ALS Topic 35 - Boundary Players, Boundary Breakers, Navigators and Drifters

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 25 May 2019
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions


Jargon note: "Symbolic boundaries" (for sociologists) are the navigation guides that people create in their own minds to guide and limit their actions. When symbolic boundaries become firmly accepted by a group of people, they are called "social boundaries".

1. Are you one for the straight & narrow, or apt to flip out of bounds? Are you inclined to be directionless, rule-bound, a rule-twister, or plainly an opportunist? None of the above? What has shaped you in that way?

2. How has migration challenged old boundaries and shaped new ones in Australia? Migrants cross social boundaries, both by abandoning home cultures, and challenging the social boundaries of their destination. 29% of the people in Australia were not born in the country. Only half of Australians have Australian born parents.

3. What happens to life plans when social boundaries collapse or dissolve? For example, schooling in many ways is the process of establishing in young minds and understanding of the social boundaries that are supposed to govern their future life choices for family, career and citizen roles. But the accepted plans I was sold - 'family plan' (wife, house in the suburbs, 2.5 children), 'career plan' (loyal service to a company in a respected profession), 'citizen plan' (Australia has turned into a different country) .... have hardly been relevant to me. The journey will be even more dizzy for millenials.

4. What psychological types will survive best in the accelerating vortex of change we are undergoing? [comment: Adelaidians seem to have historically made an art form of keeping their city as a sheltered backwater ...]

5. Which familiar social & political boundaries do you see as being especially vulnerable? What are you doing about it?

6. How do you personally feel about innovation and invention, which by definition undermine known boundaries? "Play is the engine of invention" (K. Eric Drexler (1986) "Engines of Creation"). Do you agree? Every field of technology at a given time has technical boundaries which limit what can be done. Most people work within those boundaries. Usually they are comfortable with that, and resist change. Some dabble at the technical edges from curiosity, or if they are a researcher, with professional intent.

7. Are the boundaries set by laws in Australia always, or even generally designed to benefit most people in the society? Think of actual examples. Laws and institutional rules explicitly set out boundaries for the behaviour of large numbers of people. Those laws can be designed to benefit the greatest number, or they can be designed to privilege a certain elite group, or commercial interests, but not the majority of people.

8. What might tip life as we know it beyond all known bounds, and into chaos? Maybe the most interesting phenomenon in nature is bounded random variation. The evolution of life would not have been possible without it. No two heartbeats are the same, but all heartbeats occur within certain bounds or chaos ensues. The same goes for weather patterns, the stock market, traffic on the roads .. and so on.

9. People roughly between the ages of about 14 and 30 often go through a process of testing known boundaries, even to the point of injury or death (worldwide, suicide is the main cause of death for under-35s). After this age the majority of people become quite rigid about personal and social boundaries, and may persecute others who challenge them.

10. Are the boundaries of law and custom in 'the West' which let us lead fairly private lives doomed to be lost? Many societies never had and don't have such private boundaries.

11. Life in big cities, especially, may force us to play multiple roles. Think of situations where the boundary conditions of these various roles can tangle and create risk or stress.




Comments & Extra Reading

Malcolm Sutton (10 May 2019) "Speed of progress fracturing society and helping fuel age of outrage, Ben Elton says". ABC @

Edward Helmore (11 May 2019) "'Everything was just lies': how alleged sex cult Nxivm deceived its victims - As the trial of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, begins, experts say people attracted to change are vulnerable to manipulative ‘cultish group behavior’" The Guardian @ 

Ruth Alexander and Ben Carter (166 March 2017)"Hans Rosling, population prophet: Five final thoughts". BBC News @  [comment, Thor: Of all the boundaries that bind us, the boundary that binds them all is demographics. That's true at a personal level, and it's true at a species level. Quote from the article: "She was 37 years old. She told me everything about financial trends in Asia and we got friendly with each other. So at the dessert I asked her: "Do you have a family?". "Oh no," she said. "I'm just working. I'm working all the time." But I pushed on because I'm curious and said: "Do you want to have a family?". And she leaned backwards, looked out of the window that was the Bay of Hong Kong outside, and then she said with a smile: "Yes, I'm thinking about children every day. It's the idea of a husband I can't stand."

Sigal Samuel (Mar 26, 2019) "Ecuador legalized gangs. Murder rates plummeted. A stunningly successful experiment has the potential to upend the mainstream US approach to deviance". Vox website @  [Thor, comment: The most severe and unforgiving boundaries we create within societies are between those formally within the law and those without. Having crossed that boundary, it is difficult to ever return, particularly within societies such as the United States of America, where the imprisonment is widely seen as instrument of revenge rather than as a tool for rehabilitation. This article deals with one alternative.].

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (18 March 2017) "The hippy is back: not so cool if you remember it the first time round". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: sub-cultures thrive on creating boundaries to mark themselves off from the lumpen masses. These can be sub-cultures of investment bankers, or jihadis, or love-the-universe hippies. The common psychology is that human urge to be more than an anonymous statistic. Quote from the article: "It’s a sunny afternoon and I’m sitting cross-legged with my eyes closed, introducing myself to my womb. “Hello, womb,” I say, inwardly, and wait for a reply... "]

Hui-Ying Kerr (November 23, 2016) "What is kawaii – and why did the world fall for the ‘cult of cute’?", The Converstaion website @

Heather Lauren (n.d. ) "What are some good/bad things about women that only other women usually notice, that men typically can't? ... It sounds superficial but a lot of men don’t understand (1) the extent to which some women will go to look fashionable and attractive and (2) the symbolic value behind women’s fashion and beauty choices". Quora website @  [Thor, comment: some of the most contentious social boundaries are those involving gender roles - not just the roles, but the interpretations men and women apply to boundary markers]

Anonymous school project (n.d.) "Local vs. Global: Globalisation". Weebly website @  [Thor, comment: local Vs global is in most ways a mentally constructed boundary that that varies in power amongst individuals. Yet being shared in some usually ambiguous manner, it is also a political weapon which the ambitious are not shy about weilding]

Robert Holton (1 September 1997) "Immigration, Social Cohesion and National Identity". Parliament of Australia @

Jock Collins (21 March 2019) "Six facts that tell a different immigration story than we hear from politicians". ABC News @

Vivian Rivera (02 July 2017) "A Path to Social Inclusion in a Multicultural Australia". Australian Institute of Public Affairs @

Mariana Bockarova (Aug 01, 2016) "4 Ways to Set and Keep Your Personal Boundaries - ... and how to get yourself out when all efforts fail." Psychology Today @

Australian Parenting Website (n.d.) "Social and emotional changes: 9-15 years". RaisingChildren website @

Government of Western Australia (n.d.) "Child development 4–5 years". Dept. Health, Western Australia @

Roxane de la Sablonnière*a, Laura French Bourgeoisa, Mariam Najihb (Vol.1, 2013) "Dramatic Social Change: A Social Psychological Perspective". JSPP website @  [academic article; interesting]

Silvia Magnoni (23 April 2018) ""How civil society must adapt to survive its greatest challenges". World Economic Forum @

Wikipedia (2019) "The Rule of Law". Wikipedia @  [Thor, comment: get past the definitions here, which declare that nobody is above the law (someone should tell the American President). Ask yourself who the law is really written to serve - as we see it acted out in various countries]

Maggie Furgusson (June/July 2019) "The Curse of Genius - We see exceptional intelligence as a blessing. So why, asks Maggie Fergusson, are so many brilliant children miserable misfits?" 1843 Magazine @  [Thor, comment: The human world is made for average people - the boundaries of expectation and law mostly fix in cultures where ordinary people tread. This is not surprising. For those who are gifted or handicapped in some way those boundaries will chafe. In schools, workplaces, homes, pubs, there is often little tolerance from average folk who cannot see or understand what the gifted or handicapped perceive]

Thor May (August 2015) “Fuzzy Degrees of Freedom – When is the Law a Burden? "Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men”". The Passionate Skeptic website @  [Quote: "Who are the obedient fools, and who are the wise men licensed to exercise judgement? Well, the fools of course are not me, and should I charitably say, not you. They are “the others”. If I’m an unemployed 17 year old high school drop out from a depressed neighbourhood, you bastards driving BMWs are “the others”. If I’m a comfortably employed and housed middle aged businessman with a private school background, I’m surely licensed to take a few liberties that would be unthinkable for the dole bludgers on the other side of town …."

Wikipedia (2019) "Tipping Points in the Climate System" @

Jonathan Watts (21 December 2018) "Risks of 'domino effect' of tipping points greater than thought, study says - Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points, according to a study that shows 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another". The Guardian @

Mark Sisson (November 15 2011) "How to Find Your Personal Tipping Point". Mark's Daily Apple @

Sam Thomas Davies (January 23, 2017) "This Study Reveals the Tipping Point in Behaviour Change (and How You Can Use It)". Sam J. Davis blog @

Barbara Van Dahlen (12 June 2018) "Reaching the Mental Health Tipping Point". Sustainability blog @

Suzanne Kane (8 October 2018) "10 Signs You May Be at Your Tipping Point". PschCentral website @

The Economist (May 22nd 2019) "Online identification is getting more and more intrusive - Phones can now tell who is carrying them from their users’ gaits". The Economist @  [Thor, comment: few boundaries of privacy left, East or West, and disappearing by the day. And you don't have to be a bank robber to have some idiot in an organization or government tip you into endless trouble by misinterpreting data]

Wikipedia (2019) "Role Conflict" @

Hussein Kesvani (23 May 2019) "What happened when I met my Islamophobic troll - In 2017, I started getting regular messages from an anonymous Twitter user telling me my religion was ‘evil’. Eventually I responded – and he agreed to meet face to face. ". The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: When people's personal world falls apart, when familiar boundaries dissolve, they often seek to construct another identity. This new identity can take many forms - a new career, a new home or nationality, chasing a dream. It can be constructive or destructive. Now the identity making process is available online, with little effort. You can construct a tweet or Youtube identity with little risk of blowback. As a troll you can manufacture your own notoriety. You invent your own truths, or borrow them from any source. This is irresistible to a lazy or narcissistic personality. At an individual level it is sad. Projected onto a national scale - for example, through a politician - it can be corrosive and deadly].

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Boundary Players, Boundary Breakers, Navigators and Drifters (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion