PMTH NEWS                                                                                                                                         11/04/99
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Here's a Futuristic Fantasy for You
PMTH is still growing.  We recently had a new subscriber from Poland, for example, and another one from Germany, another from Sweden.  Today someone else in the Houston area became a ew PMTH subscriber. 

Isn't it amazing that we can all gather and talk like this? What is happening to our world?  I think we are turning the corner to the new millennium.  Before us is the horizon of a magnificent new frontier. 

And it is certainly not just PMTH staring at this new amazing frontier. Our whole cultural context that is changing.  Anyone online knows this.  We can feel it, and evidence abounds.  For example, eBay, just a start up online auction house yesterday is now, all of a sudden,  a 15 billion dollar industry!   Isn't that a different way to buy and sell things?  Just ten years ago, none of us would have ever guessed this could happen, including the founder of eBay.

PMTH is just a tiny corner of this whole change.  But as therapists in this new era, this corner can be important to us.  We are all part this enormous cultural transformation, and our spirit is buzzing with the promise of a new horizon.

But it doesn't all work as smoothly as silk. There are problems.  One big question is: Can we learn to make the internet work in our lives?  So often internet communities go up in the dark smoke of flame wars.  Or internet communities become places of mechanical announcements, no real exchange of ideas. So far this has not happened on PMTH --  but cross your cyberfingers.  We are not immune to such tings.

It could happen to us, too.  We cybernauts are truly challenged to find ways to make these  internet conversatoins work.   We are pioneers, all of us. There is no one before us to turn to who can tell how to proceed.  The internet was just born yesterday, and we are its children.

There are so many unanswered questions, and we really do not know what we're doing.  For example, should an internet listserv like PMTH be modeled on a democracy?  That is, should we vote for the rules that guide us?  Yes, you say?  Then what do we do if we disagree about how to go on?  Does majority rule?  Or does the majority fight for power?

Let me tell you that our postmodern sensitivity makes us dubious about such unmoderated democracies.  If weˆ‚re not careful, they are just places where the dominant rule.  Democracy isnˆ‚t necessarily fair.  It tends to perpetrate the power of the powerful.

But autocratic rule isn't necessarily fair either.

So, what should we do?

Let me tell you my provisional solution.  I donˆ‚t mean it as a final answer -- after all, I donˆ‚t really know what Iˆ‚m doing.  But for now there seems to be some kind of magic working on PMTH, and I want to tell you about it.  I think we may have just stumbled onto something that works

Let me tell you how things are done on PMTH.  PMTH is run like this: I make the decisions. The buck always stops with me.  However, I try to make those decisions as wisely as I can and I do this by consulting with the PMTH council, a group of 6 people who are my thoughtful and caring advisors.  They tell me what they think they would do in my position, and why.  I listen and learn, and am generally, but not always, persuaded (inpart, because they don't always agreeK!).  I listen. Then I act.  If people on PMTH donˆ‚t like it, they have no one to complain to but me ˆ± because the council is simply advisory.  (The only exception is when Iˆ‚m on vacation, then the co-listowner, Leonard Bohanon, takes over. )

This plan, by the way, was devised not by me but one of the council. 

What else?  Do we have any other secrets?  We have a policy that people could be removed from the list, as a last resort. So far, we have not begun to come close. 

Maybe this is all one needs, a good advisory council and someone willing to make the decisions and take the flack (of which there has been absolutely none). 

This council is important, though.  It has greatly boosted my intelligence. Without it I am a much more impulsive, much more inclined to do things that I regret, things that might conceiveably destroy a list like this.  I might even say that the PMTH council keeps me sane. (Thanks, guys!)  .  Without them, I just donˆ‚t know what I would do. 

So, I have said to myself, on more than one occasion, wouldnˆ‚t it be grand if I had such a council in my personal life.  And wouldnˆ‚t it?  Wouldnˆ‚t you like it?  If you are running a listserv, I highly recommend such a plan.

