One of the great highlights of last week was finally meeting Euan Semple. I’ve come across Euan as a thinker and educator (in the broadest sense), and have long been impressed by his pragmatic wisdom, systemic awareness, and ability to open rather than close down, or geek up, new media issues. Euan’s blogged our conversation here.
On the face of it I was after new ways to raise my colleagues’ capacity to engage in the new media landscape, and Euan is indeed a resourceful friend in this world.
Most interesting, however was to chew over how communication develops people and groups of people. We have entirely different world views when it comes to orgnaised religion anwyay, but some strongly congruent instincts and values — freedom, emergence, openness.
It seems there is a Right brain creative world of wacky possibilities to which the internet gives all kinds of flight. Now that anyone can communicate with anyone, hierarchies lie helpless — look at BP, for example, flailing around, trying to manage its image in the context of its present oil spill.
However there is also a minimal but essential Left brain rigorous standards world, without which the whole thing is imposible. A few infrastructural rules make the whole communications structure, possible. We saw a fundamental difference between blinkered rules that, taken too seriously, restrict human flourishing and others that enable it. One feature of good rules is that they don't draw attention to themselves, just serve a bigger infrastructure elegantly.
So the relationship between order and complete liberty sounds like a tussle between the authoritarian lion and free range unicorn. People get their security and meaning, the ability to articulate, from a settled order that revolutionaries then subvert by asking questions which initially irritate system professionals, but change the order of everything and eventually move the whole game up a notch.
For this to happen you need enough common framework for questions to be asked, but an anarchistic freedom in asking them. Put it another way — Jesus receives a Pharisaic / dogmatic education, then goes round from within it, asking Pharisees cheeky questions that subvert everything. So we deconstructed human communication as something almost like a religion.
It struck me how elements of the Christian tradition work this way — creeds, commandments, golden rule. Once people become self-conscious about them, however, and add their own powergaming, they soon become death warmed up; licenses for insanity.
It's a struggle reflected by everything from the war between Data managers and Creatives in industry to St Paul’s great struggles to locate the Jewish Law in its place for the infant Churches of Rome and Galatia. It mirrors our own internal conflict between painting by numbers and free expression.
Bad “religion,” in this sense, takes itself too seriously, frames issues too narrowly for forward movement, closes down fresh possibilities for meaning, and becomes a license for stuckness, paranoia and, ultimately, sociopathic insanity.
The law, as St Paul was wont to say, is fine as far as it goes. It just does not go as far as its most enthusiastic afficionados think
Good “religion” in this sense thakes the same raw materials, but encourages people to tell their personal and pragmatic stories. It frames discussion in a way that can fly, by holding creative, open articulations within a minimalist framework that exposes everything to human, empirical fit. Its truth is emergent rather than propositional; or, as the man said, by its fruits ye shall know it.