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Rogers - The aspiration of conviviality

. . is a persona that crystallised around the means that Walker found, for becoming a capable navigator in the landscape ‘in-here’. Rogers, though, is not concerned with mere surviving in the landscape of the weaving of  Others’ lives.


He’s ‘political’ and out-there and legacy-oriented, and lives in evolutionary time and global space: he is concerned with the place that one ‘in-here’ occupies, in a world comprised of in-heres . . a surging tidal bottomless ocean of massively plural in-here . . and with the limits that we might therefore wisely place on our expectations of activist success within a life; of graceful improvisatory choreography and wise weaving, of bottoming-out, of homecoming and rest and ease, in this landscape of evolving Selves in a partly evolved species . . the landscape of the #heart-mind. For Rogers, the issue is #conviviality - also known as liberation. How do we organise to achieve this deepest evolutionary aim, rather than simply a transition beyond capitalism which - of course - must be brought to its end before it fucks up everybody and everything? And what, in fact, is it that we must organise and work with . . what are the tools and materials for conviviality?

Rogers sees very well how Walker’s politics, for his entire wage-working life, was powered by the grim engine of melancholy, and he needs to show how an activism of generosity and open-hearted recognition can be brought forth, in the face of all the many grim oppositions and desperate defences - and the grim tendencies and defences and modes of self-harm that are inevitably in play simply because we have the minds of species homo sapiens - that organise so many waking and working hours in the world. Rogers is named for Carl Rogers, therapist, who put into our collective conscious-ness the notion of ‘unconditional positive regard’. This is a close cousin of the dhamma notion, of the capacity for metta: open-hearted recognition of just how a person is, regardless of how we feel about how they are, and the cultivating and holding of a constant goodwill and well-wishing and positive aspiration for all persons . . including, notably, this one here, inside this skin.

Rogers is the youngest, a follower in the tracks of Walker and m, picking up pieces, weaving, dancing, surfing. And yet, oddly, it seems that Rogers lies deep, and the spirit of Rogers spoke soonest . . .

The story starts here - Rogers is discovered by conviviality

It is 1967. He is twenty years old, in the final months of his degree course in chemical engineering. Rogers is been awarded a book prize and he chooses a book out of MIT - the premier North American technical university - edited by Gyorgy Kepes: Sign, image and symbol. It’s a large-format, Thames and Hudson art hardback, spaciously laid-out, and is one of the best and certainly the most significant book he has taken into his life, to this day.


The authors address a range of humanistic (and evolution-ary) issues: the perceptions of humans in everyday landscapes that are ’strange’ to an observer in an ‘advanced’ country (ethnography with Inuit peoples), the mechanics of perception (what today is familiar as ‘neuroscience’: the brain’s processing of visual data), the universality (or otherwise) of signs, insights of semiology (way before Barthes), form as process (autopoesis: insights of general systems theory, into the ‘bubbles’ of experience and interaction within which any life-form seeks and finds and makes and maintains its existence). For young Rogers, these essays evoke what he today might speak of in terms of the beauty of the ‘suchness’ of material things (including the mind); and the bearing that this beauty and this suchness has, on human action and human response and the understanding of human action - including, not least, the design and development of tools and systems: perhaps even chemical engineering! Sign, image and symbol explores nature, the nature of human being. How far from chemical engineering can you get? What does he think he’s up to, this prize-winner geek!

Well, maybe the distance wasn’t that far . . . In the mid-60s, materials science was just taking-off (it’s at nanotechnology now) and in his final-year lectures the professor had communicated some excitement and insight in his emergent field, exploring . . . the suchness of materials! The chem eng discipline as a whole - which recruited 18-year old Rogers on the claim that it was a breeding ground for ’new renaissance men’  - was just making a transition, from one based on interpolating empirical correlations of test-rig data on massive sheets of graph paper, to one based on theoretical models and the algorithmic crunching of unsolvable equations: a close marriage of imagination, language and material manipulations, and a deep respect for and faith in the complex orders that lie within phenomena which appear chaotic. He wasn’t mistaken, to feel that the emerging chem eng discipline was, in a sense, going quite deep. But sniffing the air, Rogers sensed also that Sign, image and symbol was deeper. These investigators addressed art and culture, insight and beauty, humanity and the suchness of things: beyond calculation and beyond number and almost beyond language in the suchness of thought and perception, inside and beyond mundane utility and industrial production; open to wonder, and open to the wonder of being able to relish the order of the world, cultural and natural, in material and in imagination. The choice of the book - a fizzing Pandora’s firework-box of multi-disciplinary Sixties’ epiphanies - told a story: this man wasn’t going to settle for long in Widgetville or Tinkertown. He was on a road to somewhere else.

 ‘Somewhere else’ turns out, with fifty years’ hindsight, to be the heart-mind - the embodied, emotional, thinking-and-sensing-and-speaking-and-feeling, evolved animal entity that lives under the skin of culture. Turns out, further, to be the aware and skilful production (reproduction, altered production) of the individual and collective heart-mind, at the core of the production of the liberation of humans. This somewhere-else harbours an enquiry into the ‘emotional institutions’ that are the order underlying lives and histories; and into the relations of production (and altered production) of the heart-mind that keep these institutions in shape and give them trajectories and transmute them. It addresses the forces of production of the wanting and avoiding, the holding-on to Self, that makes people timid and courageous and reckless and wise. Yes, the road of Sign image and symbol snakes off across the contours and continents of the lands of the heart-mind.

Along the road, Rogers soon acquired some banners and lodestones. He very soon picked up  ‘the personal is political’.  But how is it ‘political’, entangled in powers and the constituting and steering of powers, large and small? And what is ‘the personal’ - is it the private, the inner, the unspoken, the perceptual, the motivational, the affective? - and how is it to be known and acted-with and -through? And if it’s bounded - if there are some things that are not ‘personal’ - what is it bounded by? How are all these actual persons, here on this planet, implicated in changing things and keeping them the same, and doing harm and initiating liberation? And today, what can we make now of this fifty-year old slogan? What can we actually, materially, today, at this time in the evolution of our species, expect to make, collectively, in and through the sphere of ‘the personal’: the system of experiential and intentional relationships between in-here in one person and in-here in some others?

A little later, Rogers acquired from Ivan Illich the notion of ‘tools for conviviality’. In a world of sophisticated ways of knowledging, and elaborate forms of artifice - the kind of world a chemical engineer, for example (a doctor, a transport planner, an architect, a computer systems developer, a food scientist, an App designer) wakes to each day - how can these extended assemblies of artefacts be made available as means for sociability and compassion and facilitation and commonality? How can the forceful, even mandatory, even burdensome and limiting, presence of such systems (of manufacturing, of healthcare, of civil engineering infrastructure, of public administration and public order, of householding and housekeeping and child-caring), in the ordinary wage-working and home-working lives of men and women, be opened into a cornucopia of means of self-determination and self-management and mutuality and mutual regard, in brotherhood and sisterhood, auntie-hood, grandparent-hood, parenthood and friendship: all people? For the safe keeping and nurturing of all children and all children’s children? To guarantee the ‘kind’ in humankind.

These ambitions picked up m in the 70s and carried him into a ‘radical professional’ commitment and practice. m and Rogers are of course not distinct people, merely constructs. But the challenges of ‘the personal’ and ‘conviviality’ spin Rogers off in other directions than the issues of making and skill, class and wage-work, knowledges and forces of production, that furnish the central agendas of m’s commitments. I have named Rogers from Carl Rogers, father of humanistic psychotherapy and personal development, and from his epiphany with Sign, image and symbol, Rogers went on to journey and discover: in 20th-century historical research and the humanities, in middle-school and adult-education teaching, in group-facilitation and the design of practices for learning, in human-centred design of IT systems and the design of computer-supported cooperative work, in organisation development and work-practice research and development, in research-project leadership; in London and Crawley, in Brighton and Palo Alto, in Stockholm and Sydney. There would be no FoP RoP but for the open-hearted, unconditional, suchness-loving engagement of Rogers.

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