Now, here's the futuristic fantasy:  I like to imagine that we would someday create a group of personal councils. Then, people could submit questions to a council for a fee.I think it could even be done anonymously, and the council should probably answre anonymously, too, just offering ideas, with no attempt at all to make the suggestions and ideas all agree. 

Someday, when PMTH is stronger and has its sea legs, maybe we will offer you a service like that.

Klaus Deissler and Social Poetics
In the last issue of PMTH NEWS I introduced Klaus Deisslerˆ‚s interesting paper on social poetics. Since then, there has been some PMTH discussion of that paper.

Mel Snyder, quoted an apt passage from John Shotterˆ‚s book, Conversational Realities. In that book, Shotter speaks of poetic moments saying, 

To say that a phrase is poetic or  metaphorical, is to say that it works to give form to something
which in itself is essentially formless. 

"Conversational Realities" today, p. 146:

Deissler himself responded by saying that he thinks he would prefer using a verb for this concept, and so he switched to the term ˆ¨dialogic poetizing.ˆÆ  The verb form ˆ¨poetizingˆÆ doesnˆ‚t turn the poetry into some static object. It is action, alive, even in its written form. 

Myself, I love this term ˆ¨poetizingˆÆ. I, too, have used the term, after Heidegger (Shawver 1996). Heidegger meant by "poetizing"  much what Shotter means by "social poetics".  He meant ˆ¨giving form to the formlessˆÆ 00 by giving the formless a name. This is what happens when a person names a constellation of stars, for example.  Before the constellation is named, it is a formless scatter of unrelated sparkles, but once the constellation has a name, it has ˆ¨form.ˆÆ

Tom Strong liked this new term poetizing and the way in which Deissler used it to dissolved the distinction between meaning and action. For himself, Strong explained, ˆ¨poetizingˆÆseems to involve introducing new channels of meaning in the conversation.  He said, ˆ¨Thereˆ‚s something that happens in the conversational interplay that helps to ˆ´thawˆ‚ the frozen impotent language clients have unsuccessfully used ˆñwhile trying on some words that are more alive with possibilityˆñYour poetizing with clients seems to create that sense of alive possibilities from them.

I think so, too.  Yet there are still questions to ponder. Is it startling formulations that we want?   We could do that by saying people act like horses or ducks.  Sometimes our poetizing is much more inspiring than that.  Just as a lousy poem can have a shocking image, canˆ‚t the same be true in our therapy dialogue? 

There is mystery here, unsolved mystery.  Ask yourself:  What makes a social comment give form to the formless?  What makes one comment more powerful than another.   It is the social poetizing, the quality, the way it's done. 

But how.  Well, then, it wouldn't be a mystery, would it?

More Busy Days on PMTH

Yesterday we had so many posts that this morning I posted a note to talk about it.  And in that note, I hoped we could all find a way to enjoy our PMTH party and also wash our dishes.  Then, PMTH subscriber, Lluis Botella Garcia del Cid (from Spain) wrote back the following note that captures the spirit of the day:

I'm not participating very much these days because I'm very very busy here and
because, due to the time difference between Europe and the States, most messages arrive by night and I only get them in the morning. Imagine what it is to open your mail and get 70 or 80 messages all at once! Wow! I understand Gergen's notion of the "saturated self".

Anyway, I'll find a way to have my party and wash my dishes, as you say. Thanks again, I must confess that I get a lot from the very fact of being a member of this conversation.

I must say, however, that converstation here is a lot more fun than washing dishes.

The Question I Asked You Last Week

Do you know...
who invented the term 
language game?
Click Here!

A New Derridean Term

A New Derridean term is being hashed around, "hauntology."  Great term.  It means (I think) the wayin which we are haunted by that which we no longer believe in -- or the study of that haunting. For example, suppose you now no longer believe in Freud, but you trained in Freud.  Well, you may find Freud weaving through your thinking still, in ways you never dreamed. 

