Bill Powers responds on violence

Three responses to Hal Pepinsky's last NWOD entry follow. The first
is among several I have received trying to think through where
nonviolence is indeed, empirically, practical. The second two long
messages are from Bill Powers himself. Bill, you should know I have
been begged to shorten and slow down what I post. I myself feel
honored to have you respond so thoughtfully. I presume other readers
can skim or delete it as they wish, but I also feel that we are
getting into issues I at least consider of central importance in the
criminal justice biz I get paid in.

I'm sending these to the readers I posted the last NWOD entry to.
I'll write a NWOD entry to add later in response. This time I'll also
try to be brief.

People are starting to contact PST folk from among NWOD readers. I
find this interdisciplinary cross-pollenation a rather "happy"
byproduct of the growth of the computer technology monster myself. I
used to have to go to conferences full of strangers for this kind of
interaction, and then I'd be alone among my home professional network.
Amazing. l&p hal

Subj: social psych meets criminal justice

Hello my name is Fernando Marshall, I had been following your NWOD for a
while but then lost access to my account for a few months. Would you mind
sending me a copy of your alternative control systems syllabus as I would
very much like to read it. I also have a few comments about your post on
the possibility of using the golden rule as the basis for a moral system.

        In response to the question about human nature you said that it was in
human nature to be both violent and peaceful, further comments suggest
that you would argue that it is empirically better to choose to be
peaceful than to be violent, but I,m unsure if it is possible to make any
claims about the tendencies of human nature when these tendencies canonly
be understood within social structures which are obviously not
predetermined. For example I have been in a situation where I was having a
heated argument with a female friend and I began to yell, she percieved
this as an act of verbal violence, for her loud male voices were very
cloosely associated with physical violence, and she saw my shouting as an
attempt to silence her. After thinking it over I was forced to agree, and
to pay attention to my tone etc. The point is that my act of shouting
could only be a form of verbal violence in a patriarchal society, there is
nothing a priori violent about raising your voice, especially when you
are excited. I guess I,m wondering if there is any content to the statement
human beings can be violent or peaceful when those terms have no meaning
outside of their social context.
        You also said that from your empirical data that it was always
better to be peaceful in the long run, but I,m afraid I cannot agree with
that. From a historical perspective I think that if the American slaves
had reacted with violence then slavery would have ended long before it
actually did. Toussaint L'ouverture was extremely sucessful until he
treated the French as if they occupied the same moral universe as he did,
and agreed to meet them without protection, of course he was promptly
captured and today we do not even know where he was buried. I think that
their must be some preconditions before I can even start to apply the
golden rule, the first being that the other person must accept my
humanity. In the case of the slaveowners of the 19th century and many
whites today that is not true of their perception of blacks, in that
situation I think it is suicidal to relate to them as if you shared the
same moral presuppositions, a mistake which has been made to often by non
western people in their relationships with westerners. Anyway this is
pretty long post from someone who is a stranger, thanx for posting the
NWOD, I often find it extremely interesting and stimulating.

Subj: Powers on Pepinsky

[from Bill Powers]

Hal Pepinsky (930817) --

It is human nature to be violent, and human nature to make

At the recent CSG meeting, Clark McPhail presented a paper on
"the dark side of purpose." McPhail distinguished two kinds of
violence: violence that is an innocent side-effect of a control
system trying to reach or maintain an important goal, and
violence that is a goal in itself (as in professional football or
bash movies). I suspect that both of these boil down to the same
thing: violence as merely a point on a scale, driven ultimately
by some goal other than simply being violent.

With PCT as a guide, I don't think of human nature in terms of
specific things people do, but in terms of the organization that
leads to doing specific things. Specifically, I see it as
revealed in the way people perceive the world, and in their goals
for how they would like to perceive it (including themselves, of
course, in "the world"). There is nothing special about violence
in itself. You have to become violent with a lug-wrench to get a
frozen bolt off a wheel stud. Violence is simply the upper range
of the efforts we always make in the process of controlling what
matters to us.

What calls forth violence between people is the fact that all
people are control systems, organized to produce as much effort
as necessary (within the limits of possibility) to make their
experiences match what they want them to be. When interacting
with the inanimate world (as in loosening the bolts on a car
wheel), human beings simply escalate the applied effort until
nature gives in. But when two people interact with each other as
if they were dealing with nonliving systems, this natural way of
behaving can become a conflict. A conflict exists when it is
impossible for one person to bring perceptions closer to a
desired state without forcing another person's perceptions away
from a desired state. When this occurs, the immediate natural
result is for both people to increase their efforts in the
attempt to correct the respective errors. Unless something
extraneous to the conflict happens to resolve it, the result can
only be two systems applying their maximum possible efforts to
each other, in opposition. That is violence. The party with the
greater physical resources wins, at least for the moment.

This is far from an optimal solution. While a conflict is going
on, neither party is able to achieve its goal in any normal way;
if one person is stronger than the other, the only goal-seeking
efforts available are those left over after subtracting the
efforts of the other person. This means loss of ability to
control, for much smaller disturbances than normal will be able
to cause uncorrectable errors even for the stronger party. The
weaker party has, of course, lost control altogether. And of
course both parties are wasting large amounts of resources simply
in cancelling the efforts of the other. Control is required for
survival; loss of control means loss of the ability to survive.

Understanding how violence arises and how conflict can be
resolved requires considering the hierarchical aspects of human
control systems. When we set a goal, it does not exist in
isolation. We pick a particular goal as a means toward
controlling something else -- as part of a higher-level control
process. What's important here is that conflicts, which arise
from incompatible goals, are not created at the level where they
are expressed. The immediate cause of conflict is a disparity of
goals, but the real cause lies in the higher systems that are
selecting those goals.

A conflict therefore can't be resolved at the level where the
conflict is visible -- where we see the opposing forces clashing.
It can be resolved only at the higher levels which are choosing
those opposed goals for some other more general reason. The
resolution of conflict requires going up a level on the part of
at least one party to the conflict. Somebody has to ask, "Why was
it that I wanted this so much? Is there another way to get it? Is
this way really working? Is the benefit greater than the cost?"
That's looking at the conflict from a level where something can
be done to change a goal (or a perception). At least one party to
the conflict has to reorganize at a level higher than the actual

A phenomenon of consciousness:

It seems that awareness is mobile in the human hierarchy of
perception and control. When awareness is not associated with a
given control system, the system goes right on working, but
automatically and in a fixed way. The world that is experienced
consciously is the world as represented at some level in the
hierarchy of perceptions, the level with which awareness is
associated. We project into the world of experience the
interpretations typical of the level from which we are being
aware. Both lower levels and higher levels remain out of
consciousness, working without conscious direction. The lower
levels work automatically; the higher levels work unconsciously.

It seems to be true that we are never aware OF the level FROM
which we are consciously operating. To become aware OF the
operative level is to move up a level, but to be unaware of that
new level while operating from it. One technique for helping
another person to move up a level is to call attention to the
operative level and ask the other to describe it, to characterize
it, to become aware of it in some way. This is known as the
"method of levels" among PCT psychotherapists. "Tell me more
about hating your mother. How does it feel to hate her, what do
you think when you're with her" and so forth. The more detailed
the description, the harder it is to stay focussed in the level
where the hate is expressed, and the more one shifts to the
levels where the hatred is merely a means to something else.
Signs of the higher level will show up as the shift occurs.

The last principle is simply this: reorganization seems to follow
the locus of awareness. To reorganize the systems that are
obeying conflicting goals will do no good; the conflict will
simply change forms, and probably change right back again. The
goals will still be in conflict, because they are not set by the
systems that receive them. Resolving conflict requires
reorganizing at the levels that are setting the goals, so one
must shift to become aware from the levels that are setting them.
And shifting levels will bring reorganization to bear where it
can do some good.

The steps toward conflict resolution are therefore (1) to become
aware of the conflict and the goals that are producing it, (2) to
describe the goals and perceptions involved in as much detail as
necessary to cause one (3) to move the center of awareness into
the higher systems that are setting the goals, focussing
reorganization where it can be effective. If one step doesn't do
the trick, do it again, and again, until the level is reached
where a change will be possible and effective.
                       * * * * *
Hal says:

Where we differ, I gather, is in feeling that any occasion
demands violent rather than Golden-Rule response. You
apparently feel others' violence may demand one's deviation
from the Golden Rule. I certainly acknowledge that I DO
respond violently, that I do treat others with a disrespect I
would never seek for myself. But the question I keep asking--
my research question if you will--is what do we get for
choosing one way or the other.

When I say that the Golden Rule may not always work, I do not
mean that violence will work instead. The Golden Rule is not the
only alternative to violence.

Among my understandings of the principle of respect for the will
of others is the understanding that I can't direct the
reorganizations of another person. I can call attention to things
in a way that might facilitate the other in seeing a conflict
from a higher level, and that might lead to reorganization at
that level. But I can't predict what that reorganization will
create, or that I will like it, or that the other will like it.
All I can do is to be willing for both myself and the other to
reorganize in whatever way makes the interaction work
differently, and to accept the result if I can.

