Understanding what’s happening around us

Saturday, July 30, 2016

F: 5: 10 a.m. All right, Mr. Lincoln. The week is over, and the possibility of a physical repeat of 1968’s days of rage is averted. But it is not much clearer to me how this is going to shake out. I have friends accusing me overtly or silently of sexism because I cannot sign on to the Clinton agenda and see no reason to trust the machine that just stole the nomination. I see the usual easy almost casual hatred and contempt coming from all sides, aimed in various directions. So, your further comments, please.

TGU: Again, begin with your second-hand knowledge of the effect of psychological pressure on people’s reactions, as you mentioned to your friends yesterday.

F: I said that a thinking type under stress reverts to the undeveloped end of feeling, and a stressed feeling type reverts to the undeveloped end of thinking. That’s as I understand Jung’s description, anyway.

TGU: To that you can add that

F: Really did go off a long way, that time. Sorry. again?

TGU: You must continually bear in mind that views expressed via an impersonal medium – electronic or otherwise, provided that it is at once broadcast to the world as opposed to conveyed to a given specific individual – have a terrific potential to carry not only misunderstanding but an open-ended emotional agenda.

F: Shading off to someone else, here. Is that Dr. Jung? Doesn’t quite feel like it, but someone more theoretical than practical, feels like.

TGU: You are not focusing sufficiently.

F: Hence these sloppy statements of mine, I can feel it. Very well, a minute. [Focusing.] All right, try again?

TGU: The present moment is hard to apprehend. You are trying to sense what the situation is, which is quite enough without adding the question of which way the cat will jump. If you will focus on the little you can know, it will go better.

F: As you [i.e. Lincoln] did. I get the reference. You allowed yourself to be guided by events rather than try to shape them.

TGU: But that was not drift. It was learning the currents so as to see where I could insert my paddle. That is the art of practical politics, after all. But my practice is just as practical, just as useful, for those of you who are in no position of leverage, as if you were in a position to influence matters overtly.

F: I’m getting, our mental influence is being exerted, willy-nilly, and could be more effective and less negative if focused consciously. But I don’t know if that’s right.

TGU: Of course it is right. What is “public opinion” but the net [sum] of private opinions?

F: This is almost too complex to grasp. I can feel myself oversimplifying, or rather, failing to grasp complexities.

TGU: Stop clinging to the “talking to Mr. Lincoln” idea and revert to the more generalized “talking to the guys” idea, and you will find yourself less constrained – because even though you don’t mean to, and don’t want to, impose your own structures on the communication, your expectations are interfering by setting up implied cross-currents. The aspects of Mr. Lincoln or Dr. Jung or whomever that will be useful can always enter (from either end of the conversation) when desired.

F: Okay. So then, whoever is on the line, proceed in your own way. What is most helpful for us to remember, today and in this election year and going on?

TGU: First understand. This can be done by responding rather than reacting, although your initial reactions will help you understand your response and will help you shape your conscious, chosen, attitude. Any fall into automatic irritated or angry or fearful reaction will stop (for the moment) the process of adjusting to what is, by overwriting what you want.

F: Just as anger is a blocked wish, so reaction is a suspension of new understanding?

TGU: Somewhat like the saying that you can’t learn anything by talking rather than listening.

F: Except sometimes we learn what we think by explaining it.

TGU: That could be described as listening to your inner voice, in the spaces between your words. But if what you are saying is reaction, is automatic (hence unconscious) rather than reasoned and hence conscious, the very most you can learn is what you are feeling. And, the less distance between your automatic reactions and your conscious observation of that reaction, the less there is for you to learn.

F: This still feels fuzzy, though maybe it is clearer than it feels as it is coming.

TGU: It’s simple enough in concept, not so simple in practice, or perhaps one should say not so easy (rather than simple) to put into practice. You observe without preference. That is the very first thing. If you can’t do that, you won’t get very far.

F: We all have preferences.

