this Saturday — 11.20.04 — Threeing Workshop– Bateson Conference

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this Saturday — 11.20.04 — Threeing Workshop– Bateson Conference
Note: this event takes place at
CUNY and not at 16 Beaver
1. About this Saturday
2. About the concept of Threeing
3. About Sevanne Kassarjian
4. About Paul Ryan
5. Bateson, Peirce and The Three-Person Solution
6. About the Conference and program
1. About this Saturday
What: Threeing Workshop
When: 4:00pm, Saturday November 20th, 2004
Where: CUNY 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street
Who: Open to all
As part of the conference “Art, Circuitry, and Ecology” Honoring Gregory Bateson, we will be participating in a Threeing Workshop. The workshop will encourage your participation it should be fun. paul will explain the concept theoretically and practically through the Threeing exercises.
the conference costs entry (25$ or 10$ for artists) if you are coming please mention 16beaver invite for the threeing workshop and you will be get in for free. (you are encouraged to attend the whole conference #6 below.)
2. About the concept of Threeing
quotes in relation to Threeing from the lecture that Paul Ryan will be giving this Saturday:
” In a series of video studies of three-person behavior that I did in the nineteen seventies, this same pattern kept recurring: two parties would combine to exclude a third party. It was clearest in the instances where one party was blindfolded and the other two were sighted. What happened recurrently was that the two sighted combined against the blindfolded party and reinforced their relationship at the expense of the third party.”
” The psychoanalyst, Jacque Lacan understands the social function of this feasting of the eye as a sublimation of envy (Lacan 1978: 116). He finds the most exemplary instance of envy in Saint Augustine. Augustine reports that he understood his entire fate in one image when, as a child, he saw his younger brother enjoying a look of love while feeding at his mother’s breast. This bitter sight has the effect of poisoning the older brother with a desire to tear the younger brother to pieces. The breast that the older brother is separated from, which in fact he no longer needs, is the source of a complete and closed off satisfaction for the younger brother. Augustine, the older brother, was excluded from this satisfaction. As an excluded third party, Augustine envies. He imagines doing violence to his brother. For the psychoanalyst Lacan, the civilizing function of painting is to tame this desperate gaze of envy. Among other things, art objects provide satisfaction for us when we are excluded from the aura of face-to-face human interaction. The proliferation of art objects that trap the gaze and the narrative connection between these objects constitute art history.
In keeping with the recent interest in relational aesthetics, Threeing supports artists more concerned with nurturing relationships than creating objects. In the voluntary practice of Threeing, it is possible for participants to maintain reciprocity of gaze without envy and without resorting to creating art as an object. Threeing is a way of establishing an inclusive experience of aura among three people. If, as Walter Benjamin says, ritual allows us to experience emotion in a crisis proof setting, then the establishment of Threeing, as a regularly repeated ritual, can create an ongoing fullness of relationships among three or more people without envy, aura to aura to aura.
The practice of Threeing can provide artists emotional freedom from the need to make art objects. Yes, art objects can be produced collaboratively using Threeing. But given Threeing it seems possible to reorder the economics of exclusion and envy that organize the art world. It may be possible to engage the art world as a social system and link that social system more directly with efforts to address our ecological crisis.”
3. About Sevanne Kassarjian
Sevanne Kassarjian is an actress based in New York City, who performs on stage and screen and teaches acting and improvisation in life and art.
4. about Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan is an artist living in NYC. He authored Cybernetics of the Sacred and Video Mind, Earth Mind.  Mr. Ryan teaches in the Graduate Media Studies Progam at The New School.
5. Bateson, Peirce and The Three-Person Solution
Paul Ryan, New School
Gregory Bateson identified an array of difficulties in human relationships including double binds, confusion between complimentary and symmetry relations, and the ‘sliding triad’. This essay presents a solution to these and other difficulties in the form of a ‘yoga’ of relationships in which participants take turns playing three different roles keyed to the three phenomenological categories of Charles Peirce.
Vic and I sit in straight back chairs facing each other, talking. Two video cameras record the conversation. One camera frames a full body shot of Vic, the other camera frames a full body shot of me. One week later we watch the tapes as they play back side by side on a split screen in slow motion, without sound. While watching the tapes, Vic imitates my movements and I imitate his movements. Simultaneously, we verbalize what we feel. Consciously verbalizing our own unconscious nonverbal interaction, there in front of us, ‘live on tape’, brings revelations about our relationship.
Rocking back and forth in imitation of Vic talking to me, I hear myself saying, ‘Yeah, I’m listening to what you’re saying, but I’m really getting ready to strike back.’
Imitating Vic as he makes diminutive hand gestures I say, ‘Let me make it nice and small, Ryan, so that you can understand it.’
Imitating my movements and gestures, Vic makes equally revelatory remarks.
Each remark triggers full-bodied laughter of recognition.
This experience was part of a series of experiments interweaving small group dynamics with video feedback that took place at Roosevelt Hospital’s Center for the Study of Social Change in New York City in 1970. Vic Gioscia directed the Center. As a video artist, I devised the experiments. Al Scheflen, author of How Behavior Means, led the discussions among the eight to ten people taking part.
Scheflen had been part of a pioneering group of six professionals and six graduate students who spent years studying family therapy sessions on film, frame by frame. According to Scheflen, the impact of this research on the researchers was dramatic. All six graduate students had been married when the study began. All six divorced during the course of the study. Close observation of the mutual behavioral constraints humans put on other humans was difficult for the graduate students to incorporate into their own lives. The professional researchers developed serious physical aliments. Scheflen himself began to go blind.
This research gave Scheflen a very grim view of human behavior. He argued that it doesn’t matter what poetry is going on in your head, your interaction in small groups is controlled by a very restricted repertoire of behaviors shared with other mammals: greeting, parting, combat, courtship, territory and a few others. ‘I can show you baboons doing the very same things,’ Scheflen would say. He understood this entire repertoire of behaviors as two-party interactions, or variations on two-party interactions. Scheflen saw the experiment cited above, Vic and I ‘imitating’ each other, as a variation on combat behavior between two parties.
