26th October 2007 | Draft
Existential Challenge of "The Other"
- / -
Part A of Climbing
Elven Stairways: DNA as a macroscopic metaphor of polarized psychodynamics.
For access convenience this paper has also been split into two parts.
Context of clashing cultures
Part A: Existential challenge of "The Other"
-- Contrast with framework of Spiral Dynamics
-- Possibility of an implicit pattern
-- Correspondences and complementarities: "moonshine
-- A "hidden" stairway?
-- Spiral stairway -- threatening and/or broken?
-- Guarding the entrance: the "wisdom keepers"
-- Spiral stairwells and screw conveyors
-- Paradoxical existential dynamics of the spiral stairway
-- Fundamental knower-known relationship
Human relationships and "The Other"
B: Archetypal otherness: "DNA vs. I Ching"
-- Correspondences and complementarities: steps on the spiral way
-- Pattern replication
-- Process dynamics
-- "Broken symbols" exacerbating relationship failure?
-- Value polarities as archetypal bonds
-- Bonding: reification and petrification of significance
-- Relationship breakdown and civilizational collapse
This is an exploration of the possibility that the operating pattern associated
with DNA, so fundamental to microbiological life processes, may be of some
relevance in reframing understanding of the large-scale processes associated
with psychosocial interactions -- with which civilization
has as yet proven to be fatally incompetent.
What follows is a development of aspects of the following earlier explorations:
The central insight is that correspondences offer a form of understanding
of relationships between what may well be both incommensurable and incompatible
within conventional frameworks -- as between science and religion, between
science and art, or between different belief systems. DNA integrates large
quantities of information of qualitative and generative significance, notably
through the nature of the bonding between its two intertwined, complementary
strands. The most challenging bonds in psychosocial dynamics are partially
embodied and understood, if at all, in poiesis of some form (poetry,
dance, music, drama, etc). ***
This exploration takes a quite different approach from that of Spiral Dynamics
based on the work of Clare
W. Graves (The
Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of the Adult Human Biopsychosocial
1981). The emphasis is on the existential challenge of comprehending any
relationship with "The Other" and how such a challenging bond
may break down. It focuses closely on what may be learnt from the complexities
associated with DNA, notably in contrast with the existential dynamics
to which the I
The question in what follows is whether, as correspondences,
such bonds between the incommensurable offer a form of ladder
-- a cognitive spiral staircase, in the light of the DNA metaphor, on which
it may be possible lightly to tread between the polarized, "clashing" forces. Might "theories of correspondences" be more fruitfully understood as "ladders
More intriguing is whether processes of
creativity and schism formation in groups are usefully patterned by the processes
associated with DNA replication and its role in protein fabrication. In endeavouring
to comprehend the integrity of the "pattern that connects" does
this imply that this depends on the ability of that pattern to engage dynamically
in seemingly disintegrative processes through which the new is engendered?
How are such disintegrative processes to be distinguished from those destructive
of that pattern and the quality which it sustains?
Context of clashing cultures
Many of the challenges to the integrity and viability of civilization are
framed in the simplistic terms of binary logic as a "clash of civilizations":
- Judeo-Christianity vs. the others
- Israel vs. Palestine
- science vs. religion
- art vs. science
- industry vs. environment
- natural sciences vs. social sciences
- left wing vs. right wing
- men vs. women
- young vs. old
- old vs. new
- haves vs. have-nots
Such a framing may also be applied within groups, as argued by Wendell
Bell (in: Richard Slaughter, Looking Towards the Futures
Studies Renaissance: a conversation between Richard A Slaugher and Wendell
Bell, Journal of Futures
Studies, August 2007): Within almost every group or
collectivity, there is a struggle between people:
- on one side who wish to deal with members of other groups with peaceful
diplomacy, persuasion, and comprise; who seek justice tempered by forgiveness
and restraint; who have empathy for "the other"; whose self-interest is
moderated by concern for the well-being of others; who have respect for
others; and who have some understanding of the unity of mankind;
- on the other side of the struggle (within the same group) are people
whop are prone to use violence against "the other"; who seek justice as
retribution and revenge; who demonize their perceived opponents as evil-doers;
who tend to be punishing, controlling, and domineering; who are intolerant
of other cultures and show scorn for what is foreign to them; whose narrow
self-interest dominates their judgments and actions, and who have little,
if any, sense of themselves as members of a common worldwide humanity.
The polar terms may in each case be understood as "cultures" or "civilizations" which
are in process of clashing in ways that are poorly contained by the best
insights of the wise and their capacity to offer remedial strategies of any
credibility. For the less than wise, and those without any doubts regarding
their own wisdom, the response is systemically little different from Stone
Age clubmanship, locked into self-righteous, conventional, "in-the-box" thinking
"Me right / You wrong". Conclusion: "you
are either with us or against us", "you need
help", "you need to be eliminated".
was recently threatened with being "bombed
back to the Stone Age"
if it failed to collaborate with a superpower locked into this Stone Age
mentality. The limitations of this perspective have notably been explored
by Edward de Bono (I Am Right, You Are Wrong:
New Renaissance: From Rock Logic to Water Logic, 1990).
Worse still is what might be caricatured as a mutation of the "Stone
mentality into a structurally violent confidence trick (a "new con"): "I
am right. Follow my advice and be part of the solution. Don't be negative"
Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative,
The response of those appalled by this dynamic appears to be a desperate
search for magical "common ground" -- enabling all to agree, free
from toxic and potentially fatal differences. This worthy objective has however
taken on the attributes of some Edenic utopia. Little thought is given to
the probability that, as with Eden, it is likely (if achieved) to be resubjected
to the unexamined processes of the tragedy of the commons. (see discussion
in In Quest
of Uncommon Ground: beyond impoverished metaphor and the impotence of words
of power, 1997; John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious
Although every respect is due to such initiatives, and every hope
could be placed in them by the optimistic, history suggests that there
is also a case for exploring in parallel the possibility of more complex
forms of viable rapprochement that are as respectful of disagreement between
opposing belief systems as they are of any agreement (see: Using
Disagreements for Superordinate Frame Configuration, 1992, prepared
in anticipation of the Parliament of the World's Religions). With respect to
the need for such "new thinking", Edward de Bono has himself promoted the
creation of a World
Council for New Thinking.
Contrast with framework of Spiral Dynamics
It is appropriate to note that the theory of Spiral
E. Beck and Chris
C. Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: mastering values, leadership, and
change, 1996) was based on the work of Clare
W. Graves (Human
Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap. The Futurist, April 1974; The
Emergent, Cyclical, Double-Helix Model of the Adult Human Biopsychosocial
Systems, 1981), itself rooted in general systems theory and developmental
psychology (cf Caleb Rosado, An
Explanation of Spiral Dynamics; A
Mini-Course in Spiral Dynamics). It has notably been promoted
by Ken Wilber and
The spiral is said to incorporate a double helix through
which "life conditions" at each level ("what the real
world is like") may match with "capacities of the mind" (the
neurobiological equipment and mindsets required to deal with such a reality).
