Cultural regressions and lags

For more than a moment I was more than steamed up. Why is it that my interests are so easily set aside? Or is it that they are invisible – not even considered? I take a stand and for several minutes or more I enacted an angry rant – eyes blazing, offensive language, raised and sharpened speech, and aggressive body orientations, postures, and movements. I was fluently enacting a ritual chain that is historically constituted and applicable in many fields of my lifeworld (e.g., at home, work, grocery store and in the streets, the station, and the dojo). What I do next is contingent on what others do and, depending on what unfolds, the intensity of my anger can either increase or decrease.

The stakes for continuing to rant can be high. Social violence can be damaging enough and physical violence (as unlikely as it is) can become more likely as the heat of an interaction ritual increases. What can I do to breach the interaction ritual? Of course there are many possibilities. I prefer a reflexive approach in which I identify the emotion and immediately "let go."  Pema Chödrön used an appealing metaphor of a fish moving through water, making progress without leaving a trace. She used the term shenpa referred to getting and staying attached  – just as I did during my angry rant. I allowed anger to attach itself to my subsequent actions/conduct. Becoming unattached is easier said than done.

An initial step might be to enact a structure to afford resonance for the enactment of an alternative "non attachment" ritual. This might entail something like naming the emotion, letting it go, and intentionally producing positive emotions by smiling and concentrating on the breath. That is, an intervention would be enacted to name the emotion and produce positive emotions by changing physiology. Note that the intervention does not involve blaming oneself or exhibiting other negative emotions such as remorse or fear. The switch from one interaction ritual chain to another needs to be rapid and mainly unconscious. Accordingly, practices necessary to be able to enact a triggering mechanism for a shenpa-oriented ritual chain can be triggered fluently,  that is, in ways that are anticipatory, timely, and appropriate.

This vignette is not unusual for me and "angry rants" are enacted in many fields and associated contexts. What is involved in the scenario I outlined above is cultural regression and cultural lag. I know better than to enact an angry rant, but I do it anyway. On the one hand an emergent structure affords the enactment of an angry rant interaction ritual chain. At the same time my "getting unstuck" ritual chain is not enacted even though I have practiced it and know of its appropriateness. This is an example of cultural lag. I have culture that could and perhaps should be enacted, but it is not enacted when the opportunity arises. Until the getting unstuck ritual chain is enacted without conscious awareness it is necessary for me to have a breaching and repairing routine and this is what I have laid out.

Looking a little more deeply at the scenario I described highlights an issue of competing goals/interests in any interaction chain. I was angered because my goals were possibly valued less than another's goals. I am not arguing that it is inappropriate for me to produce anger. What is inappropriate is allowing the anger to become stuck to my subsequent conduct. Getting stuck can have important consequences relating to my health and the emotional climate of the fields in which my interactions occur.

It is instructive to consider a dialectical relationship between cultural regression and lag. For example in the study we have been doing for some years now in the Bronx the science teacher in the study. In a note to the teacher I remarked as follows:

New culture can be produced, have a high value for many contexts, and not be enacted in practice until its enactment is appropriate. Ann Swidler referred to this phenomenon as cultural lag. Just because particular culture is not enacted, it cannot be inferred that it has not been produced (qua learned), or that it is not valued. As we have seen repeatedly in this research, in regards to your teaching, the structures of the science class appeared to privilege ways of teaching that were grounded in, and well honed by, your years of teaching science in New York. For example, even though you are a strong advocate for collaborative approaches to teaching and learning, that greatly expanded the roles of students to include coteaching, peer tutoring, buddy systems, and the infusion of regular cogenerative dialogues into the ongoing enacted science curriculum, you often resort to teaching approaches that feature you seeking to gain control over students, telling them what they need to know and how to learn, silencing students' voices, and expecting students to align with your ways of thinking and acting rather than noticing differences, reinforcing them, and encouraging their elaboration. You regarded as disrespectful and unacceptable students' failure to accept your "traditional" styles of teaching and enact roles consistent with them. However, you  consistently advocated for creating and maintaining learning environments associated with differences among students, interactive dialogue, and expansive knowledge production systems. Your adherence to the tenets of collaborative, emancipatory learning are evident in his research, professional development efforts with colleagues, and regular scheduling of cogenerative dialogue. Consistent with the idea that fields have no boundaries, the cogenerative dialogue field is evident in both enacted science lessons and meetings with small groups of students and so too were your more traditional styles of teaching. An ever-present contradiction is attributable to continuously emergent structures that served as resonant sites for your consistent enactment of traditional, teacher-centered roles. At the same time, structures emerge continuously as resonant sites for your consistent enactment of traditional, teacher-centered roles.

In response, the teacher described his traditional practices as historically constituted, reflecting his residential Catholic high school experience in the Philippines, which emphasized good manners and right conduct (i.e., good and right). He described the traditional approach as imposing, consistent with paternalism. We experienced a switch from collaborative forms of interaction to what to a "good and right" interaction style in classroom interactions and cogen. There is a possibility that the structures that afforded resonances with good and right interaction are associated with low grade anger, taking the form of frustration, irritation and emotions of that ilk. Even though the teacher set out to enact roles that incorporated collaborative interaction styles it is possible that a buildup of negative emotional energy, related to frustration/irritation, served as resonance sites for the enactment of good and right habitus.

© Kenneth Tobin 2015