Long Spoons, Bowls, Food, and Feeding: An Allegory

I came across a short video today through the perusal of my Facebook feed. In order to get the full effect of what I am going to say, you’re going to need to watch it.

Source

After watching it, I posed this:

“A pretty good illustration of what is possible, but can you see another, more self-preserving solution? Once you see it, can you see that the selfless action is just as productive as the selfish one? And that it is simply a matter of choice between the selfless and the selfish?”

Being struck by its simplicity and positive message, I began to think more deeply about it, and another nagging thought planted itself in my mind, and that led to this post.

Are you ready for the thought? Sitting on the edge of your seat with intense anticipation?

Here it is…

Where did the bowl come from and how did it come to be in that place?

I get it. I get it. That is not the point of the video. The point of the video is, that through selfless action, it is possible to meet the needs of others while having your own needs met at the same time. I respect that fact. It does, however, imply the above question.

Does the answer to the implied question matter? Will answering the question solve the problem portrayed in the video and get the food into the people’s mouths?

No. No, it will not.

You might even ask me, “if it does not matter, then why bring it up to begin with?”

I am glad you asked, because, as always, I have an answer, and that answer speaks to a larger issue beyond the video, just as the video speaks to a larger issue than just getting the food from the bowl to the spoon to the mouth.

I don’t know about you and all of your friends, but I am friends with folks from wildly varied walks of life. I have male friends and female friends. I have gay friends and straight friends. I have white friends, black friends, latino friends, and Asian friends. I have friends that were born in the United States and friends that were born elsewhere. I have friends who are cat lovers and friends who are dog lovers and friends who love both. I have friends who drink alcohol and friends who don’t drink alcohol. I have friends who believe marijuana should be legal and friends who believe it should not be. I have friends who are pro-choice or pro-life or have no opinion whatsoever. I have friends who believe the Confederate battle flag should not be flown by the state and friends who believe it should be and friends who do not care one way or the other. I have friends who own guns and friends who don’t. I have friends who believe guns should be regulated and friends who believe they should not be. I have friends who believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and friends who believe any two people can marry regardless of gender. I have friends who believe government is based on secularism and should remain true to that basis, and I have friends who believe government is based on the word of God and should remain true to that basis. I have friends who believe in the veracity of science, and I have friends who believe in the veracity of the word of God. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are Christians and friends who have other faiths and friends who believe there to be a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name.

This is not a comprehensive list of differences that my group of friends have, but I think you get my point.

I want to focus on the last division of friends, those who are atheists, Christians or of another faith in a divine being or force, or believe in a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name. I want to take this varied group of friends, some of whom are quite loud in professing the absolute truth in what they believe to be true and mix this debate into the context of the video, focusing on the bowl of soup itself.

The characters in the video do not ask how the bowl got to where it did. Their only concern is getting what is in the bowl into their bodies, and how to do it. One of the characters uses the spoon to feed another, but requires help to do so, which the other characters figure out. Then the other characters see that by sharing and helping, everyone gets fed. See? Simple.

Let’s talk hypotheticals for a moment.

Suppose one of the characters, instead of working to solve the problem of getting what is in the bowl into the body, decides to proclaim, through either divine inspiration or rational thought, that they know how the bowl got to the place where it sits. Then another character challenges that proclamation, and, before we know it, the original problem is forgotten because the characters find it more fulfilling to proclaim what they know to be true and work harder to convince others that their idea is the truth. Then, let’s say that one of the characters succeeds, after a lengthy amount of time, to convince all of the other characters that their truth is the right truth and they all agree on it. Already hungry and malnourished, they are even more so and more weak than they were before. They are so weak they cannot find the collective strength to pick up even one spoon together, but the original problem still remains, even though they found the truth.

Or…

Suppose we have the same instance as just above, one character proclaims an idea concerning how the bowl came to be where it is and another challenges their assertion. While the two are arguing over their ideas and the other characters get distracted by the debate, one of them figures out a way to get the contents of the bowl into their mouth and eats the contents as the others’ concerns remain distracted, and leaves nothing for them.

Or…

The same instance occurs. An argument ensues, taking attention away from the original problem. One of the characters figures out how to get the contents of the bowl into the body, tries to get the others’ attention, but fails to do so because they cannot overcome the zeal of the arguing parties. So the character waits passively until the parties come to a conclusion so the solution to the original problem can be shared, and by that time, all of them are too weak to utilize the spoon, even collectively.

Or…

The same instance occurs with the same argument, taking attention away from the original problem. The same character figures out a solution to the problem of getting the contents of the bowl into the body and jumps into the middle of the argument, and points out that they all can be fed. They all see the solution and that it works, but they are so zealous in their need to be correct concerning the bowl, they refuse to care about the contents anymore.