Explanations of Spiral Dynamics do not however appear to make the helical
structure as prominent as is implied; it is not mentioned in the extensive
commentary of the Wikipedia entry,
for example. Nor is it mentioned in the critique by Michel Bauwens (A
Critique of Wilber and Beck's SD-Integral, P/I:
2005). If the spiral is assumed to imply a direction of development, as an
essentially one-way spiral, it would be subject to criticisms similar to
those made with respect to Ken Wilber's one-way developmental conveyor (see Potential
Misuse of the Conveyor Metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic essential
to its appropriate operation, 2007).
The emphases in the exploration of this paper are however on the existential
challenges of comprehension and the degree of correspondence with DNA
which not evident in Spiral Dynamics; it might be argued that the emphasis
there is on matching of various clear-cut psychological and behavioural categories
as is characteristic of various formulaic type coding systems. Don Beck has
The real content of Spiral Dynamics, however, is not about the eight or
nine levels, but how human systems emerge from the interaction of people
with their life conditions. Otherwise, one is trapped with a Calvinistic,
pre-determined roll out, maybe like reincarnation. Different developmental
theorists will, of course, see different wrappings, because of who they
are, how they do research, who is in their studies, with what data-gathering
technologies. The essence of Spiral Dynamics is this Double-Helix effect.
of Development and Spiral Dynamics, 2007)
Following his dissociation from Beck in 1999, the original content of the
work of Graves has been edited by Chris Cowan with Natasha Todorovic (The
Never Ending Quest: Dr. Clare W. Graves Explores Human Nature: A Treatise
on an emergent cyclical conception of adult behavioral systems and their
development, 2005) through a Spiral
Dynamics group distinct from that of Beck's Spiral
Dynamics Integral. The point might be made that one inspiration for the
current exploration is to enable a mode of understanding that responds to
the differences associated with such typical relationship "breakdowns" and
the contrasting interpretations to which they give rise.
Indeed, from the self-referential perspective of the current exploration,
what is its relationship to such "Others"? A primary difference might be
expressed as a concern with how meaning is experienced by those participants
in the dynamics of strongly polarized relationships -- and how it is variously
comprehended by them. Patterns of categories as explanations have proven
to be inadequate to the challenge of such relationships from which many suffer.
The distinction might be caricatured by the agonized words of Jack Nicholson
(As Good As
It Gets, 1997) to a friend offering an explanation for
a relational crisis: "I am drowning here and you
are describing the water".
Possibility of an implicit pattern
The following exploration is of a radically different nature. Within the
problematic context indicated above any possibility of reframing it merits
a degree of consideration, however speculative -- as a precondition of creative
The argument here is that the complex processes associated with DNA are
so fundamental to life that they merit consideration for their implications
for the organization of psychosocial dynamics on a larger scale. Arguments
for this include:
- as a robust set of structures and processes, those of DNA may be said
to have been thoroughly "tested" over millions of years to eliminate
fundamental systemic weaknesses -- something that cannot be said for
of reconciliation currently on offer
- in the light of general
systems theory, as a viable
system, the underlying pattern is likely to be applicable to some
degree on a larger scale (cf James Grier Miller, Living
Systems, 1978). After all why should evolution be expected to
avoid benefitting from a model that has proven its efficacy?
- the processes associated with DNA demonstrably integrate a higher degree
of complexity and variety -- presumably (or at least potentially) of an
order commensurate with that requisite for the appropriate governance of
- in the light of the technique proposed by Joël de Rosnay (The
Macroscope, 1979) for detecting the patterns of larger systems
(by analogy with the microscope), understanding at the micro-level
may offer guidance to understanding of systems of a larger scale. This
approach was a stimulus to the study of Luc de Brabandère (Le
Latéroscope: systèmes et créativité,
1989; The Forgotten Half of Change: achieving greater creativity
through changes in perception, 2005 ).
Given this context, from a systemic perspective, it
is encouraging with respect to the challenge to human capacity of global governance
that at the human cellular level:
- that the number of bases in the human genome (approx
6 billion), so recently "discovered",
so closely approximates the population of the planet (approx 6 billion),
so recently documented, and that the number of "base pairs"
(approx 3 billion) might naturally be expected to correspond to the number
of gender pairs;
- and, furthermore, that the number of molecular lesions
in the human genome per year (approx 0.6%) is of the same order as that
of the global mortality rate per year (approx 0.8%)
The comparison may be considered flawed in the light of the much lower levels
of the human population in earlier periods -- when the human genome was essentially
the same. However this fails to take into account the cognitive dimension
that it is only recently that humanity acquired the capacity to assess both
the level of its own global population and the global characteristics of
its own genome.
Given that humanity has neither developed the capacity to control its population
levels sustainably, nor to eliminate mortality associated with failure manifesting
at the cellular level, it is clearly peculiarly dependent on catastrophic
failure of relationships (generically understood from the macro to the
micro level) for its own survival. There is therefore a case for assuming
that systemically the correspondence between the above figures may be
indicative of some significance beyond pure coincidence.
The following argument
is not however dependent on this assumption although it is nevertheless curious
that the governance capacity to respond to systemic problems arising from
both overpopulation and disease (notably AIDs) is specifically inhibited
by doctrines of the Abrahamic religions. These are all highly challenged
both in their relationship to each other, and with regard to that between
men and women -- as well as dependent on ensuring an early total catastrophic
failure of relationships in order to engender a prophesied global resolution
of these difficulties. Faith-based governance, cultivating demonisation and
evoking terrorism, is promoted to that end (cf Spontaneous
Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence,
The argument is not intended to question the good intentions of those whose
understandings of psychosocial dynamics enable them to respond with some
degree of viability (at least to their satisfaction) to the various manifestations
of the "clash
-- whether on the larger social scale or at the interpersonal level. Rather,
given the high level of fatality that these dynamics continue to engender,
the question is whether more radical framings may in the future
offer yet more appropriate approaches to these clashes.
In particular this exploration acknowledges, as fundamental to the dynamics
that call for elucidation, the self-reflexive challenge of any approach --
however self-righteously offered by the wisest or most spiritual. Any such
approach (perhaps necessarily) engenders an opposing approach by which it
will in all probability be "demonised".
This dimension is especially relevant in the light of the optimistic global
efforts to promote global governance and consensus through particular (and
largely self-selected) institutions (cf discussion in Emergence
of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the
future? 2007 ).
In the current context, new approaches are as likely as any to offer relevant
insights, especially if they are grounded in million year old patterns.
The question here is whether DNA offers special insight into the "pattern
that connects" the "clashing" elements of psychosocial dynamics
to which the best and the brightest have little meaningful response in practice
-- except possibly to bomb "back to the Stone Age" (if
only metaphorically) those
who disagree with their prescription. That there could well be such a relationship
between DNA and the "pattern that connects" might be construed
as implied by the contextual argument in which that phrase was famously first
presented by Gregory
Bateson (Mind and Nature: a necessary
How then might DNA offer a dynamic "holding pattern" as
it does in microbiological life processes? As a metaphor, does it offer
a new way of framing polarized psychosocial dynamics? Is that
better than what is currently on offer?
