That Vision Thing

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

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

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

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

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

As with so much of the living condition, balanced amounts of material and action are required to maintain a functional state.  This must be a vision that respects Reality and supports a response system that recognizes and adapts to the detail of event.  It is often the case that the fullest and most efficient expression of these two processes does not exist comfortably in the same human being, and even when they do, both vision and detailed action must be general within the varieties of people in the community of action. ((There is a model for this in science. There is an over arching vision in science of dispassionate evaluation (seldom attained) supported by more available visions of experimental repeatability, peer review of products, experimental details organizing into theoretical formulations and the accepted expected adaptability of theory when new experimental details require.))

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

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

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

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

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

We follow essentially the same model with our regional, national and international issues, but the stakes of power and wealth are higher.  A new vision: re-engage the species relationship with the biophysical order; find the possible behaviors that will allow the human species to adjust and adapt to the reality that we have overpopulated and are over-consuming in a world with fixed limits.  Recognize that, in a powerful feedback, the failure of this vision is energizing many of the immediate problems that are distracting us from the vision. ((The right-wing find it easy to keep their simplistic goals in mind, their bumper-sticker slogans are not just clever advertising, but also represent the deeper designs of a thought processes. This is not to say that ideological right-wingers are less intelligent than those people who incorporate a more complex process of comprehension, it would be a great mistake to believe so. However, people who rely on unambiguous principles, whose comfort is improved as choices are framed in black and white, good and evil, are drawn to right-wing process and therefore eventually to right-wing values.))

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on March 25th, 2010 at 2:17pm #

    One cld have easily and w.o. going to any school predicted that once we were devided by early ‘scientists’ into more important and less important people that such people wld find animals even less valuable than the already devalued people.
    And nature wld be looked on a s’mthing even less valuable or just s’mthing to use to obtain a plush life.
    Meanwhile, once we accepted that indeed we are less valuable than sargon, nero, cleopatra, napoleon, stalin; a priest, king, princes, amir, lord, ceo, prez, pol, star, collumnist we participated in rendering selves unsane.

    One cannot have sane rule or an idyllic society with every last one of us being vastly unsane.
    We cld become sane once again. I suggest we were once very sane. It was taken awy from us by early ‘scientists’: sorcerers, visionairies, priests and other ‘nobility’.

    So forget ab getting ur jesus, allah, god, or yahweh; instead, get back ur sanity. Tnx.

  2. AaronG said on March 25th, 2010 at 9:58pm #

    “Evolution is a successful example. It only responds to the Real. Science has been successful in its relatively limited vision of discovering how the world works.”

    We have to be a bit careful about sweeping statements like this, since the 150 year-old THEORY of evolution is just a theory. All scientific theories have (or should) be updated once new information comes to light, eg advances in genetics and molecular biology that Darwin didn’t have access to. If the theories aren’t updated, and people stubbornly adhere to the theories contrary to current scientific knowledge, then this sounds like religion to me. It sounds very similar to the nutters who think that the Earth is 7000years old. Let’s call this new religion Scientific Fundamentalism – I’ll start passing round the collection plate……..the first miracle can be to change an amoeba into a human being in the lab. Then I’ll be on board this new religion.

    So science can become a Religion in its own right, especially with people who are jacked off with the corruption and bloody history of Big Religion. Science then becomes their Saviour, which requires (sometimes blind) Faith, just like organised religion. A good example is the belief of a flat earth, or some of the dodgy medical practices that occurred a few centuries ago. With updated information, these beliefs seem laughable, but at the time they were called Science. The point is, we can’t dogmatically state that we have FULL scientific knowledge. Another example is light. Current scientific knowledge has several theories as to what exactly composes light – is it a wave, a photon of energy or a string? We haven’t exactly nailed that one yet. So the science is not actually 100%. However, we do have enough knowledge to have FAITH in the science to be able to use everyday items such as torches, car lights etc.

    As to the rest of the article, I enjoyed it but will await your “vision” with anticipation. While we wait, the neo-cons and religious nutters on the other side of the spectrum have left their wordprocessors and are actively enacting their visions (eg PNAC’s Rebuilding America’s Defenses, or Zionism’s many crazy plans). Their vision is all around us, especially in the graveyards.

    To use simplistic George Bush-speak, I see the bad guys in the world as an organised group who get things done. The rest have no plan. Nice words, but no plan………………..

  3. Maien said on March 26th, 2010 at 12:42pm #

    The ‘vision’ was railroaded by corporations. It serves the corporations not the original visionaries.

