A TAKE-OFF POINT FOR THE NEXT CULTURAL SYNTHESIS

 

 

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This is one of a set of papers linking ConFest to wider Community Action towards transforming communities and whole societies towards a Caring Humane Values based Epochal Transition.

 

In October 1998 I found Dr Neville Yeomans’ filenote,[1]Mental Health and Social Change’ in his Collected Papers archive in Mitchell Library, NSW. It is a scribbled half page note and a hand sketched diagram written back in 1971 – five years before the first ConFest. This note discusses the nature of transitions to a new epoch[2]. It reveals that Neville had specifically chosen Far North Queensland because of his analysis of its strategic locality on planet Earth as a place to start towards a global transition. Still, I did not take this seriously and immediately turned the page to the next item. I sensed that it was more to do with being ‘away from mainstream’. I did not realize at the time that this was a crucial document briefly specifying Neville’s core epochal framework. It was laden with implications and at the time I did not sense these. In this ‘Mental Health and Social Change’ file-note Neville clearly specifies epochal transitions. (I even missed the significance and evocativeness of the title ‘Mental Health and Social Change’. What for Neville was the link between ‘mental health’ and ‘social change’?) This is an example of how my pre-judging mind limited my sensing and sense making.

 

Neville wrote[3] the following on epochal change in that file note:

 

The take off point for the next cultural synthesis, (ed. point D in Diagram 1 below) typically occurs in a marginal culture. Such a culture suffers dedifferentiation of its loyalty and value system to the previous civilization. It develops a relatively anarchical value orientation system. Its social institutions dedifferentiate and power slips away from them. This power moves into lower level, newer, smaller and more radical systems within the society.

 

Uncertainty increases and with it rumour. Also an epidemic of experimental organizations develop. Many die away but those most functionally attuned to future trends survive and grow.

 

 

Diagram 1. Neville’s Diagram of the Growth Curve of any System

 

Neville is talking about social institutions in a marginal culture during a declining epoch having a common withdrawal of loyalty to the old system. Neville described the 1960s political and economic life worlds as already being dinosaurs if you take a 250 year perspective.

 

With the words, ‘those most functionally attuned to future trends survive and grow’, Neville was hinting at his own aspirations. By 1971, Neville had been already helped evolve many gatherings, festivals, celebrations, foundations, mutual help groups, study groups and self help groups. In all of this Neville was action researching his words from the ‘Mental Health and Social Change’ paper:

 

Also an epidemic of experimental organizations develop. Many die away but those most functionally attuned to future trends survive and grow.

 

Absolute decline D1 (above Diagram) in connecting and attuning to the current system occurs among the people at the margins of the current system. The common term in the Sixties in Australia was ‘dropouts’. The mainstream people in the current system continue for some time in relative decline D2 in their relating to the current system as the wider system goes into decline.

 

Thomas Kuhn[4] in writing of paradigm shift makes the point that some people hold to the old paradigm to their dying day, while others adopt the new paradigm; this is the overlap between the D1 and D2.curves in Neville’s diagram.

 

Neville uses the term ‘accumulation of knowledge and skill’ as the macro sense we have of the epoch. When this macro sense goes into levelling out and into decline, then things do not make so much sense any more, or life makes no sense. The old norms no longer apply. People feel normlessness.

 

In the same document[5] Neville went on to talk about the strategic significance firstly, of Australia’s psychosocial and geopolitical locality, and secondly, of Far North Queensland as a place on the margin to explore global transitions:

 

Australia exemplifies many of these widespread change phenomena. It is in a geographically and historically unique marginal position. Geographically Asian, it is historically Western. Its history is also of a peripheral lesser status. Initially a convict settlement, it still remains at a great distance from the core of Western Civilization. Culturally it is often considered equivalent to being the peasants of the West. It is considered to have no real culture, a marked inferiority complex, and little clear identity. It can thus be considered equally unimportant to both East and West and having little to contribute.

 

BUT - it is also the only continent not at war with itself. It is one of the most affluent nations on earth. Situated at the junction of the great civilizations of East and West it can borrow the best of both. Of all nations it has the least to lose and most to gain by creating a new synthesis.