TGU: Of course you do. But you don’t have to always see exclusively through the lens of your preferences. Or, if you do, you can’t gain much real understanding of what is going on. What you will mainly gain is additional ammunition for your outrage, or your discontent, or your satisfaction, depending on which is uppermost. You won’t get additional data.

F: I have been trying to get inside the heads of Trump supporters, but I don’t get very far. I get the resentments of so many changes, of so continuous pressure of society in directions they despise. I get the outrage to certain bedrock values.

TGU: But?

F: But it is usually expressed amid so much anger and really ugly contempt – it’s hard not to be repelled. But I do remember my session with Hemingway a while ago – I suppose you are prompting me – and if I can find it easily enough, I’ll add it here as I transcribe.

[I did find it in the text of Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway, but it’s long enough that I’ll put it at the end of this session.]

The thing is, though, I can’t really get the Trump supporters’ emotional base from inside, because it is all funneled through media distortion or the individuals’ own angry contemptuous outrage or cold disdain. People don’t argue on Facebook, they shout, or they curl their lips. Implied always is, “you don’t see things this way because you’re stupid or you are corrupt.” So it’s hard to get inside another view. Naturally, I don’t mean only Trump supporters. I mean pretty much everybody. It turns a potentially positive medium of exchange of viewpoints into a shouting match.

TGU: Have you tried to discern the fault-lines between Trump supporters and Republicans in general?

F: You know I haven’t. my impression is that they are just more extreme than the rest of the legacy of Ronald Reagan.

TGU: Which of course is a well-thought-out response on your part.

F: Very funny. It is shorthand, as you well know.

TGU: It is shorthand that prevents you from seeing farther. So that is one area for you to explore, if you care to learn the differences. No Republican luminary likes Trump, yet the rank and file preferred him overwhelmingly. Does that tell you something?

F: Of course it does. Bernie’s supporters would have done the same if the process hadn’t been successfully rigged against him, and them. It was – is – an insurrection of the rank and file against those who think that they are the ones who count, that they know best, that they should make all the decisions while the rank and file shut up and vote for them when required and otherwise do not participate. Bernie’s insurrection had to be suppressed because he wanted it to become a real revolution in how things were decided within the Democratic Party. Trump’s could be allowed because it was merely an expression of resentment, except it got out of hand.

TGU: We haven’t gotten to the Democrats, but your hour is gone and so are nine journal pages. We can continue when you are ready. But meanwhile keep in mind the difference between reacting and responding. It has nothing to do with self-expression and everything to do with understanding, and the deepening of understanding.

[From Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway, Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 7:30 AM.]

People don’t get what I was getting at with Harry [Morgan, the protagonist of To Have and Have Not] …. The point was, Harry found that things were closing in. At one time he could function alone, in a sort of tribal way, just him and his family and community. They didn’t get anything special from the government and they didn’t owe anything special to the government, and they sure as hell didn’t confuse themselves by thinking the government was anything but an impersonal machine trying to milk them (and everybody else) of anything it could get. They lived their lives without paying much attention to the law one way or another. If some law made smuggling rum financially attractive, they noted the fact and did it if they could and didn’t consider themselves as bad men or as lawbreakers except in a technical sense. They didn’t figure that a thing was right or wrong according to how it was or wasn’t legal. They tried to do what they considered to be right, and fit it in as safely and profitably as they could, depending on conditions….

You’ll notice that Max Perkins liked Harry Morgan “even though he was a bad man — almost because he was a bad man.” I doubt that Max ever thought it through, but [Perkins liked Morgan] because Harry wasn’t a bad man, he was a good, responsible, reliable, well-intentioned competent man; it’s just that the times had made his virtues look like vices. If Harry had been a cowboy in the old West, nobody would have thought him a bad man in any respect, and he wouldn’t have been. He would have been a self-sufficient man raising his family, providing for them, reliable to anything his community legitimately asked of him. And there wouldn’t have been government enough to molest him. Not like the 30s — let alone your times!

