Part Two: Awareness and Political Will
We should distinguish first between two types of awareness: a general awareness and a useful awareness. A general awareness takes the form of just talking about Stuff That Mattersâ„¢. It is by nature incomplete and grasping. Thereâ€™s not a lot of analysis. Events appear discrete and unrelated. Most political discussion occurs on this level â€“ pointing out things that an event is â€œbadâ€ without an understanding of the range of circumstances which allow that event to occur.
As a side note, the mass media â€“ which we will assume is the primary source of most peopleâ€™s information about the world – specializes in this contextless informational now, eliciting sensations and emotions rather than understanding.
Stuff That Matters is fighting for your attention and space in your mind and thought along with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and many many things That Donâ€™t Matter, which, however, a majority of us remain aware of. All this exists in general awareness; the amorphous blob of information we collect around us.
We are in an information age: the information we pay attention to is of huge importance; to an extent it defines us. McLuhan observed that modern electric media are extensions of our nervous systems; the information we are aware of is an extension of us. What you read on your computer screen instantly becomes part of you. (On another level, â€œawarenessâ€ relates to consciousness and our view and experience of reality. Weâ€™ll probably get there in these posts, but for now we should come back down to politics and awareness.)
So, in these terms, Ethelâ€™s original point is that general awareness alone isnâ€™t useful. General awareness is partial and fragmented. Collecting pieces is certainly necessary for a while, but they need to be arranged into a meaningful pattern.
By contrast, useful awareness also focuses on the connections between things, and context, to provide a fuller picture. Within a different frame of reference, the problem itself seems different; and when the problem changes, so does the solution.
(An whiff of systems theory and cybernetics here: when a situation is understood as a series of relationships between entities or events â€“ and this is the world-view suggested by relativity in physics and epistemology in biology (*maybe using the wrong word: cf Gregory Bateson, anyway) â€“ when a situation is conceived of as part of a complete system rather than a discrete event â€“ then an effective point to make change in the system can be identified.)
What we are willing to do politically depends on our awareness of the situation, as does our knowledge of what can be done and what needs to be done, and why. If it is a general awareness, we are unlikely to achieve anything. If it is useful awareness, we have the potential to achieve something.
The question of action turns on our awareness of the situation and our analysis of what the problem is. (This does not presuppose there is a correct view of the situation or what the problem is â€“ we are all just spinning each other stories of the way things are, and it is a matter for the individual conscience to decide which story to believe in.) Effective action involves a goal or an aim. We need to know what we are trying to create, not just reacting and putting band aids on the world’s crises.
Raising awareness, particularly useful awareness, is a useful tool in the creation of political will. Yes, solutions should be a part of this raising in awareness. Another, better world, is possible. But the way we frame the problems will determine the solutions we seek. And useful awareness contains within it an understanding of what action is appropriate. (A good question contains its own answer. In this sense, useful awareness involves understanding the relations between parts enough to know how we want those parts to be related: an aim.)
Political will for pragmatic solutions (functioning as an example of a set of solutions, rather than presupposing they are optimal) does not exist because useful awareness of why those solutions are necessary does not exist among a majority. Among the politically inclined (a minority to start with), political will is fragmented between many partial understandings of the situation which generate different ideas about what the problem “is” and thus what the solution “is”. Creating widespread political will would require uniting fragmented understandings behind one useful awareness.
This seems possible (if not easy): to create a coherent useful awareness of the connections between the parts of the complex system we inhabit (and co-create) – one which, when the relations between parts are understood, where we fit into it, the actions required to “correct” or create desired change to the system, become clear. Which brings us closer to discussing overall worldview (as our definition of useful awareness has gradually crept towards world-view – close, but not quite the same). Because, after some reflection, it is an inadequacy in overall worldview which must lie at the root of the original question “what can I do?”; for if we had an adequate world-view, the answer would be clear and the question would not arise..
Next: The Nature of “the Problem” or “the Situation”. (Or maybe The Traffic Cone metaphor. I havenâ€™t decided yet.)