Conversations June 1, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

7:15 AM. Well, that was quite a May, wasn’t it?

I am a little tired this morning, so I hope you guys have the agenda and the game plan. I must say, though, that hasn’t been a problem up till now!

Yesterday’s entries involved just a sketch of just one issue in my life. You can imagine how many such issues arise in anybody’s life, and they’re all active, they all cause trouble or anyway they all color a life; they create complications, and that is what life is, complications.

That’s very clear, but I don’t see where we’re going with it.

The hard thing for you would be to see it plain ahead of time; that would make the spelling-out of it nothing but drudgery. And besides, you’d miss the chance to record your reactions, because the odds are you’d never bother to go back and record even what you remember. Easier to do it as we go along.

All right.

So take my temper. You can relate.

Can I not!

You can see how it looks from the outside, and you’ve heard the accusations — or the suspicions, call them — that sometimes having a bad temper is a strategy. But anybody using it as a strategy is just pretending. We are talking here of sitting on a volcano.

You don’t know what you’re going to do ahead of time — I mean, it isn’t like you’re planning to lose your temper — and it isn’t like you

Let’s go at it again. You know how sometimes after a particularly violent attack you feel sick?

Oh yes. Drained, shaking, and a sensation I’ve never thought to try to describe, but I’ll bet you did, or can.

It’s almost like nausea, almost like a headache. You spent in a few minutes the energy you might normally have used for a week. It flowed through you so hot and so fast that sometimes it really did need physical release or it felt like your body would explode. That’s when the physical danger would arise. You could kill somebody, easily, if the fit was still on you and a weapon was at hand. A chair, your fists, a gun, anything.

Mine didn’t come quite to that extent, but I recognize the symptoms.

Well, whoever wanted to make himself sick, and maybe do damage he’d feel guilty about, and maybe kill somebody? Sure, plenty of times people are mad enough that they would want to hurt people, and sometimes they try, but I’m talking here about so fighting mad that you lose sight of limits, or if you keep yourself within limits, it’s sometimes just barely. And the limits you keep yourself in, others say you already went way too far.

Oh yes, and they’re criticizing you for not having enough self-control.

Yep. They’re controlling a 10 horse-power engine and you’re controlling a 10-horse team, and they figure if they can do it, you can do it.

But of course, we need self-control, and those around us do, and society in general does.

Sure, but what I am talking about is how much there is to be controlled sometimes, and for some people, and how it isn’t as easy as it may look. And here is where we tie it to your robots and screens and all.

It isn’t like you — normal, everyday you — are in charge of the rage-machine. And it isn’t like you can do more than try to keep it from kicking in and try to pick up the pieces if it does kick in, and sometimes, if you’re hanging onto control, stop it from going hog-wild.

But you see, the way we look at it, you and it aren’t the same thing at all. And it’s worth getting this clear, because the easy thing is for people to say, “you’re just trying to evade responsibility for your own lack of self-control, and you’re refusing to grow up,” or something. That’s great condemnation but as Carl says, it doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t understand, and that means all it’s doing is putting distance between itself and behavior it disapproves of.

Well hell, who doesn’t disapprove of behavior like that? Who isn’t ashamed of it? But — what about the fact that it wasn’t us? What about the fact that we, who wouldn’t ever do something like that, are being held responsible because it was done with our body? And what about the fact that when we come back — when we muscle ourselves back into control or, more likely, when the rage-machine lets us back in because it’s done for the moment — then we have to live with the consequences and don’t even know what happened.

If you’re treating people as if they were a unit, you say, “you have to take responsibility for your own actions.” But this amounts to saying, “you’re the commander of this outfit and you’re responsible for anything it does, whether you yourself do it or not.” And that isn’t wrong; how else could society function? But see it that way, say it that way. It will clarify things.

You know? If you were an officer commanding a company of men, and one of the men fucked up, it would be your responsibility, but nobody in his right mind would treat you as though you had done it personally. You have the responsibility to prevent it, or, if it happened, to clean up after it, but you yourself didn’t do it, and if anybody treated you as if you did, all they’ll do is muddy the waters. You’ll wind up defending yourself for the wrong thing — not for failing to prevent something, but for doing the something. And it won’t do one thing to prevent the something from happening again. It won’t help you keep the rage-machine under control. In fact, it will identify you and it in your own mind, which will make it harder for you to keep control or to get control, because it’s like thoughts — if we think they’re “our” thoughts, we don’t examine them the same way we examine them if we thought of them as coming from someplace else.

And of course in my day but not much less in your day, people think you’re one thing. They think each person is a unit — and they think so even though their own personal experience should tell them otherwise every day of their lives. But this is one of those screens you talk about: Society says we’re each a unit, so that’s how people see it until something goes around the screen and they see things differently.

So, let’s look at it from that point of view, if that’s what you have in mind.

I don’t have it in mind to reinterpret my life this way, exactly. Anything I’d say would be seen as self-serving. But we can use it as an example, as we have been doing. That’s what we are about, after all. You see, it is important that people see the effects of that social screen that makes us inclined to see ourselves and each other as units. It’s accurate enough that it will serve — or it wouldn’t be there — but it’s inaccurate enough that it is distorting our view, and as the times change, it is more dangerous all the time to confuse what we see through that screen with what really is.

That’s our theme here, remember: getting a better look at what really is.

We haven’t been going an hour yet, but this is a convenient place to break off for the moment.

All right. Thanks.

10:45 AM. Shall we continue? Who’s up?

