Monday, January 14, 2008



The following entry is written by Lynn Hoffman. Here she talks about the influence of Gregory Bateson upon her own thinking and practice. Bateson's work has been of great importance to both Lynn and me.

The significance of Lynn's work here can easily be overlooked. However, as we pay attention to her movements in this piece, we see a shift toward something which isn't spoken, isn't delineated in sentences, but rather it is felt, it is sensed, it is non-verbal, beyond-verbal, not at all limited to the grammatical logic of verbal languages. She is awakening us to something which is often trivialized, typically removed from the worlds of academia and the professions. She is inviting us toward ways of relating with people which are not of language, as we typically view it. And, she is bringing this to us via Bateson. This is not a new-age dream. Both Lynn Hoffman and Gregory Bateson are calling us to the languages of nature, to the communications which occur as life is in motion, to the communications of evolution and embryology, to the ways which animals (and, according to Bateson, mammals in particular) of necessity engage with each other, as well as with us.

No fairytale fantasies here, but rather a certain rigour of understanding, as we turn ourselves away from those all-to-familiar realms of linguistics and meanings, and open up toward worlds which actually team around us, toward places beyond the limitations of words.

There were several philosophical pioneers in the last century who made it their life’s work to study how the forms of Western discourse imprison us. The two most important ones, in my view, were Ludwig Wittgenstein and Gregory Bateson. In Wittgenstein’s famous book of arguments with himself, “Philosophical Investigations” (1953), he explores ways to get out of the invisible linguistic trap he called the “fly bottle.” His work has generated an industry of explainers. Bateson’s (1972) writings have not yet called forth such an industry, but he took on a similar charge in regard to communication theory. Distrusting the tricks that could be played by words, he set himself to study what he called “syllogisms in metaphor.” Bateson felt that nonverbal analogies reflected the type of communication practiced in and by the living world.

My essay will discuss Bateson’s double bind concept, and his later clarification of it. I will trace his doubts about the instrumental use of therapy to change behavior, following his critique of the reigning frameworks of both classical logic and behaviorism. I want to add to the picture of the Bateson who invented the double bind, the Bateson who made a creative leap to a domain of communication that is built on analogy, similitude and metaphor. No one has founded a school of family therapy on this domain, but at the end of this piece, I will show by examples from my own work how the use of these different channels can be applied to practice.

The double bind was an interesting communicational structure that Bateson and his colleagues (Bateson, G., Jackson, D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J., 1956) came up with during their research project in Palo Alto between 1950 and 1960. It was thought to be a possible feature of the interaction in families where one member had been labeled schizophrenic. The group’s definition of a double bind was a situation where one person is the recipient of messages that contradict each other on two levels of logical type and who cannot leave the field. A formal definition of this event would be a logical paradox. Translated into relationship terms, the group felt that being subject to the constraints typical of such contradictions could have harmful effects. At the same time, Bateson pointed out that many of the pursuits we value most have the same double-level features. The structure that occurs in schizophrenic discourse can also be found in areas like humor, art, religion, animal communication and dreams.

To explain this subject, I have to invoke the Ariadne’s thread that led Bateson to the heart of the mystery: Russell and Whitehead’s (1910) “Theory of Logical Types.” According to this construct, communication was made up of hierarchies of messages. One level represented the content of the message, and the other was an over-arching message that indicated how the first message was to be understood. If the message on the first level were to be simultaneously contradicted or disqualified by the message on the second level, you would have a “confusion of logical types” - a possible context for a double bind. But remember, we are not talking about a simple bind. All is well as long as the messages are like phone calls rom two people, telling you to call back; you reply first to the one, and then to the other. They are on the same level, and there is no problem.

But suppose that the situation involves bonds of trust and expectation that are subverted in such a way that the person is left feeling betrayed but is not in a position to protest. An example given in the original double bind paper consists of a young man recovering from an acute psychotic episode who hugs his mother when she comes to see him in the hospital. She stiffens, and he moves away, whereupon she asks him “Don’t you love me anymore?” Then, when he remains mute, she says, “Dear, you must not be so easily embarrassed by your feelings.” In this exchange, the son stands convicted no matter which way he turns, damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Alas, the double bind as a psychological concept lent itself to being easily reified, i.e. turned into a “thing.” There was a further danger in that the double bind was seen as a type of communication that one person (usually a mother) visited upon another (usually a child). In a 1962 disclaimer (Sluzki & Ransom, 1976), the authors of the original article say:

The most useful way to phrase double bind description is not in terms of a binder and a victim but in terms of people caught up in an ongoing system which produces conflicting definitions of the relationship and consequent subjective distress.” (Sluzki & Ransom, 1976, p. 42.)
Another source of confusion, to my mind at least, was the influence of the hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Bateson (Berger, 1978, p. 68) gave Jay Haley the credit for pointing out that Milton Erickson’s interventions often put the subject in what was called a “therapeutic double bind.” The idea was that if someone came to therapy with you, instead of trying to help them overcome their problem, you should tell them to intensify it. Hopefully, they would drop the behavior rather than obey your directive. Haley felt that this approach capitallized on the “battle for control” between client and therapist, since to “win,” the client would have to give up the symptom.

Haley’s emphasis on power in therapy was the source of a longstanding disagreement between him and Bateson. In “Comments on Haley’s History,” (Bateson, 1976, p.106), Bateson says that “Haley slides too lightly over very real epistemological differences between himself and me.” He enlarges on the idea that “power,” seen as a noun deprived of context, has socially pathogenic consequences. I don’t want to obscure the enormous contribution made by Haley and others in basing new approaches to therapy on Erickson’s genius for paradox, but the upshot was that double bind theory was translated into a control-oriented perspective that was incompatible with Bateson’s point of view. Strangely enough, it took me ten years before I understood this conflict and began to deal with it myself (Hoffman, 2002).

The Trouble With Logic

I had originally thought that just because Bateson had read Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica and found the theory of logical types useful, he had joined the happy band of logical positivists to which those authors belonged. Not so. After re-reading Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972), Mind and Nature (1979), Angels Fear (1987), co-written with his daughter Catherine just before his death, and A Sacred Unity (1991), a collection of unanthologized writing edited by Rodney Donaldson, I formed quite a different view. If anything, Bateson felt that the project of classical logic left out most of the things he wanted to study. He says “The if...then of causality contains time, but the if...then of logic is timeless. It follows that logic is an incomplete model of causality” (Bateson, 1979 p. 58). Bateson also weighs in on the “categorical bankruptcy” of behaviorism, telling a story in which he asks a researcher who was performing learning experiments on goldfish why he was doing this? The reply was: “Because I want to control a goldfish.” (Bateson, 1991, p. 187).

