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Posts Tagged ‘authority’

Expecto expectare experitus

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

“An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less.”
Nicholas Butler

OK. Apologies to the Latin experts out there. I’m not one, as must be obvious, but hopefully my pidgin Latin roughly conveys its intended sense, which is to see beyond conditioning, “expel what is expected through experience” (though the grammar probably puts it more in the realm of “my postilion has been struck by lightning”).

I was thinking about last week’s post and this business of living mindfully rather than relying on autopilot: of the distinction between expectations/conditioning/assumptions/”expertise” and reality, how expectations are infused with projections, and the expectations and assumptions we have in respect of various man-made “systems”, whether mechanical, administrative or conceptual. I couldn’t help noticing how close the Latin expectare (“await, hope”) is to expectore (“expel from the mind, literally, get it off your chest”) despite the two words being of different derivation (ex- “out” + spectare “to look” vs ex- “out” + pectus “breast”), and how the word expert comes from ex- “out” + peritus “tested, experienced”.

This was all brought together quite eloquently this week when we went to renew a conventional medication prescription. When we left the hospital last month, we were supplied with a form with full instructions for what should be repeated and for how long, and I took this in to the local medical practice on Monday as it normally takes 3 days for them to process repeat prescriptions.

First off, the medications weren’t waiting for us at the pharmacy as we’d been assured they would be. So we went up to the practice where they couldn’t figure out why this had happened, but printed out a prescription for us to take back to the pharmacy to get filled out on the spot.

As we were getting back into the car, I thought I’d better just check it over. I even felt slightly churlish doing so. Aye well. But as well I did. One of the medications prescribed wasn’t what had been specified on the hospital form. So back we went again. They checked it (this took the combined energies of 3 receptionists) and said the doctor had entered it on the database that way. They surmised this must have been because there wasn’t a generally available medication complying with the dosage specifications – the hospital pharmacy must have supplied us with one they’d made up themselves – so he’d chosen the nearest thing he could find that could deliver the same amount of active ingredient.

This all made perfect sense. The only thing was, the consultant had written very clearly, in block capitals in the margin of the form, the trade name of the tablets to prescribe. They’re widely used for a common condition. Even if the doctor wouldn’t necessarily expect this medication to be prescribed in this circumstance, the instructions were perfectly clear. Even though the receptionists accepted the doctor’s expertise and had previous experienceof instances where the hospital pharmacy had made up their own medications, the instructions were perfectly clear. I asked to see the form and pointed out the instruction to them. Once they’d looked at what was written next to my fingertip, everything was straightforward.

Armed with new instructions, we went back to the pharmacy where they filled out the prescription. It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at the bottles and saw that, contrary to the form’s instruction to renew the prescription for 2 weeks only, they’d provided 2 months’ worth of one medication and only 11 days’ worth of the other.

If that many mistakes can occur with a single form that a doctor, 3 medical receptionists and a pharmacist – all very nice and I’m sure generally competent people – had all failed to read properly, it really makes you wonder how many are made on a daily basis and never picked up. If I, as the only “non-expert” in the process, could read it without a problem, it surely couldn’t have been that difficult to decipher?

“The trouble with specialists is that they tend to think in grooves.”
Elaine Morgan

But there you go. Systems, all systems, develop their own circular logic; their conditioning, their expectations, their assumptions. Can we trust their experts to pragmatically accommodate anything that falls slightly outside their expectations? It seems not. Not least because it’s self-evident that the greater the level of “expertise”, the deeper the groove being followed.

This isn’t to say that experience isn’t valuable, and repeated experience more so. It’s how we learn, how we become proficient, expert. You wouldn’t get your bicycle fixed by someone who’d never seen one before. Repeated experience, predictability, is the basis of the vast majority of our science and technology. In many areas it’s even become the ultimate arbiter of what’s considered ‘real’ and what isn’t. But what this perspective turns a blind eye to is the domain of the unique and individual, the unpredictable, the chaotic, which is as equally inherent in any uncontrolled situation as that which is predictable. This constantly stares us in the face, yet it’s our very “expertise” – often taken as an indicator of intelligence – which blinds us to it until someone comes along and points it out.

“If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.”
Arthur C Clarke

This has considerable implications for the debate surrounding (so-called) evidence-based medicine and the efficacy of CAM therapies. While this may seem a very superficial example of conditioned thinking (and straightforward human error) which is perhaps less relevant to serious subjects that have been examined more closely and in greater depth, closer scrutiny of the debate shows no less prevalence of rigid expectations, inability to see the obvious, circular logic and erroneous supposition.

“Experts built the Titanic; amateurs built the Ark.”

The emperor has no clothes

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it’s beauty.”
Albert Einstein

For centuries now, the inclination to defer to the will and opinions of people in positions of authority has been something the average citizen in the majority of societies across the world has accepted as ‘natural’. It’s just what you do. They know best. Our history books are full of accounts of times when it became obvious that various hereditory kings and emperors were as daft as the proverbial brush and had to go, but the mantle of emperorship simply shifted to a different class of ’emperor’ and in no time the citizenship were once more repeating the mantra ‘they know best’. Ditto with religious authority, overturned in favour of science, much of which has now degenerated into little more than religious repetition of assumptions which have long ago been shown to be false. But still we’re singing the same old song “they know best”.

Do they?

More and more these days it seems that what reaches us through the media concerning government, corporate and scientific reasoning and endeavour, and in the op-eds and interpretations of the stories by the media itself, are so lacking in basic common sense as to appear little short of idiotic (for recent examples from this blog alone, see Bees on their kneesAnti-nonscience and Dumb and dumber). More insidiously and significantly, fear-based psychic epidemics are whipped up and propagated to justify actions that no citizen of a democracy could possibly condone were they not spinning hopelessly in the vortex of terror that they’ve bought into by reason of their faith in the various ‘authorities’ involved. Weapons of Mass Destruction? Bird flu? It’s becoming ever more obvious that not only the emperor, but his entire entourage, administration, advisors and reporting structure, have barely a stitch of clothing between them.

Emperor's new clothes

The Emperor’s New clothes. Illustration by Cyril Bouda, 1956

And while all this is going on, ‘ordinary’ people communicating through the internet are showing more and more evidence of having worked things out for themselves and come to rational conclusions that have much greater coherence, make far more sense than anything the supposed ‘experts’ have to say on the subject. It seems the ‘experts’ have been barking so long up the individual tree of their particular niche specialty, that they’ve long ago lost all sight of the wood.

I’m old enough now to look back and say once there was a time when we could trust ‘the experts’ to come out with something sensible, and if we couldn’t, then the independent intelligent media would soon sniff them out and expose their mistakes. Or was that just an illusion too, based on a belief I held then which I no longer do now? In many ways, the degeneration of the whole set-up into the pastiche it’s now become forces us to face the fundamental mechanisms underlying this misguided behaviour and finally see it for what it is. This is the only thing that will ensure it’s not continualy repeated as we once more come to the threshold of deposing one set of authority figures in favour of another.

Ultimately it all seems to boil down to the belief in an objective reality in which there can be only one ‘correct’ interpretation, one way of doing things, one ‘truth’. Despite all the evidence to show that there are innumerable valid perspectives on things, that even ‘our’ perspective, ‘truth’ and methods are constantly changing so can hardly amount to ‘the one true way’, we are collectively driven to trumpet the supremacy of our own particular perspective, bully others into accepting it, and discredit any evidence to the contrary.

Yet invariably it’s the case that there’s truth lurking in our basic impulses. It’s in the interpretation that we get it all back to front and inside out. The sense of ‘there can be only one’ is true. At the level of collective consciousness, we are inseparable from the entirety of existence. We are one, purely and simply. But unity is NOT uniformity. It becomes uniformity when the basic apprehension of unity becomes warped and twisted by the illusion of separation, and by virtue of its torsion acquires kinetic potential – ie. it creates an impulse to move, to motivate, to enforce uniformity, which is a warped expression of unity.