    Religion has served well to regulate and ‘keep simple’ the majority and thus their visions. The job has been so well done that it has produced barbaric groups in each religion. Even a few buddhist monks have given themselves permission to murder and steal.

    Obviously, the visionaries themselves, did some compromising.

    Like Aaron G, I agree… there is no plan. Further, a plan to counter…. simply positions you to keep the same conversation going.

    There are not enough ‘bright lights’ …honest leaders to change the world. they do exist. And they are making change …perhaps spreading intelligence and ‘common sense’, locally. My limited understanding is that if and when these individuals do gain any ground…any recognition that the current empire quickly conspires to silence them.

    It is sad that America when it could have increased the ‘humanity’ of its own citizens again chose to service their corporate/government, instead. The disease is spreading everywhere.

  4. James Keye said on March 26th, 2010 at 12:43pm #

    It is a reasonable summery of our human experience that the products of science that have accumulated the most support are reliable points from which to make decisions. Your understanding of science idea and epistemological process could be improved with more study, though in general I agree with what you have to say. It is my primary assertion that since we need to act on information, science is a best source for much of that information and that we should be explicit about it. As to evolution, I am saying that the inherent design of evolution is as a process that sustains some DNA sequences and losses others, does so based on the survival of the phenotype – a purely reality based action.

    I am not opposed to science as a religion, not incorporating religion into science, but remaking religions on scientific principles. There is much more to say about this and I have said much of it elsewhere.

    This is all very dangerous – nothing today is not.

  5. bozh said on March 26th, 2010 at 4:18pm #

    I am not going to allow any one to join my religion [relig’n xy7] nor do i want to share my god [god xy7] with anyone.

  6. dan e said on March 26th, 2010 at 4:48pm #

    the chief virtue of this article is the excellent comments it inspired by Aaron & Maien. My only question is how Mindreader Keye can tell how much “epistemology” or theory of knowledge somebody has studied at such long range?

  7. James Keye said on March 27th, 2010 at 12:40pm #

    Mr. e,

    Thank you for the high praise that my humble words have inspired others to even greater heights of thoughtfulness. As to ArronG, I wasn’t mind reading; I was word reading. I read his comment, assumed that it represented his ideas and responded to them. It is my understanding that that is how it works. His use of ‘theory’ didn’t demonstrate a clear and accurate conception of this keystone idea. A better understanding could benefit him as well as those with whom he communicates. Such learning would seem, at least, one goal of these pages.

  8. dan e said on March 27th, 2010 at 1:06pm #

    I’m sorry Mr Keye but in spite of the humble surface tone of your comment on my comment, I believe your response to Aaron reveals a degree of intellectual arrogance. That you may have more academic or journalistic credentials than some proves nothing about the value of your ideas. So if I waz you I’d back up a cpl steps & start over.

    “Science”:) I’m reminded of Scientific Socialism:) BTW have you ever seen the journal “Science and Society”? I guarantee it will stimulate your thoughts:) Another who argued for application of Scientific Rigor to social issues was the late Parisian thinker Louis Althusser:)

    Of course it is vital at the outset to note the distinctin between Exact Sciences like nuclear physics, and the much fuzzier attempts to apply scientific approach to fields like Anthropology and Sociology.

    I do think you have some interesting ideas, but also seem unable to escape the conditioning of your mainstream academic background and the mental habits it has instilled.
    However I have a suggestion: instead of these “Theoretical” essays, I think you should write a Novel! Let your imagination rove free, let your Subconscioius creativity come through! Who knows, you might be able to offer a Vision as compelling as Ayn Rand’s!

  9. Deadbeat said on March 27th, 2010 at 4:16pm #

    I have to agree with DanE. To much theory and not enough concreteness regarding the “Vision”. No mention of Capitalism and the power of elites to control masses and too much “blame the victim” rhetoric disguised as “humanity”. If you ask me this article is rather reactionary and far from being radical.

  10. AaronG said on March 27th, 2010 at 8:57pm #

    I may as well have the last say on this one……………

    In the time that this article was written, commented and counter-commented on, there have been more Israeli concrete slabs built in Palestine, more deaths in Congo (but at least we got the coltan out safely) and generally more pain wherever the powerful (mainly Anglo-America, but the rest aren’t far behind) are enacting their plans.

    My comment above bears no disrespect to any INDIVIDUAL writer (I thoroughly enjoyed James’ piece) or blogger, but it is a comment regarding the SYSTEM that is currently favouring the oppressor and not the oppressed – this balance of power will continue until they are removed forcibly…….words don’t scare them. Check out what Jewish King Solomon said at Ecclesiastes 4:1 if you wanna…….