In the struggle to escape from Medieval semi-religious interpretations of human behavior as well as Freud et al’s medical diagnosis of the internal and unseen, thinkers are choosing different diagrams of internal workings, for instance, concentric circles to represent the child’s expanding world as it becomes more inclusive, more manageable, yet more distant and more abstract. The nearest to the center is the boundary around identity which is even smaller when unconscious, then comes the physical awareness boundary of how close things and people are, then family, neighborhood, and so on.
Another way to think about minds is by using a new set of words. Attachment arising from earliest care-giving is then followed by attunement, the ability to relate to other individuals, using the “frame of expression” face-and-shoulders to get into sync with others, share moods and goals.
Domestication is another historical and biological capacity dating back to the times people first began to stay in one place and built “domiciles” to inhabit and defend. Before then, the hunter-gatherer people and possibly the pastoralists who accompanied herds of animals they governed, could create movable camps, like plains indigenous people that went in a great seasonal wheel of known places, but not until the development of towns and sedentary communities depending on stored grain, could the deep attachment of a home develop.
Continuity is necessary to sustain attachment that begins to deepen into intimacy that allows two people to become enmeshed for a long period of time, maybe for life. This is one path for the emotion we call “love.” Next comes entanglement when sharing children, abode, economics, and ideas. The changes over time as people and circumstances in the larger world transform into new demands keep the legal courts busy. Finally, fusion develops when two people — in the ancient metaphor — become one.
Emerging from the child creating a scaffold of identity, the process begins of the dynamic work of the brain: creating a map of the “world” through sensory experience and a growing ability to affect it which we call “work.” This inner map will change as more knowledge and ability is gathered, but it is very hard to change if very far away from the scaffolding that supports and orders it. It is biological, filtered, located, coded and recorded in the cells and connections of the brain.
When that map is faulty and others are charged with the task of helping the map-maker redraw where the monsters dwell, the means of doing that are reasoning, but also and more effectively stories, new evidence, the arts, and new experiences.
In the Seventies with this kind of new thinking was alive, Bill Haw was hired as a counselor in the Browning High School. That summer he was asked to address the problem of white teachers who didn’t understand local Blackfeet kindergarten children. I helped with the week-long program.
Besides the usual attitude tests and academic theories, Haw was trained in the use of experiences and devised three. The group of teachers were organized into thirds and each was assigned one of the “tasks.”
One was ushered up to “Moccasin Flats”, the jumble where the poorest and oldest full-bloods and their families lived in cabins, cars and tents. The group had a scavenger hunt list of things to ask for: coffee grounds and egg shells were easy, but no one had today’s newspaper. Everyone was treated well with lots of laughter and story telling. The insides of the cabins were far more livable than they looked from outside.
The second group was taken out to Starr School, more than ten miles away, and told they had to find their own way back. Eventually they hitchhiked and returned in the beds of pickups otherwise filled with dogs and kids. (In those days that was legal — it’s considered too dangerous now.) They were windblown but safe and pink-cheeked with new friends.
The third group was “arrested” by prior arrangement and taken to share the local jail with street people and trouble makers. By accident one of the tribal judges, an older woman who was considered strict to the point of being harsh, was arrested in that group. She had a lot of explaining to do.
Even telling you about this will affect some people’s thinking, but those who were there — including me — saw the whole reservation in a slightly different way. What happened was scary enough to pump them full of adrenaline which always challenges people’s boundaries. It’s a truism that being in danger together makes people fall in love because they let down their guard and really sense what is happening. So far as I know, none of the mostly female teachers fell in love, but their affection for the different culture grew and warmed. The story is now only an echo of the reality, but it still has some impact.
I haven’t seen marketing figures on the growth of the fiction industry in spite of the demise of former publishing paradigms and corporations. I suspect that it’s growing quickly. The stories are radically different from each other and from the past because the fiction-reading public is so divided. I know women who have not been pressed into jobs or vocations, who read endlessly, one story after another in a vicarious ransacking of all the possibilities of modern life — even those in a projected future or an imagined variant on what actually happened. “Falling in love with an alien” or even a machine is not so different from cross-generations, cross-cultures, cross-nations, as globalization continues.
In this searching we press our attunements hard to really understand people who are different from ourselves, and the risk can prompt shared domestic arrangements, maybe in atypical groupings but in continuities like college or the army that allow intimacy, new attachments that can become entanglements, but that more rarely become fusions. This has nothing to do with marriage or other legal arrangements but much to do with the “SM” factor — that is, “who’s on top.” If it’s not a concern, if it’s shifting and complementary rather than competitive, if it doesn’t depend on control and punishment, the result can be very rewarding — even romantic. Even endorsed by the culture.
Many stories of love will come out of this pandemic, even as a whole new understanding of love came out of the catastrophe of AIDS in San Francisco when men who were not merely intimate with other men, but also entangled with them, entered fusion as they stood at the limen of death just as they were separated by one of them crossing over. Death can erase differences when such love is present. Those we love are taken into us.