But here is the point. Rather than simply bashing these two outlooks, Bateson invokes a third one which is far more interesting. Bateson occasionally used the word “analogical” to describe it, but he refines his idea by contrasting the world of material things, which Jung termed the “Pleroma,” with the natural world, which was the “Creatura.” Pleroma, Bateson tells us, is Newton’s world of force and mass. It has no mental process, no names, no classes. The Creatura, on the other hand, communicate through pattern, similitude, and metaphor. Bateson notes that “the logic of metaphor is something very different from the logic of the verities of Augustine and Pythagoras,“ and goes on to observe that the process of metaphor-making may be a defining characteristic of the living world.

Syllogisms in Grass

This suggestion is reinforcedby Catherine Bateson in Angels Fear (Bateson & Bateson, 1987). She tells us that during the last few weeks of his life, her father was engrossed with the idea of “syllogisms of metaphor,” and goes on to say:

The description of mind gave Gregory a framework for beginning to define the disciplines of communication in or like or about Creatura, disciplines that the flexibility of language has made it possible to violate. The key components of his thought began to be integrated in a single system: cybernetics and the logical types, the semantics of Korzybski and the efforts of the early psychoanalysts to describe the unconscious - all of these coalesce in the begnning of a Creatural grammar. (p. 192)

What a fascinating idea. However, one has to know something about syllogisms. In making a contrast between the truths of logic and the truths of metaphor, Bateson turns to a musty old artifact from the world of logic, the “syllogism in Barbara.” Classical logic has identified several syllogisms, or tautological word structures, and the Barbara one, which depends on our old friend the Levels of Logical Type, goes like this: Men die, Socrates is a man, [therefore] Socrates will die. Bateson explains that this sequence is built on classification. He says: “The predicate ‘will die’ is attached to Socrates by identifying him as a member of that class whose members share that predicate.” In other words, Socrates is in the box of things that die

But there is another syllogism that seems to flout the rules of classification, which Bateson called “Syllogisms in Grass.” It takes this form: Grass dies, Men die, [therefore] Men are grass. That argument doesn’t make sense at all, and logicians disapprove of it, calling it “affirming the consequent.” An English reviewer once pointed out that this was how Bateson himself did his thinking, and called attention to a 1944 book by an E. von Domarus which said that this was how schizophrenics thought too. Bateson agreed heartily with this opinion, and from then on made Syllogisms in Grass a centerpiece of his thinking about how Nature communicates. He fires off this ringing salvo in Angels Fear:

The whole of animal behavior, the whole of repetitive anatomy, and the whole of biological revolution - each of these vast realms is within itself linked together by syllogisms in grass - whether the logicians like it or not...” And later adds: “In other words, it looks as though until 100,000 years ago... there were no Barbara syllogisms in the world, there were only Bateson’s kind, and still the organisms got along all right. They managed to organize themselves in their embryology to have two eyes, one on each side of a nose. They managed to organize themselves in their evolution... And it became evident that metaphor was not just pretty poetry, it was not either good or bad logic, but was in fact the logic on which the biological world had been built, the main characteristic and organizing glue of this world of mental process that I have been trying to sketch for you...” (pp. 26-30)
This statement thrilled me. It felt accurate, and it justified the enormous importance I placed on image and story and gesture in communicating with the people that consulted with me. It also justified the efforts of philosophers like Wittgenstein, mentioned above, in not only searching out a different framework for the logics of communication but finding that they could be strikingly different from the classical logics that Western thinkers had come to see as the norm. The nonverbal, analogical vision of Bateson seemed especially pertinent to the project of psychotherapy, because it indicated that advice and expertise were not enough; you had to reach for connection at levels that lay beyond the scope of spoken words.

Why is this emphasis on the wider web so important for a therapist? Because it turns us away from looking at individuals and their inner life, which is what modernist psychology trains us to look at, and points instead to the connecting threads that link all of us to the loom. If you stay with a modernist psychology, you will forever be trying to see your job as a matter of building logging roads, putting up bridges, and various other engineering projects. If you move to a postmodern psychology, you have to jump, like Alice, into the pool of tears with the other creatures. This situation is a great equalizer and carries some dangers, but it is the only source of information with the power to transform.

The Problem of Epistemological Error

In the late 70s, when I was moving toward a postmodern framework, I began to understand better the emphasis Bateson put upon what he called epistemological errors. He saw correctly that the "thingification of nouns” was a source of many dreadful blunders, and says that language, having developed to fit the Pleroma in suggesting that names represent things, does not always fit with biological communication, which emphasizes pattern and relationship. Thus words like “crime” and “play” or “power,” are often understood to mean a self-standing entity. You “punish” a crime, “enjoy” play, and “take” power. Bateson says that these nouns can’t be used this way, because they describe abstractions at a higher level of logical type than the actions that make them up. In warning us about such reifications, he tells the story of mathematician Anatol Holt who called for a bumper sticker saying, “Stamp Out Nouns.” (Bateson, 1972, p. 334)

In the late 70s, I barely grasped Bateson’s point about the error of objectifying nouns, but was already trying to distance myself from the objectifying applications on which I had cut my therapist teeth. I had strongly allied myself with the brief strategic approach of the Mental Research Institute and then moved on to the Milan Team’s systemic approach, which was overtly influenced by Bateson’s theories. However, I began to feel stifled by the science-like atmosphere of their hypothesizing process and the lack of connection to our families in any human sense. Ironically enough, it was in Bateson’s writings that I found support for what was at the time a rebellion in the bud.

The Dangers of Conscious Purpose

The idea that interested me most at that time was that too much knowing, too much “conscious purpose,” could be dangerous. Bateson (1972) says, “Purposive consciousness pulls out, from the total mind, sequences which do not have the loop structure which is characteristic of the whole systemic structure. If you follow the “common-sense” dictates of consciousness you become, effectively, greedy and unwise - again I use “wisdom” as a word for recognition and guidance by a knowlege of the total systemic creature.” (p. 440)

Bateson often cited Coleridge’s poem, “The Ancient Mariner,” as a particularly compelling example of how a person’s situation can become transformed after becoming aware of connection with the larger ecology. The unfortunate Mariner, becalmed and drifting with the albatross about his neck, sees some beautiful sea snakes and blesses them “unawares.” As purpose drops from his mind, the albatross drops from his neck, and at this point come the first drops of life-giving rain. Though not admitting a causal relationship between these events, Bateson nevertheless believed the poem to be a good example of the enlightenment that accompanies an understanding of the sacred unity of the biological world.