It is also appropriate to note that the following exploration is in harmony
with insights of some indigenous cultures, as documented by Jeremy Narby
(The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and
the origins of knowledge, 1999). This might itself be seen as
consistent with the Biblical adage that
"The first shall be last and the last shall be
first". As Narby notes, the insight is echoed in the Biblical account
of Jacob's Ladder --
common to the Abrahamic religions. The question is what are the "steps" on
such a ladder and why might "the first" on
it be so closely associated with "the last"?
It is indeed possible that the Edenic harmony is to
be found in comprehension of the nature of the harmonies of correspondences
between clashing forces, rather than in the elimination of the incommensurable
qualities that distinguish them.
Correspondences and complementarities: "moonshine connectivity"
In an earlier exploration (Theories
of Correspondences -- and potential equivalences between them in correlative
thinking, 2007) attention was drawn to the co-existence of two distinct
sets of theories of correspondences, those associated with traditional
symbolist thinking and those associated with algebraic thinking. The point
was made there that no studies have endeavoured to relate these two modes despite
curious similarities and the possibility that the second endeavoured to supplant
the first -- without being able to acknowledge its significance.
Both sets of correspondences do however bridge
credibly across a cognitive chasm in ways that are not readily comprehensible
or explicable to conventional thinking. That exploration in fact arose from
a study of a major discovery in mathematics that was triggered by what was
termed by mathematicians "moonshine" correspondences, in that they
had qualities that were suspiciously inexplicable (cf discussion in Potential
Psychosocial Significance of Monstrous Moonshine: an exceptional form of
symmetry as a Rosetta stone for cognitive frameworks, 2007).
Rather than seek here to highlight the many aspects of correspondences that
may be of relevance to this exploration, an initial example can be given
in terms of aesthetics and poiesis.
In its simplest terms cognitive significance is attached to associations
established in poetry, music or song based on rhyme or rhythm, consonance
and counterpoint. This may be such as to evoke "beating
time to the music" or even dancing to it. Poiesis may be a necessary
precursor of autopoiesis ***.
More complex correspondences may be expressed on a larger scale through
drama and opera, notably highlighting the process of enantiodromia through
which one mode is transformed into its opposite (Psychosocial
Energy from Polarization -- within a Cyclic Pattern of Enantiodromia,
Psychosocial processes on the largest scale may be understood as drama and
may offer instances of such enantiodromia -- as with the development
of the policies of the USA from the Cold War period in supposedly dramatic
contrast to those of totalitarianism.
Correspondences may be recognized
in the complementarity between contrasting individuals or groups, whether
in the form of affinities that "work" (however inexplicable
to others), through antipathies significant to both parties, or through
some profound sense of "rapport". This phenomenon may be described
using metaphors of mirroring -- where one is understood to be a (possibly
transformed or distorted) image of the other. According to some psychotherapeutic
frameworks, any such problematic mirroring may be described in terms of a "shadow" and
the challenge of encountering "The Other" (cf Connie Zweig and
Jeremiah Abrams (Eds). Meeting the Shadow: the hidden
power of the dark side of human nature, 1991; "Human
Intercourse": "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other", 2007).
In purely aesthetic terms it is possible to incorporate a variety of correspondences
into a design. This may be deliberately done in order to raise the spirit
of the observer in some way. This approach was central to the Renaissance
concerns of Marsilio Ficino and variously described as natural magic or
sympathetic magic (Sutton Pub and D. P. Walker, Spiritual
and Demonic Magic: from Ficino to Campanella, 2000).
Chinese culture has notably continued to recognize related sensitivity through
the discipline and practice of feng
shui. Variants are characteristic
of contemporary concerns with fashion, decor and creating ambiance. More
challenging are the traditional uses of rhyming "spells" to
induce effects by "magic" -- usefully construed to include advertising
jingles (that also "work").
The argument here is that greater awareness of complementaries
and correspondences allows them to be used as viable stepping stones through
which to walk in domains outside -- or more specifically between -- the
frameworks provided by various conventions and forms of conventional thinking. The
credibility of this is readily recognized when an unusual gesture is made
that, although seeming to break the rules of convention, is nevertheless
understood (and especially "felt") to be appropriate.
The question is whether these steps may be understood to be configured in
any way. A stepping stone may be an isolated stone in a river or accompanied
by others. In creating ambiance an interplay is sought between a variety
of complementarities. This is specifically the case within a piece of music
or poetry. How are these to be understood as offering a means to uplift the
spirit? Are they then better understood as steps on some form of staircase
or ladder to a condition of higher potential --- or possibly even to one
of lower potential? How many steps may be associated with such a raising
out of the mundane condition?
Should the sequence of metaphors associated with the learning process
of progressive initiation into more fundamental comprehension be understood
as forming such a stairway of correspondences -- notably as cultivated
in degrees of initiation? (cf Metaphors
as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991).
Curiously environments where a set of complementaries
are in play are not normally distinguished by the degree of qualitative enhancement
that they enable. Efforts to do so are constrained by limitations on the
superlatives that can be used and the interpretations that can be given to
them. The context may be appreciatively described
as "magical" or
The question raised here is whether, understood in this way, correspondences
offer a means of stepping lightly between the poles of binary thinking. Is
it then somehow possible to walk between clashing opposites through recognition
of the cognitive support that a complementarity offers? In particular,
through recognition of a set of such correspondences, is it possible to use
them as a form of staircase? In that case does DNA, for the reasons
indicated above, offer insights into the structure of that staircase and
the psychodynamics that may be associated with it?
A "hidden" stairway?
Clearly recognizing the possibility of such movement -- "slipping between
the walls" -- is relatively easy for those with aesthetic sensibilities,
if only to music. Such "hidden" possibilities may also evoke the
kinds of worldwide excitement associated with rumours of secret codes (as
Da Vinci Code and imitations thereof). For those locked
into conventional thinking, the possibility may be as problematic as the
threatening chaos that the autistic may experience -- challenged to understand
the rules for such behaviour.
But whilst one may or may not have experience of how
such an "unconventional" movement "works", it is interesting to note various
forms of recognition of it in mythology and legend:
- the challenge of navigating Scylla
and Charybdis is one classical example
- the Vedic insight regarding Neti Neti (not this, not that) is another
- the two pillars, Boaz
and Jachin, of Solomon's
Temple, the first Temple
in Jerusalem (1 Kings 7:21; 2 Kings 11:14; 23:3)
of significance to the ritual of freemasonry and other esoteric groups,
and common features of their symbolic architecture.
- as noted elsewhere (The
Isdom of the Wisdom Society: Embodying time as the heartland of humanity,
2003), mytho-poetic folk legends, and modern fictional explorations,
serve to sustain and echo the archetypal insights in many cultures
relating to elder "ancestral" races who "withdrew into the stones" --
or to those that may have been "trapped" therein, like Merlin and
the proverbial geni in the bottle. Most curiously, one of the most
popular and best known Christian hymns has as its opening lines: Rock
of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee [more | more].
- as an extension of the last point, a number of theological studies refer
to the necessarily "broken
symbols" through which people
are reminded of the broken world in which they live and which appropriate
insight may heal as a dwelling place "for eternity" (cf Barry L. Davis, Broken
Symbols, 2006; Robert Cummings Neville, The
Truth of Broken Symbols,
1996). Whenever reference is made to something through symbols, this is
an indication that it is representative
of something else - generally
much greater than the symbol itself.
- in Theravada Buddhism, the Middle
Way is understood as a description of a Nirvana-bound
path of moderation -- between the extremes of sensual indulgence
and self-mortification through the practice of wisdom, morality
and mental cultivation. In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the Middle
Way refers to transcendental ways of approaching seemingly antithetical
claims about reality.
- the decorative art of China,
including temples and traditional folk dances, focuses extensively on the
theme of two dragons, typically depicted facing one
another in the air in eager pursuit of a spinning pearl floating like an
iridescent bubble between them. This theme was a mark of books issued under
imperial auspices. For Taoists, the complex associations of that pearl
include wisdom, yang energy, truth and life -- even the everlasting life
of those who perceive the truth and attain enlightenment. Elsewhere (Psycho-social
Significance of the Mandelbrot Set: a sustainable boundary between chaos
and order, 2005), it was suggested that the two dragons can readily
be associated with the two sides of the standard rendering of the Mandelbrot
set -- in pursuit of the circular 2-period ball.
- as with the Chinese dragons, complementary (magical) beasts, "counter-rampant"
are a common feature of heraldic devices symbolic of the identity of dynasties
- numerous political groups have endeavoured to articulate a "third
to avoid the polarizing extremes of left and right-wing politics (Anthony
The Third Way: the renewal of social democracy, 1998 ; The
Third Way And Its Critics, 2000)
To the extent that the intermediary passage is an open secret, it is seemingly
only "hidden" by fixation on the attraction or repulsion of the
twin guardians -- however symbolized -- of the way between them. Correspondences
subtly introduce what is effectively a "spacer beam", holding
the opposing forces apart in order to provide a viable cognitive pathway.
Such a beam might be understood in terms of the best of counter-intuitive
The degree of "openness"
of the "secret" is perhaps best exemplified by what has been ambiguously
translated as the Gateless
echoed in a very common symbolic portal in China and Japan -- whose paradoxical
cognitive nature is indicated through a classic collection of 48 Zen koans
and their many commentaries.
Its comprehension resists
description in logical terms, as this quotation from the preface by the compiler
Mumon (or Wumen)
The great path has no gates,
Yet thousands of roads enter it.
When one passes through this gateless gate,
He walks freely between heaven and hell.
Spiral stairway -- threatening and/or broken?
Curiously freemasonry, as described by Albert G. Mackey (The
Symbolism of Freemasonry, 1882), has also cultivated The
Legend of the Winding Stairs associated with access to the so-called
Although the legend of the Winding Stairs forms an important tradition
of Ancient Craft Masonry, the only allusion to it in Scripture is to be
found in a single verse in the sixth chapter of the First Book of Kings,
and is in these words: "The door for the middle chamber
was in the right side of the house; and they went up with winding stairs
into the middle chamber, and out of the middle into the third." Out of this slender material has
been constructed an allegory, which, if properly considered in its symbolical
relations, will be found to be of surpassing beauty. But it is only as
a symbol that we can regard this whole tradition; for the historical facts
and the architectural details alike forbid us for a moment to suppose that
the legend, as it is rehearsed in the second degree of Masonry, is anything
more than a magnificent philosophical myth.
A further study has been made by Homer L. Zurrrwalt (A
Study of the Winding Staircase, 1989) since it is a key feature
in the design of King Solomon's Temple that is central to the symbolism
of freemasonry. He notes it has been made a central feature of the Second
Degree which every Fellowcraft Mason must symbolically ascend in order
to make his advancement in the degree. This is explained in more detail
elsewhere (Charles A. Sankey, The
Winding Stair to the Middle Chamber,
1968). The focus in masonic use is on the value-related symbolism of a
succession of steps in the winding stairs (The
Winding Stairs, Short Talk Bulletin, January 1932, 1):
There actually was a winding stair in Solomon's Temple, but of the
three, five and seven steps the scriptures are silent. Only in this
country have the Winding Stairs but fifteen steps. In older days the
stairs had but five, sometimes seven steps. Preston had thirty-six
steps in his Winding Stairs; in series of one, three, five, seven, nine and
eleven. The English system later eliminated the number eleven from
Preston's thirty-six, making but twenty-five in all. The Stairs
as a whole are a representation of life; not the physical life of eating,
drinking, sleeping and working, but the mental and spiritual life, of both
the lodge and the world without; of learning, studying, enlarging mental
horizons and increasing the spiritual outlook.
If the pattern, exemplified in DNA, holds more generally -- as suggested
here -- then it is to be expected that it holds whether one believes in it
or not, and to whatever degree. The cognitive dynamics of "believing
in it" (or
not) may well be fundamental to the operation of the pattern. It may well
hold in some way at a range of scales, from the personal to the global (as
discussed below). The question for the moment (and especially in the moment)
is how such a stairway may be experienced -- if it is only partially experienced
-- and what are the pathological forms of partial experience?
Suggestive clues may be obtained by comparing how stairways are experienced
as unsafe with current understanding of how DNA may be damaged (and repaired)
-- bearing in mind that the systems of the human body necessarily have a
comprehensive understanding of the latter:
- Potentially unsafe stairways (and their associated
This is a common experience for those personally familiar with ruins, but
it has been widely explored in movie scenes.
- fragility of steps however solid they may appear (wood rot, etc)
-- especially if they appear to be made of unusual materials
- invisibility of steps (due to inadequate lighting or to optical illusions)
calling for an act of faith in both their presence and solidity
- special, and possibly unfamiliar, requirements for walking -- possibly
to avoid inducing destructive vibrations (as with ropeways)
- absence (or invisibility) of any supporting far wall and the consequent
danger of falling off
- any counter-intuitive need to avoid the prudence of clinging
to the proximate side of the stairway
- the presence of unforeseeable others, of unimaginable nature and
motivation, on the strange stairway -- especially if it is not clear
where it goes or the identity of those who may make use of it
- Damage to DNA:
This occurs at a rate of 1,000 to 1,000,000 molecular lesions per cell
due to environmental (exogenous) factors and normal metabolic (endogenous)
processes inside the cell.
It corrupts the integrity and accessibility of essential information, notably
altering the spatial configuration of the helix.