We always have to start from where we are. Respect for the will
of others includes the right to assume that respect from others.
When we are in situations of conflict that we don't know how to
resolve, the conflict will simply continue until we do know how
to resolve it. There is no a priori reason for one party rather
than the other to submit to loss of control. Often one person who
understands about levels can dissolve a conflict one-sidedly, by
deciding that it's not important to win, in terms of higher-level
goals. But sometimes one is forced into conflict by a genuine and
unpostponable threat to survival. In that case one simply does
what is necessary to survive, or decides not to survive. The
decision not to survive has ramifications that go far beyond the
immediate situation; it is seldom chosen by any sane person, and
is not a workable general principle. So we do what is necessary.
We protect ourselves, so that we can try again for the right
solution another day.

In the case of clear and present danger, what you choose to do is
almost irrelevant. What you *will* do comes out of all your
goals, conscious and unconscious, at levels both higher and lower
than the levels where you customarily reside. The best you can do
against that time is to explore all of your hierarchy of goals,
including the forgotten but still quite active ones, so that when
you do find yourself acting, it will be as one person and not a
conflicted rabble.

                       * * * * *

Thpoughts a little off your track, but I hope interesting.

Subj: Powers on Pepinsky

[From Bill Powers (930818.1440 MDT)]

Hal Pepinsky et. al. (930818) --

We're starting to get into overlapping posts, so I'll just
comment on two points for now.

Bill or anyone in the PCT group, tell me if I've got this
summary of Bill's theory wrong: We do what we do because of
what we see. (I use "see" here the way the Swahili use "ona"--
for seeing with the eyes, for sensing with the ears, nose,
tongue, fingers or from the heart, for perceiving.) We see what
we want to see.

This is just a slight language problem. As Rick Marken pointed
out, this is not a theory about hallucinating. What we experience
through the senses is a version of some sort of reality,
constructed but not arbitrarily. Once we have perceptions of the
world, we can act on the world to alter the states of those
perceptions. (In fact, as Martin Taylor will no doubt remark, we
learn how to perceive the world in the process of finding out how
we can affect it). Control of perception does not mean acting to
make one kind of perception turn into a different kind. It means
acting to alter a perception from one state to another: from less
to more, or from less to none. This is done by acting on the
outside world, not by solipsistically creating sensory
information. Of course we have many control systems with
different perceptual functions; while the perceptual functions
each report the world in only one way, higher systems can switch
from using one lower-level system to another. So there can be
alternative ways of perceiving and controlling the same external
situation. But each way is learned through interaction with the
world, under circumstances where it is one of many valid ways.

The other slight problem can be dealt with by a slight rewording:
just say "We do what we do because of the difference between what
we see and what we want to see." What we want to see is, perhaps,
derived from memory or imagination; it is a pseudo-perception
serving as a target state against which we compare the actual
state of a perception of the same kind. Suppose I have seen your
face and demeanor when you are sad, indifferent, angry, and
happy. I prefer to see you happy, but I see you looking angry. So
I will try to think of something to say or do that might change
what I'm perceiving from anger to happiness in you, as I judge it
from your expressions and demeanor. Maybe this will work and
maybe it won't; it depends as much on you as on my actions. If it
works, I will still want to see you happy, but because I am now
in fact seeing you as happy there will be nothing further to do.
The perception matches the reference signal; zero error; no

Of course I am using you to control my perceptions, which means
that if I persist in wanting to see you happy, I will pretty much
have to give up my present occupation, move in with you, and
devote my time to warding off anything that might seem to make
you unhappy. Control of others always carries a price.

The other point:

...Bill, and Gary and Rick, are you confronting what strikes me
as a fundamental conflict between PCT as Bill describes it and
PCT as Gary and Rick would apply it?

We agree pretty well on the basic theory, but there are always
differences in how people internalize a theory. I think Rick is
describing his current organization in terms of PCT. There really
isn't any "right" way to be organized; each person has to work
out a way that seems self-consistent, satisfying, safe, or
whatever the higher-level goals are. That way will probably
change from time to time as better ideas come up. What I call,
after Hugh Gibbons, "respect for the will of others" isn't a
moral code; it's a recognition of the fact that the only will
involved in my own behavior is my own, and presumably the same is
true of everyone else. It doesn't bother me if others work out
their applications of PCT differently in their lives from the way
I work them out in my own life. I can always argue with them. PCT
isn't a religion.


From: "" "Fernando Marshall" 18-AUG-1993 23:15:30.83
From: "" "CZIKO Gary" 18-AUG-1993 17:35:40.81
From: "" "CZIKO Gary" 18-AUG-1993 17:35:51.11

Bill P.