The Information: Part I.
This discussion begins around a dinner table set for twelve strangers; I bring us here first because it is the place where it first became apparent to me how and why am I a physicist. I invite you to momentarily suspend any injectable disbelief.
Open Door was a supper club that I started in the summer of 2012, and closed in the fall of 2017. It worked like this: I sent an invitation to a list of subscribers and the first twelve to respond were granted a seat at the table, first come, first serve. The invitation itself relayed not more than on whatever thing I was perhaps pontificating at the time, and perchance alluded to dinner, though where dinner would be served was only disclosed after a reservation had been secured. I dispensed no a priori information about me, and other than how many seats a patron had desired to reserve and any dietary restrictions of which I needed to be aware, I knew nothing about any of my guests. On the day of, twelve strangers entered into the event space that I had provided, and the evening commenced. Neither was there a predetermined orchestration of the evening nor was there any directing for events to unfold. I did not even sit at the table; I made dinner, in the kitchen. Nothing was every known about the beginning (or the end) save for the boundary conditions, and as a physicist, I often find myself most concerned with those.
A conversation initializes because parties find an interest to invest in the beginning; the conversation continues because each party individually seeks and finds a benefit in its procession. Perhaps these remarks spark not a revelation, but the point is that the method process unto a solution is forged from self-selection: choosing to engage in, about, and with the problem is how it is solved. Step One: show up; this is actually the most difficult step to perform. In praxis, our individual focus of discipline, our defaults and proclivities, and ultimately, our egos and insecurities often supersede the complex nuances of the problem such that an engaged, collaborative and interdisciplinary approach unto a solution is either putatively useless or perceived as inhibiting in some form or fashion. We often never make it to Step One, particularly if we are directed to do so by an overarching authority or third party. In the face of unsolicited advising, our human creature habit is to rebel against it, whatever it is; we like to discover things ourselves, and our training as scientists has in many regards institutionalized both this practice and our isolation. We accomplish Step One if we discover of our own accord a benefit to making ourselves present. Open Door is a self-selecting endeavor; the only unifying factor amongst that group of twelve strangers is that they all themselves chose to be there, at the same time.
How the table is set is as important as the dinner set upon it. Unbeknownst to my guests, they entrust a great deal of responsibility to me to care for them for the slice of time that we share together: if the space is not wholly secured, the table not properly placed, it is felt, inherently, and inhibits the potential for real engagement to occur. To illustrate this point, consider a dining experience where the room is just a little too cold, the wait staff a tad overzealous, and the lighting reminiscent of a hotel boardroom: you are likely uncomfortable, and while dinner may be intoxicatingly delicious, you are too busy intoxicating yourself to notice, in order to quench the anxiety that the rest of this evening is inducing — thus obliterated is the possibility to realize the full potential of an engagement if the parties involved are pressing for an accelerated termination of the experience. Self-selection and secure preparation of the event space are the boundary conditions that govern the character and manner of potential conversations and relationships that may occur. It is possible that the worst ending may result still, irrespective of the best laid beginnings, but I posit that it is far less likely for the best ending to result from conditions born of anxiety and aggression.
An impasse does not arise from a singular event, but rather from a complex of events compounded over time — the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the Indian-Pakistani standoff, the rift between the Greeks and the Turks — none of these modern conflicts were spontaneously formulated (e.g., we can allude to The Iliad to depict ancient battles between the Mycenaeans and the Hittites, engendered anguish storied from time that predates even the modern ethnicities of both regions but remains wholly embedded and prolific in the very geography alone). Domestically, class and racial tensions, particularly betwixt minorities and policing authorities, are born of sordid histories that continue to make appearances in various cloaks and bite us still. Without minimizing the historical significance of how we arrived at this time and place, it is fruitful to inquire, “what do we do, now?” Within these cloaks are opportunities to positively engage and change the course of negative actions such that we may come to a better end than a battle. The impasse arises when an involved party categorically denies the possibility of a different interpretation of events; if we can ameliorate the ascension of conflict unto an impasse, we can provide ourselves with more options unto an executive action.
The Baltimore Chief of Police sat on a panel at a seminar regarding race and the police, at the Aspen Institute, springtime 2016. He spoke on how the department had overhauled its practices over that past year, to great effect, by reinstating community policing efforts that had been standard operating procedures prior to the Terry Stop and Zero-Tolerance protocols that have over decades gained popularity with authorities patrolling high-risk areas. At the time of the seminar I had been contemplating the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the fomentation of its beginning and the significance of its advanced social traction. The day after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO was, in retrospect, a deeply important moment in time: information pertaining to the events from the previous day was piecewise and unconfirmed. Nonetheless, interpretations were heated and sparking fervor. As a result, a marginalized community of people who for myriad reasons believe in their core that the rest of society wholly disregards them had assembled at the place of the aforementioned incident to perhaps peacefully, but perhaps not so peacefully voice their concerns. Regardless of what their intentions had been, they were met with a militarized brigade of police trained to perform its duties with intimidation tactics. The (hopefully) unintended consequence in doing so was that an objective perception of peacekeeping efforts was severely implicated, and as such, the narrative that minorities are in conflict with and oppressed by police thus prevailed. Everyone had already lost and no one had known anything. After the seminar, I commented to the Chief that if the day following the shooting of Michael Brown nothing else but the optics of the situation had changed, then we as a society today would likely be hosting a very different character of discourse. He agreed with me, entirely. Someone very wise once said, “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation,” and yet, we cannot change it if we do not fully understand the words being spoken.
TBC, Part II.