While I could see what Scheflen was saying, I thought that things need not be so grim. Film and video provided elegant tools for studying human behavioral patterns. Maybe, as an experimental video artist, I could understand these behavior patterns well enough to reconfigure them into new patterns that provided more flexibility for interpersonal relationships. Perhaps the de facto insistence by humans on the primacy of two-person patterns could be challenged. Over the next five years I produced over thirty hours of three-person experimentation and improvisation on video. I worked with trained dancers and people with no training. After each production session, I would watch the tapes over and over, looking for patterns of behavior that could be configured into stable three people relationships. As opposed to Scheflen’s grim science of behavior, I wanted to initiate an ‘auto-poetic’ art of behavior, that is to say, an art that would be self-organizing and self-regenerating.
My experimentation was guided by a new way of thinking. Through the Center for the Study of Social Change, I had met the lucid theorist of communication, Gregory Bateson. Trained as an anthropologist, Bateson helped found the field of family therapy. Rather than think in terms of isolated individuals, Bateson thought in terms of circuits of relationships. To think explicitly about three-person relationships in terms of circuits, I followed the writings of Bateson’s colleague, Warren McCulloch, to the writings of the American philosopher, Charles Peirce. Based on my readings of these three thinkers and my video work, I was able to invent a new circuit for three-person relationships, that I named the relational circuit (Ryan, 1991b, 2004).
Just as the invention of contrapposto once made possible free standing statues in classical Greece and the invention of perspective made possible paintings with a point of view during the Renaissance, the invention of the relational circuit makes possible an art of behavior for three people in the electronic era. Using the relational circuit, I have been able to configure a stable repertoire of cooperative behavior patterns for three people. I called this new art of behavior Threeing and, amid the emergence of performance art in the 70s and 80s, presented this non-verbal art of Threeing in various venues, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Subsequently, I developed Threeing as a verbal communication tool for workers and educators (Ryan 1998, www.earthscore.org).
I see relational confusion at the heart of much that holds back needed change in our world. Threeing is a three-person solution to relational confusion. At the core of this solution is a voluntary practice in which three people take turns playing three different roles. Through this role playing, a clarity about relationships emerges, and an ease. This clarity and ease can be cultivated by practice and developed into healthy sustainable relationships.
Our tendency is to view any three people interacting together in classic dramatic terms, but the structure of Threeing is not a narrative structure. The three do not interact dramatically following a story line to an ending. Rather, the three interact recursively, following a circuit that balances relationships. To understanding the process of Threeing, narrative expectations must be abandoned.
In a sense, Threeing can be described as a ‘yoga’ of relationships. When you learn Threeing, you stretch your capacity to relate in three different roles. Just as Yoga can prevent back pain and mental malaise, Threeing can prevent relational confusion. Just as practicing yoga can keep a person healthy and thriving so the practice of Threeing can keep relationships healthy and thriving.
Gregory Bateson once told me about a remarkable ritual among traditional Hawaiians. At the end of the year everyone in the village sits in a circle. Each person is offered the opportunity to speak. Whatever the person says begins with the phrase, ‘Untangle me…’ The speaker then describes how his or her relationship with someone else in the circle had become tangled up during the year and asks everybody in the circle to help unravel what happened. For example, someone might say to another member of the community:
‘Untangle me. Last month at my cousin’s wedding, I overheard you talking about my troubles with my brother. I didn’t like it.’
‘I am sorry you overheard, but I thought the person I spoke with could talk to your brother and help sort things out.’
The person who was spoken to at the wedding and the brother are then asked to speak. Others may talk. Everyone sits together in the circle until each person has untangled his or her relational confusion with the help of the whole community.
In many traditional communities, the complete web of human relationships was addressed and sustained through appropriate rituals. In our modern societies, addressing and sustaining human relationships is more difficult. We live our high-speed lives amid multiple networks of people who do not know each other. Often, our parents do not know our friends. Our friends do not know our co-workers. Our co-workers do not know our siblings. There is no shared community to organize rituals that can orchestrate our relationships. Without such a community, relational confusion is commonplace, even predictable. We expect relationships to become mixed up, tangled. Few of us have escaped the feelings of bewilderment, even shame, that accompany relational problems.
Threeing is not the answer to every relational problem. As the inventor of Threeing, I have blind spots regarding this invention and how it can be applied. Yet Threeing is a new way of relating that, I believe, can make a significant difference in untangling our complex lives and structuring sustainable relationships.
In order to be actualized in any context, the formal solution, or logic of relationships, must first be specified in terms of that given domain or context. This work of specification requires programming. Programs are coherent operational sequences that achieve a stated purpose. Based on the success of efforts to date (Ryan 1993, 1998), I believe we can use Threeing to encode programs that cultivate healthy human relationships in a variety of domains such as governance, conflict resolution, private enterprise, race relations and family therapy.
The Three-Person Solution
Why three people? Why not two? Or five? To answer the question of why three people form the fundamental unit for resolving relational problems for two, three, four, five or more people, I begin by examining the word ‘relationships.’
The word ‘relate’ comes from the fourth part of a Latin verb:
fero—I carry
ferre—to carry
tuli—I carried
latus—to be carried
The verb was used to mean to bear or to carry a child. As indicated above, the word difference comes from the first and second part of the same verb. Difference and relate can be reconnected in an English sentence that helps us understand relationships.
We differentiate ourselves from our relatives
by referencing the experience of childbearing.
For example, my cousin on my mother’s side was carried by a woman (my aunt) who was carried by the woman (my grandmother) who also carried my mother. The very word relate suggests that the question of how to relate is really a question of how best to organize the differences among us.
