Letters to the Editors: Consciousness & The War

Dunn, M., 2003. Letters to the Editors: Consciousness & The War. Reformulation, Summer, pp.4-5.


Letters to the Editors

Consciousness & The War

CAT is a model which proposes individual consciousness as essentially dialogic. Here is a quote from Bakhtin:

‘I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another. The most important acts constituting self-consciousness are determined by a relationship toward another consciousness (toward a thou), not that which takes place within, but that which takes place on the boundary between one's own and someone else's consciousness.’ Ryle & Kerr. 2002 p.36

As a member of this participative universe, how can I describe the war through which we are all living? What do I find at the boundary of my consciousness, where it meets the consciousness of George W Bush or Saddam Hussein, or the soldiers in the desert or the Iraqi people? In the midst of political and sociological debate, can I find a space that is not about polemics but is about naming the process and articulating that dialogic consciousness? Can I do it (rather than theorise about it) and where would it get me if I succeeded?

Adversarial thinking obscures our ability to stay with an awareness of consciousness. The search for good guys and bad guys, or covert rather than overt motivation, or adopting a Bush-Blair position as opposed to an anti-war position, - all of these important questions divert from asking a personal question about my consciousness at the boundary with 'the war'.

Over-simplification and polarisation dissociate us from ourselves and de-humanise us, and if we lose the sense of self we impair our ability to really be with 'the other' at that all-important boundary.

So, if I can express this interface as a Reciprocal Role, I experience the Bush-Blair position as Bullying; addicted to oil-guzzling; greedy; self-righteous. and in response I find myself as Scared; angry; confused; powerless; mistrustful.

The Saddam position as Despotic; lying; unreachable (alien). and myself as - I don't know how scared I should be; mistrustful; guilty (v-a-v the Iraqi people); uncomfortable (I don't have an answer).

If I were a client who experienced these options as my parental profile, I would be cowering in an anxious and 'frightened rabbit' state, mistrustful of a move in any direction, stuck in learned-helplessness, completely lacking a 'good object' in my world.

Given that these are not personal two-way relationships, but public political ones, they work very differently to our domestic experience. It is as if they are static. I have very little room to manoeuvre when it comes to 'exits' or 'revisions'. So the effort to tolerate them is very great, and the pull to resolve them into hostility or passivity is a strong pull. None of my usual procedures, like placation or avoidance, will resolve the tension.

‘In the years between the 1991 War and September 11, 2001, we did not alter our thinking about peace and war - that is, we thought much about war and little about peace; we continued to punish the defeated people of Iraq and their children; we made no effort to reduce our dependence on the oil we import from other, potentially belligerent countries; we made no improvement in our charity toward the rest of the world; we made no motion toward greater economic self-reliance; and we continued our extensive and often irreversible damages to our own land. We appear to have assumed merely that our victory confirmed our manifest destiny to be the richest, most powerful, most wasteful nation in the world.’ Wendell Berry. Orion Magazine. Mar/Apr 2003

Berry is a Kentucky farmer and an Environmentalist. He articulates what happens when relationship tension remains unresolved. Paralysis.

But Bakhtin's assertion that consciousness occurs when “I reveal myself to another” is a very different option to hostility. He is saying ‘I can dialogue with alien consciousness if I am prepared to name and recognise my own state and my part in the relationship’. Chris Patten has said:

‘The causes of terrorism are rooted in a world where ten per cent of the people receive seventy per cent of all income, and the three richest men have assets equal to the output of the forty-eight poorest nations. A world where the average American uses 1,600 litres of petrol each year, compared to fifty litres for an Asian.’ Chris Patten. Green Futures. 2002

It seems that my challenge is to find a way to opt out of contributing to being part of ‘the richest, most powerful, most wasteful nation in the world’.

Mary Dunn

Full Reference

Dunn, M., 2003. Letters to the Editors: Consciousness & The War. Reformulation, Summer, pp.4-5.

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