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Mitchell J. Rabin

Mitchell J. Rabin

Posted: January 12, 2011 02:45 PM

Looking at how we think, see or perceive as in a reflective exercise is just not something we humans really like to do. We'd rather actively assert that we know what we know without knowing the whys and wherefores and let it go at that.

But the words we use to represent reality to ourselves creates a box in which we then think, see and perceive, not to mention believe and for sure, operate. How we use language will also greatly limit or expand us. It can also get us "labelled" for better or for worse.

A psychologist named Jerome Bruner, many years ago, conducted an experiment in which a group of cats were placed each in a separate room. One room had only vertical lines in it and the other horizontal lines. After a period of time, each group of cats were put in the opposite room. Each group crashed into furniture in the other room, simply not seeing the lines in the other direction. The experience of how they perceived was literally imprinted in their brain, limiting their perception.

As an example of boxes and labels through language, when we speak then of such concepts, odd as they seem to many of us today, of "conservative, liberal, right wing or left" we continue to edify these antiquated concepts giving them a life they really don't deserve and perpetuating divisions that don't really exist "as believed". We are doing ourselves, those with whom we converse and the world-at-large a disservice by continuing to think and speak in such limited, limiting ways, more like pressing a square peg in a round hole. Oh there are differences between people, this we know, but I asser that we can do much better than these labels.

When I consider my position on conserving the environment, I would consider myself a "conservative". This is in the true sense of the term. But Republicans call themselves conservative yet support felling old-growth forests and drilling for oil. What's "conservative" about that? I consider them radical and myself conservative!

Call me conservative, as I do pay homage to the Oxford English Dictionary. I want to conserve commonsense, human values, Nature and the responsible use of language, not bandy about words as our politicians do without regard to their meaning, thank you! I want to perpetuate the idea of re-use, recycling and the values of sustainability. Yet, in our society, these values would be called "liberal", possibly associated with the Democratic sensibility. But I don't see them as liberal at all! I could say I see them as "green" which is "arch-conservative". Everything has been stood on its head, what's big is called small, small big and Doublespeak too is growing in size. I think Alice gave society the blue pill.

Further, in some areas I agree with the libertarian notion of small government, which, in my book, also suggests "Power to the People". But 'libertarianism' is associated with being "far right-wing". But what's "right-wing" about Power to the People? Right-wing conservative Republicans seem to have one constiuent: the Corporation. Power-to-the-People is considered left-wing! And while I prefer small government, I also endorse regulating industries such as banking, insurance and many others. Well, wait a minute--that's beginning to look Democratic... If I believe that we should have a single-payer healthcare system, I prefer to call it "Medicare for all", just as I want a police and fire station for the town, county and state, does that make me a socialist? Maybe I'm a "non-ideological pragmatist" focusing not on some political, psycho-social or economic agenda or ideology first and foremost, but "what works to serve People" foremost. Call it what you will!

The great ancient Chinese Sage, Lao-Tse, said that self-government is the highest form of government, and, in paraphrase, to the extent to which we do not govern ourselves, we will be governed. If I embrace this idea of Lao-Tse, am I a liberal, a conservative, right wing or left? Do I have any wings at all? Or if one embraces the teachings of a Chinese poet, is he a communist? Lao-Tse wasn't!

Would true capitalism, called 'free enterprise" have a "pay-as-you-go" police and fire departments? When you pursue any ideology to its logical end, one sees how absurd virtually all ideologies are in themselves, except as interesting academic exercises. I'm suggesting that our real, day-to-day lives are not about some abstract notion of an academically "pure" ideology, but of finding a way, a flexible system of governance that works based on what I like to call "enlightened self-interest", a popular phrase at different points in our history. And about finding a way to use language responsibly, not as a form of perpetrating confusion or violence.

What we see is that our words can betray our meaning and if we continue to live in the box of strongly limiting, linguistically-enforced concepts, we'll simply continue to get more of the same. If we can step out of the "little boxes on the hillside" as Pete Seeger used to sing, we can have a lot more fun playing on the hill. The Hill?

Learning to see and think holistically breaks through the limits to what is beyond. Yes, our politics can be liberated from the conservatively-tied chains fettering it by our limited ways of seeing if we could only, for a moment, see ourselves.

 

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