Montréal, December 4, 1999
~^~ Once upon a time, in the universe of Then, ... on the surface of a fertile terrestrial sphere, there was a magic kingdom presided over by a kindly king. the king cared greatly for his people, nurturing their growth and welfare and soon his citizens grew very prosperous and plentiful in number, ... and thus, each year the kingdom walls were brought down and moved further outwards. And the king, like many kings, knew his kingdom well by the properties of its people, its streets, its buildings and monuments and all things in it, and also by the behaviours of his citizens and his soldiers and the traffic and commerce which ensued as they pursued their livelihoods. the king knew his kingdom well even as it grew larger and larger.
One day, he heard an angry voice and went to a balcony on the side of his castle that looked out over the wall of his kingdom to the wild country beyond, ... and when he looked down, he saw an angry young hermit, who seemed to be representing the collection of wild animals which were gathered around him, as the hermit yelled and pointed all around, ... and the king could not understand what on earth the hermit was going on about. But, ... all of a sudden, when the king raised his eyes to the horizon, he realized he could now see the walls of his kingdom directly opposite him, ... and as he scanned the horizon, he further realized that he could see, without any break in continuity, ... the whole exterior wall of his kingdom, ... and that all of the lands external to his kingdom could now be seen from his balcony. and what the hermit and the animals were complaining about was that the kingdom wall built to keep alien creatures out, was at the same time a wall which kept alien creatures in, and they no longer had room to run and play as before, nor were there, any longer, passageways to the sea, where they had habitually swam and fished.
The king was suddenly angry, with himself, ... and also with his wizier, einfelsen, who had some time ago, offered to contract for the maintenance of the kingdom wall at a fixed cost, in spite of the rising cost of labour, an offer which the king had quickly accepted, praising einfelsen for his benevolence and community spirit.
At the same time, the king was saddened, for he had not intended to impose upon the creatures of the outer wilds, but realized now, that by thinking of the world only in terms of his kingdom 'in its own right', ... it had slipped his mind, that when one inhabits the finite, unbounded surface of a sphere, ... one's identity is not fully determined by one's own properties and behaviours, but is equally determined by one's 'reciprocal disposition', ... by one's geometrical relationship with respect to one's containing space, and that one's movements and controlling occupation within that space, at the same time, reciprocally determine the 'topography of opportunity' for all occupants of the overall containing space.
The king immediately summoned his wizier, einfelsen, showing him how the kingdom wall had now reduced in perimeter and transformed itself into an enclosing circle when viewed from the outside, .. asking einfelsen how this could be, ... and what could be done about it.
Einfelsen, though he realized that his response might well determine whether or not he would have to repay the windfall profits from his wall maintenance contract, ... resolved to be fully open and truthful to the king. He reminded the king that when one lived on the surface of a sphere, ... when one lived in spherically curved space, ...every 'thing' not only had an 'identity' in its own right according to its properties and behaviors, but also had a 'reciprocal identity' determined by its geometric 'place' with respect to the disposition of the full ensemble of things in the space in which it was contained, and that he, einfelsen, had mentioned this some years ago to the king, referring to it as 'the theory of relativity', but that the king had not 'tuned' to the impact of it, ... and that he, einfelsen, instead of continuing to work on the king's 'prise de conscience' of the full implications of the theory of relativity, ... had instead been tempted by the commercial opportunities which were opened up by the king's persisting unawareness.
einfelsen moved quickly on from this admission, so that the king would not dwell on this betrayal of trust, ... informing the king that in order to avoid this problem, it was important not just to look out at the world and describe things by their properties and behaviours, .. but to, at the same time, imagine how those things that we looked out on, themselves see the world.
Einfelsen reminded the king how he had rebuked his anthropologists for studying the aboriginals within the kingdom, terming them 'les sauvages', and looking out at them "with the detachment and the indifference which naturalists bring to the study of insects rather than with the intelligent empathy of the interpreter", and einfelsen remarked that it had, indeed, been this wise comment of the king's, which had led him, einfelsen, to discover the 'theory of relativity'.
The king was well pleased by this remark, since his wizier was much admired in the kingdom for his exceptional gift of reason, and he looked out once again upon the outer surface of the wall, now covered with graffitti which articulated a long history of complaints brought against the kingdom by the hermit and the animals, ... against the non-relativistic encroachment of the kingdom on the spherical space which they saw as a commons, ... and after only a moment's reflection, the king proclaimed that the wall would be brought down immediately, and that henceforth in his council, ... he would have representation of all the different perspectives in his kingdom so that they as a collective would 'know' the world they shared, not merely from their own perspective looking outward, but by looking, at the same time, through the eyes of all co-habitants of their spherical containing space, ... they would henceforth see themselves from a 'field of view' rather than their own 'points of view', ... from the 'many eyed field' of their containing space, ... looking in on themselves as they reciprocally related to and engaged with the ensemble of 'otherness' which contained them as participants.
Einfelsen congratulated the king on his wise decisions, observing that while most kings define themselves in their own right, .... by their own properties and behaviours, ... he would go down in history as a king who had distinguished himself by defining himself also, and at the same time, ...by his reciprocal co-relationship with all of the constituents of his containing space, making him truly a leader, of, by and for, not only his own people but all of the constituents of shared space-time.
As the walls came down there was much celebrating and the deer and bears and other animals who had been encircled and emprisoned by the wall of non-relativity, ran through the streets to greet their brothers and cousins they had long been separated from. soon after, the hermit and the king's daughter married and over the years had many children, ... all of whom grew up remembering the story of einfelsen, their grandfather-king and the coming of relativity, ...remembering the need to forever observe the empathic topology of relativistic curved space-time.
