Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Hunter, Herder, Who knows what's next?

How does the idea of truth arrive in one's mind? How does the concept form in the beginning stages of the architecture of one's mind, and what kinds of ideas are necessary inside those early moments in order for someone to have an idea of truth?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the various arguments I have seen philosophers make about the merits of having the truth on one's side. It's unbecoming to make an argument one knows is a poor one; it's worse to believe in something one knows is false. Philosophy creates the conditions to differentiate the pieces of our ideas, whether or not it actually matches the words with the notions is something beyond its ability. From the logical standpoint, it is not possible to have a consistent system that proves itself consistent. We have to arrive at this conclusion only from the outside, and even then only if the system has a means of talking about itself through the side of its mouth. It's that de-ciphering activity that, I think, is what defines the human experience. That is, figuring out the murmur, the signal within the noise, is what we try to do. The animals from which we evolved leave their traces in our capacity to make smooth predictions with our bodies. Those animals over time evolved a way to to take in information, systematize it into a model, an imaginary version of that information, and then use that model for making predictions. All of this, for many millions of years, without there ever being a need for language, logic, or mathematics to do this within.

Let me create a little narrative about this, and see if you feel it work with you.

The hunters had to know where the prey was going to be, but their form of prediction had no component of preservation in it. The goal of prediction was to be in the right place in such a way as to be able to kill meat, so the natural mechanisms for taking in information and creating models for prey naturally grow out of a biological arms race. Primates simply followed similar processing lines as all the other predators, and humans followed. At some point, however, some humans or others began to herd animals rather than kill them outright. Herding prediction is very different from predatorial prediction, since it isn't about killing an animal, intersecting its vector with another one from the origin of the predator's killing vector (which isn't always the same place as where the predator starts the calculations). Herding is about creating and sustaining a buffer between the herder and the herd. A herder has to make a different kind of prediction about the possible vectors of the herd; this time, the herder has to predict where the herd animal will need to be in order to start an escape that evades what it thinks is the predator's vector—the herded animal, having evolved from animals selected through predation, has built-in predictive capabilities, too, in this case, it predicts where the predator needs to be in order to prey upon them.

The herder and the herd animal begin this dance that's entirely non-cognitive, and yet the exchange reaches a point where suddenly the two become very aware of one another, dancing with one another, and then stepping outside of all this, see themselves as pongs and paddles.

There are metaphors at work here, if you think about how some people describe their approaches to teaching, philosophy, seduction, politics, activism, relationships, ideas. The hunter model is about stalking, attacking, biting, tasting, hunting something down. The herding model is about nurturing, hard loving, creating boundaries, creating spaces of freedom, redirecting. Both require intensive work modeling and predicting the behaviors and responses of others to stimulation. I frequently clap my hands at the goat to test how she responds to sharp noise; I use this knowledge to aid in directing her where I want her to go and where she is willing to go. A hunter learns similar information, but then uses this to make the kinds of changes needed to go undetected. Hunters learn from their startling of prey how not to startle prey. Herders learn from their startling of the herd how to redirect them towards the safe zone. Good hunters and good herders are people who listen to their objects; the one in order to kill undetected, the other to sustain life for a while.

That is, it's not lost on me that both are simply ways of manipulating the time of death to what suits the one using the way.

Thus, it is good to think about herding in its protective aspects as a model for being a leader of people. I think, in this respect, it is a much better model. Unfortunately, due to the influence of a suburban lifestyle with less involvement in the actual life of herded animals, the herder model has become soft, devoid of the richness of the metaphor's embodiment in actually wrangling an animal. The model is an ineffective, sinewy Jesus of long robes that'll easily get caught up in trying to dive one way or another. It's not a practical model, and a model for inspiring behavior that's impractical is a very useless model. On top of this, the herder model still reflects a preoccupation with the herd animal as food, something to fatten, render dependent, kill and then eat. A leader or teacher or prophet who eats the people is not any of those things. But a herder, as a useful metaphor, is closer to what is fitting of those titles than a hunter.

Consider also, here, how inaccurate and mythical it is to think of one's predation upon people as hunting, killing, and eating what the person using these metaphors also calls sheep. They call themselves wolves; they eat someone's sheep. It's odd to think of one's self as a true hunter, a manipulator and user/consumer of people while acknowledging that the people one uses/consumes/hunts are raised, cultivated, and nurtured by others. It takes greater skill and talent to herd animals, since it is a balancing of giving liberty and taking it away. All the hunter does is take liberty; half the skill set needed. What these people are actually saying is that they are incapable of really taxing their abilities and challenging themselves to move past the easy calculations of preying on people perceived as weaker. They do not raise, nurture, and cultivate their own food but have to shrink the herd of someone else who is putting in their investment. They are, in other words, very lazy people; they are, from the standpoint of energy economics, very frugal. People who talk about their exploitation of others as "survival of the fittest" are, therefore, indicting themselves as the incompetent, mediocre, and lethargic versions of humans they accuse the sheep of being. At least the sheep do not fundamentally lie to themselves.