This story worked on me. Purposiveness was one of the characteristics of the approaches that I had first studied and admired - now I wondered about them. I also finally realized how Bateson felt about the family therapy industry he had inadvertently hosted. In Angels Fear, his daughter creates a “metalogue” between herself and her father’s ghost, just as he did with her in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. In the chapter “Persistent Shade,” she chides him:

Daughter: You know, you never gave me the good lines when you were writing the metalogues.

Father: There’s still another problem for Angels Fear, the problem of the misuse of ideas. The engineers get hold of them. Look at the whole god-awful business of family therapy, therapists making “paradoxical interventions” in order to change people or families, or counting double binds. You can’t count double binds.”

Daughter: No, I know, because double binds have to do with the total contextual structure, so that a given instance of double binding that you might notice in a therapy session is one tip of an iceberg whose basic structure is the whole life of the family. (p. 204)

This exchange has often made me wonder what Bateson would think if he came back like Rip van Winkle and surveyed the state of family therapy today. I think he would be distressed. He would probably be scandalized at the epistemological errors that haveproliferated on every side: the adoption of diagnostic categories based on thingified nouns or the pressure to find to “evidence-based” results that Bateson would say pull out partial circuits from the total web. In Angels Fear he makes himself clear: I believe that an action or the label put on experience must always be seen, as we say, in context. And the context of every action is the whole network of epistemology and the state of all the systems involved, with the history that leads up to that state. (p. 177)

Interestingly, Bateson was less concerned with the family as the unit of focus, and more with the individual-plus-environment. He felt that it would be harder for the fields of psychology and psychotherapy to maintain their narrow focus on the person once this larger view was accepted. For him, the important difference was not between individual and family therapy but between practitioners who think systemically and those who think in terms of linear cause and effect. This view is borne out by the fact that family therapy is evolving into a variety of ecological or multicultural approaches that see both therapists and clients as embedded in a larger social net. For the client to become different, the net has to become different too.

The Map Is Not the Territory

By the mid-eighties, I was persuaded that family therapy had become stuck in a modern, essentialist stance. Looking back, I think that I was merely following the shift in perceptual framework predicted by Thomas Kuhn (1972) in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” This shift is now often referred to as “postmodernism,” but it has been associated with a variety of other isms like deconstructionism, poststructuralism, and social constructionism, to mention just a few. At first confused, I gradually realized that they all pointed in the same direction: toward an awareness of the flybottle of linguistic premises that Wittgenstein saw as such a trap, and Bateson dubbed “epistemological errors.”

In regard to his own enterprise, Bateson went as far as a kind of mid-stage movement called constructivism, which held that the veil provided by our perceptual apparatus keeps us from direct contact with reality. He himself referred often to semanticist Korzybsky’s phrase, “The map is not the territory,” saying that there were no pigs and cocoanuts in the brain, only ideas of pigs and cocoanuts (1979, p. 30). Constructivism was rooted in the biology of cognition, and two of its most famous proponents were the biologist Humberto Maturana (1977) and mathematician Francisco Varela (1976), both of whom Bateson was acquainted with and admired.

As it turned out, constructivism was taken up by systemic family therapists and turned out to be an important step away from therapists thinking of themselves as change-agents and families as systems that needed to be changed. According to Maturana, people were trapped in their private nervous systems. For this reason, he said, there could be no instructive interaction. This concept was a dead end if one were trying to do therapy but by the time I realized this, social constructionism (Gergen, 1992), a movement rooted in American pragmatism, had begun to attract my attention. I was glad to find it, as it put the spotlight back on the the creation of meaning within the communicational web.

Since Bateson seemed always to be ahead of the wave, I have often thought of him as a harbinger of postmodernism. The paradigm shift I am talking about has evolved from the efforts of many unusual minds over many years, and Bateson’s was certainly one of them. However, the term “postmodernism” has begun to be used too loosely. It is a mistake to say that there is such a thing as a postmodern therapy as opposed to a historically contextualized postmodern stance. Therapy models that persist from an earlier day may contain postmodern elements even if they were not originally thought of that way. On the other hand, some present-day therapists who claim they are postmodern may still be using the essentialist mind-set of the past.

During my 40 years in the field, many relational practitioners have moved away from what Donald Schoen (1984) calls a “technical-rational” approach to one that treats therapeutic practice as an art. Olson (2004) speaks of basing therapy on “a collaborative process of inquiry rather than a theory of structural reality.” For me, this is also a move toward an appreciation of alternative logics. These logics oppose the reductive spirit of the mental health establishment as it exists in our country today and point to what Pakman (2000) has called the “poetics” of our field. As examples, here are five portrayals of moments, not entire therapies, that show how I (Hoffman, 2002) use the language of similitude, presences, and embodiment in my work.


Having been a literature major in college, I was well versed in T.S. Eliot’s (1920) literary criticism and particularly his term “the objective correlative.” To him, a poem or a novel that was successful often contained a symbolic reference that stood for the meaning of the work. The Great White Whale in Moby Dick seemed to represent the obsessive quality of Ahab’s search; in like fashion, the compass in John Donne’s “The Lovers” pointed both to the outer arm that traces a distant trajectory and the center one that stands for the lover’s return. In my own work, I am always looking for a similarly concrete image that can sum up the gist of the situation being addressed.

For instance, a year ago, I was doing a consultation with a beginning training group at the family therapy program at a local college, and asked if someone would offer to be my partner in a reflecting consultation. A young woman stepped forward and when I asked what issue she wanted to talk about, she said, “I’ve just been fired.” She meant that very day. Apparently, she had been working at a job at a high tech company for fifteen years, and doing very well, when she had the idea to go back to school and get a Master’s degree in family therapy. She was still working, so she was surprised when without warning the company terminated her. She said it was like “falling off a cliff.”

I asked her if she could think of any story that might illuminate her situation, like a folk tale or fairy story. She said that no story came to mind, but instead told me that her father had died two years before, and that when she went to his funeral, she was deeply moved by the testimonies made by friends and family to his character and influence. “I was conscious of an enormous wish that when I died, people would say such things about me,” she said. So this led to her search for a new career path and her enrollment in the program where I was teaching.