You'll hear more abou the concept, I believe, in days to come.


Objectivity as a Demand for Obedience
The quote at the top of the NEWS today comes compliments from Tom Strong.  He posted it to the PMTH list and it caught my eye, and the eye of a few others, too, I might add. Would you look at it again?
Any claim to objectivity is an absolute demand for obedience.

You know this feeling.  Someone says that you really should not ride your motocycle.  It's too dangerous.  The way they word it makes it seems as though they think it is an an objective truth that you shouldn't do this anymore -- but you know in your heart that such a claim is just a demand for obedience.  It's a demand that you stop.

That may be easy to accept, but is it also true that any claim of objectivity is just a demand for obedience?  Suppose I make the claim that there is milk in the refrigerator.  It this just a claim that you obey me in some way?  How so? 

Well, imagine that you look in the fridge and there is no milk.  Then, imagine you turn and see me staring at you with a stern look, repeating myself, "There is milk in the refrigerator," I say.

 In that case, wouldn't this it be a demand that you obey me? That you say there is milk in the refrigerator, too.  It's an interesting idea, isn't it?

But let's carry the logic a little further.  Suppose someone said, "It is an objective fact that cigarette smoking causes cancer."  How is that claim a demand for obedience? 

Notice a objectivity claim is just a matter of how the idea is stated.   If we changed the statement to "It seems that cigarette smoking increases cancer risk" then we would lose the claim to objectivity.  To add that little addition "It is an objective fact that..." turns the statement into absolutes (as if everyone who smokes gets cancer).  It is this objective claim attachment that turns a simple statement into a kind of demand for obedience.

That's the idea I read behind Maturana's captivating statement.  Wait-a-minute. Here's another post on the topic. Let's see what it says.

The post is from Rob Doan.  This is how the Maturana quote spoke to Doan:

When I was in Calgary, Maturana visited for two days and we attended lectures. That was in 1986 so memory may be a bit fuzzy, but I recall him talking at great lengths about how words evoke biological responses in the listener.... .some biological responses represent closures (fear evokes basically two if strong enough:fight or flight) while others provide space (in general, loving words). 

Maturana defined violence as "having an opinion and demanding that others hold it as well". Objectivity, when represented as the Truth, carries that type of demand...that others accept and believe because it is objectively verifiable

I think it's very possible that this quote comes from such an understanding/reasoning. 

Seems to me, that Doan is seeing it much as I do. Don't you agree?  The point is that even the most objective sounding fact seems to have a little of opinion woven implicitly beneath the surface. Is there milk in my refrigerator?  Well, it depends what you mean by "there being milk".  There is the carton that has a few drops in it.  There's the chocolate milk.  And then there is the milk that I have over here on the counter.  So, is there milk in the refrigerator?  You tell me.

Back to the Maturana quote.  The problem is, I think, that language rebels when we try to tie truth down with particular phrases.  Just a little prodding with questions here and there and fuzziness seems to come out like a down pillow splitting at the seams.  It's that fuzziness that shows up on second look that makes the project of tying truth down with words so very problematic. 

And it is this shocking realization that sends many of us out into the great postmodern frontier -- that frontier that rebels against that subtle kind of demand for mental obedience.

Where is 
Richard Rorty?

The kind of paralogy we have on PMTH seems to work like this:  Someone brings up an idea. Someone else takes it in their hands (metaphorically speaking of course), looks at it, turns it this way and that, and then sets it down for a while.  We go onto other things.  But, the evidence remains that people have thought about the ideas being studied.  It filters into new statements in evident ways.

That's the way it went with our conversation  about Richard Rorty's paper.  (This is an unpublished paper that Rorty gave PMTH subscribers but has not been made available through PMTH NEWS.).  Now, that we have talked about it, the name "Rorty" pops up now and then, and there is this little shift in our understanding that comes from having pondered Rorty's ideas.  But I think, we need a visit from Rorty to make the experience come together for us.

