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Being Other Wise: dynamics of a meaningfully sustainable lifestyle


Being Other Wise
Category politics: intellectual property
Category politics: societal issues
Butterfly collections and Bicycle riding
Opening the metaphorical box
Exploring the metaphorical trap
Working with meaningful experience: fixity and fluidity
Working with meaningful experience: a four-dimensional space
Invasion between worlds: experiencing intrusion
Operational challenge: shapeshifting
Techniques of navigation: virtues and vices
Implications: containing the intentionality of the will to change
Immediate implications in the present moment
Reinventing a metaphoric habitat: a manifesto?
Reflexive paradox of this text
Radical engagement beyond the metaphor

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Category domination: conceptual dungeons

It is surprising the extent to which our thinking, at every level of society, is dominated by particular categories and sets of categories. These may include objects (table, chair), animal or plant species (dog, rose), proprietary products (Windows, Coca Cola), ethnic groups, countries, weather conditions, social roles (wife, father, daughter), values (peace, justice, sustainability, family), problems (hunger, poverty, injustice), and states of consciousness or meditation (depression, samadhi), etc.

The identification of arrays of fundamental categories has always been a preoccupation of philosophers. Advances in philosophy might even be said to be associated with the identification of more fundamental or comprehensive sets of categories. Religions, through their theologians, are concerned that people should understand their place in the world through particular categories. Political movements, through their ideologues, have similar concerns. All might be said to engage in intense category competition in seeking to occupy the conceptual high grounds from which other experiences may be surveyed and ordered? Sets of categories are imposed as desirable through education and programmes of indoctrination or propaganda. People may be severely sanctioned, excommunicated or executed, through failure to accept their organizing role. How the categories are to be understood as interrelated to form a larger whole is another matter.

But aside from these processes, individuals are entrained by use of categories in their environment. Adults impose categories on children. Young people make use of fashionable categories, notably as they are articulated by slang and jargon through peer groups. Civilization is navigated through categories and the signs which reinforce them. Whether it all "makes sense" is again another matter.

These tendencies, although increasingly widespread as a consequence of the universalist aspirations of western "cultural imperialism", are neither universal nor necessary. This has been well-argued by a number of authors (see Judge, 1993), but especially by Magoroh Maruyama (1980) who distinguishes five patterns. Maria Colavito (1995)  has also identified 5 epistemologically invariant styles (maia, mythos, right brain mimesis, left brain mimesis, and logos) associated with 5 features of the brain (reptilian, limbic, right and left hemisphere, and the interpreter module) and explored their developmental history. But are these patterns also to be considered as categories?

This paper raises the question as to whether the trap that societies face globally or locally is in some way intimately related to the way in which categories are defined, imposed or accepted. But of potentially greater interest is the question whether this may not also be true of the traps that many individuals experience in their lifestyle. Have people been effectively trapped in conceptual dungeons and slave pits -- for the duration of an experiential Kali Yuga? But "trap" is also a category.

As Francisco Varela has argued: "In contrast to what is commonly assumed, a description, when carefully inspected, reveals the properties of the observer. We observers, distinguish ourselves precisely by distinguishing what we apparently are not, the world." How we have distinguished the problems we experience may say more about our ability to understand ourselves than we are comfortable in recognizing. Categorizing may effectively be a process of denial.

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