Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dependence is Not Loss of Freedom

Having had a quite wonderful and lovely conversation/interview concerning attachment theory last evening the topic is fresh in my head and wanting to spill out. Additionally, recent interactions have indicated yet again the profound effect relationships have on our ability to reason, perceive the actions of others and have a profoundly central place in the creation of our self-narratives. Thus, I find myself reflecting on a topic that I've touched on before and will undoubtedly do so again in the future, one that so many including myself have an intuitive sense of the rightness of our understanding and yet research continues to indicate we are anything but accurate in that intuitive grasping. The issue is relationships, or more precisely attachments, and we are not the autonomous agents we often so desperately think we are.

In describing attachment I often start with a thought experiment. I ask the person or group to attempt for a moment to think about themselves without any relation at all to another thing or person or experience. Honest reflection will immediately indicate how impossible this is and thus is established at face value two things: one, the mind/brain loves making connections to everything and two, our notion of self is inextricably tied to the totality of our connections to everything/one. In the book "Attached," by Levine and Heller, the focus of attachment is on romantic connections, stating:

“Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood. We are no longer separate entities. The emphasis on differentiation that is held by most of today’s popular psychology approaches to adult relationships does not hold water from a biological perspective. Dependency is a fact; it is not a choice or a preference.”

The last sentence is quite often met with protests and declarations of "but I'm my own person!" Reality, however, has it's own structure and while we often believe ourselves participants in it as if set down from on high, we are actually reflections of it, instantiated within the natural fabric not apart from it. We punch a wall and exclaim that it hurts, with science telling us the deeper reality that the wall essentially hits us with as much force as expended upon it. We talk about the "face" or "front" of a tree or rock often forgetting there's no such thing, it is rather the projection of our own perspective needing to make sense from the biological locus of our own existence. Further examples abound, but the point remains that while our perception of experience is indeed quite powerful and nearly synonymous with our awareness, it can serve to be as much of a deception as an illuminater of our lives.

From the moment of birth and our first cry of frustration from being removed from the security and safety of the womb, we reach and root around to establish connections and therefore help define our experience. What at first begins as base biological impulse evolves and grows into the central focus in human life, the variably intimate dyads that take up so much of our energy and time. This dependency, this inevitable and necessary foundational component to human existence is more than a need however, it is the very means of our interaction in the world. When we are not consciously, and when we are, relating to objects and/or people our minds are constantly re-casting the experiences in our lives (what we call memory) into every more complex narratives that take into account the present. We do not think except in relational attachments, we do not make decisions except within the parameters set up and instantiated within them. Our perspectives/opinions are not shaped within some closeted space in our minds, ready to leap out and lay a grid down to objectively define our experiences; rather, they are created within the dynamic reciprocal process of the flow of information and energy which provides the warp and weft of our life tapestry.

Where responsibility in communication and behavior resides in this framework is for the next entry, the focus now is in learning to consciously dwell within a reality that is less created by us and more an outgrowth of the interpersonal interconnections of existence. This is not a loss of freedom, if for no other reason than the libertarian notion of our existence was never true to begin with. Rather, it is the acknowledgment of a paradigm for real choice, bound in the imaginative conscious potential that is within us all. We are not free-floating entities case adrift and unconnected, we are fully and always inter-relating with the entirety of our experiences, both conscious and unconscious. "Our minds are filled with information - with symbolic meanings emerging from energy flow patterns that stand for many associated things." (Siegel, "Pocketbook of Interpersonal Neurobiology) There is no room for feelings of superiority because there is no room for notions of unrelated specialness. Within infinite potential, what one knows another is fully capable of knowing, what one does another is fully capable of doing, what is focused on in life will reflect within our relationships.

The path of differentiation is one of continued pain and anxiety, it is rather in the process of integration that we make a functional and healthy whole. We are in this together, period.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Free Mind Is A Challenge to Fundamentalism

The bombing of Gaza, the social unrest in Egypt over political power-mongering, attempts at halting protests in the middle world and the legal challenge by Liberty University to not be required to offer contraceptives are all symptoms of a dedication to curtailing thought and expression from the perspective of a fundamentalist religious view of social interaction and the ethical development of the human person. There is a fear here involved that the world is teetering on the brink of an outright denial of a divine pattern to life, laid at the feet of advances in technology and science and the claimed resultant diluting of moral principles. This is not a new perspective, but it is a powerful one and engagement with it, from a place of compassionate respect but grounded in an appreciation for humanistic value, is the only way to head off what will be a great deal of suffering.

