I have this theory that what seems to be coincidence is in fact anything but. We may think we are surrounded by random stuff but deep down inside us there’s an intelligence beavering away to make sense of what’s out there and discover how we fit in. The more we panic about disconnection and incoherence, the harder our consciousness seeks out connection.
All this is implicit in the 2000-year-old quotation above from the Roman comic playwright Terence – actually a freed slave of North African Berber ancestry – and explicit in the quotation from Terence McKenna who is described in Wikipedia as an American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer and author. Google helped me make the connection and I regard their invention of a search engine based on popular choice as a big step towards McKenna’s ‘collectivity’.
Some people see any advance towards group-think as problematic, even dangerous. But the key word above is ‘optionally’. A creative approach seeks original directions rather than well-worn paths, deep associations before superficial correspondences. Examples of the latter would be the coincidence of name – both called Terence, big deal! – and the similarity of beards and Beatle cuts, but a more profound connection lies in the word ‘human’.
Reading a rather creaky old whodunit play by JB Priestley – Mystery At Greenfingers (1937) – I was struck by the following piece of dialogue. The first two characters are interviewing the third after a crime has been committed.
Crowther: What do you want to go and tell her that for?
Miss Tracey: Because she’s a sensible woman – and I believe an honest one – and we ought to deal sensibly and honestly with her.
Mrs Heaton: Thank you, Miss Tracey …
Crowther has a browbeating style of interrogation and, when he claims he’s entitled to ask anything following a serious offence, Miss Tracey plays good cop:
Miss Tracey (gently, encouragingly) : I think that’s true, Mrs Heaton. Though of course you needn’t answer questions if you don’t want to.
As you might expect, her courteous style gets Mrs Heaton talking where Crowther’s bluster has met a brick wall.
What struck me was an obvious resonance with something I’d just read in a newspaper article on ‘new’ approaches to interrogation pioneered by psychologists Emily and Lawrence Alison who have studied thousands of interviews. It begins with a real case, a terror suspect with the pseudonym Diola who refuses to answer leading questions from ‘jobsworths’ that he regards as uncaring and insincere. A second interviewer tries a different tack:
“On the day we arrested you, I believe that you had the intention of killing a British soldier or police officer. I don’t know the details of what happened, why you may have felt it needed to happen, or what you wanted to achieve by doing this. Only you know these things. If you are willing, you’ll tell me, and if you’re not, you won’t. I can’t force you to tell me – I don’t want to force you. I’d like you to help me understand. Would you tell me about what happened?” The interviewer opens up his notebook, and shows Diola the empty pages. “You see? I don’t even have a list of questions.”
“That is beautiful,” Diola says. “Because you have treated me with consideration and respect, yes I will tell you now. But only to help you understand what is really happening in this country.”
You can read the whole article – lengthy but well worth the effort, I’d say – by clicking on this link:
This further quotation from the article provides a quick summary, however:
The premise of interpersonal psychology is that in any conversation, the participants are asking for status – to feel respected and listened to – and communion – to feel liked and understood. “Power, love,” says Laurence. “The fundamental elements of all human behaviour.” Conversations only go well when both parties feel they are getting their fair share of each.
Liberty, equality, solidarity … our old friends! Other people are the same as us. Who knew? Turns out things go better when we treat one another with civility, respect, even love. And in an age when divisions between people seem to be widening – economic, cultural, ethnic, political, strategic, philosophical – it feels like a moral responsibility to argue for more amity.
Ed. For what? Who ever heard of a protest march with banners that say, ‘More Amity’? Time to chuck out the liberal waffle, Dave, and cut to the chase!
Right, then, cards on the table! I belong to the brotherhood of man or I belong nowhere. My family is all humankind or nobody. I revere life or nothing.
My creed is simple. I believe other people are just like me. I believe that when a loved one runs into trouble or falls ill, anywhere in the world, they will be cared for by others. I believe those others should expect the same from me. The ancient obligations of human hospitality pre-date statute law. If you shake me by the hand, you have my word.
Nearly 400 years ago Blaise Pascal suggested that before disagreeing with someone, we should first point out the ways in which they’re right. And to effectively persuade someone to change their mind, lead them to discover a counter-point of their own accord.
Civility opens doors closed to compulsion. Period.
Everything else is poppycock. Don’t come to me blathering about the need for hierarchy in human affairs. And, please, no more calls for strong leaders! Any concern, be it company or nation, that can only function under an autocrat should immediately overthrow the tyrant for gross incompetence. After all, who else could be to blame for such dysfunction?
I recently heard an episode from the excellent Radiolab series which explored ‘Emergence’, defined in Wikipedia as “a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit”. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it seems, but only if growth is from below. The episode questions the need for leaders and you may be able to access it on:
And finally – while the main mood is jauntily jacobinical – I should include a link sent to me by a valued regular correspondent, Mike, who writes:
An alternative to small power groups telling us how to conform and how to make them more powerful has been proposed by an ex-diplomat, Carne Ross. He makes a compelling case for anarchy.
More details can found on
Up the workers and down with the drones!
(PS. Can it just bee coincidence that the worker is the smallest?)