… So — to get back to the point I started — government is a necessary protection racket, and the closer the world gets tied together by technology, the more necessary and the more intrusive government gets. It doesn’t have anything to do with intentions, and not much to do with ideology. It’s a matter of technical necessity, you might call it. If you have sailing ships, they go where they want and they can take their chances. But if you have coal-fired ships, now they have to have coaling stations. And if you go to motor ships, now they have to have access to refueling docks. You see? More complex things require a more complex network of support. And then when radio comes, you can do more to help, so you set up stations to help seamen know where they are by triangulating, and to let them have somebody to broadcast to if they are in trouble. But if you have radio, you have to have some sort of regulation of radio, or it becomes chaotic.

And so one thing keeps leading to another, and regulation keeps getting piled onto regulation, and it’s always in response to somebody seeing a new need, whether the need is real or not. The thing that is moving it is technical elaboration — or what people call progress. Well, progress always leads toward something, but it also leads away from something, at the same time, and what it’s leading away from had its value; maybe more than what you’re moving toward. No matter what, you can count on the fact that to some people, what you’re calling progress is progress in the wrong direction. By the way, this is why so many people in your time see conspiracy everywhere. They can feel that current, always pushing toward one goal of more complexity, more regulation, more regimentation. They think it’s designed, when it is really gravity, with some people taking advantage of the downhill slope for purposes of their own.

Do you think we are pretty much doomed to a more complex life, then?

Didn’t Joseph [Smallwood] tell you your life seemed like living inside a machine, to him? And it gets more so every day, you can’t help it. If the stream is carrying you in a certain direction, you can fight it, but that’s still the direction you’re going every minute that you don’t fight it. At some point you realize, this is the trip I’ve signed up for. I can fight it, I can make it compromise with me, I can compensate for it, I can live around it, but that’s the current. How many times did I have my characters say, in effect, what you draw is what you get? That’s how it is and that’s always how it is. How you play the cards is up to you, but the cards get dealt by somebody else.

So what do we do, to play our cards as well as we can?

Well, that’s the point, you see. You have to have a solid place to plant your feet, and to me, that place is in the values you choose for yourself, and then try to live up to. If you don’t choose your own values, you live by somebody else’s. Now, maybe they fit you well enough and maybe they don’t, but you’re fitting yourself into somebody else’s shoes. And even there, you’re going to have to live up to those values or not….

When you choose a set of values, or when you take seriously whatever set of values you are born with, or pick up unconsciously from others, you confine yourself — or you accept confinement, let’s say — to the rules that follow from those values. If you value honesty, then whatever honesty means to you, you have to do, or know that you are breaking your own rules, going against your own values. Well, who doesn’t? But it doesn’t come free, that’s the point. To have a firm place to stand is the thing. It lets you stand instead of drift. It lets you hit back.

Harry Morgan had a place to stand. Now maybe you look at that and you say, he wasn’t broad enough, or wise enough, or flexible enough or even smart enough — and that all misses the point. He was somebody in particular. He was a man planted on the earth. It didn’t have a thing to do with him being a tough guy, though he was tough, or with being a cruel hard man, though he could be that, or with being any given characteristic. The point was, he was a definite person, and so he was not just drifting with the tide. Sometimes governments realize that they need guys like him — when they have wars to fight, say, or natural disasters to deal with — but often enough they’ve driven them away, or sent them underground, or turned them into the enemy, and when they need help they’ve got jellyfish. Too bad.

And so?

And so you are in your own peculiar fix, in your times, just as we always are. That fix wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t a plot and it isn’t even, exactly, what you could rightly call a predicament. It’s a fix in the sense of a mariner getting a fix on his position. It’s where you are. Live it.

Wonderful thoughts, Papa. The more I study you, the more amazed I get at how little even the scholars understand you.

