Knowing in a systematic stress context

Upgrading a bad discourse situation should call into play a capacity to be forthright and direct, otherwise there is liable to be poor communication. Shotter (1994: 68-72) points out that 'help' is not a complete re-connection so much as getting in touch with the issues of connection, what he calls 'internalization'. "There are always further 'connections' between elements of our past that future projects will reveal as unknown to us. But it is how people re-collect their past due to their need to act 'into' an interest in the future, thus to 'reshape' what has been - not how they must act 'out of' a fixed past - that is crucial."

In a word, there is 'empowerment' and there is 'brainwash'. Empowerment liberates the way of involvement in Being, brainwash confines the way of involvement to a certain 'calculus of beings'. As Shotter has it, the capacity to operate at the level of power and personal connection is challenged "not just in personal psychotherapy, but .. [challenges us to cure] what Wittgenstein saw as a sickness of our time. Where, as he saw it, an aspect of that sickness lies in our incapacity for wonder, our incapacity to recognize that the strange, the unique, the novel, the unknown and the extraordinary lies hidden within our everyday mundane activity" (Shotter, 1994: 72).

When we don't have empowerment - as commonly we do not - we have a condition of poor functioning. The 'novel circumstance' where 'new and unique meanings' are made become degraded by stress. In the modern era we have social institutions like the Soviet 'Gulag' (Shalamov, 1981) or the Western psychiatric control system which promote various sorts of radical adaptive behaviors to systematic stress. The people who are the subjects of these systems are metaphorically the 'proletariat' of the disempowerment experience, who 'have nothing to lose but their [mental] chains' (Marx and Engels, 1848/1954). I shall exemplify these people by borrowing the mental health jargon term of 'low- functioning' clients. Where is the 'boundary' - where learning and communication is pregnant - for such folks?

The "focus on the individual diverts attention away from those moments occurring between people, in which, because they must be responsive to each other's rights in their actions, they struggle in creating various kinds of relationships" (Shotter, 1995b). Following this advice, we will step out boldly and consider how Cushman's 'hollowness of self' or, on the contrary, Shotter's (1994: 72) sense of wonder or 'negative capacity' of Being (following Keats) is socially reflected in classes of individuals who are accommodating habitual conditions of degradation. 'Low-functioning' mental health clients, who are directly involved in accommodating systems of behavioral control, have a pervasive and omnipotent sense of 'hollowness of self'. This they politely under-sell to their controllers as a 'self- esteem problem'. And the 'negative capacity' of wondrous involvement lies inside these people masked by or buried in the degrading situation. In short, the 'boundary' where philosophy and 'psychotherapy' come into play is remote and inaccessible to Being.

While individuals deal with this degradation experience differently, to people in such a condition it is so graphic that it rarely fails to be evident. And it is to be remarked, in a related vein, that those who evade or challenge the degradation are more or less beholden to the mechanisms of their evasion. For expression of their sense of 'hollowness of self' and suppression of 'negative capacity' marks them to other people as unsettling. They present themselves as the messengers of a message that the social condition is like them, and this is an unwelcome message. We must look at the discourse situation for such people, who appear as the fools in the sottie. And we must assess the role of 'internalization' - as a social as well as individual phenomenon - in the helping process.


The brainwash genre

Finally, I come to a problem of interpretation. Wittgenstein (1980) said, "if in life we are surrounded by death, so too in the health of our intellect we are surrounded by madness." I will approach this comment as a statement about dialogue. For Bakhtin (1986), the units of dialogue are utterances and these are made up of 'speech genres'. The speech genre is a "sphere of communication" with "its own relatively stable types of .. utterances," that is, "thematic, compositional, and stylistic" stability. Key to understanding speech genres is the issue of 'speech position', relating to those for which we are answerable, and again, those of others whose addressivity permits us as speakers to aim our speech at them (Shotter, 1980). I shall treat the 'surrounding by madness' of the 'healthy intellect' as a socially situated condition.

We have a social environment which metaphorically we shall look at as built around a chocolate factory. The owners and the workers and the customers are parties to the economic transactions that govern its operation. The owners can see chocolate as a metaphor for the 'good life' of aesthetics and philosophy. The workers, as a metaphor for the substance and activity of life. The customers, a metaphor for 'something sweet'. Those outside this transactional process are in excruciating pain due to the irrationality of distribution. Chocolate is like respect, they don't get any. Their conversations with 'regular' persons are mediated by their common relationship of appetitive reaction. Their 'joint action' connects at the level of this common appetitive interest and reflects their different stations. Thus the 'positions' of the utterances are addressed to the role relation and answerable for it. A prototypical conversation runs, "I will perform better and improve my adaptability," and "perform better, improve your adaptability."

