13 December 2001
multiple personality disorder in a globalized religious flatland
- / -
To be "bushed" is an Australian expression signifying to be confused
or lost out in the "bush" -- also implying the associated state of
exhaustion. This seems an appropriate experiential condition to explore in the
light of George Bush's framing of the 11th September attack as an attack on
civilization itself -- and the nature of the response since then.
The whole crisis -- and especially the response -- has effectively shredded
the advances in human rights on which so many have worked and depended in their
expectations of a more civilized future within a global community. Democracy
has been put on hold -- if not completely discredited -- with the radical shift
to bully-boy politics: "vote for us or the terrorists will get you, and
so will we".
The approach taken here is to explore the way the dimensionality of civilized
discourse has been reduced to the binary limitations of "Them-or-Us"
logic -- even for the best and the brightest, from whom more might have been
expected. It is possible that this strategy has been deliberately adopted by
them in order to simplify the challenges of controlling a complex society --
widely acknowledged to be ungovernable.
But rather than indulge in any blame game, it seems more interesting to explore
the ways in which the crisis can be internalized. When external discourse is
subject to severe sanction, the full array of issues can be better explored
within one's own psyche -- complete with "George Bush", "Osama
bin Laden", "carpet bombing", "assassination", and
the "Taliban" as part of the dramatis personae.
The 11th September attacks dramatically focused global attention in a way that
has not been possible before without the degree of media coverage now available
-- especially with plenty of time for cameras to be set up to capture the second
plane. All other issues were rendered secondary. The response focused discourse
in a similar way. Those who were not whole-heartedly in sympathy with the framing
provided by President Bush had to be severely censored in some way -- or defined
as part of the problem. There were not two acceptable ways of thinking and behaving
-- only one.
Out in the bush -- the Australian outback -- it is relatively easy to be caught
unawares and to become disoriented. In such wilderness, the topography may not
provide meaningful, unambiguous signals. Or rather, due to the disorientation,
one can project meaning and lack of ambiguity onto prominent topographical features
-- use them as guidelines -- and then later discover that they were misleading.
This is a condition in which there is no perspective or overview. Any structure
is provided by projection and assumption. In a group of people without a leader
there may be argument about which is the right direction. When there is a leader,
the group may be vigorously led in a direction which does not result in getting
back to civilization. With or without a leader people may end up walking in
The situation may be significantly complicated if the bush is considered to
be dangerous -- wild animals, unfriendly "natives", dehydration, etc.
It is further complicated if the leader acts out of a belief system that authorizes
him (or her) to make pronouncements about the condition people are in that cannot
be challenged without inviting reprimand or severe sanction. There may be strong
injunctions about the vital need to "stick together" -- especially
to be able to handle the inimical conditions of the environment. These injunctions
may slide into evocations of the protection of a deity against the "evil"
that surrounds the group.
It is interesting to explore the transition from really knowing about where
one is in the bush to that of being deluded in one's belief as to where one
is. In the first condition there is a genuine sense of perspective on where
one is "on the map" and how the visible topography relates to the
map. In the second there is a disconnection between the map and the topography
-- which may quickly lead to focusing only on the topography in the hope of
getting "somewhere", irrespective of any map. The transition from
a larger perspective to a collapsed perspective is the essence of being bushed.
When one knows where one is, it is in large part due to having a multiplicity
of mutually reinforcing signals and points of reference. This might be termed
an ecosystem of referents. It can be usefully considered as multi-dimensional.
Within this framework, however one moves, there is a resonant relationship with
one's environment -- in effect one is part of that framework and an orientational
referent for others that are also part of it. It may take time -- even years
-- to build up such awareness, and to be accepted as a resonant part of it,
and embedded in it.
This was the situation for many prior to 11th September. Many people and groups
had a viable understanding of the framework of civilization -- one that gave
them what they assumed to be a "global" perspective in space and time.
This perspective had been in large part built up, and sustained, by a pattern
of reinforcing communications considerably aided by the media. In a number of
respects this global understanding could be considered as somewhat analogous
to a large hot air balloon whose viability nobody of significance found it meaningful
to question. The collapse of the World Trade Center caused by the action of
"others" effectively punctured the balloon -- which could then no
longer sail graciously through multi-dimensional space.
