These retired coin-operated newspaper dispensers elicited three ideas, sparked by my reading of The Eye of Spirit: An Integral Vision For a World Gone Slightly Mad by Ken Wilber. If you’re not familiar with him, scholars in a variety of fields regard him as one of the most influential American philosophers of our time. The first idea, “entropy,” is obvious in this image, indicated by the rust. Less obvious perhaps is “order,” the way the boxes are lined up. And because of their uniformity I see “regimentation”—soldiers or sailors standing at attention, differentiated by color representing roles such as Fireman, Quartermaster and Yeomen.
Systemically speaking, each dispenser is a “holon,” a term coined by Arthur Koestler to indicate a whole system in one context that’s part of a broader whole in another. On street corners these systems made newspapers available through the insertion of coins. But taken together they constitute a higher holon, the newspaper business, which is a sub-holon of the print media, which is junior to the mass media, which is a sub-holon of society—and so on, holons from quarks to universe. At every level, each holon is subject to entropy. Fortunately, syntropic factors such as caring, increased information, maintenance, determination and collaboration present a system in decline with the option to transcend the forces of entropy and continue in existence. For instance newspaper companies have found ways to operate more efficiently and more profitably through the use of the internet and other electronic media.
By solving problems and overcoming the limits of the past, a system evolves. And with each advance comes new and sometimes even more complex challenges—setbacks that are at times so severe it seems like human evolution is regressing—as with the modern horrors of forced migrations, terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Wilber says that for some it’s better to deny evolution altogether than to get caught up in having to explain such obscenities.
How then do we account for the ups and downs of human evolution? Wilber writes:
Because evolution proceeds by differentiation and integration, some things can go wrong at each and every stage. And one of the most prevalent forms of evolutionary pathology occurs when differentiation goes too far into dissociation. It is one thing to differentiate the mind and body, quite another to dissociate them. Differentiation is the prelude to integration; dissociation is the prelude to disaster.
Normally, an evolving holon transcends and includes its predecessors. Atoms unite to form molecules, which form cells, which constitute complex organisms, and so on, all the way to the universe. Each stage of development includes the junior systems, and then adds its own unique and emergent qualities. Wilber again:
With pathologies, the senior dimension doesn’t transcend and include, it transcends and represses, denies, distorts, disrupts. Each new and higher stage has exactly this choice: transcend and include, befriend, integrate, honor; or transcend and repress, deny, alienate, oppress…The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.
The acorn has to differentiate in order to grow into an oak. But if you see every differentiation as a dissociation—if you thoroughly confuse the two—then you are forced to see the oak as a terrible violation of the acorn. And thus the solution to any problem faced by the oak is: we must get back to our wonderful acornness. The solution, of course, is just the opposite: find those factors that prevent acorns from self-actualizing as oaks, and remove those obstacles, so that differentiation and integration can occur naturally instead of drifting into dissociation and fragmentation.
Arrogant, ego-centric holons (individuals, political entities, dictators) don’t want to see themselves as parts within a whole. They want to be a whole unto themselves. They don’t want to integrate, collaborate, cooperate or be part of something larger than itself. No sharing. No empathy. No communion with fellow holons. They want so badly to dominate, to be the whole alone, they will do anything to achieve the status of chief decision-maker, king of the hill, top of the rubble if necessary. I, mine, me, rather than we.
In the above paragraphs Wilber is referring to larger holons such as dictators and tyrants in the context of human evolution, but pathologies can occur at any level. I, mine and me is a mindset that generally seeks inordinate gratification through acquisition, displays of power, manipulation, and celebrity in individuals as well as the larger holons. These can be overt or subtle and creep into one’s lifestyle or culture virtually unnoticed, particularly when they are glamorized or come packaged in the context of entertainment. Because the focus of this blog is gratitude and appreciation, rather than providing some examples of dissociative values, I will offer what I consider to be the antidotes to them, syntropic qualities that I believe are much more commonly found in our families, friends, colleagues, teachers and students. There are many, but the top of my list includes moral and ethical decision making, authentic and creative expression, compassion, respect, inclusiveness, consideration for others, empowerment and anything that contributes to the health and well being of fellow holons and the greater holons which in which we participate—schools, communities, businesses, organizations and so on.
The take-away for me is three fold. Through the exercise and acknowledgement of these syntropic qualities in daily life, I can overcome the entropic forces of I, mine and me. When I align with and support those who express or demonstrate these qualities, I am encouraged to transcend my limitations and include the best of the energies that support me and my purpose. And I can avoid falling into the trap of dissociation by respecting differences, honoring uniqueness, and looking for opportunities to acknowledge and celebrate commonalities.
We are all fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth.
R. Buckminster Fuller
(In our era) It is the integrity of each individual human that is in final examination. On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate.
R. Buckminster Fuller
ABOUT THIS IMAGE
Title: Newspaper Dispensers
I was in Illinois on one of my overnight expeditions, mostly photographing farms and cornfields in July. I didn’t take note of the town where I saw these dispensers, so I can’t report where the photograph was taken, but I was so intrigued by these boxes I spent a half hour minutes shooting wide, medium and closeups from a variety of angles. I selected this one for presentation here because the composition evoked the sensibilities of entropy and regimentation.