ANALYSIS, 28 Mar 2010

James Keye – Dissident Voice

The human species, and because of our penetration into all ecosystems, almost all other species, require a new vision to avoid the most disastrous consequences of our present vision: human dominion over all the earth and the various subordinate visions associated with this major one.  A long established deeply integrated, utterly accepted belief doesn’t replace easily.1

A vision of what our lives are to be about is not a track laid out on the map of time, but is the map, itself.  If there is no recognition that the map can be changed, then we are limited to the possibilities of the map we are using.  “Changing things” is then only moving differently in the same space and ultimately we end up going to the same places by the same methods.  The notions of time, relationships, responsibilities, meaning, purpose and importance are all determined by the legend of the selected map.

Humans, unlike other animals, have the capacity to change these most basic vision maps as we might change physical maps, but we need education in the process, practice and clear understanding of the stumbling blocks typical of our species.  We are now faced with the absolute need to make a major change to a new vision, a vision with great differences in the structure, dimensions and values from the old vision with which we, while we know it well, are becoming increasing uncomfortable.

We need to keep before us this new vision of the world that we want to live in.  It also must be a vision of the possible.  The thousands of distractions, some vital to respond to, some just annoying, are powerful forces for stealing from us our sense of direction.  We want to rush off into the fray created by each new danger, to right the wrongs, to smite the guilty.  I see this working through both the people immediately around me and in the activist communities taking on the evils that are too big to fail.  And in both cases the gossamer of grand new visions often blows away the instant some concrete problem leaps up into the foreground.

Vision that rejects guidance by the details of the Real must ignore and deny Reality with the consequence seen in the world’s mad religions; human society, individual human lives and our species’ relationship with the biophysical world all suffer grandly.  Visionless action moving from one detail to the next wastes the consumed resources, demoralizes the actors and destroys the space in which it occurs.  Both fail and sometimes cannot even be told apart in their failure.

As with so much of the living condition, balanced amounts of material and action are required to maintain a functional state.  This must be a vision that respects Reality and supports a response system that recognizes and adapts to the detail of event.  It is often the case that the fullest and most efficient expression of these two processes does not exist comfortably in the same human being, and even when they do, both vision and detailed action must be general within the varieties of people in the community of action.2

What is to guide the necessary actions? It seems to be our human habit that as soon as an actionable issue presents we go deaf, dumb and blind trying to fix it with our old familiar tools, often the very ones that allow the problem to exist in the first place.  Here is a commonplace example:

In a school from which I have just escaped there has seemingly grown a problem of students in the halls during classes; the solution from years of repeated failures: make color coded hall passes, some laminated, some not, record all comings and goings (like Eugene Field, I only report what I heard from the Chinese plate).  I listened to this with horror, foresaw its one-week half-life and empathized with the frustration and recriminations to follow.  What was the vision? It was only to ‘fix the problem,’ not to educate the kids, not to create exciting and engaging activities; it was to laminate the bathroom passes.

But the vision should be keeping the teachers focused on their teaching (and learning), supporting the academic enterprise.  No one asked the question: How many students were causing this unacceptable situation?  What was known about the origins of their recalcitrance?

The conversation spoke only of “students in the halls during class” supporting the impression of chaos. The solutions were to create controls that would impact everyone. I knew that there were 4 students who regularly used their wit and wiles to escape from the classroom, with another 4 or 6 that could be drawn into the game often by the original 4.  For 4 to 10 students the vision of the school was evaporated, teachers were to become bookkeepers and doorkeepers, and red bathroom passes were to be laminated and flushed down the toilet.  A system was being created that would only be ‘gamed’ by now an increasing number of students; what was ‘important’ to the school institution was being telegraphed.

The rush of the teachers to join in and add detail to the design was heartbreaking: if found in the hall the first time … and found in the hall a second time … with a pass but not signed out … in the hall without a pass … bathroom … councilor … office … alone … with someone … red … beige … blue . . . Now this was something that they could ‘sink their teeth into!’