In realising that we are fundamentally, completely and utterly inseparable from the entirety of existence, no matter what, the illusion of separation and disconnection melts away, resulting in far greater tolerance of individual variation in perspective, method, thought. Quite simply, if you can’t be disconnected, then you always ‘belong’ and are free to REALise the expression of your relatively individualised consciousness with its unique perspective which is no more and no less valid and valuable than every other single perspective on the planet. You are your own authority, your own expert, and nothing can invalidate your point of view. Even if it’s apparently incoherent with a collectively-held viewpoint, your point of view is what in-forms your own experience of reality and is thus ‘true’ at your own individualised level of experience. But equally well, it’s no more ‘true’ than anyone else’s viewpoint, and thus cannot be forced on others as ‘the only way’. The validity of your viewpoint cannot invalidate anyone else’s.

The solution to the question of what has wider or ultimate truth emerges most readily on a level playing field where conscious unity is taken as a basic premise. In such an environment, the sense of ‘self’ is recognised as largely illusory, contingent on a sense of separated existence. The concept of ‘ownership’ of ideas thus becomes an irrelevance, and ego games don’t get a look-in. It’s only in putting all our collective subjective expertise together and testing its coherence in relation to the whole that we finally comprehend that no viewpoints are mutually exclusive and all are informed by our connection with the whole. Each viewpoint is just a different facet of the same gem, and only when you turn a gemstone over in your hand and see all its facets do you understand what the gemstone really is. The ‘expert’ studying a process in minute detail has no more ‘authority’ than the person seeing it in a wider context. To be coherent, both perspectives require inclusion and rationalisation within an overall process which connects with every other process in existence.

And such is the level of synchronicity at the moment, that just as I was finishing up on this, Paul Levy’s latest essay Breaking the vow of silence came in, which addresses much the same dynamic.

Parking the professionals

Monday, July 17th, 2006

“We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”
Omar Nelson Bradley

It was just an incidental comment that struck me in an idle moment as I was half-reading a report in today’s online Guardian about why we should be nice to parking wardens (written by the chief executive of the British Parking Association, natch). He says “The British Parking Association is the largest organisation in Europe for parking professionals.”

I’ve no doubt it is, but parking professionals? Without wishing to be in the least bit insulting to parking wardens, who I’ve no doubt are fine people doing a pretty boring and unenviable job, this does seem to be stretching the definition of “professional” somewhat. Or am I just being an elitist snob? It does seem that if we’re to call everyone who earns a living by some gainful employment in which they observe the standards of that employment a “professional” then the usefulness of the word to distinguish some parts of the working population from others has been lost. Though given the word’s elitist associations, perhaps this is no bad thing.

However, this stampede to claim the label for all manner of activities in recent years is perhaps something that needs closer examination. Why does everyone want to assume the mantle? Aside from the desire to create a more egalitarian perspective on the value of various activities to society as a whole, there’s this whole business to do with “professionalism”, to do with the upholding of certain standards. We talk about having a “professional” attitude to distinguish it from some other attitude which by definition is other than “professional” and by implication the expected norm. Yet a closer examination of what makes up that “professional” attitude reveals mostly a set of moral, ethical, behavioural and competency standards that are only natural to any average decent person intending to do a good job. Why should we be trying to turn these standards into some kind of mask, a false persona to be donned only during working hours?

The fact that we are, and seem not to be noticing that that’s what we’re doing, speaks volumes about what’s happening to that underlying natural human decency. Perhaps we could do worse than do away with professionalism altogether? That way at least nobody is being encouraged to pretend to be something they’re not. I’d far rather see who I’m dealing with up front than be part of a disingenuous pantomime in which the human being I’m speaking to behaves more like some kind of unhuman robot. “Professionalism” seems to have become almost a by-word for putting distance between people, which hardly seems to be in the best interests of good communication or in the spirit of what it’s all about.