Curiously, in my continued consumption of media, I came across a sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Presbyterian minister in 1922. He called out the fundamentalist adherents in Christianity who were looking to remove evangelical and so-called "liberal" elements from churches and noted then the foundation of fear that they operated from:

"The Fundamentalists see, and they see truly, that in this last generation there have been strange new movements in Christian thought. A great mass of new knowledge has come into man’s possession—new knowledge about the physical universe, its origin, its forces, its laws; new knowledge about human history and in particular about the ways in which the ancient peoples used to think in matters of religion and the methods by which they phrased and explained their spiritual experiences; and new knowledge, also, about other religions and the strangely similar ways in which men’s faiths and religious practices have developed everywhere. . . "

Given in 1922, this enumeration of new knowledge could just as easily have been given today, with advances in neuroscience, computers, sociological and biological understanding of the human species and social changes to institutions long thought to be the bedrock of a just society. Change is difficult, knowledge and a progressive understanding of reality is not always initially felt to be free-ing. Whether the response is social involvement in a religious movement or identification with a narrow social institution (Boy Scouts comes to mind), the attempt is made to rejoin a time that is thought to be more fundamentally true, more secure, where power hierarchies gave a semblance of controlled structure to existence.

Fundamentalism is often associated with religion but I hazard to broaden it out to the individual as well, where social difficulty, change and new information causes a retreat into the shell of preconceived and established notions of self and others, forgoing challenge and listening only to spoon-fed facts. Fosdick notes in that same sermon: "Science treats a young man’s mind as though it were really important. A scientist says to a young man, “Here is the universe challenging our investigation. Here are the truths which we have seen, so far. Come, study with us! See what we already have seen and then look further to see more, for science is an intellectual adventure for the truth.” Can you imagine any man who is worthwhile turning from that call to the church if the church seems to him to say, “Come, and we will feed you opinions from a spoon. No thinking is allowed here except such as brings you to certain specified, predetermined conclusions. These prescribed opinions we will give you in advance of your thinking; now think, but only so as to reach these results.”

There is a form of safety to be found in retreat and projecting conclusions before study, but it is not a full engagement with the world and it does not lead to the fulfillment of the greatest qualities of what make us human. The political leaders in the middle world, the citizens which support them and those here in the United States who would shunt the human mind down only one track rightly fear where a free mind will come to travel and dwell. Hierarchy and systems of power differential abhor the free enterprise of thought/feeling. We can however push back at this fundamentalist view by encouraging questions, holding the space in our relationships and societies for real discourse and free inquiry and asking those in power to do the same. If there is a god worthy of the title, then surely she/he/it will cherish and see grace in the journey of creation thinking of itself and marveling at the splendor we have only begun to open ourselves to.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Moments, Not Things. Life, Not Possessions

On my way to work recently I took the train as I usually do and along the way a family of three came in, their one son about the age of 5, blond hair bouncing, eyes all alight with wonder, leaping onto a seat next to his dad and earnestly looking at the window. When the train began to move the look on his face was that wonderful mix of startled fear and awe that only the beautiful ignorance of a child seems to possess. At every stop he would watch the doors open, then look at his dad and ask “is it our stop this time?” This would happen each stop, with a persistence that could be, under different circumstances, obnoxious, but looking upon him, seeing the look of love on each of the parent’s faces, and reflecting on the upcoming consumerist orgy that is Black Friday, I could not help but feel an echoing smile appear on my face and the sheer joy of the child seep into my soul.

That startled wonder took me back to sitting in my grandmother’s trailer eating oatmeal, swinging on the swing (which I still love to do), running across the field at recess after a soccer ball, and climbing a random tree in the forested part of the property I grew up on. Simplicity only seems so in retrospect so I will not lament a by-gone era that never actually existed. In comparison to now, with job, multiple relational connections, major projects, train schedules and dealing with criminals, the notion of climbing a tree seems the simplest thing in the world. Yet, I know it was anything but to the child I was, wondering at each branch to grab onto, wary at whether it would break under me and however would I let my mother know I was in trouble. We sometimes look back at our lives and miss things that, given we are looking at them with the eyes of experience and in a different world, we laud as more than what they were. This is not to diminish the experiences but to remind us to put them in context and remember that every situation has a multiple of variables we ignore or are blind to because of the perspective we are applying now.