That’s because you’re seeing me from the inside more than from the outside. Don’t forget that. Anybody looks different from his own view of himself.

Well, you look pretty good to me. Thanks.


7 thoughts on “Understanding what’s happening around us

  1. Thanks for this post, Frank. It is always good to notice the difference between response and reaction. I went into the DNC week a Bernie supporter and was sad that he did not get the nomination. Watching some of the speeches at the DNC had an affect on me. I was able to listen to the words. Regardless of the intentions of the speechwriters and the speakers, the words themselves were for the most part ones of togetherness and hope. We are all in this together. And I was able to finally recognize the significance to nominating and possibly electing a woman as president. A lot of people profess their support of women’s rights but there is a lot of unconscious emotional baggage still. Did Hillary and/or her team do things to get to this point that the Bushes and Reagan and others didn’t do? I don’t know. I may never know. Is she justified in using morally unethical methods, if she did, to get to a greater good in her eyes? I don’t know that either. Do we unconsciously react to Hillary when we see her as grasping and ambitious and even ruthless in her determination more than we would to a man in the same situation? I think a lot of us do. I think this cultural bias is so ingrained that we don’t even notice it is there. We just pile on the Hillary hate not realizing it comes because she does not match our unconscious expectations for a woman. And I think having a woman president may have enough significance that I can peacefully vote for her in November. So I am now consciously choosing hope over despair and love over fear and I am trusting that the greater good is possible. One thing I do know – the path to the greater good is not accessed by me being afraid and angry. I think Trump represents change from the old style politician full of sounds bites that signify nothing. Trump blurts out whatever he wants and doesn’t worry that it might sound hateful or contradictory or ridiculous. That many people find this more appealing than putting a woman in a position of power shows us the power that reaction has over us. So let us get to a quiet state of mind, open our hearts, and feel what is true for ourselves, and then make choices in our lives that are aligned with that. Peace and love over fear and anger, for me at least, is what I want to consciously focus on. Is this Pollyanna ignoring the sky is falling (to mix metaphors!)? Or does the power of our thoughts influence the collective consciousness? And if it does, what do we choose to add to the mix?

    1. Mine is a simpler process, and I don’t think it has anything to do with her being a woman at all. On every issue I know about, her position is either the same as Bernie’s — women’s reproductive rights, gender equality, etc. — or is a position I opposed. Why should I have been expected to vote for a candidate whose positions were the opposite of mine except where they matched the positions of a candidate almost all of whose positions i DID agree with?

      Worse, the entire primary season — beginning in mid 2015, if you remember — was stacked against Sanders first to last. Does anybody really think he lost Massachusetts? New York? (City or state?) California? That makes it much harder to get on the bandwagon, you know? And now, of course, we have been saddled with the choice between Clinton and Trump, with the very real possibility that that crooked lunatic could win, which he never could have done against Bernie.

  2. I have been pondering this question about where the Trump support is coming from. Here is what I get.

    I read a recent analysis of trade and commerce with China. The analyst suggested that there was a huge change when congress shifted from giving yearly updates to trade agreements and made those agreements permanent around 2001. Suddenly many more firms started doing business with China instead of holding off pending the next renewal. Manufacturing jobs decreased by about 20%. That is huge.

    There is a huge population of unskilled labor in this country who can’t get a job for lack of qualifications. A friend who monitors ziprecruiter tells me that there are about 100,000 open jobs in and around Seattle and about 50,000 open jobs about Portland. Between the squeeze between the huge lack of unskilled jobs and the liberal dogma of raising minimum wages there is a huge population have no hope for participating in the ‘hope’ of America. I believe that these are the people who like Trump.

    1. Interesting take on things. Where are the job-training programs, I wonder? Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the companies having jobs to fill to have a way to get people into the pipeline? I would prefer private OJT to government, but it seems either would be an improvement.
      Blaming minimum wage requirements for a company’s inability to find skilled labor seems a stretch, to me.