I then asked what issues the termination brought up for her. She said she was extremely shocked by the suddenness of her firing, even though she had enough savings to cover her current expenses. So I asked the group to share their reflections about her situation. It was not a sophisticated group at all, and mostly they just tried to say reassuring things. I expected someone to hook back to the story of the father’s death, but no. Then a young woman in the group surprised me by coming out with a most special and unusual idea. She said, “I had the picture of a woman standing on the edge of a cliff and in her hands was this beautiful bright bird. As I watched her, she loosened her hands and the bird opened its wings and flew away.”

Going back to my partner, I asked for her reaction to the group’s comments. She
said, “The picure of me standing on a cliff with that beautiful, bright bird is so exact.” She and I talked about what this bird might represent for her, and how it might be linked to her father. She said she thought he would have approved of her going back to school and taking a degree in family therapy. We agreed that her response to losing her father contained the germ of a decision to start a more meaningful life. In addition, this was a way she kept him at her side as a companion.

What stood out for me was how that image seemed to emerge, in glorious color, from the beehive brain of a beginning group. Even though it was the invention of only one person, its effect on the rest of them was interesting. They went round once more, and this time their comments included memories of their own experiences in turning loss into gain. As a result, I now often back away from trying to think up a story or analogy myself, and simply trust that someone in the group will come up with what is required. I believe that images like that make a beeline for the amygdala - that part of the brain where emotional memories are stored (Damasio, A., 1994) - and since they work by signalling likeness, they can have an immediate impact.


Another use of a creatural grammar consists of imagined presences. When I was in Italy two years ago, I was sitting in on a session with H., a young Muslim man from Morocco. He had been referred by a healer from Sub-Saharan Africa to Dr. Pietro Barbetta, who teaches at the University of Bergamo. The healer had told Barbetta that this man suffered from a kind of melancholy that did not occur among his own people because it did not have any physical manifestation, nor was it associated with an evil spirit, so he had sent him to Barbetta. Another faculty member was translating for me.

Mostly I just watched and listened, while the young man explained to Barbetta that he had become very fearful of going to his job. He was working in a factory, one week during the day and the next week during the night, and he had become impressed with a girl who worked in a nearby drugstore. So he bought a rose for her on his way to work. However, his mates guessed the purpose of this rose and began to mock him, causing him to throw the rose away. He told us he had a family back in Morocco whom he missed very much. His young cousin had come to live with him, and he was hoping to enroll him in college. Clearly, he had a lot at stake in doing well in this country.

Toward the end of the interview, my colleague asked me if I had any thoughts, so I talked about the courage it took for this young man to come to a strange land in order to help his family. The young man then broke in with great intensity: “I am going to hell in one hour, because that is when I have to be at my job.” I turned to Barbetta and said, “He says he’s going to hell in one hour and we have to support him.” I suggested that Barbetta ask who he would want to be in the “club of his life,” thinking that these presences might accompany him to his job. Of course, even with Barbetta translating, he did not understand what I meant. So I said, “They can be relatives or friends, not necessarily living, but present in spirit.” He still looked puzzled. I said, “We call them angels but you call them “djinns.” Suddenly he got it, saying, “Yes, the “grins!” I suggested that they could come to help him, not realizing he had used a different word from mine.

This was the source of a lucky miscommunication. Barbetta told me later that in the Muslim culture of Mahgreb there are spirits who live in the realm between the human being and Allah; the evil ones are djinns, but there are good ones called “grins” who protect people. Barbetta asked him to choose some of these good spirits to take with him to the job. So he placed his father, who had died many years before, on his head, and his mother and sister on his two shoulders, then other family members were added. Myself and Barbetta, he placed on his arms. This seemed to calm him down, and he moved on to asking for advice on enrolling his cousin in college, which Dr. Barbetta was easily able to provide.

After the young man left, Barbetta said he really liked the idea of the imagined people. I told him that the reason I had jumped in like that was because the young man had seemed so upset by the ordeal that faced him. Whenever I find an emotional “hot spot” like that, I try to respond right away. The intervention I owe to Michael White (1995), whose ability to bring in imaginary troops to support people is legendary. But the principle is grounded in Bateson’s insistence that the unit “individual-plus-environment” is the central one, not the family or group. As not all groups are supportive, it is important to find or create a sustaining network that is. My colleague, me, and several of our client’s relatives made up at least the start of one, as well as a temporary political base for coping with the humiliations of an alien world.

Barbetta did a follow-up three months later, and the young man said that the idea of the “grins” had helped him very much in going to his disliked job. Then he went back to Morocco for a while, and when he came back he got another job, and things began to go much better for him. His cousin was doing well at his college. The healer too said that Hanafe’s “melancholy” had disappeared. The idea I came up with is what I call a meaning in a fist. Time was short, and I wanted some notion that could be readily visualized, like all those persons perched on the young man’s head and shoulders. However, the miscommunication we went through to get there was a salutary reminder to me that the shortest way between two points is sometimes a zig-zag line.


I wanted to include an interview that exemplified the use of gesture and physical embodiment. This was a family I consulted to in Porto, Portugal. A psychologist brought in the mother and father of identical eight year old twin boys. The twins fought and quarreled to such an extent that the mother would often be called to their school to take them home. The father had a high tech job, and the mother had a clerical position. This I learned before the family came in, but when they did I was truly amazed. The two boys, slim and a bit shy, wore identical black-framed Harry Potter glasses. I immediately asked whether they were Harry Potter fans. One said he had already read one of the novels, and the other showed me a wristband with the insignia of a lightning bolt on it. I didn’t have to think of a metaphor with this family - it came with them.

So I started by asking about twindom and what it was like, and got some valuable testimony. If you are a twin, you might quarrel, but you were never alone. I was particularly impressed with the twins’ good behavior. They responded in a lively way, especially when I asked about the local soccer match, which had created an awful traffic jam in the town the night before. I told them I knew about it, because coming home from a restaurant, our car got stuck in it for an hour. The boys were rooting for the home team and the father for the other one, but at least they had the game in common.

I also got some history. The family had moved a year before from Lisbon, because the father was offered a good job with a high tech company. Unfortunately, this meant that the mother had been severed from her family and from her own ecology, which was very important to her. When the twins had been difficult in the past, she had her mother and sister to turn to. Checking out the father, he seemed very taken up with his job, and apparently left early and came home late. He wasn’t very sympathetic to his wife’s situation; on the other hand, she seemed unwilling to act the part of a complainer and said very little about the problem that was bothering her.