Genuine heartfelt core personal ethical standards and values render “professionalism” pretty much redundant. They’re not enforced by legislation and policing, but learned through example and experience, and are far more pragmatic and flexible as a result. They’re not part-time and partly owned by some faceless organisation, but are something for which every individual who holds them is wholly responsible and permanently engaged with. They’re not something to aspire to or indulge in pride or arch superiority over, they’re just the product of natural ordinary human decency and respect for one another. Isn’t this where we should be placing our emphasis instead of adding yet more layers to a hollow mask?

Once again it seems we’re putting all the emphasis on the ultimates, outer appearances, instead of considering the underlying state that spontaneously gives rise to the desired behaviour.

Trust me, I’m a doctor

Monday, December 19th, 2005
Authority consults the written law - fresco by Constantino Brumidi

Authority consults the written law – detail from fresco by Constantino Brumidi

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.”
Democritus of Abdera

I started thinking some more about this societal penchant we have for telling others how to live their lives (see last post) while simultaneously running to various “authorities” to find out how to live our own.

Aside from being simply a case of what goes around comes around, what’s this all about? It seems rather strange that we should consider ourselves authorities on everybody else’s lives but our own, and others greater authorities on our own lives than we are. After all, there’s only one person who knows what the experience of being ourselves is really all about. Others can share bits of it, empathise with some of it, or find resonance with their own experience, but they can’t experience it. They can only experiencethemselves.

The word authority derives from the Latin auctor meaning “he that brings about the existence of any object, or promotes the increase or prosperity of it, whether he first originates it, or by his efforts gives greater permanence or continuance to it” (Lewis & Short, Latin Dictionary, 1880). It’s that “promotes the increase or prosperity … permanence or continuance” that seems key. It doesn’t sit too well with situations where authority becomes disempowering or even abusive; where, for example, a therapist undergoes a small fracture and becomes the rapist.

Yet for authority to be disempowering, it needs willing candidates. We seem to like our authoritative figures every bit as much as they like playing the role. We live in a culture that largely regards the internal processes of self-reflection as irrelevant nonsense (dreams and imaginings) or dysfunction (physical symptoms), so we’re constrained to seeking a reflection of our present state through the eyes of others who, being as they’re doing exactly the same thing, are as likely to present us with a projected description of themselves or their shadows as anything related to our own processes. Is it any wonder it all gets so confused and confusing?

So what’s the solution? Trying to devise rules and regulations for every conceivable potential abuse of authority will just result in a mountain of legislative code that nobody can either keep track of or prosecute. But the game can’t go on if the players won’t play ball. The fact is, we each have our own individual resident personal advisors who are on the job 24/7, are totally, selflessly and solely dedicated to our welfare, cost nothing to employ, who are perceptive, incisive, and invariably correct, and who don’t give up on us even if we’ve never so much as given them the time of day. All that’s required from us is a little investment of time to learn how to consult them, trust, and a willingness to drop the common misconceptions surrounding their advice.

This is not to say that we can’t benefit from other’s knowledge and expertise, or that we shouldn’t continue to seek help and reflection from the world outside ourselves as well. Only that standing on our own two feet, well briefed, and walking hand in hand with our external advisors, is likely to promote our increase, prosperity and continuance to a far greater extent than placing ourselves entirely in their hands. Responsibility = response-ability.

But whatever you do, don’t just take my word for it …

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Carl Gustav Jung

Thanks to the current insanity revolving around homeopathy in this country, in both media and blogosphere, it's become necessary to insult your intelligence by explicitly drawing your attention to the obvious fact that any views or advice in this weblog/website are, unless stated otherwise, the opinions of the author alone and should not be taken as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you choose to take anything from here that might be construed as advice, you do so entirely under your own recognisance and responsibility.

smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard