The Interface: Obsessions, prejudices, single vision, and character traits

I have a pretty good idea where you are going, if only from the words that have floated through my mind since our last conversation: prejudice, inability to see otherwise, obsession.

Yes, because they will serve as windows on a phenomenon not easily observed directly.

We have said that you must experience the world not directly but through the medium we are comparing to an ionized layer or a laminal layer. The existence of this layer may be flamingly obvious or may be invisibly present, but it will be there. You may think not. Therefore it may be illustrative to consider unusual or even pathological manifestations, not as proof exactly, but as fingers pointing toward the invisible presence.

Consider obsessions, how strange it is that such phenomena exist or can exist. You all know someone who is obsessed by some idea. You may yourselves be obsessed, though in such case you may not find it easy to recognize obsession. It will, after all, seem self-evidently true, self-evidently important.

Or take prejudice, another phenomenon so widespread as to be practically universal, though it manifests in many forms. You have them, your friends and family have them, everyone you meet has them. They are unshakeable as convictions though they can be overmastered with effort. They precede logic and resist contradictory evidence.

Or, take an inability to see any but one point of view. Whereas obsession or prejudice may be confined to only one subject matter, an inability to change points of view is more like a character trait, highly resistant to being changed and seeming so inevitably natural and right from the inside as to be essentially invulnerable to criticism or to correction.

In fact, we can generalize further, and say that much of what you regard as character, certainly as characteristics, stems from this same underlying condition of human 3D existence. It is universal, usually invisible, but can be detected once you see why it must exist.

Sounds like the universal aether scientists once searched for.

Notice that the proofs of its non-existence are no more convincing than the proofs of its existence. Ultimately scientists decided, for a while, that it existed, then decided, for a while, that it did not. Let us examine the evidence not to determine whether a given view is true, but whether such a hypothesis explains and leads us to valuable insights. After all, most of what you know is only somewhat true, as the world may be said to be only somewhat real. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn things from truths that are only somewhat accurate.

Now, look at the examples we cited: obsession, prejudice, single vision, and character traits in general. How do they illustrate our point?

  • To the person obsessed, the reality of the thing obsessing it is evident, is unarguable. That obsession appears to be entirely matter-of-fact.
  • Nor does “obsession” refer only to matters of intellectual interest. The subject of sex is rife with obsessions, compulsions quite beyond the individual’s ability to direct. One may fight them or express them or refuse the, but not modify them by an act of will or of intellectualization.
  • Obsession, you see, might be described as a point of intensity beyond the individual’s will, arising seemingly on its own, often enough playing havoc with what the individual would prefer to do or even to see itself as.
  • An obsession cannot be defined as a product of thinking. No one ever thought itself into an obsession. (It may look that way, but the cause and effect are being seen backwards: The obsession is leading to incessant thought on the subject.)
  • Neither can it be defined as the result of an emotion, or of feeling. Emotions don’t cause obsessions, they are evoked by the obsession, just as with thought.
  • Therefore, obsessions must be seen as prior to thought or emotion. They are caused by conditions of life not determined by the 3D individual’s decisions or intent or preference.
  • Similarly, prejudice. Now, prejudice is different from obsession in that it is closer to the thinking side than to the emotional side, but like obsession it is beyond the individual’s conscious control. It may be fought or acceded to, but it exists prior to thought or emotion, both of which it informs and generates.
  • For evidence of this, you need to look first at others to see examples of prejudices they regard as simple fact, then at yourselves, to see how that manifests when seen from within.

Yes, I saw that yesterday while reading Bailyn on the early colonial years. The anti-Catholic prejudice connected with this country’s settlement and founding was so universal, so vehement, one could hardly miss it, yet in my experience when I try to explain it to my non-Catholic friends (believers or not), I chiefly see reflected from them their assumption that it is my view that is prejudiced. And in that they aren’t wrong, even though I have the facts on my side. Even though what I say is true, it is also true that my opinions, my innate sympathies, are set in stone. As are theirs. We can each reason our way to an understanding that at least modifies our initial position, but we cannot reason our way to an opposite prejudice, or call it bias.

This would repay closer consideration, for you didn’t come to your instinctive position without receiving information implicit as well as explicit, nor did they. In other words, thinking is involved here. However, the fact remains that thinking did not produce the bedrock-setting of your sympathies. Mostly, it reinforced or challenged them. But the sympathies came first, and what comes in one form to one will come in the opposite form to another. Assumptions about racial superiority or equality, for instance, determine a person’s views, but are not rooted in thought, though the individual may think so.

To continue:

  • An inability to see a thing more than one way only. This may look like merely a mental habit but in fact is much closer to being a prejudice or an obsession. One looks at the world in a given way, and that view is so convincing, so self-reinforcing, so evidently true “to anyone whose head is screwed on straight,’ as to be unassailable by logic or argument. A shock may cause the individual to modify it; a new experience, an emotional trauma, a view from the mountaintop; but nothing less.
  • Finally (for now), character traits in general – the way you interact with the world, not only externally but internally – are prior to thought or feeling, obviously. They may be modified by hard work and by fortunate or unfortunate experience, but they are prior to your conscious shaping. You are “born that way,” in the way that a young child will be captivated by something that leaves another child indifferent. You are magnetized toward certain reactions, you might say.

Now, in each of these cases, we are attempting to show you evidence of that often-invisible layer that connects you to, and separates you from, the “external” world. Be you ever so unemotional, you do not think your way into these interactions. Be you ever so emotional, you do not feel your way into them. Thinking, feeling, proceed from the framework laid down by your 3D existence as it interfaces with the shared subjectivity you experience as the “external” world, the world of matter, of others, of seemingly unconnected events and forces.

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