The simplicity is an easy trap to get into though and it would be easy to lay out a standard trope against consumerism and marketing, at the encroachment upon family that businesses continue to make as they stretch their hours and overlap sales with holidays in increasingly greater ways. But I won’t, at least not entirely. I want to dwell on the joy of the child, not as a simple thing, but as a value to hold tight and cherish. The difficulty with consumerism, with the collection of things, is not the collecting itself or the buying or the marketing, but the value we put on it in our lives. I know of people who swear things don’t matter but make sure they always have someone who can and does buy them varying toys and possessions, and others who swear things do matter but live a life of sparseness. The amount of things matters little, if we do not forget the wonder at each and every event that passes within us, like the child in awe at every swish of the door opening and closing and the prospect of being in a tunnel. However the amount matters a great deal if because of that we lose community and friends who have been there through mess and heartache. Jesus, in Matthew 16:26 asks’ “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Later in 19:23 he states “Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It is not, as simplistic as it may appear, that riches deny a person spiritual mastery but the identification with them. It is not a man with riches that is a problem but a rich man, one who focuses on a particular wealth and ignores the growing separation he has to his fellow people and those who were once close. Othman, the third khalifate after the death of Mohammed, a rich man by any measure, spent much of his time in religious study, fasting and giving of gifts to the poor, who lived in a palace but subsisted on bread and water. The measure of a person then is not in status or possessions, but where in their value structure such plays a role.

Losing that value in life, in the enumeration of each expanding experience, happens in the shift of perspective that occurs when the minutiae are focused on and not the god’s eye view of things. When each moment stops being a experiential finger pointing to the interconnection of all things, of the role we play in each and every life we touch, there it is that we lose the joy of living and begin to define moments by the things. The object matters little, for it is the thought behind it which gives meaning and purpose and creative expression. Whether driving a mercedes or a pinto, whether living in a mansion or a studio apartment, whether making millions or pennies, the form of expression is the only thing that changes, not the potential to express at all. We live life not from grasping each successive thing but by leaping about in wonder at the experience itself. The child could have gotten lost in fear and missed the ride, could have focused on a hand-held game and missed the various shapes whizzing by, but instead he asked with eager anticipation “is it our stop this time?” constantly aware of all that was going on around him and not wanting to miss a moment.

The excellence of our lives is a process of unfolding grace and joy in life. No matter what is in our bank account, no matter how many toys we have to catch that next thrill, life is broader than any of it and community is where life expresses itself ever more abundantly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fear of Being Better, the Middling Ground of Enforced Mediocrity

I've remarked recently to a friend of mine that the preposition "In my opinion" annoys me. People will often say it before, drum-roll please, stating their opinion about something. The preceding line is ridiculously redundant at best and needlessly humble at worst. Who else is talking at that moment other than you? If the opinion stated is another's then note it accordingly, but I don't think it's particularly difficult to assume that when a mouth is opened and words spill out that the person is enunciating the cognitive state that is their view of the world. Whatever is the point then in this social affectation?

The phrase seems to be drawn from the, yes I'll say it, liberal notion of relative morality or ideological multicultural flat-ism where all ideas are declared equal relative to all others in the same category. While I note that this is primarily a liberal notion, conservatives are not above using it for their own purposes. The "teach the controversy" position is a case in point, where a clearly non-scientific position of creationism or intelligent design is noted to be on equal ground with evolutionary theory (remember that a theory in science is something that has been shown accurate through repeated experiment and observation) despite the former having no experimental grounding in research, no predictive ability and utterly absent of any underlying principle that is within the realm of natural sciences. Despite the usual predilection of conservatives to dwell in hierarchical thinking (their economic ideology is built on haves and have-nots) when it comes to biological science all of a sudden success in the marketplace of ideas loses all meaning and those without a knowledge base to posit opinions are given equal footing with those who do. There is a power, however, in enforcing mediocrity, for change only ever comes from the margins not the center.

At a more personal level, the flattening inherent within relativism seems to engender an automatic declaration of humility (the "in my opinion" preposition) whenever a state of consciousness is noted, especially when said opinion may be controversial or possess the potential of being reacted to with hurt. Tact and a sense of humanity should pervade our opinions but this needless humility is just that when the opinion is politely noted and worthless when the opinion is nasty. Rather like saying "I'm not a racist, but.." Clearly whatever comes next is going to horrible, making a preposition to declare otherwise does nothing to change this, no more than stating that the next words that come out is simply your opinion is going to change the impact of them. Beyond this, the focus on all opinions being equal serves as a dampening to the acceptance of our own power. It appears easy to note that an athlete or music star or some such is quantifiably better at their particular skill than others, but these are the outliers and as such it's safe to declare their superiority. The cult-like worship of famous people may perhaps be more about our social inability to properly and effusively laud the accomplishments and skill-sets of "ordinary" people than it is about anything the stars possess.