From an ability to move in three dimensions, people were reduced to operating
in two. Not only were people afraid to fly, they were also afraid to engage
in the conceptual aerobatics which had characterized the freedoms of a multi-dimensional
perspective. There was massive disorientation. Like birds used to flying, people
had to struggle to move around on a conceptual flatland -- like conceptual turkeys!
The situation was much exacerbated by the leadership in the USA whose conceptual
dimensionality had collapsed to the same degree. It was "binary" according
to Colin Powell -- "Them-or-Us" as repeatedly asserted by George Bush
and others. They had been reduced to the conceptual dimensionality of those
who attacked them. The media focus on "terror" and its imagery was
used to panic American society into removal of any possibility of saying "No"
to those presenting the two-dimensional reality and the necessary "positive"
direction therein. "Yes" to the President's perspective became the
required political and social response -- questioned only at peril of personal
harassment and jeopardization of a career. It recalls the threats of desperate
parents about "bogey-men" who would come and "get" children
if they were not obedient. Media content was systematically "dumbed down"
to reduce the subtlety of civilized discourse.
The challenge became how to move and navigate within a two-dimensional framework
constrained by this collapsed logic. It is well illustrated in terms of a maze,
or a labyrinth, as an essentially two-dimensional experience -- if there are
no points of reference above eye level. One is a able to explore it -- but there
is no access to the perspective from which one could determine one's position.
There is no access "from above" to guide movement out of the maze.
This is definitely like the situation of a rat in a laboratory maze. A skilled
rat may be able to get out -- but only if there is an exit -- and a sense of
the kind of "out" one is seeking. Clearly there is considerable advantage
to those aspiring to govern a society if people can be constrained to movement
within such a maze -- depriving them of any vertical movement that would make
a nonsense of those constraints. Ironically it is in the name of "freedom"
that people have had their freedom of movement constrained as a result of the
crisis. Johan Galtung has made the point that physical violence is for amateurs
-- professionals use what he terms structural violence as typified by systematic
injustice and inequality of access to services. The crisis has resulted in use
of a conceptual variant -- "conceptual violence".
The challenges of navigating such a "flatland" have been delightfully
explored in a book well-known to mathematicians (Edwin A Abbott. Flatland:
a romance of many dimensions, 1884, text: http://www.alcyone.com/max/lit/flatland/)
-- that has inspired several sequels (Dionys Burger, Sphereland, 1965;
A.K. Dewdney, The Planiverse, 1984, and Ian Stewart, Flatterland,
2001). These are all designed to give a sense of the multi-dimensionality that
people lose when trapped in a space of lower dimensionality.
The challenge has been explored with most rigour by Ron Atkin (Multidimensional
Man: Can man live in three dimensional space? 1981; see summary at http://www.un-intelligible.org/projects/strategy/141alt.php)
-- providing much insight into the conceptual difficulties of escaping from
low-dimensionality, whilst incidentally suggesting ways those operating at higher
dimensionality can trap people in such collapsed frameworks. His thesis analyzed
the nature of academic communication in his own university in this light. It
is perhaps no accident that his services were later sought by an appropriate
defence department. The memetic wars of the future way well place very strong
emphasis on such "non-violent" strategies.
Numinal dimensions: "good" and "evil"
The question is how to understand what civilization has lost under the inspired
leadership of George Bush in responding to unforeseen dangers of the "global"
environment that he has now apparently framed in two-dimensions.
It is indeed curious that the attacks were purportedly inspired by Osama bin
Laden, a man of prayer like George Bush. Both the attack and the response have
been excessively characterized by two-dimensionality, notably in the political
or religious missives used by both sides, and the missiles (or bombs) so dramatically
employed. The question is how the spiritual dimension -- so vital to both --
is to be experienced, or accounted for, in the two dimensional world that they
both cultivate in their discourse. It is indeed remarkable that both sides place
such unusual emphasis on "evil" as a transcendent explanatory factor
beyond question -- and as a justification for their respective actions in defence
of "good". This is quite exceptional after a century of secularization
of discourse within the international community.
In the two dimensional world to which civilized discourse has been reduced
by the attacks, "good" is the direction in which Bush demands peremptorily
that all should go. As with any leader in the bush, any other direction is definitely
"not good". And the direction followed by Osama bin Laden is definitely
"evil". However in the bush, as indicated above, attributing "good"
or "evil" to parts of the topography is quite problematic. These numinal
qualities, invisible to the human senses, can only be attractors of higher dimensionality.
The leader names the "good" and the "evil" through inner
knowledge -- he "knows". This is open to dispute or to debate only
at the peril of those whose views may differ from those of the leader. However,
on tribal lands, in the case of indigenous peoples, when topographical features
are imbued with "good" or "evil" energies -- the insights
of the elders, as communicated to the uninitiated, may be used as disguises
for other more ambiguous insights. As clarified by depth psychology, "evil"
may hold dangerous but necessary insights -- just as "good" may distract
from deeper understanding. Navigating these attractors safely may require considerable
But in the collapsed two-dimensional world, to associate such qualities with
a direction in two dimensions is confusing in the extreme. It suggests that,
in following the "good" direction, people will progressively approximate
to "goodness" and distance themselves from "evilness". Do
things indeed get better and better, the further that one goes in the "good"
direction, or is there some danger that this progression will not continue to
obtain? When does further pursuit of this direction raise legitimate questions?
In the bush, after struggling vainly in one direction without the situation
getting significantly "better", it becomes wise to question the direction.
But when one is truly bushed, there can be no clear answer -- especially if
the only valid answer requires understanding from another dimension.
It is curious that those who claim to be spiritually inspired, like George
Bush and Osama bin Laden, need to reduce discourse to its two-dimensional limits.
But it is clear that this then enables them to call upon their privileged insight
into numinal qualities to provide guidance to those who are bushed by the logical
environment so deliberately created. "God" can always be claimed to
be on their "side" -- whilst "Satan" is on the "side"
of those who speak for any other perspectives. In the two-dimensional world,
there can be no other sides or perspectives. Opponents can be much more easily
"demonized". Leaders are clearly at a far greater advantage than in
a more multi-dimensional discourse where they cannot claim such exclusive privilege.
In a multi-dimensional discourse there are more points of reference and leaders
are more challenged in articulating particular understandings of transcendent
numinal qualities in a manner that is credible to a majority.
The crisis suggests that the experience of "being bushed" should
be associated with a new transitive verb to describe how people can be deliberately
subjected to that experience -- namely how individuals, or a whole society,
can be "bushed". This would complement the associated concept "to
Internalizing the dilemmas
It is convenient to be able to project the existential challenges of being
bushed onto such figures as Bush or bin Laden about whom one can rejoice or
complain. It is good to have such an inspiring defender of "freedom"
and "democracy" in world civilization as George Bush. It is good to
have "evil" so neatly packaged in the person of Osama bin Laden whom
the forces of light can be marshalled to annihilate. In the bush we can then
move confidently forward. We all know what to do.
The situation becomes much more tricky if "Bush" is an aspect of
one's own psyche -- and "bin Laden" is another. If the situation in
the outer world is seen to mirror one's own inner dilemmas, confidence is significantly
eroded and uncertainties arise. Is this ridiculous? Who empowered these two
figures? From where do they derive their power in our individual psychic worlds?
Why did the attacks lead to such a rise in depression?
Prior to 11th September it could be said that many -- in the richer parts of
the world at least -- were able to lead complex multi-dimensional lives. In
particular discourse could freely range over many topics without fear of harassment.
Thereafter however psychic lives have been much constrained and subject to severe
pressures to conform that are reminiscent of totalitarian societies. The "Bush"
within has taken over to a large degree and called for a pattern of conformity
-- in defence of the "good" and in the name of "God". The
"bin Laden" within has made extraordinary threats against these views
-- treated as "Satanic" and requiring a "holy war" to protect
the sacred places within one's psyche and to eject those who have improperly
sullied them with their presence.
The "Bush" personality perceives itself to be dangerously threatened
-- even though it has a bunker to which to retreat. Psychic vigilance is required
to guard against attacks by "bin Laden" and his "evil" scheming
network. Everything is now a threat. Security is paramount -- and everything
must be sacrificed in its name if our psychic well-being is to be sustained.
One is afraid of one's own shadow. "Evil" must be stamped out at all
costs -- if necessary by "carpet bombing" any resistance to two-dimensionality.
All those who fail to recognize this are clearly acting for "evil"
-- or at least are naive dupes of those who do.
