Monday, August 11, 2014

Mutual Interaction: Communication Part 2 (Transparency)

I began this discussion on communication by delving into what I meant by reciprocity in my last post. I also identified (without elaborating on) a number of key factors to effective communication. In this post we will begin the discussion on those factors by discussing transparency within communication.

Among the more prominent of all lapses of communication occurs when, for one reason or another, one or more parties to an interaction withholds information from others. Often this occurs out of fear (of rejection, that they will be made to feel stupid, etc.), but it may also occur out of self-interest, a concern about what results the sharing of said information will generate, etc. This may occur in an unofficial setting such as a basic conversation between friends in which one is upset by something the other said but chooses instead of expressing these feelings to hold them in despite still being impacted by them, or one of a more official nature such as an agreement to withhold information as a stipulation to a contract or an unwritten agreement between government officials, financial interests, organization leaders, etc. Generally speaking, when one withholds information that may be pertinent to another party, problems occur. This is especially the case with emotions in the unofficial settings described above. When one's feelings towards something go unspoken, animosity tends to ensue. Often such lapses of communication can subconsciously affect how we communicate in a more official setting, and so our animosity thus begins to dictate some aspects of our professional communication. Seen on a large scale, distrust resulting from poor communication between actors playing various roles in a particular setting (an organization, a community, a municipality, the whole of society) leads to an "us versus them" mentality among members. This mentality reflects the structure of the associations we build. Whether the structure itself is what has created such lapses in communication or vice versa is a chicken and egg debate which I do not particularly care to partake in. Rather I want people to recognize that to solve this problem we need to identify it and begin fixing it by changing how we communicate. And this brings us full circle back to transparency, our initial aspect of communication that needs to be improved.

This insight has been especially key for me with building a healthy occupational relationship with the owner of the business that I help to operate. Operating within a small business, I'm blessed to work with an owner who is willing to treat me as an equal, going as far as planning to bring me on as a business partner in the near future, with whom we have each experienced tremendous growth from the life lessons we have taught each other. We have butted heads on numerous occasions and only come out stronger and with more refined communication skills as a result. As group fitness instructors, much of our interaction takes place when we sit down to do exercise program design together for the gym. This is where the majority of our conflict occurs.

When we first began programming together, we would often escalate from calm discussion to explosive screaming and it would end in my storming off. This left us both baffled as neither of us could understand why the other was upset. When one such incident occurred we decided when the situation had cooled down to sit down and discuss it. Both of us were shocked to find that we had each, without realizing it, set off a psychological trigger that the other had developed. For my partner, she had experienced years of suppression of emotion and passion from people who made her feel like the expression of such was intolerable. For myself, her passion during our conversations reminded me of the constant heightened tension and resultant psychological stress of my childhood. The crucial part of this was that neither of us had communicated with the other about how it made us feel. Now having established this line of communication, this transparency has allowed us to make a concerted effort to improve our communication and it has made all the difference. Beyond merely improving our interpersonal relations, it has restored our professional trust for one another, strengthening my desire to remain with the company and her confidence that our eventual partnership will be worthwhile.

Until my business partner and I chose to discuss our lapses of communication, neither of us had chosen to practice the dignity or integrity necessary to confront or understand the other. When we did, we found solace in understanding. It didn't resolve our disagreements, but what it did was give us a mechanism to better acknowledge and accept them.

With that said, lets discuss some ground rules for transparent communication and what transparency means in a mutualistic framework. One must first and foremost recognize their responsibility to uphold their end of the bargain. This is not a simple task but rather a process. One must recognize in themselves both dignity and integrity. They must be willing to work towards more consistently confronting others openly when they feel disregarded. On the other side of this, they must be willing to recognize the difficulty of such a task, understanding that one cannot expect transparent expression from others, and that, nonetheless, these others also have desires which need to be understood and considered. And most importantly we cannot -- whether out of social convention, fear, stigma, etc., -- allow ourselves to restrict our transparency, no matter who it is that we are interacting with.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mutual Interaction: Communication Part 1 (The Attributes & Importance of Communication)

There is so much to say about communication. It is our conveyor of thought and emotion; our means of relaying information; the main vehicle of our interactions. It only seems right that we begin here on our journey through this elusive ideological conundrum we call mutualism. Where it is especially important is in its influence on interpersonal relations, and how the feelings we convey and data we transmit through it affect them. In this sense we can deeply impact those with whom we interact by the mere fact of communication. Beginning from a basic drive towards liberty in one's self, and a recognition of the same for others, we can identify a number of factors that are important for approximating reciprocity in our daily relations, and thus for further establishing a culture of mutual interaction within our society. Some of these factors include transparency, clarity, empathy, and consensuality.

