Verbal sclerosis

The rhetoric of PCT became rather strict in the mid to late 1990s. Using the correct words became a litmus test for one’s comprehension of the concepts. I think there were several reasons.

The CSGnet listserv opened access to all comers, some with a dabbling dilettante interest that could deepen, some few political or social-cause advocates, all with prior understandings, some with expertise in ‘scientific psychology’ or other bristly scientistic repudiation of the experimental subject’s, um, subjective point of view, and so on.

When people defended their prior convictions this was perceived as potential distortion and misrepresentation, and there seems to have been a felt need to detect this and stamp it out. I was not involved in the conversations with William Glasser and with Charles Carver & Michael Scheier, but my sense was and is that Bill and others perceived bad-faith exploitation as well as distortion in Carver & Scheier’s notions of ‘self-organization of behavior’ and later ‘Control processes and self-organization as complementary principles’, and in Glasser’s packaging into commercial products. His Stations of the mind did bring some people to PCT, but they bore with them his misunderstandings of control.

Mary Powers wrote a paper in 1993 or 1994 setting that record straight. In it, she said “These well-intentioned efforts to bring control theory into mainstream psychology have unfortunately come at a price: the distortion of some of the key concepts of control theory, and the addition of elements which are inconsistent with the main theory.” I believe Rick commented maybe a decade ago when Mary’s summary document was posted again on CSGnet, they couldn’t relinquish the mistaken principle that the environment causes behavior, linear causation rather than circular causation. Dag published her paper posthumously. You can find direction_for_psych.pdf on Dag’s Living Control Systems website, in a collection of Mary’s writings.

This verbal sclerosis encouraged arguments and polemics which in my view were rather foolish, not only as a waste of time, attention, and control capacities (especially Bill’s), and not only because the conflicts often did not actually enhance newcomers’ comprehension. (The proverb “one convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” actually became wielded as reason to give up trying, a self-fulfilling prophesy.) Most damaging, it all too often resulted in their distancing themselves and leaving, taking with them, and no doubt communicating to others, the impression that PCT was a dogmatic belief system and even that the CSG was a personality-centered cult. Not good. For an example of this, see Clark McPhail’s expression of deep frustration at the end of the PDF that Dag posted in this ‘Troubled Discourse’ subcategory.

We all lapse from perfect PCT-talk. Usually, just the conventional elisions of common knowledge entre nous. Often, reuse of phrases that are ‘in the air’ within a multi-person conversation. Sometimes a frank oversight. Here’s an example by Mary in that paper: “This input is a combined function of environmental effects plus the perception of its own actions.” I’m sure you can see the gaffe. (Number 5 of the ‘misapprehensions’ that she identifies.) But note that it has no material effect on the communicative purposes of that paragraph and of the paper, and note that to pick on it would be tangential to and a distraction from those purposes. And that nicely illustrates the problem of troubled discourse on CSGnet. In the face of conflict we should apply PCT and go up a level or two to the purposes generating the apparent conflict. I am grateful that those issues are much diminished here.

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Here is Bill Leach in 2019:

… one needs to think about the purpose of one of Bill’s writings before drawing too many conclusions. Especially when answering questions, Bill’s discussion could be using a very narrow (or very broad) meaning for a term depending upon which is more useful for the listener/reader to understand what he was trying to convey. By that I mean that when taken out of context it is also easy to misunderstand what he meant.

This is what the Buddhists call ‘expedient teaching’, which is only possible while perceiving matters from the recipient’s point of view. Effective communication is closely allied to the Test for Controlled Variables. Identifying their controlled variables is a prerequisite first step in effective communication. It is necessary to perceive matters concurrently from their point of view and from one’s own (grounded in PCT). Perceptions can emerge analogous to depth perception with binocular vision. In that weak analogy, banishing what is incorrect is like putting a patch on one eye. (The analogy is weak because we can get along quite well with a patch on one eye, but effective communication cannot.)

See also Bill’s post ‘Gems from Bill Leach’.

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