The "bin Laden" personality in its secret cave claims it is acting
in the interests of the down-trodden and neglected. It has seen -- as the epitome
of "evil" -- the negligence with which the "Bush" personality
selfishly consumes resources, denies the needs of the whole, and desecrates
the fundamental bonds to higher dimensionality. The "bin Laden" personality
realizes that only by the most subtle means can it out-maneuver such tendencies
and cause the "Bush" personality to collapse of its own contradictions.
Everything must be sacrificed in this holy task. The infidels must be destroyed
without mercy. Those who sacrifice themselves in this process will be instantly
transported into multi-dimensionality -- out of two-dimensional flatland.
Being bushed is having to deal with such multiple personalities -- multiple
versions of "I" -- each struggling for dominance in a confusing situation.
Each whispers to one's conscience. But is it the voice of "God" or
of "Satan"? How should one act? Who speaks the truth? Each makes subtle
promises in the moment. Each can be seen as having broken such promises in the
past. How is one to navigate such confusion?
Where is the integral whole of who I am when I can only experience myself either
in the "Bush" mode or in the "bin Laden" mode -- each bent
on annihilating the other? How can I integrate myself under such circumstances?
Indeed, who am I? How is it that both modes claim to be "fundamental"
and grounded on a special bond with "God"?
When I am bushed in this way, how do I gain a larger sense of perspective to
navigate out of the bush? If I am stuck in a kind of religious flatland, how
do I gain the global perspective that will reconcile these two archetypically
opposed perspectives? How can I increase my dimensionality through cultivating
a richer -- and more rounded -- inner dialogue? How can I transform the savage
quarrel between these perspectives -- and the refusal to dialogue -- into an
exchange of kinds of meaning which their preferred two-dimensionality precludes?
How can I stop one or other personality from mutilating the body we share when
it gains dominance?
What do my "Bush" and "bin Laden" personalities have to
say to each other -- after having cursed each other as the exemplification of
the most absolute evil? Is it possible that it is the very nature of that unexplored
discourse that de-linearizes their relationship and is fundamental to the global
roundedness of my larger and more integrated self? Is it the enhanced quality
of that dialogue that is the essence of my integrity and my relationship to
the wider universe -- so profoundly distorted by the collapsed understandings
of "fundamental" and "integral" favoured by "Bush"
and "bin Laden"?
By implicitly siding with "Bush" or "bin Laden" prior to
11th September have I been preventing myself from recognizing wider truths that
are vital to my own well-being and fulfillment -- and reflecting these narrow
views into the decisions that I take in the external world?
Challenge of the Other
There are some real challenges to living in a two-dimensional world. One of
the most dramatic is that it is virtually impossible to recognize when two different
things are in fact integral parts of the same larger whole. This is one of the
experiences of being bushed -- how to know that a hill is the same from different
sides? It is very difficult to recognize that things may be terrifying -- but
also a source of food or shelter. Labels are fixed when they need to be flexible
for survival -- and to allow one to dance with the environment.
Another challenge is that mirrors do not work in a two-dimensional framework.
I cannot see myself reflected back -- as a whole. There is no depth perception
possible. I can only see the other -- as a threat.
Another challenge is that "justice" is not possible, because it requires
an extra dimension to hold the balance between two differing perspectives. "Justice"
then focuses on punishment -- because one already "knows" that someone
is guilty. A trial, based on the presumption of innocence in anticipation of
proof of guilt, is then meaningless.
Most dramatic is that encountering a multi-dimensional "other" from
within a two-dimensional framework has every possibility of being terrifying.
The integral globality of the other cannot be understood from conceptual flatland.
The other is unpredictable, almost magical in its apparent behaviour. It cannot
be fitted into cookie-cutter categories. It is most easily handled by labelling
The consequence is that in a "Them-or-Us" world we can never discover
the truth of having seen the enemy -- and understood that "Them is Us".
I am unable to hold any understanding of the "pattern that connects"
between opposing perspectives. With loss of this sense of pattern, all quality
is therefore lost -- as pointed out by Gregory Bateson.
In this sense the experience of any "other" is essentially, and most
profoundly, a terrifying experience. But this terror might usefully be understood
as the consequence of a theological error in reinforcing two-dimensionality
at the cost of closing off experience of higher dimensionality except in a chaotic
form. With apologies to statisticians, it might be said that this is a "t-error"!
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