Conversations June 28, 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

5:40 AM. Indexed the last ten days of May last night, working backwards, having already done all of June. The question of how the information is to be put together was the subject of a dream, I think, but I don’t remember it. One thing that’s clear is that I do need to go along collecting unfollowed thoughts and threads — or maybe just rely on them to do it, given time.

So here we are again. I noticed, transcribing, that yesterday started off to be a discussion of the connection between politics and psychic exploration. We got diverted.

Or maybe not diverted. Maybe what followed was necessary groundwork.

Well, I’m willing to be instructed.

You read it years ago: politics, evolution, religion.

I think it was freedom, evolution, and religion.

We stand corrected. Your friend Colin Wilson described them as the three absolutes, and you remember it as saying that when any two of them combined, the effect was powerful — but a combination of the three would be overwhelming as a transformer of society.

I gather that I’m not remembering it quite right — and for that matter I’m not so sure it was Colin — but I seem to remember citing a quotation at least 35 years ago — it’s embalmed somewhere in this journal.

The point is not exact scholarship. The point is, the three imperatives together do encompass a potentially transformative mixture, one that could reconcile your society’s corrosive divisions and allow you to move on to a different sort of challenge, rather than remain stuck in its present fruitless agonized bickering.

You don’t often see someone putting those two words together: agonized bickering, the first so portentous, the second so petty.

Couldn’t that be a pretty good description of politics at the moment? All sides are deadly serious in their convictions, and each side is caught in the pettiest of attitudes, carping at anyone with different priorities and values, denigrating their patriotism and idealism (and their common sense). You are witnessing an enforced marriage desperately in need of counseling.

True enough — though it seems to me that Obama and others are attempting to stay out of that, and work as constructively as possible, rather like Lincoln vis-à-vis the radicals in the Civil War.

Of course most individual person-groups would function constructively if they could. Our point is that the social-group as a whole, the American political group taken as a functioning — or mal-functioning! — unit, is in that mood, and therefore this is the atmosphere in which smaller person-groups must function. The “mood” the social-group is in affects the “mood” person-groups get into. And of course it is harder for any one person-group or collection of person-groups to affect the mind and mood of the social-group against the grain. That is, it is easy for anyone to deepen such a mood by word and deed and general attitude; harder to pull against a mood. Thus the importance of the work, and the need for contrarians if only for balance.

By contrarians I take it you don’t mean people just habitually acting as nay-sayers.

No indeed, for they are not contrarians, they are merely contrary. Their attitude is as automatically determined as is that of the prevailing mass, only oriented 180° opposite. This has its value too, both for those person-groups and for the social-group to which they belong, but it is not the same thing as the contrarian whose instinct to distrust any given enthusiasm is tempered by thought and by what we can only term emotion-thought. That term requires a brief digression, perhaps.

We have in the past described the difference between thinking as association of ideas and thinking as the painstaking construction of logical structures. Each has value, but they are very different processes, involving different skills and leading to different kinds of results. It would be well if everyone habitually did both, but relatively few do the latter, and those that do tend to do so badly because untaught about the limits and processes. They don’t quite know the rules of that particular mental exercise.

In any case, beyond association of ideas and logical construction is what we are tentatively calling emotion-thought, though we hope to do better before we’re through. This usually unnoticed process consists of a form of analysis of feelings that depends neither upon logic nor upon association, exactly. It’s more like a holistic weighing, a summing-up. Abstractions won’t explain this very well, we need a case-study.

Well, this came up in the context of the difference between contrary people and contrarians.

Yes, thank you. Let us take your ongoing BP oil blowout, which has polarized so many and at the same time left so many in a state of sort of numb suspense, they not knowing why.

Your mainstream thinker, your herd animal, uses this event as it uses each new event, to reinforce its conformity to its social-group. Thus person-groups who identify with oil-exploration social-groups — not just companies but any such group responsible for providing and distributing such energy — identify with such groups intellectually and emotionally. That is, they circle the wagons against attack from those unseeing uncaring outsiders who don’t recognize the vital importance of the role of the production-and-distribution groups. Those person-groups who identify with conservation or ecological social-groups do exactly the same thing — circling the wagons, but against a different sort of outsiders, those who don’t recognize the vital importance of the fragility of the web of life. Those identifying with governmental or administrative social-groups do the same thing, circling against interfering or self-interested outsiders who don’t recognize the vital importance of something being in charge that represents the whole.

Each is a mixture of sincerity and opportunism, each a blend of personal conviction and group-think. Each tends to think itself the only responsible attitude, and rare it is among mainstream person-groups to think or perceive beyond the limits of its own mainstream. Bear in mind, speaking psychologically, any set of shared beliefs may be a mainstream for this type of person-group. Hence, cults.

A person-group who is mostly contrary may think of itself as contrarian, but is primarily pushed into formation by what it hears (however second- or third-hand what it hears may be) by opposition to foolishness. Observing the contradictions or blindnesses in the positions of whatever social-group irritates it the most actively, it moves automatically to the opposite pole. And it is this “automatically” that deprives that person-group of the freedom it would otherwise have. It is controlled by various herds, not just its own mainstream, for it winds up in effect choosing its position by what it is most irritated by. You and your readers are very likely to fall into this category whenever you allow yourselves to be automatically swayed by negative emotions. However, you needn’t remain stuck there.

The true contrarian is an instinctive balancer. This is the type of person-group that instinctively, automatically, notices when its person-group or social-group begins to go overboard in any one direction or another. Note — it’s own person-group, its own social-group. Rather than carping at others, it self-examines, asking — am I too going overboard in that direction? To do that requires what we have just termed emotion-thought.

Yeah, a pretty bad coinage, I think.

You are perfectly welcome to suggest a better term. It would have to come out of your active thinking, which you as a person-group can do better than we on this side, as you have a more pointed consciousness. But for the moment it will serve.

Analysis of emotion?

That describes, or suggests, the process, but it doesn’t strike us as a great improvement. Anyway, the true contrarian, which amounts to the truly independently thinking person-group, weighs not only (seemingly) external fact and context but weighs the (seemingly) internal “weather” — the way it feels about the situation. This does not mean, the emotional reaction to seeing oil-covered ducks, or to thinking about people protesting oil exploration when their lives depend upon it. It doesn’t mean acting or thinking against anything. In fact, that external-attack reaction is a tipoff that you may have fallen into an unconscious attitude to that extent and for the moment. No, a reading of the “internal” weather (which you understand thereby gives you an automatic fix on the external weather that you could not have obtained otherwise) involves seeing what is.

As we said previously, condemnation always separates you from context, from nuance, from sympathetic knowing of other viewpoints and motivations. It assures that your judgments will be shallow, shrill, and wrong-headed. That’s why: Condemnation prevents you from taking an accurate fix on the internal (therefore the external) weather; it leads you to suppress within your person-group the traits and attitudes corresponding to those of the social-group [criticized].

This taking of the conditions prevailing in the internal weather is what allows you to form valid judgments on (always necessarily) incomplete data, and it allows you to encompass more than one viewpoint — or at least allow for it — and this preserves your internal freedom of motion, rather than becoming fixed immovably in one increasingly brittle and unreal set of certainties.

I feel like we’ve barely started, but it has been more than an hour — about 70 minutes, I guess — and I think we have to stop for a while.

Have you noticed that you tend to feel your fatigue more acutely as we get toward the end of a logical unit? We could talk about why that is, some time. It isn’t just coincidence.

Said with a smile, I recognize. Okay, another time.

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