Or… (I know you are probably losing patience, but bear with me)

The same instance occurs with the same argument. Attention turns to the bowl itself rather than getting the contents from the bowl into the body. The same character figures out how to get the contents from the bowl into the body, jumps into the middle of the argument, points out the solution to the others, and the others reconcile their differences so that they can learn the solution to the original problem and take in the contents of the bowl and be nourished.

Or…

Well, these scenes can vary any number of ways, an infinite number of ways, to be sure. However, with all of those infinite possibilities, not a single one of them addresses the original and most pressing problem. They all focus on the bowl and its place rather than the contents of the bowl and how to get the contents from the bowl into the body. The problem is lost in a sea of disarray and all because of a disagreement that cannot, in all likelihood, be definitively proven one way or the other.

By focusing on the contents of the bowl and the need to get those contents into the body, a solution was found and shared. The solution took not only deliberate thought but also deliberate action in order for it be achieved.

Do not let loud voices that proclaim in one way or another how something came to be distract us from the central problem. Be deliberate. See the problem clearly as it originally presents itself and work toward a constructive solution that brings a benefit to all of the parties that are affected by the problem at hand.

With each constructive solution to a problem that provides a benefit to all involved, a little more peace finds its way into what can be a peaceful world. Pray or meditate to find guidance or seek answers to larger questions through rationality. However, do not let those practices distract us from seeing the problem and finding a constructive solution.

That’s kind of the whole idea anyway, right?

There is no doubt that there are plenty of questions that are implied by the video or assumptions made by the viewer and vice-versa. Anyway, that’s what I see when I watch this video. What do you see?

Questioning Questions

If you know me or read my writing, you know I ask questions. I ask a lot of questions, sometimes of others, more often of myself. My parents will probably tell you that one of my favorite things to say while growing up was “why?” or “how?” or “what?” or “who?” or “when?”. The answer I remember getting most often is “look it up,” but it isn’t the answer I want to explore in this writing, but rather the question…really any question, and why I ask them.

I went back through my posts and noticed that in the vast majority of them I ask at least one question. Most of the time I don’t get an answer. Sometimes I answer the questions myself in an attempt to explore the idea a question raises. Sometimes the questions are for the readers that grace my posts with their eyes and minds.

What prompted this question about questions, you may ask? Well, I was taking part in a group discussion the other day and it was said that during a dialogue, if one keeps asking questions, then the questioned will eventually be caught in a lie or a dead end or something to that effect; essentially that one’s argument may be found as weak or unfounded. And that is true. Questions, by their very nature, seek truth, but what is truth? This is a question for another time. The question here is about questions, not truth.

Questions need an answer, usually an answer that satisfies a need for better understanding of what has been asked. An unanswered question is something akin to listening to a piece of music and getting to the end of it only to find that the melody and harmony do not resolve, leaving a feeling of want in the listener’s ear.

Maybe better put, an unanswered question is a missed opportunity for the further exploration of an idea, reason, or practice. An unanswered question is a missed opportunity to learn, both for the questioner and the questionee.

Questions drive thought and innovation. Questions drive progress in all areas of life and society. Questions present possibilities and promote probabilities. Questions refine, reinforce, or redefine ideas and/or practices.

Best of all, questions stimulate the mind. They instigate communication and discourse. Questions inspire discussion. Just go to any library or bookstore. Every volume on the shelves is an answer to some question asked.

Back to the question…

Why do I ask questions?

I ask questions because I want to know. I want to come to a better understanding of what I know, or I want to know about something I did not know about before. I want to know what other people think. I want to know why people think the way they do. I want to come to an understanding about things I don’t understand. I want to ponder possibilities and consider probabilities. I want to know that I am right and why. I want to know why I am wrong so I can be right in the future (nobody wants to know they are wrong, especially me.).

I want to know. I want to learn. I want to understand. And I never want to stop.

Normally Acceptable

The other night, I kept thinking and thinking about what I read before going to sleep and that prompted this post. I’m still thinking about it; wondering if there is a way to answer the questions I left at the end. I want to try to answer those questions and investigate this idea of normal, because, well, we all try so hard to individualize ourselves and separate from the herd. In small ways, we are successful. We differentiate ourselves and we give ourselves labels that provide some division, some distance, from others’ identities. However, most of us still remain within the realm of normal.

Why is that?

Why do we seek to be different, even in the most innocuous ways, but, at the same time, we voluntarily stay within the bounds of unwritten rules?

Is it a comfort thing? Is it an issue of stability and security? How do we set the boundaries on what is normal and acceptable when it comes to living out our individuality within a social group? How do we balance the scales between the consistency of normal and the variability of individuality? How do we measure and compare being different with being too different? Where do these unseen boundaries, unwritten rules, and unspoken measures come from?

Those are a lot questions, so maybe you can see why I am so jumbled up. Most of these are issues I think about, and have thought about, for a long time. Even for a group of professed nonconformists to normal rules of greater society, that group has rules that are unwritten and unseen boundaries that are not to be crossed if one wishes to remain a nonconformist. So, even in their nonconformity, there is conformity; there is a standard.

