A couple of years ago my step-son had a job developing a model for simulated skin based behavior for a robot – part of an EU project. It was designed to help autistic children who found it more comfortable to relate to machines than to humans, so the skin was to make the robot sensitive to hurt so it could, for example, tell the children when they were hurting it and so they learn to interact more sensitively.
At end of section 11 you suggest that shooters are acting from the reptilian brain. This is the first point so far in your excellent article where I might disagree, having seen that astonishing series on British TV about the soldiers who do not shoot during battle because the overwhelming mayhem closes down their higher brain functions until they are acting on the reptilian brain which aims to preserve the species and so, surprisingly, refuses to kill other humans even though the higher brain has been taught that it must do so. [The TV show mentioned was The Truth About Killing, a Channel 4 documentary]
One divergence that emerged was when I referred in my last note to the reptilian brain. In those terms (if my understanding is correct) the reptilian bit is not the trouble so much as the “culture stamp” imposed on the frontal lobes that harbor ideas of ethics – and therefore also corrupt ideas of ethics, such as racialism. That does at least align with your earlier suggestion of culture being a vector for vicious memes.
On reading the final chapter
Again I find resonances in my own ideas. After the bit from Little Book of Demons I sent you in last note I have something that is my own attempt to say what you have more clearly stated in the last chapter. Here.
Why I think the essay is important
Your say that your ideas are like snowballs? Yes, and this one descended on me like an avalanche!
Although at first glance your essay is about a minority problem – society’s handling of autism – it seems to me to have wider implications.
When I was writing Thundersqueak in the 1970s there was quite a bit of late-hippy speculation about the Age of Aquarius, and a tendency for hopeful people to see it as a new aeon of peace and understanding about to be born. I found myself wondering if people like the Essenes and followers of Jesus were thinking similar thoughts at the birth of the age of Pisces – and look what happened in the next two thousand years.
One suggestion extant then about the problems of the Age of Pisces was that it was dominated by paternalistic religions that lacked the balance of the feminine element. In particular, we should always look to the opposing sign of the zodiac for a clue to what Jung and Liz Green would call the “shadow” of that sign. In the case of Pisces, the opposite sign is Virgo – a symbol not so much of the innocent young virgin as of the woman independent of men, a term that survives as “virago”. What was suggested was that the Catholic Church, although it never incorporated that element, did at least provide a role for the Virgin Mother, and that concession partly explains the church’s extraordinary survival during the turbulent centuries to follow.
That is cutting a long story short, but it made me think about the shadow of the Age of Aquarius symbolized by the sign Leo. Whereas Aquarius is the epitome of enlightened, egalitarian thinking, where society comes first, Leo is the supreme sign of the kingship of the individual. So, I argued in Thundersqueak, the biggest ongoing challenge for the next two thousand years would be “individual versus society”.
My rather naïve suggestion was to propose a sort of “Royal Anarchy” – a socialism of minimal government that would be headed by a royal family. The great virtue of monarchy by birthright is that it can put in power the only people who should ever be entrusted with power – ie those who do not want it. The true role of a royal family is not to rule but to serve as a societal art form – something magnificent to inspire us and, at least, provide a good laugh. Looking back, I feel that today’s cult of celebrity shows that I was on the right lines.
In these terms I feel that your critique of the way society handles those who do not easily fit into society is saying something significant about the future relationship between society and the individual – and this addresses the most profound dilemma of the age.
Why the essay is relevant to my current ideas
In SSOTBME and later writings I proposed that CP Snow’s analysis of society into two cultures – Arts and Sciences – should be extended to four broad cultures – Art, Science, Religion and Magic.
Just as an Art culture means much more than simply painting and drawing, my notion of Religion as a broad culture extended beyond the narrow meaning of the word to embrace activities and ideas suggested by the Latin word “religio” or binding together. So the religious culture extends to all ideas and processes that bind people into distinct, well-defined groups – a notion that is in accord with anthropological definitions of what constitutes a religion. It also matches popular ideas such as “football is his religion”. Academia, I argued, is deeply entrenched in the religious culture with its passion for defining boundaries, its elevation of style over substance and fear of thinking.
The opposite cultural pole is Magic. Magic, by contrast, is a supremely individualistic culture steeped in secrecy and notions of personal growth. At its worst it is indeed the about the pursuit of individual power and yet the actual practices of magic lead one to a realization of one’s common human heritage.
I also argue that we are seeing a shift from five centuries of dominantly scientific thinking towards a spread of magical thinking. This is similar to what happened when, at the end of five centuries proto-scientific thinking typified by the classical era, the rise of the Roman Empire exemplified the move to magical thinking typified by the transition from metallurgy to alchemy and the spread of religions like Christianity not so much for religious reasons but because the symbol of the Christ brought military victory.
Again – a long story cut short. But the relevance is this: the embedded religious culture of the last two thousand years feels very threatened by the current swing towards magical thinking and is reacting very defensively. It is famously impossible to get the media or academia to take any pronouncement about magic or magical thinking seriously unless it can be summarized in the one word “poppycock”. The media also rant against the “me-culture” and individualism, majoring on its obvious defects without reference to its benefits and potential for enlightenment.
So I see something similar in this panic about autism – those forces that seek to bind people into groups feel deeply threatened by an idea, or a psychological development, that does not depend on group identification.
When the mode of the music changes, then the walls of the city will shake.