Phillip Guddemi’s Statement of Interest

The 1968 Wenner-Gren conference that Mary Catherine Bateson chronicles in Our Own Metaphor has long been a touchstone for me. It linked the ecological crisis, which I was already aware of, to ways of thinking in a culture that were deep rooted. But when I came to study with Gregory Bateson as an undergraduate at U.C. Santa Cruz, he gently discouraged my interest in planning cultural change. A felt urgency for action did not excuse sloppy thinking, and most urgent thinking tended in his view to be sloppy for systemic reasons. Most solutions to short-term problems reinforced the larger context which produced the problems. In the ensuing forty-two years it has been sad to witness the continued reinforcement and even entrenchment of so many of the premises of thought and action that Bateson found problematic before his death in 1980.
I hope to bring to this conference any wisdom that I have gleaned from my diverse and restless studies. I also bring to the table a belief that deep listening is essential to understanding, a belief that is partly inspired by old school ethnography with its methodology of “deep hanging out.”
Creative thinking in new ways is unlikely to transform the larger culture, but it is perhaps the only thing that can. Encouraging listening and empathy will not always enable us to vanquish the people and ideas we consider our foes, but it is unlikely that we can solve our current human set of problems by force or by silencing other viewpoints in historically familiar ways.
I would like to see cybernetics bring us to new frontiers in humility, so that we recognize our own limitations and vulnerabilities and those of the people and environments around us, and so we can to some extent give up our dreams of control. In a paradoxical way I feel this describes an aspect of the vision of the elder Bateson, which brought about in him a kind of empathetic wisdom that if we also adopted it, might at least make the inevitable changes in our immediate futures more bearable.

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