Ruining the dreams of young men and women with one's killing blow, whatever it is, is too easy. It is lazy. Sarcasm, insults, put-downs, and all these microaggressions on up to assault, stalking, harassment, domination, control, murder—outright laziness and a waste of the processing capabilities our minds are designed to do. It is not what humans did to evolve higher, no matter what the cynical liars tell us about how evolution works. It is not what will encourage further evolution towards more interesting forms of consciousness, but instead regression towards simpler kinds of consciousness. Developing new and higher-order mechanisms for studying, modeling, and predicting other forms of consciousness lead towards newer and higher forms of consciousness. Herding is far more difficult and more taxing, more challenging, than hunting. Teaching a student to think for the student's self and for others is far more difficult than forcing the student to conform to a specific power dynamic. This goes for all those disciplines and crafts that involve the care and cultivation of a human: parenting, leading, marshalling, organizing, directing. Growing a mind into modeling and redirecting other minds has to be practiced, and it is a skill.

But, in the end, I still come back to the notion that a herder eats the herded. In some arrangements, this is not always the case: a goatherd or shepherd might not have a fattening arrangement, but instead harvest hair or milk and maintain an agricultural system in exchange for protection and feed. On the one hand, I can see how someone sees this as exploitative. On the other hand, I don't experience it as that. Under a mutual arrangement such as this, the goat and the farmed environment and the herder and the people who benefit from the harvested crops, hair and milk live more productive lives. It is exploitative when other interests override the natural harmonies that arise in the cycles of material production, such as when any one of them, including the goats and the grass, tries to get more than they have the means to do so. If you think it is ridiculous to think a goat can be exploitative, then you have never had to wrangle a goat.

But it's a nuance, I think, on the edge of a conceptual shift. I'm familiar enough with my own thinking to know when I'm at that point of trying out a new idea, because the transitional idea has to tease out something buried within the idea that gradually, itself, arose over time. Maybe it's my latent Hegelianism, or maybe it's what in me resonated with that which in Hegel seems closest to where I want my ideas to fit.

By this, I mean the herder metaphor also needs to be disassociated from the role of leader, mentor, teacher, role model. I do think the metaphor needs to retain the sense of studying, modeling, and predicting another consciousness. I do think the metaphor needs to retain the idea that this is about a kind of antagonism regarding boundaries, specifically boundaries involving liberty. I do think this antagonism is intimate and therefore requires fiduciary responsibilities; this is a relationship of trust between a vulnerable person and another capable of intercepting the trajectory of that person's life. I do think this antagonism need not have the teeth or claw or arrow or slug of the hunter metaphor (and thus also the warrior metaphor deeply connected with it that works its way into philosophy, teaching, other relationships, especially political ones); the antagonism has to relate to the buffer more than to the interception.

Placing one's self in the way of another to prevent unwanted movement is a very different kind of antagonism than placing one's self upon the skin; perhaps cultivation, then, of the buffer aspect of the metaphor will work fundamentally at reducing prevalent harassment within power dynamics. This might be too naïve, though: retain too much of the herding metaphor, and the herder does touch the skin of the herd animal in harvesting the hair or the milk. In some specific negotiations, the herder and the herd animal exhibit a very rudimentary consensual exchange: the herder and the herd animal walk together, talk to one another, and the one gives protection and medical care and the other gives milk and hair and manure; this kind of patience to learn the language, solicit within the language, and receive in the language consent to share with one another is difficult and not occurring often in industrial, economies of scale settings. For a structural reason as to why this is the case, consider the analogy where we do not see erotic consensual sex as possible in a similar economy of scale. That is, there is no large or significant cultural emphasis on the long term cultivation of deep, radically consensual sexual exchanges with thousands of people; pointing to a few omnisexuals here and there doesn't prove there is such a significant cultural emphasis, even their own descriptions probably won't focus on how the consent was cultivated through patient experience. We just are not alive that long to do this. The culture explicitly shuns this way of thinking about erotics; it doesn't even entertain the question when it comes to livestock. Why should they? To come close at all to thinking of the herd animal as someone with whom we must confirm consent is alien. It's the stuff of hippies and saccharine morality.

But all this comes back to what I had said before: that I am willing to push the metaphor and work out where its margins are means I am trying to work out a new metaphor's beginning. In this case, that we are unwilling to challenge our ideas of what forms of consciousness merit consent in how we interact with them also works to explain a persistent use of the herd animal as the "higher minded" or "more enlightened" person's metaphor for lower or inferior persons, the people they pity for their irrational commitments to the current wrong cause. By conceptual use, a herd animal deserves its fate and its exploitation, because, if we did think herd animals merit cultivation and nurturing to the point where they can rebel and dissent from our use of them—we don't even feel comfortable with calling it an exchange or organizing our relationships with herd animals around an idea of exchange, lest we be hippies—then we would treat our herd animals the way we think the common person who has some amount of ignorance needs to be treated: with respect, training and education to the point of self-reliance, and then indifference. We do not let our herds walk the earth the way nature designed them to; we have selected them, as best we can with that genus, to be herded. But since we treat herd animals with disrespect, we already feel the common person now called a sheep or a lamb deserves to be harvested or preyed upon for their confinement.

This is the other half of the reason why I want to think of a new metaphor for leading, teaching, relating, parenting. The metaphor for herding requires the herd animal to be used in some way and kept in captivity. What a teacher, a parent, a leader, an erotic partner develops—so I think is common to all of them—is the creation of a boundary for liberty. They work to liberate the person, to enable them to live, for the rest of their lives, free.

A herder does not do this. A hunter definitely does not do this.

What does?

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