  3. In the spirit of offering a different perspective (as opposed to truth), the following is a short summary of a much longer conversation I’ve been having with versions of myself over the last week.

    There is nothing like the last lap of a Presidential election race and a few mass murders to get our blood boiling.

    We are not only imbedded in our reality with conviction of our isolation and our separation, but we are also emotionally invested up to our necks in the world around us. We react against the “other people” we perceive as causing it to be the way it is, or for those we perceive as able to help “fix” it.

    Yet, there is a version of reality where Candidate X wins, and another version where Candidate X loses.

    There is a version where a large number of people are murdered, and another version where they are not.

    There are other versions where the South won the civil war, versions where the Germans won WWII, versions where JFK was never elected.

    We love to think that we are actually influencing the world around us. We are not, at least not directly, externally. Maybe we are doing a bit part in some other’s reality, but we are not changing reality.

    What we are doing is choosing what we experience. And we are choosing how we want to be in response to the circumstances we find ourselves in.

    TGU, Rita, Seth, Elias, and my own “guys” emphasize that the only thing that we actually change by the choices (of what we experience and our reactions to that experience) is ourselves. If I am supporting candidate X, what’s important is why and what my values are that cause me to support X. X wins and X loses, depending upon which reality we choose to experience. Sometimes we form ourselves better identifying with the winner, and sometimes we are stronger by standing with a minority. We are all going to experience some trauma, some disappointment. We are all going to have some challenges.

    No matter what we choose to do, or how we choose to respond to experience, or even what we choose to “be”, all versions of reality will continue to exist. We may help open some new and even more complex experiences, but we will not in the end have “fixed”, modified, improved or ruined the world.

    What matters? FDR said it clearly through Frank. There are two characteristics, or drives, of human nature: the need to be distinctive and the need for security (or it could be stated the need to be free from fear).

    We are each a part of All There Is, but we must feel distinctive and the All benefits by our distinctiveness. We are all made up of the same ingredients, which is everything. It’s just that we are set up so that some features are emphasized relative to others differently. It’s probably not the best way to put it, but Lincoln could be a little stronger in you, and John the Baptist could be a little stronger in me. But we both have both of them in our strands.

    We confuse ourselves with our human role. One human is playing President of the United States, while another is an emotionally disturbed homeless person on the street. One becomes Time’s Person of the Year and another overdoses at age 18. One goes to Harvard and becomes a billionaire at age 30, while another drops out of high school and lives a life in poverty.

    Is there any question what our society values? Put to the test, can you honestly say that everyone is equal? We, in our human roles, are not equal, and that kind of equality is not intended. We are created purposely so that we can be highly intelligent, and not so bright; so we can be famous and forgettable; so we can live long and die young; so we can triumph and suffer.

    Within the framework of our family of created compound being existence, we bring every possibility to life. We want to make every possibility a reality, and we do it for us, because US is All There Is. If we are to be whole, then we need to bring into being all, not just some. If we are to be in balance, we can’t be some parts and not all parts.

    We create by mixing up our polarities, and when we move off toward one extreme, someway that has to balance out. If we want to bring into being extreme compassion, there has to be some extreme uncaring to balance it. Which side of the teeter-totter is more important for the Universe?

    And what kind of world is this?

    One that helps enable all human possibilities to be brought to life!

    What a great site this is for insight!

    1. You bring up some excellent points, John! Although I think I define equality differently than you. And I do believe we have an effect on reality through our choices, much as a third chair violinist has an effect on the music being played by an orchestra. But yes, indeed, all probabilities are being played out and we choose the ones we wish to experience and that is the point. And I choose the experiences that feel the best for me, as do we all, hopefully.

  4. It seems life is putting us in situations where the quality of attention we can put to our life really is displayed in the clearest possible way. Reaction or response. Driven by fear and loathing or in-formed by love. Long time ago one yoga teacher said to think what would love do when facing difficult questions.

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