Flattening everything or over-emphasizing some (i.e. famous worship) ends up creating the same situation, a deadening to the realization of our own imaginative and creative capacities. Yes, human beings have a knack for the over-estimation of their personal skills, moral abilities and the like, but this should serve more as a caution to being careful in the acceptance and promotion of our strengths, not for inaccurately flattening them to the same level as everyone else. We do and should find joy in a person's exposition of their talent, skill or well-reasoned and informed opinion. In addition, we all in some aspect of our lives have something unique to offer, if "only" in the sense that we are a particular instantiation of the imaginative power of the universe. The "mere" engagement in life is anything but that, since each act is a matter of volition and deliberate communion with the event and as such should be acknowledged as being distinct from passivity or active avoidance of life.

Noting one's gift or particular talent or better reasoned opinion is not to necessarily make the statement that all others are unworthy of acknowledgement (anymore than having money necessarily means someone else must have less), but in the living and pursuit of understanding life there are ways and wisdom that are of a more life-giving quality than others. As Bruce Lee noted, "Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it." There is room for all of us to be expressions of the infinite universe and at the same time recognize that there is a constant and persistent unfolding of our greatness.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Violence as Restricted Image of Humanity

In politics and in war, there is a term describing consequences of actions that even at the outset were known to be problematic but at the time were deemed necessary, this is called "blowback." Often these consequences take a violent form and almost invariably they foment the very kind of difficulty that the original action was attempting to stop. Stopping the Soviets in Afghanistan by arming and training the very rebels that moved on to attack us on 9/11 is only the most recent glaring example of American hubris though the invasion of Iraq and the continued violence there also springs to mind. Most recently however is the bombing of Gaza by Israel, in which the idea is promoted that massive devastation of an already impoverished people will actually encourage them to thrown off the "shackles" of Hamas and halt random rocket attacks. The repercussions will continue long past the final missile launch, long past the death of yet another child or mother, long past the posting of screaming tear-streaked faces. The complexities of geopolitics do not get solved by missiles and bombs, but by the changing of minds and souls and only that through a thorough understanding of just what is happening at levels of psychology often ignored or completely unacknowledged.

I recently sat and watched "The American," the story of an assassin and gun-smith who wrestles with the fact of his monumental skill at delivering death and his fervent desire to have something, anything, in his life that is a positive or life-giving. The character, played with achingly amazing skill by George Clooney, can be taken as a commentary on the American foreign policy. As a country we are simply bar-none incredible at destroying things. I've heard it said that "if you must, absolutely must, have something blown up by the morning, send in the Marines." From movies and social media creating a cult of the soldier, to a politics that eschews compromise of nearly any sort, we are a nation at love with our talent at ending things. And yet, like Clooney's character, we stretch out at nearly anything that will give us a taste of life, however it may look. We hold on to religious ideologies of which have long since been trampled by the progress of science, denying the realities of global warming, evolution and an Earth that is far older than the mind can easily grasp, running for the shelves of self-help books, mindlessly enraptured by Oprah and the latest of her never-ending stream of quick fixes and turning to the most egregious of mystic platitudes based on flimsy evidence and pulling at the strings of our automatic, pre-rational impulses.

Now, before I get met with concern over this being a hyped-up criticism piece caught in its own morose spiral of horror-induced over-criticality, my result of all this is one of hope, not despair. "To hope means to be ready at every moment for that which is not yet born, and yet not become desperate if there is no birth in our lifetime." (Erich Fromm) While the groping for something meaningful takes many absurd turns, that we still yearn for it says much about the strength of our species. We lament the atrocities in the world, but in the same breath we seek to find something to encourage hope.

Whatever may be said of the blowback associated with geo-political violence, and there's plenty that has been and should be pointed out, the human condition is never completely held within only one frame. With every bomb dropped there are those calling for peace, with every death unnecessarily caused by fear there are more and more people disgusted with what we are doing to each other and willing to call for something different. The American nation may be at times ridiculously blind to the intricacies of the world in which it blunders around in, but the consequences of this ocular degeneracy are being felt by greater numbers and in starker ways. Whenever the world seems dark and hope but a lost dream, there is light to be found in every voice raised for peace and negotiation, rational analysis and responsible action.