We follow essentially the same model with our regional, national and international issues, but the stakes of power and wealth are higher.  A new vision: re-engage the species relationship with the biophysical order; find the possible behaviors that will allow the human species to adjust and adapt to the reality that we have overpopulated and are over-consuming in a world with fixed limits.  Recognize that, in a powerful feedback, the failure of this vision is energizing many of the immediate problems that are distracting us from the vision.3

In one obvious implementation of this new vision there is an attempt to make basic and life saving medical services directly available to all American citizens (hopefully to all people present in this country) or so it was initially presented.  We try to focus on details such as who will die because medical services are not available to them, with much of the argument around the economics: insurance, medical fees, moral hazard requires a co-pay.  Doctors have big student loan bills.  Medical research must not be inhibited. Tax the rich. Tax the union workers. Take from program A and give to program B.  Who is being paid off by the insurance companies? Who is using the legislation to gain advantage on other issues?  Almost immediately the vision is lost in detail after detail that arise especially out of the old domination market model.

In the months and years of these deliberations the dysfunction of the delivery of medical services will destroy many thousands of lives and damage the lives of thousands more of the living; just as in the weeks and months of the failure to address the vision of quality instruction and high expectations will demoralize teachers and students alike.

How does a vision form and catch on to the imaginations of a constituency?  It took more than 300 years and a Roman emperor to fix in place the, admittedly messy, vision of Christianity.  I’m pretty sure we don’t have that kind of time – or an emperor.  But there is still a lesson to be learned.  First and foremost, no vision can be imparted to others that is not being lived by the imparter; visions are not effectively sold at gunpoint.  No one can measure and adopt a vision that they have not heard of.  The clearer the articulation, the more emotionally connected and satisfying, the more likely a vision will be listened to; even if it is frightening, impossible and unimaginable.  The mistake is often made that satisfaction forms from ease or comfort when real emotional satisfaction arises from the recognition of honesty.  And the unimaginable becomes imaginable with imagination.

Most people are not experienced with visions as their own property, we are more comfortable assuming a larger, grander origin for the guiding visions of our lives – another bit of insanity from present religions.  But those who see the visions that can guide us away from the dangerous path we are presently on must speak them loudly and long – over and over.  We must hear them until we can hear them.  We must see them in the differing light of many days and places.  The visions that guide us must become like an after-image burned into the eye and seen to overlay our world.

This is dangerous stuff.  We can see what our visions of how to live have done for, and to, us up to now, and how difficult it can be to replace them.  But it is largely the religious model in our experience.  There are other models for how to blend vision and detail.  Evolution is a successful example.  It only responds to the Real.  Science has been successful in its relatively limited vision of discovering how the world works.  We could do worse than beginning with the closest approximations of Reality available.

We know the vision that we need for the future; it comes from ecological science and from the pantheistic belief systems of people who originally lived in ecological communion.  And we know the vision of domination and human Exceptionalism that has supported our straying wide and far from the actions and sensitivities of integration within biophysical reality.  This vision must be clearly drawn – just the way a map must be clearly drawn and accurately measured – for it to be understood and accepted.  I am not too much for leaders, but this will required of them; people to articulate and press this vision into the public sphere, to glacially drive this vision forward against the old one so firmly rooted into our every belief and action.

1.    The domination model generalizes easily from humans over the environment to select humans over inferior humans. [↩]

2.    There is a model for this in science. There is an over arching vision in science of dispassionate evaluation (seldom attained) supported by more available visions of experimental repeatability, peer review of products, experimental details organizing into theoretical formulations and the accepted expected adaptability of theory when new experimental details require. [↩]

3.    The right-wing find it easy to keep their simplistic goals in mind, their bumper-sticker slogans are not just clever advertising, but also represent the deeper designs of a thought processes. This is not to say that ideological right-wingers are less intelligent than those people who incorporate a more complex process of comprehension, it would be a great mistake to believe so. However, people who rely on unambiguous principles, whose comfort is improved as choices are framed in black and white, good and evil, are drawn to right-wing process and therefore eventually to right-wing values. [↩]


James Keye is the nom de plume of a biologist and psychologist who after discovering a mismatch between academe and himself went into private business for many years. His whole post-pubescent life has been focused on understanding at both the intellectual and personal levels what it is to be of the human species; he claims some success. Email him at:



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