 

Given all of the aspects outlined above, for Neville, the Australia top-end was the most strategically significant place in the whole world to locate his epochal action research. Neville saw the best place to start was amongst the most oppressed and marginalized Indigenous people. The East Asia Australasia Pacific region contains around 75% of the global 'Indigenous' population (approx. 180 of 250 million).  In the same vein, it contains 75% of the world's 'Indigenous' peoples.[6] Neville wanted the Australia Far North as an informal linking place for evolving Indigenous networks throughout the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region.

 

In December 1993, Neville told me to remind him to get me a paper that he had written back in 1974 called, ‘On Global Reform – International Normative Model Areas’. Neville later told me he could not locate the document. It was not until July 2000 (two months after Neville’s death) that I found this ‘On Global Reform’ paper.[7] This is one of, if not the most significant of the papers Neville wrote. Once I read the On Global Reform paper I suddenly knew of the strategic significance - way beyond just minimizing interference from mainstream - of the Mental Health and Social Change paper mentioned above (the one that I had spotted in the archives in October 1998). On Global Reform is discussed in Cultural Keyline – The Life Work of Dr Neville Yeomans Chapter Thirteen. This Biography details how the essence of INMA (International Normative Model Area) specified in Neville’s poem[8] of the same name[9]  was woven into Fraser House as well as into the many Fraser House outreaches leading up to the evolving of the Laceweb social movement. Chapter Thirteen describes how Neville’s creation of an INMA in the Atherton Tablelands and another in the Darwin Top End were fundamental in evolving the Laceweb.

 

To return to the above quote from Neville’s writing:

 

Such a culture suffers dedifferentiation of its loyalty and value system to the previous civilization.

 

In using the word ‘dedifferentiate’ I sense that Neville was drawing upon the writing of Alvin Gouldner in his book, ‘The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology’ (1970) where Gouldner engages in part in a critique of Talcott Parsons’ writings on social systems.[10] Neville was exploring the potency of folk on the margins of society relationally engaging together for constituting new social forms. Gouldner (1970), in critiquing Talcott Parsons focus on inter-dependencies within social systems, was writing about the potency of the individual within social systems; something that tends to be left out of Parson’s analysis. In his section ‘Anomie as Dedifferentiation’ Gouldner (1970, pp. 224) writes:

 

When a social system has failed to solve its problems and is destroyed as such, the individuals do not, of course, disappear with it. The social system then dedifferentiates[11] back into its more elemental components, into smaller primary groups or individuals, which can and frequently do survive.

 

From the standpoint of that specific social system this is a period of ‘disorder’ or of anomic crisis. But from the standpoint of both the component individuals and the cultural system, this is a cutting of bonds that releases them to try something else that might better succeed. Anomic disorder may unbind wasted energies, sever fruitless commitments; it may make possible a ferment of innovation that can rescue the individuals, or the cultural system from destruction.

 

The embodied and socialized individual is both the most empirically obvious human system, and the most complex and highly integrated of all human systems; as a system, he is far more integrated than any known ‘social system’. In his embodiment, the biological, psychological, social, and cultural all conjoin.

 

Neville was having residents and all involved in Fraser House learning about evolving their own personal agency through their embodied experience of their biologically flexible responding to their own moving, sensing, feeling, and verbalising in relational social engaging with others in evolving together a culture[12] of their own making.

 

And a single creative individual, open to the needs of other and the opportunities of his time, can be a nucleus of spreading hope and accomplishment (Gouldner, 1970, pp. 222).

 

This last sentence aptly describes Neville and his way and potential.

 

Gouldner then links the above quotes in writing:

 

A model of a social system, such as Parsons, which stress the interdependence of system ‘parts’ simply cannot come to terms with these and other expressions of the potency and functional autonomy of individuals (1970, pp.222).

 

Neville’s Fraser House processes explored ‘other expressions of the potency and functional autonomy of individuals’; what potential lies in linking marginal individuals in collective and individual action exploring new cultural forms while exploring their own autonomous agency relating with others similarly engaged.

 

Again quoting Gouldner:

 

Limited increases in the randomness of social systems – that is, growing anomie - may be useful for the human and the cultural system. In this view the ‘anomic’ person is not merely an uncontrolled ‘social cancer’ but may be a seed pod of vital culture which, if only through sheer chance, may fall upon fertile ground.

 

He contains within himself the ‘information’ that can reproduce an entire culture, as well as the energy that enables him to ‘imprint’ this information upon patterns of behaviour, and to strand these together into social systems.

 

I sense Neville would have read the sentence above as applying directly to himself and his passion to set up social forces that would inevitable weave together valued social systems.

 

Again quoting Gouldner:

 

If on the one hand, the individual’s extensive enculturation provides him with a measure of functional autonomy in relation to social systems, on the other hand, his capacity to create and maintain social systems provides him with a measure of functional autonomy from specific cultural systems.[13]

 

This excerpt from the Cultural Keyline Biography and the associated Whither Goeth the World of Human Futures explores the concept of ‘connexity’ that embraces the inter-connectedness and inter-dependencies in social systems.

 

In Fraser House Neville was also exploring and evolving the merging of individual and collective action – what Neville termed ‘Cleavered Unity. He also used the term ‘Collindivity’; not only how people can have dependence on others, and interdependency, but also how folk could evolve their personal agency, their functional autonomy, and how they could flexibly change these states as appropriate to changing contexts. Gouldner also writes of this:[14]

 

To conceptualize systems in terms of their interdependence, as Parsons does, tends to focus primarily on the ‘whole’ and on the close interconnectedness of the parts. It tends to stress the oneness of the whole. A conception of systems in terms of ‘functional autonomy’ tends, quite differently, to focus on the parts themselves, and it stresses that their connectedness is problematic. A concept of interdependence focuses on their parts only in their implication within a system’ It sees them as ‘real’ only in and for a system. A concept of functional autonomy, however, raises the question of the extent of this implication and, more distinctively, focuses on the other, extra system involvements of the parts.

 

In the early 1960s Neville had been exploring sociological writing for ideas he could explore at Fraser House. He was familiar with Parson’s work and went and met Parsons in America. Neville told me that Neville believed that Fraser House was ahead of Parsons’ social systems thinking. I sense that an important aspect of this was, to do with the potential for individuals to act independent of the system and independently of others as they take back ability over their lives together.


To quote Gouldner:

 

They are seen to have an existence apart from any given system in which they are involved; their reality does not depend solely upon their involvement in the system under examination.

 

Neville was exploring the renewal of the potency of the individual ‘mad and bad drop outs’ within social systems towards evolving potent lives together with others as social transforming agents.

 

In this focus on the individual and the group Neville was also mindful of cultural differences in how this plays out, especially among folk with Indigenous backgrounds.

 

Now back to systems in decline. In the document Mental Health and Social Change [15] Neville went on to talk about the strategic significance firstly, of Australia’s psychosocial and geopolitical locality, and secondly, of Far North Queensland as a place on the margin to explore global transitions:

 

Australia exemplifies many of these widespread change phenomena. It is in a geographically and historically unique marginal position. Geographically Asian, it is historically Western. Its history is also of a peripheral lesser status. Initially a convict settlement, it still remains at a great distance from the core of Western Civilization. Culturally it is often considered equivalent to being the peasants of the West. It is considered to have no real culture, a marked inferiority complex, and little clear identity. It can thus be considered equally unimportant to both East and West and having little to contribute.

 

BUT - it is also the only continent not at war with itself. It is one of the most affluent nations on earth. Situated at the junction of the great civilizations of East and West it can borrow the best of both. Of all nations it has the least to lose and most to gain by creating a new synthesis.

 

 

Given all of the aspects outlined above, for Neville, the Australia Top-end was the most strategically significant place in the whole world to locate his epochal action research. Neville saw the best place to start was amongst the most oppressed and marginalized Indigenous people. The East Asia Australasia Pacific region contains around 75% of the global 'Indigenous' population (approx. 180 of 250 million). In the same vein, it contains 75% of the world's 'Indigenous' peoples.[16] Neville explored the Australia Far North as an informal linking place for bringing down evolving Indigenous networks throughout the East Asia Oceania Australasia Region.

 

A NEW CULTURAL SYNTHESIS

 

Neville’s view[17] was that culture was ‘how we live together’. Science, technology, economics and politics all take place in the context of how we live together in our places. Neville set out to action research fostering new local, regional and global ways of living, playing and sharing our artistry together (cultures and inter-cultures) towards new cultures, new cultural syntheses and a new global intercultural synthesis. The processes he explored were guided by humane caring respecting values, and his action research involving dysfunctional people on the margins embodied these values. Neville’s view[18] was that new directions and uses of science, technology, economics and politics would evolve, guided by these values enacted in everyday life together. The next segment introduces the Laceweb.

 

WEBS AND LACEWEBS

 

One summer morning in December 1993 in Yungaburra in Far North Queensland, Neville and I were discussing the networking he was linked into, and it seemed that the movement had, as far as Neville knew, no name. Neville knew the potency of symbols, icons and logos and said these were not used in the movement, and he did not think them in any way appropriate at the present. Neville talked about naming the movement. Within seconds he came up with ‘Laceweb’. This name was, in Neville’s terms, ‘an isomorphic metaphor’ – something of similar form and resonance to the social movement that was evolving.

 

The name was from a natural outback Australian phenomenon that Neville had personally experienced. Some years previously Neville had been travelling alone in outback Queensland. When he awoke in the morning and looked out of his tent, the low gorse bush (about fifty centimetres high) appeared to be covered in snow as far as the eye could see. What had happened was that during the night, millions of tiny spiders had floated in on thin webs, drifting in the slightly moving air. The continuous, immense web the spiders had spun overnight stretched to the horizon in all directions. For Neville it had a very Yin – very feminine energy reminiscent of lace, and hence ‘Laceweb’.

Neville’s dreaming was of an entirely new form of social movement - an informal Laceweb of healers from among the most downtrodden and most disadvantaged marginal people of the world. What follows is from my file note about how Neville described the desert web and the Laceweb as being of similar form:[19]

‘The Laceweb is the manifestation of a massive local co-operative endeavour. Not carved in stone, rather – it is soft, light, and pliably fitting the locale and made by locals to suit their needs. Like the spider web, the Laceweb would appear out of nowhere. When you discover it, it would already have surrounded you. It is exquisitely beautiful and lovely. When you have eyes that see it, the play of reflectent light upon it in the morning sunlight is extra-ordinary. It attracts and stores the dew in little beads. Like the desert web, the Laceweb extends way beyond the horizon. It is suspended in space with links to shifting things - no solid foundations here. It has no centre and no part is ‘in charge’, and in that sense, no aspect is higher or lower than any other. It is not what it first seems. It is at the same time riddled with holes, whole and holy. It is merged within the surrounding ecosystem and lays low. In one sense it is delicate - in another it is resilient. Bits may be easily damaged. However, to remove it all would be well nigh impossible.

It is formed through covalent bonding between its formers and within its form. It is an attractant. Local action may repair local damage. It is very functional. It is what the locals need. And it does help sustain them.’

Neville and I explored the derivation of ‘vale’, ‘valence’, and ‘valency’ - from the Latin imperative – to be well, to be strong. ‘Co-valence’ is to be strongly bonded together in mutual attraction. After the foregoing spontaneously poetic expression, Neville told me[20] that the desert web was the perfect metaphor for this Laceweb movement.

 

Laceweb Home Page

 

ConFest and the Next 250 Years

 

Back to the Top

 



[1] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1971a; Yeomans, N. 1971c).

[2] Like the change from Feudal England to Industrial England

[3] Refer (Yeomans, N. 1971a; Yeomans, N. 1971c).

[4] Refer Kuhn, T. S. (1962).

[5] Refer (1971a, 1971c).

[6] Refer (Widders 1993).

[7] Refer (Yeomans, 1974).

[8] This poem is included at the commencement of this research.

[9] Refer (Yeomans 2000a).

[10] Recall that Neville was interested in Parsons’ writings on Social structures and met with him in USA.

[11] My italics.

[12] ‘Culture’ as in ‘our way of living well together’.

[13] (1970, pp. 224-225)

[14] (1970, pp 215)

[15] Refer (1971a, 1971c).

[16] Refer (Widders 1993).

[17] Dec, 1993; July, 1998, Oct, 1998.

[18] Dec, 1993; July, 1998, Oct, 1998.

[19] December, 1993.

[20] December, 1993.