Here are a few of the issues:  Rorty talks about the importance of "conversability" and contrasts this with "sticking to your guns."   Together, these two kinds of talk, he argues, can yield wisdom. 

But what does this recipe for wisdom mean?  We are a practical people here.  We actually converse with people for a living.  And we all wish we were a little wiser than we are.  Can Rorty's philosophy help us?

Specifically: Are there really just two types of ways that people talk?  Is it conversability to ask just any kind of questions?  Pointed questions?  Is it sticking to your guns if you change your point a little but argue it anyway?  And what about rudeness? or eye contact? Or general willingness to restate things? Or explain things? .  Aren't these part of the package, too?  Where do these variables fit in to the package that produces wisdom?

Today, Richard Rorty was been invited to PMTH to visit with us so we could ask him some of these questions.  If he comes, I'll  tell you about his visit.  I hope he comes.

The State of My Accountability

Accountability is still a very hot issue on PMTH.  Some people, it seems to me,  seem to think it is the hotest new concept since sliced bread.  Myself, I have my doubts.  But, when I hear enthusiasts talk I must say I feel something like a wet blanket.  Maybe they are right.

Last night and this morning Judy Weintraub and I talked about it..  (There was a little sleep between notes.)   Some might call it a dispute we had.  Perhaps, they're right.  Weintraub has been a major apologist for this concept of "accountability" of late, while I have been the key, drag-your-feet, kind of person.  But, we were doing fine with our differences until Wintraub complimented me with by telling me I was being 'accountable." 

Ugh! ugh!  I said, to myself, mentally gesturing by pointing my finger down my throat.  (Weintraub coudn't see this gesture, but she knew.  The internet is like that.)  hat is it that makes this concept turn me off?  I can't say it's my generally irascible nature, because being postmodern I turn my nose up at that concept, too.

Weintraub and I talked back and forth for a while, and then we found something we agreed about.  The problem was that we were in two different language games.  It is like speaking two different languages when this happens.  Lyotard calls this kind of dispute differend. It's a kind of quarreling that just seems to drive you crazy. Nobody understands what the other person is saying.  It just doesn't seem to make any sense at all.

But then, Weintraub and I agreed about something and that seemed to quiet things down. We agreed, , we were in a differend. As the tension seemed to melt I said to Weintraub

Aren't  these differends amazing?  And doesn't it help you, as it does me, to understand that the emotional reactions we have like this are triggered by our being in different language games, language games that claim our
allegiance in some strange and implicit way - even after their difference is pointed out? It certainly helps me to understand this, and I suspect it helps you, at times, too. Is that so?

And Weintraub answering me by saying


Then, she went on

And I would even say that to acknowledge this is a kind of accountability (in the sense of talking about causality). 

Now, this time it just made me laugh.  I know she is using words her way.  To me, telling me I am being accountable suggests that I am not always good enough to call "accountable".  Somebody says this to me, and  I feel a nudge to be "more accountable" in all my life..  To her, she is simply saying something flattering. (Although the nudge may be in the back of her mind.) 

Can you see how this language can be interpreted either way?  Either Weintruab's way, or mine?   I can.  But, still, I tend to see it my way, of course, as an insulting statement, , and I don't want her to insist on me doing things in ways she thinks are accountable. 

On the other hand, maybe I can learn to live with it -- If Rob Doan can, I can.  Doan said:

Boy, this really has my head spinning!!!....which is not a bad thing at all in my book.

So many interpretations of the word accountable. ... 

Then he did a subtle study of what the various concepts of accountability meant.  In one language game "accountable" meant pretty much what I usually mean by the term, and in the otehr it meant pretty much what Weitraub means. 

Doan ended this study saying:]

Thanks for the head spinning!!!

So, once again, we have made the linguistic turn on PMTH, noticing the different language games we get caught in. Noticing this doesn't save us from disputes, but it does seem to salvage the friendships that could otherwise be torn to bits. 

Thank goodness!


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