Tuesday, 29 September 2009

778 - Gregory Bateson and the Long Professional Game

From the 1999 foreword, by his daughter, Mary Catherine, to Gregory Bateson's 'Steps To An Ecology Of Mind' (Chicago University Press):

It was not clear, even to Gregory, that his disparate, elegantly crafted and argued essays, the "steps" of this title, were about a single subject. But by the time he began to assemble the articles for this book, he was able to characterize that subject, the destination of forty years of exploration, as "an ecology of mind". The remaining decade of his career was spent describing and refining his understanding of that destination and trying to pass it on....

Until the publication of Steps, Gregory must have given the impression, even to his strongest admirers, of taking up and then abandoning a series of different disciplines; sometimes, indeed, he must have felt he had failed in discipline after discipline. Lacking a clear professional identity, he lacked a comfortable professional base and a secure income. He had also become an outsider in other ways. Having been deeply committed to the necessity of defeating Germany and its allies at the beginning of World War II, he had become convinced of the dangers of good intentions. The efforts to oppose the pathologies of Nazism and fascism, which grew out of the distortions of Versailles, had in turn created new pathologies that were played out in the McCarty era and the Cold War, and continue into the twenty-first century. In his postwar work on psychiatry and interpersonal communication, too, he began to see that efforts to heal could themselves be pathogenic. His was , for many years, a lonely and discouraging journey, characterized by a distinctive way of thinking rather than a specific concrete subject matter. It is no accident that a group of the father-daughter conversations he called "metalogues"... stand at the beginning of this volume: Daughter is uncorrupted by academic labeling and becomes Father's excuse to approach profound issues outside of their boundaries...
(pp. viii-ix)

Gregory Bateson has been adopted by Neuro Linguistic Programmers as a key influence, because he tutored the co-founders of this controversial movement, but one can see from the content of his essays that his own interests extended far beyond the modelling of human minds which inspired NLP, into anthropology, politics, ecology, communications theory and cybernetics. What I get from the above synopsis of his working life is how it bore fruit only after forty years of groundwork, how it eschewed labels, and how it rings true even now. It's hopeful and inspiring.

Perhaps in twenty, thirty, forty years time, when Storying is recognised as a phenomenon - artform, expression of personal identity, whatever - there'll be room for a footnote about early slogging in Whitley Bay.

Anyway, you've got to admit that Bateson's battling against the odds, as told above, makes a good story...

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