fundamental theoretical errors are invariably characterological

I thought to learn more about Gestalt therapy when I realized “Gestalt” is essentially the opposite of “weak central coherence.” I’ve started reading Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, by Fritz Perls et al. It explains that the plan of the book will be the dismantling of certain dichotomies: mind/body, self/external world, objective/subjective, mature/infantile, biological/cultural, poetry/prose, spontaneous/deliberate, personal/social, love/aggression, conscious/unconscious. What comes next expresses a major theme of this blog: “the contextual method of argument.”

With regard to these and other “false” distinctions we employ a method of argument that at first sight may seem unfair, but that is unavoidable and is itself an exercise of the gestalt approach. Let us call it the “contextual method,” and call attention to it immediately so that the reader may recognize it as we use it.

Fundamental theoretical errors are invariably characterological, the result of a neurotic failure of perception, feeling, or action. (This is obvious, for in any basic issue the evidence is, so to speak, “everywhere” and will be noticed unless one will not or cannot notice it.) A fundamental theoretical error is in an important sense given in the experience of the observer; he must in good faith make the erroneous judgment; and a merely “scientific” refutation by adducing contrary evidence is pointless, for he does not see what you see, it slips his mind, it seems irrelevant, he explains it away, etc. Then the only useful method of argument is to bring into the picture the total context of the problem, including the conditions of experiencing it, the social milieu and the personal “defenses” of the observer. That is, to subject the opinion and his holding of it to a gestalt-analysis. A basic error is not refutedindeed, a strong error, as St. Thomas said, is better than a weak truth; it can be altered only by changing the conditions of raw experience.

Then, our method is as follows: we show that in the observer’s conditions of experience he must hold the opinion, and then, by the play of awareness on the limiting conditions, we allow for the emergence of a better judgment (in him and in ourselves). We are sensible that this is a development of the argument ad hominem, only much more offensive, for we not only call our opponent a rascal and therefore in error, but we also charitably assist him to mend his ways! Yet, by this unfair method of argument, we believe we often do more justice to an opponent than is common in scientific polemic, for we realize from the start that a strong error is already a creative act and must be solving an important problem for the one who holds it.

What’s subversive is that it takes irrationality seriously as the human condition. It acknowledges that discourse isn’t really the disinterested search for truth, but serves political functions. For example, I don’t see Fritz Perls wasting his time fact-checking stupid shit Donald Trump says. It’s like liberals are just relearning the insight that the trolls say that stuff to piss them off, not because they believe it. You have to assume much baser motives when dealing with conservative people. That’s the point of what conservatism is.

There’s also a major problem that’s shared with math education: seeing the forest requires putting in some time with the trees. If I counter with the “contextual analysis move” in a flame war, the conversation is over if the other person doesn’t know the context themselves. The “political correctness wars” are about white people refusing to see their own behavior in historical and political context. Only someone who fails to see the big picture could perceive that white people are disadvantaged in American society.

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