The effectiveness of communication, in many regards, lies in its reciprocity. This does not mean that effective communication cannot involve conflict; after all, according to Shawn P. Wilbur, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the foremost progenitor of mutualism, defined reciprocity as  "the mutual penetration of antagonistic elements." Far from eschewing conflict, the very idea of reciprocity we draw on thrives upon it -- a point I made in similar form on mutualism in my first post. We begin, then, from the understanding of reciprocity which I laid out in my first post titled Philosophical & Biological Mutualism:

"If, then, we define this concept of mutualism in the same terms as above, applying a fair dose of individualism at the outset, we arrive at a philosophic doctrine of reciprocity among dissimilar individuals... The key element, then, to its differentiation lies in the distinction between mutualism and cooperation, namely the "dissimilar individuals" caveat... [Mutualism] recognizes and accepts (and possibly even sees strength in) dissimilarity and proceeds from this point... [The] mutualist recognizes more definitively the uniqueness of the individuals involved, considers the irreconcilability of differences as a strength rather than a weakness in their associations, and builds their vision of interaction accordingly."

In other words, there will be conflict, and that's ok. However, from my personal experience, observation, and research, there are a number of factors that must be present for such communication to be effective despite the inevitability of conflict.

So what makes communication reciprocal, and why is it important? As stated above, we need to begin with liberty. And in fact it is in our very interactions that our deepest expressions of liberty or authority may arise. Recognizing in one’s self a desire to operate autonomously is of crucial importance. The ability to decide for one’s self, or at the very least to be able to decide when to defer to the opinions and choices of others and who to defer them to, is a drive shared by all cognizant beings. From this it follows, then, that it is in our interest to preserve these “options” for ourselves, and that the same goes for each individual. Human beings are driven, after all, by a desire for happiness, and a strong positive causative relationship exists between happiness and liberty. If we recognize this drive, ultimately, toward liberty, then for the sake of consistency we need to begin by treating others as equals who are worthy of the liberty they are innately driven towards. This is a concept that Wilbur calls the “anarchic encounter”. Using a translation of Proudhon's words, Wilbur gives an example of how this encounter would work:

“Two men meet, recognize their dignity, state the additional benefit that would result for both from the concert of their industries, and consequently guarantee equality, which means economy. There is the whole social system: an equation, and then a power of collectivity.
Two families, two cities, two provinces, contract on the same footing: there is always that these two things, an equation and power of collectivity. It would involve a contradiction, a violation of Justice, if there were anything else.”

If we are serious about liberty, reciprocity extends from it of necessity. If we are serious about reciprocity, we as individuals need to make a concerted effort to practice it in our daily encounters.

Stay tuned for follow up posts to this topic where I will discuss the factors of effective communication which I have identified...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mutual Interaction: An Introduction

In my previous post, I closed with this statement:

“We begin with liberty, and upon this recognition in ourselves, the mutualist seeks it it in others and extends them the same dignity… mutualism, afterall, is first and foremost an ethical philosophy, and as with most ethical philosophies it begins with personal application.”

As promised, I will pick up in this second installment from this point. This will serve as the beginning of a series on interaction which I have termed “Mutual Interaction”. It will serve as a jumping off point for me to delve deep into mutualism as an ethical philosophy and really tie in this concept I am trying to build of the relation between “the individual and society”. In this series I will discuss my emphasis on personal philosophical development in an attempt to give others insight as to how one can better practice reciprocity in their daily lives and, in essence, become a beacon of “mutualism in action”. I will begin by identifying the components of human interaction and briefly discussing how to practice them in a mutual manner, only to expand on each in subsequent posts.

As of this writing I have recognized three major categories of human interaction. Each of these components we are, crucially, able to make an individual choice as to how we will approach them. We can choose to interact in a manner that respects our common passions for liberty, happiness, etc., or we can disregard the drive of individuals besides ourselves toward these innate desires. Mutualism, in this regard, is an ethical philosophy of personal development in a manner consistent with the former -- of respect for others within our interactions. The interactions I have identified are as follows and are listed in the order in which I plan to address them, which is roughly by order of importance and sequence in which I feel they should be developed, as well as of scale, developing from simple interpersonal relations to higher order social interaction.

Of key and utmost importance is communication. This component of interaction is quite simply the most obvious, the most direct, and the one that has the clearest effect on others with whom we are interacting. Types of communication, how it can effect our interactions, and guidelines for how to effectively interact in a manner consistent with reciprocity will be the subject of the first few articles in this series. I will also share insights from personal experience and anecdote to help further support my arguments. This will be the major focus of this series.

More specific to the scientific discipline within evolutionary biology that deals with interaction, I will also deal with previously identified types of interaction such as cooperation, competition, commensalism, neutralism, parasitism, and biological mutualism. In this article (or series thereof) I will define these types of interactions and explain them in the context of various species, eventually settling on a discussion of how this applies to a human context in which we will introduce further discussion regarding some human specific constructs and institutions.

From the discussion on biological interactions in a human context we can then pick up where we left off and discuss interactions in terms of social, economic, and political association. At this point we can begin to discuss concepts such as currency, exchange, value, markets, property and possessions, labor relations, political affiliations, etc.

It is important to note that I have no claim of intellectual hegemony over these concepts. I am open to the criticisms of others in this regard and, as such, this article may be subject to periodical revision, expansion, and/or retraction. While this series will be the crux of my projects, I do have plans for some very important, and largely complementary, asides. My hope is that not only will this series bring clarity to my positions on these topics, but also broader clarity to the mutualist and anarchist movements I claim to be a part of. Stay tuned as I kick off this series with my first in a discussion on the most important of all components to mutual interaction: communication...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Philosophical & Biological Mutualism

The philosophic and socio-economic concept of mutualism is unclear and difficult to define. It predates the much more precise scientific use of the term by some 60 years. The imprecision of the earlier application of the term is probably in part due to its simultaneous self-descriptive use by individuals in very different cultures and circumstances. While seemingly unrelated, these divergent mutualist concepts can be seen as interrelated, if nothing else in that they describe analogous phenomena occurring in unrelated disciplines. This relation, however faint, makes it possible for us to more precisely define the older term based on insights from the newer, more precise one.

At this point it is necessary to explain the newer use of the term to unfamiliar readers. Mutualism is a biological concept that refers to a type of symbiotic relationship. Where as relations between individuals of the same species are defined in different terms, symbiosis refers to various relations of dissimilar beings. Mutualism then, similar to the interspecies concept of cooperation, is a relation between two dissimilar beings which bring reciprocal benefit to each party to the relation.

From this we can extract an understanding of the older concept that may help us untangle it from a number of misconceptions. If, then, we define this concept of mutualism in the same terms as above, applying a fair dose of individualism at the outset, we arrive at a philosophic doctrine of reciprocity among dissimilar individuals. This is helpful, especially since much confusion lies at the (at least perceived) border between mutualism and collectivist ideologies such as syndicalism and communism. The key element, then, to its differentiation lies in the distinction between mutualism and cooperation, namely the "dissimilar individuals" caveat. Whereas the latter ideologies seem intent on fixating on a kinship even where one doesn't exist, mutualism recognizes and accepts (and possibly even sees strength in) dissimilarity and proceeds from this point. Whereas the collectivist sees a need to build strong cooperative bonds in all associations -- labor, social organization, activism, etc. -- the mutualist recognizes more definitively the uniqueness of the individuals involved, considers the irreconcilability of differences as a strength rather than a weakness in their associations, and builds their vision of interaction accordingly. Mutualists, then, of necessity favor a much more loose association to the tightly knit social structures proposed by their collectivist counterparts.

And the most crucial part of all this occurs at the level of interaction, much like with the biological concept. We begin with liberty, and upon this recognition in ourselves, the mutualist seeks it it in others and extend them the same dignity. The importance of this proposition is the reason for the Proudhon quote as the “masthead” of this blog. The earlier mutualism, afterall, is first and foremost an ethical philosophy, and as with most ethical philosophies it begins with personal application. Stay tuned for further postings which will delve deeper into this idea of interpersonal mutualism...

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Evolving Project on Google Drive

As of now I have very little finished material, but I am more than willing to share my unfinished work. If you are interested in following my philosophical journey, click here for my explicitly political writings and here for my more experimental synthesis project that is in a folder tentatively titled "The Individual & Society".