Using temper as an example is convenient for several reasons. For one, anyone who knows The Hemingway Myth knows about explosions of temper. For another, it’s something most people can imagine. Anybody who has ever gotten mad — and “mad” in the English way of using the word means “insane,” remember — anybody with that experience knows what it feels like to be at least a little out of control. By sinking into that remembered feeling, they can get the sense of being more than one person, either one of which drives, at any given moment.

If you can get a sense of it from any emotion or state of being, then you can generalize, for unless getting mad is different from every other mental and emotional state, once you’ve realized that there is a separate part of you living under the same roof, then you can’t go on pretending or assuming that you are all of a piece.

Obviously I realize that people have experienced what they call moods and realize that they aren’t the same when they’re in one of their moods — but that doesn’t mean that they then realize what’s going on. If the model is “we are all units,” then any fluctuation of mood or habitual perception (the way you change as a commuter, for instance, as opposed to how you are either at home or at work) is shrugged off as a passing thing of no importance. There is no fact that can’t be seen through the commonly accepted screening, or it wouldn’t be so commonly accepted! But there are lots of things that would upset that model if thought of, so robots of one kind or another are set into motion to discourage you from thinking of one thing in association with another thing.

You understand: The robots protect the model by preventing or at least discouraging re-examination in light of mutually contradictory evidence. Filters do the same thing, and in effect may be indistinguishable from robots. Contradictory evidence may be suppressed or not, but even if not suppressed, any mental effort to realize the implications of that evidence will be blocked as much as possible. It isn’t always possible, because there are always cross-currents, but generally it is.

This is why sometimes a new idea may have a revolutionary effect, and also why they don’t come along every day. If a new way of seeing things somehow gets by the filters and robots — out of left field, usually, as only makes sense — there may be a whole host of previous perceptions that had had to be walled off from each other or ignored entirely, and suddenly there is an earthquake, because suddenly things make sense in a way they didn’t before that one critical fact or idea or suggestion or association of ideas slipped in.

So if we can get the new model out into the world, some people are going to have their inner worlds lighted up like firecrackers. Get enough people like that and it doesn’t much matter what happens in the world externally, there’s going to be a change. But there’s not much good setting out abstract ideas if you don’t ground them in specific examples, and unless the examples are from life, they’re going to be theoretical, abstract, lifeless. They won’t convince in the way examples convince. What has more impact on people, a history of the Spanish Civil War that sets it all out, however accurately and sympathetically and justly, or For Whom The Bell Tolls? That isn’t bragging, it’s illustrating a point: Specific, emotionally linked examples make an impact. In your terms, they connect mental and emotional bodies.

[CGJ] Psychiatry has identified, or rather we might say has defined, several specific variants of mental illness, all of which depend upon the model of the individual psyche being unitary except in pathological cases of dissociation. And here we may see what could be termed professional screens and filters reinforcing (conforming to) society’s screens and filters, for if it were not for these screens, professionals could not possibly ignore the implications of what they observe every day in their practice. But instead they are like medieval astronomers, carefully and exactly measuring their epicycles, and confusing their precision in measurement with accuracy of concept. Epicycles did very well preserve the appearances; they “saved the data.” They provided a theoretical underpinning for accurate prediction. Nonetheless, to paraphrase Galileo, the sun was the relative center of the solar system, not the earth.

So with psychiatry and psychology in my day and still in yours. The individual as unit saves the data, but the concept relies upon its own epicycles nonetheless. The individual functions as a unit in certain ways, and seen in a certain light, but hardly absolutely. It would be less inaccurate to say that what you call an individual is a temporarily cohering subset of some aspects of other subsets of the great mind that is all things.

You can imagine how popular a definition this would be, or, at first blush, how useful. Yet it is the germ from which many useful things may emerge. Thus, the use of aspects of Ernest’s life as specific examples from which may be understood greater principles of which they may serve as illustration.

Again, time for you to do other things for a while, and if we do not see you in this way until Thursday, all will be well.

As always, I thank you both for this. It feels like we are on an extremely interesting journey, and I don’t even know where we’re going or when I signed on. Rather like life itself, come to think of it.

Yes. Enjoy your voyages. This is said to you, and to all.

2 thoughts on “Conversations June 1, 2010

  1. I have also had those attacks of temper that literally make me ill, and they are not choice. However, what they *are* is zinc deficiency, for me. I find it a shame that so many things with the body are actually physical but are “assigned” to the spiritual out of belief and lack of knowledge. Why is it that the most complex of systems in the body are the ones that routinely are expected to be controlled by will, or have their function assigned to some other-worldly source? The radio can’t work when the parts are rusty.

  2. It’s difficult to reply to this without sounding either callous or shallow, but I’ll try.

    You say: “I find it a shame that so many things with the body are actually physical but are “assigned” to the spiritual out of belief and lack of knowledge. Why is it that the most complex of systems in the body are the ones that routinely are expected to be controlled by will, or have their function assigned to some other-worldly source? The radio can’t work when the parts are rusty.”

    That would be true if the body were strictly a physical system, but it isn’t and can’t be. The mind is non-physical; the brain is the interface between mind and body (and, at that, only one of the interfaces). Our health is a relationship between physical and mental states at any given moment, the mind changing quickly and the body slowly. Our beliefs, our attitudes, our reactions to so many things all affect our health quite as much as do physical factors.

    I have had asthma since I was two years old. I know that illness can’t be wished away. Yet I also know that we affect what we live by what we are, and what we are is more complex than merely what our physical situation is.

    I don’t feel that I have done a very good job setting out my point of view, but that’s as well as I can do at the moment. We’re not as simple as radios, and neither is our health nor how our physical situation manifests.

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