This is my response to the latest PIRG session led by Yonat... I will post a link to the Winchester School of Art blog when it is posted.
The session led by Yonat was packed with information and points for discussion. It has had such an impact on me that I am going to record here my personal thoughts and response arising from the session. For me understanding (through sharing) the history, culture values and patterns of others, of those around us, and, in an increasingly global situation, those across this decreasing-in-size world, is the way ahead for a better world. The enormity of this self-declared belief is unnerving.
Many questions and issues pour out of it. What am I saying here? That a better world will come out of understanding our difference? It has to go further, an understanding that there are differences, a tolerance of difference and an acceptance of difference. Inbuilt is the implied letting go of notions of conquering, either ideologically, geographically, physically or psychologically. There is an inbuilt (in this notion of a better world) characteristic of respect. Where the line, if any, has to fall is verging on impossible, if a culture cut the genitalia of its females, can tolerance prevail or must another value come into the fore? Clearly there is enough general evidence to demonstrate the human cruelty of the practice, therefore a legal stance to stop this is both understandable and acceptable. Is it he only way? Debate with the peoples who practice this could be a further tool.
Debate may change points of view; debate is not as free as it portrays itself. It is a free and open exchange of ideas, where points of view are presented, argued, supported and left for the masses to choose whose point to support. It is the equivalent of two or more forces acting on a central mass. It is a power struggle. Have you ever known a debate when one of those debating their point has changed their view? Debate is about each speaker PURSUADING the masses to their position. We have debates in politics, about important issues, without realizing it we are pawns in a power struggle. Debate is deadly and reinforces notions of power not equality.
In her session Yonat spoke of conversation as going beyond chit-chat, being an EXCHANGE of views that consists of connected comment. Debate exchanges views, however, the connection of comment is limited. One (speaker) makes a statement the other counters the statement. There is no attempt for one side to understand the other, its pull/push. It’s the equivalent of choose a banana or grapefruit; there is nothing in between, no greporanalun! If connections of comments were present there would be questions of the sort ‘ why do you believe this? Where does this notion come from? who gave you this information? When did you first think this?’ Giving space to choose or create a solution, allowing room for a greporanalun or even a pinoplum.Could conversation be a tool in the above example of FGM?
Conversation has the characteristics to be effective but only if the participants authentically desire and authentically seek, knowledge, awareness, understanding and respect for all, with some sense of opening a closer sense of a truthful scenario. In this respect what was ‘prescribed’ in the kibbutz as explained by Yonat, would seem ideal, until she divested the ‘performance’ of conversation with information that the conversations were usually infused with power. That is to say someone party in the process desiring a specific end decision, while appearing to be part-taking in authentic conversation, all the while guiding and persuading, giving the illusion of a democratic authentic conversation. Surely on humanity grounds ‘conversations’ on FGM would have the aim to dissuade the practice, and therefore be infused with power. Again where, if any, is the line?
This leaves a dilemma. While some people value power over all else, holding a conviction that their way is the right way, then all the more so will they feel justified to work to convince people, rather than converse with people, others find a justification. Power takes precedent in both cases. If knowledge, but here I have to pause and pull in justice and fairness, is not the goal there can be no authentic conversation, only debate, argument, persuasion, all quite forms of bullying. Is power infused conversation acceptable in order to protect human dignity and life?
What of our political lives, has conversation ever been the focal point, or only power struggles fuelled by the belief that this way or that way is the only way. Public discussions on a building development for example, have occasionally change things, but how many times were those changes already built into the plan? I have no political axe to grind. I freely state that I am not tied to any political ideology, having grown up in the middle of heated arguments of left and right between my parents.Nor have I looked for a middle road to balance the situation. I have what feels like, a refreshing position of being able to take a view on issues and make more balanced choices, using as much knowledge as I have at that moment. Politicians debate, bargain, argue, pressurise, the closest parties came to apparent conversation was with the coalition government, where of course all of the above power struggles were under pinning it. Power corrupts and total power corrupts completely. Politicians care for their careers it seems, more that the country and residents they represent. They for get they are representatives and believe they are rulers. Authentic conversations, may well lead to improved solutions for many of the issues we all face in society today.
Researchers have, on the whole, an authentic desire for knowledge and (truth?). Even here when funding is part of the equation, power comes into play to threaten derailment. Researchers have authentic conversations with their material, with theories of others, seeking new knowledge, new perspective on old knowledge. If the conclusions of research do not fit the aims of their funders what happens then? No more funds? No authentic research should be driven by political, financial or industrial goals. Funded research has access to the needed finance to proceed, and the promoted publication of the outcome. Unfunded research may have no agenda pressure, neither does it have an incentified promoter to publish it.
This session offered me hope and despair for society and humanity in equal measure. It would seem logically that while a society of fair-minded, open people were conversing, a society hungry for power and excited by control, could and would devour them, without any discussion what so ever.
The group, as evident from its form, growth and outcomes does use the methodology of conversation. We need to be mindful of infused power, there is trust between us, it is not from others that this infusion could arise, but unconsciously from ourselves.