We are not a nation with only one story, any more than we are a species with only one talent. "Just as love is an orientation which refers to all objects and is incompatible with the restriction to one object, so is reason a human faculty which must embrace the whole of the world with which man is confronted." (Erich Fromm) We are more than any individual referential frame, more than any single story and together we are more than any single movement. The bombs will stop when we learn to embody this truth.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why I Write: The Acknowledgment of Presumption

I find myself, having engaged in several rather potently personal conversations/debates/arguments recently, inquiring as to just why I engage in life the way I do. On a quite wonderful date recently I mentioned to the lovely woman that I critically, some have said too much so, barrel through life because there was just so very much of it to not want to know all that could be known. I abhor a life unexamined, often pondering in near incredulity the many layers of existence that are being ignored through ignorance or deliberate obfuscation. How else does a person view the world except through the myriad lenses of multiple intellectual disciplines? Does not everyone wish to see the way or figure out how genetic influences react within the sphere of social variables, how this nurture within nature creates an internal symphony of unconscious drives, cognitive heuristics and metaphorical structures which then, the means of which is unknown to all of us, erupt into conscious deliberation, giving us a false sense of control and volition, but creating the very existence of which is so very integral to the continuing movement of life on this planet?

From skyscrapers to crayon doodles posted on fridges, all of it comes out of the same mass of 100 billion neurons each connecting to 10,000 or so others creating a virtually infinite series of potential interconnections and nearly the entirety of this process occurs completely without our awareness. To not wish to ponder this, to not stand in momentary mute shock and awe at the majesty of the human person and revel in the freedom to be found even in a deterministic universe is, to me, mind-boggling. Yet it happens, with startling frequency and often with a little smile, thinking the answer has been found, forgetting that the question was just slightly different than we remember. It becomes a forgotten fact that in the midst of all those neurological connections spinning reality into existence that we are still but one viewpoint in a cosmically large dialogue.

So I find myself writing these blog entries, self-indulgently assuming that more than just I would want to read the at-times hopelessly tangled pontifications of my healthy-ego-possessing self. I write because, perhaps arrogantly, I think I have something to say that can contribute however slightly to the betterment of others. While I write almost invariably to myself, this serves as a constant reminder that I am not so different than anybody else, though the behaviors I put my energies towards certainly are.

I wonder with varying degrees of apprehension the decisions I have made and how they will affect a future I have little control over. I cry, laugh, and find pleasure in many forms within the ever-changing circumstances of life. I exist in a space that, while any number of other circumstances could have gotten me to an approximately similar position, still it is with all the fervor of arm-chair-analysis I look at those that have actually occurred. These and more are not outside the realm of human imagining, they occur to varying degrees in the lives of every man, woman and child on this planet. These mental expulsions do not separate me, they in fact draw me in to wade through the amazing quality of so many different narratives, just as they do for all of us when we pick up a book, see a movie or theatre production or sit down over drinks/meal with a friend, family member or acquaintance.

We live and seek constantly to grasp more of an endless sea of consciously instantiated creations. We are at the gracious and abiding mercy of a universe of which expansion is not just a physiological reality but a metaphysical dictate. The stories we tell of ourselves and others never encapsulate the totality of any experience or individual. I, no more than any other, never give out an opinion that I do not believe to be accurate and yet within every enunciated position I still constantly remind myself to hold room for the potential of error and/or of not holding enough within my theorizing.

There are only gradations of truth, not absolutes. Even laws are only such within certain parameters and were the universe to go through another big bang and spiral into existence another grand machine so it could adhere to different rules of which we could likely never imagine. This is not cause for despair but like a race in which you feel the breath of your opponent hot on your neck, it inspires even greater efforts to move forward with explosive exuberance and grasp all that we have yet begun to conceive.

Erich Fromm noted: "There is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself." Life knows only life and death is simply a place of forgetting it. We work and play, debate and quarrel, because at core we all want to know more, to see more clearly, to decide with less anxiety. All of this occurs, must happen, within the flow and flux of the inter-personal existences of which we are in constant contact. None of us need wonder at, my previous comments notwithstanding, every layer of existence to effect a positive shift, but we must keep at the forefront of our awareness this hope of realizing a better future, a more open understanding. If I can contribute, through word and deed, in such a way that even a simple shading of difference occurs in the world of which I am a part, then I will have counted myself having lived and lived well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Predicting Free Will

The election of 2012 is over, the billions of dollars spent have filled the coffers of the media conglomerates, and the finger-pointing and hand-wringing has only only just now begun. Article after article declares the alarm and sheer confusion of many in the Republican party over why the American populace would vote for a black man rather than a business-man in the face of economic uncertainty, especially with unemployment above 8% (an incumbent president hadn't won with such a figure since 1940). Who could have predicted that this would happen?

Well, as a matter of fact, someone did and that person is Nate Silver, who called every state and noted the chances of Obama's reelection weeks if not months ahead of time. Did he consult crystals or spirits? Did he conjure up his ancestors or pray to a deity? Did he fast and pray, roll the dice or consult the stars? Nope, none of those things. What he did was crunch numbers. Yes, numbers. Through the science of bio-statistics he carefully calculated based on polling and demographics and behavioral history how populations would vote and came up with a probability chart. That's right, the American hubris of possessing a laissez faire free will, unencumbered by such seemingly ridiculous things as biology and social influence, was laid low by the reality of science on public display on an Internet blog and broadcast through Twitter for all to see.

Like all real science, it's reproducible (he called 48 of 50 states in 2008), it's falsifiable (i.e. he could have been proven wrong) and it's based on reasoned principles. What is absurd about this is that the factors for an Obama win were there all along, it's why his campaign through the brilliance of Plouffe and Axelrod did what they did, focusing on state by state demographics and pinpointing just what exactly had to be done to persuade each particular group. Watching Axelrod being interviewed while results were coming in was like staring at a zen master, he already knew he'd won and was just waiting for everyone to catch up.

The fact was the numbers were there months ago but the narrative was shifted by media companies hell-bent on having a nail-biter of an election in order to drum up commercial sales. And they did so admirably, with this election cycle costing by some estimates over $6 billion (with a B). Had people taken the time to see things more objectively, they'd have seen the writing on the wall, rather than as someone I knew was lamenting the potential repeal of Obama-care while I, having noted the demographic polls weeks ago and telling everyone who asked that I wasn't worried, was simply curious as to particular bills being passed in this here great state of Washington. This isn't to point out my superiority, if anything the fact that I wasn't worried is predicated upon an acknowledgement of the over-looked and deliberately unseen simplicity of human behavior, not on any achievement of my own.

Here's the thing, people don't make "decisions" in a vacuum. We laud our phenomenological experience, this internal feeling of what "x" is and forget that the entirety of the experience would be impossible without it being embedded in a framework of socio-cultural ideological structures and that being further embraced in an encompassing biology and neurology of humanity and even greater systems beyond that. I am reminded, as I often am when pondering human actions, of Frank Herbert's "Dune" series, more particularly the book "God-Emperor of Dune," one of the greatest if not the greatest sci-fi epics of all time. In it the character Leto II presides over a universe of human colonies all of whom chafe under his despotic regime and the powers of his mental prescience. Leto's "golden path" is, ironically, his own destruction, as he hopes to create a situation whereby humans finally get outside of their biological and therefore predictable behavior and do something truly free, in this case the result being to overthrow him. While a discussion of whether this is possible is for another entry, the point here is that with enough knowledge the behavior of human beings can be, despite their feelings and protestations to the contrary, predicted. And that means we do not have the type of free will we all naively hope for and promote as the foundation of ethical decision-making.

The humor (at least it's amusing to me anyway) here is that if we did in fact possess such a form of free will that was in no way predicated upon any natural laws we'd stare at it in horror, for behavior would have no order or form and would in fact have no basis for morality anyway. We see this in how we look at the disparity in people's behavior not as indications of free will but as hypocrisy. If such was the rule not the outlier we'd live in chaos and lament never knowing or trusting what anybody was going to do.

Indications like Silver's work that we do not possess a-contextual free will should not be cause for a great gnashing of teeth however (though it's definitely going to make political campaigns increasingly dull). Rather, by recognizing ourselves as being "nested" (to use Ken Wilber's term) in greater levels of reality and all of it subject to scientific analysis, we can take an ever greater possession of ourselves and open up behavioral possibilities that, in a spirit of ignorance, were unavailable to us previously. Knowledge by the powerful can be used to control the ignorant masses, but knowledge by the masses can topple the powerful and create a freer world.

A vigorous democracy is built upon the education and rational faculties of its citizens, participating in this great social experiment of true discourse and the parsing of existence and human connection through scientific inquiry. Exploring the depths of our internal experience and creating an ever-increasing space for action will not occur if we ignore the physio-material existence in which we find ourselves, but rather in the continued exploration and delineation of it. As Thomas Jefferson noted: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Self-Image as Story-telling

It's been a week since Halloween has come and gone, the princesses have put up their tiaras, the super-heroes have folded their capes and the monsters have scrubbed off their paint and scabs and scars. Every year we, children and those of us who keep our inner-child alive through more than eating gummy candies, participate in this social experiment of deliberately creating a facade, an externalized creation of an inner fantasy. In doing so we subject ourselves to the potential questioning, both the ridiculous and the mocking, of our outfits and style but oddly enough this rarely materializes (barring you having crossed some unknown social line or like Chris Brown, simply wanting to show how as an abuser he feels an identification with terrorism) because it's socially acceptable, even mandated to be outrageous, silly and non-conformist to a degree. As a nation we spend millions upon millions in decorations, candy and costumes for the sole purpose of selling a deception in a clear and unabashed way. The irony here is that what occurs on this holiday is simply an overtly outrageous form of something we do all the time, albeit by usually spending a lot less money on candy and rarely with the addition of stopping at a local Costume Shop.

I've spoken before that the way we exist in the mind of others is as internalizations of our projected narratives, we tell/show a story through word and deed which then gets incorporated into the other person's narrative. Through the complex mechanisms of unconscious processing through the created prism of at least one self-narrative, an image of ourselves gets created in the other's mind and that is the "person" they respond to in interactions. The differences between the two, our own story and the other's internalized image, is the source for a great majority of the miscommunication, hurt and uncertainty we find in our relationships, from the platonically banal to the romantically exuberant. These differences are almost entirely about ignorance, either about the social variables providing input or about the internal world of the individual and how they take in that information. As Ken Wilber notes, we cannot create an internalized world without an initial objective external world to build off and there'd be no manipulation of that external world without an internal one placing intent and meaning upon it; it is in other words not nature vs nurture but nurture through nature.

Attempting to get at the "real" person is as hopeless as splitting the atom was to primitive tribes. Even the process of an attempt merely reinforces the nature of the difficulty, which is that we never get out of our own heads. To help with miscommunication and the hurt that such creates in relationships, we must endeavor to unpack the well-traveled roads of our automatic stories. It means peeling back the paint of our costume and seeing ourselves for what we are, a nest of interconnecting and overlapping stories, often with thoughts of guilt and/or shame at the center of them, the hallmarks of primary attachments that were anything but secure.

There comes a time when any or all of us realize that we have become or are becoming facsimiles of our parents. I remember this moment very clearly when during a job as a type of "big brother" for kids from abused homes I found myself playing games much the same way that my father did when I was a kid and seeing him with others. It wasn't a fully conscious decision then, that came later, but I promised myself that rather than continuing to run away from the things I didn't like about my father I would celebrate what I did (which ended up being more than I first imagined) and endeavor to have those aspects be what bore fruit within me.

Daniel Siegel notes that the great "I" of our lives is really a "We" of our relationships, such that in the creation of what we naively think of as a central narrative is actually an interconnected array of relationships and the energy and information flow that characterizes them. We cannot help but become or manifest aspects of the relationships that were fundamental to our development through childhood and those we find ourselves in now. The healthy person, Siegel notes, is she or he who endeavors to integrate this flow rather than keeping it differentiated. In other words, when we find ourselves in the sea of life surrounded by pieces of a ship and wish to travel it behooves us to build that ship from the pieces, else we be constantly bombarded by floating debris and other items that come from beneath the water.

Mark this, that debris will not simply harm yourself or those closest but anyone who comes into contact with those who suffer from the detritus of a life unexamined. The costumes we put on in our minds often serve a purpose, even one that at times may in the midst of emotional hurt or fear of becoming what we never wanted to be, seem helpful. These projections inevitably affect those we connect with however and ultimately because of those deceptions we end up exhibiting the very behaviors we were trying so hard not to exhibit anyway. While the responsibility of everyone else's actions does not lie solely with us, we should not forget that we still have a role in how others interact with reality, as self-deception does not simply shield us from seeing the world more fully, it also limits the needed information others need to see clearly too. Only in looking at what we are afraid of, what the facades attempt to deflect, can we begin to select what is life-giving in our connections and therefore beneficial to ourselves and others.

