Feeding the Framing Demons

Structured dialoguing and argument mapping, using tools such as Debategraph or The Perspective Game, is intended to expose the assumptions and facts underlying given positions on an issue. The idea is that by seeing what assertions are used to support or oppose a statement, what their validity is according to the rules of logic and rhetoric, and how they inter-relate to form a network of understanding, opposing parties can appreciate and clarify each others’ positions and come to some consensus.

However, it turns out that the contexts and framings held by human beings are far more important than any facts, and will contextualize and give meaning to those “facts”. It is the framing that justifies the facts, not the other way around. Repudiating a specific “fact” held within a framing will usually have the paradoxical effect of just strengthening a person’s conviction in the validity of their framing. They will feel threatened, and so take even stronger refuge in their position. This has been extensively studied by people such as George Lakoff (see for example his recent article on the Trump election shock). In this light, the attempt to resolve issues by exposing factual networks seems doomed to failure, especially for the most important areas such as climate change. In effect, you cannot appeal to reason – alone.

This holds true very obviously in some areas, such as politics. However, it also operates, if more subtly, in other realms that require group intention, hypothesis formation, experimentation, and, most generally, ontologizing (identifying the entities that matter).

Recently I think I’ve had a breakthrough in considering this impasse. This came about by realizing that positions and framings are often demonized – they take on enormous symbolic weight and affect that is highly consequential to an individual’s sense of identity and worth. And thinking of it this way opens a way to working through the impasse. The key is that the holder of a framing is not a node on the map, but is an actual human being, identifying with an outlook with the full power of their personhood, emotionality, and care. Therefore the practice of holding framing, of both exposing its actuality and relaxing its tightness, needs to happen on that level, that of the participant. In a previous blog post this was identified as apperception-in.

The syzygy here is with the practice of working with the shadow, the demon, as it is found in Jungian psychology, in psycholytic therapy, in Tibetan Buddhist Chöd practice, and others. These disciplines follow a common pattern (I took this version of it from Feeding Your Demons):

  1. Find the demon.
    • Feel its qualities
    • Locate it in your body
  2. Personify the demon and ask it what it needs
    • Visualize the demon facing you (across from where you are sitting)
    • Ask it:
      1. what do you want?
      2. what do you need?
      3. how will you feel when you get what you need?
  3. Become the demon
    • Change places and become the demon, sitting in its shoes, looking through its eyes back at you
    • Be aware of how it feels to be in the demon’s body
    • Answer the questions
      1. what I want is …
      2. what I really need is …
      3. when I get what I really need, I will feel…
  4. Feed the demon
    • Switch places again, back to your own body
    • Dissolve your own body into nectar which has the feeling that the demon needs
    • Feed the demon the nectar, to complete satisfaction
    • Optional step: meet the ally (which appears, or the demon may turn into an ally)
  5. Rest in Awareness
    • Rest in openness, perhaps in a new adjacent possible

This process can deal with framing not on the level of objective ideas and logical interconnections, but through the subject, the human being(s) actually holding and identifying with the framing.  As such, it could form a more specific practice to complement the more general apperception-in practice offered by Theory-U, for example.

Such a practice can take place in two types of environment. In “real life” guild participants can engage with such a practice face-to-face. This could be a powerful form, taking place on an occasional or periodic basis.

In “virtual life”, on line, demon framing needs virtual means of making the neuroplastic journey. Those means are in hand: the shadow/demon work practices identified above all make use of a play- and game-like framework already! You visualize the demon, you change places with it, you imagine nectar, etc. You perform impossible stunts – the very stuff of the virtual world! We know that virtual worlds such as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and those being created for VR enable significant brain neuroplasticity through players’ embodiment as avatars, virtual bodies with which they identify – and virtual bodies which they identify as others. This moves the demon feeding practice from the verbal and textual to the gut (which as we’re beginning to suspect is the seat of the brain) – it grabs the subjective person –  and also exercises all kinds of virtual/real reframing reflexes in that person. Touching on this area directly addresses the issue of framing fixation.

I would identify this as a challenge for a TopicQuests journey, to create the virtual play infrastructure for such apperception-in practice which is essential to society’s dealing with its complex and wicked (demonic?) issues.

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