I had asked a reflecting group to listen and then comment, so at this point I turned to them and asked for their thoughts. They basically complimented the family for taking on a new environment, and there was an invocation of the powers of witchcraft and some questions about who in the family was a more powerful wizard or witch. But when I reconvened the family and asked for their impressions, the mother burst out angrily, saying that the group had not understood the terrible position she was in, the difficulties the twins’ fighting presented her with, how she had to leave work at a moment’s notice to go to the school and cope with their behavior. The twins looked a bit scared at this outburst, but I was glad that the mother’s feelings were finally out on the table.

So I listened to her story, and saw that she really was in a bad place. She told us that she missed her family and friends, and that the little boys missed their cousins. I asked her if she went back to Lisbon from time to time, and if her family came to visit her in Porto, and of course they did, but that was not her problem: it was these terrible quarreling children. The father looked off into the distance as she spoke. He did not seem to me to be much of a resource. All I could do was to talk to the psychologist and agree with him that in this family, it was the mother who was hurting and who felt most alone. The mother said she liked her therapist, and looked forward to the family meetings. So, short of moving them back to Lisbon, I felt the best I could do was to commend the therapist for his good work, and for his good connection to the family, the mother especially.

But there was one loose end, and it was bothering me: the picture that had been given of these two terrible twins. There they sat looking rather sad, two pale, small boys at the center of the whirlwind. So I beckoned the one with the wristband over and as he stood before me I made a zigzag line with my finger on his forehead like the one Harry Potter had on his, and said, “I just wanted you to know that you are very powerful, but you will never cause anyone any harm.” Then I pressed my hand on the place as if to seal it, and gave him a hug, and I did the same to the other boy. They looked properly impressed by this ritual, and then started to laugh; in fact the whole family laughed, and we closed the session with a lot of good will.

After the family left, I thanked the reflecting team for their interesting responses. I also told the psychologist that I thought he was a crucial safety factor and an important ally for the mother. As for the zig-zag sign, I felt I had to get a message across to the children that they were not as terrible as advertised. In fact, I demoted them somewhat, in telling them that even though they knew and I knew that the stakes were high, they were just two little boys playing at magic. I feel that this kind of “hands on” ritual is a way to communicate with everyone at once, using the analogies the family gives me.


My final question is “How can we use a creatural language to address multi-level binds?” When thinking about a family’s emotional knot, I tend to mentally put my arms out as if to encompass it. For instance, as a systemic practitioner, whenever there is an opposition or duality, it is important to be able to call up a universe in which this duality makes up a larger whole. An example is a woman I once saw whose brother had molested her in childhood. Her feminist partner was scandalized because she continued to keep seeing him. This was a classic situation where the therapist is apt to go in at the level of the conflict, thus running the risk of becoming a mediator or an advocate. These are not good positions because they isolate only a little part of the entire circuit. But if you go in at the level of the net, you might call the relationship between brother and sister “a love that passes all understanding.” Only after such an “embracement,” as I call it, will it be safe to return to the couple and address the division between them. This approach, though at first surprising the couple, turned out to help them through their impasse.

In another example (Hoffman, 2002), I was consulting to a reflecting team of students and their supervisor, my friend Judy Davis. We saw the tape of their last interview with a bright and upward-striving young man who was enrolled at a nearby college but not going to class. His mother, being very depressed, was unable to keep a job, and her son had dropped out of school to take care of her. The father was angry at the mother because he was being forced to pay his ex-wife child support. In a further ironic twist, if the son did quit school, he would no longer qualify for support and his father’s wages would no longer have to be garnisheed. I should add that the son’s grandmother lived with his mother and she depended on the support money too.

The twists continued at the level of the helping system too. The student who had been seeing the son in individual therapy, at the behest of her supervisor, tried to make him see how manipulative his mother was being. The reflecting team had further commented on the way his mother was jeopardizing his career. This had caused him to defend his mother even more. And here was I - we were making a tape to show the young man - seeing double binds every way I turned. If I now came out against the negative picture people were painting of the mother, that would put everyone in the wrong, including my friend Judy.

So what I did was to reach for an embracing metaphor that would not only cover the whole dilemma but hopefully remove blame. I said that what I saw was two beating hearts that shared a single blood supply. Any effort to detach one element of this complex survival system would threaten the viability of all the rest. And so I did not know what to say or suggest, except to commend the people who were trying to help this brave young man in his dilemma with his family and wish him well. The reflecting team then commented on his love for his mother, and Judy said that she hoped there was a way the mother and son could hold on to this beating heart they shared and yet have individual lives.

When the tape was shown to the son and his therapist the following week, he said that the image was exactly right, and that what he wanted to do was to find a place in his relationship with his mother that wasn’t so extreme. He also began to talk about his father, who had sent him an email threatening to harm his mother, whereupon for the first time he broke down and wept. The therapist told Judy later that she felt this moment had been a significant breakthrough. My position was too tangential for me to try to continue to follow the situation, but through Judy I learned that the young man had eventually decided to go back to school.


In this essay, I have tried to highlight the relevance of Bateson’s ideas to the field of relationship therapy, especially in its postmodern form. I believe that a “creatural grammar” is a particularly useful counterpoint to the technical-rational psychotherapies and the essentialist thinking they bring with them. It helps one to remain suspicious of the power of the professional. It questions the idea that emotional problems have simple linear causes. And it tells us that the language of the creatura can work to melt the walls that surround people who cannot speak, or are barricaded within their own secret codes. The therapist too is barricaded within a code, whether a professional or a moral one, and this language often works to rescue the therapist as well.


Bateson, G., Jackson, D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J. (1956) Toward a theory of schizophrenia.” Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 1, 251-64.

Bateson, G. (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Jason Aronson.

Bateson, G. (1976) “Comments on Haley’s ‘History.’” In C. Sluzki, & D. Ransom, D. (Eds.), Double Bind: The Foundation of the Communicational Approach to the Family. New York: Grune & Stratton.

Bateson, G. (1979) Mind and Nature. New York: E. P. Dutton.

Bateson, G. and Bateson, M.C. (1987) Angels Fear. New York: E.P. Dutton.

Bateson, G. (1991) A Sacred Unity. Rodney Donaldson (Ed.) New York: Harper Collins.

Berger, M. (1978) Beyond the Double Bind. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Damasio, A. (1994) Descartes’ Error. New York: Avon Books.
von Domarus, E. (1944) “The specific laws of logic in schizophrenia.” In Language and Thought in Schizophrenia, Jacob Kasinin (Ed.), Berkeley: University of California Press.

Eliot, T.S. (1920) The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. New York: Columbia University Bartleby Library.

Hoffman, L. (2002) Family Therapy: An Intimate History. New York: W.W. Norton.

Maturana, H. R. and Varela, F.J. (1988) The Tree of Knowledge. London: New Science Library.

Olson, M. (in press) “Family and Network Training for a System of Care.” In A. Lightburn, & P. Sessions (Eds), Community Based Clinical Practice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pakman, M. (2000) Disciplinary knowledge, postmodernism and globalization. Cybernetics and Human Knowing, 7, 105-126.

Ruesch, J., & Bateson, G. (1951) Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton.

Schoen, D. (1984) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Sluzki, C. & Ransom, D. (1976) Double Bind: The Foundation of the Communicational Approach to the Family. New York: Grune & Stratton.

White, M. (1985) Re-Authoring Lives. Adelaide, NSW: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Whitehead, A.N., & Russell, B. (1910) Principia Mathematica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1961[1922]) Tractatus Logicus-Philosophicus. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations. G.E.M. Anscombe (Tr.) New York: Macmillan.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I See Ghosts

Honouring a Haunted & Haunting Love

Honouring Life: Speaking, writing and working in ways which reflect and connect-with the ongoing movements of life... Will reflect a world of overwhelming diversity. Will be in a perpetual state of flux, moving in response to a constantly shifting experience of life.

Mangling Life: Imposing upon the diversity of life understandings, words and actions which are disconnected from life's movements, yet are clearly tied to the confidences and eternal assurances of designated authorities.


I see ghosts within my own work, ephemeral presences moving in and out, speaking loudly and softly, engaging me and those I am connected with, inviting and challenging. These ghosts may be many, yet there are some in particular who are frequently encountered and re-encountered. They are seen and felt moving through the varied doorways and stairways and darkened halls of writing and work and life. One such ghostly influence is the thinking of the French Philosopher, Gilles Deleuze.

I choose to discuss Deleuze at this point because I desire to honour such a ghostly influence, because I am in love with much of his thinking, and because there is little I enjoy more than to be challenged by such vigorous thought, to argue with such rich ideas, and to find, through such involvement, that my own thought and work -- and world -- are reinvented.

Deleuze thought in renewed ways about freedoms, communal movements, radical possibilities. He thought about life -- as it moves amongst people, as it moves in connection with a certain fullness, with animals and plants, roots and rivers and machines, with uncountable bodies and types of bodies. Deleuze was also was a thinker of creation, the act of creating, of bodies which constantly are making and remaking, assembling and reassembling in response to the infinite movements of life.

Deleuze had names for such styles of thought. Two of the currents of thought which he most cherished he called naturalism and empiricism. He did not create these names, they emerged from within history. He wanted people to understand that his own thought did not just appear as something new outside of the twists and turns of time. He wanted readers to see the long flows of these thoughts; the coursing, the shifting and changing, the reawakening and returning of thoughts -- all through considerable stretches of history. These ideas which he loved he saw as permeating, penetrating into and through daily life, awakening connections in a rich and chaotic world, and rejuvenated the actions of life, both intimate and political.

Naturalism and Empiricism

While I have often heard of Deleuze being placed within the camp of postmodern thinkers, Deleuze never identified himself in such a way. Rather, he felt a strong pull toward what he referred to as the naturalism of ancient thinkers such as Lucretius, the Roman poet, and Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, as well as the empiricism of Scottish and Irish philosophers, Hume and Berkeley. And, two of his great loves, Spinoza and Nietzsche, he also saw as moving within these same arenas.

In both these traditions we can see certain flows of thinking. First of all, thought is seen to emerge from life. The ability to produce thought, the very possibility of thinking comes to us as a gift from and within life itself, a gift as fully immersed in the movements of nature as the song of the thrush and the flight of the dragonfly. Deleuze then invites a redirection in this flow of thought, where the current shifts directly within thought itself, within our engagements, back toward the life from which it originated. He proposed that we create flows which honour the movements of life, streams of thought, drifts of dialogue which always call upon a respect and appreciation for life as it is encountered. These moments of response are not given, they are not predetermined; rather they are created, eternally in the making. Moments of thought and language are formed into endlessly transforming assemblages, works of art, always both finished and unfinished, always endeavouring to respond to the events of life as they are approached, as they are engaged with, and as they are crafted.

It must be emphasized that these creations of response are not simply internal to an individual body, they occur within the rhizome space of relationships, constantly tied to numerous lines of engagement -- human and otherwise.

Deleuze observes that much philosophic, religious and scientific thought, as well as most other institutionally-approved modes of thought, move in very different kinds of flows, and in different directions. These manners of thinking are typically not responsive and they are not singular in time, rather they are made rigid and eternal, they are generalized beyond any one specific situation, and they are made to instruct, in detailed form, how human bodies are to move and function. These types of thinking also inform as to the way the cosmos, nature, and bodies, all bodies, human and otherwise, fit within a timeless and permanent understanding of the world. The perspectives that are given are not connected to honest, moving and temporal encounters with life, but they are connected to institutionally sanctioned authorities. Typically there are punitive measures (often exclusionary measures) put in place for those who allow thought to stray beyond these structures.

Such flows do not come from and they do not return to an engagement with life. Instead, they traverse from and toward assumed voices of authority. Deleuze sees the preponderance of thinking in our contemporary world, and throughout most of history, as being formed within such inflexible structures of truth. He also suggests, again with an ear toward Nietzsche, that more often than not thought tends to mangle life, rather than returning to honour it.

It is odd that today the word “empirical” refers to very different passages of thought. In contemporary times the word “empirical” suggests that life is to be defined through the application of mathematical formulas. In fact, this contemporary empiricism holds out, not only the hope of enlightening and delineating life through preset equations, but it does so with almost messianic expectations. It is assumed that these “empirical” methods will bring forth redemptive ends; our questions will be answered, our problems will finally be solved, and our world will be substantially improved, if not saved.

The empiricism which captured Deleuze led toward very different ends. There was no messianic deliverance in the thought of Hume and Berkeley, Spinoza and Nietzsche, instead there was an attempt to talk of life in terms which approach life itself. Simply put, it is about a turn toward life, not life as it could be, but as it now moves amongst us. And, this sense of life is also embedded in a specificity of time and place and relational connections. It is not something which speaks clearly and authoritatively to other times, places and relations, and it says very little toward any generalities or preset populations.

Acts of Creation

The empiricist turn, however, is not just a movement toward life through honest observation and reflection. It certainly can be this, at least in part, but, for Deleuze the empiricist task is especially one of creation. Again, it is not simply about creating language which reflects life, but much more, it is about joining with life in processes of creation, it is about involvement in creative acts which fit within and flow through endless dimensions of life. The human body, with opposable thumbs, with infinite possibilities in language, and immersed within communal flows, is a body which makes things.

With Deleuze’s empiricism, a different spirit is called forth. Not a spirit of knowing, of confidence, of firm conviction, but a spirit touched by a humility, a spirit that does not/cannot truly know, a spirit of wonder at the abundance of life. This empiricism also invites an almost mystical turn where affects and thoughts flow in amazement, through communal spaces, in response to the endless presentations and sheer possibilities of life itself.

I must emphasize that this place of not-knowing is not the same as a place of "anything goes." There is always a sense of not-knowing, in that the world is simply too abundant, too complex and chaotic to be able to firmly hold onto some truth. However, the ideas which we construct, the thoughts we entertain, the movements we make and the actions we take are to move toward life as it is presenting itself to us. We do not hold onto beliefs, values, ideas, actions which clearly affront or attack life in its varied presentations. And, we endeavour to construct understandings which can give honour to the diversities of life as it is encountered.
As Nietzsche so often emphasized, this engagement with life summons us away from the various forms of sadness which seem to dominate our world. That is, away from the controls of authorities, away from those seemingly eternal negations, toward worlds which are joyful and beautiful, filled with freedoms, continuously pulled towards affirmations, always rich with surprise, and repeatedly bringing forth acts of creation. Not at all a world where sad feelings are bannished. But ceratinly a world where affects of joy and love are now thoughtfully and carefully crafted, where affects of sadness were previously simply imposed.

What a bizaar world... where the ghosts who haunt are also the creators of joy!


If the reader wishes to consider specific forms of action which have emerged in response to such thinking, feel free to check out the options detailed in a book I previously self-published. The book is called A Language of Gifts (you will soon be able to access this book through another site –

However, I am always somewhat tentative in offering “applications” for ideas, for the actions I describe evolved in response to the settings and relationships I found myself within. I consider them as simply creative replies to the details of life. I feel a particular joy and curiosity when people immerse themselves within their own living contexts, and in response to such contexts create new and living possibilities of thought and action, possibilities connected to the specifics of a unique time and a unique space and a unique rhizome network of relations.

The art of life is not an art of making copy, it is the art of engagement in the world, and the art of responding with irreplaceable creations .

Monday, January 7, 2008

Lynn Hoffman and the Rhizome Century

This following posting is provided by author, family therapist, and good friend, Lynn Hoffman. Lynn has been a significant figure within the field of family therapy from its early beginnings, a quick search engine query with her name will show some of the many books and articles she has written through the years. I see Lynn as a visionary. She has certainly been on the fore-front of many trends in the family therapy field, realizing their significance far before they reach their potential. Following is some of her current vision...


1. The Rhizome Century

Inspired by the writings of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, community therapist Chris Kinman and I wish to add to our present Collaborative framework a new metaphor: that of the “Rhizome.” Unlike the “System,” which derives from engineering and technology, Rhizomes are tied to the natural world. This link with nature privileges a kind of communication that Bateson called “the grammar of the Creatura,” a language which is based on gestures, images, embodiment, and similitude. It leads to a usage which Bateson, maybe mischievously, termed “Syllogisms in Metaphor” or “Syllogisms in Grass” (Grass, of course, being another example of a Rhizome).

Moving on to social architecture, Deleuze and Guattari compare the Tree, with its top-down hierarchy of root, trunk, branch and crown, with the Rhizome, which has no up or down but lives in an eternal middle. These thinkers admire the rhizome’s ability to put out an underground root or aerial shoot and re-grow itself in another space. Some rhizomes are seen as pests, like crabgrass, others are valued like iris or daffodils, but they are hard to kill. Stamped out in one yard, they just sprout up next door. They continually create new “plateaus” or “assemblages,” from a horn of plenty like Baucus’ pitcher that never runs out of milk. The Tree, on the other hand,symbolizes a bureaucratic structure that is a characteristic of modern life.

I asked myself, what would rhizome-like human services look like? Could we find a different name for meetings or touchings, one not connected to problems but to inspirations, mysteries, and the search (which always has to take place behind one’s back) for “the good”? I came up with “Floating Islands,” because I had a book by that name as a child and it had no immediate relevance to helping anyone. But meetings called something like “Lifework,” might sound more serious.

2. Postmodernism

Many people in our field have been experimenting with similar web and net-like metaphors, starting with the late Harry Goolishian and Harlene Anderson. These two, in developing the term “not knowing,” challenged the expert position as part of their wish to form genuinely collaborative partnerships with the persons they worked with. They were also among the first of us to read about and create an interest in the relatively new concept of Postmodernism. Yet this concept was not so new. It furthered the warnings against “epistemological errors” and the reminders not to “cut up the ecology” that we inherited from Bateson.

Another rule-breaker was the late Tom Andersen, who developed the idea of the reflecting team, amended by Harlene to “reflecting process.” In this format, expressiveness and responsiveness were more highly valued than expert-derived solutions. In fact, the turn-taking between those who performed and those who did not, brought shifts in perspectives that themselves sparked off neew thinking. In using this more spontaneous stance, standard interventions withered, and examples of “clever therapy” began to disappear.

It was Lois Shawver, a psychologist who had been running a Listserve called Postmodern Therapy News, who first explained to me the source of the term “postmodern.” Although it had been first used by U.S. literary critics, who called themselves poststructuralists, it became reborn it as “an incredulity to metanarratives,” a definition used by French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard in his treatise “The Postmodern Condition.” Many conversational rules changed as a result, like the decision to follow “little narratives” rather than the big ones that gathered everything under the same roof. Reaching consensus in any discussion stopped being a holy grail, and ways to hold differences together without breakage began to feel possible.

