Curious isn’t it, how a book can take you on a journey of ideas, the endpoint of which may have little or nothing to do with the starting point? This morning’s journey began with an idea generated by a science fiction book and ended with thoughts on social and economic development. I hope you will join me, as the path has aspects of relevance to our non-fictional world.
Elizabeth Bear introduces the concept of “rightminding” in her book, Grail. Total ecosystem collapse on Earth has led survivors to establish a society in another planet where “rightminding” is a requisite for harmonious and peaceful living. Those who have not undergone the process of rightminding — unrightminded people — are described as “one percent psychopaths and thirty percent sophipaths, leading to societies that uphold untenable ideologies. The unrightminded’s pathological brains do not accept evidence contradictory to their dogma. The more people argue with them, the more the unrightminded defend their ideology, and compromise is never an option (paraphrased from Grail, page 29). “[T]hink of [sociopaths] as small children, without impulse control, any understanding of the subjectivity of emotion, or the ability to compromise” (Grail, page 29). …” [M]any of these [unrightminded] people… suffered from temporal lobe malfunctions causing fanaticism and ideopathy….” (Grail, page 30).
All of these references to temporal lobe malfunction and its effects on behaviour and thought were fascinating. Thanks to the internet, I got linked to Alexander R. Luria, a Russian-Jewish medical doctor and neuroscientist who researched thought processes from the 1920s to the 70s. Onwards to Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit cognitive linguist, on the profound differences in thought processes between literate and non-literate people, and the consequent effects on education and economic development.
What struck me – an advocate for sustainable development – at the end of this morning’s journey of ideas, is that introducing the concept of sustainable development to less-developed societies (most of whose members have only rudimentary education) is not a straightforward issue of substituting one type of economic activity for another — say, growing cash crops instead of traditional subsistence crops. Transforming a subsistence-based economy means transforming the cognitive processes – the ways of thinking – of the entire society.
And that is my one serious thought, my take-home message, of the day. Whether it is valid is up to discussion (and I would appreciate comments) and further investigation of why some societies have made the successful transition to sustainable development and thriving economies, and why some, such as the Philippines, my birth country, have stumbled along the way, despite a promising beginning. For this morning’s musings and fascinating journey, I thank Elizabeth Bear, Alexander R. Luria, and Walter J. Ong.
To tip the balance, I leave you with something fun and playful from The Naming of Cats, by T.S. Eliot.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.