And the ontological approach requires a hermeneutic method in a great social conversation.
It is 14 years since I first wrote a university paper on guns and violence in my rural community. In that small enquiry, I found that the use of guns as threats including the discharge of weapons, was a disturbing aspect of domestic abuse.
By the time I wrote that paper, Australia had already regulated and destroyed many weapons after the last massacre (Port Arthur, Tasmania) to have occurred in Australia. However it has only been this latest massacre in the USA (Sandy Hook School, Newton, Connecticut) and the conversation that has followed, that has hade me revisit the idea of being a gunless world. My first responses have been to castigate the NRA of North America for its own culpability. However, a sport shooter called me out on the idea of prohibition of firearms. Here were my responses:
Me: I realise firearm sports are even on the increase in Australia, and I have some empathy for the draw it has. I’m not a prohibitionist, and don’t see there is any evidence that it works for any issue. What does work is strong community conversation and regulation. Training and licensing are the key elements of working regulation. However, even in Australia, while we have a reasonable grasp on workable regulation, what we lack is strong community conversation. Peace will only be won by peaceful conversation. In spite of my approach here, I do think peaceful conversation also can’t be rampantly derogatory, just that it doesn’t have to be nice. My challenge here is really to say, “Think about this. What would you do, here, now, to support the next step towards a gun less society?”
He: As you do, I can commit to initiating and continuing a rational, gentle conversation about the balancing of public/personal safety in our Australian ( and to a lesser extent international) society with legitimate, safe and peaceful pastimes which happen to use firearms. As a left of centre voter with a strong sense of social justice and an abhorrence of violence, I still don’t see your presumption that we need a gun less society is correct anymore than one that might say we should have a carless, ropeless, drugless, knife less , Bungy-jump less etc society. But I am astounded by the American refusal to balance individual ‘rights’ with public safety in the face of such evidence. The massacres are not numerically significant whilst shocking. The 10000 gun homicides vs Australia’s 19 per year is more shocking. That anyone could have a concealed weapon next to me in a supermarket queue if i lived in the states is shocking. Thankfully I think Australia has found a balance. Our psyche is different. Our civil society is very different and we can have great discussions without being polarized or extremist. Thanks.
Me: This is essentially an ontological argument ie an argument for BEING gunless or BEING people for whom the idea of weapon is strange and unusual. I can’t be sure that the future of the human society will be weaponless, I simply offer myself the possibility that (while)the rationale of my own mind isn’t capable of going to that place where human society lives in 100 or 500 years, it may indeed be weaponless. However, from that possibility I know (expect) that weaponry at least need be scarce for what the hell would there to fight over, kill. If it is scarce in 500 years, it can be scarce today. Why, because the reason it is not scarce today is because humans believe they are important for something, mainly killing someone, secondarily to kill an animal, thirdly to shoot an inanimate object. However, if you rank all the beliefs and reasons, and you really desire to have them on that basis, I am happy to concede to you. And all the ones that have no belief or reason, well let’s get rid of them. And I am happy to make the same deal with a Neo Nazi with his cache of assault rifles. However, if I ask everyone for their list and then apply hermeneutic conversation to the one’s that are off each list, until we have some clear 90% agreement what can stay and what should go, then I will be extremely happy with that conversation and that outcome. And once we have seen that outcome applied we are already far done the track of a cultural change in which the weapon is a strange and unusual idea.
I am glad this engagement has lead me to review the possible approach to a big community conversation. Such conversation can translate to many, if not all, issues of governance, policy and public health. The hermeneutic approach is no easy method to translate on a mass scale but when doing that research back in the 1990’s I realised that a combination of household survey and an analytic approach to select representatives of the diversity of opinion, for a hermeneutic group approach is do-able. For the application of the hermeneutic approach to community problem solving I used the 4th Generation Evaluation concepts of Gubba and Lincoln.
It seems I am a dancer or, at least that I am becoming a dancer. Not a ballroom dancer, a contemporary dancer. And I say, “becoming”, because although I have had a contemporary mentor/trainer over the past two years, I have no previous training. Genre aside, recently I was asked “are you a dancer?” As the questioner knew that I was facilitating a contemporary dance group, I found the question puzzling. I suspected it was a question in the spirit of sheer disbelief that a 53 year old man has the audacity to enter that space of the contemporary dance. However, the question drew my attention to a frailty in my own grasp of the idea of dancing and a dancer. Does one become a dancer? When is one a dancer? And, anyhow, what is dancing?
Although I have only been directly engaged in contemporary dance for the past two year, I have been living with movement professionally as a physiotherapist for 30 years. Over the past 4 years I have chosen to take my professional knowledge and apply it through a creative and artistic framework. When the opportunity to become involved in contemporary dance arose, it was a neat fit. It is not the only creative approach that I have taken to movement. In an interest to find solutions to the burgeoning problem of the ageing population, fitness and movement capacity, I have worked with the characteristics for neuroplastic stimulation in designing two programs: Fake It; and The Big Board Game.
For any professional working in the neuroplastic field regarding the ageing brain, dance will quickly appear on the radar. And, while a lifetime of dance such as ballroom dancing will have significant brain resilient effects, the very important feature of neuroplastic enhancing activity, NOVELTY, will be diminished once a person has developed the habits of the ballroom. Contemporary dance, with its constant exploration of the movement of the body, the emotional-movement connection, the creative design in movement, the incorporation of music and word in recognisable and novel ways, the individual and group work, the social experience, and the potential for complete original choreographical performance provides a fantastic ‘kicker’ of the neuroplastic process. To my professional eye contemporary dance is a huge neon sign saying, “FUTURE”.
But back to the questions. What is dance? Well it seems obvious. It is, umm, well.. it is … movement. Okay got that far. Fluid movement. Mmm. Not always. Quick movement. Well maybe most of the time. But I haven’t really defined it any differently from sport with those appelations.
I then turned the issue on it’s head. What is it about movement that is not dance? Dance seems to be a word that labels certain types of unusual social communication through movement and is then used as a metaphor for sets of things of which their interaction creates constant changes in each other. Occupation seems to be crucial to the idea of what is not dance. Walking along the street isn’t dance. Hammering nails into wood while building a house isn’t dance. Replying to emails isn’t dance. Competitive sports isn’t dance except when dance is competitive. Yet aren’t so many of the daily occupations resonant of the metaphorical ‘dance’. Walking in contemporary dance, IS dance. As are a lot of actions that have the appearance of functionality in some other life. Yet, certainly, there are movements in contemporary dance, and most dance forms, that would not be seen in the functional experience of a daily life. So, dance seems to be that name we give for movement that is primarily imaginative but which has yet an important role in society for storytelling, emotional expression, and adult inter-gender play, and, therefore, which society has relegated to specially contrived occasions. In these occasions, any males and/or a females is permitted, in public space, to move their body in a non-occupational manner, within a comforting ritual or a discomforting freeform. Otherwise, in the privacy of one’s home, while sweeping with a broom, who else is to say what does or doesn’t pass for dancing.
Solving in some part the definition of dancing, solves the problem of becoming a dancer. Becoming a dancer means, then, to purposefully engage in non-occupational, imaginative, non-competitive, interactive movement play. Becoming a contemporary dancer means engaging in the novel exploration of human movement as an artistic and creative vehicle.
Is there a distinction between becoming a dancer and being a dancer? There are two that I can see. The first is when, upon engaging with the artform, a person occurs to themselves as a dancer. This ‘being’ occurs as a mindshift that is not attached to any preconceived idea of what a dancer is. The dancer IS as it occurs to them that they dance. The second is the dancer who has achieved a certain mastery and strive for greater mastery. Society commonly provides formal recognition of the minimal standards of mastery before society allows a person to perceive themselves as having mastery. In many cases this is to prevent harm in society. However art can be recognised by both it’s common application and its mastery. While the child is not a carpenter because they came upon a hammer and struck a nail, the child who dances IS a dancer, and except for discouragement, would grow in mastery for all of life. So, when a 50 something person enters the practice of dance, even for one day, they might clear a space for themselves to be a dancer, and so then THEY ARE. And having cleared that space, what mastery is possible will come.
From the LandMark Education newsletter.
Historians and fiction writers alike decide what is relevant to their enterprise and what isn’t. Some facts are brought to light, others left in darkness. History undergoes a constant process of revision. Reality is amenable to any construction placed upon it.1
Like historians and novelists, we too construe our own histories as we see them—and realities get created accordingly. Here’s how it works: Something happens. We simultaneously assess and interpret what happened—assign meaning, categorize importance, draw conclusions, identify action to be taken (or not), form opinions that linger. This melding or collapse between what happens and the meaning we assign to it happens so instantaneously that we somehow lose all memory that what happened and how we hold it were two independent and separate occurrences.
Consider there are two (ontological = being) domains of distinction in our day-to-day living: one in which life shows up as an experience, and another in which life shows up as a representation of, or a concept about that experience. We essentially live in the collapse between the two when our experience invariably devolves into a representation of the experience—memories, concepts, and descriptions of life (which are not life, but descriptions of it). We then experience subsequent events through these already existing conceptual frameworks. A conceptually-shaped experience reinforces the concept that shaped it. The reinforced concept more fully shapes the experience. The more fully shaped experience reinforces the concept some more and it goes round-and-round like this. Thus its name: the vicious circle.
Another way of saying it is: When something happens and we make whatever assessments we make at the time, we believe and think them valid. We think our conclusions are epiphanies of sorts—kind of indisputable, bottom-line truths. We see reality and ourselves in terms of that truth—as if it were us, not something separate or outside of us. We also map our behavior and future experiences onto it. Our identity, our persona, who we are, and how we see ourselves gets reinforced again and again—a “vicious circle” indeed, because of its relentless and mechanical nature. What’s disempowering in this vicious circle thing is not the interpretation or meaning we immediately assign, but rather the collapsing of those interpretations with whatever it is that happened. It is in the collapse that realities get set.
Now, there’s nothing actually wrong with stories. In fact, I love the richness, the tapestry, the depth of our stories—the moments we savor, the experiences we share, really are the stuff of our lives. If we think for a moment about those most precious people in our lives, each of them has a special story that’s uniquely their own–how we met our spouses, a time when a friend’s kindness made a difference, something we heard or saw that was so hilarious we nearly cried. It’s hard to imagine a life without the intricacies and intimacies of those moments—it would be a bit dull and boring.
Our stories represent the richness of what it means to be human—there is a power and validity, a value in them, but not when they’re confused with the presence of life. (Being in the presence of something is, obviously, quite different than being in the concept of it.) When we begin to see inside the mechanical nature of this vicious circle, its bankruptcy becomes apparent.
While there’s no fixing it in the vicious circle, in the recognition of it being at play we can begin to “uncollapse” the two worlds and see ourselves separate from it. By recognizing the bankruptcy, we have a say in the matter of who we are, and the room to create and design our lives.
Knowing our stories are an interpretation (no more true or false than another interpretation), and that that’s not who we are, produces an opening, an access, a portal to a third domain—the domain of being. Possibility exists in the third domain. domain of being and isn’t available in the other two domains. It is here, in this domain, that we are able to create something from nothing—an existential act, and one that can hold both the experience and the circumstances. Possibility moves things around until our experience and our circumstances are a match for the possibility we’ve created. Distinguishing that is transformational. It shifts the horizon of what’s possible.
1 E.L. Doctorow, “Notes on the History of Fiction,” The Atlantic Monthly, Fiction Issue, 2006.