Lois was also a pioneer in showing, on her Postmodern Therapies List, a new style of dialogue that Lyotard called “paralogy.” This was a noncompetitive type of exchange based on what Lyotard called the language game of Audition. Instead of “listening in order to talk,” Lyotard proposed that we “talk in order to listen.” This term had so many implications for therapists that I began to use it myself. Lois then came up with theterm “tiotoling,” a neologism based on initials, and it spread via the Postmodern Therapies List. But it was Lyotard himself who put the cherry on top: the game of Audition, he said, was “the game of the Just.”

I too had begun looking for practices that would be an expression of a postmodern stance. I asked psychologist Gisela Schwarz, whom I had met at a “Galveston Conference” in Texas, if she could splice me into her private practice in Austria, as a long distance, one-woman reflecting team. During the next two years, we completed several “paralogues,” as we called them, although we did not publish them except on Shawver’s online newsletter. I based the word on the term “paralogy” which Lyotard, had used to describe the conversational style characteristic of postmodernism.

Shawver, who always seemed to have a million strings to her bows, now teamed up with Andrew Lock, of Massey University in New Zealand. He had asked her to run a section on Professional Development as part of a Discursive Therapy course he had designed. I taught in that course for two years, and we used Lois’ Postmodern Therapies News project as material for students to chew on. This course never drew more than two students a year, and Lois and I finally withdrew, but not before I was able to record some online exchanges that represented a personal wish. I was hoping I could show that this type of forum could achieve a closeness comparable to a face to face encounter and, not incidentally, create a social web. I am still in email contact with one of those students, Clarke M., whose ability to communicate in vivid imagery was outstanding, and I hope to write up some of the conversations of that year. Also notable was the fact that Clarke’s co-student, Vicki D., had an adolescent son with autism, and without knowing it till relatively recently, had herself been struggling with Aspergers. I will never forget her efforts to explain to us, her teachers, how to communicate with her by using her cognitive strengths, and her deft labeling of the three of us as “neurotypicals.”

3. The Clairvoyant Philosophers

I was also impressed by Lois’ way of teaching the complex roots of Postmodernism. It was she who acquainted me with Wittgenstein’s early transformation from Logical Positivist to Questing Searcher, and his skepticism in regard to the role of language in shaping our belief in an “out there” reality. Lois also showed me how Lyotard’s invention of the term “Postmodernism” put a body on an invisible turn in the road. The many indications that an important paradigm shift was taking place had not fully been understood, even by academics. Although the giants that I call the “Clairvoyant Philosophers” had been poking about in that direction, I still had no real understanding of the cumulative nature of their vision.

These giants, to give you my personal choice only, included Gregory Bateson, whose “Syllogisms in Metaphor” changed not only my life but the way I worked in therapy. Another example was the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who, after he turned his back on his brilliant thesis on logical positivism, went off to explore the groundwork for what eventually became the Postmodern Turn. A third giant is French historian Michel Foucault. Foucault’s challenge to modernist interpretations of history was not only radical but influenced Michael White’s story-oriented Narrative approach. White also revised Tom Andersen’s Reflecting Team practice so that the ritual would enhance the comments exchanged by those attending. The aim of this performance was to transform what came in the door, to literally move it from one place to another.

A fourth giant was the Russian philologist Mikhail Bakhtin, whose revolutionary ideas on Dialogical vs. Monological thinking became the basis for the humane Finnish approach to acute psychosis called “Open Dialogue.” This was a sensible, down-to-earth method of dealing with first time psychosis. Psychologist Jaakko Seikkula and colleagues researched this approach in a now famous five year study at Keropoudas Hospital in Tornio. Their model acted to prevent chronification, which they believed was the greatest danger in cases of psychosis and which hospitalization and medication only intensified. By the end of the study, 80% of their population was working, studying or looking for a job. In the comparison hospital in Sweden, where the sample group was given “treatment as usual,” a similar percentage ended up on welfare or in the hospital.

This last section I want to give to our discovery of giants five and six: the celestial twins Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Let me try to show how their work crystallized our understanding of what we now call “The Gutenberg Moment.”

4. The Gutenberg Moment:

A few years ago, Chris Kinman began to read the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and began to publish essays on the Internet about their ideas. In an online booklet, called “Confluences,” he wrote about and took pictures to illustrate concepts like The Rhizome vs. The Tree, Abundance vs. Lack, the Body Without Organs (the non-medicalized body), the Nomad War Machine (how colonized people resist), and many more images which enlarged our human services vocabulary in unusual ways.

Chris and I had already been experimenting with gift-exchange structures and rhizome-like applications to community work for 15 years. In these latter days, we both feel that what is taking place on the World Wide Web is not only a parallel phenomenon but mind-shaking. The World Wide Web and the Internet are Rhizomes in the classic sense. They are already sprouting movements, formats, patterns, that are questioning, evading, and uprooting many of the gatekeeping structures that support our Modernist society. They are deeply impacting the field of Human Services: with online courses, self-published books, interviews controlled by the interviewee, List Serve conversations, blogs, meet-up spaces, and stations for many kinds of exchange, all floating in an invisible colloid that has no middle and no boundary and no end.

It is fascinating to read the many studies analyzing the nature of the new Web structures, which are also successful business structures. They describe the rise of decentralized organizations where no one person is “the head,” and there is not much specialization among parts. Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (2006), in their brilliant book “The Starfish and The Spider,” compare hierarchical top-down organizations (the Spider) with the decentralized models (the Starfish) that are appearing on the Internet. Examples (not always pure) would be Ebay, Amazon, Google, Wikipedia, Craig’s List, and other such. The structure of the Starfish is rhizome-like. If you cut off one of its legs, it will grow a new leg. Cut it into pieces, and new starfish will appear. If you cut off a Spider’s head, it will die.

One famous starfish in the helping field cited by Brafman and Beckstrom is Alcoholics Anonymous, which is notably leaderless, self-creating and self-governing. It has only a few guidelines: an ideology renouncing will power, a structure free of rank, an atmosphere of “No Blame.” Another example is the annual event called Burning Man, where people gather in the desert and create unusual artifacts, dress in elaborate costumes, or don’t dress at all. The most amazing feature of such happenings is that they do away with money, except for donated items to do with hospitality, like coffee or ice. These are gift economies based on exchange. Such structures have the potential to undermine the Capitalist system, at least in their abstract aspects, without reference to Communism at all.

These are some of the questions that fascinate me and Chris. Behind them we will find many other ideas, thoughts, and murky muddles. Following our key image, the Rhizome, we can ask “Who knows what new assemblages will be waiting as we come in the door? Who knows what people will greet us who do not yet exist?”