have cleverly invented.  Technologies that can deal with the attack of pathological agents (equally seen as local causal agents with their own local agency), be they human terrorists and/or microbial terrorists that are ‘causing irregularities in ‘our terrain”.

Of course, the author’s subtext is to bring the question to the fore; ‘Is it ‘more true’, as aboriginal physics would suggest, to ‘see’ things in the terms that the terrorizing pathogens, rather than being the cause of irregularities in the terrain  are the ‘result’ of irregularities in the terrain?  Putting this into a less ‘politically-loaded’ formulation; ‘Is the Colorado river the cause of the irregularities in the terrain (such as the Grand Canyon), or is the Colorado river the result of irregularities in the terrain? (and natures ceaseless quest to bring the web of interdependencies into balance).