Letter from the Editor:
Stuart Shanker DPhil
A paradigm revolution, like any revolution, needs an official organ: something to light a spark from which a fire will flare up. The political overtones of such a metaphor are by no means accidental. Thomas Samuel Kuhn chose it because he recognized how the war of ideas can sometimes be every bit as fierce as the battle for power. With one big difference. Paradigm revolutions aren’t about one side trying to seize power from another. And they are certainly not about razing everything that stands to the ground. Paradigm revolutions, unlike paradigm shifts, seek to build on what has gone before, rather than ignore, or worse still, dismiss the accumulated wisdom of earlier ages. They seek to transcend polarized debates: to achieve a dialectical synthesis, not just of previously conflicting ideas, but amongst previously disparate fields of inquiry. The result is the construction of an interdisciplinary framework that supports a whole new way of thinking about some very old questions. And that requires a forum where these new ideas can be articulated, debated, elaborated, and deepened.
Revolutions of any kind occur when existing structures and institutions are unable to cope with the proliferation of dysregulating forces. This is precisely the situation that we face today vis-à-vis the well-being of children, teens, and adults across the lifespan. The eruption of internalizing, externalizing, cognitive, and health issues is the unmistakable sign that existing attitudes and practices are unable to deal with current stresses, whatever these might be. The resulting paradigm revolution that is beginning to emerge represents a proactive response to conditions of mounting social, emotional, environmental, and technological challenges that we must not only adapt to, but also master if we are to thrive.
The metaphor for this paradigm revolution that jumps out at one here is Jean Piaget’s notion of equilibration: that is, the idea that a growing set of demands, internal as well as external, force an organism to ascend to a new level of functioning if it is to flourish. Stresses are positive when they promote such a developmental leap, negative when they cause the individual to flee from or block out those stresses.
Piaget’s concept also applies in a fundamental way to self-regulation: that is, to how the individual responds actively to new kinds and levels of stress, rather than passively submitting to them or trying to shut them out. The former response leads to growth in all its many guises, the latter to arrested development. This point clearly applies to the multiple problems that we are seeing in children, teens, and adults today, which are not necessarily the result of increasing stress levels, but are certainly exacerbated by them. The fact that prevalence numbers continue to climb inexorably may tell us that we are getting better at tracking these problems, but clearly indicates that we are stalled in our efforts to reverse these trends.
Equilibration applies not just to development, but also, no less forcefully, to how we think about and respond to these problems. Just as attractors form as a way of blocking out or avoiding certain kinds of stressful experience, so too paradigm shifts represent a sort of “intellectual attractor” in which we swing from one polarity to another in what becomes an increasingly fruitless attempt to grapple with the spate of new problems that we are seeing. But equilibration of any sort requires a surge of energy to break out of an attractor, and that is where this new journal comes in.
Reframed: The Journal of Self-Reg seeks to capitalize on the excitement that Self-Reg has generated to stimulate the sort of massive effort required for a new paradigm to take shape and to take hold. The goal here is to understand why stress can be so positive in some situations and negative in others, and what we can do to combat the latter and promote the former. What is more, the journal seeks to tap into the riches contained within existing research studies and theories, which may not have seemed to do so at the time, but which, viewed through the Self-Reg lens, significantly advance our understanding of stress and stress-reactivity: that is, contribute to, rather than conflict with the Self-Reg paradigm.
The emphasis in this new journal is on reframing as a means of fostering an ever-expanding movement. For it takes an army to sweep out the old order and install a new one, whether it’s a paradigm or a form of government. This is why the metaphor of a revolution is so apposite: it is going to require as much a political as an intellectual effort to sweep aside the ancient self-control paradigm and embrace self-regulation in its place.
The self-control Old Order permeates every aspect of how we think about each stage of the life cycle: how we recognize and respond to stress-behaviours. Someone will eventually write the History of this Idea, which, only now, is becoming a distinct possibility; because only now is that history coming to an end (another allusion to Hegel!). The goal of this journal is to hasten that end.
The driving force behind any form of revolution is idealism mixed with overweening optimism. In the case of the Self-Regulation Institute, what drives us is the vision of development as constrained rather than fixed: the push to learn as much as we possibly can about the factors that obstruct development and healthy functioning and how these can be overcome. This is the reason why Self-Reg needs an official organ: not just to serve as a forum for the expression of these new ideas, but also to be the spark that will inspire a vanguard of revolutionary thinkers and practitioners.