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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
On accepting the McCulloch award
Kybernetes, Volume 42, Issue 9/10
The award youre giving me, the McCulloch award, is an award for lifelong achievement. The award Im accepting, however, is an award for life long avoidance. Avoidance. I think of avoidance as something I do that Im proud of.
Avoidance doesnt mean to just not do something. Avoidance happens when you do not something; when you do (but) not something.
It goes like this: someone asks, “why do I have to go to school? (a difficult question). Answer: “in order to learn what to avoid. See whats there – and you avoid that. Avoidance.
I propose we shift the paradigm from achievement to avoidance. Avoidance becomes the landmark. Not to forego achievement but to de-throne it. Late at night when you sum up what youve done that day – add to that summation, what youve avoided doing.
Similarly, while we always speak positively of learning (it was said Monday night that Bateson never stopped learning) there is merit in refusing to learn. I dont know about you, but I feel theres a school out there operating 24/7 trying to make me – and you – its students, trying to teach me all sorts of lesson I refuse to learn. The school is trying to teach me that the systems in place are much bigger than what any group of people can do to change them – the Big It Little Me lesson. I refuse to learn that lesson. The school tries to teach that people are motivated only by fear or greed – Im not going to learn that.
I dont know how much Ive learned in the past years – but the list of what Ive refused to learn, is enormous.
This direction of thinking – avoidance, refusal to learn – is in spirit consistent with Batesons article Cybernetic explanation, where he proposes that rather than pursuing the question, “why did that happen? he suggest that a more fruitful question would be, “why do the other things not happen?
For those of us who craft questions, we know that part of a sentences significance comes from the alternatives we rejected while composing that sentence. Rejected alternatives form part of the significance of the chosen alternative.
Id like to end with a brief interview with Susan Rose Parenti.
Interviewer: Hello Susan Parenti. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Susan: About myself? Oh goody. I want to tell you what I avoid, and what I refuse to learn, and –
Interviewer: “Avoid? “Refuse to learn? Thats so negative. Be positive! Tell us what you do, not what you dont do. What you do, do.
Susan: Do do? Do-do? I do write music that cannot function as background; I do write skits and theater where dialogue goes the way I want (ha ha!); I do teach at the school for designing a society in Illinois where by means of paying attention to how participants speak we notice they think better; I do –
Interviewer: Thank you. Next question –
Susan: I do participate in activities that are politicizing.
Interviewer: Very nice. Next –
Susan: I do take care of people I love when theyre old. I do –
Interviewer: Stop!! Quite a list. Youre all over the place, arent you? Looks like youre a jack-of-all-trades–master-of-none!
Susan: Oh thank you, Thats one of my favorite put-downs. Im not only committed to living a certain way, Im also committed to the insults, dismissals and put downs my way of living elicits. “Jack of all trades master of none is one of my faves – also its a little sexist, makes it better. Theres some put-downs I dont like – I put down those putdowns. Theres some I do like and I put up those putdowns. And when I –
Interviewer: Stop it. You sure talk a lot. Tangential thinking. Just like a woman.
Susan: See thats another putdown I like: tangential thinking, just like a woman –
I: Do you have any children?
Susan: Children? No, I told you: I prefer to take care of people when theyre old and need help, not when theyre very young and need –
I: Hmm. No children. Sad. Do you have any other unfulfilled dreams?
I: Well the babies
Susan: I told you, I –
I: Alright, alright. Lets just say: Do you have any unfulfilled dreams you would like to tell us about?
Susan: Actually I do: I would like more people to write plays, theater, spoken dialogue. Cyberneticians, Batesonians. After all, the Metalogues are plays – theyre theater for two actors. Language generates temporary realities – we know this, we experience this at this conference. Writing skits and plays tests the capacities and limits of the available language. Id like to a conference where people not only write their presentation, they also write the conversation they wish would happen after their presentation. Enough spontaneity! Enough “lets see how it goes. You saw: it went. Now, show us how you wish it would go! that way –
I: Very interesting. Have you ever received awards or prizes for any of these ideas?
Susan: Yes! On Thursday July 12, 2012 I received the McCulloch award for lifelong avoidance! Thank you!