* * *
And 'you', dear reader from the universe of Now, ... do you believe in magic kingdoms?
The lives of the children of Then and Now are cradled in the fields of your belief.
I know it is not easy to speak openly of such beliefs, ... to assert that the space we live in, in the Now, on the surface of our planet earth is a magic kingdom - like 'Commons', wherein that which surrounds us, is at the same time surrounded by us, .. .and that as we colonize the Commons, we simultaneously and reciprocally change the topography of containment and opportunity for those 'outside' the colonial walls.
Yet we know that the topography of the surface of our planet is a unified system which is 'given only once', .. and that its rivers, lakes, seas and atmosphere are like veins, arteries and lungs which keep essential nutrients circulating throughout the system, ... keeping its spherical, green skin alive, ... vibrant and healthy. And we know that from this belief and perceptual understanding comes the respect for the whole and the responsibility for reciprocal effects emanating from the activities within our kingdoms and collectives, ... of family, firm, culture, community, nation, ... an inner/outer dynamical reciprocity in the complex nesting of 'containers' within which we are constituents and participants, and through which we interpret the appearance of the inner and outer worlds.
It is not easy to speak, as Ivan Illich, Sartre and McLuhan did, about their belief in silence as a Commons, and that when we colonize the Commons of silence, we simultaneously and reciprocally change the topography of containment and opportunity for communication. Yet we know that the topography of the surface of silence is a unified system which is 'given only once', ... and that its spoken words, books, libraries and listening space are like veins, arteries and lungs which keep the information circulating throughout the system, ... keeping its spherical, messaging skin alive, ... vibrant and healthy. And we know that from this belief and perceptual understanding comes the respect for the whole medium of thought-sharing, and the responsibility for reciprocal effects of utterance, writing, tele-imagery and electronic networking emanating from the activities within our kingdoms and collectives, ... of family, firm, culture, community, nation, ... an inner/outer dynamical reciprocity in the complex nesting of 'containers' within which we are constituents and participants, and through which we interpret the appearance of the inner and outer worlds.
It is not easy for me to speak about our world as seen by modern physics, ... of a reality which behaves as if we were shooting billiards balls around the outer surface of a sphere, ... as if we were pool players, knowing that the movement of any ball reciprocally changes the 'topography of opportunity' seen by each and every ball, ... and that such change is imprinted for ever and always into the evolving configuration, ... just as Sartre pointed out how the written word imprints itself on the commons of silence and continues inducing change and transformation, on into the future.
That the grandchildren of Einfelsen, king, and hermit in the universe of Then believe in the curved space-time relativity of their reality, with its simultaneous reciprocity, and that they assume a responsibility and empathy for the reciprocal effect their word and deed has on the whole, keeps their story alive and full of harmony and happiness.
But what about OUR grandchildren in the universe of Now, ... will they believe in the curved space-time relativity of their reality?, ... will they believe in the reciprocal effect of their own actions and utterings, and assume their responsibility and empathy for their reciprocal effect on others and otherness in the Commons?
Sartre, Illich and McLuhan were concerned about this, ... in spite of their own acculturation and educational imprinting to the euclidian contrary, ... they 'had a nose' for the reciprocity which characterizes our reality, ... the reciprocity of the relativistic curved space-time of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, ... but their counsel tended to be mocked rather than heard or heeded.
McLuhan, like Ronald Laing, Jules Henry, Becker and others, asserted that; 'Education is war declared on the young, ... the violent imprinting of things on children.'. McLuhan was very concerned about our educational system whose 'medium is the message' message is to strive for results, achievement, .. the possession of rewards and honours without considering the reciprocal effect on others and otherness of such striving.
Concern for the negative impact of education on the management of 'Commons' has persisted for the physical Commons as well as the sensorial Commons. The chiefs and elders of Native America, since the arrival of white, western man, have expressed their disquiet as to how the white man's education supports a commodity view of the physical land, .. the Commons which holds us within it, as constituents and co-participants, ... an educational imprinting of 'land-as-commodity' which usurps the imperative of a 'relativistic' management of the Commons. Thus, the counsel of the elders has been;
"So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves. This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood that unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web he does to himself."
McLuhan's was a voice for the same concern in the sensorial realm, ... the educational imprinting of the notion of 'silence-as-commodity' ('air-time'-as-commodity) which usurps the imperative of a 'relativistic' management of the Commons of silence, saying;
"Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don't really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth's atmosphere to a company as a monopoly."
We, the people, through the voice of the media we have surrendered the rights to informing us on our reality, referred to those who believed in the relevance of McLuhan's remarks, ... who added their voice to the call for change, ... 'Mc Lunatics'.
So, dear reader from the universe of Now, ... are 'you' crazy enough to try to make a difference?, ... to speak out for a re-assuming of our responsibility for an empathic management of the physical Commons of land and sensorial Commons of silence, ... so that our grandchildren will grow up remembering the story of the falling of the wall containing 'self-ish' interests and excluding 'other-ish' interests, ... a falling which opens us up to a re-embrace of the 'Commons', ... a 'speaking out' so that they/we might forever 'tune' to the empathic topology of curved space-time, ... to celebrate the reciprocity of self-and-other, ... are 'you' crazy enough to walk the empathic talk?
~^~ ~^~ ~^~
Return to '98/'99 Update Page and Index of Essays