Orthogonal people like yes or no answers. Right angles. Definites. Absolutes. And puzzles with only one solution. I was reading a great analysis piece on the BBC about the English roundabout versus the American rotary in traffic control and they pointed out that the reason a roundabout is so much safer than traffic lights, stop signs and rotaries is based in something that is very difficult for an American to do – non-orthogonal thinking. A roundabout requires that you see that in giving up a small bit of your path and space to let someone ahead of you, the entire group will move forward more efficiently (meaning you will get to where you are going faster than if you hold your space). Our mythos about independence takes on a sort of hyper-importance when driving a car.
Kind of like our international reputation for being unable to stand in a line with patience.
This type of rigid thinking – the either/or, black/white. yes/no – permeates our culture in every way. Orthogonal thinking colors everything from how we approach education, to resolving social issues, right on into how we have relationships. Note again, the choice of the word “have.” “Having” is the action of orthogonal thinking. “Being” is the action of organic thinking.
Big deal? Well, consider this, when an intersection is replaced by a roundabouts there are 40% less accidents, a 90% decrease in the amount of fatal accidents and each roundabout is estimated to save over$240,000 a year in maintenance and other associated costs found with the intersection and, it is estimated they save over 40,000 gallons in fuel. Why the fuel savings? No stopping and idling at a light and no blast of fuel consumption in moving from stop to go.
Orthogonal thinking is the hallmark of institutionalized thought. America suffers the delusion of independence and freethinking when in fact, we are highly institutionalized and dependent. Organic thinking is non-institutional, but is group oriented. Choices are seen in a spectrum that weighs the potential effect on all involved, not just one party. Organic thinking is more characteristic of long-term planning Orthogonal thinking is short term.
Because of the difference in seeing choices in a more limited way, it also means that the questions framed are also more specialized and divorced from the organic whole. The questions are good, but isolated. When one answers or seeks to answer isolated questions as part of forming a solution, one is not seeing the totality of the problem and ergo, any solution found will be ineffective. Isolated solutions also have the great potential (in their ineffective state) of contributing to increasing a problem rather than resolving it.
All of this is leading up to the blog post I am pondering on why protesting (in the manner of sign waving, sit-ins, marches and disruptive behavior) is a sure fire way to strengthen the problem, rather than an effective way of beginning the process of resolution. I have been deep into Fromm’s lectures on the subject, reading a few other people and coming to my own conclusions in this day and age. All of this is of a concern because we are in a Presidential election cycle again and as a nation, on many levels, we are hurting. In Rhode Island, the state budget was signed in, a brutal piece of stupidity that seeks to immediately harm the most vulnerable populations here and will create a long-term problem for everyone. Helping this budget to be so effortlessly passed were the protests of those opposed to it. But I will get into that later.
Now…I have 8 lawns to go mow. I trim the edges with a pair of scissors. It is very meditative when not done in the heat of the day and it takes quite some time. Not because of the manual work involved (I use a non-powered reel mower) but because so many people stop and chat while I work. There is something about the lack of noise and rush that draws strangers in and I have had more illuminating conversations over patches of grass than I have had in a long time.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.