The replication of damaged DNA before cell division can lead to the
incorporation of wrong bases opposite damaged ones. Daughter cells that
inherit these wrong bases carry mutations from which the original DNA
sequence is typically unrecoverable. Accumulation of extensive
DNA damage by a cell, or its inability to continue DNA
repair to damage incurred, results in its entering one of three possible
- an irreversible state of dormancy, known as senescence
- cell suicide, also known as apoptosis or programmed cell death
- unregulated cell division, which can lead to the formation of
a tumor that is cancerous
Table 1: Indicative patterns of DNA damage
to be interpreted as a comprehensive guide to the
challenge of relating to a complementary "Other"
(further information is available from the extensive Wikipedia entry and
damage by a range of mutagens can be subdivided into two main
repair mechanisms: Depending on the type of damage inflicted
on the DNA's double helical structure, a variety of repair strategies
have evolved to restore lost information. If possible, cells use
the unmodified complementary strand of the DNA or the sister chromatid
as a template to losslessly recover the original information. Without
access to a template, cells use an error-prone recovery mechanism
known as translesion synthesis as a last resort
- endogenous damage to DNA due to endogenous cellular processes:
- oxidation of bases from reactive oxygen species produce
multiple forms of damage, including base modifications,
as well as double-strand breaks
- alkylation of bases (usually methylation), such as formation
- hydrolysis of bases, such as deamination, depurination
- mismatch of bases, due to errors in DNA replication,
in which the wrong DNA base is stitched into place in a
newly forming DNA strand, or a DNA base is skipped over
or mistakenly inserted.
- exogenous damage caused by external agents such as
- ultraviolet radiation from the sun causing crosslinking
between adjacent cytosine and thymine bases creating
pyrimidine dimers in a DNA strand
- ionizing radiation such as that created by radioactive
decay or in cosmic rays causes breaks in DNA strands.
- thermal disruption at elevated temperature increases the
rate of depurination, and notably hydrolytic depurination
- certain plant toxins
- human-made mutagenic chemicals, especially aromatic compounds
that act as DNA intercalating agents resulting in insertion
into the space between two adjacent base pairs; intercalators
are mostly aromatic and planar molecules distorting the DNA
strands by unwinding of the double helix thereby inhibiting
both transcription and DNA replication, causing toxicity
- cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy
reversal is achieved by three types of chemical process
strand damage to one of the two strands of a double helix
may be repaired by using the other strand as a template to
guide the correction of the damaged strand.
breaks are particularly hazardous to the cell because they
can lead to genome rearrangements; two mechanisms exist to
synthesis involves the use of specialized translesion DNA
polymerases that can insert bases at the site of damage but
with some risk of mutation.
Understood in terms of a stairwell, it is vital to recognize the cognitive
challenge of the unfamiliar, if one's primary association is with one pole
of the binary -- whether or not it is understood to be purportedly bridged
by a sense of correspondence and complementarity. The other side may be
existentially terrifying whatever may be hypothesised about its complementarity.
The terror of such unfamiliarity may be readily
associated with the demonic -- as is only too evident in the tendency to
demonize those who hold unfamiliar views evoking disagreement. In this
sense any such supposed step on the stairway beyond doctrinal convention
may be quite appropriately framed as encountering "Satan on one's
It is understandable why some belief systems are totally opposed to forms
of aesthetics that may suggest correspondences and complementarities that
relate them to other belief systems with which they have no conventional
I summon to the winding ancient stair;
Set all your mind upon
the steep ascent,
Upon the broken, crumbling battlement,
breathless starlit air,
'Upon the star that marks the hidden pole;
Fix every wandering thought upon
That quarter where all thought is
Who can distinguish darkness from the soul?
(from W B Yeats, A Dialogue of Self and Soul)
Guarding the entrance: the "wisdom keepers"
Perhaps the most curious feature of the open secret is the manner in which
it is guarded. Given the above selection of examples from different cultures
and traditions, a fundamental question might be how "jealously" it
is guarded and to what end? In the case of the twin dragons, the "secret" is
widely and frequently publicized in dragon dance ceremonies -- notably in
rural communities. Symbolic twin columns, with appropriately symbolic beasts
as guardians, are admired as characteristic of many temple-like designs.
As noted above, such columns are a characteristic feature of masonic temples
and initiation ceremonies -- and of common heraldic devices.
It would seem that there are various possibilities:
- that the knowledge of meaningful access to any intermediary way is effectively
- that the architectural and symbolic representations are accepted as having
ceased to perform any genuine role as psychoactive reminders or catalysts
of insight and merely serve decorative ceremonial purposes -- echoing (nostalgically)
what might have been and what (longingly) might come to be (cf Connie Zweig,
The Holy Longing: the hidden power of spiritual yearning, 2003).
- that claims to the knowledge (whether real or illusory) are indeed jealously
guarded as secret because of the power that so doing is held to offer,
if only with respect to those seeking to acquire access
- that the nature of the secret, to the extent that it is understood, is
mistakenly understood in some way
- that the very nature of the secret lies in the difficulty in communicating
such subtly intimate knowledge, whatever the motivation to do so
One interesting, if tragic, example is that of the traditional "wisdom
of indigenous cultures. In addition to their values having been well-disparaged
by the currently dominant world culture, well-meaning efforts to position
and promote their insights might themselves be seen to be counterproductive.
Sadly it might be said of the Wisdom Keepers assembled on the occasion of
the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) that they were indeed the most effective
of those gathered there in achieving their apparent objectives. Not a trace
of their wisdom emerged. Or is that the very nature of wisdom -- that its
expression should leave no "traces"? Or is it that its nature
lies in how it is comprehended by others -- if at all?
A quite different example is that of freemasonry, given the degree to which
the eminent and powerful are in some way secretly complicit in its processes
at the highest level of leadership (cf Global
Strategic Implications of the "Unsaid",
To the extent that freemasonry, as noted above, indeed holds and enables
such profound insights amongst its members, it might be asked how (or why)
such insights have failed to imbue global leadership with greater wisdom
-- whether through intergovernmental institutions or the various world councils
of the wise (see discussion in Emergence
of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the
. Or is it the case that the problematic nature of the dysfunctional dynamics
of the times are in some way integral to the sustainability of the holding
pattern that the wise consider appropriate? What is it that they are allowing
(not) to happen and why? (cf The
Deafening Silence of Those Who Know Nothing, 1998).
As with the purported ideal of classic imperial China, is it the case that
the secret of governance at the highest level is a form of inaction -- however
mysterious? (cf The
Quest for the Socio-Economics of Non-Action, 1993; The
Art of Non-Decision-Making and the manipulation of categories, 1997).
Is this how the wise view their relationship to what the Club of Rome has
named as the problematique -- without being able to give significant content
to the corresponding resolutique?
(Council of the Club of Rome, The
First Global Revolution, 1991, edited by Alexander
King and Bertrand Schneider).
Is it this secret:
is held to absolve those at the very highest level of being called to account
for problematic initiatives for which they have been responsible, or with
which they have been complicit -- including those triggering calls for
- that is the basis for the "creative accounting" of which they
are so often accused -- perhaps justified by a correspondingly dubious "creative
- that offers those "in the know" the necessary "wiggle
room" to navigate these problematic times with effective impunity
-- however criminal their actions may appear to others?