Monday, November 5, 2012

An Unbroken Straight Line of Gaps, Hills, and Valleys


I was once challenged to view life as a constant upward trajectory like a curving graph that as time goes on the line continues to go higher and higher without fail. This thinking was recently once again thrown at me from a place of joy and compassion and I had the same initial response I did back then, “are you freaking kidding me?!” I looked out upon a sea of potential and actual errors, personally, socially and relationally and could not fathom how anyone could posit such a clearly ridiculous claim. Life as a series of continual progress? Come again? Have you not seen the news lately? Do we not continue to have gross crimes of child negligence and murder? Have we not invaded countries under false pretense and continue to have the support of a vast swath of the electorate? Are we not standing upon the brink of an election in which a man who embodies the very mythos of that which ran the economy of this country into the ground and who believes some of the most ridiculous ideology concerning religion and society actually has a chance of winning? In which an electorate is so incensed at having a black man as president that they’d pick anyone as long as he’s white and lies with a twinkle in his eye? The failure of our rational capacities stares us in the face with every “news” show, whether it be right or left, pandering to the lowest of emotional pulls and where parents who let their children die because of some horribly absurd religious notion concerning the evils of modern medicine do not see prison time. Oh yes, clearly there is an upward trajectory, but I think someone is looking at from upside down.

Then it dawned on me. I had not considered something yet. Like a child straining and straining at that math problem that still makes no sense until like an exploding star the answer scatters itself across consciousness, I could not stop myself from seeing at least the beginning of an answer. I pictured myself drawing a curving upward line and then I imagined looking at it closer, then closer still, then bringing out a microscope and looking even more closely. From far away the line appeared solid and of a particular form, clear in its unwavering incline towards the heavens, but as I got closer the line began to become more nuanced. The vibrations of my heartbeat which traveled down my arm and into my fingers and through the pencil had created dips and rises, valleys and hills. What from far away seemed of only one story, upon close examination an entire world of possibility opened up. Here the vibration of my heart, there the subtle contours of the paper, over there the subtle spinning of the earth’s axis for which I am never consciously aware, all of these created variations in the line I had drawn. Even closer still, gaps appeared as atoms split apart and regained their individuality, until only quarks remained winking in and out of existence going places I could not understand even were I to try.

The universe is a perspective machine unlike any other. A constant churning of millions of variables, of which we are aware of only a very small amount.

I recently wrote and spoke in a group about the egoistic hubris of humanity, where we tell stories concerning what we perceive to be a special event that occurred to us, forgetting in our telling that there were literally millions upon millions of variables that went into the creation of that event, connections that have a history of which we are unaware and that had absolutely nothing to do with us. This in no way takes away from the significance of the event, meaning being after all the subjective projection of our own minds. Rather, it should caution us that even in the midst of profound transcendence or the height of bliss there remains a great many other events, great and small, which exist and can be seen were we to merely shift our awareness a single degree and were we to look closer we’d see just how many so-called smaller events were more significant than at first we gave them credit for.

This blog has been railing at me all day to be written, the words screaming within my mind, though the particulars were not yet certain until fingers came to keyboard. In all my studies of human psychology, sociology and consciousness, I sometimes forget how much of it truly means something. In the pursuit of another answer I must often force myself to look back and note all that has come before and all the questions answered of which I didn’t know I’d asked. The perspective we bring to events shifts how we integrate, or whether we integrate at all, the events of which we find ourselves a part of and which we often humorously think are centered upon us.

I sat recently at a Starbucks and realized with a quickening of my pulse that it was the location of a great many coffees on the way, via the ferry to Seattle, to my first Master’s program. It was a time of greater change than even I acknowledged at the time, a period in which I finally broke away from a relationship that was not life-giving and found someone who showed me a love that I never thought to find let alone could at the time fathom. While the release of that relationship required years to sort out truth from fiction and that someone ultimately betrayed every promise and commitment made to me, these are but the hills and valleys of a line that has continued to move upward. Like so many others who have come into my life, perhaps in ways of which they were and still are unaware, the individual events, small and at times seemingly insignificant added to a life-line that once I take a step back from the contemplation of the small, there comes to mind a greatness that is more than mere size but wonder.

Certainly there could have been other events, other relationships, that led me to an approximately similar place where I am at today and because of that I will not say any of them were necessary, but the fact remains that where I am today, in this particular spot, writing these words and feeling these thoughts and smiling even in the midst of lingering pain, would not be occurring without all that came before. To the mechanically-minded this is no great revelation, but I choose, as is my human proclivity, to ascribe a meaning to it and call it good. Like the deity in the myth of creation, this declaration is within my power to do, it is within the power of all of us to do. In so doing we do not dismiss the heartache nor more than we dismiss the joy, nor does it absolve of us of living ethically or making amends for when we were asleep to our greatness, but we give them a context that mitigates their severity and reminds us that life can only continue in the creation of life. That certainly is something to celebrate, whatever may happen tomorrow or the next day or the next.
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