Monday, December 12, 2016

Common Ground

The most universal understanding shared by all people is how we move in our surroundings. Even when our means of getting around is different we understand the meaning of the space around us. Getting from one place to another, navigating crowds, evading obstacles is part of every person’s life experience. Even though the details can be vastly different, the sense of where we are and where we want to go is a day to day action and a metaphor for a what’s necessary to achieve a goal that is shared by the species. Visual art expresses feeling through this foundation understanding of space.

Meaning is in motion. We share the primary instincts with other mammals and duck when something is flying through the air at our head. The depiction of visual motion evokes everyone’s association with that kind of motion. What’s hanging above triggers body reactions that the conscious mind becomes aware of as feeling. It’s a fluid dance of adaptation to the needs of the surroundings while propelled by personal direction. Because it is something everyone understands it is used as basis for comparison. The nuanced meaning of spatial situations, like inside/outside, aren’t good or bad in themselves but have a character that affect us, a confining inside feels different than a spacious one and either one has good and bad possibilities

The spatial metaphor of common ground is where people can come together. It evokes the place where groups with different views and interests congregate. To cultivate a world that appreciates everyone’s differences and unique abilities it’s necessary to build on what is already shared so that the deeper universal patterns can be observed in action. The ancient Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) stresses that if you hope to communicate and work with someone of different views it’s important to first find some point of agreement.

 We all share one planet, and technology has collapsed the distances into nothing. Gregory Bateson challenged the previous view of survival of the fittest as referring to individuals fighting for their own interest. He suggested that the real unit of survival was the individual within their environment. Destroy the nest and destroy the organism. There is no survival if the environment itself can no longer sustain life. The health of the planet should be our common ground. Building walls keeps out the parts of the big picture that are inconvenient and thwarts understanding. If you only look at part of the picture, like profits, like coming out ahead, other things are damaged and neglected.

“Competition is the law of the jungle, and cooperation is the law of civilization.” Eldridge Cleaver

If cooperation was the rule of a global society imagine the evolution that could be accomplished. The bigger the society the bigger the neocortex. As we become more identified with the globe as our common ground our upgraded cerebral power may be up to the task of the serious global issues that face us. Artists can show problems more vividly and directly with images that stick in people’s minds until a critical threshold is reached. Before something can change we have to see the problems.

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