How many "in
have indeed been complicit in the Iraq debacle, and are complicit (at the
time of writing) in the build-up to a nuclear strike on Iran -- in preference
to providing effective aid to those in dire straits (Dafur, etc) ?
On the other hand, it might presumably be imagined that those "in the
consider the level of tragic fatalities and suffering in today's civilization
to be necessary and appropriate (despite their skillfully publicized "sincere" regrets)
to sustaining the psychodynamics of the system. They may even consider it
appropriate occasionally to fine tune the level of fatalities with any of
the instruments of the Four
Horsemen -- as a means of "assisting God's
work". The logic of such a perspective was explored in the notorious Report
from Iron Mountain -- possibly
to be considered a precursor to that of the UN's Global Compact and that
of the European Economic Forum (cf "Globalization":
the UN's "Safe
Haven" for the World's Marginalized -- the Global Compact with
Multinational Corporations as the UN's "Final Solution",
Spiral stairwells and screw conveyors
If the DNA pattern holds, however, why the spiral? How may the spiral and
twist be of psychosocial significance in development of understanding --
in contrast with other intuitions, such as those regarding a simple, linear "Jacob's
A previous exploration (Potential
Misuse of the Conveyor Metaphor: recognition of the circular dynamic
essential to its appropriate operation, 2007) reviewed insights
into the significance of the conveyor as a metaphor of development and
notably of spiritual development, as specifically advocated by Ken Wilber
Conveyor Belt. Ch. 9 of Integral
Spirituality: a startling new role for religion in the modern and postmodern
world, Shambhala, 2006). The section in that exploration
staircases and screw conveyors (omitted from an abridged
version of the paper published
in the Journal of Futures Studies) is reproduced in this and the
The process of "return" is seemingly absent from
this form of conveyor. Interestingly the spiral staircase is one favoured
adaptation of the mythical "ladder" of "spiritual development"
to "heaven", notably as used by Karen
Armstrong (The Spiral
Staircase: my climb out of darkness, 2004) -- inspired by T S Eliot's
Wednesday (1930) and by Dante Alighieri 's Divine
Comedy, especially the Purgatorio.
|At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.
(from T S Eliot, Ash
In both the spiral staircase and the screw conveyor it is the "material"
that moves, either of its own accord (as on the staircase) or as an effect
on "static" material of a rotating screw. In this sense the conveyor
rotates on its axis; its ends do not meet in any "tail-biting".
In effect the conveyor then acts as a form of "timeless" standing
wave; it is only the material that has a temporal experience.
Curiously the spiral staircase is often used as an example of an architectural
design that cannot be adequately communicated with words -- making
the use of images (even gestures) essential to comprehension.
However Armstrong explores the challenging experience of a spiral staircase
in her development "out of darkness" over time:
I am trying to describe an experience that has nothing whatever to do
with words or ideas and is not amenable to the logic of grammar and neat
sentences that put things into an order that makes sense... It is as though
a comforting veil of illusion has been ripped away and you see the world
without form, without significance, purposeless, blind, trivial, spiteful
and ugly to the core. T S Eliot describes something similar in the third
poem of Ash Wednesday. He is climbing a spiral staircase, a mythical
image of the 'ascent' of the mind and heart to spiritual enlightenment.
But At the first turning of the second stair he sees a shape
twisted into the bannister, surrounded by vaporous, foetid air, and he
is forced to struggle with the devil of the stairs. He leaves
these convoluted forms behind, and at the next turning finds only darkness:
Damp, jagged, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair. Or
the toothed gullet of an aged shark, the underbelly of consciousness
that lurks in the basement of our minds. (p. 75)
The figure on any such spiral staircase (given the parallel to the screw
conveyor) is of course appropriately named as Screwtape by C S Lewis
Letters, 1942). As Armstrong later notes with regard to Eliot's
There was a complete and satisfying 'fit' between my inner and outer worlds.
The poem, with its quiet, haunting accuracy, perfectly expressed my own
state, and endorsed it, showing that I had... somehow stumbled upon a truth
about the human consciousness and the way men and women work.... In the
very first poem of the sequence... the verse constantly turns upon itself
in repetition of word, image and sound. Repeatedly the poet tells us, I
do not hope to turn again, and yet throughout the poem, he is doing
just that, slowly ascending to one insight after another. And even though
he insists that he has abandoned hope, I felt paradoxically encouraged.
Paradoxical existential dynamics of the spiral stairway
Whilst this is an admirable experiential account, it somehow seeks to design
out the significance of what Armstrong elsewhere describes as the "ghost" on
that spiral staircase. Emphasis is placed on overcoming the illusion of despair
through discovery of appropriate hope -- however paradoxical (and illusory
in its own right?).
The challenge may however lie in an overly simplistic understanding of the
essentially "static" staircase metaphor -- as partially indicated
by the challenge of understanding the "dynamics" of the screw conveyor
and how it "works". Understanding it simplistically may indeed
evoke encounters with "traffic" in the opposite direction -- "going
downstairs". Any "ascent"
of the mind and heart to spiritual enlightenment is then necessarily matched
by the "descent" of forms of attachment variously imagined.
Armstrong herself equates the segregation she chose to undergo through her
novitiate in a convent as a type of isolation central to rituals of initiation
practiced in many cultures:
It is a process of death and resurrection: initiates die to their childhood
and rise again to an entirely different life as mature human beings...
The idea is that in these extreme circumstances, the young discover inner
resources that will enable them to serve their people as fully functioning
adults. The purpose... is thus to transform dependent children into responsible
self-reliant adults... and if necessary to die in order to protect their
people. (p 45)
Again the error may lie in focusing inappropriately on the nature of "enlightenment"
when a more appropriate understanding is only achieved, paradoxically,
"in the light" of "endarkenment" (Enlightening
Endarkenment selected web resources on the challenge to comprehension,
2005). In relying on simplistic understanding of the spiral staircase metaphor
to communicate the fundamental means of conveyance to greater insight, the
nature of this "error" may best be highlighted by contrasting this
pattern with that of the uncontestably fundamental pattern of DNA (DNA
Supercoiling as a Pattern for Understanding Psycho-social Twistedness,
2004 -- annex to Engaging
with Questions of Higher Order: cognitive vigilance required for higher degrees
of twistedness, 2004).
The features missing from the metaphor of the spiral staircase, or of the
screw conveyor, are then more likely to be found in the structure and dynamics
of the supercoiling of DNA as the conveyor par excellence of information
across generations. The existentially challenging illusions may then be understood
in terms of a misplaced "impossible fusion" of the two right spiralling
strands of the DNA double-helix or its conformations.
