"Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion, man."

A Few Thoughts

10:08 Monday, 28 August 2017

It's been a while since I've been here. Shocking, I know.

Well, we're in luck! I feel like writing something. (Just go with it, I'm trying not to edit myself here and effectively talk myself out of writing this at all.)

It seems as though things have gone from bad to worse, and it's not very clear how they're likely to get better again. For the most part, I've just been keeping my mouth shut these days. I'm not sure how much I have to add on any given topic.

But I think I have some idea why things are happening the way that they are. At least, part of an explanation. And I think I have a solution, but I'm not optimistic about it's chances.

The disorder we see in the world today is a result of the disorder that exists within our own interior experience. And notice that I wrote "experience," and not "mind." I believe "experience" is a more complete expression of what I wish to describe, though "mind" is certainly a part of it.

Our interior experience is a set of feelings, and the thoughts and beliefs that we attach to them. The nature of our interior experience at any given moment is what typically drives our behavior. For instance, I have been having an experience of interior disquiet; and, for a part of my life, the behavior I chose to exhibit while having that experience was to write, or "to blog," in the parlance of our time. The utility I derive from this behavior has diminished over time, and so I do it less and less frequently, although I still mostly enjoy the act of writing. In any case, it's our interior experience that drives much of our behavior.

The processes that create our interior experience are interrelated. If you change any one process, you change the nature of your experience, to better or worse effect. The nature of our physiology is such that it tends to conserve energy. We don't expend energy on new behaviors because we have become habituated to the experience from our current repertoire of behaviors, thoughts and beliefs. This may also be thought of as a kind of interior "homeostasis." Our predominant interior experience (positive or negative) is what we unconsciously regard as "normal," and our behaviors are oriented toward maintaining a "normal" experience.

You can see this play out on social media, where people habitually post the same kinds of things, with similar comments and emotional content, over and over and over again, despite the fact that it has no discernible effect upon "objective" reality. That is to say, these actions (behavior) are not undertaken to effect change, to influence some outcome. No, the exact opposite is true. They are undertaken to maintain an interior experience.

There is a spectrum of feelings and interactions that go into maintaining that experience. Some of them are seemingly positive, others are negative. But again, none of them are objectively intended to change the exterior reality that is supposedly the stimulus for this behavior.

I believe social media is like alcohol. If it's not used responsibly, it's toxic. And right now, we're all on a ten year bender.

The immediacy of the interaction in social media has made us all too addicted to it. We post, we tweet, we seemingly instantly get lots of responses. Some are validations, a sort of "positive" response - it makes us feel "good," much like alcohol, at first. Dopamine. We often get negative responses, but even those are essential in maintaining some people's "normal" experience. They "enjoy" arguing. That is, until they don't anymore. One can see this over and over again among certain of our "friends."

We become addicted to this experience of immediate interaction, so we seek a constant stream of things to tweet or post, to keep the interactions coming. And social media provides these by means of algorithms. The computers identify the kinds of things that keep you "engaged" (addicted), and serves them up to you in a steady "news" stream. So there is always a fresh supply of some outrage to which one may append one's own brand of clever snark, righteous damnation, despair, or whatever one's particular "schtick" is, because we're all performing at this point. We're putting on an act, in order to garner attention, both positive and negative.

Throughout this habituated activity, no understanding is sought. None is created. In fact, the longer term trend is to more deeply entrench the beliefs that serve us in maintaining our interior experience, regardless of whatever their truth value may be. To the extent that we all have differences with one another, where they are great, social media makes them greater. To the extent that we may agree with one another, social media makes us believe we are closer to one another in thought and opinion than we probably really are. You see this played out as "friends" are "unfriended" because of some disappointment perceived as "betrayal." Social media is a lens that distorts all of our relationships. We lose the capacity to respect one another in spite of our differences, and that is not helpful for increasing understanding.

Here are a couple of examples I see over and over and over again. It's astonishing to me how often these two things get repeated. But they are by no means the only ones, they're just two examples that come readily to mind.

