Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Martin Fowler's "You Always Belonged and You Always Will"

Author: Dr. Martin Clay Fowler

Title:You Always Belonged and You Always Will: A Philosophy of Belonging

Publication: 2014, Durham NC, by ZuberFowler Initiatives, ISBN 978-0615931326, 293 pages, paper, some black and white illustrations (photos and drawings); 3 Parts, 14 Chapters

I knew the author personally (usually calling himself "Martin Fowler") when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s, and I will come back to that.  The author now lives in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, according to his own statement, probably for employment.   (It’s booming.  I was there in December myself.)  He has an earlier book from 2008 on Amazon, “The Ethical Practice of Critical Thinking”, which I will have to look into soon.
In an early chapter Fowler refers to this book as a “Manifesto of Belonging”.  “Manifesto” has become a trendy word, not always with positive connotations.  My own first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in 1997 was called “The Manifesto” by coworkers!  
Fowler asserts that “each life belongs in every life, and every life belongs in each life” (p. 253).  Belonging means “living within lives”, whereas a “relationship” refers to interaction between distinct lives (like in a romantic sense, marriage, or friendship).  Belonging implies “vulnerability to transformation”.  This implies accepting a risk of being changed.   Of course, in the Christian faith that can mean being “born again” to some people.

My own take on this, at a high level, is to see this as part of physics and cosmology.  In nature, everything tends to deteriorate, with entropy, according to laws of thermodynamics.   Life is nature’s way to oppose entropy.  But life needs a cycle, which means reproduction (including some sexual reproduction to mix genes) and termination of the body in one particular place (“death”).  It also needs to develop “free will”, which is the ultimate victor over entropy.  That’s why I think life has to be ubiquitous throughout the Universe.  Now will of consciousness can express at various levels.  In higher animals, like humans (and dogs, cats, foxes, chimps, orcas) it connects to the individual body.  In bees, ants or other social insects, free will may exist with the entire hive as a “group mind”: we aren’t sure.  What could happen in other worlds seems unimaginable, but I think there are other worlds that are more similar to ours than we expect.   Fowler talks about what it would mean to belong on another planet (Mars) philosophically, if humans decided to settle there (as they must some day).

Fowler spends a lot of space talking about personality attributes and processes, often in pairs.  The list includes “power and speed”, “strength and flexibility”, “balance and coordination”, “agility and accuracy”, “endurance and stamina”.  He defines concepts like Love, Truth, and Justice.  He makes the interesting observation that “endurance is about your relationship with suffering, and stamina is about your relationship with strength” (p 191), partly because suffering can happen as part of transformation.

He discusses social media under the concept of "virtual belonging", make-believe which is still "real".  (I know that others have purported the idea of "Alone together", Nov.2, 2011).   He also discusses acting in relation to virtual belonging, 

Now all of this reminds me of the “polarity theory” of Paul Rosenfels, as explained in a book “Homosexuality: The Psychology of the Creative Process” which I review here April 12, 2006.  I learned about Rosenfels when I regularly visited (and for a while “belonged” to) the Ninth Street Center (in the East Village – now called “The Paul Rosenfels Community”) in the mid 1970s after I had moved into New York City.  Rosenfels speaks of personalities as having attributes that are polar opposites, like “masculine and feminine” and “objective and subjective”, “balanced and unbalanced”.  This connects up to Fowler now pretty readily.  What is different is that Rosenfels pins these characteristics to individuals who may participate in a polarized romantic relationship (particularly relevant today as gay marriage develops in society).  A male person (even heterosexual) might well be a “subjective feminine male”, and therefore “unbalanced”.  The feminine personality is more interested in developing the capacity to “love”, the masculine, to exert “power”, but always “creatively”.  Now Love corresponds to Truth (which Fowler defines), and Power corresponds to “Right” (Paul’s word) or “Justice” (Fowler’s term).  Fowler does mention feminine-masculine as yin-yang at one point. What makes Fowler different is that in his view, all personalities should have access to all of these traits and processes, because all of these processes derive from “belonging”. It's interesting to remember that the Ninth Street Center offered acting classes back in the 1970s and considered acting a value venue for growth (especially for "masculine" personalities -- it helps if you have a devoted dog to do it with you) 
I don’t see Rosenfels mentioned in Fowler’s endnotes, which surprised me.  (Maybe I missed it.)  I believe I had mentioned Rosenfels to him back in Dallas in the 1980s.   But I would say that Fowler’s philosophy is like that of Rosenfels, with some elements of Zen. (There is a chapter on “inactivity”.)  It would fit well at Yogaville or the Monroe Institute (both of which I just visited this past weekend).

I could suggest a couple more concepts myself: "momentum" and "traction".  
The book offers “25 meditations” early, and “25 epigrams” near the end.  He uses illustrations to tell some parables (like “Animal Crackers”). 
I did know Martin and Clyde (Zuber) when they were living in Grand Prairie, Texas (near I-20, between Dallas and Fort Worth) in the 1980s.  At the time, they ran meetings of a group called “Evangelicals Concerned” and worked with Dr. Ralph Blair, who at least once led a service in their home (link).  I seem to recall Thanksgiving dinner there in 1985, right before a big implementation at work.  Some memories last a long time.

I do have a bit of an issue with the idea of being open to belonging unconditionally.  Suppose an outside aggressor, possibly aggrieved with poverty or indignation or religious ideology, forces an unchosen “transformation” upon me.  This is becoming more of an issue as the media covers brazen belligerence, violence and particularly terrorism.   I do understand the Christian idea that without forgiveness and Grace, one winds up paying for the sins of the perpetrator, or in sharing the debt. I have been able to be effective as an individual in my own way in the world in which I have lived (at least to age 71 now), but if that world were destroyed (by war or terror) I feel I would have nothing more to offer it, having always remained aloof at some personal levels (a topic we talked about in Dallas).  I would just “belong” but against my will, in a subordinate or unintentionally (not creative) submissive situation.  I do have a real problem with that, and have said so online. "Belonging", for me, has a moral component.  

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