Consistent with the complex spiraling of DNA is the double
spiral staircase which might offer more appropriate "staircase" metaphors
for spiritual development. A second helical staircase can indeed be interwoven
with the first (as with DNA) -- as explored by both Leonardo da Vinci and
M C Escher. It is a notable feature in the Vatican
Museum, and at Chambord,
allowing one person to ascend and another to descend without encountering
(or even seeing) each other. It also features in one old English country
house -- to ensure that residents and guests did not need to encounter
servants. Perhaps more significant is the fact that fire escapes, though
built with landings and straight runs of stairs, are often functionally
double helixes, with two separate stairs intertwined.
The cognitively twisted nature of any illusions arising from inappropriate
conflation would of course be even more appropriately represented by a combination
of right- and left-spiraling "stairs" -- only possible in a space
of more than three dimensions. It is perhaps such a pattern, fundamental
to yoga and tantra, that characterizes
the spiraling channels (ida and pingala) entwined around
the spinal sushumna,
with their particular points of intersection, or by the caduceus of
western tradition -- an example of the double spiral symbol common to many
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
(from W B Yeats, The
Fundamental knower-known relationship
If the pattern, as suggested here, is indeed of relevance to a way of reframing
sterile and unfruitful polarized dynamics, it is to be suspected that it
would be of relevance (recursively and self-reflexively) to the very relationship
between knower and known. This is the "conventional" relationship
"the observer" and "reality" with which people are faced
in their daily lives -- even moment by moment. The self-reflexive challenge
has been extensively documented by Douglas
Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid: a metaphorical fugue on minds and
machines in the spirit of Lewis Carroll, 1979; I
Am a Strange Loop, 2007) and variously by others (George Lakoff
and Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh: the embodied mind and its
challenge to western thought, 1999; Henryk Skolimowski, Participatory
Mind: a new theory of knowledge and of the universe, 1994).
There are many traces of the recognition that there is a degree of mirroring
of "knower" and "known" (Mirroring
and Mixing Metaphors, 2006; My
Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development
(Johannesburg, 2002) worthwhile,
Contrasting understandings of enlightenment in Chinese Buddhism have been
expressed through contrasting understandings of a mirror metaphor. Philosophically
both perspectives are based on a belief in the intrinsic purity of mind,
which, while pure in its self-nature, is soiled by adventitious passions
(cf Paul Demiéville. The
Mirror of the Mind. In: Peter N Gregory (Ed) Sudden and Gradual;
approaches to enlightenment in Chinese Thought, 1991):
- the gradualist approach, insists that effort is necessary to rid the
mind of these foreign impurities, expressed through the metaphor of wiping
and polishing a mirror;
- the sudden approach to awakening considers only its essential purity,
hence the refusal to recognize the existence of any impurity needing to
The corresponding, mutually challenging, verses are:
- The body is the tree of the awakening; The mind is like a clear mirror.
Be unceasingly diligent in wiping it and polishing it, So that it will
be without dust.
- Awakening entails no tree at all, Nor does the clear mirror entail
any material frame. The Buddha-nature is eternally pure; Where could
there be any dust?
Curiously no reference is made to the fact that these "opposing" views --
fundamental to two "opposing" belief systems -- might themselves be seen
as mirror images of each other. As correspondences, it is between them that
one is called to step.
The mirror metaphor, with its optical associations, also offers a way of
reframing speculations about "speculative freemasonry" -- especially
given its embodiment in the title Masonic Mirror
and Keystone (an early periodical). In
the year in which the first play (Love's Labour's Lost, 1598) bearing
the name of W. Shakespeare was published, an anonymous translation
of Guillaume de la Perrière's Le miroir politique was published
by Adam Islip as the The Mirror of Policie -- in which a freemason
with square and compasses is depicted (cf Ron Heisler, The
Impact of Freemasonry on Elizabethan Literature, The Hermetic
Journal, 1990). As noted
by Peter Dawkins (Shakespeare
and Freemasonry, Francis Bacon Research Trust, 1997), the
masonic references in the Shakespeare plays are numerous, "some
fairly obvious and others extremely subtle, but all woven into the text in
such a way that they form a natural part of the magical garment".
Norman D. Livergood (The
Perennial Tradition, 2003) notes the commentary
on a text of Plotinus by Marsilio
Ficino (De vita coelitus
comparanda) with respect to mirroring
of a fundamental kind:
I think . . . that those ancient sages, who sought to secure the presence
of divine beings by the erection of shrines and statues, showed insight into
the nature of the All; they perceived that, though this Soul (of the world)
is everywhere tractable, its presence will be secured all the more readily
when an appropriate receptacle is elaborated, a place especially capable
of receiving some portion or phase of it, something reproducing it and serving
like a mirror to catch an image of it.
Also of relevance to understandings of mirroring, Livergood comments
with respect to the title of Ficino's opus, that it might be variously translated
Capturing The Life of the Stars, On Obtaining
Life From the Heavens, or On Instituting One's
Life Celestially but that
-- in light of Ficino's fondness for puns -- his title probably means all
three and more. Some of these implications have been recently explored by
Thomas Moore (Planets Within:
the astrological psychology of Marsilio Ficino,
1990). Contemporary variants of this traditional understanding were a theme
of a conference of the Scientific and
Medical Network at the Pari Center
for New Learning (Towards a New Renaissance, 2007).
Disciplines of meditation frequently allude to the possibility of reframing
the relationship between knower and known in ways that might be understood
in terms of offering access to other, and wiser, modes of understanding.
However typically this reframing is described in terms implying a degree
of fusion of knower and known -- although the "levels" of insight
into the nature of such fusion, as articulated in Buddhism for example, might
be said to evoke those of the staircase metaphor, as with the "degrees" of
initiation of various esoteric traditions, as noted above (cf Navigating
Alternative Conceptual Realities: clues to the dynamics of enacting new paradigms
through movement, 2002).
Given the preoccupation of this exploration, it is appropriate to note the
number of web sites of schools of meditation specifically addressing the
issue of meditation in relation to DNA, based on certain research (Grazyna
Fosar and Franz Bludorf. Spiritual
Science: DNA is influenced by words and frequencies. In: Vernetzte
Intelligenz). These explorations have presumably been considerably encouraged
by direct personal experience of fatal illnesses such as cancer and AIDs
-- and irrespective of conventional judgements as to their meaninglessness,
in comparison with death itself.
It is appropriate to stress that the sense of any correspondence,
affinity or rapport, seemingly calls for ways of knowing beyond any intellectual
description thereof. It implies a deeper form of (self-)understanding
on the part of the knower as much as a degree of cognitive engagement with "the
other" constituting an existential challenge (cf Creative
Cognitive Engagement: beyond the limitations of descriptive patterning,
with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other", 2007).