There are some that say screw the rules, let’s all live our own lives, but I believe that to be too simplistic. I do, however, believe that if one tries hard enough, one can find a niche within which to socialize and find a level of comfort, really, in essence, to feel, dare I say, normal, or would it be better to replace normal with accepted?

I am sure there will be more to come concerning this strand of thought. If you have all the answers, or even just one or two, feel free to share them with me and with the few readers that grace these posts with their presence.

The Panopticon, Santa Claus, and Stanley Kubrick

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am reading quite a bit and have begun to delve into the world and theories of Foucault. Currently, I am reading Discipline & Punish and just finished the chapter on the panopticon. There is quite a lot to wrap one’s head around within this chapter, but it is the final question asked that sticks with me, which demonstrates the point being made.

“Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” -Foucault, Discipline & Punish, translated by Alan Sheridan.

I suppose a little background is necessary to understand. Through the book, Foucault illustrates how the physical punishment of the Middle Ages up through the monarchies of the 18th century began to transform, with the thinking of the Enlightenment, into a more subtle form of discipline that focuses less on the body and more on the mind and behavior of the subject being disciplined. That is the gist that I get from it, anyway.

The panopticon is an architectural design that facilitates this relatively new disciplinary form, involving a circular building, hollow in its center with a tower in the middle allowing those being disciplined to be observed at any time and/or all times. The individual cells within the building that holds those being disciplined are able to be viewed at any time by the observer in the tower. However, those in the cells cannot see those who are surveilling them. The “major effect” being “to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent disability that assures the automatic functioning of power.” The tower, not necessarily being occupied at all times (though the observed do not know that), serves to portray an unending process of surveillance and observation.

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The Panopticon Source

Foucault expands on the idea of the theoretical “mechanism” of the panopticon, “it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use,” showing how the separation of those to be observed into individual units and the constant observation performed on, not only convicts in prisons, but also, workers in factories, military service members, students in schools, patients in hospitals, etc. The observing parties, be they prison guards, teachers/professors, military leaders/commanders, job foremen/supervisors, religious leaders, etc… represent the rules and protocols that the observed are expected to follow and work to engrain those rules and protocols into those being observed.

As I ruminated on this, the quote referenced at the top, and this idea as well, “…in order to be exercised, this power has to be given the instrument of permanent, exhaustive, omnipresent surveillance, capable of making all visible, as long as it could itself remain invisible,” I had a thought. Santa Claus. Yep, that was my thought. Santa Claus is the panopticon. Think about it. “He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.”

So, the idea of the panopticon, or the mechanism, has become a naturally conditioned phenomenon in our society. There is a lot said for the perceived, unending surveillance perpetrated by the government. We wax endlessly concerning the infinite presence of Big Brother. We exclaim from the mountaintops the right to privacy. Yet, for any number of reasons, we allow ourselves to be observed or surveilled in the most intimate of settings in order to feel safe and to know that our society is secure and stable.

Any number of reasons. The primary reason is for stability. Word has it that in order for a society to function, there must be stability. In order to create stability, norms have to be established. In order for norms to be established, there has to be a specific consensus on what is to be considered normal. Once the norms are established, they have to be codified and the norms enforced. Once this happens, norms become rules. In order for the dynamics of power within a group of people to remain stable and unchanging, the rules governing said group must be developed, observed, practiced, and enforced.

What better way is there to enforce societal norms and rules than to teach young children about a man that “knows if you’ve been bad or good,” and if the young children are not good, their behavior will be rewarded negatively; in other words, they will be disciplined. If the children adhere to the rules, they will be rewarded positively with gifts and such. Even though Santa is not there, he is there, and he is always watching, ever vigilant to ensure stability within the group.

We are conditioned for this never-ending observation and surveillance. We accept it, most of the time, without question, because to question is to challenge the authority performing the observation, and challenging authority is to promote instability. Instability provides for the upsetting of the established dynamics of power within a group of people; it is, therefore, frowned upon. So to borrow a title from Stanley Kubrick of a movie that I have never seen, we operate in our society with our “eyes wide shut.” This is something to consider the next time Big Brother is brought up in terms of government surveillance. The government is a visible mechanism of power, and can, therefore, be directly protested. There are powers unseen and unheard that can, and probably should, be scrutinized and protested as well, though it is difficult to protest intangible power. These powers are submitted to voluntarily by most of us with our eyes wide shut, yet, they permeate much deeper than any surveillance the government can perform. Our very souls, our very character is affected by them, and, most of the time, is done so without question because of our conditioning to social stability and the normal that is enforced through them.

That leaves me begging a question or two that I will not answer here. If something is to be considered normal and stable, why does it need rules enforced in order to continue its stability? Doesn’t the necessity for rules negate the very meaning of what is to be normal and what is to be stable?