In traditional families differences are organized in fixed roles. The father plays his role. The mother plays her role. The children have their roles. When you play your role, you play your part in the whole. The whole family depends on each person playing his or her part. Grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins also have roles, and there are rules for maintaining these roles. For example, a student of mine from Korea once explained to me that although his uncle is younger than he is, and a boyhood friend, he must nonetheless address his uncle in a formal family term that indicates the respect required in that relationship. Such rules of address keep the overall organization of differences in the family system clear and balanced.
Outside the family system, you can ‘relate’ one-to-one. Moreover, with just one other person you can develop a deep understanding of him or her, and that person can develop a deep understanding of you. Understanding each other, however, is not the same as understanding the differences between you. Differences are themselves relational. The differences within a two-person relationship cannot really be understood as differences, unless there is another relationship available for comparison. This explains why love is blind. The two lovebirds see each other, but neither sees the relationship they are in as a relationship. Without a third person, the exhilarating play of differences between two lovers easily goes to extremes. Courtship can be very dramatic. In truth, courting lovers do not want to see the relationship; they want only to see each other. They are jealous of any third person precisely because the very presence of a third person invites scrutiny of their relationship as well as questions about how their isolated two-person relationship fits with other relationships in their community.
Let me restate my premise. For two people to understand the differences between them, to understand the relationship as a relationship, there needs to be another relationship available for comparison. Relating to one person with no comparison available, you might say, ‘You’re no fun.’ With a comparison available, you could say, ‘I have more fun with him than with you.’ Of course, such a comparison implies that you will soon make a choice and leave the person you are with and go have fun with the third person. Here we have the fundamental relational dilemma. On one hand, it takes three people to understand and balance relationships as relationships; on the other hand, each person within a three-person relationship is constantly faced with a choice between the other two. Acts of choice cut us off from relationships as relationships. The choice of one person tends to break off the relationship with the other person. Yet choices that exclude a third person leave the two remaining people without a way to balance their relationship as a relationship.
Consider this simulation of the relational dilemma conducted at a research center in California (Bateson, 1976 conversation). Three people are seated at a round table with partitions placed so they cannot see each other. In front of each person, on the table, there is a device. The device has a button for the left index finger and a button for the right index finger. Only one button will work at a time. Each button closes part of an electric circuit. The remaining part of the circuit is closed by one of the other two participants touching one of his or her own buttons. A light on the device goes on when either one of the two possible circuits is closed. A timer records the amount of time each participant is in a closed circuit. For each participant, the objective is to be in a closed circuit with another participant for more time than either of the other two parties is in a closed circuit. In order to score, a choice must be made between the other two. Only one two-person combination can be scoring at any one time. Relationships among the three are subordinated to choices that always exclude one. The choice of one person excludes another person.
This dilemma about choice and relationships generates a cluster of partial solutions to relational balance for two people with a commitment to each other, among them risking periodic interaction with an outsider that allows the two people within the partnership to renew their mutual choice of each other. In effect, the two are demonstrating to each other that despite whatever ambiguity or second thoughts about their mutual commitment have arisen within the relationship, it is at least clear that each of them prefers the other to this third person.
Two is incomplete, but three appears impossible. For relationships to thrive they require a commitment, a clear choice. Yet choice itself is not about organizing differences, i.e., relating as such. Relationships get subordinated to choice. Yet a relationship subordinated to the choice of one person can cut the relationship off from the play of differences with someone else that might balance and enrich the chosen relationship.
One reason for this relational dilemma is basic biology. We cannot look in two pairs of eyes at once. If you are facing Jack, you cannot face Jill at the same time. You must make a choice between Jack and Jill. Threeing solves the relational dilemma by neutralizing the excluding effect of choice on relationships. In Threeing, you can make choices that balance your relationship with two other people simultaneously. You are never forced to choose between Jack and Jill.
The way Threeing allows for non-excluding choices in a relationship with two other people is quite simple once you understand it, yet it is hard to explain in words alone. The basic two-part structure of a sentence, the subject/predicate dyad, tends to reduce all three-part relations to dyadic statements. You can understand the dyadic statements and fool yourself into thinking you understand the triadic relations. To avoid this confusion, I ground my explanation of the three-person solution in a diagram and a device. The diagram, a two-dimensional rendering of the relational circuit, engages your non-verbal ability to think in icons or pictures that show relationships. The device, a tricolor talking stick, developed specifically for verbal Threeing, appeals to your ability to learn by doing. Admittedly, both these explanations will, perforce, be dry, like explaining the floor plan of a basketball court and the rules for playing. Threeing itself is like the game of basketball, the action occurs when you’re playing.
The Relational Circuit
A circuit is a closed pathway that organizes differences. The standard example of a circuit is the heating system in your house. A difference in the room temperature (it gets hotter or cooler) makes a difference in the thermostat (it switches off or on) makes a difference in the fuel supplied to the furnace (it decreases or increases) which in turn makes a difference in the room temperature (it gets cooler or hotter). Just as this closed path of differences regulates the heat in your house so what I am calling the relational circuit regulates the relationships in Threeing. Before presenting the complete path or circuit, let me present the three positions in the circuit that correspond to the three roles (Figure 1.1).
[Figure 1.1 about here]
Notice that the shortest line is at the bottom and indicates the first position. The second and third positions have respectively longer lines. We complete the relational circuit by adding lines that connect the three positions in a complete pathway (Figure 1.2).
[Figure 1.2 about here]
Figure 1.3 is another diagram of the same circuit. In this diagram the roles corresponding to the positions are named. The first position, the shortest line, corresponds to the role of the initiator. The second position, the middle sized line, corresponds to the reactor. The third position, the longest line, corresponds to the mediator. In brief, the reactor ‘contains’ the initiator. The mediator ‘contains’ both the reactor and the initiator. A fuller explanation of the roles and how they relate to each other is provided below. Here we simply name the roles in terms of the three key positions in the circuit and indicate the possibility of choice between roles provided by the circuit (Figure 1.3).
[Figure 1.3 about here]
Imagine this circuit outlined on the floor with an eight-foot diameter. Imagine yourself walking along the path of the circuit. In any position, you always have the option of moving to two other positions. You always have a choice. The complete flow pattern for making these choices in concert with two other people is presented elsewhere (Ryan 1993). The decision to move from one position to another is motivated by each person’s sense of how to balance the three-person interaction without falsifying oneself.
Looking at the circuit, it is evident that if you make a choice to change your position, you change your relationship to the all the other positions in the circuit. In turn, others change their roles in relation to you when they change their position. Choosing a different position makes a difference in your relationship with the other two people. Yet all choices take place within a circuit that always includes all three people. No one is ever excluded. The whole pattern of relationships established by the circuit stays the same, but you change your role in relation to the other people when you change your position.
In some respects, the roles in Threeing are like the roles in the game paper-rock-scissors. This game offers an alternative to the normal bullying that can go on among children. In the normal pattern, the biggest child pushes the next biggest child, the next biggest shoves the littlest and the littlest goes out and kicks a wall–he dare not push the biggest child. By contrast, in paper-rock-scissors the relationships are organized in a closed pathway, similar to how the relational circuit organizes Threeing.
In the game of paper-rock-scissors, each child simultaneously throws out one hand. The hand is either flat (paper), fisted (rock), or split fingered (scissors). The children then give each other playful slaps on the wrists according to the formula paper-covers-rock, rock-breaks-scissors and scissors-cuts-paper. Here is how the game maps onto the relational circuit (Figure 1.4).
[Figure 1.4 about here]
In paper-rock-scissors the three children are never forced to choose between their two other playmates. Each chooses one of three roles: paper, rock or scissors. The choice of a role does not exclude anyone. Of course, unlike Threeing, paper-rock-scissors is a game you play to ‘win’, i.e., strike your fellow players more than you are struck. However, within paper-rock-scissors and Threeing the same pattern of choice operates. Choices are not between people. Rather, choices are made between different positions in a circuit of relationships. The different positions indicate different roles to be played within the whole circuit of relationships. These are not choices that exclude one person for the sake of another. In Threeing, participants learn to play all three roles and make choices among the roles that balance three-person interaction.
The three roles of initiator, reactor and mediator correspond to the three fundamental categories of being articulated by the American philosopher, Charles Peirce. Peirce called his categories firstness, secondness and thirdness (Peirce 1998: 160-78).
Firstness is the realm of spontaneity, freshness, quality, possibility, freedom. Firstness is being ‘as is’ without regard for any other. The role of initiator is the role of someone in firstness.
Secondness is a two-sided consciousness of effort and resistance engendered by being up against something brute. The actual ‘thisness’ of something, as it exists, here and now, without rhyme or reason, constitutes secondness. To convey the pure actuality of secondness, Peirce often used the example of pushing against a swinging door and meeting silent, unseen resistance. Secondness always contains some firstness. The ‘ouch’ uttered by a child struck by a stone is an instance of the firstness of secondness. The role of reactor is the role of someone in secondness.
Thirdness mediates between firstness and secondness, between possibility and brute actuality. Thirdness is the realm of patterns, of laws that govern the organization of events. The reality of patterns is the reality of thirdness. Patterns control the dynamic interplay of spontaneity and brute resistance. There is a firstness of thirdness. The intuitive appreciation of a pattern, say a time lapse film study of a flower opening to the sun, is an example of the firstness of thirdness. There is also a secondness of thirdness. The hand of the sheriff on you shoulder constitutes the force of law, the secondness of thirdness. The role of mediator is the role of someone in thirdness.
Note that in naming these categories Peirce hypostatizes the terms first, second and third. To hypostatize is to make some characteristic of something stand on its own. For example, we do this when we see the happy face of a baby and then talk of happiness. The phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’ puts ‘happiness’ on a pedestal. We turn an adjective into a noun; we make a quality into a something, in and of itself. Peirce makes the term ‘first’, which conveys coming before anything else, stand on its own and mean ‘being such as it is without regard for any other’, i.e., firstness. The term ‘second’ which originally meant ‘other’, means ‘that which one is up against’, i.e., secondness. The term ‘third’ in Peirce’s thinking does not mean the number ranked after the second in a sequence, but implies laws about relationships. Peirce was a trained chemist and when he talked about a molecule that could form a compound with three other molecules he described it as having ‘three hands out.’ Peirce argued that with multiples of three hands out, any level of complexity beyond three could be generated (Brunning 1997). Firstness, secondness and thirdness mean much more than can be suggested by the designations initiator, reactor and mediator. These role designations are simply labels pointing to the richness of playing roles in accord with Peirce’s hypostatized categories. The deepest immersion in these roles takes place in the ritualized non-verbal version of Threeing (Ryan 1993).
As mentioned, in contrast to typical family configurations, with Threeing the roles for relating are not fixed. Three people rotate through three different roles. Each role is defined as broadly as each of Peirce’s three categories of being is. The first role, the initiator, invites you to express your sensibilities and feelings spontaneously, to ‘be such as you are regardless of any other.’ In the second role, the reactor, you maintain your own sensibilities, but you express yourself in response, even in reaction to the person in the first role. The third role, that of the mediator, is the most complex. You attend to both the spontaneity in the first role and the responsiveness in the second role and mediate between them. Once three people establish a fundamental circuit of relationships among themselves using these three roles, they can go on to establish more complex circuits of relationships with four, five or more people.
A diagram of the relational circuit on the floor makes possible the non-verbal practice of Threeing. Participants keep track of the roles they are playing by referencing the positions in the circuit. A verbal version of Threeing is also possible using a device called a Tricolor Talking Stick.
The Tricolor Talking Stick
A tricolor talking stick is a round, fifteen-inch piece of wood with a diameter between one and three inches. The stick is painted with three five-inch bands of solid color: yellow, red, and blue. The red band is in the middle of the stick.
In verbal Threeing, the person who holds the stick speaks while others listen. By holding a particular color on the stick, the speaker indicates that he is speaking in a particular role. By painting the stick with three colors we can keep the three roles clear and keep the relationships from getting tangled up. Just as training wheels help one learn to ride a bicycle, so the tricolor talking stick helps three people to learn Threeing. Once people learn to change roles without tangling themselves up, the training wheels can come off and it is not necessary to actually hold the stick while taking on a particular role.
To learn verbal Threeing, three people take turns in the different roles by passing the stick around and holding the color that indicates their roles. Holding the yellow band indicates that one is playing the first role (initiator). Holding the red band indicates that one is playing the second role (reactor). Holding blue indicates the third role (mediator). You can remember the connection between role and color by association. Yellow is associated with the rising sun in the morning (initiation), red with the reactiveness of ‘seeing red’ (responding), and blue with the overarching sky above (mediating).
In using the Talking Stick, sometimes the emphasis is on the role the person is playing: initiator (yellow), respondent (red), and mediator (blue). Example: yellow throws out an idea, red reacts and blue mediates. Let’s say that Maria, Stacey and Lynn are trying to decide which movie to see. Lynn (holding yellow) throws out some suggestions. Maria (holding red) responds. Stacey (holding blue) mediates between the two. If all are not agreed they can change roles and try another round, and another, until they settle on a movie. An extended procedure for making more difficult decisions is presented elsewhere (Ryan, www.earthscore.org).
In discussing the movie afterwards, these three could share their opinions in a similar way by using the roles to recall different aspects of what they have seen. The first role (yellow) deals with the emotional qualities of the movie, the second role (red) deals with specific facts and details in the movie, the third role (blue) deals with the overall plot of the movie as well as what it means in a larger context. By taking turns in each of these roles Maria, Stacey and Lynn can discuss their different appreciations of the movie without anyone pushed aside.
Note that the three roles of initiator, reactor and mediator invite non-confrontational discussions. The tricolor talking stick can also be used to regulate confrontation. As the word ‘confront’ suggests, confrontation means facing off with an opponent. Boxers standing toe-to-toe in the ring are confronting each other. Their actions mirror one another. One hits. The other hits back. There is symmetry to what they do.
The roles of initiator, respondent and mediator do not mirror one another. They fit together, but they are not similar. In this, they are like child, mother and grandmother. The child is nurtured, the mother nurtures, the grandmother mediates the nurturing. The activities interrelate, but they do not mirror each another. The interaction is without symmetry. The roles are asymmetric.
While the main roles in Threeing are non-competitive and asymmetric, within Threeing there is the opportunity for competition and symmetric interaction. Using the Talking Stick, participants can combine the three non-confrontational asymmetric roles, as indicated by the yellow, red and blue bands, with symmetric or confrontational roles. The difference between confrontation and non-confrontation is indicated by the way that a person holds the stick. To indicate confrontation, the stick is held horizontally with the ends pointing at the two people in confrontation. In the non-confrontational roles of yellow, red and blue, the stick is held vertically.
In verbal Threeing, the nature of the non-confrontational roles suggest using certain types of phrases to make sure the inquiry is not mistaken for confrontation.
How do you yourself feel about the suggestion you’ve made?
Did you have any expectations about how the rest of us would feel?
What are the facts behind your suggestion?
What experience have we had as a group, or as individuals that would support your suggestion?
If I understand you correctly, you are saying that if we do ___, then things will work out, am I right?
Can you show me how you got from the ‘if’ to the ‘then’? I did not follow you.
Just as playing the asymmetric or complementary roles of yellow, red and blue suggest a certain style of speaking, so confrontation suggests a certain style of speaking. Certain introductory statements can go a long way toward making the confrontation formal and clear enough to be productive.
‘I don’t agree with you. Here is why…’
‘While I can see your argument, I disagree because…’
‘Here is how I understand the context in which I am stating my argument…’
‘Here is how I would define these terms.’
‘I am assuming…’
‘Here’s what I think, here’s how I came to think this way…’
‘I came to this conclusion because…
‘Here are the facts I ‘m basing my argument on.’
Here is how the protocols for confrontation and non-confrontation in the tricolor talking stick map onto the relational circuit.
[Figure 1.5 about here]
The details of how to use the Tricolor Talking Stick to support the flow of conversation are supplied elsewhere (Ryan 1993). Here it is enough to suggest how the three roles work in a verbal context. Once participants get familiar with the roles indicated by the Tricolor Talking Stick, and they learn how to confront each other without the confrontation escalating into a vicious cycle, they can talk to each other with real frankness.
The relational circuit and the tricolor talking stick constitute the core of the three-person solution. Strategies for using the three-person solution with four or more people appear elsewhere (Ryan 1993). The three-person solution neutralizes the excluding effect of choice on relationships. No one person is ever forced to choose between two others. No one is pushed toward excluding the third party another. In Threeing, the function of the triad is to reinforce the triad.
Preventing Seven Problems
Human efforts to order differences without confusion have their optimal realization in ideal objects familiar to us from geometry (Derrida 1978). A circle is a circle. A square is a square. Ideal objects are unequivocal: you cannot have a square circle. Ideal geometric figures do not carry the ambiguity of language. The term environment provides an example of how the equivocacy of language contrasts with the univocacy of ideal geometric objects. The word environment has become bound to the political ambiguities of its use pattern over the last thirty years. When first deployed, the term referred to the all-inclusive context. Now many people see the environment as the special interest of one more special interest group called environmentalists. The word environment metaphorically reached for an inclusive understanding, but only grasped a piece of the whole. In most people’s minds, it is now an equivocal term.
At the root of the word environment is the French word viron, meaning circle. As mentioned, the circle is an ideal object. The reach and the grasp of the ideal circle are identical. Its true sense is in this unity. An ideal circle is what it is once and for all. It is not subject to the shifting contingencies of equivocal meanings. It is not bound by specifics. The meaning of a circle is univocal. Even children can recognize this. To invite a group of children today to reactivate the original meaning of environment would involve helping them shift through historical sediments of meaning. By contrast, a circle requires no such archaeological dig. A group of children can all join hands and reactivate the self-evident meaning of a circle for themselves. Guided by the ideal of a circle in their minds, they can use the circle as a ‘figure of regulation’ in which their intersubjectivity is not dominated by language but organized in reference to a completely idealized and objective form. They can join hands and circle round, allowing their emotions to flow with the circling. The objectivity of the ideal figure marks and communicates interdependence among the hand holding children, allowing them to interact without confusion. Only with such ideal objects is it possible for humans to reactivate understanding back to its most original self-evident status. Because the relational circuit is an unambiguous ideal object with self-evident positions, (Ryan 1991b, 2004) it is possible for participants at any time to reactivate a clear, unambiguous and self-evident understanding of the circuit. This understanding guides the flow pattern of Threeing.
As we saw above, Threeing involves three people using the relational circuit to take turns playing three different roles. By maintaining these roles three people can avoid choices that exclude, that is to say, they can resolve the relational dilemma. Maintaining these roles in keeping with the unambiguous positions in the relational circuit also prevents a series of other relational problems. This last section specifies five problems common to two-person relationships and two problems common to three-person relationships that can be prevented by Threeing. Issues of gender and Threeing are discussed elsewhere (Ryan 2003).
1) The Sliding Triad or ‘You Started This’
Two people often disagree about the interpretation of events that take place between them. Bateson observed that, generally speaking, people tend to interpret interpersonal events using a set of three labels. (Bateson 1991: 133-146). Psychologists name this set of labels the stimulus-response-reinforcement triad. While two people will explain the interactive events between them in terms of this triad, each person often maps this triad onto the identical sequence of events in a different way. That is to say, each person has a different way of connecting the map (the stimulus-response-reinforcement triad) with the territory (the actual sequence of events). Here is a scenario depicting this problem of one territory with two different maps.
In discussing a muddled encounter, Naomi says that the angry look on Alice’s face stimulated her, Naomi, to respond to Alice’s look by walking away. According to Naomi, Alice reinforced this response of walking away from Alice’s angry look by shouting at Naomi, so Naomi kept walking. Offering a different interpretation, Alice says that when Naomi walked away, it stimulated her, Alice, to respond by calling out. Naomi’s continuing to walk away only reinforced Alice’s perception of Naomi as angry. Alice fails to acknowledge her own angry look.
Naomi’s MapStimulusResponse or
Reaction ReinforcementResponse or ReactionThe TerritoryAlice looks angryNaomi walks awayAlice calls out (shouts)Naomi keeps walking Alice’s MapStimulusResponse or ReactionReinforcement
Who started it? Whose action initiated the muddle? For Naomi, the angry look on Alice’s face stimulated her response of walking away. For Alice the walking away stimulated her response of ‘calling out.’ Alice sees Naomi’s walking away from Alice as a stimulus; Naomi sees it as a response or reaction. Alice’s ‘calling out’ is seen by Alice as a legitimate response; Naomi interprets the ‘calling out’ as a ‘shouting’ that re-enforces her initial interpretation of Alice as angry.
As we see in our chart, the walking away, which is labeled ‘stimulus’ by Alice, is labeled ‘reaction’ by Naomi. The triadic frame moves back and forth along the sequence of interaction as if it were caught in a game of tug of war. The play of differences between people gets polarized into a battle about determining where to impose the triadic outline on the sequence of their interaction.
In Threeing, participants agree as to how the stimulus-response-reinforcement triad will be interpreted before engaging in an interactive sequence. This agreement keeps the triad from sliding along the sequence of interaction and creating confusion. Participants take turns playing three well-defined roles. Each role corresponds to one term in the sliding triad: initiator = stimulus, reactor = response, and reinforcement = mediator. If someone is playing the role of initiator, then every member of the threesome interprets everything done in that role as initiation, not response or mediation. If the person in the initiator role wants to respond or mediate, she simply changes her position, that is, she repositions herself in the responding or mediating role. These two roles are clearly indicated either by color in the tricolor talking stick or by position in the relational circuit. The relational circuit provides a primary unambiguous outline for initiation, response and mediation that stops the sliding triad from sliding. Differences in role can be referenced without confusion. Interactive sequences can proceed without risk of getting polarized. No tug of war takes place over a sliding triad.
2) Vicious Cycle or ‘This Just Gets Worse and Worse…’
A vicious cycle is an interaction between two people that feeds on itself and generates a split in the relationship (Bateson 1972:323-329). There are two kinds of vicious cycles that correspond to the symmetric and asymmetric interaction discussed above. In symmetric or competitive vicious cycles, each person’s behavior mirrors the other person. For example, two boxers stand toe-to-toe and punch each other until one of them is knocked down. Other examples would be two people arguing about money or two people simply trying to shout each other down.
The other kind of vicious cycle is asymmetric or non-competitive. Two people do dissimilar things that fit together, like a mother nursing a child who is succoring. This sort of relationship can also become monstrous and spiral into a split. For example, a mentor helps a student with his homework. The student asks for more help. The mentor helps again. The student asks for more. The pattern continues until the frustrated mentor does the student’s homework and then quits.
In a vicious cycle things just get worse and worse. One action feeds the other action and the other action feeds more of the same. People react to each other’s reactions. With no change introduced that can correct the pattern of interaction, the interaction escalates. When you are caught in such a pattern, it seems there is no way out.
Threeing prevents such escalating tensions by providing the opportunity to move back and forth between asymmetric or complementary interaction and symmetric interaction. The complementary roles of initiator, respondent and mediator within the circuit are offset by opportunities for symmetric interaction on the outer arc of the circuit. When a person feels tension accumulating in either symmetry or complementarily, the person simply changes position from inner to outer, or visa-versa, and thereby changes the nature of the relationship from one pattern to another. Participants move back and forth between asymmetric and symmetric interaction and prevent either pattern of interaction from escalating into a vicious cycle that splits people apart.
3) Crossed Signals or ‘Who Needs Your Help?’
With two people, differentiating between asymmetric and symmetric can itself become a problem. If I think I am helping you and you think I am competing with you, pain and confusion will result.
Ed and Ray are brothers. Ed is older. When they were young both boys had ambitions to be writers. They often competed with each other writing poems and stories. Now, they are both in their thirties. Ed hires his brother Ray to work as a reporter on small newspaper Ed started. Ed is the publisher and focuses on the newspaper as a business to support his family. In Ed’s understanding of things, Ray is having a tough time and needs a job. He hires his brother, feeling good about helping him. Ray, on the other hand feels that Ed is secretly trying to bring Ray down. The way Ray sees it, Ed gave up his ambitions to be a writer in order to run the business and he doesn’t want to see Ray succeed at being a writer. By giving him ‘hack’ work as a reporter, he will undercut Rays’ imagination and cripple him as a writer, just as Ed is crippled. Ed thinks he is helping Ray. Ray thinks Ed is competing with him. Their signals are crossed. Pain and confusion result.
In the practice of Threeing, the roles of initiator, reactor and mediator are complementary roles. They are dissimilar and non-competitive. They fit together asymmetrically, like mentoring and being mentored, not like symmetrically fighting toe-to-toe. Each role is clearly indicated by the three colors on the tricolor talking stick or positions in the circuit. Taking that color in hand and holding the stick vertically indicates clearly that you are in a non-competitive asymmetric relationship with two other people. Holding the stick horizontally between you and another indicates clearly that you are in a symmetric competitive relation with that person. The choreography in the circuit and the protocols of the tricolor talking stick made intentions transparent and prevent the pain that results from the confusion between helping and competing.
4) Double Bind or ‘I’m Getting Mixed Messages Here…’
A double bind is a situation in which someone is given contradictory commands or mixed messages. (Bateson 1972: 194-278). Here is a scenario. Mary says to her child, Karl, ‘You are so tired, dear, why not go to bed?’ Her non-verbal message, however, contradicts what she says. The non-verbal message is something like ‘I’m exhausted and can’t stand having you around for another second! Get out of my sight!’ Karl is not tired. However, based on the habit of relating established with his mother, he sulks away to bed.
The child is bound up by commands that contradict each other. The child does not feel tired but is told he is tired. His own feelings get tangled up with his mother’s feelings. The child is given mixed messages with no opportunity to untangle them. His mother seems to love and hate him, simultaneously. The child cannot honor his own feelings about not being tired nor does he have the power to reinterpret the situation and state the contradiction he experiences from the mixed messages of love/hate given by the mother. The child is caught in a double bind.
Double binds often occur among adults. For example,
‘Tell me you love me.’
‘I love you.’
‘How come you only say that when I ask?’
When we look at this scenario in terms of stimulus-response-reinforcement, or the sliding triad, we see the following:
Stimulus: ‘Tell me you love me.’
Response: ‘I love you.’
Reinforcement: ‘How come you only say that when I ask?’
In terms of our three roles of initiator, reactor and mediator, a double bind locks a person into the second position, the role of a reactor. The person cannot simply acknowledge and affirm her own feelings, as she would do in the first position. Nor is she allowed to mediate by providing her own interpretation of the pattern and context of their relationship, as she would do in the third position.
Threeing prevents double binds by providing an opportunity both to honor one’s own feelings in the first position and to interpret the relationship in the third position. Participants take turns in all three roles. The role of initiator is a role that cultivates feelings and intuitions, gives a person explicit permission to feel whatever they feel. The role of respondent encourages authentic reaction as reactions. The role of interpreter seeks to connect the pattern of interaction with patterns in the larger context. Of course, in the case of adults and children, as with our scenario with Mary and Karl, it would take adults acting on behalf of the children–the traditional role of godparents–to ensure that the process works. A child cannot be expected to balance a relationship with two adults, even given Threeing.
5) Master/Slave Scenario
If you attempt to shake hands with yourself in a mirror, the simulation will not work. The mirror will return a left hand to your extended right hand. The image the mirror holds is optically ‘sliced’ from your hand and reversed: it is a severed reduplication of yourself. The mirror image is an image for the eye, a spectral image, separate from your felt sense of your own body or what is called your introceptive sense of self. It is by way of a spectral image in the mirror that we first understand as children that we can be seen by others, that what they see is distinct from our sense of ourselves. This spectral image can become a basis of our social identity, our mask, and our persona. Our social identity becomes tied to our spectral image, which is often at odds with our felt sense of self. By means of this spectral image others can tear us away from our introceptive self, confiscate us and force us into alienating interaction. For example, if the family you are born into happens to need comic relief, despite your moods, you will probably develop into the family clown.
Watch two children playing together. Often the more dominant child is the one providing the social persona while the other is the onlooker admiring and reinforcing that persona. It is a version of Hegel’s master/slave relationship with the master dependent on the slave to produce feedback acceptable to the persona. (Kojeve 1969: 31-70). The slave, meanwhile, does not have the feedback and attention necessary to do spectacular things and feeds vicariously on the achievements of the master, all the while growing resentful at his failure to fulfill himself. Both master and slave conspire to maintain this arrangement. Third parties are seen as threats to their mutually reinforcing blindness. Each one’s identity depends on the other.
In Threeing, as interpersonal trust builds up based on stable roles, the persona of the spectral self can gradually be dropped. Participants can learn to trust each other with their felt sense of self. You can be in the presence of two others while maintaining your introceptive self. You move away from the dyadic introceptive/spectral self, which is open to the master/slave trap. In Threeing, there are no fixed identities as in the master/slave arrangement. The master/slave dialectic is replaced by mutual recognition among peers. People take turns in the different relational roles and provide a fullness of feedback for each other.
6) Decision-Making and Threeing
Decision-making should rest on as much coherent information as can be gathered. One of the values of Threeing is that the three roles correspond to three different ways of knowing: intuitive (first role), fact-finding (second role) and reasoning (third role). Participants can take turns gathering knowledge according to these roles before they make a decision. These three roles correspond to those three main categories of knowing articulated by Charles Peirce. Peirce elaborated these categories into a very sophisticated system of knowing. In fact, Peirce’s system is the most comprehensive approach to knowledge yet developed in American philosophy (Peirce: 1931-5).
The decision-making procedure proper to Threeing both respects these three roles for gathering knowledge and prevents a two against one dynamic from developing. Here is how the decision-making works.
When three people work together on a project, the project is divided up into three parts, like a pie. Each part corresponds to one of the three roles. Each person takes, as her domain, that third of the pie that best corresponds to her skills. Skills can be assessed using the performance profile (Ryan 1998). For example, in dividing up the work on a computer newsletter, the three parts might be interacting with people (first skill set), hands-on production (second skill set), and following developments in the computer field (third skill set). In addition to dividing up the pie, all three people agree upon a fourth person, whom everybody trusts, to help the triad with decision making.
Once this set up is established the decision making rule is: No person’s decision in his or her own domain can be overridden by the two other members of the triad unless the pre-designated fourth party agrees with the other two. Then three, using the integrated practice of Threeing, can override one. However, if the fourth party does not agree with the two, then the decision made by the one in charge of the domain stands. Experiences in actual work situations with this procedure are very positive. No one feels his or her decisions will be overruled in an arbitrary chain of command. Moreover, a person come to see the two others plus the fourth party as a safety net, allowing her to entertain risky decisions, knowing she has a triad of consultants to rein them in.
7) Fair Division or ‘Cutters Pickers’
Notice that in order for the decision making to work, the three have to divide up the tasks in a way that everyone feels is fair. Dividing up tasks, and goods, in a fair way also requires procedures. This problem of fair division is the last of the seven problems we are identifying as preventable with Threeing. Consider this scenario.
Dorothy, Steve and Hillary are dividing up their mother’s estate. She died suddenly at 60 years old. Their mother always thought she would live until 85, so she never made a will. There is an assortment of things involved: property, furniture, clothing, paintings and personal belongings, stocks, bonds and cash. The children have been out of touch and the death of their mother brings up many old tensions between them. It is the worst time to deal with dividing up the estate. Steve tries to put a dollar value to everything, with the idea that they will split it all three ways. No agreement comes of the strategy. Dorothy, the oldest, tries to assign portions, but that doesn’t work either. They are at an impasse.
In itself, the practice Threeing cannot solve fair division problems. What Threeing can do is set up a communication among three people so that they can address the problems of fair division in a balanced state. Given a balanced state, there is a set of fair division procedures for three people that can be used in conjunction with the practice of Threeing (Brahms and Taylor 1996). These procedures can apply to the fair division of tasks as well as the fair division of goods. An example of one such procedure that would resolve the impasse in our scenario is the following three-person variation on ‘cutters/pickers.’
Hillary divides the mother’s estate into three piles that she thinks of as a fair division. Steve trims the piles in a way that he thinks is fair, setting the trimmings aside. Dorothy has first pick of the three piles. Because Dorothy has first pick, she will not complain. Steve has second pick. If a pile he trimmed is still available, he must pick that pile; otherwise, he can pick any remaining pile. Because Steve trimmed the piles knowing he might have to take any pile he trimmed, he will not complain. Since Hillary divided up the piles in the first place, any untrimmed pile that is left will appear fair to her and she will not complain. The procedure is repeated with the trimmings.
To sum up, by adhering to the logic of relationships encoded in the practice of Threeing, people can avoid the seven problems identified above. Free of these problems they can generate new operation sequences, new programs, that can achieve various objectives while maintaining healthy balanced relationships.
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6. About the Conference
Art, Circuitry, and Ecology
Honoring Gregory Bateson
A companion event to the Multiple Versions of the World conference at the University of California at Berkeley, Lawrence Hall of Science,
Saturday, November 20th, 2004, 10am-6pm, at the CUNY Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street
Gregory Bateson, author of Steps to an Ecology of Mind, was a seminal thinker of the twentieth century. Working across disciplines, including biology, psychology, anthropology, and ecology, he participated in the conferences that spawned the science of communications and control known as cybernetics. In his writings, Bateson used cybernetic thinking to address a range of topics including alcoholism, family dynamics, schizophrenia, technology, peacemaking, learning, and art. As a part of the bi-coastal Bateson centennial conference, we will explore the interplay between Bateson’s ideas about art and the realities of artmaking today. We will re-examine ideas such as “relational aesthetics”, “environment” and “ecology”, by way of Bateson’s emphasis on context, relationship, pattern and communication. Gregory Bateson thought art could be a shortcut to ecological sanity. The New York City chapter of this Bateson centennial conference will explore this notion of art in depth. We will hear from artists whose work has been directly influenced by Bateson, and from artists whose work has not been explicitly influenced by Bateson, but whose engagement with whole systems, circuitry, communication, organization and ecology, overlaps Bateson’s work.
_ Presentations by Betty Beaumont, Frank Gillette, Paul Ryan and Charles Stein
_ Virtual presentations by Mary Catherine Bateson, Carol Wilder and Peter Harries-Jones*
_ Displays by Rainer Ganahl, Jennifer Dalton, Anne-Katrin Spiess, and FICTIVE collective
_ Workshops with The Center for Tactical Magic, Nsumi collective, Andrew Lynn, Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri from 16 Beaver, and others
_ Panel Discussion, Multiplicity, Aesthesis and the Social
Plus surprise guests. Full schedule on second page.
James Andrews, NYC event producer. Sevanne Kassarjian, MC. Co-sponsored by Hitachi, Media Studies, New School University and Continuing Education & Public Programs, The Graduate Center, CUNY, in cooperation with Gordon Feller
Saturday, November 20th, 10am-6pm $25; $10 students/low-income artists. To secure advance tickets or receive a CUNY catalog contact: 212 817-8215, continuinged@gc.cuny.edu
Art, Circuitry, and Ecology
NYC Event Schedule
Saturday, November 20th, 2004
10:00 (NYC)