Sunday, March 25, 2012

Central coherence deficit, midlife crisis, and the fragment

Was talking to Leslie about the concept of central coherence deficit ("CCD") and its relationship to autism spectrum disorders and the anxiety that is their fellow traveler. Basically, CCD theory says that those on the spectrum capture details super-effectively but have a difficult seeing the big picture. Since we're looking at these issues in our family now even as I struggle through what seems like an endless midlife crisis accompanied by serious anxiety, it all seems very apropos.

Going back to Stephen Covey's "7 Habits," which I've kind of characteristically stalled out in the middle of, one of the things he enjoins readers to do is to kick back and think about what we'd like to have people say at their funeral service, really dig into what their core purpose in life is, what they'd like to be remembered for. That's a hard fucking thing to do. There are so many swirling priorities, life is so many faceted. In the end, in my case, it's much easier to say what I don't want to be remembered for than what I do want to be remembered for.

Certainly life is much easier for those who see the world in very black and white terms, and in many ways that's what central coherence would seem to correlate to.  Boiling it all down to "make more money" or "save the planet" or "help poor people" or "protect my children" or just "pay the bills" makes it very easy to live. If you can or must accept any one of these you can roll forward easily.

Temple Grandin et al. trumpet forth the idea that if everybody was neurotypical, the world wouldn't move forward a whit. Somebody needs to focus down on details and see stuff that the big picture obscures.  Certainly the part of the Western tradition that has appealed to me has been the part that opens discourse.  In philosophy, the fragmenters rather than the systematizers, Heraclitus, Plato, Pascal, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Wittgenstein rather than Aristotle, Augustine, Kant and so many others whose spines I could scarcely crack. To say nothing of scripture. In prose, always Dostoevsky and Balzac before Tolstoi (and I do think Bakhtin is right that the miracle of Dostoevsky is the way the various voices coexist within the novels).

In the end, the great thing about the world is its breadth and texture, even though we all breathe, love and shit much the same.  Or rather, we all aspire to do so.  The great paradox of modernity, capitalism and material progress is that it tends to flatten out the breadth of human experience even as it makes it easier for more people to perform some of the basics (and yes, paradoxically once again, even as global capitalism and crappy tax policy has in the last couple of decades created insane wealth dispersion, it has also pulled more people in developing markets out of abject poverty). And, to be sure, it's destroying the planet.

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