The focus is on an abstract and exaggerated 'personal responsibility', rather than on a responsivity to involvement. Respect for the individuals is not well regarded in these communications. The 'regular' persons, as befits the dominant role, get the illusory results of demanding and forcing respect as much as they wish. What they earn is only respectful utterances, not necessarily respect. The reason cited for the topic of role relations is the 'maintenance of social order' because chaos would be the alternative. At a role level, 'chaos' means 'behavioral dysfunction' and is an explanation for madness. "It would be mad" if things were allowed to be different. Hence there is also a topic of 'corrigibility' and a subtext of the discourse related to proper treatment of the 'madness'.

The 'low-functioning' individual is self-reflexively involved in functioning to an external behavior standard, having internalized the brainwashing. One consequence of this is a discourse where most topics are filtered through the genre and their import hardly gets through at all. The filtering does allow for the possibility of percolation, with there perhaps being a way things could get through in some 'dissolved' way. The brainwash genre takes on special significance in the context of an originary alien experiment. In this case communication is subverted by the irrationality of the situation and at the same time the possibility of talking about it is inaccessible. This genre does not readily sustain the fools' play, because there is too much behavioral regulation going on. The sottie genre must walk in from the 'outside' and may indeed start to displace the brainwash genre, as it were, spontaneously.

The issue here has turned from skating on the edge of 'mental illness' to a perspective of involvement. Involvement brings with it an imperative to internalize madness, the 'other' of rationality. This can be done relatively safely and efficiently only by doing it in small 'chunks', with the fool's humor. Brainwashing supplants reasoning as the mode of absorption, as the will to know gets replaced by the obligation to know. The people act low-functioning when the economic process, from which they are totally removed, obliges them to this appetitive dialogue. And they are made to feel worthless on that account. Here I submit is the tension that Wittgenstein seems to have failed to internalize, the anxiety of anticipated degradation.

How then is it possible to consider restoring the dialogue with the 'low-functioning' people who are socialized to the brainwash genre? Here are the true 'margins' of society that need 'working' (Hooks, 1990). The communicative amenities of civil society are degraded by the tasty 'profit motive'. In fact, the norm is accommodation and the language of the people who are the subjects of this genre is stubbornly designed to 'pass' as under-class talk, to be dismissed indeed as the expression and 'symptom' of 'low-functioning'.

In other words, the social condition works to defeat the process of 'knowing of the third kind' by involvement. High prices tend to be exacted for actualizing knowledge. Involvement by 'low-functioning' people teaches them that avoiding the knowledge of the obvious is organic to the prevailing discourse. In Shotter's terms (1994: 69) the "aim" of the helping process is "ontological not epistemological."

The emotional, cognitive and physical poverty of our problematic social situation amounts to a severe impediment for intellectuals who 'work margins'. But it is also a challenge to them as critics, a challenge to the caliber of their comprehension of society. One thing should be clear, however, and that is that the dyad of the client and therapist who 'create between them' a 'new way of talking' (1994: 72) is too limited of a vision. If the "therapy consists in our gaining access to a language within which we can account to ourselves for ourselves" (1994: 71), then in some way helping the 'low-functioning' clients brings us to a logic where we must rebuild the dialogue with them.

Thus finally it comes down to a question of how to fix the immanent involvement puzzles of 'knowing from', which we have identified in the alien experiment, and in what follows, as generic. The genre of 'low-functioning humanity' is an artifact of this frustrating and confusing social reality, yet it is the underlying social condition that supports the abuse of civility which degrades our lives. To the extent that the alien experiment is a relevant metaphor, 'making sense' involves having very specific handles (like what Vico calls 'divination') on the disciplines enabling us to know by involvement with reality as it is 'providentially' given. For instance, one line of thinking towards this end is given by the work of Zinchenko (1990) on bodily awareness during involvement, but that is material for another article.



When we talk of "making sense on the boundaries", the 'boundaries' that we normally intuit are in fact impacted by a maddening, degraded reality. The 15th century verse quoted from Hoccleve at the head of this article shows too well the immanent difficulty of this reality for those personally impacted by madness. Hoccleve, a protege of Chaucer and an older contemporary of 'Prince Hal' and 'Falstaff', first learned to misrepresent himself with a 'cover' story. He goes on to say, however, that he figured out that he was better off telling the truth of his situation, despite the attendant difficulties. Can we overlook the fact that for our poet, too, the problematic was in gauging the nature of the 'boundaries'?

The technical brilliance of Wittgenstein in taking apart the Cartesian illusion of rationality and bringing us back to a discourse standard should be valued very highly. We have seen how the very reasoning of today's 'schizophrenic' can be articulated in Wittgenstein's philosophical system. I have however argued that 'moving between philosophy and psychotherapy' requires work at the level of the social institution and not just at the level of the individual. As it were, the philosophical discussion must be enjoined with the systems that provide mental health services. Hopefully my images will direct attention to some of the topics that must be addressed in such a discussion.

And what about 'psychotherapy'? Plainly, the helping process as Shotter affirms it can be fashioned into a tool with strength and value. In terms of the general improvement of civil society, however, it is a limited value prosthetic. The required agenda seems to involve valuing invention, creativity, and vision more, learning more about internalizing madness in 'chunks', more innovative developmental work 'on the margins', and socializing more with 'low-functioning' people.