Declaration of Interdependence

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Declaration of Interdependence - A Preamble

Traditional philosophy has made us technically powerful but socially impoverished. Whereas knowledge has rushed to the ends of the universe in the hands of experts concerned with ultimate truths, each of us uses knowledge every second in very specific but often convoluted ways.

Our perceptions, our experiences, our twists of meaning, our hopes are unique and are shaped in specific knowledge patterns that tie us variously to places, tools, loves, dislikes and other significances. But this wealth of idiosyncratic cares gets drowned out in the fascination with universal knowledge. An awareness only surfaces approvingly in art, in diaries, in close friendships and in moments when we "can let our hair down."

In public life, however, we speak to each other in third-person voices as if we were all experts in a landscape ripe with flourishing fundamentalisms. We speak unendingly about subjects far-removed from our actual cares, forming by our stance, a house of disembodied mirrors, always wondering “What are they talking about?” Usually alone in this public floodlight of clarity, we chase the satisfactions of consumption because living itself has lost any flavor. Or, we drop out of the mental wasteland with a limp “whatever.” We are to knowledge like fish who, unable to see the water, nevertheless go around creating turbulences or retreating to safe personal caves.

I am an ever-changing bundle of specific cares, and when I meet you, I want to meet in a dance uniquely responsive to our mutual cares. In the hoped-for vibrancy of such relationships can a renewed society emerge in both vision and practice.

This rebalancing of knowledge to the specificity of personal cares, while retaining the power of a universal medium, requires a revisioning of knowledge and a humbling to the immensity of meaning. On one level revisioning is an individual choice to acknowledge and explore the personal dimensions of knowing. On another level it is a theoretical task to shift our intellectual institutions from an exclusivity with the knowledge pyramid to a similar confidence in knowledge webs.

As blind fish in the environment of meaning, how do you and I begin to see the medium, if indeed there really is a meaning medium? As an example, consider the characteristics of the last plant you noticed. That memory, with its associations of aesthetic, culinary, gardening, ecological or business possibilities, regardless of whether it will pass into the world’s databanks, is something you have created and contributed to the meaning web. Or, whom did you think most of this morning? That pattern of relationship refreshed and added or maintained meaning in the web. The plant and the person are actual as themselves, but your meaning is similarly actual as itself. Thus is the web of meaning built and building. And these reflections are themselves but simple gleanings from even richer cognitive and fleeting traces.

In its entirety, the web of meaning is enormous, extremely complex and by turns dense or evanescent. This web, composed of the myriad, actual and specific relationships of all people and even of all organisms, is the water in which we live. Of this and in this medium are societies and cultures built. Society, unlike technology--where meaning can and should be definitive, arises in the exquisite web of complex meaning. As such, society thrives on and must cope with ever-expanding complexity.

Our traditions have left us dealing with this complexity in the social domain by diverse attempts at relatively simple schemes of ideals. Not only cultural traditions and fundamentalisms but also secularism, advancing with objective and foundational notions of truth, all employ ideals that are relatively simple in comparison to the vast, complex ecology of meaning in you, me and all around us. The counter-reactions, such as deconstruction and relativisms, escape ideals to glorify their opposite, complexity for difference’s sake, i.e. extra turbulence in the water.

In looking for simple strategies of coping with life in meaning’s inherent fertility, human cultures have taken the route of adherence–adherence to selected agreements with the attendant enforcement tendencies. “The truth of this is that; I can prove it; and you better believe it.” But now, in this day of cultural mixing and rampant complexity, the adherence strategy and even potential reform through some new, better scheme of adherence is bound to have the same shortcomings. An option would seem to be a coordination strategy instead of an adherence strategy. In the fish-in-water metaphor this would mean learning how we compose and are composed in the web and how we stretch the web in interacting with others.

To make a “coordination strategy” work, social actors would have to coordinate meaning mutually. This entails a philosophy based, neither on a global concept for everyone, nor on an aggregate of proper, say, rational individuals, but based on the quality of interactions. As such, philosophy as presented in this Declaration, is less a globalizing statement than it is a situating of actors in the rich textured actuality of our own meaning. From here, the Declaration extends an invitation to make use of the rich meaning to interact very specifically.

The advantages that will accrue from a meaning coordinating strategy are to solve a huge problem and to instill something very positive. First, it will provide an escape from the dysfunctional and ideological bashing of most contemporary discourse. Additionally, it will generate a new vitality from living cooperatively in our specific and relation-specific meanings. These are the twin themes of this declaration: coping with complexity by coordinating meaning in interactionally specific ways and the social vitality that will come from such a turn.

The central tenet of this Declaration of a new view of the field of meaning concerns the nature of the knowledge act. The radical step taken here is to view knowing as a joining--knower to known in the creation of a new combined whole. The relationship of meaning in the web ties the knower to the known. The knower forms an alliance with the known and the known can be said to be incorporated into this extended knower. Essentially we move away from seeing knowledge as “nothing but” a reflection of objects and universal ideals. Instead, something new is created in knowing, namely a new knowledge relationship between knower and known. Seen this way, it is no wonder that meaning has grown so complex: each knower produces more relevance, each act of knowing creates still more relevance relationships and the cross-fertilization proceeds explosively.

Knowledge, viewed this way, places meaning as a feature of living systems. Organisms face their environment poised to trade or use certain regularities or else to improvise new ones. Knowledge, as the selected portion of meaning available to awareness, obscures just how ubiquitously, subtly and complexly relevance saturates our biological world. Meaning as relevance could be defined as an organism’s envelope of interactional probabilities. Humans in this view stand out--not as alone among species having reason and knowledge, but as vastly more well-adapted in making and using meaning. As birds evolved into the air, so we evolved into the medium of meaning. This view reinforces the contemporary insight that all meaning is inherently embodied, is inherently a scaffolding based on our body’s needs and orientation.

As invitation, I locate you and me as meeting in the portion of the grand web made of our specific, actual and so-far-discovered relevancies. Here I express my wish to create and enjoy our best actively chosen mutual body of relevance. The emphasis is less on “best” than on “our best.” Such an approach shifts our knowledge modes of operation to discovery and possibilities, away from conquest and certainty. The shift also frames relationships as states of being, as exchanges of emotions, and less as machines to get results. My invitation dreams of more dances than marches and of more songs than memos.

In other words, specific relationships made in complex meaning yield to actual, non-idealized patterns of relevance The new patterns are judged by the suitability and vitality they allow. Knowledge then, not only reaches to the probability of what a relationship could be (suitability), it also contains its own terms of satisfaction (vitality). And the vitality, growing from discoverable specificity in the web of meaning, will undo the principle foes of this Declaration–fundamentalists, disembodied thinkers and escapist consumer. These last are all poor adaptations to living in a web of meaning but now thrive in the current cultural ecology of universalisms.

Preparing ourselves to live in the rich ecology of meaning through a coordination strategy, we will come face to face with a fact of existence that idealizing philosophies tend to hide–the necessity and ubiquity of death. Change is both creative and destructive. Likewise knowing and making relationships are creative and destructive. Usually death gets hidden in idealizing philosophies as being outside the civilized system, therefore of no import. “The food we eat can be killed. There are ‘external costs’ to doing business that do not matter if no one has a price tag on it. Others are “bad” and don’t matter. This thought wasn’t important.” Always with gains there are losses. By opening the door to all meaning, the losses heave into better view. Living and shaping the meaning web also means destroying some of its potential. But this recognition of death’s necessity and ubiquity gives us a maturity with actual meaning where idealizing philosophies have given us a confusing deception of simplicity.

At bottom every philosophy is also a spiritual strategy, an approach to living that speaks to sensibilities and wholeness. A philosophy of semantic interdependence aims at social health and vitality. It moves toward actual emotional harmonies by shaping life’s relationships in a garden of meaning. It makes no distinctions about which types of harmonies people and cultures find. Whether Western coordination by unanimity, Eastern quieting of discord, Middle Eastern walking in surrender or African swaying in joy, the interdependent approach embraces these and reminds us that there are more cooperative harmonies to be lived and that we are already living many more that are hardly discovered.

To know you is to be interdependent with you, constructing and allowing construction. To live--together in the web of meaning--is to have the chance to be interdependently responsive to how we shape and play with the meaning of which we are already made.

Continue to Outline, a work of theoretical revisioning (the hard part), or jump to the Conclusion.


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