From such a perspective, especially intriguing at this point in time are
the immense resources devoted by humanity to two fundamental explorations
of the known that depend for their success on unconventional understandings
of the relationship between knower and known:
- the Large
Hadron Collider, constructed by the CERN particle physics laboratory
outside Geneva, that will commence operations in 2007 with the purpose
of detecting the Higgs boson, the most elusive speck of matter in the
universe. Also termed the God particle, it is supposed to be the key
to explaining why matter has mass (Richard Martin, The
God Particle and the Grid, Wired, April 2004). A second
and larger variant, the International
Linear Collider, has been announced (Frederic Garlan, Dark
matter and 'God particle' within reach, Cosmos, 15
- an international tokamak (magnetic confinement fusion) research/engineering
project, ITER (under construction in France), intended
to investigate the application
of insights into plasma physics into future electricity-producing fusion
Both, but notably the latter, suggest the possibility that as complex cognitive
templates (like DNA), they may offer special insight into the relationship
between knower and known and the nature of processes associated with their
"union" or "fusion" (Enactivating
a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: Imaginal Transformation of Energy Resourcing
Human relationships and "The Other"
The challenge of correspondences, complementarities and affinities has long
been recognized as being well reflected in that between man and woman. Much
is made of "family values" as fundamental to society. Fundamentalists
of every persuasion deplore unconventional and broken relationships -- possibly
even to the point of criminalizing them and making them punishable by death.
And yet the patterns of complexities and subtleties of such relationships
remain a prime focus of interpersonal preoccupation -- and of the media in
The conventional attitudes, regulated by doctrine and law, are quite distinct
from the knowledge of such relationships as experienced by those challenged
by affinities (notably by those with the opposite gender) -- experiences
for which people have long been prepared to die. The nature of these relationships
-- as the essence of "being human" -- has long been a focal challenge
for those of aesthetic bent. They have evoked poetry and song in every culture.
Archetypal variants were, for example, associated with the Medieval culture
love through which efforts were made to ennoble that relationship.
Most curiously it has typically been men who have endeavoured to circumscribe,
regulate and institutionalize such relationships. Even more curious, it has
been men -- as in priesthoods specifically required to abstain from such
relationships -- who have been empowered to define them for society. Typically
they have endeavoured to divert the unconventional experiential ways of knowing
associated with such relationships such as to reinforce the more conventional
ways of knowing of which they have positioned themselves as gatekeepers and
It might be argued, as they have always done, that there is every justification
for doing so if it enables more fruitful relationships within society. However
it is precisely the total inability of those empowered in this way to relate
to others of their own kind, holding different doctrinal positions on the
matter, that has resulted in the level of interreligious conflict that has
been fatal to millions -- and continues to be so. Their various approaches
to appropriating the understanding of subtle relationships and correspondences
would seem to have been a historic disaster for which they notably consider
themselves free from all responsibility.
The situation might be considered more curious in the case of the craft
of freemasonry or of other secret societies -- as supposedly holding subtler
insights of "higher degree". It is especially curious in the case
of freemasonry because of the manner in which it has been traditionally instituted
as a male-only group committed to restricting its insights to its membership
-- expected to conform to a code of morality (which, like its code of ethics,
is seemingly open to creative interpretation in practice). This would appear
to preclude any shared understanding in practice of the nature of such subtle
relationships with any "Other", most especially of opposite gender. This
might even be considered to be a prime example of enantiodromia whereby,
through instituting a system to cultivate subtler forms of knowing, it in
fact resulted in a system which precluded such knowing in effective practice
-- however it may be celebrated in theory, ritual and symbol.
It is within this context that other approaches to understanding subtle
relationships, involving those of both genders, have been set. As an extreme
example, it is understandable how threatening is perceived to be the challenge
of "witchcraft" for
the Christian and other religions. More intriguing is the perceived justification
in traditional societies for the separate secret societies of men and women
and whether, through this separation, subtler understandings of relationship
are cultivated that are meaningful to sustaining their culture in practice
(cf A. P. Elkin, Aboriginal Men of High Degree: initiation
and sorcery in the world's oldest tradition, 1993; Darrell
A. Posey, Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, 1999).
Not only do religions continue to exacerbate bloody conflict,
through their inability to exhibit understanding of the practice of subtler
relationships with those of other ways of knowing -- whether other religions,
science or the arts. They have also effectively exposed society to an increasing
pattern of unfruitful and broken relationships -- as reflected in divorce
and HIV statistics. In effect each religion is in the invidious position
of claiming to have a solution to unfruitful relationships -- within its
own doctrinal framework -- whilst simultaneously exacerbating bloody conflict
(especially destructive of human relationships) with those of a different
framework. More curious still, as with freemasonry, are the curious dynamics
regarding access to roles within priesthoods of those of the opposite gender.
It is appropriate to argue
that the quality of understanding of relationships offered by religion is
therefore totally inadequate to the challenge of the psychodynamics of 21st
century society. By extension it might be argued that religion, as with
many other current belief systems, continues to reinforce inadequate (if
not primitive) understanding of the challenging relationship with any "Other"
-- namely with those who are different or who disagree. This is currently
exemplified by the simplistic, Stone Age, response to those selectively
framed and labelled as "terrorists".
It is therefore interesting to explore whether richer insights into such
subtle relationships are to be found in the structure and dynamics of DNA
-- especially given the manner in which they are at the root of the reproductive
capacity of the human race. Do the challenges of "DNA damage" and "DNA repair"
(noted above) offer insights into those of damaged human relationships and
the possibilities of repairing them? Note however, as stressed above, that
any such insights relate to the subtle, hidden, experiential nature of such
relationships -- to which the arts can but allude. The doctrinal account,
especially as elaborated authoritatively by men, is but one mode of knowing
that typically --- if not necessarily -- misrepresents or deforms understanding
of another. As emphasized above, it is in the complementarity between these
modes of knowing that lies the stairwell of affinities offering access to
subtler patterns of relationship.
It is ironic that in this period of crisis for humanity the knowledge
and opportunity of genetic engineering and "biotech" have been recognized:
- Is it possible that the knowledge will offer relevant insight into a
vital and more appropriate "science of human relationships"?
- Beyond the self-interested psyops of the
superpowers and the advertising industry, is it possible that an analogue
to genetic engineering will offer new approaches to repairing the kinds
relationships that are otherwise recognized as likely to engender ever
more bloody conflicts?
- That new understandings of the nature of possible "union" may
be possible? (cf Dynamic
Reframing of "Union": implications for the coherence of knowledge, social
organization and personal identity, 2007)
Such a "prefigurative" capacity has been well argued by Jacques
Attali (Noise: the political economy of music, 1977/1985) in
relation to music. He suggests that the patterns of psychosocial organization
characteristic of the 20th century were prefigured and sustained by those
of the music of the 19th century. This suggested that the patterns of organization
characteristic of the music of the 20th century would be fundamental to the
psychosocial organization of the 21st century (Consciously
Self-reflexive Global Initiatives: Renaissance zones, complex adaptive systems,
and third order organizations, 2007). From this perspective there is a fatal irony
to the use of Beethoven's Ode to Joy as the
anthem of an institutional Europe. This has been deliberately institutionalized
(at the time of writing) without democratic consultation, in a period when
Song Contest was won through a democratic process, by a demonically
garbed heavy metal rock group (cf A
Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006).
Contunuation in: Part
B: Archetypal otherness: "DNA vs. I Ching"