Sacred Unity (2)

Scott Holmes (sholmes@NETCOM.COM)
Mon, 23 Jan 1995 14:03:35 -0800

Steps to an Ecology of Mind_. An anthology of articles by Gregory
Bateson, edited by Rodney E. Donaldson (1991). Again, please think of
this as pages from a student's notebook. I am trying not to interject
any of my own interpretations but I do hope some of you will answer with
your own.

Human Dignity and the Varieties of Civilization:

This was delivered at the Third Symposium of the Conference on Science,
Philosophy and Religion, August 27-31, 1942 and published in _Science,
Philosophy and Religion: Third Symposium_, 1943.

Bateson defines human dignity in terms of:

a) sequences of interpersonal behavior which increases the self-respect
of one participant without diminishing it in others;

b) sequences which enhance self-respect in all participants; and,

c) notions and presumptions about life which help us to see our own
roles with self-respect.

He remarks that "no list of characteristics will help us" but that
the total picture of the self must be examined in terms of "frames". He
delineates five (5) such frames:

a) to measure up to a parent (unless the parent is definitely deviant);

b) to realize a parent's image of the child's future (which he regards
as particularly American). [He notes that this particular frame will
likely result in diminished human dignity in the case of limited and/or
reduced resources - citing America's "frontier" mentality as being inappropriate
in light of the end of the "frontier" era.];

c) to conform to peer expectation (which he again regards as particularly

d) dependence upon an idiosyncrasy (He states that in England "... an
individual is accepted by his fellows a little more easily if he is labeled as
rather different");

e) a drastic repudiation of the parent.

He reiterates that rather than deal with the relative frequencies of
different sorts of behavior "...we would do better, I believe, to think of a
whole series of themes -- dominance-submission, exhibitionism-spectatorship,
succoring-dependence, etc. -- as pan-human elements in behavior which may be
recombined to give the most various resulting products, some poisonous and
some beneficial".

Bateson then goes on to illustrate by making comparisons between the
English and Americans.

English parents are: dominant, succoring & exhibitionist;
their children are: submissive, dependent & spectators.

American parents are: dominant, succoring & spectators;
their children are: submissive, dependent & exhibitionistic.

Bateson illustrates the result of this variation in patterns with an
example of an Englishman lecturing in the United States. "He will lecture
as if it were for him to decide what is good for that audience". [To
relate an anecdote, the librarian who acquired this book for me attended
a lecture given by Bateson. Her reaction was one of indignity because
she felt Bateson talked "down" to the audience.]

Bateson ends the article expressing concern about what will happen after
an Allied victory in WWII.

"...we shall, I hope not see a world in which one set of cultural patterns
is ineffectually forced upon all other cultures and communities. Some of
the talk about democracy, of course, sounds as though we proposed to set
up Demo-Quislings in all the nondemocratic patches of the world -- a
procedure which would be contrary to all the basic premises of democracy,
a procedure necessarily ineffectual and one which I think would be
wasteful even if it were practical".

The upshot is that any and all stereotypes developed about a culture must
be constructed with a recognition of these patterns rather than selected
characteristics. And, these stereotypes must be acceptable to both groups.

"...but I believe really that all these simplified statements fall short
of understanding, and that probably mutual understanding should be counted
as a basic condition for self-acceptance and mutual respect".

----------- There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, ----------------
Scott Holmes <> Informix 4GL Applications
---------------- Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ------------------------