Hillary Clinton's loss was a bitter experience for many people who hoped to see the first woman president elected. It is perhaps unsurprising that some of her supporters look for someone to "blame," and Bernie Sanders and his supporters provide a ready scapegoat. To these people, the reason why we have President Trump isn't because of an antiquated electoral college system, decades of Republican gerrymandering, economic despair by large portions of the population and a pathetic field of Republican primary candidates. No, it's because some Sanders supporters voted for Trump, and therefore all Sanders supporters are "bad!"

This "blame and shame" behavior would be rejected by many of these Clinton supporters if it was directed at some other group for some other perceived deficiency; but it serves the same utility for Clinton supporters that it does for people who believe that the poor are responsible for their poverty! It absolves them of any responsibility to respect them as people, to try to understand them, and to work with them toward achieving solutions on issues where they can agree. At the same time it allows them to feel superior to Sanders supporters for no genuine reason. None of this bodes well for coming together to defeat Republicans in 2018 and 2020.

One sees the same thing on the right where "the liberal media" is a bogeyman bent on keeping Trump from being a successful President. Ultimately, Trump's success or failure will be due to his performance as president, and not to the stories written about him. The damage being done to the responsible press is allowing irresponsible partisan disinformation efforts to gain traction, and these owe much of their success to validating some people's seeming need for vast conspiracies of dark and powerful forces to maintain their own interior experience. We are actively courting ignorance for the purpose of maintaining our interior experience.

I don't engage with any of it anymore. Because I've learned that it's seldom intended to be an invitation for discussion to achieve understanding. It's intended to discharge negative feelings, while at the same time maintaining them; and to receive validation.

The problem is we that don't know ourselves. We believe things about ourselves that are not true, both good and bad. We don't understand how our "experience" works, how it happens. We can understand it, but it's not something anyone ever looks at except for people who've been through therapy, some philosophers and some practitioners of some forms of religion.

And if we don't know ourselves, how can we ever hope to know anything about anyone else?

I've had the benefit of several years of therapy. It doesn't make me some kind of Zen master. I just have some idea about how the experience of my life is formed. One of the most valuable things I learned from Sandy was when I'd come into a session and I'd be going on and on with a rapid and passionate recitation of whatever issue I had at the moment, and Sandy would say, kindly but forcefully, "David! Just be still."

Looking back, I wonder now if that was just a polite way to say "Shut up!" Heh. But no, it was the key to solving my problems. What Sandy was listening to was simply a verbalized version of my ongoing interior monologue. I learned that they are habituated thoughts, and they are just there to maintain the status quo, to keep the experience "normal," even when "normal" is "really bad." When you're so busy in your own mind tallying the failures, the insults, the injuries, and justifying the anger and resentment, then you don't have the resources to make a different kind of experience.

The inner narrator is unreliable witness, and all narratives are works of fiction. It's worth keeping that in mind.

So, to begin to have a different interior experience, "Just be still."

There were other times when I would come in and Sandy would have to get me to open up more, on those occasions she asked, "David, what's going on inside you?" Because of her, I've learned to pay attention to my interior "experience." I'd have to identify my feelings, and the beliefs that were attached to those feelings, and finally then examine the truth of those beliefs. If they weren't true, they could be dismissed, and with them, the feeling. If they were true, I could use them as the basis for taking some action to alter them. This action, even if it was just a plan, would also change the feeling.

I've learned to pay attention to what I'm paying attention to, otherwise called "mindfulness." I've learned that many feelings pass (these are "feelings," not depression, which is an illness), and that I don't need to act on them. I do have an emotional reaction to much of the news, just like everyone else; but I've learned that the feeling will pass and I don't need to immediately jump onto Facebook and alert all of my friends to this injustice!

Except for climate change. I probably do too much of that. And from time to time, I know I regress. I'm human.

Facebook and Twitter aren't going to change anyone's mind about anything. If a mind is open about a subject, it doesn't take Facebook or Twitter to change it. It just takes curiosity on the part of the mind that is open. Facebook and Twitter really seem to be more about keeping minds closed than opening them.

The solution is to have some curiosity about what's going on inside you. Pay attention. Pay more attention to that than to your "news" stream.

As someone once said, "Seekers of wisdom, inquire within."